This paper is a final project for a class titled "Cultural Constructions of the Masculine." It is not precisely about 'masculinity' per se, any more than the class itself was. Instead I have chosen to discuss the current war being waged by minorities against oppression that is being directed against them by society.
As hegemonic society is an expression of the desires of the privileged, and the privileged in this society are generally older white males, I suppose I could also claim this paper was about attempts to dismantle the trappings of patriarchy, if I needed a closer association (within the paper) with masculinity.
A few caveats before I begin. Firstly, this was not an easy paper for me to write. Nevertheless, I do feel what I am about to discuss should be said; I happen to believe the axiom 'silence implies consent.' Secondly, as a student in a social science, I have discovered current authors are being compelled to write themselves into their works, or see their essays and books discredited because their 'prejudices' are not clearly stated 'up front.' I find this discreditation a belittling example of mental sloppiness to avoid thoughtful consideration of what are on occasion genuinely innovative or well-thought-out ideas.
On the other hand, I can certainly see the uses of such a tactic. A chatty discussion of what are mostly opinions is almost impossible to refute; it is hard to deny that someone thought a particular thing. Therefore I shall be using first person while writing this paper -- it is, after all, about my opinions on certain rather emotionally 'touchy' subjects.
Finally, while I made every effort to remove all occurrences of the words 'you' and 'one,' a few still linger within the paper. This is not an attempt to exclude any particular group, or to assume that I am the norm and all my readers will be precisely like myself. Instead it is simply literary convention. If this disturbs you (whoever you the reader happen to be), I apologize and suggest you stop now, as you are likely to find this paper offensive.
So are minorities really waging a war, or am I simply being melodramatic? In his essay Truth and Power Foucault writes:
As soon as one endeavors to detach power with its techniques and procedures from the form of law within which it has been theoretically confined up until now, one is driven to ask this basic question: isn't power simply a form of warlike domination? Shouldn't one therefore conceive all problems of power in terms of relations of war? Isn't power a sort of generalized war which assumes at particular moments the forms of peace and the State? Peace would then be a form of war, and the State a means of waging it.
A whole range of problems emerge here. Who wages war against whom? Is it between two classes, or more? Is it a war of all against all ... in this civil society where permanent war is waged? What is the relevance of concepts of tactics and strategy for analyzing structures and political processes? What is the essence and mode of transformation of power relations? (1972:123)
If Foucault is correct, power expresses itself in a wide variety of ways. One of those is indeed war -- a war to maintain or topple hegemonic racism. In this case minorities are indeed in a battle for survival; are perhaps constantly and desperately combating abuses of power directed against them from within hegemonic society. So how best to win this war? Consult an expert. Sun Tzu writes,
All warfare is based on deception. ... Anger [the enemy's] general and confuse him. If the general is choleric his authority can be easily upset. His character is not firm. If the enemy general is obstinate and prone to anger, insult and enrage him, so that he will be irritated and confused, and without a plan will recklessly advance against you.
Nothing is better than to protract things and keep him at a distance. ... When he is united, divide him. ...disrupt his alliances. Do not allow your enemies to get together. ... Treat captives well, and care for them. This is called 'winning a battle and becoming stronger.'
Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this. ... Thus, those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform (1963: 66-69, 76-78, 93).
Excellent advice. A pity it is being so successfully used by the majority against minorities.
I believe Kate Bornstein put it best:
I think that anger and activism mix about as well as drinking and driving. When I'm angry, I don't have the judgment to select a correct target to hit out against. I do believe that anger is healthy, that it can lead to a recognition of the need for action, but activism itself is best accomplished by level heads who can help steer others' anger toward correct targets. A correct target is the group that has both the will and the power to oppress you wherever you go (1994:83).
Sun Tzu would be proud. Here is someone who understands that anger is a means, not an ends.
Unfortunately Bornstein's revelations are not shared by all. With lamentable frequency many individuals within this society (regardless of whether they are members of minorities or not) are becoming locked into a vicious cycle of anger and demand.
