Leftist Ideology as Food Writing: The Case of John T. Edge

As someone who is passionate about English history and culture, I also find myself fascinated by, and drawn to, the United States, in particular the American South. This is unsurprising, for the United States was, at its inception, a product of the people and culture of England and the British Isles. While, of course, the modern United States is a manifestation of the meeting of a vast array of peoples and cultures, it still remains arguably fundamentally European, and people of European ancestry (non-Hispanic whites) are still the majority. For someone interested in the British roots of American culture, the Southern states are particularly fascinating. And for someone who loves delicious food, the American South has great appeal on that front, too (indeed, one of the reasons I travelled to Mississippi in 2015 was to enjoy a Southern barbecue sandwich in its native setting).

If you start reading about Southern food and its history, it won’t be long before you come across the work of John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance, of which he is director. In that field, Edge is something of a minor celebrity: his name pops up in numerous books and articles and he is ‘a go-to authority for publications including the New York Times and Gourmet‘. As such, it is worth looking at exactly what the message of Edge and his organisation actually is. Far from Edge being simply a scholar who objectively studies the food of the South, what actually emerges is a picture of a stereotypical white liberal academic who uses the topic of food as a vehicle through which to push a leftist multicultural vision. In other words, Edge is not just a food writer, he is actually an ideologue, and he seems less concerned with celebrating Southern culture than he is with seeking to radically change it.

Edge holds an MA in Southern Studies—with a special interest in race relations—from the University of Mississippi, and is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. According to Becca Walton of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, ‘at the Center, we imagine foodways as a way to open up big conversations about labor, and class, and race, and sexuality’. The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) states that ‘we honor people working toward race, class, gender, and environmental justice with John Egerton Prizes’ and talks of being ‘inclusive’, ‘collaborative’, ‘egalitarian’, and devoted to ‘diversity’. Students associated with the SFA are committed to the notion of ‘foodways and social justice’ and have interests such as ‘the intersection of southern identity and race, class, and sexuality’ and ‘the intersection of food justice, race, class, food politics, and social movement activism and organizing’. The 2017 SFA Graduate Student Conference featured presentations on topics such as ‘The Grocery Store as Gendered Sphere’ and ‘Resisting Gender Norms Through Craft Butchery’. For his part, at the University of Mississippi, Edge ‘discovered a common thread between food, social justice, politics, and fun’. Remove the Southern food aspect, and this could be any politically correct leftist academic clique anywhere in the United States. If all this sounds more like the content you’d associate with a ‘social justice’ Tumblr blog than with actual food writing, that is because it arguably is. The public face of the study of Southern food, it turns out, is more a left-wing activist movement and advocacy group than anything else, and its chief spokesman, John T. Edge, is every bit as ideologically-driven as his younger charges.

In a 2016 Oxford American article, Edge states:

If you live on the same street as me you know I’m a liberal. If you follow my Twitter feed, you recognize that I reserve a circle in hell for the neo-Confederates and country club privilege jockeys who knead and twist and shape the history of this region until they render themselves victims… I think of myself as a progressive.

As someone who likes to boast of his Twitter activity, it is unsurprising to find that in the same article, Edge also feels the need to drop in a reference to Donald Trump being a man who supposedly ‘incites racial violence’. It is also perhaps unsurprising to read that Edge reportedly recently dressed his pet dog in a feathered boa and took her to a gay pride parade. Virtue-signalling all round.

Edge, then, is very much a ‘political’ person, and this shows both in his work and in his statements in interviews of recent years (he does a lot of interviews). In an April 2017 Saveur interview, Edge asked, introspectively:

Why am I obsessed with Southern food if in reality what I’m obsessed with is the South’s tragic history and the imprint of racism on this region? Why do I write about food if that’s what’s really in the back of my head?

In a Wall Street Journal review of Edge’s 2017 book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, Padgett Powell writes of ‘the huge naïveté of thinking its author a food writer’. Edge, argues Powell, is ‘not a food writer to the first power’, but is someone who instead produces ‘food writing that is not food writing’.

The answer to Edge’s question about why he chooses to write about food is probably a fairly mundane one: he enjoys food. A lot of other people like food, too, so it is arguably a good topic to use a cover for promoting a political agenda. But exactly what is Edge’s political agenda?

Sifting through various interviews and articles, a pattern emerges of Edge as man shaped by the 1960s and dedicated to a two-pronged approach to changing the face of the South. The first is to undermine any sense that white culture is an important or legitimate part of what constitutes Southern culture as a whole, and the second is to seek to rid the South of any traces of white Southern identity through an embrace of a multicultural future.

On a certain level, one can sympathise. To speak of the white contribution to the creation of Southern culture, and to look at the fundamentally British and European nature of much of Southern history, is also inevitably to have to reckon with the tragedy and injustice of slavery and segregation. Beautiful antebellum estates were at the same time slave labour camps. Black cooks who added new flavours and dishes to the table of white Southerners did so under compulsion. There is much ugliness to be faced.

For Edge, the ugliness is too much to bear, so he simply wishes to throw out the white contribution to Southern culture altogether. In a misleading and historically nonsensical recent utterance, Edge claimed that:

Southern food is black food. Full stop.

Anyone who has taken the time to look at the history of classic Southern dishes can see the absurdity in Edge’s statement. Edge grants that ‘the evolution of that food has been helped by white people, Mexican people, Vietnamese people’, but in doing so, he turns the truth about Southern food upside down. The truth is that Southern food has a core of European recipes that were adjusted for the new environment (particularly through making use of Native American techniques) then added to and developed as a result of the presence of blacks in the South. To read Edge’s ‘authoritative’ statement on what traditional Southern food is—’black food’—you could come away with the impression that whites in the South were sitting around starving until black slaves arrived and gave them their new cuisine. So, why does Edge want to deny or minimise the importance of the white contribution to Southern food and culture? For ideological reasons. For Edge, the only South worth talking about began with the Civil Rights movement:

Definitions of the South typically depend on geography or secession. The adjective Southern and the noun Southerner have, since the nineteenth century, referenced the white South and the Confederate South… [T]he struggle that defines my South was the Civil Rights Movement, not the Civil War. That’s the tipping point. That’s the beginning of the South that I embrace. It’s the beginning of the South that is forward-thinking instead of backward-looking. It’s the South that inspires me.

Edge sees any positive view of white Southern culture as being based on a fantasy of ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’, and dreams of a future South in which whites are relegated to being just another minority among many:

The one thing I know is that as the South realizes its demographic destiny and the nation realizes its demographic destiny, we become a majority-minority country.

Edge is a fervent multiculturalist, so, for him, this is the ideal. When it comes to Southern culture, Edge states he is no longer interested in ‘affirmations’ but is instead engaged in ‘a willful act of self-creation, an attempt to redefine the region in an inclusive and progressive way’. Having dispensed with the pre-1960s South (with the exception of ‘black food’), Edge also dispenses with any notion of the continuation of an Anglo-American South in the future (or, seemingly, even a black South):

You can glimpse a better South on the streets of Houston at lunch at Cali Sandwich Shop, where I had beautiful banh mi yesterday. I looked across the room and there were Mexican Americans, Vietnamese Americans and Anglo American folk all eating banh mi as if it were their birthright. That is, for me, hopeful.

(Edge perhaps shows his age here. I’m not sure today’s generation of ‘cultural appropriation’ obsessed bores would be impressed by a white academic eating Vietnamese food ‘as if it were his birthright’.)

So, for Edge, the ideal of a ‘better South’ is a South that isn’t recognisably the South at all: a South that looks like America’s most diverse city, with a completely new cuisine. Or perhaps not completely new. There is room for boiled crawfish cooked by a Vietnamese American, or a barbecue restaurant ‘owned in part by a former Korean pop star’. ‘That, to me, looks like a truer South on the horizon’, claims Edge. ‘We need to look towards a future-tense South, which means uplifting immigrants and international food’, states Edge, who, one starts to suspect, is not even particularly interested in traditional Southern food anymore:

I’m as likely to pull into a taqueria in search of a Saturday bowl of posole as I am to drive to a biscuit hut for a tenderloin-stuffed cathead… I rarely detour for a whole-hog sandwich capped with vinegar slaw… Instead, I downshift off the interstate into Taste of India, where the shelves are stocked with sesame chaat, and the tables are set with plastic tubs that once contained Hillshire Farms turkey breast slices, and now brim with sweet mango pickles and sour lemon pickles.

