Thursday, May 24, 2012

Are These the New John Browns? "I am not Trayvon Martin." White Anti-Racists Talking to Cameras on Youtube

Reverend James Reeb. Jonathan Daniels. Andrew Goodman. Michael Schwerner. Viola Gregg Liuzzo. John Brown. These are the names of white folks who lived ethical lives and placed themselves in harm's way for the freedom of Black Americans. They also died trying to save white America from its own self-destructive racial wickedness.

In the Age of Obama, the Internet, and post-Civil Rights America, where have men and women of this type of iron will and principle gone? Are they on the lecture circuit? Occupy Wall Street? In the academy? Doing community organizing? Working silently in the shadows?

The nature of white supremacy and the Racial State have most certainly changed and evolved. One does not necessarily confront institutional white supremacy and meta racism with the same strategies and tools that forced down Jim and Jane Crow. Styles do makes fights; perhaps, there is no better example than considering people's movements and how the State and market democracies are vulnerable (or not) to them.

My concerns are not limited to white anti-racists. The same questions can be extended to black and brown people. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, there is a desire to buy into the myth that all of our people marched with King, stood up to white power and Bull Connor, wore berets and leather with the Panthers, or hunkered down with Brother Robert Williams.

The reality is that most people, in any society where collective action occurs, are free riders who benefit from the blood, sweat, and tears of others. But, these same folks do not want to be left out of their generation's defining struggle--just like the many adult children who find out either during a deathbed confessional, or organizing the deceased's estate, that their dads lied about fighting in World War 2.

Many African Americans discover a similar truth. Mom and dad were not at the sit-ins.  Perhaps for fear of going to jail, losing their jobs, or other practical concerns, they were on the sidelines. Nevertheless, they/we/most of us benefited while not contributing though direct action.

I hold a key appreciation for the idea that "the political" is an expansive concept that is not limited to formal political behavior. Yet, and as I have grown a bit older, I have become increasingly suspicious of a tendency to embrace the symbolic, and often the trivial, as constituting purposive politics which substantively challenges arrangements of power and resources.

"Hoodie" politics. Wearing multi-colored rubber or plastic wristbands. Clicking "like" on a cause that will circulate around Facebook. Posting a comment on a blog. The Stop Kony campaign. All of these examples involve making one individual feel like they are participating in a grand struggle. There is no risk, demand, threat, or cost. Thus, can it really be considered substantive political action?

A broadly inclusive public sphere is integral to a healthy democracy (these behaviors can in fact be "pre-political" or serve as a barometer of the public mood; we must also be careful to note how there is also a rich history of debate societies, salons, pamphleting, and public rallies that online spaces are a direct descendant of).

However, my ultimately worry is that for a whole generation these online acts may constitute the limit(s) of their political engagement. There is a double bind at work here as well. On one hand, the major organs of power which influence the day-to-day lives of those born in the neoliberal age that came into being in the 1970s are profoundly anti-democratic. The banking, finance, military, marketing, as well as the commercial and industrial actors who constitute the global superclass, could care less about a given person's vote, sit-in, "approved" protesting, or the like.

Moreover, the sleight of hand is that while they have disdain for democracy, these same agents benefit from the illusion of participation and legitimacy. Thus, the need to create alternate spaces for "democratic behavior" like social media and the Internet. The illusion and spectacle of shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent are cousins to this phenomenon: Americans can "vote" for the winners in a meaningless human freak show; but their votes in the "real world" are a choice between two bankrupt and moribund political parties, an act that has little transformative power over the forces which impact the contours of their society.

The young woman in this video offers up a smart and sharp reflection on race, white privilege, and the lazy thinking that motivates much of the liberal shared empathy crowd who believe that slogans are a challenge to power.

Is this the best they/we/us have to offer? Talking into a camera on Youtube is the new face of politics in the 21st century? What type of politics come from a virtual public sphere that is all chatter and no action in the real world?


Tom said...

So there are white kids engaged. If somebody asks them to do something, some of 'em will do something. If not, they'll eventually drift away.

It's easy to make fun of white would-be antiracists who get to "problem statement" and then just sit and spin (or worse). I can't personally even listen to all-white groups talk about the subject, it gives me the willies. But realistically all many of these folks have done--maybe most of them--is step into a program that isn't laid out yet, and then get stuck.

If we want anything better from these folks, we need to provide a Step 2. If we just want to make fun of them, then we're fine where we are.

You mentioned John Brown; did Frederick Douglass spend his time agonizing over whether white folks were essentially good enough to be involved? Or did he propose concrete plans and let people who wanted to help, help?

chaunceydevega said...

@Tom. Before or after he ran off with his white wife?

Sorry. you totally left yourself open for that one.

Tom said...


freebones said...


If you didn't know, I'm a white kid. Sort of. I'm 24. Kind of a kid. I still pick my nose and shit. And I still listen to loud music and drink too much, but I am young and I'm not standing for this kind of crap anymore. That's why I read CDV's work. Because I'm not oppressed, so I can't know what it's like, but as a fellow human I can try to help.

