Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism
eBook - ePub

Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism

Maurice Hamington, Celia Bardwell-Jones, Maurice Hamington, Celia Bardwell-Jones

  1. 280 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism

Maurice Hamington, Celia Bardwell-Jones, Maurice Hamington, Celia Bardwell-Jones

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Indice dei contenuti

Informazioni sul libro

The notion of "feminist pragmatism" or "pragmatist feminism" has been around since Charlene Haddock Seigfried introduced it two decades ago. However, the bulk of the work in this field has been directed toward recovering the feminist strain of classical American philosophy, largely through renewed interest in the work of Jane Addams. This exploration of the origins of feminism and pragmatism has been fruitful in building a foundation for theoretical considerations.

The editors of this volume believe the next logical step is the contemporary application to both theory and experience. Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism is the first book to address the modern significance of the nexus of feminism and pragmatism. The issues explored here include the relationship between community and identity, particularly around the impact of gender and race; reframing political practice regarding feminist pragmatist commitments including education, sustainability movements, and local efforts like community gardens; and the association between ethics and inquiry including explorations of Buddhism, hospitality, and animal-human relationships.

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Part I
Community and Identity

Transforming Whiteness with Roycean Loyalty

A Pragmatist Feminist Account
Shannon Sullivan
White people in this country [the U.S.] will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.
—James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
How should white people concerned about racial justice comport themselves toward their whiteness? In this chapter, I draw from Josiah Royce to argue that white people who are seeking to transform whiteness need to develop an antiracist loyalty to their race. Rather than try to flee their whiteness, white people need to embrace it more tightly. Rather than try to create distance between themselves and their racial identity, white people need a closer, more intimate relationship with it. Rather than despise or betray their whiteness, white people need to loyally and critically love it. As James Baldwin attests, this will mean their learning to love themselves and other white people.
Much of the contemporary scholarly literature about white people’s efforts to fight racism encourages them to be race traitors.1 Focusing on Mab Segrest’s Memoir of a Race Traitor, I argue that characterizing white people’s roles in racial justice struggles as traitorous is neither fruitful nor particularly accurate and that Segrest’s complex relationship to her own and her family’s whiteness is best understood as an instance of Roycean loyalty. For Royce, loyalty means loving what is “local” and close to a person—such as her particular race—without that love conflicting with loyalty to what is “distant” and even universal—such as other races and even the human race as such. Roycean loyalty also requires the ability and willingness to be constructively critical of what one loves. In the context of race, Royce’s notion of loyalty shows how white people can be simultaneously antiracist and loyal to other white people. Even stronger, Royce’s notion of loyalty helps demonstrate why effectively working for racial justice might depend on a white person’s learning to be loyal to herself and other white people. For Royce, we are able to love better what is remote the more that we faithfully love what is close to us. Loving what is proximate encourages, rather than undermines, love for what is more distant. This means that to better love humanity as a whole through the elimination of racism, white people need to figure out how to critically love what is close to them: the white racial family to which they belong.
I do not wish to legitimize the racist thinking of white supremacist groups although I realize that the appearance—maybe even the reality—of such legitimization is a danger of this chapter. But I think that pragmatists, feminists, and other scholars working on “the whiteness question” need to take some risks to best answer it.2 This is true even though racial essences do not exist. Racial categories, including whiteness, are historical and political products of human activity, and for that reason the human racial landscape has changed over time and likely will continue to change. Perhaps at some point in the future, racial categories won’t exist. At this point in history, however, they do exist and cannot be quickly eliminated by pretending that they don’t. This means that, for better or worse, whiteness also is not going anywhere anytime soon even though its meaning and effects are not set in stone. For example, the “beige supremacy” that the Latin Americanization of race in the U.S. is likely to produce is still a racial hierarchy that privileges whites over mixed-race and light-skinned Asians and Latinos, the latter of which would share in beige people’s domination over dark-skinned people, including most African Americans, who would count as black.3 The whiteness question thus doggedly persists: what can and should white identity mean other than white supremacy and white privilege? What should white people do in the wake of their acknowledgment of centuries of white atrocities toward people of color? How might white people concretely and habitually—that is, in terms of the habits that transactionally shape their selves—live their racial identities in ways that promote racial justice?4
