Chapo Trap House is “The Daily Show” for Smarter Suckers

I hadn’t listened to an episode of the Chapo Trap House podcast until a few days ago, for a variety of reasons. For those not in the know, Chapo Trap House is a popular podcast hosted by Will Menaker, Felix Biederman, Matt Christman, and a variety of other twitter nano-celebrities. In the profiles of Chapo that have become ubiquitous in the last couple weeks, the hosts are usually described as operating at the intersection of “left twitter” (“Neoliberals are bad!”) and “weird twitter” (“Hitler is good!”).

My lack of interest in the podcast was the result of the little bit that I knew about the podcasters. Without listening to their podcast and going solely by their online presences (especially Felix’s) there’s a visible proximity to a loose agglomeration of what George Bell calls “dissociative shitposting personalities heavily influenced by channer culture.” In a series that’s absolutely worth reading, George explains how members of this sub-culture “purport to be on the left, and even occasionally mouth opinions which approximate mild social democracy,” but “None of this, however, distinguishes them from the alt-right, with whom they share the channer cultural indicia.”

This affinity crops up repeatedly, from the Chapos dubbing their fans Grey Wolves, after the fascist Turkish gang; to the “ironic” references to alt-right inspired terminology, like Menaker’s frequent bend the knees and much of Felix’s timeline; to the group’s affiliation with Nick Mullen, a fellow “ironic” podcaster and Chapo roommate who did shit like tweet jokes comparing President Obama to apes. In the brave new Left, nothing racist or fascist seems genuinely objectionable anymore, as long as someone is popular, has popular friends, and gestures at general positive feelings towards social democracy. These are people who want to make rape jokes and call people “retards” while also having free health care (TW: rape A good microcosm: a user on the Chapo subreddit with the name “CosbyMixedDrink” saying “That’s why I like Chapo is that they don’t do this whole speech bullshit but are still respectful of people in general.” The Left is back, baby—a hearty cheer for the return of The Left!).

“Crypto Cuttlefish” has written an excellent thread on the Strasserite National-Socialist vibe of this sort of politics, and the danger of allowing it anywhere near something claiming to be “the Left.” This sort of thing, coupled with the mainline-democratic socialist bent expressed by the podcasters, makes for a finished product that one favorable write-up summarizes as “equal parts Dissent and 4chan.”

So I never listened to Chapo, because Dissent-meets-4chan sounds fucking horrible.

However, this week, an IRL friend recommended that I listen to Chapo Trap House, specifically the episode “From Russia with CHUD.” By way of self-crit (I had to atone for the fact that somehow I’m giving off the impression that I want to hear about Chapo Trap House), I listened to the actual episode, which threatened to reveal what the Chapos and a writer for The New Republic thought about the Democrat/CIA anti-Russia campaign. A New Republic scribe skewering the hypocrisies of the Democrats–let’s have another round of cheers for the triumphant resurgence of The Left!

Having listened to an episode, it’s clear why Chapo is so popular. Chapo Trap House is basically The Daily Show for dummies who are a little too woke to be #WithHer Democrats. It’s mostly preening and in-jokes about cartoonish right-wing cretins, although it’s meaner and more reliant on internet memes and arcane twitter minutiae than the Comedy Central version.

Having established the template for smug liberal stroke-fests in the 21st century, The Daily Show looms large as a media product. In a piece whose title dubs the trio “vulgar, brilliant demigods of the new Progressive Left,” co-host Matt Christman sells the show as something other than “the smug above-it-all snark of The Daily Show or the quaver-voiced earnestness of, like Chris Hedges or something.” Their New Yorker profile makes distinctions against The Daily Show, as do plenty of other articles and blog posts looking to puff up the show.

It’s bullshit: when you’re not in thrall to the show’s assiduously cultivated brand story, it’s clearly in the vein of The Daily Show. Since this may sound shocking to someone familiar with Chapo’s “radical” dissident branding, it’s worth doing bit of a closer reading.

The episode in question (#118), costarring The New Republic’s Sarah Jones, deals mostly with today’s anti-Russia campaign. The Chapos correctly identify that the Democratic Party is whipping up a jingoistic anti-Russia hysteria in order to distract from the party’s own “shortcomings,” and they give a decent summary of Democratic “hawkishness.” It’s an alright summary, although it’s nothing you couldn’t find on AlterNet or Truth-Dig, and it’s not a fraction as funny as its fans all say it is.

