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A histrionic thing

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If Rousseau, for instance, after writing those Confessions in which candour and ignorance of self are equally conspicuous, had heard some intelligent friend, like Hume, draw up in a few words an account of their author’s true and contemptible character, he would have been loud in protestations that no such ignoble characteristics existed in his eloquent consciousness; and they might not have existed there, because his consciousness was a histrionic thing, and as imperfect an expression of his own nature as of man’s.

George Santayana – The Life of Reason (1905-1906)

Suppose we move on from histrionic consciousness to the uses and abuses of intersectionality which are well illustrated in this Mercatornet piece. 
American Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who read her poem, The Hill we Climb, at the inauguration of President Biden is a good example of the moral prestige of intersectionality. Amanda spoke of herself as “the skinny black girl, descended from slaves, raised by a single mother” who is now free to dream of becoming President. In those few well-chosen words, she bedded herself securely within the pie chart of intersectional disadvantage.

But the truth is rather more complex.

Amanda along with her twin sister was indeed raised by a single mother, Joan Wicks, a middle school teacher of English. However, Amanda’s back story suggests privilege too.. She attended a private school in Santa Monica called New Roads. The fees there are in the region of US$40,000 a year. New Roads is very politically correct. Its mission statement proclaims that “solidarity and allyship are in our DNA”.

Amanda went from New Roads to another bastion of American privilege, Harvard University, from which she graduated with a BA last year.

You would think that a thick layer of education privilege would thin out the layers of prejudice below it. Not so. New Roads and Harvard add to Ms Gorman’s social privilege but she retains the moral privilege of being intersectional. It’s a bit odd.

We could say that intersectionality is also a histrionic thing connected with the bolstering of egos, moral prestige, limited talent and even the justification of lucky breaks. Merit though – it certainly isn’t about that. Joe Biden diving straight in is all of a piece with the man.

President Joe Biden, as another example, can lighten the load of his straight, white male baggage by talking up his Irish ancestry. While his maternal grandfather is Irish, his paternal grandfather’s lineage, along with his surname, traces to Sussex in deepest England. His maternal grandmother is mostly French and he carries her surname as his middle name. Identifying with an oppressed race, however, is a good image and if the oppressed race concerned is Irish, well, sure that never did any American politician any harm.


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