If one is constantly demanding, how can one move forward? Growth occurs from within; it is not handed to you. Anger does not help one to grow. The spoiled brat and the terrorist are our societal role-models for those who expect their loudly and publicly announced anger and outrage to immediately bring them some benefit. Self-centered children or egomaniacal assassins... do the oppressed truly wish to be associated with either of these?
Consider an example of indiscriminate use of anger. Audre Lorde writes:
I speak out of direct and particular anger at an academic conference, and a white woman says, "Tell me how you feel but don't say it too harshly or I cannot hear you." But is it my manner that keeps her from hearing, or the threat of a message that her life may change? ...
A white academic welcomes the appearance of a collection by non-Black women of Color. "It allows me to deal with racism without dealing with the harshness of Black women," she says to me (1984:125-6).
I am astonished that Lorde can put these two paragraphs in the same article, and not see the answer to her own question. Or this:
After I read from my work entitled Poems for Women in Rage, a white woman asks me: "Are you going to do anything with how we can deal directly with our anger? I feel it's so important." I ask, "How do you use your rage?" And then I have to turn away from the blank look in her eyes, before she can invite me to participate in her own annihilation. I do not exist to feel her anger for her.
...I still hear, on campus after campus, "How can we address the issues of racism? No women of Color attended." ... In other words, racism is a Black women's problem, a problem of women of Color, and only we can discuss it [emphasis hers] (1984:125).
I found these examples incredibly sad. True, Lorde has every right to be angry. However, is Lorde surprised that racism is perceived as a "Black women's problem," when she arrogantly turns away from any attempt to communicate?
How patronizing of her to assume she knows precisely what someone else is thinking, merely due to the color of their skin! Is this not the very essence of bigotry? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word 'oppress' as follows:
1a archaic: SUPPRESS b: to crush or burden by abuse of power or authority 2: to burden spiritually or mentally: weigh heavily upon.
Audre Lorde is rightfully angry at her oppression, using definition one. I do not see how this justifies her oppressing, as in definition two, another person. Since when have two wrongs made a right?
Well, perhaps her actions caused some benefit? A closer examination of her essay seems to be in order. What were the results of Lorde's anger, according to her?
She alienated the very people who might be able to help, who were nervously and tentatively reaching out to her. She helped establish a mental division between "Black" women (as "harsh") and other "women of Color," who seemed to become oppositionally defined as more reasonable.
I find in Lorde a perfect example of Sun Tzu's advice. She is angry and confused as to who her true enemy is. She lashes out blindly at white women, but is at a distance from the white men who are as much if not more to blame for her anger. She is divisive; she cannot install or maintain alliances; and she strikes out recklessly at those who might be willing to aid her.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu, Lorde is deceived by her anger into doing the will of her enemy; she is conforming to the situation set up by the hegemony. Furthermore, considering her vitriol, I found myself wondering -- does such careless and unfocused anger truly exemplify a desire to initiate true change? Or is it simply a blind lashing out, for revenge or for attention? As Bornstein notes,
I kept hearing people define me in terms they were comfortable with. It's easy to play victim, and to say that these people were being malicious, but assuming the worst about others is simply not truth, and it's not a loving or empowering way to look at other people (1994:50).
Bornstein later notes her own reactions when she let her anger go, and started accepting individual people as unique and distinct, rather than as lumped categorizations:
My joy at the look on their faces was the beginning of my sense of humor about all of this -- I was no longer humiliated by their definitions of me (1994:51).
Bornstein had lost the need to find approval and identity in the expectations of others, and as a consequence she also lost the crippling dependency on anger -- the very anger which seems to still be a necessary crutch for Lorde. Indeed, from the sound of Bornstein's writings she has become stronger and more self-assured as a result. There is a power in claiming one's identity rather than getting mired in anger at others, due to self-doubt and uncertainty.
The various proponents of minority causes can be likened to commanders in a campaign. Some of them do well, and some do poorly. Isn't it strange that the ones most celebrated are the ones that are most successful -- and the ones that are least violent? Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. come easily to mind.
Both of them forever changed the hegemony of their countries. Perhaps I am being a little harsh towards Lorde -- after all this is only one of her (doubtless many) writings. Still, I found it sad that in this essay she offers no constructive solutions -- only destructive anger.