I like this girl's message, but I don't entirely agree with her. Any activism and attention is good attention. She hits the mark right on the head, to be sure, and makes an excellent point, but I think she is over-demonizing the 'I am Trayvon' campaign. I don't like that campaign much either, but the attention it garners for the injustice is far better and more preferable than the subtle racism it implies, in my book. Perhaps a black friend here could provide some input?

I don't care what gets people to notice things like the Martin murder, as long as they notice and start talking. Educate. Inform. That's what's important.

Once we get that done, we can worry about the very subtle effects and implications of our chosen method of activism. But then again I'm at a desk writing computer code and listening to sludge metal, so what do I know?

I loves my people here at WARN. I feel like we are getting some critical thoughts out there. This a great thing you've made CDV. I only wish I could know you in real life.

chaunceydevega said...

@Tom. I here you. Much of anti-racist discourse is oddly a version of white privilege in action where their feelings, wants, hurts, and the like become the focus. But practically, you are right. What are well intentioned white folks to do?

@Free. I am incorrigible and have questionable hygiene. Be careful of what you wish for. Thanks for the complement. WARN is only as good as folks who visit and comment here make it. I am Trayvon is a nice start; slogans help folks get a thought in their head. Now, you have to have action, engagement, and a movement to capture it. Woody Guthrie was amazing. But songs alone don't create change.

Tom said...


What are well intentioned white folks to do?

Well, they'll find something else before long.

Anonymous said...

White progressives have value I support them and these types of efforts

Anonymous said...

I tire of empty huber analysis this is a good reaction to the Travon saga we need more from other venues from gays to Muslims

Tom said...


I'm not knocking antiracism. (Except for the version practiced by groups of white people in a vacuum. Which makes me uneasy but I've heard lots of people say it's a good thing.)

I'm only saying antiracism ends up being a bit of a dead end as far as fixing society goes.

I'm not real interested in rights of people to make fashion statements without attendant consequences. I like some of those people, I try not to be distracted by their appearance, since my life is not lived in a dangerous place like The One Anon has described. But I'm never going to be an activist about that.

Kids are fine, especially kids who get their PhDs by age 24. No problem with kids. Been a kid myself. But I'm not a kid, and that changes things.

freebones said...

not that you took any animosity from my comments, but just to be clear: none were meant.

you and i agree pretty much entirely except on the specific value of certain actions, and that's a pretty big bunch of overlap. you're good people.

my opinions have changed so much in ten years, i can't wait to see how informed i'll THINK i am but 30, or 40.

i read and comment here as a learner, mostly. so keep teaching.

fred c said...

Having nothing concise to say, I thought I'd post something myself about this phenomenon. A quick look at the 'Tube for "white anti racist" displayed a wild array of maladaption, which included all too few "well intentioned white folk." Interesting, as they say.

So it looks like two problems in a knot: what's a well intentioned White person to do; and what do we do about the legions of ill intentioned White people out there.

Anonymous said...

Well intended white people should continue being authentic as a black person I value and respect their intentions and efforts

Enough if the huber analysis goodness is often a simple deed

A. Ominous said...

"Before or after he ran off with his white wife?"

Have to worry about a one-liner that would have a Klansman nodding, though, CDV. Racism, like Love, knows no color.

And exogamy is nature's sexy way of combating, e.g., hemophilia, rickets, sickle-cell and the bush clan. Problem is that the Black Nation of Love is suffering a booty-trade deficit with Caucasia because certain deeply Nazty elements in Big Media have been subverting the Natural White Male Longing for Sisterly Love; for some reason, White Boys are finding it much harder to get as hard for Precious as their uncles got for Miss Diana Ross.

The White Girl is the klieg-lighted prow of the SS Caucasia... this is an animal verity in the psycho-sexual trade-balance of nations. The SS Black Nation of Love needs to get *our* prow to do some calisthenics, get off the McPoison, cold-turkey the conks and re-discover the super-natural, planet-sized Afro(disiac). This won't be easy: the Media Meta-Nazis are working hard against it.

I'm sure if Herbert Marshall McLuhan were alive to make a cameo in the Woody Allen film of this comment, he'd point out that the enduring message of that nice young anti-white-racism lady's video is that she's kinda cute (just as the real take-away from any Mitt Vid is that he's a Very White Man). We need more Sisters posting kinda cute videos to remind the sons of the patriarchy that their recessive traits need neutralizing... in the nicest possible way. The sons of the patriarchy will then remember "what's in it for them" with all this otherwise-monotonous, gratingly un-sexy anti-racism stuff.

Bonus: my inner Urban Freud conjectures that if more Brothers saw more Sisters holding hands with ["handsome white boy-types"], more Brothers would want more Sisters *back*. Mix it up!