One of Edge’s favourite restaraunts (where he ‘often snacks‘) is ‘Snackbar, the Oxford brasserie presided over by Vishwesh Bhatt, a native of Gujarat, India’. It ticks the boxes: run by a non-white immigrant, Snackbar features upscale versions of Southern food, mixed with trendy dishes such as okra chaat, which, reports Edge, ‘tastes like a street vendor’s answer to Suvir Saran’s elegant bhindi’ (Edge really likes that okra chaat, also mentioning it in an NPR interview and on the SFA website). Snackbar has also named a cocktail after Edge’s feathered boa-wearing pet dog, Lurleen.

Despite Edge’s disparagement of old South ‘moonlight and magnolias’ culture and his embrace of a seemingly non-Southern future South, his love of Oxford’s Snackbar does raise some questions about the consistency and authenticity even of Edge’s apparently left-leaning and ‘progressive’ identity. Of Snackbar, we read: ‘Top shelf whiskies and an extensive glass wine program round out an inviting and cozy bar setting likened to an “English Hunt Club”‘. Likewise: ‘When the bar is packed, it maintains a pleasant, muted chatter that allows for intimacy and good conversation, reminiscent of an Old-World country club’. An English hunt club? An old-world country club? Doesn’t that sound a little too ‘moonlight and magnolias’? Doesn’t that sound like a place that would be overwhelmingly patronised by wealthy whites? Photographs of Snackbar’s staff and patrons seem to suggest so (see herehere, and here). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with white people getting together in a faux country club environment and enjoying ‘exotic’ cooking. But I’m not trying to sell the idea of ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, and a rejection of the old South. Edge is.

Edge has written articles for the excellent Southern Living magazine, described by the New York Times as ‘that anodyne, 51-year-old war horse with the best cheese-straw recipes, and an audited circulation of 2.8 million’. This is the same Southern Living magazine that enjoins its readers to ‘Embrace Georgia’s Antebellum Charm‘ and ‘Find the Magic of Magnolia Gardens‘. Edge has also been a contributing editor at Garden & Gun magazine from its inception. Writes a critic at the Oxford American:

Add up all these gorgeous pictures of fox hunts, mint juleps, turkey hunts, polo matches, refurbished mansions, forest-sized gardens, pure-bred beagles, expensive fishing reels, silver flasks, artisanal knifes, engraved rifles, sexy riding crops, and what do you get but a near-replaying of The Old South Plantation Myth?

Consider a 2015 Garden & Gun article entitled ‘The Scent of the Magnolia: A love letter to the fragrant South’. We read:

And on a summer night when I raise the window, the soft, waxy sweetness of the ethereal flowers suffuses the room. That’s when I think, “Why live anywhere else, ever?”

It’s hard not to notice the heavy dose of ‘moonlight and magnolias’ here.

Consider also Garden & Gun‘s October 2018 ‘International Sporting Excursion‘, which took place in England. The elite event offered ‘a quintessential English experience’, which included ‘a private tour at historic Spencer House, arguably the finest house in London, built in 1756 for the first Earl Spencer, ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales’, and an ‘intimate cocktail hour and welcome dinner in the Stafford Hotel’s 380-year-old wine cellar’. Also on the agenda was a private tour of the Houses of Parliament hosted by a member of the House of Lords, followed by ‘dinner with Lord Watson at the Royal Automobile Club, one of the world’s most pre-eminent members’ clubs’. Guests then spent three nights at ‘Lucknam Park, a gorgeous 500-acre estate in Wiltshire’ and enjoyed horseback riding, croquet, and Afternoon Tea. They were also able to ‘experience the best of driven shooting with a day at West Wycombe Estate—a 5,000-acre estate in the scenic rolling hills of Buckinghamshire—one of the top shoots in England’. And so it goes on. All this could be yours for a mere $6,670 per person (flights and travel insurance not included). At a guess, I’d imagine there weren’t many black guests travelling from the Mississippi Delta (wealthy Delta whites, quite possibly, however). The fact that this was organised by a magazine Edge is so closely connected with might raise a few eyebrows in the ‘social justice’ crowd.

Edge is perhaps aware of this glaring contradiction between his stated opposition to ‘moonlight and magnolias’ and his close proximity to it, for in a 2016 article which he shared with the Nigerian-born radical ideologue Tundey Wey, Edge set himself up for a rhetorical beating and cravenly states that ‘I got what I asked for. What I deserved’.

Wey is a racial demagogue who states that his work is ‘at the intersection of food and critical discourse’. He made headlines in March of last year by encouraging white liberals in New Orleans to pay $30 for a meal that Wey was offering to black patrons for $12. The idea was to ‘impact racial wealth disparity’ by redistributing white customers’ money to black customers, ‘regardless of income’. This obviously makes no sense (except in the fantasy world of the social justice warrior and the guilt-stricken virtue-signalling white liberal), but anyone who questioned exactly where the extra money was actually going stood accused of attempting to use white ‘power and control’. When faced with Wey’s request for the additional $18, many whites handed over the cash: ‘People look on the other side of the till and see me standing there and they’re thinking that I’m judging them’. He probably is.

Edge apparently welcomed Wey’s judgement and, with his head no doubt bowed meekly, was referred to as a ‘white boy’ and lambasted as follows:

John T., you have endorsed and celebrated the appropriation of black Southern food without consequence, and the consequences have compounded with interest. You have to return what you took to the place where it was, to the people to whom it belongs. And, after this principal has been repaid, the interest is due. You have to strip yourself of the marginal benefits of this appropriation willingly, with grace, or unwillingly by force.

Edge responded:

I aim to listen more and speak less. I pledge to cede what is not mine and try to understand the difference. And I aim to do this, not out of noble obligation, but owing to the thoughtful path Tunde charts.

This pathetic self-flagellation reveals Edge as the archetypal politically correct white liberal. And even though he celebrates Southern food as ‘black food’, even though he tries (somewhat unconvincingly) to disown his white Southern identity, even though he dreams of a South where whites are a minority and seemingly everyone is an Asian-food-eating ‘progressive’, even though his organisation spouts the rhetoric of ‘social justice’ and ‘intersectional’ writing and activism, this is still not enough for the race-baiting crowd of the modern Left.

John T. Edge has written voluminously on Southern food and to deny the significance of his contribution to scholarship on the topic would be foolish. But it would also be foolish to blandly view him as an objective writer, whose primary concerns lie in a love of Southern food and the South itself. Edge manifestly does not love the South and his work should be approached critically, always bearing in mind the fact that it is not simply ‘about food’, but is instead a vehicle for liberal ideology, and, perhaps more than that, about Edge himself.

The Postmodern Leftist Roots of ‘Trans’ Ideology

In 2003, as part of my MA in Critical & Cultural Theory, I wrote an essay critiquing postmodern ‘theories’ regarding gender and sexuality. At that time, this was still relatively fringe academic material, yet now such ideas are increasingly being forced on the populations of Western nations by their political and cultural elites. In a short period of time, fact-free leftist ideological notions about gender and sexuality have been transformed into mainstream positions, with ‘trans’, ‘non-binary’, ‘gender fluid’, and so on now being presented not as manifestations of psychological disorder or attention-seeking, but rather as things we must accept (celebrate, even) as good and true or risk being labelled as ‘phobic’ and a ‘hater’. This is pathetic, but it also has the potential to cause profound and long-lasting damage not only to individuals caught up in gender disorders, but also to society as a whole. When pseudoscientific ideological nonsense that originated from crank humanities academics becomes mainstream opinion, we have a problem.

I reproduce the essay below, as I think it raises important questions about the intellectual credibility of the new ‘trans’ ideology.

——

Postmodern Approaches to Gender, Sex, and Sexuality: A Critique

It is often noted that defining the postmodern is an exceedingly difficult task, if not an impossible one, and I concur with this judgement. For the purposes of this essay I shall not claim to offer a critique of postmodern thought and methodology in general, but will focus on ideas in the field of gender, sex, and sexuality that will be defined as ‘postmodern’ as they exhibit a number of key features that are generally accepted under this term [1]. Postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality to varying degrees adopt a radical scepticism with regard to the natural and the real, and promote a programme of ‘denaturalising’ in which the idea of biological essence is dissolved and replaced with social constructionism. In the following essay, I shall offer a critique of the Foucauldian postmodernism of Judith Butler, the Baudrillardean postmodernism of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, the feminist postmodernism of Donna Haraway, and the posttranssexualism of Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein. I shall argue that these approaches are deeply flawed for a number of significant reasons, perhaps the foremost of which is their endemic culturalism, both issuing from and also leading to a dismissive attitude towards science, particularly biology. In addition, I shall demonstrate that postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality frequently take the form of vague critiques favouring obfuscation or hyperbole (sometimes both) to clear and reasoned argument, and adopt either an unjustified level of epistemological scepticism leading to radical conclusions that are not supported by any substantial evidence, or to the production of facile rhetoric and jargon-filled texts that are disconnected from reality.

