Posts Tagged ‘Multiculturalism’

Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

Jesse Jackson on identity politics

November 16, 2016

During the Presidential campaign of 1988, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was asked, “How you are going to get the support of the white steelworker?”  He replied: “By making him aware he has more in common with the black steel workers by being a worker, than with the boss by being white.”

Source: It’s Class, Stupid, Not Race by Marshall Auerback for Counterpunch.

Neal Stephenson on multiculturalism

February 12, 2011

Neal Stephenson is a writer of speculative and historical fiction whose work I like a lot.  In 1999, he wrote a long essay, “In the Beginning Was the Command Line,” in which he interpreted the crisis of Western civilization in terms of the rivalry between computer operating systems and interfaces (or maybe the other way around).  I liked the following passage so well that I copied it.

Neal Stephenson

Orlando used to have a military installation called McCoy Air Force Base, with long runways from which B-52s could take off and reach Cuba, or just about anywhere else, with loads of nukes. But now McCoy has been scrapped and repurposed. It has been absorbed into Orlando’s civilian airport. The long runways are being used to land 747-loads of tourists from Brazil, Italy, Russia and Japan, so that they can come to Disney World and steep in our media for a while.

To traditional cultures, especially word-based ones such as Islam, this is infinitely more threatening than the B-52s ever were. It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or “honoring diversity” or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing ) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.

The lesson most people are taking home from the Twentieth Century is that, in order for a large number of different cultures to coexist peacefully on the globe (or even in a neighborhood) it is necessary for people to suspend judgment in this way. Hence (I would argue) our suspicion of, and hostility towards, all authority figures in modern culture. …… This is the fundamental message of television; it is the message that people take home, anyway, after they have steeped in our media long enough. It’s not expressed in these highfalutin’ terms, of course.  It comes through as the presumption that all authority figures—teachers, generals, cops, ministers, politicians—are hypocritical buffoons, and that hip jaded coolness is the only way to be.

The problem is that once you have done away with the ability to make judgments as to right and wrong, true and false, etc., there’s no real culture left.  All that remains is clog dancing and macrame.  The ability to make judgments, to believe things, is the entire point of having a culture.  ……

The global anti-culture that has been conveyed into every cranny of the world by television is a culture unto itself, and by the standards of great and ancient cultures like Islam and France, it seems grossly inferior, at least at first.  The only good thing you can say about it is that it makes world wars and Holocausts less likely—and that is actually a pretty good thing!

The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this global monoculture, is completely screwed.  Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being.  And—again—perhaps the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won’t nuke each other.

On the other hand, if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you’ve got some tools.

Click on  “In the Beginning Was The Command Line” for the whole essay.  Scroll down to the sub-heading “The Interface Culture” to get to the best part.

Click on Neal Stephenson wiki for his Wikipedia profile.

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Andy Jackson and the battle of New Orleans

November 20, 2010

When I was a boy learning American history in grade school 60 or so years ago, we were taught how in 1815, Andrew Jackson and his unlettered Tennessee militia in the Battle of New Orleans defeated the British regulars through their superior marksmanship.

Our imagination was captured by the story of how American common sense and self-reliance defeated European training and discipline.  The song by Jimmy Driftwood became popular later, but it expressed how we boys saw things.

Recently I learned what Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story” in the opening chapter of a Pulitzer-winning history entitled What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 by David Walker Howe.  The marksmanship of the Tennessee militia was not especially accurate or devastating.  The mass slaughter of the British troops was from the superior accuracy of the American artillery.  The cannons, firing grapeshot, were cast in government armories and fired by expertly trained gunners.

The Tennessee militia were not particularly accurate in their shooting, not because they were bad marksmen, but because most of them carried muskets instead of rifles.  Members of the Tennessee militia lost an informal marksmanship contest to New Orleans city militiamen because the New Orleans marksmen had rifles.  There also were Kentucky militia who were even more poorly armed, and they broke and ran in the face of the British troops.

We Americans remember the battle of New Orleans because it was our only victorious major land battle in the War of 1812.  During most of the war, the trained, professional British army marched up and down the country at will, easily defeating the untrained, amateur American militia.  On the other hand, as Howe noted, we Americans more than held our own in the war at sea because of the superior American gunnery – in other words, because of our industrial and technological capability.

We celebrate the frontier marksmen over the trained artillery gunners because we conflate education and training with aristocratic privilege.  Of course the artillerymen didn’t win the battle all by themselves either.  The Tennessee militia’s hardihood and General Jackson’s forceful leadership were admirable and important – just not substitutes for professionalism and expert technique.

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