Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On "position in the spectacle"

The always engaging blogger Richard Seymour, who runs Lenin's Tomb:Link

White people need to shut up

Not me, obviously. (Good luck with that.) And probably not you either. But, you know, those white people. The endless parade of white victims, the oppressed white, the white who can't say what they really think and yet endlessly say it at length, for a living. I fucking hate these people with every last residue of bile I can muster. Send them back, I say. These are the people now calling Diane Abbott a 'racist' for saying that 'white people' love to use 'divide and rule', it being an old colonial tactic. Abbott says she was trying to express a more complex idea, nuances of which were lost in Twitter's 140-character limit. But I don't really care. I'm not even going to waste time explaining what's wrong with the idea that white people are the victims of racism. You think your feelings have been hurt by Diane Abbott? Come talk to me for five minutes, and I'll fill your ear with some hisses you won't forget.

The counterpart to reactionary outrage-mongering, of course, is liberal condescension: in the vein of "oh, she's a very silly woman, saying these provocative things, giving the right a cause to change the subject". This is wrong in many ways. First of all, what Abbott said was, in a very loose sense, correct: 'white people' do indeed love to play divide and rule. Not all of them, good lord no. Not you or I. Not the good whites (there are some good whites). But I think we all know that there's a troublesome minority in our midst, the ones who give us all a bad name, whom we must root out and expose, and hand over to the authorities. That's all I'm saying. Second, I would rather have a politician who expresses things bluntly and occasionally blunders but is usually on the right side of the argument (Abbott, for all her flaws, is better than most Labour politicians in this respect), than a calculating mountebank who plays for position in the spectacle. The fact that this is the main line of criticism coming from liberals is indicative of the kind of domesticated, gentrified political game they're playing. Third, Abbott's comments may provide the occasion for the right to go on an offensive, but let's not pretend this wasn't inevitable. Following the verdict against the two Lawrence suspects, and the way in which this drew attention to the facts of institutional - no, structural - racism in British society, it was a dead cert that the media would search for a way to restore white victimhood.

The real problem is not that Diane Abbott says "silly" things. It is that public speech is regulated according to conventions largely dictated by the powerful; that the social ideas and images that govern what is acceptable in speech are produced by people with a definite interest in domesticating dissident perspectives. This is something to be opposed, not adjusted to. But first, before all that, white people need to shut up.

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