Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self

Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self

Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self

Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self

Excerpt

Identity is today a growth industry in the academy. Generic ''Man'' has been overthrown by scholars and researchers who have realized the importance of taking identity into account— whether by taking gender into account in studies of cancer and heart disease or by taking race into account in studies of history and literature. The constitutive power of gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other forms of social identity has, finally, suddenly, been recognized as a relevant aspect of almost all projects of inquiry. Yet at the same time, the concern with identity has come under major attack from many oddly aligned fronts—academic postmodernists, political liberals and leftists, conservative politicians, and others— in the academy as well as in the mainstream media. It may be widely conceded that generic ''Man'' was a rhetorical cover for the agency of a single subgroup, but many still pine for the lost discourse of generic universality, for the days when differences could be disregarded.

Against the critics of identity politics and those who see the attachment to identity as a political problem, psychological crutch, or metaphysical mistake, this book offers a sustained defense of identity as an epistemically salient and ontologically real entity. The reality of identities often comes from the fact that they are visibly marked on the body itself, guiding if not determining the way we perceive and judge others and are perceived and judged by them. The road to freedom from the capriciousness of arbitrary identity designations lies not, as some class reductionists and postmodernists argue, in the attempt at a speedy dissolution of identity—a proposal that all too often conceals a willful ignorance about the real-world effects of identity—but through a careful exploration of identity, which can reveal its influence on what we can see and know, as well as its context dependence and its complex and fluid nature.

Differences, it is widely believed, pose an a priori danger to alliance, unity, communication, and true understanding. As such, they are seen as a political threat for any political agenda that seeks majority support, given our increasingly diverse society. Differences can also be exaggerated, manipulated, and used opportunistically . . .

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