Thursday, December 1, 2011

Their Eyes Are Watching You: The UK's Guardian Discovers Sexism and Racism in the OWS Movement


Their eyes are watching from across the pond. Der Spiegel comments on the embarrassing clown car freak show that is the 2012 Tea Party GOP presidential field. Now the Brits are calling out Americans over racism and sexism in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

What ever happened to American exceptionalism? Dang it. At the nadir of empire, life can be so unfair!

We have discussed the role of race in the OWS movement on a few occasions. This latest piece from The Guardian fits neatly with the pattern established to date: like most "movements" OWS is at first greeted with fascination; then it gains momentum; criticism and push-back follow; the group is then revealed to have the same challenges of negotiating identity, race, and gender as society at large; defensiveness and denial by different stakeholders predictably follows; the show continues to a triumph, collapse, or incorporation by the powers that be.

Without using the language of "intersectionality," Karen McVeigh's essay does a good job of incorporating women's voices as being both gendered and racialized by OWS. Black women's experiences are emphasized in this piece of reporting, without being either ham-fisted, caricature-like, or essentialized. And of course, we have the obligatory picture of a nicely dressed, and if I do say so myself, quite attractive sister, being arrested by the NYPD. OWS is political theater after all, so I won't begrudge The Guardian for its obligatory black and brown person doing the perp walk photograph.

While the whole piece in The Guardian is worth reading, there are two passages that merit particular attention:
At a gathering of Occupy Wall Street activists at a public space in New York on Monday, one young woman spoke of a bruising experience she had suffered the previous day. Angry and upset, she said she had been shouted down while attempting to facilitate a general assembly. There were nods of recognition and murmurs of sympathy from those seated in a circle around her. 
But her battle was not with police officers or security guards. Instead, those who had treated her with disdain were fellow activists, every one of which was white and male.
"It was a really distressing experience having people policing and patronising me" she told the group.
In the aftermath of the eviction from their camp in lower Manhattan, the organisers of Occupy Wall Street are struggling to maintain order at the general assembly, the backbone of its decision-making.
At its heart was an "ongoing crisis for people of colour, women and the marginalised", according to Kanene Holder, a part-time teaching artist from Brooklyn who is active on several working groups. 
"White males are used to speaking and running things," said Holder. "You can't expect them to abdicate the power they have just because they are in this movement." 
One of the defining features of the leaderless Occupy movement – aside from the occupation itself – has been its horizontal decision-making in the form of its Arab spring-inspired general assembly. The simple idea behind it: that everyone has a voice. 
But a quick glance through the paper, television and web coverage spawned since Occupy's first march on Wall Street in September reveals that some voices are louder than others. While images of women as victims have endured, those who speak about the ideas and actions have been predominantly male.
To be a member of the racial in-group, and to have power by virtue of that fact, is so very comforting. As ultimately, what is privilege if not the ability to determine how, and under what circumstances, that a person will be made to feel outside of their comfort zone? Some of us are perpetual foreigners and outsiders in the country that we helped to build, others are default members, never outside of the tribe, their belonging and group membership--and entitlement--without suspicion, never suspect, always reinforced and validated. 
Why would the former ever trade places with the latter, when our moral superiority only goes so far, and it demands so very much sacrifice for gains enjoyed by all, free riders that most are?
[While a truism at this point, I remain surprised that anybody would be taken aback by this dynamic--that white men who happen to be "liberals" and/or "progressives" have internalized an assumption about the universality of their experiences, and natural authority, on most, if not all things. 
This is not an excuse for said behavior; it is simply an acknowledgement of the facts on the ground...one that is a given.]
Apparently, there is also no small amount of white male victimology on display in those moments when white male authority is challenged:
This week marked an important step. On Monday, after a number of women complained of "overly aggressive" men dominating events, OWS has, for the first time, instigated a series of female-led meetings where only women can speak. It was an opportunity for "males to listen and for female marginalised voices to be heard," Holder said. 
The meeting at Wall Street, attended by around 20 women and 15 unusually silent men, was the first such gathering. 
"There is a high level of awareness to include female voices" said Holder, who said the women-led meeting was voted on and agreed to by men. 
At that point, as if to underline the issue, a commotion broke out as a white man burst into the centre of the female-led circle, demanding to speak, and angrily accusing all around him of sexism and racism. 
"I'm allowed to speak," he shouted, as another man tried to usher him out of the circle. "You're allowed to be sexist? To get away with this crap?" 
Holder insisted: "There is a learning curve. It exists because privilege is learned over a lifetime and cannot be erased overnight."
She is much more patient than me. Why must Holder default to caregiver and teacher, engaging in excuse-making for someone else's bad behavior and imperiousness? In all, this is a common dynamic. Black and brown folks are expected to "teach" White people about white privilege, and to lovingly work with them as they process their issues. Where race and gender intersect, these dynamics are doubly enhanced, as the dominant cultural script demands that the needs and demands of women of color are almost always made secondary and peripheral to those of men (of any race).
An honest question from a working class black guy who was taught to know the merits of silence, and of listening, and not always speaking: Is it really that hard for white men, those fully invested in their "whiteness" and "maleness," to shut up and take a knee? 
[Why do those with all of the toys continue to throw temper tantrums when someone else gets a little attention? 
Are the pathologies of race and gender privilege that deep, and subsequently so very difficult to overcome?]
And the final piece, the proverbial money-shot:
Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" about the 2008 election, said: "This idea that, by its nature, left-wing activism is inclusive is a myth. The left is continually plagued by gender problems.
And class, sexuality, race, and other problems too. 

