By Michelle Yuan.
I was queer. And when other people told me they were queer, I felt a tender pride for all of us. Together, I believed we were courageously transgressing constrained ideas of who and what a person could be. I was convinced we were the next wave of young radicals advancing the frontier of human development.
I grappled with the question of my queer identity for many long months, and ultimately accepted I was queer because I lived with a wider vision of love and human embodiment greater than those dictated by the normative gender roles of Western civilization. Like many other young people, I felt I wasn’t just another straight, heteronormative person. How could I be merely a woman, when I often felt profoundly masculine — protective, aggressive, confident and ambitious? How could I be straight when I gravitated to the utter beauty and greatness of the women in my life?
I felt I could only express the depth and complexity of my love and relationships with the people in my life through the label of being queer. I began to adopt the use of gender-neutral pronouns, and I began to feel the sting when strangers assumed I was a woman. I saw myself as more complete and complex than a woman, both feminine and masculine, and in my androgyny assumed queerness.
But was I? For what does it existentially mean to be queer? Among the many definitions of queerness are assertions that queer love is revolutionary, redefines family, and rejects assimilation into heteropatriarchy. The definition is amorphous, with no scientific and universally accepted categorization. The most universal characteristic of queerness is perhaps that it cannot be succinctly or concretely defined. Moreover, it is scarcely questioned or critiqued by young people, liberals, progressives and radicals alike.
Meanwhile, I cropped my hair short, dated polyamorously, danced and indulged at magnetic, burlesque queer parties. Life voraciously pulsed to the beat of my queer fervor; in my new identity I felt young and liberated. But on quieter nights, hesitation and unrest surfaced as I contemplated my queerness; I could not fully untangle it nor was I certain it truly described me. Something regarding my use of gender-neutral pronouns, which I now often shared when introducing myself, struck me as artificial and self-centered. And when I engaged with ordinary working people, they often did not understand nor connect to my use of specific gender pronouns. Were they transphobic and backward, or was I missing something critical?
Mentors and friends tried to explain me to myself through my identity categories. When I confided in them regarding my struggles and disappointments, I was often told the difficulties in my life had arisen largely because of my multiple marginalized identities. I felt myself reduced to a woman, an Asian, a queer person, or a queer Asian woman — a series of labels instead of simply a person. In claiming these labels for myself, I felt I’d lost something sacred and essentially human in me. W.E.B. Du Bois writes,
“In fact no one knows himself but that self’s own soul. The vast and wonderful knowledge of this marvelous universe is locked in the bosoms of its individual souls. To tap this mighty reservoir of experience, knowledge, beauty, love, and deed we must appeal not to the few, not to some souls, but to all. The narrower the appeal, the poorer the culture; the wider the appeal the more magnificent are the possibilities.“
“Infinite is human nature. We make it finite by choking back the mass of men, by attempting to speak for others, to interpret and act for them, and we end by acting for ourselves and using the world as our private property. If this were all, it were crime enough—but it is not all: by our ignorance we make the creation of the greater world impossible; we beat back a world built of the playing of dogs and laughter of children, the song of Black Folk and worship of Yellow, the love of women and strength of men, and try to express by a group of doddering ancients the Will of the World.”
Studying the legacy of the past freedom fighters and the great Black Freedom struggle profoundly moved me, heart and soul, and led me to draw new conclusions about my place and purpose in the world. Today, I know I was and am not queer. I can now see that I loved the people in my life for their humanity, and that I sought revolutionary truth. But this did not make me queer, for queerness is a theory, attitude and choice rooted in an ignorance of and escape from the mass of humanity.
A Time of Identity Politics
We live in a time of identity politics, when individuals proclaim moral authority on the basis of their identity. This phenomenon has burgeoned in recent years, and continues to ascend in influence among students, activists, progressives and liberals — primarily young, educated American people. Slogans such as “Queer people of color to the front” and “My existence is resistance” are commonly encountered.
University politics are largely characterized by identity-based groups and coalitions. Upon arrival on campus, curious and empathetic Asian, Latin American, Black students are siphoned into their respective single-issue groups; white students throw themselves into a singular cause of their choice: often labor, queer or environmental activism. The impassioned flames and urgency of such activism rooted in identity politics often diminishes once students graduate, because it is not a framework that has been able to transform the hearts, minds and souls of the students. Additionally, students fail to see that they are imbuing an ideology dispensed by the elite institution and rooted in white supremacy. Identity politics is propagated on university campuses because it serves and preserves the interests of the ruling class by encouraging individuals to myopically seek accommodation within the institutions they are a part of, within society’s decadent and degrading order. A larger sense of the great world and its complete history is washed away, the struggle to transform our world into something entirely new and free is quietly lost.
