Stuart Hall, “New Ethnicities”
August 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
Penguins, because why not. Actually I’ll get to exactly why in just a second.
I don’t always know how to respond to old theory. I realize that Date of Publication is something I frequently discuss, often derisively, especially in terms of digital culture stuff. Oh poo poo, I cluck like some 24k asshole. 2006? How quaint. This isn’t fair; time passes, it’s no one’s fault, especially when one considers that –and this is a very painful “that”– theorists are by definition behind the curve. Because christ once something has successfully traversed Death Valley, i.e. made it through the publishing process, the subject of whatever study is often halfway out the door. Ahem Second Life, MOOs and MUDS, probably trolling, etc. So let the record show that I am fully aware of this particular tic of mine, and try to keep it in check. At the same time, it can be so odd reading groundbreaking things 15 years after the fact — a particular specialization of UO’s English department (OH I WENT THERE, see how many fucks I give on 3 hours of sleep).
Interestingly, this morning’s (second) selection provides a roundabout take on academic evolution. Course good old Stuart Hall isn’t explicitly engaged with the march of the theoretical penguins (get it???? it’s a metaphor) but the shoe still fits — I roll my eyes at what was said then because of all the other things that have been said since. As Hall argues, the past is only ever viewed through the present; we cannot step outside history, or whatever it is we happen to regard as historical, in itself an ideologically-loaded endeavor. Consequently we must approach our various origin stories (in terms of race/ethnicity, in terms of culture, in terms of THEORY WARZ, in terms of whatever else we assume has a discrete beginning) as both critical to our understanding(s) of our current selves and also entirely mythological.
Hall’s specific account centers on an emerging identity politics, one which acknowledges-slash-celebrates and simultaneously contextualizes the geographical, historical, and therefore epistemic origins of presumedly static racial categories. These new ethnicities, which can best be described as difference with a touch of Derridian differance, are needed to combat the essentialized and essentializing nature of so-called “black” experience, which was often cited in post-war Britain but wasn’t and still isn’t actually a thing. “Blackness” as a political concept may have arisen for very good reasons –as Hall explains, both to access and contest the right to representation– but it reduces individual people, all subject to divergent histories and origins and struggles and successes, to one certain kind of person, indivisible and indistinguishable in some apparently homogenous blackness. Simply inverting the racial dialectic and equating everything black with everything good doesn’t combat the truly pernicious nature of racism — namely the implication that “you people are all the same.” Identity is much messier than that; blanket concepts must give way to more localized identities.
In conclusion, this happened in 1995. Since 1995 many other things have happened. Also.