Solidarity Amidst Microaggression

July 27, 2015

For any movement, group or organization, learning to fight well across the privilege gap means everything about its capacity to develop, as one activist put it, “non-oppressive solidarity.”  That is, solidarity that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone falling in line with or giving into the white dude, and, here’s the kicker, even when the ideas he presents have substantive merit.  Say what?  Sometimes it’s less about what a white dude says, and more about where, how, why, when, in what context and to whom he says it.  You know, the structural stuff.

To be clear:  I write this as a white dude, pulling from my experience as a white dude who interacts frequently with well-educated white dudes.  It also includes experiences of friends and others of the non-dude or non-white variety.

When two white dudes fight, it might seem like this to them:

[for the sake of it, let’s give them British accents, top hats and monocles]
“Objectively speaking, your opinion of Truth lacks basis in rational fact.”
“Indubitably, your divergence from scientific inquiry is highly problematic.”

and to others it might look like this:

[two giant monsters yelling and fighting]
“GROGG SMASH STUPID IDEA!”
“MAWG BIG STICK LEGITIMIZE SMALL EGO!”

Discursive power dynamics manifest in subtle ways.  They have a way of insidiously infiltrating and co-opting interactions, and often leaving people at the shit-end of the stick wondering why they feel so exhausted, belittled, unheard, illigitimate.  The dyanmics can appear so subtle that perpretrators often dismiss them as “semantics” (a defensive focus on content to ignore the structural fact that they are semantically defending their frame of reference over and against yours…their definitions are “true” and “correct,” yours are “semantic quibbling”).

Compare the following phrases:

  •  “The problem with microsensitivity is nothing ever gets done” vs “I think microsensitivity is a problem”
    Notice the difference?  Let’s look at another…
  • “You’re right” vs “I agree with you”

Not, “I think you’re right.”  But simply, “You are right.”  Of course, sometimes it means, “I agree.”  But sometimes it really means, “I have access to Absolute Truth, and I hereby declare you correct.”  A complete act of hubris, yet so deeply entrenched into our psyches that we take it for granted.  Some douchebags (and their mimics) try to come across as authority figures (cue the irony violin!) and ‘educate’ everyone else around them.  And sometimes it happens without us trying, and has everything to do with who is talking (down?) to whom, rather than what’s being said.  When white men behave like white men while they interact with others, it often feels like this:

[normal sized person]
“I think there’s a racial and patriarchal power dynamic in this space”

[large monster with erect penis pointing menacingly at first speaker]
“INDUBITABLY, YOUR DIVERGENCE FROM SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY IS HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC AND LACKS BASIS IN RATIONAL FACT”

Even when they try to act as allies, and focus subtantively on the ideas and not on the power dynamic, their response can feel like this:

    “AS AN ALLY WITH NO LESS THAN THREE WEEKS’ EXPERTISE IN ANTI-OPPRESSION WORK, I HEREBY DECLARE YOU CORRECT IN YOUR OBSERVATION OF OPPRESSIVE POWER DYNAMICS.”

Which is enough to send anyone running confusedly for cover with a big, WTF? smeared across their face.  Because it’s a mind-twisting experience:  a substantive agreement (he thinks I’m correct!) and a shallow display of “agreement” structurally wrapped up inside the white dude declaring himself the humble arbitrator of Truth and Legitimacy, which then leads everyone else to either accept or reject his “gift” of legitimacy.  Sometimes white dudes go further and use this power dynamic to frame and co-opt follow-up work:

    “HERE IS FURTHER READING FOR YOU TO EDUCATE YOURSELF ON STRUCTURAL POWER DYNAMICS AND PROVE THAT I AM AWESOME AND PERHAPS EVEN PERFECT.”

    “I HAVE A FLAWLESS PLAN TO OBLITERATE SEXISM AND RACISM IN THIS SPACE WITH ERUDITE PRECISION AND ACCURACY.  NOW, LET’S LAUNCH INTO BRIEFING…”  sure thing, Admiral Ackbar.

So, for this reason, people of color and women and queer folk often seek or carve out “women-only” or “queer-only” or “queer womyn of color-only” spaces as a refuge.  Not to say that they don’t fight…they still fight.  And substantively it can sometimes look a lot like white manfighting:

[two normal-sized people]
“You’re wrong in that, sis!”
“Oh, yeah, prove it!”

But structurally, it’s often not nearly as traumatic or triggering.  Micro-aggressions can wear us down, so that when that well-meaning white dude says to us at the end of a shitty day,

[big dude talking to normal-sized person]
“IT’S JUST SMALL STUFF.”  (not to me…and there’s a lot of it)
“YOU JUST HAVE TO BE LESS SENSITIVE.” (so my feelings aren’t legitimate?)
“DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU.”  (why are you telling me what to do?)

it’s no wonder that people who ordinarily exercise extraordinary grace and patience and resilience finally snap and say stuff like,

“OH SHUT UP YOU PRETENTIOUS NARCISSISTIC DOUCHEBAG!”

Especially if this is the first time in a while they feel safe expressing themselves, or things have just gotten so bad, they’ve stoicly endured so many degrading provocations, that their suppressed need to defend and express themselves finally outweighs their need to survive in a hostile world.

[big man above turns pouty]
“…how am i narcissistic for offering her solutions?”
Because, good sir, you assume your “solutions” are based in a Legitimate Reality that maps directly onto her life experience as helpful and useful, because You Say So.  And it often doesn’t map, and they often aren’t helpful.  And even when it does map and they are helpful, stop fucking assuming so.  Because it means you aren’t shutting up and you aren’t listening, and if you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning and relating.  You’re just projecting and imposing shit on others.

