I want to open this with excerpts from an editorial written in the 90’s by Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin called “Speaking of anarchism, racism and black liberation”. This is one of several editorials, articles and books written by Lorenzo that gives critique to the broader Anarchist movement, specifically white Anarchists.
“There is also the question of elitism and racism from those Anarchists like the 〈***〉 group who feel they can think and speak for Black revolutionaries and the communities they are from. These people are from privileged households,have left home to play the big bad revolutionary and fake being poor. The truth is a pair of combat boots, ripped jeans, and a dirty t-shirt does not make one a poor person or an expert on American racial politics. This is nothing but missionary work to these people. They may have changed attitudes; they are arrogant,doctrinaire and condescending to the max. They feel they have the answer, and that everyone, especially Blacks, should follow them to the Promised Land. Only they are qualified to speak on questions of race and class. They know everything!
White radicals like this really irk me. This is why only an arrogant, self-centered movement will surface with this kind of prevailing social ethic at the core of the group.
But in addition to hiding behind economic issues, there is the kind of eclectic escapism within North American Anarchism which pretends that gender oppression,gay oppression, class exploitation other oppression, or some other contradiction among the white nationality is on a par with or even more important than white supremacy. This individual are usually people who also subscribe to compartmentalization, or attempts to neatly confine the dynamics of racism to a side issue or single issue politics, as just another “ism.”
This is reflected in their movements — almost all-white movements against “fascism” or what they call racism, usually crude KKK/Nazi organizing. They never deal with institutional racism or the white supremacy differential in the quality of life in this country. It’s all sophomoric, idealistic and emotional, and it certainly doesn’t do Blacks and other non-whites any real good. We are no safer from fascism because of these white radical do-gooders. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Who knows if it will be possible for the U.S. anarchist scene to coexist with, let alone work with a newly emerging Black anti-authoritarian movement? One thing that White Anarchists must understand it that is not merely a question of getting Blacks and other non-whites to join Anarchist associations, just to say they have a Black face. We must work to build a non-racist society and we must have principled unity.”
I think it is important to note that almost all criticism, rejection and denial of what Lorenzo writes comes from white people. As one comment states at the end of the editorial:
“The hostile reaction he tends to get confirms the very argument he’s making: most anarchists have a superficial analysis of racism (it’s something that fascists do, rather being a system, intertwined with exploitation), and our organisations have a long way to go. I don’t think we should take the usual critiques seriously: ‘where’s your evidence?’, ‘this is only relevant to the US’, ‘this is sectarian identity politics’.”
To be clear, I am not writing this with the intention to call out the Anarchist movement as if I have a golden moral compass or am doing anything in any way more relevant than anyone else. I did not include these excerpts to accuse Anarchists/Anti-fascists, in general or specifically, of being racist or motivated by selfish reasons. Since the 1990’s the political climate has gone through enormous changes, and anti-fascist activism has changed with it. In many ways, though much has changed, many forms of oppression have only been adapted and crafted to keep white supremacy in control. The truth of Black and Brown oppression is obscured, ignored, denied, and used as superficial means for those with something to gain. Not only by white america, but within the very collectives of people who’s cause they call anti-racism. I’ve seen it for myself and unfortunately, too many times before, out of fear of being ostracized or called out for some other ism by cliquish individuals who hold control over their circles through manipulation and elitist purism, I stayed silent. When we spoke up, they didn’t like what we had to say. Not only racism, but transphobia, sexism and classism. Manipulation is a weapon that can be hard to defend against. Sometimes your best choice is to keep quiet and let what is dark come to light. As Sun Tzu said,
“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.”
But this in itself can come from a position of privilege. If the racism, or transphobia, or sexism or manipulation isn’t affecting you directly but is hurting someone else, who are we protecting other than ourselves and the aggressor by remaining silent? We can’t only speak when it affects us. It is the same thing when people cape for and protect abusers, either out of fear of retaliation or protecting their status or your personal relationship. The point we need to address here is that until we take a firm stance on these issues internally inside of mostly or all white circles of activism, how can we expect to contribute to any real social change for Black, Brown, queer and indigenous people? And if we are not consciously and consistently seeking to follow the leadership and voices of marginalized people, then we are not working towards their liberation. Especially if the majority of our time in the work we do is focused only on organizing to fight neo-nazis and white nationalist groups. Of course, confronting these groups and defending our communities is essential work that we can’t and won’t ignore. We will always have that fight. But if you ask any of your Black or Brown neighbors how much that work is actually doing anything beneficial to their everyday lives, how do you think they will respond?
Which brings me to another point:
White and (mostly) Liberal activists who have the loudest voice, the most privilege and the most social capital, who are so vocal about how angry they are at racism and how opposed to white supremacy they are, are usually the first in line to step up and tone police the voice of an angry Brown person that says FUCK too loud at a rally, SHOUTS in the face militarized police, and SPITS in the face of racists. They want you to be quiet because you’re making them uncomfortable. They will call the cops on you for holding a knife while a nazi points a gun at you because you disrupted their koombaya peaceful protest. They will call you angry and violent for being angry at the violence. This is not resistance, it upholds white supremacy and we should be making them uncomfortable. If they are more offended by language then they are bothered by the violence of white supremacy and capitalism, why are they there?
“Put simply, violence does not exist. It is not a thing. It is a category, a human construct in which we choose to place a wide array of actions, phenomena, situations, and so forth. “Violence” is whatever the person speaking at the moment decides to describe as violent. Usually, this means things they do not like. As a result, the use of the category “violence” tends towards hypocrisy. If it is done to me, it is violent. If it is done by me or for my benefit, it is justified, acceptable, or even
“Something that critics of nonviolence have long said is that nonviolence hides structural violence or the violence of the State, yet it is this kind of violence, and not riots or liberation struggles, that harms far more people around the world.”
-Peter Gelderloos, ‘The Failure of Nonviolence’
It is not for us, from our position of privilege, to determine or define the violence we commit or witness. It is not for us to dictate the response of the people it is committed against.
There can be no mistake that we are several stages into the making of a fascist regime. Anarchists and anti-fascists of all ideologies are building resistance to unjust and inhumane immigration laws by occupying ICE facilities around the country. At the same time, police have not stopped or made ANY attempt to stop or rectify unjust killings of Black men and women. INDIGENOUS PEOPLE ARE STILL SUFFERING GENOCIDE. SLAVERY IS LEGAL THROUGH THE PRISON SYSTEM.
FLINT STILL DOES NOT HAVE CLEAN WATER.
There is no single issue. There is a blanket of institutional racism, white supremacy and capitalism that is the result of over 400 years of colonial terrorism. To be successful we must have principled unity. To achieve this, white people, and especially you Liberals, need to shit or get off the pot.
The antidote for silence is not always to raise our own voice, but to uplift and listen to the voices of the oppressed. When it is our turn to speak, never stay silent. Agitate. Educate. Organize.