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Tag: race

The Devil in America

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by Kai Ashante Wilson (2014)

for my father

1955

Emmett Till, sure, I remember. Your great grandfather, sitting at the table with the paper spread out, looked up and said something to Grandma. She looked over my way and made me leave the room: Emmett Till. In high school I had a friend everybody called Underdog. One afternoon—1967?—Underdog was standing on some corner and the police came round and beat him with nightsticks. No reason. Underdog thought he might get some respect if he joined up for Vietnam, but a sergeant in basic training was calling him everything but his name—nigger this, nigger that—and Underdog went and complained. Got thrown in the brig, so he ended up going to Vietnam with just a couple weeks’ training. Soon after he came home in a body bag. In Miami a bunch of white cops beat to death a man named Arthur McDuffie with heavy flashlights. You were six or seven: so, 1979. The cops banged up his motorcycle trying to make killing him look like a crash. Acquitted, of course. Then Amadou Diallo, 1999; Sean Bell, 2006. You must know more about all the New York murders than I do. Trayvon, this year. Every year it’s one we hear about and God knows how many just the family mourns.

—Dad

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#NYCStripperStrike: Race, Class and Women’s Work

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“Honey, I guess you can sum up this business in one sentence,” stripper Bobbie Bruce told reporter Jack Griffin at Minsky’s Rialto Theater, a hub of early-1950s Chicago burlesque. “You grab as much sex as the law is allowing at the time, and throw it across the footlights as hard as you can.”1

In the 1950s, only seven states, including Illinois and New York, permitted striptease performances. Chicago law gave club owners full discretion about just how much strippers could or could not take off.2 Meanwhile in New York, dancers were limited to uncovering a single breast, for eight bars of music at a time.3

Griffin discovered “a stripper’s life is a tough one, made up of long hours. Although she may be on stage only a total of an hour or so, she has to be on call for 10 to 12 hours a day.” Moreover, he learned, “the private life of a strip teaser, one who takes her art seriously, is about as routine as that of a file clerk in a business office–and often duller. A stripper is doing five or six shows a day, seven days a week, isn’t in the mood for much of anything except going home–alone–and going to sleep.”4

In major cities like New York City and Chicago, nascent strip clubs like Minksy’s Rialto offered women better pay than working the counter at Macys or Bloomingdales. As Moira Weigel argues, retail workers were mostly working-class girls who hoped to entice just the right wealthy man and thus escape a life of wage labor drudgery.5 Strip clubs, meanwhile, stimulated desire and seduction in a manner not unlike the courtship of retail customers or the theatrical fantasies window displays brought to life for urban consumers.6 The women who worked in retail and strip clubs symbolized a new worker, proliferated by a mid-twentieth century boom in the US service industry. Feminized service workers relied on guile, cajolery and flirtation to attract customers and clientele to purchase commodities. As a unique form of service work, strippers turned this allure into the commodity itself. But then as now, stripping was nonetheless work, and hard work at that.

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The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability

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by P. Roufos

Trump has been president for over a year now but the arguments over what led to his victory are far from settled. Many sought to explain the surprising results with an age-old idea about a part of America historically resistant to “progress.” The notion that the “white working-class” is responsible for Trump allowed pro-market fanatics like J. D. Vance to gain visibility through his attempt to re-instate the bankrupt American Dream, while also permitting liberals to feel justified in their (also age-old) contempt for the poor. Other commentators put structural issues of the voting system (such as the Electoral College and the popular vote) in the spotlight. A few tried to zero in on the Democratic Party itself, tacitly recognizing the possibility that its failure might have something to do with its own choices and policies. The most comical explanation of all, Russian interference, remains mind-numbingly popular within liberal outlets. But for a certain period, another approach was also captivating those eager to understand the “impossible presidency”. According to this view, Trump’s rise to power was significantly assisted by the emerging alt-Right (“alternative Right”) and its prolific online presence. Angela Nagle’s book, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (Zero Books, 2017) was one of the first to attempt to contextualize this approach.

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Which Feminisms?