Sometimes solidarity looks more like:

“Hey, how was your day?” (genuine curiosity)
“Shitty.”
“That sucks, what happened?” (genuine empathy with genuine curiosity)
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Ok, well, I’m hear to listen if you want to vent.”
[and sometimes]
“let me know how I can help.  what do you want to do now?”  (sometimes, no one knows)

You know, listening and accepting and offering support on *their* terms, not *yours.*

White men and people of privilege generally have extra work to do to put themselves on an equal level with others.  We have trust and respect to earn.  And that’s the way it should  be — because that’s the way it works with everyone else who doesn’t have access to our privilege.  And it can take a long time to acheive that trust and respect.  Sometimes it never happens.  Sorry, dudes — blame the racial patriarchy, not the people struggling through it.

On the flip side of that extra effort, white men are also often not used to being held to account for our microaggressive trespasses.  To us, someone holding us to account for something feels like an “attack,” which means we get defensive, we shut down, go on autopilot, puff out our chests, bully our way through the conversation and don’t hear important feedback about the feelings and concerns or constructive suggestions of others:

[normal-sized person]
“i need you to be more collaborative and less condescending if you want to be my ally”

[crying giant]
“WHY DO YOU HATE ME?”  (translation:  “why do i feel so horrible?”  Because this stupid patriarchal society coddled and emotionally babied you up to this point, and you’re not used to a real interaction)

or one of my personal favorites:

“i need you to take responsibility for hurting others”
“FINE, I GET IT, IT’S ALL MY FAULT! GEEZ.”

and just like that, it’s all about him.  All about how *he* feels hurt as a result of someone expressing how something he did hurt them, a result of asking him to behave differently in the future.  All because we’ve been trained and socialized from birth to confuse difficult conversations with personal and even physical attacks.  It’s an accountability shield, and when we follow him down that path, it makes his feelings more important to deal with than everyone else’s, which means others have no “legitimate” feelings about their experience with interpersonal power dynamics, let alone the space to air them.  Hence the creation of spaces free of white men.  We all bring enough internalized crap into the room with us — sometimes it’s just too much to have to deal with the external onslaught at the same time.  So it’s nice to have spaces where people don’t have to put up with at least some of that external privileged hostility for some of the time.

[large spectacled white man]
“WHOA, WHY SO ANGRY, M’DEAR?  JUST DISCUSS THE IDEAS AND AVOID PERSONAL ATTACKS, PLZ”
[translation:  just accept what i have to say, how i say it and never try to hold me accountable when i talk down to you]

“NOW, AS I WAS ‘SPLAINING, YOUR ANALYSIS OF RADICAL QUEER FEMINIST THOUGHT SEEMS TO LACK CONSIDERATION OF THREE CRITICAL COMPONENTS…”

It’s hard to get into this stuff, because it means questioning whether so many of the people we want to consider “allies” really have the capacity to build solidarity.  This disruptive behavior does not result from innocent ignorance.  When women or people of color offer their precious time and energy and vulnerability to give us an insider perspective into their experience, do we listen, accept, learn, probe, identify, develop, relate, transform?  Or do we dispute, dismiss, correct, command, reject, belittle, delegitimize, reframe?  Ultimately, it’s not about the the topic or even individual incidents of trespass, but about someone’s ability to demonstrate courageous vulnerability and abandon their implicit allegiance to white male supremacy.  Someone’s ability to trust another, especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so and a slap in the face of their fragile ego.  And until someone can demonstrate that acceptance, then it’s hard to imagine them doing anything other than undermining a liberation movement from without or within.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTxwIpX239I
“There’s this post-modern obsession with this notion of ‘allies’ — ‘how do i be a good ally?’  The great Ruby Sales says, “We don’t need allies…allies, y’all can check in and out.  ‘It’s not my struggle, i need to wait for my leadership…’  We need freedom fighters.  The difference between ‘ally’ and ‘freedom fighter’ is you’re willing to put your body on the line.  You’ve got blood in the game.  Are you willing to put your body on the line, because you understand that you have something spiritually at stake — that your soul is in jeopardy because of racism, that it does something to your humanity, that you are less human…the white folks I trust are the ones I’ve been to jail with…”  — Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

When someone who wants to be an “ally” puts their body on the line, then they move past shallow “allyship” into the realm of developing solidarity.  When we’re willing to put ourselves on the line, little (but important) constructive critiques of oppressive interactional dynamics don’t alienate or drive us away.  Instead, they challenge us, exercise us, build us up, make us stronger in the same way we exercise our bodies to become better, stronger people.  Ever been a bit sore after a good workout?  No pain, no gain — and after the soreness subsides, you’re stronger, faster.  The same workout gets easier.

