Identitarianisms, anti-racisms and places of speech

Image_Stela Grespan


Place of speech is to consider that all speech is crossed by social, economic, historical aspects of its enunciating subjects

Certain phenomena gain more repercussion as a result of the various analyzes than because of them in themselves. It was the case of the Beyoncé movie, Black is king, produced by Disney Studios. The film itself would be one of the mega-productions of one of the biggest media oligopolies if it weren't for the repercussion of the controversy generated by the Professor Lilia Schwartz's review and the responses in several other articles, including that of Djamila RibeiroAline RamosAza Njeri (which proposes an Afro-centered reading of Beyoncé's production), among many others. The backlash continued with an apology from Lilia Schwartz herself on her Instagram on August 4th. And then, Maria Rita Khel puts the topic back on the agenda with the article published on the website the earth is round titled Place to shut up [].

Much of the debate focuses on the legitimacy of certain subjects to position themselves in the face of the discussion of combating racism. With the increased visibility of this agenda, particularly after the repercussions of the tragic murder of the American George Floyd and the outbreak of several anti-racist protests around the world, many voices – from the political, academic, cultural fields – began to take a stand. It is obvious that there are many divergences, but what is most disturbing is the lack of understanding of certain concepts, especially when they are trivialized and emptied of their meaning.

Wilson Gomes, professor at UFBA, defends the idea that concepts have a certain political functionality, hence that “talking about misrepresentation or distortion of the concept by those who employ it makes little sense, since meaning can hardly be separated from use.” This speech by Gomes is a response to those who criticize an alleged inappropriate use of the concept of place of speech. For him, what matters is the meaning given when a certain concept becomes an instrument of struggle and, therefore, expresses an ideological functionality.

However, what is at stake here is not a conceptual functionality, but a political process of displacement of an agenda that gains visibility: the anti-racist agenda. And this displacement operates in the sense of putting it out of a historical and political perspective. In other words, what is being discussed here is a particular political-ideological perspective of dealing with the problem of racism. Views on racism and the fight against racism are plural. How plural are the views on social classes, genders, capitalism, socialism. Treating them as a monolithic block not only misrepresents concepts, visions and perspectives, but also prohibits deeper debates.

This is the bottom of the controversies. The main problem: directly linking the anti-racist agenda to identityism. There are identityist views of the anti-racist agenda, but they are not the only ones. And most of them were built precisely by hegemonic segments.

Nancy Fraser, in an article published in 2018, speaks of “progressive neoliberalism”, a conservative articulation between two dimensions in which political hegemony is exercised – that of distribution and recognition. For Fraser, this movement of progressive neoliberalism was a way of building a power bloc in the United States in the 1980s in which, while imposing an economic model of concentration (therefore, no redistribution of wealth), it combined with the recognition difference (of gender, class, ethnicity) within the perspective of meritocracy, a value dear to the American way of life. It is based on this that ideas such as “empowerment”, “diversity”, “environmentalism”, among others, become part of the vocabulary, not only political, but also of business management.

In the article entitled “Making differences matter: a new paradigm for managing diversity"David Thomas and Robin Ely, from Harvard University, defend that the promotion of diversity in companies must transcend the mere ethical question (the “immorality” of prejudices) to a search for quality in management. The authors show that, starting in the 1980s and 90s, social groups that have been historically discriminated against demonstrate consumption potential, pushing for corporate diversity to become a commercial strategy. In a second moment, the panorama of diversity brought the informative stock of cultural diversity into the corporate environment, generating new management challenges. Thus, indifference to difference, which, according to the authors, had a certain importance as diversity management (“all are equal within this corporate environment”), would no longer fulfill its role, since the identity bonds of the subjects reverberate within the environment corporate.

What is perceived in this articulation of recognition with non-distribution is the departure from the structural and historical perspective of the construction of hierarchies, making classifications essential. It is a post-structuralism that, in practice, shifts the structural gaze to mythologized classifications of the so-called “diversity”. And, as a result of this, values ​​with a deep ideological meaning, such as “merit”, “quality”, “efficiency”, become dogmatized. Capital, as a historical category of a given mode of production, is also essential and spreads to typologies such as “human capital”, “social capital”, among others.

The problem is that the critique of identity and the concept of a place of speech is only made within this ideological perspective.

There is something underlying this perspective of the diversity agenda, which I will call here, even under draft, as Jacques Derrida would say, of “structural minorization”. Minorization not in the numerical sense, but in the concept of minority of Kant: the inability to use one's own understanding without an alien direction. The speeches of subjects belonging to these “minorized groups” are delegitimized without the validation of a tutor. The break with the condition of minority, according to Kant, happens with freedom.

The same Kant says that between the condition of minority (unenlightened) and freedom (enlightened), there is the moment of clarification, an intermediate period in which a head of state must provide an environment of freedom that allows the full use of enlightening reason by citizens.

What is perceived, then, is an enormous difficulty in placing the anti-racist agenda at the center of the political debate and, even more, in displacing its subjects – black men and women – from the place of minority (thus without legitimized speech and therefore in need of external tutoring) stops enlightened (therefore endowed with rationality and politically recognized).

It is not just a question of recognizing the problem of racism, but of the experiences and roles of the subjects who fight against it. The ignorance of this experience is clear. When the concept of place of speech is confused with denial of speech; when the entire black movement is considered as identity; when one thinks that the black movement is just the MNU (Unified Black Movement) or even when the expression “need to understand” is used.

Probably the racial and gender foundations of knowledge that underpin the colonial pattern of power help explain this. Place of speech is to consider that all speech is crossed by social, economic, historical aspects of its enunciating subjects. As Foucault states, discourse is the place of power.

But this is not just an epistemic issue. These speech hierarchies support a society in which the majority condemns racism but coexists, even 32 years after the enactment of the citizen constitution, with security forces that imprison and murder young black people in the peripheries at all times and with a Judiciary that is extremely agile in guaranteeing the right to property when it is questioned by actions of social movements, such as the MST, but is slow when it comes to to apply legal provisions to protect women who are victims of domestic violence or black women who suffer cases of racism.

The fight against racism is not just identity, it is structural. For it is in this ambience that Capital (here as the subject of the capitalist mode of production) winks, smiles and transgresses Marx's concept, paying the workforce values ​​lower than its reproduction needs.

Dieese (Inter-union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies) calculates that the value of the minimum wage to meet basic needs should be greater than R$4,3 – which is considered “middle class” income. The average salary of the black worker is not even half that. Black children are enslaved in the Republic of Congo to extract coltan, the raw material for the liquid crystal screens of cell phones and other devices that we use, including to read this text. It's not just about identity

*Dennis De Oliveira He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and a researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA) at USP.

Originally published on Journal of USP



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