[Marxism] Richard Rodriguez and Marx

Paul H. Dillon illonph at pacbell.net
Sun Mar 13 18:22:56 MST 2005


Nice snapshot of Rodriguez' message of mestization: la Raza Cosmica meets 
Middle America.  The comparison that Marx made: "Meditteranean is to the 
Atlantic as the Atlantic will be to the Pacific"  (that Louis so kindly 
provided)  really does capture Rodriguez' reorientation from an east-west 
social spatialization to an entirely different dimension of globalization 
with California on the edge and everyone waiting for it, like Columbus' 
ships, to fall off .  Some, like Rodriguez and Villaraigosa in LA, realizing 
that it already has, in one sense at least.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Victor Rosado" <skygoya at optonline.net>
To: <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 11:43 AM
Subject: [Marxism] Richard Rodriguez and Marx

> Victor M. Rosado
> Brown Meltdown: Richard Rodriguez's Brown
> The project outlined in Richard Rodriguez's Brown: The Last Discovery of 
> America seeks to engage in a process of envisioning a new conception of 
> race that transcends the black / white dichotomy still prevalent in 
> contemporary American society.  In a recent interview, Rodriguez goes as 
> far as to proclaim that one of the goals of his text is to "undermine" the 
> traditional notions of race entirely.
> Racialized discourse is perhaps one of the most important features of US 
> culture and history.  Richard Rodriguez is well aware of the profound 
> impact classic notions of race have had upon our society: "Without race", 
> Rodriguez admits,"we wouldn't have music, movies, prisons, politics, 
> history, libraries, colleges, private conversations, motives. Dorothy 
> Dandridge. Bill Clinton" (Brown, 22).  But Brown seeks to move beyond 
> outmoded theories of race such as the "one drop theory."  Rodriguez 
> writes:  "I write about race in America in hopes of undermining the notion 
> of race in America (xi).
> No More Black and White
> In Brown, Rodriguez begins to discuss the brown nature of America's past, 
> a past in which the Native American, Black and White have often 
> interplayed. In one essay, Rodriguez deconstructs a scene from Alexis 
> Detoqueville's Democracy in America when the European girl and her African 
> and Native American servants interact through their playful gazes.  For 
> Rodriguez, this is a truly American moment, a brown moment that is. 
> Rodriguez also begins to reflect upon his own brown past. Rodriguez 
> describes how Elvis Priestley is the personification of brown and what 
> Rodriguez truly was, for Elvis is a contradictory figure, just like 
> Rodriguez: "something in his manner, something I recognized, rhymed with 
> the schoolboy I was" (15).  As Elvis shifted his gyrating pelvis between 
> the perceived boundaries of African and rural white culture, Rodriguez 
> identifies with the browness of the Rock and Roll king's gestures.
> Rodriguez discovers that his past is like the history of America--a 
> contradictory past filled with brown moments.  For instance Thomas 
> Jefferson, the slave-owner and one of the revolutionary founders of the 
> United States, was himself a brown figure, as he was the father of brown 
> children (35).  In Brown, Rodriguez has read history through a new 
> perspective informed by brown.  But in his recent essays, Rodriguez 
> extends his brown metaphor to problematicize and read contemporary 
> America.
> Browning America and Disappearing Borders
> What are the origins of Rodriguez's new model for race in America? 
> According to the author, it is the Latino boom of the past two decades 
> that is "browning America".    "Well, here we are, 36 million Americans 
> who describe ourselves outside of a racial category.  We describe 
> ourselves as Hispanic or Latinos.  That is not a race", states Rodriguez 
> in a recent interview (Hansen, 4). He continues, "Sammy Sosa is as 
> legitimately Hispanic as Madonna's daughter, and in that sense we are 
> undermining the whole notion of race in America."   Essentially what is 
> developing in the United States is a new cartography of American identity, 
> one which has remapped the borders of racialized paradigms and categories 
> within the US because, as Rodriguez explains, "Hispanics are browning 
> America."  The profound change in the concept of race (black / white 
> dichotomy) is perhaps due to the increasing influence of Latinos in the 
> US.  Hispanic cultures have traditionally had a broader spectrum inherent 
> within their notion of race. These cultures also understood "raza" to be 
> more of a cultural rather than a pseudo-biological category.  In other 
> words, religion and language heritage determine one's cultural background 
> more than skin pigmentation or dominant facial and other physiological 
> features.  With the growth of the Hispanic population in the US, perhaps 
> the Latino notion of race is informing, changing, or even, as Rodriguez 
> puts it, "undermining" how Americans envision race.