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Frauenkampftag, Berlin, Mar 8. 2018

By Susan Watkins (New Left Review 109, January-February 2018)

Of all the opposition movements to have erupted since 2008, the rebirth of a militant feminism is perhaps the most surprising—not least because feminism as such had never gone away; women’s empowerment has long been a mantra of the global establishment. Yet there were already signs that something new was stirring in the US and UK student protests of 2010, the 2011 Occupy encampments at Puerta del Sol and Zuccotti Park. In India, mass rallies condemned the gang rape of Jyoti Pandey in 2012 and feminist flash-mobs have disrupted the moral-policing operations of Hindutva fundamentalists. The protests against sexual assault on US campuses blazed across the New York media in 2014. In Brazil, 30,000 black women descended on the capital in 2015 to demonstrate against sexual violence and racism, calling for the ouster of the corrupt head of the National Congress, Eduardo Cunha; earlier that year, the March of Margaridas brought over 50,000 rural women to Brasília. In Argentina, feminist campaigners against domestic violence were at the forefront of protests against Macri’s shock therapy. In China, the arrest in 2015 of five young women preparing to sticker Beijing’s public transport against sexual violence—members of Young Feminist Activism, an online coalition that’s played cat-and-mouse with the authorities—was met with web petitions signed by over 2 million people.

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Not all Politics is Identity Politics

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by Kenan Malik: 

‘All politics is identity politics.’ And ‘Without identity politics there can be no defence of women’s rights or the rights of minority groups.’ So run the two most common contemporary defences of identity politics. As criticism of the politics of identity has become more developed and fierce, so has the defence. So, I want here to begin a critique of the critique, as it were, and in so doing reassert the necessity for challenging identity politics.

Identities are, of course, of great significance. They give each of us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others. At the same time,  politics is a means, or should be a means, or taking us beyond the narrow sense of identity given to each of us by the specific circumstances of our lives and the particularities of personal experiences. As a teenager, I was drawn to politics because of my experience of racism. But if it was racism that drew me to politics, it was politics that made me see beyond the narrow confines of racism. I came to learn that there was more to social justice than challenging the injustices done to me, and that a person’s skin colour, ethnicity or culture provides no guide to the validity of his or her political beliefs. Through politics, I was introduced to the ideas of the Enlightenment, and to the concepts of a common humanity and universal rights. Through politics, too, I discovered the writings of Marx and Mill, Baldwin and Arendt, James and Fanon. Most of all, I discovered that I could often find more solidarity and commonality with those whose ethnicity or culture was different to mine, but who shared my values, than with many with whom I shared a common ethnicity or culture but not the same political vision.

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The Myth of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

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by Walter Benn Michaels

Even our own stories don’t belong to us

Vanessa Place, Kenny Goldsmith, Kelley Walker, Dana Schutz, Sam Durant — these are all white people who in the recent past have made what they intended to be politically transgressive art, and succeeded. But not in the way they were hoping for. Dana Schutz’s painting of the dead Emmett Till was not meant to insult Till’s memory. Sam Durant’s “Scaffold,” a sculpture critiquing the execution by hanging of, among others, 38 Native Americans, was meant as just that — a critique. The point of all these works was resolutely antiracist.

Indeed, if one were to criticize them as political art, it would not be for expressing controversial positions. Just the opposite: Among the visitors to the Whitney Biennial or the Walker Art Center, the antiracism to which all these artists are committed is almost uncontested, and their politics could more plausibly be characterized as anodyne than outrageous.

So what got them in trouble? It wasn’t a belief in white supremacy; it was their embodiment of white privilege, the privilege that enabled them to treat something that didn’t belong to them as if it did. “Not Your Story” read a sign at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, protesting “Scaffold.” “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” wrote Hannah Black in her open letter to the curators of the Whitney Biennial. The idea here is that when white artists seek to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” as Hal Niedzvicki (a former editor of the journal of the Canadian Writers Union) recently urged all writers to do, what they’re really doing is less imagining other cultures than stealing from them. And, as the Equity Task Force of that same union put it in protest of Niedzvicki’s editorial: “The theft of voice, stories, culture, and identity are part of a long-standing settler agenda for cultural genocide and cannot be treated lightly.”

