Race and Gender Matters Arguments by Cornel West and Judith Butler
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In the book, Race Matters, Cornel West asserts that the main drawback to harmonious relations among races in the U.S. is attributable to nihilism (West 2). It is important to note that nihilism refers to the tendency of African Americans feeling worthless. Therefore, Cornel West asks the Whites and Blacks to come to terms that racism is part and parcel of the American history and can only be eliminated by discussing all American matters surrounding racism. Besides, American society has over the years experienced subdivisions among its citizens owing to the race issue. On the other hand, the United States has a population of individuals that come from different ethnic backgrounds. Thus, acknowledging that racism exists is a way of challenging the status quo and how the situation can be better.
Judith Butler in the book Gender Troubles closely examines gender identity and in particular the link that exists between sex and gender. It is important to note that the distinction of gender based on sex despite being natural also is known to have a cultural-social influence. The cultural practices significantly contribute to political and social dynamics which make gender an important matter (Butler 5). Moreover, gender identity should focus on the actions and performance of individuals given their actions, representations, speech utterances, and gestures. Therefore, the arguments by Butler assist in deconstructing the stable gender identity from the illusion that revolves around the sexual body. The approach of viewing gender from the lens of an individual’s sex not only is dangerous but also repressive. For this reason, the manner in which gender groups push for political change.
Theorizing Women in Gender Troubles
Butler utilizes the normativity argument to address the issue of gender realism. In particular, the mobilization by Butler intends to delimit the experiences that are common among women. It is important to note that this perspective looks at women as individuals who fall under this category owing to their conditions, features, and experiences. There are two claims made by Butler in the book and one of them is the fact that unitary gender notions do not take into account the differences that exist among females. Subsequently, there is no acknowledgment of the cultural, political, and social intersections that are woven in an individual becoming a woman (Butler 20). On the other hand, the biological definition of being a female result in a similar outcome as that of socially constructed accounts. Secondly, the gender accounts that are not true fail to fix the issues that surround feminism. For this matter, there is a need for an appropriate definition that fully takes into account what being a woman is and thereby legitimizing some experiences and practices among others.
The approach adopted by Butler place a woman in a position whereby she as to have compelling illusions. In particular, the gendered classification of the society entails social factors that represent the position occupied by women in society. It is important to note that women need to be real to their genders in a move to avoid being sanctioned. For example, men who purport to be women given their dressing and doing some acts of femininity do not succeed in their portrayals owing to the fact that heterosexism does not identify with any gender.
Theorizing the Black Community in Race Matters
In the book Race Matters, Cornel West takes a conservatism and liberal approach when theorizing the Black community. It is important to note that he places more attention on the economic elements among the Blacks. Regarding conservatism, Cornel thinks that it is vital for Blacks to change their moral behavior. For example, there is the notion that poor Black men should avoid involvement in crime and instead provide for their families. Therefore, racism can only end if the is public responsibility and thereby lowering the possibility of an immoral circumstance arising (West 2). On the other hand, Cornel West considers that it is prudent for the government to initiate programs that will assist the Black communities which are infested by poor families. However, he thinks more can be done as the capitalist system has paved the way for improving the Black community.
The conservatives form a small proportion of the Black community. It is important to note that despite the Liberals being dominant, the solutions they propose for solving racism have failed which places the conservatives at a position where they can be heard. Besides, the pressure that has been mounting on the conservative Blacks when it comes to reforming the Black community shows that there is the need for responsibility if the discrimination stemming from racism must come to an end (West 14). On the other hand, while the conservatives blame the victim of racism, the liberals attribute the problem to the inadequacy of resources to address the matter. For example, despite ending legal segregation, the Black community did not achieve equality owing to the wealth gap that exists between the Blacks and Whites. There has been progress as African Americans are no longer sharecroppers and slaves but rather more integrated and legally equal when it comes to the capitalist society. However, Whites do not fully accept the ability of Blacks and this has cultivated racism in American society.
Overlapping in Theorizing
One of the instance of overlapping in the theorizing of women arises when Judith Butler tries to base gender cores in a manner that makes it look like they only belong to women. For this reason, there is gender dimorphism as all women are expected to become feminine females. However, the differences that exist among women do not create room for similarity among all females. Moreover, the tendency of women to desire men translates to their feminine nature in the social order. Butler does not agree with this fact as she does not consider gender as a point from which specific actions take place. She concludes that gender does not entail what an individual is but rather their actions (Butler 179). Thus, there is an overlap in the theorizing of women. On the other hand, Cornel West considers the persistence of racism stems from the fact that the Black community has failed. In particular, West states that the Black community comprised less than 5 percent during the Civil Rights movement era. Further, he asserts that the middle-class life of the members of the Black community only benefits few individuals owing to their personal accomplishments (West 45). The fact that the West has not considered the courage in political engagement displayed by the Black community reveals that there is an overlap. Hence, racism continues to pose challenges to Americans as the members of the Black community do not believe they can bring about change to resolve the problem being experienced.
Similarities in Theorizing
It is important to note that social forces play a significant role when it comes to incoherent sequences exhibited by individuals. The theorizing of the Black community and women by Cornel West and Judith Butler acknowledges this fact. For example, Judith Butler argues that women are equally as powerful as men but those who perform marginalized roles do not fit this description (Butler 5). Therefore, there are illusions that stem from the social practices which are known to describe women as equal. On the other hand, the liberals among the members of the Black community view the lack of resources as the reason why racism has been persistent over the years, unlike the conservatives who place the blame on the victim. However, it is evident that Blacks continue to venture into new employment opportunities that were initially dominated by men which indicates there is substantial progress. For this reason, the similarity stems from the fact that despite there being differences in the theorizing of the Black community and women, there are points of convergence.