The Chapos also say that Russia probably interfered in the election, that the Trump campaign probably colluded with Russia in a way that “was almost certainly criminal,” that Russia is a declining second-rate shithole, that they wouldn’t object to Trump being ejected from the Oval Office, that the Democrats are inept, that “the problem is the Republican Party being in power,” and that RT is a disreputable news source that “does pretty much suck.” Then there’s a bit of riffing about the degeneracy of the Slav—ironically, of course!

The stuff that’s supposed to be really edgy is when the Chapos tear into some of the prominent figures fomenting the current anti-Russian hysteria, especially Louise “Britain’s Sarah Palin” Mensch, Eric “Always Be GameTheorying” Garland, and the legions of nitwit Hillbots churning out gigabytes’-worth of tweets about the Putinite menace. That’s cool, but these are also really easy targets. Louise Mensch is human garbage, and Eric Garland is an obvious bullshit peddler. Given that Hillary Clinton was running for president with a record to the right of George W. Bush’s, making fun of those in her orbit is as challenging as clowning on the Bush junta circa 2005 (and since the #resistance is rehabilitating Bush admin wall-bait like David Frum, some of the faces are even the same).

Actually, most of the Chapo’s favorite targets are low-hanging fruit: Ross Douthat, one of the New York Times’s stable of “reasonable Republicans” that that publication is so in love with, is a frequent punching-bag. Ross Douthat is also so insipid that he makes David Brooks look inspired, so mocking him takes as much imagination as razzing Tom Friedman. Likewise for Matt Yglesias, Eli Lake, Max Boot, and Donna Brazile and Joy Anne Reid and Peter Daou.

Kayfabe is a wrestling term that most of Chapo’s fans will probably be familiar with, and it refers to the shared suspension of disbelief that wrestling fans engage in so that they can enjoy the spectacle. So many staged political fights have an element of this to them, and Chapo is no different. Fans surrender to the fantasy by ignoring the fact that mocking people like libertarian scumbag Megan McArdle is actually really, really easy—which is why the Chapos spend so much time at the end of each episode on their “reading series,” where they zing the hypocrisies and alleged myopia of this or that neoliberal clown. Episode 118’s installment of the reading series focuses on a Bloomberg piece by McArdle, in which she argues that the Grenfell tower fire which killed 80 mostly poor people in London was a necessary evil, since onerous regulations may not have saved anyone, anyway, so why bother? With McArdle having argued that “poor people being incinerated en masse is fine,” the Chapos then spend about 20 minutes discussing how that’s Actually Bad, and that poor people should not be burned to death by the dozens.

They’re right, of course. But it’s also instantly apparent to anyone who’s not a total piece of despicable shit why that’s a Bad Take, and it’s not hard to explain why. Deeper into the bit, one of the Chapos nails Megan McArdle with a WMD of double-standards:

The one who skypes in (Christman, maybe?): “Where the hell was this absolute paralysis in the face of the butterfly effect when she was like ‘you know what? Go invade Iraq.’”

All the rest and Sarah: YES! YES, ABSOLUTELY!

Yes, yes.

Yeahyeahyeah.

LOL, hypocrisy much? Do these right-wing turkeys even UNDERSTAND how HYPOCRITICAL they’re being?? Can you believe a libertarian doesn’t want to spend taxpayer money on social programs, but DOES want to spend public funds on war?

Well, yes, of course they do. If you have a 101-level understanding of Marx—a genuine understanding, not an empty posture—then that’s a totally consistent position. Yup, a propagandist will advocate not spending money on social programs, and will also agitate for costly imperial wars, since both of those things benefit their employers, a.k.a. the ruling class. This is what a radical, class-based, socialist understanding of ruling class praxis sounds like. What Chapo provides is, to quote Michael Parenti, a liberal complaint, not a radical analysis. So no wonder their show pulls in almost a million dollars a year.

This liberalism is the foundation for what people call “democratic socialism,” and it’s at the heart of Chapo’s commentary. One of the Chapos speaks positively in #118 about Canadian author John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards, a left-liberal holy book, which posits that liberalism served a progressive purpose several centuries ago, but it’s now a fetter on human development. In other words, Saul recapitulates an elementary Marxist truism without all that icky Communism. When discussing US foreign policy, the Chapos invariably use the royal “we” to talk about the predations of the ruling class, a dead giveaway that someone lacks a class-based analysis, and is thus a liberal, not a radical. This is in keeping with their non-radical tendency to defer to Beltway-speak like “hawks,” “doves,” non-interventionist foreign policy,” etc., rather than something grounded in a class-based analysis (though they’ve obviously read the seminal socialist text Interventionist Foreign Policy, the Highest Stage of Capitalism).