White men who want “solidarity” without pain and mutual struggle do not want solidarity — they want appeasement.  And they’re not only fragile, they’re lazy.  Let’s face it:  Closeted white male supremacy hasn’t infiltrated liberalism and progressivism.  It IS liberalism and progressivism.  A left-leaning articulate, well-educated white male can rationalize his way into a paper sack and call it Kingdom Come, with almost limitless capacity for self-delusion.  Perhaps this explains why I most often see microaggressions coming from the well-to-do…

the folks that can actually speak to the white working class (namely radical white working class people) are few and far between, and that many are actively silenced and ridiculed for their backgrounds by affluent white organizers. While much has been done to point out the inherently racist issues that plague many progressive and radical organizations, almost nothing has been done to point out the inherent classism that runs rampant on the left.  — Dave Strano, http://libcom.org/library/rednecks-guns-other-anti-racist-stories-strategies

I did not write this post to tiptoe around while looking for “potential allies.”  I did not write this post to appease fragile, well-educated white male egoes.  I realize it will offend some — perhaps many — white people (men, especially).  I look for people who can read my use of “douchebag” as both self-critical and light-hearted.  I look for people who can do more than agree with me — people who can also see how this essay might apply to them.  I have yet to see any amount of education instill this ethic in someone.  I’ve only seen the opposite:  in the absence of this ethic, “education” only serves to further undermine our capacity to connect and build solidarity while enhancing our capacity for socially (self)destructive behavior.  On the other hand, I have also seen education amplify and empower the ethic in many people who take it with them into the education process.

This essay serves for me as a reminder of the need to set firm boundaries wherever possible and shit-can (compost) people from my life who continuously manifest and do the work of the very systems and institutions I seek to destroy.  It’s not anyone’s responsibility to educate anyone on this stuff, either.  Even when it’s one white dude talking (down?) to another white dude…sometimes the dude-in-question just doesn’t want to listen, no matter how knowledgable, experienced and articulate and sensitive and careful the other person might be.  No matter the presence of penis and absence of melanin.  And if someone doesn’t want to listen and learn, then they need to go away and do some more fundamental work.  We can (and probably should) tell him that, and he (probably) won’t listen.  We can, however, set the boundary, and expect him to call us all sorts of “feminazi reverse-racist discriminator killjoys” for not allowing his subtle (sometimes whiny) rampage to go unchecked.  Often times, a white dude would rather be a white dude than a traitor to his white male supremacist identities.   In such cases, the boundary we set, as our last desperate act of tough love, is the only thing that will get them to seriously consider the previous feedback we’ve given them.  And if not…then it’s even more evidence in support of setting the boundary in the first place.

Setting such boundaries has offensive as well as defensive potential:

“The task is not to win over more whites to oppose ‘racism;’ there are ‘anti-racists’ enough already to do the job. The task is to gather together a minority determined to make it impossible for anyone to be white. It is a strategy of creative provocation” (Noel Ignatiev, http://racetraitor.org/abolishthepoint.html)

White men who openly refuse to identify with and support whiteness and masculinity as others publicly manifest it start to chip away at the social constructs of white male supremacies.  It confuses and complicates the process of social control, makes collusion with oppression more difficult, because members of the establishment can no longer assume “ally” or “enemy” of us based on physical appearance.  This does not, however, mean adopting a form of neo-blackface privileged mockery of black identity.  When we abandon white masculinity, the allegiances and identities we embrace will constitute and carve out new, alien spaces replacing traditional and false “male v female” and “black v white” dichotomies.  And the establishment will do everything it can to suck us back into those dichotomies.

How do we tell people who have capacity to build solidarity apart from the others?  Growth is often tedious and painful for everyone involved, but we should see initiative, sensitivity, and clear progress over time in developing solidarity.  So when we point out that someone is talking an awful lot, interrupting or talking over or down to others, do we see them becoming increasingly sensitive to this, and do we see behavioral change over time?  Or does the person deny, justify and argue, ad nauseum, over and over again, treating each moment in the pattern of abuse like an isolated incident?  Do we feel increasingly energized and hopeful around him, or do we feel (more, or less) drained, exhausted, depressed, fearful, fight-or-flighty?

A collaborative behavioral framework has begun to emerge from my positive and negative experiences — a list of interlocking behaviors that I think help make solidarity easier (though not necessarily easy) for everyone:

  • Check your assumptions before acting on them
  • Listen actively and seek to understand
  • WAIT: Why Am I Talking? (how frequently/much do you talk?  this is a big one for me, in case you couldn’t tell…i’m a talker!) Better yet, leave empty space for others to walk into and fill.  And if someone doesn’t every time, that’s OK.  Just keep leaving it empty.
  • HAIT: How Am I Talking?  Do i frame my opinions and perspectives and experiences as Truth and Reality?  Or do I take a humble stance and admit these are my experiences, observations, agreements/disagreements, etc?
  • Ask how others feel about something, and give ample space to see where they stand.  In other words, ask with genuine curiosity, not intent to dispute or argue.  And just let it sit.
  • It’s not all about you: when someone says something you don’t want to hear, swallow your pride and question your feelings of defensiveness first, THEN seek clarity, THEN give yourself time to mull it over, THEN re-engage as necessary.
  • Take initiative to educate yourself on the things that others find important.  Don’t make them do your research for you, don’t make them recite articles to you or “prove” anything to you.  That’s exhausting and fucked up.  And if they do such a thing, acknowledge it and express genuine appreciation.
  • Get right with yourself, so you don’t use activist spaces as stages to prove how cool and together and badass you are and how much you know and how “good an ally” you are.  Otherwise you are co-opting space for something that’s bigger than you simply to massage your fragile ego.  Learn to love yourself and interact with the world from the basis of that love.  People who genuinely love themselves can hear difficult feedback and consider it and integrate it without arguing.  They can learn and grow.  They can tell the difference between uncomfortable accountability and assault.  And I’m tired of explaining the difference to douchebags who conflate the two (which, apart from being an accountability shield, also belittles the actual, much more egregious assaults that women and people of color and others face on a daily basis…do you really want to equate your feeling hurt with the rape and murder of others?):

“Someone assaulted me today…I feel unclean…”
“YEAH, I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.  SOMEOME TRIED TO TELL ME I WAS INTERRUPTING AND TALKING OVER THEM AND ACTING DEFENSIVE AND GETTING AGGRESSIVE, BUT I CONVINCED THEM THEY WERE WRONG.  IT REALLY HURT, THOUGH.”