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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Adam Shatz reviews:  Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman (2017)

One of the great paradoxes of the Obama era is that it encouraged so many liberals, both black and white, to see the black experience in America not as a slow, arduous struggle for freedom culminating in the election of a black president – Obama’s version, not surprisingly – but as an unending nightmare. Not least among the reasons was that a black man of unerring self-discipline and caution, bipartisan to a fault, should have provoked such ferocious white resistance – fanned by the man who questioned the validity of his birth certificate and then succeeded him as president. This most eloquent champion of ‘post-racialism’ may have been the most powerful man in the world, yet he remained a prisoner of his race, of his ‘black body,’ as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in Between the World and Me.[1] In the face of repeated police shootings of young black men or atrocities such as the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama did little more than deliver one of his formidable speeches. And – as he did in Charleston – sing ‘Amazing Grace’, as if only a higher power could cure America of its original sin, and end the nightmare.

The Perils of “Privilege”

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 Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage

Phoebe Maltz Bovy / St. Martin’s Press

INTRODUCTION: THE “PRIVILEGE” TURN

“[A] HORRIBLE PERSON”

In a freezing-cold flat in Berlin, I’m standing under the shower with the water turned up as high and hot as it will go. I’m trying to boil away the shame of having said something stupid on the internet. The shower is the one place it’s still impossible to check Twitter. This is a mercy. For as long as the hot water lasts I won’t be able to read the new accusations of bigotry, racism and unchecked privilege. I didn’t mean it. I don’t understand what I did wrong but I’m trying to understand.

*   *   *

THE ABOVE RECOLLECTIONS, from a 2015 article in the New Statesman by the writer Laurie Penny, are where I wish to begin because they make up the most wrenching, but accurate, description that I’ve come across of what it can feel like to be called out online. The phenomenon she describes—the privilege call-out—is a new, if increasingly familiar, experience. Penny’s reaction—“I’ve spent very dark days, following social media pile-ons, convinced that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to draw breath”—may have been extreme, but such interactions aren’t the high point of anyone’s week. While I’ve never experienced quite that spiral, I know what it’s like to see a new blog comment or Twitter notification, and then another … followed, predictably, by the heart-racing realization that the Internet (and it always feels, in the moment, like the entire Internet) has found me out.

The outright hateful comments are, as Penny notes, easier to handle, in a way. As unpleasant as it was the week when neo-Nazi Twitter made me its Jewess-du-jour, and as frightened as I was during the weeks when pro-gun Twitter made it known what it thought about my anti-gun stance, there’s something more viscerally draining about an “unchecked privilege” accusation. What’s so useful about Penny’s description is that she hones in on two of the key reasons why that’s the case. One is, as she spells out, that the accusation manages to tap into the accused’s worst fears about her value as a person. The other, which she does not, is the lack of specificity. Unlike earlier generations of bigotry accusation, the privilege call-out is intentionally vague, while also, at times, hyperspecific. Either your privilege is showing, and you’re not entirely sure which form of privilege (let alone how to appropriately respond), or you’ve suddenly learned that you’re wrong because surely you’ve never worked in food service, something about which your interlocutor, a stranger on the Internet, is remarkably certain.

A privilege accusation prompts the accused to contemplate his or her unearned advantages, and—all too often—to publicly self-flagellate for the same. The less saintly among us, though, will soon remember (and, all too often, reply) that we haven’t had it quite as easy as our accusers imply. And sometimes the specific privilege accusation will have been inaccurate. Regardless of how, exactly, all of this plays out, one thing’s for sure: The conversation will have switched from one about some broader issue to the ultimately trivial question of our privilege.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this thing, “privilege,” and why is getting accused of possessing it so fraught?

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LA ’92: The context of a proletarian uprising

by Aufheben (1992)

Distorted by the bourgeois press, reduced to a mere ‘race riot’ by many on the left, the L.A. rebellion was the most serious urban uprising this century. This article seeks to grasp the full significance of these events by relating them to their context of class re-composition and capitalist restructuring.


April 29th, 1992, Los Angeles exploded in the most serious urban uprising in America this century. It took the federal army, the national guard and police from throughout the country five days to restore order, by which time residents of L.A. had appropriated millions of dollars worth of goods and destroyed a billion dollars of capitalist property. Most readers will be familiar with many of the details of the rebellion. This article will attempt to make sense of the uprising by putting the events into the context of the present state of class relations in Los Angeles and America in order to see where this new militancy in the class struggle may lead.

