An indispensable quality of the white identity is the political disconnect of the white individual from our class– as European colonizers– and from the historical and material impact that our class has on people all over the world, and on the planet itself.
Isolated in the cozy confines of our own subjective view of the universe, white colonizers in the United States can feel entirely comfortable, thousands of miles from Europe, on land that is stolen from Indigenous peoples. To the white colonizer, the beautiful, green trees and rainy skies of Oregon– disconnected within our collective imagination from their historical and material reality– are just “home.”
One might say, “Well, that was a long time ago when Oregon was settled by whites through our genocidal violence, and that’s why we’ve forgotten it.” But history didn’t simply stop one day. Everything that had happened up to a certain historical point didn’t simply disappear overnight, as a more liberal and humane social arrangement suddenly appeared: the same patterns of colonial genocide continue, and the material connections remain intact. The freeway that goes through an area of Portland, Oregon that once was a thriving Black neighborhood; a sports arena in St. Petersburg, Florida that sits on the ruins of Black lives; the accumulated wealth of whites whose great-grandparents burned down the Chinese section of town in La Grande, Oregon; each of these is the physical embodiment, the new shape formed from the old pattern, whose deeply engraved historical record is connected to white supremacist, colonial capitalism.
Once the European colonizer has been isolated inside our class, and has been disconnected from our history of white supremacist violence, then we can be selective about which parts of this system benefit us and which parts are harmful. By obscuring the line that divides the colonizer from the colonized— that is, by erasing the dialectical relationship shared by the white identity and the identities of Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples and the majority of humanity– we don’t recognize that the entire capitalist system and history of the United States is based on systemic violence.
This constant erasure of the primary dialectic that exists between the colonizer and the colonized is how Senator Bernie Sanders can say he is eager to work with President Donald Trump on infrastructure and trade agreements, even as he denounces the President on other issues. Yet infrastructure and trade agreements are racism, are patriarchy, are colonialism. The same system that builds a wall across land stolen from Mexico and Indigenous nations also builds bridges and schools, and also builds prisons, and constructs skyscrapers where white men and white women in pinstriped suits plot their next attack on the world. But this view of the world (the colonizer’s view of a peaceful street in Oregon under calm, gray clouds) only becomes possible when we ignore the larger context– the colonial genocide, the violent marginalization of oppressed identities–that has empowered the white person to hold this perspective.
If the European colonizer is a woman, or gay, or transgender (or all the above), we are empowered by this system of colonial capitalism to focus on our specific oppression(s) within the white identity, while ignoring the larger objective reality of our class status. And by “class status” we don’t simply mean how much money we earn from our job (if we have one), or if we own a house, and have any other investments– we mean the status of whiteness, the political (not biological) identity of whiteness that is inherently reactionary, bourgeois and parasitic.
This is the dividing line that capitalism seeks to erase from our perspective of the world: the dialectical relationship of the colonizer to the colonized. Once capitalism has erased this primary contradiction in the world from our own consciousness of class oppression, then we can focus on our individualistic need to escape the system’s discrimination against gays, women, trans people (or all the above). As long as we gain rights that allow us to enjoy the benefits of capitalist oppression, the same as any cisgender, heterosexual, white man with money, we won’t care that all the wealth and power that has made these benefits possible comes from the violent exploitation and colonization of Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples and so-called “people of color.”
In relation to monarchy or feudalism, the most revolutionary class within the white identity (which contains all classes) is the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and that murky category of working class whites– together making up the “99%.” Whenever we don’t get what we believe is rightfully ours, the white masses grow extremely restless. We start talking about “throwing the bums out,” and we form “Tea Parties,” and we begin to “Feel The Bern”– good, old-fashioned white nationalist populism.
In relation to the global proletariat that is outside the white identity, the white bourgeoisie, white petty bourgeoisie and white working class are– taken together– the most reactionary class in history. We are the last people on earth who want a violent revolution that will overturn capitalist democracy, because our very existence, and all our wealth and power, have come from this system’s ongoing violence against Africans, Indigenous peoples and the majority of humanity.
Liberals of the white petty bourgeoisie and “working class” (and even some of the white bourgeoisie) love to see American flag-hijabs, and love to chant “USA! USA!,” in protests against Trump, because “American exceptionalism” reaffirms the existing status of the white colonizer on Indigenous lands: Muslims of color are “welcomed here” in our country. “We” have the power to welcome “them.” But the driving force behind our class consciousness is our fear that the system will begin to take away our rights– the rights of the bourgeois, the petty bourgeois and the working class white colonizer– the same as it has wiped out anyone else who stands in the way of “American” progress.
Because we are revolutionary– in the same way as Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and all those guys– white colonizers won’t give up the rights that we have gained– as women, as gays, as transgender women– without a fight … at least a peaceful fight, because the sanctity of private property is central to the “American” conception of “freedom.” Even if we have to borrow– or steal– lines from Black Lives Matter organizers, we will express our anger that Trump would do this to our government, our country, our way of life. “This is what [bourgeois] democracy looks like!”