Without doubt, Judith Butler is one of the most influential proponents of a postmodern approach to gender, sex, and sexuality, the seminal expression of which is found in Gender Trouble (Butler 1999) [2], the central argument of which can be summed up in an oft-quoted dictum: ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender, . . . identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results’ (33). A Foucauldian, Butler seeks to expose the workings of power underpinning widely held views of the natural, and in examining the supposed ways in which binary ‘constructions’ of identity are upheld and maintained as natural, to give a voice to those who, in refusing to subscribe to an either/or system (or in trying to fit in, but failing), are seen to ‘problematise’ the security of that system and are consequently marginalised and placed under pressure to undergo ‘assimilation’. For Butler, gender is not simply the natural and appropriate social expression of a sexed body, but is a fluid identity that is always already in a state of deferral, ‘never fully what it is at any given juncture in time’ (22). She argues that the notion that there is a stable, essential inner gender identity that manifests its presence through external performances of gender is false, instead putting forward the radical anti-foundationalist view that ‘there need not be a “doer behind the deed”, but that the “doer” is variably constructed in and through the deed’ (181).

The argument extends beyond the idea that there is no gender prior to culturally instituted performance, and questions the givenness of the body. Butler argues that ‘ritualized repetition . . . produce[s] and stabilize[s] not only the effects of gender but the materiality of sex’ (Butler 1993: x). Here, then, ‘the regulatory norms of “sex” work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body’s sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative’ (2). This sentence reveals the central assumption underpinning Butler’s work in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter: the notion that heterosexuality is an intrinsically oppressive force working to eradicate difference, and that it is not in any sense natural or the normative expression of human sexuality. I contend that Butler’s radical conclusions are false, and are constructed to serve a particular ideological outlook, one that mistakenly seeks to oppose ‘homophobia’ through logically flawed and unscientific attacks on heterosexuality. I do not accept that Butler’s alleged exposure of the machinations of heterosexual ‘power’ stems from an attempt at an ideologically neutral (insofar as this is possible) analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality, but that the conclusions she draws conform to a particular standpoint that had already been decided prior to the undertaking of her project.[3]

A key element in Butler’s approach is the concept of performativity. Butler seeks to problematise all reference to the natural in gender, sex, and sexuality by arguing that all is rhetoric; that one cannot attempt to look ‘beyond’ or ‘beneath’ their manifestations for a ’cause’, on the anti-foundationalist premise that there is no essence or ‘depth’, and that one should focus on discursive creation alone. Butler’s initial observations on the culturally constructed and maintained nature of gender performance are based on the fairly uncontentious and widely expounded view in feminist theory that one cannot take at face value dominant cultural expressions of gender as constituting biological truth culturally manifested. However, where other theorists have argued that there are natural elements to ‘male’ and ‘female’ that should be disentangled from superimposed naturalised cultural constructions, Butler takes this argument further by proposing that the concept of sex difference (at least in terms of a ‘binary’) is an ideological construction of heterosexuality, designed to legitimate and normalise its existence. Thus, Butler jumps from noting (with the help of Aretha Franklin’s ‘You make me feel like a natural woman’) that ‘the experience of a gendered psychic disposition or cultural identity is considered an achievement’ (1999: 29), to claiming that all manifestations of a male/female split are the self-legitimating creations of a hegemonic heterosexuality:

The internal coherence or unity of either gender, man or woman, . . . requires both a stable and oppositional heterosexuality. That institutional heterosexuality both requires and produces the univocity of each of the gendered terms that constitute the limit of gendered possibilities within an oppositional, binary gender system. This conception of gender presupposes not only a casual relationship among sex, gender, and desire, but suggests as well that desire reflects or expresses gender and that gender reflects or expresses desire. The metaphysical unity of the three is assumed to be truly known and expressed in a differentiating desire for an oppositional gender – that is, in a form of oppositional heterosexuality (30).

The assumption underlying this claim is that gender can be fully explained in terms of ‘institutional heterosexuality’, and that heterosexuality actually produces male and female as distinct and opposed categories in order for it to function and appear natural. Yet, one might ask, what is this alleged hegemonic institutional heterosexuality, and what is the origin of this ‘project’? As a Foucauldian, Butler develops her work from his argument that heterosexuality (and conversely homosexuality) as a distinct and unified concept did not emerge until the late nineteenth century, a period in which ‘homosexuality’ was pathologised and ‘[n]ew, institutionalized taxonomic discourses – medical, legal, literary, psychological – centering on homo/heterosexual definition, proliferated and crystallized with exceptional rapidity’ (Sedgwick 1994: 2). Postmodern theory is resolutely opposed to such ‘essentialism’, but the problem with anti-essentialist approaches is that they often involve jumping from one extreme, scientism/biologism, to another, culturalism. Eagleton rightly notes that ‘[c]ulturalism is as much a form of reductionism as biologism and economism’ (Eagleton 1996: 74), and Butler’s anti-foundationalism requires the acceptance of an extreme culturalist reductionism in which gender, sex, and biologically-induced desire are all dispensed with, thus rendering heterosexuality nothing more than a fictive construct. This reductionism is an ideological fantasy, rather than a theoretical position resting on solid argument.

Butler’s position relies on rhetoric in place of actual evidence, and scientific research into gender, sex, and sexuality is passed over in favour of analysis of novels, films, and other theoretical texts. It is interesting that Foucault, when questioned on the possibility of biological factors influencing sexuality, simply stated that ‘[o]n this question I have absolutely nothing to say’ (Foucault in Spargo 1999: 13), and that Butler, through her rejection of biological arguments, follows suite. Butler chooses to circumnavigate the problem of significant neurological and genetic research that points to a strong element of biological determinism in gendered behaviour [4] by focussing on cultural gender stereotypes that are very superficial, subjecting them to analysis and demonstrating their constructed nature, but then proceeding to take a logically unjustified leap into arguing that all gendered behaviour is therefore purely the result of the repetition of cultural norms instituted by ‘heterosexuality’.

Butler’s repetition/performativity argument is famously illustrated by her example of ‘drag’ performance (Butler 1999: 174-177). Here, a male entertainer dresses in a stereotypical ‘glamorous’ female outfit, adorns a wig and make-up, and imitates supposedly female/feminine body movements while miming to pop songs. According to Butler, drag can be seen to illustrate the constructed nature of gender: ‘In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself’ (175). The problem with this argument is that connections have been made that do not logically follow. Firstly, imitation in no way automatically implies that that which is imitated is anything but the original and the natural [5]. Secondly, drag is an extreme example, in that it only focuses on a superficial element of what constitutes the female: some Western constructions of feminine appearance. For Butler, drag ‘reflects the mundane impersonations by which heterosexually ideal genders are performed and naturalized and undermines their power by virtue of their exposure’ (1993: 231). In fact, however, it does nothing of the sort, for there is no reason to label a certain female appearance as either normative for females themselves (society displays too much diversity for one to be able to lay claim to having found even the female ‘ideal’; a stereotype is not necessarily a reflection of a norm or an ideal), or as a normative expression of heterosexuality.

Butler continues her argument by looking at ‘butch/femme’ lesbianism, in which one partner adopts a stereotypically ‘female’ appearance and the other a more ‘masculine’ appearance. Arguing along similar lines to her ‘drag’ claims, Butler presents ‘butch/femme’ not as a conscious or unconscious appropriation of a normative mode of relationship (male/female union), irrespective of whether or not such a normative mode has a natural component, but instead as an illustration of the allegedly wholly constructed nature of gender/sex identities:

The idea that butch and femme are in some sense ‘replicas’ or ‘copies’ of heterosexual exchange underestimates the erotic significance of these identities as internally dissonant and complex in their resignification of the hegemonic categories by which they are enabled. Lesbian femmes may recall the heterosexual scene, as it were, but also displace it at the same time. In both butch and femme identities, the very notion of an original or natural identity is put into question; indeed it is precisely that question as it is embodied in these identities that becomes the source of their erotic significance (1999: 157).

