The Policing of Trans Bodies by All Individuals in the Capitalist Hierarchy

MarshaPJohnson

When it comes to systemic oppression the tendency is for us to focus on the individual or the institution performing the oppression.  We tend to do this rather than focusing on the basic function being performed that promotes the ideological aims and material interests of the system.  These aims and interests of the system are– all at once– racist, patriarchal, imperialist, and capitalist, and they remain the same regardless of who in particular is carrying them out.

Capitalism doesn’t care who performs the basic functions of its oppression, just as long as these functions are being performed.  In fact, it may be more beneficial to capitalism if individuals within an oppressed group carry out the ideological aims of the overall system of power, because this diverts attention from the main enemy: the bourgeois ruling class.

We can go even further: capitalism’s control over society becomes even more oppressive, and its ideological stranglehold on our lives grows even tighter, when the individual within an oppressed community internalizes this ideology and, in effect, oppresses themselves, sometimes to the point of self-destruction.  What often happens in this case is that the oppressed person– the one who destroys themselves or commits horizontal violence against people in their own community– is blamed for the primary vertical source of this violence: the white-controlled bourgeoisie.

This system doesn’t care if the President of the United States is white or Black, as long as they are carrying out the aims of European imperialist capitalism.  This system doesn’t care if the person in the blue uniform of the police is white or Black, just as long as they are performing the ideological function of capitalism in order to achieve its aims.

And what are these aims?  More and more profits for the white-controlled ruling class through greater and greater oppression of Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples, and the majority of humanity (people of color).  The function of legalized violence within the current system is to maintain the basic hierarchical or tiered structure of bourgeois society: capitalist, patriarchal (transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic), and white supremacist.

Patriarchy certainly existed in societies around the globe prior to Europe’s invasion of Africa, the Americas, Australia, the Pacific, and Asia, that took place six hundred years ago, an invasion that gave birth to white supremacist, patriarchal, imperialist capitalism.  Reactionaries like to focus on this argument that patriarchy existed before capitalism, along with greed and imperialism.

However, societies are not static.  The natural tendency of society (as part of nature) is to evolve through its internal contradictions from one stage to a higher stage.  But European imperialist capitalism locked the entire globe into an economic system that stopped the growth of these individual societies.

All the resources, lives, labor and culture of the world, for the past six hundred years, have gone toward the advancement of European interests (never more in evidence than at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week).  So these societies outside Europe are stuck— they can’t move forward.  Even worse, Europe continues to drain their ability to move forward, sucking the resources, labor and energy out of these colonized communities.

Capitalism is a system whose very reason for existing is based on a hierarchical structure of power.  Any system will work to preserve its existence, and it does so through its institutions, and individuals within these institutions.  The system exists– often in the shape of a nation with borders– as an expression of the material interests and ideologies of its ruling class which have been imposed on all other classes and colonized subjects within this system or nation.

The framework of the nation, imposed by the system of the ruling class, exists only through the subjugation of other classes and oppressed peoples (for instance, the original inhabitants of a land mass: Indigenous nations).  This system must promote its own material and ideological aims in order to keep the overall framework in place, and this is achieved through further violence and oppression (such as genocide, impoverishment, gentrification, mass incarceration, and so forth).

Since Europe was patriarchal at the time it invaded Africa and the Americas, the hierarchy that grew out of this invasion of the globe was also patriarchal.  The bourgeoisie started out as racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist, ableist, and capitalist.  Capitalism requires this hierarchy to remain intact because its very existence is based on the few in the ruling class enjoying more and more profits through the violent oppression and exploitation of the many.  So this tiered structure to bourgeois society was locked into place on a global scale.  Capitalism, by definition, must always be racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist and ableist, because the reactionary ideology of the ruling class within its rigid hierarchy must always be promoted.

As long as the basic aims and functions of capitalism can remain the same, the ruling class doesn’t care who helps make these things happen.  The agents for promoting the ideology of the white-controlled ruling class can vary in terms of gender, skin color, sexual orientation, and disability, provided that this increasing diversity, in turn, increases profits for those who have been sitting on the top since the beginning of capitalism: wealthy cishet white men.

It doesn’t matter if a President is a woman or a man, and it doesn’t matter if a police officer is Black or white, as long as they perform the functions of capitalism in the U.S./European empire.  Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if an individual who is policing society is wearing a blue uniform or not, as long as they are performing the functions of the state.  If capitalism doesn’t care whether George Bush or Barack Obama drops bombs on colonized peoples, then it makes sense that capitalism won’t care if the police, or anyone else besides the police, are performing the same function of controlling and terrorizing transgender women.

Since capitalism was born as a rigid hierarchy, and must remain hierarchical in order to maintain its reason for existing, then it should be clear that the most marginalized communities within this system are the identities who are forced to survive multiple and intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and impoverishment (that is, economic exploitation).  These identities, at all their intersections of oppression, are judged by the capitalist hierarchy to be the least profitable to its system, and therefore the least valuable.  Because capitalism views them as the least valuable within its hierarchy, it must control and destroy these bodies.  So Black transgender women are viewed by capitalism as, simultaneously, the most disposable bodies within its hierarchy, as well as the biggest threat to its reason for existence.

As a result, capitalism weaponizes all potential agents of oppression to carry out its ideological aims against Black trans women and (more generally) trans women of color.  Of course, the police are already armed to carry out violence against colonized communities. The police are armed not only with guns but with the legal authority of the property-owning class, and the (sometimes silent) approval shown by the masses of whites who benefit from (or depend on) this class’s violent domination of Africans/Black people.

Yet European imperialist capitalism could not exist– considering how white people are the minority of the world– without individuals who are part of oppressed groups also carrying out this system’s violent aims against people in their own group.  So capitalism, which is maintained through the dialectical struggle of class antagonisms, reaches into these oppressed communities and works on the internal contradictions of individuals.

The system of capitalism is built and maintained to benefit wealthy, heterosexual, cisgender white men, but any individual who has even one of these identities (rich, straight, cis, white) can be used to promote the ideological aims of the bourgeoisie.  Through a series of threats and incentives, and through the use of employers, media, schools, churches and political campaigns, capitalism works on the contradictions of anyone who is wealthy or heterosexual or cisgender or white to promote the ideological aims of the system.

It’s important to recognize that the overall framework of capitalist oppression, the one that violently holds this global system of power in place, is– above all else– white.  So we wouldn’t want to suggest that white women and Black women share identical experiences of oppression within the same tier of the capitalist hierarchy.  Far from it.

And the same is true of white transgender women like me: we don’t share identical experiences with transgender women of color (specifically Black trans women).  In fact, the very idea of being a cisgender woman in this bourgeois society is a product (quite literally) of the white, cishet, male-dominated ruling class.  And this cisnormativity (merged with the idea that white is the default “race”) is further promoted by white transgender women, because our experience has been shaped– by corporations, media, schools, churches, political campaigns and all institutions within capitalism– to promote this ideology.

These oppressive institutions of the capitalist system shape the experiences of everyone in our society.  Yet the relation of each individual to these institutions depends on their class status.  In the system of European imperialist capitalism that exists in the United States, class and race are forever connected.  So the way an individual is shaped in this society depends on their placement within the tiered structure of racist, capitalist oppression.  The ideology of the ruling class– at the top– permeates all these tiers, and works on the contradictions of entire classes/communities, as well as individuals within each of these tiers.  Therefore, capitalism can go to work on the contradictions of a Black person– even a Black person who isn’t in a police officer’s uniform– and can use this oppressed individual to carry out the functions of capitalism against other people in their group.

