Thursday, July 30, 2009

No One Whines Like a White Kid -- Revisited

So I continue my on-going re-visitation of older pieces from Phoenix Insurgent. Today I have returned to an analysis of a white male booster club that temporarily threatened to form at ASU, with the express purpose of advancing the position of white males on campus. While I wasn't a student at ASU, I was outraged both by the reactionary organization itself (and its bogus revisionism) as well as the piss-poor response from most of the student body.

So, I decided to make it my task to analyze and reveal the bogus assumptions that underlay the organization's not-so-subtle -- if post-modern -- attempt at a shoring up of white male power on campus. I say post-modern because what CAMASU did, like the Minutemen and other modern white supremacist groups, was attempt to co-opt the language of liberal identity politics in order to bolster its already privileged position.
In some ways, although I didn't go into this in the piece at the time, it shows the limits of an identity politics that does not specifically frame itself as oppositional to power. The identity politics of the university is generally an accommodationist one, originally well-intended but now hopelessly wedded to the very power structures that it once sought to oppose.

Like so much that falls under the shadow of the great capitalist factory/shrine that is the university (and not at all exclusive to identity politics), co-optation, recuperation, self-policing and careerism proliferate and dominate. As such, when CAMASU rose up to cry about the supposed underclass status of whites, groups on campus that would otherwise tend to oppose such developments were ill-prepared to have their own watered-down logic aimed back at them.


This is not to echo some recent calls from within the anarchist milieu for the head of identity politics to be delivered on a silver platter. The tendency of white male anarchists to want to marginalize the perspectives and organizing of folks outside their own narrow identity is nothing new. Indeed, white males in almost all circumstances consider their perspective normative precisely because of its dominant status, and they therefore generally consider it not worthy of an "identity politics"
specifically to defend it. Indeed, their general tendency to flock to politics that seek to leapfrog over really-existing power structures in society -- or to roll up all oppressions into an all-encompassing "totality" -- reveals the truth in the matter. The dismissive attitude that white anarchists take towards critically engaging white supremacy is the identity politics of the white anarchist precisely because it serves to defend their privileged position.

Said another way, their ability to marginalize identity politics at the same time that they put forward another set of supposedly bigger -- and allegedly more legitimate or unifying, if we are to believe their claims -- targets ("common enemy" is a recurrent phrase) derives specifically from their privileged position, which is quite ironic given their steadfast assertions to a great leveling spirit when it comes to oppressions.
But, as with the Caucasian American Males of Arizona State University (CAMASU), the often rabid denunciations of "identity politics" emanating from some white male anarchists these days is telling.

For instance, how is the call from some insurrectionists of late to harken to the general attack on the totality different from the calls of class war anarchists back in the day to unite and fight against the boss rather than directly address the disparities of white supremacy? And, similarly, why is it that so many insurrectionaries in the US are moved so much more by theories coming out of Europe than those that come from the US? I myself take some inspiration from the insurrectionary tradition in Europe, but I think white insurrectionists who take their primary cues from there ought to consider the reason for that attraction.

The question is, why the hell should an insurrectionary anarchy in the US look at all like one in Europe? Why should it take its primary intellectual stimulation from texts produced in Europe, a continent with a completely different history, particularly with regard to white supremacy? An American insurrectionism ought to be influenced by our history of slave and indigenous rebellions (just to begin with) at least as much as Paris 1968 and Italy of the 70's. To generalize, why do I never find a book on John Brown or Harriet Tubman in the insurrectionary library? Indeed, American insurrectionism's general orientation towards Europe and as a result away from the US betrays it's position on race.

Certainly the issue of white supremacy looms large when we consider this question and, yet, these are precisely the questions that anarchists who put forward this tired attack on "identity politics" must answer if they are to persuade me to their "earth is flat" position with regard to insurrectionary anarchy in the US.
It certainly causes one to pause a moment and consider whether there are any real differences between CAMASU's position and the stance taken by some anarchists with regard to so-called "identity politics".

