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Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century

Zillah Eisenstein

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eBook - ePub


Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century

Zillah Eisenstein

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Eisenstein tracks developments such as racialized ethnic and gender conflict; the new male democracies of eastern Europe; the new Democrats of the Clinton era - exploring the `politics of hate'. In HATREDS, Zillah Eisenstein charts the plural politics of the twenty-first century, which she defines as having begun with the fall of communism and the gulf war. Exploring the politics of hate on both global and local levels, Eisenstein tracks developments such as racialized ethnic and gender conflict, the new male democracies of eastern Europe and the new Democrats of the Clinton era, the sexual exploitation of the west and the sexual violence of nationalisms, and the importance of western feminisms' promissory standpoint of freedom to women in the third world.

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Otherness” is constructed on bodies. Racism uses the physicality of bodies to punish, to expunge and isolate certain bodies and construct them as outsiders. The named “other” is a foreigner, immigrant, or stranger. Jews’ and blacks’ and women’s bodies of all colors are used to mark the hatred of this “otherness.” Racial hatred is not neat and separate; it is multiple and continuous. And much hatred spills over into the sexual aspects of racial meanings.
Yellow stars. White hoods. Both are symbols of specific hatreds and a grand narrative of hate, though the former marks those who are hated, while the latter marks those who do the hating. Hatred is unique and historically contextualized, but it also repeats itself as though it were intractable, as though it lay in our psyches ready to be pulled forward, outward from the deepest layers of our unconscious.
On the eve of the twenty-first century, hatreds explode in such places as Sarajevo, argentina, Chechnya, rwanda, los angeles, and Oklahoma city. The hatred embodies a complex set of fears about difference and otherness. It reveals what some people fear in themselves, their own “differences.” Hatred forms around the unknown, the difference of “others.” And we have learned the difference that we fear through racialized and sexualized markings. Because people grow othered by their racialized, sexualized, and engendered bodies, bodies are important to the writing of hatred on history.
Hatred is not only color-coded but inscribed on such body parts as noses, hair, vaginas, eyes. I argue that physicality—our physical bodies—is key to constructing and seeing hatreds. Bodies are always in part psychic constructions of meaning symbolized through coloring hatred on sexualized sites. This psychic realm is a space of know-able and unknowable mental layerings that unconsciously and consciously frame our seeing. It is an unfathomable realm of desire and repression; of injury, hurt and fear, and imagination and fantasy. This non-corporeal arena of desire and escape is where one knows but does not know, sees but does not see. The psyche, our mind’s eye, which already frames our experiencing of everyday life friendships, schools, neighborhoods, churches, mosques, is also constructed by this history. Within this psychic space we name and interpret what we think we see. Here we negotiate and renegotiate fear, desire, and difference itself.
The psyche both lies still, waiting to be called forth, and is already in play. Several available narratives can explain this psychic realm. I circle around the Freudian/Lacanian oedipal drama of repression and primal desire without wholly purchasing it. 1 have come to believe that hatred emanates from interiorized conditions that are in part unconscious longings and denials. Otherness is implicated here; we fear the escape of the repressed desire and project it elsewhere, onto “others” who then must be punished.
The unsettled psyches of borderless worlds and interconnected selves are localized in the fear and threat of women, semites, homosexuals, and colored people. These fears are repressed, and recast as hatreds. This hatred, in turn, orders and organizes the world. The repressed self requires the lies, the fantasized symbolizations. The fantasy framework is required by desires of the other as well as identification with the other.1
Jean-Paul Sartre calls this repression the “idea of the jew.” It is the anti-semite who makes the jew.2 But stereotypes are not merely false images. Rather, they are “ambivalent text[s] of projection and introjections…displacement, overdetermination, guilt, [and] aggressivity.”3 Racialized hatreds play back and forth between the mind’s eye and its fears, and the peopled realities of daily life.
The chaos of the psychic realm has some people fearing in others what they most fear in themselves. These fears can elicit the different mindsets of colonialism, nationalism, orientalism, and imperialism.4 The politics to be understood here extend from the real to layers of the unconscious. If serbs rape muslim women as if they are ethnic-cleansing, then the imaginary must be destroyed in order for life to be livable. Politics must allow people to embrace their own “radical strangeness” in an attempt to deny hatred.5
I do not view hatred as natural, or timeless, or homogenized, and yet it is something more than contextually specific. As a politics of “otherness,” hatred calls forth the imaginings of unconscious fantasies. But the fantasies are changeable.
So I proceed cautiously here. There is no one kind of hate. No one kind of body. No one kind of psyche. Yet hatreds are reformulated continuously, and I keep wondering why. This leads me to focus more on those who hate than on those who are hated, or on those who hate those who hate them. I also say little about those who fight against hatred—those who fought, for example, against slavery, for civil rights, against nazism, against misogyny. I say little about them because they are not who I fear.
A problem with writing about hatred is that it makes the world seem completely hate-filled. Or, as Michael Taussig asks: “If life is constructed, how come it appears so immutable?”6 Because we cannot make full sense of hate, because much of hate is unspeakable, or indescribable, it can seem untouchable.7 By speaking hatred, I hope to touch it, and to begin to move through and past the trauma it creates.