Like fish in water, young educated Americans cannot fathom how fundamentally white and western their assumptions and understanding of the world are. For many of them, identity politics is the only political action they have practiced. Yet there is an alternative. A rich and distinct history of student activism arises from the Black Radical Tradition and Civil Rights Movement, but is scarcely understood by today’s younger generation. Students of this older generation partook in political struggle through movements that were defined by discipline, sacrifice, and a love for the people. Their political practice did not center on the individual self, but rather connected oneself to the greater overarching sweep of humanity. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rise of Identity Politics and Intersectionality
Intersectionality, a theory which stems from identity politics and Black feminism of the 1970’s, states that ending one form of oppression requires ending all other forms of oppression. It puts forth the practice of building coalitions between organizations and communities rooted in different oppressions and seeks to unite separate struggles on the assumption that systems are interconnected and profoundly influence one another. However, it fails to complete this connection because of its fixation on individual exceptionality, and thus cannot organically unite people on the basis of our common humanity.
The rise of identity politics is often credited to the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist group founded in 1974. Their April 1977 statement, which formulates the “triple oppression” of race, gender and class oppression, has risen in influence at institutions and among young educated people. An excerpt from the statement reads, “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work. This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”
Despite its sincerity, the statement betrays an entitlement to the spoils of whiteness. Genuinely struggling for all people comes at the price of giving up the status and decadence conferred by the white and western imperialist order. Therefore, freeing all humanity from oppression demands that people give up their white aspirations and yearnings for affirmation and assimilation into western structures. In striving for a new world, it is necessary for people to build a new moral standard on principles of humility, love and discipline, by which to hold themselves and others.
Identity politics is also known as a politics of recognition, or politics of inclusion. Those who follow identity politics organize around the right to be accepted by the ruling hegemony. They cannot seriously theorize a new system in which all people are free, which transcends the dominant structures and principles we have been given and therefore in which identity categories would no longer be relevant. “I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, into a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly,” Baldwin said of the gay rights movement in 1984, “Their reaction seems to me in direct proportion to the sense of feeling cheated of the advantages which accrue to white people in a white society. There’s an element, it has always seemed to me, of bewilderment and complaint.”
Whiteness and Our Shared Humanity
Identity politics cannot be the basis of revolutionary struggle, because such a political theory is a form of whiteness. Whiteness is not defined just by skin color, but also by how one relates to oneself and the rest of the world’s people. Whiteness characterizes a deep nihilism and an infantile urge to be superior to the rest of humanity. It fails to see and respond to reality, and fearfully recoils from the truths of white and Western civilization. It manifests as inescapable despair, an existential lack of purpose and direction. It is arrogant, ignorant, self-deluded and self-centered. It is the ideology that we inherit from White America, that is reinforced in our media, our universities, our workplaces, that as young Americans we must struggle to overcome if we seek to transform the world.
“But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?” Du Bois asks in his essay The Souls of White Folk. Du Bois clarifies what appears to be a gaping contradiction of society. What is whiteness after all, such that people will clamor over one another to achieve their white aspirations? After all, becoming white comes at the great cost of shedding one’s sense of humanity, morality and reality. And so what is queerness such that one should so desire it?
“Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”
This craving for dominance is the attitude beneath whiteness and queerness. It is an attitude that produces the urgent, pained insistence on the part of many queer individuals that their queerness be known and that their pronouns be correctly applied by all. It is an attitude that compels young individuals to feel ‘seen’ and existentially validated. Beneath is a craving for safety, to find comfort in the white world instead of taking responsibility for changing it.
What drives those who follow identity politics to prioritize the ways in which they are distinct and exceptional? The existence of differences between all people is a basic fact. The central question is not truly one of difference therefore, but rather one of responsibility. We all share a responsibility for shaping the world for future generations. We can retreat into self-righteousness and evade this great responsibility, or we can emerge from self-obsession and forge a new identity based in selfless revolutionary principles of discipline, sacrifice and love for the people.
If you were to encounter a white man, perhaps affluent, arrogant and ignorant, what would cross your mind? Would you think of how you face more hardship and are therefore more advanced and morally entitled than him? Or would you notice his existential despair, which certainly lives in him, and see it as a mirror for your own existential struggle? Would you feel a sense of kinship or responsibility to this man?
