Blog Post

So you know brown people exist? Don't expect a sticker.

So my research project is examining representations of Pocahontas and how the narrative has functioned historicallly. Now, when I first began this research my plan was to identify all the ways in which the Pocahontas narrative participated in creating hegemonic understandings of colonialism, femininity, racial purity etc. Basically the whole shebang of intersectionality. However, I found myself resisting this analysis for a few reasons. One, I reached the unsuprising conclusion that white supremacy isn't monolithic. The complexity and fluidity of the narrative is lost when all the representatons are understood as participating in a "hegemonic narrative". The more primary material I encountered the more it became clear that representations of Pocahontas are contradictory, in dialogue with eachother and social issues and this complexity is hemoginized by analysis that views all of them as participating in the same power dynamic. Traditional Marxism was challenged as simplifying society by only focusing on class, then gender analysis, critical race theory, post colonial studies etc. and intersectonality theory decided to incorporate multiple identities and social localities in not only Marxist theory but also in general academia. There are a few problems I still see with the academia that is focused on unearthing "the unheard voices" that I am trying to fight against here. Analysis of people who have historically been excluded from analysis is continually recognized as being subversive not just by analysis but by the subject of interest. Now I am a fan of bell hooks and I think feminist theory and identity politics is important to engage with. However, it bothers me when academics and scholars exoticize their own work prior to analysis. At this point in the game people should not be congratulating themselves for aknowledging the existence of a marginalized group. Especially if your aim is to understand society. It should be an expectation not a point of pride. What makes bell hooks and Spivak and Mohanty amazing is not that they talk about women of color. Talking about women of color isn't hard to do, people have been doing it for a long time. What makes them revolutionary is their approach they introduce concepts and frameworks of analysis that altered theory. This idea that talking about marginal groups is in some way amazing is simply rediculous.

Defining certain history as being "minority history" or "gendered analysis is problematic. Now I understand and sympathize with identifying as a feminist or a post-colonial Marxist etc. However, I think that once these identifiers are in play there is a tendency to regulate resulting analysis as part of the "good old fight" rather than viewing it as explaining society. Furthermore, identifying one's historical analysis as being gendered or minority based is both patronizing, analytically flawed and perpetuates the essentialization of those identities. By defining these frameworks in such a way it suggests that traditional theories can explain the actions/history/ideology of the dominant group but not those who are marginalized. Here is where the [In lieu of a swear word I will use adjectives, patronizing, colonial, hegemonic, uncritical, self-righteous, etc. thinking) alluded to earlier enters. By  focusing on difference as the defining feature of their analysis certain facets of identity analysis reinforces the idea that there is a norm/ standard and that identity politics is only significant in that it explains the actions of the excluded population. There is the assumption that race, gender and colonial studies can only explain the behavior of the "others" they study. However, if we accept that social action is relational then we also have to accept that by excluding marginal groups traditional theory has also been faulty in its analysis of the "dominant group." I identify as a feminist and up to this point I haven't had an issue with this sort of analysis (As long as it's not betty friedan type feminism). However, I hate the essentializing that it has sponsered. Most notably my experience in class today where people genuinely thought that it was analytically sound for all research projects not talking about "the majority" could be analytically grouped as "minority history."

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2 comments

I don't have much to add except that I really appreciate this, and I think this needs to be more widely discussed among scholars, and students. If we're going to buy into the "dominant vs. minority" catagories, which can be useful for discussing how people have conceptualized themselves or been discussed, we need to be very aware of the ways we are participating in that as well by even just using a term like "minority," and what kinds of assumptions and implications that has for the subjects of our study. 

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I especially like your comment about faulty analysis of 'the majority'.

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