The Unbearable Whiteness of the American Left
April 28, 2014

At a panel titled “Grassroots Organizing” at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin in March, an audience member asked the all-white panel for its definition of “grassroots.” The conference had been called to “give voice to those opposing privatization, school closings, and high-stakes testing.”

As the questioner pointed out, those disproportionately affected by these developments are poor and minority communities. Chicago, for example, a city that is one-third white, has a public school system in which 90 percent of the students are children of color and 87 percent come from low-income families. When the city schools shut down last year, 88 percent of the children affected were black; when Philadelphia did the same, the figure was 81 percent.

You’d think black people might have something to contribute to a discussion about that process and how it might be resisted. Yet on this exclusively white panel at this predominantly white conference, they had no voice.

One panelist said he found the question offensive. “I didn’t know it was a racial thing,” he said.

In the United States, campaigns for social justice are always “a racial thing.” That doesn’t mean they might not be about other “things,” too. Indeed, they invariably are. Race does not exist in a vacuum. But in a country that has never considered equality beyond its most abstract iterations and that has practiced slavery far longer than freedom, race is never entirely absent.

The problem is not exclusive to this issue or this conference. Similar criticisms can be made of the gun control movement, in which black people, who are the most likely to be affected by gun violence, generally have supporting roles as grieving parents but rarely take center stage as advocates for new legislation. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to plow millions into the cause is welcome. But however large a check Bloomberg writes, the poster boy for stop-and-frisk is not going to get much traction in the urban areas where gun violence is most prevalent.

Nor is this a new problem. It’s a longstanding, endemic and entrenched feature of what purports to be the American left and the causes with which it identifies. It is difficult to imagine a progressive American movement that does not have the interests of minorities and the poor at its heart—whom else would it exist for? As Karl Marx noted in Capital: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” And yet the physical presence of those groups in the spaces created by the “left” all too often appear as an afterthought, if indeed they appear at all.

“However rebellious children may be, they have their parents’ genes,” wrote Andrew Kopkind in 1968. “American radicals are Americans. They cannot easily cross class lines to organize groups above or below their own station. They are caught in the same status traps as everyone else, even if they react self-consciously.”

This ought to be a civil conversation among friends. Those born white and wealthy should not be slammed for developing a social conscience, becoming activists and trying to make the world a better place. But neither should the nature of their involvement be above critique. When their aim is to fight alongside low-income people and people of color as brothers and sisters, real advances are possible. But when they look down on these people as younger stepbrothers and stepsisters to be brought along for the ride, precious few gains are made.

The point here is not that only minorities or the poor can run organizations that advocate on issues that primarily affect minorities and the poor. That way madness lies. There is nothing inherent in an identity or a circumstance that automatically makes someone a better leader. Michael Manley, John Brown, Joe Slovo—history is not teeming with examples of the wealthy and light providing leadership for the poor and dark, but they do exist. People have to be judged on what they do, not who they are. This is not simply about optics. What an organization looks like is relevant; but what it does is paramount.

The point is that for a healthy and organic relationship to develop between an organization and its base, the organization must be representative of and engaged with those whose needs it purports to serve. In other words, to do good work one should not speak on behalf of the people but empower them to speak for themselves. Once empowered, the people may exert pressure to change the organization’s agenda in unexpected ways—and that’s a good thing.

It’s not as though there aren’t examples out there. The Chicago teachers strike in 2012 was successful, in large part, because the union had done the hard work of building partnerships with black and Latino communities who responded with overwhelming support for its industrial action. From Oakland to New York, the education justice movement is full of people (parents, students, teachers, activists) rooted in their neighborhoods and cities and mobilizing significant numbers to challenge the “reform” agenda. The same is true for those campaigning for gun control. Speaking shortly after Sandy Hook, Carolyn Murray—who lost her son, Justin, in a shooting when she was organizing a gun buyback program in Evanston, Illinois—expressed frustration with what she correctly predicted would be a fleeting interest in the issue. “People tend to get in an uproar for a week or two and then go home,” she said.”Everybody’s busy and working hard. But when it affects your life like this, you have to do something.”

