Saturday, September 5, 2009

Philosophical Musing #2: Identity Politics

Yesterday we encountered some contrasting examples that have got me thinking about Monika and my ongoing identity politics debate. To sum this debate up: I think identity politics are problematic for a variety of reasons, including: 1. on an individual level, structuring ones identity along the lines of gender, sex, orientation and/or race buys into these catagorizations, which are imposed by nature or society (or some of both). I'd prefer to see people structuring their identity around personal agency, the things they control and choose. 2. on a community level, identity politics' focus on advancing one group undermines unified struggle against the institutions that oppress us all (in various different ways). This advancement can develop to such a level that, for example, some consider gang warfare, ghettoization and purchase of flashy baubles and luxury cars "keeping it real" for black culture.

Monika retorts that her people need to be protected and garaunteed a place in the coming revolutionary war, and that my ability to structure my identity around personal agency is an example of cisgendered white male priviledge. This debate sits in a sort of stalemate (a fairly healthy one, in my opinion) we maintain our basic positions, but have each surrendered some ground, and remain wary of the others' concerns, predictions and warnings.

Yesterday, in Bloomington, I found fodder for both sides while spending part of the afternoon at a place called Rachel's Cafe. This cafe is one of those places you'll only find in a vibrant community. It's big. It's open. There's lots of stuff in it, a piano, unlocked cabinets in the bathroom, couches, all kinds of loose valuables. The owners must be very trusting, and the community must be very friendly and respectful to not steal, vandalize, neglect or otherwise abuse this space. This makes me like Bloomington. How this relates to identity politics is that the owner of this place is a 6 foot tall transwoman. Remember, this is Bloomington Indiana, the middle of America's bible belt. Fundamentalist Christian propaganda litters the highways around here. If enclaves exist to house places like Rachel's Cafe in this region, that seems to indicate that the defense and acceptance of Monika's people has already been quite successful.

Unfortunately, while at Rachels, Kate and I read a short zine we picked up at Boxcar Books called Why She Doesn't Give a Fuck About Your Insurrection which pretty clearly indicates that the ultra-radical left is in some places still a white male dominated hellhole. The zine was written in New York about the radical scene's recent adoration of insurrectionary anarchism as expressed by The Invisible Committee in The Call and The Coming Insurrection. These texts seem highly influential with many of the most radical folks I've met, and have been central in Monika and my debates. I don't agree with everything insurrectionaries have to say, but I find many of their critiques compelling, and the community where I've encountered these ideas strikes me as being positive and decent. (I realize the CCC has a reputation for being elitist, but I've attended a number of their umbrella meetings and think they mostly don't deserve this reputation.)

Thing is, this zine contains a pretty scathing critique of the NYC radical scene. There (unless the zine is all lies) women are routinely sexualized and men use the tactics of "invisibility" and "anonymity" to escape responsibility for committing sexual assault. This is obviously fucked. But, when the author of the zine calls them out on it, other men fault her feminism for failing to "focus on the totality". This is even more fucked. This kind of bullshit made 60's radicalism into another avenue for priviledged stright white males to have adventures, get laid, and otherwise dominate others. It's completely fucked. I don't mean to paint all insurrectionary communists with this brush (i haven't seen in among them myself) but I hear that New York often sets trends which eventually spread to the rest of the country. If this is happening, the radical left hasn't learned this basic lesson yet, and Monika is absolutely right: her people need to be defended.

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