Creating people's geographies
In social theory there is the notion that the view from the margins, from those most repressed, marginalised or oppressed, often offers the most prescient and trenchant insights into the social order. While the insights of various feminist, queer and postcolonial schools are many, this is one of the most valuable — from Guyatri Spivak’s ‘subaltern’ to James C. Scott’s ‘infrapolitics’ to Edward Said’s politically othering Orientalism, the idea that standpoint epistemology offers insights into social reality one can not get from reading the official hegemonic accounts is a compelling one.
Perhaps it is fitting that Cynthia McKinney, an African American and one of the few shining lights on Capitol Hill, has introduced a bill to impeach Bush, likely her final legislative act as she leaves the U.S. House of Representatives this week.
Here is the good Congresswoman’s speech:
Throughout my tenure, I’ve always tried to speak the truth. It’s that commitment that brings me here today.
We have a President who has misgoverned and a Congress that has refused to hold him accountable. It is a grave situation and I believe the stakes for our country are high.
No American is above the law, and if we allow a President to violate, at the most basic and fundamental level, the trust of the people and then continue to govern, without a process for holding him accountable, what does that say about our commitment to the truth? To the Constitution? To our democracy?
The trust of the American people has been broken. And a process must be undertaken to repair this trust. This process must begin with honesty and accountability.
Leading up to our invasion of Iraq, the American people supported this Administration’s actions because they believed in our President. They believed he was acting in good faith. They believed that American laws and American values would be respected. That in the weightiness of everything being considered, two values were rock solid: trust and truth.
From mushroom clouds to African yellow cake to aluminum tubes, the American people and this Congress were not presented the facts, but rather were presented a string of untruths, to justify the invasion of Iraq.
President Bush, along with Vice President Cheney and then-National Security Advisor Rice, portrayed to the Congress and to the American people that Iraq represented an imminent threat, culminating with President Bush’s claim that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. Having used false fear to buy consent, the President then took our country to war.
This has grave consequences for the health of our democracy, for our standing with our allies, and most of all, for the lives of our men and women in the military and their families–who have been asked to make sacrifices–including the ultimate sacrifice–to keep us safe.
Just as we expect our leaders to be truthful, we expect them to abide by the law and respect our courts and judges. Here again, the President failed the American people.
When President Bush signed an executive order authorizing unlawful spying on American citizens, he circumvented the courts, the law, and he violated the separation of powers provided by the Constitution. Once the program was revealed, he then tried to hide the scope of his offense from the American people by making contradictory, untrue statements.
President George W. Bush has failed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; he has failed to ensure that senior members of his administration do the same; and he has betrayed the trust of the American people.
With a heavy heart and in the deepest spirit of patriotism, I exercise my duty and responsibility to speak truthfully about what is before us. To shy away from this responsibility would be easier. But I have not been one to travel the easy road. I believe in this country, and in the power of our democracy. I feel the steely conviction of one who will not let the country I love descend into shame; for the fabric of our democracy is at stake.
Some will call this a partisan vendetta, others will say this is an unimportant distraction to the plans of the incoming Congress. But this is not about political gamesmanship.
I am not willing to put any political party before my principles.
This, instead, is about beginning the long road back to regaining the high standards of truth and democracy upon which our great country was founded.
Under the standards set by the United States Constitution, President Bush, along with Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Rice, should be subject to the process of impeachment, and I have filed H. Res.1106 in the House of Representatives.
To my fellow Americans, as I leave this Congress, it is in your hands to hold your representatives accountable, and to show those with the courage to stand for what is right, that they do not stand alone.
In so doing, Cynthia McKinney has become the first US Congressperson to introduce Articles of Impeachment against President Bush, as well as Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. David Swanson in the Atlantic Free Press notes that “she alone has spoken for the 51 percent of Americans who Newsweek says want Bush impeached” and critiques the media slander on McKinney, most notably from the AP‘s Ben Evans.
So much for Pelosi and the Democrats. In noting their unwillingness to make political hay out of impeachment and McKinney’s filing of HR 1106, Juan Santos has also drawn a compelling link between race and complicity in the system, between race and symbolic leadership in the fight against fascism – in ‘Swallowing the Blue Pill‘ at his Fourth World blog, he notes:
As the US veers on a radical course toward fascism, the Democrats, who are riding high on a national wave of revulsion against the Bush regime, breathe not a word about reversing the legalization of torture or restoring habeas corpus; they say nothing about reversing the Patriot Act, nothing about averting war in Iran, and nothing of substance about pulling out of Iraq.
Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi speaks coyly about not knowing where investigations of Republican abuses might lead, but has no intention whatsoever of “endangering” Democrat’s chances of winning the White House in 2008 with a move, like impeachment, that might appear “radical” to swing voters.
That’s the excuse, at least. The reality is that Pelosi knows the simple truth: to indict Bush is to indict the entire US government before the eyes of the world – including the Democrats, who are up to their throats in complicity in the Iraq war and in fascistic legislation like the Patriot Act.
“You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
Juan Santos then highlights the crucial role of people of colour (in the US lexicon) in being the touchstones for consciousness-raising and social change in the US, by virtue of their marginality:
Without the war in Viet Nam – actually, without a draft that impacted young white men, there’d have been no mass resistance among white people in the 60s. Peoples of color were unquestionably the leading edge of the rebellions of those years.
That’s because of one of the social guarantees of whiteness. Even if it’s never spoken aloud, everyone knows in their bones that white people are exempt, that white people as a group are not the target of overt violent oppression in the US, and that they never have been and never will be. Guaranteed.
That guarantee is their blue pill, what makes them sleep.
Drawing an analogy with the Matrix (the first one in the trilogy is really the only one worth watching, to my mind), Santos observes the symbolism of those who help to awaken the white male character:
And that’s why, in The Matrix, it’s Morpheus, a Black man, who has to offer the white man, Neo, the choice: red pill or blue; wake up to the full reality around you or stay asleep. That’s also why The Oracle had to be a woman of color, and was. Doubly oppressed, doubly wise.
Does this mean I am saying that white males are not also oppressed by the system? No, they indubitably are, but I think what is noted here is that their consciousness is crucially aided by those with a different experiential take on the world by virtue of their more overt oppression that whites can not experience in the same way, namely, by the ‘blacks’ and ‘browns’, and the ‘reds’ and ‘yellows’. It is a recognition that there are layers and gradations of privelege that many of us sometimes unconsciously experience, depending on race, gender, sexuality, education, class and so on. Santos himself notably attributes an insight to a white woman that he may not have otherwise arrived at as a male:
Now then, a white woman – not just any white woman but a radical lesbian feminist (it’s that double oppression thing) – pointed out a striking truth to me tonight.
The only people who’ve stood up en masse against the recent rapid escalation toward fascism in the US have been Brown people. Migrants and Chicanas stood up in our millions against the fascistic Sensenbrenner bill, a race law which would have rendered every migrant a felon, and every Chicana a suspect in a felony. The Sensenbrenner bill would have made the barrio every bit as much a zone of official terror as the ghetto – even more so.
We were all that stood between the status quo and outright universalized fascism in the US.
But almost nothing and no one stood between colonized peoples of color and fascism in the US. Black, Red and Brown have lived under virtual fascism – mass terror, police occupation and mass incarceration – for a generation now, since the War on Drugs and mass incarceration took the place of segregation and Jim Crow laws. (my boldface emphasis)
To recognise the subjugated subaltern in the infrageographies of social reality is an important precondition for truly challenging the status quo. It is a recognition that positionality matters in the architecture of archetypes built up by our civilisation. In the epilogue to his superb The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas writes that:
The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing masculine hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and control the matrix out of which he emerged.
Western civilisation has been fashioned in his image, and the white heterosexual male has long been its universal idealised subject at the core of its project. This project is in ever deeper crisis; it is important that this be separated from the misperception that white males themselves are being attacked or should somehow be repudiated. On the contrary, their contributions are much to be valued and so many have offered such canny insights into our current condition as their positionality affords them.
Rather, it an acknowledgement that in this civilisational architecture of archetypes, white males are endowed with a special role by virtue of their centrality to the western narrative, but it is hardly the White Man’s Burden imagined by racist theories of the past. I put it that it is perhaps that the questing Promothean masculine hero might be illuminated by and take heed of the view from the margins, to be afforded the ability to see with new eyes what has always been there.
From the act of one shining beacon, we can draw important lessons. Cynthia McKinney is to be congratulated, thanked and admired for her integrity and fidelity to her principles.
On a broader level, the subaltern speaks, and we would do well to listen with our hearts as well as our minds, for our freedom depends upon it, as does our collective survival.
“Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.”
Edward Said (1994)