an obession with first principles

Anti-blackness and Ideology

Posted: Thursday Apr 9th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising | View Comments

Zizek happens to be writing in a far different context from the context the United States has experienced, and is experiencing. He was born and raised in Slovenia in eastern Europe, which, prior to his life was annexed under fascist rule by Nazi Germany and Italy, and then during his life was under Communist rule. This has forged for him the major points of reference and critique for his work.

It is with that understanding that I want to explore this passage. It is focused on the concept of ideology. Though it uses examples consistent with his frames: anti-Semitism and Nazi Germany. Upon reading this passage it was immediately apparent to me that anti-blackness operates on the exact same ideological logic. Of course, my frame is within the United States, so I cannot speak for specific examples of anti-blackness in the regions of the Middle East, and South Africa, though it is a well-documented phenomenon there as well

Here is the passage:

Let us suppose, for example, that an objective look would confirm – why not? – that Jews really do financially exploit the rest of the population, that they do sometimes seduce our young daughters, that some of them do not wash regularly. It is not clear that this has nothing to do with the real roots of anti-Semitism? Here we have only to remember the Lacanian proposition concerning the pathologically jealous husband: even if all the facts he quotes in support of his jealousy are true, even if his wife really is sleeping around with other men, this does not change one bit the fact that his jealousy is a pathological paranoid construction.

Let us ask ourselves a simple question: in the Germany of the late 1930s what would be the result of such a non-ideological, objective approach? Probably something like: “The Nazis are condemning the Jews too hastily, without proper argument, so let us take a cool, sober look and see if they are really guilty or not; let us see if there is some truth in the accusations against them.” Is it really necessary to add that such an approach would merely confirm our so-called “unconscious prejudices” with additional rationalizations? The proper answer to anti-Semitism is therefore not “Jews are really not like that” but “the anti-Semitic idea of Jew has nothing to do with Jews: the ideological figure of a Jews is a way to stitch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system.”

That is why we are also unable to shake so-called ideological prejudices by taking into account the pre-ideological level of everyday experience. The basis of this argument is that the ideological contrsuction always finds its limits in the field of everyday experience – that it is unable to reduce, to contain, to absorb and annihilate this level. Let us again take a typical individual in Germany in the late 1930s. He is bombarded by anti-Semite propaganda depicting a Jew as a mostrous incarnation of Evil, the great wire-puller, and so on. But when he returns home he encounters Mr. Stern, his neighbour, a good man to chat with in the evenings, whose children play with his. Does not this everyday experience offer an irreducible resistance to the ideological construction?

The answer is of course, no. If everyday experience offers such a resistance then the anti-Semite ideology has not yet really grasped us. An ideology is really “holding us” only when we do not feel any opposition between it and reality – this is, when the ideology succeeds in determining the mode of our everyday experience of reality itself. How then would our poor German, if he were a good anti-Semite, react to this gap between the ideological figure of the Jew (schemer, wire-puller, exploiting our brave men and so on) and the common every day experience of his good neighbour, Mr. Stern? His answer would be to turn this gap, this discrepancy itself into an argument for anti-Semitism: “You see how dangerous they really are? It is difficult to recognize their real nature. They hide it behind the mask of everyday appearance – and it is exactly this hiding of one’s real nature, this duplicity, that is a basic feature of the Jewish nature.” An ideology really succeeds when even the facts which at first sight contradict it start to function as arguments in its favor.

The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek, pg 49-50, emphasis mine

The ideology of anti-blackness so permeates our consciousness that white people really do believe they are in fear of their life when the actual reality of the situation dictates that the black man is fleeing in fear. Reality is entirely covered over with the interpretation provided by the ideology.