torsdag 18 oktober 2012

How much immigration can the Swedish society take? The Remix.

How much immigration can the Swedish society take?
a remix of
Linda Nochlin’s “Why are there no great women artists?”

"How much immigration can the Swedish society take?" The question tolls reproachfully in the background of most discussions of the so-called immigration problem. But like so many other so-called questions involved in the ethnicity "controversy," it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: "The Swedish society can only take so much immigration".

The assumptions behind such a question are varied in range and sophistication, running anywhere from "scientifically proven" demonstrations of the inability of human beings with dark skin rather than white skin to contribute with anything significant, to relatively open minded wonderment that immigrants, despite so many years of near equality and after all, a lot of swedes have had their disadvantages too, have still not achieved anything of exceptional significance in society.

The anti-racist's first reaction is to swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker, and to attempt to answer the question as it is put: that is, to dig up examples of worthy or insufficiently appreciated immigrants throughout history; to rehabilitate rather modest, if interesting and productive careers; to "rediscover" forgotten immigrants make out a case for them; to demonstrate that immigrants were really less dependent upon welfare than one had been led to think. Such attempts, whether undertaken from an anti-racist point of view, are certainly worth the effort, both in adding to our knowledge of immigrant’s achievement and of migration history generally. But they do nothing to question the assumptions lying behind the question ”how much immigration can the Swedish society take?" On the contrary, by attempting to answer it, they tacitly reinforce its negative implications.

It is when one really starts thinking about the implications of " how much immigration can the Swedish society take?" that one begins to realize to what extent our consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned-and often falsified-by the way the most important questions are posed. We tend to take it for granted that there really is an East Asian Problem, a Poverty Problem, a Black Problem and a Woman Problem. But first we must ask ourselves who is formulating these "questions," and then, what purposes such formulations may serve. (We may, of course, refresh our memories with the connotations of the Nazis' "Jewish Problem.") Indeed, in our time of instant communication, "problems" are rapidly formulated to rationalize the bad conscience of those with power: thus the problem posed by Americans in Vietnam and Cambodia is referred to by Americans as the "East Asian Problem," whereas East Asians may view it, more realistically, as the "American Problem"; the so-called Poverty Problem might more directly be viewed as the "Wealth Problem" by denizens of urban ghettos or rural wastelands; the same irony twists the White Problem into its opposite, a Black Problem; and the same inverse logic turns up in the formulation of our own present state of affairs as the "Immigrant Problem."

Now the "Immigrant Problem," like all human problems, so-called (and the very idea of calling anything to do with human beings a "problem" is, of course, a fairly recent one) is not amenable to "solution" at all, since what human problems involve is reinterpretation of the nature of the situation, or a radical alteration of stance or program on the part of the "problems " themselves. Thus immigrants and their situation in the society, as in other realms of endeavor, are not a "problem" to be viewed through the eyes of the dominant white power elite. Instead, immigrants must conceive of themselves as potentially, if not actually, equal subjects, and must be willing to look the facts of their situation full in the face, without self-pity, or cop-outs; at the same time they must view their situation with that high degree of emotional and intellectual commitment necessary to create a world in which equal achievement will be not only made possible but actively encouraged by social institutions.

It is certainly not realistic to hope that a majority of white people, in the society or in any other field, will soon see the light and find that it is in their own self-interest to grant complete equality to immigrants, as some anti-racists optimistically assert, or to maintain that white people themselves will soon realize that they are diminished by denying themselves access to traditionally "immigrant" realms and emotional reactions. Those who have privileges inevitably hold on to them, and hold tight, no matter how marginal the advantage involved, until compelled to bow to superior power of one sort or another.

Thus the question of equality devolves not upon the relative benevolence or ill-will of individual white people, nor the self-confidence or abjectness of individual immigrants, but rather on the very nature of our institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are part of them. Most white people, despite lip service to equality, are reluctant to give up this "natural" order of things in which their advantages are so great.

The question " how much immigration can the Swedish society take?" is simply the top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and misconception; beneath lies a vast dark bulk of shaky idees recues about the nature of society and its situational concomitants, about the nature of human abilities in general and of human excellence in particular, and the role that the social order plays in all of this. While the "immigrant problem" as such may be a pseudo-issue, the misconceptions involved in the question " how much immigration can the Swedish society take?" points to major areas of intellectual obfuscation beyond the specific political and ideological issues involved in the subjection of immigrants.

The question " how much immigration can the Swedish society take?" has led us to the conclusion, so far, that society is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, but rather, that the total situation of society in its making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of society itself, occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions, be they academies, systems of welfare, the media, mythologies of the immigrant or the Swede.

Extract remixed from
Women, Art and Power and Other Essays, Westview Press, 1988 by Linda Nochlin, pp.147-158

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