This argument is flawed for similar reasons to that of ‘drag’, but contains even poorer reasoning. The first argument given by Butler as to why ‘butch/femme’ should not be seen as imitation of an original is one based on eroticism. However, the fact that something may have ‘erotic significance’ for some people has no bearing on the question at hand. If anything, the eroticisation of what is arguably an imitative act would point more to a form of fetishistic pleasure derived from parody or appropriation, rather than a serious challenge to the heterosexual model as original or normative. Next comes the unfounded assertion that by ‘recall[ing] the heterosexual scene’, lesbian ‘femmes’ ‘also displace it at the same time’. Contrary to Butler’s argument, the adoption of a stereotypically ‘heterosexual female’ appearance does not mean that either a stereotypically heterosexual female appearance has no natural or original component, or that such a stereotype is a constituent element of what a heterosexual woman actually is. The fact that this ‘femme’ appearance can be repeated says nothing conclusive about the originality or natural (or constructed) status of this appearance; if I imitate the behaviour of a dog, this canine ‘displacement’ does not ‘put into question’ the natural status of canine behaviour, but merely demonstrates that a superficial similarity can be reproduced.

Butler’s work is ultimately, I believe, designed to undermine heterosexuality, on the basis that heterosexuality is intrinsically aggressive towards homosexuality, and towards those men and women who find their gender identity to be in some sense dysphoric. Butler’s arguments ignore scientific research, traditional feminist arguments, and most of all the realities of lived experience, because only within a detached theoretical environment can such ideas appear to have any logical coherence or relevance. That said, Butler’s work does attempt to further the project of examining the socially constructed nature of some of what is seen to be ‘natural’, whereas the work of the Baudrillardian postmodern theorists of gender, sex, and sexuality belongs, I shall argue, more in the realm of fantasy writing and poetry than within a serious critical study of these important cultural and biological phenomena.

It is perhaps best to start with a specific example. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker have collaborated on a number of occasions, applying Baudrillardean postmodern theory to questions of gender, sex, and sexuality. In 1989, they co-authored, with David Cook, The Panic Encyclopedia, the self-declared ‘definitive guide to the postmodern scene’. Under ‘sex’, one finds the following entry:

What is sex in the age of the hyperreal? A little sign slide between kitsch and decay as the postmodern body is transformed into a rehearsal for the theatrics of sadomasochism in the simulacrum. Not sadism any longer under the old sign of Freudian analysis and certainly not masochism in the Sadean carceral, but sadomasochism now as a kitschy sign of the body doubled in an endless labyrinth of media images, just at the edge of ecstasy of catastrophe and the terror of the simulacrum (Kroker et al 1989).

The Baudrillardean reference points are clear in this text (hyperreal, simulacrum, media images, ecstasy, catastrophe, and so on), as is the unfortunate recourse to his glib and pretentious style. When one attempts to extract something meaningful from this passage, one faces an uphill struggle, yet this is by no means an isolated example of such wilful obfuscation and hyperbole. Kroker and Kroker start with one of Baudrillard’s key ideas, that we now live in ‘the era of simulation’, which is ‘inaugurated by the liquidation of all referentials’ (Baudrillard 1994: 2). Their reflection takes place at the fourth ‘successive phase of the image’, in which the image ‘has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum’ (6). As a result, they argue that gender, sex, and sexuality have ceased to have any reality, for truth is a fictive construct. According to this line of argument, ‘the body no longer exists’ (Kroker and Kroker 1987: 20); ‘the (natural) body in the postmodern condition has already disappeared, and what we experience as the body is only a fantastic simulacra of body rhetorics’ (21-22). Like Butler, Kroker and Kroker believe that ‘all the big referents’ have been ‘produced by a power that would be hegemonic’ (Kroker and Kroker 1993: 13), but they adopt a more exaggerated and apocalyptic tone than her considerably more sober, if unnecessarily opaque, reflections. Rather than engaging seriously with the important questions of gender, sex, and sexuality, Kroker and Kroker retreat into a barrage of flippant rhetoric, combining banal and unsupported claims [6] with a supercilious attitude towards ‘the last defenders of a pure fiction’ (14), who, it would appear, are all those who do not share their view of reality (or the lack of it).

It is somewhat difficult to formulate an adequate critical response to a position based on assertions that are not supported by any evidence; however, it is worth looking at Kroker and Kroker’s stated intention, the creation of a ‘third sex’:

[A] transgendered sex for an age of transsexuality, where sex, most of all, has fled its roots in the consanguinity of nature, refused its imprisonment in the phallocentric orbit of gender, abandoned the metaphorical sublimations of discursive sexuality, finally finding its home in a virtual sex (15).

This third sex, or virtual sex, will be found ‘floating in an elliptical orbit around the planet of gender that it has left behind, finally free of the powerful gravitational pull of the binary signs of the male/female antinomies in the crowded earth scene of gender’ (18).

Something approaching a more coherent and codified form of this bizarre mélange of Baudrillardean postmodernism, poetry, and science fiction, is found in the much vaunted ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ of Donna Haraway. Haraway states that her text is ‘an effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender’ (Haraway 2000: 70). While following a similar approach to Kroker and Kroker, Haraway states her case considerably more eloquently but still fails to provide substantial evidence to support notions central to her argument, such as the claim that ‘what counts as nature’ has been ‘undermined, probably fatally’ (73).

Haraway argues that the concept of ‘woman’ is no longer meaningful: ‘There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women. There is not even such a thing as “being” female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices’ (74-75). Through this denial of unity, Haraway claims, ‘the justifications for patriarchy, colonialism, humanism, positivism, essentialism, scientism, and . . . all claims for an organic and natural standpoint’ are undermined (76). However, is such a radical negation justified, and what empirical evidence is there to support such a position? Haraway’s contention is based once again on a strident anti-foundationalism, but arguably this extreme position can only be reached through arbitrarily dismissing compelling scientific evidence that demonstrates the existence of more than just culturally constructed differences between men and women (as well as significant unity justifying the concept ‘woman’ – see note 4), and by exaggerating the extent to which the concepts of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ do not ‘have sufficient historical and cross cultural continuity . . . to warrant using such terms’ (Walby 1992: 36). Haraway’s arguments, rather than offering an adequate treatment of the subject, appear to be cleverly dressed up propaganda, which essentially seeks to promote the kind of ‘utopian’ postmodern socialist-feminism she favours. As with Butler, ideology dictates methodology, and results are predetermined.

A final example of postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality, drawing implicitly on some aspects of Baudrillardean postmodernism and explicitly on the work of Haraway is found in the ‘posttranssexuality’ promoted by Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein. Both Stone and Bornstein are post-operative male-to-female transsexuals who have adopted a postmodern position and now seek, actually within themselves, to enact something similar to Haraway’s cyborg myth.

In her ‘Posttranssexual Manifesto’, Stone argues that transsexuals have been complicit in naturalising ‘the stereotypical male account of the constitution of gender’, and, in doing so, ‘reinforce a binary, oppositional mode of gender identification’ (Stone 1994). She points out that success for a transsexual is to have ‘passed’, to have been ‘read’ as a natural member of the adopted sex. In addition to ‘passing’ through appearing and sounding conceivably female (or male), another key factor in successfully consolidating the transsexual’s new identity is the creation and maintenance of a total life story in which all references to the transsexual’s pre-operative life are either erased or altered to appear within a narrative ‘suitable’ to the newly acquired sex. So, the male-to-female transsexual, for example, will now recall in conversation things that ‘happened’ in childhood ‘when she was a little girl’. Stone and Bornstein see such an approach as false and dishonest, although they too once attempted to ‘pass’ through such strategies, and continue to adopt a ‘feminine’ appearance.

Stone argues that transsexuals can provide a radical challenge to norms in gender, sex, and sexuality, but can only do this through forgoing ‘passing’, being consciously ‘read’, and becoming ‘posttranssexual’. In doing this, Stone claims, the open transsexual or posttranssexual becomes a subversive threat:

I am suggesting that in the transsexual’s erased history we can find a story disruptive to the accepted discourses of gender, which originates from within the gender minority itself and which can make common cause with other oppositional discourses. But the transsexual currently occupies a position that is nowhere, which is outside the binary oppositions of gendered discourse. For a transsexual, as a transsexual, to generate a true, effective and representational counterdiscourse is to speak from outside the boundaries of gender, beyond the constructed oppositional nodes which have been predefined as the only positions from which discourse is possible (Stone 1994).

