Notes on Anti-Racism
As the BLM protests erupt across the USA and Europe, the mainstream endorsement of anti-racism is becoming more prominent than ever. Hopefully, not only in the US. Not only as a trend. Not as a default assumption.
- Jun 10 2020
- AWC Team
In the wake of current Black Lives Matter demonstrations and ceaseless circulation of anti-racism-related material on social media, AWC remains committed to the continuation of the vital energy of this momentum, without letting it dissipate as a one-time event. We consider it as a step on the way to fairer future for all. It is important to note, however, that the portrayals of the current struggle often neglect its complexities on several levels and get to be ‘owned’ by white voices, especially in the European context. Furthermore, we should not overlook more systemic economic dimensions that consider the category of racism to be inextricably linked to the operations of the capitalist system.
We can not choose between class and race when we think about social inequalities.
How to then conceptualise anti-racism in a broader framework, as part of the ongoing battle against oppression of capitalist mode of production? One way could be by taking into account the fundamental elements of structural racism and its symptoms; to consistently acknowledge white dominance, whitewashed feminism, xenophobic borders, unequal access, immigration laws, unreflected history chapters and so much more. Herewith, Notes on Anti-racism ponders on the urgency to practice and contextualise justice in global, local, and individual frameworks - that is, everywhere.
ANTI-RACISM IS THE NEW NORMAL
Standing at the end of the train platform of Alexanderplatz, a sea of 20.000 bodies wearing black. From this perspective, the protest dissolves into mere gestures. People stand on the top of the lifts, between the tracks of the tram, kneeling around the fountains, sitting around the clock. People are here to show solidarity to the victims of police brutality, to stand against racism. The COVID-19 reality seems to be neglected, so without any physical distancing, many of them appear in the crowd without masks. “All lives Matter”? Then why are you not wearing a mask at the supermarket?, said one twitter feed last week. I agree. “This is the alternative to the love parade,” says an elderly woman next to me. Protests have always been familiar to raves, at least since the nineties, so the comparison between them as something new seems irritating.
Few blocks away from Alexanderplatz, the Anti-Corona-Regulations protests are fueled and led by the movement ReclaimClubCulture now. The Berliner "Alliance against Right" points out that among the participants in the “Hygiene Demos” are many supporters of conspiracy myths, protagonists of the New Right and convicted Holocaust deniers. Protests and Anti-Protests: What do they mean for the pursue of a fair, anti-racist society? They seem to remain, at least during the first pandemic in the 2020s, the last bastions of apparent unanimity. Nothing to be relativised within AWC’s notes on the topic; at the office, we agree on the necessity of standing up against discrimination, be it George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the list is long. But, really, how are we taking action? Steps to actively erase racism from this earth are brought to everyone by Instagram feeds: click on one, two, three, four. Repeat.
This is not about whether racism exists or not. It is about abolishing racism at all. Can anti-racism do that? Be aware of the threads of identity politics and look for the blindspots. Liberals love identity politics, inviting native Americans to perform their folklore dance, take a knee wearing African fabrics with a cultural meaning they don’t understand, aspire to universality in the same way that the leftists do. The place of subjectivity in this realm seems to get lost in the ideal of becoming non-identical (like, for example, the Indian Michelle Obama, the Ecuadorian Georg Floyd, the Gandhi of Europe, you name it). Is this part of what is celebrated as anti-racism? If yes, how does it replace the idea of race, or better said, identity? Why would someone like linguist and professor at Columbia University John McWhorter say that anti-racism is the problem?
Following one of his lectures, McWhorter tries to leave the “racism is bad” mantra to introduce students to the complexity of its issues: One of them is that anti-racism is currently configured as a religion. Not as a rhetorical faint, but as a formerly intellectually challenging movement transformed into a faith. The idea that the responsible white person is supposed to attest their white privilege and realize to be forever guilty, that is the original sin right there. What does the idea that there will be a day in which America will come to terms with race actually mean? What would that consist of? What would the terms be? The only reason people believe in this is because it is clearly inscribed in the idea of judgement day. When people use the word ‘problematic’, what we are really saying is ‘blasphemous’.
