diversity, prejudice, socialism, tourism, Trainspotting, Urban Dictionary, xenophilia, xenophobia
The Urban Dictionary strikes me as a lexical sewer, what to language that toilet featured in the film Trainspotting is to basic hygiene. It should come as no surprise that the alt right contributes to it with relish. I think it can fairly be characterized as their dictionary. That it is not, strictly speaking, a ‘dictionary’ at all nor a reliable representation of anything ‘urban’ but rather a Rorschach Test for emerging political pathologies is beside the point. Or perhaps that is the point.
Here’s one for xenophobia:
If you look up ‘racism’ or ‘socialism’ in the Urban Dictionary you will find equally noxious material mixed with the occasional, and more often than not, feeble, alternative.
As a corrective some comrades valorize xenophilia as an antonym to xenophobia. This is surely an improvement over the alt right screeds above, which do the opposite. But here’s the thing. As a reference point for radicals it is useful, but limited. Much as the touchstone liberal shibboleths ‘diversity’, ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘race relations’, there is an element of bullshit here. Allow me to explain.
For working class peons in the tourism and service industries it is an inescapable fact that the overwhelming majority of interactions had with ‘diverse people’ is as their servants, their underlings, their step-and-fetch-its. The only people who take vacations to exotic lands are the well off with disposable income, or people without much disposable income who envy, and therefore emulate, those who have it. We poor and working people don’t travel much, so our interactions with ‘other people’ most often involve a power imbalance, summarized in that noxious imperative, “the customer is always right.” If you appreciate that phrase, you internalize your oppression, or enjoy inflicting it on others. I don’t. But that’s the nature of a tourist economy. The only thing I hate more than a tourist is a celebrity tourist.
I have therefore developed a very keen hatred. My stomach turns and churns when I hear the Queens English enunciated from a Hermès suit, the North Atlantic lockjaw pronounce ‘Maarthaa’s Vin-yaard’ from a Polo shirt, or perhaps an East Coast asshole snap their fingers for attention.
In this sense certain languages, dress, accessories, and behavior set me off. You could say I have become ‘prejudiced’ toward tourists–of all backgrounds. I know in a sense this is irrational; that I am ‘prejudging’ based on stereotypes. But in another sense it’s also a defense mechanism, one that is necessary for the preservation of my basic human dignity. So I own that prejudice by placing the burden of evidence to prove otherwise upon them. Is it possible then to have a positive prejudice?
My interactions with the globetrotting rich have been, on the whole, really distasteful. Wait, that’s not strong enough. They are scum and I hate them. That’s better.
These encounters then linger in my mind as dog shit I can’t scrape off the bottom of my shoe. I cannot begin to recount the number of times I’ve had a twit make a comment about the homeless, Asian drivers, Black kids with saggy pants, the lazy Latino road workers, the white opiate addict. They will often unthinkingly assume that because I am a white guy in my 50s, and at least not outwardly and obviously an opiate addict, I will laugh along with them and share their contempt and disgust. I must be a deplorable. So it is. I am a deplorable–just not their kind of deplorable.
If it’s a racist comment, what they get in return (when I’m feeling safe enough to do it, which is not often, because I am a coward) is as vehement a condemnation of their unfiltered ‘whitesplaining’ vitriol as I can muster. Sometimes I’ll cap it off with the phrase “I’m a race traitor”. That’s always a conversation starter.
I know that in spite of their wonderful diversity of languages, religions, cultures and identities they are also united by one singular difference from me: they have class power over me and my coworkers and wield that power, especially when on vacation, in a more unfiltered manner then they might otherwise. That’s another way of saying rich people are actually at their worst when enjoying their leisure time. What they say in private–and if I’m there serving them, it is private–has never really been adequately captured in film or novels, much less social science. The reality is a horror that changes even as it stays the same. But it’s always there, and I have no choice but to step in it again and again. That’s the important part to remember.
So here’s the rub. How does one inculcate an appreciation for different peoples from different cultures when all of ones experience is as degrading and dehumanizing as I’ve described above? Too often what is prescribed as an appreciation of difference is experienced as, and in a very real sense is, subservience and abject humiliation. That is not a deformity of the world we live in, an unfortunate and necessary by-product of progress; it is a constitutive element of the rule of the few over the many. So how to uphold the primacy of rebellion without collapsing into a destructive and pointless rage?
We must remember and point out, again and again, that we have more in common with that vast exploited and dominated humanity from all cultures than we could ever have with our masters, or their masters, whatever their language or ethnicity.
When my hate is pure it is sharpened by a critique informed by race, class and gender. Sounds kinda counterintuitive. So it is.
If you use frameworks of diversity and privilege, access and opportunity, xenophobia/xenophilia without social class, you are a liberal, or worse.
If you are forever fixated on rearranging the chairs at the table rather than upending the table, your politics amount to that of a banquet manager or event planner. If you think different faces in high places accomplishes anything other than cosmetic appeal, your politics are as that of United Colors of Benetton ads of yor. If you think philanthropic largess has any meaningful role in politics short of its extinction, you are a financial adviser, not a leftist, much less a revolutionary.
It’s all business. That fact must cease to exist. So long as it rests on the ill gotten gains stolen from us, which is, after all the foundation of all wage labor, it must be overthrown, in its entirety.
However much a philanthropic plutocrat spends down a fortune, however quickly it is spent, it won’t be enough and it won’t be fast enough. Why? Quite simply because it doesn’t belong to them in the first place.
It is not enough to argue for civility and safe places. One must affirm the right to righteous rebellion, and the uncivil, unsafe (for them) character of that rebellion. Then we can ask: Is that rebellion shaped by the power of a critique loaded with race, class and gender? Hopefully we can answer yes, always and everywhere. Then the right of all people exploited and dominated to be free can be upheld.
Our common circumstances should not be lost through a fixation on our differences, real and imagined, not least because it makes impossible the urgent task of theorizing an enemy. And there is an enemy, not just a ‘system’. That enemy is structural, institutional, and individual. They–the roles they play, the status they enjoy, the positions they occupy, the surplus value that accumulates to them, the mirrors they gaze longingly into–are also the meat-sacks we call our ruling class. If they are meat-sacks, they are mortal.
I’m getting some of that shit off my shoes, now. I feel better.
Anything less is sophistry, at best, delusion at worst; both thereby ensure our capitulation and defeat.
We’ve had enough of that; time for something different.
When I hear it, read it or watch it, I’ll let you know.