In the month of diversity

Image: Sharon McCutcheon


The fight against oppression and harassment of markets.

The arrival of the month of June, the month of diversity and the struggle of LGBT people, offers a great opportunity to reflect on some confusions in the conception of the political struggle of sexual dissidents and the resulting risks. The idea of ​​representativeness that is guiding positions and actions of activism must be seriously questioned. The increasingly confusing relationship between the State, the market and the militancy's spheres of action as well. And as a result of this, the role to be fulfilled by the LGBT movement as a political subject and the very idea of ​​what a political subject of social transformation is.

Market and State dispute LGBTs

The growing participation of LGBT people, as well as black people and women, in advertising for major brands and in the market sphere in general is increasingly common. From advertising logos of the most varied products and companies to auditorium programs and reality shows television, the appearance of individuals and/or symbols identified with oppressed groups is celebrated as an immense victory in the fight against oppression. Some say “it is necessary to occupy all the spaces”. This reasoning is definitely wrong, and this is due to a few specific reasons.

The first concerns how the political struggle against oppression is understood. Combating the different ways in which oppressive relationships are imposed is, above all, a battle that belongs to the sphere of politics. This means, therefore, that it belongs to the public space and concerns collectivities.

If conflicting social relationships are structured in society, which produce antagonistic interests, then it must be said that these relationships are organized under forms of domination and exploitation. If there is, and there is, division of groups and classes, then advertising for a bank, a multinational company or a large television station means acting for the interests of one side. Imbued with goodwill, one could say that, in any case, the LGBT cause also benefits when that space is occupied.

The problem is that that space is the market, which operates with its own laws that have nothing to do with political struggle. By taking the flags of the oppressed to this sphere, one can believe that the oppressed are making a kind of exchange or bargain in which both sides can win. However, this means believing in the idea of ​​negotiation. When acting under the rules inherent in the sphere of market negotiations, it must be accepted that the interested parties are on equal terms and are equally free to enter into their contracts. This is the basic premise of bourgeois liberalism and the free market.

But, if we are all the same, then oppression does not exist or is much less than one imagines. Certainly, the few advances achieved in the last 15 years, as important as they are, and they are, have not removed us from the desperate condition of privileged targets of discrimination, violence and death. Therefore, it must be said loud and clear, we are neither equal nor free, and that is why we must fight.

The market is the domain of the dominant and talking about representativeness sounds naive. Acting in this field means always being at a disadvantage, submitting to its rules or even being assimilated by its logic. The reasoning is simple: who is winning is the brand that is benefiting from the advertising of the oppressed and not the individual who sells his identity or his image to lend legitimacy to the company's brand.

The second issue concerns the projection of individual and isolated cases of oppressed people as “examples of success”. The use of isolated cases fulfills some functions such as the reification of identities and the reinforcement of meritocracy.

Without realizing it, intellectuals and artists who identify with subordinate groups, when they reach a certain level of celebrity, sign contracts with some of the most famous brands in the market. Designer clothes, banks, apps and television stations all buy the identity of these people to sell along with their merchandise. It is about adding value to the product. (There are cases where the products and brands in question are symbols of social distinction and serve to separate the oppressed from the oppressors, and are also very expensive, to the point of being inaccessible to the oppressed that the “propaganda boys and girls” claim to represent).

Identities and meritocracy

This month, the advertising industry is “washed” with rainbow colors just as lilac saturated the media in March and the month of May was taken over by black symbolism. Identities become commodities themselves, and enter the market sphere being bought and sold for profit.

Faced with this, some would say that at least that person managed to climb up, enter a space that was denied him, and this opens up the possibility for others to seek the same. Once again a distorted notion of representativeness, contradictorily linked to meritocracy. The message is simple and well known: if one can do it, everyone can do it. But what is not said is that if everyone can, then we are all equal and free, therefore there is no oppression or exploitation. The difference is effort and success is the measure of individual merit. In this case, it's every man for himself, there's no reason for political struggle and may the best man win.

What we are debating here is the harassment that capital makes of the oppressed, trying to assimilate those more outstanding individuals, with the main “social markers of difference”: success. Also to neutralize others through ideological confusion and, in the end, profit from subordinates.

This is how the total confusion is promoted between the private individual interest of people who are earning a lot of money (in some cases a lot!), and the collective political interest of subalternized and stigmatized social groups. When an oppressed subject sells his work to publicize capital, he is acting in the name of his private interest. The legitimacy or not of this is another debate. However, it would be a mistake to confuse his action driven by particularist interest, with political action in favor of the collective cause of the oppressed with which he claims to identify. There is no such direct relationship of representativeness.

Is every body political?

Finally, the last point of confusion is in the particularity that distinguishes the oppressed from the “normals”: ​​their own body. The idea that every person is a “body politic” was popularized. The premise of this is that the simple presence of someone has an impact on the power relations where they are. Such an idea suggests that the occupation of hegemonic spaces by disinterested and differentiated bodies (effeminate, transgendered, intersexed, etc.) is, in itself, sufficient to produce effective political changes in the relations of domination.

Given the already demonstrated ease of assimilation by capital, it makes no sense to believe in this idea. Bodies, or people, are capable of acting deliberately, that is, intending to produce specific political effects within the totality of relations of power and domination that oppress them. The mere presence of a body marked by prejudice is not enough to do politics. It is urgent to take part in the relations of power and domination that organize the social relations structured under capital.

This means thinking about a political program, ways of organizing oppressed groups, battle arenas, allies, enemies, etc. It is about intentionality, that is, a conscious and determined will to fight clear targets and produce precise results. There is no disinterested political action. Ultimately, the problem is the constitution of the oppressed into effective political subjects.

*Douglas Santos Alves is professor of political science at the Federal University of Fronteira Sul (UFFS).


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