Welcome Gary Younge (The Nation) and Host Kathleen Barry.

Who Are We – And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?

Host, Kathleen Barry:

The title, Who Are We, signals a questioning about identity and begins an exploration of its “vexed terrain.” Gary Younge, columnist for the Guardian and The Nation and the author of two previous books, lifts our understanding of identity from the taken-for-granted where it is too often treated as a fixed and done thing. Instead, Younge brings us into layers of our identities from micro to macro, from the personal to the political, revealing paradoxes both in how we know ourselves and how others (too often wrongly) ascribe identity to us.

He begins by personalizing his own identity as a Black man who as a child was told so many times to “go back where you came from” as if he did not come from Great Britain, where he was born, that he ceased to think of himself as British until he was older. In that one brief story, Younge encapsulates many of the major themes of this book which include recognizing that identity is both historical and personal, porous and paradoxical. Yet it is, too frequently, reduced to fixed categories by others who are self-proclaimed gatekeepers of a particular identity. They are the ones who insure that you will be othered out if your identity does not fit their criteria.

Why does the complexity of identity that Younge explores matter? In an increasingly globalized world, where currency links states, and banking failures in the U.S. ignite financial crises around the globe, how we know who others are may be as important as how we know ourselves. Where writers on identity may focus their attention on one way we know ourselves – national or racial or gender, etc, and others prioritize one identity over another, (in the 1960s feminists called it the “who- is-the-most-oppressed” strategy), Younge brings out the complexity of all of our identities and we see them changing in time and place. He remembers, for example, when he was in Paris at the age of 22 faced with “the most racist experiences of my life.” But a year later in Leningrad which was fraught with food shortages and rationing, he felt rich when he exchanged the British pound for rubles. Because he did not look like the ordinary impoverished Russian with his “plaited hair, Levi’s and Converse trainers,” he became a symbol of Western wealth. And because he was not classified with the Africans there, he was spared most of the racism they suffered.

Remember, he’s not telling us who we are in the way that fundamentalists of all stripes do – from Rush Limbaugh to the Workers Revolutionary Party he joined as a teenager. In the year between high school and college, he went to the Sudan to teach English to refugee students. Living in and learning an Arab culture while experiencing how Arabs of different classes saw him, he abandoned the rigidity of the WRP for more nuanced and richer understanding of race and class, nation and culture. He found it in lived experience. Now he engages his readers in an approach to identity that is changing, fluid and historically located.

Most importantly, identity is not only about the multiplicity of ways that we know ourselves; it is about how the world encounters us and what that does to us. One chapter is built around the othering of Judge Sotomayer by Senator Jeff Sessions and his fellow Republicans during her Congressional confirmation hearing for her “wise Latina” statement. In trying to discredit her for being biased, they revealed their entitlement of being white and male as the norm, begging the question of what bias is. Likewise, can the charges of women physically abusing men actually be equated with men’s abuse of women? When power is dislocated and disguised, the multiplicity of identities can be stripped away.

Is there such as thing as multiracial identity? Not, Younge will tell you, when Tiger Woods claims it in a way that makes it unique to him. I would wonder, is that the egoism from which his sexism and womanizing originated? Identity is located in community. For example, colored identity in South Africa included Muslims, Christians, Indians, and Malays who were bound by restrictive laws and exclusions. But was colored a religious or cultural or racial identity? How do we conceptualize a multi-cultural identity?

In turning to the social construction of women, we are introduced to the Irish Rose of Tralee contest, as Younge examines changing identity of Irish women from one controlled by the Catholic Church to one represented by Ireland’s first woman president, Mary Robertson. Simone deBeauvior pointed out decades ago that women are the only group who have not had a “we.” But a strong feminist movement in Ireland has created the kind of solidarity required for identity to take hold and ushered women into unprecedented changes in one generation.

Or consider how the fear of terrorism is manipulated into the “particularizing and pathologizing” of Islam where issues of mosque locations and women’s headscarves are treated as huge state crises provoking the question of what is at stake both for religious fundamentalism and for those states. This kind of particularism serves whom in a world where corporations are now the power brokers? And as we are reminded, we don’t vote for corporations, which separates us even further from political power.

When Younge says of identity that “the tension between who we are, what we make of it, and what we might do with it is rarely resolved…” I see that as a challenge to step out of our predefined roles. What cinches the significance of the wide breadth and deep penetration of this book for me is that ultimately Younge rests all of the perplexity and paradoxes of identity in our common humanity. I take this to mean the oneness of human interconnection and hence our responsibilities to and for each other, as I believe Younge does.

95 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Gary Younge, Who Are We – And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?”

BevW September 3rd, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Gary, Welcome to the Lake.

Kathy, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:02 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thanks for having me Bev. I’m looking forward to it.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Glad to be back at the Lake. Welcome Gary. I look forward to talking about your book.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Gary, Will you begin by explaining why the title of your book, Who Are We? introduces identity as a question, indeed a problem?

