At one point you randomly mentioned that you think Andrea Smith doesn't quite grasp orientalism (and maybe also antiblackness?) properly with regard to how she creates the "3 pillars" model. If it's something that's ok for you to talk about, would you explain that?
September 17, 2015
Since I want to write this morning but my brain is essentially empty and I happened to catch this in a secret peek into tumblr during my hiatus…
Prefacing this with noting that, yes, I’m aware that she’s been disgraced as a scholar because of stuff surrounding her identifying as Indigenous. But I can’t speak to that. However, since I myself have discussed her three pillar theory with some depth and I know that her work as been influential, I do feel it is worthwhile to still engage it on some level. Especially if that level is critical.
On one level, her three pillar theory fails because her discussion on each of the respective logics isn’t sufficiently nuanced. Of course, to really understand this you need to be ‘expert’ in all three areas: orientalism, anti-Blackness, and Indigenous/Native studies. Something that very few people can make a believable claim to be (I wouldn’t even say that I’m an authority on any of these areas, since I’ve never formally or systematically studied any of them).
For the critique of how she conceptualizes anti-Blackness, I can only refer you to Jared Sexton’s recent article, “The Vel of Slavery: Tracking the Figure of the Unsovereign”[^1], pages 7-9 specifically. While I understand that he is an academic and some might find his article cognitively accessible, I don’t feel like I’m the right person to attempt to express what I think he’s saying in non-academic speak. So everyone is on their own for this one.
For others, this is somewhat the Andrea Smith article I’m basing my critique off of. In the past, I’ve mostly focused on the beginning of the article and her articulation of the three logics of white supremacy.
Honestly? Re-reading it right now and I think the primary problem she has is that she doesn’t really seem to understand race and racism. It’s a really weird sleight of hand in her article that she manages to talk a lot about white supremacy while decentering the importance that race has to it. Race isn’t the sum total of white supremacy (as in, no, I don’t think that they are equal because white supremacy has more tools that just racism, but racism is one of the central tools to analyzing white supremacy).
As far as Orientalism is concerned, the problem is that she doesn’t quite get it. She makes it a thing that is about race when Orientalism is actually older than classical racism. It is one of the things that helped feed into what would later become known as racism. Same too with anti-Blackness and maybe settler colonialism. Like. When you actually read Said, he says that “Orientalism is considered to have commenced its formal existence with the decision of the Church Council of Vienne in 1312” (50). This places Orientalism’s origin as many centuries prior to the establishment of race.
Although, some recent research has argued for the roots of race in the medieval ages of Europe (see Heng in the citations below). And… I don’t disagree with this. But I think what a lot of scholars today are missing out on, is the way that scientific racism drew together a lot of disparate ideas about the Other and made them into one systematic whole, rather than various ‘logics’ as Smith puts.
Above all, I think this is what really bugs me about how a lot of people discuss race these days. Yes, there are different races and how we are all treated on white supremacy isn’t equivalent because of other, very important factors that aren’t reducible to just race (which is also why white supremacy isn’t reducible to just race). But racism was an attempt to bring all of these various ideas, ideologies, and whatever into one coherent, universal system of different and dominance.
And it was stabilized precisely because of the enlightenment and the rise of ‘science’. Because it meant that racism was finally able to establish itself on a fairly stable foundation, rather than oft shifting cultural, religious, and political ones. It also became essentially immutable, because differences became a matter of our very bodies which don’t change (at least not in the ways that matter to racism).
And with Orientalism, it is pretty easy to see how you can’t reduce it just to a racial logic, since some of the classical Oriental subjects became ‘white’ under the science of racism. And are still considered ‘white’ today, despite not actually being treated like they are white in a lot of really important ways. Scientific racism made some Orientals white and others yellow and yet others brown (depending on the ‘scientist’). And some of the ‘white’ Orientals are even considered white today and never have been (like South Asians in contrast with Arabs).
More complicated, yet, is the fact that ‘post’ scientific racism (since it has largely been debunked and abandoned) we actually have a hybrid system of racism that depends both on physical and cultural aspects to varying degrees with the people who are oppressed by white supremacy. So that race becomes, at the same time, both immutable and ever shifting.
Basically, where I am with this all, after my research earlier this year into scientific racism, is that primarily Smith’s conception of the pillars/logics of white supremacy fails to understand how racism, specifically, was an attempt to unify all of these logics – and more, I think – into a coherent ideology. An ideology which is central to understanding white supremacy, even as it isn’t equivalent to white supremacy.
Sexton, Jared. "The Vel of Slavery: Tracking the Figure of the Unsovereign.” Critical Sociology, December 19, 2014, 0896920514552535. doi:10.1177/0896920514552535. Heng, Geraldine. "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages II: Locations of Medieval Race.” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (May 1, 2011): 332–50. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2011.00795.x. ———. "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages.” Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (May 1, 2011): 315–31. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2011.00790.x.