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Essentialism and the problem of identity politics (as zine)
11/19/2009, 12:57 PM
Filed under: update | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Excerpt from the text: (posted previously on this site)

Essentialism is the idea that there exists some detectable and objective core quality of particular groups of people that is inherent, eternal, and unalterable; groupings can be categorized according to these qualities of essence, which are based on such problematic criteria as gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and class. These external qualities are almost always marked by visual cues, making the categories more obvious and/or easier to notice. These qualities contain social and — more importantly from an antiauthoritarian perspective — hierarchical significance to those marking the cues and those marked by the cues: sexism, in the case of gender; racism in the case of skin tone; the unwanted attention of authorities in the case of any and all different looking/acting people. Racism, sexism, classism, and most other forms of historical oppression are ideologies and policies maintained and justified by essentialism.

For a person or group of people on the receiving end of racism and sexism (etc.), essentialism can appear to be a powerful defensive perspective and counter-narrative. Rather than promoting categories of denigration and subordination, the counter-essentialist discourse of Identity Politics attempts to invert the historical categories of oppression into categories of celebration. This is often initiated by appropriating insults and turning them into acceptable, even honorable, labels. What had once been intended to harm the Other thereby becomes a way to show pride in the Group Self. Keeping with the inversion process, the counter-essentialist often merely turns the categories of Otherness upside-down, making visually identifiable members of the Oppressor group into enemies. A sense of belonging either to a group that has oppressed or been oppressed is immaterial — essentialism is not the exclusive domain of oppressors.”

Zine




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