A fetish, in the ideological sense, operates like an enchanted talisman. The fetish is the magic, which awards disproportionate power to one party within a relationship, over another. In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Slavoj Žižek contrasts two opposing fetishistic mechanisms. The first is the fetishization of relations between men, while the second is the fetishization of relations between objects.

The relationship between men (people) is fetishized when subjects to an authority assume the authority is inherently powerful, as though they carry power in their DNA.

“Being-a-king” is an effect of the network of social relations between a “king” and his “subjects” ; but – and here is the fetishistic misrecognition – to the participants of this social bond, the relationship appears necessarily in an inverse form: they think that they are subjects giving the king royal treatment because the king is already in himself, outside the relationship to his subjects, a king; as if the determination of “being-a-king” were a “natural” property of the person of a king.

Slavoj Žižek

Such relationships formed the basis of the social experience in feudal times, prior to the ascendency of global capitalism.

On the contrary, within capitalism, commodity fetishism replaces the fetishized relations between people.

In capitalism relations between men are definitely not “fetishized”; what we have here are relations between “free” people, each following his or her proper egoistic interest. The predominant and determining form of their interrelations is not domination and servitude but a contract between free people who are equal in the eyes of the law. Its model is the market exchange: here, two subjects meet, their relation is free of all the lumber of veneration of the Master, of the Master’s patronage and care for his subjects; they meet as two persons whose activity is thoroughly determined by their egoistic interest, every one of them proceeds as a good utilitarian; the other person is for him wholly delivered of all mystical aura; all he sees in his partner is another subject who follows his interest and interests him only in so far as he possesses something – a commodity – that could satisfy some of his needs.

Slavoj Žižek

However, while the relationships between people are de-fetishized in capitalism, the relationships between things become mystical. It is the value assigned to the commodity that imbues power to its owner, its producer, or its recipient. Thus, the belief in the equality of those engaged in the market exchange is a myth, as the imbalance of proprietorship enables power for some at the expense of others.

While Žižek asserts the incompatibility of fetishized relations between men and fetishized relations between things, he explains, “With the establishment of bourgeois society, the relations of domination and servitude are repressed: formally, we are apparently concerned with free subjects whose interpersonal relations are discharged of all fetishism; the repressed truth – that of the persistence of domination and servitude – emerges as a symptom which subverts the ideological appearance of equality, freedom, and so on.”

The goal of Marx, then, became that of eradicating the façade of commodity fetishism. I believe Marx wished to de-fetishize relations between commodities and relations between men, but is that ever entirely possible?

Now, an antiracism ideology which emerged alongside Critical Race Theory in the late 1970s and 1980s is becoming mainstream. It shares a lot in common with Marxist theory, and while I believe it began with the goal of de-fetishizing commodities to reveal inequitable relations between people of different races, it has replaced the commodity fetish with another. Critical Race Theorists and antiracism activists simply revert back to the fetishized relationships between people, and this time, the magical talisman imbuing power to one over the other is skin color, or race.

Proponents of CRT and antiracism dogma explicitly declare that the relationships between people are that of oppressor and oppressed, and the exchange occurs on the basis of race and race alone. In other words, Critical Race theorists and antiracism activists assert that oppressiveness is a natural property of the white race. However, the very nature of this fetishization of whiteness implies an assumption that victimization is a natural property of non-whiteness. This is a socially constructed dichotomy, with the inherent properties of each side imposing causation upon that of the other. People of color are victimized by virtue of their relationship to white people who are inherently oppressive; similarly, white people are oppressors by virtue of their relationship to people of color who are inherently victims.

Thus, antiracism is driven by a need to settle the score–to overtly penalize whiteness because it is whiteness, alone, which created the conditions for the social relations between white and non-white people.

Yet, just as a king is not inherently royal, but appointed as such via social construction, so, too, is whiteness not inherently oppressive. This ideology, which asserts that it is such, is a social construction, imposing dynamics onto relationships between people, asserting a misrecognition as absolute truth. Simultaneously, it serves to leverage victimhood as a new source of social and political power. By virtue of their victimhood, people of color may now assert moral superiority over the inherently corrupt race that oppressed them, and the tables are turned. Now, victimhood becomes the talisman awarding authority, and membership within the oppressor group justifies antiracist discrimination, which is just another form of oppression.

On that note, I will leave you with two competing ideas, one pervading social and political discourse, the other, its repressed actuality.

The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination.

Ibram Kendi

Using victimhood–proclaiming yourself powerless gives you immense power.

Slavoj Žižek

About Author

Standing ground for desire through self-study of philosophy and psychoanalysis, self-reflection, and creative sublimation through the work of literary fiction.

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