Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sounds Regressive, but OK


"Sounds Liberal but OK" is a self described "radical leftist group" on Facebook that is based around "criticizing and mocking centrist (liberal) thought and concept through shitposting."  SLBOK has a link in its description to a "word bank" wherein its basic ideological precepts or links to them are outlined.

The word bank is a worthwhile read for the glimpse it offers of a lot of regressive left ideology in an almost perfectly distilled form.  Many of your favorite canards are there, along with typically vapid and weak definitions and defenses of these canards. But this one in particular is especially noteworthy, since it seems to be the basis of much of this group's - and the regressive left in general's outlook on relations between "marginalized" and "privileged" groups:


Just how long does one have to spend in the ivory tower in order to cultivate such absurdly reductionistic thinking?  Where does one even begin sorting this mess out?

Of course, whites can be racist towards PoC.  Of course there has been native American genocide, slavery, Japanese internment during WW2, and institutionalized discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws that have targeted PoC.  None of this is good, of course, and it would be absurd to assume that mere legal equality would completely overcome the legacy of that in so short a time, relatively speaking. 

But the narrative quoted in the SLBOK word bank must necessarily leave out a good deal of history in order to maintain its integrity.  It begins to break down when you stop thinking of "white" people as a pale skinned monolith and start thinking of them the way the were often really thought of throughout history: in terms of their nations of origin.  

I make no apologies for the "whataboutism" I'm about to engage in here, because these questions work towards the undermining of the black-and-white (both literally and figuratively) narrative presented in the SLBOK word bank: but what about the Know-Nothing movement, and its attendant ideology of anti-Catholicism and anti-German and anti-Irish sentiment?  What about the fact that many Irish came to America as indentured servants: not the same as slavery, but hardly a position of power and privilege either.  What about African involvement in the Atlantic slave trade?  What about anti-German sentiment that naturally prevailed during the world wars?  What about anti-Polish sentiment?  These things aren't such concerns now, but there was a time, and it had real consequences.  Prejudice against these once despised groups played a real part in enabling mistreatment, discrimination and exploitation as sweat labor.  As bad as slavery?  Perhaps not, but slavery isn't practiced any more today either.  And what's to be gained by all of this competitive victimhood anyway?

The deeper point being that while racism against PoC has indeed been a historical ill in America, but hardly a monolithic one. Yet today's descendants of Irish immigrants (among others) are not demanding a de-facto carte-blanche to revisit ill will on the descendants of good, proper WASP Americans.  Whites in America are hardly a monolith, and were only ever treated as a homogenous block when it advantaged the elites to do so.  So called "radical leftists," of all people, should know this.  One wonders if it is because it is advantageous to elites today, particularly in academia and mass media, that so called "radical leftists" have now chosen to forget this?

But the problems with the SLBOK word bank's approach to intersectional politics don't end there.  

The entry on reverse racism seems to imply that "judging a man by the color of his skin" is not what is objectionable, but rather the historical and contemporary power to translate that prejudice into actual oppressive and discriminatory policy. This is a strange, and the more one thinks of it, troubling way of viewing racial politics.  For one thing, even if we did live in so monolithically white supremacist a society as the SBLOK word bank asserts we do, why hate the oppressor for the color of his skin rather than for the actual power the oppressor wields, above all, and the self serving rationalization of racial supremacy that is advanced to "justify" this abuse of power?  Not so long ago, most leftists acknowledged that the problem was racism, not white people.  What happened to this?  This relatively recent shift away from hating racism to hating whitey even in the mainstream center-leftist media (think The Guardian or the Huffington Post) should be raising red flags - literally and figuratively - for left leaning people.  This tumblrization of the left is among the most alarming political trends of our time, if for no other reason than that it lends credence to alt-right narratives and enables the far right to win bigly - to win so much they'll get tired of winning - if you catch my drift.

