Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

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Judith Butler

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Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby Judith Butler » Sun Nov 21, 2010 2:34 am

Please help me cut this back from 2,000 words. Also, tell me what sucks. Tell me what's good, also, so I don't cry too hard.

My identity became a problem in the first grade. Although I did not yet know about race, I knew about difference. I have always known that the root of my difference was my family. Although I did not understand why, I knew that there was some divergence that defined what we were.

This is what I did know: My dad was darker than my mom. He was shorter than my friend’s dads, and had bunions and a growth on his ear from Judo. His father had an accent, and his mother didn’t speak English. My mom was comparatively average. The significance of these details came to light in first grade. I learned about the significance of color because of Black History Month. Having no concept of my own whiteness or Otherness, there was no axis of identification for me, so I invented one. I looked for myself in artwork, descriptions, and lectures about Blackness. Then I shared this conclusion: “My dad is Black.” In my defense, there were no Black students in the class, no ambassador, no representation of Blackness to exploit and examine. My dad had the prerequisites – dark, American, with a flat nose.

My erroneous identification was merely a brief delusion. The teacher spoke to my parents, who were mortified. With their help, I figured it out. I did not understand why they were disturbed about my misunderstanding. What did my dad’s race have to do with me?

As it turns out, everything.

If I think of oppression on a comparative basis, I can’t say I have been persecuted. Whenever I analyze my life and consider every incident of racism, they are all insignificant. My privileges have always outweighed my disadvantages. However, racism did and continues to impact my self-perception.

I don’t remember ever thinking of myself as cohesive. My body and my mind are two dissociated entities at war. I denounced my body, judging, assessing, analyzing, making sure – of what, I don’t know. From infancy to age 5, my body was deceitfully Asian. That in itself wasn’t a problem, but then people started to ask questions. They questioned my mother: “Is she adopted?” “Is she really yours?” It was the same incredulous, idiotic questions, over and over, which embarrassed my mother, confused me, and eventually I began to shudder with premature self-consciousness. Something about me was a serious deviation from my mother. She is thin, white, blue-eyed, blond – essentially “American.” My dad – short, Japanese, dark – is the biological wild card that subverts whiteness in me. In terms of social construct, they represented two ends of a racial binary which are well defined and understood. I fall somewhere in the middle, but apparently my four year old body seemed more “like” his. These deviations are never consistent. Changes in my clothes, behavior, hairstyle, makeup, grades, passions, gait, pose, cantor all testified to whether I was more “Japanese” or more “American.” It’s amazing how we invent the qualities of that which cannot be qualified. I analyzed myself constantly in anticipation of an audience of people who were obsessed with my identity. I had reason to believe my background was everyone’s business. People sometimes complement my English and ask about my “nationality.” (They mean “ethnicity,” because “nationality” concerns citizenship.) Recently, a taxi driver studied my face and then tactfully declared, “Oh yes, I do see the Oriental in you.” I rewarded his racism with a reasonable tip. I was afraid of starting a war; afraid that no taxi would ever again stop for an Oriental. So I paid up.

Identification is a process of assessing deviations or differences. Proximity is identity– I am not blond, tall, fair, or thin, thus I conflict with the standard American ideal. White kids never have seaweed in their lunchboxes, so I was not a white kid. White kids’ grandmothers are cheerful, plump ladies with short white hair who bake and speak English. My grandma is rude, bitter, stores Tupperware in the oven, and has never spoken English. Icons of normalcy are everywhere, and they are overwhelmingly white. There is no central intelligence in this structure: TV, Disney movies, books, class curricula and others are all expressions and manifestations of iconography. Icons embody a certain class, gender, beauty standard, and race by default. Ethnic bodies are media exceptions, rarely ever used “just because.” The fictional Other facilitates a plot point, a philosophy, a political image, or a lesson about “acceptance.” Disabled bodies are exploited in the name of “acceptance.” The philosophy of acceptance involves the same subjugating methods by which we identify and persecute the Other.