Bornstein advocates a similar approach, and through books, workshops, television appearances, and theatre, has attempted to think and enact a posttranssexual position. For Bornstein, gender is a ‘social disease’ (Bornstein 1995: 78), ‘in the same arena as apartheid’, ‘a class system, not something that is natural’, and a ‘cult’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 111). That said, she has even more contempt for the concept of ‘sex’, seeing it as a biologistic term of oppression, encouraging instead the use of the term ‘biological gender’ (Bornstein 1995: 30), for, she claims, ‘sex is fucking, gender is everything else’ (116). For Bornstein, ‘there is no such thing as gender, other than what we say it is’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 109). According to this extreme form of social constructionism, then, one can say almost nothing with any certainty beyond asserting that the current societal understanding or enactment of gender is somewhat restrictive and should be altered to allow for more diversity. The question of biology is tossed aside in a characteristic leap from a perceived ‘essentialism’, defined by Bornstein as the ‘right wing’ of discourse, into a thoroughgoing culturalism, defined by Bornstein as the ‘left wing’ of discourse (Bornstein 1995: 133). Here, Bornstein adopts an emotive approach to gender and sex, by attempting to demonise scientific approaches and those advocating an empirical understanding of gender that is not simply reliant on anecdote and rhetoric by presenting them as a reactionary conservative force. She explicitly reiterates the postmodern contempt and aggression towards biology in the following passage:

[I]n our Western civilisation we bow down to the great god Science. No other type of gender holds as much sway as Biological gender, which classifies a person through any combination of body type, chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, or some other corporal or chemical essence. Belief in biological gender is in fact belief in the supremacy of the body in the determination of identity . . . By calling something ‘sex’, we grant it seniority over all other types of gender – by some right of biology (30).

This is deeply ironic, for Bornstein claims that she does not regret having had a surgical sex change and hormone therapy (244), but that she does not wish to feel constrained by the gender and sex classification process which arguably led to her (and Stone) to such an extreme form of action in the first place. She attacks biology and society’s focus on the biological, while continuing to also advocate the validity of sex changes (‘gender changes’ involving surgical alteration of the body) for those who want them. Indeed, she has defined herself as ‘a transsexual lesbian whose female lover is becoming a man’ (3). In such a situation, what would a female ‘becoming a man’ actually mean, given Bornstein’s denial that such categories are valid? Her advocacy of her partner undergoing extensive surgery and hormonal treatment cannot logically be combined with her advocacy of a non-biological, socially constructed idea of gender, but the ‘posttranssexual’ position is riddled with contradictions, as it is essentially another logically weak self-serving position, designed to protect a biologically and socially anomalous cluster of individuals from what they see as a pathologising imperative inherited from Enlightenment sexological discourses [7].

Perhaps Stone and Bornstein may be seen to make something approaching a valid contribution to sociological investigation, insofar as they raise questions about what is classed socially as ‘natural’ (especially in relation to women), but do their radical claims about the ‘transgressive’ nature of posttranssexuality ring true? In terms of the sex/gender link, one must respond in the negative. The fact that transsexuals find ‘becoming a woman’ (or man) difficult, and in some cases unbearably restrictive (Stone and Bornstein) does not point to the majority of, or indeed all, expressions of sex/gender being socially constructed; in fact, Stone and Bornstein provide an excellent argument for the notion of inherent difference in sex by virtue of their failure to feel that they are qualitatively ‘women’ (i.e. the biological gap cannot be overcome, even with surgery, hormones, and socialisation). In terms of sexuality, both Stone and Bornstein see their neither/nor ambiguity as challenging sexual ‘binaries’. For Stone, this comes through ‘[t]he disruptions of the old patterns of desire that the multiple dissonances of the transsexual body imply’ (Stone 1994). This is similar to Butler’s butch/femme claim, and the same criticisms apply. Desire for a surgically altered ‘sex-changed’ body does not offer any radical challenge to dominant discourses of sexuality, as the negligible minority who would be consciously drawn to such a body or person may well have a fetishistic interest in the ‘deviant’ or anti-natural component in such a sexual relationship or encounter. Bornstein, as ‘her’ lover was going through a sex change, could claim that ‘I identify as neither male nor female, and now . . . it turns out I’m neither straight nor gay’ (Bornstein 1995: 4). This might sound like a radically fluid approach to gender, sex, and sexuality, but such a sexual partnership is arguably so far from the experience of the vast majority that it offers no plausible challenge to mainstream cultural presentations and expressions of sexuality, and none at all to questions of the natural, because through its patently ‘unnatural’ status (the union of two individuals whose bodies have been artificially constructed through surgery and hormone injections) it only serves to reinforce the natural status of the dominant form of sexual behaviour: heterosexuality.

The work of Stone and Bornstein can be seen as the apotheosis of a postmodern approach to gender, sex, and sexuality. Their project seeks to subvert sensible discourse and through various sleights of hand to dismiss compelling scientific and sociological research that does not accord with their conclusions. Again, ideology can be seen as the driving force behind their work (as with the other theorists covered earlier), with its emotive appeals to a ‘politically correct’ mentality and the credulity towards weak arguments it engenders. Bornstein’s attacks on science, combined with Stone’s identification of ‘the medical establishment’ as ‘the body police’ (Stone 1994) sounds suspiciously like political rhetoric, which, especially when wrapped up in esoteric verbiage (e.g. Butler; Kroker and Kroker), seems to pass easily as ‘theory’, largely on the basis that it is perceived to adopt a ‘left-wing’ position and is considered to be ‘radical’. This makes it appear meritorious to the postmodern intellectual community, irrespective of the credibility of the assertions that are being made, and the lack of evidence used to back them up.

Notes

1. On this, see for example, Eagleton 1996; Hassan 1993; Norris 1990; Simon 1996.
2. Originally published in 1990.
3. That Butler’s primary concern is to ‘denaturalise’ heterosexuality becomes clear as she speaks of ‘hegemonic heterosexuality’ being the result of ‘the heterosexual project’ (125). Butler frequently presents ‘heterosexuality’ in a conspiratorial and personified form. Here, heterosexuality is seen to be a monolithic and malignant power that ‘acts’, ‘desires’, and opposes, almost as if ‘it’ had some existence of its own independent of humans. This approach is particularly ironic, given Butler’s criticism of those who ‘misread’ or ‘misconstrue’ Foucault to be ‘”personifying” power … as a grammatical and metaphysical subject’ (9).
4. On genetic and neurological evidence for inherent sex difference, see Wade 2003, Marano 2003, Kimura 2002, and Resnick et al 1986.
5. Butler acknowledges this (1993: 231), although she rejects such an argument in this case.
6. For example: ‘The referents have disappeared. Everyone knows it’ (13).
7. Bornstein wishes to make clear that she is ‘a transsexual by choice and not by pathology’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 111). However, she also recalls that as a child, unlike her, ‘everyone else seemed to know they were boys or girls or men or women’ (Bornstein 1995: 8). She claims that ‘I never did feel like a girl or a woman; rather, it was my unshakable conviction that I was not a boy or a man’, and this led to her sex-change (24). Such feelings resulting in drastic surgical alteration have until recently been classed as a pathological disorder (Gender Dysphoria), however, Bornstein shows no interest in scientific reality, perhaps for the reason that the contemporary cult of ‘political correctness’ mandates that everything must be seen in terms of ‘lifestyle choice’ and ‘freedom’, concepts unsupported scientifically. Consequently, it could be seen that the arguments of Bornstein and Stone have almost no bearing on issues of gender, sex, and sexuality, based as they are on an ideological flight from the realities of what is actually a medical condition, as opposed to a radical challenge to the normative.

Bibliography

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Bell, Shannon (1993) ‘Kate Bornstein: A Transgender Transsexual Postmodern
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Feminism and Outlaw Bodies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press), 104-120. Online: http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=61

Bornstein, Kate (1995) Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (New York: Vintage Books).

Butler, Judith (1993) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (London: Routledge).

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Eagleton, Terry (1996) The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell).

Haraway, Donna (2000) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Badmington, Neil (ed.)
Posthumanism (Basingstoke: Palgrave), 69-84. Online: https://web.archive.org/web/20110104053401/http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html

Hassan, Ihab (1993) ‘Toward a Concept of Postmodernism’ in Docherty, Thomas (ed.) Postmodernism: A Reader (London: Longman), 146-156.

Kimura, Doreen (2002) ‘Sex Differences in the Brain’, Scientific American, May 13. Online: https://www2.nau.edu/~bio372-c/class/behavior/sexdif1.htm

Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (1987) ‘Theses on the Disappearing Body in the Hyper-Modern Condition’ in Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (eds)
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(Basingstoke: Macmillan Press), 1-19.

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Norris, Christopher (1990) What’s Wrong With Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf).

Resnick, S.M. et al (1986) ‘Early Hormonal Influences on Cognitive Functioning in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia’, Developmental Psychology 22 (2), 191-198.

Sedgwick, Eve (1994) Epistemology of the Closet (London: Penguin Books).

Simon, William (1996) Postmodern Sexualities (London: Routledge).

