White privilege

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Nate's picture
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Nov 2 2006 05:22
White privilege

I'd really like to hear what people think of this very short article (attacking the left for its response to the death of a white US activist in Oaxaca) and of the concept of white privilege. I've recently gotten into heated argument with a comrade about it and am keen to hear others views.

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=4041

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Nov 2 2006 08:21

Heavy. I just read the article and comments. If indeed the article does not misrepresent the activist press then the critique is a valid one.

However, I'd like to see more of the specific content of the activist press before I get too critical - I've only got that little bit of info to go on. It seems most of the commentators are arguing that they were trying to deflect the commercial-media hype about a dead american into something useful. If this is indeed the case then the critique may be a little misdirected. Nate, can you post up a few links or quotes that would help people make a more informed contribution?

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Nov 2 2006 10:30

Tbh I think that article is dead wrong. There had been a great deal on Oaxaca in the activist press before Brad Will's death, but it wasn't being read to the same extent it is now (check back through the indymedia archives, and of course Freedom has been running stuff since late July).

If something has been latched on to it is that the US activist set are more likely to read/care about the death of one of their own, which is, I'm afraid, a fairly basic response pattern (indeed if you ever do any journalism training you’ll find you’re taught to cater your reportage accordingly).

The most likely thinking behind this is to use the death to best effect in order to help tell the wider story, which may sound cynical, but is it any more so than a readership which only picks up when that sort of stuff is mentioned?

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Nov 2 2006 12:10
Quote:
I'd really like to hear what people think of this very short article (attacking the left for its response to the death of a white US activist in Oaxaca) and of the concept of white privilege. I've recently gotten into heated argument with a comrade about it and am keen to hear others views.

I guess you want this discussion because of what happened on aut-op-sy after (your?) initial comment to it?

Quote:
If something has been latched on to it is that the US activist set are more likely to read/care about the death of one of their own, which is, I'm afraid, a fairly basic response pattern (indeed if you ever do any journalism training you’ll find you’re taught to cater your reportage accordingly).

I agree here, though with modifications. I would not say that caring for "one of their own" is in any way "natural" (reified) - "caring for one of your own" is a social construction of exclusion and inclusion. Feeling more for your in-group only feels natural because construction of "us" and "others" get internalized. This is close to what Bourdieu calls, doxic learning, a largely unconscious process (as opposed to conscious active), but will manifest itself in orthodox thought and behaviour. Hundreds of years of nationalist ideologies, baggage of racist thought etc. will still inform even aware people. The same argument can also be applied to gender and sex.

Getting rid of residual bigotry involves challenging orthodoxies in our minds through deconstruction, being open to criticism (no one likes orthodoxy to be challenged), living in "other" cultures etc. It is at this point that (hopefully) the death of "one of our own" will be radically defined away from race and nation, and that there will be natural responses to a multitiude of fates.

I think this is what the essay was in part trying to argue, but it just failed miserably. But as someone (Nate? or Chuck?) wrote on aut-op-sy the article itself is trapped inside the racism it is criticizing, and is thus diverting attention even further to the dead white guy than on the actually struggle and state oppression.

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Nov 2 2006 13:49

If I remember correctly a Colombian Anarchist was killed last year by the police in a protest and there were calls by AF amoungst others to picket the embassy and send emails in protest.
I dont see any pattern of racism here simply because a white anarcho get killed, I just see that some people have a rather liberal interpretation of what racism is and how to tackle it, and frankly its quite alienating.

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Nov 2 2006 14:05
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I would not say that caring for "one of their own" is in any way "natural"…

Which is why I said ‘I’m afraid’, and ‘basic response’ (which it is, as basic is in this context simply means it’s something done by pretty much everyone on some level without actually commenting on why this is, which is largely irrelevant to the point I was making), and at no point said the word ‘natural’, which is an entirely different word and indeed an entirely different debate. Read the post properly before you comment please, I don’t spend time on defining my meanings when I write so that you can read something entirely different into them regardless.

As it happens, I don’t entirely disagree with your analysis, though tbh it’s a little simplistic (eg. caring more about people you know than people you don’t is not ‘bigotry’ in any reasonable sense – familiarity breeds a greater sense of attachment and a more virulent emotional response, it’s not just about regarding ‘your lot’ as better than anyone else).

