Alienation and the Crisis of White Racial Identity

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 63
Oral Presentation
Matthew HUGHEY , University of Connecticut, Storrs,, CT
The lion’s share of contemporary research on alienation remains couched in Marxist and neo-Frankfurt school foci on the separation between the subject and labor, the product of the subject’s labor, other subjects, and the subject’s ability to grow and develop.  Moreover, this paradigm’s application to gender, sexuality, and race, have left us with understandings of these social categories as distractions from the “true” basis of social reality—the inherent conflict between owner and worker.  In breaking step with this tradition, a modicum of recent scholarship effectively demonstrates both (1) how dominant white racial groups alienate nonwhite racial and ethnic groups and (2) how dominant white racial groups employ a discourse of alienation—through claiming an unfairly victimized status—as a political strategy to lay claim to resources and reproduce their dominant status.  Still, few have employed the concept of alienation to understand how white racial identity is continually reconstructed as a site of ontological crisis that facilitates simultaneous (a) claims to superiority, (b) claims to victimhood, and (c) practices of discrimination.  Through an in-depth exploration of supposedly antagonistic white racial projects positioned at different class and labor positions, we can better understand how the social expectations of white racial identity are not distractions from material inequalities, but are a central mechanism in the reproduction of inequality and domination.