Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who Are You?

Two posts over at BlackProf cause me to think of my old posts on intersectionality and minority conservatism.

The first post is about a supposed formula to determine which Congressional Black Caucus members best represent the interests of African-Americans. I'm a bit conflicted here, because I think that such an indice is, at least abstractly, useful and because the author of the post (GW Law Professor Spencer Overton) specifically acknowledges the possibility that the methodology used (like any methodology) could be flawed. Nonetheless, two things caught my eye. The first was that the breakdown of "best" and "worst" representatives almost completely tracked "most liberal" to "least liberal." Among the "best" were far left names like Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney (as well as Congressional All-Corruption Team nominee Maxine Waters). The "worst" included moderate names like Harold Ford and Albert Wynn. Second, the title of the post was "Black Enough?" Taken together, its a disturbing message--that not only is being hyper-liberal the sin qua non of helping black people (I presume folks like Stephen Carter would disagree), but those that don't fit the paradigm aren't even black at all.

The second post was by Iowa Law Professor Adrien Wing, and was a plea that minorities not be taken in if President Bush nominates a minority conservative to the Supreme Court. I'll admit to confusion though--Wing seems to think that even other minority conservatives should be rallied against a minority conservative Supreme Court nominee. I see no rationale behind this--even granting the implicit argument holding that conservativism is hostile to minority interests (which, to be fair, I think is often true), clearly minority conservatives think differently (otherwise they'd be minority liberals). Wing is calling for racial solidarity to precede political solidarity, but this effectively marginalizes minority conservatives by placing them as outsiders, deviant, threatening to the community at-large. As I argued in a previous post:
[Minority Conservatism] is a minority story--especially given intersectionality theory. This posits--correctly in my view--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.

The framework Professors Overton and Wing operate in reifies this mindset. It is the deliberate and tactical suppression of a disfavored identity as inauthentic, false, or dangerous (not "Black enough"). In a way, it isn't anyone's fault that we do this. The folks most well-versed in intersectionality theory are almost all leftists, so convincing them to play nice with conservatives is a difficult endeavor. But their critique doesn't lose any of its potency just because the targeted group this time is one that is positively despised by the leftist critics themselves. It just makes it harder to see.

This doesn't, by the way, mean that we should fetishize the move of some blacks to more conservative circles. I was appalled by this NYT article which argued that the Republican Michael Bloomberg's gains amongst black voters in the NYC mayoral race was a sign of growing political "maturity" in the black community. Meaning what? That for the most part, black people are ignorant political babies who vote based on their irrational, pre-adolescent whims? (But look! Some are voting Republican now! Sigh...they grow up so fast...). This is patronizing and paternalistic to the extreme. We should respect black voting decisions as rational, autonomous choices (at least as far as we do for other groups)--not just assume they are in some primordial state of political infancy, waiting to emerge.

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