The answer I propose is that white people should be loyal enough to themselves and other white people to try to cure them of their chronic white racism. White people qua white are ill in that their racial habits largely have been built out of violence, domination, greed, hatred, jealousy, fear, and cruelty. Their psychosomatic health has suffered and continues to suffer because of their toxic racial identities. As Benedict Spinoza might say, their bodies are constituted by sad passions.5 The effect of those passions, or negative affects and emotions, is to deplete or diminish the body’s energies, leaving it weak and powerless, like a plant that is too sickly to put out new shoots and so effectively begins to die. This would seem to make such a body innocuous, but the result is the exact opposite. A body constituted by sad passions is something like Friedrich Nietzsche’s last man, too psychosomatically depleted to do much that is active and yet extremely dangerous because he or she resents others’ liveliness and health and so tries to destroy them.6 Fueled by sad passions, whiteness in the form of white racist habits has been toxic to both the white people who have perpetuated them and the people of color who have suffered from them. What is needed instead is a transformation of white identity and white habits so that they are constituted by what Spinoza calls joyful passions or positive emotions: hope, benevolence, gratitude, wonder, and, above all, love. White people need to become psychosomatically healthy enough that they do not poison other races when interacting with them but, instead, reciprocally nourish each other. They need to become more, not less, selfish in Nietzsche’s sense of the term, in that they need to adorn their “souls” with genuine treasures, rather than the counterfeit gems of white supremacy. Only then will they be in a psychosomatic position that allows them to “flow back [to others] from [their] fountain,” to fairly, generously, and even lovingly engage with others rather than respond to them out of a soul-starved stinginess.7 Roycean loyalty provides one important way for them to do so.
To the question of how a white person concerned about racial justice should live her whiteness, contemporary scholarship has three dominant replies: guilt, shame, and betrayal. White guilt and especially white shame often are considered the appropriate emotions for white people to feel toward their whiteness, and some scholars argue that these affects can help motivate white people to work against white racism.8 The white person who does so often is considered a traitor to her race because she challenges white domination and supremacy. In the last two decades the race traitor has emerged as the most, and perhaps the only, legitimate way for a white person concerned about racial justice to relate to her whiteness.
In her 1991 Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Sandra Harding provides the earliest antiracist instance of calling a white person who challenges white racism a traitor to her race.9 I say “antiracist” because racist instances from the 1960s abound. The term race traitor appears to have originated during the civil rights movement in the U.S., when white Southerners who opposed voting rights and equal education for black people verbally attacked white people who supported black civil rights by calling them traitors to their race. The origins of the term clearly are maliciously destructive in their intent. Aware of this origin, Harding reclaims the idea of traitorous identities for feminist and antiracist purposes. In doing so, she builds on Adrienne Rich’s 1978 essay, “Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia,” which calls on white women to become disloyal to a patriarchal civilization that teaches them to solipsistically misperceive women of color and their experiences as insignificant and unimportant.10 Harding argues that white people should develop “traitorous identities and social locations” that are supported by “traitorous agendas,” such as “provid[ing] ‘traitorous’ readings of the racial assumptions in texts … written by whites.”11
These disloyal identities, social locations, and agenda are crucial to anti-racist struggles for at least four reasons, according to Harding. First, they combat white people’s immobilization by helping them concretely figure out what they might do to fight racism. Second, learning to think critically out of a traitorous identity or social location helps white people avoid an exclusive focus on people of color that arrogantly refuses to examine the role of whiteness in racism and class exploitation. A third, related reason given by Harding is that, speaking as a white person, “learning about my race only from racists, or quite differently, only from people of color, I deprive myself of my perspective on myself. I fail to take an active role in defining what my racial identity can be.”12 And finally, recruiting white people to antiracist movements is not likely to be very successful if white people “are constantly told that they are the wrong kind of people to speak in this group” or otherwise actively participate in the movement.13 White people need a racial identity and a related agenda that allow them to make positive contributions to antiracist efforts.
