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[Fwd: (en) NEA#7: Race and Class: Buring Questions, Unpopular Answers]

From Ilan Shalif <gshalif@netvision.net.il>
Date Wed, 25 Jun 2003 11:49:37 +0300
Organization a-infos
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A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: (en) NEA#7: Race and Class: Buring Questions, Unpopular Answers - by
Fruttidurruti, Underpaid and Angry (NEFAC-Philadelphia)
From: Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com>
To: a-infos-en@ainfos.ca

Do class and race oppressions exist parallel to each other and as
dominating forces exclusive of each other? Is one oppression more
important to take on and resist than the other? Is it possible for
either to effectively "trump" another? Or are these forces
inextricably linked and intertwined? Do we perceive
them to even be equal forms of domination - dual
forces that compliment each other in order to maintain
rule by any given regime to be met with the same
resistance...and not as one that excuses the other?

I'd like to argue that racism is an excuse. It's an
abstract form of perception that is used as a tool.
I'd like to argue that classism can be a way of
thinking as well, but class is by all means a concrete
action in itself. To hold onto class rule, the ruling
class must maintain its own power. The fact that a
ruling class "is" is directly related to what it does,
whereas there can be a ruling class completely made up
of one race, but the fact that the race exists at all,
isn't inextricably linked to what that race does. The
job of any ruling class is to maintain its own
privilege by actively and systematically controlling
how production and consumption is maintained and
distributed. The capitalist ruling class does this
because they're in the business of being rich, not

White supremacy is a specific kind of racism that is
directly related (but not exclusively) to how the U.S.
ruling class divides the working class though forms of
domestic policies. It definitely is central to how
U.S. capital functions currently, and is a direct
result of the factors that went into how European
colonizers invaded the land that is now the U.S.
Throughout the history of the United States, racism
has been used as a social, cultural, political weapon
to excuse atrocities committed through acts of
genocide and slavery. The struggles of the people
whose race has defined their class because of colonial
domination in the U.S. helped shape the attitudes of
racial separation within the working class as a whole.
I would argue that since the civil rights movements of
the 1960's certain races such as African-Americans
have become unraveled in their exclusive ties to their
class. Since that era, there has been an emerging
African-American middle class in the U.S. Although
they hardly constitute a majority of the race, this
growing class is a reflection of how U.S. white
supremacy can and will change like a chameleon in
order to meet the reshaping race and class struggles
and movements for change.

Another historical situation I'd like to point out is
how white supremacy in the U.S. has adapted around the
turn of the 20th century to account for immigration
from southern and eastern European countries. Poles,
Hungarians, Bohemians and other unwanted peoples were
NOT considered "white" when they arrived to work poor
shit jobs in the States. Before them, Irish immigrants
held onto class privilege on par with
African-Americans at the time. Over time the U.S.
ruling class saw the potential in "Americanizing"
them, in other words, teaching them English, giving
them educational classes, and investing in their
communities in order to prop up their racial status to
"white." What this really meant was that the ruling
class was creating the illusion that these new
immigrants' nationalities were of no use anymore, and
in fact they had, as a people, more in common with the
current Western-European settlers in their class, then
they did with the African, Chinese, and Indigenous
peoples of their class. This is an example of class
domination reshaping its racial policies and attitudes
domestically to fit in with their strategy of class

Finally, I'd like to take a look at other colonized
lands that fell victim to European invasion, such as
the lands that are now considered Mexico. The
Spaniards that invaded the indigenous peoples, and
colonized their lands, went on to take on unusual
class contradictions. After 500 years, the Latino
working class, that is actually made up of a majority
of Spanish-speaking descendents of those invading
Spaniards, now hold a relatively nebulous class status
with the indigenous peoples of what is now Mexico, but
hold less class privilege then the African-American
working class of the U.S.! Even when Mexican workers
attempt to emigrate to the U.S., they are treated as
alien, and as an invading workforce by ALL of the
races within the U.S. working class, as a result of
reactionary class analysis.