Consider such sweeping and generally meaningless statements like "its high time to root out identity politics. on the other hand i think... that attacking social roles is a frontline of the forever war that traverses our individual subjectivities like a seam or fault line" (
recently posted to Infoshop.org). In confusing social position under capital with "social roles" (is that all being a women or being black is -- a social role?! Men hardly think so. The police hardly think so.), the author of that comment seeks to flatten out all oppressions. Are such positions within capitalism merely "subjectivities"? Not if your lover is beating you it's not. Not if you're more likely to get pulled over going to the demonstration its not. Certainly as long as rates of sexual assault and imprisonment (to choose but two of many possible barometers) remain as high and disproportionate as they are we can be sure that such alleged "subjectivities" are in fact objectivities. They are hard facts.

Such silliness is to equate being a women under patriarchy with being unhappy with consumerism. Or to equate being black in a white supremacist society with being a lonely white suburban kid on a social network. While Capital may seek in all those instances to define relationships as much as it can, it's hard to deny that there are obvious differences between them.


Further, it defacto puts forth the position that striking out at all oppressions and marginalizations equally and at the same time is the correct strategy to take if we want to bring down society. And yet, if we follow this logic, just when will a white insurrectionary movement that doesn't want to deal with race get around to attacking white supremacy? In all likelihood, since it doesn't even want to talk about it, it's never going to act against it, and that hardly seems like a movement that strikes against the totality to me. Again, what we have is a default defense of privilege.

So, clearly such "flattening" misses the point. Not only the strategic point of whether this society places more political emphasis on one or another set of privileges and oppressions in order to maintain its dominance (a question, as I have pointed out before, that revolutionaries must answer), but also the legitimate demand by those who seek comrades in struggle to both their own automous organizing and also to solidarity from their supposed allies.


Good news, though: CAMASU is now but a fleeting memory. Now if we can only eliminate a similar politics in the anarchist movement.


###

Ah, yes. No one whines like a white kid at ASU. Sophomore Matthew Jezierski does it like a pro. Last month Jezierski made waves at ASU when he became the local face of a Campus Leadership Program attempt to organize a "Caucasian American Men of ASU" front group on campus.

According to its website, the CLP is a conservative group that sends
[t]rained field representatives... to college campuses to identify and recruit student leaders who create and oversee organizations on each campus. Each local campus organization identifies, recruits and trains conservative college students who will promote conservative principles effectively.
In other words, Jezierski is a dupe whose reactionary politics have allowed him to be manipulated by an outside force pushing a right-wing, white supremacist agenda.

According to a recent article in the State Press, ASU's newspaper, ridiculously titled "The new minority?":
...with the official recognition of Caucasian American Men of ASU, or CAMASU, Jezierski, an industrial design major, said he would get the representation he and other Caucasian males deserve.

The student group of more than 40 members plans to become an official organization by registering with the Student Organization Resource Center today, Jezierski said.

"As soon as we become an official group, we can be taken more seriously," Jezierski said. "It won't be like we're preaching on campus."

After Jezierski learned of the group last month from Leadership Institute field representative Emily Mitchell, he said he immediately became involved.

After spending time on campus talking with students who said they wanted more representation for white males, Mitchell decided CAMASU was needed.

She then sought out students like Jezierski to start the group, she said.

"I want to put in as much time as is needed," Jezierski said. "This club is a way to instill pride in each other and not be ashamed that we're Caucasian males."
Unsurprisingly, Jezierski offers no real evidence to support his claim that white males are under attack at the university, but his pride in whiteness remark sure sounds familiar.

The very idea that whites or white men specifically are a disadvantaged or under-represented minority at ASU is ridiculous. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. First of all, there are all kinds of white people at ASU. The Regents is practically overflowing with white folks, with plenty of white males representing. The President of ASU is a white male, and he follows in the footsteps of many white men before him. Further, beyond positions of power at ASU, whites are actually over-represented in the student body as a whole. According to the US Census in 2004, barely 61% of Arizonans are white (almost certainly an over-estimate), yet in 2003 68% of the student body was white. Indeed, if anyone is under-represented it is Hispanics, who at 12% enrollment total less than half their count in the general population. If CAMASU were truly interested in addressing disparities, they would do well to start there.

Cali Kahlman, Feminist Organization member, has it right when she told the State Press that, "The group sounds like it consists of white men who cannot comprehend how ... much easier they have it than the majority of society. They are aggravated because people are 'taking away' their rights, which is complete nonsense."

