Hegemonies, False-Consciousness, Micro-aggressions: Discuss

By and large, protest marchers seem to be having a good time, despite their determination. They seem flushed and happy, buoyed up by a sense purpose and community, fed by the endorphins that are released by physical exercise and excitement. Perhaps the human body retains an atavistic need to merge physical and meaningful activity. It is more satisfying to help dig a well than to input data on the spreadsheets of a well-digging organisation. It’s probably more fun to chuck a statue in the docks than to call for more debate on Britain’s historical links to slavery. 

It is the commentators, online and in print, who seem the most hard-line and embittered. Partly, of course, because words need to be forceful to have impact; possibly because they are sitting at computers all day and aren’t getting out into the sunshine. 

Historians research historical racisms and other discriminations and suggest how these might feed into modern assumptions and complicity in structural inequality. Social scientists diagnose societies’ deep-structures and coin terms to describe them. They are demonstrating that, despite much superficial progress on equality and social inclusion, toxic assumptions still form the basis of some thinking in our communities. 

To this discussion, social commentators’ contribute their own experiences of being dismissed and belittled due to their race, gender or identity (or identity choices). The theory behind their position is a quasi-Marxist belief that society’s hierarchies are maintained by hegemonies[1]: mind-sets or cultural assumptions. These, in turn, are maintained by a constant drip-feed of reinforcements, trivial value-judgements that seem too small to challenge in themselves, yet build up to an absolute acceptance of the status quo, the belief that inequalities and oppression are “simply how the world is.” Marxists call this “false consciousness”. 

For this reason, even the smallest expression of prevailing hegemonies, now termed “micro-aggressions”, should be challenged and rebutted. 

So the theory goes.


[1] This term was coined by Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937), I think, in his Prison Notebooks.

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