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(en) The Female Species Zine - An Interview with Ernesto Aguilar of the APOC

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 28 Jun 2003 15:18:19 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

The following is an amazing interview with Ernesto Aguilar of
the Anarchist People of Color for the Cincinnati based Anarchist
zine The Female Species. Ernesto touches on some of the most
important issues faced by the Anarchist movement today and offers
a strong critique of racism in the movement and in America today.

TFS: Who were the
founders of the APOC? When was it started?

EA: The anarchist people of color movement has been around for a
long time. Martin Sostre is one of the best-known people of color in
contemporary history to articulate anarchist politics, as was Kuwasi
Balagoon. Today, Ashanti Alston and Lorenzo Komboa Ervin are two
of the most visible anti-authoritarians of color, but this movement is
decentralized and diverse.

There is no formal APOC organization at this point. In 2001, I founded
an email list and website called Anarchist People of Color, and much
activity — including the conference — has developed out of them.
Getting to that point owes a lot to the past, though.

My involvement was borne out of a few things. Back in the early
1990s, I was part of a Houston anarchist collective called Black Fist,
which was active around issues of self-determination, anarchism and
race. And I talked with so many other people of color who were, in
essence, invisible in the movement. There was a lot of disillusionment
out there, and many people I dialogued with just left the anarchist
movement completely. By the time Black Fist folded, I had many of the
same doubts. Somewhere along the line, I said ‘fuck it’ and
tried to link up with other people of color who were fed up, essentially.

TFS: Is the American Anarchist community welcoming to people of

EA: My perception is that there are a few different responses to
people of color who join up with white-led groups or scenes —
whether they’re anarchist or otherwise, they’re pretty much
the same.

There are, of course, people who are opponents of anarchist people of
color movements and have lots of justifications. These go from totally
bananas — ‘you are a bunch of racists’ and such — to
very intellectualized nationalism rants. Both are, to me, of such little
consequence that they’re not worth the time.

Also, there are people who genuinely respect what we’re doing as
organizers. Not a lot, but enough to be memorable. Those are the
people who offer solidarity without strings — not to say it is, to use
a popular anarchist phrase. ‘uncritical support,’ but is, in
reality, backup for the long haul.

The majority of it, I think, is conflicted. Some like the idea because it
seems diverse or down, but aren’t digging the sharing of power in
scenes. That is a much deeper problem, because it’s more than
race, but people who aren’t trying to unlearn the competitive,
egocentric relations of the dominant society. They simply like being
able to do a protest or meeting or whatever with and among their little
subculture of friends and groupies and thinking outside that is too
much work. This happens with men and women and in-cliques and
out-cliques in white-only circles.

Inserting people of color in the mix brings another dimension most
white people battle because 99.9 percent haven’t dealt with
internalized racism. In essence, equal power is talked about, but many
white people aren’t actually prepared to share it with the world
majority. Why should they? Giving up intoxicating power and influence
over others and history is not easy.

Also essential to factor into the internalized racism of whites is the
fact that people of color are working through their own internalized
racism, although it’s completely different. Organizations rarely
have a formal space to deconstruct racism and its impact, and the
internalized racism for people of color feeds that same issue for

Many white people can’t fathom how profoundly white supremacy
functions in the lives of people of color because how they are raised to
see it is dramatically different.

Consider living in a society where a colonial culture of which you are
not a beneficiary is the standard for judging values and behavior. Or
that such a society’s dominant culture defines reality as white,
and convincing said people that it is their reality, the culture of white
supremacy, is portrayed as universal, applying to all humankind. Think
of education, labor, sport, entertainment, law, economics, politics, war
and a host of things you, if you are white, take for granted but know,
with some certainty, that treatment will favor you.

Consider being part of a movement that claims to have everyone’s
interests and true liberation as its prize. Now consider how that
movement would make you feel as it adopted comparisons between
two sets of experiences — comparing sexism to racism, alienation
of whites and bigotry against people of color, or the rights of animals
and the right of people to live free of racism, for example — that
emphasized similarities and blotted out their unique aspects. Think of
how you’d feel as that movement claimed to speak for all people,
but in reality, spoke only for some; if that movement said it was
“the anti-war movement,” but involved, had its meetings, was
based in or reached out primarily to those beneficiaries of the colonial
culture. Think of how that movement might bother you by justifying its
exclusivity by implying non-colonial cultures could not relate to the
dominant movement’s work, that it was degenerate
(sexist/patriarchal, multilingual, etc.) or that they didn’t share the
dominant’s values.