My racial status is liminal – I have failed this game of “opposites” because my cohesive identity has no opposite. I cannot ethnically align myself with or against either of my parents. I am the intrinsic and inextricable embodiment of my parents’ cohesion. I have no race – at least no race which adheres to the constructed taxonomy of human beings. My situation is hardly unique. Racial ambiguity has always existed. Conceptual race is a dynamic construct. Its definitions and binaries constantly change. Not one person has ever suggested a single, universal, empirical observation about one race or another. Race is ideologically vacuous; it exists and operates outside the consequences of reality. Its only purpose is to orchestrate the subjugation of one group over another.

Thus, the notion of “race” is a delusion. This delusion self-sustains: By separating arbitrary groups of people, it sustains the illusion of real separation. These notions are theoretical, they are conceptual interpretations of an intangible structure. Social theory is the excavation of an administration whose presence is felt but never seen. Even if the epistemology of post-structuralism is intellectually valuable, does it have any utilitarian use? Is the concept of “difference” real? Why, even if we know that difference is an arbitrary construct, we still acknowledge difference itself? Why is “color-blindness” analogous to respectful conduct with or the “acceptance” of Others when the notion of “blindness” suggests that one cannot even acknowledge or identify the Other? What is this fixation on “acceptance” and multiculturalism when most people pretend to believe that race is a construction, that it “doesn’t matter”? We objectify the Other by diluting certain qualities and exaggerating others in order to present an archetype of Otherness that is innocuous, simple, and palatable so that Americans may comfortably ease into “culture” while nurturing their fantasies about the exotic Other. Thus, objectifying diversity lectures and multicultural festivals presuppose and reinforce essential difference.

Here I have argued that race is a delusion, but also that race is an inextricable aspect of who I am. I have only one excuse for this hypocrisy: I did not invent or conceive or construct myself in an idyllic, post-racial vacuum; I arrived as the malleable object in a world governed by hierarchical structures that generate beliefs and “facts,” and conceptual race is one such powerful ideology that is all-encompassing and self-sustaining. This made me. I maintain it because if I acknowledge that I am different, I can be my own subject even if others try to comprehend or define my difference in order to define the unintelligible, to stabilize the erratic, and to organize the divided parts of a whole that is both homogeneous and wildly diverse. The unpredictable and chaotic disrupt the stable, cohesive self. Constructs, definitions, and difference are ways to restructure how we perceive the world. The identification of Others vindicates the self, because while the self can self-identify by constructing binaries, determining where the Other is according to these binaries, and then recognizing its place in opposition to wherever the Other stands. That is why my background is important and interesting to other people. When my identity is a topic of discussion or a curiosity for others, I become that mirror. Establishing my background as a proxy is the stabilizing foundation of their identities. Their assertions are subjective projections of their ideas and fantasies about “people like me.” They vary according to what they want to know. If I internalize my role in this game, or begin to believe what they say, and I grow inconsistent and unsure about who I am, I disrupt the connections between myself and my identity. My identity is excised and displayed so that I might find out what is really there. I analyze it, I interpret where it ends and where I begin, and I play with the notion that it has nothing to do with me, that I can try to construct my own reality outside of the difference game. It is unbearable to surrender the power of definition to your audience, who will define you according to inconsistencies which, if taken together, compose a wildly divergent and contradicting set of nonsensical impositions on my identity which suggest that I am composed of an erratic array of essentialist, stereotypical, exotic shit. Carrying it and its baggage is exhausting, and the thought of divorcing who I am from myself is sometimes tempting.

Passing, or performing whiteness, has been used by people of color so they may survive, thrive, or simply reinvent themselves. To me this always seemed superfluous. I couldn’t do it. My biracial life is embedded in me, and superficial performance may conceal, but it cannot erase. Passing would reveal too much about the world to me. I don’t want to know about it at all. If my whiteness changed nothing and my life remained as it was, I would have to let go of my comforting believes that rationalize my existential crisis. Maybe I would be treated better, thus justifying my nihilism and paranoia. I don’t want to know if my race is attractive or an attribute. Positive racism is not a complement, but a reduction of identity according to race alone.

