Running Through the Trenches: Or, an Introduction to the Undead Culture Wars and Dead Serious Identity Politics

Running Through the Trenches: Or, an Introduction to the Undead Culture Wars and Dead Serious Identity Politics

Journal of Communication Inquiry
Volume 34, Number 3 (July 2010)
pages 210-253

Catherine R. Squires, Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality
University of Minnesota

The events of the 2008 election continue to spark prognostications that we live in a world that is postracial/feminist, and so on. At the 2009 NCA (National Communication Association) convention, a panel of communication scholars discussed how to approach questions of identity and communication over the next 5 years. Participants suggested ways to be critical of assertions of “post” and elaborated ways to encounter new dimensions of identification in an era of immense sociopolitical challenges. This forum revisits the exchanged dialogues among the participants at the roundtable and further explores the meaning of post- in post-America.

Part I: A Meditation on a Mutt in the White House

As the press scrutinized his family’s process of choosing a canine companion, President Obama noted his preference for a “mutt,” and playfully characterized himself as “a mutt.” His remarks simultaneously conjure theories of transgressive cultural hybridity and the theory of hybrid vigor. Jon Powell opined that we’d know multiracialism was real when whiteness was not dependent upon purity; when one such as Obama could as easily claim white as black racial identity. The scene at the “mutt” press conference at first glance could be a moment of ascendant hybridity, a rejection of assimilation and purity projects, no longer tying the identity of the nation to homogeneity.

But Obama’s use of “mutt”—particularly within the context of discussing “pure breeds” versus canines without official provenance—reveals the continued, stubborn conflation of race and blood, reifying pure categories even as it celebrates positive outcomes of hybridization. Although Obama’s tongue may have been firmly planted in cheek, does everyone get the joke? It becomes clearer each day that his mutt identity evokes anything but humor from other folks, who see him as a half-bred abomination (Obamanation, anyone?).

Hybridity offers potential to subvert dominant narratives of purity, but these opportunities are neither guaranteed nor the only possibilities that may emerge. Garcia Cancelini sees hybridity as the liminal space where negotiation and struggle occur, and oh, what struggles we are seeing as members of the media, the government, and the public render their own responses to the Age of Obama, an allegedly postracial, postfeminist, post-Marxist, postculture wars time of bliss. These responses come so fast and so furious these days I keep rewriting this introductory essay, inserting newer references to outrageous outbursts and expressions of bigotry, the bigotry that we were supposed to have overcome on November 4, 2008…

Read the entire article here.

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