Below is an excerpt of the first part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky, the most rigorous-minded leftist of whom I have ever heard. In the interest of promoting a genuinely free market place of ideas, I have decided provide Dr. Marlensky—or Leon, as he insists upon being called—with an opportunity to express himself to audiences—my readers—who he would otherwise never reach.
JK: Dr. Leon Marlensky, I thank you for being with me here today.
LM: The pleasure is mine, Jack. However, I implore you: please, please call me Leon. And I hope that you will not take offense at my insistence upon referring to you by your first name.
Titles like “doctor,” signifying as they do distinctions of power and authority, belong to hierarchical modes of thought. They serve to further the class oppression in which the Western world has been saturated since its inception. This is why I don’t even call my parents “mom” and “dad.” Nor do I call my grandparents “grandmother” and “grandfather.” I am equally determined to make sure that my children and grandchildren don’t call me “dad.” There are only first names in my universe.
JK: Please forgive me, sir, I only meant….
LM: Please, sir is even worse than doctor. Sir, like “mister,” not only allies itself with “doctor” and the like by furthering classism. Titles like “sir” and “mister” perpetuate sexism as well. And I know that you meant no ill will in addressing me as “doctor;” most people mean no ill will when they speak. But this is the problem: it is not our individual intentions, but the social structures to which they collectively give rise, that matter.
JK: But “sir” is just a manner of speaking.
LM: I don’t mean to single you out here, Jack. You are no different from most people in thinking that speech is one thing, action another. But speaking and acting are one and the same. Every phrase, every sentence, is a “speech-act” that takes its place in some discourse or another. These discourses, in turn, structure the asymmetries of power that characterize the West.
JK: So our civilization is….
LM: With all due respect, there you go again.
JK: What did I say now?
LM: You said not one, but two things that have done incalculable damage to humanity. First, you said “our civilization.” Second, you said “our civilization.”
“Our” implies “not them.” Next to “mine,” there is probably no other term that is more exclusive than “our.” Yet in the case of the West, things are even worse, because “our” has always referred to white Europeans. That is, “our” has been an indispensable instrument in the promotion of White Supremacy.
“Civilization,” in turn, serves this same function. If there are civilized people, then there are also uncivilized or primitive peoples. The concept of civilization not only introduces a sharp divide between “the civilized” and everyone else, but it justifies the oppression of the latter by the former.
JK: So, the use of the term “civilization,” at least when it is used by white men and women, justifies racial oppression?
LM: Exactly right.
JK: Sorry.Leon, while no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like American Indians—-
LM: Excuse me, there is no such thing as an American Indian—-
JK: Once more, I apologize. Allow me to rephrase. While no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like Native Americans—
LM: Sorry Jack, but neither is there such a thing as a “Native American.” The concept of a “Native American” presupposes the concept of America. Yet the latter is a Eurocentric invention, the creation of Europeans. Come on Jack! America is named for Amerigo Vespucci, you know that! And Vespucci, as you are equally well aware, is of European stock, a white man.
JK: Ok. Fine. Let me begin my question again, but this time minus the allusion to any specific nonwhite group other than blacks. While no one would deny that—-
LM: Wait! With all due respect, Jack, listen to what you’re saying. “Nonwhites?” Have you ever met anyone who identified her or himself as a “nonwhite?” The concept of a “nonwhite” is a negative concept, the negation or privation of the positive concept, the good, of whiteness. “Nonwhite” stands in relation to “white” as disease stands in relation to health, or darkness relates to light.
“Nonwhite” is a racist category without which the system of White Supremacy couldn’t long survive.
JK: Just a minute,Leon. Just a minute. We also—
LM: What do you mean by “we,” Jack? To whom does “we” refer? Though less explicitly exclusive than “our,” “we” too is a pronoun that has served to divide and conquer.
JK: By “we” I refer to us, to—-
LM: Us? Don’t you realize that “us” always implies a “them?”
JK: Leon! Please. In this culture, this country, we—the citizens of America—also use the term “nonblack.” Is this an illegitimate concept too?
LM: For the purpose of facilitating this exchange, Jack, I’ll refrain, for the moment, of noting that the notion of “citizenship” is an intrinsically racist one. For now, suffice it to say that, yes, “nonblack” is just as supportive of White Supremacy as is “nonwhite.” Think about it: the concept of black is a social construction, a Eurocentric social construction. It is a category that whites devised and then imposed upon a diverse array of peoples from the continent of Africa. Prior to the invasion of Europeans, Africans didn’t regard themselves as “black.” They defined themselves in terms of their tribes—not the monolithic “black” that whites came up with to identify them.
JK: Oh, I get it. You believe that a more suitable label is “African-American”—-
LM: Jack, Jack, Jack. As I said before with respect to the racism of “Native American”—
JK: Right, right. I forgot: “African-American” is racist also, for it presupposes “America,” which in turn is the invention of whites.
LM: Now you are catching on.
The second part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky will be published soon.