Furthermore, it is not as if anger is the only emotion open to women of color involved in the 'war' against bigotry. Fatima Mernissi, who surely has as much reason to feel anger as Lorde, writes the following inspiring words:
If you want other people to stop being monsters who attack you as soon as you open your mouth to say something interesting and unique (of course!), you have to begin by giving up the boxer's posture. ... I began by writing articles that were vitriolic.
Many of my friends and colleagues ... recognized themselves in the vile portraits, and acrimonious discussions ensued. The, one day, I came to the conclusion that I really had to find a different method. What if I accentuated the positive, the things that were right, that gave hope, instead of getting bogged down in all that was wrong? Perhaps I would help myself -- and others too -- to see how you could wade on through the mire, and perhaps how you could avoid it -- possibly even how you could learn to fly. And, anyway, what was there to lose from imagining a better world?
This shift opened up to me incredible doors of friendship and comradeship and brought me harsh but constructive criticism and so much emotion, so many dreams and hopes reciprocated by readers of both sexes, giving me the boldness I needed to continue my explorations. ... I have lost my anger along the way, or at least it is expressed in a different way (1996:3).
She notes later in the same essay:
To write, you have to let out your anger one way or another, or at least get on top of it, since putting it down on paper hardly solves the problem. I do not read a writer because she infuses me with anger; I read her because she spreads before me paths which explore a myriad inextricable ramifications of those little pent-up emotions and knotted affects which constitute anger, humiliation or frustration (1996:3).
To put things bluntly, in these two essays Mernissi appears to try to inspire to greatness; Lorde seems intent on assigning blame.
Let us not be confused here. I am not trying to say in any shape or form that oppression against minority groups doesn't happen, or can be justified by any stretch of the imagination. There is no doubt that it does happen, and it should be stopped.
Nor am I attempting to label all minority group members as unjustifiably angry, or to say that Lorde has no right to be angry. That would be an incorrect and essentialist view of my views. It is merely my puzzled observation that on occasion some of the victims of oppression -- those who would seem to be most intimately aware of the need to end bigotry -- are often just as blindly brutal as their oppressors.
Why is this? I don't have any simple answers. What I do know is that I've seen the rhetoric against racism become institutionalized -- and as a result, become itself racist. A good example of this is in the furor a few years ago over a column in a college newspaper. The white columnist announced the formation of an organization for the support and advancement of the causes of white people. He even published a comprehensive constitution for this organization.
The constitution contained phrases such as "working towards the advancement of the white race" and similarly race-specific and -exclusive statements. Condemnation from all quarters was immediate, vocal, and furious.
His detractors were even more angry when they discovered that he had "misappropriated" the constitution of the Black National Congress, and merely substituted the word 'white' for 'black' in the document. The author insisted that he was not being racist, but rather was using this juxtaposition as a method of exposing racism.
The reactions he received are an example of the automatic responses enforced by this particular mode of thinking. These people are unwittingly reacting in a racist fashion; their racism is distressingly insidious for the very reason that it is unconscious -- it is not done knowingly, ergo they cannot see it, and thus it cannot quickly and easily be corrected.
Why did they react with such furor? Perhaps it was because they have been taught any organization purporting to defend the rights of whites is wrong? Or perhaps it was the embarrassment of not wanting to admit to being caught in an unconscious double standard? Rather than examining the content and drawing their own thoughtful conclusions, they were immediately reacting only to the word 'white.' Their rhetoric against racism had become racist.
It doesn't matter what color your skin is -- judging someone else by the color of their skin is still bigotry. Bigotry is easily (if infrequently) noted by checking to see if a double standard is being applied to a situation. Consider the above example. Would the critics of this white man's column have reacted with such immediate vitriol had the columnist been Asian? -or homosexual? -or female?
Odds are the reactions might still have been somewhat disapproving -- anger can be intoxicating, after all -- but equally likely that displeasure would have been nowhere as acrimonious. When the color of someone's skin, or their biological sex, or their sexual preference changes one's reaction to them, a double standard is being performed.
