I apologize in advance for the longer breaks I have taken in between posts. The 2016 US presidential elections disillusioned me as a writer a lot and I don’t think that disillusionment is going to go away. I was and still am highly offended by the victory of the troglodyte resurrection of P.T. Barnum, but I was just as offended by the cynical way that Hillary Clinton’s campaign misappropriated intersectional politics. I’m not saying that US electing its first female president doesn’t matter, but I don’t believe such a symbolic goal justifies disregarding the valid concerns expressed towards the candidate’s checkered history within that candidate’s base, or purposely misattributing those concerns as bile from white male bigots. Her campaign seemed more interested in marketing itself as intersectional rather than actually being intersectional.
The offensive shortcomings of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign don’t exist in a vacuum. That campaign’s sense of entitlement and refusal towards self-reflection is endemic within the whole Democratic party. It goes beyond electoral politics too. I think the most dominant liberal/progressive-minded discourse around intersectional subjects has been effected by the same shortcomings the Democratic party has about them. Where did it all go wrong?
Concepts related to social justice or the uplifting of marginalized groups have been co-opted by the market and cynically sold back to us consumers as a watered-down product. Those companies that will sell us a #FEMINIST bumper sticker, persuade us to add a rainbow filter to our Facebook profile pictures, or sell us a T-shirt that says HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT don’t care more about actual feminism, LGBT+ rights, or racism than they do making a profit. Learning about what feminism, LGBT+ rights, civil rights and other social justice concepts are is a laborious task requiring a whole lot of understanding about theory, history, economics, psychology, anthropology, etc. It requires a lot of studying, reading a lot of books, a lot of interaction with a wide range of other people, listening to lectures from experts on the subject, and constantly questioning your own assumptions and the way you were brought up to think about these concepts. This is a never ending endeavor; the ideal person continues elevating their perspective until the day they die. By reducing these concepts to consumable products, all of the arduous, often uncomfortable, but extremely necessary work gets taken out of being a feminist, anti-racist, or LGBT+ rights ally. It allows the consumer to label themselves as an intersectional ally with little to no work and more importantly it allows for the corporations marketing the product to label themselves as intersectional with no work. And as a result, those intersectional labels become nothing more than status symbols that are essentially no different from wearing the latest pair of Jordans or the latest fashionable clothes.
“Woke” is a buzzword that simultaneously makes me laugh and angrily shout obscenities. As I understand it, being “woke” is supposed to be refer to having awareness and a thorough knowledge of things like structural racism, misogyny, homophobia, politics, etc. But being “woke” has long devolved into a masturbatory status one betroths onto themselves as a jab towards anybody who doesn’t think the same way they do. And it’s marketed to consumers as just that instead of as encouragement to keep elevating the mind. At this point, do people take this term seriously anymore? I can’t look at this term as anything but a soulless piece of co-opted black vernacular.
Speaking of co-opting black culture, most of these well-connected people and publications who dictate the majority of the discourse around intersectionality still view whiteness as the standard. They talk a lot about white supremacy, white privilege, and concepts like that, but they mostly view people of color as trophies to adorn themselves with so that they look open-minded. For example, the uncritical adulation that these types of publications heap on Beyonce as a pro-black and feminist icon or their flippant use of the term “white feminist” as a derisive always stuck me as much more patronizing than a thoughtful or analytical view of Beyonce’s status as a pop star or racism within feminism. It was always more of a “look how much better and more enlightened than I am than those other white people! Aren’t I so down?” These publications aren’t 100% white or anything, but they’re almost always either owned or funded by white people. They’ll have no problem hiring a writer of color that tows their line and reinforces their outlook. This definitely plays into why they co-opt black vernacular buzzwords like “woke” or “bae” again and again. The irony is that these publications probably wrote a thinkpiece on how Kylie Jenner appropriated black culture when she donned cornrows.
This doesn’t just apply to co-opting pro-black politics. A few years ago, I came across this quiz from BuzzFeed on whether or not you are a feminist. It starts off by asking “do you believe in the complete equality of men and women”. If you answer yes, the quiz ends, stating “Yes, you are a feminist. Congrats!”. This result amused me and made me feel pretty good back then, but oversimplifications like this are part of the problem I’m addressing. This simple quiz tells you nothing about feminist theory, the history of feminism, how structural patriarchy has shaped our society, the different ways that patriarchy manifests, or anything like that.
I have to repeat that in the marketing of intersectionality or social justice, turning a profit is more important than actually being intersectional. It doesn’t matter to BuzzFeed that their little quiz oversimplified feminism as long as their articles and quizzes get clicks, which makes them money. It doesn’t matter to all those so-called “sex-positive” websites that their professed feminism is the same exact ideology of a man who for more than sixty years built an empire on the backs of millions of women he reduced to objects for his male audience because those sites found their own way of turning a profit from a pornographic view of sex. Hillary Clinton’s history of domestic and foreign policies that further marginalized the already marginalized groups of people didn’t matter as much as her elevation to the White House. The same exact thing about her can be said about former president Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s latest up-and-coming cult of personality, Senator Cory Booker. It doesn’t matter to the Democratic Party that so much of their base’s prospect of upward mobility continues to diminish as long that they can pose as glorious saviors against those nasty Republicans. And most of those major publications I’ve been referring to are funded by the same corporations that funds all of the aforementioned Democratic politicians.
I’m still questioning what direction I want this blog to go in. I have written a great deal about intersectional and social justice concepts in the past and I worry that some of my earlier posts may have contributed to the marketing of them instead of actually standing for them. I don’t want to do that anymore. These concepts and particularly the groups of people they seek to give a voice to are far too important to let be reduced to cynical fad marketing ploys and I hope this blog can provide analysis on cartoons that does not do the same kind of disservice to them I’m witnessing in far too many other outlets.