Thursday 12 August 2021

Jameela Jamil: A Defence

No one is born a socialist, we are all made. A banal observation as such things go, but sometimes this is forgotten by self-defined socialists themselves. Twitter (where else?) has provided us with an occasion for remembering this truism. On Thursday evening, Marx briefly trended following the posting of this clip of Jameela Jamil in conversation with Chelsea Handler and Amy Schumer. She said,
However much we hate capitalism, however we may acknowledge the evils of capitalism exist, currently money is freedom for women. And I know this is dirty and wrong and an unsocialist and unmarxist thing to say, but being able to know that if I have an emergency and I don't have to rely on a man, and I can make my own decisions and I as a businesswoman can hire other women and people of colour and people from other backgrounds that don't get hired for jobs, gives me freedom, ultimately.
A distillation of neoliberal feminism? She later clarified in a series of tweets that she doesn't make money for her company but rather funds it as an institution to platform activists, argues that lack of money was why the women who brought her up were trapped in a cycle of abuse, and says she's not au fait with the ins and outs of anti-capitalist etiquette. This hasn't prevented her from being criticised as not caring about women in the developing world, of bloating her bank account from the surplus value produced by others, as well as the girlboss jibes and all the rest of it.

Comrades need to decelerate and reflect about positionality and movement. The first words of her Twitter bio is "feminist-in-progress", openly acknowledging she's on a learning curve - just as we all are. What matters most in the clip is not an incorrect formulation that muddies the points Jameela was trying to make, but the trajectory she is on. If she had started out as a class conscious partisan of Marxism at its most nuanced and revolutionary, then this would be a cause for concern. But this is obviously not the case. Informed by her experience as a young, racialised woman who has become Hollywood successful and subsequently used her prominence to push causes close to her heart, including mental health advocacy and standing up against transphobia, the direction of travel is obviously clear. When someone's line of flight is into the left and poised to move deeper within it, are matters helped by trotting out the revolutionary purity tests? Is this how comrades greet new people casually interested in the labour movement and our kind of politics, but come with the baggage they bring from the outside?

One of the biggest threats to the vitality of the left comes from within the movement itself: the tendency to close up and treat the location of 'leftist' not as a strategic location but an identity in itself. And this is a property of the species of alienation that is common under the prevailing phase of capitalism. It's the sort of pathology that fetishises hardship and struggle as markers of authenticity, and/or a familiarity with the history of class struggle and capital T Theory as markers of personal, revolutionary excellence. And rather than working as something fundamentally open to connecting with others, building solidarity and forging a common socialist project, for too many "leftism" is the basis of animosity, individual recrimination, and demobilisation.

Do leftists have an individual responsibility to recognise the consequences of alienation and try and work against it? Yes, but there is a collective responsibility, of ensuring the popular culture of resistance we're trying to build is a solidaristic one too. Something that is critical not gullible, but doesn't attack people, like Jameela, coming into the left for not being the finished article at the outset.


Anonymous said...

Isn't the real issue about Jalil that she is a bit of a fantasist??

Her entry on Wikipedia has quite a few examples.

sula said...

Yes, a fantasist, narcissist, virtue signalling attention seeker. She reminds me of a poor woman's Naomi Wolf and look how she's ended up. If Jameela moves even a millimetre nearer to actual Marxism, rather than using it as a buzzword, I will eat my collection of Soviet train driver hats.