Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer was greeted by a protest over her country’s war in Gaza when she took the court in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier today, Haaretz reports. “I am not the government of Israel and I am not representing Israel in politics,” Peer said after her match, which she lost. “I am a tennis player and that’s what I represent now.”
By common opinion, she does not have that choice. She is identified with Israel and is not at liberty to dissociate herself. That she prefers to identify herself with tennis is inconsequential. Identity is a passive construction; the object of classification is made to appear the subject of her relationship with a group or institution by the neat trick of hiding the agency at work. She doesn’t decide for herself whether to represent Israel or tennis; the decision is made for her. Identity on the current conception entails a loss of freedom.
Toni Morrison has pleaded with us “to avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject; from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers; from the serving to the served.”1 Fat chance. We are all in the group classification business now. To identify a person is more momentous than recognizing her. She must be assigned to her group, moved around on a board like a cast-metal token. (And in the game of group classification, she can only occupy one square at a time.) Thus we substitute representation for responsibility:
1. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 90.
2. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 14. Originally published in 1952.
3. “Significance is always ‘meaning-to,’ never ‘meaning-in,’ ” and unless the two are carefully distinguished “the result is bound to be a now familiar state of confusion,” for significance is literally without limit (E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity in Interpretation [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967], p. 63).