“Leon Marlensky” is a pseudonym for a former colleague of mine who prefers to remain nameless. Marlensky is an academic in the liberal arts who resents what he describes as the “faux radicalism” of his peers. The contemporary academy, he says, consists, not of radicals, but of apologists for the status quo, “reactionaries” in radicals’ clothing. A self-described “lone leftist,” Marlensky shares his thoughts on the state of the nation and other things in this interview that I recently conducted with him.
Me: Thanks for taking this time to sit down with me Dr. Marlensky.
LM: The pleasure is mine, Jack. But, as I’ve told you in the past, please call me Leon. Titles, like “doctor,” are invidious social fictions that serve to inflate individual egos while perpetuating class hierarchies.
Me: That’s right. You did make a point about this the last time we spoke.
LM: In calling me Dr. Marlensky, or even Mr. Marlensky, you may as well be addressing me as Master Marlensky; each title serves the same overall purpose: the production of gross asymmetries of power.
Me: So, to be clear, you want to abolish all titles?
LM: That’s correct. Titles are essential to the promotion of every species of oppression. Take, for example, the titles “Mrs” and “Ms.” That we routinely employ them reflects the extent to which our cultural institutions are saturated with both misogyny and homophobia. “Ms” at once reveals and reinforces the systemic degradation to which single women have traditionally been subjected in the West, while “Mrs.”—Mr’s—unveils the ugly reality that married women remain the virtual property of their husbands.
Yet these titles also are designed to relate to one another in such a way as to sustain and solidify our culture’s homophobia in that they privilege an arbitrarily heterosexist view of marriage.
Me: Wow. But Leon, even the most vocal feminists and impassioned defenders of so-called “gay marriage” don’t ordinarily object to the use of titles in everyday life.
LM: So true. But that is the point: they are just as much arch-conservative apologists for the power structure as those with whom they fight. Our institutions embody and perpetuate our modes of thought, and our thought, in turn, is informed by our language. Thus, whether we endorse oppression or liberation depends entirely upon the terms of our everyday discourses.
Me: Well, let’s get moving along. I’d like to—
LM: I’m sorry, Jack, if I may tie this last point into a contemporary event that’s had the nation all abuzz the last few weeks. I’m referring to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin situation.
Me: Sure, go right ahead.
LM: From beginning to end, the coverage of this case has been drenched in the most virulent racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. And it may come as a shock to you to hear me say that it is Trayvon Martin’s defenders who are the biggest culprits on these fronts, for it is their words that have served as the vehicles of these poisons.
Me: Oh, you’re referring to the not-so-subtle anti-white sentiments that they have promoted, right?
LM: Actually—no. Here’s what I’m talking about.
How often have you heard his defenders refer to Trayvon as a “young boy?”
Me: Too often!
LM: Exactly. But “boy,” at least as it has historically been applied by whites to black males, is a racist epithet. Trayvon’s defenders are no different from the most ardent proponents of Jim Crow in describing this six feet something young, black man as a “boy.”
That’s how the “pro-Trayvon” coverage has facilitated some of the country’s most hideous racism. Inasmuch as his advocates insist that Trayvon was not a “thug” because he came from a “middle-class” family, they stand condemned of classism, for they imply that those on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder are more disposed to become criminals than those higher up. They privilege the middle class above the lower and under classes.
Me: Ok. How, though, are the pro-Trayvon forces “sexist” and “homophobic?”
LM: Well, had Zimmerman been a woman, it seems to me that we would be reacting quite differently to what had happened. But what we hear, if we really listen carefully, is that this was just a fight that didn’t need to have resulted in a shooting, much less a shooting death. Boys will be boys, right? On display here is the same raw chauvinism, the same hyper-masculinity that made much of the West and America in particular. The champions of gender equality, if ever they are to be found, need to denounce, without qualification, this kind of unthinking.
Homophobia is also very much present in the coverage of the Zimmerman/Trayvon coverage. From what Trayvon’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, has said, Trayvon characterized Zimmerman as a “creepy ass cracker.” This can be interpreted as a homophobic slur. Indeed, according to Rachel, she and Trayvon both suspected that Zimmerman might be a “rapist.”
So, just because they thought that Zimmerman may have been a homosexual, they assumed that he could have been a rapist.
I in no way mean to blame Trayvon or his friend for their homophobia, for they are merely regurgitating the homophobic stereotypes that they’ve been fed by the larger Eurocentric culture in which they’ve been raised. Still, it did play a role in this whole case. Moreover, in the media’s refusal to mention this fact, it engages in the worst sort of intellectual gay-bashing.
Me: Well, Leon, we are about out of time—at least for now. Thanks for being with me. We will talk again.
LM: Thank you, Jack. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you the next time around.