These are examples that help point to two major

(1) The class privilege of any given race within any
given state, has the ability to change with different
economic, social, and political factors, whether by
the hands of the capitalist ruling class itself, or
even by the shaping trends of struggles by any given
race, nationality, or collaboration of them. This
means that class privilege has the potential to be
directly related to and the result of the racial
status of any given peoples, but isn't fundamentally
always directly related.

(2) In order for us to understand class struggle and
its relationship to race, we absolutely need to think
internationally. We need to take into account that
race and class interact in unlimited and ever-changing
ways throughout the world. If we are to settle on a
position concerning racism exclusive to whatever state
we live in, our analysis and our actions will be
always limited to the borders of the state itself.
This is no way to build a movement that will destroy
racism and create a classless, stateless society


When people call me a "class reductionist," I beam,
because it's true! But when I talk about the working
class in the United States or about "class war," I am
talking about race as well. Building a movement
internationally to organize for class struggle is an
anti-racist movement. When I speak or write about the
liberation of the working class, I'm assumed to be
talking about the white working class here in the U.S.
This assumption is wrong, white anarchists, as well as
my fellow anarchists of color are perpetrators of this

First off, when I speak of the working class, I'm
talking about the international working class, which
is made up of a huge majority of people that are NOT
of European descent.

Secondly, when I'm talking about the working class in
the United States, I'm very clear about the fact that
a large majority of African-Americans, Latin peoples,
indigenous or "First Nation" peoples, Asians, Pacific
Islanders, Arab-Americans, etc. are working class,
working poor, migrant workers, unemployed, homeless,
on welfare, incarcerated, and single mothers left to
raise their children alone and not be paid for their
social labor… and so are many people of European

My point is, in order for us to understand how racism
interacts with class, and how capitalism, statism, and
racism work together to confuse us, we need to
critically look at not only how we shape our analysis
according to what is, but also according to what kind
of movement will win for all working class people who
are facing the brutality of capitalism. There are
levels of oppression that people face in many
different ways, whether faced with a pink slip from
work, an eviction notice from a landlord or a police
baton to the head. All of these are directly related
to how the international ruling class administers its

I'd like to focus this part of the essay on engaging
in a critique regarding the emerging 'anarchist of
color' movement in the United States.

Currently, within the anarchist movement in North
America, I believe race is largely spoken about in
three contexts when strategizing ways to organize
effectively. Sometimes these strategies overlap, and
they're sometimes used as alternatives to the others'
inabilities to work the way folks thought they would.

One context is the dialogue about the need for the
largely white North American anarchist movement to
focus on "bringing in people of color" in order to
create a sort of recruitment process within a
white-dominated movement. You know, the classic
tokenizing strategy.

Let me just say that this is a disgusting practice,
that is not only ineffective, but largely a classist
and racist way of addressing problems of racism in
organizing. It reeks of liberalism, practically taking
on a kind of "affirmative action," in order for white
anarchists to overcome their culture of guilt. It
assumes a strategy that all "people of color" want to
join "their" movement. Or that people of color aren't
already organizing in our own respective communities.
I don't see this happening as much as it did some
years ago, but the new practices are also looking
pretty grim.

Another current strategy is to brand an organization
that is made up of mostly or all white people as
fundamentally racist, therefore, they must stop what
they're doing and decolonize the way they think about
race. I believe this is a reactionary way to build a
movement. Shutting things down very easily creates
confusion, guilt, and a lot of frustrated people who
feel compelled to do nothing at all.

