I don't find Blacks using the term "race traitor" objectionable the way I'd find the same term used by whites (liberal or not) objectionable. It's a little like when Chris Rock uses the word "nigger." I don't think it's acceptable for whites to say "nigger," by and large. But at the same time, it's not my place, as a white guy, to police the language Blacks use when having debates about Black identity politics within the Black community. That's none of my business. [...] Context - that is, what race the speaker is - does matter. It's clear that when blacks use the word "nigger" or its derivatives, they're not using it in the anti-black way it's typically been used by white racists. Similarly, the analogy between right-wing racists who have used "race traitor" (for whites who favored civil rights), and anti-racist Blacks who use the same term, doesn't hold much water.Before I begin, I'd like to note that I was way too casual in the whole "race traitor" deal. It was a heated statement, and I regret it. More embarrassingly, from my perspective, is that the "book by two Georgetown Law Professors" is one I've actually been meaning to read, and both the authors (Mari J. Matsuda and Charles Lawrence III) are writers I admire and consider myself to be heavily influenced be. Also, I agree that context matters, and that there is a qualitative difference between white racists using phrases like "race traitor" and the same sort of claim being made by black leftists to other blacks. My argument thus should not be construed that both are equally objectionable, just that both are, indeed objectionable at all. That being said, I disagree with Ampersand that blacks calling other blacks "race traitor" is akin to the use of the n-word by blacks. The reason is simple--and it has everything to do with the context of use. Like Amp, I may find the use of this word by anyone distasteful. However, black people don't use it in a context designed to degrade or isolate the subject of its use (whereas any white usage necessarily carries with it the baggage of past racism). By contrast, "race traitor" is an epithet designed to intimidate, the purpose is to assault minorities who aren't displaying the proper "solidarity" and the intent is to strip them of their blackness--if you're not with me, you're not black. I briefly overviewed the theory of intersectionality in a previous post, but it's worth running through again:
[Intersectionality argues] that the experience of a double minority is different than the sum of the two minority groups she belongs. For example, the status of a Black Woman is not merely Woman + Black. Similarly, the status of a female minority conservative is not just Female + Minority + Conservative. The simplest reason why this is so is because whereas becoming a conservative by itself means joining a relatively popular and broad group, becoming a minority conservative means being subjected to endless taunts of being an "Uncle Tom" or traitor, accusations (and occasionally, true moments) of being "used" by majority peers, and other hardships. In other words, while my (White) life would not be significantly changed by switching my political affiliation, for a minority, this switch comes with a lot of baggage. Because the tropes associated with "conservative" are contingent upon one's other identities, one can't simply atomize conservatism (or any other identity) and examine independently of the rest.Ampersand views this entire spat as intramural, blacks arguing amongst themselves about what it means to oppose racism. To me, this obscures the divisions in power relations that exist within the black community. Since the black left is far more powerful than the black right, the effect of them using this term is to leverage the influence they have over anti-racism discourse to suppress views they don't like. This is akin to when minorities began to criticize the fact that civil rights scholarship was nearly all-white (and didn't cite to any emerging minority writers). See Richard Delgado, The Imperial Scholar: Reflections on Civil Rights Literature, 132 U. Pa. L. Rev. 561 (1984). The terminology used by black leftists is not neutral debate, it is a deliberate attempt to link black conservatives to an ideology inherently opposed to black people. It's like a Jew calling another Jew a Nazi--irrespective of the validity of the criticism itself, the term is offensive because of the particular tropes and tenors it carries in the Jewish experience. Acting as if this was just folks debating ("free speech"?) blinds us to the realities of power and forces us to pretend that Blacks do all agree on the terms and conditions regarding opposition to racism--and moreover, we have to play that role by accepting the very controversy that is under dispute--that black leftists are "right" in how they frame the racism debate and the conservatives are "wrong." This does not address the second part of Ampersand's critique--that even if we (white liberals) think that the term is wrong, it's none of our business. As I wrote in my last post, my Jewish background places me deeply opposed to the "it's not our problem" school of thought. The history of genocide is replete with examples of tyrants who knew that if they just kept their actions an internal affair, they could escape international notice and condemnation of even the most brutal of crimes. Within this paradigm, Hitler's crime was not that he slaughtered millions of Jews, it's that he invaded Poland (which of course made it "everybody's problem"). Had he just concentrated on the Jews in his own border (like Turkey with Armenians, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, etc.), he'd have been home free. I reject this logic. Obviously there is value to letting groups solve their own problems, just as there is value in respecting national sovereignty. But this is predicated on the notion that all members of the group in question stand on roughly equal footing, and that the object under consideration is not whether or not to expel a disempowered sub-sect. Because I believe the position of black conservatives does not meet either condition, and because I believe that outsiders have obligations, when possible, to rectify even injustices that aren't within their own community, I register my disagreement with Ampersand.