This is exactly what anyone should expect from people drinking from the brackish ideological puddle that is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—the Chapos are “aligned with the Brooklyn arm” of the DSA, they praise the DSA often, and occasionally host fundraisers for the organization. Large numbers of their fans flash their DSA membership on twitter via rose emojis (and promises to hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire, LOL). February 2017 pieces in both Al Jazeera English and Rolling Stone on the surge of post-Trump interest in “socialism” credit Chapo Trap House with steering people into the DSA.

The DSA was formed in the 1980s as the brainchild of Michael Harrington, an activist who initially supported the US bombing of Vietnam due to the “Stalinism” of the Vietnamese, only coming around to opposing it because the slaughter made Communists sympathetic. Harrington’s political philosophy can be summed up in two statements: “the left wing of realism is found today in the Democratic Party” and “I am anti-communist on principle because I am pro-freedom.” Harrington is a perfect representation of countless generations of radicals, socialists, and Leftists whose radical socialist Leftism amounts to Liberalism = good, Communism = bad.

To its credit, the DSA barely pretends to be anything other than a Democratic Party annex. Check out this post-election “rally” which a New York DSA chapter sold as a chance to “march to [Senator Chuck] Schumer’s home [to] deliver protein bars and weights to Schumer, so he can regain his strength” (if playing Mickey to Schumer’s Rocky Balboa sounds radical to you, I know a podcast you’ll like). Most of the leading lights of the whatever-left get around to echoing or hinting at the same sentiment eventually: case in point, DSA enthusiast, Jacobin managing editor, and self-described “far right of the radical left” Connor Kilpatrick went on Chapo Trap House (#13) and eventually mumbled out “uhh yeah, I’m uhhh voting…for Hillary,” which did not provoke paroxysms of laughter and mockery from the hosts. Neither did Chapo’s fans subject Kilpatrick to a barrage of substance-free invective and asinine ad-homs on social media, the way they do to radicals who are insufficiently enamored of the coolest new podcast sensation. Kilpatrick was kind enough to have the following exchange with David Simon, where the two “democratic socialists” do the what about agency? thing while “hoping to god” that Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the election.

I wonder if when the Chapos “take aim at Clinton supporters,” as a new profile in the Guardian has it, that means not inviting Kilpatrick on their show a third time?

And the Chapos manifest the traditional DSA anti-communism, though they may be more down-low about it than Harrington, who showed what his peers called an “obsessive anti-Communism.” Nothing like a Communist idea espoused on Chapo, and while one or the other may drop a ruling class here and there, the gang doesn’t show a genuine grasp of the fundamentals of class power. To the degree that the Chapos engage with Communist ideas at all, it’s to mine conformist laughter by sneering at “tankies” and “Stalinists” (the difference between sensible, rational Communists and evil, crazy tankies hinges on how much the reds in question love Chapo Trap House). For a good laugh, check out the edgy radicals in this Chapo subreddit thread whining about all the actual Communists in the online left. And for a list of successful Democratic Socialist revolutions, and a tally of human beings fed, housed, and made literate by Democratic Socialist regimes, open a new browser tab and stare at the blank page.

Given how the Chapos’ politics are leftish liberalism (at best), it’s no wonder that, amidst the shitshow of the current anti-Trump hashtag-resistance histrionics, Chapo Trap House has been designated the premier spokes-‘cast for whatever the hell “The Left” is supposed to be.

And make no mistake, Chapo has obviously been selected for this position.

Well, this is obvious to anyone with an actual grasp of how the ruling class manages its propaganda system, but it’s not obvious to Chapo’s fan base, whose criticism of the media is entirely superficial. As with every new crop of Leftie heroes we’re told to listen to, the Chapos are heralded as radical gatecrashers, who managed to circumvent the traditional media barriers through some D.I.Y. bootstrap ingenuity. Apparently the ruling class didn’t hate socialism because it threatens their bottom-line, they only wanted it sexed-up with a ton of riffing about esoteric twitter kerfuffles among the punditocracy.

