Sunday, February 27, 2011

marked bodies

Whenever I think about Jamelle Bouie's contention that currently non-white, non-black ethnic and racial groups will likely become culturally coded as white in the next several decades or so, I think of this passage by Wesley Yang, from his piece "The Face of Seung-Hui Cho" (which is not online):
...physiognomy is a powerful thing. It establishes identification and aversion, and all the more so in an age that is officially color-blind. Such impulses operate beneath the gaze of the supervisory intelligence, at a visceral level that may be the most honest part of us. You see a face that looks like yours. You know that there's an existential knowledge you have in common with that face. Both of you know what it's like to have a cultural code superimposed atop your face, and if it's a code that abashes, nullifies, and unmans you, then you confront every visible reflection of that code with a feeling of mingling curiosity and wariness. When I'm out by myself in the city-- at the movies or at a restaurant-- I'll often see other Asian men out by themselves in the city. We can't even look at each other for the strange vertigo we induce in one another.
It's hard to say that Jamelle and I really disagree with each other, as we are both, necessarily, speaking in generalities. And I do agree that he is right to insist that American blackness is different than any other racial encoding, as we'll get to in a bit. But I think that, on balance, he is too sanguine about the ability for the corporeal, physical distinctions of race to be sublimated into the cultural understandings of whiteness. Absent a significantly more pronounced "beiging" of America-- absent an intermingling of genes so pronounced that people are literally unable to identify classical racial identifiers-- I don't think most Hispanic or Asian or Pacific Islander people will be consider white. Not in 2050. Probably not in 2150.

Matt Yglesias has been admirably upfront in saying that, despite being Cuban and Jewish (in other words, having an ethnic and racial heritage that tends to signify more in American history than being Swedish and Dutch does), he is white. But look at Matt Yglesias:

Yes, that's a white guy, like me, in the sense of what is visible and easily culturally signified. Now look at Danny Trejo:

This is not a white guy. And it's not a guy who's going to be white in 40 years. I seriously doubt he'll be white in 140 years. His physical difference-- the unavoidable and corporeal manifestation of what we talk about when we talk about race-- will still exist. And until and unless there is a far greater amount of racial intermarriage and interbreeding, that won't change.

I led with an excerpt from Yang's piece (which is by turns brilliant and inexcusable) because in speaking so frankly about the racial essentialisms pushed onto Asian faces, we see the perfect incongruity between the social integration and economic success that we associate with racial assimilation and the continuing reality of racial signifying. Because Asian people are at once very successful in our system, and yet as Yang's piece so brutally describes, they are still members of a distinct minority, onto which all kinds of assumptions-- about their masculinity, their virility, their intelligence, their drive, their emotional attachments and passions, their sexual beings, their values-- are foisted by the unmarked white majority. On a whole host of demographic metrics, Asian Americans are the "model minority." Indeed, Yang references the fact that Asians have been referred to as the "new Jews" or even the new white people in American life. They have, in context, high incomes, high levels of education, low rates of criminality and incarceration, and so on. Yet there is no sense in which this kind of success means that the physical manifestation of their racial heritage doesn't invite stereotyping. Indeed, the Asian example shows quite the opposite; there are now widespread and persistent stereotypes about Asian people that seem to stem from their success. (They are all logic, no emotion; they are brutally competitive; they are overachievers to the point of being soulless, etc.)

Someone I know once said, in an unfortunate and unguarded moment, that she was never surprised to find an individual Asian person without a foreign accent, but was always surprised to encounter groups of Asians without accents. This is, indeed, thoughtless and out of step with reality, she apologized for it, and yet I think it reflects a certain honesty about the continuing miasma of our thoughts and attitudes towards race, immigration, and assimilation in this country.