The suspension of disbelief, which is a characteristic of religious faith, is how we talk about racism, McWhorter insists. There are a lot of things that are wrong with anti-racism that hold us back from helping black people on the ground. We are taught to think less of the real work of helping people with socio-political actions, and we end up thinking of inner-psychology and of the things that are deemed problematic in that sense. This is when anti-racism turns into a problem, just as religions can be: It participates in the quest for moral absolution that has at best a diagonal relationship to helping people who were left behind. If we start seeing beyond the polarizing field of #blackouttuesday and other empty gestures online, people in need finally won’t be infantilized any longer.
- María Inés Plaza Lazo
This is not about whether racism exists or not. It is about abolishing racism.
WHEN PROPERTY IS CLAIMED FROM US
The historically active (slave trade) and willingly passive (cause of economical, social and environmental harm) displacement of people as bodily capital leaves behind a never ending precarity. The US American case shows that having neither the citizenship nor de facto rights may not be enough for equality. Cases elsewhere show that a predatory economical narrative actively seeks populations that qualify as inevitable contemporary slaves. It also seeks for ways to make economical segregation publicly acceptable by pushing an identitarian divide, symbolic empowerment as well as the precarious labor to ever new shores beyond the horizon of both public opinion and legal borders.
The uprising that started in Minneapolis is the emerging voice of a century long struggle and the momentum needs to be given a further push before before it chokes again in the labyrinth of misery that has proved so evilly sustainable: Production chains that reproduce the source of racism by putting people of particular origins into structural lack of dignity need to face an uncompromising solidarity. We might otherwise find ourselves in the same situation, a century later.
- Pauł Sochacki
Production chains that reproduce the source of racism by putting people of particular origins into structural lack of dignity need to face an uncompromising solidarity.
ESSENTIAL WORK AGAINST WHITE ISSUES
There is no act and no choice that is not intertwined with our position within the system. We can not choose between class and race when we think about social inequalities. It is essential to push the boundaries of our imagination against the lines drawn by power, and to expose racial dynamics. As Reni Eddo-Lodge states in her book Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017): "There's nothing more threatening than the redistribution of cultural capital." (1) Invested in that, Arts of the Working Class pursues to dismantle racism’s cultural reach in all corners of the editorial work, over and over again. Whilst the paper donates to organisations that actively support anti-racism in Berlin, uses the platform to support anti-racist thoughts publically, and communicates openly about the struggles and the blindspots, we still need to ask ourselves: What are the intersectional conflicts we have to attend to by living in Berlin? Do we have to check privileges attached to our editorial work? Where are they, and how relative are they? There is no language that is not loaded and no imagination that is not historically charged.
Redefining the meaning of the working-class and the image of a worker is not possible without acknowledging social and political categories that make discrimination possible. What is the working-class in Germany? Who are the workers? And what is the matrix of domination in which people categorically encounter, accept or discriminate them? Although working-class white and BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) people have lots in common, still they are also very different. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.
The “white working class” obviously plays into the rhetoric of the far-right. And through this white victimhood there is a focus on imaginary reverse racism. Acknowledging this is a step towards normalising the political taboo of talking about social inequalities and their heritage. With friends and foes, on the streets, online, and over coffee.
- Alina Kolar
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO INHABIT A BLACK BODY AND FIND A WAY TO LIVE IN IT?
Ta-Nehisi Coates asks this pertinent question in his book entitled Between the World and Me (2015), a profound work that pivots from the biggest question about American history. I ask myself this question as I navigate my way in post-apartheid South Africa and anywhere in the world as a black queer man, who is confronted with the legacies of structural opression, a system which disenfranchised my ancestors and the legacies thereof continue to marginalize me, which is to say, racism in all its forms has its knee on my neck as I navigate the everyday. "We live for the weekend working up the courage... we pray away (x3) the pain of not being in alignment with our dreams". Msaki, a South African singer and songwriter was obviously articulating the persistence of coloniality in contemporary South Africa and the need and the importance to decolonize.
Decolonization speaks to dismantling symbols of coloniality and imperialism, in South Africa we saw the Fallist movement (the Fallist movement was started by students across universities in South Africa in March 2015. The #RhodesMustFall was a protest movement initially directed against a statue at University of Cape Town that commemorates Cecil Rhodes). What must fall, in our case in the South, was and is the presence of coloniality and its symbols like statues of Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger among others. History is not the same as memory, especially histories of suffering, trauma and victimization. South Africa comes from a history of pain and suffering. I strongly believe that the presence of such statues inflicts generational trauma. Ngugi wa Thiong'o explains decolonization as a search for liberating perspectives within which we see ourselves clearly in relation to ourselves and to others in the universe.
