Many humanities and social sciences are kind of a paradox. Theories and inscriptions are rather solitary although the interests of masses underlie their objectives. This is a little different for me. Solitude and independence do reflect a lot of my own scholarship, but marginalization affirms how and why I make it a point to do many things in isolation. Positionality does not just inform me. It defines me. When it comes to praxis and pretenses of impartiality, it also nullifies idealistic attempts and assumptions. It drives home the reality that every community—however progressive—is ultimately rife with so many -isms and -phobias. This includes spaces which strive to empower marginalized peoples, particularly those operant on frames of the institution.
Which is why I think representation is a scam. The same disparities upon which the elites are contingent are the same ones which apply to skinfolk whom assume authority within the institutional status quo. There are no “ground-breakers” or “trail-blazers” which are operant within—rather than in resistance to—imperial regulatory systems. The avowal of those who ‘represent’ is why we struggle with the innate contradiction of traversing the violences of marginalization; because, at the same time, we strive to humanize these ‘representatives.’ Your faves will always quite literally profit at your expense, but you let it slide because they’re only ‘human’; and that discourse underpins many efforts to establish the existence of disparity. Some will argue the need to humanize everyone, including the ‘representatives’ who come by their come-ups in obliging—not ‘gaming’—the industrial complex. Likening them to be human, they say, is a part of emancipative efforts because dehumanization is a testament to the evils which prevail.
To which I honestly don’t care. These ‘representatives’ and their devotees insist upon the ethos of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism—in contrast to absconding marginalized peoples who repudiate those institutions. They employ multiculturalist and futurist imaginaries because they are keener to merely speculate about utopian prospects than work towards them. Which is why these folks can never reel in their adjacents. In the effort to humanize these types, people tend to overlook that they sparsely make space for their own because they strive to be distinct; and therein, arbitrate meaning at their own convenience.
In terms of academia, I find myself increasingly disinclined to pursue BIPOC studies or subjects which concern marginalized peoples because of the aforementioned. Those of us who see and experience the principles of imperialism and capitalism firsthand—which perpetuate colonialism, patriarchy, and amata-cis-heteronormativity—are precarious as is. It is nothing short of ridiculous to expect that we undertake the fruitless work of appeal. And it is fruitless: people are not amenable to conscience or reason when they’re the ones who reap the benefits. When push comes to shove, they will not prune their privileges to weed out what malignance comprise the root issues.
As I write this, a particularly pallid and privileged person who I have the displeasure of working with comes to mind; the progeny of a highly paid faculty and administrator who asserts that the systemic abuses and disparities we come by are through our own faults or choices.
Then, there’s another one: the Meghan who cosplays as the judiciary they aspire to become, whose arguments never cease to be facile since they are operant upon the assumption of an ideal world rather than the real one; as if the very laws they purport to uphold are impartial as opposed to being created, maintained, and even circumvented in the interests of hegemonic powers.
These people exemplify how marginalized peoples’ cannot be held to impart their realities. It’s not that deep to these types. But think of the depths in which we find ourselves sinking as we attempt to entreat or educate them. Our capacities (or lack thereof) to educate will always wane against these types’ obtuseness since they are unwilling and unable to grasp the basics despite the abundance of teachable moments; and their commitment to inaction under the guise of tolerance and civility is just a means to manufacture apologia.
And then, there’s us: endless and eclectic, a profuse populace with something for everyone. But our vast niches also work to disjoint us. Imperial legacies foster this disconnect through remnants of ascribed castes and concepts of capital which frame our worth and self-concepts in terms of eurocentric beauty ideals, disparate wealth, and productivity. We always fall short despite comprising a larger, more diverse percentile because we have yet to organize a collective, political dominion; and we instead acclimate to individualism only for anguish to make our needs manifest. I often think of this in relation to activists and content creators in “marginalized” genres.