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Nov 2 2006 15:05

Jason, I'm really not informed at all about stuff in Oaxaca or the response to Brad Will's killing. I've not followed either, so I can't say more. I'm also not real up on the white skin privilege analysis that the author of that short piece is using. My initial response to this was pretty polemical. I'm trying now to be openminded about the position behind the article, since I know so little about it. That's why I'd like to hear from others here, and if folk have recommendations on stuff to read I'm keen to hear them. I'm going to read the post the deadGuy posted here soon.

And yeah, Atlemk, what sparked this is the exchange on autopsy about this. If anyone cares, it's in the November '06 archive for that list here https://lists.resist.ca/pipermail/aut-op-sy/

In that argument I suggested that people might be interested to read and discuss this article

http://libcom.org/library/marxism-white-skin-privilege-chris-wright

(which is more substantive than the piece linked to above attacking US leftists). I've not had a chance to look at it yet, I read it ages ago but I don't remember it.

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Nov 2 2006 16:11
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at no point said the word ‘natural’, which is an entirely different word and indeed an entirely different debate. Read the post properly before you comment please, I don’t spend time on defining my meanings when I write so that you can read something entirely different into them regardless.

Sorry for that. I apologize. I see now that my post attributes "natural" to you; it is just a case of me being rushed in writing the post and my mind racing a bit too fast. What I should have said is that "basic response patterns" can easily transform into being "natural", in a separate paragraph.

Quote:
caring more about people you know than people you don’t is not ‘bigotry’ in any reasonable sense – familiarity breeds a greater sense of attachment and a more virulent emotional response

I do agree with you here.

However, I presume that not everyone in the alternative media in the states (and elsewhere) knew Brad directly or indirectly, and it is in this context that caring more for a white American than Mexicans can betray unconscious nationalism (maybe bigotry is too harsh a word).

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Nov 3 2006 10:45
revol68 wrote:
i think it's more to do with the position they occupy ie the american activists (not all white btw) can imagine themselves in that position alot more readily than they can as a Mexican peasant.

Aye, though I suppose you could argue that it's their position that gives rise to white supremecy, that what we are seeing here is activists othering the Mexican Peasants.

You'd be talking a load of balls, but that's never stopped the kind of people who use the phrase "white supremecy" before.

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Nov 3 2006 11:45

no probs atlemk smile.

Yeah there is a factor of self-association as revol says, which I think (to a limited degree) can also affect how you react to the news of a death.

I still remember examples of journalists getting killed where I wouldn't if they had been say, a bus driver, cos I'm a journalist and I can see myself in that position of asking questions and getting hostile responses, or taking photos on my own in rough areas and feeling exposed.

One of the reasons journalists wax lyrical about this sort of stuff is exactly that, whether you know the person or not you know what their job was, you know how they operated, and you know it could have been someone you know - even you. It's the same thing which sees police go after cop-killers at the expense of practically everything else. Note that white US citizens will have died all over the place that same day, in the US, who won't have gotten half the coverage that indymedia journalist did, even in mainstream pages.

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Nov 3 2006 14:17

A very interesting and heavy article. Something i didn't, but should have picked up on. What i want to know is, if brad didn't die or get injured, but the other mexican people did, would indymedia have reacted in the same way? And would there be demos at all on the issue? I think if I ever knew the answer to that then i could make a more certain conclusion. There is no doubt that what happened in oaxaca was absolutely terrible, but if the media only made us so aware of this issue because of brads death, then there is a problem of some sort of subconcious nationalism, i see it in news reports in general, the media tend to spend more time on the event if a british person was effected. I am rather unsure on the issue, an interesting point raised though.

BB
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Nov 3 2006 14:36

Is it time to wheel out the mexican cleaner living in new york and reporting for indymedia yet, or will their view be too skewed by new yorkian activists, to get a real view?

Or will they be too busy, working for the man!

Quote:
Nah it's matter of empathy and empathy is always easier when already stand in a similar position to the other. Just as how hearing about the death of someone of your peer group affects you more because it brings home your mortality

It really is that simple. FFS!

petey
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Nov 3 2006 16:18
atlemk wrote:
I would not say that caring for "one of their own" is in any way "natural" (reified) - "caring for one of your own" is a social construction of exclusion and inclusion. Feeling more for your in-group only feels natural because construction of "us" and "others" get internalized.

i hear the boots a-comin'...