RACIAL DISCOURSE IN BERLIN BE LIKE: COME BACK, I’M NOT DONE WASTING YOUR TIME
The current protest-echoes leave People of Color in a sea of scattered thought patterns. Complexities of life realities, critiques, alliances, triggers and balancing acts are hard to digest. Info-Apocalypse 2020 Vol. 2. My personal monologue follows two uneven lines: 1. Imperial Europe's biggest export hit – racial capitalism – is coming back full circle. Or is it? While conversation within the arts-chamber peak in a momentary self-reflection (to put theory into action please read and answer the demands of @fantigold and many more under https://blackartistsinswitzerland.noblogs.org), the externalization of racism, race science and state implementation within “liberal” EU-ropean and German mass media maintains a tradition; Projection fuckboy level 3000. Germany’s current identity is based on having overcome “the Nazis” and the Jewish Holocaust as the only atrocity of modern German history, as if they would have nothing to do with racism and slavery, police violence or racial profiling. And if, it is mad individuals, like in Hanau. This narrative perpetuates vicious circles of segregation within people that could actually need each other's support. Let's be real. Germany is a context in which people as light skinned as myself are discriminated as inferior. In which “every fourth person” is a child of migration, but even polish people can not fully acquire the dignity of being a neighbor. Like, WTF? Can you imagine how it is to be (read as) black in this environment? This brings me to thought pattern 2. Fascism is stronger than ever. We need every single ally we can make use of in the fight to dismantle five hundred years of political race construction. For a polycentric future. Let's take action.
- Anna Ehrenstein
Imperial Europe's biggest export hit – racial capitalism – is coming back full circle.
THE WHITE SUPREMACY™ WITHIN
When white people talk about the dismantling of white supremacy, we have to be conscious of the fact that white supremacy is not an autonomous institution, existing outside of us within clearly locatable parameters. White supremacy is borderless, entrenched in the very microphysics of our existence, continuously affecting how we navigate the world. It is an embodied institution. In her recently published essay, Saidiya Hartman writes: “The stranglehold of white supremacy appears so unconquerable, so eternal that its only certain defeat is the end of the world, the death of Man.” (1) In other words, the abolition of white supremacy is achievable only when the world in the present state is itself abolished.
As Hartman and other scholars of black studies have argued, other, more reformist approaches to the dismantling of white supremacy will always only be futile attempts within the present system because 1) white supremacist world is not only hostile to blackness, but 2) parasitically feeds off its subjugation in order to preserve its own sense of cohesion. This tells us that white supremacy is the essential element that our society requires for its self-perpetuation. Police brutality, mass incarceration and unequal work opportunities are not a deviation from the values of this society, but its founding principles.
When we thus consider white supremacy less as a collateral event and more as the very ground upon which the European colonial system was built, absolving oneself from racism solely by announcing one’s anti-racist stance becomes much more complicated. Instead, white people are faced with a laborious task of a continuous reassessment of the complicity of our own ethics/values/thinking/actions in the preservation of this system. In order for this ‘newly’ found consciousness not to devolve into a sense of performative white guilt or incessant self-loathing, it could serve to make us (white people) perennially uncomfortable, but productively so: striving to work on acknowledging our own complicity and trying to make violence less likely, without ever thinking that this is a teleological process, that would — once achieved — allow us to permanently cut ties with the institution of white supremacy.
- Sebastjan Brank
The abolition of white supremacy is achievable only when the world in the present state is itself abolished.
