Grad Paper Final #2: Cold War Normativity

The Post-WWII world underwent a transition that fundamentally altered the political, cultural and economic climate from one that had been characterized by direct Western hegemony to a more discreet exhibition of power. The emergence of post-colonial states, in tandem with an ever polarizing Cold War discourse of us against them between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., facilitated a propagandized rush to assure allegiance from each new fledgling nation. Inherent in this struggle was the realignment of American foreign policy from its Western Hemispheric biases to more contested locales, situated primarily in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. To garner support for the Euro-American ideologies of liberal democracy and economic individualism, it became apparent to this American coalition that certain racial relics of the past; namely segregation and overtly racist policy would necessarily be whitewashed in the name of global order and the defeat of communism. Therefore, certain programs of equality were allowed to move forward, even encouraged within the nation, while others were eschewed as either too radical or unnecessary.#

A desired product of this championed linear mode of American liberalism, however, was not a total issuance (whether legal, cultural or otherwise) of racial, gender and sexual equality. On the contrary, the visibility of domestic civil rights policy during the Cold War operated at varying degrees, depending on global acceptance or rejection, but served to herald a continued inequality; albeit in a sometimes shadowy form. Therefore, the emergence of a multicultural American state after the political and social upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s is not evidence of the success of those acts of resistance, but instead a marker of state ability to subsume inequality and make it invisible through processes of normalizing certain behaviors and identities while carefully rejecting others. This revelation then, makes apparent the continued construction of, and reliance on, heteronormativity and white supremacy as propagated by the American nation state and transnational capital. It is only in the face of extreme pressures, whether domestic or international, that reveal inequality, that the status-quo is challenged. As I will demonstrate, however, cultural, social and legal constructions of identity and the subsequent formation of a multicultural nation-state during the Cold War was a means to instill normative associations with whiteness and heterosexuality, while denigrating racial and sexual others. In doing so, the state effectively shored up an image of equality to both domestic and foreign populations while retaining power, however disguised, over racialized and sexualized populations in the service of American post-colonial exploitations at home and abroad. Thus, modes of power in this undertaking, through accumulations of discursive knowledge, should be seen as circuitous and not linear and also as indicative of national subjectivity as affected by the transnational. The local affects the global, which then in turn modifies the local. This is especially salient in the context of the Cold War, with an increasingly important worldwide network connecting colluding and competing social, economic and political ideologies.

For Lisa Lowe, in her work Immigrant Acts, the national and cultural projects that emerged in the Cold War have had profound and disconcerting effects, particularly on those identified as Asian immigrants or Asian Americans. In is incumbent to her, then, that her project serve as a means to deconstruct the supposed truths inherent in American hegemonic discourse and in doing so, “thematize Asian American cultural productions as countersites to U.S. national memory and national culture.”# To Lowe, her work acts both as a detailed account of the inequities still prevalent within American neoliberal democracy and as the means through which that project can and has been undermined by alternative cultural constructions. My goal in utilizing Immigrant Acts is to articulate Lowe’s work as a site where discourses of cultural and legal hegemony are deconstructed and reconstituted; and through which, subsequent historical works can exploit that framework for similar aims. Lisa Lowe provides the theoretical structure from which expositions of racial, sexual and gender inequity can be revealed by Mary Dudziak in Cold War Civil Rights as well as by David Johnson in The Lavender Scare. In sum, as Lauren Berlant states in her article “Sex in Public”, “National heterosexuality is the mechanism by which a core national culture can be imagined as a sanitized space of sentimental feeling and immaculate behavior, a space of pure citizenship.”# That citizenship, beyond simple legal definitions, provides the means to impose identarian categorizations that privilege race, gender and sexual hierarchy and obviate others.

