Saturday, November 26, 2011

A New Scooby Doo Mystery: The Washington Post Asks "Why Aren't Blacks Embracing Occupy Wall Street?"


Blacks have historically suffered the income inequality and job scarcity that the Wall Street protesters are now railing against. Perhaps black America’s absence is sending a message to the Occupiers: “We told you so! Nothing will change. We’ve been here already. It’s hopeless.”
The Scooby Doo mystery about the relationship between race and the OWS movement continues...

The Washington Post is jumping on the bandwagon with their own version of the game Where is Waldo?, with an opinion piece by Stacey Patton entitled, "Why African Americans Aren't Embracing Occupy Wall Street."

This penetrating essay, written by a memoirist, citing a comedian named "Alter-Negro" as an expert source, offering up a conspiracy between cable, cell phone, cigarette, and liquor companies to depoliticize the black leadership class in service to the interests of corporate America, commenting on the predatory evils of commercial hip hop, and pondering if the black church has lost all political and moral authority, is a fun read.

It is not a deep political analysis; nor is Patton particularly insightful as she takes a shotgun approach to the relationship between race and OWS.

[A question: who gets to determine the minimum threshold for when the Occupy Wall Street Movement is sufficiently "diverse?" Is there a census, a quota, a barometer, do we have to read tea leaves and chicken bones to know when this magical moment has occurred?]

However, her essay is useful as an entry point for working through why black folks have not flocked to OWS in mass.

Thus, some working working questions and hypotheses:

1. Jaded, well-earned, cynicism. Where was OWS, and the white folks who make up its base, when black and brown people were catching hell this last decade? If OWS is so concerned about a broken economy and a general sense of grievance about austerity and government retrenchment, many, if not most, were deaf of ear to the concerns of people of color, specifically, and the poor, more generally, on such issues as police brutality, predatory banking and mortgage practices, wage stagnation, and a broken labor market. Why should black Americans be expected to ally with people who appeared to be none too concerned with these issues, until they, quite literally, hit home?

2. Exhaustion. Black folks have been either 1) at the forefront of social and political change in this country, or 2) their struggles have served as models for organizing and resistance by other groups. Perhaps, now is the time for white Americans to carry the weight.

3. Common sense. Black folks don't want to go to jail, understand that their interests are not served by a racist criminal (in)justice system, and know that they will be treated differently by police, judges, and the State, than the (relatively) privileged white folks who make up the backbone of the OWS movement.

4. The failure of the black political leadership class. In the post-Civil Rights era, black political elites have struggled with obsolescence. Many are trying to get their shine back by connecting their glorious struggles of decades past to those of the OWS movement. But, are the models of black political mobilization from the 1950s and 1960s going to upset power, and create social and political change, in the Age of Obama?

5. Experience and vision. Black folks have seen this all before. We know that OWS ends with a whimper and not a bang. Thus, given the perils of the economy, a general sense of instability and political malaise, and a wisdom born of experience, many in the black community are getting ready for what comes two or three steps down the road. As Stacy Patton smartly alludes to, since black Americans have long known that the game is rigged, we are not at all surprised by the Great Recession and the new Gilded Age.

White Americans necessarily bought into a lie as they earned the wages of whiteness. Now, the emptiness of the bargain is exposed. White America simply does not have the political maturity, one born of experience and struggle, that is common to black and brown people in this country. Now they are waking up. Perhaps, White America should put on its critical thinking-political swaddling clothes all by itself? Hope may be born from this experience: White folks may not develop a Blues Sensibility, but maybe, just maybe, they can develop a whee bit of an ear for the sorrow songs.

6. A function of numbers. The percentage of a given population who participates in any type of organized political behavior is not large. The percentage of a given population who participates in political behavior that can be described as "civil disobedience" is rather minuscule. For example, social scientists suggest that the tipping point for an idea to become infectious and spread through a society is approximately 10 percent.Yes, just 10 percent.

By implication, allowing for the indifferent, most folks are free riders who assume that this rather numerically small number of voices speak for the mass public. Ultimately, OWS is comprised of a minority of the general population. To expect African Americans and other people of color to participate in mass--what is a minority of a minority--is unrealistic, and a false barometer for how "diverse" the OWS movement actually is.

7. A thought on strategy and realpolitik. Perhaps, OWS is best served by being a group comprised of the upset, momentarily disenfranchised, and alienated privileged classes? Given the deep linkages in the white popular imagination between black people and "unAmerican" political radicalism, perhaps OWS will be more effective precisely to the degree that it is perceived as speaking for the silent majority--a group that by definition excludes black Americans?

How do you explain the lack of diversity in the OWS movement? Or are these concerns based on a false premise, i.e. that OWS is in fact "diverse," but the media and the pundit classes are looking in the wrong places, invested in marginalizing the movement?

