Postmodern Racism and OWS: The myth of non-hierarchy
Written by pogfan1996 - 24 January 2012
what the heck is pomo? well here's a cool chart
(from the condition of postmodernity by david harvey)
Clearly the occupy movement is a perfect paragon of the pomo paradigm!
Racism in the Occupy movement
When formal hierarchies are attacked and dismantled, oppressive social power doesn’t disappear, it intensifies along informal social hierarchal lines. This was critiqued by Jo Freeman in her essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”:
Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness -- and that is not the nature of a human group.
Critical thinkers need to look at the hidden structure behind the occupations. Due to the nature of the occupations and the societies they operate in, these structures are broadly white supremacist and sexist, with local variations.
According to the main websites associated with #OccupyWallStreet, it is “one people, united,” a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions,” and an “open, participatory and horizontally organized process.” In other words, it professes to be the universal protest against the greed and corruption rampant in our society, open for anyone to join and shape.
But a quick survey of the movement so far shows that that the good intentions outlined do not reflect the reality of the situation. There is indeed an organizational structure and a core group that makes leadership decisions in #OWS (and we think this is a good thing). They are the media team at the media command center, the committee facilitators and the people who have been actually occupying the park for the past three weeks. One only needs to take a good look around to see that the leadership and the core group—which has managed to attract enormous national and international media attention—is overwhelmingly white (and largely male), and as a result the voices and perspectives of #OccupyWallStreet reflect that reality more generally.
One striking example of the marginalization of non-white voices within the movement was seen at the march on Friday against police brutality. Because this march was organized by activist groups in conjunction with #OWS, it was by far the most diverse rally yet. But towards the end of the march, when organizers were speaking to the group at One Police Plaza, a black woman near the speakers was clearly agitating for her voice to be heard. Despite the line of white people speaking before her, a white #OWS organizer spoke to the crowd and informed them that within a few minutes, the march would be over and everyone should leave peacefully. Of course, that meant that as soon as he was finished speaking everyone got up to leave. As the black woman (the lone black voice speaking in a march against police brutality) got up to speak, her voice was lost because by that point no one was paying attention.
In this case, the marginalization was not intentional: a PSA was made to inform people to ensure the rally’s peaceful closure. But most racial marginalization is indeed “unintentional.” In this case the silenced black woman was going to speak about her close relative, who was killed by police. She was the only person speaking with a personal relationship to police brutality at a level almost unimaginable to the people occupying Zucotti Park, and her voice was not heard.
The 99% rhetoric ignores wildly divergent class interests
One picture symbolizes this especially well:
Broad American Populism = White Supremacy
Notions of broad American populism are popular on the white “left”, but nearly all the gains from broad American populism go to a privileged strata of white people. When radicals divorce the 99% rhetoric from the history of American populism, they are ignoring how that broad rhetoric has been used to exclude the needs of the disenfranchised. Without a POC-centered strategy, nothing is stopping the ruling class from using the same tools to reduce class tensions. The biggest threat to the occupy movement isn’t cops or cold weather, it’s the dropping white unemployment rate. My prediction is that the same thing will happen to OWS as what happened with its fraternal twin, the Tent City movement in Israel. after the white radicals get bored or get jobs, the only people left will be those most vulnerable, then the cops can sweep in and remove them without anyone giving a shit.
Less known are more recent government racial preferences, first enacted during the New Deal, that directed wealth to white families and continue to shape life opportunities and chances today.
The landmark Social Security Act of 1935 provided a safety net for millions of workers, guaranteeing them an income after retirement. But the act specifically excluded two occupations: agricultural workers and domestic servants, who were predominately African American, Mexican, and Asian. As low-income workers, they also had the least opportunity to save for their retirement. They couldn't pass wealth on to their children. Just the opposite. Their children had to support them.
Like Social Security, the 1935 Wagner Act helped establish an important new right for white people. By granting unions the power of collective bargaining, it helped millions of white workers gain entry into the middle class over the next 30 years. But the Wagner Act permitted unions to exclude non-whites and deny them access to better paid jobs and union protections and benefits such as health care, job security, and pensions. Many craft unions remained nearly all-white well into the 1970s. In 1972, for example, every single one of the 3,000 members of Los Angeles Steam Fitters Local #250 was still white.
But it was another racialized New Deal program, the Federal Housing Administration, that helped generate much of the wealth that so many white families enjoy today. These revolutionary programs made it possible for millions of average white Americans - but not others - to own a home for the first time. The government set up a national neighborhood appraisal system, explicitly tying mortgage eligibility to race. Integrated communities were ipso facto deemed a financial risk and made ineligible for home loans, a policy known today as "redlining." Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. More than 98% went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.