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Stone, Sandy (1993) ‘The “Empire” Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto’.
Online

Wade, Nicholas (2003) ‘Y Chromosome Depends on Itself to Survive’, The New York Times, June 19. Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/19/us/y-chromosome-depends-on-itself-to-survive.html

Walby, Sylvia (1992) ‘Post-post-modernism? Theorizing social complexity’ in Barrett, Michele and Anne Phillips (eds) Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary
Feminist Debates (Cambridge: Polity Press), 31-52.

‘Diversity’ and White Middle Class Hypocrisy

Following the Brexit vote, Allister Heath, writing in The Telegraph, found himself ‘very struck… by the way that liberal middle-class Remain voters tended to characterise working-class Leave voters as ignorant, stupid, bigoted and racist’. On the other side of the aisle, Dreda Say Mitchell, writing in The Guardian, reported that ‘the barrage of hatred and intolerance unleashed by sections of the remain vote against the working class has been horrifying’.

A popular narrative regarding working class white support for Brexit is that it was based on a nativist racism and a hatred of ‘diversity’. ‘Ignorant’ and ‘uneducated’ whites were seen as a bunch of knuckle-dragging bigots who irrationally hated their neighbours.

The Economist, in a post-Brexit vote article celebrating widespread demographic changes, stated:

[W]hat really offends liberals—particularly in London—is the thought that Britain is bound to become less tolerant, less international, less diverse and as a result less interesting.

However, ‘if national diversity is the goal’, gushed the piece, ‘Britain’s capital has an enormous head start’.

Does it really?

The Financial Times notes:

So noisily have London’s political leaders been celebrating the diversity of their multiracial city that they have forgotten to see what is happening under their noses. If you walk around the city centre you see racially mixed pavements, shops, buses, tubes and even workplaces. But there is also a great deal of what the Americans call “sundown segregation”: if you followed people home you would find yourself in some of the most ethnically segregated places in Britain.

As Ed West puts it:

London liberals tend to be impeccably on-side when it comes to racial morality, but still want to be with people like them, some of whom are Asian or black or mixed, but not many, at least not proportionally to their boroughs. This doesn’t make them bad, just human, but the problem is that the whole diversity ideal is based on people having perfectible natures, the story culminating with a post-racial society where all segregation ends, a classic example of a utopian political belief.

The Times has termed the phenomenon ‘polite white flight‘:

Britain has become more sharply divided on ethnic lines, even as racial prejudice has declined, according to a new study.

More than 600,000 white Britons have moved from London to areas that are 90% or more white in the past decade — and liberals, leftwingers and rightwingers have done so at roughly the same rate.

Trevor Phillips, the former equalities chief, stated:

We are not seeing an increase in racial hostility but the outcome is a clear increase in racial division. People are moving apart even though today personal racial prejudice is on the wane.

In a major academic study, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam conducted detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America. In 2007, he published his findings, which demonstrated:

[T]he greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

Again, Putnam did not find racism to be the primary factor. He writes:

Diversity does not produce bad race relations or ethnically defined group hostility. Rather, inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbours regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can make a difference.

The flip-side of these findings was that:

where “social capital” is greater, children grow up healthier, safer and better educated. People in more homogeneous communities also have longer, happier lives and democracy and the economy work better.

The New York Times reported:

His findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work.

This is hardly surprising, for, as John King states, ‘“Diversity” is the new fetish of the media and political class’. Indeed, a commitment to ‘diversity’ has taken on an almost religious air in age of increasing secularisation, with ‘“diversity” and “tolerance” as the qualities to which the new elite most reverently genuflects’.

The problem with all this praise for diversity is that many of its advocates do not in practice live the ‘diverse’ dream. This has been identified as the ‘diversity paradox‘: ‘people who value diversity surround themselves with like‐minded others’. The thing is, those like-minded others tend to be of a similar ethnic and cultural background.

But what of those who can’t afford to make such living choices? The much-discussed – and derided – white working class comes into the picture here. White liberals, the kinds of people who praise diversity and avoid it in practice, can often barely conceal their contempt for such people. For example, it has not been seen as unacceptable for a Times columnist to refer to working class whites as ‘the detritus of the Industrial Revolution’.

When you actually listen to the concerns of the kinds of white working class people who voted for Brexit, what emerges, however, is not a torrent of racism, but rather a deep sense of loss of community.

In May 2016, the BBC visited the East Ham Working Men’s Club, ‘which has become the last bastion of Cockney culture, and is just a few feet from West Ham’s Upton Park ground’. Comments from the patrons centred on culture, not race. This is an area that has seen massive demographic change in a relatively short space of time. Whites are a minority. The club’s manager states:

People who haven’t been for many years come out of Upton Park Station and say: “I can’t believe what’s happened here, it could be Baghdad.”

A club member says:

It’s hard to find somebody who speaks English in Newham. We’ve always been a country where immigration plays a part, but not on the scale you find now. You go from Aldgate to Barking and there is very few English people left.

Another says:

The biggest change I think is the pubs shutting, there are so many pubs closing down. Muslims don’t drink, so that’s another major change.

The documentary also features bus driver Tony Cunningham, whose father was a Jamaican immigrant and whose mother is a Londoner whose family has lived in Newham for 150 years. Despite his mixed heritage, Cunningham considers himself a cockney through-and-through. He now feels isolated in his own community:

I feel alone. Most of the Muslims stick together, their children stick together. If you are an outsider, they don’t want no part of you whatsoever.

This feeling of being culturally and socially isolated, of feeling ‘alone’, fits with Putnam’s findings on diverse communities, although where Putnam stated that ‘inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life’, it seems more that some incomers have never even sought to become a part of that collective life (outside of their own communities).

In a 2013 article, Jane Kelly, a London resident for a quarter of a century, writes that ‘I feel like a stranger where I live’:

Of the 8.17 million people in London, one million are Muslim, with the majority of them young families. That is not, in reality, a great number. But because so many Muslims increasingly insist on emphasising their separateness, it feels as if they have taken over; my female neighbours flap past in full niqab, some so heavily veiled that I can’t see their eyes. I’ve made an effort to communicate by smiling deliberately at the ones I thought I was seeing out and about regularly, but this didn’t lead to conversation because they never look me in the face…

I was brought up in a village in Staffordshire, and although I have been in London for a quarter of a century I have kept the habit of chatting to shopkeepers and neighbours, despite it not being the done thing in metropolitan life. Nowadays, though, most of the tills in my local shops are manned by young Muslim men who mutter into their mobiles as they are serving. They have no interest in talking to me and rarely meet my gaze. I find this situation dismal.

People feel ‘alone’ and ‘like strangers’ in communities that have ceased to be communities in any real sense. Is it any wonder that such areas have produced ‘leave’ voters, who desperately believed that in some way voting ‘out’ might do something to change things?

Middle class white liberals who are increasingly flocking together in culturally homogenous areas never utter the kind of impolite and ‘racist’ statements seen above. They don’t need to. They can afford to move to be around ‘people like us‘ without giving any controversial reasons. They can sit in their enclaves and make themselves feel morally superior by pontificating on the ‘racism’ of the retrograde uneducated lower classes, and champion the wonders of ‘diversity’ while living far away from it. As an article in The Independent puts it:

Classist innuendo about educated Remain voters and the ‘white van men’ of Leave has revealed something very distasteful about Britain. “Are you sophisticated, cultured and cosmopolitan, or an uneducated pleb?” is implicit in much of the discourse…

Middle class liberals are often actively involved in a “divide and conquer” strategy with recent immigrants and the established working class. They disingenuously praise immigrants not out of any sincere commitment to open borders, but rather as a way of distancing themselves from and expressing their disdain towards the working class.

Disdain towards the working class and their ‘prejudices’ masks a great hypocrisy: the biggest advocates of ‘diversity’ are often the least touched by it.

The Myth of the Europhile Young

Consider the following narrative:

The Brexit result revealed a huge divide in Britain: the old and the uneducated voted to leave the EU and are a bunch of ignorant bigots stuck in the past, whereas the well-educated young (the 75%) voted to remain in the EU, and are forward-thinking, cosmopolitan, liberal internationalist Europhiles. They are the future.

Is this actually true?

Polling data in recent years have revealed that Britons feel less European than the population of any other EU country, with two-thirds of people in the UK saying they do not feel any sense of European identity. This 64% figure contrasts significantly with the French and the Germans, amongst whom only 36% and 25% respectively identify solely with their nationality. Despite this, 51% of those in Britain who do not identify as European were still, prior to the Brexit vote, in favour of remaining in the EU, illustrating that ‘clearly, for this group, support for the EU has little to do with how European or otherwise they feel’.