Why is prejudice based on skin color not so bad, nor are power differentials by themselves so bad, but the two together suddenly to become an uber-transcendent evil, against which all double standards and regressivism is justified?

And that all assumes that the SLBOK word bank's assertion that we live in so monolithically white supremacist a society even holds in the first place.  I would not consider it a mark of a white supremacist society that "blacks cannot be racist because prejudice plus power" be canonical dogma in the Universities and in most mainstream media discourse on racial politics.  I would not consider it the mark of a white supremacist society that to be credibly called a racist is among the most damaging allegations that could be made against someone.  If being demonstrably (or not) racist against PoC can result job loss, professional marginalization, ostracization and being the target of harassment or even violence, than I'd say it's a safe bet that we're not so monolithically white supremacist as most on the left would seem to think we are - especially since all of the above applies exclusively to white-on-black racism.

None of which is to say that we're black supremacist either.  That would be a patently ridiculous statement.  There is a soundness to the underlying logic of affirmative action - it's not reasonable to expect immediate recovery and equality for PoC from centuries of discrimination as a result of mere legislated equality of right.  Giving a hand up to those who've been unfairly treated in the past so that they may live their lives on more equal footing with those who've benefited from the unequal treatment in the past is a just and fair sentiment.  Of course, the historical reality is more complex and nuanced than that, but just the same, I'd say we live in a society that has shown itself committed to transcending white supremacy.  To a degree that looking the other way in the face of displays of hatred for whites by PoC is hardly unique to the radical left, but is actually quite mainstream.

It actually sounds quite liberal to me.  But OK.

Only it isn't OK.  It's actually a grave long term threat to both liberalism and radical leftism, and it would well behoove centrists and leftists alike to come to grips with PoC racism towards whites and start condemning it.

Not because PoC presently (or likely will in any foreseeable future) have the capacity to oppress whites in a manner comparable to the manner in which European colonialism resulted in the oppression of PoC.  But because two wrongs don't make a right, however incomparable the wrongs may be in terms of scale and harm done.  Yes, violence by PoC against whites do have "implications."  The implications for white families who lose a father and provider to PoC violence aren't appreciably different than the implications for PoC families who suffer a similar loss at the hands of a white person. Grief knows no color.  People are more than the abstract social categories to which they are ascribed, and those instances in which polities have lost sight have this have always been accompanied by mass bloodshed.

Because real white supremacy - the kind practiced in the pre-civil rights US, in apartheid era South Africa and Nazi Germany was terrible, and should not be trivialized in this manner.

Because it preserves the integrity of anti-racism as a political position.  You either think it's okay to discriminate on the basis of skin color or you don't.  If you think it's okay for some races to discriminate but not others, guess what?  You think it's okay to discriminate based on skin color.  And if you think it's okay to discriminate based on skin color, why should I listen to a word you say when you lecture me on why I shouldn't discriminate based on skin color?  Nothing sinks the credibility of a moral position faster or more thoroughly than this kind of arrogance and hypocrisy.  Just ask any washed up televangelist.

Power differentials between races and between people are vastly more complex than "whites have all the power and blacks none."  While certain overarching trends do hold when looked at from a big picture, macroeconomic perspective, context matters in individual cases.  Put your typical white dude in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson circa 1988, and who has the power in that situation?  Unless that white dude's name was Rocky Marciano circa the early 1950s, I'll tell you right now where my money's lying.  If allegations of racism on a college campus or in a human resources department threaten the livelihood of white but not PoC employees, who has the power in that circumstance?

Historically, it was asserted that the kulaks were a "privileged" class and that the Soviet Union, being a "socialist" society was incapable of being oppressive since oppression was defined as the means by which one class maintained an exploitative relation of production with another, which a socialist society was, by definition, incapable of. Violence carried out by the revolution against its class enemies was handwaved away in the familiar terms of being a "reaction" and "self defense" against power and privilege.  One wonders if SLBOK would regard the tens of millions murdered in the communist world as being less dead due to this line of rationalization?