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Power & identity is the aspect that fascinates me. PTB in U.S. are rich white males (U.S. senate, for example), and they are emotionally threatened (one might even say, hopefully, existentially) by diversity. That is, I think, one of the reasons that the growing Latino pop is being attacked so furiously. Intent is to intimidate them into becoming politically passive.

Any comments?

BevW September 3rd, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Gary is answering a question… and some computer issues. He will be right here. Bev

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I’m also interested in how PTB recruit members of disadvantaged groups (Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Barak Obama come to mind) to join the exalted ranks. How early in their lives is it done. How do the PTB spread their recruiting tentacles to make sure they get just “enough” (to use a Howard Zinn word) to satisfy the larger groups that they represent, and that the tapped candidates will do just what the PTB want them to do, which often involves selling out their identity group in favor of existing power structure. How are the tapped candidates groomed for the front roles. How, in the Sotomayor case you mention, do the rich white males make sure they don’t go too far in demonizing the tapped person, so it looks both like she really represents her identity group while objective evidence suggests the reverse.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 5

While Gary is overcoming a computer glitch, I’ll pitch in here and say that power and identity are intertwined. In Who We Are Gary reveals the intimidation of white males in Congress in his discussion of Judge Sotomayer’s confirmation hearing. I highly recommend the opening of his book and his discussion of the Old Farts Club. Sometimes we are struggling so much against being “othered” we don’t see threats to white maledom.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 5

I’m back. Apologies. Lightning in Chicago. Computer glitch hopefully solved.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Recruitment makes me think literally of military recruitment which exalts a macho masculinity and exploits the unemployed. That recruitment begins in the earliest years of gender socialization reinforced by media, peers, social expectations. This only partially answers your questions but may be a model for looking at other dimensions of recruiting tentacles as you put it.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 4

Kathleen, Truth be told I’m terrible at titles. This is my third book and for each one the title has been chosen by the publisher. That said, I like it precisely because it’s interrogatory and kind of says what it does on the packet – namely encourage the reader to explore their own identity and how it works in the world around them.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 9

Welcome back Gary.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 11

Actually I think the title is provocative for identity is too often taken-for-granted. To give us a sense of your book,can you say a little more about how you move it into being a problem, how you come to recognize it as porous, complex and often contested.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 5

There is definitely something to that. Given the changes that have taken place in gender roles as well as racial and ethnic diversity what it means to be a white male in this country has changed enormously over the last 50 years. That’s one of the reasons I find Mad Men so compelling. Because you look at the assumptions and practices of that era and you realise, crikey, those guys (were they real of course) would still be alive now. Add to this the fact that by 2042 white people will be a minority in this country and you have a real earthquake going on. Temperementally I tend to be sympathetic to some of the more reasonable anxieties this may cause. Change is difficult and it’s not as though most white men were living high on the hog. Most of them will never make it to the Senate or have had many people to exercise much power over but their wife, kids and whatever non white people might have been around. So when working class white men are told they are privileged I understand why they bristle, even if in relative terms in might be true.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 8

Oh the threats to Old White Farts are real, but their tools for overcoming them, i.e., money and power, are even stronger. And since rich white males have lived off the labor of the rest of us, I don’t have the slightest sympathy for them. Looking for ways of getting them into the dustbin of history where they belong.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 7

Further to your question, I agree that the white male power structure grooms its candidates, and lets take Obama, as you describe. But lets not forget agency here. Obama could have chosen differently. He did not have to escalate the war in Afghanistan or waste most of his time making nice to Republicans.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Thank you Gary for joining us, when you get here, and thank you Kathleen for standing in for Gary. The issues and questions Gary raises are of great interest to me. We are, today, watching civil society being torn apart owing to the intentional destruction of the rule of law and the deliberate rending of the social contract.

I am particularly concerned about this, as I hold society, at its most basic level, to be simply how individual beings in a community treat other indivivdual beings in that community. Further, this human world seems to essentially be comprised of two fundamental “types” of human beings; those who see others, underneath and beyond “difference” to be essentially like themselves … and those who see others as being essentially different. Given what I perceive as the rise of the pathology of sociopathic behaviors, which both excessive power and excessive wealth “reward”, it seems to me that Gary is speaking to an appreciation of psychologivcal and social health most necessary to human survival.

I am looking forward to this book salon very much, indeed.

DW

one_outer September 3rd, 2011 at 2:33 pm

How, in your view, are behaviors determined in light of your research? I’m wondering about insight into our motivations, in a documentable cognitive science sense, and how we can use our knowledge of what makes us tick to intervene consciously and make better decisions.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 13

I agree, it is too often taken for granted. And the more powerful you are the more likely you are not to realise you have an identity at all. Nobody ever asks me when did you come out as straight or how do you balance being a foreign correspondent with having a small child because those questions aren’t asked of straight fathers. What I try to do in the book is take a range of situations, stories and moments and use them to highlight the various ways in which identity is complex. People talk about issues related to identity alot, but I think we could talk about it better. So I have a chapter that starts with women in Ireland that looks at the fact that identities are always in flux; there is one that starts with Tiger Woods which illustrates how for identities to make sense they have to be rooted in communities; and then there’s set mostly in Israel that looks at gatekeepers and issues of authenticity after the rabbinate in Israel told 40,000 they were no longer Jewish. In each one I try to go from the particular to the general and back again to make connections and analogies and keep the argument flowing.

one_outer September 3rd, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Oh, and do you speak Arabic?

