Anjali Vats Profile picture
Mar 1 ā€¢ 22 tweets ā€¢ 5 min read
1/ Lots of talk today about Eastern European "buffer" rhetoric. Here are a few thoughts about that, contingent whiteness, and ethnic cleansing. šŸ§µ
2/ Standing against imperialism in all instances is important. But speaking about imperialism in broad strokes helps no one. My read is that there's a war over the boundaries of whiteness within Eastern Europe happening here that is worth unpacking a bit.
3/ I first traveled to Europe in '00 to study international relations. I was convinced I'd work on war crimes trials at the ICTY. I ended up taking a different path but I read a lot about the former Yugoslavia. Let me start here: Slavic whiteness is complicated, contingent even.
4/ The rhetoric about the war in the Former Yugoslavia was most certainly racialized, with Bosnian Muslims, an often fair skinned people, taking the brunt of hit in the media. But the whole Balkan region was definitely treated as "uncivilized" and "tribal" in many instances.
5/ Western Europe ends at Germany; the Slavs were the literal "barbarians at the gates." Someone more versed in the history of Eastern European Jewish and Roma populations will have to speak about them but they've also definitely been painted as not white.
6/ I cut out a chapter about the contingentness of Russian whiteness in the context of espionage policy out of my book. Even Russian history is anchored by a longstanding struggle to be white in the eyes of the East. That history informs this moment.
7/ Whiteness scholars in international relations talk about Europe having a core/periphery. I think this is a helpful way to think about "contingent" and "malleable" whiteness. Here's an essay:
8/ Lefties are making claims that liberals only care about refugees when they're "white." This is true. But care is also structured by internal logics of whiteness through which liberals disclaim responsibility for the repercussions that follow from their imperialism.
9/ I'm of the opinion that a simple "white" v. "not white" model lets liberals off the hook. A better question to ask might be why does Ukraine get to be white in this moment. I think the answer to that question is about Trump, Putin, and escalatory potential as well as color.
10/ Ukrainians are contingently white like the rest of Eastern Europe. If you have doubts about this, recall the Boston marathon bombing in which the Brothers Tsarnaev were constructed against whiteness through the language of terror. Also see this piece:
11/ "But that's Chechnya!" you might say. Much of the US can't distinguish the countries in Eastern Europe, it turns out. Western Europe knows more but still speaks in terms of "over here" v. "over there." And that article shows how Ukrainians get represented as "backward."
12/ Why, you might, ask am I going to these lengths to unpack all of this. First, there's value in nuance, full stop. Second, we can develop better antiracist action for Black and Brown people when we see the big picture. In short: Ukrainian invasion *is* an imperial project.
13/ It is an outgrowth of West v. the rest mentalities through which countries like Russia become isolated. It is also an avenue through which divisions are being strengthened to the detriment of all involved. Don't kid yourself, "buffers" are imagined as with expendable.
14/ The need for "buffers" historically emerged via the NATO, though NATO isn't the cause of this war, and selective application of whiteness to the Former Yugoslavia. It's useful then to think about imperial and racial accountability in terms of conferring whiteness.
15/ Thinking about when and where Western Europeans and Americans confer whiteness on groups they refuse to confer whiteness on in other situations is useful for confronting imperialism and building solidarity. It doesn't change that refugee policy is currently overtly racist.
16/ But it does recognize the complex histories and identities at play here as well as recognize solidarities. Any framework that gets us to the conclusion that we shouldn't show solidarity with Ukraine is off the mark. White, white-ish, or not, people deserve to flourish.
17/ Let African refugees into Europe, 100%. But also recognize that Ukrainians might not always be white. And they're likely to face the same horrific ethnic cleansing as those in the Former Yugoslavia. Imperial and racist logics make that so.
Oh eek. Here's a different link to that essay:
18/ Alright so this image from 2018 is circulating anew. It certainly racializes Putin by calling upon Mongol-Turkic imagery (their term). The essay itself talks about nostalgia for Genghis Khan as anchoring Russian nationalism. This is how whiteness becomes malleable. Image
19/ This image serves a dual function: it disciplines Russian whiteness while also demonizing Asianness. Proximity to Asianness, in true Orientalist fashion, operates as a sign of barbarism. Russia is not inherently barbaric but it's barbaric when it acts Mongol-Turkic.
20/ None of this should be construed to mean that 1) antiblackness and other forms of racism against people of color don't exist or that 2) multiple analytics aren't necessary to understand Eastern European imperialism. This is a first run at parsing some of what's at play.
21/ Using the concept of "whiteness" to understand what's going on in Ukraine isn't about flattening the complexities of Eastern European nations, religions, classes, etc. It's about decoding the actual rhetoric that Western media is deploying. šŸ‘‡šŸ½šŸ‘‡šŸ½šŸ‘‡šŸ½

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