As a LGBT person, it isn’t hard to understand what the draw towards liberal politics is. And I would say by far the vast majority of my LGBT friends would classify themselves as liberal given the choice between that and conservative. But what are the implications of such a vast adoption of liberal politics among queer individuals? David Eng’s book The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy explores this relationship, turning a critical eye towards the effects of multiculturalism and colorblindess that is often tied into liberal politics . The assimilation of LGBT people into a liberal political paradigm promises a wealth legal rights and protections, but comes with a hefty cost of leaving those most disenfranchised among us behind.
Colorblindness is a remarkably appealing concept, especially for white folks, as it allows individuals to deny any implications in racially loaded systems of oppression by both an intentional forgetting and a selective remembering. In this new age liberal politics and multiculturalism, “racism constantly appears as disappearing,” although in a reality there is just a shifting and restructuring of racist logic that allows for the continued propagation of white privilege and supremacy. The rise of queer liberalism has not only allowed the racist logic embedded inte foundation of the U.S. to continue, but has actually recruited new bodies to uphold white nationalist ideals of kinship and power under the guise of progressive politics. Multiculturalism, a key component of queer liberalism, is less about the concealment of difference and more about, “our collective refusal to acknowledge it,” (pg. 117). The logic of this type of thinking acknowledges difference of race only so long to immediately dismiss its importance, “we are all different, but we are all the same, too… but it doesn’t really matter,” (pg.117). But in reality it does matter.
We do not live in utopic world in which all bodies can navigate space equally regardless of their pigment. That world does not exist, and pretending it does only perpetuates bootstrap mentalities that absurdly suggest if we all work hard enough, then surely we can all achieve equally. This discourse allows capitalism to be marked as independent of race constructs, however in truth, capitalism relies on pools of surplus labor that have and always will exploit racist logic in order to sustain itself. The integration of LGBT people into mainstream society via legal rights/protections promises us our very own slice of the capitalism pie; our chance at the “American dream”. But this integration marks a devious alliance that strengthens rather than dismantles systems of oppression.
Eng poignantly calls attention to the history of queer as being, “once understood as the name for a political movement and an extensive critique of a wide range of social normalizations and exclusions,” that explicitly attacked violent structures such as the nuclear family and neoliberal economies that perpetuate violence against all people, but particularly queer folks together (pg. xi). The rise of queer liberalism and multiculturalism in the U.S. marks a significant shift in queer politics that aims to assimilate certain queer bodies into mainstream culture and politics. This assimilation relies on the willingness of these bodies to become good citizens through monogamy, productivity, whiteness, and the continuance of the nuclear family. In exchange these bodies will be deemed worthy enough to obtain garnered legal rights
and protections. The obtainment of these legal “protections” however, does not shift or challenge the basis of power, but rather upholds and even fortifies their foundation. In the case of the United States, homonationalism and queer liberalism, actually secures the racist bedrock of this country, essential to the building and dissemination of the U.S. empire. Integrating queers
into neoliberal systems will never result in freedom, but rather contain the power of these bodies to dismantle. It is a strategy to maintain excess pools of labor through the selective inclusion of white homonormative bodies that allows system to be marked as progressive and liberating while fortifying its white heteropatriarchal basis.
It is not only the shifting of agenda of the queer movement that has functioned to support racist logic and underpinnings of the U.S., but also the mainstream marketing of the movement. Media content that implies either explicitly or implicitly that the queer movement is the civil rights struggle of our time actually upholds racist logic in two distinct ways. First, this discourse historicizes racism and the black civil rights movement as thing of a past, suggesting that this work is still not actively done today, and that racism at a social level no longer exists. Secondly, this type of marketing racializes queer identities as white through the implicit erasure of bodies that are both queer and black. “Gay is the new Black,” discourse provides a shield that distracts queer and straight U.S. citizens alike from recognizing, discussing, and challenging racism that currently exists and is actively perpetuated. It is a calculated diversion that assists both a conscious and subconscious forgetting of race through a elevation of white homonormative bodies.
Although not explicitly stated in this text, I would argue that white folks romanticizing, and even in some cases co-opting a two-spirit identity functions in a similar facet. White queer individuals that deploy Two-Spirit identities as a way to argue that diverse genders and sexualities are a natural artifact historicize these bodies and cultures in the same vein racism gets historicized in “gay is the new black,” discourse. Romanticization of indigenous genders and sexualities negates the current lives, cultures, and struggles of Native Americans. This allows a forgetting of land, much like queer liberalism allows a forgetting of race. This forgetting posits settlers, queer and heterosexual alike, as the rightful inheritors of this land.
Queer liberalism and multiculturalism illuminate the danger of forgetting. By forgetting the beginning of this once radical movement, queer bodies have been co-opted into neoliberal systems and politics in a calculated tactic to uphold and strengthen white heteropatriachy. Gay is not the new black. This land is not our land, and indigenous identities are not ours to exploit. If we are to return to our radical beginnings of queer, then we must remember. We must remember how the queer movement began. We must remember our queer and trans ancestors of color, and their struggle for justice, and vision for a truly beloved community. It is through this intentional remembering that we can create the space to center QTPOC people in all our theorizing and acting.