The benefits of whiteness are many. Higher incomes, longer lifespans, better access to resources, higher net worths, lower incarceration rates and better access to advanced schooling just scratch the surface.

The problem is Jezierski makes the classic confusion between ethnic identity and the political identity of whiteness.
One ASU policy CAMASU intends to challenge is the general studies requirement of a course relating to cultural diversity in the United States, Jezierski said.

He said classes in European history and languages should also be included in the requirement.

"I can fluently speak and write Polish. I don't know how that's not culturally diverse," Jezierski said. "God forbid something comes from Europe."
Speaking Polish is awesome, but is Jezierski, who the Nazi's probably wouldn't have considered white, asserting that Polish is the language of whiteness? Clearly that's ridiculous, not least because Poles certainly weren't considered white when they first began immigrating here.

The fact is, whiteness is a political identity, a political relationship which was consciously constructed through law and political action by a combination of English elites and some working class European immigrants. In order to make the New World safe for their profits, Colonial elites offered some immigrants from Europe a "Devil's Bargain" in which some privileges would be extended to them in exchange for accepting the subservient status of others, slaves most importantly, but also including Indigenous peoples and other Europeans.

Originally it excluded plenty of Europeans we now consider white, including Irish, Poles, Jews, Italians and others. The fact that this identity has evolved proves its political nature. Poles didn't evolve into whiteness. It wasn't a genetic process, or even a cultural process, per se. They became white through politics. Generally, European immigrants have had to prove their worthiness as white people. Referring to the Irish experience, Noel Ignatiev put it this way:
There were two things they had to do. First, they had to distance themselves as much as possible from the black population of North America. They had to do whatever they possibly could to create barriers, to insulate themselves, to separate themselves from the black population.

The second thing they had to do was overcome the resistance to their own civil rights coming from the people who were better off than them--that is, the native Protestant, bigoted, anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner establishment that was running the country.

There was a relationship, in fact, between these two tasks. To the extent to which they could prove themselves worthy of being white Americans--that is, by joining in gleefully in the subjugation of black people--they showed that they belonged, that they deserved all the rights of citizenship. On the other side, to the extent to which they were able to force their way into the white polity of this country, they were able to distance themselves from black people.
Whiteness and Polish ancestry were not always considered mutually inclusive, and this is what Jezierski doesn't understand. By defending his whiteness, he is defending not an ethnic identity, but rather a political identity that is opposed to the interests of people of color and equality in general. It is a racist identity, quite unlike his Polish ancestry. By organizing a political group (white men) that already has power and privilege he is consolidating power, not reclaiming it or redressing a disparity.

But, in tried and true fashion, CAMASU is good at playing the blame game. First, they have attempted to flip the script by claiming that the resistance that they experience from the student body and administration is "racist."
Jezierski said CAMASU is trying to increase equality between races and genders, and nothing else.

"This isn't a mindless, sexist and raceless group," Jezierski said. "It's the opposite - we want to stop sexism and racism."
Quite a hilarious accusation, since white men suffer no discrimination at ASU, nor are they alienated from power.

And just this week the group cried to authorities about an alleged assault on the CLP's outside agitator, Mitchell. While out hoping to capitalize on some student's white supremacist sympathies, Mitchell was confronted by two women who identified themselves as Fine Arts professors. During the discussion, which Mitchell was filming (and later posted on YouTube), one of the professors reached out and attempted to grab the video camera. Mitchell alleges she was assaulted in the process, which, if true, would be a brave step out of theory and into practice for what appears to be two well-meaning anti-racist professors.

Let's hope that ASU students that are truly dedicated to anti-racism and anti-sexism find a way to confront and stop this troubling development on campus. White men who really want to fight racism and sexism should stand up and shut this organization down now.