Cultural Constructions of Racialized Citizenship: Crafting an Other

As Lisa Lowe pronounces early in Immigrant Acts, the exploitation of the racialized Asian immigrant has, since the end of World War II, been continually subordinated in defining the transition to the Asian American “citizen”. The importance of this conversion lies in Lowe’s assertion that, “In the last century and a half, the American citizen has been defined over against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally.”# To Lowe, “It is through the terrain of national culture that the individual subject is politically formed as the American citizen.”# The importance of cultural hegemony to Lisa Lowe, then, is of paramount importance; Asian immigrants and Asian Americans are portrayed as outside of American culture and “othered” through cultural productions. Consequently, the means to subsume material political, social and economic identity is continually reproduced. Throughout the national discourse of the past century, the Asian is continually and dialectically counterposed to the citizen and therefore, all of the rights and equities allocated to the American citizen. This, to Lowe, presents a dilemma in which the racialized Asian must necessarily be utilized as a cheap labor force for transnational and domestic capital, but has also presented as a foreign rival; both economically and diplomatically. The means to alleviate this apparent paradox is named by Lowe, “Immigrant acts, then attempts to name the contradictions of Asian immigration, which…ha[s] placed Asians ‘within’ the U.S. nation-state, its workplaces, and its markets, yet linguistically, culturally, and racially mark[s] Asians as ‘foreign’ and ‘outside’ the national polity.” #

It is through the language of citizenship that Lowe locates the problematics of national subjectivity for the Asian immigrant and Asian American. The citizen is supposedly allocated political rights that the alien subject is not, but in doing so, “As the state legally transforms the Asian alien into the Asian American citizen, it institutionalizes the disavowal of the history of racialized labor exploitation and disenfranchisement through the promise of freedom in the political sphere.”# That promise of freedom, however, is never fully substantiated and the cultural production of Asian Americans as a racialized “other” has been in constant construction and reconstruction through the state, the university, transnational capital, narrative history, and projects of multiculturalism. The impetus of American liberal democracy, however, facilitates a need to make the inequality of those projects invisible; all while necessitating inequality for its continued existence.

The University as a Purveyor of Power

Lisa Lowe details multiple modalities of power, through which racial and gender inequity is manifested and cloaked in discourses of cultural essence and material “reality”. Discursive knowledge, therefore, exists as a purveyor of social and cultural hegemony, and through which dominance may easily propagate inequality because of its seeming invisibility. One site that Lowe details as inherently asymmetrical in its perception of racial identities is the university. The university, to Lowe, often acts as an extension to the national goal of assuring a homogenized citizenry. Lowe asserts, “education is a primary site through which the narratives of national group identity are established and reproduced, dramatizing that the construction of others–as enemies–is a fundamental logic in the constitution of a national identity.”# This is accomplished both through the assumption of Western canon as being necessary to the university as an institution of elite knowledge, as well as through the construction of the university student as “coded, narrated, and historically embodied as a masculine [and therefore a white, American] position.”# The stranglehold on knowledge within the realm of academia, to Lowe, perpetually serves to reinstantiate discourses of colonial power, while subjugating racialized “pre-modern” others in an attempt to universalize a national identity in a nation of variegated subjects.

Claims of heterogeneity within the university often cite the variability of multicultural program offerings, as well as diverse student populations as evidence of an eroding Western cultural hegemony in the university. Lowe asserts, however, that, the educational system, while preserving a universalized assumption of culture, ”serves to socialize and incorporate students from other backgrounds into the capitalist market economy.”# In opposition to this, Lowe cites the dominant nationalist identity as, “logically provid[ing] for the negative critiques of that identity from the standpoints of groups racialized, sexualized, or classed as other.”# These subjectivities exist not in opposition or distance from one another, but as intersections that together construct otherness. Moreover, according to Lowe, it is through an embrace of interdisciplinarity and non-Western canon that also resists the temptation of multicultural hegemony that modes of neo-colonial dominance can be shattered.

