identity politics

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Thu Aug 10 23:54:27 MDT 1995


My friend Donna Murch (with whom I have had occasion to disagree before) posted:

>  Why is it that race seems so much more slippery
>and illusory to precisely the group that benefits from its operations?

Now while I agree that any attempt to reduce the politics of identity and
self to academic posturing should be rebuked (though I did so in a previous
post), I think that this comment is unfair.  Many radical and even Marxist
African-American scholars have critiqued the thesis of race as an
independent social force (Barbara Fields), of race as collectively shared
lived experiece  (Adolph Reed, Abdul Al-Kalimat), of the use race as a
category for governmental and social scientific classification (Yehudi
Webster).

Webster argues for example that "racial solutions, such as busing,
affirmative action, black power, and multiculturalism, are bound to fail,
because they heighten the very racial awareness that is said to have led to
'racial problems' in the fist place. Their failure is then conceived as
proof that race is a hardenened reality that has 'a life of its own.'
Violent confrontations often emerge from the stalemate, and escalate into
large-scale conflagrations.  The periodic death and destruction, however,
pale into insignificance compared to the chronic maiming of human beings,
which is misnamed racial violence, racial oppression, and racial poverty.
Racial classification of social problems is the principal source of the
tolerance of waste and human destruction in American society.  This
conclusion does not imply that were it to be abandoned, social problems
would disappear.  Rather, the implication is that once racial
classification is discarded, conclusive analyses can be developed on whose
basis solutions could be constructed.  Racially defined problems, by
definition, cannot be resolved."

Or Webster asks: "Will not the prediction of an impending minority status
generate white fears and support for pro-white polticians who promise to
look after white interests? The priviliged status of race in social studies
surely fertilizes support for such politicians."

And; "...with the classification of so-called inner city residents as
blacks comes an implciation that their race, or the white race, is
responsible for their poverty."

Ultimately the so-called race of Webster and other writers  is irrelevant
(as well as being slippery and illusory). No doubt, one may argue that
Webster is coming very close to justifying racist reaction against policies
which would bring people together in our defacto segregated society,
actually break down identity by race and encourage collective class-based
action.

However, I do think that Webster is doubtless right to point to the need
for analyses of social problems from which do not follow racial
solutions--the possible counterproductiveness  and particularly narrow
class bias of which should be frighteningly manifest.  At least these
limits need to be discussed without fear of being called a racist.  Most of
all, we need to be clear about what it means to be an anti-racist.

I hope that this post will not be taken as an indication of the continuing
benefits I derive from the so-called "operations of race".  But I do think
that this is a very slippery, if not illusory, phrase.

Rakesh Bhandari





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