The first real class day of Intro to Peace Studies, we spend time discussing the various types of peace that scholars have identified. People tend to assume that peace is peace, and that “peace” means no war or physical conflict. Charles Webel identifies three forms of peace: (1) strong peace—a utopia where everyone lives in constant harmony, (2) weak peace—where there is an absence of war, but discrimination, inequality, and oppression exist, and (3) imperfect peace—a relative strong peace punctuated by moments of weak peace that are recognized and corrected in order to return to the strong peace. Anne Anlin Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race, I felt, spoke to the affect weak peace has on those oppressed by the privileged. While Cheng does not offer explicit ways to correct weak peace, the evidence of the existence of weak peace in American culture seems to suggest that we can at least strive to correct these issues and aim for an imperfect peace.
Cheng highlights the effects oppression has on the groups living under the shadow of weak peace (i.e., internalization of rejection and performance of the stereotype). Part of the problem with weak peace is that those doing the oppressing believe they live in a strong peace full of harmony, yet, as Cheng points out, there is a systematic refusal to accept the grief that can disturb the illusion of strong peace. Grievances are acceptable because they can be “addressed” in a timely manner, while grief requires time, acknowledgment, and empathy. Grievances can be dealt with, and checked off the list systematically, which is really just like applying a band-aid to someone who needs surgery to remove or treat an infected organ. Grief, on the other hand, is difficult for the privileged to accept because acknowledging grief means (1) the grief and the events that caused the grief are real, (2) the events that caused the grief hurt people, and (3) the events that caused the grief need to be corrected, and that requires a great deal of time, attention, and patience. Grievance is a symptom of grief, and focusing solely on the symptom does not cure the dis-ease of grief.
While the privileged seem to believe that addressing grief means the destruction of their privileged position, not dealing with the grief and slapping quick fixes on grievances is the real cancer that stands to take everyone down, not just the groups being oppressed. Recognizing, addressing, and healing grief lifts everyone, not just the group experiencing the grief, and this can reconciliation of grief can be the process that initiates a more stable, harmonious, albeit imperfect, peace. However, learning how to cope, handle, and live with grief (because grief does not always disappear) means transforming our lifestyle. Change is scary, and it seems that when the idea of transformation comes into the equation, people (especially those in positions of privilege) fear that change means the loss of their privilege and, therefore, do what they can to stop it. Unfortunately, weak peace also transforms the lifestyle of those who are oppressed, leading to what Cheng describes: invisibility, internalization of rejection, and performance of the stereotype.
The culture of grievances (and the belief that addressing the grievance solves the issue) is a systematic enforcement of weak peace (i.e., hidden oppression) that leads us to find some way to work within a system that won’t accept us. That is, to play on level ground, the oppressed or the invisible have to perform the stereotypes they have been assigned. It’s a vicious cycle of stupidity that really just shows how “privilege” is an illusion that hides insecurity and fear. For example, as a white women, men can deal with me as long as I play the “dumb-blond” role. The fact that I can get things done by pretending to me stupid or showing a little cleavage is ridiculous, but it works and I am well versed in how to use that stereotype to maneuver through the world. When I drop the stereotype, that’s when problems begin. Once I demonstrate the fact that I have a brain or can actually accomplish a physically laborious task—I am the problem, because I take away the role the other (typically a male) is meant to play.
In the examples Cheng offers (i.e., Invisible Man, M. Butterfly, Flower Drum Song, The Woman Warrior, etc.) performance of the stereotype seems to indicate that there is nowhere else for the individual to go, and that authenticity leads to conflict at best, invisibility at worst. If we play into the stereotypes then we gain recognition because we live down to another’s expectation of us. One thing I wonder is: it seems that general idea behind stereotypes is that the stereotype is used to put down the “other,” but can’t the stereotype placed on the “other” also be used to alleviate the insecurity and fear festering within the one who insists on and uses the stereotype (i.e., those told they are privileged)? When I play the dumb blond, it makes men feel special and when I am myself, those same men feel useless and emasculated, because they have internalized the patriarchal myth that men are stronger/smarter/more important/more valuable/etc. than women. Can privilege be considered a stereotype as well, and if so, can the oppression of others be seen as performance of the stereotype of privilege? In other words, in the context of weak peace, privilege is an illusion that forces the oppressed into performing the stereotype to the best of their ability in order to get by, because the privilege have been duped into thinking that they mean more, and have more control, than they do.
Cheng indicates that internalization of rejection leads to grief, which leads to the performance of the stereotype—although I’m not entirely sure what leads to what, since the system seems to represent a spiral that heads more deeply into grief with every turn (no matter where you start). Cheng’s discussion makes me think that American culture is just an example of an abusive relationship on a mass scale. The victim is invisible, until s/her gives into the abuser; the victim is berated to the point where s/he internalizes the rejection directed toward her/him; the victim’s attempts to leave the cycle, and the stereotype, lead to explosive violence, which many times leads to the victim’s death. For example, the refusal of the African-American community in Ferguson to play into the “criminal” stereotype, combined with the choice to demonstrate injustice instead, may be read as an attempt to escape the performance of the stereotype of black male criminality, which of course had to be violently ended by the white police community, who had to engage in a performance of the stereotype of “absolute power” (associated with white maleness and police culture). How might the police department’s acceptance of the African-American community’s grief at Michael Brown’s unnecessary murder have changed the situation? How might the department’s own grief at their actions have changed the emotional outcome of the situation?
One question I have for Cheng relates to her selection of Freudian methodology. I wonder why she did not use Jungian analytical psychology (or depth psychology), whose goal is the reconciliation of trauma? Jung adamantly felt that in order to heal, an individual has to face all of those things that create the psychological and/or affective dis-ease, especially those things that are disturbing or that we want to keep invisible from our consciousness. He called this disturbing aspect the shadow, and emphasizes that, if we chose not to attend to the shadow, the shadow will get to us no matter what. That is, ignoring a full-fledged confrontation with the shadow causes more psychic damage than facing it. The experience first elicits fear because the shadow appears as a threat, when really the shadow is just trying to show us what we have to include in our perspectives of ourselves to truly heal. Requiring the “other” to internalize the rejection and engage in a performance of the stereotype, Jung might say, is the very thing that is helping American culture maintain a weak peace. These conditioned affective responses of oppressed cultures when faced with the demands of (or neglect by) the privileged, only keep the culture from presenting itself as unique, balanced, and healthy. Jung might point to Cheng’s distinction between grief and grievance and emphasize that honest and true healing requires acknowledging and feeling grief, not just resolving one grievance after another.