Because identity politics is largely defined by division and exceptionality, placing certain individuals morally above others on the basis of discrete identity categories — frequently brandished like a collection of badges — it fails to accept the simple fact that we are human.
I had failed to accept the simple fact that we are human, had failed to see that in our common humanity we share something sacred, something which we must defend, nourish and develop. I thought I needed queerness to describe the silent wonder of observing a stranger’s human beauty, the tender kinship of being reunited with a good friend, the budding tears of contemplating my parents growing old. The love I felt for the people in my life was not a queer love, but rather a striving for what King calls agape, a love for humanity.
“Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
The Confusion of Identity
Of all the identity categories, queer identity is the most pervasive and authoritative among young educated people today. It is not an identity that one is born into, but rather, a framework that one can select for oneself. It is a moral choice. For many individuals, it is not a direct reflection of one’s sexual orientation, but rather an attitude toward oneself and society that is believed to be transgressive.
The choice to call oneself queer is often a profound, difficult and existential process during which an individual questions the foundations of their place in the world and how they relate to other people in society. Adopting a queer vision of the world is believed to produce clarity, radicalism and a more honest understanding of the world. Yet, it produces the opposite. A deeper angst, uncertainty, and depression often complements those who most ardently assert their queer identities.
It is ironic that a process meant to produce clarity for oneself instead produces dread and confusion — such is the trap of whiteness. Identity politics does not just keep individuals safely contained within a white relationship to the world, it deepens and even elevates their position in the white world.
What is needed for our times is not queerness nor a feverish obsession with our identities, but rather a tradition that helps us envision a new world and a place for ourselves in society on principled terms. To achieve this demands that we define ourselves beyond the white imagination.
Although identity politics produces a critique of the ills of a collapsing Western civilization by drawing attention to the hardship faced by numerous communities, it does not pierce the root of these problems. What identity politics believes is a problem of the marginalized few, is in fact a collective plague of American society.
“The terrors homosexuals go through in this society would not be so great if the society itself did not go through so many terrors which it doesn’t want to admit. The discovery of one’s sexual preference doesn’t have to be a trauma. It’s trauma because it’s such a traumatized society.”
James Baldwin had no interest for labels such as “gay,” which he understood as terms of the oppressor which confined and controlled human potential. Despite being a gay Black man, he sought to define himself and others by the principles of shared humanity. “There’s nothing in me that is not in everybody else, and nothing in everybody else that is not in me.” By recognizing the human potential of all people, Baldwin saw the world through eyes of a brave and humble love, and understood others through the highest form of love, agape.
Becoming Human, Our Responsibility
“I have met only a very few people—and most of these were not Americans—who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.”James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
As Baldwin writes, freedom is hard to bear, because struggling for freedom demands discipline, honesty, humility and sacrifice. There is a profound necessity for those who seek to change the world to grow into greater, more moral and spiritually complete human beings, leaders who can take responsibility for the future of all humanity.
However, identity politics cannot provide revolutionary development. It cannot escape its obsession and orientation to the self; it clings to entitlement and self-righteousness. Jimmy Boggs said, “Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human.” Ultimately, identity politics is a political tradition which does not confront the white, western values we have inherited. It is a masking of the contradictions of Western civilization, an assimilation to the status quo and an escape from the need to become a transformed human being.
Alternatively, revolutionary politics arises from a selfless relationship to the world and its people. A desperate clinging to self-identification and emphasis on individualism begins to fade when our hearts are welded to the spiritual strife of people, their struggle to flourish and fulfill their human potential — when our minds are set on the vast horizons of tomorrow and the incredible potential of people to transform into revolutionaries. Identity politics would encourage us to shrink away from this society and its people, but I want for us to stay and struggle, to face ourselves and grow, for what we shall seek is the freedom to change our society.
- James Baldwin, 1984 Interview with Richard Goldstein
- James Baldwin, Letter From A Region In My Mind
- Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of White Folk
- Martin Luther King Jr., An Experiment in Love
- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From A Birmingham Jail
7 thoughts on “Queerness as Whiteness: Beyond Identity Politics”
This essay leaves out a lot of scholarship and struggle by LGBTQQIAA+ people with solid revolutionary grounding.
First, the issue of the gender binary.
We now have decades of scholarship about Indigenous American gender roles and society in the pre-Columbian period. The North American Indigenes recognized a multiplicity of genders, which therefore demonstrates that the gender binary is a European construct imposed upon this hemisphere, ergo defense of the binary is a Euro-centric project.
