From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much
Reed, Adolph Jr.http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/15/jenner-dolezal-one-trans-good-other-not-so-much
Date Written: 2015-06-15
Publisher: Common Dreams
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX17582
As is ever clearer and ever more important to note, race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do.
When all is said and done, the racial outrage is about protection of the boundaries of racial authenticity as the exclusive property of the guild of Racial Spokespersonship. (Blay also, with no hint of self-consciousness, complains that Dolezal's deception has "hijacked the conversation about race, during a week where the nation was focusing on police brutality in McKinney, Texas." Not only is that insipid "conversation about race" chatter the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. It seems that Blay hasn't discerned that the Dolezal issue has captured such attention only because it rankles the sensibilities of those who essentialize race and that no one is making her talk about it but herself.)
Beneath all the puerile cultural studies prattle about "cultural appropriation" -- which can only occur if "culture" is essentialized as the property of what is in effect a "race" ... and Orwellian chatter about privilege and "disprivilege," the magical power of "whiteness," etc. lies yet another iteration in what literature scholar Kenneth Warren has identified in his masterful 2012 study, What Was African American Literature?, as a more than century-old class program among elements of the black professional-managerial stratum to establish "managerial authority over the nation’s Negro problem."
That is to say, as is ever clearer and ever more important to note, race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.
This perspective may help explain why, the more aggressively and openly capitalist class power destroys and marketizes every shred of social protection working people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations have fought for and won over the last century, the louder and more insistent are the demands from the identitarian left that we focus our attention on statistical disparities and episodic outrages that "prove" that the crucial injustices in the society should be understood in the language of ascriptive identity.
The Dolezal/Jenner contretemps stoked the protectionist reflexes of identitarian spokesperson guilds because it troubles current jurisdictional boundaries. Even before that, however, some racial identitarians had grown bolder in laying bare the blur of careerism and arbitrary, self-serving moralism at the base of this supposed politics. In an unintentionally farcical homage to Black Power era radicalism, various racial ventriloquists claiming to channel the Voices of the Youth leadership of the putative Black Lives Matter "movement" have lately been arguing that the key condition for a left alliance is that we all must "respect black leadership." Of course, that amounts to a claim to shut up and take whatever anyone who claims that status says or does.
I can imagine an identitarian response to my argument to the effect that I endorse some version of wiggerism, or the view that "feeling black" can make one genuinely black. The fact is that I think that formulation is wrong-headed either way one lines up on it. Each position -- that one can feel or will one’s way into an ascriptive identity or that one can't -- presumes that the "identity" is a thing with real boundaries.