Thursday, November 17, 2016

Toward a Universal Understanding of American Bigotry

The Myth of Race is a foundational one that powers much of the hatred in America. However, attacking the Myth of Race on its own terms cedes, I think, important territory to the racist: that race, as a concept, is valid, exists, and can be used as a metric by which to judge others. The discourse on racism allows dangerous notions about race to fester and grow by giving it the space to do so. We must deny the racist the very battlefield.

To begin with, we must adhere to some concepts developed by social science; for one, that the center is always defined by its periphery. American bigotry is a reflexive sociological construct that exists solely to keep the dominant group in power, to help define its membership, and to repress and disenfranchise those who would seek to make inroads against it.

Race is a false category. It was first deployed to justify the enslavement and maltreatment of colonized regions by defining the inhabitants as possessing less advanced civilization. This argument slowly transformed, in the wake of Darwin, to a physiological one, and replaced the notions of more- and less-advanced civilizations with that of more- and less-evolved races. Scientific racism was used to justify the brutal enslavement of Africans in the Americas. Yes, scientific racism, just like eugenics, is a peculiar aspect that arose not from our European ancestors, but from America.

What, then, is the purpose of scientific racism today? We cannot have a "race problem" in America, because race is not a real, extent category in the objective world. It has been proven again and again by geneticists and other researchers to be a meaningless subdivision of a single, undivided, human race. However, the theory does give the American Bigot some important markers that are very difficult to hide. Racism establishes a coded language of power. Racism feeds into a complex and semi-permeable caste system that has existed in this country since its inception, known or unknown, on the surface or below it.

Indeed, without the presence of scientific racism to code dark skin as a caste marker, we would have no conception of the "white race." There would be Irish, and Italians, and Slavs, and all the other maligned peoples of Europe, and then Anglo-Saxons. This division was the way it was in the early 20th century. The caste system had yet to embrace Western Europeanness as the marker of the ruling class. It only went so far as English Protestant Europeanness.

But now, we have a starkly divided caste system. So-called racial markers join a host of others that determine where in the structure of power people are meant to fall. These markers include gender (women have less structural power than men, those with fluid or non-normative gender-identities have even less power than women), sexual identity (only a rigorous and narrow interpretation of heterosexuality is permissible, all other types subordinate), ethnic identity (certain ethnic markers, regardless of race, cause subordination: South American heritage, middle eastern heritage, under our new president-elect the old bugbear of Jewish heritage perhaps), religious identity (Islam is a subordinating marker), and so on, and so on.

These are expressions of power. The architects of these systems did not design them because they are white men. They designed them because they were powerful, and they wanted ways to secure their power. In all places, in all times, there is a center. In all places, in all times, this requires them to define a periphery. In this place, we must be alert to the fact that the center is the white male, that all power flows from the definitions that white male politicians and intellectuals have created; be wary, then, of being asked to despise others, of being asked to take certain markers and apply them to sort out the American castes. For we undoubtedly have a caste system more complex than most in history, one that is insidious, vile, and disgusting, that hides behind terms like race and gender.

In this time, in this place, as in many times and places in the past, white men hold most of that power. Whiteness has no meaning in and of itself, but because it is used as a marker for the dominant caste, we must always be wary of whiteness expressing its self-interest. Its interest is in subordination and disenfranchisement.

Do not forget that it can be resisted.

Do not forget that this is the work of individuals. Individual people must perpetuate this system. Individual people are to blame.

They should be held accountable for their actions.

No comments:

Post a Comment