By Joshua Briond
In the aftermath of the state-sanctioned executions of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we have witnessed arguably the largest and most sustained mobilization of protests and political demonstrations across the country in the movement for Black lives. In the midst of an era of drastically increased performative and opportunistic “activism,” where “spreading awareness” is prioritized over human lives and dignity—which was helped ushered in by the Shaun King’s of the world—where capital(ism) does what it has done to everything: commodify, celebritize, and corporatize any and everything, by any means necessary. Such has been done for “social justice” rhetoric and activism. We have seen, in real time, Black Lives Matter be co-opted, commodified, watered down, and flat-out defanged in the face of capital, as the simple passivity of the hashtag and movement demands—if you can call it such—has become socially acceptable in the mainstream arena, specifically so in the post-Kaepernick era.
With increasing pressure for bourgeois public figures to “speak out” and “spread awareness” from fans, the sociopolitical moment has forced historically apolitical figures and brands alike to momentarily step outside their bubble of privilege, power, and wealth to release uninspired and bland political statements vaguely condemning violence and pledging their rhetorical support for the Black lives matter movement. Such acts are met with comment sections filled with bleak and dystopian undue and unjust adulation for bare minimum performances of intellectually insulting public political theater—that is yet typical for the celebrity worship present here in the US. As the limits of neoliberal political imagination have once again depicted, in this crucial sociopolitical climate, the best the professional liberal class could offer as a solution to the prevalence of racialized state violence—was not the political interrogation of the white power structure we live under and its constant terror and antagonization to non-white life—but to vote for uninspired Democratic candidates, donate to NGOs and non-profits with zero ties to communities most largely affected by said violence, and read “ally” self-help books, written largely but not exclusively by and for white people.
One of the books in question is Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Published the summer of 2018, it went viral during the rise of the protests (stated to have sold at least a million copies in the matter of a few months). Others have grappled with the glaring contradictions and violence inherent to the act of a white person raking in millions under the guise of “anti-racism” and “anti-bias training”—that has been largely proven ineffective; while also charging anywhere from $30,000 to $45,000 on public speaking gigs for corporate conglomerates like Bill Gates and Amazon. So I’m not here to speak on that. Yet, DiAngelo’s public persona and prominence is arguably the perfect depiction of the co-optation of the politics of “anti-racism” into its own industry for corporate diversity initiatives without addressing structural root causes. The issue with books, panels, infographics, and the discourse surrounding race that centers and targets “allies” is that so many of them still fundamentally misunderstand rac[e/ism], whiteness, and anti-Blackness as just a matter of individual feelings, ignorance, and morality—instead of what it is: a structural organizing tool that the US political economy—built on and inseparable from slavery and genocide—necessitates.
“We who were not black before we got here, who were defined as black by the slave trade—have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a long time & have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived & triumphed over it.”James Baldwin
How can one be an anti-racist if the historical precedence of race and racialization as a colonial society organizing device and regime isn’t widely understood amongst those who proclaimed to identify or align with anti-racist values? And when the vast majority of this country’s population—including self-proclaimed anti-racists’ understanding of race is wrongly and harmfully understood as that of a biological marking, rather than a sociopolitical tool meticulously and conveniently constructed and manipulated through legislation? As W.E.B. Du Bois, amongst other historians and critical race thinkers have noted: Whiteness, as stated since its historicized legislation, marks power and dominance. Blackness marks the powerless, slave, and dispossessed.
The United States of America, as we know of it, cannot function or exist without the racial regime: whiteness and anti-blackness. The entire economy, politically and otherwise—going all the way back to the cotton industry; which introduced the world to the US as a global imperial-capitalist project—is predicated & sustained through racial violence. The subjugation of imperialized nations and peoples, the dispossessed, and the enslaved, is how America and therefore the American knows that they are free. The coloniality of American freedom and the subjugation of those racialized and colonized nations and peoples cannot be divorced from one another. The entire concept of freedom and democracy—as espoused as principle by the American project—is predicated on the denial of such, of the Other(s).
“Africanism is the vehicle by which the American self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed & powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny.”Toni Morrison
I want to say that when I speak of the “America(n),” I am referring to that of the white. America(n) means white. I would like to also infer that the American, and white identity, ideology, and structure, is founded upon not just the systemic exploitation of the Other, namely the Black or otherwise the slave, the native, the dispossessed, and the colonized—and the moral and political justification of it—but also defined entirely by said positionality of the subjugated. As Toni Morrison has written, “Black slavery enriched the country’s [creative] possibilities. for in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not—me. The result was a playground for the imagination. What rose up out of collective needs to allay internal fears and to rationalize extemal exploitation was an American Africanism—a fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire that is uniquely American.”
