29 November 2013

Notes On A Theory Of Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy, aka MRWaSP

Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy, or MRWaSP, is my term for early 21st-century globalized Western race/gender/sexuality/capitalist hegemony. I put a lower-case “a” in the acronym to both make the acronym something pronounceable to English speakers, and to echo the older acronym WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). You say it like “Mr. Wasp”--emphasis on the “mister” shows that this is not just about white supremacy, it’s also about patriarchy.

MRWaSP is an upgrade on WASP. As critical theorists of race have been arguing, white supremacy has retooled itself to work more efficiently in and for globalized, neoliberal hegemonies. Not only are exclusion and border-patrolling resource-intensive, they’re also not the most efficient ways of promoting nationalist, capitalist, patriarchal interests. As Jared Sexton argues, contemporary multiculturalism/multiracialism is a “protest less against the genocidal objectives of Anglo white supremacy than the inefficiency of unrestrained violence as the means of its accomplishment” (Amalgamation Schemes, 200). You can extend this argument to patriarchy and other institutionalized forms of identity-based oppression. It is more cost-effective to include some formerly excluded/abjected groups in racial/gender/sexual supremacy, because this inclusion further reinforces both the supremacy of the hyperelites and the precarity of the most unruly groups (those who pose the greatest threat to MRWaSP hegemony). As the always-brilliant philosopher Falguni Sheth explains,

more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy...A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.

Sheth cites numerous recent examples, including Asian-American former Attorney General John Yu and African-American former Secretary of State/National Security Advisor Condoleza Rice’s central role in establishing and maintaining the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay. Though installing people of color in positions of real political, economic, and social power may not seem to benefit white supremacy, it actually does; when your racist project appears to be led by a person of color, that obscures the racism. It “promote[s] their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these [non-white] individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us” so that what is an “overt racial mission...can be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice.” Putting otherwise privileged people of color at the center of white supremacist institutions obscures the white supremacy (and the imperialism/coloniality), thus allowing it to run all the more efficiently. This inclusion is always conditional and always instrumental--this can’t be emphasized enough. People of color are folded into white supremacy only insofar as this augments white supremacy; the moment this becomes a bad deal for white supremacy, it ends.
Homonationalism, an idea developed by Jasbir Puar, is another type of MRWaSP strategy. The nominal inclusion of formerly abjected groups--here, homosexuals--is used to distinguish between successful, resilient nations and those nations in need of (white) savoirist intervention. “Good” societies recognize that gays and lesbians are normal people, too; “bad” societies cling to primitive homophobic views and traditions. Similar discursive moves also distinguish “good” post-feminist societies and “bad” traditional societies that still overtly oppress women (e.g., through veiling, genital cutting, child marriage, sex work, etc.) Supposedly liberated attitudes about gender, sexuality, and often also race distinguish resilient societies from primitive ones. Sometimes this distinction is used to disaggregate whiteness, generally along the lines of social class. For example, in 2013 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) featured a bad guy character (a “heel,” in industry parlance), Jack Swagger, who expressed anti-immigrant, nationalist, and sometimes overtly white supremacist views. The schtick is that these racist views are what qualify him to be a heel: they’re obviously odious to fans, evidence of the character’s vilany. “Good guys” should not harbor the racist, anti-immigrant views espoused by Swagger, and should instead be fully comfortable cheering on Swagger’s Mexican-American nemesis, Alberto del Rio. As neoliberal capitalism restructures the economy and leaves working-class and rural whites in the lurch, framing them as backwards and uneducated makes their increasingly marginal socioeconomic status seem like the result of their individual failings, not the result of broad economic forces. Just as it conditionally and instrumentally includes otherwise privileged people of color within white supremacy, MRWaSP conditionally and instrumentally excludes otherwise underprivileged whites from the privileges to which they are accustomed as white. Similarly, just as it conditionally and instrumentally includes otherwise privileged women, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities (think about pre-murder-trial Oscar Pistorious, or Temple Grandin's recent fame), MRWaSP conditionally and instrumentally excludes otherwise underprivileged women, queers, and people with disabilities.

