If I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned that gender, race, and class are important. This is an overly-obvious, and overly-vague statement, of course, but worth stating all the same. What’s hard to state is the varied ways that they are important, how they shape the textures of everyday life, how they shape shift to ensure the continuance of power.
One of the ongoing debates, of course, is how they interact – if they amplify one another, suppress one another, neutralize one another. A dear person suggested that working on race (i.e. researching it, thinking about it, thinking about how to talk about it better, how to fail at it better) is an isolating position because although everyone thinks they know ‘race’ they always subordinate it, obscure it, refuse to engage with it, etc..
Reading Ali Behdad, subtly criticizing my man David Lloyd, seems to confirm the musings of this dear person. For Lloyd is about minorness rather than race, and thus tries to imagine the solidarity of minority positions (something which, in the abstract, I am super on board with – I think theorizing minorness, minority positions, etc, is very conceptually productive). But as Behdad says:
“The logic of sameness that underwrites such claims of solidarity obscures the various histories of radicalization which makes the project of liberation distinct for each oppressed community” (“Critical Historicism, 294).
He means the ways that thinking in terms of minorities flattens race, but his thoughts go further, suggesting the ways that the ways that people think about class often approaches race as if it’s the same – i.e. the product of the same workings of power.
Which, returns me to Foucault (of course!). A common criticism of his work is that he suggests that power is everywhere, thus flattening out power. But it’s not so simple. What I love about Foucault is that it’s so much about form (i.e. thinking in terms of minorness is quite theoretically compatible with his work) and although the ends of form is sameness (power reproduces itself, discipline tends towards homogenization and normalization) the ways it does so is fundamentally about difference (forms reproduce at different rates, in different locations). This Foucault is rarely emphasized, but it’s what reminds us to focus on the processes rather than the ends. It’s what reminds us not to forget how we got here, the discourses that we inhabit and used to inhabit, and the discourses that we actively disavow.
As Ali Behdad writes:
“The figuring of the alien does not remain the same over time because each historical epoch demands new representations of otherness, cast in response to specific cultural emergences, economic needs, political exigencies, and social conflicts” (Critical Historicism, 289-90).
“Forgetting in this case is a form of historical disavowal in which Americans consciously decide to keep certain knowledge at bay” (Critical Historicism, 290)