These government programs made possible the new segregated white suburbs that sprang up around the country after World War II. Government subsidies for municipal services helped develop and enhance these suburbs further, in turn fueling commercial investments. Freeways tied the new suburbs to central business districts, but they often cut through and destroyed the vitality of non-white neighborhoods in the central city.
Today, Black and Latino mortgage applicants are still 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for a loan, even after controlling for employment, financial, and neighborhood factors. According to the Census, whites are more likely to be segregated than any other group. As recently as 1993, 86% of suburban whites still lived in neighborhoods with a black population of less than 1%.
Reaping the Rewards of Racial Preference
One result of the generations of preferential treatment for whites is that a typical white family today has on average eight times the assets, or net worth, of a typical African American family, according to New York University economist Edward Wolff. Even when families of the same income are compared, white families have more than twice the wealth of Black families. Much of that wealth difference can be attributed to the value of one's home, and how much one inherited from parents.
But a family's net worth is not simply the finish line, it's also the starting point for the next generation. Those with wealth pass their assets on to their children - by financing a college education, lending a hand during hard times, or assisting with the down payment for a home. Some economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation depends on these intergenerational transfers. White advantage is passed down, from parent to child to grand-child. As a result, the racial wealth gap - and the head start enjoyed by whites - appears to have grown since the civil rights days.
Since Occupy cannot escape its pomo prison, it is likely that all the benefits will only go to the pale, pasty protesters and not those who need it the most.
Radical Potential in Every Community
by Brett Farmer
Most current academic discussion of radical movements populated by whites is devoted to understanding ultra-right movements based largely on demands for less government intervention and nostalgia for a lost time in the United States. Amy Sonnie and James Tracy in Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power challenge this norm. Surveying radical left-wing movements from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, the authors demonstrate the importance of multiracial activism and the role of poor and middle-class whites in it. This vital text not only shakes up the academic prejudice that assumes poor whites to be racist, it also offers a wide range of examples of the movements' successes and failures, equipping readers with a large body of information on how to do effective activism.
Telling the stories of whites (specifically the poor) involved in the struggle for equality (racial, gender, and economic justice) in the United States is a difficult and complex task. It is not the case (as it is oftentimes assumed) that poor whites were simply not interested in racial equality; rather the benefits that the system of white privilege afforded them have historically created obstacles to winning lasting revolutionary gains. By publicizing the stories of those whites who resisted the call to submit to racial politicking, this book makes visible what has long been invisible, in particular a strong current of white consciousness that developed in a similar fashion to the consciousness of nationalist movements of black, Puerto Rican, American Indian, and Asian communities in the 1960s (9). The consciousness of those whites working for justice arose out of class consciousness, but not of a vulgar Marxist kind that simply identified the elites as the problem and advocated an impersonal class struggle. Rather, this book chronicles how they went about building communities and developing links between minority power movements and the demands for recognition of working-class whites.
The book encourages its readers to realize the importance of the struggle for the heartland as integral to racial justice in the United States, as well as to recognize the struggle in the heartland as ongoing and powerful even if rarely noticed (172-3). This struggle for change forcefully reminds us that movements who seek to radically change the status quo must start with their own communities, developing ties to broader groups as part of systematically connected demands for change. That is also part of a larger task for movements to remain practical and develop real action.
One of the most poignant points of this book is the portrayal of the tension between the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and radical community movements. Sonnie and Tracy depict the difficulty of middle-class SDS activists: merely discussing how radicalization might happen gained little traction (37). Those interested in just talking about the theory of revolution were simply left behind as the needs of communities dictated the actions of movements. Highlighting the importance of theory becoming action makes this book an essential reading not only for academics but also for activists looking to create change in the world around them. In other words, this book is a clarion call to root movements in practice, rejecting both pontification about revolutionary theory and sporadic action without focus.
The book presents many examples of movements rooted in practice. One of them is how a combination of Marxist theory and Panther anti-drug action created a framework for a white radical group called White Lightning to challenge heroin use in New York during the 70s (156). Unification of theory and practice enabled the group to change the conditions surrounding drug in their local community.
Radical left-wing movements do not always strike the right balance between theorizing (which can provide a unifying message as well as intellectual sustenance) and actual doings. Achieving the right balance, as the authors show, can link national and international issues (113), increase the chances for class solidarity to create change (80), and create a radical change by putting the power to make change in the hands of the people who need it the most (69). By pushing readers to synthesize the power of movements' doing and theorizing, the authors also create another challenge for them: to comprehend the power of diversity in the face of tensions between groups. This is where the book really shines as one of the most important texts on radical politics today.
The authors elegantly demonstrate the ways that diversity actually became strength for movement participants, instead of assuming its importance as a theoretical premise. Rather than inventing a new theory of race relations in the United States, the authors show that the movements connected and supported each other when they were most effective.
