Much of the white left’s criticism of prominent Black politicians, such as Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker and former Governor Deval Patrick, is not only rooted in white supremacy– it is also just plain reactionary. And, in the case of Senator Kamala Harris, a great deal of misogynoir on the white left is involved as well, because there is no one in this racist, sexist and capitalist system of the United States whom white people will hate faster than a Black woman, especially if she has any sort of platform to speak out.
But the reason this racist, sexist and reactionary view on the white left exists is that an authentic revolutionary movement among European colonizers (which is to say: white people) is virtually nonexistent. This is so because, for over five hundred years, the resources and labor of the globe have been flowing in the direction of the white colonial population that occupies Indigenous land, making it very difficult for whites in the so-called “99%” to organize an effective struggle against the very basis of our own wealth and power (whether it’s a little or a lot).
Black people did not create the world economic system of capitalism. Black women– transgender and cisgender– certainly did not create this system. Black trans women are, in fact, harmed the most by capitalist violence. There is an ongoing war against Africans/Black people being waged by capitalism in this settler colony of Europe (the United States), and Black transgender women experience the greatest marginalization and violence of any political category. Yet we might ask the question: how frequently does the white left focus on capitalism’s war on the lives of Black trans women? Almost never. Any analysis coming from the white left almost always leaves out the war against Black trans women and against all queer/trans people of color (QTPoC). So we might ask: how can you call yourself a revolutionary and a materialist when you don’t even focus on the oppressive conditions of Black trans women who (again) are harmed the most by capitalism’s war on the Black community?
Because we’re talking here about a community— a colonized people— and not about individuals. This is the second mistake made by leftists in the white colonial population of the United States. The first mistake we make is when we leave Black trans women out of our analysis of material conditions. But the second mistake is that we place our focus on individuals instead of the masses.
Power doesn’t come from individuals. Power comes from a system– a system of power. And there is only one system of power that controls the world economy: capitalism. Africans didn’t create capitalism. White people did. And whites created the capitalist system for our own benefit, at the expense of Africans and all colonized peoples. Our power comes from this system, but capitalism only exists because white people allow it to exist. So, ultimately, power comes from the masses.
What does this mean, in concrete terms? It means any power that Senator Cory Booker or Senator Kamala Harris has, or former Governor Deval Patrick has, is based on a capitalist system which is still supported by the masses of white people. Yet you’re going to critique three Black individuals? No– all whites should look in the mirror (if we are able to) and ask the European colonizer who is gazing back at us: “How do you pay your bills on stolen Native land, in an empire built by the (still unpaid) labor and lives of Africans?”
The white left seems to buy into the bourgeois belief that since “all men are created equal” then it must be acceptable for us to criticize politicians in some “racially colorblind” fashion. But if we are materialists, we ought to recognize that there is a material difference between our critique of Black politicians and our critique of white politicians. This difference is colonialism.
All Black people are part of a colonized community, an oppressed nation within a nation (or empire), and this is true whether they are wealthy or poor, or they are middle-class or working class: all Black individuals belong to a national or “racial” identity. And the same is true of white individuals– whether we are rich, poor, middle-class or working class, we all belong to the white identity, the political identity of the colonizer. And the entire white colonial population of the United States sits on top of oppressed Black people and all the oppressed identities who continue to be robbed and murdered by capitalism– for our benefit.
So, if a Black politician rises to prominence within the capitalism system– which is controlled by whites– then any criticism directed at them is the business of Black people. Of course, if a Black U.S. President orders the system to bomb Arabs and Africans or deport Latinxs and Africans, that’s their business too. And the white colonial population can follow the lead of Africans/Black people, Arabs, Latinxs, and so-called people of color, by no longer supporting this white capitalist violence against their communities– that is, by dismantling capitalism. But not simply by going after President Obama, or any Black politician, as if our analysis can avoid a racial (or racist) component, when the main victims of capitalist violence are Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples, and Palestinians. “Race” has certainly been a factor in that violence, so why would it not be a factor in our criticism? And this criticism becomes a problem because white people enjoy the power to criticize– or to do anything else– based entirely on the white supremacist and imperialist exploitation of Africans and the global majority being carried out by a system of power that we (not Africans) allow to exist.