When it comes to younger voters, a similar pattern emerges. A 2017 survey, commissioned by the thinktank Demos and supported by the British Council, found that half of young adults in the UK do not feel European, despite 75% voting to remain in the EU. Those who identified as solely or predominantly European were very much in the minority. Similarly, a 2017 YouGov survey showed that only 29% of young people in Britain see themselves as both Brits and Europeans. As Emily Dinsmore notes, ‘clearly, youngsters are not convinced that EU membership connects us with our European neighbours, or makes us feel like internationalists’.

When the reasons for the young voting to remain in the EU are looked at, what emerges is voting rooted in self-interest based on the perceived benefits of EU membership, rather than widespread Europhile leanings. Avril Keating, Director of the Centre for Global Youth at the UCL Institute of Education notes that UCL research has revealed that ‘young people in Britain are less tolerant of immigration than you might expect’ and the idea that ‘young people’s attitudes towards Brexit were really driven by idealism and cosmpolitanism’ is not strongly founded, with many young people voting Remain ‘because they viewed remaining in the EU as the safest option, and the outcome that would have had the least negative impact on their lives’. Keating also notes that:

Few reported feeling less European since the referendum, in part because few felt European in the first place. Most were also just as attached to and proud of Britain as they had been before the referendum.

Research by the London School of Economics illustrates the primary concerns of young Remain voters:

There was widespread fear and frustration. Prime amongst youth anxieties were questions about losing EU benefits including educational programmes, opportunities and rights. A close second was the feeling that economic livelihoods would be even more endangered in a post-Brexit UK.

Economic concerns, then, rather than any inherent love for the EU, or even Europe itself, were key to the youth Remain vote. Indeed, interestingly, a 2015 YouGov survey revealed that ‘as a group, today’s university students are mainly interested in traditional left-wing issues – but on core economic matters they are actually to the right of the general public’. Students might talk a lot about ‘social justice’ issues, but they are very much motivated by self-interest, and this came out clearly in the significant vote to remain in the EU.

The idea of a young Europhile population in Britain today is a misrepresentation. Young Britons, in line with the population in general, are not particularly European in outlook. As Libby Cherry, herself devoted to ‘an ideal of a future European Britain’, acknowledges, ‘British youth are only reluctant Remainers’. Cherry writes:

Even the most committed Remainers often shy away from painting the EU postively, let alone upholding it as a perfect institution. Many people also seem to forget that many young people support Jeremy Corbyn because he holds similar views to them on the EU – vague, ambivalent, faintly Eurosceptic – rather than in spite of them. Prior to the referendum, if the EU had cropped up in conversation the tone probably would have been negative rather than positive.

The supposed huge social and generational divide in modern Britain, then, is not nearly as drastic as the 75% Remain vote might make it appear to be. Most young Britons are not Europhiles.

On ‘Education’ and Brexit

George Orwell, writing in 1941, made the following observations:

In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God save the King” than of stealing from a poor box.

Since Orwell wrote these words, the English intelligentsia have arguably become even more hostile to pro-English sentiment and English universities are increasingly becoming echo chambers of ideological conformity.

Following the Brexit vote, the University of Leicester published research which reportedly demonstrated that ‘greater access to Higher Education could have reversed the result of the 2016 EU referendum’. Inside Higher Ed reported on the findings as follows:

A statistical analysis of factors influencing voter preferences in the 2016 Brexit referendum found higher education to be “the predominant factor dividing the nation.” A new article published in the journal World Development estimated that an increase of about 3 percent in the number of adults accessing higher education in England and Wales could have reversed the results of the referendum, in which voters voted by a 51.9 to 48.1 percent margin in favor of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

The analysis by Aihua Zhang, the director of a master’s program in actuarial science at the University of Leicester, found that areas with higher proportions of university-educated adults tended to vote in support of remaining in the EU.

The assumption here, of course, is that the Brexit vote was the result of a lack of education and that a university education would disabuse ‘leave’ voters of their wrong-headed views. The problem with such an analysis is that it assumes that voting to remain in the EU is a natural result of simply being more educated, and therefore better informed and more inclined towards making the ‘correct’ choice. The assumption is that higher education is simply about discovering truth, and is therefore value-neutral. Higher education is seen to be a predictor for ‘remain’ sympathies because ‘remain’ is based on facts and academic rigor.

Another possibility, however, is that there is in fact a correlation between undertaking higher educational studies and conforming to a certain narrow groupthink based more on a moral vision than on one of actual academic inquiry. That this is in fact the case, and that Brexit-opposing students have been indoctrinated by academics who ‘are ashamed of their own nationality’, is suggested by the current situation found on university campuses throughout England. Orwell identified the English intelligentsia as ‘Europeanized’ and leftist in orientation. A recent study found that eight in ten British university lecturers are ‘left-wing’. Key findings include:

  • Individuals with left-wing and liberal views are overrepresented in British academia. Those with right-wing and conservative views are correspondingly underrepresented. Around 50% of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties, compared to less than 12% of academics. Conservative and right-wing academics are particularly scarce in the social sciences, the humanities and the arts.
  • The left-liberal skew of British academia cannot be primarily explained by intelligence. The distribution of party support within the top 5% of IQ is relatively similar to the distribution of party support within the general population.
  • Ideological homogeneity within the academy may have had a number of adverse consequences: systematic biases in scholarship; curtailments of free speech on university campuses; and defunding of academic research by right-wing governments.

The curtailment of free speech on campuses is a very worrying development. In February 2017, The Independent reported:

More than nine in 10 UK universities are restrictive of free speech, according to a new report that raises concerns over the issue of censorship on campuses.

Analysis by Spiked magazine, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, suggested campus censorship had increased steadily over the past three years – with a growing number of institutions actively clamping down on ideas, literature and guest speakers that are not in keeping with their own values.

The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), drawn from examining the policies and bans of 115 universities and students’ unions, found almost two thirds (63.5 per cent) were “severely” restrictive of free speech, with more than 30 per cent given an “amber” warning.

Russell Group institutions were found to be significantly more censorious that the average, with four of the five most restrictive institutions part of this group – Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle and the University of Oxford.

Then, in March 2018, The Joint Committee on Human Rights ‘found the discussion of unpopular and controversial ideas is being opposed on campuses across the country, with some attempting to shut down such debates rather than confront them’.

In May 2018, The Times reported:

Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, will announce tough guidance on the issue at a meeting today, calling attempts to silence debate “chilling”.

He will accuse some student societies of “institutional hostility” to certain unfashionable but perfectly lawful views. A “murky” legal landscape, with guidance from various regulators, lets zealots censor those with whom they disagree, Mr Gyimah will say.

The BBC – hardly a bastion of right-wing thought – has reported on ‘Brexit-supporting students getting abuse on campus’.

All of this demonstrates an increasing tendency in universities to impose a moral view. If there are ‘bad’ ideas, then a truly academic approach should be to hear them and then demolish them. That has long been the traditional approach to countering false notions. However, when ideas are simply silenced and forbidden, what we are actually seeing is censorship based on the purported immorality of certain opinions. If it is believed that ideas which run counter to the prevailing orthodoxy should simply be banished, then we are witnessing something akin to the banning of books and ideas more commonly associated with religious zealotry than with academia.

Those with a university education were greatly in favour of remaining in the EU, and the fact that they are ‘educated’ has been linked to this. However, the English university environment is one in which left-wing and liberal academics make up the vast bulk of teaching staff, and campuses are increasingly becoming places in which a certain set of ideologically – and morally – ‘acceptable’ views are the only opinions allowed to be heard. Speakers are silenced and dissenting students are bullied. It is little wonder that those who emerge from such an environment are ideologically uniform and therefore were enthusiastic ‘remain’ voters. That is not to say that there is no merit in ‘remain’ arguments, but that the supposed link between being ‘educated’ and opposing Brexit is not the knock-down argument its proponents seem to think it is.

The English Roots of Southern Culture

The Southern states of the USA have been deeply connected to England since their founding, with the British colony of Virginia being the epicentre and progenitor of much of what has gone on to become Southern culture. Virginia hospitality became Southern hospitality, Virginia barbecue became Southern barbecue, Virginia fried chicken became Southern fried chicken, Virginia ham became Southern country ham, and Virginia speech ways formed the roots of the Southern dialect. In each case, England and English culture are the origins of these iconically Southern phenomena. Many of the South’s major cities were founded by the British, of whom the ruling class was predominantly of English extraction:

Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee were established primarily by English and Scotch-Irish settlers, and not only the South’s oldest cities (Richmond, Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah) but its deepest interior settlements (Louisville and Nashville) were founded by people of British descent.

