A letter from an anonymous anarchist person of color asking for white radicals and progressives to acknowledge that white supremacist racism exists on multiple levels, that it’s part of the radical/ anarchist movements we’re a part of, that it needs to be confronted and challenged as a priority and much more…
Dearest white progressive/radical,
Recent events in which reported progressives and radicals, purposely or ‘unintentionally,’ marginalized people of color, their lives, images, thoughts and struggles — after prompting a ‘what the fuck’ — remind me this seems so familiar.
No, you won’t need to tune out the comments about ongoing racism that you always tune out, until a white person says the same thing. To you, white progressive or radical, here are some other thoughts to consider.
Your society — and if you’re white, it is your society, regardless of your political pretensions to the contrary — and your way of life are built on a foundation of white supremacy. As a result, history glorifies whites; power is defined by whites; white chauvinism is such that white people assume the right to opine on things they know nothing about and make cultural assumptions about people of color that are misleading, racist and often wrong; and police, no matter how many brown faces you badge up, fundamentally will always act in the service of white power, as they always have. You’ve got it good, for real.
Yet, in a space where enlightenment, compassion and justice are supposed to be seeking a space to flourish, you believe you’re somehow above your society where such white supremacy was spoon-fed to you since birth. Then you take offense when a person of color points out such a fact.
I will spare myself the lecture about the lives people of color lead and the things we face, which you are happily and willfully ignorant of and defensive about. W. E. B. DuBois and a bunch of other people have shed many tears explaining how racism and white supremacy have disfigured this world and made a joke of the concepts of justice and freedom. Reading a book is on you anyway.
I will not bother to throw in all the asterisks about poor whites, everyone being oppressed, whiteness as a political construct and whatever. You’ll be more than happy to dig up qualifiers for racism and your innocence from now through the next Stone Age when you get done reading this.
What gets my goat is your fear.
When confronted, rather than listen openly, you refute any perception of bigotry in your ultra-pure movement or that maybe, just maybe, people of color might have credible/valid points, that even minuscule errors might have been made and you have some work to do. Our effort to candidly communicate issues we see is returned with the posture that you and your movement are above growing, learning or reproach. White privilege has trained you white folks since the spoon that you are an authority, THE authority. You know what’s best and right, whether you say it openly or not, because you’re white.
True power is never having to wonder how the world is perceived by someone different than you, having the luxury of manipulating that someone’s experience in whatever way you deem appropriate, and sitting pretty amid a status that is far better than people of color, and thinking you got here because you stuck to the Protestant work ethic of working hard. You have been educated and given messages, oh nice white progressive/radical, your entire life that people of color don’t know our history and experiences and can’t possibly have the tools to critically understand the world around us or your behavior. You practice the teaching every day that we people of color are here for your use. Maybe it was not worded that way, but it is certainly the outcome.
When people of color raise a criticism of your practice, rather than listen to the spirit of the matter, you play pilgrim and go for the smallpox blankies. Throwing in ad hominem attacks on people of color rather than addressing the issues solves nothing, but sure distracts people. So does chatting up what you assume of our personalities and politics, or rather what you want to paint as an extension of what we believe, even though chances are you have absolutely no clue what we really think. Don’t believe me? You’re picking apart the language in this essay right now — throwing in buts, discrediting comments with any minor example that contradicts a statement and figuring out every tactic to cling to your alleged superiority. It happens. White privilege has taught its subjects to do this all the time.
Typically, your goal is not discussion, but to win, destroy and one-up at any cost. Anything smelling of an admission of fault is always layered under such a large heap of self-righteous bullshit that it reminds us, with you at least, an apology is never an apology at all. People of color commenting about racism and marginalization are always without merit, and are negative, irrational, authoritarian, not precise enough, liars, reverse racists — you name it. Our disinterest in recanting our concerns about racism and then fetching massa a pillow so we can make you feel comfortable in your privileged position are cast by you as callous. You did nothing wrong, of course. It’s all in our heads. You are progressive or radical. Thus you are cleansed and above question from the colored people or anybody else you deem below you. You and your white activist pals dismiss us, as you always do, and go on about your day.