I agree with Jamelle that American blackness is a wholly separable and unique phenomenon which will always have its own troubled place in the American consciousness. The history of mass slavery is not assimilable. And, as I have said many times, both white supremacists of the "send them back to Africa" camp and black nationalists of the "let's go back to Africa" camp misunderstand blackness in precisely the same way; American black people are not African. Not in any way whole or simple enough to make the designation meaningful. American blackness is a hybrid, defined both by the presence of a dominant common ancestry and by the innumerable mixings that deny it the condition of "purity." I agree with this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates entirely except for, well, the very first sentence. It doesn't make sense to say that a black person is 30% white because the presence of 30% Caucasoid genealogical history is in no sense disqualifying of blackness. As Coates quotes, "Thirty percent European biogeographical ancestry (likely derived through oppression and sexual violence), doesn't change my identity." Indeed, American blackness is what it is in no small part because of this intermingled genealogical reality.

The question, though, isn't whether any other racial subgroup will have the status of blackness. The question is whether they will achieve the standard of whiteness. I can't agree with Jamelle, on balance. I agree that whiteness is a moving target. But when people point to the history of, for example, Irish people being denied the status of white and then eventually gaining it, they are being willfully ignorant about the fact that there aren't obvious physical manifestations of Irishness. The absence of physical markers are no guarantee of true assimilation or lack of bigotry; the story of American Jewry is the story of a people not obviously physically marked but still subject to consistent and pernicious oppression for centuries. But physical manifestation of racial or ethnic heritage insists on the continuing presence of racial and ethnic essentialisms.

The phrase of art within the university is "marked bodies." I take it that this is the kind of lefty academic speak that drives many people crazy. And yet I think it is perfect term. You cannot unsee racial markings. I can't. And I also can't pretend that, as much as I want it to be true, I have identical subconscious or instinctive reactions to people regardless of their racial makeup, particularly in contexts where we are conditioned by our culture to feel racial danger. (In the city, at night, in poor neighborhoods.) I lived in Hartford for years. Even how I felt in the context of the almost entirely Hispanic Park Street area was different, in subtle ways, from how I felt in the context of the almost entirely black North End, even though they were both poor, blighted areas in the same depressed small New England city. And, I'm sorry to say, my private, uncontrollable thoughts were not entirely enlightened in either context, although on balance, I think I was alright. The existential philosopher in me insists that what matters is not our thoughts or feelings but their expression in our actions, and I am totally dedicated to acting consistent with racial equality. The pragmatist in me knows that my actions can never be truly untouched by the sad reality of my unchosen racial prejudices. So. I work on it.

After the election of Barack Obama, many forcefully mocked the people who claimed that this is a post-racial society and that they "don't see race." They insisted-- I insisted-- that no one is truly capable of being race blind, and that asserting that we are a race blind society ensures that we won't react effectively to persistent racial inequalities. Saying "I don't see race, I'm color blind" became the kind of tic mocked on Saturday Night Live. I agreed and agree with that fundamental thinking, and yet as time goes on I am more troubled. There was something unseemly about the whole business, something so self-congratulatory. Because the thinking seemed to be that you can't not see race, but that you can see it and act entirely enlightened anyway. Those who claimed to be race blind were naive and self-aggrandizing, but we, their critics, knew we could see race, but were confident that we could see it and not have it affect us at all. And that seems to me, in some ways, just as naive and unreal an assumption as the idea that we can achieve color blindness.

If my fears are correct and we can achieve neither color blindness nor entirely equitable attitudes towards the racial differences that we observe, then where can we turn for optimism? I'm not sure. I'm not a defeatist and I don't mean to lapse into tragic pessimism. Our duty is to improve our racial problems, whether easy or not. But I wonder.... For a long time, the idea that we will eventually turn American into a truly multiracial melting pot of beige/light brown/whatever people, racially unmarked because their racial signifiers have been occluded through intermingling, has been mocked as the worst kind of multiculti optimism. And yet I wonder if that isn't, in the end, our best hope for a racially equal and just America.


Petey said...

"Danny Trejo: This is not a white guy. And it's not a guy who's going to be white in 40 years. I seriously doubt he'll be white in 140 years. His physical difference-- the unavoidable and corporeal manifestation of what we talk about when we talk about race-- will still exist."

