language, people, language

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Tue Jul 18 15:04:34 MDT 1995


I am having a little problem with the messages. Let me try this again.

In a message dated 95-07-18 10:13:52 EDT, Nello writes:

>European doesn't exist and asiatic does't mean anything of specific.

Lisa was entirely correct about the original use of  'mongloid', but I did
not want to get into the debate on language, as it appears to be an excuse
what this high school teacher recognizes as 'acting out'. I once made the
mistake of raising a question about the appropriateness of the phrase 'gives
me a hard on' in intellectual discourse on this list, and I won't do that
again. It was fruitless.

But I think that Nello raises a point which requires further discussion. I do
not think that categories such as Europe and Asia are either distinct
geographical entities (leaving aside here how geography constructs its
categories) or phantasms of the imagination. Nor do I think that racial
categories should be understood in biological terms, as a previous posting
did.

It is a worthwhile exercise to look into the historical origins of categories
such as Europe, for such analysis may tell us something about how they
function, and maybe even something of their nature. For example, the category
of Europe develops first out of the conflict with an expanding Islam, and is
closely connected to Christian identity. As the 'Age of Discovery' emerges,
and European nations engage in a project of world exploitation, the category
of Europe acquires a new saliency. It does not arise out of any geographical
discourse properly speaking. (One might reference here Edward Said's very
inetersting text on _Orientalism_.) Similarly, I suspect that the category of
Asia (like the category of Africa, with which I am considerably more
familiar) is a product of the interaction between Western (dare I say
European) imperialism and the peoples of that continent. If we exercise any
thoughtfulness, we will recognize that categories such as Pan-Africanism and
national liberation are not 'indigenous' to pre-imperial and traditional
Africa, Asia, etc., but the product of the confrontation of the two cultures,
and the African (Asian) assimilation/transformation of European categories.
Thus, we have the considerable historical irony of revolutionary African
nationalists insisting upon the use of an European language as the national
language, such as Portuguese in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, because
the use of an African language would privilege one sub-national, ethnic group
over another and destroy (or more correctly, prevent the emergence of) a
truly national unity. (A related problem have emerged in South Africa, where
the last gasp of apartheid took the form of support for a Zulu 'nationalism'
against the non-racialist notion of nationalism propounded by the ANC. There
are some very interesting analyses of this phenomenon, and of how Zulu
'nationalism' was connected with apartheid itself, in the magazine
_Transition_.)

Skip Gates recounts a joke about standing on a New York City corner as taxi
cabs zip by, and saying, "Don't they know that blackness is only a trope?"
But the category of race only has social meaning, of course, because of the
qualities discursively connected to certain physical and cultural signs. Taxi
cab drivers act on the basis of these discursive connections, not on some
biological categories or analysis. It is thus an essentialist fallacy to
reduce the discursive category to biology (or geography). And it makes
absolutely no sense to declare that Europe or 'blackness' do not exist
because of the 'irrationality' or 'implausibility' of the geographical or
biological signs to which they have been articulated.





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