Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism and Anti-Racism

Description

190 pages
Contains Bibliography
$14.95
ISBN 0-88961-208-0
DDC 305.42'01

Publisher

Year

1995

Contributor

Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.

Review

“The personal is the political” has long been a familiar rallying
cry in cultural studies, but rarely is this knotty statement theorized
in a meaningful way. In her book Thinking Through, Himani Bannerji, a
professor of sociology at York University, splendidly weaves an
intensely political narrative on the problem of cultural identity in a
post-colonial world with a vivid, and sometimes anguishing, series of
personal reflections.

Through seven spirited chapters Bannerji unfolds the broader social
implications underlying seemingly anecdotal experiences. In one such
instance, she recalls teaching a course on Gender, Race and Class at
York. Deeply aware that she is “a non-white, five-foot-one woman”
lecturing to “mostly white” students, she remembers how they
confronted her with their mere presence in the lecture hall. “They
look at me. ... They stop on the outer edges of my skin, they pick out
my colour, height, clothes, and I am aware of this look, ‘the gaze’
that both comes from and produces fixity.” For Bannerji, this
“gaze” comes to symbolize a point of connection between theory and
practice. Even as a teacher “dissociated from my own presence in the
room,” she finds that her own “different” body is being “offered
up to them to learn from, the room is the arena, a stage, an
amphitheatre, I am an actor in a theatre of cruelly.” The students
watch and listen, but few “question their own cultures, childhoods,
upbringings, and ask how they could live so ‘naturally’ in this
‘white’ environment.” Many do touch on these issues, but many fail
to recognize their own racism, sexism, and classism as part of a deeper
structure, like the “empathetic white women” in the class who
confront themselves with feelings of guilt rather than the “questions,
criticisms and politics” required to seriously think through these
problems to their root.

Bannerji refuses the “cultural reductionism” of identity politics
that sometimes masquerades as political scholarship. Instead, she claims
that culture and society must be radically transformed. As she sees it,
simply accepting people’s “differences” gives way to, on the one
hand, cultural nationalism and, on the other, liberal multiculturalism.
Both positions lead to a kind of ghettoization, a self-imposed
marginalization that “limits the nature of the struggle that non-white
people themselves engage in” and “stays within the terms of already
existing politics.” In order to change the world rather than to just
interpret it we must, in the words of one of her preferred critics,
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, “decolonize the mind,” which means we have to
become relentlessly conscious of how our language, history, politics,
and even our day-to-day practices piece us together.

Books like this often draw accusations of “political correctness”
from critics of a more conservative ilk. Given Bannerji’s meticulous
attention to both the philosophy and the minutiae of the politics of
difference, such criticisms be would not only tactless but also be
erroneous.

Citation

Bannerji, Himani., “Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism and Anti-Racism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1926.