Just as capitalism works on the white woman’s contradictions in order to promote the ideology of white supremacy that is essential to the existence of this system, capitalism works on the contradictory identity of Black cisgender men in order to promote necessary cisnormative aims.  In other words, as long as the aims of capitalism are being carried out, and its hierarchy is being promoted for the sake of greater and greater profits, this system doesn’t care who is performing these oppressive functions against the oppressed.  Once we recognize this material reality (getting beyond the subjective interpretation of who is performing oppressive acts, and what their intent may have been), it should become clear that “black on black crime” is yet another lie told by capitalism.

Furthermore, this objective analysis hopefully makes clear that the violence committed by cisgender men (white, Black, or any “race”) against Black transgender women is rooted in the same cause as police violence against all Black people.  Since capitalism is patriarchal at its core, the murders of Black cisgender men (and, less frequently, Black cisgender women) by the police are centered in the media.  But the murders of Black transgender women, and other forms of violence against them– by law enforcement, by men in general, or even by suicide– are all based on the need of capitalism to police Black trans bodies.  All these forms of violence promote the same ideological aims of capitalism because they all go back to the maintenance of a rigid hierarchy of power that places wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, white cisgender men at the top.

This hierarchy of power that is necessary for the very existence of capitalism works on the contradictions of any individual or institution to carry out its aims.  So any cisgender man– whether a cop, of any “race,” or just any cis man– is shaped and weaponized by transphobic capitalism to police Black trans bodies.  Even white transgender women like me are weaponized by capitalism to police Black trans bodies.  When we take up space in nonprofit organizations, or political advocacy groups, or use up resources, or speak in forums and conventions about the overall oppression of trans women, and when we promote cisnormative, white supremacist standards of beauty, white trans women are committing violence against our sisters in the Black trans community.  This erasure, both material and ideological, by white transgender women is also a form of policing, as we carry out the same function as the state did when it murdered Mya Hall.

It’s not my place to question or condemn the anger, hurt, and other feelings of Black trans women when it comes to the violence committed against them by Black cis men.  I have no desire to do this.  Black trans women can and should speak their own truths and tell their own stories, whatever these may be.  But white people– and white trans women in particular– should not allow ourselves to be excused from our complicity in genocidal violence when it comes to the murders of Black trans women and (more generally) trans women of color.

Nearly all the trans women who have been murdered in the U.S. in the last two years have been trans women of color.  The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is age 35.  The system of capitalism is designed to exploit and destroy people of color.  And capitalism is most violent against identities existing at these intersections of systemic oppression: racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, misogynoir, ableism, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, the “war on drugs,” the dehumanization of sex workers, the hateful disregard of the homeless, gentrification, and many others.  And who are the most marginalized people within these intersectional forms of oppression?  Black transgender women.

Therefore, when we promote any one of these forms of oppression, we are policing trans bodies.  It is actually far easier for capitalism to target Black trans women by weaponizing people who are physically located closer to their specific oppression.  Since the United States is colonizing and terrorizing the entire Black community, it makes sense for capitalism to use Black cisgender men as weapons of transphobia against Black trans women in their own neighborhoods and homes.  The actual police are used mainly to protect white people and white property.  These other “police” can do the rest of the killing– with the same result.

So the same aims as the police have– to brutalize and murder for the expansion of capitalist power– can be carried out by anyone.  Capitalism uses the entire hierarchy of the society it controls to police the most marginalized identities in this society: transgender women of color.  If an actual cop is used to commit violence against trans women of color, that’s great for capitalism– although cops cost money, and perhaps can best be used to put down this rebellion over here, rather than being sent to that location to kill a trans woman of color.  Above all else, profits matter to capitalism.  Certainly, not “blue lives.”  Not even “all lives.”  And it’s expensive to maintain a domestic occupying force in the U.S. like the local police departments are.  It’s far easier to arm the occupied against themselves, and not always with guns (and supplies of drugs, also directed by the ruling class into occupied territories of the U.S. settler colony, and beyond).  In this system, both the colonized and the colonizer are weaponized with an ideology shaped by the capitalist hierarchy according to its original structure: white, cisgender, heterosexual, property-owning (and “Christian,” in the imperialist sense).

Capitalism weaponizes cis bodies, white bodies, middle class bodies– any identities it deems to be more valuable than their dialectical counterparts– and uses these bodies to commit violence against Black trans bodies.  This violence exists in many forms, but its goal is more or less the same: exploit, control, erase, kill.

The capitalist ruling class would never enjoy its material advantages if the colonized peoples of the world weren’t violently suppressed.  Yet capitalism can still use these peoples to achieve its aims– often in the form of neocolonialism.  Black trans lives are regarded by capitalism as lacking all value, especially if they are impoverished (a condition brought about by capitalism itself).  So capitalism arms the entire society against Black trans bodies, including the weaponizing of Black cis men.

As the two year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson approaches, we should honor his life, just as we should say “Black Lives Matter” and honor the lives of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Sandra Bland.  All Black lives matter.

But hopefully the reasons have become clearer for white people (who are the intended audience for this article) why we should look at the murders of Black trans women (even by their own hands) as being rooted in the same cause– the same system– as these murders of Black people by the police.

It doesn’t always take the trigger, or stranglehold, of the police to kill colonized Africans/Black people.  This system begins murdering oppressed communities from the moment they are born– and not just in “America” with its illegitimate borders on stolen Indigenous land, but also in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia, and throughout the world.   And the bodies of trans women of color are the most vulnerable in this system of global power controlled by white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism, because this system arms everyone against their bodies.  We all become cops who are weaponized by transphobia to carry out the aims of capitalism against Black trans bodies.   Capitalism works on the contradictions within each of us in order to embed its anti-Black, anti-trans, misogynistic ideology so that we carry out its violence for it, freeing up the police and military to carry out the same goal elsewhere.

On social media, and at protests, and in “anti-racist” organizations, white people (including white trans women) hopefully can begin to think less in terms of “the police are killing Black people” and more in terms of “we are policing and killing Black people, and the people most marginalized and most endangered by our reactionary violence are Black trans women.”

White people will hopefully recognize that “Black Lives Matter,” as a movement, is not just a response to a problem created by cops, where the main villains are the police.  Hopefully we will no longer believe that Black men killing Black trans women is just their problem– a separate problem.  The police murders of Black people and the specific murders of Black transgender women (by the police or anyone else) are very much connected by the need of this hierarchical system to promote its ideological aims through weaponizing all people to commit violence against the people who are most vulnerable.

There will be no justice, peace, equality or freedom in this world until we assure that Black Trans Lives Matter.  When Black trans women are uplifted, and paid reparations, or resources for survival, organizing, and art, then all of us will be able to say that we are rising together (rather than at their expense).

Since most white people will likely ignore this material reality, hopefully white trans women can recognize it and dedicate ourselves to the revolution whose aim is to overthrow racist, patriarchal, colonial capitalism.

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The Policing of Trans Bodies by All Individuals in the Capitalist Hierarchy

Elizabeth Warren Sets the Bar So Low

ElizabethWarren

I didn’t watch Elizabeth Warren’s speech last night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  I didn’t watch any of the speeches.  Yes, Michelle Obama rocks, but– without watching any of the speeches, including hers and Bernie’s– we might still be able to sum up Day One in three words:

“Vote for Hillary.”

Or in two words:

“Support capitalism.”

The morning after (with all those regrets) might be a better time for us to look at Elizabeth Warren’s speech.  I won’t go into Michelle’s territory– as white people we’ve colonized enough space already.  After all, every day white people wake up in a country that still owes reparations to Black people.

But let’s look at Elizabeth Warren’s speech from last night:

“Now we’re here tonight because America faces a choice — the choice of a new president. On one side is a man who inherited a fortune from his father and kept it going by cheating people, by skipping out on debts. A man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone. A man who cares only for himself, every minute of every day. On the other side is one of the smartest, toughest, most tenacious people on this planet, a woman who fights for children, for women, for healthcare, for human rights — a woman who fights for all of us and is strong enough to win those fights. We’re here today because our choice is Hillary Clinton. I’m with Hillary. I’m with Hillary. I’m with Hillary.”

