I had an email from a friend this morning; on the face of it apropos of nothing.
What does getting sentimental about the deplorables achieve?
Nothing good, I replied. Why do you ask?
one of your posts seemed to me to be shorthand for a direction of travel like the all-purpose pejorative ‘woke’
The penny began to drop. A search of this site threw up only one instantiation of the d-word, in my June 8 post: Why I bang on about the trans thing. Wherein I spoke of:
… identity politics pursued as if the social exclusion of black people, women, gays, the disabled – and, yes, transgenders – were simply the products of backward thinking … to be corrected by moral education, and “hate crime” laws …
… Take the notion, widely held in the liberal intelligentsia … that racism is rooted in the uneducated mindsets of the deplorables. Not, mark you, in a historic need to legitimate colonial larceny, slave trade, “settling” of Americas and Antipodes, and so much else …
From all of which last, I might have added, many of us who deplore racism – and rightly so – continue to benefit in ways obvious and direct, and in ways hidden and dialectical.
Then there’s Caitlin Johnstone’s pithy observation:
In 200 years we’ve progressed from expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned people while saying racist things, to expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned people while condemning racism.
Since women suffer disproportionately from ‘our’ bombs and murderous sanctions, she might with equal incisiveness have written:
In 200 years we’ve progressed from expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned women while saying racist and misogynistic things, to expecting our leaders to murder brown skinned women while condemning racism and misogyny.
Finally I dug out my fullest statement on identity politics. It too took the transgender debate as its starting point, and houses this:
… by a class understanding I do not mean the workerism of “I’m working class me, tha knows”. Such crassness has a long and dismal record of teaming up with reaction … [and] confuses social class with political-economic class. 1
… it too often informs a blithe dismissal of racism, sexism and homophobia – at best relegated to ‘stuff we’ll sort out after the revolution’ and at worst rejected out of hand as a distraction from the ‘real’ struggle …
[Rather] I mean an understanding that capitalism – crisis ridden, divisive and self contradictory – is both highly adaptive and deeply unstable. And premised on exploiting the unique capacity of human labour to create market values over and above its own.
Denial of that last … leads to a misplaced belief that those things sane people hold dear – peace, rule of law, responsible custodianship of the planet, an end to poverty, racism, sexism and much besides – are all compatible with a system founded on and still fuelled by exploitation, racial genocide and dependency on unsustainable levels of narrowly defined growth.
Socialism is pauperised if it condones racism, sexism and homophobia. But to condemn those evils while buying demonstrably false and self serving narratives which legitimate the bombs rained down, the lethal sanctions imposed, on peoples insufficiently US compliant? How can that take us anywhere good? 2
My friend is an intelligent man. He just got out of bed the wrong way is all. We soon buried so small a hatchet but the exchange did leave me musing that when we can’t or won’t think things through with sufficient thoroughness, we’ll fall back on reductivism. Criticise Israel? Then you’re anti-Semitic. Point to Obama’s destruction of Libya? You’re pro Trump. Insist that sex is binary? You’re transphobic. Say that corporate media are by their business model rendered systemically corrupt? You’re a conspiracy theorist! Call out the shallowness of ‘woke’ politics? Then you’re all of those things and a few more besides!
(I could add EU/Brexit and – even more vexatious – Covid/lockdown to the list.)
For our part, we writers can easily fall back on hubris. We tell ourselves our splendid command of the tools of our trade can always and everywhere cut through the crap. I need emails like this morning’s as a reality check.
- That confusion of social class with political-economic class overstates the difference between white and blue collar workers, and ignores the fact both are obliged to sell their labour-power – for the past two or three centuries itself a commodity, albeit one with a unique characteristic beyond the scope of this post – on terms they have little control over, to buyers whose monopoly ownership of the means of wealth creation makes them a ruling class. The confusion is one part of what makes ‘workerism’, for all its macho strutting, a supine as well as reactionary thing; far removed from and frequently hostile to genuine class awareness.
- ‘We’ don’t, of course, bomb the global south with racist intent. Then again, that ‘we’ are disproportionally white and ‘our’ victims disproportionally dark skinned is hardly a matter of random chance, is it?