Well, sure.

What will likely be different in America in 40 or 140 years will be the lowering of the significance of "whiteness".

Don't forget that we're only about 40 years into the process of Officially Declaring Racism Invalid.

Danny Trejo won't be any more "white" in 40 years than he'll be "Han". But "white" will likely matter less in America.


"Someone I know once said, in an unfortunate and unguarded moment, that she was never surprised to find an individual Asian person without a foreign accent, but was always surprised to encounter groups of Asians without accents. This is, indeed, thoughtless and out of step with reality, she apologized for it, and yet I think it reflects a certain honesty about the continuing miasma of our thoughts and attitudes towards race, immigration, and assimilation in this country."

Overall, I think this is an interesting and worthwhile post, Freddie, but I'll take issue with you here.

Why is that thoughtless or out of step with reality? If 90% of your associate's previous encounters with groups of Asians had been comprised of tourists or recent immigrants, then their reactions should be considered healthy, no?

Leah said...

I was having this argument the other day, and I think you, like my offline interlocutor, are forgetting that Jews didn't used to look 'white.' My big schnozz used to be as a marker of alien identity just as Asian eyes are today. In fact, my large nose comes from two recently 'white' heritages, since my father is Italian. His darker complexion and larger featured also marked him as a dirty foreigner in his childhood.

But today, my Jewish mom, my Italian dad, and I all pass for white without notice. (Well, sometimes. My textured, Jewish hair has a tendency to get me mistaken for very light-skinned African-American).

Freddie said...

Well, I chose "out of step with reality" carefully-- I mean that, in many places in this country (such as in parts of California, Hawaii, or at many elite colleges), encountering groups of Asian people without accents is entirely commonplace. And while the fact that they might be grouped together despite all being natively born Americans has a whole other set of racial baggage to consider, the fact that this is often true in other places should inform how she views the world. I understand what you're saying about her being informed by personal experience, and I think your assumption is correct. I guess I'm merely saying that she should consider reality outside of her personal experience, particularly because she was bright and educated enough to know that there are parts of the country with a far higher population of Asian people whose first language is English.

Freddie said...

That's a very good point, Leah, and apropos of the point about the Irish, too.

Erik M. said...

I am glad to see Leah making the point she makes, which as you note also applies to the Irish case.

I think I'm another variation on this - I'm of Finnish ancestry, and Finns have from the beginning been taken as "white" by U.S. definitions, but many of us have facial features unlike many Europeans'. Various light-skinned non-Indo-Europeans have bodies that could be taken as marked, but in fact aren't in this place and time.

I think you are claiming you can see straight through to physical facts with eyes unaffected by culture, but you can't. You're just naively reflecting the arbitrary - but psychologically real! - definition of whiteness you claim to be analyzing.

Freddie said...

If I am, that's the opposite of my intent. I'm asserting my fundamental inability to fail to recognize appearances that are culturally signified. I think that a lot of people, particularly the academics to which and of which I'm partially speaking, tend to muddy the waters of racial identity in a way that, while potentially edifying, suggests that they are unaware of who is socially considered Hispanic or black or Asian or whatever. And I think that is kind of bogus. I think when I say that Yglesias "looks white" and Trejo doesn't, people know exactly what I mean and why I say it.

Freddie said...

In other words, I don't think that there is something inherent or essential about Yglesias's whiteness or Trejo's non-whiteness, but I do think that the physical signifiers of our conceptions of whiteness are perfectly understood by most people, and the idea that they soon won't be seems simplistic to me.

Riggsveda said...

You're last point made me remember a history teacher from high school who told us (in 1969) that one day all the races would meld together and we would be, not black or white or brown, but burnt orange.