In their case, Chapo Trap House’s mythology holds that they incubated in the most ironic corner of twitter, finally rocking the boat via their uniquely incisive online presences and nebulous crowdfunding paradigm. “The thing that drives Chapo haters the most insane,” writes Chapo Menaker, “is that they can’t get us fired from anywhere,” a reference to the fact that the show’s creators receive 70 grand a month from mostly anonymous sources via Patreon, allegedly insulating them from the traditional propaganda model.

Their radical cred is seemingly earned when “the establishment” pushes back, embodied by risible centrist trash like Jeet Heer and the sort of radical liberals who say that it’s racist and misogynistic to hate drone strikes. Once the anointed ones and their handlers have written the satisfying origin story, their legions of credulous fans repeat the outsider fairy tale they’ve been told to say—and in Chapo’s case, harass detractors with twitter pile-on campaigns and seemingly automated streams of inanities.

However—and the smart kids whose radical media critique is Actually Good can probably see where this is going—there are no exceptions. No outsiders get to muscle their way into the public eye based on grit and gumption alone, and genuinely radical notions are allowed absolutely no booth in the marketplace of ideas. The media is a megaphone which the ruling class uses to tell us what to think, and any arguments about radicals sneaking in the side door in order to crash the party are at least two decades past their sell-by date.

This much should be apparent in Chapo’s case, even if one was just going by the really obvious things like profiles, ranging from positive to fawning, in The New Yorker (11/8/16), The A.V. Club (12/7/16), Mediaite (4/12/16), Pacific Standard (8/12/16), The goddamn Washington Post (7/20/17), The Guardian (7/23/17), et cetera, or a June 2017 piece in The New York Times where writer Nikil Saval calls Chapo Trap House “prime originators of the left’s liberal bashing.” Eat it, Mao—and can we get three big-ass cheers for the rebirth, resurgence, and renaissance of The Left?!

Dig a little deeper, and it’s even more obvious how fraudulent the “dissident” narrative is. As laid out in a blog post titled “The Cafe.com Rabbit Hole,” Felix Biederman made a jump from twitter personality and Glenn Greenwald hanger-on to paid content-provider and thinkfluencer via the good graces of tech entrepreneur Vinit Bharara, who started an oddly unprofitable-looking site called Cafe and swept up Biederman and future Chapo co-host Virgil Texas, along with various other tech and media apparatchiks including a New York Times editor and a former staffer for Chuck Schumer. “To pull this all together, a New York state, top-brass Democrat and former Clinton spokesman now pens satire as a fictional character online” alongside Biederman. “Odd trajectory, isn’t it?”

Episode 116’s reading series touches on a piece by Katha Pollitt, a liberal serious-person who writes pieces with titles like “liberal elites are not the problem.” Before the bit starts, Menaker makes a big show about leaving the booth, swearing that it has nothing to do with the segment causing him “personal strife, for my family or anyone I know.” This is that irony they’re all about these days: the joke is that the truth is the opposite, because Will’s father, Daniel Menaker, is Pollitt’s longtime friend, collaborator, and occasional editor. According to Chapo’s New Yorker profile, “Daniel Menaker, is a former executive editor-in-chief of Random House, and was also a fiction editor at The New Yorker for twenty years.” Being a member of an elite liberal media family probably helped Will get that job as an assistant editor at a subsidiary publisher of W. W. Norton, and it probably played more of a role in nailing down that New Yorker profile as the new face of The Left than doing uniquely good irony. Also, “Will Menaker’s grandfather was a KGB turncoat who snitched so hard that his FBI handler built a vacation home next to his.”

So Chapo Trap House is very much a part of the media system that it’s claiming to be lobbing bombs at from the outside. Biederman mocks the Democratic Party leadership and Silicon Valley while getting paid by a tech entrepreneur to write anti-GOP “satire” with Democratic Party functionaries—on a website that seems all-but-guaranteed to lose money, yet is funded for some reason (and “the guy who sold Diapers.com to Amazon doesn’t pay $5 million out of pocket to publish your Carl Diggler character because they believe in the cause of Democratic Socialism”). Menaker engages in high-profile mockery of the elite media kaffeeklatsch while being the second-generation scion of an elite media family. They roast this New Republic writer while enlisting the expertise of that New Republic writer; and mock the pretensions of The New York Times and The New Yorker while receiving affectionate profiles in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The outsider branding is savvy marketing, nothing more.

