A recent bit of writing of mine has resulted in quite a lot of confusion and anger from some people who have encountered it. Some of the anger is the usual “cancel him!” sort, but much more of it this time (thankfully) is more nuanced. Some people expressed the feeling that what I wrote causes deep harm to people, others that it’s deeply flawed, and still others that it could have been written differently. Many people have asked or demanded that I apologize for writing it, or delete it, or otherwise make amends for its wrongness or harmfulness.
At the same time, quite a lot of other people have told me that they feel I am correct, am glad I expressed this, and have thanked me for not backing down on it.
In situations like this I often take some time to re-think what I wrote, taking in the good-faith criticisms and determining if I need to change it, apologize for it, or clarify it further. It’s hardly an easy thing to have lots of people angry at you, or feeling that you have caused harm, and these criticisms tend to get very deep at my core desire to make people happy, to say things that help people, and to generally not be an asshole to anyone.
When possible, I apologize when I find I have been wrong or caused undue harm. Unfortunately, I also often apologize when I don’t think I’m wrong or don’t believe I have caused harm, a fault of mine which helped keep me trapped in a physically and mentally abusive relationship for almost two years.
So now I am learning to measure this out more, to ask whether or not the criticism I receive actually is merited and whether or not I am actually wrong or have caused harm (and not just the perception of harm).
In this case, after reading the criticisms (while trying to filter out the “you’re just a white-cis-het man” reductions), and thinking much further about the the issue, the consequences, the perception of harm, and the crisis for which I wrote the words in the first place, I don’t think I’m wrong, nor do I believe my words cause actual harm.
This is unfortunate. It means people will be very angry at me, even angrier at me than they are now. And the opportunists who often use these moments to attempt to “cancel” me will likely seize on this as well as previous incidents. It’s shitty to have people angry at you, especially when you tend to live your life trying to make as many people happy with you as possible.
But the truth behind the words and the much larger crisis they are meant to undermine is too important for me to make them false by saying “I was wrong.”
However, I do have a responsibility to explain that larger crisis further, not to make people less angry at me or necessarily convince them I am correct, but rather because I believe that crisis needs to be avoided at all costs.
The Birth of Race
As I think most people understand, race categories were created through the two-pronged process of capitalism and colonialism. Capitalism, through the displacement of peoples from their land–especially through Enclosure– on the European continent, ripped away the former identifications of people (village, ancestral, local). Colonialism, through the displacement of peoples–especially through chattel slavery–from the African continent, likewise ripped away those same former identifications of people.
While the conditions of this process were different (poor European people crowding workhouses in the towns because their only way to survive was now waged labor for the rich, African people forcibly chained and hauled in ships to the colonies in order to become slave labor for the rich), the process–displacement, loss of land-based and village identity–was the same.
To say that process was the same isn’t to say that the pain and suffering was identical. Chattel slavery is absolutely the worst kind of displacement and exploitation. And this isn’t also to say that the two groups of people suffer from the legacy of displacement in the same way.
Regardless, though, the effect of that displacement created twin categories of identity through the birth of “race,” a concept that had no real meaning before the 1600’s (people in Africa never saw themselves as “Black” until they were made Black through displacement, people in Europe never saw themselves as “white” until they were made white through displacement).
Those two racial categories now are why capitalism has been able to continue so long without real challenge, and why the United States in particular is headed towards what looks to be a likely blood bath. That is, this division of people by race–again, created through the displacement of peoples via slavery and Enclosure–enlists one side of the divide (white people) against the continued oppression of the other side (Black people) in order to keep both poor white people and poor Black people (and all other poor people) from uniting together against the rich.
It benefits the capitalist class–and only truly the capitalist class–to reproduce and maintain race as a identity category. White people who identify more with their whiteness over their material conditions protect the capitalists (most of whom share the same color of skin as them). Identifying instead with their material conditions and their history of displacement would show them they have much more in common with poor Black people than they ever will with the rich.
Undermining the Fascist Threat
There is a terrifying crisis occurring throughout the world right now which makes this problem even more urgent: the rise of fascism. Fascism exploits and expands racial identification (Aryan in Nazi Germany, white in the United States and Europe now) to collectivize people into a unitary murderous machine, eradicating difference through violence (be that war, street violence, or industrial-level execution as in the concentration camps).
As we’ve seen in the United States especially, fascism is hardly an historical myth and now a horrifying reality being birthed. And while the protests and defenses and other actions against this rise have been intense and beautiful, it hasn’t stopped it.
I have always believed that the most effective way to fight fascism is to undermine and resolve the conditions which create it. While a true believer in the supremacy of white people may never be convinced otherwise and probably will need to be fought physically, stopping the spread of fascism can only be done by short-circuiting the identification of people with their race rather than their material conditions.