Then think of how one must fight back against the years of misleading
stories and lies, only to hear from people who you thought were your
comrades but can do nothing but talk about how they understand, or
that they feel for you.

Many people of color struggle with a society which uses code words
to present us as inferior, denies us our contributions to this society
— partly because to do so is implicitly an admission of guilt and
partly because, as the slavemasters of old showed, once you strip
people of their pasts and positive feelings about themselves, they are
easily controlled.

I’m not really certain how to answer that question. ‘No’ is
the short answer, but it’s a very complex problem that speaks to
bigger issues.

TFS: For good reason the APOC is for people of color only. For those
white Anarchists who are still ignorant on the issue, could you give
the basic purpose and reason for making APOC for people of color

EA: I’ll try to paraphrase something on our website about that.
The person who complained about it was saying what such folks
usually say — we’re being separatist and so on.

The decision to make this a people of color-only space is a collective
one. We have a right to determine how we dialogue about our
experiences, our ideas and aspirations as anarchists of color. Does
that mean there needs to be a white list too? Fine by me. There are
plenty of those already.

Many people of color feel isolated and intimidated into silence by a
movement and want a space where they can speak and not feel like
their loyalty to the movement is being questioned by talking about
racism. The anarchist movement is the equivalent to Alabama, 1952, if
we’re talking a United States of consciousness. Most of the
attitudes about race are frankly Neanderthal, and it's no wonder so
many of us are sometimes embarrassed to be called anarchists.

One Latino comrade I dealt with was told people of color could not
support people of color and not be a racist. And he’s not alone.
I’ve heard lots of stories of white anarchists who talk trash,
I’m sure, solely because they can. It’s almost like a challenge.
‘Are your loyalties with us — your white comrades, and thus
anarchism as a whole, as if that isn’t arrogant as hell — or your
people and other oppressed people — and thus the ‘dark’
forces of nationalism and racism.’ Completely intellectually
retarded shit, but it happens. If the anarchist movement was dealing
with the overt and covert racists, the morons, the hippies who think
we’re all alike and the overaggressive asshole crackers in its
scenes — not to mention the lack of political clarity —instead of
tolerating it, we’d have a different ballgame.

One of the reasons APOC as a forum exists is because the anarchist
movement is a long way from being egalitarian, anti-racist and honest
with itself about its history, our history and a means to make real
change in real neighborhoods.

I state all this with the disclaimer that I only bother pointing these
things out if asked. I’m not particularly interested in persuading a
white anarchist who disagrees to see the perspective being
articulated. I’m not here to be their teacher, and would expect
them to figure it out. When the shit goes down, I know what side
I’m on already.

TFS: What should white Anarchists be doing to support the work of
Anarchists of color?

EA: Off the top of my head? Read a real history book before opening
your mouth. Be ruthless in deconstructing internalized racism. Drop
the pretentious attitudes about people of color. Stop blaming us for
everything, especially your problems. Help empower people. Get out of
white subcultural scenes. Grasp that because your grandparents
weren’t slave owners or because you might have friends or lovers
who were people of color makes no difference in the benefits you
enjoy. And see that not as a guilt thing, but a reality thing. Speaking of
reality, it is also necessary to start seeing beyond the box society
places you in and look at the worlds others live as a function of how
race works. Oh, and stop going to classes where white folks talk with
other white folks about racism, and start listening to people of color
and where we’re coming from, then act upon it.

I’d like to see more white anarchists challenge the
anti-authoritarian orthodoxy over anarchism and nationalism, and
grasp what it’s really about. As a teenager, revolutionary
nationalism taught me to be proud of who I was, to understand the
history taught in schools is history from the perspective of hunters
rather than lions, and to see that my people hold low stations in this
society not because we were inferior, but because we had been
colonized, lynched and miseducated. To me and others politicized by
movements of the oppressed, the whole nationalism critique by
anarchists doesn’t really say anything. It’s like most of what
we’re fed as people of color already — cops have lots of
reasons why our organizations are gangs, politicians have lots of
reasons why their border needs to be respected, and anarchists have
lots of reasons why being free on our terms is racist. The anarchist
critique is so painfully simplistic, I can’t believe it’s 2003 and
people are still having 1980 debates where ‘so-and-so is a
nationalist’ is used as an argument.

