Ahmed, Sara. “Smile!” Feministkilljoys, 2 Feb. 2017, https://feministkilljoys.com/2017/02/02/smile/.
In this short piece, Ahmed pushes against the slogan “don't agonize, organize” which she connects to white feminisms and the assumption that transformative action can only emerge from positivity. “All actions are reactions. Joy is no less a reaction to something than sadness. An action is a reaction that has forgotten the ‘re’.” Ahmed argues that transformative action results from people allowing themselves to be affected by the realities we are exposed to rather than enforcing a heroic (positive) attitude towards them. The pervasive prescription of happiness, Ahmed holds, is a misleading application of theories from positive psychology that maintain that somatic changes can lead to emotional and mental changes, that “by smiling you would become happy, that you would even catch the feeling from an expression (rather than expressing a feeling you would feel the expression)”. This is what Ahmed identifies as hopeful performances. Sara Ahmed lists some ways in which happiness has been instrumentalized for domination throughout time: slaves, housewives, servers, and services workers–all highly racialized and/or feminized forms of labor–have been the ones for which smiling is a requirement. Happiness, or the illusion thereof, has also been used as survival strategy; Ahmed shares how people of color sometimes “might have to turn their bodies into smiles” in order to navigate (to “pass” in) an environment that perceives them as alien. I find the concept of hopeful performances and the ambiguity of strategic smiling (submission, survival, resistance?) particularly provocative and relevant to this collection.
Read Sara Ahmed’s whole piece here.