Article from 1994 Oct/Nov copy of Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation's newspaper by Noel Ignatiev which lays out his view that the white working class benefits from the social construct of race, to the detriment of the class as a whole. We do not agree with the article but reproduce it here for reference.
Race is a biological fiction, but it is a social fact. The white race consists of those who enjoy the privileges of the white skin—freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the inside track for jobs and careers, not having to fear for their lives every time they leave the home, expecting, if they are female, that the state will protect them from strangers. Its most downtrodden members enjoy a social status above any person defined as "non-white."
From the standpoint of the working class, the white race is an attempt by some workers to cut a separate deal with capital, at the expense of the class of which they are a part. From the standpoint of capital, it is a cheap way of buying some people's loyalty to a social system that exploits them.
The cops provide an example of how the white race is held together: the natural attitude of the police toward the exploited is hostility. All over the world cops beat up poor people, and it has nothing to do with color. What is unusual and has to be accounted for is not why they beat up black people but why they don't normally beat up propertyless whites. The cops look at a person and decide on the basis of color whether that person is loyal to, or an enemy of, the system they are sworn to serve and protect. They don't stop to think if the black person whose head they are whipping is an enemy; they just assume it. It does not matter if the victim goes to work every day, pays his taxes and crosses only on the green.
On the other hand, the cops don't know for sure if the white person to whom they give a break is loyal to them. They assume it. The non-beating of whites is time off for good behavior and an assurance of future cooperation. White workers' color exempts them to some degree from the criminal class—which is how the entire working class was defined before the invention of race, and is still treated in those parts of the world where race does not exist as a social category.
HOW TO ABOLISH THE WHITE RACE
But what if the police couldn't tell a loyal person just by color? What if there were enough people around who looked white but were really enemies of the state so that the cops couldn't tell whom to beat and whom to let off? What would they do then? They would begin to "enforce the law impartially," as the liberals say. But, as Anatole France noted, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." The standard that governs police behavior all over the world (except where race exists) is wealth and its external manifestations: dress, speech, etc. At the present time, the class bias of the law is partially repressed by racial considerations; the removal of those considerations would give it free rein. White poor would find themselves on the receiving end of police justice as black people now do. The effect on their consciousness and behavior is predictable.
The abolitionists consider it a useless project to try to win the majority of whites, or even the majority of working class whites, to "anti-racism." They seek instead to compel capital to turn millions of "whites" against it, by rendering the white skin useless as a predictor of attitudes. How many would it take to rob the white skin of its predictive value? No one can say. How much counterfeit money has to circulate in order to destroy the value of the official stuff? The answer is, nowhere near a majority: in the past, five to ten percent fake has proven enough to undermine public faith in the other. Whiteness is the currency of this society; to destroy it would take only enough counterfeit whites (race traitors) to undermine the confidence of the police, etc. in their ability to differentiate between friends and enemies by color.
The abolitionist strategy depends on the coming together of a minority determined to break up the white race. What would the determined minority have to do to plant doubt about the reliability of the white skin? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to make it impossible to maintain the myth of white unanimity. Such actions would jeopardize their own ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness. That is what would define them as race traitors.
Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, race is not the work of racists. On the contrary, it is reproduced by the principal institutions of society. Therefore, the main target of those who seek to eradicate it should be the institutions and behaviors that maintain it: the schools (which define "excellence"), the unions and employers (which define "employment"), the justice system (which defines "crime"), the welfare system (which defines "poverty"), and the family (which defines "kinship").
AGAINST FASCISM, AGAINST CAPITAL, AGAINST THE STATE
The collapse of the white race does not mean that all people now classified as white would suddenly become revolutionary. Some, whose class interests rest on exploitation, would remain faithful to the capitalist system. However, once color ceased to serve as a handy guide for deciding who gets a beating and who gets off, many victims of exploitation who previously considered themselves "white" would join with the rest of the working class in waging struggle against capital.
Others would take a different path, seeking to restore the privileges of the white race. Alongside class struggle, it is to be expected that militant white-supremacist movements with anti-capitalist slogans would grow among the poorest and most alienated sectors of white society.
The fascists are the vanguard of the white race; however, the big problem right now is not the white vanguard, but the white mainstream. Any anti-fascist struggle that does not confront the state reinforces the institutions that provide the seedbed for fascism. Moreover, every time the fascists are able to depict their opponents as defenders of the existing system, or mere reformers, they gain support among those whites who believe that nothing less than a total change is worth fighting for. An anti-fascist counter-rally where people gather to hear speeches, chant slogans, and shake their fists in rage is a display of impotence, and the more people who attend, the more they reveal their futility.
Fascism and white supremacy will only be defeated by a movement aimed at building a new world. It is not enough to declare this commitment abstractly, by waving the red or black flag; it must be expressed in the content and forms of the struggle itself. How to do that is no easy question. But it is the question of the hour.