Garner
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Nov 3 2006 17:18
revol68 wrote:
Nah it's matter of empathy and empathy is always easier when already stand in a similar position to the other. Just as how hearing about the death of someone of your peer group affects you more because it brings home your mortality.

Yep, true.

Funny thing is, though, having been in Oaxaca a few months ago myself, I find it much easier to empathise with the Mexican workers (Oaxaca being a city, the people involved are mostly workers and students rather than peasants) than with some yanqui journo/activist. Their position's really not that different to most of ours.

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Nov 3 2006 18:44
Garner wrote:
some yanqui journo/activist

Not that there's any nationalism or othering going on here roll eyes

Or are there no workers in America now?

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Nov 3 2006 20:30
revol68 wrote:
I think his point is about revolutionary tourists/ activist journos and there particular world view. I'm sure i could relate to an yanqui prole a lot quicker than some activistoid indymedia journo.

How, exactly, do you think indymedia journos manage to feed and house themselves? Most activistoids are proles as well.

Anyway, I'm not a big fan of revolutionary tourism, but slagging somebody off for being an indymedia journalist and making contemptuous little remarks about them being "some yanqui journo/activist" is less than appropriate when they're dead and not even fucking cold. Fucks sake, whatever happened to respect for the dead?

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Nov 4 2006 15:00
revol68 wrote:
are you being deliberately dim.

the point is that in there function as media activists they aren't proles, they are "outsiders" covering it. they might have jobs back home but most of them don't in the places they are "covering". It's not about speaking ill of the dead, it's about a wider issue of differences between an activist millieu that parachutes into report or organise and the proles who are actually struggling in their everyday life.

And "some yanqui journo/activist" is the best way to make this point is it?

Fuck off, it was an obvious dig.

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Nov 4 2006 17:55

So it seems like folks in the UK don't take this stuff seriously as much as folks in the US do, at least on here. Am I right in concluding then that the whole Race Traitor/white skin privilege/white supremacy thing never caught on over there in the way it did in some circles over here? If so, that's interesting. I wonder why that is. I don't know much about this stuff in the US really, its history and such, so I don't know where it came from, why/when it caught on. Is there anything analogous in the UK, maybe related to stuff on Ireland? Sorry if that's a dumb question, I don't know a lot of this kind of stuff about the UK, my visits have all been as a tourist.

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Nov 4 2006 19:42

I think race traitor theory is worth a look. Often race traitor theorists are smeared as 'moralists' who are trying to shame people into giving up their 'privilege', when to me the race traitor critique always cut deeper, and interrogated the structure of power holding the United States together, i.e. the compromises that white workers have historically made with unions, bosses, choices in housing and to a certain extent terror and anxiety about black/chicano/arab/jewish culture. In a world where workers of color are most often last hired first fired, race traitor critique tries to point out why the compromises of whiteness should be refused. In Arizona race traitor affiliates were heavily involved in cop watches which they saw as a platform to build 'dual power' since it brought together several divided sections of the working class. I passed through Phoenix once and met some anarchists who took me to a protest they'd helped organized in solidarity with prisoners who were on a hunger strike at the city jail (who were obviously mostly Chicano since Phoenix is close to the border with Mexico). Bring the Ruckus and the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition were two groups I knew that utilized the critique.

Loren Goldner and other writers people would know here were contributors to the journal, and Noel Ignatiev's work I found useful if just for its uncompromising research ("How the Irish became White" is solid working class history).

I do however have problems with this critique when it links up with a crude Maoism, new-leftish 'the people' politics etc. I also thought the final Race Traitor issue on 'the Jewish caste in Palestine' was a disgrace.

A writer friendly to this critique:
http://phoenixinsurgent.blogspot.com/

All this said, I found the essay about Brad Wills, Oaxaca etc. to be self-defeating even if it poses important questions.

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Nov 5 2006 21:36

Sphinx, I appreciate hearing your take on this stuff. I definitely understand and agree with what I've encountered of ideas about the importance of racism in the US, and the problems of the white working class. What I don't have any sense of is what to do with that analysis. Cop watch and prison support are great, as are take back the night work against patriarchy. Insofar as any sector of the class feels the need to fight any battle, and feels a need for autonomy from other sectors of the class, awesome. In my view, though, it's the flows of surplus value that should be site of attack - waged workplaces, transportation, etc. I don't really know how to factor in the critique of white privilege into that. When I get a chance I'll read more of that stuff and see if it makes any sense.