It’s not that these people don’t have a voice. It’s that even when they’re shouting at the top of their lungs, their voices are too rarely heard by those who would much rather speak for them than listen to them.

Source

This article speaks to so many conversations I’ve been having with other organizers/leftists lately. Not only is race a huge issue, but white male-identified organizers taking the lead is also extremely problematic & ultimately, ineffective. 

Let’s discuss this, Tumblr! How do we ensure that PoC, women, the poor, LGBTQ-identified people, those with disabilities, the undocumented, incarcerated peoples & other oppressed groups are on the front lines of the revolutionary struggle?

On Russell Brand, iconoclasm, and a woman’s place in the revolution: a dialogue with Richard Seymour on the question of how to reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings.

Richard Seymour adds,

My experience is that ‘brocialists’ don’t openly embrace patriarchy; they deny it’s a problem. Or they minimise it. They direct your attention elsewhere: you should be focusing on class. You’re being divisive. You’re just middle class (quelle horreur!). Or they attack a straw ‘feminism’ that is supposedly ‘bourgeois’ and has nothing to say about class or other axes of oppression. Or they just ignore it. To me that’s quite straightforward. Obviously it would be difficult, given their egalitarian commitments, to openly defend a gendered hierarchy; but their defensiveness about this issue suggests they associate a challenge to patriarchy with some sort of ‘loss’ for themselves. The question is, what do they have to lose? 

That’s where Russell Brand’s manarchism/brocialism come in. The swagger and misogyny sits quite comfortably with another part of his persona which is a sort of squeaky beta-male self-parody in which he appears to really trash the protocols of traditional masculinity. I’m thinking of a routine he did about travelling abroad and being ‘embarrassed’ by his pink suit case and made to feel small about it by a bunch of burly lads. Likewise, he mocks his own sexuality in his act - the stuff about putting on an American accent while fucking, or wanking with a ‘serious face’, etc. To an extent, he genderfucks, he queers masculinity. He has his hair as a beautiful bird’s nest, and wears eyeliner. His comportment is very ‘effeminate’ in some ways. Part of his attractiveness, then, is that for all his sexual swagger and rigorous self-objectification, he isn’t conventionally ‘manly’. And yet this is the same guy who makes rape jokes - not as a one-off but as something that has happened a number of times - and is reported to have harassed female staff. More generally, he has a fairly obnoxious way of talking about women which implies that they are only really of value or interest to him if they are ‘beautiful’. For someone so plainly rooted in the 21st Century, it makes him sound like a fucking Fifties crooner.

Why doesn’t this jar? Why don’t such attitudes make him sick? Why don’t the words stick in his throat? How can he be so heartfelt in his sympathy for poor women fucked over by the rich one minute, and yet sound like an enemy of women the next? Why do some men on the Left who plainly feel in some way oppressed and undone by masculinity, who are obviously hurt by patriarchy - not at all to the extent that women are, but in real, concrete ways - respond by embracing it nonetheless? It can’t just be that Brand is now a rich man. Loads of leftist men who have no economic stake in the system share these attitudes. 

The system of patriarchy has a lot of material compensations and advantages to offer those who accept it and identify with it. To me, the rape jokes and misogynistic language - all this is straightforward symbolic violence, ascriptive denigration, and obviously linked to punishment for transgression. Whether knowingly or not, it’s an occasion for male bonding - the ’naughty’ laughter - and the production of a type of masculinity. It’s the exercise of a ‘privilege’ of patriarchy. Of course, not all men like or want such ‘privilege’. But for it to be effective, quite a large number of men and women have to accept its basic inevitability, its naturalness.

So I think the ‘brocialist’ disavowal, the pretence that sexism doesn’t matter or is a distraction, is a natural coping strategy for those who really do think they desire total liberation, but haven’t yet broken with their ‘privilege’.

