Against the Paradigm of Identity: A Response to Black Orchid
<table><tr><td>In a recent article entitled Privilege Politics is Reformism, a friend of the Black Orchid collective outlined what he called “privilege politics”.
While the piece is well-written and the ideas are well articulated, it does seem that the basis of the piece is cemented in the archaic voice of rehashed Marxist dogmatism.
For the purpose of speaking of identity as not simply a thing that exists in it's own right, we will have to look at the formation of the social situation.
The persistence of the commonwealth, or community, comes by way of individuals giving up certain freedoms for the sake of creating a social peace. The governing apparatus that is built to ensure this social relationship is what we call the state. The state does not have a basis outside of the ability for it to dominate life inside of it's reach. It's only basis is power.</td><td><img title="why are individuals assumed to always be in conflict?" src="http://anarchistnews.org/files/pictures/2012/colorgirl.jpg"></td></tr></...
Race, gender and class are all products of this dominating process. The social creation of these various identities circulates in such a way that separates people into different value categories, these institutions that come from this evolution includes what the author of the piece calls white supremacy as well as patriarchy. The subjectification of bodies into these named and individuated forms is an imperative development for the expansion and continuance of the state.
It should be noted here that “state” does not mean this state or that state, but the social apparatus that brings together different positions through compromise, it should be seen as a nullifying apparatus.
The basis of white supremacy, as well as patriarchy, is found through the state. The nullification of various different positions into commonwealths gives rise to the ability for there to be commonalities between people based on false positions. Inside of the social peace of the commonwealth the ethical position is not important, because the state uses much of its resources to protect this semblance of social peace.
It is also important to not talk about this process in a historical light, because the network of power dynamics that exists in this society are reproduced at every moment of every day. The concept of the Black Man wasn't just invented one day, we can't talk about it's age like some old building made of brick. It is a concept that is reproduced in every moment of our lives. The same can be said about the concept of the Woman, the Queer, the Man. These are all dynamic identities.
Even inside of the authors own explanation he says:
“Things are not that clear. This is partially a sign that struggles of people of color have forced white-supremacy’s anti-POC language to take a different form. However, white supremacy still exists. In the media for example talk of crime or poverty is code word for lazy Black or Latino people who ruin paradise for the hard working great white citizens of America. “
It is not just that the language to dominate these identities becomes more coded, but that what these identities are perceived as has become more complex. Can we truly say what it is to be a “Black Man” in society? What are the qualitative attributes that one must posses to be this amorphous being?
The mysticism around the idea posits a metaphysical form of the identity.
This means that, because the identity is socially created it exists with the same baselessness as the state which is that it only exists through power.
The function of identity is, at this point, a strategic one. It is to relegate our own possibilities and the potential for our own solidarities to the socially created apparatuses that define us as historical subjects, as citizens. We continue the circulation of the identities the longer we accept and struggle along these false commonalities. The identity exists as a toxic collectivity with a false history. It is the narrative of suffrage that the feminists are asked to recall, it is the history of Black Liberation that young black people are presented with to goad them into political action. In other words, it is the history of the identity that they are forced to take on, not their own qualitative possibilities. They are merely asked to continue into the next act of the theater of history.
Anti-Oppression is Reformism
The language in this piece is quite anachronistic. What could the author's politics be if they still talk of “the Movement”? Could they still be talking of the deterministic lineage of the great oppressed mass that will rise up, if only they would cast off their chains?
It seems as if the author's grievance with the social situation is that it is oppressive, and that one must resist oppression. Don't you see? This society is not based on merely oppressing life, it dominates it.
The perspective in this piece perceives the domination of the social apparatus as simply singular oppressions, or of oppressions of entire identities. It is within this discourse that we find the most liberal of tendencies in the radical culture, and that is that oppression is alleviated by less oppression.
This is an inherently democratic and reformist approach. It insinuates that some form of discourse can occur and that it can have a liberatory end. The importance of understanding the social order as a dominating one, as opposed to merely an oppressive one, is that the response to oppression can be reformist. One could bargain for legislature, for better schools in poor communities and so on. However, the view of the social order as a dominating order makes the possibility of reconciliation impossible. It accepts all forms of social reparation as Trojan horses of the social institution.
“New social relations can only be forged in collective struggle of the most militant character. No amount of conversation and education can form new relationships. It is only the mass involvement and struggle of oppressed people which can ultimately destroy white supremacy, re-establish the humanity of people of color, and create social relationships between people as one among humans instead of the racially oppressed and white oppressor. “
It isn't shocking to me that such language is used, just incredibly annoying. One must question the intention of this piece when the author begins to put forward a program that involves the re-establishment of the humanity (whatever that is) of people of color, coupled with the creation of some new social relationship.
While I do understand that it is important for there to be relations between people outside of the “racially oppressed and white oppressor”, it does not seem that that could even be possible while one is merely reinforcing the false commonality of the mass by struggling as “oppressed people”.
The language used feels old and enlightenment-era.
Even their position of their revolutionary subject, “the oppressed”, feels old and crusty. What else is one to take from such quotes as:
“They have never met an oppressed people who have simply stated, I will either live like a human or die in struggle. I do not know if they have been in rebellions where very oppressed people choose to fight the police and other oppressors risking imprisonment and much worse. Have they seen such a people? Is there any doubt it is only a people who are willing to go this far who have any chance of defeating white supremacy? “
How short sighted and removed from the social situation can a position get? I haven't checked the numbers but I'll go out on a limb and say that there are multitudes more “very oppressed people” now then there were at the point 50 years ago that author talks of with such endearment. The globalized sphere of the world state is destroying and dominating more now than it was 50 years ago, and still the “very oppressed” are not a mass movement.
So where is this mass that will “have a chance of defeating white supremacy”?
The analysis that acts as the setting for this piece is out of date. It is still Marxist inspired to the point of talking about some unifying human positivity, they are still talking as if there is a universal human essence.
To quote Saul Newman in his piece about Stirner and Deleuze:
“For Deleuze the State is an abstract machine rather than a concrete institution, which essentially “rules” through more minute institutions and practices of domination. The State overcodes and regulates these minor dominations, stamping them with its imprint. What is important about this abstract machine is not the form in which it appears, but rather its function, which is the constitution of a field of interiority in which political sovereignty can be exercised. The State may be seen as a process of capture”
This piece does not leave the interiority that the State defines. All of the positions given accepts the identities of the subjects, and with it, it accepts and even reinforces the history of the domination of the identities as “the oppressed.”
The historical identity of “the oppressed” creates a limit that is impossible to exceed so long as one acts within that identity.
While this piece does put forward and enthralling argument against the continual talk of privilege and it's immobilizing consequence, it is shrouded in anachronistic liberal dogmatism. It tranquilizes the qualitative potential of the subjectified citizens that populate this world, and simply cements them to the roles of actors within history.