Before the rebellion, there were two basic attitudes on the state of class struggle in America. The pessimistic view is that the American working class has been decisively defeated. This view has held that the U.S. is – in terms of the topography of the global class struggle – little more than a desert. The more optimistic view held, that despite the weakness of the traditional working class against the massive cuts in wages, what we see in the domination of the American left by single issue campaigns and “Politically Correct” discourse is actually evidence of the vitality of the autonomous struggles of sections of the working class. The explosion of class struggle in L.A. shows the need to go beyond these one-sided views.

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Anti-identity

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White Purity

Among other things, whiteness is a kind of solipsism. From right to left, whites consistently and successfully reroute every political discussion to their identity…[read more]

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The Safety Pin and the Swastika

If you had read in early 2016 about a National Policy Institute conference on the theme of “Identity Politics,” you might have assumed it was an innocent gathering of progressives. If you had attended, you would have been in for an unpleasant surprise. The National Policy Institute is an organization of white nationalists, overseen by neo-Nazi media darling Richard Spencer…[read more]

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Class / segmentation / racialization (TC)

All identities gives themselves an imaginary genealogy which is both efficacious and real by way of its reconstruction.

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Originally published by Théorie Communiste, a French communization group, here.

Translated from the French by LNFC (updates by Charnel)

There has al­ways been seg­ment­a­tion with­in labor power. We must take it, then, as an ob­ject­ive de­term­in­a­tion of labor power un­der cap­it­al that nat­ur­ally leads to a di­vi­sion of labor. Here we have noth­ing more than a di­vide between a ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al and a simple quant­it­at­ive grad­a­tion of the value of labor power. (Both simple and com­plex work un­der­go a kind of os­mos­is with­in the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, from the gen­er­al­ized con­straint of sur­plus labor to spe­cial­ized labor un­der co­oper­at­ive man­age­ment, etc.). However, this seg­ment­a­tion would not be so if it were not but a qual­it­at­ive di­vide with­in an oth­er­wise ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al. Two pro­cesses in­ter­vene as they weave to­geth­er: On the one hand the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is glob­al, cap­able of ap­pro­pri­at­ing and des­troy­ing all oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion while con­serving for it­self the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of those it has re­defined. On the oth­er hand the value of labor power rep­res­ents a mor­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­ic­al com­pon­ent. Since cap­it­al­ist ex­ploit­a­tion is uni­ver­sal — i.e., be­cause cap­it­al can take over oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion or make them co­ex­ist along­side it, ex­ploit labor power to­geth­er with those oth­er modes or de­tach them from their former ex­ist­en­tial con­di­tions — cap­it­al­ism is thus an his­tor­ic­al con­struc­tion that brings about the co­ex­ist­ence of all the dif­fer­ent strata of his­tory in a single mo­ment. Seg­ment­a­tion is not merely “ma­nip­u­la­tion.” It ex­ists as the vol­un­tary activ­ity of the cap­it­al­ist class and its pro­fes­sion­al ideo­logues, which forms and an­im­ates an ob­ject­ive pro­cess, a struc­tur­al de­term­in­a­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion.

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Class, Race, & Police Violence

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How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr 

Some readers will know that I’ve contended that, despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines. As I and my colleague Walter Benn Michaels have insisted repeatedly over the last decade, the burden of that ideal of social justice is that the society would be fair if 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources so long as the dominant 1% were 13% black, 17% Latino, 50% female, 4% or whatever LGBTQ, etc. That is the neoliberal gospel of economic justice, articulated more than a half-century ago by Chicago neoclassical economist Gary Becker, as nondiscriminatory markets that reward individual “human capital” without regard to race or other invidious distinctions.

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Shit’s Going Down

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Originally posted to It’s Going Down

This week brought another uprising against the police, after a police officer shot and killed a 23 year old man, Sylville K. Smith, in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. The uprising, which saw right-wing Governor Scott Walker call-in the national guard to sit standby in case the riots escalated, happened against the backdrop of continued rampant police killings and the growing social degradation of poor and working people in the United States. This is the second time in two years that Walker has called in the National Guard to deal with protests against the police and the fourth alongside Ferguson and Baltimore in the US.

But these rebellions point to deeper tensions caused by the systems of domination inherent within industrial capitalism and white supremacy, which is policed and protected by this government. In the case of just Milwaukee, Niles Niemuth wrote:

Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.