These collaborative behaviors do not represent a solution to the question of solidarity amidst microaggression.  “Haters gonna hate.”  But they do help us identify behavioral patterns conducive to solidarity as well as more problematic behaviors.  So where do I draw the line?  This part seems the trickiest for me.  I don’t know.  My default behavior tends toward assuming good intentions and then holding on through discussion as long as possible until I feel completely worn and beaten down, or that continued interaction with someone seems both harmful and a waste of my energy.  Sometimes I see results.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I stay patient.  Sometimes I “other” the dude, even as I recognize behaviors that remind me of ways I used to behave (and sometimes still do).  Often times I feel my assumption of good intentions as a form of vulnerability that leads toward disappointment and pain.  And sometimes it leads to uplifting experiences and new relationships.

Some people tell me not to draw a line.  They say, “always practice compassion and patience and love toward everyone.”  Strong people do not need lines, they tell me.  But I think boundaries serve as an example of “tough love,” a reminder to me that love comes in many forms, and whether or not a behavior actually represents “love” depends entirely on context.  For example, does a tender hug demonstrate love?  What if I tenderly hug someone who wants space from me?  Is criticism love?  What if all I ever do is support that person, and the one time I finally speak out critically it’s from a place of genuine concern because I see them acting in ways that threaten themselves and sabotage their relationships?  Where, when and how do you draw the line?

A patriarchal society often considers a lot of collaborative attitudes and behaviors as “feminine,” and for a lot of men, the road to anti-oppressive solidarity lies in personal work to stop performing an internalized patriarchal masculinity identity that prevents us from behaving in courageously vulnerable and collaborative ways.  We gain access to more when we publicly and privately abandon and oppose whiteness.  But the hard work opens up infinite possibilities for relationships and learning and life experiences.  In other words, there’s a huge personal (let alone social) payoff for the white men who want to do it.  And for the rest…meh, maybe movements are better off without them until they decide to change their tune?


“Alternative” White Supremacy

July 24, 2015

Building an inclusive food movement

Below are notes summarizing and discussing food geographer Julie Guthman’s presentation, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food” at the Havens Center for Social Justice.  This is a continuation of my looking into how white supremacy manifests within — and thrives from the support of — the liberal left through structural and micro-aggressive means as well as individual prejudicial attitudes among so-called “progressives,” and what to do about it.

This analysis focuses on the “left coast” alternative food movement spearheaded by the likes of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan from its epicenter in wealthy / white Berkeley, CA (Pollan apparently gets to eat for free at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse all the time) which they export and promote nation-wide.

  • All language and spaces are racially-coded, but white people in the alternative food movement tend to assume that the spaces they create are somehow “color-blind” or “neutral”
    • This has led, for example, to contradictions in marketing.  On one hand, white people assume they are “universal” in outreach, but on the other hand explicitly state that they will not reach out to black people or other minorities because it will “scare away” or exclude them from their current wealthy, white customer demographic!
    • CSA’s and farmer’s markets deliberately target white areas and high income areas for their customer base
    • This exemplifies how the alternative food movement prefers and reproduces race and class privilege
    • Even the type of food promoted can be racially and class-coded, e.g., “They’re trying to get me to eat birdseed
  • The alternative food movement situates itself within the existing classist and white supremacist market context
    • Activists often focus on “trickle-down” strategies for social change, shaping their spaces and language to accommodate racial and class privilege first and foremost over minorities and working class people, who get consideration as an afterthought if at all
  • White food activists tend to focus on “education” and “lifestyle” and other individual factors such as “values” and “priorities” — even racial stereotypes — and actively exclude structural and political factors
    • An oft-repeated phrase, “if they only knew…” representing white-upper class efforts to prosyletize, “educate” and convert minorities and working class people into the “alternative food movement”
    • “Experiential (e.g,. garden-based) education” (for minority adults and children) has intense racial and class baggage attached to it, e.g., “You want me to work for free for a white farmer/landowner?”  as a form of labor exploitation or conditioning
  • The alternative food movement comes out of white romantic notions of an “agrarian past” (e.g,. Wendell Berry) where white people want to “reconnect to the land” and “get their hands dirty”
    • White alternative food activists tend to impose that romanticism on working class and racial minorities as a defining narrative of the local/small farms and farm-direct movements
    • This ignores the legacy of racist and classist agrarian history, e.g., slaves and modern-day farm workers, racist land redistribution (land given away to whites and barred or even taken from indigenous and minorities)
    • the romantic “back to the kitchen” “food from scratch” narrative has implications in relation to feminism and women’s empowerment (ie, do women have free choice in this?)
    • Champions the white land-owning farmer as the hero, a focus that renders farmworkers and other exploited laborers in the food system invisible (e.g,. more like Walmart vs Winco models:
What form of ownership do we want our food economy to take to embody economic and social justice along the entire supply chain?

What form of ownership do we want our food economy to take to embody economic and social justice along the entire supply chain?