This is maximum volume White Liberalism/White Feminism.  The bourgeois, white nationalist mentality rarely wants us to recognize the dialectic, but every four years European colonizers are reminded once again that this is the most important election in our lifetime, and we are faced– once again– with a choice that may determine the future of “America” for our children, and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children.  Some of us aren’t having any children!  And some of us recognize that, for the children of the globe to have any future, “America” shouldn’t have one.

So white liberal women like Elizabeth Warren point us or redirect us away from the actual class contradictions of the global economy (which are inextricably linked to white supremacy and patriarchy) and instead give us another choice, one in which “America” is centered and the binary is Democrat versus Republican, and “the choice of a new president.”

We haven’t had a new president since Ronald Reagan.  Reagan is running for his tenth term– and he’ll win.  Actually, in materialist terms, the fundamental contradiction of bourgeois society hasn’t changed since Europe invaded Africa and the Americas and built up an empire (for whites) on stolen African lives, labor and resources.

But it seems that Elizabeth Warren would have us simply differentiate between “a man who inherited a fortune from his father and kept it going by cheating people, by skipping out on debts. A man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone. A man who cares only for himself, every minute of every day”— and, well, all the nice Americans out there who don’t like Trump so will hold their noses and vote for Hillary.

This distinction by Senator Warren conveniently and opportunistically erases the material reality that all white people have inherited an empire built on the colonial enslavement of Africans and the ongoing genocide against Africans/Black people and indigenous peoples.  This is the familiar “99 percent” argument that centers whiteness.  We aren’t the 99%.  White people live better than anyone else in the world, and the rest of the world doesn’t live better for this dialectical reason: we are living off their stolen labor, resources and land.  When Senator Warren describes Trump as a selfish cheater she is basically describing the history of the United States of America.

Then we hear the usual story about growing up in Oklahoma, and the parents being blue collar regular folks and– it seems we’ve heard this song before, it’s from an old familiar score.  Yes, a lot of white people have had to struggle to get by in this country, and even so, we yearn for the good ol’ days when it wasn’t quite as hard– mainly because the U.S/European empire was propped up (as it still is) by stolen African labor and wealth  But, then again, white people have always tried to get ahead through the further systemic oppression of Africans/Black people, indigenous peoples and the majority of humanity.  Elizabeth Warren’s “personal” story is that she came from humble beginnings and now she’s a Senator in the most patriarchal, bourgeois, imperialist institution in the history of the world.  That’s not a success story– not for humanity, it isn’t– that’s a story where we might ask: what went wrong?

“I am deeply grateful to that America. I believe in that America. But I’m worried.”

That pretty much sums up white anxiety about how much more blood we can squeeze from the turnip that is the true proletariat of the world.  If we were on the other side of the gun, we wouldn’t feel “deeply grateful”— we’d feel deeply terrified.  We’d be forced to believe in something other than the bourgeois dream of “America.”

But then Elizabeth Warren quickly assures all the kind, decent United Statespersons (to borrow Gore Vidal’s term):

“America isn’t going broke. The stock market is breaking records. Corporate profits are at all time highs… There is lots of wealth in America but it isn’t trickling down to hard-working families like yours.”

My family isn’t hard-working.  We’re deadbeats.  The police brutalize and round up Black people and other colonized peoples to be locked up in concentration camps called prisons, so we can go to college and find good jobs.  It’s amazing how those educational and career opportunities open up when competition from brown people is eliminated: the American way.

But there is no “America” to be going broke or not.  Elizabeth Warren sets the bar so low for white people when she uses that good ol’ American exceptionalism.  There’s the white-controlled ruling class of European imperialist capitalism, for whom a stock market “breaking records” and “corporate profits” soaring is great news (yay for corporate profits!), and then there are all the European colonizers (whites) who receive most of what’s left over from this stolen loot– plus an American flag to wave.  And finally, underneath all this oppression, is everybody else, and they get an American flag too, if they want it (for some reason a lot of them don’t), and then a few remaining crumbs.

“The system is rigged.”

I’m not sure Elizabeth Warren means the same thing as the people– The People– who are marching in the streets outside the Wells Fargo Center (that’s a funny one– Wells Fargo) where this election game is being played (alluding to Nikki Giovanni’s poem about the 1968 election).

Then Elizabeth Warren gives us a list of accomplishments from the Democratic wing of the White Property Party.  Let’s skip those.

Next, Elizabeth Warren talks about what a mean man Donald Trump is.  Every good bourgeois story needs a villain, and Trump is playing it to a “T.”  Capitalism wants us to focus on the individual– the one villain or the one hero– rather than recognizing that the people are the makers of history (to paraphrase Huey Newton and Kwame Ture).  Only the masses of people create systemic change.  So, the material reality is that the masses of white people in this settler colony (“America”) are actually doing pretty well, at the expense of everyone else, and that’s why we don’t move against the main enemy: capitalism.  Instead white people (on the left) will comfortably make Trump the villain and vote in our own bourgeois or petty bourgeois interests.

Senator Warren says next:

“The great Trump hot air machine will reveal all the answers. And for one low low price, he’ll even throw in a goofy hat.”

OK, that was a good one.  No problems with that.  Had the bar been set higher, she might have added an additional line: “Make America Mexico Again.”  And then she would have been thrown out of the Wells Fargo Center, and “America.”

But now we’re about to get into some really thick, gloppy cream cheese of White Liberalism (with a glass of frothy White Feminism):

“And here’s the really ugly underside to his pitch. Trump thinks he can win votes by fanning the flames of fear and hatred. By turning neighbor against neighbor. By persuading you that the real problem in America is your fellow Americans – people who don’t look like you, or don’t talk like you, or don’t worship like you. He even picked a vice president famous for trying to make it legal to openly discriminate against gays and lesbians. That’s Donald Trump’s America. An America of fear and hate. An America where we all break apart. Whites against blacks and Latinos. Christians against Muslims and Jews. Straight against gay. Everyone against immigrants. Race, religion, heritage, gender — the more factions the better. But ask yourself this. When white workers in Ohio are pitted against black workers in North Carolina, or Latino workers in Florida — who really benefits?

“Divide and conquer is an old story in America. Dr. Martin Luther King knew it. After his march from Selma to Montgomery, he spoke of how segregation was created to keep people divided. Instead of higher wages for workers, Dr. King described how poor whites in the South were fed Jim Crow, which told a poor white worker that, ‘no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.’ Racial hatred was part of keeping the powerful on top.”

According to the bourgeois white liberal view, everything comes down to fear and hatred.  It’s always about feelings, or the thoughts in our heads, not about power: who has power and who doesn’t have it (because it has been stolen by those who do have it).

The truth is, a lot of us fear and hate Trump.  And why not?  And is Senator Warren going to tell us not to fear and hate terrorists and so-called terrorists?  Her buddy Senator Sanders was okay with their employer (the U.S.) calling Assata Shakur the most wanted terrorist in the world, simply because she and her people are fighting for actual power and for liberation from this system of colonial exploitation.

When the fight is for power, we then recognize that the divisions are already there– America wouldn’t be America without them– and that these class antagonisms can’t be resolved by a bourgeois call to end all the dividing and conquering.  Elizabeth Warren continues to set the bar so low because she allows white people on the left to get away with believing– in a gust of patriotic, philosophical idealism– that the divisions are between hateful people like Trump and nice people like us.

But the sad truth is that we– as in white people, including white liberals and white leftists– are already “turning neighbor against neighbor.”  It’s called Portland, Oregon.  It’s called Oakland.  We are gentrifying traditionally Black neighborhoods and driving out our neighbors, calling the cops on them when we think their music is just a bit too loud.  That’s hateful.