What hypotheses would you offer to explain the relative lack of participation by black people, other racial minorities, and the white poor, in OWS? How would you correct this dynamic?

11 comments:

CNu said...

How do you explain the lack of diversity in the OWS movement? Or are these concerns based on a false premise, i.e. that OWS is in fact "diverse," but the media and the pundit classes are looking in the wrong places, invested in marginalizing the movement?

What hypotheses would you offer to explain the relative lack of participation by black people, other racial minorities, and the white poor, in OWS? How would you correct this dynamic?


Does sold-out trick still just run 32 pieces of silver?

rikyrah said...

White Americans necessarily bought into a lie as they earned the wages of whiteness. Now, the emptiness of the bargain is exposed. White America simply does not have the political maturity, one born of experience and struggle, that is common to black and brown people in this country.

Man, I love this part. You put it so elegantly, yet, so directly about the cloak of White Privilege.

I read this over and over and smiled each time as I read it.

as for why Black folk haven't signed up for OWS, you've nailed pretty much all of it.

For me, until they become OCCUPY VOTING BOOTH..

I don't wanna hear nothing from them.

CNu said...

chicago jack&jill backs your play.

that ups the ante to regional/national sold-out critterdom...,

Thrasher said...

Having been on the ground in Occupy movements in both Detroit & DC I can opine that all of the above reasons have merit and validity..

Of course whites have never acknowledge us as the principal leaders owners, architects of many things and most of the leadership present at these venues are whites..clearly whites have slower maturation levels in becoming leaders, and progressive authors of change they have no depth and they simply lack it..

The black folks I meet at these venues are seasoned and aged in politicsl capitsl and like me not really interested in this overvew on why we are alleged by many MIA..

We have always been in the vanguard in America from politics to love..

Tanya said...

I agree and personally feel it's a combination of 1 and 3. You can throw a rock and find a person who justifies the recent incidents of violence and gross misuse of pepper spray. If we go to jail, that's it. There won't be an outpouring of support. We probably deserved it, had something else in our history that justifies it, were turning OWS into a "race thing" thereby rendering our opinions irrelevant etc. And, as I slowly climb the ladder from working poor to solidly middle class and have seen that on the "other side" high credit scores are about as important to financial movement as IQ scores, I feel quite a bit of schadenfreude that it's not just us getting hammered right now. Immature? Completely. But it is what it is.

Improbable Joe said...

A variation on #3: more people of color are already in the system and face harsher punishments than white folks with clean records, even ignoring the more generic racial bias inherent in the "justice" system.

Plus honestly, I feel like OWS disbands the minute that the line between "lower class" and "middle class" is more boldly drawn. The 99% dissolves the moment that the upper 49% stops feeling like they can easily drop into the bottom 50%.

Brotha Wolf said...

I don't know what I can add to this, except that it's on point.

Thrasher said...

One other note in the universal construct I find if insane that Black folks must always be the nation's miracle worker..

The equation that puts us in the center is bullshit...Our essence is bigger than saving America for America

Student of the World said...

Yes, this post is so completely on point.

I would also like to add that this movement is about 20 years too late.

IMO: I think the American system is so broken that it needs to just be destroyed rather than "patched up". And no one person or group can fix it at this point.

I support their efforts, if their delusion that they are really doing something by OWS really makes them feel better...*shrug* Good. Luck. With. That. I'll be over here.

And I STILL don't think the students being pepper sprayed was anything. Shit, freedom riders and Civil rights movement protesters got shot at, mauled, they got their asses whooped, they had malatov cocktails hurled in their face, people spit on them, they called them every name in the book.

A little pepper spay and some light beatings/jail ain't nothing compared to that, even though I feel nothing but sympathy for the people that went through that.

I'm actually very glad most PoC decided to sit OWS out, if that is in fact the case. You can bet if they had participated in large numbers OWS would have had much more brutailty/violence.

I don't need to see anymore of that shit directed at POC than I already have in my lifetime, especially directed at such a seemingly futile poorly coordinated effort.

I agree with what Paul Mooney even though I wasn't around when those things went down: " I been black too long. I miss hippies and Jews. I miss brave white people. Jews went down south with us, and they died with us."

I'm rambling but again this is a great post.

Oh Crap said...

@Thrasher

The equation that puts us in the center is bullshit...Our essence is bigger than saving America for America

Agreed. I used to say, years ago, "no more Black Jeremiads". Why in the world should we play collective mammy and race-redeemers to the very people who abuse us, and everyone else in their path.

Thun said...

There are blacks, latinos, asians, and working class/low income white folks participating in OWS. I haven't taken any surveys to find out their % of the movement as a whole. I don't really give a fuck tbh. A plurality of negroes in this wicked country think that a weekly contribution to their local Cadillac church will ensure them a spot in geechy heaven. I gives a fuck whether or not they show up for something? Hardly.