I spoke last year at the Anarchist Black Cross Network conference on
organizing with communities of color, and something a young white
woman said stuck with me because I think other white people think
this. It bears repeating because it reflects how deeply woven racism is
into the very lives of white folks. She said — and I am paraphrasing
a bit — that she volunteered at a Native American center and was
regularly treated with suspicion and a little disrespect, by being
insulted, as a white woman on a reservation. She asked what she
could do. My advice was to get some thick skin and get over it. She
didn’t like my response. ‘How much longer do I need to have
thick skin,’ was the reply. Though I have told no one until now, I
didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

One of my abuelitas was one of those Mexican cleaning ladies
everyone looks right past. Did it for over 35 years. She had no choice
but to get some thick skin, because she was treated like ‘just a
stupid Mexican who couldn’t speak English.’

Unspoken in that Native American reservation question, but on a
deeper level, was the fact that the choices people of color have are far
less generous. We get thick skin or we catch a case. We get thick
skin or we lose our jobs. We get thick skin or we get killed. That
community in question has probably seen their share of white people
come to help and go when their consciences were better off or they
were done slumming, but those people of color had no such options.
Even if they buy into that whole ‘if you pul yourself up by your
bootstraps’ Protestant work ethic bullshit, the chances they’ll
end up in the kind of privileged position the white woman is in are slim.
Yet, despite the fact Native Americans are justified in being
suspicious of another white person coming in to help when the track
record of helpful white people ain’t exactly great — I
shouldn’t even need to go there about smallpox and blankets —
the whole dialogue and potential to learn some lessons about race in
the United States pretty much became about how she could feel
better. Sad, but that’s what racism has taught all of us from birth.

I think about that white woman sometimes, and I hope the more
progressive-minded white people out there can really grasp what this
is all about. Ashanti Alston once wrote, “white anarchists: deal
with being the best anti-racist allies you can. We need you — and
you need us — but we will do this shit without you.” I
couldn’t agree more.

TFS: Does the APOC align itself with any particular forms of
Anarchism (anarcho-communism, primitivism, etc)?

EA: The APOC movement is a diverse one. There are as many kinds
of perspectives as there are anarchists of color, I assure you! It really
surprised me, to be honest. I like to say that we don’t have the
power or privilege to start dividing up by ideology. We all have
different views and respect each other for the most part. We have to
— our unity is our strength.

TFS: Where does the APOC stand on the issue of Anarchist

EA: I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe we all see the value
of being organized. States don’t topple on their own and, bottom
line, if we aren’t organized, our enemies of whatever stripes will

There are differing views on the kind of organizing that happens, or
whether an organization is best. In my perspective, an organization is
helpful if for nothing else but to help a tendency develop its voice.

TFS: Do you feel Anarchist groups in the United States (the NEFAC
for example) offer equal opportunities for people of color?

EA: To me, most anarchist groups are reflective of the dominant
society, and have thus struggled with addressing race. Not one I am
aware of is particularly great at involving or working in solidarity with
people of color. Not one. I’ve been involved with several, which I
won’t name, and still stand by that assertion.

To me, equal opportunity means many things. To be free from
appropriation, or from being objectified or romanticized, is key to equal
opportunity as well as full personhood. All stripes of anarchism are at
fault here. I’m talking about the types who wax poetic about
movements of color, but have no active solidarity campaigns with the
community, don’t dialogue with those movements, or who are
hostile or have no position or actions based on the land, independence,
self-determination and the problems affecting our communities,
particularly asking our communities how we feel. I’m also referring
to those who talk about the history of indigenous people, generally
inaccurately, but fail to see that the objectification of indigenous
culture is no better what is being wrought today. I could also fault the
groupings whose theories about race boil it down purely to black and
white and talk primarily about ‘confronting fascists’ or
‘treason to whiteness’ rather than active resistance and the
roots of white supremacy. No hate intended to anyone named, but
let’s come correct at least.

I have never been involved with NEFAC specifically so I can’t
really speak on it. I have talked with many sharp folks in it, and have
respect for their standing up for what they believe in. That alone takes
courage and should be supported. Although I have criticisms of many
movements, I am supportive of people willing to fight this system from
the belly of the beast.

