Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quote of the Day

Though I am black and gay, I am as much a racist, a sexist, an anti-Semite and a homophobe as any right-wing Christian bigot: I must be; it’s desperately important that I be; if I am ever to be able to talk to such people and effect some change in their beliefs and behavior, I have to be. To be what I would hastily call a civilized man with a civilized sense of democratic fairness is something you do on top of that. It’s a refinement of that, if you like. It only gets to seem, with the blindness to basic processes that comes from practice, something you do in place of it. But the other is always there. I’ve always talked with such people whenever I’ve had a chance. Even more so I listen to them—long and carefully, about their feelings and experiences, as well as many other topics—whenever I’ve found myself next to them in bars and on Greyhound buses or I have one as a seatmate on some air-bus to Detroit or Denver or San José, or when they’re taking out their kids in the park. But I will never be able to effect any meaningful change other than one or another form of terrorism by fooling myself into thinking I can do anything by “standing outside” some hegemony.

. . . . .

My beliefs are based on firm convictions about hegemonic discourse in general and even more on some theoretical precepts about what discourse actually is: It’s an associational linguistic structure that we all inhabit—specifically the one that constitutes the world. If we didn’t inhabit the same discourse, we couldn’t understand racist jokes when we heard them nor could we find others’ use of them offensive when the contradiction with our own situation is too painful to allow us to laugh. While the part of us that we consider our “self” may each be positioned differently within it, none of us is outside it. That is particularly true for those of us who are black, or disabled, or overweight, or Asian, or women, or gay, or part of whatever group we have been socially assigned to, because if we didn’t know that discourse down in our bones, we’d be dead.

People have noted for years how fast racism or sexism or classism reasserts itself as soon as a certain vigilance is allowed to relax. That’s because they don’t come in from outside. They are a necessary underlying factor within the egalitarian behavioral structure itself. Such a behavioral structure is not about ignoring differences. It’s about noticing them, valuing them, realizing that there are certain situations, cultural and defined, when these differences are important—and realizing that they are crashingly irrelevant in others. (That’s what valuing means.) If the structure of when and where they are relevant and irrelevant gets loose or generalized, you have racism, classism, and sexism all over again. If you’re lucky, you can enlist habit on your side, especially with the young. But (to put it in Lacanian terms) you’re still fighting the Imaginary—and history is always settling the Symbolic into the Imaginary, even as theory is always untangling the Imaginary into the Symbolic. Until the properly stabilizing Symbolic discourse is in place, you’re particularly vulnerable.
---Samuel R. Delany (from The Wiggle Room of Theory:

1 comment:

Josh said...

Yeh, you're not the first blogger to quote that this week, LTD.