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 13

The identity thing has long been used by nations as a way of generating faux patriotism. So, in the U.S., blacks and gays, to pick 2 groups, sign up for military that treats them like dirt and is money making only for RWM for the most part. Don’t know whether the diverse groups in GB also have been taken in by the patriotism propaganda but would like to learn about it.

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Who are we? Begging the question, we are 95% who we are told to be. Maybe with some struggle we can be 5% who we want to be. But even that 5% presupposes that we find some one outside our original programming who will again suggest who we might be. So I give myself 1% of actual freedome at best.

Seems to be the question is who are we told to be, and by whom? The whom is easy, after early childhood it’s the marketers who tell us just what to think, , what to know, who to know, what to look like, how to vote, what to wear, where to go, how to get there, who to love.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 16

That was part of the bargain (Faust comes to mind) that O made with his rich ownersdonors. O’s choice was made a long time ago. What we are observing now is just the choreography being staged.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 17

Yes civil society is being torn apart – from greed, war and all kinds of abuses of power. But the world is globalizing, giving us the opportunity to find new ways to connect with each other, which is why the issues of identity being discussed here are so critical. Gary is taking us in directions away from simplistic formulas that when employed reduce others to objects. So I’m going to pose another question to him to follow your…

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 15

Well I guess the key there is rich. Most white men aren’t rich and alot of them are poor. And I think there would have to be a place for them in any progressive movement I wanted to be a part of. And their power is relative. Relative to a female or black CEO a white janitor does have some privilege – less likely to be raped or stopped in his car for example – but not an awful lot. It’s complicated.

Lorraine Watkins September 3rd, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Haven’t read your book so this may be in outer space but I think who we are is a question we ask almost before consciousness and continue to pursue into age when the circles begin to close. When we are unsure or dissatisfied with what we see in the mirror of important others’ opinions is when we are most vulnerable to the Limbaughs. I do think of all the Gantry’s out there Limbaugh has been the most successful in doing this.

My sense is empowerment comes from being able to establish for ourselves just who we are. My question is how do we do this.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to joelmael @ 22

Again I’d like to bring up the question of agency. In forming the identities Gary discusses in his book, we begin with our interactions with each other. In each of our interactions, we can respond as we are expected to (the 95% you mention) or we can choose to respond from are authentic selves. When we do that engages our agency, the place from where we can make changes.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 17

I think an important area to pursue that argument is the environment. Because if we are all going to be fried to a cinder or submerged under oceans or whatever in a century then our constructed identities of nation, race and so on are not going to matter very much. The premise of my book is that identity is an important place to start and a terrible place to finish. It’s the means by which one can identify with others towards a common and inclusive humanity; but it can also be the means by which you seclude yourself from the rest of humanity. Like fire it can warm or burn.

Lorraine Watkins September 3rd, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I would add to #26 the white males benefit from long established cultural norms that almost automatically endow them with power and entitlement.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 14

Lets get into biography and identity as you write about it. Your son, born in the United States, is an American and he is Black. In the evolution of American racial identity and language, Black was replaced by African-American. Will he have to maneuver around being othered as you were as a child by whites in Great Britain?

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 19

Internal vs. externally imposed identity?

Being strong willed (drove my father nuts; retired straight white female Wall St economist for context), I enjoyed being the only woman in the room, sitting at the head of the table in client meetings. Never fooled me into thinking that my “betters” SWRMs, thought of me as anything other than a second class citizen.

But I am prolly not representative. What does your research show about how much groups ‘allow’ ‘others’ to define their identities, rather than taking as much advantage as they can of their internal identity when it links to larger issues?

Peterr September 3rd, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Gary, I’ve only just begun reading your book, but the chapter titles in the table of contents really grabbed me, especially this one:

Blessed are the Gatekeepers
There is no such thing as authenticity, but there are plenty of people trying to enforce it

I’ve been fighting the urge to jump ahead to that chapter.

From the introduction above:

identity is not only about the multiplicity of ways that we know ourselves; it is about how the world encounters us and what that does to us.

I suspect that when I get to the Gatekeepers chapter, I’ll see more of this identity both as knowing ourselves and how we are affected by our encounters with others. But until then, could you say a bit more about this here?

