“You will not replace us!” A chant heard in Charlottesville, and recently, the liberal press.
The left’s swift, predictable, and outraged response to Bodega, Silicon Valley’s latest idea to replace human contact with market exchanges, highlights a double-standard in our identity politics when it comes to cultural displacement.
The superficial objection to Bodega is that it’s impersonal. But the illegitimacy of Bodega goes beyond its material artificiality. More importantly, Bodega is culturally remote from the communities it threatens to uproot.
To liberals, gentrification is destruction (look no further than Salon for a primer on this). When gentrification happens, something natural and legitimate that took time to develop is replaced with something new and illegitimate. Gentrification means vibrant communities of color being replaced by white people. The white hegemony justifies this erasure with the idea that “bad areas” are being wiped off the map.
The Bodega panic mirrors nativist panic over immigrants replacing white, Christian America. What is it that legitimizes the Bodega panic but not immigration panic? Obviously the idea that whites have power. The idea that whites are the hegemony justifies violence against European heritage. It’s a double standard that runs through all of identity politics: the hegemony is always deserving of destruction.
If gentrification erases communities of color, then the growing effort to erase European heritage from the country – starting with our most troubling figures, like Robert E. Lee, and moving on to more remote colonizers like Columbus – is a different kind of displacement, one that pathologizes Europeans. We are made to imagine that it is for the good of all that Confederate statues come down because Confederate history is a moral stain. Robert E. Lee is illegitimate because he fought for slave-owners. Never mind that to many Southerners, Lee is not only legitimate but an important part of their heritage. Even if Lee hadn’t fought for slavers, his whiteness would have made him complicit in perpetuating the hegemony and, therefore, illegitimate. Columbus’s illegitimacy is more starkly illustrated by the Native American blood that was spilled to make way for the Spanish.
The illegitimacy of Bodega is imagined largely as the illegitimacy of white people taking up space where they don’t belong. Bodega, like Columbus, is felt to be an illegitimate invader – worse, by proxy through machines. Bodega is especially offensive because it has no location. It’s the worst kind of invader, omni-present yet vagrant.
What determines who can legitimately occupy what space? If we think of a nation as a people in bounded space, the immigration question becomes: who does this country belong to? To nativists, America has a European heritage. The left’s answer is that this country belongs to everyone, with priority given to the disadvantaged. White privilege puts whites last on the list. They have the weakest claim to the country because they are the strongest.
If we acknowledge that there are legitimate and illegitimate occupiers of space, then the left needs to show that white claims to space, and grievances about space, are illegitimate. The left does this by arguing that: one, displacement of white America is not actually happening; and two, even if it were, it’s okay because whites are the hegemony.
To argue that displacement is not occurring, the left obfuscates. “We don’t want to replace white America, we just want to make it impossible to challenge immigration without being called racist.” Bodega’s founders have said similar things about their product and the threat it poses to corner stores. Then there are commonplaces that conservatives are “ignorant” and “fear change”. The concerns of conservatives, of existential importance to them, are trivialized by an appeal to an enlightened way of thinking. The message is clear: whites are not under attack, and even if they were, they are illegitimate occupiers of space.
Then here’s the hegemony thing. Does privilege de-legitimize white claims to space? A leftist would certainly say so. But the white population of the country is declining and will continue to do so. Privilege doesn’t count for much in the game of demographics. Are we to believe that a group of people that is powerful enough belongs nowhere because they are powerful?
Then there is an appeal to the inevitability of change. To the left, the future is inevitable and better: why resist it? Mass immigration is imagined as something that is here to stay, against which it is pointless to resist. But the changes brought to society by technology are inevitable, too. Bodega was probably going to come along sooner or later, so why resist it?
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