But it’s not based on hate.  It’s based on power.  White people have the power to drive out people of color (specifically Black people) in neighborhoods we are gentrifying, not just because we’re mean individuals like Trump, but because we are empowered by the same system that empowers Trump (and Hillary, and Elizabeth): colonial capitalism.  Elizabeth Warren sets the bar so low by not calling on white liberals– and on all whites– to look at ourselves in the mirror (if we are able) and to see the real problem: our patriotic support of capitalism/“America.”  It’s easier to go for one of Dr. King’s more comforting quotations (he recognized that it was a question of power too, and was about to demand reparations in 1968, so white power murdered him).

Of course, it’s an obvious criticism to make that Senator Warren’s list of divisions between whites and “blacks” [sic], and Jews and Christians and Muslims, lacks intersectionality.  But perhaps it’s less obvious that the choice she comfortably sets up isn’t between 1) these intersecting oppressed identities gaining more power, or 2) the white colonizer class holding onto and expanding its gains from six hundred years of European domination (including a big win when “we” grabbed Oklahoma).  Instead, Senator Warren gives us an easy obstacle to step over when she lowers the bar to a question of “shared values”:

“This is about our values, about our shared values with our candidates Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Let’s talk about those values. We believe that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter who you love, equal means equal. Hillary will fight to make sure that discrimination has no place in America and we’re with her.”

By making the distinction between mean, hateful Trump and people who believe “equal means equal” (that’s a tough one to embrace), Senator Warren erases the narratives and struggles of trans women of color whose values are to fight back against a system that locks them up with men in detention centers, and whose life expectancy of 35 years isn’t exactly equal to anyone Warren is talking about.  “Equal means equal” is easy when it’s reduced to a gooey, white frosting of American exceptionalism.  The actual material struggle is for oppressed peoples to gain power, the same power that benefits all white people, “no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter who you love.”

Senator Warren seems to believe that “we” refers to the “shared values” and experiences of everyone in the world when she serves up:

“We believe that no one, no one who works full time should live in poverty. Hillary will fight to raise the minimum wage, fair scheduling, paid family and medical leave, and we’re with her. We believe every kid in America should have a chance for a great education without getting crushed by debt. Hillary will fight for refinancing student loans and debt-free college. We are with her. And we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, seniors should be able to retire with dignity. Hillary will fight to expand Social Security, strengthen Medicare, and protect our retirement accounts, and we’re with her.”

But this quote is really just a thinly veiled variation on “Make America Great Again.”  And the person to do it is Hillary: “We are with her.”  A white woman is coming to the rescue of workers in Sierra Leone who make about a dollar per day (if that), and transgender women in Pakistan who face greater dangers on account of the ongoing neocolonial destabilization of that region by the U.S. and Europe?  Not likely.  When Senator Warren says, “[W]e believe that after a lifetime of hard work, seniors should be able to retire with dignity” she must mean white people, because when has this ever been true for the actual majority of people on the planet (people of color), at least ever since minorities from Europe first invaded Africa and the Americas six hundred years ago?

Then Senator Warren wraps things up with a flourish:

“If you believe that America must work for all of us, not just for the rich and powerful, if you believe we must reject the politics of fear and rejection, if you believe we are stronger together, then let’s work our hearts out to make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States.  Thank you!”

The underlying message of this speech is that everyone should come together to vote for a white woman who supports imperialist policies, and if we “reject the politics of fear and rejection” [typo in the transcript???], we can make sure America will “work for all of us.”  This message ignores the material reality that “America” (capitalism) only works through the violent oppression of the true proletariat of the world (Africans and all colonized peoples), from which white people gain the material benefits of this system.

Yes, “the rich and powerful” benefit the most, but that’s “America.”  Elizabeth Warren isn’t urging us to get rid of Wall Street, but for Wall Street to have “stronger rules.”  Warren doesn’t want us to recognize that capitalism itself is the problem, and as long as we buy (quite literally) into the ideal of “America,” and vote for white nationalists like Hillary Clinton, the oppressed peoples of the world will continue to be exploited– for the material enjoyment of European colonizers (whites).

I’m with her: Assata Shakur.  Because she is actually fighting for the people, for the oppressed and colonized peoples of the world, and their fight is for power and liberation, not just equality or some whitewashed fantasy that believes a bourgeois politician can help us “return this government to the people.”  It never belonged to the people: Africans, indigenous peoples, people of color, so what is there for white people to give back except their land, and their unpaid wages?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren Sets the Bar So Low

Systemic Change Is Uncomfortable; Barack Obama Has Been a Comfort

“Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America. … There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. … It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores.” — Barack Obama, July 27, 2004

Barack Obama, a state senator from Illinois and a candidate for the United States Senate, burst onto the scene at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 with a keynote address that attempted to bridge the divide between the “Blue States” and the “Red States,” or “liberal America” and “conservative America.”

Four years later, in 2008, Senator Barack Obama was the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party and was even more hopefully proclaiming “Yes We Can.”  Well, yes, America could: it could elect Barack Obama and make him the first Black President.  And, yes, America could reelect Barack Obama in 2012.

However, the question is: who is this “We” in “Yes We Can”?  From the beginning of Barack Obama’s rise to power, his promise has been to bring people together.  “We can disagree without being disagreeable” is one of Obama’s less inspiring lines– most of them have been very inspiring.  That is, they’ve inspired about half the voters in the United States to love him and the other half to hate him.

From the beginning, Barack Obama seemed to be promising progress without pain, and with everybody getting along– even if some of the people (the colonized) were in a whole lot of pain already, and were suffering precisely because other people (the colonizers) were enjoying material benefits gained from the capitalist exploitation of the colonized.

Obama promised to erase these differences, and to help us move beyond all the bickering and divisiveness that come from our focus on these differences.  This was comforting– to the colonizers, to bourgeois white liberals.  It erased our discomfort about these differences by erasing our acknowledgement of the painful material reality experienced by the colonized: the reality of European imperialist capitalism’s six hundred years of ongoing genocide against Africans/Black people, indigenous peoples, Latinxs, Palestinians, and the majority of humanity.

Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was not aiming to make people comfortable, especially white liberals, when he said:

“Whenever articles are written, whenever political speeches are given, or whenever analysis are made about a situation, it is assumed that certain people of one group, either the left or the right, the rich or the poor, the whites or the blacks, are causing polarization. The fact is that conditions cause polarization, and that certain people can act as catalysts to speed up the polarization; for example, Rap Brown or Huey Newton can be a catalyst for speeding up the polarization of blacks against whites in the United States, but the conditions are already there. George Wallace can speed up the polarization of white against blacks in America, but again, the conditions are already there.”

Kwame Ture taught us that qualitative systemic change– or revolution–always requires that those who truly want an egalitarian system (or socialism) recognize the dialectic.  Kwame Ture wasn’t seeking to erase the divisions between the oppressor and the oppressed.  He was organizing with his people (not “us”) to gain power, and through this power to break free from white-controlled capitalist oppression.  But this fight for actual power by oppressed Black people did not make European colonizers comfortable in the 1960s, and it still doesn’t make us comfortable fifty years later– which is probably one of the reasons Kwame Ture was completely omitted from the film Selma.

Of course, Kwame Ture wasn’t seeking to win a bourgeois election.  Barack Obama was.  And, as far as bourgeois politicians go, Barack Obama is one of the greatest ever.  While Trump and his supporters are reminding us of what Germany may have looked like before Hitler took power, and “Bernie Bros” are attacking Black women on Twitter, here is the beautiful First Family– Barack, Michelle, and their two daughters– in the middle of the storm and frenzy, an eternal source of inspiration and pride that could have been celebrated in any other country that didn’t have such irresolvable contradictions.

Barack Obama symbolizes both the idealist hope and the material futility of attempting to resolve the contradiction of colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed.  Obama’s presidency demonstrates how race and class are forever linked in this settler colony called the “United States of America.”

