How timely this week’s reading is. I’m not referring to the unprec/sidented executive order banning the entrance of people from seven countries into the United States, but that bastion of nationalism, the prime example of “us” versus “them”, the microcosm of competition and hate that signifies America’s willingness to come together and hate someone else, in harmony: the Superbowl.
We foster our nationalism early. Between pee-wee league matches, high school rivalries and post-Christmas bowl games, we indoctrinate our children into futile feuding at a young age. Eagles fans are Eagles fans because their fathers were Eagles fans–certainly not out of nostalgia for some past greatness. We create small societies around “our team” and remind ourselves that at least we’re not Patriots fans. This athletic support is well placed to prime our sensibilities for the jingoistic, rally-around-the-flag that a hegemonic power structure needs in place when their populist ideals are neither popular, nor ideal.
We wear sports jerseys to practice wearing fatigues; pennants become flags, fight songs become anthems. We invest in the small rivalries to be prepared to invest in the large ones.
Yet, even in the midst of all this “healthy competition” when America needs us, we come together. We put aside our differences and stand as one united nation; a symbol of freedom and tolerance. That’s what we put on ribbon stickers. That’s what we tell ourselves. White people are delusional.
White people are particularly good at cultivating these little feuds: that rival high school; the Baptists next door; the Steelers fans down the street; the Pepsi drinker. And we tell ourselves that we’re so brave for overcoming these differences, all the while caving under the insecurity of American whiteness. That insecurity is the fuel that drives Ancestry.com into million dollar profits. The need that white Americans have to know from which European nation their ancestors sprang. We enjoy a privilege of knowing that our records are there, preserved, waiting for that little leaf to show up on grandad’s name to say “hey, white person, your heritage matters.”
We have internalized and commoditized the old colonial rivalries of nineteenth century Europe in its mad dash to gobble up the rest of the world. We are Spartans, and Rough-Riders, and Fighting Irish, and Knights. Our ancestry and our history is tightly packaged into professional competition sponsored by Duracell.
“Did you see that Cowboys, Redskins game last night? What a bloodbath.”
Frantz Fanon’s argument that “the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns…and that a national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals” (217). He argues that the colonial intellectual trying to reach back into a pre-colonial past to justify a sense of the expunged culture, to reclaim an identity to justify independence is doomed to fail. Culture is the germination of struggle and liberation from the oppressor in the colonized nation, he suggests. And while the new culture that develops out of that struggle may call back to its pre-colonial roots, it will still be a new national culture of its own, grown out of the people and their struggle.
Perhaps this is what Fredric Jameson was getting to as well, albeit indelicately. As I approached the Jameson piece, after having read the concept definitions, I expected the essay to be an outright dismissal of “third world” literature as part of an ever expanding canon. Yet, I believe it’s the canon he wishes to blow up. When he states that “the third-world novel will not offer the satisfactions of Proust or Joyce” he is not dismissing the novel’s literary quality, but it’s their status as a cultural group new at writing in the novel genre (65). The Eurocentrist view of literature would undeniably force all “third world” stories into national allegory simply because there is not a long-standing, widely-dispersed body of literature from these lands. Jameson, I believe, is pointing out not that these books don’t belong, but that shaking the colonist out of the postcolonialist is difficult. We are so invested in the beliefs of our own superiority (and inferiority in the face of European culture) that we don’t even know that we too need to be decolonized. We’re in a penthouse prison that we don’t even recognize.
This video is relevant, in a way, at the very least for the following line: “The best way to keep people in prison, is to keep them in a prison that they don’t know they’re in.”
The descendants of European culture need to decolonize their own minds to consume postcolonial texts with the rhetorical attention that they deserve. We must acknowledge our privilege and let in voices that are troubling, humorous, erotic, political, human. We must begin from a shared biological and emotional framework and attempt to discover and move through a new culture that sprang forth from the struggle of independence or the abandonment of the colonizer. We must remember that our every-day rivalries are constructions, tiny models of warfare ready to be waged at any moment.