Malcolm X asked two generations ago: ““What does the white man call a black man with a PhD?” His response? “A nigger with a PhD.” In this frame Malcolm X was repeating objectively the state of affairs in American society at the time. Visible black ancestry marked someone as black, and other social variables were irrelevant (as opposed to the case in Latin America, where people with visible black ancestry could still self-identify with the majority non-black culture, such as Vicente Guerrero). This was important for Malcolm X because his mother was half-white. Despite his white ancestry he was a black nationalist, an eminently coherent position in America at the time.
But this framework continues down to the present day for race hustlers, high-brow and low-brow. Amardeep Singh has a relatively balanced follow up post on Nikki Haley’s issues with identity. In it he quotes Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing. Here’s a section where her manichean race popery gets the better of her:
But, at the end of the day, it is not about what we say we are–race is a structural experience, as much as it is an interpersonal one, if not more so. Having access to white culture and more money doesn’t make you white, as many sociologists have found. Haley can self-identify as white, but she has had the lived experience of a person who is not white and as a result, will never be recognized as white or have access to “whiteness,” in the political sense of the word, even if some people once in a while mistake her for white on the street.
Who is this “we” that Ms. Mukhopadhyay speaks of? I think it’s pretty clear that she speaks with the Voice, the Voice of Right Thinking People who are Grounded in Reality. Their reality. But the key point is that unlike the rate of acceleration of an object on the surface of the planet this isn’t a clear and distinct inference which plops out of empirical results in a common sense fashion. There’s a whole broader framework where words like “privilege” get thrown about in a very coherent and intelligible manner to “insiders” to this “discourse.” The purveyors of this discourse are often rhetorically highly subjectivist in their epistemology, but in practice they are quite often hegemonic and privilege their own model of the world as if it easily and cleanly maps onto the objective world. Samhita Mukhopadhyay doesn’t known Nikki Haley personally, but she doesn’t need to know Nikki Haley, she knows how Nikki Haley experienced the world, and she knows how it will impact Nikki Haley’s psychology. Her Theory tells her so.
But of course she doesn’t know squat. Even ostensibly scientific psychologists operating within a positivist understanding of the world would be cautious about inferring from a model of the mind onto one individual. The reality of the matter is that Samhita Mukhopadhyay and her fellow travelers have an internally consistent theory of the world, and like the Marxists of yore are quite impervious to falsification. Nikki Haley’s own report of her own mental states would do nothing to perturb them, she would simply be assumed to have false consciousness. And like the armchair philosophers of the past they aren’t going to perform their own rigorous quantitative experiments or observations. They will select anecdata and scientific studies which support their theory, but the latter is clearer prior in precedence to the former.