President Obama has ordered bombs to be dropped on other countries, so that capitalism’s power could be sustained and expanded– for the benefit of whites.  Obama has deported more humans than any other President in history, locking up transgender women of color with men in detention centers resembling concentration camps– and the main beneficiaries of these policies have been whites.  Under the Obama administration, police brutality and mass incarceration targeting Black people has gone on pretty much the same as it has since Reagan and Clinton– and the main beneficiaries of this ongoing genocide are upwardly mobile whites who gentrify neighborhoods in Portland, Oakland and Brooklyn.

And how have whites responded to Obama’s efforts on our behalf?  We nominated the most racist Republican imaginable and a Democratic ticket that looks like it belongs in the 1980s (with a promotion for the white woman up from a mere VP nominee).  On some days it seems as if there is absolute chaos in the “United States of America.”  The things coming out of Trump’s mouth are more bizarre than a scene from The Manchurian Candidate (the original starring Frank Sinatra, natch).  The police murders of Black people, as well as the ignored murders of Black transgender women (that are rooted in the same systemic oppression), continue at a rate that would make any humane country weep at such evil and become agitated to change this evil at any cost.

Yet white people in the United States remain as comfortable, smug and arrogant as ever.  Our main discomfort is getting home from work while these annoying protesters block the freeway, or having hurt feelings when a Black woman on Twitter won’t educate us about her oppression, or not being able to enjoy our brunch (again, those noisy, disrespectful protesters) in “our” gentrified neighborhood (with “our” new Whole Foods store nearby).

Barack Obama is blamed for everything else, but we certainly can’t blame him for the need of white people to have uninterrupted, oblivious comfort.  No– that’s entirely on us.  And “we” are the reason Obama has been elevated as a symbolic source of comfort to “us”– not “they” and not “them.”  Not the colonized, but us: the colonizer.

President Obama likes to talk about the trajectory of history, and this trajectory or pattern that we recognize in the behavior of the colonizer (white people) goes back several decades– actually all the way back to the beginning of this country, and even before that to 1492, and to 1482 with the building of Elmina Castle in Ghana …  but perhaps it would be helpful to narrow the scope to the past thirty or forty years in the United States.

The colonial and neocolonial domination of the globe by the U.S. following World War II was beginning to sputter and run out of gas (quite literally) in the 1970s.  This was just in time for Reagan to create the myth of the “Welfare Queen” and the problem of crack cocaine, and to declare a War on Black People (unofficially of course), or at least a new plan of attack as part of the five hundred year war waged by European imperialist capitalism on Africans and indigenous peoples.

Reagan was reelected for a fourth term after Bill Clinton had Ricky Ray Rector-ed and Sister Souljah-ed his way into office in 1992.  This meant more Black people and more brown people rounded up by police departments– now more heavily armed than ever with deadlier weapons as well as Draconian laws.  This meant more white kids (like me) would be going to college, while more Black kids went to prison, receiving third strike mandatory sentences for pot offenses that no white kid in my high school would ever be charged with even one time.

Fast forward to 2008, and one or two recessions later, and capitalism is still sputtering along, except this time the looming crisis is making white people seriously uncomfortable.  These other recessions– and the permanent, uninterrupted recession plaguing inner cities called “globalization”– hadn’t hit us in the same way that these “downturns in the market” had left a path of destruction among Black, indigenous and Latinx communities.  The system that was “the hope of [white] immigrants setting out for distant shores [of indigenous peoples],” the system that had refused to pay reparations to Africans who had built this empire for us, was falling apart.  Whites were feeling very uncomfortable.  Colonial exploitation, and the criminalization of Black lives, hadn’t been paying us like it once did in the good ol’ days.

So we turned to Barack Obama, who was running for Reagan’s eighth term.  Obama was like a balm for white insecurity, a comforting ointment, a soothing cream of patriotic exceptionalism and sparkly diversity– a thick glop of “USA!  USA!” that was spread on liberally in his famous Philadelphia “Race Speech”:

” … the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.”

Obama was capitalizing on this political moment by attempting to smooth over the fundamental contradiction of “America”: that it is a settler colony on stolen indigenous land, built solely through genocide against the rightful inhabitants and enslaved Africans.  In this speech, Obama seemed to equate the anger of Black people with the anger of whites (going back to the “Red States”-“Blue States” formula).  This equation was a comfort to whites who now could– to use another Obama phrase— “kick the can down the road” when it comes to dealing with the dialectical and material reality they are the colonized and we are the colonizers.

Through the system of white power, European colonizers have wiped out most of the indigenous population of this continent while living off the stolen labor, resources and lives of Africa and the world.  And yet, miraculously enough, not one white person is to blame.  Conservative whites aren’t to blame.  Liberals whites aren’t to blame.  Leftist whites aren’t to blame.  Imagine that: six centuries, and counting, of genocide on a global scale, and if we ask a white person who is responsible, the (implied) answer is almost always going to be: “Not me.”

But who is this “We” in “Yes We Can”?  White people sure can turn “us” and “them” into “we” in a hurry when capitalism is in crisis.  It was not “we” when Detroit, Baltimore and other urban centers were destroyed by globalization and white flight.  It was not “we” when Black people were being given inhumanely long sentences just for providing a source of income to their families with drug sales that are now turning white entrepreneurs into millionaires.  Perhaps, deep down, “we”– as in white people– knew this difference to be true, knew how inhumane our behavior had been toward them, and we needed an Obama to soothe our consciences as the U.S. prepared to deal with yet another massive crisis of imperialism.

I would like to read a study– to write one is “above my pay grade”– that examines the material basis for the rising awareness of police and vigilante violence against Black people during the Obama years.  Of course, this colonial genocide has continued without pause in the “New World” ever since Columbus’s terrorist attack that is still commemorated by a federal holiday.  But there’s an interesting theory that a more qualified person could make that the greater scrutiny on police brutality, and the increase of protests against it, may be connected to the home foreclosure crisis, the stock market crash of 2008, and then the ensuing economic recovery that has primarily benefited whites– at the expense of Black people.  That is, someone might look into statistics on how white people who lost homes and jobs in 2008 later bought homes in gentrified neighborhoods (the cost of these homes literally being “a steal”) and found new jobs while people of color continued to be devastated by capitalist oppression– and by the police whose job is to protect capitalism for the benefit of us.  After all, someone who is more qualified certainly must have already said that the police are quite simply nothing more than a solution to the problem of poverty or economic inequality.  It seems clear that the Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings taking place today are the immediate response to the many decades of racist policies that Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.”

Barack Obama’s brand of “Hope” and “Change” was a bright red-white-and-blue sticker that white people could slap over the contradictions of the New Jim Crow  (and the New World) that we didn’t want to look at.

America wasn’t created to work for everybody– it was created to bring comfort and security to “us” at the expense of “them.”  But the understandable pride and inspiration we experienced (that is, if we weren’t Republicans), and the joy we felt when we looked up on the stage and saw Barack Obama and family, weren’t meant to unify whites and Black people– these feelings were meant to erase five hundred years or more of colonial exploitation and terror.

In 2008 white people, and the system built by us and for us, were confronted with yet another imperialist crisis– this one threatening to be worse than the “Great Depression” (the entire history of Western capitalism has been a great depression for Africa and the world).  This was a time when the ableist-term “racial colorblindness” became an ideological necessity designed to uphold a material necessity.  By electing a Black President, who had ingenuously tapped into both our insecurity (white guilt) and our smug indifference, white people were able to gain the confidence we needed to proceed with even more violent neoliberal policies against people of color, our collective conscience now shielded from any accusation of racism.

President Obama continues to go out of his way to make white people comfortable.  But that’s why he’s President Obama– whites would never elect a Black person who makes us feel uncomfortable.