The “Progressive” Narrative: American Orientalist History

Another site of cultural production in which dominant modes of discursive knowledge are disseminated is through the writing of narrative history, which Lowe details as being contributory to the project of retaining the “apparatus of European colonial rule.”# Feminist, post-colonial, and diasporic scholars have rejected the linear-progressive logic of narrative histories as preserving colonial and patriarchal domination and privileging the Western and/or male subject over the orientalized and/or female one. The implications of this brand of history are apparent to Lowe, who through a close-reading of Eric Goldman’s The Crucial Decade demonstrates the neocolonial implications of narrative history. Within this work, she states, “their narrative exemplifies the paternalism that figures the West as the father and Asian nations as backward children in need of emancipation.”# It is this orientalist ideology that Lowe faults both for the inequality ascribed to Asians within the U.S., as well as assertions of backwardness that herald Western democracy and condemn alternative political systems. As Aihwa Ong asserts in her work Flexible Citizenship, however, “American neoliberalism, by excessively privileging individual rights, undermines democratic principles of social equality, whereas the dominant Asian liberal strategy…undermines democracy by limiting individual political expression.”# Ong is arguing, that not only do both the “East” and “West” operate under a similar late-capital liberal economic umbrella, but that neither can rightfully claim an egalitarian society. It is the project of nationally conscious American culture to construct knowledge that claims superiority over racialized “undemocratic” bodies, i.e., Asians; a process that traverses the foreign and the domestic.

The Guise of Multiculturalism

Lisa Lowe depicts an alternative modality of multiculturalism than one typically presented in neoliberal discourse. For Lowe, the multicultural state suggests not a pluralist egalitarianism, but instead an obfuscatory device that masks the valences of national inequality. Multiculturalism provides the means through which hegemonic power can be retained through white, male, upper-class domination that is carefully masked. This is accomplished, according to Lowe, through, “the maintenance of a consensus that permits the present hegemony, a hegemony that relies on a premature reconciliation of contradiction and persistent distractions away from the historically established incommensurability of the economic, political, and cultural spheres.”# The presentation, then, of a seeming multitude of racial and ethnic bodies within the university system, the congressional legislature, or the greater body politic projects an ideal of equality that rejects material realities of inequality that pervade American society. The mere presence of bodies, or cultural events for that matter, according to Lowe, does not inherently mean that those entities are allocated similar resources. Therefore, “Pluralism’s leveling of the material, and not simply the aesthetic, unevenness of racial, ethnic, and immigrant cultures, as well as its erasure of exclusions, effects the depoliticization of multiculturalism.”#

At times, however, the material realities of the multicultural state break through and erupt in widespread acts of violence and social upheaval. Lowe details the Rodney King riots as one such instance of, “the most vivid eruption of the contradiction between multiculuralism as the representation of the liberal state and the material poverty and disenfranchisement that are the conditions of those represented.”# Instead of national reassessment of the inequality of multiculturalism, however, media portrayals focused on the direction of violence at Korean store owners, thereby transferring responsibility and preserving racial and class hierarchy. Lowe, therefore, is not advocating the elimination of multicultural programs for a more monolithic universal subjectivity, but instead a repoliticization of multiculturalism that challenges the dominant (though possibly unrecognized) hegemony, through decolonized and disidentified means.

Beyond Identity Politics (A possible solution?)

Throughout Immigrant Acts, Lisa Lowe details the means through which discursive cultural power is harnessed by multiple modalities as a means to preserve racial and gender hegemony. Both the state and transnational capital, though at times exhibiting opposing aims, have sought to preserve the status quo, which has often come at the expense of racialized and gendered Asian immigrants and Asian Americans. As a work detailing cultural politics, however, Lowe also articulates the means through which dominance can be assailed. In particular, she looks to the works of postcolonial, feminist, and cultural scholars to assert a mode of cultural politics that eschews identarian means for enacting social change. Instead, Lowe calls for a politics of disidentification, displacement, and decolonization that would, “enable the formation of new subjects outside official dictations and dominations and make possible horizontal affiliations between such subjects.”# Identity is problematic to Lowe, because it often is a product of the same powers of domination that one is attempting to subvert. Additionally, the politics of identity are inherently restricted by the static compartmentalized nature of identity that remains ignorant of politics that traverse racial, gender and sexual boundaries.