News flash: you’re not a victim, but a participant and collaborator in white supremacy. People of color have seen your behavior a thousand times reenacted by your fellow whites, ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ since our childhoods. Your attempts to shrug off, explain away, ignore, disrespect and act out are not original or progressive or radical. It’s completely arrogant and pretentious to think you are unique. You are just another white person who benefits from the powerlessness of people of color, and does so proudly and without remorse or regard. Save the blankie, William Bradford. People far smarter and more politically mature than you have been doing the shame-and-blame for centuries, and probably sounded smarter and more mature doing it then than you do now.
When people of color talk about acknowledgment and respect for people of color, you talk about how the movement can’t grow by focusing on ’small’ struggles, but how big tent issues (unity, class, feminism, war, etc.) play better with ‘people,’ who happen to be as white as you. No matter how crippling and prejudiced, you throw out false universals and analogies to fit the experiences of people of color into what point you must prove. Dare I point out the ‘ruling class’ you gnash your teeth over adores your loyalty to white privilege most of all? Nah.
You fail to grasp how, of all the issues you or I hold dear, whites in literally every case are the least impacted adversely among populations. You take for granted how white privilege shapes your world view and blanch at the suggestion that you hear out and take advice from people of color, who are often far more affected than you will ever be by a political situation, regardless of their social status or yours. You bleating about gender and class and anything else you can think of, fair-skinned one, sounds like one of many diversionary tactics used to deflect many an honest conversation about race. Still, you talk about your big tent. The problem is, when Third World people focus on white supremacy, whites take their crap and camp elsewhere.
Despite all this, you remain terrified.
It’s as if being the center of the political, historical, psychological, economic and military universe is not enough for you. The fear of looking over the castle wall of white privilege and acknowledging a fuckup grips you with the kind of discomfort no Black man walking into one of your hallowed meetings ever could. Saying white privilege is an issue is like saying you molest mountain goats on a regular basis. Saying a person of color has something to say that you should and WILL listen to and act on is like asking for a goddamn kidney. Woe be it to the person of color if one of you admits a mistake though. Then we have to kiss your ass (and the whites you vouch for) as the “good white people” ’til we’re both pushing walkers down the street.
For the vast number of people of color, just getting a concession is victory enough, let alone thinking YOU actually then do some work out of this deal.
I am almost inclined to qualify my comments as matters that are not about guilt, but rather of political principle. A few people of color defend you as a matter of political principle. Many more take your side because they know how power works and want a cut of the action, but I will leave it up to you to figure out which person of color is rocking which side of that equation. The ones who speak on your behalf on either end, I assure you, take endless shit from other people of color for being sellouts and having faith in their ‘hippie cracker friends.’ You don’t know about that, mostly, nor do or should you care. It’s not something you have to worry about after all. Those people of color who staked their political credibility on your smug asses get what we deserve. Still, it would be nice to think if you lived the politics you say you believe in, as they do, you would step it up a bit.
Other than that, I have absolutely no solutions to offer you. I can throw up resources for hours, but until you’re ready to make the break with white privilege and white supremacy on your own, no book or website I write about will help you. Until that time, you’re just one of those white people living off our backs, talking loud and saying nothing, like plenty before you.
Now before I go and you let the swords out like you just landed on the ‘New World,’ I could have written this letter like a doctoral thesis, citing Cornell West and Eduardo Galleano and all that. I doubt it would have made a difference, so I wrote it like I saw it. Generallly, people of color like me lost faith in you and your ilk long ago and don’t bother saying anything. We just refuse to trust anything you say or do. I’m surprised I gave you this much of my time.
Instances of racism from white progressives and radicals like we see now are not new. People of color have confronted, struggled with and discussed whites for decades. Still, progressive and radical movements are overwhelmingly white, and the unwillingness by Caucasians to let white privilege rule is a strong as it ever was, if not stronger. Some of us feel the effort we put into working with you far outweighs the benefits because there are more whites that stab us in the back than act as our allies. Always has been that way, and always probably will be that way under your society.