Occupy Wall Street's Women Struggle to Make Their Voices Heard can be read here in its entirety.

19 comments:

Thrasher said...

I will soon write about my take on this after being a black male in OWS here in DC... Once during a general assembly I spoke and recieved quite a lot of finger tweaks( affirmation) when I stated I was not going to turn the cheek or take any ass kicking from any cops...I told them we must evolve pass the MLK mantra..

Right after I gave my talk the white leaders especially a white woman tried to shout me down and remind me of senority which I said fuck that right here and now I am dominating this joint..

In the weeks after my performance I got plenty of respect ( I even got a commentary published in their paper)and the white leaders were less arrogant and privledged..the foundation had been altered..

To be continued....

Brotha Wolf said...

Why do those with all of the toys continue to throw temper tantrums when someone else gets a little attention?

That's what I'm saying. These guys act like spoiled, 3-year olds who want the same kind of toy you have. SMDH.

Anonymous said...

Word. I'm with you CD. As someone of mixed race who can usually pass for white U certainly have pathologies of my own. From experience, humoring them does not help. They must be crushed internally, which is usually only facilitated by first being called out and crushed externally.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I meant to sat, "I have pathologies of my own"

CNu said...

the group is then revealed to have the same challenges of negotiating identity, race, and gender as society at large; defensiveness and denial by different stakeholders predictably follows; the show continues to a triumph, collapse, or incorporation by the powers that be.

"Incorporation by the powers that be" analogous to the unsustainable diversitocracy in education, right?

Where people who don't have an actual discipline to teach, have been patronized and permitted by academic elites to turn their feminized and pathetic whining into a demand that competent people "grasp the basic priors" of ????

Are the whiners going to write any apps, fund any bail, do anything useful within the OWS besides demand that their whining be indulged?

Doubtful...,

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Again, I ask, why so grumpy? I can't do the Joker's voice. What is really going on? Tell me about the future! I want to learn so I can get ready. I generally agree with you, and learn much, but as of late there is a certain tone to your comments.

An epiphany on some matters? Do you want to share?

I think OWS is right in the sense of responding to a hot mess of limited resources, the end of this economic system, and the coming collapse. OWS is wrong in so far as the anti-democratic systems they are protesting don't give 2 cents about their sit-ins or the like.

If they ain't ready to get violent, and deal with the national security state in the streets, then nothing gonna happen. Sorry for the cynicism. This is street theater and a safety valve function for the hegemon.

Sad, and I was talking to someone the other day who works on these issues, we have a whole bunch of folks who think that playing with twitter, blogs, and writing online have anything at all to do with real politics and on the ground change.

If you can use new media to put butts in the street then do it; anything less is all so much redirection of energy in the service of power.

Widgeon said...

Speaking of "street theater," is anyone else weary of the Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask? I realize it has multiple references--V for Vendetta etc. But as a XX it feels pretty exclusive to me. Or maybe I'm just whining...

Oh Crap said...

Why must Holder default to caregiver and teacher, engaging in excuse-making for someone else's bad behavior and imperiousness? In all, this is a common dynamic. Black and brown folks are expected to "teach" White people about white privilege, and to lovingly work with them as they process their issues.


No more Black Jeremiads!

One of the major turnoffs for me very early on was the use of this idiotic "progressive stack", basically where the "voices" of we supposed "marginals" are "privileged" "over" those of white males, in order to teach them some kind of lesson or other.

