Nadia Snopek

By Alejandra Pretel• 

Originally published on Afroféminas •


In the last decades there has been a radical change in the idiosyncrasy of social movements, the decades of the 60s and 70s that were characterized by transformative processes of struggle and resistance have been co-opted by neoliberal logics based on the false idea of ​​meritocracy and individual responsibility. Placing ourselves in an American geopolitical context, it is interesting to observe how these devices have not only infiltrated feminist, anti-racist struggles and the LGBT+ Liberation, but have also become hegemony. Increasingly removed from the fight for social justice, their methods cause a fraudulent emancipation that only benefits the most privileged people within that community.

The concept of Progressive Neoliberalism explains this question very well, developed by the American philosopher Nancy Freaser, seeks to understand what was the rise to power of the extreme right under Donald Trump, from a specific type of voters (white and heterosexual men) who were abandoned by the last Democratic governments through an alliance between business, middle class people and social movements, specifically feminism, anti-racism and the gay and lesbian movement. Social justice, for its part, was the engine of most liberation movements that preceded neoliberalism, based on its three complex dimensions (distribution of material resources, recognition and representation) racialized people, women and gender gender dissidents in The 60s and 70s focused their attention on the problem of redistribution.

Feminism, the gay and lesbian movement and anti-racist struggles were undoubtedly some of the sectors most allied to this type of neoliberal devices, not only from the paradigm of meritocracy but from a corporatism in the movements, through surrogacy systematic of horizontal organizations with non-professional activists by hierarchical institutions led by businessmen and politicians, in addition to the substitution of resistance measures such as the disruptive occupation of public space (the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King, leader of the movement for civil rights in America, the Stonewall riots, remembered as the revolt that gave rise to the modern movement for the rights of queer people or the demonstrations in 1968 led by referents of radical feminism, No more Miss America, against a contest that they considered sexist and racist) for advertising slogans such as #lovesislove, female empowerment or the neoliberal notion of wanting is power

The idea of ​​female empowerment benefits a particular sector from the heterogeneity of this group. The evolved stereotype of a woman freed by the shackles of machismo only works for those who are shackled. Only the hierarchical gender sex system and other identity axes such as race/ethnicity, class, ability, religion, sexual orientation are completely liberated and enjoy the privileges that allow them to be from that place. The idea of ​​the empowered woman is functional to a unique experience of woman, the white, western and heterosexual experience and from the recognition of that only possible subjectivity, emancipation can in fact occur, at the cost of the subjection of other women. This model implies a passage from the private to the public, it focuses a large part of the “feminine” liberation in the access to certain types of paid work and in the abandonment of the tasks of care of the domestic, relegating nevertheless this work to other women in a differential precarious condition. At no time is there a radical questioning of the dichotomous structure between the public and the private, and although its gender is not questioned if the hierarchy is questioned. The empowered woman perpetuates these binary structures but does not question herself for them, as her gender-exclusive privileges allow her to leave that place. Most professional archetypes on female empowerment are related to business jobs or political positions with certain hierarchies. Measures such as parity in the lists or the problems of the glass ceiling are exclusive to these privileged women, neglecting that many others cannot even aspire to one of these job positions because there are other structural conditions, alien to gender such as class.

In the case of the gay and lesbian movement, something similar happens; The struggles of the 70s and the queer resistance movements of the time focused on countering police brutality, demilitarizing society and claiming a queer sexual public space were supplanted by legal measures that allowed the inclusion of these institutions through the promotion of certain laws and thus, give legitimacy to institutions such as the army or marriage that were criticized at the beginning of the movement. The claim for a queer sexual public space and the refusal by gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in the 70s to follow the affective sex normativity characteristic of heterosexuality, became a discourse of “normalization” of these identities through a stereotype of homosexual relationships, under the same regulated patterns socially akin to heterosexuality such as monogamy or marriage. Equal marriage became the most important legal struggle of the gay and lesbian movement worldwide since the 2000s, claiming civil rights such as inheritance or residency to regulate immigration status through the citizenship of the spouse of the same gender and equal marriage became a legal mechanism that benefited the most privileged gays and lesbians; roasting seems to benefit in the first instance those people whose privileges of race / ethnicity, class, immigration and ability will allow to increase their well-being, joining the status of privileged relationships of the government.” In addition, the grassroots movements characteristic of the 70s, became vertical structures led by the most privileged gays and lesbians where identities such as Marsha P. Johnson (Black trans woman and veteran of the Stonewall riots) or her comrade Sylvia Rivera (Latin trans woman, of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent) who not only consolidated as icons of the LGBT + movement but also created STAR, a group dedicated to helping transvestites and trans women in street situations, would hardly have a place in current organizations where their representatives are crossed by their homosexual sexual orientation and in other aspects such as race / ethnicity, class, educational level or gender identity are privileges.