The farce of passing doesn’t mollify self-hatred; it compounds it. Passing allows the Other to witness his own subjugation from the perspective of the oppressor. Allowing or executing one’s own persecution is the ultimate expression of shame.
Furthermore, when I imagine the radical erasure of my past, my face, my grandmother’s voice and my dad’s code-switching, her strange religion and the smell of her cooking, I realize that even if I could escape this, I wouldn’t. My identity and my background are indivisible. Even if my race is inherited, is still my property. I refuse to settle for self-acceptance or the condescending philosophy of acceptance itself. I am proud of my background – thoroughly, audaciously proud. Liminality is complex, and it disturbs those who cling to the delusion of an absolute identity. They deny their own ambiguity – the equivocal Other that is ultimately within. Race is a lie. It’s a perpetual lie that people are divisible and fundamentally alike or different. They are wrong, and my evidence is my body. I am their existential nightmare: the Other in their family, or the Other in themselves. I am not a crusader. Rebellion is a choice, but my body is a circumstance. The heart of defiance is action, not existence. I do not choose this, and I do nothing to cause this. This just happens to be me. Pride, however, is a choice. I decide where to fix the axis of my identity, and whether to fix it at all. My race transcends definition; its ambiguity is amorphous and indeterminate. Identification can be limiting, but I have found an identity that is the essence of liberation.

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Re: Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby ShuckingNotJiving » Sun Nov 21, 2010 10:33 am

the problem in this essay is that you seem to subscribe to a lot of the stereotypical beliefs of race and ethnicity you seek to denounce.

Judith Butler wrote: From infancy to age 5, my body was deceitfully Asian. T

Judith Butler wrote: Changes in my clothes, behavior, hairstyle, makeup, grades, passions, gait, pose, cantor all testified to whether I was more “Japanese” or more “American.” I

Judith Butler wrote:White kids’ grandmothers are cheerful, plump ladies with short white hair who bake and speak English

perhaps you're intentionally attempting to exemplify your mindset from years ago, but that's not entirely clear. either way, i would take these descriptions out.

in general, this reads more like a Sociology paper than a PS. too much academic jargon, too little clear insight. i take it you majored in some type of social science. you don't need to assert the intelligence you gained in that field so directly.


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Re: Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby CanadianWolf » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:12 pm

I read the first & last paragraphs & skimmed the rest. This is not a well written nor well thought out essay. Consider deleting the entire last paragraph.
Law school admission committees tend to appreciate clarity of thought expressed in a succinct manner in clear, concise sentences. This writing does the opposite.

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Re: Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby AreJay711 » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:29 pm

I don't think the writing is bad but it is just too long and in-depth . I have to imagine that no admissions official is going to want to follow your reasoning that hard considering she is going to read thousands of these. I think you should cut out the "argument" part and just tell your story -- it is a good one and people will take it at face value.


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Re: Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby boushi » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:38 pm

For all that, there is not one actual concrete example of how your race has played or will play a concrete role in your life, let alone your legal career. It honestly struck me as a sociology-202 pontification meant to show off that you learned a bunch of academic buzz words. And ultimately it concludes in the PS cliche of "I'm not X in spite of Y; I'm X because of Y!" I think you have a lot of work to do here to refine what you want to say and relate it to your law school aims.

Also, be very careful of your typos.

"It is unbearable to surrender the power of definition to your audience, who will define you according to inconsistencies which, if taken together, compose a wildly divergent and contradicting set of nonsensical impositions on my identity which suggest that I am composed of an erratic array of essentialist, stereotypical, exotic shit." ????

Or maybe not a typo? Either way, in a sentence that cumbersome, a misplaced explicative is the least of your problems; the adcoms will probably tune out after the third or fourth relative clause...

Judith Butler

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Re: Philosophy/Diversity PS tl;dr. Help?

Postby Judith Butler » Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:45 pm

Thank you all for being blunt. I was worried that this was WAY too abstract. It does look like the critical theory essays I crapped out in my sophomore year. I have to remember my audience. My professors like it when I use confusing postmodern language, but it's apparently not going to trick admissions.

I'll figure out my story, clean up the writing, and try to be authentic next time.

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