I'm apparently not the inventor of "Brocialism" and I feel fine

Just so I’m bluntly clear about this so no one can ever accuse me of being dishonest or hiding the truth. Prior to today I had never seen or received any info suggesting I was not the first person to use that word “Brocialist” on the left. This is despite putting myself forward as such, in all these years no one has corrected me or claimed otherwise. But every single statement I made to that effect since coming up with it in July of 2011 included a disclaimer that it was entirely possible that I wasn’t the first person to use it, I only claim to have come up with the word independently from anyone else and only hearing the word to describe sexism on the left since July 2011. Nevertheless, being the “inventor” did not really matter at all to me, it wasn’t a priority or something I cared about. Fighting brocialism i cared about, not being the “inventor” of the word. Whenever I stepped forwarded as the “inventor” is was always simply to debate someone (usually actually a Brocialist) on what was the meaning of the word. Like I didn’t want to be interviewed, especially by The New Republic (god that was an awful experience), but I was hunted down and contacted by them and I had to make a decision whether to use the platform of it or not. 99% of the interview didn’t end up in the stupid piece (of course) including where I openly said that *All I’ve Ever Claimed Is That I Came Up With It Independently In July 2011 To Describe What I Was Seeing As Sexist “Socialists” On Reddit And Have Only Seen It In Use Since Then.*

Anyway, today I’ve been presented with clear evidence that the word was in use prior to July of 2011, possibly even as far back as the early 2000s. So there you go. As I have always said that I would if presented with evidence to the contrary, I fully admit that I am Not the inventor of the word “brocialist.” I stand corrected, I will no longer claim to be the originator of this neoligism. Frankly I’m glad to be rid of that, and again, its unlike this even matters that much to me or the rest of the world especially.

The Manarchist

I made a status yesterday about how I have a lot of respect for women who are highly assertive of their boundaries and how even if I don’t agree with them it’s still impressive to me because that’s really hard to do under patriarchy. 

You probably know that’s not what this post is actually going to be about though, is it?

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These are the first comments on this thread. This man, who I shall just refer to as Manarchist, is not someone who I know. I have never seen him before in my life and none of our mutual friends had interacted with my status thus putting it in his feed. Automatically that skeeves me out. I’m highly suspicious of strange men commenting on my profile. This story will be a p good example as to why. I honestly feel like I was very patient with him though I do admit that I was treating him with hesitation, but that hesitation was well-warranted given the huge amount of red flags contained in just his first few posts. In fact, I went through his posts, line by line, and outlined what, specifically, he had said that gave me cause for concern and why.

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I interpreted these flags as having 1 of 2 origins. 1) he’s just a sexist appropriating feminist terminology for personal gain or 2) he’s rather new to feminist theory and doesn’t quite grasp some of the finer points yet. I chose to assume number 2 and help him understand, in detail, what I was saying.

The next 250+ comments and 5 hours was spent with Manarchist just digging himself deeper and deeper and getting more defensive. Which in and of itself would probably make me want to talk about this here. But this thread got much, much worse. My friends came to my defense and Manarchist buckled down in his claims that he was being “attacked” and that I was “mischaracterizing” his arguments. He tried to claim that I was a TERF for denying his assertion that feminism is simply about femininity vs masculinity to which my trans friends in the thread replied by making themselves visible and he didn’t return to this argument. He actually made his first “I’m leaving” comment immediately in reply to my 17 bullet points, though if I had a dollar… 