Though Mary Dudziak is excavating a history of the civil rights movement as impacted by Cold War foreign policy directives, and David Johnson is charting a projection of treason and innate immorality onto homosexuals in civil service, both utilize much of the theoretical framework that Lisa Lowe expounds in Immigrant Acts. The construction of identity, through state and cultural action, is proposed by Lowe as a site in which inequality can be unveiled and historicized. Moreover, the circuitous nature of ideological and material constructions from domestic to foreign and back again is revealed in a way that problematizes the U.S. centric progressive historical narrative. Finally, all three works demonstrate the inherent inequalities prevalent within American democracy and the state’s insistence on perpetuating inegalitarianism as necessary to the project of a homogeneous national identity.

The Preconditions of Universal Democracy

For Mary Dudziak, the civil rights movement cannot be viewed outside the context of the Cold War from which it emerged. The image of American democracy, of which the U.S. sought to replicate around the globe, was tarnished by international perception of racial inequality within the American nation; a problem that could prove disastrous to U.S. international aspirations. In a post-WWII global context, many nations were just coming into being; rising from the ashes of many formerly colonized locales and embracing fervently nationalist projects. To combat the perceived threat of communist proliferation to these fledgling nations, the U.S. sought to court them into reflections of American statehood, liberal democracies. However, Dudziak tracks the crucial tipping point that painted the U.S. as rejecting the very principles it was attempting to impose on these new nations, equality. In fact, “The apparent contradictions between American political ideology and American practice led to particular foreign relations problems with countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”# The growing importance these nations held to the U.S. as political allies or sites of expanding American capital, necessitated the elimination of visible American racism. To Dudziak, It is the image of American racial equality that was so crucial for the U.S. to present early in the Cold War, to affect global complacency.

Progressive Politics

The racial situation in the U.S., meanwhile, was bad enough to warrant harsh criticisms abroad; with foreign newspapers noting, “the United States has within its own borders, one of the most oppressed and persecuted minorities in the world today.”# Thus, even leaders within the United States without any interest in advancing civil rights policy, felt it necessary to advance those aims to garner foreign support. Remarking on the resistance to school integration in Little Rock, President Eisenhower stated, “These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit alongside some big overgrown Negroes.” # Clearly, dedication to racial equality was not enough to motivate American leadership into action, but, to Dudziak, the global image of American democracy in the contested world of the Cold War was. Through campaigns of propaganda expounding American racial egalitarianism, court rulings and legislative victories, the American diplomatic community overseas harnessed these means to display an image of progressive equality. Dudziak asserts that, “Because American democracy was the site for this progress, it was argued democracy was a model of government that enabled social change.”# The construction of a linear narrative that lauded American progress was the method through which foreign critique of U.S. policy could be sidestepped and eventually almost entirely quelled. The problematic of this information campaign, as Dudziak demonstrates, however, is in its fundamental untruth. Racial equality was not existent in the 1960s, nor does it exist today, as Lisa Lowe established in Immigrant Acts. Continually, Though U.S. embassies could claim real social change, the boundaries of that change were limited by both the strict adherence to capital and a narrow definition of democracy that shut out radical critique.

