Identity, Privilege and the elusive Revolution

Racial or colonial privilege is constituted by the situation, not a spontaneous act by the privileged. Privilege is not a choice, it underlies the field of choice and makes things possible, including by definition things not possible for those who lack privilege.

Because privilege is situationally constituted, one should not attack those who possess privilege as if it were a static thing, either an essential characteristic of their identity, or a characteristic they at some point in the past chose to take on and now possess like an object, like a thing that they should “give up” like you can a soccer ball or a piece of land.

Rather, the relationship between subjectivity and the situational constitution of privilege is one of ongoing making. As Gamal from York’s Social and Political thought program says, “Settler is a state of mind”, something that takes ongoing effort to maintain. And as Zizek says, we should not ignore the always ignored “objective violence”, the violence required to keep things going as they are, the violence that happens “when nothing happens”. The terrible ongoing work of reproducing colonial and racially privileged identities is not easy work, and is not impossible to work against.

The proper response to those who hold racial or colonial privilege is not to criticize them for who they are, but to criticize their actions insofar as they reproduce the situation which constitutes the privileged identity, and perhaps even the identity itself insofar as it can be dispensed with without destroying the subject.

The problem with categories of racial privilege that are essentializing, like “white man”, is that nothing white men do to work against racial or colonial privilege makes them not white. Not because whiteness is essential or biological (the Irish? Jews? Lots of non-whites have mysteriously “become” white over history). But because you can’t “renounce” your whiteness, you can’t say “today I stop being white”, in fact, that is superficially an absurd thing to do. You can, however, say “today I stop recognizing the legitimacy of Western military intervention”, you can say “today I stop being a Zionist”, and you can change your actions to work against the regimes of privilege which you benefited from (and, inevitably almost, will continue to benefit from).

The dark truth in the skapegoating of a privileged identity is in the fact that situationally, it tends towards the side of tyranny. On average, most people who benefit from tyranny will support it, and on average most who lose because of tyranny will try in some way or another to stand against it. The orientation of consciousness in terms of the situation means that the situation of the colonized is potentially redemptive, whereas the situation of the colonizer tends towards hypocricy and support for ongoing forms of ever more humanitarian occupations.

The still darker truth of the post-colonial situation is that, perhaps, no position in it is redemptive – because the colonized can no longer mount a political struggle against the occupation and must rely on the goodwill of those who’s interests are set against them to “decolonize” the colonial national identity, something that no one in any position of power has as an interest and will dole out only to pacify the masses with tokens rather than substantial changes.

I am coming to the sad thought that perhaps it is not true that every political situation has its redemption contained as a clue in some aspect of it. Sartre’s ultra-bolshevist “stand with the most oppressed” is wrong because it allies you to the one who can never win, and forces you to change your direction if winning ever became a remote possibility. But real revolution is the one that wins, the one that unites and compromises between what needs to be and what can be. And it is not the one that sells out to private interest, that lays over and accepts the unjust privilege of others over it. It’s the one that doesn’t sell its soul to come true, and I’m not sure if I believe that the roots of this revolution grow in every soil or at every time.

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One thought on “Identity, Privilege and the elusive Revolution

  1. What did Jesus say.
    Jesus said in the gospel of Mark chapter 14 and verse 7:
    “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

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