Of course, there are many circumstances under which all other things being equal, being white would be an advantage, and that these are legitimate issues that should be tackled.  Point is, power differentials in the real world depend a great deal on specific context.  For all the criticisms of "class reductionism" prevalent in social media leftism, it is at least more solidly grounded in political and economic reality than identitarian reductionism is, though all forms of reductionism are inherently limited.

And all of this assumes that merely being lower on the totem pole of power and privilege automatically makes one morally superior in the first place.  This underlying implication that it does seems to be driving politics in increasingly caustic and decreasingly productive directions.  The popular term "oppression olympics" says a great deal about how this politics of competitive victimhood is playing out in actual practice.  But it does more damage than even pitting people against one another across racial or gender lines: it makes real social solidarity - the kind needed to win material benefits and political progress in a capitalist society - impossible.  Radical left groups like SLBOK, of all people, should know this.  It's why leftists began opposing racism in the first place - division of the white and black working classes constantly hampered organizing efforts.  The right's exploitation of white working class's attraction to reactionary politics is an ongoing frustration to the left to this day.  Their subsequent blindness to their own variations of the same divisive character thus becomes all the more frustrating and indefensible.

The sooner the left abandons privilege theory and "power plus prejudice" pseudo academic dogmas, the more effective and credible it will be.  One wonders if this is precisely why corporate backed center "left" parties, media and academic departments seem to like privilege theory as much as they do?

Racism is wrong no matter who does it.  This implies no less opposition to racism against PoC than privilege theory does, it merely prevents anti-racism from being itself a form of privilege for those PoC high enough up on the political and economic totem pole to actually make use of it. Or from being a tool used by academic and media elites at the behest of state and corporate power to promote scapegoating and resentment between the white and black underclasses, further undermining solidarity.  It actually brings anti-racism back into the philosophy of enlightenment humanism and universal human rights that was the source of its credibility in the first place.  Hopefully this can be done before said credibility is completely squandered.

That sounds liberal to me.  And that's quite OK.

3 comments:

  1. Idpol, or intersectionality, are reactions to real and important systems of domination and division within our society. Being a Marxist means first and foremost being material (though this certainly applies to anarchists as well). This means we have to look at the reality of economics and power formations to understand how the ruling class keeps us subjugated. Class should not be understood to mean simply economics, but also how bodies are legislated and regulated, and how material and social culture represent and reproduce those relations: I.e. the studies of bio-politics and ideology. When we include those methods of material/historical analysis to our critique and programme, we come to the conclusion that economics is not the only or even primary regime of oppression. Control of means of production is the basis of bourg power, but we should be scientific in identifying the matrix of power relations, and when we are, we see that regimes of imperial, gendered, and racial violence and discourse are primary axes of oppression facing proles, in addition to a positivistic medical/psychiatric regime that renders invisible many lived experiences and identities. There is a lot of overlap/intersection, and as a Marxist I see economic foundations of power as opportunistically exploiting these other (often already existing, as patriarchy is as old as history) formations of power, activating through and within them. To see economics and class as an overarching hierarchy that magically negates those other formations of oppression is to negate the lives, suffering, and labor of billions. It is vulgar Marxism: un-material and ahistoric.

    In other words, it is socialism for white men of Europe and North America: brocialism. Brocialists are not socialists. They are not comrades. They do not see women, pocs, or non-hetero-cis identifying people as "real socialists" because they are incredibly invested in white male supremacy. Their ideas are not really about change and will never lead to change: They want things to be exactly like they are for them, but for everybody (in theory), and they refuse to see that their modes of existence and discourse rest on the corpses of those whose struggle they would rather negate than join. And they never will join, (which is also to say "leave", because the sacrifices made by relinquishing privilege for solidarity are material too) until they revise their thinking.

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  2. If the Irish weren't considered members of whiteness, then why do you go on to say "See white people have been discriminated against!!!"

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