Friday, August 16, 2013

"Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity": "V for Vendetta" as a Corrective for the White Privilege Collective Action Problem

Here on WARN, we often talk about Whiteness, white privilege, and how white racial identity has been inexorably linked to a sense of who "belongs" to the American political project and those groups deemed by the in-group and the State to be outsiders.

Some folks who comment here, and also on my pieces posted elsewhere, have sincerely asked "what can they do as a white person about white racism and white privilege?"

I can only offer up my thoughts, meditations, and instincts on those questions. I am no sage or oracle.

But, I do have the following advice: practice the Golden Rule; reject white guilt because it is a narcissistic dead end; do not be ashamed of being "white", simply own your own behavior; and locate yourself relative to, and in systems of, privilege, power, history, and the present. No person is an island. We all come with our own credits and debits given to us before our birth--own that fact and move forward. We all can make a choice to live (or not) an ethical and responsible life. It is up to you and me to choose to do so or not.

I also suggest that folks read Noel Ignatiev's interview "Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity".

He is down like John Brown, Ignatiev is the real deal. I also smile and laugh at how White Supremacists, the "respectable" White Right, and White victimologists latch onto his famous statement that "loyalty to Whiteness is treason to humanity" like junkyard dogs--even as they are unable and unwilling and incapable of understanding his most basic appeal to a broad understanding of secular humanism, justice, and human equality.

Do read the whole classic piece. The following section is my favorite:
What kinds of relations with people of color are implied when one becomes a race traitor? How does a race traitor act politically with people of color? 
Relations must be based on solidarity. People of color have a wealth of experience with white supremacy, from which others can learn, but the fight against white supremacy is not something to engage in as a favor to anyone. All people who wish to be free have an equal stake—yes, an equal stake—in overturning the system of white supremacy. 
I’m reminded of the old IWW [Industrial Workers of the World, the “Wobblies”] slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Decades of distortion have reduced the message of those words to the idea that you should oppose injustice against others today because if you don’t it will come your way tomorrow. We believe in the original intent of the slogan. The Bible offers the same instruction: “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.” 
Race Traitor does an excellent job of providing examples of individuals rejecting their whiteness and joining the human race, but there is little there of collective resistance. Where is the collective political strategy in a politics of abolition? How do we, collectively, abolish the white race? 
For the white race to be effective, it must be unanimous, or nearly so. The reason is that if the cops and the courts and so forth couldn’t be sure that every person who looked white was loyal to the system, then what would be the point of extending race privileges to whites? And if they stopped extending race privileges, what would happen to the white race? Our strategy seeks to bring together a determined minority, willing to defy white rules so flagrantly they make it impossible to pretend that all those who look white are loyal to the system of racial oppression. 
We wish we could cite more examples of collective resistance. The whites who joined the rebellions in Los Angeles and elsewhere were a good example. The Attica prison rebellion was another. The initiative by Love and Rage to launch a campaign culminating in a day of action against immigration controls and anti-immigrant violence was a good project, but unfortunately it never got off the ground. Collective struggle is crucial, but at some point every white person has to choose, like Huck Finn, between being white and striking out for freedom.
The passage I highlighted is a practical solution to the collective action problem which makes systems of power function. What if all of us who benefit from some type of ascriptive privilege or unearned advantage simply refused to play along? What if we/they chose to wear the mask as in the movie and graphic novel V for Vendetta?

And ultimately, what advice do you have for "white allies" in training who want to join the struggle against White Supremacy?


kscoyote said...

We all have our privileges, both earned and unearned. I was raised by a loving, relatively wealthy family, my environment was kept clean and safe, I am a straight male, I have a Degree & Title, I am able-bodied and healthy. My tyoe of intelligence is valued, and I test well.

The point isn't whether or not I have these privileges - the point is whether or not I work to protect them, or extend them to others.

Also, you should see Drums article on lead poisoning, race and crime.

sam enderby said...

I can remember reading something (100 yrs ago) that a similar question was asked of Malcolm by a white "fan" and Malcolm mused that if such a question were asked several years before he would have shooed the guy away but instead he turned to the guy and said (I wish I had this in front of me) words to the effect that the guy should go back to his own (white) community/people/town whatever and begin confronting the racism and ignorance there-start with family and friends-how his self and space and the immediate world around him impacts the lives and spaces of others in other communities and towns and cities - something like that. At least that is how I remember it.

chauncey devega said...

And how do you do that on a daily basis?

chauncey devega said...

It is funny how folks generally want to talk in big terms about changing the world but do not start where it can be most difficult--with themselves, their family, and immediate circle of friends and community. Too frightening to think that "those people" who "act that way" and "have those types of beliefs" are right in front of them.

Frank said...

As a white guy, I think the most important lesson I've learned from some of my not-white friends is that it is possible to talk with them, in person, in a restaurant or living room, about race and have good, productive, open conversations and even feel closer to each other when you are done.

I've observed elsewhere (on my own blog) that the only persons who don't want to have "that conversation about race" are the white folks; everyone else seems quite willing.

I think that even white folks of good will fear it. I'm not quite sure why, but I think it has something to do with not wanting to confront what their ancestors (certainly some of my ancestors), neighbors, and colleagues have done, are doing, and will do.

Just my two cents.

kscoyote said...

I push for lead abatement so children have the same privileges that I had, I give women a platform and a voice. I back Gay and Lesbian people, sometimes serving as a body guard, I push for equal access and health care for the disabled and sick.

I don't put words in their mouths, ortry to speak FOR people who have less privilege than me. When they find their voices, they become leaders.

Among my students I force them to confront their misogyny, homophobia, and encourage meeting and discussing things with people of other backgrounds and races.

Most of my family's wealth was consumed by my grandparents' cancers, and frankly, I don't have much to give, except recommendations and letters to economically disadvantaged youth.

And I show them exactly what they are up against, and help them to understand ways of getting around it.

We do a pretty good job. We're considered a model program.

Learning is Eternal said...

I'll keep it simple. Treat/respect those like you see your self being treated. If any/all could start w/tha, maybe, we could work our way toward a more mature convo about most things not just delegated to race.

chauncey devega said...

There you go! Sounds great!

Daniel Goldberg said...

Love your third paragraph in particular. Thanks.

chauncey devega said...

Every now and then we manage to be coherent despite ourselves.

chauncey devega said...

That is the problem with the empathy gap where the in-group does not see the out-group at all like themselves, no?

chauncey devega said...

We don't bite...unless you want us to ;)

Learning is Eternal said...

You're absolutely right. And I know it's wishful thinking but it's like you stated about starting w/ourselves... Less judgement more respect. Imbalance is not a bad thing when good/sharing/compassion is heaviest...

Frank said...

(grin) Never said it was rational; few issues around the social fiction of race are.

But I do think it's real and that it can keep persons of good will separated.

DanF said...

As a white guy and someone who hires people for my department, I always give preference to African American males first. Not even "all things being equal" just first because all things are never equal. Then women, then the rest. Financial success in life is almost entirely who you know and that ain't right. I don't act out of white guilt, just doing my part to bend the arc of justice.

chauncey devega said...

Be careful, you subversives are gonna get yourselves in trouble ;) quiet warriors have to walk silently.