The sharing of power among many radical factions, however, was not a simple task. As the Black Panthers moved toward "Black Power," liberal whites were forced to take notice just as much as those on the right (53). Moreover, Sonnie and Tracy do not shy away from confronting how the power of diversity rapidly declined as the movements fell into massive disarray due to infighting. What also emerges from the text is a firsthand account of the power of institutions to use diversity as a divisive tool and a warning to future activists about the dangers of succumbing to paranoia, infighting, and institutional trickery.
For all the book's accomplishments, it also has a few shortcomings. First, there is little direct discussion about our current political situation. This is not to say that the authors do not directly address the movements today at all, but the book's "Epilogue" is unsatisfying in its brevity. I say this knowing full well that this book was never meant to be a theoretical tome that would explicitly guide movements step-by-step toward revolution. Still, I think the "Epilogue" could have been better developed with a view to offering a theoretical guide for activists in the future. Second, the description of the infiltration of the movements, while vivid and gripping, does little to warn future activists of what to watch out for, facing those who would seek to disrupt our contemporary movements. While records of the COINTELPRO operations are referenced and there is also a discussion of possible "rats," there is little in the book for readers who want to learn how to resist attempts to destroy the movements today.
Despite the few shortcomings mentioned above, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power overall provides a strong reading of the movements that have long been neglected. It continues the important and truly radical archival and historical scholarship that has been uncovering movements of the "long sixties." This book is a must read for those who wish to develop radical politics with the benefit of the lessons of the past, which adds a greatly needed new understanding of diversity to debate among activists as well as scholars who have often overlooked the fact that radical potential exists in every community.
This isn't exactly "counterpoint" but more like an attempt to direct the discussion in a more constructive way than "Wah Kill Whitey Wu Tang"
BF have you read that book? can you elaborate on some of the arguments re: achieving the right balance of theory and practice and also how "that the movements connected and supported each other when they were most effective"?
No I haven't, but I want to
If Occupy protesters are wondering why they are not attracting enough minorities to their causes, this may help to explain things a little bit. Some of you may be reading this and might be tempted to call me chicken shit – and that’s fair. At least on the sidelines, while I warn people about the police, I feel a little bit like I am doing something rather than nothing at all.
In the meantime, one way to make an impact on American minority communities is for movements to engage with minority concerns by taking them out of fringe politics and universalising their concerns as Philip Brennan did in his recent piece suggesting Occupy create a civil rights angle as one of its central components.
As tempted as many white Occupy protesters are to proclaim “we are all one and the same!”, you cannot expect minorities, whose communities have been subjected to intimidation and abuse, to suddenly throw away the race card and jump on the bandwagon. These are critical times, and as such, it is important for Occupy to get it right. We are all part of the 99% – and the concerns of some should fast transform into the concern for all.
Phil Brennan offers a way to universalize the Occupy movement in a minority-inclusive way:
So after much discussion, myself and many friends from Europe and America decided to form a Civil Rights movement to work alongside the Occupy Movement in order to raise awareness amongst them. Also, we would like this idea to be adopted by other groups world wide in their Civil Rights struggles. We have not yet discussed how the International Civil Rights Restart is going to function as a group (although I am in favour of the GA / Leaderless model), but the basic idea is there. The #ICRR Twitter hash tag is already in use amongst us, and as of now you will see our discussions about what we want to achieve on Twitter with this tag. It may well be that it will become used as a general Civil Rights marker tag for discussions within the Occupy movement on Twitter for the time being, until we have set up something more concrete for individuals and groups to work with.
Two days later, at the Outreach meeting we were brainstorming what to put on our first flyer. Adbusters’ idea had been that we focus on “one key demand.” This was a brilliant idea from a marketing perspective, but from an organizing perspective, it made no sense at all. We put that one aside almost immediately. There were much more fundamental questions to be hashed out. Like: who were we? Who did want to appeal to? Who did we represent? Someone—this time I remember quite clearly it was me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a half dozen others had equally strong memories of being the first to come up with it—suggested, “well, why not call ourselves ‘the 99%’? If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians… why not just say we’re everybody else?” The Spanish couple quickly began to lay out a “We Are the 99%” pamphlet, and we started brainstorming ways to print and distribute it for free.
nobody had any idea about what was going to happen from there. it was complete contingency. nevermind that though, there has been endless pontificating about the accurateness of some representation imposed From Above as if it somehow creates what it designates
As far as I can tell the main gripe in the op is that a person was not given preferential treatment because of their race. Under an anarchic setting such as an occupy meeting, allowing anyone to cut in line for any reason is a short path to dealing with four dozen bickering marxoteens
go fuck yourself