The liberal anti-racist economy is fundamentally unwilling and ill-equipped to grapple with this and racial[ized] contradictions of capital(ism)—the likes of which Black radicals of the Black radical tradition have theorized and highlighted on for decades now. Racism is not just a matter of individual ignorance or feelings that can be changed or eradicated via “understanding,” “diversity and anti-bias training,” “tough conversations,” or a quick fix in morality and finally seeing subjects of its violence as human; as so many prominent “anti-racists” would like to have us believe. The ‘antiracist’ economy, lucrative as may be, is incapable of birthing white ‘anti-racists’ because it refuses to grapple with the inherent racism of the project, or rather regime of race, racialization, capital(ism), and whiteness-as-power, in and of itself. You cannot manufacture solidarity—which a radical anti-racist movement necessitates—on the simple passivity of moral posturing. Solidarity must be built on, not just through shared struggle or basic figurations of empathy, but also on recognizing the humanity of those in which it has been historically denied to and ultimately coming to an understanding and agreement that we are worth fighting for.
“As long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you.”James Baldwin
To teach white people to be ‘antiracist’ is to teach white people to betray everything that they have ever known about their very existence, the world order, and life itself; it is to quite literally antagonize everything that they are and sense empowerment from. Therefore, you cannot ‘teach’ white people to be ‘antiracist’ through moral and virtue signaling—especially when whiteness itself, as politically constructed, is, has always been, and will always be, immoral. It is why becoming an anti-racist is, or at least should be, a choice one makes through rigorous study of the history of race, racialization, whiteness, and liberation movements, etc. White people cannot be guilted into antiracism—this is why the “spreading awareness” tactic—deployed by Shaun King and his ilk—that bombards people with pornographic visualizations of black terror and death have been largely ineffective but on the contrary quite in fact, historically libidinal—a source of entertainment and collective joy. The politics of moralism has proven futile. You cannot moralize oppression—especially when the source and basis of said oppression is that of capital and whiteness—both of which are categorically immoral.
In a sociopolitical moment where we have seen Donald Trump’s violence exceptionalized; making it out to be unlike anything we have ever seen before—despite his political crimes largely (and simply) being an extension of the order and requirements of the US presidency—by the liberal media apparatus; terroristic political legacies resuscitated, war criminals, regime changers, and COINTELPRO state agents become faces of resistance. All of which depict a moment in which the standard for “good doers,” “morality,” and human rights and social justice advocate is deeper in the gutter than ever before. I’m afraid that the anti-racist economy, the ally industrial complex—as a result of commodification of social justice has ushered in an “anti-racism” and a human right advocacy that is inseparable from the social, political, and economic capital that it often leads to.
I’m afraid the anti-racist economy has, ironically enough, failed to create any substantial “allies” or “anti-racists.” But instead created a culture of unadulterated and uncontested political performativity, groomed more benevolent self-aggrandizing white people—who are smarter, more clever than their forebears at disguising such racism; to avoid backlash, consequences, or even the mildest forms of confrontation; just enough to navigate situations with and around subjects of racial oppression without exposing the psychopathy and immorality of structural and ideological whiteness—but not enough to materially and substantially dedicate themselves to and sacrifice their own power and capital towards an anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist struggle.
I’m afraid that there has been little to no progress, remorse or lessons learned—on the part of individual whites or the white power structure at-large as evidenced by the continuation of the legacy of colonialism, slavery and historicized violence—as the tactics and acts wielded against the initial racially marked and subjugated would serve as a template of what would occur in the centuries to follow—being exported to other racialized and colonized people domestically and across the globe; while still being enacted on the initially marked, i.e., African, Black, and Indigenous subjects.
I’m afraid with the consequences of slavery, which is that of whiteness-as-power, the racial regime and racism that is inherent to it depict white remorselessness on the part of the perpetuators and continued beneficiaries of the historicized economic industry; to paraphrase one of my favorite James Baldwin quotes from 1970: the very sight of black people in white chains and cages—both proverbial or otherwise—houseless, neglected, and structurally subjugated, and terrorized; would struck such anger, such intolerable rage, in the eyes, minds, and bodies of the American people, that they would themselves spontaneously rise up and strike off the manacles. But instead, as we know of it all too well, the existence of said chains, cages, and racial subjugation, is how the American measures their own safety and sense of comfort. It is how they know they are free.