In an era of “Black Lives Matter,” President Obama is still an “All Lives Matter” kind of guy.  Red States matter, Blue States matter.  Conservatives matter, liberals matter.  People who support this imperialist war matter, and people who oppose that imperialist war matter.  There’s no need to recognize the dialectic.  The main thing is to make white people feel comfortable so capitalism can go about stealing even greater profits.

Barack Obama is my favorite President– as far as Presidents go.  I like him on a personal level.  I don’t know how he sleeps at night.  But my view of him would put me at odds with some of my revolutionary friends.  I still have a soft spot for him.  I don’t feel negative about Barack Obama.

My criticism is directed toward the white population in the United States that used the political symbolism of Barack Obama as a way to comfort us and insulate us from our ongoing crimes against humanity– our crimes against Obama’s community, Black people.

White people refuse to be uncomfortable about any discussion of race (as if more discussions and conversations are what is necessary).  We’re like living, breathing Starbucks cups: saying we want to “Race Together,” while misspelling and mispronouncing the names of “blacks” and “other minorities.”  We’re more comfortable being oblivious about our mistakes than the fact that we continue to make them.

Whites are becoming less and less popular around the world– but then Obama soothes us with another speech that splits things right down the middle, and, oh well, that’s why pencils have erasers.  Whites refuse to take responsibility for our complicity in colonial genocide.  We refuse to pay reparations to Black people.  Instead, we co-opt Obama’s Blackness as being an “American” thing, while the material reality of Obama’s imperialist policies is the only thing that is “American”– which is, by definition, anti-Black.

Barack Obama has been a comfort to liberal European colonizers for nearly eight years, but once he’s gone, watch out: things are about to get very uncomfortable for us, just like we’ve been been making things, during these six hundred years, for them.

 

 

 

Systemic Change Is Uncomfortable; Barack Obama Has Been a Comfort

The Reactionary White Identity and Revolutionary Political Consciousness

Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party writes in his book An Uneasy Equilibrium : The African Revolution versus Parasitic Capitalism:

“Malcolm X, a materialist of sorts in his own right, has been quoted as saying that a person watching someone sitting on a hot stove would describe the experience differently from the person actually sitting on the stove.  This is true.  The spectator is not required to have a full understanding of the experience.  The victim of the hot stove is provoked by his reality; it becomes a historical necessity to understand the question.”

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) wrote in his autobiography:

“Books don’t make revolutionaries. I contend that the Black people who burned down Watts and Detroit don’t have to read. These cats have lived more than the intellectual has read. So they are political by having learned from their existence. Oppression made these cats political.”

I wrote in an earlier essay that white people can’t be politically conscious (or the appropriated term “woke”).  I probably should have written “aren’t” instead of “can’t”: we aren’t politically conscious, but perhaps we could be— if we too were sitting on the hot stove and experiencing colonial oppression.  But until material conditions get to that point, white people are still the beneficiaries of the colonial exploitation of Africans/Black people, indigenous peoples and (in general terms) people of color.

I still argue that reading books (or articles, and Tweets) does not make a person politically conscious.  If this were true, the most revolutionary people in the world would be college professors, and (as a rule, or as beneficiaries of the rule of the capital-owning class) they most certainly are not.  A college professor could not only read every book by Marx, Lenin, Mao, Nkrumah, and so on, but they could write a few shelves worth of books on revolution, and they may still not be revolutionary– especially if they are white.

The political identity of whiteness is inherently reactionary because it was created more than five centuries ago by the reactionary system of capitalism in order to justify its colonial genocide against Africans, indigenous peoples, and most of the world outside Europe.  The political identity of whiteness is used by the current system of power as a way of dividing up the spoils of colonial exploitation.  While most of the benefits of capitalist oppression stay at the top, the rest are divided up according to the political identity of whiteness.

So a white person who has read Fanon and Assata and Huey hasn’t become politically conscious, because our white identity– in political terms, not biological terms– positions us in material conditions in such a way that we are still part of the reactionary force.  This is objectively true because, even if our thoughts are revolutionary, and we feel positive things about the liberation of colonized peoples, we are still beneficiaries of a reactionary system.  Our food, clothing, housing, education and healthcare, and all of our comfort and security, come from the system of colonial capitalism that robs Africans and all other oppressed peoples.

Revolutions are carried out by the masses of the people in the oppressed class or colonized nation.  They also tend to be carried out by the youth within this class or nation.  Young people haven’t had time to read every single book on revolutionary theory.  And if they belong to an oppressed group, the young in this group (like the old) are probably too busy surviving their oppression to become experts on Marxism and other revolutionary theory.  What they are conscious of is that they 1) are oppressed and 2) want to be free from oppression.  The triggers of revolution merely described by Marx and most political theorists are part of the actual identity of the person in an oppressed class or nation.  They act and move against the system of colonial exploitation because they have no choice: it’s either fight or die.

Even a white person who is fully committed to the revolution, and is fighting within the colonized class, will benefit from whiteness once they are removed from this group, and are isolated from the revolutionary organization.  The white revolutionary walking down the street alone (or with other whites) is merely another white person, protected by a shield of whiteness from the police.  However, the Black revolutionary, once they are removed from the context of the organization, is targeted not only because they believe, study and carry out revolutionary theory, but because they are Black.  In the reactionary view of the state, Blackness itself is revolutionary and is a threat to the power of the state.  This is why Black people might need to be part of an organization, as a form of protection from the system.  Whiteness, on the other hand, is inherently viewed by this system as safe.  In fact, a Black person who has attempted to assimilate into the system of colonial power, and to carry out its reactionary aims for the benefit of its white-controlled ruling class, will still be targeted by the police as if they are the most committed revolutionary.  They are still Black– and that’s enough to make them the target of a system created by white people for white people.

So whites aren’t politically conscious.  But we are closer to political consciousness if we exist at certain intersections of oppressed identities and have aligned ourselves with colonized people who have the same overlapping identities.  Being a gay white person certainly doesn’t automatically make this person more conscious of the oppression of gay (or homosexual, or queer, or same gender loving) people of color– specifically queer Black people.  Far from it.  But there is a reason that LGBT whites might be more drawn to revolutionary theory, and more eager to participate in movements against racist, patriarchal, capitalist oppression.  Perhaps the reason is that racism, patriarchy and capitalism are all connected, and are all part of the same beast, as it were.  But this by no means makes a transgender white person more politically conscious than cisgender whites.  Statistics and personal narratives make clear that transgender people of color are far more endangered by systemic oppression than white trans people.  The experience of that danger is what makes transgender people of color revolutionary– not just knowing the statistics on it.

However, it seems we shouldn’t be fatalistic about this reality, or feel that we are locked into these identities, with whites forever being inherently reactionary.  For one thing, impoverished whites have many of the same material reasons for dismantling capitalism as any other impoverished communities.  If these whites are impoverished and LGBT, they probably have even more to fight for.  But my guess is that most impoverished white LGBT folks don’t sit around reading a lot of Marx and Lenin– or Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates.  So we’re definitely not talking about straight and/or cis white guys like the Matt McGorrys and Stephen Kings of the world.  We’re talking about whites who are struggling to make ends meet on less than $15 an hour in wages, or are barely hanging on to stay in college– whites who may have been kicked out of their houses because they are trans or gay.  And that material reality may be enough to develop some sort of revolutionary consciousness.

The obstacle to this revolutionary consciousness being developed by impoverished whites (even those who experience discrimination on account of their gender and/or sexuality) is that the ideology of the ruling class still permeates every other class in a society.  And the capitalist ideology is designed to uplift whites at the expense of everyone else.  This is why serfs in Europe, who were basically slaves, could become workers in the “New World,” and why their descendants in the settler colony called the “United States” could someday go to college, own businesses and live in middle class neighborhoods on stolen indigenous land.  The problem of impoverished whites, and whites who were seen as inferior, was solved when Europe “created” a “New World”– it took a whole new world, a whole new country (the “United States”), one that doesn’t belong to Europe, to resolve this contradiction of capitalism.  So even as the Irish and Italians were looked down on by WASP-ish whites when they arrived in “America,” the system that is designed to uplift whites would soon benefit them as they assimilated and proved their loyalty to this system.  But in order to uplift marginalized white identities, capitalism needed to further exploit and commit ongoing genocide against those identities who literally do not have the luxury of being identified as white.

