Friday, March 5, 2010

The Value of "Thickness"

I have to admit that I found Lugones’ writing style to be mildly infuriating. At first it seemed to be filled with ambiguous references to eggs, mayonnaise, curdling, and not much else. During our recent class discussion about her article, however, I realized that Lugones’ ambiguity is the most effective way to discuss the topic of mestizaje, or mixed identity. Once our discussion had unlocked the meaning behind Lugones’ terminology I became quite interested in her classifications of “thick” and “transparent” group membership.

We all strive to belong to groups in which we can be transparent members because such groups are comfortable and rejuvenating in their familiarity. On the other hand, thickness can be unsettling and even painful. Hence, I brought up the point that the ideal society would be one in which all groups had completely transparent memberships, not in such a way that individuals only belonged to those groups which represented them perfectly, but in the sense that all groups would be representative of all people. The only possible way to arrange group membership thusly would be to make it so that mestizaje was a primary identifier of all groups. In other words, every group would have to make mixed identity its defining characteristics.

Although this may seem ideal, I have since realized that it is actually highly undesirable. For to arrange groups so that they are primarily concerned with representing mixed perspectives and backgrounds is to make political action impossible. How, for example, could a liberal political organization still function as such while giving equal representation to the opposing conservative viewpoint? The term liberal would no longer apply to this organization, but neither would conservative. It would simply be a group of people with no discernable interest and no ability for action. One may object that even political groups should strive to achieve some balance in their perspectives, and I would agree, but there is a difference between such open-mindedness and the inability to formulate an opinion that would result from complete mestizaje.

It is clear then that thickness, to a degree, is necessary for healthy political action. Not only does its tolerance enable groups to act on deeply held and controversial principles, but it also allows us to appreciate other points of view. People will always have unique perspectives that lead to conflict and thickness. However, if every person can learn to value their experiences of thickness in groups as opportunities to understand how others feel in similar situations, this will hopefully lead to more constructive and less violent disagreements between opposing perspectives. It is absurd to think that human beings can ever live in a world without differences of opinion, but it is a real possibility that we can become more rather than less united through the appreciation of these disagreements.


  1. I see your point, and I think, at least when we look at the world around us, it's a pretty strong criticism. If we could change the way in which we organize our groups, to where the defining feature wasn't one polarizing idea, but something that seemed automatically inclusive to a variety of people, it would serve as a way of un-alienating people to a large degree. However, like you said, the idea of those people having any common view on, say, the issue of gay marriage would be difficult to conceive of unless you were very lucky, and even then, trying to channel all that power into an opposing group would seem almost impossible.

    And yet, this idea does seem like something we SHOULD be aiming for. Or at least, it seems like that "type of world" would be much more desirable than the one we currently have. It seems to me then that these ideas are meant to be transformative, not merely instrumental, in the sense that we should work to where we don't actually have a party to be oppositional too, at least on those lines. If you have an amalgamation of people into groups whose identity is diversity, I think the goal is to get rid of "politics as usual" or the petty divides that get in the way of real issues that need to be addressed. This seems like a way of trying to think/go about that....or maybe I'm being too idealistic.

  2. Floyd,

    Thanks for the response. My main point was a bit stronger than how you restate it in the last sentence of your first paragraph. Not only would it be difficult for a group which made mestizaje its defining feature to have and to fight for a common view, it would be impossible. In other words, a group whose essence was mestizaje to the point of attempting to make all people feel transparent would not be able to take a stance on meaningful political issues without alienating some members. Hence, it would never take a stance.

    I agree with you completely that minimizing alienation is ideal, but I feel that in light of my argument, an attempt to embrace thickness rather than to eradicate it is far more practical.

    Please let me know if you think I'm way off the mark on this.


  3. Heres something i have been wondering. Does the thickness ever become transparent. It seems that once we recognize the different people in the thing we normally stereotype, we end up later just redifining our stereotype later. If i have a stereotype of feminists as white women, and i see a black female feminist, wouldn't i just redefine my stereotype right after.

    Also i like the pragmatic approach to the idea of diversity. Pragmatists sometimes, not always, claim that it is good to have diversity in a democracy because it allows for more opinions and solutions. And that is the usual reason they give

  4. Jared,

    As far as thickness becoming transparent, that can only happen if a group redefines its interests to be in line with its thick members. I'm not sure that it has much to do with stereotyping, or at least not directly.

    I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "redefining [your] stereotype right after." If you mean that you would immediately forget your stereotype of feminists as white women and replace it with a stereotype of feminists as black women, I find that hard to believe. If you mean that your stereotype would expand to include black women and white women, then I suppose this is possible, although maybe not from a single instance. Either way, if a person is stereotyped into a group, this has no necessary relationship with their transparency or thickness within a group. A stereotype is something that is imposed upon a person from the outside - in your example imposed upon a black woman by you. You thinking that this black woman is a feminist does not determine whether feminism represents her well. There is no causal relationship there.


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