race radicalism, revised

A revised version of the previous post [now removed]….

I recently read, and highly recommend, the following pieces from the “Invisible Man” blog (which I found through recomp):
“Be Careful With Each Other, So We Can Be Dangerous Together” http://invisiblestrugglers.blogspot.com/2012/03/be-careful-with-each-other-so-we-can-be.html
“Exoticism and Defiance in Racial Writing: Rawi Hage, Aravind Adiga, and the Literary Challenges of Building Our Communities” http://invisiblestrugglers.blogspot.com/2012/02/exoticism-and-defiance-in-racial.html

The first is a response to this “guest post” from the Black Orchid Collective, which I also recommend:
“Privilege Politics is Reformism” http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/guest-post-privilege-politics/
and responses to it here: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/responses-privilege-politics/

I largely agree with both the “Privilege Politics” piece and the responses to it. I think Invisible Man is semi-correct about not assuming all radicals to not be white supremacists… in fact, I think “privilege politics” (lower case, not the article) is somewhat a reflection of what I’d call “soft white supremacy” (and “middle class” supremacy) in the radical left (as evidenced by the never-ending insistent on “checking our privileges”- i.e. “privileged” academics- and a bad habit of making sweeping assumptions about all in the room, much like the folks who apparently assumed the author was white)… but I also think the point Will is making is fair enough, that by and large radicals at least intend (whether they do a shitty job or not) to be good anti-racists.

I feel very much where Will and some of the respondents to the piece are coming from with being frustrated by how “privilege politics” is applied in radical organizations, and its use to discourage mass militancy. I’m not particularly compelled by this idea in both Will’s piece and from “privilege theorists” that all radical organizing and forms of mass militancy must be accessible to all folks, and if not then it’s inherently “privilege”… actually I think it’s immoral to expect that all folks will or should participate in certain forms of militant action, and I also think it’s immoral and repressive to stop militant struggles from happening out of this kind of rationale. I mean, a lot of folks- kids, some parents, some disabled folks incl mentally ill folks, all depending on circumstance- are not gonna be able to do some forms of militant activity. I think that’s a valid practical concern and in some cases, for practical reasons, a good reason not to do something (just like financial expenditure can be a good reason not to get arrested, but isn’t a moral argument against ever doing illegal actions), while in other cases it’s still a good idea to the thing and just not have those folks participate.

I tend to instinctively agree with Invisible Man also that non-white comrades should form “their own” organizations, if for no other reason than to avoid idiotic confrontations from white comrades… however, I think I have some issues with some of the rationale around this (I say “I think” because I’m kinda confused on his position sometimes).

I totally agree with this:

As Will points out, but does not elaborate fully, members of the White middle class see themselves as the legitimate leadership of a liberation struggle precisely to the degree that the independent struggles of other oppressed groups wane. Rather than establishing themselves within their own constituencies, White middle-class activists appropriate the prefabricated struggles of other classes and racial groups, and often succeed in emerging within these struggles as leaders. This is partly accomplished by the deference they come to expect as their birthright, but where this does not succeed, such opportunists subtly combat and defeat legitimate, established working-class and community leaders – by hijacking community organizations and union bureaucracies.

and I suspect I agree with this (“suspect” because it’s purely in the abstract, because I don’t remember ever encountering this specifically, but that just speaks to limited experience):

Acquiescence to and accommodation of the political and personal power dynamics within movement politics is no more than the internalization of a racial power structure. Thus it is that getting a drink of water (or a bottle of beer) for a White comrade IS in fact a racializing experience. I’ve been asked to do this more than once by Whites in the movement, but to my recollection, have never asked it of anyone at all. I don’t need and don’t want anyone to do for me what I can do for myself. It makes me feel weird.

and I totally agree with the point made several times about conversation not being the thing that will convince comrades or whatever, basically action and doing real work being the thing that makes all the difference…

and I strongly agree with this:

Here we get into the territory of guilt. This is the most hypocritical and annoying aspect of race politics today: the overcompensating and insincere attitudes of White militants who attempt to mask their internalized racism by public denials of racist opinions and token associations with non-Whites. Often, these White militants will refrain from openly criticizing non-White perspectives on racial issues, but will use their in-group social status to undermine such perspectives with subtle and appropriately anti-oppressive jargon. (Much of the time, it’s not even that refined.) What is the point of engaging in such games? When someone pretends to back down, but is not actually convinced, no productive conversation has occurred. This is the behavior of patronage, not comradeship.

… however I’m confused by this part:

As I’ve stated, there is an important pitfall here. “Divide and conquer” is simply a tactic of minority rule, whether that minority is the capitalist class of a country or the aggregate of Western countries. Race is incidental to the deliberately-created social fractures that capitalism rests on. As Fanon pointed out in Wretched of the Earth, Africanization of the top posts after decolonization eliminated visible White political control; but new social divisions based on tribe, region, and language became the tools of the new African capitalist classes. This led to internecine struggle and ultimately genocide in many ex-colonial countries. While we must begin to build the structures of racial power within the shell of the capitalist society, if they remain on a capitalist foundation they form the basis of a new oppression. (The class politics of oppressed communities is a site of struggle that we as militants will have to contend with. But that is an internal struggle, and not the business of outsiders.)