Radical Others: The Boundaries of Cold War Civil Rights

As Nikhil Singh documents in his essay, “Culture/Wars: Recoding Empire in an Age of Democracy”, in the last years of Martin Luther King’s life as he spoke out against the war in Vietnam he was increasingly ignored as a mainstream civil rights figure. Singh notes, “The borders of acceptable discourse were the borders of the country itself–a country that was also a state fighting an imperialist war in the name of anti-communism. Paradoxically then, King also became a victim of the very American universalism he championed.”# Though King’s rhetoric became gradually accepted throughout the civil rights discourse of the 1950s and 1960s, other more radical voices were shunned or silenced altogether. Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois, as Dudziak demonstrates, were among those who had passports revoked, implying that their interpretations of the American racial struggle should not be disseminated to a foreign audience. It was mostly their critiques of American militarism and exploitative capital that caused the most uproar within the government and eventual censure. As stated earlier, the civil rights agenda proved necessary to advance American international standing and facilitate the growth of the American state, any criticism leveled at foundational aspects of the nation were soundly rejected. For Dudziak, this meant that to the state, “capitalism, which assumed an inequality of wealth and power, was championed as an economic system that would best promote economic growth. Class-based inequality did not threaten the nation’s core principles.”# Therefore, the appearance of racial equality appeased the tenets of liberal democracy, while class inequality remained a structural necessity of the American liberal economy to be unchallenged.# The foreign policy impetus to advance civil rights within the U.S., emergent out of a cold war discourse that necessitated surface egalitarianism, is indicative of both the transnational construction of domestic identity and the means through which that identity construction conceals structural inequality.

The Gay Security Risk

David K. Johnson in his monograph, The Lavender Scare, details the Cold War construction of homosexual identity as dangerous to national security, ineligible for citizenship, and morally reprehensible. In doing so, the state discursively solidified sexual hierarchy and placed “homosexuals” outside the sphere of normative identity and therefore outside of legitimate citizenship. The designation of the homosexual as a security risk, grew both out of a Cold War paranoia about protecting national sovereignty, and also, a state investment in securing normative identity. In part, this was resultant from the rising tide of anti-communism pervading American society and the civil service in particular, homosexuals were often conflated ideologically and morally with communists, “The constant pairing of “Communists and queers” led many to see them as indistinguishable threats. Evidence that one group had infiltrated the government was seen as confirmation of charges that the other had as well.”# The perceived similarity between the two groups ran deeper as well, as both were characterized by accusations of personality inversion, secret literature, cultural codes, and general subversion. Moreover, the threat of blackmail was constantly being asserted as justification for the expulsion of gays and lesbians from government jobs.

The threat of homosexuality to many in the government was more prominent than that of communism. As one bureaucrat remarked, “Homosexualism is worse than communism…It changes the mentality, blurs morality and the outlook, not only on sex but upon life, ideals, principles and scruples. It is a cancer.”# How could gays and lesbians in government positions create such pervasive hostility? In one sense, national security was threatened by the possible state secrets, the morally corrupt could inevitably divulge. More importantly to Johnson, however, is the state’s need to secure normative sexual and gender identities to perpetuate and adherent citizenry. The “typical” family unit comprised of a masculine male identity and feminine female, allocated separate spheres of influence and rigid behavioral norms. As Lauren Berlant states in “Sex in Public”,

Community is imagined through scenes of intimacy, coupling, and kinship; a historical relation to futurity is restricted to generational narrative and reproduction. A whole field of social relations becomes intelligible as heterosexuality, and this privatized sexual culture bestows on its sexual practices a tacit sense of rightness and normalcy. This sense of rightness-embedded in things and not just in sex-is what we call heteronormativity.#

The shoring up of gender and sexual identities, then, acts not only to police actual sexual acts, but more broadly defines the parameters of acceptable behavior within the private and public spheres. Sexuality, in The Lavender Scare, cannot be separated from projects of Cold War national sovereignty because they are mutually constitutive. The state had an invaluable investment in crafting a heteronormative body politic that necessarily displaced biopolitically unnecessary others.