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to joelmael @ 22

We are told to be lots of things – and they are contradictory. Furthermore as human beings we have choice. I grew up in a very working class black single parent household in England in the seventies and eighties. I was told I was many things. I was also told I wasn’t many things. And I have ended up as both many things – few of which one might have predicted – and just one – myself. I think this is true for most people. So even if one accepts the passive notion you put forward, and I don’t entirely, it doesn’t relieve us of our agency as human beings.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 25

RWMs have been very clever at conquering the poor whites by deliberately fostering racism. Still, according to Zinn (sorry about the repeated refs; get really involved in the book I’m currently reading & will do same when I read yours), there has been a subrosa, little reported frequent cooperation along class lines regardless of color. Not reported in MSM, bc MSM is a tool of PTB.

Lorraine Watkins September 3rd, 2011 at 2:49 pm

For me personally firmness of identity came when I was able to accept and identify my emotions without censoring and judging. This gives immense confidence when someone or even and institution says “you are just resentful or anxious or greedy or whatever” I am able to be confident in my authenticity because “I know who I am.”

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 24

If I may, Kathleen, I consider that the connection you speak of is tied to fundamental recognition of self in others. Too often, cultural simplicities, those rigid forms which have huge sway over all of us, as joemael suggests, must be moved beyond. Many such “forms” are embraced without question on a primitive tribal level, but many are embraced because of the privileges which such embrace confirms. These forms have primarily to do with “standing”, legal, economic, and social, as eCAHN has spoken to in several of her comments. To the degree that we cannot or will not recognize common humanity is the measure of how far we may go in destroying “others” particularly at a distance. Think of the recently revealed atrocity in Iraq where the US military is alleged to have executed five children. Already, here at FDL, some have doubted and attacked the “messengers” rather than imagining what it would be like to be on the “receiving end”. I think this failure of considered imagination to be central to finding both solution to violence and a sane way forward to a better and more humane world.

DW

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 30

I’m sure my son will have to manoeuvre around being othered in all sorts of ways as a Black American and I’m sure those ways will be very different to the things I had to deal with. Not just because the experience of black Americans is different but also because, unless things take a dive for the worse, his experience growing up in a wealthier household with two university educated parents will be quite different to mine. He’s already travelled more in his first four years than I did in my first 25. The challenge, for me as a dad, is not to fight the last war but be engaged with his experience in a rapdily evolving environment.

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 27

Not to put too fine a point on it but I think “our authentic selves” is largely an illusion. But a useful way of putting it because I think it does enable us some times to adopt diferent thoughts from our habits My excuse today for doing a bit different from what is expected of me is I am being authentic.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 28

Yes, that is a superb insight, Gary, and one we must all dare to embrace, which, of necessity calls upon that considered imagination I mention in my comment @36 to Kathleen.

DW

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 36

My work focuses on empathy and war in which I take a step back from recognizing self in others, to putting oneself in the others place, taking on its meaning as best you can and through empathy connecting self with other. When we try this with soldiers in combat, suddenly the whole world of the military-industrial complex can come into consciousness for you cannot possibly understand why those soldiers are doing what they do without knowing who and what put them there. So yes, imagining what it would be like to be on the receiving end, for example of miltiary training and simultaneously of its consequences for those being at the other end of soldier’s guns, underneath bombs from US planes.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to joelmael @ 38

No excuses, for you are enlivening our discussion. Thank you.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to TalkingStick @ 26

I fear this will be an unsatisfactory response but I think it’s a journey. And the point is not to reach the destination but to keep travelling. Like most people my sense of who I am has shifted alot with a) my personal circumstances b) the circumstances of the world around me and c) my intellectual evolution as I worked out what I thought of both a) and b). But I think an important place to both start and to come back to is that I am first and foremost a human being. Trite as that sounds, once you put that over your nation, race, region, religion – you name it – it does root you in some political traditions and is an effective antidote to the Limbaughs of this world.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 37

You say that identity requires community, but women, for the most part, do not have their own community which is why feminism finds sexism and misogyny crossing classes, races, cultures etc. Would that not be the complexity behind some feminists who you accuse of “playing race off gender”?

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 37

“The challenge, for me as a dad, is not to fight the last war but be engaged with his experience in a rapdily evolving environment.”

Gary, will you adopt me please?

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 40

I have found that empathy is one of life’s binaries. There are those who have it & those who don’t. You’ve given much more thought to the subject. Would you have any comments on “binary?”

Lorraine Watkins September 3rd, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 42

I have no disagreement with you and would almost say it takes many years before one does figure out for himself who and what he is. I do think the capacity to suspend censor ship of self awareness, especially emotional enhances that..Feelings and fantasies are not only free they inform us of how we are put together………. but we don’t have to act on them. or even express them.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Peterr @ 32

Sure. In that chapter I look at how each identity has its gatekeepers. People who pose as the guardians of the true self – those who will tell you what it means to be really black, truly American, a proper muslim or whatever. In their attempt to impose an essential self they superimpose who we are with what we do/think. So to be American means not just to be someone with a certain citizenship but someone who believes some things and cannot believe other things. From there it’s only a small step to McCarthy and the House of UnAmerican Activities – as though there are things you can do and think that would make you not American! I think every identity has these guardians and in times of crisis, when people seek refuge, they come to the fore. That has been true of muslim fundamentalists over the last 10 years, it’s also been true of European nationalists who are scared by immigration and globalisation who have started claiming that to wear certain clothing is unFrench. That doesn’t mean that to be French, muslim, American is a meaningless identity. Just that they are not static identities, they can’t be imposed and they cannot dictate thoughts and actions.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 43

Women have plenty of communities. Many of them (homemakers, teachers, nurses, secretaries, volunteers, sex objects) have been defined by men & imposed by instruments, like media that men control. But women’s movement created more & better ones.