> Hispanics are also remapping America itself.  The United States' own 
> citizens have traditionally seen their relationship in the continent as an 
> east-west problematic.  The Western conquest and the discovery of gold in 
> California, as Marx understood these events, were world-historic moments 
> in the development of capitalism in the US.  They have profoundly impacted 
> American ideology and culture.  Just as important to the history of the US 
> has been its colonization and imperial role in Latin America.  The Monroe 
> Doctrine, for instance, is a narrative with a more north-south dialogic. 
> In Brown, Richard Rodriguez rightly points out that "Because of Hispanics, 
> Americans are coming to see the United States in terms of a latitudinal 
> vector, in terms of south-north, hot-cold; a new way of placing ourselves 
> in the twenty-first century" (xiii).  Hispanics have introduced a new 
> "geography of the American imagination" (xiii).  Hispanics are introducing 
> a new plane into the American experiment, one that maps the US (from 
> within) as el Norte.
> The new remapping of America, however, is not just a result of the Latino 
> boom in the United States, as Rodriguez argues in Brown.  More precisely, 
> it can be seen as a general outcome of the most advanced stage of global 
> capitalist culture. The dynamic of capitalism is, as Marx highlighted in 
> the Communist Manifesto, expressed in "the need of a constantly expanding 
> market for its products chase the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of 
> the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish 
> connections everywhere" (7).  In its perpetual quest for profits and 
> because of its internal drive for expansion, capital penetrates all 
> borders, destroys old borders, and sometimes establishes new ones.  It is 
> the most dynamic of all class societies, so dynamic that "all that is 
> solid melts into air". Through the process of globalization, borders are 
> redrawn as capital continually expands.  As a result, how we see ourselves 
> and the world is constantly under flux.  This is evident in Rodriguez's 
> Brown.  He writes: "America has traditionally chosen to describe itself as 
> an east-west country.  I grew up on the east-west map of America, facing 
> east.  I no longer find myself so easily on that map.  In middle age (also 
> brown, its mixture of loss and capture), I end up on the shore where Sir 
> Francis Drake first stepped onto California.  I look toward Asia" (xiii). 
> Rodriguez cannot identity with the east-west logic of his youth, but with 
> a new "vector" that orients him and borders differently than the 
> traditional east-west narrative.  His perspective is much more global, put 
> at the same time very local, as he comes to realize that California and 
> Asia have for several generation shared common histories, as evidenced by 
> the Chinese communities in Sacramento, the city Rodriguez grew up in, and 
> by the immigrants from South Asia, such as his Indian uncle the dentist. 
> Not only does Rodriguez look towards Asia, but the map he uses is a brown 
> map, one in which headings are varied and borders are more contradictory 
> and porous than previous divisions.
> Brown is a metaphor of the refiguring and shattering of old borders in a 
> world in which global capital further penetrates and undermines 
> established norms.  Brown is a space in which Rodriguez deals more 
> directly with some of the new paradigms of this postmodern era.  His own 
> beliefs are radically changed by a new brown outlook of society.  For 
> example, his outlook on language, an important element in the essays of 
> Richard Rodriguez, is very different.  The strict division that Rodriguez 
> maintains between the "public language" (English) and private languages 
> (Spanish or any other of the languages spoken primarily amongst immigrant 
> families in the US) has been erased. Rodriguez notes in Brown, "the best 
> English novelist in the world is not British at all, but a Mahogany who 
> lives in snowy Toronto and writes of Bombay" (40).  Rodriguez has grown 
> accustomed to the brown contradictions of postmodern capitalist society, 
> whereas before he was much more likely to see view things consciously or 
> unconsciously through classic bourgeois dichotomies such as private / 
> public sphere.  He writes in Hunger of Memory, for instance, "I couldn't 
> believe that Spanish was a public language, like English" (16).  But 
> today's America is radically different from 50's and early 60's, the era 
> during which Rodriguez grew up.  The President of the United States courts 
> his Latino public in Spanish and gives radio addresses in that language. 