Like racism, there is no excuse for double standards -- what is done unconsciously can be just as hurtful as that done deliberately. It is my personal opinion that unconscious actions should be forgiven a little more easily than deliberate attacks, but that is just my opinion -- your mileage may vary.
An example of double standards may be appropriate here. Aida Hurtado, in her article On a Reflexive Theory of Gender Subordination, writes eloquently concerning oppression -- then falls prey to an apparent need to assign blame. She writes of her "own fable to explore the unspoken rules of power" -- but she carefully neglects to mention that these "tricks" are characteristic of humans, not merely of whites. A friend who is also a woman of color mentioned disgustedly to me later that Hurtado seemed to have forgotten that everyone does those things -- it's human nature to abuse power.
It is a shame Hurtado succumbs to the need to assign blame. Oddly enough in her footnotes she even quotes a relevant passage that she seems to have missed, "The protester, while seeking always to carry the banner of truth and justice, must remember that the fires of commitment do not bestow the gift of infallibility (Bell 1994:xxi)."
And yet her entire article is based on self-designed, labeled categories of relative power values. She seems to have forgotten her study subjects are as much cultural resources as actual individuals, and her use of broad and dismissive categorizations are themselves as intellectually limiting as what she purports to be fighting. She does not seem to see that imposing such restrictive cultural roles inhibits us, forcing a hierarchical, oppositional set of meanings that stifles the true breadth of human response. Such a "topography of closure" imprisons the individual, forcing "mutually exclusive spaces where one term inevitably dominates the other" (Kondo 1990: 29).
Hurtado's paper ends with a call to surpass such repressive power relations, but she cannot seem to conceive of repression as originating from any class but 'white.' Indeed, it is noteworthy she herself applies hierarchical standards within her paper. Through this (possibly unwitting) demonstration of how one of her subjects ('whites') perpetuate stereotypes, she falls prey to the insidious urge to apply stereotypes herself.
The syllogistic nature of Hurtado's argument is such that disagreeing with one of her self-created classifications implies disagreement with all of them. Since it is a lamentable but incontestable fact that racism exists, by rational conclusion one finds oneself initially agreeing with Hurtado's other categorizations of white racism.
Unfortunately, while Hurtado's arguments are allegorically elegant, they are not necessarily exclusive to whites. We are limited, however, by her choice of presented information: naturally that which best proves her points is all that is presented. Unfortunately there is a rather simplistic, essentialist slant to these summaries: whites are racist -- they vary only in degree.
Furthermore, Hurtado's categories of "tricks" are extremely broadly defined. Thus they enable racism to be used "as a floating signifier, whose function is essentially that of denunciation. The procedures of every form of power are suspected of being [racist], just as the masses are in their desires (Foucault 1972:139)."
Does Hurtado wish to imply racism is somehow made more sacred or non-existent, simply due to its use by a racial minority? Or is it simply she is in desperate need of a competent editor?
If it is Hurtado's desire to indiscriminately include all whites (and only whites) as "tricksters," then this article accomplishes that goal nicely -- her stereotypical "tricks" are so all-encompassing as to include every form of human manipulation. Therefore, within the limitations Hurtado has set us (information only on 'white abuses' within a hierarchical framework used to supposedly break down hierarchy) we are led to somehow believe that people of color are incapable of racism, while white people cannot avoid it.
This double standard is immediately obvious if we turn it around. Who would not laugh incredulously if they heard white people are incapable of racism, while people of color cannot avoid it? Yet we accept the obverse as an sacrosanct and inviolable truth, to the point that anyone who contests it is vigorously attacked and vilified.
I have so far confined myself to examples involving racism. However, bigotry is not an exclusive characteristic of skin color, nor do I wish to give that impression. I turn now to Bornstein for an example of bigotry. It is to her credit that she is both stating this in a humorous fashion, and that she makes this statement as an example of self-destructive behaviors:
I have found an underground of male-to-female gender outlaws which already has its own unspoken hierarchy, definable from whatever shoes you happen to be standing in -- high heels or Reeboks.