I happen not to belong to any of them, being a kind of hermit, but that’s another story…

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 45

I try to stay away from binaries. I don’t think empathy is selectively endowed. It follows from who we all are as interacting beings. Socialization, social structures, power relations all intervene and may have the effect of pushing one further from the possibility. The only place I see the binary you speak of working is in psychopaths, George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s leadership for example, which was nearly devoid of human concern, indeed a characteristic of psychpaths is their failure of empathy.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 47

Well put.

In my sound bitage: “My country (religion, whatever) right or wrong is a surefire way of getting a wrong country (religion, whatever).

Your gatekeepers are the ones who attempt to keep out self-criticism, which is the only way groups can survive over the longer run.

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 40

“My work focuses on empathy and war in which I take a step back from recognizing self in others, to putting oneself in the others place…..”

A vital distinction, so important you will not find it in a school curriculum>
It’s too hard on the brain, fucks up ones comfort.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 49

Thanks. I guess I jumped to that conclusion by observing the two ends of the distribution. The W/Vice end you mention & the other end on lefty blogs. Don’t know too many people in the middle, I guess.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 48

Jobs are not what I mean, or what I think Gary means, by community. I’m thinking more of geographic locations, institutions such as religions built to maintain an identity, Islamic, Jewish, Christian etc. Feminism in my experience treats women’s identity as women who are subjected to male power and explores the diversity of the ways that is realized, one might be as a job as a secretary who may also be sexually harassed, who is doing more and earning less than her boss often.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Gary, Kathleen, Bev & others,

Thanks for a stimulating book salon. Who Are We is on my list & now I must hop to other matters.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 40

Yes, we must imagine both perspectives, it is illusion to suggest that one is “choice” and the other “fate”, yet if we do not recognize that the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex, to give it the full name Eisenhower actaully used iniitially, is part of the “environment” mentioned by Gary, and step back even further to contemplate why this large-scale manipulation is successful, then we are still not close to the broader perspective which might allow us to see our individual selves as caught in myths of national, international, and intra-national domination based again upon myths of “leadership”, “purpose”, and to notions of Manifest Destiny. The US, being relatively a “young” nation, a nation literally of immigrants who, within relatively recent times or history, such as the one Howard Zinn records in his “People’s History”, may very clearly be seen to have built numerous social myths which have trapped, circumscribed, and otherwise limited the evolution of whole and integrated selves. Doutless much of this is true of all nations and all peoples. But the role of myth, from that of the Puritan Ethic, which shaped much “belief” surrounding economics and the right of the few to possess obscene wealth to the notion of the “peculiar institution” of slavery which was upheld as just by the highest court in the land, leading one to realize that “the law” primarily has functioned as the primary upholder of the status quo, must be understood. Many Americans, of course, realize little of this and that is by deliberate intent.

DW

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 42

Excellent. One’s status as a human being, first and foremost, allows us to perceive the family of man as being comprised of human beings, first, and other “distinctions” … later.

DW

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 43

True (although paradoxically the more openly oppressive a society is genderwise the more likely women are to have an actual female community). I guess when I said an identity is rooted in a community I meant less a geographical one than an identifiable social group. So Cablinasian (Caucasian/Black/Indian/Asian) which is how Tiger Woods described himself is really just another term for Tiger woods. That said I agree with you about the specific complexity. I try to refer to this a bit in the chapter that looks at the South Carolina primary where Hilary faced off against Obama, where I argued that you can’t quantitavely compare identites and say one is worse than the other because they are all different. In this case women didn’t vote as a bloc whereas black people did. For a range of reasons race was a more cohering electoral factor than gender with young and well educated white Democratic women going for Obama. (Lest we forget most white women in South Carolina vote Republican). I think many of Hilary’s supporters found this very frustrating and qutie a few slipped into the canard of claiming that because it was more difficult to mobilise around gender than race that it was easier to be a black, male candidate than a white, female one which I think is preposterous. Not because it might not be true. But because it’s framed in a way that can only lead up a very blind, dark and dangerous alley.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 53

I mentioned jobs only bc they are pink collar ghettos that women are forced into by men who control the economy. So many women, when thinking of themselves & the opportunities available, think in those terms, i.e. they internalize it.

