Let the Unexpected Expand the Landscape of the Possible

Jia Tolentino and founder and Billie Whitehouse at The New Yorker TechFest in 2016, back when we were allowed to leave our homes and gather in large groups indoors. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

For Interview, Christopher Bollen talks with Jia Tolentino about the decade and a half that has been 2020: COVID-19, the capitalist death cult, melting permafrost, white supremacy, political protest, Danny DeVito. You know, the usual.

I hope ego death becomes a more commonplace experience. I hope the absence of stability and predictability revives our political imagination, helps more of us inhabit the original position when we consider the kind of world that would make us excited and proud to live in.

I always tend toward the idea that discomfort is productive—it is for me—but racial discomfort curdles if it remains centered on whiteness. I’ve wondered if the unproductive idea of colorblindness is shifting to an unproductive idea of white self-analysis. Like, I think there’s some portion of white people who are going from awkwardly saying “African-American” to awkwardly saying “BIPOC,” people who were “taught to treat everyone equally” and are now being taught to verbally negotiate their own whiteness better—but who are still enmeshed in white communities, their affective habits altered a little but their enacted priorities still the same.

I’m also suspicious of the way that Not Being Racist is a project that people seem to be approaching like boot camp. To deepen your understanding of race, of this country, should make you feel like the world is opening up, like you’re dissolving into the immensity of history and the present rather than being more uncomfortably visible to yourself. Reading more Black writers isn’t like taking medicine. People ought to seek out the genuine pleasure of decentering themselves, and read fiction and history alongside these popular anti-racist manuals, and not feel like they need to calibrate their precise degree of guilt and goodness all the time.

Read the interview