[Note from the Production Group: The women of the PG strongly disagree with Noel's statement at the outset of this article that "not having to fear for their lives every time they leave the home, expecting...that the state will protect them from strangers" is a "social fact" for white women. As white women, we have all been harassed by police and fear that we will fall victim to the common practice of police rape and a legal system that still makes it nearly impossible for a woman to `prove' she has been raped. Some of us have also been physically abused in the presence of police that have turned the other way.
Given that this is the only reference Noel makes to women in his article on class struggle and white privilege, we gave him the opportunity to delete this sentence. He refused, arguing that it is his viewpoint and that it should be left in to "provoke debate." We find the claim offensive, and we want to point out that we believe it runs contrary to the newspaper's commitment to recognizing the way in which state power is used to uphold patriarchy.]
Taken from Love & Rage Archive
Quote: The abolitionists
Ok... first, this person believes convincing a majority of people to be "anti-racist" is impossible... why? Feel like explaining that?
Secondly, a minority of white kids get together and "break the laws of whiteness?" What the fuck does that mean? What are "the laws of whiteness?" Does that mean we get together and break the myth that all white people are bad dancers? What will the cops do when they can't rely on us being bad dancers!!??!? RACE TRAITORS!!
This is just factually inaccurate. It is TRUE to say that whites enjoy LESS of these terrible things overall, but what the fuck? Speak for yourself, buddy. I do not enjoy "freedom from unreasonable search and seizure," nor do I often enjoy getting on "the inside track for jobs."
I think the solutions given
I think the solutions given by the most hardline of the Racetraitors are incredibly vague and useless. What clear solutions I have seen amount to little more than petty criminality.
However, their analysis of the white working class benefiting off a series of bribes by the ruling class based on the social construct of race is spot on. Everyone would like to think that they personally do not have advantages, but when we look at the cold hard statistics, they say otherwise.
Yes, overall, we white
Yes, overall, we white Americans enjoy many more privileges than non-white working class folks.
Juan Conatz wrote: I think
Yeah, I wouldn't disagree in the slightest about white people being generally privileged over non-whites but this 'Race Traitor' stuff is just daft.. I remember having this discussion with some American anarchos a few years ago and I asked if black people have to 'betray' their race as well. The answer I got was 'no' coz black nationalism is anti-capitalist (or 'anti-power' or something, it was a while ago)..
I also feel like this Race Traitor stuff comes primarily from white people who never grew up around non-white people and so see the whole thing as some overly-simplistic 'white team vs black (a.k.a everyone who isn't white) team' thing.. how would they deal with, say, second generation Caribbean racism towards Somalian immigrants? Should they all unite against the 'white man'?
Oh fuck, there's so many holes in this shit it's actually ridiculous that it's so prevalent in the American anarcho scene.. you guys should be ashamed.. ;)
This is "whiteness" at its
This is "whiteness" at its best. Grow some dreadlocks and move in a black neighborhood; that will surely end racism.
As for "the working class being bribed for its acquiescence," that's the old labour aristocracy canard writ large. Race is a social construct and racism is both spontaneous tribal prejudice and carefully cultivated political strategy (and obviously in the post-colonial West the state has managed to refine it over hundreds of years, whereas in areas that've only recently become racially diverse, it is more of an explosive issue for the government; see Russia). It most certainly isn't a moral issue (which is why the civil rights strategy failed to end it).
To say that all white people are privileged period is some stupendously lazy thinking (I guess all men are rapists too). It may ease your white guilt but it does nothing to actually explain the complexity and variety of modern racism.
Ah, I was wondering when the
Ah, I was wondering when the Maoist codewords were going to be used. Talk about lazy thinking...
Acknowledging the role of race and how it intersects with class in the United States is hardly some musty hangover from an era when the Weather Underground were cutting edge, it is simply a recognition of reality.
There's a reason actual communist politics have almost never made inroads to sectors of the brown and black population while reactionary nationalist nonsense has...it's the complete failure of us to have a somewhat sane and grounded analysis of race.
For example, looking at the GI Bill, how it was available to whites and how it developed what became "the middle class", why a much larger proportion of blacks self-identify as "working class", etc, etc. The wildcats of the 60-70s and how many involved black and brown workers who had been recently virtually banned from the industries they now were taking the lead in action in. I could keep going.
For some, going down the deep end of this recognition I believe is a necessity may be easing white guilt, but the refusal to have serious discussions on the subject also falls into this category. Acting like something barely exists or in a far limited form than it does helps with this so-called guilt as well.
mateofthebloke wrote: To say
Juan wrote: For example,
These are class issues (with specific historical contexts) in which race played a part. Wildcats of the 60s-70s didn't strive to "abolish the white race" because insofar as those workers had some idea of their own power as workers (or "class consciousness" if you want to be all orthodox about it) they understood that the improvement of their condition did not rest on some cultural/social construct of race but on the ability to attack capital.
