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Into the voice box

Dimitris Papadopoulos | Journal: Issues | Race/Matter [2] | May 2007

I have this fantasy in the middle of today’s excessive biophilic natureculture: I invent the bio-scissors. With the bio-scissors you can remodel parts of your body without damaging them. DIY beauty: The results are instant, the healing process is immediate and completely painless (as you can imagine this will revolutionise beauty treatments and I promise all revenues will go to darkmatter).

Anyway, I won’t use my bio-scissors to treat my belly, my fantasy is to reshape my voice box. This will spare me of some unpleasant social interactions, here the two most recent: making a standard call to one of the main national research funding bodies to clarify things about my standard grant and getting the answer that only British academics are eligible for the scheme before the operator quickly hangs up; having to answer the questions what is my phd topic and how long I’m going to stay in the UK many many times during the lovely small talk with colleagues after a trendy lecture in one of the capital’s universities. Well, all this are mere bagatelles against the everyday racism of British society. And anyway, by being a kind of middle class academic I know that I can do the individualistic DIY thing because I can afford to use the bio-scissors (no need to stand in massive queues in the early hours to get my No 7 Protect & Perfect).

But there is much more to the cultural politics of voice and accent. If you think together Fanon’s epidermalisation, Althusser’s interpellation and the materiality of the larynx you get something which is called the ‘new migrant’. ‘Old migrants’ speak proper English and detonate bombs in our trains and buses. How can they dare to bomb us when they speak English as their mother tongue? ‘New migrants’ speak dodgy English and undermine national sovereignty and the last remaining bits of the crumbling welfare system. How can they dare to demand regularisation without speaking the language? Language as persecution. Language as a symptom of British neurosis.

What I’m interested in is how the materiality of the voice box sustains the trajectories of racialisation on the one hand and criminalisation of mobility on the other. The materiality of the voice box acts as the point of gravity of British doubled-sided racism against the ‘non-integrated’ on the one hand and the ‘illegal’ on the other. We are used to respond to this by engaging separately in the politics of race and the politics of migration. But this distinction is no longer sustainable. Voice, racialisation, accents, detention centres, precarious labour, racial oppression, deportations are all made of the same stuff of matter: bodies which do not match. In the age of bio-scissors (well nearly there) DIY is not enough. It is impossible to think race and migration independent of each other. Do it without yourself! DIWY!


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