Until then, Unity is improbable. And this Race bullshit will keep on oozin' on.



chaunceydevega said...

@Steve. I am dexterous that way ;)

I am all for race mixing. I practice it whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

We talked about it some time ago here on WARN Asian men from Japan should hook up with sisters here in the U.S. The grass eating boys are everything men some women claim to want black men to be more like.

A. Ominous said...

(holding zippo aloft) "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..."

vintagepeugeot said...

"@Tom. Before or after he ran off with his white wife?"

Sigh...I wanted to laugh, but I currently give tours at Cedar Hill, and you would be surprised how many black people either leave the site upon learning of Helen Pitts,refuse to go on the tour with the rest of their 100 person family reunion, or choose to spend the entire tour complaining about it. Which I find sad since there is so much Douglass to study and discuss.

"This proves I am impartial. My first wife was the color of my mother. The second, the color of my father."

"Love came to me, and I was not afraid to love the man because of his color."

Tom said...

The White Girl is the klieg-lighted prow of the SS Caucasia... this is an animal verity in the psycho-sexual trade-balance of nations.

So that's how we can keep running this freaking trade deficit without the USD becoming worthless. I knew it had to be something.

But we need all Americans to help out here. I look around me and see prettier Black women walking down the street than I do on TV. What's up?

A. Ominous said...


"But we need all Americans to help out here. I look around me and see prettier Black women walking down the street than I do on TV. What's up?"

Exactly! I have a plan... a scheme... and it's so crazy it just might work! We start a FB page or a Tumblr called something like... dunno... "FINE ASS SISTA TRIBE (F.A.S.T.)"... (consider that a place-holder title)... and invite the general public to go into paparazzi mode and send in pix of all the fine ass sistas (esp. in Afros) they come across (npi)...and after about a year, we submit the Tumblr itself as a sort of Sociosexual Petition to the PTB in Hollywood... and... well, I haven't worked out all the details... but, the point is, we should actively encourage Euro-American Brothas to leave lyrically-appreciative commentary by creating a safe-zone in which they aren't harassed and otherwise chased off for publicly indulging in Sista Worship...

(we'll worry about how sexist it is later)

Tom said...

Steven, it does sound a lot more fun than trying to make racism go away by talking about it.

Tom said...

Cosign the Afro thing too, I miss those. They look nice.

A. Ominous said...

"Cosign the Afro thing too, I miss those."

A foundational trope of my libido, Tom... even White Chicks were sporting them with sass and pride but then came the hateful '80s and POOF! Sigh.

Tom said...

Yeah. Now every woman in the world has to try to look like Nico. Troops of them, rolling down the sidewalks like lady Terminators.

Which is fine for people who like that, but it's like going into Barnes & Noble and finding out all they have on the shelves is Mein Kampf.

I'm a married man, thank God. My wife can iron her hair all she likes; it spoings back out into a sort of cloud shape in about 45 minutes.

A. Ominous said...

Have to marvel at the uncritical adoration that tin-eared Nazi Betch (and she came *fresh* out of the rubble of the Fatherland) still attracts from Hipstas who should know better. It's not as though she could sing any better than Bullwinkle. But we should've known the fix was in when they made Adolph Hitler's pet project, the VolksWagen, into the emblem of Hippie Love! Who says They don't have a sense of humor?

Tom said...

It's not as though she could sing any better than Bullwinkle.


Tom said...

they made Adolph Hitler's pet project, the VolksWagen, into the emblem of Hippie Love

Tom said...

Mellow out or you will pay!

A. Ominous said...

Sound advice, T! (kicks back in the Barcalounger and gazes upon his favorite crushed velvet black-light Hieronymus Bosch poster)

Tom said...

Sigh...I wanted to laugh, but I currently give tours at Cedar Hill, and you would be surprised how many black people either leave the site upon learning of Helen Pitts,refuse to go on the tour with the rest of their 100 person family reunion, or choose to spend the entire tour complaining about it. Which I find sad since there is so much Douglass to study and discuss.

So now that really pisses me off. Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass!) gets thrown off the back of the sleigh because of who he married?

I have it on good authority, folks, that Moses cruised around picking up Egyptian girls all the time. I'm not following him ANYWHERE, let me tell you.

Student of the World said...


As a young person who has attempted honest political engagement on various issues and is still suffering the consequences today, I can honestly tell you why I don't get involved with activism.

There is no support whatsoever from your community. People will give words of support but they will not stick their necks out. I don't know if it's because all the black activists died, got sent to prison, or they just got tired. But black activism, the spirit is dead in this day and age.

Most of the guidance you get, if there is any, is proselytizing and not very helpful. Period. And some people even chastise you or tell you that you're wrong for standing up for what you believe in.

Don't put all the blame on the younger generation, without remembering who raised us.
(Not saying you were but in this day and age I think hitting "Like" on a facebook status is probably the safest way to support whatever cause you believe in, that won't endanger your education or career.)