> "Bush is the first Hispanic President" proclaims Rodriguez in Brown.  What 
> has changed is a fundamental erasure of the split between the public / 
> private spheres.  What was once private is now public, or vice versa. 
> Rodriguez offers the use of mobile phones as an example of the fading of 
> what was once the realm of the private individual into the public arena. 
> He observes: "Americans do not grant privacy to cell phone users.  For one 
> thing, the cell phoner insists on maintaining an "I" in situations where 
> Americans have largely resigned themselves to taking their places in 
> crowds and waiting to reemerge as singular" (Brown, 213).
> The demands of global capital both within and outside of the US have 
> radically broken down the ideological split between public / private, 
> black / white, etc. because capital itself has penetrated everywhere. 
> Even the split between Global South and North, so important for the 
> analysis used by progressive activists, is called into question. 
> Rodriguez, in one essay writes: "The fact is that more and more North 
> Americans are becoming like Latin Americans -- seduced by magic away from 
> reality. To that extent the border between fiction and nonfiction, North 
> and South, is blurring" ("Magic's Seductive Hold").  This helps explain, 
> according to Rodriguez, the American fascination with the Latin "toy boy" 
> Ricky Martin and why Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the United 
> States and at the same time helps us understand why Mexican soap opera 
> actresses look like Swedish supermodels.    Increasingly, it seems that we 
> are heading towards a world not of black versus white, but of brown. 
> There are so many contradictions--a President who speaks more eloquently 
> in Spanish, Reality Television, and foreign authors who are the finest 
> writers of English--that a new perspective like brown offers more insight 
> than discourses that maintain strict ontological splits (neo-Kantian 
> philosophy, Romanticism, traditional anthropology, etc.)  Rodriguez puts 
> its succinctly: "the future is brown is my thesis" (Brown, 35).
> Brown above all is a metaphor for impurity.  "My book is about brown--not 
> skin, but brown as impurity" (194) explains Rodriguez to an acquaintance 
> of his.  It is a metaphor quite different from, for example, Kantian 
> notions of pure, apriori faculties of the mind or early Romantic notions 
> of being able to escape urban life by entering a pure relationship of love 
> or leaving to a countryside untainted by over-industrialization. 
> Rodriguez's metaphor, however, emerges during a time when almost 
> everything is corrupted by capital; hence, nothing is "pure".   Brown as 
> impurity represents the postmodern individual's contradictory and complex 
> relationship to capital and his / her inability to hide from it.
> Rodriguez discovers that brown is a very liberating process, what he calls 
> "freedom of substance and narrative." He reveals in a recent interview:
>      "Brown" has allowed me to reconcile myself to myself, that is, to 
> allow for the
>     unevenness of my life, to allow for its contradictions, to not have to 
> figure everything
>     out in my life, to see it as whole rather than as partial. Maybe this 
> is some wisdom of
>     middle age too, but I realize now that life is uneven, that I will 
> always be Catholic as
>     inevitably as I will always be a homosexual, that I will always be at 
> odds with my
>     identity, that I will always belong in some odd way to Latin America 
> and that I will
>     always belong to this other place, this country that is not at all 
> like Latin America.
>     That I will have all of those identities and that I will live with 
> them in a brown way.
>     For a man who has struggled with this and has sort of turned his life 
> into an odd
>     exercise in self-laceration, it comes with some great peace, almost as 
> though I don't
>     need to write anymore.  (Hansen, 7)
> The contradictions in his life, which at one time where quite 
> overwhelming, are no longer problematic for Rodriguez.  The alienation, 
> self-guilt, and sadness that the scholarship boy once felt have been 
> seemingly overcome. Rodriguez has found comfort, "freedom" in his 
> impureness, his browness.
> The Problems of Brown
> Rodriguez has found himself a comfortable niche, a resolution, a "great 
> peace" that has allowed him to be "free".  Brown is the space that allows 
> him to do this, albeit a very amorphous and contradictory one.  Rodriguez, 
> getting caught up in his "freedom of substance", has a tendency to 
> conflate the problems of capital to resistance to brown.