Inspired by the revolutionary struggles of Africans/Black people in the U.S., and revolutions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, white people rose up in the 1960s and 1970s and made tremendous progress when it comes to our rights as gays, lesbians, and cisgender women (transgender women and men and nonbinary identities had to wait a bit longer). Now that we have gained these rights, we won’t give up them up so easily. A wealthy cisgender gay white couple can get married and live right next to the conservative white family who have the house across the cul-de-sac. White cisgender women aren’t imprisoned in the plastic palaces of suburbia, forced to spend their days wearing aprons and pearls while baking sunshine cakes. They can go into the white man’s world and dominate in the same way that he does– though for slightly less money. Transgender white women, with jobs in the white man’s world, can sometimes benefit from health plans that cover some of the costs of the surgeries we need in order to be accepted into the violently cisnormative white bourgeois society. Taken together as a class, we are on the rise: we’ve been emboldened by our gains, and it’s not so easy for President Trump to take away– with one stroke of the pen– the progress we’ve made.
Of course, if we belong to the left-wing of the white colonial identity, we want “people of color” to be included in this progress. We want them at our marches, that we lead. We want them in our nonprofit organizations, that we lead.
Capitalism’s erasure of the primary class contradiction that exists in the global economic system today– the dialectical relationship of the colonizer and the colonized– means that white gays, lesbians, women (trans or cis) can look directly across the horizontal plane of our class consciousness and see no “color,” but simply gays who happen to be Black, lesbians who happen to be Latina, transgender women who just happen to be Indigenous. Our fight is their fight. Their fight is our fight. And, yes, we’re fighting against racism too. But that’s just one fight on the same plane– one isolated aspect of the individual’s identity. We want them on our side as women, as transgender women, as lesbians or gays.
Our perspective of progress is that of the white bourgeoisie and white petty bourgeoisie and the white working class who have struggled to make “America” what it is today, as part of our long fight against the forces of monarchical rule. We fear Trump the tyrant. But 90% of Republicans approve of Trump. And two-in-ten Democrats seem to be totally fine with his “fascist” moves. Congress is controlled by Republicans. The majority of state governments are controlled by Republicans. And the whole map of “America”– red and blue– sits on stolen Indigenous land, benefiting from the imperialist subjugation of brown people here and abroad. It is this global subjugation– this democratically-chosen white terror– that has made “America” possible. The progress of “America” and the white identity exist in dialectical opposition to the progress of humanity.
Capitalism gains its wealth and power through the rigid principle that profits matter, not people. However, capitalism must be flexible about the methods by which it gains greater wealth and power. The rigid class structure (including patriarchy) remains intact, but the methods of class oppression adapt and change as the contradictions within the capitalist system threaten to pull it apart. So the ruling class reluctantly takes one step back in order to take two steps forward. Capitalism will take some steps that cut into its profits by instituting reforms that place the rights of white women (trans and cis) and white gays before the greater accumulation of wealth. The ruling class recognizes that, once the insurgent identities within the colonial class feel that we are part of the system, the “progress” that we enjoy can be exploited for the overall consolidation and expansion of capitalism’s power.
Capitalism wins our loyalty by recognizing our rights– the rights that cis/het white men already have– so that we will become even more dependent upon the institutions and structures of the existing society, and therefore oppose any socialist revolution by the masses of colonized peoples whose further subjugation has made our newly-won “rights” possible.
It’s impossible for capitalism to recognize the rights of all classes or identities under its control– if it were to do this, the entire basis for its wealth and power would collapse. Capitalism could no longer dominate the world. At the same time, there are enough whites on the left– liberal, socialist or whatever– who might see the racism written into the progress of the insurgent white class if these rights totally excluded “people of color.” So, once again, capitalism takes a couple steps back in order to take a few steps forward. With all the flexibility of a snake, the ruling class recognizes the rights of some gays and lesbians of color, and some trans and cis women of color, aware that the illusion of “diversity” can become a buffer or barrier between the white colonial class and the colonized classes. Furthermore, the talent, energy and resources of the upwardly mobile class within each colonized community can be exploited by capitalism in order to increase the wealth and power of white people.
By isolating every individual within their class, capitalism creates greater loyalty to the white ruling class, because it can pick off– one by one– each person who sees a way out of colonial oppression in regard to all their intersecting identities. White gays tell gays of color that the fight for [white] gay rights is the way out. White women (cis and trans) tell women of color that our fight is the way out. Yet the wealth and power that we enjoy– at whatever level we enjoy it, rich, poor, or middle-class– would not be possible without the colonial domination of the vast majority of people in the world, including Indigenous peoples and Africans/Black people on this continent. In a system where profits come first, the only “rights” that can be recognized are those that do not jeopardize the wealth of the white-controlled ruling class– and under this system, it would be impossible to extend the recognition of gay rights, women’s rights, and transgender rights to all people.
Only through socialist revolution can there be the complete redistribution of land and resources to colonized communities that is necessary for the rights of all people to be recognized. The wealth of the white identity– the white colonial class– must be redistributed on a global scale to those identities who continue to be robbed and murdered for the benefit of whites in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel, South Africa, and wherever we parasitically exist in the world.
All whites– regardless of gender, sexuality, or income– benefit from this colonial relationship within a world economy controlled by racist, patriarchal capitalism. If we wish to create a society based on egalitarian principles, we must organize to replace capitalism with socialism, and support the self-determination and empowerment of all colonized peoples. Then perhaps we will be able to join together with our transgender sisters, our queer or lesbian sisters, on the same plane, the same material level, no longer divided by an oppressive system in which one class (the white colonizing identity) enjoys material benefits at the expense of colonized identities.
The fight to dismantle systemic oppression against all gays, all lesbians, and all women (trans or cis) is– in historical, material and dialectical terms– the revolutionary struggle against colonial capitalism.