Is it too much to ask that The Left’s designated spokespeople not have direct relations to the ruling class and the Feds? Well, yes, actually, it is too much to ask, since these are the sorts of people who will always be elevated to prominence. It just happens to be Chapo’s moment in the spotlight, since enough people may have figured out that Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee are smug dipshits, or at least picked up that they should feint towards thinking so. That’s why so many puff-pieces about Chapo include reasons why it’s not like The Daily Show: people were sold a right-wing mediocrity like Obama through endless repetition of how he was unlike anyone who’d come before him, despite all the ways that he was exactly like everyone who had come before him. Every time Chapo’s fans are told it’s not like the Comedy Central mainstay which it does very much resemble in content, people are being told this time the hype is real… this time the hype is real… this time the hype is real…

They’re hearing this because Chapo is just the latest in a line of entirely compromised and not-very-radical heat sinks that comes along periodically to scoop up disaffected liberals. Post-Trump, those liberals who aren’t begging the CIA to stage a coup so Hillary can unleash atomic armageddon on the treacherous Orient have decided that they love the color red and that they’re socialists now. There’s clearly a push to brand liberal anger at Trump with a “radical” façade and keep frustrated, furious people in the existing electoral system, which is why Rolling Stone says the DSA “is poised to become a leader in the national resistance against Trump’s administration,” and a Guardian piece speculates that the Chapos might be “the future of Democratic politics.” People are shepherded through these shifts by various ideologists and elite-approved culture-creators: Stewart and Sorkin and Michael Moore laid the groundwork for Obama; those progressives who eventually stopped swooning over Barack were made to fall in love with Jacobin and The Intercept, and on to Bernie Sanders and the DSA. By the time one brand loses its luster, another one that’s been waiting-in-the-wings is given the spotlight, and people are told that the important new thing is the future of The Left. I mean, remember when they said it about Obama?

Now it’s Chapo’s turn, and they’re remarkable for just how hard they’re being pushed at the moment, and the unanimity with which they’re being heralded. Jeet Heer and Rebecca Traister are just about the only paid writers of any prominence who don’t say that Chapo Trap House is important, different, radical, and necessary. At the same time that The Washington Post is publishing daily agit-prop against the Venezuelan government (including calls for foreign intervention), it’s celebrating the return of “Old Left socialism” under the banner of Chapo Trap House as “the voice of a new left.” If a “socialist” sees this and it doesn’t set off any alarm bells, then they haven’t learned a single thing about the media since the headiest days of Obamania besides a new set of radical-looking gestures.

What Chapo has going over all the other is supposed to be the irony, which both provides ample space for some of the most retrograde elements of internet culture to spew filth freely, while also putting everything the Chapos and their fans say outside of criticism. Like so much about what they do, it’s a lot of smoke-and-mirrors.

The Chapos do very much speak with the “the quaver-voiced earnestness of, like Chris Hedges or something,” when the subject is supporting Bernie or Jezza (in #116, one of the Chapos calls Corbyn’s almost-election “world-historic,” LOL). Ditto when discussing the necessity of supporting the Democrats and making common cause with liberals: listen to one of the Chapos in #118 discussing the plight of the anguished progressives who “had” to grit their teeth and vote for Hillary and you can practically see the moon face of Chris Hedges scowling right at you. Amber Frost’s paeans to the DSA are almost as earnest as that story Hedges always tells about the Bosnian farmer, and about as fun as hearing him say “the corporate state.” The same register comes out when waving their crosses at the Stalinist menace or whinging about neoliberal hypocrisy.

So there are all sorts of middling liberal ideas espoused every time the show or their crowds of largely DSA-aligned fans decide to get programmatic, because disaffected liberals are both Chapo’s members and the bulk of its fanbase. But when their mild social democracy or injection of reactionary content gets criticized, then the “smug above-it-all snark” comes out. The ideas are supposed to be immune to criticism because of “irony,” and their cruel troll squads blast skeptics with insults and “it’s ironic,” “you don’t get it,” and “go on Cum Town.” The show doesn’t avoid the extreme poles of treacly earnestness and smarminess; it uses both, and retreats from one to the other depending on whichever’s rhetorically convenient at a given moment.