Another way of saying that is: MRWaSP uses resilience to cut the color line--and the gender binary, the line between homonormative and queer, and to differentiate between mainstreamable and non-mainstreamable people with disabilities. By "resilience" I mean a specific neoliberal ideology, not the general sense of surviving in the face of hardship and oppression. Mark Neocleous explains the relationship between resilience discourse and neoliberal ideology here. What I'm calling "resilience discourse" is another way of framing what Naomi Klein calls "shock doctrine" capitalism--it's the incitement of damage for the purpose of overcoming it (because that overcoming generates surplus value/profit/etc.). I've talked a bit about resilience discourse and femininity here and here

Resilient populations who can overcome their race/class/gender/sexual/immigrant/religious/ damage in socially profitable ways move closer to the center of white supremacist privilege, whereas less resilient, precarious populations move further and further from this center. Resilience deregulates the work of racialization, gendering, sexualization, bodily normalization, and so on; it treats racialization/gendering/sexualization/etc. like a deregulated marketplace. Rather than tying race status directly and primarily to phenotype (visible race), and then regulating on the basis of racial identity (e.g., Jim Crow, apartheid, etc.), resilience frames race as an effect or outcome of one’s response to underlying, background conditions. Similarly, rather than tying gender status directly and primarily to either sex and/or visible gender performance, resilience frames it as an effect or outcome of one's response to underlying, background conditions. This makes your status seem like the result of your individual choices, a true meritocracy in which the hard-working overcome their damage, but the lazy and sick can or will not. Of course, however, these background conditions are not equal, and they’re definitely controlled by histories of racial exploitation, patriarchy, and so on. It’s harder to bounce back if you’re starting from behind.

It’s not just race that shapes these material and ideological conditions--it’s also cis/heteropatriarchy, capitalism, Eurocentrism, ableism, all of what falls under “kyriarchy”. Because all these -isms shape the background material and ideological conditions in which we all work, those who have the best odds of successfully demonstrating their resilience are the ones who have the most heavily stacked decks. So, bourgeois, cis-gendered, able-bodied people of color are generally the most resilient ones...in no small part because MRWaSP has to make fewer material and ideological compromises to let them in.

Moreover, because the ‘deregulated’ marketplace factors in all sorts of variables, stakeholders, and externalities, MRWaSP resilience has no use for old modern binaries like black/white, masculine/feminine, hetero/homo, and so on. There’s no clear and distinct line demarcating “Absolute” from “Other,” to use Beauvoir’s terms from The Second Sex. Rather, MRWaSP resilience works more like a sine wave: it’s a continuum from peak to valley, or valley to peak--the apex and nadir of success. These valleys and peaks are positions in relation to power; no one subject is ever fully ensconced in it, nor ever fully abandoned by it (there are upper and lower asymptotes). You have to keep performing--you can always rise or fall, depending on both your individual output, and adjustments to the background algorithms.

As I mentioned, race and gender function less like a social identity and more like a form of human capital. Social identities still matter--they’re not going away. They’re supplemented (not supplanted) by resilient performances of “successful” subjectivity, subjects wealthy with all sorts of investments like education, social connectivity, actual wealth wealth, geographic location, physical beauty and attractiveness, health, and so on. MRWaSP doesn’t care so much who you are, but what happens through you: does investing in your human capital further the aims of MRWaSP? Or are these aims better accomplished by divesting your human capital?

MRWaSP is absolutely anti-black, anti-queer, ableist, and misogynist. Just think about the most vulnerable populations in the US: it’s usually queer people of color, people who are too queerly disabled to resiliently bounce back in profitable ways. Think also about the rates of incarceration of African-Americans, the infant mortality rates among women of color, the gun violence on the south side of Chicago, HIV infection rates and AIDS deaths, employment rates for men, women, and transpeople of color...I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Blackness, queerness, disability, femininity--they pretty much define precarity.

These are just some preliminary notes. I need to go back in and fill in some example; that said, if you have some examples to suggest, I’d love to talk about them in the comments.


  1. Awesome notes. I'd like to read more about identity as social capital and demonstrations of resilience.

    You wrote, "So, bourgeois, cis-gendered, able-bodied people of color are generally the most resilient ones...in no small part because MRWaSP has to make fewer material and ideological compromises to let them in." This instantly reminded me of MRWaSP's disregard for narratives of intersectionality. For example, the popular LGBT(Q) movement is depicted as heavily White, bourgeois meanwhile Undocu-queer movements are highlighting various matrices of identity-making.