I think Harding is right on all four of these points, and I am interested in the positive valence that she gives to white identity in her third and fourth points in particular. In my view, those two points demonstrate why white people need to develop a racial identity alternative to what a white racist society demands of them, but not necessarily one that is characterized or experienced as traitorous. A traitor is one who betrays others, who violates the confidence and trust that another has placed in her. In effect, a traitor attempts to destroy the social fabric that binds people together. I do not have much confidence in the positive effects of building an identity exclusively on destruction, nor do I think that asking people to conceive of themselves as treacherous destroyers is likely to be a fruitful recruiting device in most cases. One might respond that our current social fabric needs to be ripped up because it is woven together out of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, and so destroying this fabric should not be conceived of negatively. I agree that oppression is part of the warp and woof of society’s political, cultural, aesthetic, economic, and other relationships. But the social fabric does not so much need ripping up as it needs reweaving. This creative act will involve some destructive unraveling of what currently exists, but such unraveling should not be the end goal of antiracist and other pragmatist feminist projects. Something new needs to be created and, as Harding herself hints, that something new includes a positive racial identity for white people.
Subsequent feminist endorsements of the idea of white race traitors can be found in the work of Alison Bailey, Lisa Heldke, and Mab Segrest.14 In particular, Segrest’s 1994 Memoir of a Race Traitor helped firmly establish the race traitor as the model identity for feminists opposed to white racism (and perhaps lesbians and American Southerners especially). In this gripping memoir, which she calls a “treatise on the souls of white folks,” Segrest describes her work as a white, lesbian, antiracist activist in Alabama and North Carolina in the 1980s, weaving that description together with stories about race and racism from her childhood and family history in the American South.15 Segrest recounts the ostracism, fear, and violent threats she experienced as she worked for North Carolinians against Racist and Religious Violence (NCARRV) to bring white supremacists, such as White Patriot leader Glenn Miller, to court. As she does so, she explains:
I had begun to feel pretty irregularly white. Klan folks had a word for it: race traitor. Driving in and out of counties with heavy Klan activity, I kept my eye on the rear-view mirror, and any time a truck with a Confederate flag license plate passed me, the hair on the back of my neck would rise. My reaction was more like the reactions of Black people I was working with than of a white woman with three great-grandfathers in the Confederate Army.16
Segrest continues to reveal some of the disturbing psychological, emotional, and ontological effects of her antiracist work, describing her fear of “the possibility of being caught between the worlds of race, white people kicking me out, people of color not letting me in” and admitting that she “often found [her]self hating all white people, including [her]self.”17 Segrest’s identity as a white person clearly changed as a result of her antiracist work, and that change often was painful and frightening.
As she wrestles with her racial identity as a “race traitor,” Segrest also wrestles with guilt over her family’s racist history. At one point, she tries to reassure herself: “I’m not acting out of guilt [by working for the NCARRV], I would tell myself, just working on the Segrest family karma.”18 Wrapped up with her guilt on behalf of her white family, and perhaps on behalf of white people more generally, are Segrest’s equivocal feelings about betrayal. When a friend of hers, Leah, tells her that the title of her book is wrong because “that’s not what you were doing,” Segrest explains, “I flush. I do struggle with betrayal. My Klan folk had me spotted: a race traitor…. [But] it’s not my people, it’s the idea of race I am betraying. It’s taken me a while to get the distinction.”19 Interestingly, Segrest here uses “race traitor” in its original, Klan-intended sense: as a racial identity that one should feel ashamed of. Segrest’s flush reveals that on some level, Segrest believes she should, and she does, feel ashamed for her betrayal of her (white) family. Her love for her family makes it difficult for her to accept that she is a race traitor. And yet at the same time, her deeply felt commitment to racial justice makes it difficult for her not ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Dedication
  5. Contents
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Introduction
  8. PART I Community and Identity
  9. PART II Political Practice
  10. PART III Ethics and Inquiry
  11. Contributors
  12. Index