I think what we see as race really boils down to culture. Racial characteristics like color and facial features make it easier for people to identify who they think belongs to their cultural world (or who they think doesn't), but when someone doesn't fit into the physical expectations that race sets up, we see the same confusion and even anger that results when people don't fit into sexual stereotypes. Here's a man, but he's dressing like a woman; here's a white kid, but he talks like a black rapper; here's a Latino, but he looks like a WASP. People with strong self-investment in cliched sexuality or stereotyped racial behavior/physique can find those things threatening, but the threat is really cultural, not racial. Racial features are signposts to culture, and when the signposts seem to point the wrong way, watch out for irate drivers.

Jayant Reddy said...

Thank you, I had tried to make the same point in a comment to Jamelle way back, but something was wrong with the commenting feature on his site, or with my computer, at that time.

I'm Indian-American, and I have learned that a certain amount of "honorary whiteness" is granted me for my cultural assimilation as a brown man born and raised in then-virtually-all-white central Iowa. But it goes only so far, there are limits, and ultimately my brown skin MEANS something to white people, even if among many white people that "something" is nothing the least bit unfair, nothing to be piqued about. My brown skin ultimately sets me apart, to different degrees among different people. And that's not going to change in 2050, when God willing I'm still around at 82 (I'm 43 now).

Bottom line: your skin color matters. If you look white, then yeah, you will be accepted as white, and that's why it was inevitable that Irish and Italians and Jews ultimately would be accepted as white. But that's not going to happen for people of color today, not for a century or more, since it really will take generations of interracial marriage and procreation to erase the ability to identify people by race.

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Speaking as an upper middle class brown guy who sometimes benefits from the "honorary whiteness" effect (good term BTW Mr. Reddy), I just thought I'd argue that Trejo's perceived race is based more on class and race then his genes.

Trejo and Yglesias have radically different backgrounds. Trejo overcame some incredibly rough challenges, like a childhood drug addiction, and ten years in prison (according to his IMDB bio). I think that those kinds of prolonged brutal experiences can literally physically mark your face & body. A lined, scarred face can make you seem lower class or fundamentally Other.

I think that if Trejo had had a different class background growing up, he could stand a chance of passing as white nowadays (I'm not saying passing as white is a good thing, I'm just saying he looks a little like James Woods to me).

younger trejo:


Maybe I'm missing the point of this blog post.

Freddie said...

You are only insofar as you're particularizing what is a general phenomenon. I don't personally think that Trejo could pass, but that's an individual distinction. The salient point is that many people who aren't black nevertheless can't pass, and that this has social consequences.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who Trejo is (I'm a middle-aged white -- well ashkenazi Jew -- guy, so likely more out of touch than most). When I looked at his picture and read what the blog post said about him, my thought was that I'd like to see a picture of him with short hair, maybe a suit and a less flamboyant mustache. I don't see non-white markers. I see a working class or lower-class background.

With respect to people from the sub-continent, my wife had some colleagues years ago, husband and wife, from India. He's from a Moslem family, hers is Hindu. While she is dark, if you look with any care at him, it immediately strikes you that his skin is lighter -- pinker -- than many US whites', certainly than either my wife's (not a Jew) or mine. His hair and eyes are dark, but with an American haircut, if he did not speak, I think all would take him for white.

So I am more optimistic than our host. This kind of amalgamation will not happen in my life, but I do think it will happen. Likely for all but those that we can identify as Black, i.e., having observable sub-Saharan ancestry. I'm not sure what will happen with regard to Amerindians/Native Americans, the other group that I believe is historically distinct from all ethnic and racial groups in this country.


ovaut said...

I've been waiting to read something as honest as your third-from-last paragraph for a long time.

Separately: Why inexcusable?

Freddie said...

Inexcusable is maybe a bit harsh. His axe grinding against an old college classmate just seems deeply cruel, even if the guy isn't a good guy. More to the point, I don't think it works in the article. A couple other little things.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the post on Matt Yglesias's tweets. I like your blog, but I'd like it more if you ruthlessly made fun of Yggie. I am consistently less than impressed with his writings, harvardphilosophymajor or not.

Freddie said...

Sorry. It just seemed a little too petty. If you want ruthless mockery of Yglesias-- and he often richly deserves it-- there's nobody better than IOZ.

