restricted access 3.4: Multitude or Culturalism?
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reasons that materialist academic writing should be able to account for. To be sure, the class-based approaches to whiteness that Wiegman repudiates do not grasp the theoretical consequences of a fully materialist understanding of knowledge production. And this lack of theoretical rigor is objectionable, especially under the dubious circumstances of managed diversity. Such work might well be charged with inverse narcissism. Its perceived nostalgia for class unity is admittedly writ too conveniently by white male critics as an unexamined desire for a marginal and utterly recentered academic status. Both assuredly radical and highly renowned, the white male academic worker proceeds to fail upward. That much conceded, however, Wiegman’s argument alludes to a more productive point than just this negative one. This point is important because, in drawing upon a feminist understanding of political economy, it presents a more rigorously materialist adjoining of knowledge, identity, and work than the humanist ones she so effectively critiques. By insisting upon whiteness studies as a particular site of academic labor struggle, Wiegman’s is an argument for more, not less, focus on class. But because she herself hardly wants class struggle in the form of naive volunteerism or subjective transparency, contradiction replaces the mythically marginalized white worker to the degree that a prefeminist separation between identity and economy is overcome. The word “impossibility” in the Lipsitz citation might thus be taken in a stronger and more enabling sense than it at first appears in Wiegman’s apt repudiation of the sexist and humanist underpinnings of white labor history in the 1990s. She rightly points out that bringing whiteness to the fore in order to interrogate its normative grip runs afoul of the desire to displace it. This conflict raises a more fundamental question about the lack of objectifiable distance between identity and economy, what we called before (vis-à-vis Readings) the absence of representative subjectivity . More than this, she gestures toward a more effective interrogation of academic work than labor historians of whiteness have been able to allow. Indeed, to supercharge the relation between economy and knowledge is finally the reason she limits whiteness studies to its moment of high visibility in the mid-1990s. “Earl[ier] feminist work,” she writes, “is . . . jettisoned from the new multidisciplinary scheme [of whiteness studies].”11 For the race traitor school, in particular, Wiegman offers special opprobrium. The “race traitor” project, she argues, deals in “overly drawn masculine models of armed retaliation , . . . evacuat[ing] altogether the feminist trajectory of 19th-c. abolitionism. . . . It oscillates between [a form of] universal privilege and minoritized particularity that characterizes not only the history of white subject formation . . . but the critical apparatus of whiteness studies itself” (“WS,” 141). Examples of what she is after in this indictment have been enumerated elsewhere at length.12 The point worth emphasizing here is that her critique of labor history’s blindA F T E R W H I T E N E S S S T U D I E S 178 ness to the vicissitudes of academic labor relies on its ignorance of feministbased political economy. “The production of a particularized and minoritized white subject as a vehicle for contemporary critical acts of transference and transcendence,” Wiegman writes, “often produces a white masculine position as discursively minor” (“WS,” 137). Thus “the unconscious trace of . . . liberal whiteness [is the] reclamation of history [it] so strenuously seeks to disavow” (“WS,” 137). For Wiegman, to assume the choice of being other than white in the name of class or some other solidarity is to run the risk of fetishizing the not-white by white default, a simple inversion of a white-inspired binary that twenty years or more of post-structuralist thought forbids with rote suspicion. More offending than to follow the race traitor’s line of volunteerism, the most influential labor histories of whiteness betray a class politics set against recognizing the full (i.e., feminist-inspired) implications of class: the antiracist white male academic’s need for relevance within an excruciatingly competitive, and even ruthless, professional environment is what Wiegman brings to the fore. She reads white-on-white academic writing through an economic index that figures labor into identity in a more prominent way than the celebrated historians of white workers would choose. For all of that, it is important to emphasize that the culprit in Wiegman’s critique of whiteness studies is less the anti racist intentions of white labor history than the residue of liberal humanism in what pretends to be...


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Subject Headings

  • Heterosexual men -- United States -- Psychology.
  • Education, Higher -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Education, Higher -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Whites -- Race identity -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Men, White -- United States -- Psychology.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • United States -- Census, 2000.
  • Multiculturalism -- United States.
  • Group identity -- Political aspects -- United States.
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