  • Interesting indicator that “organic” has stopped being “alternative”
    • now standard in most grocery stores, e.g., Walmart, Safeway, etc
    • More black people and other minorities buy “organic” than white people in proportion to their population size
    • when comparing apples to apples (e.g,. correcting for differences in income, education level, etc) minorities and working class seek out and try to participate in alternatives in greater rates than do whites and wealthy people (whom the “status quo” serves), but feel alienated by white-dominated spaces and narratives
  • Depoliticization of Food and White Liberal Moral Superiority (from http://www.utne.com/politics/the-food-police.aspx; emphasis mine):

is Pollan’s way the way out? At the end of a book whose biggest strength is a section that lays out the environmental history and political economy of corn, his answer, albeit oblique, is to eat like he does. The meal that he helped forage and hunt and cooked all by himself, as he puts it, “gave me the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to eat in full consciousness of everything involved in feeding myself: For once, I was able to pay the full karmic price of a meal.” To what kind of politics does this lead? Despite his early focus on corn subsidies, Pollan does not urge his readers to write to their congressional representatives about the folly of such subsidies, to comment to the Food and Drug Administration about food additives, or, for that matter, to sabotage fields where genetically engineered corn is grown…

this antiregulatory approach to food politics has taken hold…

I worry that Michael Pollan reinforces this privileged and apolitical idea and reinforces the belief that some people—thin people—clearly must have seen the light that the rest are blind to.

Moving forward

  • Can “alternative food businesses” embody class, racial and social justice work and principles along the entirety of the supply chain (farm to fork)?  How?  Under what conditions?
  • Challenge white-dominated spaces:  Move beyond “trying to bring black people to the table” to questioning, “Who is setting the table, where is the table being set, and how are they setting it?”
    • solicit, explore and pursue different priorities than de-politicized white romantic notions of “alternative food”
  • Re-politicize alternative food:  shift focus away from the “food police” education model to focus on structural issues:
    • Public health and environmental justice (i.e., the ecology of risk)
    • Land ownership reform and redistribution
    • Labor reform, living wages, safe workplaces
    • Shift subsidies from big corn and corporate farming to support both supply (small, women- and minority-owned farms) and demand (give working class and minorities greater purchasing power)
    • Challenge and sabotage corporate ownership and exploitation of land and labor on every front

Ship gets new captain, still sinks

July 16, 2015

I have studied the presidency carefully; I have seen that our best presidents were the do-nothing presidents: Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding. When you have a president who does things, we are all in serious trouble. If he does anything at all — if he gets up at night to go to the bathroom — somehow, mystically, trouble will ensue. I guarantee that if I am elected, I will take over the White House, hang out, shoot pool, scratch my ass, and not do a damn thing. Which is to say, if you want something done, don’t come to me to do it for you; you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves. Is that a deal? — Utah Phillips

I see and hear lots of liberals touting Bernie Sanders’ platform:

Bernie Sanders' platform

…and mine the fuck out of the arctic and continue breakign native treaties and killing unarmed black people and generally keep the destructive super-trawler that is US Society afloat a bit longer, delaying the inevitable and prolonging the damage, making it a bit better for a few others while we oppress the shit out of even more people and dismantle even more life support systems. We need to stop trying to save the ship. It belongs at the bottom of the ocean.

I agree, it’s better than Hillary Clinton’s.  Actually, I find it impressive.  And that concerns me.   I like Bernie Sanders.  I think he’s a nice guy and he’s make a great president of the US.  And that scares me.  Liberalism in general scares me, because it’s fundamentally dishonest.  <rant>Liberalism is really just conservative in disguise.  Liberals don’t want change.  They want things like stability (like conservatives), but they want everyone else to just be numb and happy and in denial (cue the Brave New World reference to soma), because that’s what they want, and that’s the only way they can get it (besides just killing themselves).  They want to keep Today’s Society pretty-much the way it is, with a few tweaks here and there.  Maybe add a bit more padding on those infamously hard, uncomfortable seats.  “Numb brains, not butts!” may be their rallying cry.  The most irritating thing I find while searching the sea of clenched boomer-age liberal assholes is the an entrenched, itchy and borderline-hemerrhoidal belief that, “Everything will be alright if just…”  The bitter red pill (of uncomfortable truths) may be nourishing but proves too tough to swallow, so they opt over and over again for the smooth blue pill (of convenient bullshit), even though it only comes in the form of a suppository.   No wonder why they want more padding on those seats…</rant>

what asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Notice the liberals at the Far Right.  What asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Now, I like that picture above.  I think it provides a useful analogy for thinking about social privilege and hierarchy.  And it’s sinking.  But a rowboat?  C’mon, cartoonists!  We live in a civilization.  Civilization does not pride itself on its rowboats!   Consider an even more accurate picture of Today’s Society, where the cute and innocent rowboat depicted above looks more like a hybrid of a USS Super Tanker carrying an ocean full of crude oil, or a USS Super Trawler picking and scraping the ocean clean of every last bit of life, all with the inevitable fate of the USS Titanic (The “USS” really stands for United Society of Sociopaths).  No matter who helms it, a Super Trawler will still dredge the ocean floor.  No matter who helms the Titanic, it will stay its charted course…and sink.  And liberals don’t want the ship to sink.  They think it’s a pretty OK ship.  Maybe it has a few holes to patch, or some seats to pad.