At least people who love Hillary Clinton and John Oliver will generally own up to having actual opinions. At the same time that they’re providing cover for reactionary trash, the Chapos are selling tepid DSA-style social democracy as revolution, and teaching their fans to deploy the dumbest, meanest, and most dishonest tactics against anyone who doubts the radical potential of this project. This shit is toxic beyond imagination, and the one saving grace is that it only has minimal appeal for anyone other than Chapo’s target audience: America’s downwardly mobile petty bourgeois “failsons,” whose revolutionary potential is and always has been essentially nil.

Can we get one last, big hurrah for the long-awaited re-birth of The Left?

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Actually Existing Fascism

With the election of Donald Trump, we’re being told that now is the time to fear fascism in America.

What is this nightmare-vision of a fascist America supposed to look like? This alternate-reality USA, under the uniquely vicious reign of the Trump regime, is one in which minorities have to fear for their lives. The president will speak in openly white supremacist language. Black Americans will have to fear death at the hands of police and vigilantes; latin@s will have to fear deportation; Muslims, Islamophobic violence; and so on. The good people of humanity will tremble as Trump wields America’s fearsome armed forces, secret police, elite death squads, drones, and surveillance technology for the good of himself and his cronies. Earth’s ecosystem—the very promise of a habitable planet—will be sacrificed by men who put profits ahead of human needs and the good of mankind.

Truly, fascist America would a terrifying place. This vision is so terrifying that mere days after the election, even the most conformist liberals have suddenly gotten in touch with the radical antifa apparently slumbering inside each one of them. Highly publicized protests have already occurred in several major cities. Democratic Party propaganda organ Daily Kos, which banned criticisms of Hillary site-wide in March 2016, is suddenly receptive to a planned general strike on inauguration day. Those who can manage to unscrew themselves from the fetal position are resolute in their opposition to Trump’s agenda—“we have all been radicalized,” writes future Molotov-thrower Lena Dunham. All these new radicals, radicalized by Trump’s racist language. Radicalized by the way his administration threatens non-whites with state violence. Radicalized by the fact that he’ll be Commander-in-Chief, and he’ll use that power to kill.

So where the fuck were all these protesters when Obama was actually doing what Trump says he’ll do? Trump’s neo-Nazi dystopia is the USA that exists today, and anyone who doesn’t realize it needs to shut the fuck up and stop pretending to know anything about politics. Anyone who thinks Donald Trump is more of a fascist than Barack Obama is some combination of an imbecile, a liberal, and a charlatan.

Barack Obama was the President who expanded the White House’s power to kill anyone, anywhere, including American citizens. If wielding power like a führer is the mark of fascism, then Obama qualified as of the 2012 passage of the NDAA.

It seems like every dire warning about the Trump administration starts with a bit about the millions of immigrant families that might be torn apart. Many Trump voters would salivate over the prospect of deporting 2.5 million people, as Obama has done—more than every 20th century president combined. Along the way, the Obama administration has created countless millions of refugees by destroying Honduras and Libya, towards whom the president has shown a remarkable callousness that doesn’t seem to trouble these Democrats suddenly frightened on behalf of immigrants.

Trump said that he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States. In 2009, as Obama began his time in the White House, prosecutions for “homegrown terrorism” shot up, as the Obama Department of Justice focused on a Muslim enemy within. By 2010, in the face of nativist hysteria over a “Ground Zero mosque,” the most stirring defense the President could muster was that Muslims were free to practice where they want but they probably shouldn’t. This was at the same time that the NYPD, trained and likely acting on behalf of the CIA, was spying on tens of thousands of Muslim-Americans throughout the US Northeast. Anyone deluded enough to think Barack Obama is a friend to Muslims should ask Tarek Mehanna, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, or the hundreds of thousands of Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, or Iranians who his administration has killed, displaced, maimed, starved, or terrorized. And with less than a week before the election, Barack Obama agreed to appear on HBO’s Real Time hosted by Bill Maher, a virulent liberal Islamophobe who has spent years peddling Trumpian bigotry against Muslims.

Liberals are horrified by Trump’s hatred of journalists, which is supposed to be a sign of his aberrant fascist tendencies. Before the Snowden leak spectacle largely wiped of from the news cycle, progressive outlets had started to cover the Obama administration’s war on journalism, which was sending whistleblowers and their journalist allies to prison at an unprecedented rate. Of course, while Trump’s dislike of journalists makes him Hitleresque, Obama’s actual imprisonment of journalists was, at worst, Nixonian.

