As Laurie Essig points out, the Stupid S#@t meme is going around. A version of it caught my eye, this from Naomi Schaefer Riley, who wants to critique what “liberals” say about “conservatives.” Here’s a portion of the passage she wants to critique:
Despite the very real differences among them, workers in a factory are like secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a plantation—even wives in a marriage—in that they live and labor in conditions of unequal power. They submit and obey, heeding the demands of their managers and masters, husbands and lords. Sometimes their lot is freely chosen—workers contract with their employers, wives with their husbands—but its entailments seldom are.
And the first few lines of her critique—watch for the slippage:
You silly women and black people and members of the working class. You may think you are signing contracts and deciding to work or get married of your own free will, but really you are just slaves to the overlords who run this place.
While the first passage could be described as sloppy—I get very itchy when slavery is used metaphorically and even more so when it’s used analogically—Riley’s very quick, too-quick?, move between “slaves on a plantation” and “black people” is striking for what it suggests about her racial imaginary.
How does she move from the historical materiality of slavery to the labor conditions of presumably black post-slavery subjects? Does she mean to suggests that blackness is always a condition of slavery? Why does history collapse? And what might this collapse suggest about “the conservative mind”? The last question is tongue-in-cheek, but I am fascinated by Riley’s sloppiness around race.
Slaves didn’t sign contracts. Were not asked for permission. Had no rights to choose. Were owned. These factors remove them from the worlds of those who “choose.” Yet, Riley ignores the facts of slavery to speak for black people’s agency.
Dear Naomi Shaefer Riley: don’t speak for black people. Or at least do your fucking homework.