GI Bill was racist yes; racism is used by the state to consolidate its legitimacy yes. That doesn't amount to the "white working class" being "bought off" with "bribes." Being subject to police brutality very often is not a "bribe" for the working class, it is an instance of racism being used as a law-enforcing strategy. When a black family is refused residence in a middle class neighborhood that is not a "bribe" for the white working class as a whole, it is an example of old fashioned bigotry (and insofar as the black family is working class, class hatred).
Racism takes all kinds of forms and serves all kinds of purposes; it is not the state buying off whites; that is just a vague abstraction that does no one (except moralists and non-white nationalists/racists) any good.
As for who identifies as working class, that's not hugely relevant. Class is a weapon to be used against bosses, not a badge of honour.
I'm not saying btw that race is not worth talking about or that any effort to understand racism will necessarily lead into identity politics and deranged lifestylism. But what this supposedly political text advocates is not class struggle; therefore it is useless (or about as useful as something by Crimethinc).
What I don't understand is
What I don't understand is the word "privilege" being used. What does it mean, exactly? Why are whites privileged as a whole? What's the point of "recognizing white privilege"?
The whole "recognizing privilege" thing actually seems rather condescending.
That is not to say that race is irrelevant. It certainly is relevant. But working with the notion of "privileged white race" usually just leads to vague abstract "politics" unless you enter the realm of equal opportunity -- creating more chances for those who aren't as "well off" as you, etc.
White people are certainly,
White people are certainly, on the whole, less disadvantaged than blacks or other minority groups. But to call not getting pulled over beause I'm not black a privilege is just nonsense. It is a basic expectation of a so-called free society to be free from illegal search and seizure. I'm not privileged to go clock-in at my shitty job; I'm a little less disadvantaged than people who can't get a job.
The formation of race (esp.
The formation of race (esp. "whiteness/ blackness") in the US had everything to do with certain legal structures that had very real material (i.e.- class based) advantages. Discussing the semantics of whether this is "bribing" with "privileges" is not that interesting to me (though I also disagree with some of rhetorical flourishes). For example amongst the compulsory service caste laws were passed which kept or granted certain material benefits (privileges) based on white skin and took away such benefits from those with black skin (such as ability to own some property, a limited term of compulsory service, kinship rights - being able to marry and have children that weren't considered the property of the owners on whose property you labored). In part it was requisite that those with white skin enforce those divisions and keep those with black skin from enjoying such benefits. The impact and legacy of this is still with us today, perhaps most obviously, it's impact is still seen in policing and the penal system.
If being a "race traitor" means not snitching nor benefiting off the specific oppression of others, and multi-racial struggles against such specific oppression (in addition to class struggle together for our common interest) than I'm all for it and it is totally 'relevant'. If being a "race traitor" implies "slumming it" and engaging in petty criminality (as opposed for example, to shoplifting cause you can/ want/ need to; or typically "lumpen" activities because one can't find any other occupation) with the hope of, also?, getting the police to harass and beat you, then it is pretty ridiculous and irrelevant.
IMHO, this is actually one of Ignatiev's weakest articles (both previous and subsequent articles have been better or clearer)... I think one has to consider this article historically as well (i.e.- in the context of its time) ... class/ labor/ 'exploited' organizing was at a low point in the US, as a consequence overall discipline of the class was fierce which, of necessity, made class/ lumpen/ 'excluded' 'fight back' some of the most visible organizing at the time... e.g.- LA riots, and other incidents of neighborhood rage at police terror; it was also a time when class fractures internal to the "black community" were becoming more evident but not yet clearly drawn- as represented by the different mediated images from Bill Cosby vs. Spike Lee for instance (obviously both individuals are black bourgeois at this point, however their subject matter is what I am referring to) - and in such circumstances a resurgence in "Black Power" sentiment was occurring (the seductiveness of the imagery and real resistance inspired by some of this radical nationalism expressed itself in shoddier analysis/ theory w/in the anarchist media of the day).
Yeah, this article seems
Yeah, this article seems pretty ridiculous, on many levels.
On just one point, it doesn't seem to mention that it is only talking about the US. In other parts of the world, for example the UK, probably the most frequent and acceptable "victims" of racism are white migrants from Eastern Europe.
And as for saying that having white skin means that you get " inside track for jobs and careers" or means that you aren't worried about getting attacked in the street, I mean on what basis is he claiming that? Sure, in US unemployment and being a victim of crime is less likely for whites, but it's wrong to paint them as not being issues at all.
I don't think this is the case at all. For starters, it carries the assumption that people are attracted to "sane and grounded analysis" whereas unfortunately most evidence points to the contrary (e.g. 50% of Americans believe in the rapture…).
I think it's more to do with the propagation of ideas, and these are propagated much further when there is a powerful vested interest behind them. "Reactionary nationalist nonsense" had powerful vested interests behind it in the past, for example the USSR, Comintern, ethnic minority business owners and entrepreneurs etc who could put them to a very wide audience. Whereas actual communist politics have never been spread by more than a handful of small groups.
That's not to say that I think the we have a perfect theory, but I don't really see how this article contributes to one.
precariat pretty much said
precariat pretty much said what I was doing a bad job of trying to say.