The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.

The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.

At the same time, despite continuous slumps in US productivity, the rich just keep getting richer. As Andre Damon wrote:

In 2015, the International Monetary Fund noted in its annual report that the decline of business investment is at the heart of the failure of the global economy to recover from the 2008 crisis, despite the flooding of financial markets with cheap credit.

Major corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in cash, which they are not investing in production or research and development. Instead, they are using it to buy back stocks, increase dividends, and carry out mergers and acquisitions, all of which increase the payouts of Wall Street CEOs and shareholders.

As a result, stock markets around the world are at or near record highs, corporate profits are surging, and the wealth of the top 0.1 percent in the United States and internationally continues to soar at the expense of the working class.

But while it is becoming more and more clear that the only solution the elites have to continued immiseration and poverty that is endemic in capitalism is simply more repression and police, the very system of industrial resource extraction and production that is making a few elites so rich is also threatening all life on this planet. This summer, scientists have recorded the hottest months ever in June and July.

At the same time, the South was hit by disastrous floods that destroyed homes and left many homeless as Obama vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard and thousands were crammed together in shelters and curfews were put into place to stop people without food or water from looting. In many ways, all of these instances should be seen as signs of not only the kind of system we live under, but the trajectory it is hurling us towards. While the rich and powerful drink wine in tranquility, our homes are washed away, we work harder and harder for less and less, and an ever growing police presence watches our every move and taxes, harasses, and kills us without cause. Meanwhile in the background, the military is at the ready should a rebellion pop off.

But a rebellion is growing, and one that cannot be contained or smothered by either the police or the military, or the attempts of politicians, activist bureaucrats, or media pundits to stop people from fighting for and creating a world worth living in.

In that spirit, let’s get to the news. 

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Passing for Politics

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by Asad Haider

Today’s politics of identity — the epoch of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and privilege-checking — was already the subject of debate in a 1964 exchange between Amiri Baraka, then still known as LeRoi Jones, and Philip Roth. It began with Roth’s negative review of Jones’s The Dutchman, along with James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, in The New York Review of Books. The Dutchman had presented a theatrical allegory of the failures of liberal integrationism, and the seductive treachery of the white world. Roth’s dismissive review displays no real understanding of the political critique at work in the play; nevertheless, the line that became the real point of contention contains a kernel of insight. This was Roth’s speculation that Baraka, then Jones, wrote The Dutchman for a white audience, “not so that they should be moved to pity or to fear, but to humiliation and self-hatred.” Jones retorted in a vicious letter that, “The main rot in the minds of ‘academic’ liberals like yourself, is that you take your own distortion of the world to be somehow more profound than the cracker’s.”

Roth’s The Human Stain, written during the reign of our first “first black president” (you have to wonder if Toni Morrison regrets saying that), illuminates the distance between 1964 and 2016. Here Roth presents a biography that moves from the personal costs of segregation to the contradictions of liberal multiculturalism. Coleman Silk, a light-skinned black professor of classics — like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provoked the trigger warning debate at Columbia — spends a lifetime passing for white. Yet in ’90s America it is not the black identity which destroys his life and reputation, but the somehow ontologically irrefutable accusation of anti-black racism.

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It’s Going Down

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In the last two weeks, we first saw violent clashes with fascists and white nationalists which rocked the west coast and shut down an attempted rally by the Traditionalist Worker Party, and now we are seeing sustained activity against the police. Helping kick things off has been two extremely high-profile police shootings of African-American men that went viral in less than 24 hours. The first was that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the second is that of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Despite these cases receiving the most press and outrage due to their videos being shared across the internet, in the week before and after both shootings (which occurred only a day apart from each other), 28 people were also killed by police in the short month of July. Currently, over 580 people have been killed by law enforcement officers in 2016, averaging over 3 people per day.

As news and anger over the shootings has spread, organic and self-organized protests, rebellions, freeway shutdowns, and violent confrontations with the police has also begun to grow, starting in Louisiana and then growing to cities in Minnesota, California, New York, Colorado, Alabama and everywhere else. It seems that the eruptions, riots, and blockades of the summer and fall of December 2014, following the Ferguson Insurrection and the wave of indignation and mobilization that spread after Darren Wilson was found not guilty as were the police that killed Eric Garner in New York, has not been forgotten. More people are joining the fight and the protests and demonstrations are continuing. Also, the rhythm and time between eruptions is growing less and less apart and there is a remembrance and building of confidence around disruptive tactics. Despite this positive aspect of the last week, still a sea of politicians lie in waiting ready to put a wet blanket on the fires of revolt.