Anonymous said...

Just joking, Freddie. Yes, I love IOZ, as I do this blog. Props to both of you. No substantive comment from me today, just a thanks for this thought provoking blog.

Kathryn said...

I have great hopes for the upcoming Gen Unity. Existentially, from the Religious dimension as opposed to philosophical, agape/acceptance will celebrate humanness as "the color of water." This is where love is the melting pot. I used to think that this was the mystic's pipe dream, but maybe not. Difficulty is that it comes out of the "equal and infinite value" thinking that has to be shared, experienced, peer to peer -- but this is emerging.

anotherpanacea said...

It seems like your response to Leah completely obviates the claims of your post. If we're constantly reclassifying the phenotypical traits of "whiteness" to correspond to the traits of class and non-blackness, then physiognomy is not as powerful as culture in determining who is in and who is out.

Just the fact that the totality of your argument for Yglesias's whiteness is a picture and a claim of obviousness implies that there is no essence there to be described and defined. We don't even realize when the boundaries of whiteness change, because it happens intergenerationally and it happens against a backgrop of the continued exclusion of African-Americans, compared to whom even an Asian is "obviously" white.

Freddie said...

Just the fact that the totality of your argument for Yglesias's whiteness is a picture and a claim of obviousness implies that there is no essence there to be described and defined.

No, actually, the major argument for Yglesias's whiteness is his contention that he is and has been treated a white.

Look, dude, I'm committed to honesty on this topic, and the idea that someone of very dark Indian (as in Asian Indian) extraction doesn't have physiognomic markers that won't be noticed or understood as non-white seems to me to be more the product of anxiety than anything else. When you say that physiognomy is not as powerful as culture, your conflating two separate things: the physical features which are not subject to social construction and the cultural encoding which certainly is. Of course, human beings can decide that any particular group counts as white people. I am expressing great skepticism at the cheery, easy insistence that this is going to be some natural evolution that solves our racial problems.

anotherpanacea said...

Sorry dude, you've misunderstood me. My concern isn't generated by cheery easy insistence that our problems will go away on their own. It's generated by a concern that African-Americans are the people who are never allowed entry into whiteness.

Insofar as someone "very dark" gets caught by the preservation of underclass physiognomy markers, it's a side effect of the real thrust of whiteness. If whiteness is primarily designed to preserve that underclass, then it follows that virtually anyone can be understood as white, given the right conditions, even Wesley Yang or Danny Trejo.

Freddie said...

You're operating under this binary condition of whiteness, and I think the assumption is that it requires every one else being considered white for antiblack racism to endure. I assure you: we can continue to have a multivariate and complex system of racial distinctions and still have black people come out on the bottom in perpetuity. Never underestimate the inventiveness and adaptability of human bigotry.

anotherpanacea said...

When we talk about whiteness, we're already using that binary typology. There are still negative Irish stereotypes and negative Jewish stereotypes. But if we ask, "Are these people white?" the answer is yes. There will still be Asian stereotypes long after we've begun thinking of them (and treating them) as white.

Freddie said...

Then why is the term white meaningful at all? If it's not a sign of a lack of racial discrimination, why bother arguing for or against it at all? I don't understand some of these odd attachments.

In any event, these are all just dueling predictions. Time will tell. I am disturbed by the fact that some seem to think that the cause of racial justice is served by underestimating the enduring power of racism against non-black groups.

Christopher Carr said...

Freddie, you should check out Dyske Suematsu on this topic:

anotherpanacea said...

I started following your blog because I hoped you'd try to advance the project of adding a more radically leftist voice to the public policy debate. And this is the kind of post that might aim to do it, by specifying how a leftist approach to race avoids the "racial blindsight" problem. But you don't seem to be paying much attention to the way that the social science and philosophy of race has developed over the last twenty years, especially around "whiteness," making this a less effective direction for you than perhaps work on organized labor or other far-left projects might be.