Hate is fueled by fictive symbols, by pictures in the mind. Serbian nationalists, the right wing in russia, the anti-abortionists of operation rescue in the u.s., skinheads in germany, the ku klux klan, and religious fundamentalists around the globe are violently committed to controlling the borders in which we live. As the world becomes more economically unequal and transnational, this border-consciousness seems to be more and more evident. Racialized ethnic nationalisms are in part a response to transnational capital in eastern and central europe. Ex-communists reposition themselves for the new world order by using old hatreds and wounds.
In other parts of the world—rwanda, iran, algeria—violent wars erupt or continue. Women are raped as part of a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in the balkans. Muslims are massacred by a crazed militant Jewish settler while praying in hebron. Khalid Abdul Muhammad of the nation of islam, in speaking of jews, “prays ‘that God will kill my enemy and take him off the face of the planet Earth.’”8 Snipers in Sarajevo shoot at children. Maja Djokic, on her way home from a volleyball game in Sarajevo, is hit by shrapnel and dies. Her father says, “There are perhaps 10,000 dead in Sarajevo, of whom 1,700 were children. So we cannot think that Maja’s death was anything special. But of course, she was our Maja, so we think it is special.”9
A truck bomb blows up a Jewish community center in buenos aires.10 A car bomb explodes near the israeli embassy in london, wounding thirteen.11 More than sixty thousand have died in the war in Chechnya.12 Paramilitary right-wing groups and their fascist underworld are exposed by the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma city. Christopher Hitchens says that these “aryan fundamentalists” who present themselves as patriots and anti-government individualists are a thoroughly racist movement.13 Hate does not seem specific to any one corner of the world.14
The hatred is global, and it is specifically racialized along religious, ethnic, and gender lines. In apprehending it, we must take into account particular geographies, histories, and cultures, as well as psychic mappings and layerings that may still make a grand narrative of otherness.
The psyche is mapped with a tension between the unlimited, unbordered desires of our bodies and the truncated multiple needs of our consciousness. Denial and repression underlie fear and loathing. This fear makes the unconscious, for psychoanalytic feminist Jacqueline Rose, utterly political at its core, so that right-wing ideologies thrive on and push against the “furthest limits of psychic fantasy.”15 Psychic sexual desire becomes the ground of political manipulation.
Desire is not easily controlled or erased. Fear of the unbridled self requires the construction of an “other” who/which must be shut out. Repression is recast as fear and hatred. For Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, “unconscious desire is undoubtedly not (re)presented to consciousness.” Consciousness is exceeded continuously. The realm of desire, and with it the forbidden, is always waiting to express itself. Repression negotiates the inadmissable.16 There is a constant struggle to contain desire.
Ronald Takaki depicts a process of separation from the instinctual (sexual) self as integral to the racializing of identity. This cultural construction of race forms any individual’s psychic construction. People of color are then identified with the body, not the mind. And to be in control of the instinctual body is to establish whiteness over the black, indian, mexican, asian.17 Fear dominates in the realm of unconscious desire because racial and sexual fantasies are limitless in these arenas. As Rose argues, “Freedom may not be sexy, but fear of it is wholly determined by sex.”18
Wilhelm Reich argued that fascism directs itself to the unconscious; that sexuality is repressed and located here; and that repressed desire is not open to conscious knowing.19 Fear becomes a major resource of fascism.20 If desire is structured sexually, and we come to our sexuality through racialized fantasies, then, as Frantz Fanon argues, the racist must create his/her inferior. As such, “the myth of the bad nigger is part of the collective unconscious.”21 Racism itself, for Paul Gilroy, becomes a part of the process of denying and repressing the historical and unconscious experience.22
Fear and hate bespeak anxiety about the borders of an individual’s desires. Experiencing differences, or even just seeing them, challenges and uproots certainty about the self. Jonathan Rutherford views this realm of personal anxiety as a threat to the dissolution of the self which demands new boundaries. The right wing always plays with the anxiety about difference and the unknown,23 using racialized fantasies of orderly patriarchal families to set the borders and boundaries of desire.
Psychic meanings, as the mind’s eye, represent and (misinterpret for us. We see, or do not see, accordingly. Those germans who claimed to have known nothing of the gas chambers during world war II did not let themselves know, or were not able to know, or could not fathom that they knew. I wonder what we will not let ourselves see today in Sarajevo or rwanda. We see through an elaborate system of screens. And this seeing has only become more complicated with CNN coverage and the global communications network, which broadcast immediate an...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Hatreds
APA 6 Citation
Eisenstein, Z. (2014). Hatreds (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1597789/hatreds-racialized-and-sexualized-conflicts-in-the-21st-century-pdf (Original work published 2014)
Chicago Citation
Eisenstein, Zillah. (2014) 2014. Hatreds. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1597789/hatreds-racialized-and-sexualized-conflicts-in-the-21st-century-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Eisenstein, Z. (2014) Hatreds. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1597789/hatreds-racialized-and-sexualized-conflicts-in-the-21st-century-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Eisenstein, Zillah. Hatreds. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.