race and gender determination

Kenneth Mostern kmostern at utkvx.utk.edu
Wed Sep 6 21:13:05 MDT 1995

Two separate notes to Ralph and Valerie, based on their last posts to me
several days ago:

Ralph:  Of course you and I don't disagree on the "shoulds", we disagree
on the wills, or, in theory speak, on the forms of determination
presently at work.  I didn't say you were wrong to advocate that black
workers organize as black workers; I said that they won't do so
without concrete
witness of the limitations of organizing nationally and the benefits of
organizing as a class.  Right now it is widely
perceived, for better or worse, that previous national movements have
been defeated, not because of their own limitations, but because of
greater white power.  Regardless of the relative usefulness of this
analysis, all previous black working class political organization has been
nationalist and/or oriented toward a leader.  This does not make black
people different from whites or others, of course; it makes them all too
similar.  (There is nothing romantic about my analysis of blacks as the
necessarily most revolutionary community of the U.S.  I do not presume
that blacks are somehow better people than others.)

To date the most likely candidates for an alternative model--one where
blacks have organized in a nonnationalist mode--have been the
marxist Black Panthers, who you won't even acknowledge as a model long
enough to seek their (substantial) limitations, and certain fragments of the
southern civil rights movement, both CP organized in the 1930s and SCLC
organized in the 1960s.  Like you, I am a great admirer of Fannie Lou
Hamer.  It can hardly be said, however, that she was any kind of marxist;
and neither of us thinks another CP is the way to go.  So where does that
leave us?

I maintain, and I have maintained in good old Leninist fashion (though
as you know I reject the Leninist organizational model), that nationalist
organization among blacks is progressive, and provides, precisely, the
dialectical first step and, indeed, the only way in for interracial
socialism in the U.S.  I have further maintained that the important way
out of the worst parts of black nationalism must come from feminist and
indeed female leadership, especially in light of the fact that Black
women make up the largest superexploited segment of the proletariat in
the U.S.  Only the identification of other groups with working class
black women can truly bring into being a self-conscious working class in
the U.S.  At the start all efforts of Black women to bring themselves, as
a group, to self-consciousness must therefore be defended; if one is a
white man, one must attempt to act in solidarity and teach other white
men (and others who are interested) of the importance of this form of
identification.  As strategy,
this does not resemble your "should", the should of black working class
organization.  To repeat:  your efforts at bringing this about will fail
until race and gender determinations stop appearing *first*, with
continuing emphasis on the temporal.


If I understand you correctly, you are arguing, consistently with most
contemporary cultural studies, that because class is always experienced
in a raced and gendered way, therefore it is formed (or determined) in a
socially similar fashion to race and gender.  This is something I
intended to challenge.  Of course class is experienced in a raced and gendered
way, but to say this is to only analyze experience, which is to say
forms of subjectivity.  I spend most of my time analyzing subjectivity; I
have no desire to argue against such analysis.  But what contemporary
cultural studies constantly
leaves out is that a theory of subjectivity is not a complete social
theory, precisely inasmuch as capitalism (an object) is always
experienced in the guise of other systems; to get at the ways in which
capitalism determines
class formation requires going beyond the analysis of consciousness to
the analysis of deeper social forces.  This is why Paul Gilroy's
formulation--race is the modality in which class is lived; gender is the
modality through which raced class is lived--preserves the depth
differential between race, class and gender rather than stringing them
together as equivalents.  Another, fabulously oversimple way of phrasing
this would be:  class is determined (primarily) at the level of the
analysis of the political economy; race (or culture/ethnicity/fill in the
appropriate term for your situation) is determined primarily at the level
of the analysis of sociology; gender/sexuality is determined primarily at
the level of the analysis of psychology.  To insist that class is the
most widely determining, or determining at the last instance, is to
insist that psychology is embedded within the social, and that sociology is
embedded within the economic.

Thus the same argument that shows that class is determining in the widest
sense also shows why gender is the first form of identification and why
raced-gender is the strategic, if perhaps underrationalized, form of social
and political organization.  And why political organization that attempts
to go beyond raced-gender can only do so by first confronting
raced-gender head on.

In general, it seems that your concerns and my concerns are closely
related.  I feel that I would benefit greatly from a more specific
discussion with you of critical and perhaps also literary texts off list.

Kenneth Mostern
Assistant P-funkster of English
University of Tennessee

George Clinton:  Free your mind, and your ass will follow.
Karl Marx, paraphrased:  Free your ass, and your mind will follow.
. . . toward a materialist dialectics of funk . . . peace . . .

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