TFS: Your conference is coming up. What kind of meetings and
workshops are going to be held? Are you expecting a good turnout?

EA: A lot of those items are still in the planning stages. I am hoping to
see a good turnout, but want to be realistic. Whatever happens, I think
this could be the start of great things in the future.

Recently, there have been claims that people have tried to undermine
the upcoming APOC conference. Are these claims true and if so, what
has the APOC done to make sure these attempts to undermine the
conference are unsuccessful?

I’m less worried about people trying to undermine us and more
about building a solid event, trust me.

TFS: Are there any particular books or writers that Anarchists should
be reading?

EA: Read writings, particularly those by people of color or about our
histories, which challenge your political views and prompt you to
evaluate them. Read thinkers and ideas
that you know little about. Look at it with an open mind, and try to
apply what you’ve learned, or how your current ideas relate to of
refute them.

I think it is encouraging that so many anarchists have read about the
Black Panther Party, but I am always disappointed to see how little
anarchists know about the colonization of the Southwest and
treatment of organizers in the occupied territories generally. Rodolfo
Acuna’s Occupied America was written many years ago, but is
still a classic. There are, in fact, a lot of great Mexicano writers, like
Jose Angel Gutierrez, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Jesus Salvador Trevino
and others who talk about our history.

Of course, J. Sakai’s Settlers is educational. There’s always a
lot of debate about Sakai, and lots of people question Sakai’s take
on history, but I think he raises some provocative points. Most
importantly, I think Sakai puts the class-politics line on smash by
exposing the role of poor and working-class whites in colonization and
genocide. When I first read Settlers about 10 years back, that was a
big question I had, ‘if this is mainly about ruling class against
working class and class war, how was this land taken? Did all the rich
Europeans-Spaniards charge into the Aztec nation and exterminate a
million people on their own?’ Sakai spells out that working-class
and poor whites were active, and oftentimes very enthusiastic,
collaborators in colonization and the murder of people of color. I’ve
never been a buyer of the working class-solidarity crack pipe — if
white workers truly believed that, since they are a majority in the
United States, we would live a lot different — but Sakai brings the
heat major.

Those who haven’t read the Spear and Shield Collective’s
Crossroad newsletter are missing out on some great stuff. Big ups to
Hondo from Spear and Shield. He’s a righteous cat. People should
also check out Ashanti’s Anarchist Panther zine, which is very
tight. And, of course, Lorenzo is coming out with a full edition of
Anarchism and the Black Revolution later in 2003, and people want to
peep that. Union Del Barrio’s newspaper La Verdad is great, as is
Guerrillos de la Pluma. That’s a short list. I am probably missing a

TFS: While some Anarchists are satisfied with merely protesting
against the WTO, the war, etc, members of the APOC have stressed
community organizing. What kinds of action and organizing should
Anarchists be doing?

EA: I don’t want to spend lots of time preaching about this,
honestly. My answer is pretty simple: understand what your goals are
and how you can accomplish them, involving and politicizing the
greatest number of people in as many diverse communities as
possible. Before engaging in this exercise, obviously, people will have
to throw out all their preconceived notions about tactics and strategy,
and really tailor solutions for your community. If there are community
groups who are doing positive work, don’t hate. Find ways to unite
and build solidarity. There are much smarter folks who have better
answers to this. People are welcome to hit me up if they really want to
get down on this topic. It’s pretty immense.

TFS: Are there any recent examples of successful Anarchist
organizing that we can learn from?

EA: Speaking from a personal bias, as I co-founded the local group, I
think Copwatch, when done in a broad way, can be very effective. We
mix street tactics with media work and actions normally considered
reformist, but keep our politics on point, and I think it’s been very
innovative. Houston, Texas, where I live, has had many problems with
cops beating up people of color, so this is a solution our communities
can get with. It’s essential to keep the politics in command, or
else you do, in fact, become a reformist exercise.

TFS: What role did the APOC play in organizing and acting against the

EA: We’ve been fighting the war for over 500 years.

TFS: What plans does the APOC have for the future?

EA: Hopefully growth and continued success.

(If you're interested in getting a copy of the Female Species, please
email us at thefemalespecies@hotmail.com or check us out online at

Link: http://www.geocities.com/yoshomon

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