I do not think of community in geographic terms at all. My communities (tried to bring them all together for my 50th bday party) have been a vast cross of my diff interests, and they sat in their own little groups and talked with the ones whose interests they shared. It was pretty funny, actually.

Since internet, my mental picture of community is even less tied to geography.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 55

Your points are well taken but I get a little edgy when, in identifying the macro dimension of power, we get away from our humanity. Ripped apart as it is being through wars and with economic crises and from the myths you describe, our common humanity is still where my hope is to make change, indeed to do more that just survive.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 43

Men, for the most part, do also not have genuine communities, children do not have genuine communities, so we must move, at some point, beyond gender and age … to some discussion of shared power and wisdom as the basis of community. Would you agee with that as a possible way forward, Kathleen?

DW

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 57

Thanks for that clarity with which I agree. Here’s another question for you:The recent riots in Great Britain were portrayed as random crimes of hooligans. Weren’t there underlying identity issues driving those riots?

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 48

You belong to this one, a largely female community. We claim you whether or not you agree.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 59

To thrive. When “we” liberate the free minds of all human beings, there will be answers and solutions to virtually everything and anything which might befall us as a species … at least as I “see” it, Kathleen.

A new and genuine reniassance, extending endlessly forward into time and possibility. That, I consider, is our true journey, as individuals and together.

;~DW

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 60

When I do not have to be confronted with men’s power or protect children from it, I will be able to think of shared power. Men in my view do not have communities because they are the community, the norm, the bedrock against whom those of us who are not men are defined. Women do not have community, or the sense of collectivity that Simone deBeauvoir spoke of because for most their primary relationship is with men. A choice which I do not contest, but nevertheless, it makes women different as a class than those with other identities.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 61

There certainly were issues of identity involved in the UK riots, although not the ones we are used to. For these weren’t race riots. Indeed the enemy of the month group, muslims, who have been at the epicentre of the UK’s moral panic for the last 10 years weren’t involved even though Pakistani and Bangladeshi Britons form the two poorest ethnic group – partly because it was Ramadan. The rioters tended to look like whatever area they were rioting in. The issue of identity was really one of age. These were young people and they organised as young people. As for the criminal element. Well undoubtedly they committed plenty of crimes. But that didn’t mean there was not a political element to them. When groups of people challenge police for control of the streets that is a very raw kind of politics. The bottom line is that ever since the beginning of the economic crisis everyone from the IMF to the police federation has warned that there will be social unrest. The trouble with social unrest though is that it’s never pretty and the precise manner in which it flares up is unpredictable. So when it happened, people said – well this kind of social unrest is unacceptable, as though there is a riot out there that they would have supported.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to joelmael @ 62

Just as I claim eCAHN as a member of the curmudgeon club, she considrs it honorary and I mean it to be taken as an honor.

;~DW

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 65

Youth. Do you see this kind of unrest erupting elsewhere then?

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 64

Do you think all identities have their particularities or that what gender is particularly particular?

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 64

For what it’s worth, I once asked the women in a small group if they would have preferred to be born male. The response, which suprised me, was an emphatic no! The said they would not want to lose the closeness (they may have used the word community) with children and other women.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 67

Well even though these had relatively little clearyl articulated political content I think in different ways young people have been making all the running recently. The arab spring, Greece, Italy, Chile, Israel. Specifically I honestly think it’s only so long before something erupts in the US. The general economic crisis masks some huge disparities. Black youth unemployment stands at 46.5 per cent. You wonder how long that can hold before something serious happens.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 64

You do not suggest that men are a monolithic group, I hope, and frankly, if the feminine priciple were to become more asserted and heard, ‘twould be a boon and a benefit to that considered imagination I speak of. Realize, I am prejudiced, having had the good fortune to be influenced all of my life by intelligent women who stood for the rights of women and the rights of all to become.

Plus, ’twas women who invented agriculture and brought such decencies of genuine civilization to the human species as ever we have enjoyed and been en-nobled by …

I am a man, though I love and admire women.

I hope that when women obtain power that they might retain their feminine wisdom, for that is the one thing which stands against the insanity of men. Every time.

Women who emmulate men, in power or in behavior do not advance the deeper needs of humanity but only themselves. However, I digress, Kathleen, and I hope that you shall forgive me?

DW

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 68

All identities seem to have their particularities, those aspects of being who you are that people struggle to maintain in the face of being othered. Yes, women’s identity is particular in that it is not located in a group as other identities are but being particular does not mean being more important, more oppressed or any of the heirarchies that often attach to struggles for identity.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 71

Men indeed are not a monolithic group, although sometimes faced with their power it can feel like that. As power changes in this world, if we step forward to be part of it, it will look like the diversity of who we are as people. I don’t look for any one group to take control.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to joelmael @ 69

yes, that is our subjective experience and I’m glad you brought it up. In poor communities and under conditions of war, women are the community keepers for that reason. On the other side, when looked at from the standpoint of who “othered” women, we find women fragmented into couple sometimes with those who other them.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 70

I am most hopeful regarding the young people of this nation. My oldest daughter is now twenty-three and my youngest eleven … they and their friends, and most all of the younger people whom I know want to contribe to a better more humane world in a fashion that makes me feel that the world will be in good hands, especially if they have a chance to discover themselves in the very ways you prescibe, Gary. I intend to see that as many young people read your book as I possibly may influence to do so, and will read it myself that I may discuss it with them, as well as for my selfish self, of course.