Regardless of what liberals think, even as the ship sinks, as long as it operates it will continue to subjugate and destroy its crew and its environment.  Given that, I can think of four questions more relevant for us to ask and discuss than “So, who’dja vote for?” (kang or kodos?  coke or pepsi?):

  • How soon will the ship sink?
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Electing Sanders doesn’t help.  He doesn’t sink the ship or lessen its destruction.  He hires and fires a few people, polishes the brass, and adds some padding to those infamously uncomfortable seats (cue cheers from hemerrhoidal liberals everywhere).  And the ship continues to operate, business as usual, maybe even better than ever! (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

We’re asking Sanders to become captain of the societal equivalent of a sociopathic Super Trawler.  Then we’re asking him to save us from that sociopath in two conflicting ways:  to keep from it sinking on one hand, and keep it from operating as normal on the other.  Neither do liberals want to abandon ship, nor do they want to sink with it.  So they resort to magical thinking, supported by their steady diet of bullshit blue-pill suppositories…Bernie will save us.  He’ll make things right.  He’ll… I don’t expect any miracles from Bernie. I do expect things to continue getting worse regardless of who gets elected. (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

You can dress a sociopath up in a smart new suit and expect him to behave less sociopathic, but all you will do is help him hide in plain sight.   You can give a sociopath a tool like a hammer, and he will find a way to use it as a weapon of control and misery.  You can educate him, and he will use his knowledge to manipulate others and consolidate his power.  We live in a society that behaves like a rampaging sociopath.  There exists no magical “tweak” or “reform” or “policy” or “political platform” that will make it less destructive, let alone turn it into an emotionally healthy being capable of relating in deep and meaningful ways with others.  When we try to reform, we settle for symbolic change, empower the destruction and blind ourselves to its continuation.

Is it actually any better that Sanders gets elected instead of Clinton or their Republican counterpart?  In other words, what impact does who gets elected president have on the four questions I ask above?  I repeat those questions here for your convenience (you’re welcome), along with some thoughts on them from me (I’m sorry):

  • How soon will the ship sink?  Will it sink sooner or later?  I tend to think later.  Electing a liberal is really electing an expert conservative who stabilizes society without fixing any of its fundamental ills.  We delay the inevitable.  We prolong the misery.
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?  The society keeps growing, so I tend to think that the longer we wait, the bigger the crash.  The higher the fall.  The less prepared we are, the more harm the crash and fall will do to its peoples and environments.   So how does electing Bernie slow the destruction and growth and empower the people?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?  Will electing someone like Bernie Sanders actually reign in the destruction, somehow?  How will Bernie change the classism, racism, sexism embedded into the fabric of our society?  Will Bernie slow down deforestation, help dismantle dams, protect our rivers from poisoning?  Will his policies thwart our industrial, commodity-based economy?   Or will his policies simply make a few people more comfortable existing within such a terrifying, destructive system…for a time?
  • What do you want to do about it?  Do you think voting is enough?

So go ahead and vote for Bernie.  Just go ahead and vote.  Or not.  I really don’t care who you vote for, or whether you vote.  Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Trump, or that other unsung ‘murrican fascist, Mickey Mouse.  But I do care about what you do with the rest of the hours in your day:  How are you helping to stop the destruction?   Study and practice permaculture? Join and support Black Lives Matter!?  Or do you want to do something more explicitly political?  Organize your community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights as we work to change the legal foundations of this country to something more fundamentally just. And men in particular, please, please join or support your local feminist organization, because the revolution really does start at home (but doesn’t end there).  And any number of other radical, transformative things, including those less constructive (rivers must flow free to support terrestrial ecosystems, super trawlers must sink to have sustainable fisheries, and those pretentious colonial marbled houses and engraved enscriptions of empire need to come down sometime…the sooner, the better!).


Monetizing Justice Work

July 12, 2015

I try to assume best intentions when I hear people say they want to “make a living” doing social justice work. I think, “Oh, they want to meet their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) while doing liberation work. Cool!” But when I inquire further, they often correct me: they want to make money doing social justice or liberation work.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to seek to meet our basic needs doing justice work. I wouldn’t call it easy, by any means, or without risk, but certainly possible, even probable. For example, squatting in any of the huge number of empty houses amidst the artificial scarcity of this ruinous economy is a perfectly acceptable way to obtain shelter and isn’t really more difficult or risky than renting or buying.  It just entails different difficulties and risks — ones that many of don’t have much experience or familiarity with.  Doing so also doesn’t endear us to dominate culture.

However, when people say that they want to make money doing social justice work, I hear them saying that they want to monetize social justice as a commodity for economic trade. Social justice to me means the destruction of all social hierarchies so that we can acheive a fair distribution of accountability and responsibility in society. Social justice requires, in part, the destruction and disappearance of our current, commodity-based for-profit economy because the economy requires social hierarchy to function. So I hear those people saying, in other words, “I want the systems whose destruction I ostensibly seek to provide for me while I work to destroy those systems.”

If I identified with or as the system, I would consider this to be a completely unreasonable request and enticing. “You want me to help support you as you work to destroy me? Fat chance!”

Yet, even though the request makes no sense on your part, I would gladly accept the offer. Here’s why: If I provide for you, you become dependent on me. If you become dependent on me, it means, rhetoric aside, at the end of the day, you affirm your allegiance to me. When talk becomes walk, you walk with me, not against me. Your revolutionary rhetoric starts looking a bit more reformist in practice. You file down your fangs (or they fall out from malnutrition). I have pacified and provided for you; you pose no threat to me. Plus, I provide just enough (artificial scarcity) to help keep you competing and fighting amongst would-be allies for my handouts and breadcrumbs. Your work for me becomes all-consuming, because I control when, where, how much. And if you complain, or organize against me, I simply replace you with any number of other people willing to work harder and longer than you for less. While you preoccupy yourself with horizontal aggression against would-be allies, I continue strengthening and expanding the base of my pyramid scheme to further ensure your obedience and entrapment.