I asked Manarchist multiple times to show me how it was that I was mischaracterizing his positions. I told him that I wanted to be wrong about him because I *did*. I would have loved to have been wrong tonight. It would have been a much healthier night. A friend who had encounter Manarchist before provided a copy pasta of him defending the word “cunt” which immediately invalidates pretty much the entirety of his original claims about how he handles patriarchy. Friends of friends were commenting on the thread and soon someone spoke up saying they thought “cunt” was ok sometimes and I immediately said that I don’t allow that language nor defense of it on my wall. One of my male comrades replied with an apology and asking me if he should delete his comment. Later in the thread I highlighted this behavior as an example of how to properly handle criticism from a woman but I feel like it went ignored both times by Manarchist. At this point Manarchist began offering non-apologies like “I apologize. But i said good day for a reason, my opinions are clearly not welcome or appreciated" There he goes with that "but" statement! As well as more tone policing as he tried to shame me for my justified reaction to his sexism. And for the record, the two words "I apologize" do not, in fact, constitute a real apology. It shows the person you’ve hurt absolutely no proof that you know what you’ve done, how it’s hurt them, that you’re remorseful, nor what you’re going to do to fix it.

So I rejected his non-apology and provided him to a link to how real apologies are constructed. His response is to continue to paint himself as a poor misunderstood man. He also criticized us for our lack of “manners” as if he had the moral high ground when he chose to mansplain to a woman he didn’t even know. He also called my 17 bullet points “strawmen” but refused to elaborate on how they were strawmen. When I addressed his manners argument, though I never once mentioned his mother, his response was “Stating that my mother raised me is sexist?” Which honestly? That’s deliberately misreading someone’s comment if they never even said anything about your mother raising you. He keeps insisting that I’m strawmanning him without explaining how so I back up the thread to my first three bullet points which are what I found wrong with his very first comment. At the same moment, however, Manarchist began accusing me of gaslighting him. That’s right. He accused me of gaslighting him as a means of gaslighting me. That’s some meta-manarchist shit.

I’m an abuse survivor so gaslighting, is something I’m far more familiar with than I would like to be. I warned Manarchist that it was at this point that he had started to cross some very real lines with me because of my being a survivor and was about to piss me off. His response? To keep insisting that I was gaslighting him. For the entire rest of the thread. The entire rest of the thread was a mix of half-baked fake apologies, more misrepresentations of what was being said to him, and worst of all, an insistence by him that I needed to accept his apologies. I refused to do so. None of them were real and even if they had been, I still don’t accept it. I have no obligation to. He began begging me to accept his apology and when I absolutely would not he told me that I was being ableist for doing so because he’s on the spectrum. 3 of the people commenting on this status immediately piped up that they, too, were on the spectrum and that he was engaging in incredibly manipulative behavior (gaslighting) and that they didn’t approve nor did they agree with his claim of ableism. He kept saying that he was leaving the thread and then would come back to tell us to stop replying to the thread after he left. The thread on … my wall… He insisted he had no idea what he had done wrong, even though I continued to outline everything every step of the way (including, again, a *17 point* list at the very beginning which he all but ignored even existed). 

It was at this point though that I finally reached an emotional tipping point:

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I suffer from suicidal ideations too, which he had no way of knowing how triggering this was for me, but this just isn’t the fucking shit you say to strangers. You do not accuse strangers on the internet that you harass of driving you to suicide because they won’t accept your fake apologies for that harassment! As someone who has suicidal ideations and someone who deals with a lot of bullshit online, the thought of driving someone to suicide is literally the worst thing I can think of doing to another human being. It is precisely THAT scenario that I’m trying to avoid when I’m patient with people. Which for the most part in this thread, I was. I got really fucked up from this and began overanalyzing my actions and starting to buy into his gaslighting that somehow I, the victim, had been abusive to him, the abuser. Which started me on a really long dark spiral that brought up a lot of past abuse and internalized gaslighting and misogyny and I was in a really dark place for awhile. I was also angry because his gaslighting *worked*. I felt sorry for him. And that made me angry. I felt sorry for a guy who I had done nothing wrong to and who, in fact, had wronged me and didn’t feel sorry for me at all. That’s not right. That’s emotional manipulation and that’s abusive behavior and you just don’t treat other human beings that way. 