Thank you for your presence here today, this has been a most wonderful book salon.

DW

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 72

I’m intrigued. Does that then make masculinity particular (in the way that you describe)? I ask not to provoke. I think it’s an interesting idea the degree to which some identities have to coexist more than others.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 75

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. I hope they enjoy it. I have no idea of your age. I’m 42 so I missed the sixties completely. But just in case, does your eldest daughter give you more hope that a 23-year-old might have done in the sixties?

bluewombat September 3rd, 2011 at 3:49 pm

As best I can figure from the OP, your book is a meditation on how issues such as race, gender, orientation, etc., affect our sense of self. Assuming that I got it right, what would you say is the distinctive contribution of your book to this issue?

(Excuse me if you’ve already answered this, as I haven’t waded through the previous 75-odd posts. And I enjoy your column in The Nation.)

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 70

This is very hopeful and inspiring. Here’s a different kind of question: The controversy around the novel and movie The Help has taken on a life of its own. How do you see identity issues playing out in the controversy?

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 73

I think we see the same human future, Kathleen, and I wish to thank you for your wonderfully profound sensibility and encouraging view of life and humanity; it has been a true and genuine pleasure to discuss possibility and the human “condition” with you. Our plight is common and so, too, is our best possibility of realizing our individual potential … together, all of us …

DW

BevW September 3rd, 2011 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Gary, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and identity.

Kathy, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Gary’s website and book

Kathy’s website and book

Sunday:
David Evanier / All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett
Hosted by Eric Comstock (Entertainer, jazz blogger)

Thanks all,
Have a great evening.

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

joelmael September 3rd, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 71

“You do not suggest that men are a monolithic group, I hope,….”

My guess is that it may be impossible for us men to feel how monolithic MEN may appear to women. I think we are in some ways a different species to them. Consider the things we do to each other and to women. We are monolithic in our maleness.
I think Kathleens distinction between seeing ourselves in the other and actually empathizing, feeling, what it must be like is pertinent.

Kathleen Barry September 3rd, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thank you everyone and thank you Gary Younge for a sensitive, strong and brilliant exploration of identity.

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 78

Good question and I haven’t answered it. The book is really about how issues of identity affect our politics, more than our sense of self. I’d argue that there are two distinctive things about it. First, it seeks to chart a path between those who say identity is irrelevant in modern politics and those who say it is paramount. Second, I think the mix of identities and experiences I draw from – linguistic, ethnic, religious, racial, gender, orientation, region, height – is fairly original. Even if I say so myself

Gary Younge September 3rd, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Thanks alot for the great questions, to Kathleen for the fabulous and intelligent hosting and to Bev for setting it all up.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 4:05 pm
In response to Gary Younge @ 77

Well I was twenty-three by the end of the sixties and those older ones who influenced me … were into civil rights, as was I and then I refused to be drafted to go to Vietnam, at some cost to myself, so I’d say that my daughters have builded upon what I and my cohort learned … though I was lucky … my father and my grandparent’s, especially my father’s mother, always encouraged me … including my stand against war and prejudice, you might say I came by it the “easy” way. My daugthers ALL give me hope and the conviction that they will work to fashion the better world I can but imagine.

;~DW

sn1789 September 3rd, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Gary Younge’s support for Obama is meaningful and important. Why is asking him to speak to it banned from Firedoglake???

If you need it to make a connection to his book. Then…Younge has bought into the neoliberal idea that identity is the ultimate truth of a person. following this logic he supported BHO for President and still makes excuses for him to this day. Younge’s conception of identity ties him to reactionary politics. Thatcher has won, there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their identities. Younge is an excellent example of the amputated conception of the social world that progressive but not openly left and class based politics have been reduced to in the neoliberal era. Political-Economy, Class, the role of the state, the working of institutions, all of these things are tertiary (at best) when you take identity as the beginning and end of your political thinking. Hence Younge’s support for Obama.

eCAHNomics September 3rd, 2011 at 4:18 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 87

Aha, was completely unaware of this hidden agenda. Thanks for bringing it up. As cynical as I am, and as alert to how I am being manipulated, I miss a lot of these connections.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 4:33 pm
In response to joelmael @ 82

Agreed.

DW

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 4:51 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 87

I must have missed this as well.

When was or how was this banning done or initiated?

I note eCAHN’s question @7 and Kathleen’s response @16.

Had you been “here” earlier, sn1789, perhaps you might have raised that question or concern?

Might you elucidate further you suggestion that Gary Younge is a neoliberal?