Post-operative transsexuals (those transsexuals who've had genital surgery and live fully in the role of another gender) look down on:
Pre-operative transsexuals (those who are living full or part time in another gender, but who've not yet had their genital surgery) who in turn look down on:
Transgenders (people living in another gender identity, but who have little or no intention of having genital surgery) who can't abide:
She-Males (a she-male friend of mine described herself as "tits, big hair, lots of make-up, and a dick.") who snub the:
Drag Queens (gay men who on occasion dress in varying parodies of women) who laugh about the:
Out Transvestites (usually heterosexual men who dress as they think women dress, and who are out in the open about doing that) who pity the:
Closet Cases (transvestites who hide their cross-dressing) who mock the post-op transsexuals.
Clearly this is a self-sustaining cycle of bigotry and scapegoating, which will never end until someone (like Bornstein) stands up and draws attention to it, and shows its inapplicability to true acceptance and tolerance. This is as true for racism as it is for 'sexual' hierarchies.
As I have stated before, bigotry is still bigotry, regardless of who perpetrates it. Unfortunately such scapegoating is a human characteristic; we cannot look to only one class or category of humans either as its sole perpetrators, nor to stop it.
Let me pause here to be clear on what I mean by scapegoating. McCarthy writes:
Scapegoating is invariably a sign of failed teamwork. It prospers in an environment with a narrow, misunderstood, or distorted sense of accountability. Individuals and groups with a strong moral ideation are especially vulnerable to scapegoatism. Typically, the person or group who is scapegoated symbolizes ... some pathology in the team psyche. Scapegoatism is a maladaptive, defensive reaction in which failure and other evils are magically warded off by finding someone to blame.
Note there is no mention of exclusivity in regards to who scapegoats or is scapegoated. What is instead highlighted is this is not a healthy or productive reaction. It is frightening how often groups (both majority and minority) use this technique to justify ostracism, disrespect, and assignment of blame. Unfortunately, as McCarthy goes on to note:
Ultimately, untreated scapegoating is fatal. ... The direct victims (the people blamed) ... respond with impenetrable defensiveness and reverse scapegoatism. ... their effectiveness is greatly reduced...
The secondary victims are the balance of the team, and they are victimized in at least two ways and with more profound and dangerous consequences: since blame has been improperly though conveniently assigned, true cause and effect are never analyzed, genuine inefficiencies are never exposed, and the problems are left to express themselves in new ways that in turn trigger more scapegoating. The newly validated scapegoating impulse becomes stronger than ever, having just fed itself by taking huge bites out of the efficiency of the team. A single successful scapegoating episode will always compound the virulence of the scapegoating impulse in the rest of the team.
Thus it can be seen that anger and bigoted assignments of blame are not adaptive or empowering long-term impulses. They are instead simplistic assessments of the problem. I am still astonished when I consider their insidious effects -- why is it that no one questions such essentialist treatment of the scapegoat?
Furthermore, by tarring any who are at all loosely allied with the scapegoated victim, such behavior effectively isolates the target one wishes to 'punish.' After all, no one wishes to invite attacks or vitriol similar to that being suffered by a scapegoat. We are all fearful of:
...the spectacle of a terror which threatens us all, that of being judged by a power which wants to hear only the language it lends us. ... [we become] accused, deprived of language, or worse, rigged out in that of our accusers, humiliated and condemned by it (Barthes 1957:46).
However, this scapegoating invites an unhealthy form of group-think that chastises innovation and true self-analysis, and forestalls any attempts to either get at or constructively deal with the true roots of the problem. True, if the goal is merely short-term gain (such as becoming the center of attention, or striking out vengefully) scapegoating is a perfect technique, since the desire for increased understanding and/or growth of all associated with the group is subordinated to the selfish desires of the individual or group insisting on the scapegoating.
I will, of course, be accused of reverse racism for the beliefs I am stating in this paper. Hurtado cleverly uses reverse racism to support her arguments; I see no reason why I should not do the same. She notes:
The often openly expressed response to charges of racism [against persons of color by whites] is the assertion that whiteness is a legitimate criterion of resource allocation because merit is color-blind and that it is a coincidence (or inherent superiority) that most meritorious persons happen to be white and male (1996:157).