> Rodriguez prefers identities forged through brown.  He writes:  "In fact, 
> I do have a preference for Hispanic over Latino.  To call oneself Hispanic 
> is to admit a relationship to Latin America in English.  Soy Hispanic is a 
> brown assertion."  Rodriguez prefers that Latinos and Blacks see 
> themselves as brown and not as pure ethnicities.  To be brown is to admit 
> one has been influenced by one's oppressor, by one's negative as well as 
> positive experiences.  To deny one's relationship with the English 
> language or even white American culture by cultivating one's own identity 
> group is a flawed project.  Thus, Rodriguez is critical of the political 
> movements of the 60's and 70's, as Chicanos and Blacks formed their own 
> collectives, often denying their contradictory American heritage. 
> Rodriguez is critical of Blacks resisting through Hip-Hop, for it is a 
> form of expression that attempts to distance itself too much from the 
> English language.  Rodriguez argues: "I may have mastered the tongue, but 
> I never felt the need--or the love, incidentally--to invent a new one" 
> (30). The way Chicanos and Blacks have resisted up until this day is too 
> problematic and, as Rodriguez sometimes suggests, contributes to their own 
> oppression.  They should conform to the law of brown (which is almost a 
> natural, "biological impulse" as Rodriguez calls it) in order to 
> emancipate themselves.  It seems that the social problems of America are 
> due to the fact that people have not fully accepted the implications of 
> brown.  Blacks and Hispanics, however, have been oppressed and thrown into 
> jail not just because of the forms their resistance have traditionally 
> taken but mainly because of the political and economic forces of 
> institutionalized racism and impoverishment in their communities.
> Rodriguez's reading of the events of September 11 highlights similarly the 
> flaws of the thesis of Brown.  Rodriguez is quite aware that brown can be 
> problematic: "As much as I celebrate browning of America (and I do), I do 
> not propose an easy optimism" (xii).  Sept.  11 represents the "dangers of 
> brown", demonstrating how fundamentalist "puritanical" beliefs lead to 
> disaster.  Their "war against the impurity that lies without" was a more 
> radical rejection of brown.  But once again brown fails us because it 
> paints over the role that economic and political friction played in 
> forging the events of Sept. 11.  If Osama Bin Laden would have been more 
> open to brown modernity and postmodernity, would he have resisted so 
> fiercely?  It seems highly unlikely, for he is principally an economic and 
> political rival of US imperialism, an aspiring capitalist who wants a 
> greater share of the prize that is the Middle East.  Saddam Hussein was an 
> ally of the US who was (and still is) a fierce critic of "puritanical" 
> fundamentalism and open to the modernity of the Western states.  Yet, the 
> friction between him and the US has lasted 12 years, no doubt because of 
> their disputes over who will control oil revenues for the next 20 years or 
> so.
> Rodriguez unfortunately gets caught up too much in his own thesis, tending 
> to conflate many contemporary issues to his brown metaphor.  As we speak, 
> traditionally white suburbs are browning, as young teens are listening to 
> the brown rapper Eminem and Latinos are moving to the hamlets of Long 
> Island.  We are on the verge of a final frontier, as Rodriguez's subtitle 
> suggests, a "Last Discovery of America" that is leading us to a brown 
> future, although the ride will be bumpy along the way.   Nevertheless, 
> hate crimes and racial attacks in Farmingville, New York and Dearborn, 
> Michigan committed against brown people are likely to continue not because 
> people have not embraced brown enough, but because of the contradictory 
> nature of capital's political and economic mechanisms.
> Bibliography
> Hansen, Suzy.  "The browning of America."  An interview with Richard 
> Rodriguez.
>     Salon.com.  April 27, 2002. 
> "http://www.salon.com/books/int/2002/04/27/rodriguez"
> Rodriguez, Richard.  Brown:  The Last Discovery of America.  New York: 
> Viking, 2002.
> ___________.  Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father.  New 
> York:
>     Bantam, 1992.
> ___________.  Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez.  New 
> York:
>     Bantam, 1982.
> ___________. "Magic's Seductive Hold." Essay.  Salon.com.  July 17, 1999.
>     <http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/06/16/magic/index.html>
> Marx and Engels.  The Communist Manifesto.  New York: Monthly Review 
> Press, 1998
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