I agree totally with the non-parenthesized parts, I’m not so sure I agree with parenthesized part (depending how its interpreted). I’m especially unsure of that part (and think it sorta contradicts the rest) when compared with this bit from the “Exoticism” post:

Non-White workers are not discriminated against because they are workers, but rather their opportunities in the workforce are circumscribed by racism. They are alienated primarily by cultural and physical traits leading to racial status, and only secondarily by economic status resulting from racial status. The non-White middle class literally occupies the middle ground, breaking down the cultural cohesion of communities and acting as a conveyor belt for oppressive values.

A component of this, I think, is the belief that there’s this entity called the such-and-such racial community, i.e. “the black community,” “the hispanic/latino community” etc., which all the evidence I’ve ever seen (in personal experience or via research or from experiences of people I know) goes against. The closest thing to “the black community” for instance might be the ghettos, but that doesn’t now nor has it ever composed the whole black population, nor are the ghettos strictly a black phenomenon (there’s a lot of hispanic/latino and mixed-race ghetto communities and there’s even white ghettos). While Invisible Man points to “the non-White middle class” as primarily being a “conveyor belt for oppressive values” in “their” communities, this doesn’t fit in with the lived experience that this “non-white middle class” and especially upper class, holds significant class power over white working class folks (Pres. Obama being now the personification of this, but it’s been the case since long before him) and imposes the same oppressive values on lower class white folks. The fact that there’s not a singular “white community” factors importantly in this picture as well, but, the most important factor is class… “the” black working class has more in common with “the” white working class than with “the” black bourgeois, in my view. The elimination of legal segregation made this all the more the case, and while racism (both institutional and ideological) is a huge factor in de facto segregation, it’s also a class thing (just like racial slavery slavery was not just a racial system, but a class system…).

Racism does two things: it forms an ideological basis for various forms of oppression (via imperialism, colonization, and slavery… but also via ghettoization of immigrants and racial minorities) in pursuit of class rule, and for cross-class racial alliances (white workers with white bosses, black workers with black bosses, etc.). Additionally though it encourages cross-class alliances between racial minority groups and racial majority groups in pursuit of a shift in the class structure, as in the Republican cross-class cross-racial alliance between black (ex-)slaves and northern white capitalists against southern slavery, and the Democratic cross-class cross-racial alliance between white slaveowners and working class Irish immigrants (who back then were an oppressed racial minority… and there’s still “white” Irish-American ghettos, but like Italians, Irish “whiteness” is no longer controversial… a good example of the fickleness of race identity) against northern capitalists… or later the Democratic cross-class cross-racial between black integrationists and white liberals (and the cross-class alliances between black working-class folks and black bourgeois “community leaders” and white working-class folks and white bourgeois politicians).

A final point on that note is that racism and racial stratification aren’t as neat and simple as white vs. non-white. An underdeveloped point in almost all the radical left literature on race I’ve read, is racial conflict and cultural between non-white racial “communities” and the complicated relationship between interracial competition and “access to whiteness” and “Americanness.” An example of this would black-vs.-latino racism which factors in various things incl gang culture, law enforcement, etc., in which being latino typically but not always confers greater “access to whiteness” than being black. A related phenomenon is “American”-vs.-immigrant conflict, for instance Mexican-American-vs.-immigrant (“wetback”) or “African-American”-vs.-African… while for the most part “Americanness” confers favored status (especially among latinos), that isn’t universally the case (in the academic system, for instance, African immigrants recieve preferential treatment to non-immigrant black folks, at least that’s the impression I have… admittedly from anecdotal evidence). And, historically, it’s also worth mentioning the complex issue of black-Indian relations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Indians_in_the_United_States.

An important element in all is the function of “black” as the antithesis of “white” and the ability of some groups (Irish and Italians historically, increasingly latinos, Indian and “East Asian” etc.) to lay a claim to “whiteness” or at least to non-blackness. The “Exoticism” piece almost accidentally makes this point in referencing this article http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/book-of-a-lifetime-invisible-man-ralph-ellison-801474.html and the point is also made effectively (although) in this piece by Juan Conatz http://libcom.org/blog/20-years-later-los-angeles-riots-hip-hop-rage-trayvon-martin-30042012

Without getting too much into the specifics of the incident, what happened reveals a number of things about race in the United States right now. The self-appointed neighborhood watch captain coming from a Latino background says something about the increasing amount of access to whiteness that some Latinos now receive, particularly if its expressed in hostility towards black people.

A related bit that bothers me in the white radical left is, at least it seems to me, a kind of “favoritism” is the form of exoticizing latino and Spanish-language radicalism and prioritizing latino outreach, while at most lip service is paid (sometimes not even that) to building more alliances with and organizing black folks. I don’t which is a byproduct of which, but there seems to be an invisibility (like the “Invisible Man”) when it comes black radicalism right now, in which the only references are to historical stuff like Malcolm X, Black Panthers, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, etc., but far fewer links exist with black radicalism in the present day. I don’t know if that’s more a local thing (could easily be the case, being in a highly segregated state) or what; from a distance it seems like there’s more a visible black radical left in California, maybe other places… anyway it’s something I’ve encountered that bugs me on a sort of low-intensity emotional level.

A piece of this picture which I’d like to explore some other time is how gang culture is linked with racial conflict and what it means (if anything) for the whole “black community” “latino community” etc. thing from earlier.

All for now, folks.


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