Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The “R” Word as Taboo in Twenty-First Century U.S.A. | the becoming radical

The “R” Word as Taboo in Twenty-First Century U.S.A. | the becoming radical:

The “R” Word as Taboo in Twenty-First Century U.S.A.

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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale offers a not-to-distant dystopia in which Atwood explores the rise of a theocracy as a sanctuary for the declining white race; the work is a tour-de-force confrontation of sexism and misogyny as well as dramatization of the relationship between power and language, including the power inherent in what humans name* and what humans taboo.
The central handmaid of the tale, June/Offred, narrates her own journey through hell that includes being assigned to a Commander who monthly is charged with attempting to impregnate his handmaid in what this new nation of Gilead calls the Ceremony, infusing the act with religious and official overtones.
However, June/Offred characterizes the Ceremony with a disturbing and clinical precision:
My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose. (p. 94)
Many aspects of this passage are worth emphasizing, but let’s focus on the importance and value in June/Offred naming accurately this awful thing happening—and not ignore the weight of taboo language (such as the word “fucking”).
“I have guarded my name as people/ in other times kept their own clipped hair,” opens Barbara Kingsolver’s poem, “Naming Myself,” “believing the soul could be scattered/ if they were careless.”
Here too are the intersections of naming, gender, and power: why must women abandon their names in the legal/religious act of marriage while men retain theirs?
Kingsolver’s speaker, like Atwood’s narrator, both uses and values language as power—guarding a name and naming.
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The election of Donald Trump as the president of the U.S. comes in the wake of Trump making inflammatory comments about MexicansMuslims, and women. Nonpartisan and measured assessments of Trump’s words rightly label them as racist, xenophobic, and sexist/misogynistic.
The rise of Trump as a political leader has exposed the lingering taboo in the U.S. for naming racism, even when there is direct evidence of racist language and behavior and especially when that racism is coded (getting tough on crime, building a wall, evoking the specter of terrorism).
Serious public debate has parsed making the distinction between Trump being a racist and Trump courting and/or attracting racists, such as being endorsed by the KKK, neo-Nazi organizations, and the white nationalist movement.
A perverse shift has occurred, in fact, from the mislabeling of Barack Obama’s being elected president as proof that the U.S. is a post-racial society to Trump’s rise asking the U.S. to reconsider what counts as racism.
Trump personifies the triple-Teflon of being white, male, and affluent, most notably in the power of those attributes to deflect the label “racist.” As Trump himself asserted defiantly:
I can never apologize for the truth. I don’t mind apologizing for things. But I can’t apologize for the truth. I said tremendous crime is coming across. Everybody knows that’s true. And it’s happening all the time. So, why, when I mention, all of a sudden I’m a racist. I’m not a racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.
Trump’s own strategy frames his words and behavior as “truth,” therefore not “racist.”
The election of Trump grounded significantly on white voter support, including a majority of white women, adds another layer of tension in that if Trump has voiced racism and/or practiced racism, how complicit are The “R” Word as Taboo in Twenty-First Century U.S.A. | the becoming radical:


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