8 comments:

engine summer said...
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engine summer said...
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engine summer said...

thanks for reposting my comment, sorry you found it meaningless. maybe i should explain what i meant by "identity politics": that which affirms subjects in order to construct their defense, a politics which so often tends toward an almost identical mirror image of the logic of the politics that created these subjects. what is needed is the negation of the whole apparatus rather than an inversion of its victimizations. for instance, all the leftists in the bay screeching about how the white middle class anarchists caused a bunch of poor black youth to be arrested during the oscar grant rebellion (because folks of color are only the victims of violence). or for that matter, the recently announced APOC platform which tacitly accept national liberationism, the kissing cousin of ID pol. i think it is inevitable for identity politics to be a trojan horse for authoritarianism since it's so reductionist, for instance, most self-identified feminists being statists. capitalism could restructure itself in a less patriarchal, less white-supremacist (etc) way and so fucking what?

if on the other hand you are talking about a theory and practice in which our real positions and the ways in which we've been subjectified/objectified within the totality are fully considered, are in fact crucial considerations regarding the war in course, then we'd agree on that - in fact based on this article, i think we do. i think it's necessary to bring an end to the imposed roles, not by ignoring them but also not by valorizing or essentializing them.

but then you'd have one less whiny white boy to pick on.

chaparral said...

"The dismissive attitude that white anarchists take towards critically engaging white supremacy is the identity politics of the white anarchist precisely because it serves to defend their privileged position."

this is a really good way of putting it.

Phoenix Insurgent said...

Engine Summer, let me just address one point here that I think is very important and probably gets to the crux of our disagreement here.

You suggest that capitalism could just restructure itself to accommodate an end of white supremacy. I hear this a lot from people, white folks in particular. The point isn't whether it could, or even if other "capitalisms" in other countries exist without it. And, while we do know that capitalism here so far, despite the assertions from many anarchists that it could, has not in fact done away with white supremacy, the real question here is one of strategy.

In the US white supremacy has a particular importance to American capitalism that elevates it above the others, not in terms of a hierarchy of oppressions or anything silly like that, but in terms of the crucial need for revolutionaries to attack it. As a comrade of mine said recently on the "smack" thread, attacking white supremacy is the key to bringing this stinking system down.

History shows, when white supremacy is in crisis, capitalism is in crisis. But when capitalism is in crisis, white supremacy often re-asserts itself. So, I think there's a lesson here. It's no accident that the most radical eras in American recent history have been times when people have thrown the "devil's bargain" of white supremacy into crisis.

Such times generally involve an explosion of struggles against the totality, if you will. The women's movement, the queer movement and the environmental movement emerge from the gap in society caused by the crisis surrounding the struggles against segregation and other facets of the racist society of its day.

So, what I am positing here is that, paradoxically, in order to deal that all-over blow to the "totality" you have to put the struggle against white supremacy first. The other follows from the opportunities that emerge through the gaps once people have other ways of defining their social relations.

Said another way, the capitalist relies on white supremacy to turn what would otherwise be class allies of all colors into a divided class with opposing class interests. White supremacy offers significant non-monetary (although that, too) privileges to whites that puts them into a cross-class alliance with rich whites.

Because of that, white supremacy must be attacked head on as a pre-condition for revolutionary struggle. In that sense, one can't skip over it and hope that it will just get addressed in struggle. It won't.

engine summer said...

i feel more like you misunderstand me than that we disagree because this does make a lot of sense to me. i do still remain wary of anyone who says "this one thing is THE THING!"

i guess also i'm thinking of experiences i've had, like for instance in post-katrina new orleans where various "revolutionaries" used the issue of race as a cover for ignoring/facilitating patriarchy and authoritarianism of the worst kinds. or any other bland and dangerous valorizations of "anti-white supremacy" struggles that eventually meld into supporting "national liberation".

Bill said...
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Bill said...

@ Phoenix Insurgent: There is another way that the elevation of American Capitalism (with white supremacy) affects the spectrum of capitalism. American Capitalism also elevates itself above the rest of capitalism across the world. In the American (especially white American) foreconcsciousness our form of government, economy, religion...etc is the truest form and the best in the world.

In my opinion this perception comes directly from white supremacy. In any of the white supremacist literature/opinion I have studied the key point is that the 'white' race/way/religion is somehow superior to all others. This carries over to the definition of patriotism, which is largely defined by the white majority in America.

Patriotism in turn requires that our form of everything is better than that of the other. Capitalism is therefore patriotic, remaining removed in the public concept from white supremacy, which patriotism is removed from as well.

This gives American Capitalism an air of being better and truer than the rest of the world. A lofty air that is taken from Patriotism and White Supremacy.