In the case of anti-racist movements, the neoliberal discourse is strongly crossed by the idea of ​​meritocracy. As there is greater representation of Afro-descendant people in spaces such as politics, the media or senior management, it presupposes an idea of ​​equal opportunities and the ethnic-racial variable as something that remained in the past and that today is not an impediment to the so longed for social advancement. Historical milestones like the arrival of Barack Obama, the White House, the first African-American president in history, uphold this thesis. However, the police persecution and repressive violence against Black people did not stop in his two terms. Furthermore, anti-discrimination laws that see the attack on racialized people as isolated events, perpetuated by evil subjects and not as attacks legitimized by a structural system that is racism legitimize what Alan David Freeman, an African-American lawyer, calls the perspective of the perpetrator ¨the focus is more on what certain particular perpetrators have done or are doing to certain victims, and not so much on the general life situation of the class to which the victim belongs.” From this point of view, which does not consider racism as a structural and institutional issue, it is impossible to understand movements such as #BlackLivesMatter (which appears on social networks after the acquittal of the murder at the hands of a white policeman of an unarmed Black teenager) that, although born after the outrage of a crime that meets the characteristics to be validated as a hate crime, he understands that if there is systemic violence against young Black men, it is not because there are perverse subjects who view their lives as disposable, but because there is a structure that legitimizes that certain bodies have value and others do not. #BlackLivesMatter understands the precariousness of Black lives, calls for their recognition, in the words of Judith Butler it means appreciating Black lives, as lives that deserve to be mournedlives worth mourning. 

Likewise, the legal perspective of the perpetrator, in force in anti-discrimination laws and in the identification of hate crimes, makes it impossible to report much more implicit racist acts, such as not allowing Black people to use their hair or hairstyles typical of their culture in work spaces. because it understands racism not as a structural issue but as a problem of bad people who attack others, tacitly legitimizing the idea of ​​equal opportunities, the basis of the liberal paradigm of meritocracy, since it supposes that without these evil individuals the natural order of society will be reestablished. equal opportunities where everyone without distinction of gender, race/ethnicity, class, etc., will be able to compete. In 2009, after assuming his first presidency, Obama gave a speech at the centennial of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of People of Color) formed in 1909 in pursuit of racial ethnic justice for African Americans. Linked with the civil rights movement, since the 2000s, she was in charge of issues related to ethnic-racial discrimination, guaranteeing political, educational, social and economic equality not only for Black people but for racialized people and the interesting of the Obama’s speech is like this one, it is crossed transversely by the paradigm of meritocracy, after his recent positioning as president, there is a reiteration of the Black being as one more axis within the identity that does not reaffirm the side of privilege, but neither of oppression. In one of the fragments of his speech, he states: “[… if they are African-American, the chances of growing up in the midst of crime and gangs are greater, (…) but that is not a reason to give up their education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands and do not forget it.] ”(Obama, B., 2009, p. 5). In anti-racist discourses, as well as in feminism and in the LGBTQ+ movement, the logic of equal opportunities takes the lead and is positioned as hegemony, radical projects for a transformation in the conditions of existence of the Black population such as the 10 points of the Black Panthers, those who not only called themselves anti-racists but also anti-fascists, anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists, were supplied by identity policies and legal measures that hardly function as palliative to the basic problems of the community. 

Focusing all the efforts of social movements on public policies or legal changes taking a single axis of subjection, far from building the utopia of equal opportunities, marginalizes the bodies that are traversed by multiple structures of oppression, denying how social dynamics They are much more complex and how these systems that murder and violate these bodies feed off and sustain each other.


Alejandra Pretel is an Afro-Colombian based in Argentina, philosophy student at the University of Buenos Aires, and an Afro-feminist, anti-racist and bisexual militant.