This is (as I'm sure she knows) nonsense. The most meritorious persons are currently both white and male because of the privileges they accrue in this society. This is not the issue I am examining. I am discussing being unfair in order to redress prior unfairness.
The question becomes: at what point does one stop being unfair? I have no problem with helping people who need some financial assistance to complete their studies -- I am myself a beneficiary of such assistance. Where I draw the line is when a double standard is being applied -- where assistance is being given due to some inborn criterion such as skin color or biological sex.
There is no 'exit strategy' for this program. Will we be favoring skin color or sex forever, as long as it is not white or male? How long shall we punish a certain class of people? When will the groups receiving these advantages decide they have received the redress they sought? It seems likely that as long as they are successfully receiving these advantages they will continue to declare themselves as still disadvantaged.
Thus we can see in the above examples how the rhetoric against racism or bigotry becomes institutionalized -- and as a consequence, become itself racist and/or oppressive. The tools of this process are scapegoating with anger, and application of unwitting double standards.
The result is the oppressed become what they're fighting against, blindly helping to maintain the hierarchializations of the majority. Unfortunately, no matter how pretty the arguments used, how oppressed the speaker, or how unwitting the double standard is, bigotry is still bigotry.
Indeed, I find it interesting that anyone who seeks to even open a discussion of the issue, in terms of 'when should we stop?' is labeled a racist. There seems currently to be an accepted mythology concerning the discourse on bigotry, a belief that those that have been oppressed have acquired some inner essence that inoculates them against any possible abuse of power. Yet in the Merriam-Webster definition of the word 'oppress' there is no mention of any class of people being immune to the ability to abuse others.
It is easy to forget, I think, that abuse of power is an expression of bigotry in all humans. According to Foucault, power is accepted because it is not merely repressive. It does not only say 'no,' but rather it "traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse (1977, 119)." In that case, the oppressed and formerly powerless might find the ability to exercise power -- even unjust power -- intoxicatingly irresistible.
To oppress is to discover one's self, to exist oppositionally to one's victim, to know one's own strength and power. As Barthes notes,
We find again here this disease of thinking in essences, which is at the bottom of every bourgeois mythology of man (which is why we come across it so often). ... myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear.
Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi: it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an 'elsewhere' at its disposal. ... Men do not have with myth a relationship based on truth but on use: they depoliticize according to their needs (1957: 121, 123, 144).
Thus the current mythologies about bigotry (and in specific racism) insidiously create themselves because they are needed in order to hide acts of bigotry by certain classes of people. These 'myths' could be stated as follows: 'bigotry exists, but the oppressed are surely incapable of such outrages. It must be only the hegemonic majority committing these outrages, thus they must be solely to blame.' Sadly, those that espouse such tactics do not seem to realize they are using the very theoretical frameworks set up for them by hegemonic thought. As Foucault notes,
In order to be able to fight a State which is more than just a government, the revolutionary movement ... hence must constitute itself as a party, organised internally in the same way as a State apparatus with the same mechanisms of hierarchies and organizations of powers (1972:59).
By using the myth-making capabilities of the hegemony and the tools and tactics of the hegemony, various groups and individuals are unwittingly helping to maintain the very hegemonic double standards they purport to wish to disassemble.
Here can be seen the consequences of blind assumption of the tactics of one's enemy. Anger and double standards will not dismantle the trappings of privilege, but rather only reassign blame -- and perhaps allow the formerly oppressed the right to shoulder those very trappings themselves. Lorde herself writes, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house (1984: 110)." Why then does she promote the use of anger and double standards -- the tactics of the master?
I don't expect this paper to be approved of -- I'm not following the PC academic 'party line.' But why is it so taboo to mention this trait of bigotry as potentially applying to all humans? Deikman writes of a possible reason,
We can feel secure in the protection provided by a group, but that protection has its price. Compliance with the group often extends further than acceptance of the group's views to include participation in the attack on deviants by subtle (or not so subtle) disapproval, punishment, or rejection of any member who voices criticism of the consensus.