The thing on autopsy, well, I've made my view on that pretty clear. I feel like it raises an important issue in a way which makes it harder to discuss, like the Spartacists or the RCP do with Marxism. Better not at all than in those forms, in my opinion.

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Nov 6 2006 13:45
Nate wrote:
autonomy from other sectors of the class

Oh, for Christ's sake! Do you lot hear yourself when you talk?

Garner
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Nov 6 2006 15:30
madashell wrote:
Garner wrote:
some yanqui journo/activist

Not that there's any nationalism or othering going on here roll eyes

What kind of nationalism would that be then?

And I didn't say he wasn't a worker, it was more by way of an attempt to highlight your and revol's dodgy references to 'mexican peasants'.

But I won't deny there was maybe a wee touch of knee-jerk anti-americanism as well. tongue

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Nov 6 2006 15:33
Garner wrote:
What kind of nationalism would that be then?

Anti-Americanism is nationaist by it's very nature.

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And I didn't say he wasn't a worker, it was more by way of an attempt to highlight your and revol's dodgy references to 'mexican peasants'.

What "dodgy references" were those then?

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Nov 6 2006 16:30
Quote:
Nate wrote:

autonomy from other sectors of the class

Oh, for Christ's sake! Do you lot hear yourself when you talk?

Fair enough Mad. Graceful with words is not my number one trait.

Garner
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Nov 6 2006 17:44
revol68 wrote:
Though i would like to know what these dodgy references were?

Well, you both referred to the people in Oaxaca as mexican peasants, as if all mexicans (and no doubt everyone else in the third world) were peasants. Which seems like a fairly dodgy generalisation to me.

Garner
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Nov 6 2006 18:22

Relax, I was only being a PC prick in response to madashell's uber-PC bullshit about my 'yanqui journo/activist' comment.

My main point was why the fuck would anyone find it easier to identify with a yank journo than a mexican teacher?

And yeah, Oaxaca is the state as well as the city, but the overwhelming majority of the people I saw protesting when I was there looked like workers from the city rather than campesinos.

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Nov 6 2006 18:31

I read the article. It doesn't surprise me. It's obviously bullshit. I'd like to know if the author would have the guts to write the same piece if the journo killed was black, but still American - because it would have exactly the same result for US activists (i.e. giving it priority because of closeness).

Also of course he could write that people made a much bigger deal of it in New York than in Arizona. Does this mean that Arizona anarchists are regional nationalists? No, of course not, just that not as many were fucking personal friends with a man who has been murdered.

Also of course it's worth anarchists making a big deal about this, because an American getting killed will bring the uprising to far more people's attentions now, who wouldn't've listened or read articles about Oaxaca beforehand.

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Nov 7 2006 00:48

Indeed.

Do i get the feeling you had to deal with some of this bollocks recently John. ...?

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Nov 7 2006 11:46
Tacks wrote:
Indeed.

Do i get the feeling you had to deal with some of this bollocks recently John. ...?

Ha ha, actually I did go to a NYMAA meeting where there was some. A nice bunch of people, but well, was kinda to be expected. The meeting started, and at the front these 2 blokes were introducing everything, they said "Hi, welcome to the NYMAA meeting, we're your facilitators, Ben and Dan* and we're two white guys, we apologise."

They also said they were running a stack for contributions from people, and explained they were using a "weighted stack" whereby "women and people of colour" would be bumped to the top.

Seriously. I couldn't really believe it. I had a long discussion about it in the pub with one guy afterwards, saying that I thought a good facilitator weights towards people who feel uncomfortable or shy speaking in public - these will disproportionately be women and ethnic minorities, but their sex and race does not determine their behaviour (which we know because we're not racialist!), so the facilitation should not be done like that. He didn't budge though, and I don't think he took my suggested to weight towards the disabled, homosexuals, transgender people, the elderly, the young, the english 2nd language people as well very seriously...

* Can't remember real names

BB
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Nov 7 2006 12:25

You had fun then.

Wheres the tales of debauchery.

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Nov 7 2006 18:30
Garner wrote:
Well, you both referred to the people in Oaxaca as mexican peasants

I didn't, as it happens.

Though if I'd said "Well obviously they're going to feel more sympathy for somebody in a similar situation to them than some wetback peasant", I'd quite rightly be flamed to a fine crisp.

I don't see how it's any more acceptable in the opposite direction, no matter how many childish jibes about "PC" you might hide behind.