Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Native Americans

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Seems Confused About Race

I have been increasingly concerned by the way Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks about race. I see two principal ways people discuss racism:

  1. The Citizenship Model–people who face racial discrimination are being treated as second class citizens on arbitrary grounds, and they are entitled to the same status as other people in our society. On this model, racial oppression is a failure to recognise that citizens are entitled to equal political standing. It denies the citizenship of people of color. People with this view often speak in a universalist language, because their emphasis is on what we all have in common as citizens. It’s a critique which erodes racial distinctions, emphasising common political standing across group categories.
  2. The Group Fetishist Model–people who face racial discrimination are subject peoples who are entitled to group self-determination and therefore to their own political arrangements, separate and distinct from whites and Europeans. On this model, racial oppression is the attempt to wrongfully subject distinct groups to the same institutions. People with this view speak in a particularist language, because their emphasis is on what is different about various groups of people. It’s a critique which reinforces racial distinctions, emphasising separateness.

These two models in turn proceed from different ways of understanding what politics is. For those on the citizenship model, it is our political status as citizens which unites us. The state structures our self-conception as a people. You see this in America in the commitment to the constitution–we think of ourselves as American insofar as we are all committed to a common political project. But for those on the group fetishist model, ethnic and racial groups are primordial and pre-exist political associations. We are united not by political standing but by cultural commitments–language, cuisine, religion, ideology, ethnicity, race, you name it. So whenever two or more distinct cultural groups exist under one political framework, the group fetishist alleges that one of those groups isn’t “independent” or “self-determining”, that there’s a subjugation relationship.

Ultimately, only the citizenship model can provide the conditions under which diverse people can live together. If we recognise each other as equal citizens, we don’t have to fuss about whether we speak the same language, worship the same gods, or look the same color. We can instead work together to ensure every person enjoys equal status and the distributive benefits that go along with that. Group fetishism kills unity. It breaks us up into ever smaller factions, and it makes it difficult for those factions to collaborate.

Initially, AOC appeared to be operating on the citizen model, but increasingly she’s been moving in the group fetishist direction. The result is a confused position on race. Let me show you what I mean…

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The Decline and Fall of Elizabeth Warren

There was a time when everyone on the left in the United States liked Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), when she seemed like the most left wing option available in a sea of swamp creatures. Warren gave the left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, and in return she became its darling–the person everyone on the left wanted to see run for president, the person everyone on the left hoped could someday win. This is the story of how that changed. Read the rest of this entry »

Native American Sovereignty is an Obstacle to Equality

Many left wing commentators writing about the tragedy unfolding in Standing Rock believe that the government erred by failing to respect Native American sovereignty. This argument claims that Native Americans are nations that have sovereign rights over the territory reserved to them and consequently the US government is wrong to take action that impacts them and their territory without their consent. This is well-intentioned, but there are few beliefs that have done more damage to the welfare of Native American citizens than the idea that Native American tribes constitute sovereign nations. Native Americans are treated very poorly in the United States and tribal sovereignty facilitates this instead of ameliorating it.

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