THE IMPOSSIBLY TO IMAGINE
A few weeks ago, the asparagus season began in Western Europe, along with stricter self-isolation measures. Many businesses without seasonal workers were hammered into the pipe. Fascinated by the idea of the idyll village work, the Germans signed up for volunteer help. A week later, after the expected decline in enthusiasm for field work from the German middle class, the entry of agricultural workers from Romania and Poland was allowed. Unlike the Germans, who were going to their own homes after a hard day in the fields, the migrants slept and lived in specially built barracks that were not adapted to the corona virus situation. Do we know how many people who worked in the field were infected with the virus? How many of them died? How many of them were taken to German hospitals? How many of them after coming back had to rely on a health system systematically skimmed by the wealthier countries of the European Union? Are their lives considered if society starts to question the structural racism and inequality followed by mass protest? Or is it a very different story, for a very different protest? Will the names of Romanians and Poles affected by the virus be inscribed into our protest art? In the current "delegated" transatlantic protest it became clear how unaware most of the protesters are about both - the deeper roots of American and Germany's own racism, as well as its structural, geopolitical and economical pre-conditions. That is why such protest is joined so easily - one's own life is illuminated at this moment by the reflection of someone else's hard struggle, which hasn’t lasted for a year or two, but for centuries. The ray of moral superiority (usually accompanied by class alienation) leads a delegated demonstrator right into the shopping mall.
- Ira Koyukhova
Revolution is not a one time event.
VIRTUE SIGNALLING AND THE USELESSNESS OF WHITE GUILT
As restaurants, cafes and bars in Berlin are now beginning to reopen, I’ve started to get back into one of my favourite pastimes: people watching, but mostly eavesdropping on strangers' conversations. Outside a cafe in Neukölln, I hear a group of white people speaking amongst themselves about the current social unrest seen around the world in response to racism and police brutality. What I hear in the conversation is actually very little about the struggles of Black people fighting for their lives against systemic racism, nor what non-Black people can do to realize large scale systemic change. Instead, the conversation I hear revolves around whether or not they’re virtue signaling - participating in the public expression (on social media or otherwise) of sentiments intended to demonstrate good character or moral correctness around a particular issue.
People who have never used their platforms to speak about race, class, sexism, or LGBTQIA+ issues are now suddenly posting and reposting anything they see about Black Lives Matter and they are being called out en masse for only speaking out about it now - and rightfully so: racism isn’t exactly a new problem. But if all white people can talk about amongst themselves is their fear of being accused of virtue signaling, hasn’t the entire discussion once again been centered around white people’s insecurities? Why instead aren’t people talking about ways to dismantle racism, to be actively anti-racist and to educate themselves and those around them about being a good ally? Angela Davis once said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” The discussion of virtue signaling amongst white people just plays into the classic “I’m not a racist” disclaimer when in fact, anyone who benefits from racism via white privilege is part of a racist system - sorry, not sorry. The insecurity of being labelled as a racist is just another expression white guilt, and it’s not helping the movement. To be actively anti-racist means speaking up about injustices all the time, not only when things get bad. It is to understand that BLM isn’t against any one individual, that is: if some one “is” or “isn’t” racist, but rather against a white supremacist society.
To be anti-racist is to do the work, actively and continuously. If you’re worried about whether or not you’re virtue signaling, you probably are. Now get over it and do better! Now it is the job of non-Black people everywhere to do anything they can to help the BLM movement with the means and privileges they have, to practice anti-racism, and yes, to use their platforms to promote Black organizations, artists, and thinkers. The BLM movement has been repressed, silenced, erased (#blackouttuesday, for example), and suffocated by white guilt and insecurities too many times before. This time the momentum needs to continue, and white allies need to take the responsibility to help carry it forward.
- Chris Paxton
We need every single ally we can make use of in the fight to dismantle five hundred years of political race construction.
I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK ABOUT THIS
I asked my friend to discuss with me to work through thoughts, languages, discomforts, and questions. During the discussion I realized I couldn’t figure out from what position I was speaking from, as someone who is not white but not black. My family comes from a minority group and has seen and experienced racism, so how do I support BLM while also acknowledging and learning my families own experience with racism and oppression.
When everyone is expressing how “white people” can learn more, do more, act more it's hard to figure out where I am positioned in all of this. I'm still not sure how to talk about this but after the discussion with my friend I realized there are many questions I need to ask myself, and many questions I need to formulate myself that is more connected to my context, family, and experiences.
- Karina Rovira
- Footnotes(1) Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017)
(2) Saidiya Hartman, The End of White Supremacy, An American Romance, Bomb Magazine (2020)
(3) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984) by Audre Lorde
Image: Karina Rovira