A PhD in wokeness.

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Late capitalism has given rise to experts in diversity and wokeness. Professional bureaucrats, activists and academics, delineate what discourse is racist or sexist, and what is authentically black, mexican or feminine. Their expertise lies in the realm of the symbolic – what structures in language, pop culture, or in a speech, are problematic. Witness the explosive polemics around the phenomenon of Rachel Dolezal, whether her blackness is authentic, what is her coordinate point in the constellation of privilege, how woke or unwoke are certain sentences she utters. Because many of the axioms that delineate the authenticity and wokeness of certain social phenomena are rooted in subjective experience, these specialists appeal to their authority as members of a specific minority, which gives them the expertise to navigate certain racialized and gendered experiences. Because the truths about marginalized minorities are contained within subjective experience, an epistemic barrier exists in the discourse – sometimes some things are racist or sexist because the specialist in wokeness says so and white people cannot possibly access  that knowledge. Because the task of accounting for the experiences of all marginalized minorities is almost impossible, this experts represent a compression of information – we can just appeal to the specialists in gender studies to know whether Hilary Clinton is a feminist and Bernie Sanders a misogynistic bro.

The first thing to notice about these experts, is that they are not elected. Instead, their authority in representation comes from a labyrinthine process of credentials and self-promotion – the right PhD, the correct list of publications, the access to the relevant dinner parties and networks. It is the upper echelions of class society, with their constellation of pedigreed universities, high traffic websites, and prestigous publications that grants them that authority. This experts almost always come from privileged backgrounds, for the skills and cultural capital necessary to become a master in discourse, to be able to write think-pieces, publish articles in peer reviewed journals, or appear in TV, requires credentials, grooming, and many times a financially comfortable and well-connected family. The diversity expert fits in the logic of liberalism, for liberalism is blind to class society, and instead treats the problem of racism and gender as one of representation – that is, we need to have more brown CEOs and politicians, women in suitpants, and expert in wokeness with exquisite credentials. The second thing to notice is that much of this discourse  remains symbolic, instead of addressing the material structures  in  capitalism that give rise to this power differentials.  Witness for example, this recent circle-jerk in wokeness, where a professor of security studies, in other words, someone who ensures that the military’s torturers and assassins are sufficiently multicultural and woke, is praised for cussing off  the social leper and glorified blogger  called Richard Spencer. Yet Richard Spencer’s neonazism  remains moistly quarantined in image boards and basement dweller subcultures, while Fair is a bootlicker of the material forces that turn brown people into craters abroad.

The rise of the diversity expert fits right into the continuity of white supremacy. The western capitalist state, mired with a blood soaked and colonial history, has always innovated in ways to deal with the tensions that arise from power asymmetries between different racial and ethnic groups. Its mode has always been that of representation – bringing a select few of the colonial subjects to the imperial court. In the previous centuries, these representatives were kings or band leaders – the settler state would accommodate and “buy off” some of the most privileged and powerful colonial subjects to ease tensions between oppressed minorities and the white supremacist state. Later on, in the 19th century in the United States, political machines and the rise of the irish political boss provided the required representation. The diversity experts is a continuation of this lineage, transformed in appearance, but not essence, by the civil rights movement and the rise of post-structuralism.

If expertise is delimited by subjective experience and access to discourse is constrained by credentials, cultural capital, and writing skills, then the specialists of diversity can only be experts in the diversity of the professoriat. Under this dynamic, the female tenured academic will call the precarious worker that didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton privilieged, and the New York Times journalist will contrast their authentic blackness with the one of Rachel Dolezal. Meanwhile, the mass of queer, female, brown and black workers will exist in the limbo outside this spectacle, speaking, eating and acting in ways the expert in wokeness will  find sexist or racist, in the same way the medieval aristocrats found the manners of peasants and proles barbaric.

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