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Bloody Minded Backlashes

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my comrades is worried by what appears to be a racist backlash amongst left activists.  Of course this is not the same explicit and typical racism of outright reactionaries, but the more implicit racism of supposedly "anti-racist" activists, an often sublimated racism that comes from an inability to understand structural oppression, an understanding of class as identity/essence, and a refusal to engage with theoretical resources that interrogate settler-colonialism.

Well this possible backlash appears to be alive and well in the radical blogosphere, though it is probably not as new as my comrade assumed and seems more like some ongoing backlash that keeps rearing its ugly head, even amongst the left, in multiple ways.  Very recently, on the People of Color Organize site, this left-racist backlash manifested (and I missed this craziness until now because I have been packing and moving and away from blogland) and follows the following and yet predictable route:

1) The backlash emerged in response to an acerbic, incisive, and bitingly humourous post about white privilege.  This is of course how things often begin: racialized person complains about racial privilege amongst well-meaning activists, well-meaning [white] activists take it personally, well-meaning [white] activists feel the need to respond in a way that denies and silences the critique.  There is nothing new about this response, this knee-jerk desire to deny one's own privilege, and those of us who benefit from being in a structurally racist society, because we are socialized to not recognize our own privilege (privilege is often invisible to those who are privileged - it masquerades as natural) get very annoyed when we are called out and asked to self-criticize.  I used to react, when I was a young anarchist, in a similar manner, offended by anyone who pointed out my privilege.  (Thank the gods I didn't have access to the blogosphere in that period of my life or my stupidity would probably have resulted in even more stupidity.)  I am very thankful that some of my good comrades, especially the person who eventually became my partner, held me to account and seriously forced me to self-criticize, to listen to them and study what they told me to study, and to understand that entitlement I was conditioned not to notice.  Unfortunately, there are clearly people who were not as lucky as me, or who are just all kinds of stupid, who throw tantrums whenever articles like the one mentioned above are published.  Of course, the irony is that the article was about this attitude in the first place and the majority of the troll-commentators made arguments already countered in the article itself.  Privilege generally causes idiocy when it comes to the area of one's own privilege.

2) The furor of white-privilege comments typically took the "reverse racism" position, which is actually a racist position where oppressors like to imagine that they are victims. [Note to potential troll commentators: please read the link before polluting my blog with any of your stupid "insights" about reverse racism.  Actually, just please read.]  And this furor prompted the editors of POCO to post a sober response that defended the original post about white privilege and summarized the larger arguments (by referencing other articles/resources on the site) that would demystify the implicit racism demonstrated by the commentators.  Yes there was an edge to this post, and rightly so, for the comments demanded a stern response from a site that is called People of Color Organize, not White People Organize.  Since when was a site that is about anti-racism, and about the general oppression experienced and resisted by people of colour, required to hold the hands and dry the tears of people who are incapable of, and apparently even disinterested in, questioning their own privilege?  The answer to this rhetorical question is, obviously, because of structural white supremacy: every site, even those not designed to comfort the feelings of liberal privileged peoples, is expected by the people who benefit from structural oppression to cater to their feelings.  Why?  Because their existence––in life and death––is reified as ontologically more important.  Which is why the editors sternly reprimanded this attitude by concluding: "You will not hijack and misdirect our site, which is meant for people of color to have a forum free of frivolous criticism, and lead our readers down the classic road of white insecurity and an inability to be accountable, that is final, period!"

3) Unfortunately, the commenters who wanted their hands held and their tears kissed away decided not to recognize this stern statement as "final."  Under the impression that their opinions mattered more than the editors, or the audience to whom POCO is addressed, they continued to troll.  Which is why one of the editors (rightfully angry by this typical racist backlash where victims are accused of racism and liberal white activists want to be recognized as not racist and colour blind or whatever) wrote a very caustic post pretty much telling white liberal racists to stop polluting the POCO site.  And yet this was still not enough to prompt people from trolling: one idiot commenter not only accused the editor of this post of "not making any arguments" (because the arguments made before and over and over never counted in the first place, apparently) but had the nerve to make numerous arguments against the existence of racism––all of this, again, on a site called People of Color Organize.

All of this is not very surprising but, even still, it is utterly frustrating.  The POCO site, which puts out a lot of good articles and connects to numerous important resources, is suddenly expected to reproduce every argument about structural racism in a single post or comment thread (not that it would be listened to anyhow) that they have already provided and that, if the lazy idiot commenters bothered to spend less than an hour actually investigating the site, answered the complaints.  But of course every argument about actually existing oppression is treated by those who want to preserve their privilege as a blank slate: nothing has been argued, nothing has been written, their have not been entire libraries of published literature and debates on this issue, until they came along with their sudden revelatory "insights."