Across the South, the English influence is evident in place names: Norfolk (VA), Portsmouth (VA), Winchester (VA), York (VA), London (KY), Manchester (TN), Birmingham (AL), York (SC), and so on. The significance of the English foundations of the South can also be found in the numerous places named for the Randolph family: the Randolph Counties of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina; Randolph, Mississippi; and Randolph, Tennessee.

The Randolph family traces its roots in the South to the union of William and Mary Randolph, whose ancestries lie in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, respectively. This couple are sometimes referred to as the ‘Adam and Eve of Virginia’, although they perhaps might more accurately be seen as the Adam and Eve of the South.

William Randolph’s children included Isham Randolph of Dungeness – whose daughter Jane would go on to be the mother of Thomas Jefferson – and Elizabeth Randolph – whose daughter Mary was the great grandmother of the legendary Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. The young Thomas Jefferson was educated alongside members of the Randolph family at Tuckahoe Plantation and Jefferson’s younger brother was named Randolph. Thomas Mann Randolph Sr., one of the Randolphs who was raised and educated alongside Thomas Jefferson, was the father of Mary Randolph, author of the seminal Southern cook book The Virginia House-Wife (1824). Mary’s brother Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. married Martha Jefferson, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, and became a Congressman and Governor of Virginia.

The importance of the Randolph family extends well beyond the confines of Virginia and into the Deep South. Holly Springs, Mississippi, for example, was founded in 1836 by Whitmel Sephas Randolph and large numbers of settlers from Virginia. The city has a Randolph Street to this day.

Peter Randolph was born in Virginia and moved with his family to Wilkinson County, Mississippi, in 1819, where he became a planter. Peter Randolph’s son, John Hampden Randolph, moved his family to Iberville Parish, Louisiana, in 1841, where he owned and operated the sugar plantations of Forest Home, Nottoway, Blythewood, and Bayou Goula. Nottoway Plantation House – a Greek Revival and Italianate-styled mansion built by John Hampden Randolph in 1859 – is the largest extant antebellum plantation house in the South.

The Greek revival architectural style – so iconic a feature of the Southern landscape, from mansions to court houses and to more humble buildings – was itself brought over from England. The English-born Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820), sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of American architecture‘, emigrated from England in 1795 and introduced the style. Latrobe worked with Thomas Jefferson on the Virginia state capitol, and was the third architect of the US Capitol building. He designed the north portico of the White House and the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore. Looking at buildings in England such as these in Worcester, Devizes, and Bristol, alongside buildings in Mississippi such as these in Indianola, Marks, and Greenville, the similarities are clear.

The gardens of the South continue to exhibit the influence of England. According to Southern Living magazine, ‘no plant rivals the azalea in Southern popularity’ and ‘Camellias are among the South’s icons’. Asian azaleas came to the United States via England and the first hybrids were planted in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1848. The Reverend John Grimké Drayton was the first to introduce azaleas to outdoor gardens in the US and was also one of the first to utilize Camellia Japonica as a landscaping plant:

Drayton had seen Romantic-style gardens in England while studying for the ministry and brought them stateside. In the 1840s, he was the first to introduce the now-common azalea to America’s outdoor gardens when he planted it at Magnolia Plantation. Drayton was also one of the first to utilize Camellia Japonica as a landscaping plant, naming his particular varietal after his wife, Julia.

The first Japonica was growing in England some time before 1739 in the greenhouse of Lord Petre. Camellias were brought from the Far East in the early 1700s to Europe, and then to America.

Southern cultural phenomena that originate in England include horse racing, popular in the South since the colonial period. The Kentucky Derby has been run every consecutive year since 1875, and is a key fixture in the calendar of Southern sporting and cultural events. Its origins lie in an 1872 trip to England by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. Clark visited Epsom in Surrey, attending the Epsom Derby, a horse racing event dating to 1870. The Kentucky Derby was initially run at 1 1/2 miles, the same distance as the Epsom Derby. Even the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, can be traced back to the English colonists of Virginia, who originally made the drink with rum, rather than the bourbon of today.

When it comes to the famous cuisine of the American South, as noted earlier, here we also find a strong English influence. Southern fried chicken has its roots in England, as does Southern barbecue and country ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, greens and pot likker, sweet potato pie, pound cake, and so on. Variety meats such as chitlins and pig’s feet – now often associated particularly with black ‘soul food’ – also came to the South from England. Terms such as ‘skillet’, a ‘mess of greens’, and ‘moonshine’ are all of English origin.

Many of the folk beliefs of African Americans (and some rural whites) are derived from English beliefs and practices. Hoodoo items such as the lucky horseshoe, the rabbit’s foot, the lucky coin, and the lucky pin are rooted in the folk beliefs of English settlers and indentured servants. Even the infamous ‘voodoo doll’ made its way to the South from England. As late as the nineteenth century, it was reported that:

In Devonshire, witches, and malevolent people still make clay images of those whom they intend to hurt, baptize the image with the name of the person whom it is meant to represent, and then stick it full of pins or burn it.

Arguably more than any other region of the United States, then, the South has most closely preserved its origins in the England of old. In its speech ways, food, architecture, gardens, culture, and folklore, the South remains deeply English at its core.

The English Origins of Sweet Potato Pie

The sweet potato is native to South America and Columbus records its discovery in his journals from his fourth voyage (to Yucatan and Honduras). Christopher Columbus introduced the sweet potato to Spain around 1493 and by 1500 they were an established crop in Europe. Sweet potatoes were ‘enormously popular in sixteenth century Europe, especially England’. Sweet potato enthusiasts included Sir Francis Drake and King Henry VIII, whose favourite foods included heavily spiced sweet potato pies. Sweet potatoes even make an appearance in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (‘Let the sky rain potatoes…’).

Sweet potatoes were grown in Spain and imported to England, where the climate was unsuitable for their cultivation. The arrival of the actual potato in England, which would grow well here, led to the sidelining of the sweet potato. Where once Henry VIII had enjoyed spiced sweet potato pies, now it was the common potato that was used as a filling for English desserts.

Robert Smith’s Court Cookery: or, The Compleat English Cook was published in London in 1725. This cookery book, which, as the introduction states, was written for ‘the nobility and gentry of Great Britain’, includes a recipe for a ‘Potatoe Pie’ made with boiled and sliced potato, seasoned with mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and salt. In 1747, Hannah Glasse published The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, a book that went on to be not only very popular in England but also in North America:

Her cookbook was on Martha Washington’s bookshelf; Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin both had copies as well, with Franklin enjoying it so much that he brought it with him to France and had some of the recipes translated so he could keep eating Glasse’s food while abroad.

Glasse’s recipes included a ‘potatoe pudding’ made using beaten or strained white potatoes, mixed with butter, eggs, cream, nutmeg, and sugar, which was then poured into a puff pastry pie shell and baked.

While the English desserts were now using common potatoes, sweet potatoes continued to be very popular in the British American colonies. At least as early as 1648, the Virginia colonists were cultivating sweet potatoes and their popularity, particularly in the South, has continued ever since. Indeed, George Washington, prior to becoming the first US President, was himself a sweet potato farmer.

As with so much else, the Virginia colonists looked to England for their culinary inspiration:

Virginia colonists brought European cooking techniques and recipes with them when they arrived in Virginia during the early years of the seventeenth century. In colonial times, Virginians endeavored to emulate European customs, especially when it came to entertaining guests at meals. Because most colonists were not trained cooks, they made good use of cookbooks.

As the popularity of Hannah Glasse’s book illustrates, this American use of English cookery books was to continue for some time before American regional cuisines were established in their own right. The cuisine of the South, then, was rooted in the cooking of England, and it is clear, when the potato pie recipes of England are compared with sweet potato pie recipes of the South, that the former is the progenitor of the latter, and that the sweet potato was simply substituted in place of the potatoes used in England.

As we have seen, Robert Smith’s 1725 potato pie recipe was seasoned with mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and salt, and Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe used butter, eggs, cream, nutmeg, and sugar. Looking at contemporary sweet potato pie recipes, we find the following:

These Mississippi and North Carolina sweet potato pie recipes call for mashed sweet potatoes to be mixed with sugar, nutmeg, salt, butter, eggs, corn syrup, and evaporated milk. Similarly, this Virginia recipe makes use sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter, eggs, and milk. Modern Southern sweet potato pie recipes, then, are clearly derived from the English potato pie recipes of past centuries.

So, while sweet potato pie may today been seen as a quintessentially American dessert, and particularly associated with Southern and soul food cuisine, its actual origins lie in the cookery of England.