So when we say the white identity is inherently reactionary, it’s not to sound mean, or to create a narrow definition of what might be considered revolutionary.  The white identity is inherently reactionary because of a long historical process in which the contradictions of capitalism have been resolved through additional systemic violence against those who are not white.  When we think in these historical and material terms, perhaps we can recognize that the ongoing trends of gentrification, mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline, food deserts, misogynoir, and violence against transgender women of color are all related to the need for the capitalist system to consolidate its power through the further oppression of marginalized identities.  And the people who benefit from this consolidation of power are impoverished whites, and whites in the so-called LGBT community (the intense legislative focus on marriage equality being one key example).

Whites have two things that everybody else wants: money and power (which are very much connected to one another).  Whites have money and power because we stole it from everybody else.  That is, imperialist capitalism, which controls the world economy, has stolen the labor, resources, land and lives of those who are not identified as white– in order to benefit those who are identified as white (by this system).  So the most important material way for European colonizers (whites) to contribute to the revolution is to give (or pay back) this money to Black people and to all other colonized peoples.  We can do this by paying “reparations” in organizations like the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, where the money can be used in African-created programs that benefit the revolution rather than whites.  We can support other organizations and individuals in communities of color.  And we can educate other whites about the necessity of paying back what we owe.

However, greater visibility by whites in the revolutionary movement against capitalist oppression is not really helpful, especially when these whites belong (like me) to the petty bourgeoisie.  The space we take up is the same amount of space whether we are supportive of the revolution or not.  If we can buy a plane ticket and fly across the country to an event, or if we have free time and the physical ability to participate in nearby events, this in itself is a reflection of our elevated status as colonizers.  When whites go to a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, and appear to outnumber Black people who are participating, it’s not because we’re more “woke” or more politically conscious– it’s because we may not have been stuck at a job, or we don’t live in Gresham where it’s harder to get to the neighborhoods near Lloyd Center that people of color are being shoved out of by gentrifying whites, or it’s simply not as dangerous for us to be in an environment where cops are present.  Protest and participation in “social justice work” shouldn’t be a (literal) luxury for those who have greater access to resources, or those whose very skin is a shield from state violence.

This is not an argument that whites should stay home and not participate in protests, and not organize together for revolution.  It’s simply a challenge to myself and to other whites that we reconsider our role, and the level of our visibility, and how much our voices may be drowning out those who are the victims (not the beneficiaries) of colonial exploitation.

A white person is a white person.  It doesn’t matter if we’re conservative, libertarian, liberal, socialist, anarchist, or whatever– we bring the same baggage, the same sense of entitlement, and the same potential for colonial violence as just about any other white person.  Once we recognize that whiteness is inherently reactionary, we might learn how difficult the challenge is to overcome these obstacles to a revolutionary consciousness.  Whites have been reckless, oblivious and arrogant in our ongoing murder and theft of the world.  There’s no reason to believe i wouldn’t show some of the same reactionary behavior even as i entered revolutionary spaces and participated in organizations whose good intentions are to dismantle white supremacy and colonial capitalism.  Perhaps it begins with dismantling my personal connection to this systemic violence, or at least paying attention to it– and then paying back what i owe.

 

The Reactionary White Identity and Revolutionary Political Consciousness

Can We Please Stop Centering “Woke” White People?

First of all, white people can’t be “woke.”   That is, whites can’t be politically conscious.  I could write about why this is my view but it would make this essay twice as long and my essays are too long already.  It has do with control of the means of production in a society, and with objective, statistical reality: measurable differences between Black people and whites when it comes to net worth, incarceration rates, infant mortality rates, access to food (“food deserts”), the likelihood of being murdered by the police, and the life expectancy of trans women.  It has to do with who is the colonizer and who is the colonized.  Basically, until these statistics are pretty much the same for Black people and whites, the material reality of whites will prevent us from being conscious of systemic oppression, regardless of what comes out of our mouths and how good– or “woke”– it sounds.

My main point here– and what is particularly annoying to me after seeing numerous Tweets, videos, articles and memes– is that white people get far too much credit simply for recognizing the problemAnd we created the problem! 

I’m trying to approach this topic in a way that can heal and educate, but– to be honest– it really angers me.  Because every time a “woke” white person is centered and elevated, a person of color (and specifically a Black person, and even more specifically, a Black transgender woman) is erased.  That’s just how it works.  There is finite space, finite time, and there are certainly finite resources.  Black people who have not only been saying the same things for decades, but have actually been living them, are pushed out in this rush for attention, for clicks, “likes,” re-tweets on Twitter and “shares” on Facebook.

There’s an obvious contradiction here: then why pay attention to this essay by a white person?   Well, my expectation is that this essay will go into the “blogosphere” like a little cloud of steam, evaporating uneventfully with only the slightest of angry hisses.  But it’s something that needs to be said, right?

Imagine one of the “woke” Egyptians of long ago saying, “The Children of Israel have it really bad here in Egypt” and getting all the credit for this amazing observation, when the main objective is for Musa (Moses) and his people to get out of Egypt and to get free.  Not just to have their lack of freedom accurately described by an Egyptian named J.K. or Pink.

Or maybe Babylon is a better example.  But, from either ancient example, let’s fast forward to this Babylon, and the “belly of the beast” that is ameriKKKa.  And let’s say there’s a popular Babylonian writer of horror novels who has made so much money off his books and film rights to these books that he could buy a huge house in Florida and have another large house in Bangor, Maine (and perhaps a few more).  So this Babylonian or Egyptian makes some observations on Twitter, and all the sudden he’s “woke.”

Or there are the white “anti-racism” educators and activists whose videos get thousands of shares and re-tweets.  Then there’s Jon Stewart, the favorite of white liberals.  Or John Oliver.  Or … it’s hard to remember their names.  Somebody named Henry Rollins.  I’m only familiar with Sonny and Jimmy when it comes to fellows named Rollins.

There isn’t anything these “woke” white folks are saying that hasn’t been said a million times by millions of Black people, Latinxs, Indigenous peoples, Black Latinx people, Black Indigenous people– in general, people of color.  And they’re actually going through the experiences that they’re talking about.  But who’s getting paid?  Twitter and Facebook– white-controlled capitalist entities– are getting paid, we know that for sure.  Regardless of who is saying it, capitalism gets paid: that’s the nature of the beast.

But let’s look at Tim Wise’s house and then compare it to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s house.  Oh yeah, Mumia Abu-Jamal has been forced by white-controlled capitalism to share his brilliance from a prison cell since the 1980s, most of that time on death row.  And some of the most brilliant, creative and beautiful people in the world– trans women of color– are too busy trying to survive past age 35 to be doing workshops on anti-racism or to be taking selfies with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.   And when trans women of color (specifically Black trans women) are in a position to present at workshops or to contribute their talents in nonprofit organizations, chances are these spaces and resources are already taken up– by whites.

The white-controlled system of colonial capitalism is set up in such a way that it makes everything easier for white people.  This isn’t to say things are always easy for us.  But they are easier– the -er is the key.  And it’s easi-er because we’re white.  No other reason.  This reason is historical and material, and dialectical– a topic for another essay.  For now, let’s just ask ourselves– because my essays are always directed at other whites– why should we get credit simply for recognizing the problem, and describing it, when we created the problem and are still benefiting from it?  The problem being white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism: colonialism.