In other words, people who want to “make a living” in this way have already internalized an allegiance to the very systems of oppression they say they want to challenge. All the system has to do is say, “yeah, sure.”  And then it will provide for you, on its terms. And you will work for it, on its terms. You may not know it or feel it, but the sociopaths in charge do.

I see this sentiment often come from well-meaning people raised in the system and dependent on it, who refuse to question or break their dependency on the economic privilege it affords them. But such a sentiment leads to a life of misery, alienation, self-destruction.

So, what’s the alternative?   When we identify and connect more directly with our basic needs, we increase our likelihood of satisfying them in two ways:

  • First, it opens up a greater range of possibilities. For example, I can attain food through the vernacular economies of mutualism, reciprocity and barter, or I can beg/borrow/steal. Or I can forage, or produce. Or I can purchase. Just off the top of my head, a nine times increase in ways and means. Developing those skills leads toward personal growth and greater perspective and ultimately, a richer and more resilient life. However, if I am dependent on money, then purchasing remains my only option. The other options listed above require skills we must develop.
  • Second, money will never satisfy many of our basic needs, and only partially satisfies others (e.g., most of the “food” for sale is complete crap in terms of quality, taste and nutrition). Money can’t buy us love and connection. It can’t buy us a sense of meaning and purpose. Increasingly, it can’t even buy us shelter. When we funnel our life’s pursuits through the pursuit of money, we buy into the myth that money provides, and it monopolizes our time. Without time, we cannot develop the skills necessary to break our dependence on the commodity economy. In fact, over generations, we have lost and continue to lose those skills. When we come home from our soul-sucking (social justice?) jobs and turn on the TV or video games or break open the bottles to cope, compensate, and numb ourselves to the existential agony we feel, we lose more time and opportunity to break the cycle.

So, to meet our needs and achieve self-actualization, we must break our dependence on the commodity system. Breaking our dependence on the commodity economy doesn’t mean complete disengagement from it. It means engaging on our terms — a complete reversal of the current power dynamic.

The commodity system and the sociopathic elite whom it serves will fight against this power reversal, even violently so, to retain or regain control. Here we see the battle lines with the system: squatting is illegal not because it can harm (yes, it can cause harm, but so can any number of legal things, like guns and hammers), but because it is an affront to the system’s ability to maintain dependency and control. And that’s what turns us into activists: because we love ourselves, we love one-another, we love the land, we seek to live fully-realized lives. And our attempts to live threaten the current system, which responds with coercive control. And, so, we, out of necessity, become activists. Not because we want to blow shit up or seek the destruction of things, but because the system threatens our liberation and prevents us from living fully-realized lives as long as it exists intact.  As Jennai Bundock says, “We didn’t pick the fight.  The fight picked us.”

And it all begins when we see money as simply one of many means to a greater end of meeting our basic needs.


When non-violence is NOT OK

July 11, 2015

Non-violence is OK when it is

  • a personal ethical decision
  • a tactical decision (e.g., to invoke moral outrage)

Non-violence is NOT OK when it is used as a tool of micro-aggression providing

  • an excuse to compare and equate lost lives to broken windows and other destruction of property or capital
  • a way to police others’ behavior to criticize, undermine or prevent them from exercising their right to physical self-defense against white supremacist terrorists

The second point above, when I reread it, actually seems quite violent even though it is couched in non-violent language.  “Put down your guns or you’re no better than them,” said the white liberal to the blacks facing a lynch mob.

Remember, some of us may break windows simply to expose you critical fakers for who you really are: liberal tools of the system, you slip in the back door and try to disarm us and break our fighting spirit to disable our capacity for self-defense when oppression becomes acutely physical.  You call yourselves allies and then stab us in the back right when we need you most, and we are better off without you.  So you can shape up or ship out.

Further reading, courtesy of Peter Gelderloos:

  1. How Nonviolence Protects The State
  2. Learning from Ferguson

Steps for Anti-Racist White People

July 10, 2015

Below are some notes and thoughts on next steps for white anti-racist organizing.  These notes are based on Ahjamu Umi‘s community education and organizing work.

  • cops take “path of least resistance” in enforcement and arrest, so we need to attack the social hierarchies that underly and lead to the targeting of black populations in addition to holding individual cops and the policing institutions accountable
    • “good cops” are not cops who simply do not personally participate in racist activity; they do not stand by passively or remain silent while the “bad cops” run amuck, but work to hold perpetrators accountable and change the racist system.  where are the truly good cops?
    • focus on the more fundamental issue of “public safety” instead of merely trying to reform the police system.  how does the police system help or hurt public safety?  what are the other ways in which we can achieve true public safety?
  • work close to home:  we need to leverage current relationships and develop new relationships to confront white supremacy through respectful dialog vs “othering” overt racists and disowning them to justify our own passivity (e.g,. “i don’t know any racists”)
    • e.g., talk w/friends and family first in calmer settings instead of just confronting strange white supremacists on the picket line when emotions are heated
    • e.g., northern white liberals need to talk with and activate other northern white liberals and understand their relationship to racism vs demonizing and othering “southern racist conservatives”
    • recognize that white supremacist leaders and ideologies tend to target and recruit working-class whites, especially struggling white men who seek someone or something convenient to blame.  Distinguish between the horizontal violence of working class people fighting each-other and the vertical violence of the white supremacist ideology of the ruling class (divide and conquer).  How do anti-racists deal with this effectively?
  • it’s important to “get right with yourself” to do this work effectively from a place of love instead of from simple fear, anger or “having something to prove”
  • keep educating yourself on social revolution: join or set up a study group, curriculum or other plan
    • revolution means mass political education
    • social revolution means challenging one-another to become better people
    • no pain, no gain:  just like any exercise program, stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to learn and grow
    • Get active: turn off the TV and the passive mass media consumption and start reading and seeking and interacting
  • join and support existing organizations doing revolutionary work