It's given a mention in the Guardian article.

Various ideas designed to redress the balance – such as "progressive stacks", where minority voices are given priority to speak, and "caucuses", where decisions deemed inappropriate to women, people of colour and the LGBT community are blocked – were not enough, they said.

[eyeroll] and this comes as a surprise to them because...?

People trying to pull that kind of "progressive stack" crap with me end up just like the lady in Thrasher's post and that idiot in the all-women's circle: told off, with feelings hurt and their lofty notions of so benificently having surrendered their precious unearned social privileges for a couple minutes, crushed.

What a pile of rubbish.

CNu said...

If they ain't ready to get violent, and deal with the national security state in the streets, then nothing gonna happen.

rotflmbao...,

folks whining for decades about "safe spaces online and in person in which to fully express ourselves" are THE LEAST CAPABLE persons on the face of the earth of DOING anything consequential.

Why else you think your sorry asses have been permitted to occupy so much wasted space in the academy?!?!?!

Useful idiots deployed as against any possible insurrection or insurgency, just feminized whining sacks complaining about lack of privilege and/or being heard.

It just doesn't get anymore unselfconsciously ironic than that.

If you can use new media to put butts in the street then do it; anything less is all so much redirection of energy in the service of power.

Your politics and what you profess represent the most extraordinarily overpaid "service to power" currently in existence.

What you all do is EXACTLY WHY the academic establishment pays you to do it, and you have served your purpose magnificently.

If your sorry asses can't acquire a voice in OWS, then you clearly don't deserve a voice in any sort of actionable resistance.

The fact that all any of you want to do is project your feminized weakness onto OWS participants and OWS as an aggregate - as if they've made you so weak.

Nobody made you weak.

YOU ARE WEAK.

Here's what comes next.

When the bloated $400 Billion infotainment and middle-class certification business called higher ed begins to collapse and implode precipitously - as it must over the next 24 months - lets see if the ultra-feminized diversitocracy is maintained as a bulwark against any kind of authentically active folk on these campuses. Let's see if the talking head "public intellectuals" are retained to continue their ineffectual, harmless, and unthreatening whinery in the corporate media mainstream.

Or, lets see, if - having served your purpose as useful idiot buffers against genuine activism on campuses and off - and potentially violent resistance on campuses and off - you're discarded as a bunch of no longer useful overhead - who can't be justified any longer to regents and others because nobody in their right mind in this collapsing economy would even think about taking a class in whinery, not even to satisfy liberal arts minimum requirements.

Oh Crap said...

Hey CDV, I think CNu just said you wear faggotty white shoes.

CNu said...

lol,

has nothing whatsoever to do with "college boys" Oh Crap, rather, it has everything to do with pretenders not teaching anything of any practical value at colleges, and then having the audacity to impose that unemployable and essentially useless horseshit on folks actually trying to do something of practical value in the real world.

No company in America would employ either one of you to do what you do at your respective institutions on their dime.

Neither one of you represents or practices a discipline that can show a single iota of deliverable economic or political results for black folks in America.

Yet there you sit, endlessly attempting to suck all the air out of the room from folks on the street taking hits to get something done, whether that something amounts to very much or not, they're making efforts while you kick back and take a paycheck for useless and insufferable whinery!!!

Of course, neither one of you feels or has ever felt the slightest pang of guilt about being essentially useless to the folks to pretend to speak for and not conveying anything of any practical economic value to the young folks you speak to.

Hustle hard jokers, get it while you can, because before too terribly long, there won't be any further use for your particular brands of useful idiocy. All your hard work will have paid off for the establishment elites who installed you in your uneconomic roles to sow division and discord and neutralize anything even remotely looking like violent oppositionality.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Ouch and damn. And I thought we at the very least were cyber friends. Me feelings be hurt.

Question: I thought you were a bibliographer? Or work in some other capacity for the state government? So why aren't you out in a bunker somewhere? Is your suckling on the government tit a means to an end? Just curious.

Again, why this venomous turn? What has happened?

Oh Crap said...

@CNu

No company in America would employ either one of you to do what you do at your respective institutions on their dime.

LOL! Do you think I'm an academic?

Whether you think that or not (I'm not), these posts of yours reek of sour grapes.

CNu said...

Love you like a play cousin cuz, but this really aint that complicated.

I'm a fully vested supporter of Wikileaks-Anonymous-OWS.

