All in the Family, 3

After re-reading part one and part two of “All in the Family,” two things were clear to me, 1.) The critique of liberal multiculturalism is less stringent in part two than it is in part one, and 2.) my attempt to articulate the difficultly I have with critiquing the Obamas still isn’t coming across very well.

I’ll begin here:

It is very dangerous to mount a critique of Obama (and it is perhaps even more dangerous to critique Michelle) within a context that remains deeply racist in its anti-black modality, EVEN THOUGH there is a hegemonic shift toward a new kind of racism that accommodates some forms of blackness. For the record, being a black woman in America is hard work. I admire Michelle Obama more than language will allow me to communicate. My intention is not to slam Michelle or Barack as individual people, but to identify a larger set of processes by way of example. In this sense, they are a case study.

The case of the Obamas helps me get at a larger reconfiguration of racial discourse in the United States. This was the point I began to make in part one of this blog, namely, that the inclusion of formerly excluded persons within the boundaries of normative humanity suggests that the battle lines are being redrawn. The crux of the argument here is that the problem of race and the prolem of “woman” (to which we can now add “the problem of homosexuality”), is and always has been, the problem of how Western European thinkers have defined what it means to be human. These are shifting definitions articulated across a series of discursive sites (philosophy, anthropology, economics, political theory, biology, etc.) that eventually settled into a common sense notion of who was fully  human and who was, in evolutionary speak, kinda, sorta, on their way. (It is no conincidence that civil rights language tends toward the metaphorics of journeying. Arguments for inclusion take their cues from social evolutionary discourses.)

If what it means to be human is to be male, white, heteosexual, able-bodied, a bearer of legal rights, and upwardly mobile, and if this definition erases itself as the normative center, then what happens when we demand inclusion is both a tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of this definition of human being (over and against other possible ways of being), and tacit acceptance of the forms of sociality and world-making this definition has brought into being.

Considered in this way, simply recognizing brown, black, and female “Others” as suddenly “human,” on the terms that initially constituted their exclusion doesn’t really change the world. It means the normative center adds more to its ranks, but the fundamental terms do not change. This, it seems to me, is the real problem. The fact of exclusion, and the hell it has wrought historically and in our present, is the effect, not the cause. That is to say, being excluded from what appears to be “the good life,” isn’t the cause of our suffering. Rather, the cause of our suffering is how the good life has been defined.

The spirit of my critique is that of a wish; a wish that the world we create for the Malia’s and Sasha’s of tomorrow improves at its core, rather than being diversified on its surface.

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