Second, the absolute leap-frogging over the decades of work done by revolutionaries in America who created the antecedents of the LGBT movement. CPUSA member Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in 1948, the first gay men’s organization, as an offshoot of the CPUSA front that was supporting the Henry Wallace third party presidential campaign against Harry Truman. He applied to his project the Marxist-Leninist analysis of the national question and extrapolated his conclusions from that struggle for an anti-capitalist anti-racist project. The CPUSA had its problems and it made errors but Du Bois in fact joined the CP at precisely the same time that Hay was active. For many years, the CPUSA was a gathering place for the integrated anti-Jim Crow queer community, due in no small part to the synthesis of the CPUSA’s members with the literary scene and the New Deal arts programs.
The Stonewall rebellion of 1969 were started by a BIPOC trans woman as a revolt against police brutality and Mafia-sponsored exploitation of the queer community in a northern white racist liberal metropolis. They were made up of poor people who were living on the streets and surviving in the most brutal conditions possible. There’s plenty of rebellions across history that featured similar uprisings of peasants and workers in similar conditions. The movement borne out of the Stonewall uprising had many formations and the major schism was focused primarily around assimilation versus liberation and acceptance by hegemonic white supremacy versus destruction of it. To pigeonhole it all as looking for an integrationist resolution is just mistaken history that effectively ignores contributions of important thinkers. And furthermore, you neglect to mention the decade-plus trench warfare of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the groups like ACT-UP that were grounded in firm anti-capitalist ethos. This is quite similar to the feminist movement and the issues outlined by Angela Davis in Women, Race, and Class.
In terms of the Black radical tradition, this syncs with a matter raised by CLR James and the question of spontaneity in the book Black Marxism: Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Does the vanguard formation (and particularly the party formation) articulate and define for the masses the understanding of their oppression or do the masses instinctively already comprehend their exploitation by experience and therefore require the vanguard to build within them instead confidence and preparation? Noel Ignatiev explained this in an essay about James, “The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction. It is an essential contribution to the society of disciplined spontaneity, which for James was the definition of the new world.” In other words, revolutionaries are trained by their exploitation by the capitalist class. Queer people are trained towards revolutionary consciousness by the forms of oppression they experience. Whether they engage with simple liberal reformism or revolutionary struggle underwrites a decision to participate in hegemonic white supremacy or destroy it. What Baldwin suggested in his quote about “not needing to be called gay” is a question of ontology. Does the homosexual-attracted person defined themselves as queer or does society generate that identity owing to the existence of queer-phobia in its various manifestations? This is tied to what James alluded to and grapples with the struggle of revolutionary consciousness. Engels and later thinkers addressed this matter further in their work on the nature of the family and its role in the maintenance of capital.
Third, the mangling of the Combahee River Collective statement and its meaning. There’s no acknowledgement in this essay that liberalism and now neoliberalism as longstanding hegemonic political projects have a history of co-opting radical struggles and their vocabulary in order to appease and calm the middle classes. Just go read Malcolm X’s ‘Message to the Grassroots’ about the March on Washington of 1963 and how the Kennedy administration collaborated with the liberal Civil Rights hierarchy to compromise the impending rebellion in the streets. This is the dialectic of Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution” and how radicals struggle in relationship to institutionalized social democracy. There’s a constant interchange of radicalism forcing liberalism to adopt their ideas. How you can possibly read lines in the Combahee statement such as “A combined anti-racist and anti-sexist position drew us together initially, and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism and economic oppression under capItalism” and “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression” is befuddling. It is a false tautology divorced from an understanding of this dialectic of revolutionary struggle described by Luxemburg to say “Liberals coopted the phrase ‘identity politics,’ ergo it never had any potential of revolutionary meaning when it was formulated.” By that standard we might as well throw away the idea of revolution of any kind because Bernie Sanders negated such possibility by naming his think tank Our Revolution. What sort of epistemology and semantics are we reduced to by this framework? Consider also the point raised by Ignatiev in the magazine Race Traitor:
Whiteness is not a culture. There is Irish culture and Italian culture and American culture – the latter, as Albert Murray pointed out, a mixture of the Yankee, the Indian, and the Negro (with a pinch of ethnic salt); there is youth culture and drug culture and queer culture; but there is no such thing as white culture. Whiteness has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with social position. It is nothing but a reflection of privilege, and exists for no reason other than to defend it. Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and the white skin would have no more social significance than big feet.