Another writer, whose anthology has received rave reviews comes to mind: featured in several prominent outlets and must-have lists, nominated for a few literary awards, read widely and locally—but still faces so much scarcity with so little support. I can’t help but wonder if they are bound to become another statistic; paged off as paltry in the coming year but immortalized by their glowing profiles only to be revived by an archivist who may one day stumble upon their work, long after its lure has waned. This person also exemplifies lateral violence since they have precluded the literary prospects of others, myself included; and likewise, continues to disempower us as they instrumentalize their privileges and connections to a problematic vendor. Moreover, against the grain of their alleged self-acceptance and luminescence, this speaks to the contrary: they have no real desire or power to change. Which is why they commodify their positionality as a point of entrance and reference only to anguish as they sow discord. What is also telling is how I encounter mentors and elders who never seem to hold this individual (and others like them) accountable but manage to hold them in high regard—which goes to show that shared identities or struggles are insubstantial when it concerns uncritical reverence and social capital.
This marks the conundrum of being an outsider regardless of whether you’re inside or outside. People would sooner burn everything to hell, including themselves, to oblige their faves or some prospective albeit improbable ally. People would also sooner light you on fire to keep themselves warm. Patrick Bouchard explores this in his short film Subservience. While the film primarily covers classism, it revolves around sheer disparity. Bouchard proffers a lonesome dystopian world in which vanity and their exploitation of an underclass nonetheless define the bourgeoisie. Lateral violence is subtly imparted as the servants do not glean solidarity in their shared oppressions, but uncritically oblige their overseers to their own detriment. What strikes me is each likeness attributed to the haute mode: a finely suited man who sports an impeccable cravat and satchel alongside a dainty costumed woman embodying a ballerina. These characters are fashioned after magnanimous patricians drawn in fairytales, if not the triumphant peasants whose principles afford them this aesthetic in conclusion. Consequently, karmic sentiments of goodwill and integrity are rendered ludicrous in contrast to the realities of systemic violence and exonerated—even encouraged—moral crimes wrought by the sheer existence of aristocrats.
Subservience also depicts class characteristics underscored by venal praxes and points of view. Neither likeness nor positionality is relevant when droves of everyday people become empowered by a party or enterprise. This is especially keen as masses are demonstrably, relatively easy to manipulate against one another. Regardless of whether it is to their benefit or detriment, it takes so little. What Bouchard conveys is how the sacrifices and resolve of survivors and marginalized peoples altogether in perpetuity will always give us insight into the living human beings who are overshadowed by the cults of politic or celebrity.
Bouchard’s servants are so modest, mute and downcast. They make me think of how similarly we may recount our own trials and tribulations. More often than not, we are not afforded justice or closure. Despair seems to be all that is vindicated when we revisit our pasts, including our adversaries. This is why we become increasingly curt and detached in our attachments or lack thereof: because we are conscious that this present is unlikely to be any exception, and that this present is likelier to dissolve into the callous precedents of which we are familiar.
So, maybe that’s how people get reeled into scams like ‘representation.’ Such concepts are reliant upon invoking nostalgia for a time, place, and being that never was. They build personae which are seemingly emblematic of who, where, and what we are in narratives. The key is discerning that these narratives posit these characters as ‘valid’ in a particular way: not as victors, but as objects worthy of consumption. In the industrial complex, it is the latter—not the former—of which tends to cultivate guises of adulation and ‘empowerment.’ And the thing about ‘representation’ is that, unlike worker autonomy, personae are not taking charge of their intentions nor do they revolutionize the parameters of dominant power systems. Once you grasp that, you realize that it matters not who wears the mask or enacts the pantomime since personae are not—and can never be likened to—the real people they purport to represent.
At its core, Subservience drives home how concepts like representation tether us to false positives and how proverbs which caution us to consider life at large—such as “All kinfolk ain’t skinfolk”—continue to resonate. The self-sacrificial retainers for Bouchard also reaffirm my own strength and survivorship in respect to myself and ancestry. Subservience inclines me too to remember from whom and whence I came; how the retention and assertion of this memory may honour its origins. That I may bear in mind which plots I have crossed and uncovered, what ground I have broken notwithstanding those whom have led me to quicksand; and what morsels I have nurtured to fruition beyond and within.