Picking up where I left off:
Even the faintest hint that someone thinks Flavia Dzodan looks white is intolerable to the image she’s cultivated on the internet, both to herself as well as to others. Flavia is, after all, the self-appointed spokeswoman of “women of color” (often abbreviated “WoC”) everywhere. WoC are apparently just one homogeneous, undifferentiated bloc, as it turns out. I bet you didn’t know that. Hence Dzodan’s constant use of the first-person plural in all her articles, the so-called “imperial we.” Personally, this title always struck me as a misnomer, since it implies that one’s “color” is decisive. At least in Flavia’s case, the color is pretty run-of-the-mill whitebread — if not lily-white, as these particular photos suggest. Maybe they’re misleading, not truly representative. It doesn’t really matter, except insofar as it bears upon her brand. Though these things seem to be separable at first glance, closer inspection reveals that “the person behind the brand” is part of the brand itself.
Indeed, the concept of “branding” is a useful way to understand her whole persona. Since rising to prominence back in 2011 with her mini-manifesto, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit,” Flavia has built a following of likeminded supporters promoting “intersectionality” while demoting “white feminism.” Yeah, it’s a one-trick pony. But it’s become so routine by this point that even novices can learn it with relative ease. Dzodan’s slogan proved so contagious that even certified squares such as Richard Seymour started using it. Much of her success over the last few years has owed to this ability to make herself all but ubiquitous, with many of her memes regarding “white feminist tears,” “silencing voices,” and “erasure” going viral within no time. This is Flavia’s great hidden talent, the secret behind her pseudo-celebrity. And it would be disingenuous to deny her that. Without it, she would be nothing. No one would have even heard of her.
Flavia describes herself unironically on her professional website as an “ideas instigator.” Besides politics and media analysis, of course, Dzodan is primarily interested in business development. As most know by now, I am skeptical of the “radical” claims of multiculturalism and intersectionality. Despite frequent appeals to some vague idea of communism, I consider the politics that result from these thought-figures to be little more than social justice liberalism. Several weeks ago, then, I made the offhand remark that most of the “radical” proponents of intersectionality today will probably end up as marketing specialists — cultural diversity consultants for ad agencies — within a few more years. Here, as with most things when it comes to this crowd, Flavia is way ahead of the curve. Long before anyone else got around to it, she began incorporating intersectionality into her schemes for messaging in media. Quite far from being incompatible with the interests of capitalism, however, she rightly points out that this is just smart business practice:
- I believe that social principles of inclusion, diversity, fairness, equality, and respect are the foundation upon which we should build both our for and non profit organizations.
- I believe that inclusion and awareness matter in communications because, a message that is sent out without taking all parties into consideration is an ineffective one.
This is in keeping with the argument I made several posts back regarding the new gender options on Facebook. Users might well feel liberated by the increased array of possible choices, but the real payoff as far as companies buying adspace are concerned is the finer gradience of information that’s available. All of which is to say that diversity and inclusiveness is entirely compatible with bourgeois society. Maybe Coca-Cola got in touch with Flavia for their Superbowl ad?
What makes this all somewhat more embarrassing is Flavia’s occasional nod in the direction of anticapitalist politics. On the one hand, she claims to be “very influenced by Marx by way of Gramsci” (hence the cultural emphasis on “hegemony” and such notions); on the other hand, Dzodan has said in the past that she “prefers anarcho-syndicalism as an alternative organizational model [to capitalism],” rather than Marxism. Her main source of confusion is to see class as just another “vector” or “axis” of oppression and discrimination, alongside race and gender. As the Argentine materialist Martha Gimenez explained, however, class is qualitatively different from gender and race, representing a relation of exploitation and not simply oppression. Classism isn’t the fundamental problem of the capitalist mode of production, either, not in the same way that racism and sexism are basic to prevailing forms of discrimination. But this is where Flavia errs in her dismissal of Marx’s theoretical framework as a crude form of “class reductionism,” vulgar economism. The only standpoint adequate to the revolutionary critique of capitalist society is that of the totality of its social relations, and access to this vantage can only be gained in and through the proletariat as the Subject of history. Not out of some sentimental attachment to ideas of the past or an arbitrary prioritization of class over other kinds of social distinction, but because the proletariat alone universally mediates its opposite in capital.
Oddly, here I find myself in agreement with the LIES collective of materialist feminists (not to be confused with the followers of Christine Delphy). The first volume of their journal, which I have only just recently had the chance to read, explains in a definition of the concept of “totality”: “Totality. Race and gender are not ‘exotic historical accidents,’ incidental to capital’s development. They are immanent to its logic, to its processes of accumulation, and to its expansion. Intersectionality will not suffice.” Here I’d merely add that while race and gender may be immanent to its logic, class is the only form of social distinction necessary for its reproduction or survival.
During an interview last week the literature professor and social critic Walter Benn-Michaels made a similar point by arguing that class was unlike either race or gender in this respect. Though the way he puts it is a bit simplistic, the thrust of his argument is generally correct:
Part of the point of distinguishing class from race and gender is that class is a fundamentally unequal relation — it cannot be made equal in a capitalist society. Whereas race and gender are fundamentally equal relations and what a liberal society wants is for us to recognize the equality that in fact exists. Thus, nothing …is more confused than something like intersectionality, the idea that weaving all these things together will somehow get you a more sophisticated account when in fact you get a more confused account — with the ideological effect of helping produce a society where people are extremely attached to a particular form of social justice (anti-discrimination) while being extremely disconnected from another model of social justice (anti-exploitation).
And this is what intersectionalists like Dzodan fail to grasp when they identify of class as one “axis” of oppression alongside all the others. Likewise with some of her fanboys, such as J.J.M.E. Gleeson, who try to adapt intersectionality to a more classically Marxist analysis of society. Same goes for the blogger who runs Nothing is Ever Lost, who’s now lined up “Against liberalism, for intersectional class politics.” Intersectionality, we repeat, is just the latest guise of social justice liberalism — the philanthropist’s new clothes, as it were. Perhaps once it finally triumphs over its old nemesis, the bogey(wo)man of “mainstream feminism,” it’ll drop the whole revolutionary act and comfortably assume its place within the neoliberal order. That is, if it hasn’t already.