That is a rather serious charge to level at someone from the perspective of many at FDL who, generally, are not enamored of neoliberals or neoconservatives.

You might consider a putting up a diary at My FDL, if you feel sufficiently motivated to expand upon your concern.

DW

Lorraine Watkins September 3rd, 2011 at 5:10 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 90

I don’t know about all that but he doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 5:38 pm
In response to TalkingStick @ 91

Well, you will agree that his ideas are interesting, TS, as your comment @46 suggests, and, as well all of the thoughts which you shared are part of a discussion that needs engaging … I confess to being slow in my commenting and often to missing salient items and nuances in the comments of others, especially when so many ideas are flying around.

As we have discussed in past, in our own discussions, we sometimes have missed agreement and that is in part owing to “coming at” things from different perspectives. I happen to think that your ideas in this discussion were most interesting and I wished as I read them that you might have opportunity of fleshing them out further.

Frankly, I would appreciate seeing the ideas of everyone who particpated advanced further along as I think that numerous thoughts deserved far more of my attention than I had wit or time to pursue.

eCAHN raised points that need elaboration, as did joemael.

And bluewombat’s question, right at the end, is something I should like to see considered at depth.

Maybe we should meet here and continue the discussion?

Always appreciate your perspectives, TS, and learn from them and from you more often than I have time to acknowledge and appreciate out loud. Sometimes I just nod to myself and say, “TS just laid that out to perfection”, or “I wish I’d been ‘here-there’ in real time, as I’d like to know further where TS would have taken that.”

DW

sn1789 September 3rd, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I posted two comments (in the low 80′s) broaching the issue of Younge’s support for Obama. Both are now gone but #87 remains. *MAYBE* this was a completely unique glitch of my computer. Or, more likely, moderation was exercised to excise my questioning of Younge’s progressive credentials. As far as the charge that Younge is a neoliberal goes…. Well, Younge argued strongly for Obama and continues to write in his favor (admittedly in the mealy mouthed way Nation liberals do). Despite the delusions of Nation style liberals, Obama has made no secret of the fact that he views markets as the most efficient allocators of social resources. That ARRA was 40% tax cuts is strong evidence that Obama is a neoliberal, as is cutting payroll taxes in 12/10 and his current call of tax breaks for employers who hire. Like a good neoliberal Obama views the public sector and the state as basically inefficient, rent seeking and parasitic upon the much more efficient mechanism of price signals in private markets. In the final analysis Younge is a defender of Obama, he supported him in 08 and will call for his election in 2012. Younge will call for a vote for a neoliberal president.

FWIW Kathleen Barry, above seeks to paint Rush Limbaugh and the far left (the Workers Revolutionary Party in this case) as two face of the same fundamentalist monster. This is a serious mistake. As nutty and misguided as the far left is Firebaggers should have more common ground with the far left and recognize that Obama/Limbaugh share common ground. Firebaggers and the far left are egalitarians. Obama and Limbaugh are comfortable with enormous disparities in the distribution of wealth, income, and power. The space that needs filling in American politics is between the democratic party and the far left. Folks who still make excuses for Obama or “hold their nose and vote Democrat” are supporters of utterly destructive and unconscionable levels of inequality. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Gary Younge should pick a team.

DWBartoo September 3rd, 2011 at 6:34 pm
In response to sn1789 @ 93

Thank you for clarifying, sn1789.

Obama Inc. and his many supporters (or the still-”hopefuls”), whether they know it or not, are what Jefferson referred to as the Aristocrats, or in todays’s fashion, “neoliberal” … while those at FDL, especially those who are beyond “liberal or progressive” labelling of self,, those who call class war what it is, are what Jefferson termed the Democrats, those who support self determination and participatory governance, not the empty ritual of voting for vetted candidates, but the actual control of their own destiny. Too many who are at some sort of a remove, through wealth or ideology, are yet reluctant to dare to envision a world beyond politics, economics, and a legal system bereft of the rule of law … as we know them today.

I did not see your comments, sn1789, except for the last, and reiterate my suggestion that you try, with due concern for such rules as apply, to post a diary expressing your reasonable concerns, as you would likely find that many here concur …

Nonetheless, ideas should not be subject to their authors using the proper password, or shibboleth, before those ideas might be considered, it is after the ideas have been shared that they may be debunked or supported ON THEIR MERITS, and not on the apparent allegiances of their authors, though those connections may well have bearing upon the practical usefulness of such ideas and the notions they embrace … but that may only be determined on the personal, individual level, by each of us, according to the nature of our conscience, prejudice, understanding, tolerance and courage.

DW

joelmael September 4th, 2011 at 5:07 am
In response to Gary Younge @ 33

This morning after, it occurs to me that we white males have much less reason to question the identity or identities laid on us by our culture than do others. So your book and this discussion widen my perspective and add nuance to the identity I hold. It reminds me again of how living inside the male standard can be somewhat of a handicap…if you don’t mind the irony.

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