Yes. That’s the same mechanism needed to create class consciousness against the capitalists. And the reason for this is that fascism is ultimately a a capitalist phenomenon. The only difference for the capitalists in a Liberal Democracy and a Fascist state is party membership. In US Liberal Democracy (R.I.P) you can be a Democrat or Republican and still exploit the poor; in a Fascist state all capitalists have to submit to the same ideological program.
Now, short-circuiting racial identification in order to unite the poor against the rich and to stop fascism is a terrifyingly difficult proposition, and there is a deep problem here from which arose most of the criticisms of my words. Because currently, white people identifying with whiteness leads to fascism and the perpetuation of racist policing, jailing, and many other acts of violence against Black and other people. On the other hand, Black people identifying with Blackness has created a racial consciousness which is currently leading to a crucial and important uprising against the police state in the United States. Thus, to tell people that identification with race is a cause of these problems can seem like a deeply harmful statement to Black people for whom that identification currently feels like a path towards liberation.
The question we need to ask here, however, is what is the ultimate goal of liberation movements? To paraphrase a Black friend who has been deeply supportive of my work on this, “I don’t want police killing Black people only as much as they kill white people, I don’t want police killing people at all.”
That is, the ultimate goal of liberation, which is the ultimate goal of class consciousness and anti-capitalist struggle, is to take away the power of the capitalist class and their foot soldiers (the police) to dominate the poor altogether.
This runs against a core belief of liberal anti-racism, which demands not an end to race but equity across racial categories. From this perspective, racism can be eradicated while leaving race intact: more Black presidents, more Black entrepreneurs, and an end to institutional racism would ultimately resolve the problems race has caused.
Ultimately we must ask whether the abolition of racism is possible without the abolition of race. I don’t believe so, even as much as I recognize and appreciate the liberatory aspects of Blackness as a collective and cultural movement. The reason I don’t believe so is because I don’t see it possible to try to convince white people who identify with whiteness to stop doing so on the basis of race being a dangerous construct, while simultaneously trying to convince them that Black people who identify with Blackness are doing something completely different.
One might ask, “but why not? Whiteness oppresses Black people, so it is only whiteness that must be dismantled.” My answer to this is that the oppressive function of whiteness derives not out of white people’s identification with whiteness, but out of race itself. That is, without race it would be impossible to have whiteness. Unfortunately, without race it would also be impossible to have Blackness.
The Deadlock of Race
So we’re stuck here. This is the deadlock of anti-racism that, in its attempts to show white people that racism exists and is deadly, reproduces race as an inviolable category. Whiteness must be destroyed, but whiteness cannot be destroyed without destroying race as a human identification, which then would seem to also destroy what Blackness means for those fighting the effects of whiteness.
I do believe there is a way out of this deadlock, which is contained entirely within the words of that Tweet some people believe is harmful or wrong. That is, to undermine the power of race, we need to collectively understand and seek out what we were before becoming racialized, and do that again. Blackness to some degree already does this in its embrace of living or reconstructed African traditions. and perhaps one path forward out of race may be the eventual expansion of these traditions into non-racial identifications (again, people in Africa were not Black until capitalism and colonialism told them they were). That is, a Pre- and Post-Blackness.
For whiteness, however, we absolutely must fight every attempt to build a cultural movement around being white and instead create either a cultural movement around being pre- and post-white or, the Marxist answer, proletarian. But as proletarian is, like white and Black, a creation of the capitalists, I don’t think this latter option gets us anywhere.
Reconnecting to pre-white traditions and cultural forms of course comes with some danger. Because leftists have so thoroughly abandoned spiritual and ancestral re-connection, this territory is flooded with fascists who try to extend whiteness even further into the past than its historical creation. For instance, fascists who reach back into the pre-white European past to find a historical whiteness that can unite white people now through fascist singularity.
In that last sentence, you probably can now see fully the crisis that I am speaking to. Because the expansion of whiteness into an a-historical category into pre-white Europe is precisely what the Thule Society did in Nazi Germany for the “Aryan” race. We must avoid this process at all costs, even as much as it might close off a parallel option (extending Blackness into an a-historical category to pre-Black Africa) that appears, in our current fight against racism, to have the potential of liberation for Black people.
That’s an awful truth. I see no other way to fight off fascism except through the de-racialization of everybody, both those who are oppressed on account of race and those who oppress on account of it. But if someone comes up with something better that doesn’t lead to this deadlock, I’m absolutely eager to support it with all of my words and actions.
PS: a reader pointed out this essay from Black Marxists with a different (proletarian) framework and direction. If my essay seems insufficient, please read theirs.