This is also a kind of reaction that recognizes
organizations for what they look like, and not for
what they can do effectively. From my experience, most
of the problems that all anarchists in the United
States face are classist problems that are linked with
racism. We need to understand and discuss race and
class in a manner that both working class "white
people" and "people of color" are involved
inclusively. Often, I hear people refer to "comfort
spaces" as "safe spaces" when meeting to discuss
racism. We are fighting to win; we're not fighting to
create exclusive meeting spaces that are perfect
places that everyone should feel comfortable in. I
believe anarchism is about gaining concrete goals, not
about creating exclusive and ultimately imperfectable
internal social relationships just so we can celebrate
feeling good.

A third emerging anarchist practice in the United
States, sometimes in response to the former ones, is
to create a culture of "racial self-determination," in
order for anarchists of different races to only
organize within their own communities. While being an
understandable reaction to create "safe space," and
possibly an effective strategy to address racism by
our European-American counterparts, this is a
potentially dangerous way to organize.

I can't explain how many times I've heard middle class
university-bred people of color take this stance, in
order to justify knowing what "their" communities
want. I'm not using this as a small example, this
practice is rampant, and is an extremely classist
attitude! While creating autonomous movements to build
anti-racist struggle within "communities of color" we
need to realize that we have the potential to forget
that class-privileged people that are of the same
races as us often don't understand the struggle of our
communities, and often we let them take and hold
leadership positions within our organizations,
campaigns, and movements. This can lead to alienation
due to class differences, a big lack of winning
strategies that are in the interest of our struggling
communities, and a disempowering reaction to our lack
of results.

There's an overwhelming amount of class-privileged
"people of color" spearheading this movement, creating
a culture that is class reactionary to all working
class people of all races in the United States. Many
of these "activists" claim "self-determination" as an
excuse to see their racial ties as what binds them
exclusively to their race's community struggles. These
people are also quick to react to what they see as
"class trumping race," and find the common class
struggle between people of different races to be not
as important as what they share in common with the
community in question. Often these "activists" hardly
speak the same cultural language as the people they
are organizing, and many times, they can't relate to
the experiences of the community they claim to


I'd like to now propose several critiques of what I
see currently here in the United States - a new style
of anti-racist anarchism being organized autonomously
by 'anarchists of color'. Here are some obstacles I
envision that we must overcome:

(1) The possibility of "people of color" becoming a
new form of nationalism: the idea that people who
aren't "white" should come together to build an
autonomous space to organize in, because we share a
common experience. This can be an empowering action in
many ways, though it can present many problems. I
believe different people experience racism in
different ways, and it's one thing to share these
experiences with other victims of racism, and to share
resources, but to base a social movement solely on
resisting racial oppression has a great chance at
viewing capitalism through an exclusively racial lens.

(2) I also believe that the term 'people of color' to
define us, is an attempt to counter "whiteness," in a
reactionary way. We are defining ourselves in response
to how the ruling class defines people of European
descent as "white." Why, therefore, do we define
ourselves as the counter to this lie? Whiteness only
exists as an idea, which is a racist one at that. Why
should we fall into the trap that capitalist
propaganda, media, and colonizing education want us
to? I also don't think the term 'people of color'
takes into account people of mixed blood, or those
non-Europeans who have light skin. We are folks who
definitely experience racism as well, in different
forms, and we don't fit the proposed definition.
Besides, European-American people can be pretty
colorful sometimes.

(3) Next, a movement of 'people of color' must not
assume that only white people are capable of being
racist. And I'm not just talking about people of
different races thinking acting out against each other
here in the United States, I also want to point out
the brutal capitalist, fundamentalist, and State
socialist regimes worldwide that use racism as a tool
for the division of their country's respective working
classes, and the international working class at large.
Many of these states are run by groups of people who
aren't of European descent, and they do an excellent
job of emphasizing racial divides between different
races and nationalities within their respective
countries and across the imaginary lines capitalists
like to draw.

