Monday, April 04, 2016

Adolph Reed
From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much
By far the most intellectually and politically interesting thing about the recent "exposé" of Spokane, WA, NAACP activist Rachel Dolezal’s racial status is the conundrum it has posed for racial identitarians who are also committed to defense of transgender identity. The comparisons between Dolezal and Republican Jenner (I’ve decided to opt for that referent because it is an identity continuous between "Bruce" and "Caitlyn" and is moreover the one most meaningful to me) began almost instantly, particularly as a flood of mass-mediated Racial Voices who support the legitimacy of transgender identity objected strenuously to suggestions that Dolezal’s representation, and apparent perception, of herself as black is similar to Bruce Jenner’s perception of himself as actually Caitlyn. Their contention is that one kind of claim to an identity at odds with culturally constructed understandings of the identity appropriate to one’s biology is okay but that the other is not – that it’s OK to feel like a woman when you don’t have the body of a woman and to act like (and even get yourself the body of) a woman but that it’s wrong to feel like a black person when you’re actually white and that acting like you’re black and doing your best to get yourself the body of a black person is just lying.
The limits of anti-racism
Antiracism is a favorite concept on the American left these days. Of course, all good sorts want to be against racism, but what does the word mean exactly?

The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention. If organizing a rally against racism seems at present to be a more substantive political act than attending a prayer vigil for world peace, that’s only because contemporary antiracist activists understand themselves to be employing the same tactics and pursuing the same ends as their predecessors in the period of high insurgency in the struggle against racial segregation.

This view, however, is mistaken. The postwar activism that reached its crescendo in the South as the “civil rights movement” wasn’t a movement against a generic “racism;” it was specifically and explicitly directed toward full citizenship rights for black Americans and against the system of racial segregation that defined a specific regime of explicitly racial subordination in the South. The 1940s March on Washington Movement was also directed against specific targets, like employment discrimination in defense production. Black Power era and post-Black Power era struggles similarly focused on combating specific inequalities and pursuing specific goals like the effective exercise of voting rights and specific programs of redistribution.

...All too often, “racism” is the subject of sentences that imply intentional activity or is characterized as an autonomous “force.” In this kind of formulation, “racism,” a conceptual abstraction, is imagined as a material entity. Abstractions can be useful, but they shouldn’t be given independent life.
Neoliberalism as the primacy both of individualism and the individual imagination, and of "ideas" as opposed to practice.
In this kind of formulation, “racism,” a conceptual abstraction, is imagined as a material entity. Abstractions can be useful, but they shouldn’t be given independent life.
The links are from Leiter, linking to Ben Norton.  I don't think Leiter understands the implication of what he's reading.

Norton quotes from three pieces by Reed. The last is Marx, Race and Neoliberalism [pdf]
A Marxist perspective can be most helpful for understanding race and racism insofar as it perceives capitalism dialectically, as a social totality that includes modes of production, relations of production, and the pragmatically evolving ensemble of institutions and ideologies that lubricate and propel its reproduction. From this perspective, Marxism’s most important contribution to making sense of race and racism in the United States may be demystification. A historical materialist perspective should stress that “race”—which includes “racism,” as one is unthinkable without the other—is a historically specific ideology that emerged, took shape, and has evolved as a constitutive element within a definite set of social relations anchored to a particular system of production.
Norton adds:
In other words, we need anti-racist marxism and feminist marxism (and anti-racist feminist marxism), not identity politics.
Marxism is a conceptual abstraction. Abstractions can be useful, but they shouldn’t be given independent life.

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