I'm an equally committed enemy of the 2nd and 3rd line inheritors of the civil rights movement - who are in their totality - self-dealing opportunistic parasites who've set black folks back 70 years and nothing of practical or programmatic value to offer to improve the lot of black folk in America.

To whom much is given and all that...,

Frankly, I find your efforts to attack, malign, and undermine OWS repugnant. I have no more qualms about going in on you or anyone else engaged in that type of counter-insurgent behavior - than I do about going in on knuckle-dragging conservatards.

CDV, given that this is only strong rhetoric delivered straight to your doorstep, it's nothing at all like the incessant anonymous attacks you levy through the media at various and sundry targets.

Surely you and your'n aren't inclined to fold under a stern, direct, and candid orthogonal gaze accompanied by a mere onslaught of strong rhetoric?

A venomous turn would consist of a full court press against the afrodemic attack on OWS in particular - and an even more strenuous, concerted, and venomous public attack on afrodemia in general - in multiple popular venues.

How much do you suppose a ruthless and persistent, afrotechnocratic onslaught against liberal arts and the soft "ismic" afrodemia and the ultrafeminized counter-insurgent punditry you all crank out - would be worth?

That's actually an interesting notion come to think of it and given that the Koch Bros. public kneegrow du jour is rather conspicuously flaming out - it may be time for them to re-arm, retrench and recalculate their whole approach in this domain.

Back to the drawing boards as it were, but this time armed with something infinitely more powerful and vicious than poor little Ron Christie and the bumbling fumbling fools showcased at Bookerrising could ever muster.

Where formerly you only had to swat at Jesse Lee Peterson and Larry Elder, now you have something from the anarcho-libertarian wing with hard technical credentials just eating you alive from the inside out.

rotflmbao...,

Good thing I'm not wired that way and that's only a little wicked daydreaming out loud - eh?

chaunceydevega said...

@Subreal. I am sensitive, I fold easily.

And who have I ever attacked in the mass media? I wish I had that reach. I just throw little barbs every now and then. Nice, gentle, ones.

I am in sympathy with your critique of the 2nd and 3rd line of the CR movement and Black Freedom Struggle. I think OWS is a good beginning; it is not an end; it has also been much fetishized. I also agree with you that black folks need to stop going around with a begging bowl crying "include me" "include me."

I do disagree on some things: when the big reset comes we are going to need engineers, carpenters, farmers, doctors, and yes teachers and philosophers.

Thrasher said...

CD,

Why waste any pity on a hypocrite like CNu who offers nothing but the usual angry spit at the usual suspect Black folks living in a racist America...It is interesting how CNu craves out a spot for 2nd and 3rd line black folks yet the coward that he is ignores the massive attacks upon black folks withing these bandwidths..

CNu is a educational excutive whoe body of work has done nothing to advance the educational outcomes of Black kids across the nation...CNu gives worthless lectures and attenda impotent educational conferences where people go there to drink and make excuses to avoid the lectures and workshops of yahoo's like CNu.

CNu deserves a kick in his silly wannabe uppity ass and I love slamming him in here...BTW I know the orgin of his sour notes of late it began with me dismissing his phony tale about his kids....lol,lol,lol

BTW fuck the oncoming reset..Nothing going to hold me back nor my crew....lol,lol,lol,

CNu said...

when the big reset comes we are going to need engineers, carpenters, farmers, doctors, and yes teachers and philosophers.

lol, what're you gonna do with the know-nothing, do-nothing, talking-loud, saying-nothing jiggaboo camp-followers who've cobbled together an identity for themselves in your carefully constructed field of "isms"?

Thun said...

I'm trying to wrap my ahead around how anyone who blogs as a side-gig during their office hours, who is filly immersed in the fantasy world of comic books and other detritus, and has likely never fired a pistol in his life, finds the chutzpah to accuse anyone else of being too meek or passive or unwilling to confront the corporate state directly and violently.

Chauncey I'd wager a stack you couldn't even successfully shoot a fair one with the uber-pussy Ta-Nehisi Coates.

chaunceydevega said...

@Thun. I blog naked on the toilet. Like the visual?

If you read the thread I am supportive of OWS. Are they going to change anything? Likely not. Doesn't mean that the moment wasn't significant.

Did I say I would be out there gun in hand all hard bodied? Nope. I don't pretend. Nor am I a pretender.

Are you hunkered down reading up on MOUT? Are you all set to go an engage in some asymmetrical warfare against the highly militarized local paramilitary types who have been apparently getting training from the Israelis and the Bahrain gov't?