(4) Another foreseeable bump in the road is the chance
that we'll continue to respond to a specific kind of
white supremacy that is experienced here in the United
States that is exclusive to the rest of the world.
It's one thing to organize against the racism we
experience locally or nationally, but we can't let
this define how racism exists universally for people
worldwide. In other words, if we aren't organizing
with an internationalist focus, we're ultimately
thinking along nationalist lines. We need to think and
act locally as well as think and act globally (sound
familiar?). The idea of "nationalism" comes from
European theory anyway, so why should we define our
boundaries the way those "bearded white guys" want us

(5) In recent years, our reaction to white anarchists
has been, thus far, quite reactionary. We are quick to
respond to what white anarchists do, or what they say,
or what theories they use, and dispose of the actions
they take in a way that assumes the actions themselves
are European-influenced, and therefore fundamentally
racist. This is bad. If a bunch of inexperienced and
naive German cooks make a bad soup, does that mean
that "making soup" itself is fundamentally linked to
Germans, regardless of the fact that the problem lies
with the failures of one group of German cooks? Does
it mean Brazilians can't cook up some "good soup," or
that "making soup" is what German cooks do, so
Brazilians should avoid it altogether and make salad?
Or that...any combination of groups of German and
Brazilian cooks can't potentially work together to
make kick-ass stew, or even a series of ten-course

(6) I've heard anarchists of color conclude that we
shouldn't "theorize" because that's what white
anarchists do. I've mentioned "working class" to other
anarchists of color, and have gotten some of the most
classist responses I've ever heard. We, as 'anarchists
of color' are not immune to being oppressors over
white folks in certain ways, simply due to the fact
that we face an institutionalized racism.

Do we continue to build an anti-racist struggle by
organizing as people who experience white racism? Is
it our responsibility alone? Can we even do it alone,
as victims of white supremacy? Is it possible for us
to abolish racism without abolishing the ruling class?

I say no to all these questions. We must make our
struggle against white supremacy a struggle against
racism worldwide, and with those in our class, for a
classless, stateless, anti-racist worldwide. I argue
that this is the way in which we need to recognize how
capitalism works, and I argue that it is the most
strategic way to bring about a world free of


One of the major reasons I've committed so much space
to criticizing how we, as 'anarchists of color' are
organizing, is because it's vital that we discuss how
we are moving forward with our theory and action. We
aren't incapable of racist and classist ways of
organizing, and we need to hold ourselves responsible
to ensure that we don't start to believe we are unable
to be self-critical, and/or be criticized by people of
different races.

We need to think about how to win, and attempt to
reach our short and long term goals. We need to create
a culture(s) where we can discuss how different forms
of oppression are interlinked in a manner that
recognizes how they affect our actions. We need to do
it frankly, honestly, and constructively. We should
not be afraid to say what we feel, due to cultural
restrictions that we manifest from our own failures to
communicate in an engaging way already.

I'd like to recognize that I haven't even touched
patriarchy as a form of oppression here, and how it
relates to class and/or race. Hopefully we in NEFAC,
and the anarchist movement at large, can work more to
further develop organizational positions on how
patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, chauvinism, and
machismo divides our class, and further creates
reactionary attitudes, actions, and culture within the
working class. Maybe in a future NEA issue?


Fruttidurruti is a temp-slave in the construction
industry, involved with the Life Center Association
(an anti-gentrification neighborhood housing
co-operative), and a member of Underpaid & Angry
Collective (NEFAC-Philadelphia)


The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language
theoretical magazine of the Northeastern Federation of
Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle
anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and
analysis in an effort to further develop
anarcho-communist ideas and practice.


Current issue is $5ppd ($6 international) per copy,
back issues are $2ppd ($3 international) per copy.
Subscriptions are $15ppd for four issues ($18
international). For distribution, bundle orders are $3
per copy for three or more copies, and $2.50 per copy
for ten or more.

Checks or money orders can be made out to
"Northeastern Anarchist" and sent to:

Northeastern Anarchist PO Box 230685 Boston, MA 02123,
USA northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com

For a list of stores that carry the NEA please see:

For more information about NEFAC, visit us on the web
at: http://www.nefac.net

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