After several minutes he returned to the thread and said, in part, “No, there won’t be any blood and I’m sorry for letting my emotions blow up like that” and went back to insisting that I had to accept his apology or else I wasn’t a “good person.” I had to disengage with the thread soon after and since part of what this guy’s problem is, is being a last worder I just let him have the last word and tried to let the thread die as I coped with how it was affecting me.

But that still wasn’t the end.

2 hours later when I was starting to finally be ok and come back out of my funk Manarchist sends me a PM saying “So…I just want to say I’m not a manarchist”. I became infuriated again. If I didn’t reply the chances of him continuing to harass me were incredibly high. If I did reply though, he would either confront the reality of his wrongdoing and we could amicably go our separate ways, or he would keep digging and I could just block him and be done with it. Which I should have just done but there was something about the way he was appropriating feminist terminology to use it against me that was just enraging me. I decided to respond and I explained to him that it’s not up to him to decide if he’s a manarchist, it’s up to the women who he encounters. I also explained that what he had done by sending me a PM was classic sexist behavior designed to isolate and intimidate women and that it creates a scary situation for women in general. I, again, was assuming he was coming from a place of ignorance since a lot of guys actually don’t realize that. He replied:

I was actually more interested in a conversation without the groupthink and pressure ofnpuic shaming, but alright. You’ve made up your mind.

Have a nice life, I hope you are successful in whatever endeavors you pursue.

and it was on again. I had JUST explained to him why trying to isolate me from the group was an intimidation tactic and he didn’t even acknowledge that and instead actually acted as though it was totally ok for him to behave in this way. I told him for the umpteenth time that the way he was responding to me was showing me that he wasn’t actually sorry for hurting me. He was sorry that he got hurt from hurting me. He was making the entire thing about him and being completely insincere and expecting me to just deal with it when I had been very calm, and direct and plain about my boundaries and where he was violating them and what he was doing that was upsetting me from a feminist perspective and as a woman. I also tried, and failed, to explain why “have a nice life” is not a genuine sentiment but rather a sarcastic one. Which he of course responded to with “Telling you to sincerely have a nice life is sexist?” 

 

Finally, FINALLY, he said “goodbye” in a way that made me think it could actually maybe BE goodbye and so I took the opportunity to not have to add to my block list and instead just be very clear about what I wanted and told him

if you actually listen to one thing that i say let it be this: make that your last goodbye to me. do not come back to my page. do not contact me again.

He replied:

as you wish.

So I said:

k that means starting now buddy

And again, he replied:

Alright. I understand. Please stop replying. The buzzing in my pocket is getting obnoxious.

So I said:

You’re the one who needs to stop replying because i’ve told you to stop contacting me. so stop contacting me.

what you’re doing is harassment and you need to fucking stop

And his final words were:

Whatever. I’m just gonna block you and be done with it. I asked you politely to stop replying. You are harassing me. If you reply again I will contact the authorities, as much as it pains me to do so.

Yeah. That happened. 

A Manarchist spent nearly half a fucking day harassing me, dismissing me, mansplaining to me, condescending me, gaslighting me, emotionally manipulating and abusing me, and when I told him that I didn’t want him to contact me ever again he had the fucking nerve to NOT ONLY tell me that I was harassing *him* but that if I didn’t stop doing so *he would call the fucking pigs*. An “anarchist” threatened to “contact the authorities” about another leftist. If that doesn’t violate everything I know about anarchism I don’t fucking know what does.

And to top it all off, the fact that he blocked me before I could block him robbed me of one last slice of control. I didn’t have control from start to finish in this conversation. A status that was about my appreciation for other women became this manarchist’s stage where the light shone on him because of course he’s the most important piece of shit in the world! So it SHOULD be about him! And now I don’t even have control over his ability to harass me in the future. In less than half a day this man went from “ok that comment is making me raise my eyebrows at you” to *threatening to sick the fucking pigs on me*. Which means I have NO IDEA if he’s going to actually leave me alone from now on. I have NO IDEA if he’s going to keep me blocked or if he’s going to unblock me at a later date to continue harassing me. I have NO IDEA if this is the start of a new stalker or if this is the actual end of one of the worst abuses I’ve endured on the internet thus far. That fucking scares me. 