“Of all the identity categories, queer identity is the most pervasive and authoritative among young educated people today. It is not an identity that one is born into, but rather, a framework that one can select for oneself.”
Trust me, I would have saved myself a hell of a lot of ass-whoopings if I had been able to “choose” not to be queer. It is not clear from this essay what the background of this author is, maybe she comes from a liberal or progressive upbringing where family and community acceptance was in the mix from the start. That wasn’t the case for me and I would have avoided a lot of violence if it could have been.
There is a way to synthesize a radical queer politics with the wider Black radical tradition and comprehend that one can foster a deeper, radical engagement from the other, something Harry Hay was doing over 70 years ago.
Your reply is confusing and academic. It does not address any of the central contradictions and search for clarity. The article is not concerned with personal choices that people may make or seek to diminish their personal struggles, it is an ideological critique of the queer movement.
1) Why do you have to go to the pre-Columbian period to talk about gender identity, and refer to the authority of scholarship coming from institutions that participated in their very genocide? If you wish to oppose Eurocentrism, why do you not look at the masses of working people in Africa, Asia and the black proletariat and their struggles?
2) When we refer to the Black Radical Tradition, we particularly base our thinking and practice on the works of W.E.B Du Bois and James Baldwin, as well as the concept of positive peace by Martin Luther King Jr. We don’t believe that all struggles are equivalent. In America, we believe in the fundamental role of the black proletariat and their struggle for freedom and so it is that consciousness to which we refer. There is no evidence that a significant proportion of the black proletariat (not individuals) has ever subscribed to, supported or been a part of the LGBTQ movement. Around the world, black, brown and yellow working people have never subscribed to this movement either. To the contrary, this movement has always been a predominantly white movement and around the world is artificially created usually through neocolonial relationships and western inspired institutions. This is the meaning of Baldwin’s interview with Goldstein.
3) The Combahee River Collective emerged during a counter-revolutionary moment. it is not equivalent to the Black Radical Tradition and often opposed itself to it. We refer you to the conversation between Baldwin and Audre Lorde.
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Your reply is confusing and academic.
Would you prefer invective and personal attacks? Principled political debate with respect for each party requires some basic form of decorum and standard. Furthermore, your original post and your response would easily be described with those adjectives. Comradely exchange requires some level of decency.
1) Why do you have to go to the pre-Columbian period to talk about gender identity, and refer to the authority of scholarship coming from institutions that participated in their very genocide?
– I wonder how the multiple Indigenous scholars working on the topic would respond to that argument. Furthermore, I wonder how they would respond to the affiliation of their work with the academy when they come from all walks of like. Much of the work about Indigenous gender roles in fact was first published in non-academic radical press venues.
2) When we refer to the Black Radical Tradition, we particularly base our thinking and practice on the works of W.E.B Du Bois and James Baldwin, as well as the concept of positive peace by Martin Luther King Jr.
-The Black Radical Tradition as described by Cedric J. Robinson in his book Black Marxism: Making of the Black Radical Tradition is premised on the dialectical triad of Du Bois, CLR James, and Ricard Wright. It’s obviously more expansive then those three writers but also not exclusive either. If James doesn’t count then you’re not engaging fully with the discussion Robinson outlined.
2a) There is no evidence that a significant proportion of the black proletariat (not individuals) has ever subscribed to, supported or been a part of the LGBTQ movement. Around the world, black, brown and yellow working people have never subscribed to this movement either. To the contrary, this movement has always been a predominantly white movement and around the world is artificially created usually through neocolonial relationships and western inspired institutions. This is the meaning of Baldwin’s interview with Goldstein.
-Again, no mention of the role of BIPOC trans women in initiating the Stonewall rebellion, no acknowledgement of the role of the CPUSA in the early stirrings of the project in the days of the Old Left, and zero analysis of the difference between reform and revolution, which also incidentally was manifested in the debate between Booker T Washington and Du Bois.
Is the liberal gay rights movement racist and full of other chauvinisms? Yes. But again, you fail to engage the dialectic Luxemburg laid about regarding reform and revolution, social democratic liberalism as opposed to revolutionary struggle, or anything else pertinent to queer history outside the last 50 years. As for the question of the Black proletariat and queer rights, why then is it that Black sociologist Michael C. Dawson show in his work that African Americans are the most left-leaning constituency of the country, including sexual liberties issues like gay rights and abortion?
