The Other...and the other Others
Mr Multicultural shows his teeth - Sunday Times - Times Online
Two of the founding grandes dames of British multiculturalism got into a cat fight this week. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has been “pandering to the right”, spat Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London...Livingstone had a hissy fit and accused Phillips of selling out black people. “He’d had a brief sort of black power fling,” said Livingstone, “dissing” Phillips’s past activism, “and ever since then he’s gone so far over to the other side that I expect soon he’ll be joining the BNP.” It seems that Trevor ain’t been “keeping it real” enough for Ken...so he’s calling new Labour’s No 1 homeboy a coconut. Maybe Trevor should get some gold teeth and grab his crotch more often...
Britain’s irony is that the person profiting most from exploiting racial tensions is not a glamorous funky demagogue but a white middle-aged nerd. But K Diddy is savvy to the way race is skilfully employed in America and has imported those techniques here.
The one nice thing about the War on Terror is the exposure of the Other with all its warts--is if this were some surprising novelty. Suddenly it's become almost fashionable to note that those paradigmatic Others, heroes of the left counterculture (in which I came of age), brown third world males, are violent, misogynistic religious bigots and racists who hate other Others even more than they hate even more than they hate materialistic Western decadence, American militarism or any of the other left-countercultural bugaboos.
Why did it take so long to figure this out? Why hasn't everyone figured it out yet? And, most interestingly, why are those who haven't figured it out, so selective about Otherness?
We see Red Ken, who happens to be white, hissing and spitting at Trevor Phillips for not being black, or red, enough. Skin color isn't sufficient for Otherness--or necessary: Ward Churchill still has followers. Race as such only confers potential Otherness and white partisans reserve a special place in Hell for people of color who don't meet their expectations. There is, in any case, a hierarchy of Otherness: race trumps gender, sexual orientation and disability; cultural alienation trumps race; and third-worldism, currently at least, is at the pinnacle of Otherness. If culturally alienated, underclass black males beat up on women, good leftists go with the guys. If third world Muslims are misogynistic, anti-semitic and homophobic, the politically correct, including self-described feminists and Jews, go with the Muslims.
I'm still trying to figure this out. There is an interesting piece on Foucault in the Chronical of Higher Ed that gives me some idea in retrospect of what was going on when all this got started. It seems that c. 1970 Foucault got the idea that the power that oppressed us did not emanate from individuals at the top of some hierarchy but from a network of impersonal forces embedded in the culture which enforced conformity through various forms of soft power. Again, one wonders why anyone thought this was a new idea. But I recall that at the time it caught fire.
We were convinced that we were caught in that evil net--spun by the military-industrial complex, Western rationalism and materialism, Academia, the suburban bourgeoisie, the advertising industry--the whole fabric of mainstream culture or, as we called it, the Establishment. The aim of the counterculture's political wing, I remember, was not to fix things so that Others like me could get in, but to dismantle it. Others who were excluded, actively resisted and, if necessary, did violence to disrupt it were icons of the Revolution that we imagined we were fighting. By the same reasoning, Others who managed to get in, middle class blacks in particular, were traitors hardly worthy of Otherness, and excluded Others who didn't cause trouble, in particular women, were at best, low priority Others. At the time, the paradigm Others, those who were most disruptive and so most "transgressive" were the big, brutal, crotch-grabbing underclass black males with gold teeth of whom Trevor Phillips is very definitely NOT. Nowadays it's Islamicists on jihad--more brutal, more transgressive, and genuinely alien.
As an excluded Other, all I ever wanted was to get in--and to revise the membership rules so that everyone could. I'm sitting here at the table in my IKEA kitchen, in my suburban home, this Labor Day weekend, sipping Corona and mellow. This is the life I always wanted--the life of an upper middle class white male from which we Others used to be excluded, and from which most of us are still excluded. I got all I ever dreamed of. I don't have to do pink-collar shit work; I have a husband, kids, cats and a chocolate lab, a grand piano, laptop, fast internet connection and wifi. [another sip of Corona--it's damn hot here] This is the summum bonum and the life that most of the human race would choose--if they could get it. I struggled and fought, and lived in fear for half of my adult life, to get this--and the whole of my political agenda is directed to fixing things so that everyone, here and abroad, can--so that all us Others can get into the Establishment and stop being Other.
'Nuff blogging. It's Labor Day Weekend and my last gasp of freedom for the year--I go back to teaching in three days. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it--I like teaching, and like students generally. I'm also looking forward to sitting in on a math class: I like math even though math doesn't like me. Happy Labor Day! Keep the Red Flag flying! Drink beer--be happy!