    • many different organizations with different focuses is a good thing
    • coordinate within and between organizations to avoid duplicating work or spreading yourselves too thin
  • Break your dependency on and allegiance to slave-based institutions that continue to thrive today, such as
    • the chocolate industry, “When People Eat Chocolate, They Are Eating My Flesh”
    • the sugar industry
    • the coltan mining industry underlying all computing, electronics and telecommunications infrastructure today
    • the banking industry, which grew to prominence based on profits from the slave-based cotton industry
    • the insurance industry, one of the first industries to profit from and provide legal and economic facilitation of chattel slavery by reducing economic and legal risks associated with being a slave owner
    • Note the common thread above:  industry, aka consumer commodity culture.  This isn’t to say that, “(eating) chocolate is bad” or ” (having) insurance is bad,” but that their economic existence as for-profit global commodities depended (and still depends) on racism and slavery and other forms of oppression.  So we don’t seek the destruction of chocolate.  But we seek the destruction of the chocolate commodity industry, in part, to protect and respect the existence of chocolate itself.  What, you say?  Consider that Danish colonists directly and explicitly caused the extinction of several speices of clove trees to control production, limit competition for clove as a commodity and inflate clove prices (source: Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist).  Commodity culture filters everything through its profit value, supporting all atrocities that increase profits.  So we must find new ways of accessing goods and services important to our lives without participation in commodity culture, aka decommoditization.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but a starting point for people who want to participate in the liberation of society from racism and chattel slavery.  There are plenty of things, simple and intensive, that anyone can do to contribute to freedom and liberation for all.

Thanks also to Samantha and Caiti for their contributions.


On ‘Splaining: A lexicon of privilege posturing

July 9, 2015

Privilege posturing is when someone with a relatively socially-privileged identity takes control of a conversation.  It is purely structural and relational — content doesn’t matter as much.  Reasons can vary, from naive enthusiasm (e.g., really wanting to show or prove to the other that you “get it”) or combative defensiveness (often when conversation turns toward identifying the power dynamic or privilege inherent in the conversation).  As such, it exists as a type of micro-aggression helping to silence and marginalize voices that do not represent the status quo.  Representation can be based on identity (e.g., a white male voice) or on structure (e.g,. using master’s tools) or content.

I encountered feminists’ rhetorical invention of “mansplaining” first:

mansplain:  the magazine for women, written by men

still confused about mansplaining? this should break it down for you. ironically enough, it describes most things targeted “for women” in patriarchal societies, which is a reason why feminists and other liberation movements have worked hard at creating their own (e.g., black, women, queer, blue collar) spaces.

More recently, I encountered the term “whitesplain,” describing the more subtle ways the aggressions of the current race war work.   I think Xsplain is just too useful of a tool for us to stop at that.

Use of the tool

I think these words have utility as a shorthand to help us more easily identify, call out and hold to account privileged posturing wherever it exists.

So let’s break it apart and start creating and using and popularizing more Xsplains!

‘Splain:  short for “explaining.”  Explaining always entails a power dynamic between the speaker and the listener.  ‘Splaining is a specific sort of explaining that is often non-consensual, patronizing and entitled.  In other words, the person on the receiving end does not want to be “explained to” or have “things explained to them.”  They might want to have a conversation, but maybe they want to do some explaining of their own, to feel heard or listened to or acknowledged or legitimized, or they want to engage in a mutual exploration, rather than have the ‘Splainer hijack and take control.  Content-wise, the splaining is often just wrong, too.  But insidiously enough, it can technically be accurate and still be ‘splaining.  Entitlement and privilege are fun like that…

(preceded by) X:  a (preferably) one-syllable description of the privileged social category of the person doing the ‘splaining relative to the person on the receiving end.  Keeping X to one syllable (e.g,. man, white, wealth, faith, straight, gay) I think helps with speaking and using and popularizing these words as anti-oppression tools.

Some suggestions moving forward

#mansplain:  when the splainer’ is a man, and the victim is almost any other gender identity (woman, queer, etc).

#whitesplain:  white people telling black people how racism works, or how they’re not racist, etc.

#straightsplain:  when straight people tell gay or queer people how homophobia works or how they’re not homophobic.  I would also add #gaysplain for when gay people tell bi or other queer people things like, “you have to pick a side eventually.”

#wealthsplain:  when economically privileged tell people myths they actually believe about how they think the economy and economic success (as a chauvinistic interpretation of life success) works.  It often results in trite diatribes such as, “Get a job, you lazy bum” or “You hate us because we’re successful!”

#faithsplain:  when people of popular, well-accepted faiths tell agnostics, atheists or minority believers how faith, spirituality and religion work.

What sort of ‘splaining have you encountered or participated in?


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