Your basic argument is not only about a liberal movement, it is about the acknowledgment of same-sex attraction and gender as categories of identity capable of revolutionary solidarity. I believe there is a substantial argument to be made about how racial capitalism articulates as part of its hegemonic manifestation cis-hetero-patriarchal relations, something the entire revolutionary movement has been grappling with for over 120 years. Lenin abolished sodomy laws and granted queer rights alongside abortion in 1917, what else do you need!
This is similar to the debate that Du Bois engaged with in Black Reconstruction in America with his contemporary labor historians. His positioning of the Black Worker as the first of his dialectical triad in the History was opposing two different forms of erasure from the canon, the first being the claim that the enslaved were merely pre-capitalist feudal laborers, ergo lacking the revolutionary agency of the proletariat, and the second being a class essentialism that denied the particularly revolutionary role of the Black proletariat as opposed to the white worker, which was turned towards political reaction by the “psychic wage of whiteness.” That line of progression between the history Du Bois wrote and what is said by the Combahee River Collective is undeniable and tangible.
3) The Combahee River Collective emerged during a counter-revolutionary moment. it is not equivalent to the Black Radical Tradition and often opposed itself to it. We refer you to the conversation between Baldwin and Audre Lorde.
Lenin wrote during 12 years of counter-revolution, 1905-1917 and later in 1918-1924 due to the Civil War and Western encirclement. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged during a counter-revolution, McCarthyism. That’s a false tautology contrary to a century of revolutionary movements.
I’ve read through the Lorde-Baldwin exchange and nothing seems to contradict or negate what is being raised in my point about the Combahee statement. What I do notice is a certain dearth, namely:
-The African womb was a site of both violence and capitalist exploitation that the African male was incapable of experiencing. The law of chattel slavery dictated that a child born of a woman held in captivity was automatically a slave able to be sold at the whim of the captor. The role of rape by the captor and parentage of the child sold into captivity was another type of exploitation. Black Reconstruction failed to articulate that critique in its analysis of the Black worker. If that doesn’t articulate a reason to acknowledge unique and intersecting forms of exploitation, we border on a kind of denialism that is deeply problematic, something clearly lacking from Baldwin’s arguments.
-Lack of acknowledgement of the sexism that was redolent in the Left until women were forced to break away and form their own projects is evident. Just look up Bettina Aptheker.
-Look at the essay “Notes of a Native Son,” where he talks about his father and the antagonistic relationship they had. He never says it in the essay at all but do the math, Baldwin is 19, he’s manifesting a blatantly queer personality, living in the queer bohemian alcove of Greenwich Village, and having sexual encounters at that point. That sort of thing would probably have driven his preacher father nuts and underwrote the antagonism. Recall furthermore that, not until after Notes of a Native Son was published, America had strict obscenity laws outlawing publication of anything that was deemed to promote homosexuality. Those circumstances seem to point towards a far more complex and intricate vision of how he articulated these matters.
Marsha P. Johnson never identified as a trans woman. In the drag queen subculture, it was common to refer to men as “she” when they were in costume.
Many indigenous folks find this retroactive “there are many genders in indigenous societies!” to be appropriative and reductive. There was no denial of biological differences between, say, two-spirit men (two-spirit was nearly always reserved for males) and the other men. They understood that men were incapable of being pregnant, for instance. These men would not be recognized as full women, because they were men. But they were recognized as men who would be willing to give up power, for reasons that the tribe interpreted as spiritually important. To go back now and force their framework into ours is the most white colonialism thing I’ve seen in modern queer theory discourse.
The author’s decision to identify as queer does confuse me, though. In my spheres, “queer” was reserved for L/G/B (or pansexual or whatever else people came up with, but certainly not straight people – even if they were polyam or kinky).
Queer ideology comes from postmodernism which directly opposed to Marxism. Understanding this is key to understanding how queer and trans ideology has captured hegemony around the world.
I don’t deny the appropriation and the reductionism exists but it does demonstrate an undeniable fact, that the gender binary and heterosexist ideologies are part and parcel of settler colonial mentality. In this sense the desire to impose upon humanity this gender binary replicates settler colonial culture. Indication of a historic reality is not appropriation, it is statement of observable realities.
We’re not just dealing with queer ideology and postmodernism, we’re dealing with the notion of solidarity and subjective capability of affirming simultaneous but also distinct forms of oppression under racial capitalism, which are undeniable realities. Just as Du Bois identified the “wages of whiteness” we can also derive identification of similar psychic wages entailed in privileges granted one’s ability, sex/gender, linguistic ability, and other methods of capitalist division. What Du Bois sought to repudiate with Black Reconstruction was a type of reductionism that denies these differences.