restricted access Response to Chloë Taylor
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Response to Chloë Taylor

As Chloë Taylor notes, Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America puts forth a genealogy of race and racism. It also contains fragments of genealogies of intelligence, disability, family values, and a few other concepts and practices that were hugely influential in the twentieth century and have been since. In addition, it presents a certain conception and experience of abnormality and of sexuality in relation to all of the above. But the book does not present a theory of racism or of sexual oppression or of both together. There are important differences between theorizing and the practice of genealogy, at least in the way that I understand the two, and that difference makes a difference in the book’s structure and aims.

When I began my graduate education in the early 1980s, feminists were producing compelling critiques of regimes of knowledge and techniques of knowledge production that claimed legitimacy through detachment, dispassionate observation, and objectivity.1 Theory was a not infrequent target of those feminist critiques. Theory (from the Greek theoria, as Heidegger reminds us) is about seeing (not, for example, touching or feeling), and theorizing is typically about representing with accuracy and thoroughness what non-theorists see only incompletely, if at all. Theory, therefore, seeks to correct distortions as it captures reality under concepts.2 Theory also aims to be unitary and exclusive. And theories compete with each other; no matter how many theories there are, only one can possibly be true.

By contrast, genealogy is not detached or dispassionate; on the contrary, one takes up genealogy precisely because one feels a need to change something—including something in or about oneself. One takes up genealogy, Michel Foucault maintains, in order to “free thought from what it silently [End Page 216] thinks,” to “enable it to think differently,”3 to get free of oneself as one has been constituted in a certain milieu. Genealogy is concerned with accuracy of representation, therefore, to the extent that detail, facts, and logical plausibility make a narrative more compelling, more moving, more potent—to that extent, and no further; it does not employ scholarly observation and insight to get at “the truth.” A good genealogy constructs a new way of seeing and experiencing that may well disturb a given regime of truth and may make possible the generation of new truths or perhaps new habits of thought and action, but it does not purport to be final or exclusive. It problematizes habitual practices and ways of seeing and, thus, it opens toward indefinite possibilities. My book is genealogical; it promotes no theories. I emphasize this, because I want to insist on the book’s hospitability to the extension of its analyses beyond its covers and to its own (self-)overcoming.

Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America presents some genealogies, then, but it is not only a collection of genealogies. It is explicitly framed by a set of contemporary political and ethical contingencies, some of which it identifies as problems, and it considers what to do in response to them. Its genealogies are undertaken and constructed in the context of grappling with those questions, a featured one of which is this: Can we find enough common ground to make common cause between antiracism and anti-heterosexism activists?

In the course of tracing a genealogy of twentieth-century racism, I found quite a bit of common ground between racial minorities and nonhetero-sexual people in the United States. So, in addition to my genealogies, I offered some (admittedly perhaps heavy-handed) advice to antiracism and anti-heterosexism activists, namely: Not only is there ground for common cause, but you ignore this ground at your peril, because there is not a lot of other ground for you to stand on; if you do not acknowledge this common history and the strong connections among the forces that oppress your group and those that oppress these other groups, you will have to deny much of your own history and obscure many of the sources of your own oppression. I did not issue the same advice to disability activists or environmentalists, although they might do well to consider it too. I singled...