Thus if an observer introduces the possibility that bigotry might be a human trait, rather than a trait belonging exclusively to the hegemonic majority, the approval of their group is abruptly withdrawn. Lurking over the observer like a Damoclean sword is the threat of possible future disapprobation -- or even outright attack.
The choice is clear; stand with the group, or stand besieged and alone to speak the uncomfortable truth. Most people desire acceptance -- it also is a human trait. However, as a friend politely noted, I am a trouble-maker, and I'm not willing to pay that price. I will not stifle questions on what I see as an injustice, merely in order to be accepted. Foucault writes,
The university hierarchy is only the most visible, the most sclerotic and least dangerous form of this phenomenon. One has to be really naive to imagine that the effects of power linked to knowledge have their culmination in university hierarchies (19:52).
I am unsurprised, if disappointed, to find my most intimate exposure to bigotry has happened on a college campus. It is an unfortunate truism that many of those who espouse anger and unwitting double standards are part of the academic world.
Nevertheless, while the problem of angry double standards appears to be originating there, it seems to me the birth of the cure is also possible in the same location. As academics and as people supposedly dedicated to seeking out truth, it would seem our duty to fight this mythologizing. Foucault adds later,
What the intellectual can do is to provide instruments of analysis... What's effectively needed is a ramified, penetrative perception of the present, one that makes it possible to locate lines of weakness, strong points, positions where the instances of power have secured and implanted themselves by a system of organisation dating back over 150 years. In other words, a topological and geological survey of the battlefield -- that is the intellectual's goal (1972:62).
It is not for the academic to promote histrionics, or engage in tearful accusations of racism. This accomplishes nothing, antagonizes potential allies, and is actively destructive of the cause of eliminating bigotry in the non-academic world.
Instead, to effectively fight bigotry -- in all its forms, regardless of who it is perpetrated by -- the intellectual would do better to identify and historicize bigotry, that it may be better understood, addressed, and ultimately eliminated. Barthes also tells us how to accomplish this goal. He notes:
There is therefore one language which is not mythical, it is the language of man as a producer: wherever man speaks in order to transform reality and no longer to preserve it as an image, wherever he links his language to the making of things, meta-language is referred to a language-object, and myth is impossible. This is why revolutionary language proper cannot be mythical (1972:62).
The revolutionary goal is there before us: a society free of bigotry. We -- all the members of this society -- can produce such a society, but we cannot do so by promulgating the very double standards that caused the racisms and bigotries we are attempting to deconstruct. We must be wary of a psychological need to essentialize and scapegoat, to preserve the image of bigotry as belonging to the Other, and instead understand its history in order to eliminate it.
Once again, I'd like to state my views clearly, with an eye to avoiding essentialist simplification of my arguments. I do not feel anger at oppression is inappropriate -- merely the thoughtless application of it to the wrong target. I do not feel that bigotry is unique to minorities, but rather to humans. I do feel that focused and controlled anger can be a key tool in disassembling bigotry and double standards -- in all their forms.
I also feel that while I may not see a bigotry-free society in my life-time, it is a glorious goal that is worth working towards... and this paper is part of my attempts to do so. I'd like to close with a quote that I think is still relevant today. It was said by Reverend Martin Niemoller, in Germany:
When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists I was not a member of a union, and therefore I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church -- and there was nobody left to be concerned.
If you see what you believe is a wrong, speak out. Ask questions; seek always for the truth. Don't let yourself be defined by others. Be concerned. Silence implies consent.
Barthes, Roland, Mythologies, Hill and Wang, NY, 1957.
Bell, Derrick, quoted by Aida Hurtado in "On a Reflexive Theory of
Gender Subordination," fr. The Color of Privilege, University of
Bornstein, Kate, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of
Us, Vintage Books, Random House, NY, 1994.
Deikman, Arthur J., The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering Patterns of
Cult Behavior in American Society, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass.,
Foucault, Michel, "Truth and Power," fr. Power/Knowledge: Selected
Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977, Pantheon Books, NY, 1980.
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