random questions

Donna Murch dmurch at violet.berkeley.edu
Thu Aug 10 14:03:48 MDT 1995

Doug Henwood wrote:

3) What is the political program suggested by "identity politics"? Do we
nurture those identities, cultivate and deepen them, or do we view them as
obstacles in the way of working class unity?What is gained politically by

5)interrogating the category 'worker'" or
whatever the fashionable phrase is? A deeper social and political
understanding, or fragmentation and defeat?

If I could I would like to address both of these questions together with a
set of related interests and questions.  The abstracted discussions that
are so often had on this line about identity politics seek the reduction of
this impossible large and unruly series of not only conflicting and
contradictory, political actions, programs, events, ideologies to a
singular poststructuralist foil for a materialist form of politics and
analysis.  Too often is identity politics defined by its rather narrow and
irrelevant variants in the academy,  in which slippage between the
differences of race, gender, sexual preference are made into synomous
vectors of identity and differance.  What I mean to say is that there is a
real need to differentiate these phenomena, and the historical conditions
that underwrite and constitute forms of collective identity.  Betty Friedan
is not Malcolm X is not Larry Kramer is not Judith Butler.

I am not entirely comfortable with the collapsing of Black people's
struggles for political representation and economic parity
(transhistorically) into the anemic category of "identity politics."  This
term too is historically constituted, and to this graduate student it comes
to me via mid-eighties academic engagements about the exclusivity of the
cannon and as a benign appellation for forms of "special interest"
politics...rather far from the struggles of the mass of Black peoples for
equity.  Often I am given the sense on the line, that identity politics
operates as the trope of "special interests" does in the Wall Street
Journal - a unwanted to distraction from the true Subject.  For the W.S.J.
the undifferentiated American citizen - for the line the undifferentiated
working class subject...class unity.

Black peole are disproportionately represented in the working class, and
much of the civil rights struggle, for example, was quite clearly an
attempt to gain entrance into forms,cites of American class privilege.  In
terms of my own work, I am very interested in the difficulities of
conceptualising Black people as a working class, and how struggles about
material resources when involving Black people become refigured into the
speciality category of "identity."  Why is it so hard for people to reckon
with the Black worker, who is not simply the white worker in "blackface"?
In Stuart Hall's words, "race is the modality through which class is
lived."  In a country as segregated both geographically and economicially
as the United States, I think there is a need to allow for race and gender
as central to the experience of class.  Given the income differentials
between for example white men and black women, clearly material resource,
privilege is ever operative in "identity."

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