[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
> 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
> 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.
> Hansen, Suzy. "The browning of America." An interview with Richard
> Salon.com. April 27, 2002.
> Rodriguez, Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. New York:
> Viking, 2002.
> ___________. Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. New
> Bantam, 1992.
> ___________. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. New
> Bantam, 1982.
> ___________. "Magic's Seductive Hold." Essay. Salon.com. July 17, 1999.
> Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Monthly Review
> Press, 1998
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