Defining Homosexuality

In engaging in the process of actively seeking out “homosexuals” within the government, Johnson details the ways in which that act also serves to define the very parameters of what homosexuality is. This discursive knowledge, as a mode of power, acts not only to construct the state, but also to produce and reinforce static sexual identity. As Johnson notes, “By stigmatizing all homosexual behavior, the purges forced people to make choices and thereby reified a homosexual/heterosexual divide.”# The persons for whom these identity labels were supposed to apply certainly would not universally self-identify as “homosexual” or “heterosexual”. Johnson demonstrates, however, that those enacting the purges, also had difficulty categorizing individuals, “although their experience led them to see a continuum of human sexuality…they had only been given two categories to place everyone into.”# Johnson exposes not only the historicized nature of identity construction, but also the absurd lengths necessary to place bodies within those categories.

Policing Morality (By Policing Gender and Sexuality)

Many medical and cultural productions frequently conflated homosexuality with deviance, typically suggesting psychological or moral abnormality in those identified as homosexuals. Johnson notes that this was largely employed as a means to enforce traditional family and social structure, a backlash against the “The wartime spirit of abandon and ‘anything goes’ [which] led to a decline of morals among people of all ages.”# Gays and lesbians were pointedly named in these accusations of moral corruption, portrayed as sex criminals, perverts and mentally ill. To combat this new moral menace, the state turned to multiple avenues in which homosexuality was criminalized and identity was continually constructed. The “Pervert Elimination Campaign” constituted one such endeavor, through which acts of same-sex intimacy were policed by the U.S. Park Police. More importantly to Johnson’s project, “By 1950 the nation…had an intricate and effective system of laws, tactics, and personnel to uncover homosexuals that would become enforcement mechanisms during the Lavender Scare.”# The state policing of morality served then, both to craft the meaning of homosexual identity (and mark it as deviant) and to facilitate the growth of the nation state.

The Plea for Citizenship

In a way, the homosexual purges of the Cold War are ironic. Though strict policing of “deviance” caused thousands of men and women to lose their jobs, it also created the means through which overt biases would be delegitimated and eventually quashed. Johnson, cites the ability to coalesce around gay identity as a pathway to arguing for gay civil rights. Couched in the very same language as those engaged in the black civil rights movement, proclaiming, “We are homosexual American citizens…dedicated to securing [the] full rights and privileges of citizenship.”# It is through the language of democratic liberal equality that gay rights activists would eventually overturn CSA purges. Though Johnson concludes his narrative on this liberatory note, I would like to problematize some of his assumptions. Unfortunately, the heteronormative standard through which subsequent “equality” was achieved contained its own limitations. The modes of equality were crafted at the behest of both an adherence to the rigid state definitions of sexual identity and national citizenship. Moreover, creating and obscuring racial, sexual, and gender norms perpetuates ideologies that acquiesce to repression of any non-normative modes. Foreign subjects, people of color, transgender, and/or lower class bodies are all relegated to the perpetual other by state constructions of identity that craft them as outside the realm of “citizenship”. To return briefly to Lisa Lowe, then, identity politics or linear narratives of liberation serve only to reinscribe modes of discrimination and oppression.

Discursive productions of the post-WWII period; social, political, cultural or otherwise, demonstrate the inherent inequalities fundamental to the survival of the nation-state as a constructor of identity. Though the subsequent Cold War period facilitated substantial progress in racial and sexual civil rights, it also narrowed the boundaries in which those politics could operate. In an era of ascendant American national power, the state increasingly instilled white supremacist and heteronormative modes of existence that rendered structural inequalities virtually invisible. Those constructions, a product of local realities juxtaposed with American global dissemination and reception of material capital, anti-communist rhetoric, and moral ideology, affected both domestic and foreign populations. The requisition of multicultural and civil rights programs as projects of national coherence, though progressive, merely act facades that shield perpetually homophobic and racist structures and assure their continuance. In appropriating Lisa Lowe’s critical theoretical framework, we can find the reinstantiation of these inequalities in the histories of Mary Dudiziak and David Johnson. These modalities aid in a critical reassessment of the liberal state and linear narrative as non-emancipatory and instead deconstruct each as purveyors of cultural discursive hegemony.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s