It’s actually sad that more of us don’t recognize the problem, because all it takes is a “redneck” to make a video, or Bernie Sanders to make a proclamation from the campaign trail (back when he was still on it), or Jon Stewart to say anything, and the praise descends on them like colorful balloons.  Of course, there’s a problem!  And why are we celebrating ourselves just for being able to recognize the problem?  If the people who are actually experiencing this problem firsthand on a daily basis were centered– and compensated for educating us– we probably would have a much clearer understanding of this problem.

Now, someone might say to me, “Why are you attacking the people who are actually trying to help and potentially alienating them?  They aren’t the problem– or at least they want to do something about it.  At least they’re trying.”  But we need to do better.

Whites need to do better.  We can’t be absolved so easily of our complicity in colonial genocide just by saying “Black Lives Matter.”  But the bar is so low that, if we write an essay or make a video about why we shouldn’t say “All Lives Matter,” then suddenly we expect to win the John Brown Anti-White Supremacy Award.

I don’t want to be so annoyed, but if another article about “How to Be a Good White Ally” written by a white ally shows up on my Facebook page, or another meme appears on Twitter with a quote from a white woman who is an “anti-racism” expert, my poor, tired brain is going to … well, that’s gross.

My point is: if we want to write our little essays on our own blogs, or have conversations with white coworkers, or even do activism stuff in “white ally” (or “white accomplice”) groups, that’s fine.  Maybe it’s helpful.  Helpful to white people– it doesn’t do anything for colonized Africans/Black people and all other people of color.

And we know capitalism isn’t going to be helpful– specifically white liberal capitalism.  MSNBC will still center whiteness in its prime time programming with Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell.  The most visible left-wing candidates for President– essentially working to be the next boss of the enemy system– will still be cisgender and white: not just Hillary and Generic White Guy To Help Her Get The Generic White Guy Vote, but also Bernie (with his Bros attacking Imani Gandy), and Jill … and you can keep Elizabeth Warren [corrected].  The bar is so low.  White women like Elizabeth Warren set the bar so low.

This sounds mean, but it feels as if white people– wherever we are in our political education– always want to draw the line at that point where we become uncomfortable.  People are being murdered.  Their resources and land are being stolen.  This is ongoing genocide, and not only within the illegitimate borders of this white settler colony called “America.”  Half of the world’s poverty is in “sub-Saharan” Africa– up from 15% in the 1990s.  It’s ridiculous to believe that we can solve these problems– created by white people– without whites getting a whole lot more uncomfortable.  If it’s good enough for bestselling white authors to tweet things, or for Stephen Colbert (yet another white man on late night TV) to mention something that might be pro-Black Lives Matter, then we aren’t really moving that much closer to liberation.  Do we want to be part of this process or not?  Maybe we simply want to do the play-by-play and pregame analysis, like the nearly all-white broadcast booths and highlights shows for Major League Baseball.

White people need to do better.  I’m asking that we turn down that position in the nonprofit organization so that a more deserving person of color– a Black woman, a Black trans woman– will get the position.  I’m asking that we move beyond the Peggy McIntosh articles and start reading some Kwame Nkrumah.  And pay Black organizers and artists for their work, because organizing and art are work.  Materially support Black organizations.  Share videos by Black trans women and Latina trans women.  And, while my purpose certainly isn’t to criticize Ta-Nehisi Coates, hopefully we’ve read his essay on reparations (and support reparations), and not just the book that white liberal critics enjoyed reviewing because it made them feel good.

That’s my point: we need to do better.  And by doing better, it means being less visible, de-centering whiteness while paying Black people and (more generally) people of color for their organizing work and their artistic work.

One thing white people have more of is money.  We haven’t contributed more to civilization (unless we call “stealing” a contribution).  Our ideas aren’t better.  But we have more money.  I mean as a group we have more.  The bourgeois (liberal/libertarian) view is to focus on the exception and then present the individual experience as evidence.  Statistically, historically, materially, whites have more.  We have more because everyone else has less.

I’ve never heard anyone complain about receiving money for their work, especially when it’s owed to them: reparations.  Black people may not care what we have to say about any particular issue– why should they when they have been saying the same thing for years, while living it?– but it’s highly unlikely they will turn down any payment from European colonizers (whites) for their organizing work or artistic work.

If this essay has been successful in getting my point across, it will be completely ignored.

No, but seriously.  I don’t know any other way to handle this topic.  Maybe it’s just venting.

But Jon Stewart has had his day.  His day of focusing more on his spats with CNN and conflating liberal/conservative views as shouting matches, and helping to bring about the demise of ACORN, and helping to spread the ridiculous (and irrelevant) idea that President Obama used a teleprompter to speak to schoolchildren.  Please– no more videos from Jon Stewart!  If we’re going to focus on bourgeois programming, with fairly nonthreatening views regarding Black Lives Matter and how awful the Republicans are, can we at least watch Larry Wilmore before the giant media conglomerate that owns Comedy Central cancels his show?  For one thing, he’s funnier than Jon Stewart (and more insightful).

But about those awful Republicans– white people (and, again, we can’t be “woke”) aren’t saying anything when we go after Republicans and conservatives.  We definitely need to do better in this area.  Conservatives may be the opposite of liberals (and Trump the opposite of Bernie) but that’s only on the lateral level of the bourgeois, oppressor class.  This oppressor class (or, actually, colonizing nation: which is Europe, with its system of imperialist capitalism), this white colonial power sits on top of the proletariat of the world, the oppressed, the colonized: Black people/Africans, indigenous peoples, and the majority of humanity.  So, in vertical terms, conservatives and liberals are the same, and in fact the entire white nation sits on top of the colonized nations of the globe, living off stolen labor, resources and land.

This means that when one of the “good” white people is getting all these cookies for criticizing Trump and other Republicans, they aren’t really saying anything.  They aren’t making white people uncomfortable at all.  If anything, they are making white liberals (and white socialists like me) even more comfortable, and more smug and arrogant in the belief that we are exceptional, which is (in fact) the basic American view: we’re exceptional, we’re better, we’re more advanced, and more humane than “those” Muslim Arabs who force women to wear the hijab.

To conclude (because another essay of mine is getting too long, when a better writer could say more, with less, and with concrete examples and links to other articles):

It’s important to point out that not a single thing written in this essay would have been possible if a Black revolutionary, or Black organizer, or Black artist hadn’t taught me first.  And very little of what they taught would have reached me at all if Michael Brown hadn’t been murdered by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.  If white people have been able to wake up at all, it’s been on account of the blood spilled by Michael Brown, and countless other Black men, Black women, and the Black trans women whose lives were never uplifted, before or after they were murdered.

Whites benefit from the education we receive from Black people which is born out of their pain and out of over five hundred years of oppression due to European imperialist capitalism.  And whites continue to benefit from this system.  We benefit by receiving material necessities from this destructive system, then whites benefit by receiving an education from the very people who are resisting this system’s destruction.  While white people are reading Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander, we’re benefiting from the systemic oppression they describe, with words that lead some to say we’re “woke” (just for being able to read them at our leisure).  But the food we’re eating, the neighborhoods we’re sleeping in, the jobs or schools we’re driving to, everything else we do has been made possible only through the colonial domination of Africans/Black people and the majority of humanity.

I can read Assata Shakur all day and every day– but i haven’t experienced for even one day what Assata Shakur and her community have experienced their entire lives.  I can read Che Guevara and look at my poster of Che, and raise my fist– but until white people organize, educate, and really get serious about putting together a mass movement that combines the practice and theory that Assata Shakur, Che Guevara and Kwame Nkrumah taught through their writings and lives, then we haven’t done anything, except maybe promote ourselves.  Assata Shakur is still alive in Cuba, and is still teaching resistance to her people, with a price on her head, and with scars on her body from the oppressor’s weapons.  No, white people can’t be “woke.”  Assata didn’t teach us, the European colonizers and oppressors– not yet.  Not until we’ve organized against this system.  Then maybe we can talk.  But until then …

Can We Please Stop Centering “Woke” White People?