Systemic Change Is Uncomfortable; Barack Obama Has Been a Comfort

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“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.

 

 

 

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Systemic Change Is Uncomfortable; Barack Obama Has Been a Comfort

The Reactionary White Identity and Revolutionary Political Consciousness

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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?

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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?