If you care to prove me wrong, be my guest. Maybe I am incorrect in that analysis, but I doubt it.
Oh yeah. Fuck Seal Press and Kevin Tucker.
Another Anonymous Person of Color for illvox.org
If philosophy cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, at least it generates the power of asking questions which increase interest in the world and shows the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.Bertrand Russell
Updated: March 28, 2014
Links to Situationist writing:
” I just do what I can to see that resistance to market exploitation is transformed into an offensive of life and that an art of living sweeps away the ruins of oppression.”
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Read the full interview with Raoul Vaneigem from 2009
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Raoul Vaneigem‘s classic situationist text - Knowing How To Live or The Revolution of Everyday Life – An Illustrated Reader (Part 1) launches a blistering attack on the reduction of western life to boredom, consumerism, fragmentation, sacrifice, packaged ‘happiness’ and meaningless interactions, while all that is vibrant is deported into the illusion of the spectacle. First published in 1967, the text has proved prophetic about life in the 21st century. Vaneigem’s visionary thoughts have inspired generations of free thinkers. This reader is complemented by a ‘spectacular’ set of original photographs.
‘We have nothing in common except the illusion of being together. Certainly the seeds of an authentic collective life are lying dormant within the illusion itself – there is no illusion without a real basis – but real community remains to be created.’
‘… affluence and its comforts are only the children of capitalist productivity, children doomed to age prematurely as soon as the marketing system has transformed them into mere objects of passive consumption.’ (source)
Markets destroy all prospects for generalized equity, justice, diversity, solidarity, and self management. They suicidally violate the ecology. They generate, as well, international strife and war. And this is not markets gone haywire, or markets hijacked by evil manipulators, this is markets operating in their normal manner. It is markets giving these results intrinsically by their implications for behavior, information, and motives….Michael Albert (via nc4l)
Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that, is the highest of arts.Henry David Thoreau, from The Portable Thoreau (via autobibliography)
…to always begin anew, to make, to reconstruct, and to not spoil, to refuse to bureaucratize the mind, to understand and to live life as a process—live to become…This is an indispensable quality of a good teacher.Pedagogy of the city (1993), Paulo Freire (via krista-venka)
What if we gave our writers the support and guidance they need, but stopped assigning inauthentic writing, working on skills out of context, and focusing on product rather than process?Radical Idea: What if we stopped teaching writing? | Metawriting (via schoolpoint)
Organise your bed, then your bedroom, then your apartment, then your apartment building, then your block.
We have to build friendship between neighbours. We have to start organising building dinners and movie screenings.
I remembered what one of the community leaders had said during the Zapatista organising school down in Chiapas, Mexico, when asked how in the world had they managed to build their own schools, sports teams, hospitals, cooperative businesses, clinics, judicial system and government. Which initiative did they start with? Was it the armed uprising? Or a school? Or a corner store?
The answer was far simpler: “We started with trust”.
…no matter how many books we read, how many ally trainings we participate in, or how sharp an analysis of power we think we have, we can never totally know one another. We will never have a complete knowledge of how not to hurt another human being. We can have a million conversations but I will never know what it feels like to live inside your body and the meanings that are attached to it. You can never truly know what it feels like to live inside my body and the meanings that are attached to it. And if we can never truly know one another, how can we ever truly be good to one another?
The project of being good to one another is, ultimately, a failed project. But we must be good to one another we must try and fail and try again and fail again and try forever more. A performance of political perfection is always already a performance of failure. The so-called politically perfect performance has all the color and distance of José Muñoz’s queer utopian horizon. We are not yet queer, we are not yet liberated, and therefore, every single performance we enact, whether on stage or in the everyday, must strive for political perfection, must move ALL of us closer to liberation
You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.Angela Davis - from a lecture delivered at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. February 13th, 2014. (via ninjaruski)