Butler’s Performativity of Gender
In a move to create a distinction between genders, Butler claims that sex does not define gender. For this reason, she introduces the element of performativity whereby she explains that gender does not entail what an individual is but rather how they act and the sequence of actions are the primary determinants of their gender. It is important to note that gender entails a repetition of actions that are confined within a regulatory frame. Therefore, an individual does not enjoy the freedom of selecting their gender. For this reason, the gender outcome for every person is predetermined meaning that individuals have constrained choices that make others conclude they belong to a specific gender.
Butler when explaining performativity claims that it is through this element that identity can be ascertained. It is important to note that before one makes conclusions about gender identity, there are no expressions that contribute to knowing one’s gender apart from those that are performatively constituted (Butler 25). Therefore, the questions that arise seek to know why there is the possibility of having an act in the absence of actions. In a move to explain this, Butler outlines the difference that exists between performativity and performance. In particular, she states that performance stems from a specific subject whereas performativity relies heavily on the notion of the individual (Butler 33). On the other hand, there is a close link between gender and linguistic performativity. Gender plays the role of bringing into reality what it is referring to and this could be a feminine woman or a masculine man. Hence, gender identities arise from the constitution of a language and no gender identity lacks a language discourse.
It is important to note that the gender constitution is similar to the different clothes worn by males and females. Besides, the arguments presented by Butler prove that she is okay with intersectional feminism but problems arise when it comes to the manner people identify women. In particular, the universality that most people attached to being a female contributes to negating the meaning of gender. For this reason, she demystifies the fact that sex is biological whereas gender is culturally constructed owing to the explanations she given when it comes to performativity. On the other hand, there is a strong relationship that exists between gender and sex. Despite the fact that there are complications when it comes to gender identity, feminists ought to embrace the issues surrounding the matter.
West’s Prophetic Approach to Pervasive Nihilism
When explaining the crisis of race in the United States, Cornel West takes a prophetic approach. In particular, he sees that the problems the Black community faces can be viewed from an economic and a political point of view. Unlike the liberals, West does not attribute the problem of racism to the inadequate resources in the society but rather considers nihilism as the main contributor. Very few Black intellectuals are willing to address the problems that face their people. It is important to note that the conservative and liberal blacks have over the years evaded the problem facing the Black community. For this reason, nihilism acts as a threat to the existence of the Black community in the future. Besides, the economic deprivation that comes along with nihilism will render the Black community powerless in matters related to politics. On the other hand, economic welfare and having a political voice are vital elements for the progress the Black community needs to make (West 14). Therefore, considering the two factors will come in handy in ensuring that there is a decline in psychological depression, social despair, and personal worthlessness cases among the members of the Black community.
West explains the need for members of the Black community distinguishing nihilism from a philosophical doctrine and view it as the experiences majority of the Blacks cope with on a daily basis. For this reason, it becomes apparent that the biggest threat when it comes to the survival of African Americans is not exploitation or oppression but nihilism. The absence of meaning among the members of the Black community acts as a drawback when pushing to end oppression on certain groups within the United States (West 15). It is important to note that West brings into play the prophecy of a nihilistic threat where he claims that the absence of hope threatens the future of the Black Community. On the other hand, the fight against White supremacy has been on course for a long time as most people attribute the national oppression of the Black community to it. Therefore, African Americans need to gather hope if they are to succeed in ending the problem racism that has been ailing the United States for a long time.
It is important to note that Cornel West does not reveal the connection between the members of the Black community coming together to end oppression and the element of nihilism. However, the oppression that African Americans face is attributable to the absence of self-love among them. For this reason, West using the prophetic approach of nihilism demystifies the role exploitation and oppression play towards cultivating racism in the American society. He maintains that lack of hope plays a significant role in the woes African Americans face.
Similarities Between Butler’s Performativity and West’s Prophetic Approach to Nihilism
Both Butler’s performativity and West’s prophetic approach to nihilism emphasize on the need to distinguish between performativity and performance of gender and nihilism as a philosophical doctrine and as an experience in a move to certain their impact on political expression. Unlike performance that stems from the specific subject, performativity is based on the notion these individuals hold. For this reason, the manner in which individuals perceive gender leads to the challenges that are deeply entrenched in their cultural stereotypes. On the other hand, distinguishing nihilism from the notion that it is a philosophical doctrine and viewing it from the angle of experiences the African Americans go through will help determine ways that the Black community can put an end to racism that is attached to political oppression.
Secondly, Butler tries to differentiate between gender being the actions of an individual and not the nature of their body. However, there is the need to acknowledge that people do not have the freedom of choosing their gender as it is predetermined. For this reason, it becomes apparent that gender identity is a complex process that both males and females need to embrace in a move to eliminate the cultural stereotypes. On the other hand, West makes it clear that racism is attributable to lack of hope among the African Americans and not oppression and exploitation as they perceive making a change to be impossible. In particular, the lack of hope threatens the future of the Black community as they will not have a political voice. Thus, the gender identity problem can be closely examined by likening the performativity element to the clothes worn by individuals. In a similar manner, the nihilistic perceptions of the members of the Black community can be likened to the presence of classes in American society and its contribution to perpetuating racism.