The POCO site is a place where people who believe in the existence of structural oppression, specifically racism as structural oppression, post information that begins with this basic and material understanding of racist oppression.  So why does it attract supposedly "progressive," if not sometimes utterly reactionary, commentators who lack any understanding of this conceptualization of race and racism?  Because these are the people, as aforementioned, who always think that their understanding of reality is natural and that they, because their privilege is reified, have the god-given right to take up more space than anyone else.  And they do not need to read any of the other posts or resources provided by a site like POCO because they can parachute in, dismiss everything wholesale, and write the most ahistorical garbage that imagines a world that is not affected by the legacy of modern colonialism and its nightmare of slavery and genocide, the ruins of which still immeasurably devastate the world.

As a support post on Angry Marxists pointed out: "[i]f… you condemn them merely for speaking up because it hurts your feelings and wrecks your illusions about so-called equality, then I think the best thing is for you to go take a bath with a toaster because you are neo-colonialism in action. You are Exxon, you are the IMF, you are Chase, you are the CIA, you are a cop, you are a judge, you are a prison guard."  A bit ham-handed one might assume but, no, not really: the attitude demonstrated by those who are offended about being called on their investment in racism, an attitude that reflects the ideology of racism, is fostered by imperialism/colonialism/capitalism.  Supposedly "progressive" sentiments aside, this is the sort of thinking that fits quite nicely with today's global nightmare and, no matter how many good arguments are made (as the very existence of the POCO site demonstrates), will not be solved by rationality, logic, and a sober debate.  People who subscribe to oppressive ideology, because they are invested in this ideology, do not want to change their minds… but good lord, they do want to kick up a fuss in progressive spaces where they are not welcome.


  1. I can't understand how anybody can call themselves progressive and not acknowledge that racism pervades every aspect of our society. I also don't understand how anybody can seriously talk about racial equality either in North America or in the world at large. This is willful blindness of terrifying proportions.

  2. As one of the organizers/editors of POCO!, I'd like to say thanks for your support JMP!

    I haven't really involved myself in the discussions (calling them discussions is being kind in my opinion), but I've watched them, and have gotten to the point now where I'm not even reading the comments, as there is just so much BS coming from so-called progressives.

    I also think both Zari and Ikonoclast's caustic, if still measured, responses to these white privileged assholes were very good.

    All of this reminds me of some of the problems we've had in KW with AW@L, the main white left rad org in town, and is pretty well known in the general SW Ontario region (especially after their former leader was manufactured into a PP/POW after the G8/G20). Their majority white membership (they have a handful of token POC members, and no indigenous people) are master privilege deniers. It's one of the reasons that lots of us here don't even acknowledge them, much less work with them.

    Example: a few years back AW@L put on a "know your rights" workshop, which featured no voices from communities that actually face day-to-day police repression, such as POC, Natives and queers. A friend of mine, a poor queer socialist from Cape Breton, went to the event and, being shocked at the lack of voices from marginalized communities, asked one of their top leaders (who is still involved to this day) about this, and the implicit racism it demonstrated.

    Was this AW@L leader's response something like "oh shit, I didn't even notice, wow, we really are privileged as shit, and we need to combat this?" No! In fact, I think it was worse than simply denying his/their privilege, because he in fact attempted to argue that he and the other middle to upper class, cisgendered, mostly male, heterosexual, white, university student AW@Lers knew exactly what oppression was like. Why? Because they're fucking anarchists (a line they would trot out again following the G8/G20).

    I practically threw up when my comrade related that story to me, but it just goes to show how poisoned the so-called white left is.

    At this point I'd normally suggest people go read Settlers and False Nationalism, False Internationalism, but I know you're already on top of that :)

  3. Thanks... Yeah, you mentioned the AW@L catastrophe before. It would be nice if it was an exception but it tends to happen a lot. I think that in activist spaces - because certain types of activism tend to generate a self-righteous disposition - people don't like being told that they're wrong because, you know: "I'm a radical and so I'm already perfect and can never be oppressive!!!!" So when they're told they're wrong, and they see themselves at the forefront of radicalism, then the common/immediate response is a knee-jerk denial.

    I know this because, as briefly indicated in the above post, I've been there and done that and I understand the psychology. I've also been severely criticized, as I should have been, and thankfully wasn't ego-radical enough to accept the criticism, do self-criticism, and ask what I had to do to learn. And learning this stuff and trying not to act according to privilege/entitlement is always/still a process.

    And I wish suggesting books worked. But people who think they know everything anyway usually don't like reading.

  4. Hi,
    I googled Cell 16 and your blog came up....fascinating entry on them in December, but I wasn't sure you'd see a comment on that article. Hate to write off topic on today's entry, but couldn't find a way to contact you separately.
    I am desperately searching for the Cell 16 No More Fun and Games Collection and obviously aware you have the whole collection. do you where a comprehensive collection can be found in the US?
    Much appreciation,

  5. I have no idea: they were given to me as a gift, and they were bought off of, but clearly there are a limited number of them available. There are a lot of left publishing/distributing companies out there, like kersplebedeb, that have online distribution centres, and I would look those places up and see if they know.

    As for commenting on earlier articles: since all of my comments are under moderation, I see new comments whenever they come up, regardless of what entry they're under.


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