Plus your Yglesias obsession is weirdly personal. Everyone with an rss subscription can still see your post about him being an anti-labor millionaire. I'm not sure how this kind of ad hominem is supposed to broaden public debate.

Just a reminder: you can't memory-hole your mistakes (if they are mistakes) so easily: better to address or apologize for them and move on.

Freddie said...

You are operating under a particular kind of Internet misconception: you think I am here to perform a service, and you particularly think I am here to perform a service for you. I don't do this for you. In fact, I don't do it for anyone but me. Now it's my opinion that you are acting out so much because you are stung by how this discussion is revealing some of your own personal baggage about race. Personally, I find the position that things are on their way to being peachy keen jelly bean for Hispanic, Asian, and other non-black non-white groups offensive and gross. You think it demonstrates how very advanced you are. Fair enough. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree. But since you are demonstrating concern about what the point of my project is here, please, understand: I could not care less if my blog doesn't demonstrate sufficient seriousness to you. I could not care less about whether I wave in the direction of liberal orthodoxy. I could not care less if you find me adequately deferential to current sociology of race. I just don't care.

Luckily for us both, your web browser has many buttons that can spirit you away to places more flattering to your perspective.

Tyler said...

The point about Jews/Italians/Irish is *exactly* Jamelle Bouie's point, and he's made it repeatedly. That when Leah brings it up it's a "good point" is a bit incredible, since it is the key point, and writing a whole post neglecting that suggests that you're not actually hearing what Jamelle's been saying. So, obviously the past isn't a straightforward predictor of the future, but it's uncontroversial that *in the past* the phenomenon of previously marked-as-non-white people of European ancestry transitioning into unproblematic whiteness has happened. It's perfectly reasonable to be skeptical about it continuing in the future, but that's a very different point than looking at people's faces and making strong statements about the impossibility of seeing them differently.

Further, "hispanic" is just an absolutely terrible example to use for this one, because it does not refer to some clearly genetically related population group. Latin America is as diverse as North America, and there's a reason that on census and other forms you can be both hispanic *and* black or white or whatever other category. Black people from latin america can and do call themselves hispanic, as can white people. And these aren't theoretical games -- obviously white people from latin america can and do pass as white in the US. If you want to require that "hispanic" means "people from latin america of Spanish decent", well, fine, but jeez, then do you really want to double down on the claim that a "Spanish" physiognomy is somehow more fixed than that of a Greek or Italian? (But if that is what you want to say, then you have to account for the whiteness of actual Spaniards (i.e., people not from latin america).

So what, exactly, are you seeing in Danny Trejo's face? Do you really want to say that his distinctive features somehow reflect generalizable "hispanic" features? (wrinkliness? Large-jawedness? Mustachioed?) It's just not a true statement. The point is not that people aren't attentive to one another's looks and categorize one another quickly, but rather that the "impossibility" of people of European descent being assimilated into American "whiteness" is just willfully blind to that repeated phenomenon throughout history.

I think skepticism about people of East Asian or Indian backgrounds being assimilated into whiteness is much more plausible, but this view of "hispanic" is remarkably ill-considered. The racialization of "hispanic" isn't about people's bodies, it's about immigration panics, and it doesn't help for you to examine people's faces under a microscope in search of unspecifiable but *definitely there* physical differences. That's just some 21st century phrenology.

Freddie said...

No no, I get it-- you're colorblind. Congratulations on your ascension.

Tyler said...

Right. Because that's obviously the point I'm making. Seriously, "hispanic" is not at all a straightforward category for making the argument you're making. If you're conceding that this stuff is cultural rather than inherently physical, then it's easy to see "assimilation" as a possible outcome. (That doesn't make assimilation good -- a pluralistic society should be able to tolerate real difference.) But if Greeks and Italians can do it, I honestly don't understand why people of spanish decent shouldn't be able to.

The reason to be skeptical of that is that there's no reason to see latin american immigration going away as a political and cultural flashpoint in the future, not that hispanic people have some unmistakable physical markers, because under any meaningful definition of the word "hispanic," they just don't.

