Link: “Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò: “Oppression Is Not a Prep School”

Original post found at: https://jacobin.com/2022/08/deference-standpoint-epistemology-activism-identity/

Interesting (if long) interview with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò whose central theme is the distinction between standpoint epistemology (i.e. the acknowledgement that who you are, and your social circumstances, affects what you know) and deference epistemology (i.e. the idea that “privileged” people cannot know anything about oppression, no matter how much they study, and so they must always defer to those who belong to oppressed identity groups). Táíwò’s contention is that this kills effective solidarity, and that it enables “elite capture” of various oppressed groups (i.e. that affluent members of different identity groups end up the major beneficiary of this morally-enforced silencing). Picking out some quotes (actually, in retrospect, a lot of quotes) I particularly appreciated:

On the need for diversity in media, and set texts in schools and unis:

Because there’s inertia in social and political systems, we might have to actually put effort in to undo the demographic imprint of yesterday’s apartheid. And so, sure: diversify the syllabi, diversify the podcast hosts, whatever. Just don’t confuse that project with the project of racial justice, with the project of anti-capitalism, with the project of fixing the most serious things that are broken about society.

There’s no guaranteed relationship, and perhaps no relationship at all, between those two goals.

On the impact that the US’s racially segregated society has on how slogans like “listen to Black women” are interpreted:

There was a study around this a while back. I can’t recall the numbers off the top of my head, but the modal white American has a very small number of direct social connections to black people. And so, for a number of these people, the only contact with political perspectives on the relevant issues might just be the person trotted in front of them as a black woman with a perspective on this issue.

“Listen to black women” more or less just means “listen to Joy Reid” for them, because that’s the only person to whose ideas they’re going to have real kind of exposure. Whereas as someone with a different background, I grew up around many, many black people. There are many black women whose perspectives I’m familiar with on this issue or that issue.

My academic training involved connection to people, and so there’s a there’s a range of perspectives I could think about when someone says to me, “Believe black women.” So I don’t know what the intended social impact of that phrase is supposed to be. But that’s the social environment it interacts with. I think that works out well for you if you’re Joy Reid. I don’t know how well it works for working-class black women.

A quote from within the article that quoted a recent essay by Táíwò:

In Conflict Is Not Abuse, Sarah Schulman makes a provocative observation about the psychological effects of both trauma and felt superiority: while these often come about for different reasons and have very different moral statuses, they result in similar behavioral patterns. Chief among these are misrepresenting the stakes of conflict (often by overstating harm) or representing others’ independence as a hostile threat (such as failures to “center” the right topics or people). These behaviors, whatever their causal history, have corrosive effects on individuals who perform them as well as the groups around them, especially when a community’s norms magnify or multiply these behaviors rather than constraining or metabolizing them.

In this interview Táíwò elaborates slightly:

I’m confident that if you had social norms where things people said — whether they were about harm or offense or trauma — were evaluated, that by itself would produce a very different social environment than deference epistemology. Because, at the end of the day, deference epistemology tells you not to evaluate certain things in certain situations. I think the potential of that for particularly egregious kinds of exploitation is obvious.

Then a bit how ridiculous it is to expect activists from “privileged” backgrounds to put their bodies on the line and themselves at risk in struggles against cops and the state, etc., while also silencing them constantly and telling them they have no authority to have an opinion on anything, basically bullying them into having no confidence to speak to their political convictions at all:

Even in the most convenient version of the case for deference epistemology, we have to think that we’re very selectively training people to stand up to power. These are the people that we want to confront the cops, the bosses, and the military. We want them to be lions in the streets and lambs in the organizing rooms.

Maybe this works. People are capable of compartmentalizing. I don’t know. But I would never ask someone to do that. I would never ask someone to put themselves in harm’s way with me, and sometimes even for me, who I don’t trust enough to hear respectful disagreement from. I don’t understand why we have that expectation for anyone else.

Finally, a couple of quotes on the importance of solidarity:

[A]s identities become more and more fine-grain and disagreement sharper, we come to realize that coalitional politics — struggle across difference — is simply politics, and thus the deferential orientation is ultimately anti-political.

This is where solidarity comes from. It’s not from sameness — solidarity is not the idea that we’ve been through the same things or want the same things or have the same ideas. Solidarity comes from a much more fundamental commonality. We all need each other, because we are all trying to deal with this huge thing: the world and our social structure in the world.

These are things that exceed us, that are bigger than us, that were here before us and will be here after us. We can’t possibly hope to fix them on our own terms, with our own hands and our own power. That basic commonality can be enough if we have the right relationship to ourselves, if we look at our differences as potential resources rather than walls.