This latest round of outrage is marked by the fact that the “Democratic Socialist” candidate, Bernie Sanders has now officially dropped out of the race and backed Hillary Clinton, leading to a massive backlash and disappointment with the entire political circus. It is a good thing that many people aren’t hoping for a candidate to represent them; we can only hope that instead we put faith and hope in ourselves to change our conditions and build revolutionary alternatives. Interestingly enough, with all of these events taking place so close to election time, this cycle of struggle hasn’t (yet) been sucked back into the political sphere or subsumed by the Democratic Party. Let’s help it to stay that way.

Moreover, this round of demonstrations has taken place alongside a chorus of violent attacks on police (as well as widespread vandalism) which have occurred throughout the United States, including a deadly shooting by a former military man in Dallas, Texas. Despite the media and police waging a counter-insurgency campaign against the Black Lives Matter movement (which is overall an attack on anyone that acts or is critical of white supremacy and the police in the US), this wave of action shows no sign of slowing down. In short, in-spite of the media and everyone in power telling people its time to go home, people aren’t listening.

At the same time, we’re also seeing more and more far-Right groups coming out to the demonstrations in an attempt to support the police: ranging from Neo-Nazis, armed Trump supporters, to militia types. Again, the “threat” of black insurgency is driving many of the Right to organize themselves to protect the established social order. The government in some instances is also using this moment to push back on some of the “gains” made by the BLM movement in the last two years; for instance in North Carolina police now do not have to share footage from their body cameras with the public.

Lastly, some Black Lives Matter groups continue to pull an anti-anarchist line, and use language such as “white outsiders” which parrots the statements of police as a way of breaking the fighting spirit of those involved in demonstrations, especially those that would use force to defend themselves. “Leaders” within the movement also continue to act as a means to destabilize any attempt to generalize the revolt. For instance in Atlanta, BLM protest leaders met with police and city officials and agreed to a “cooling off period,” in exchange for a public forum with the police on relations with the community. In short, “protest leaders” and police worked together against the protests, ending them before they continued to become even more disruptive. We need to think critically about this reality and push back against liberal and managerial elements which seek to defang resistance movements while at the same time building relationships with the base of those that make up these social struggles.

We also have to think about the fact that some within the Left are now talking about physically abolishing the police along with mass incarceration and prisons. While its great that these staples are now being taken seriously by some, we also have to remind people that this is only going to happen when people take control over territory, land, and communities in a revolutionary struggle with the established order. We can’t abolish the foot soldiers of white supremacy and capitalism while leaving this systems intact. Moreover, there has to be a conversation about what are we doing and why? Are we taking action as part of a revolutionary push to change the world and destroy a system of power, or are we simply trying to get the attention of the media, the police, or the government to create small changes?

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Frantz Fanon, Philosopher of the Barricades

by Peter Hudis

A series of recent exchanges between activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and those turning out to hear Bernie Sanders’s populist critique of corporate power have brought to the fore a persistent contradiction of U.S. society —the relation between race and class. It is significant that around the country tens of thousands of largely white youth are coming out to hear Sanders’s attack on the plutocracy that has turned the U.S. into one of the most class-divided societies on earth. Clearly, some of the same sentiments that gave birth to the Occupy Movement are behind the surge of interest in Sanders’s candidacy. Yet it is no less significant that Black Lives Matter, and others, have challenged his campaign for largely overlooking issues of race and racism—at the very moment when a powerful movement has emerged from people of color who are besieged by persistent police abuse and a criminal justice system that has made it clear that, insofar as it is concerned, black lives do not matter.

What are we to make of this debate, and how will it play out? Will anti-racist activists and those seeking to counter corporate power through the electoral process proceed on separate paths? Will their differences be papered over for the sake of a superficial harmony, or will this debate become an opportunity to think through the very real contradictions facing U.S. social movements when it comes to grasping how race and racism play a central role in shaping the nature of class and social relations in the United States and elsewhere?

