Some of you might know that I spent part of my winter semester studying critical race theory (CRT). Actually, this was my first time engaging with the sub-discipline, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts along with the issues of political correctness. I actually wrote most of this post several weeks ago and decided to share it because I don’t have any big posts coming up in the next few weeks. I apologize if this post seems like I am mad (I’m not), I just don’t have time to edit.
One of the essays that I wrote in the class was on Fred Moten and how he challenges European thinkers such as Jacques Derrida. Despite that the paper turned into a mess, I really enjoyed writing it because it helped me understand bits and pieces on what Moten’s ideas are all about (i.e. challenging existing hegemonic systems via Black rhetoric). I think Moten is a very interesting writer who applies his ideas back into his own writing, which is what makes him so hard to read (it is a resistance). Moten’s interpretation of Derrida and other European scholars consists of a form of free play by combining them together (i.e. “improvisation”, like jazz music). He achieves this through his own Black rhetorical tradition and produces some very interesting results.
I think one of the reasons why my essay turned into a mess was because I was restricting myself to cite as much as marginalized scholars and people of color as possible because it makes my prof happy (yeah, since when did Bobby become a people pleaser?—like uh, never). Of course, I ended up not complying. It was an event where I made a decision and I was ready to fail the class (Lol—I didn’t fail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did). I must confess that part of me leaned towards Moten’s ideas in the paper because of peer pressure for being “politically correct”. In fact, I was already called “Eurocentrtic” by citing Derrida in my essay; even if you know, Derrida was against Eurocentrism. I was told that my essay was “right wing”.
Before I continue, people really need to understand that I am only after one thing in my intellectual / academic endeavor: how do humans produce truths? It just so happened that along the way, I ran into Derrida and really liked what he wrote because I spent two years close reading Of Grammatology and four more years close reading his other works (Voice and Phenomenon, Margins of Philosophy, his lectures on Heidegger, etc.). Bottom line: I am an idea person. I acknowledge great ideas regardless of the person’s skin color, gender, etc. But I don’t like lying for the sake of being politically correct. Am I going to list the top 5 hockey players of all time and go like “Wayne Gretzky… oh wait, I can’t list white dudes”, and randomly list some marginalized person? In the same way, what if I went to list the top 5 basketball players and go like “oh hey, I can’t list black guys” and list a white guy? What is the difference between this and saying “I can’t cite great ideas in XYZ discipline because they are privileged European dudes, therefore I must cite ABC person”?
I understand that there are structural injustices in the system which prevents marginalized people from succeeding in society (and academia, etc.) [there could be other reasons on why they are not succeeding that they have not recognized]. I also understand that their voices, perspectives and ideas needs to be heard and recognized (and I think they should). Finally, I also understand that when we cite marginalized voices, we are trying to expose their ideas through our own works. But I also think we shouldn’t take this opportunity to downplay important ideas which had left a huge impact in our society. Why? Because ironically, a lot of CRT scholarship were inspired by deconstruction. I am generalizing quite a bit here, and I apologize for that.
With all this said, it is not my intention to offend anyone in this post because I know I can be quite honest, blunt and unyielding (I also don’t hold any grudges or hate anyone). You see, I am secretly practicing Michel Foucault’s “parrhesia” (to tell the truth regardless of consequences). I am just trying to assess whether or not citing “privileged” people in my paper makes any sense, and whether Ideas should be defined through “particularities” (thinking about Badiou). Following the same logic, can I make a reading of Black rhetorical tradition as a Chinese-Canadian? If I somehow publish this crappy essay, then does this mean that some other person in the world can’t cite me because I am a yellow dude interpreting Black rhetorical tradition? (in the same way that I can’t cite some white dude interpreting a black dude?).