If Black people want to criticize Senator Kamala Harris, that’s their business. But it’s never a good idea for a white person to attack a Black woman (verbally or otherwise). That’s just reckless, unprincipled and reactionary behavior. Because, in essence, a white person– on the right-wing or the left-wing of the colonial population– is simply using the power they have to move against a person who belongs to a marginalized identity. And if you think their identity doesn’t matter, try living for one day as a Black woman– a Black transgender woman– in a country that is simultaneously anti-Black, anti-woman, and anti-trans (not to mention anti-working class, ableist, homophobic, Islamophobic and anti-sex worker).
Believe me, there are plenty of white people around (on account of genocide, colonization and gentrification) if we feel the need to criticize one person for the violence of an entire system. But no, we give Uncle Bruce a free pass, or some other white individual, and instead direct our anger at a Black Senator. I wonder why? Hmmm.
If we’re being honest (which of course we should be), chances are we simply weren’t smart enough to go to law school, or we aren’t good public speakers, or maybe we’re just lazy. Maybe we rolled out of bed this morning and expected to gain access to resources just because … well, just because it’s another day and we’re white. So, when a Black woman is smart and has big plans and goals, why stomp on her dreams, when (it’s guaranteed) we can get by with ease having less wealth, and smaller dreams, all on account of our whiteness? This isn’t principled criticism; this– coming from white people– is just jealousy.
And this unprincipled criticism of Black politicians by the white left shows how little difference there is between supporters of Donald Trump and white supporters of Bernie Sanders, at least when it comes to our class (un)consciousness. In both cases, where we seem to believe we’re defending our principles, we’re simply defending our whiteness: either way, it’s our own variation on “All Lives Matter.”
Only white people could make the phrase “All Lives Matter” sound like a 21st century variation on “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Whites can’t even just show our support for all human life without avoiding a George Wallace-like attitude, or reenacting the Civil War (where this time the Confederacy wins, of course). But what’s my point? My point is:
I don’t trust whites. The white left, the white right, and whites in-between. Which might mean a lack of trust in myself. But it’s not an individual thing. I don’t trust that whites– with so much of our colonial privilege still intact– can build an authentic revolutionary movement which isn’t just based on guarding the power of whiteness itself, while enviously moving against anyone from a colonized community who may have more wealth and power than we have.
Under the guise of “progressive” politics, the white left often behaves as if Black individuals who have more wealth and power than we have are part of the problem– while, after all, we’re struggling (individually) to pay the bills and are barely getting by. But, at the same time, we will use our collective power, acting on our class (un)consciousness, to move against oppressed Black people … if this means we can climb up on their backs. In fact, that’s the history of the United States.
European colonizers come here (to stolen Indigenous land) and we’re poor, we’ve escaped horrible conditions, and so– armed only with a sense of entitlement, or our political identity of whiteness— within a generation or two, we are going to college, finding good jobs, buying property, sending our kids to the same good schools, then settling down for a long retirement in Florida. And we believe this is progress. We seem to think the main reason for our upward mobility has been our progressive politics, yet it’s our class consciousness that is responsible for our climb, and the white identity which we have defended (on the right and the left) even if this means stomping on a dream— and on the lives– of Black women, and on all colonized African people. “That’s Life”— right? Our life, maybe, but their death: mass incarceration, gentrification, the murder of Black transgender women, and the ongoing refusal of the white colonial population to pay reparations.
If we wish to be truly progressive, European colonizers must align our interests with anti-colonialist, anti-neo-colonialist, and anti-imperialist struggles here and all around the globe, recognizing that progress for the working masses of the world may lead to less power and less wealth for us, because we have been stealing these from Africa and the world. In other words, if we want to be progressive we must move collectively against the white identity and the American ideal, as materialists, as socialist revolutionaries.