Out of Many II: Identity as Race and Racism, Research Time, 08/12/2016

Continued from previous . . . These are tough times for a democrat. I don’t just mean Democrats – members of the American Democratic political party, though it’s tough times for them too. I mean it’s tough times for anyone who believes in democracy.

Even as President-elect, we’re already seeing a serious, destabilizing, and dangerous behaviour.

From an ecological perspective, signs point to Trump dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency. He uses flashy meetings with celebrities to distract critical media from his actual policy goals.

A new era for America.
Geopolitically, Trump’s rejection of multilateral alliances in favour of purposeful unpredictability and shifting, bilateral deal-making is a categorical departure from American foreign policy since Franklin Roosevelt’s era. His bilateralism isolates democracies and encourages military buildup through abandoning international alliances.

Not only is Trump a danger to become an illiberal Caesar in the White House, his campaign and public image has emboldened racism throughout America. White nationalism and racism is now mainstream political conversation in the West. Trump has normalized it and opened the floodgates to people like Richard Spencer who advocate ethnic cleansing.

Step back for a moment and let’s consider what Spencer has to say about what his white nationalist movement does. I don’t mean we should consider it as a plausible kind of politics – it’s nakedly an ideology of hate.

I mean, let’s take Spencer and his ideas seriously, because those ideas have become serious elements in the political discourse of our culture by now.*

* 2016, probably the most hideously transformative year in human politics since 1938 began with the destruction of Nanjing and ended with Kristallnacht. Bowie’s death was the beginning of the downfall.

A few years ago, I read in Martha Nussbaum’s The Politics of Disgust that hatred for the different was rooted in a kind of conceptual reflex of disgust. Interracial sexual partnership and especially family building evoked a similar emotional reaction as filth or vomit. Building a multicultural society required overcoming this feeling of disgust.

You could mount a pretty convincing argument that the racism that
drove social conservatives of the 1960s had devolved mostly into
disgust at racial mixing, whether sexual or social. Mildred and Richard
were fitting symbols of that fight, but I don't think that's the modern
fight against racism at all.
It seemed compelling at the time. And when I listen to the racists of the 20th century, like George Wallace or any of the popular expressions of 1960s racism, that disgust is at the forefront. But race works differently for Spencer and the 21st century white American racist.

In Spencer’s own words, race is the foundation of identity. He believes in the reality of race, that race is the ontological structure of possible communities. This is why contemporary white nationalism takes multiculturalism in a very different way than traditional American racism of disgust.

I say traditional, but this model of racism is probably more specific to the 20th century. When the deeper reasons for racial divisions in America – the conflict of the citizen and the slave – disappeared from the country’s everyday life, all that was left of that racism were feelings of disgust. Maybe disgust would have been that racism’s last gasp.

Spencer’s has a different racism – a racism of identity politics, perverted into an actual doctrine of hatred. One of the critical voices of the left in Trump’s America say that Trump’s rise was facilitated by identity politics – progressive movements that called attention to difference, the structural inequalities of race, gender, and sexuality.

The refusal to ignore those inequalities, the dedication to fighting for their slow eradication from American society, provoked such disgust that Trump’s rise was the result. That accepts one widely believed untruth – that identity politics is about hatred.

Contemporary black activism points out how state violence – whether through murder by police or imprisonment – is disproportionately levelled against blacks. Reactionary white people have interpreted this as spreading hatred of whites.

Richard Spencer mocking a protestor at an event he hosted at Texas
A&M University. Contemporary white nationalism has mastered the
art of trolling as political action.
Identity politics done right** calls attention to the differences in life obstacles and injustices that someone faces because of some aspect of who they are. Could be skin colour, sexuality, gender. Those are the major elements in our politics today.

** And it’s been done badly many times, such that listing them would lengthen my post to Proust-like sights. But I’m talking about the potential of this way of thinking, not the many ways we can mess it up in application.

If you think that the politics of identity is the politics of racism, then you’ll react to your own identity being cast as an identity politics antagonist as if the war’s been started. If you think black American identity politics is the racism of black supremacy, then you’ll react with an embrace of white supremacy.

That’s why Richard Spencer we disturbingly accurate when he calls his movement white identity politics. If you believe that identity politics is advocacy for your own identity’s dominance over others, you’ll accept that this is the new order of things.

So white supremacism returns as a twisted kind of class solidarity – the political hatred of race wars. . . . . To be continued, trust me.

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