[Marxism] Do white workers benefit? [Was RE: The incredible disappearing Latino (was: David Bacon...)]

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Sat Dec 23 19:32:50 MST 2006

> Since it is beiung imputed to me, I'd like someone to explain what is
> "racial essentialism." First time I've ever seen the term. 

Very interesting, for I never thought of racism as a kind of
essentialism, but now that it has been suggested, that may well be
so. However, it seems to me there needs to be come clarification of
essentialism before we can make that association. 

The typical meaning given to essentialism strikes me as too

    Essentialism is the view, that, for any specific kind of entity it
    is at least theoretically possible to specify a finite list of
    characteristics, all of which any entity must have to belong
    to the group defined.

The first thing to note is that something as a whole is being
identified by a limited set of its characteristics, which assigns the
thing to a group or category. It is a kind of reductionism. 

The procedure here might seem a quite natural one, for in daily life
it is clearly useful to construct categories based on a constant
conjuncture of observables from which is inferred a conceptual whole. It
is how we reference things, represent them in thought, and communicate
them with each other.  

However, essentialism seems to imply more than just this, for it has
ontological implication that that the categories we construct from
the observation of constant conjunctures are real, not merely
conveniences, for they acquire some independence from the observed
data. For example, people don't hesitate to discuss "African culture"
even though there is no empirical basis to assume there is any such
homogeneous entity.      

There is an element of necessity here that distinguishes
essentialism from the subjective categories we find so useful in daily

The latter are socially constructed conventions that persist as a part 
of our culture, Essentialism, on the other hand, can be applied to a
unique complexity for which there is no constant conjuncture of
traits, but a unique conjuncture. What ties these traits together is
the functional logic of their relations.      

A typical definition of essentialism such as this gives it 
only epistemological significance, but essentialism seems to imply that the
essential nature of things is somehow necessary to them and therefore
is real. 

 . and based on facts of observation that allows one to place things as a
whole into sets of wholes:  

    A complex whole has certain characteristics that identify it as
    belonging to a general category of things; this category
    represents the relation that things have to us, such as its their
    utility, meaning, signficance, or value for us. 

So, a second definition of essentialism treats these categories of
wholes as not mere useful constructions, but as being ideal types that
are real. By making categories real, we can then assign to them
a truth value that is objective, but can also be independent of the
facts of observation, which do not refer to the whole category, but
to the constant conjunctures of observables that define that category.  

    A complex whole has certain characteristics that identify it as
    belonging to a category of things, and this category, while not
    itself an observable, is objectively real and has truth value that is independent of the
    facts of observation that place the object in the category.   

Let me apply this to the example of racism.

However, it seems that racism in two respects goes beyond such
convenient categories. First, it  observables to imply some value for the
category that is not observable. 
Someone might say, "That person is probably African-American
because his skin tone is dark". While some people with dark skin are
not African-American, and some African-Americans are lighter than some
people of European heritage, the category seems a useful
generalization. However, a racist insists that the category itself is
real and that it involves a value judgement.

More information about the Marxism mailing list