It may be too early to answer these questions, but it is timely to re-examine the work of Frantz Fanon in light of them. As one of the foremost theorists of race and racism of the past century, his ideas are returning to the forefront of discussion; in large part because of the way in which the increasingly class-polarized nature of contemporary capitalism is inseparable from an ongoing assault against people of color and immigrants, not only in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

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Marxism and White Skin Privilege

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By Chris Wright

I. Introduction

Marxism, in both the authoritarian (“Orthodox”) tradition and in the libertarian tradition, has had a few noticeable Achilles’ Heels, which have had drastic consequences. Gender and race top the list. Here, I mostly intend to focus on race, although at least passing comments on gender will be unavoidable.

In the United States, race has played a central role in the derailing of even a broadly ‘socialist’ class-consciousness, much less a revolutionary communist consciousness. On that, I am in full agreement with the editors of Race Traitor (RT). We agree that ‘racism’ is a term that has been de-clawed by a purely psychological understanding as ‘prejudice’, rather than as a category of oppression, and hence power and privilege. The main feature of racism in the U.S. is ‘white supremacy’ or white-skin privilege or what some call ‘whiteness’ (and I think the terms represent some political differences). We agree that race does not exist in any sense biologically, but is purely socially constructed1. We agree that race privilege entails more than a simple ‘social control formation’, a la Theodore Allen, foisted upon working class people from the outside, but that ‘white’ workers participate in the production and defense of whiteness/white-skin privilege. We agree that ‘anti-racism’ in the forms we know it has major problems, since it focuses on ‘racists’ or racist groups, rather than racism; also, anti-racism tends to reify race as biology. We agree that ‘whiteness studies’ (and its parents, multiculturalism and post-structuralism) has been predominantly liberal and little more than a new academic field for generating new career tracks. We do not seek to study, understand (and certainly not ‘validate’) the white race except in so far as we seek to destroy it, and as I hope every Marxist knows, the destruction of oppression requires the destruction of the power of the oppressor and the infrastructure and apparatus that sustain and systematically reproduce that power. In other words, we will not finish with race until we have finished off the white race. We agree that we can destroy the white race, in so far as the white race exists as nothing other than a social relation granting special privilege and engendering oppression (and in my opinion, a form of class collaboration.)

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On the anti-Islamophobia ideology

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(translated from the french)

The intention of this text is to reply to those among the anarcho-communists who are engaged in the fight against “Islamophobia” and who, for that reason, bar all criticism of Islam and endorse a theory of race as a social class, in an atmosphere of increasing tension, accusations of racism, and even actual physical attacks.

The term “Islamophobia,” which probably dates back to the early twentieth century, only recently came into widespread use to designate racism against “Arabs.” This corresponded to a shift from racism against North Africans to terror or horror aroused by the Muslims’ religion. Immigrants and their descendants, formerly rejected for “ethnic” reasons, are discriminated against today for their supposed adherence to an original culture identified with one of its dimensions—the Muslim religion—which many do not even practice, although some observe certain traditional customs.

Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification (…) by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims,’ silencing any criticism of Islam, which is perceived, not as a critique of religion, but directly as a manifestation of racism.”[1] While Claude Guillon sees “contempt” in this “antiracism of idiots,” [2] we mainly recognize the specter haunting the left—third-worldism. According to this ideology, which entails uncritical support of the “oppressed” against their “oppressor,” those who saw the “colonized” as the exploited people par excellence during the Algerian war unconditionally supported the NLF. Or take the Vietnam committees during the Vietnam war, for whom denunciation of the Americans meant supporting the Viet Minh and the politics of Ho Chi Minh, chanting his name and waving his picture at every demonstration. This scenario was repeated with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and with the pro-Palestinians. Today, taking the Kurds’ defense usually implies supporting the PKK and waving Oçalan’s picture. Such was the process by which, little by little, the third-worldist perspective abandoned the proletariat as revolutionary subject and replaced it with the colonized, then the immigrant, the descendant of immigrants… and finally the believer. While at first, third-worldism promoted cultural relativism, its successors adopted culturalism, which posits cultural differences to explain social relationships. SOS Racisme’s great manipulation in the 1980s made this shift a doctrine that ultimately engendered all the excesses we’re witnessing today, in particular the Muslim identity assigned to “Arab” immigrants and their descendants as a whole.