Before people throw any political labels at me, I would like to say that I am very neutral in my “political spectrum”—even if I think Marx was right about the problems of capitalism; and that in a world where the political left and right are secretly right wingers in disguise (both are capitalists), we should take the risk to reconsider the Idea of communism (I am speaking in Badiou’s language here). I understand, once we factor in history and “human nature”, communism is quite difficult and risky to achieve (the Idea of communism is too perfect—even in my eyes), capitalism is probably the best thing we have for now (yet, it is actually far from the best—maybe if it was less “crony”). Regardless, this takes us into classic debates on human nature that I won’t get into here. For example, are we all super greedy, violent and exploitative ass hats without wanting to admit it? I mean, at least I admit I’m an asshole. I am pretty guilty of filling my car up with gas and polluting the air. I even unwillingly support the exploitation of workers when I buy things in the grocery store. As Zizek would say, if I was not myself, I would probably arrest myself.
I understand that CRT tries to show how laws undermine certain minority groups. I agree there are problems in the legal system and I definitely think that CRT does a really good job in highlighting a lot of these issues (i.e. race and gender inequality, indigenous rights, etc.). Many great authors writes stories to express these injustices and that is fine with me because exposing these issues and how others experiences these problems is a good thing. But whether this “truth” is communicated to the reader is another a very difficult story. If you follow my blog, you should know by now that one of the main problems Derrida talks about is the problem of communication. This is why there are infinite interpretations to any texts and events. You can find this idea come up in many 20th century discourses via different forms from Heidegger, Lacan, Deleuze, Badiou, all the way to Wittgenstein.
In general, I only found certain strands of CRT to be interesting. In fact, they are either very interesting or very uncritical. But to be fair, this is found in nearly all disciplines. I know for a fact that there are many great CRT works out there. For example, I think Fred Moten and Jodi Byrd both writes very interesting scholarship. It is unfortunate that while Byrd has some great ideas which builds and moves away from Judith Butler and Derrida, our seminar on her turned into some naive interpretation of her works. To be sure, I refer certain aspects of CRT to be uncritical because they are uncritical of their own interpretations and ideas. They are not asking what allows them to produce such “truth” (but maybe I am leveling this criticism because I am someone who chases after truth). While I think that their findings are often enlightening (i.e. relationship between law and minorities, immigrants, etc.). I also think that their lack of self-assessment can be quite dangerous, where one might end up going like “hey, my truth is the only truth, and if you don’t agree with me, then you are a XYZ!”. But once again, this can happen anywhere. Not just in academia or in CRT.
This is why, despite the fact that I disagree with Jordan Peterson’s naive readings of Derrida, he makes a very good point in regards to political correctness (a similar point Zizek makes). I also think that Peterson made a good point on how people turned Derrida’s “dichotomies” into some form of political weapon by talking about the “oppressor and oppressed”. I will admit, I was a bit too harsh on Peterson in my first few posts on him. While I don’t agree with him on many things, I think he offers some very interesting insights when he stops pretending to know anything about Derrida.
Anyone who studied Derrida long enough will know that his “dichotomies” or “binary oppositions” are hardly “oppositions” because one is melded into the other as paradoxes (i.e. the outside is the inside, nature is culture, speech is writing, signified is signifier, life is death, etc.). In other words, people turned Derrida’s ideas into some kind of political weapon by talking about the oppressor and the oppressed in some mutually exclusive way—even when they aren’t. This reading was something that I don’t think Derrida had intended in his works (he definitely never anticipated this from the future to come). For example, what happens at the end of The Hunger Games? The oppressed becomes the oppressor. The idea that people had turned Derrida into a political weapon was something that Jean Baudrillard and many Derridean scholars had pointed out.
Regardless, there are are other philosophical problems that I can see in CRT, such as essentialism. But I don’t have time to talk about this right now. I am in a spring course that is jam packed with readings. I am sure there are already scholars talking about this. Currently, my positions holds firm in the idea that time is one of the fundamental constitutions of subjectivity, identities, and truths. All in all, I don’t really have too much beef with CRT because the problems they have is also found everywhere. I just have a problem with political correctness. I guess what I am really trying to say is that we should be respectful of other’s ideas and maybe we will learn a thing or two. Otherness is the key to truth.
(this is the only word I know in Spanish other than “Hola”).