This is re: my Odd Future post.
First of all, many thanks to mai’a, whom I’m pretty sure most folks reading this are already following, but should be if they’re not.
Second, I’m not quite sure that I did anything to justify the sexism and homophobia in OF’s music; in fact, I’m pretty sure I called it out. But I think that what makes it possible to ignore the fact that I was calling it out was the fact that I was also trying not to couple that critique with a retreat into a kind of smug critical self-satisfaction where I get to feel morally superior to or smarter than what or whom I’m critiquing.
It’s not only because I think that style of critique has led to barely disguised displays of racism. It’s also because I think that style of critique often allows us 1) to get away with learning very little about what we’re criticizing by applying the same critical formula to everything and anything, so long as we can show evidence of the ways in which it is misogynist and homophobic—and, for that matter, racist; and 2) to imagine our criticism as transcending the object of our critique by oversimplifying it (i.e. “TTC says stuff for attention”) or by performing a weird kind of doublespeak where we claim in one breath that it has no meaning and then, in the next breath, point out the homophobic and sexist meaning that is everywhere in it.
One of the cool things about the internet, and about tumblr especially, is the way that it allows for the quick propagation of all sorts of antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic, etc., ideas. The appearance of sites like Color Lines, Jezebel, Racialicious, Feministe (sites which vary greatly in quality and ideological orientation), among others, have all been really important in popularizing antioppression ideas in general, and in producing a class of people able to problematize and critique oppressive discourses, especially those that can be found in popular culture.
One of the not so cool things about the internet is that it has helped to produce a class of people who are, relatively speaking, quite comfortable in their general anti-oppression stance. Anti-oppression discourse, nowadays, isn’t even about a politics (i.e. working collectively to change the world you inhabit) as much as it is about style—about speaking the right language, using the right terms, expressing outrage at the right moment, etc. Unlike previous generations of people discussing anti-oppression ideas, we who are members of this class don’t need to go to long, drawn-out meetings or to join activist groups in order to satisfy our desire to be against oppression. The discussion, in many ways, comes to us—just follow the right people, read the right blogs, etc. Anti-oppression, that is, arrives to us with the slick, polished sheen of a mass-marketed commodity.
Without even talking about the billions of people who cannot access this kind of discourse precisely because the very late capitalism that provides us with cheap-ish computers and internet access needs to keep their wages incredibly low in order to do so, I’ll end by saying this: I believe that there’s a difference between producing evidence of oppression, explaining oppression, and fighting oppression. One can produce evidence of oppression without being able to explain why oppression happens. My problem with the Jezebels and Racialiciouses of the world, as well as with a lot of stuff I see around here, is that they glorify their own capacity to produce evidence about oppression without explaining it. Or if they do explain it, the explanation tells us very little: it relies on the fact that we know oppression is bad and the fact that it feels good to know that. This, I think, is why sarcasm works so well on Jezebel and various other liberal feminist blogs—it allows its reader to ignore the lack of analytical depth by allowing her to substitute the feeling of Knowing Better Than Someone Else Does.
You might think that people who analyze oppression professionally would at least think about the question of who benefits from oppression, a question that necessitates at least a critical view onto capitalism. The problem is, of course, that those who produce evidence of oppression professionally have a class interest in not explaining or learning to explain who benefits from oppression. Folks like (Racialicious founder) Carmen Van Kerckhove have found creative ways to make a living off of talking about race (and talking about talking about race) without explaining much at all save the fact that racism exists, a fact that we seem not to be able to be reminded of enough.
But the fact that an entire industry has emerged to produce evidence about oppression without doing much at all to fight it should tell us something about where we’re at in terms of capitalism. Anti-oppression has become a commodity, too, and “we” are part of the machine by and through which that commodity is made and consumed. I’m not trying to trivialize or downplay the existence of oppression—oppression exists, and exists on a scale any in ways I am not even in a position to know or speak about. But I am trying to begin to understand how capitalism has enabled people—especially upwardly mobile, college educated people like me—to generate an anti-oppression discourse that allows many of us to feel as if we are doing much more to fight it than we actually are.