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Black Representation After Ferguson

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by John Clegg

Up until the crisis of 2008, racial inequality in the United States was showing signs of improvement. Poverty and unemployment among blacks had fallen sharply in the 1990s, and the wages of black and white workers had begun to converge. These improvements were stopped short by the recession of the early 2000s, but thereafter a boom in subprime lending led to a significant reduction in the wealth gap between black and white households. The popping of the housing bubble threw all these measures into reverse. While most Americans suffered, black Americans were particularly badly affected. In the eight years since the crisis, racial disparities in wealth, poverty, and unemployment returned to or exceeded their pre-1990s levels. It should thus come as no surprise that riots have also made a comeback in recent years.

The triggers were a series of police killings of young black men: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray. Such events have not become more frequent. Rather, an already existing reign of police terror was the American state’s only means of managing a rapidly deteriorating set of conditions in poor black neighborhoods. Ferguson was a revolt not only against the police, but also against a society which has nothing but police to offer.1

When black proletarians riot, white Americans tend to cast around for an eloquent spokesperson who can either assuage their fear or indulge their guilt. The old Civil Rights leaders were too out of touch in this case, so journalists combed the twitter feeds of protesters for substitutes. Those willing to play the role of spokespersons have been fêted by the media, with cover stories in Ebony, Time and the New York Times Magazine. Some were even featured in Fortune’s 2016 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list. They have received regular invitations to the White House, and Democratic presidential candidates have coveted their endorsement. Yet journalists have also shown a prurient interest in the periodic clashes, both personal and political, among the newly celebrated activists.

All this media attention, however, both positive and negative, owes its existence not to the activists themselves, but to the fact that thousands took to the streets and attacked police and property in Ferguson and Baltimore. Though some activists began organizing prior to Ferguson—in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride—their actions had met with the same lip-service that typically greets protests against police brutality in this country. Officer Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, following quickly on Eric Garner’s live-action death at the hands of the NYPD, was a watershed, sparking a week-long uprising in a suburban town far from the bi-coastal activist hubs. Baltimore, with protests closer in form to the “inner city riots” of the 1960s, consolidated this newfound vigor, demonstrating the willingness of poor blacks to rise up against a local black elite. The question partisans of this movement must ask is to what extent the new activists can help or hinder the black proletarian insurgency that threw them into the spotlight.

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Baltimore Riot. Baltimore Commune?

APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore

By Joshua Clover / 25 April 2016

A picture of a young person on a BMX bike, April 27, 2015, his arms filled with looted cereal boxes. The caption on the original Instagram snap is mostly redacted. What remains reads “Baltimore shit” and “hate yall.” The person who has reposted this picture on Twitter wonders “Why would you take cereal” and attaches a series of emoticons indicating mortal disbelief. It seems like a good question. Why not take something more valuable, perhaps remarketable? Or why not something that expressed the riot’s state of exception, its curfewless joy — something like the tubs of ice cream some friends of mine wound up with in Hackney, summer 2011? The sense here is that an error has been made.

This sense corresponds to the axiomatic position of state, media, and the respectability politics that keeps state and media always in mind. Looting is not just a crime but an error, a tactical or moral failing. It is the act that delegitimates what might otherwise conjure some sympathy from the nebulous public and indeed the political class: the spasm of outrage erupting from an immiserated people. If only their refusal took a more properly political form instead of just jacking shit! Why, that’s just shopping on steroids, just — we are informed by self-serious theorists — capitalism’s ideology saying its own name through these benighted individuals greedily grabbing at goods the moment the opportunity affords. And, as our observer notes, not paternalistically but with wry puzzlement, paltry goods at that. Breakfast cereal.

This is a moment of levity, not the only one, in The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary. It is the first great book to come from the last great riot in the United States. It has a simple concept: it gathers together tweets related to the rebellion that followed on the police murder of Freddie Gray on April 12th of last year, his spine severed while being given a rough ride in the back of paddy wagon, shackled and alone, the vehicle careening intentionally off course through Baltimore neighborhoods that would burn in the weeks to follow. Coma, and then death on April 19th, which is when the first tweet is dated: “Screaming Fuck The Police #Justice4Freddie.” Increasingly angry protests would yield to open riot on the 25th, a year ago today.

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