When I made a status about how this ordeal made me feel and what had happened it came to light that a male comrade of mine had tried to approach him privately to try to set him straight and he accused him, too, of harassment and also told him that the cops were on their way to my comrade’s house. 

This behavior is downright dangerous and I’m legitimately concerned for not only my safety, but mostly for the safety of anyone who is in contact with this guy. If he’s willing to make threats to call the pigs on people that he harasses on the internet when they stand up to him, how does he react at protests when someone looks at him funny? 

This is the sort of extreme misogyny that women on the Left have to endure and that men on the Left often tell us doesn’t even exist. This is the sort of extreme misogyny that pushes us out of the movement entirely because fuuuuuuuuuuuck thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

Why instead can’t we promote a society where to be ‘political’ is not to be a worn down hack who meekly serves the interests of the professional book writers and social climbers in our midst, but where we encourage aforementioned young lassies to write their own books, to start their own community projects, to place trust their own ability and right to talk about economic justice and expanding the welfare state and mental health service provision and renewable energy opportunities and Beyonce’s feminism and a four day working week (and all these things that should not and cannot be the preserve of any elite, even an activist one) with their equally ‘engaged’ family and friends and colleagues? While leaving plenty of room, of course, to just be a regular person with individual interests and space for self care, which can so often be derided as uncommitted politics by the activist elite that demands just as much of your time and energy as our societal system of overworking everyone til they die does. I don’t want politics that consumes people and spits them out, I want politics that’s embedded through our daily lives and connects rather than alienates.

YASSSSSSS

Fuck apathetic-academic Brocialist treatises centering dudes as exceptional revolutionaries, support ordinary folk & their personal-political lived experiences.

Seriously though

even though people in the higher classes being allies in leftist stuff is important you cannot argue your way out of social class nor can you play with the definitions of those as decided by a given form of leftist thought just because someone said something you don’t like

a proletarian that’s unsure of your opinions or even doesn’t like communism very much is still a proletarian. liberal proletarians exist. reactionary poor people exist.

you being pro communist doesn’t change you being petite bourgeois or even straight up bourgeois

if you’re in the higher classes you are favoured and take up space that’s not yours, even if you back economic equality and liberation from capitalism it’s not dead yet, the money you make now and how you were raised matters.

so many of the people on here throw around the B word as a petty insult and they have no idea that they are that when you look at things globally, or even in parts of the western world they would dare not tread. They are bourgeois to a large number of people.

Bourgeois is your economic class, it’s not your opinions(although it can and does inform it), using it as a petty insult tells me they’re so clueless about the way poor people live that think it’s impossible for a poor person to be: racist, sexist, ableist, or just a jerk that gets on your nerves. Anyone who has been poor knows what a crock of shit that is.

and it’s so condescending,

like those poor proletarians, they’re just waiting for you to come and liberate them and have your revolution, they’re everything you hope for when you dream of leaving suburbia, gritty and accepting and soooo punk rawk.

Fuck that noise.

I hate having to organize with my shitty ex

Sometimes, you feel that you are part of a team, and that you don’t have to run around and shoulder all the responsibility, and that feels really great.

Sometimes, you are reminded that some people will probably never change, and you will probably never be able to trust them even with little things, yet you are supposed to trust them with really big things. And that feels really shitty.

Sometimes, your ex boyfriend who bailed on you when you were being threatened with rape and torture, and then just stood by while your friend fucked your rapist (and gloating about it too!), who went on very date-like things where you cooked for him and did couple-y things but was not dating you because he didn’t want to date anyone (but was quite alright with dating someone else who is a lot of things you aren’t while lying), will offer&promise to do something really small, but won’t do it. And that feels like your efforts, emotional labor, and solidarity are not with 15 seconds.

Fuck communists who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

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