Alabama and Tibet (?)

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Wed Jul 8 08:14:46 PDT 1998

>If the first part of the above is intended to mean that "race" is a social
>construction then I agree with that, but just because something is a
>social construct doesn't mean it isn't real. People suffer and die because
>of, and in the name of, social constructions all the time.

Mat, I am pretty sure you are going to disagree with me here, and I write this looking forward to your response as well the thoughts of others. I am willing to rethink what I say here.

Now I would argue that racism is an ideological representation shared by ordinary people and social scientists alike of the ontology of social groups, i.e., the actual existence of ethno-racial groups, and the nature of social relations as actually race relations. The ideology is not only a misrepresentation of our actual social relations reproduced in part by way of such misrepresentation (that was what I was getting at in my post on whiteness); the ideology of race has material effects in its own right.

But there are really not any races or ethno-races except as they are mediated through our own illusions and mystifications.

Value on the other hand is a social relation truly expressed and lived as a relation between things where those things really dominate people as well. We are not deceived if we realize our social relations in capital's enchanted world are really relations between things, queer sensuous-supersensuous things--we thereby gain a more truthful understanding of the actually fetishistic nature of our social relationships,as Willa Pietz has argued in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse--whereas only by realizing that "race" cannot and does not in fact *necessarily* have the mystical qualities with which we invest it do we move closer to a non-ideological outlook; that is, we become non-ideological to the extent that we realize that race does not lend a group a unified disposition or provide a group with a disposition towards maximizing the inclusive fitness of its own racial kind or cannot on its own cause or even explain social phenomena (Barbara Fields emphasizes this).

Again, race simply cannot and does not really have these mystical qualities. The unique power of commodities to determine our social relations however is no such illusion. Commodities actually do have such mystical power and will only cease to have them through the actual transformation of our social relations in which presently the distribution of social labor time can only be and indeed is really accomplished through the exchange value of commodities.

As Geoffrey Pilling notes in his Marx's Capital, ideology is not reducible to fetishism; fetishism is not reducible to illusions and mystifications. Race is not a fetishism as the mythical properties with which we invest race simply do not exist and thus can only be attributed to our own self-validating illusions and mystifications. Comapre this to social relations in and through which objects really do come to relate and dominate people, independently of their consciousness and will. Racial ideology, belief and discrimination can be dissipated through rational criticism; the fetishistic power of things is more obdurate.

best, rakesh

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