Again, I said that your argument might hold with more strength for East Asian and Indian people, but "hispanic" is a terrible and unconsidered example, and staring at Matt Yglesias face real close isn't gonna make it real.

Freddie said...

If I polled 100 Americans and asked them to identify Yglesias's ethnic or racial makeup, my expectation is that many would label him white and some would label him Hispanic (note lack of sneer quotes around a well-understood and widely used term). If I polled 100 Americans about Trejo's ethnic or racial makeup, what portion would fail to identify him as Hispanic if that was one of the categories? Do you think any one? More than 3? More than 5? I doubt it. That's what I'm talking about.

There's this way in which people who insist on the social construction of race are trying to have it both ways. They insist that racial identity is socially constructed, which I agree with, and yet turn around and deny the salience of what most people think. My contention is that in denying that there is some aspect of Trejo's appearance that conveys a socially encoded understanding of what we call race, people are engaging in sophistry.

Tyler said...

That's not your central claim: your argument is that current views are so fixed that they can't change in the future, in large part because of "real" features of people's faces. But "can't" is just obviously contradicted by history, at least for people of European descent.

No one in the academy says people don't see race or don't live in a racialized world. They (we) say that features that get marked as racialized are not fixed natural truths but are culturally signified. This seems uncontroversial (including to you). So the question (of this post) is how solid are these signifiers, and since "hispanic" is already a wickedly diffuse category, and all the features that get coded "hispanic" are well within a broad range of whiteness (b/c you don't seem to be talking about black cubans here, say, and your photo is comparing someone in a shirt and tie and a trimmed beard with someone with long hair and a big mustache, which presumably you don't consider to be fixed or immutable properties), then there's no reason to make *this* argument against Bouie's assimilationist optimism. The better argument is political -- that latin american immigration will remain a flashpoint for the foreseeable future, so there's no reason to anticipate the cultural and social salience of "hispanic" getting muddied the way, say, Italian or Greek have. That's a real argument, unlike "see! Danny Trejo's face is real! You can't change it!"

Tyler said...

I'll stop trolling your comments section now. Thanks for engaging.

Freddie said...

Oh, I've got no right to call anyone troll.

anotherpanacea said...

While it's certainly fair to say that you don't owe your commenters particular posts, I hope you'll agree that you owe us charitable interpretation and the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, I have my own sources of bias: I teach at an HBCU and so I tend to see things through that lens. Teaching there doesn't mean I'm not racist (if you know what an invisible knapsack is, then you're probably wearing one) but it does mean I'm familiar with the patterns this debate tends to take. In what I said above, I was simply taking up the other side of what has become a well-worn debate about the extent to which race is a social construction and racism culturally-contextual.

"Personally, I find the position that things are on their way to being peachy keen jelly bean for Hispanic, Asian, and other non-black non-white groups offensive and gross."

What's troublesome is this misreading. No one has said that things *are* peachy keen for Hispanics and Asians, and the future is open. What we've said is that the future is less restricted by physiognomy than you're allowing. As a matter of fact, Hispanics and Asians are the current target of jingoism and anti-"immigrant" hysteria. (Though who counts as a "native" is one of the worst parts of racism in the US.) In many ways it was more difficult to be Muslim than Black in the last decade. It may well be very difficult to be associated with Asia and especially China in the next decade.

My claim has been that the current configuration of "whiteness" is designed to separate groups into black and non-black. Not all non-black groups are equally well off, and there are other kinds of racist stereotypes that can be troublesome. But so long as one is not black, there is always an opportunity for passing and assimiliation into "white." In reality, even some African-Americans have managed to assimilate in this way. Look at O.S.B. Wall.

Here's where I'm coming from: "whiteness" is a problem attached to the racial contract, to a particular configuration of white supremacist power. It makes sense to worry increasingly about citizenship status, about linguistic and cultural forms of oppression, and about religion, again. But race in America begins with our treatment of African and Native-Americans, and it's not offensive or gross to remember that.

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