The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”
Say you find yourself limping to the finish of a wearing workday. You text your girlfriend: “I know we made a reservation for your bday tonight but wouldn’t it be more romantic if we ate in instead?” If she replies,
we could do that
Then you can ring up Papa John’s and order something special. But if she replies,
we could do that.
Then you should probably drink a cup of coffee: You’re either going out or you’re eating Papa John’s alone.
I wonder whether the intellectual focus today on race and gender as exclusively historical constructions, though rooted in the abstract sphere of logic, is itself not an historically constructed response to the recent past. That is, that this new contemporary position ignores the power relations in this society which still result in an hierarchical structure with regard to the value of different groups, their forms, questions, expressions. What alarms me about our present assessment is that although everything (in the philosophical discussion about race and gender) has changed, everything (as to whose voices are privileged in institutions, publishing outlets, universities) remains the same.
I may not appeal to my race, gender, or ethnicity as critical tools which might give me insight into a text, without risking the damning cry of being an essentialist, even as I continue to live in a world whose institutions still behave as if essentialism were the norm. What, I wonder, is the purpose of this debate? Who benefits from it? Does it contribute to a sharing of power in intellectual and academic institutions of those whose points of view have been traditionally ignored? Or does this new academic position result in the maintenance of the visibility and power of those who have always had it? I suppose I should take it as a “compliment” that at least the literature of some black women is receiving attention. Whether that attention will wane as “new markets” of interest arise will be a telling phenomenon to observe.
What do you call an Indian who has finished medical school? A doctor, you racist.