I realized the other day that I’d snaked some conceptual framework without proper attribution. That’s no good at all. Thus, a brief explanation and elaboration of my adapted phrase “Look, it’s a faggot” in describing the reaction to Ted Haggard being outed.

Most likely, several of you have already caught the similarity to the language of Frantz Fanon in constructing the primal scene of racism.

“Look, a Negro!”…It was true. It amused me.
“Look, a Negro!” The circle was drawing a bit tighter. I made no secret of my amusement.
“Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!”
…I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible. I could no longer laugh because I already knew that there were legends, stories, history, and above all historicity…the corporeal schema crumbled, its place taken by a racial epidermal schema.

Black Skin, White Masks 111-112

The child’s identification moves to objectification, entering into a relationship defined by hostility and fear. But the movement is not seamless, at least it can’t be if we’re going to have that little thing called hope. You can argue with me on this, but I’m of the mind that there has to be another path away from the recognition of difference. (The most convincing counter claim here is that the recognition of specifically constructed patterns of difference precludes positive response. But I’m not willing to go there. You’ll see.)

So what happens that turns this sour? This may be over analysis, but personally, I’m interested in the semantics. So here goes. On a basic level, the sentence parses as such:

The implied you is the subject, look is the imperative verb, and Negro is the direct object. But this seems incomplete in terms of a theoretical understanding of the base unit of racist expression. Simply, it doesn’t get us anywhere. Let’s try it this way. The implied We is the subject, look is the declarative verb, and “there’s an Other” is the dependant clause. This seems more complete. In-group formation emerges as the function of gaze is re-inscribed. It’s not just that the child identifies an Other, but that the speaker designates a specific group that is in power. The “we who look” are naturalized as having the power of examination over the surveilled subject.

It’s not “natural” that we sort out humanity by skin tone over and against other attributes. But it is outwardly visible. And thus a patched together system of “recognizing” racial attributes and fixing racial identities by sight emerges. One of the most persistent pipe dreams is Beige Heaven, in which race and racism are finally defeated by the intermixture of races that make this visual fixing process impossible. But beyond my anxiety about a history that ends with the annihilation of race (and thus races) lies a more basic critique. Will it work? Colorblindness is a proven way of making white folk comfortable with their own unacknowledged racism. The American Sociological Association opines:

Those who favor ignoring race as an explicit administrative matter, in the hope that it will cease to exist as a social concept, ignore the weight of a vast body of sociological research that shows that racial hierarchies are embedded in the routine practices of social groups and institutions.

I keep coming back to this unease with the tactic of outing, and this is my latest attempt to resolve the origin. Gaze on queerness is not primarily built on an allegedly objective visual attribute, but rather on varied judgments on sexual and gender practice expressed as stereotypes. One of the functions of outing is to muddy the gaze by throwing up varied examples of unrecognized queerness. But as communities of color have learned, the frustrated gaze does not just give up and recognize the futility of sorting humanity by a made up category. The naturalization of race and gender get entrenched, and “one-drop” rules patch over the anxiety.

I was reading this undergrad’s blog that rails on against a fellow Divvy, accusing her of all kinds of apostasy from Holy Mother Church. The star moment is when he states that there is a “union” between a priest and church, would be ecclesiastic lesbianism if women were ordained. Yeah, no link, on account that that’s freaking weird. But you should see how  insistent he is. It’s just unimaginable that things could be any other way. The instability of the categories of analysis don’t bring this young fellow to skepticism, they bring him slam his shoe into the table.

There’s no Ambiguity Beyond the Sunset. There is a difference between a practice of resistance and a eschatological solution. And so, I want people to at least be asking what their ends are. Immediate and tactical resistance to self-haters who rise to positions of power is a whole different ballgame than a expansive campaign based on the fiction that America can be shocked out of it’s homophobia if enough passers fall. In my experience, ambiguity is a reactive measure, one that attempts to bring creativity and agency to the problem of being assigned privilege based on a fictional system. (I should note that there are some differences in the two projects here. Think less about ambiguity as essential trait and more as a matter of presentation. Rhetoric and intention around how to theorize ambiguity…dilution vs. progress for instance…are more important than particular skin tone. I’m not trying to get into paper bag tests, but get at how ambiguity is discussed and fetishized.)

Ask why we’re still using race as a category of analysis. Question why the academy and the activist are still using language that originates in Het-Culture to talk about queerness. Ask to what extent our reaction is locked into relation with their problems. But be very careful of the messiahs who proclaim a world beyond it all. In the time between now and salvation, we need to protect ourselves from the onslaught of the domination systems. And I believe that this requires the self-conscious tension between responding to the terms of our oppression and creating something new.

-sly civilian