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(en) US, Los Angeles Agitator Index, Fall, 2003 - The Color of Authority - By Roy San Filippo

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 15 Oct 2003 19:24:41 +0200 (CEST)

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When you get the white man over here in America and he says he's
white he means he's boss. -Malcolm X
One of the most compelling aspects of anarchism is its holistic
approach to human freedom. “We are opposed to all forms of
domination and oppression” is a phrase that appears almost
universally in every statement of purpose and political statement of
anarchist collectives and projects. This reflects anarchism’s
total rejection of all forms of oppression and its belief that no one
oppression is the base or “primary oppression” upon which
all other oppressions rest. Racism or sexism could thrive in a
socialist society, and eradicating racism or sexism by no means
guarantees the eradication of capitalism or the state. Oppressions,
as the saying goes, are relatively autonomous. This is an important
insight that developed out of a critique of the crude class
reductionism of neo-Marxism and was often used as an excuse by
white, male leftists to not take the seriously the struggles for racial
justice, women’s liberation, and queer liberation. However,
when pressed to develop this analysis further, anarchism falls
silent. Beyond recognizing this “relative autonomy” (and
thus the “relative” interconnectedness of various
oppressions), anarchism has failed to articulate precisely how
these oppressions interconnect in a way that is useful for
organizers. Predictably, this has hampered the capacity for
anarchists to effectively develop the analysis of society that is
needed to develop strategies for revolution.

Moral Equivalency, Strategic Hierarchy

For revolutionaries, it is not simply enough to oppose all forms of
authority and oppression; we need a plan for destroying them. If we
are to transform society, we must understand precisely how forms
of authority are related and determine where the weak points are
so we can develop effective strategies. An important step in
developing a strategy is the recognition that while oppressions are
morally equivalent, strategically they are not. Many organizers
implicitly accept this notion in practice—at least when it comes
to systems of authority other than race, class, gender, and sexual
orientation. Anarchists who do community organizing on a regular
basis know the importance of working with religious
institutions—churches, mosques, and synagogues—in any
organizing effort. They do this despite anarchism’s opposition
to religious forms of authority. To use just one example, in the
immediate aftermath of September 11th, anarchists from across
the country, clad in their black “No Gods, No Masters”
t-shirts, began working closely with Muslim groups and mosques in
their cities in order to assist Arab and Muslim communities with
self-defense efforts. Clearly this was the correct thing to do and
consciously or not, reflected an assessment by anarchists that
defending Muslims from attacks by racists and the state takes a
strategic priority over anarchism’s (largely philosophical and
ideological) opposition to forms religious authority. A second
important step in developing a strategy is the recognition that
oppressions connect in ways particular to the historical context
and social forces in which they develop. The relationships between
race, class, and gender in one country are likely to be quite
different than it is in another, and therefore the strategies for
destroying them will also be different. The U.S.’s rather unique
history of racial slavery and segregation have made white
supremacy central to the functioning of America in a way it
hasn’t in others societies. Activists must understand the ways
that the particular historical experiences of the United States wove
race and class together that makes fighting white supremacy
central to any revolutionary project. In other words, those who
wish to fight against all forms of authoritarianism must understand
one crucial fact of American politics—in America authority is
colored white.

The White Shadow

In the United States, one cannot escape the importance of race.
Anyone familiar with the literature of critical race theory already
knows this basic truth: that race is a social construct with no
biological basis. Though biologically race is “fiction,” it is
still a social reality. Race is a signifier of social, legal, economic,
and political value (or lack thereof) in America. White supremacy
casts a long shadow over American society and colors more than
just the consciousness of white folks. It has institutionalized white
privilege in political institutions, the courts, schools, and labor
unions to name just a few. The state not only legitimates these
privileges, it also actively enforces them in the back rooms,
through public policy, and in the frontlines, through police, prisons,
and jails. American society grants real and significant material and
psychological benefits to those defined as “white.”

One of the affects of these benefits has been that the white
working class has identified its interests with the white ruling
class and not with the rest of the working class; this has
effectively driven a wedge within the working class—a fact
illustrated every time a real estate agent “steers” a Black
family to a Black neighborhood and every time a bus driver made
Black folks sit in the back of the bus. In order to seriously
challenge the existing system, this wedge must be removed. A
successful, anti-authoritarian revolution in American can be
engendered by a revolutionary crisis in the institutions of white
supremacy. As happened during Reconstruction and the Civil
Rights Movement, attacks against institutions of white supremacy
generated such a crisis and opened up political space for
movements to attack not only racial oppression, but also all forms
of domination. In the case of Reconstruction, the United States
was brought to the brink of a social revolution, the first wave of
feminism emerged from the abolitionist struggles, and queer
liberation, AIM and countless other struggles for freedom emerged
on the heels of the Civil Rights movement. The lesson learned here
should be clear: a strategic orientation to the destruction of white
supremacy does NOT violate the anarchist opposition to all forms
of oppression, rather it fulfills the potential of their
anti-authoritarian vision.

White Abolitionism as a Strategy for Revolution

When Donovan Jackson, a Black youth, was brutally beaten by a
white police officer in Inglewood, California last summer, the
incident was caught on videotape by Mitchell Crooks, who is
white. A revealing twist to this incident lies in the fact that the
first two people arrested in connection with this incident were
Jackson, the Black victim, and Crooks, the white man whose
videotape exposed the police brutality. In this moment we see
enforcement of the color line by the state twice: first in the all too
common form of police abuse in the Black community and secondly
in the form of the harsh retribution against the person who exposed
one instance of that abuse. Crooks’s act was an instance of
race treason—when a white person violated an unspoken rule of
whiteness by actively opposing the state’s attempt to enforce
the color line, a transgression of the norms of whiteness that the
state took so seriously that Crooks was promptly incarcerated.
Why are such acts of race treason so threatening? Because the
enforcement of the color line is predicated on the belief that the
state can determine who is a friend and who is an enemy by the
color of their skin. By attacking the institutions of white supremacy
and flagrantly violating the norms of whiteness, the state would no
longer be able use white skin as reliable determiner of who is a
friend and who is a foe to the existing society, undermining the
separate deal that the white working class struck with capital.

Though white supremacy has driven a wedge within the American
working class, these social relationships are neither natural, nor
inevitable. It is the current result of historical contestations for
power. Simply put—the state and capital have been more
successful at institutionalizing white supremacy than we have
been in fighting it. The task ahead is to reverse that trend. As
activists, agitators, and revolutionaries, we needn’t abandon
our anti-authoritarian vision. However, strategies for realizing that
vision need to be informed by an understanding of the intersection
of oppressions that have resulted from this society’s particular
historical development. In the United States, focusing on white
supremacy does more to fight all forms of oppression than by
“fighting” them all simultaneously. When we refuse to
strategically prioritize our political work in response to historical
and structural conditions, we lose the struggle.

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