  2. "the incitement of damage for the purpose of overcoming it." YES, THIS. Absolutely true about the range of precarious categories. On the flip side, I think it speaks to the circulation of fantasies of exclusion among elites, too, and the overcoming-a-challenge genre. . .

  3. This is a very important point that you should explore (also not a bad bit of acronym development ;). It isn't necessarily brand new, a version of this notion can be found in arguments framed as house slave vs field slave. Frankly, that moniker seems to be inspired in a culture of dominance; nonetheless, its important to call out and moreso explain the inherent racism in a system that appoints individual PoC to many visible and customary roles of significance up and down the social ladder while their populations languish or even decline.

    When I say every step of the ladder, this is readily apparent from those you identify (Yoo, Rice) as well as many others (Obama(!), Holder, Lisa Jackson) on BOTH sides of the political divide (Ben Carlson, Michele Malkin, Mia Love, etc.). The problem is that especially in the highest echelons of the ivory tower where the commanding heights of policy are formulated and handed down, the time spent in reaching these levels (for those that have actually worked their way up from some modest to no level of privilege) inoculates them from those suffering in the population of their ethnicity, gender/orientation, etc.; those already starting from points of privilege just have no point of reference to begin with.

    The problem is most unfortunate when you start looking at levels of mid-management or other mostly basic levels of private sector success. This is where the house versus field slave mentality is most apparent. Again, I regret the use of that label, but that is how it is formulated. The important thing is to identify the qualities that PoC adopt from hegemonic philosophies or positions against their respective origins and how to combat those forces as they arise. Generally, I imagine it revolves around a defense of their newly perceived position of status as well as detachment from the origins or their class. It might also be an inability to articulate their beliefs in the power structure that is hardened and positioned against them if they resist supporting the existing structure. This could all be better explained and fleshed out though; better than I have at least. The main idea is to empower those with an innate sense of equity, solidarity, and cooperation to maintain these traits on into their positions of power to combat the negative forces of progression but more importantly how to navigate that social landscape in the first place not just on how to get there but how to wield those levers once at the wheel.

  4. Sidenote! John Yoo was never Attorney General. There has never been an Asian American Attorney General (that would be news, no?). He worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is a meaningful difference if we are talking about appearances because except for the torture memo, probably no one except lawyers actually knows about the OLC, much less its individual staff members.

  5. Hi Robin! I just wanted to share some current examples of instances where MRWaSP is absolutely anti-black, anti-queer, ableist, and misogynist. I'm not filtering through your framework because I still don't know exactly if it works in all these cases, but these are issues that I grasp daily here in NYC and stuff I read in feminist blogs:

    1) Latinos distancing themselves from indigenous and black communities in Latin America to deny oppression and cling on to some white privilege.

    2) In argentina, latinos saying "there is no racism" we are all white, and half of my country is indigenous looking.

    3) White feminists policing other woc's survival methods such as sex work, in the name of feminism.

    4) White feminists claiming WOC feminists are angry and should stop fighting. When anger is also a form to be compassionate for your own marginalized group. White women starting the hashtag #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity on twitter.

    5) Here at 5pointz in NYC, graffiti made by white boy hood tourists considered art, graffiti by black artists considered vandalism.

    6) The recent Ani di Franco non-apology apology for organizing a retreat at a plantation and nobody getting why WOC where pissed at this.

    In all these cases, neoliberalism plays a central factor. Yet, my main concern that I wanted to address in my blog, is political. Puar has a new concept to better or to expand our understanding of neoliberalism by posing assemblage ( instead?) of intersectionality. Yet, it might be too early to do this, given that the mainstream is still grasping and using intersectionality successfully.

    Solidarity is for white women started as a resistance. It's main claim: white women think feminism is mainly sexism, while WOC suffer oppression from racialized sexism. This is just one example of how race and gender intersect to screw over WOC and looking at the recent R.Kelly controversy, it became evident that more intersectional analysis is needed in the media. Add assemblage, and how do you position a strong claim against LACK of intersectionality within feminism? Just some thoughts. These issues are so important to me thanks for clarifying Puar in your blog, and for developing this framework.