Trump will, apparently unlike every president in AmeriKKKan history, be uniquely bad for African-Americans. Will his administration steal the wealth from black homes, the way Obama helped Wall Street loot black America? Will black Americans have to rise up in the streets and declare that black lives matter, to protest the black person murdered every 28 hours in the USA? Will black revolutionaries start being mysteriously and brutally murdered in Trump’s America, like Darren Seals and at least 5 other activists in Ferguson, all of whom bear the hallmarks of falling victim to a COINTELPRO 2.0? Will a Trump Justice Department ramp-up efforts to capture fugitive black freedom fighters like Assata Shakur?

Even the idea that Trump and the Republicans are the only ones to speak in openly white supremacist language is idiotic, and someone doesn’t have to go back to Hillary Clinton talking about “super-predators” to find examples. As one blog pointed out:

Obama’s 2008 “speech on race” in Philadelphia (officially titled “A More Perfect Union”), celebrated as “too good for today’s media” and “reviving the spirit of the nation itself,” was a Eucharistic repetition of white supremacist lies. In this speech, the future president delivered an objectively white supremacist view of US history, deriding the idea that white racism is endemic, equating the liberation theology of Jeremiah Wright with the latent anti-black racism of his grandmother, and accusing black radicals and revolutionary anti-racists of fomenting “disunity” at a time when “we” need to come together—while pointing to his own candidacy as proof that racism had mostly been dismantled. Minus the well-worn details about the Senator’s life story and tedious speechifying, the basic lessons of the speech would have been at home on a Fox News panel about “race hustlers.”

One thing is true, though: Trump is uniquely bad in certain ways. The Donald, that two-bit reality-TV huckster, is sullying the august White House walls with his conciliatory attitude towards Russia and China (though his quick about-face on US troops in the southern half of the Korean peninsula is an indication of how serious this is). Still, after a year of Hillary Clinton sounding the drums of war, the Democrats are seemingly united in fury that Trump is a little frigid towards the idea of starting World War III. To be fair to them, they’re absolutely right: Trump can’t claim Hillary’s feverish desire for a nuclear war against Russia, nor her proven track record of killing millions of people throughout the global South.

Anyone who hasn’t surrendered the last lobe of their brain to the Democratic Party, and who’s fond of not being turned into ashes, has to ask themselves why it would be desirable for President Trump to start WW3, as Clinton practically promised to do. This is another question that Nate Silver would get completely wrong, but I think the actually existing fascism of Obama offers a clue. Just like Democrats have transferred all of Obama’s evils to the Nazi caricature of Trump, liberals are the ones who are lashing out against reality.

The reality is that capitalism, particularly at this stage, has nothing good to offer the vast majority of humanity, and even increasing numbers of people in the core. Democrats conveniently forget that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania rose to power based on illusory promises to make things better. Like Trump, his record spoke to the absurdity of his bill of goods, and he boasted a CV only marginally more impressive than “shady tycoon and TV personality.” Even though his economic promises were vague, all the “hope” talk gave people a lot of ideas; when it came time to govern, Obama defended capital against “the pitchforks,” as he always intended. If apathetic voters and fucked-over workers played a part in Trump’s election, why wouldn’t they? And how will the upper-middle class and rich liberal who benefit from this order respond? As one commentator observed, in a story that is typical of America’s sneering liberal bourgeois:

A Seattle-area friend who lives in the farther working-class suburbs came to work to his inner-city, wealthy liberal coworkers bitching that his neighbors “voted us into fascism.” In the same breath, this rich shit complained about the passing of a transportation bill that would raise their taxes: “If they want Trump so bad they can pay for their own buses.” Here’s someone who probably calls themselves a progressive attacking actually existing progressivism because their taxes will go up a split hair, and potentially benefit unworthy types, “deplorables.” Maybe these people wouldn’t feel the need to “shake things up” if they had had what they needed to thrive all along. But then your misty piney mossy café-flanked Seattle townhome might have to fit only one Subaru in the garage.

Trump now owns whatever happens under his presidency,” writes another newly energized rebel at Daily Kos. Not Obama. Obama, like any high-status Democrat, is never responsible for what he creates, and when he is, it’s at worst a mistake. Actually existing fascism has been erected through a series of bumbles, hypocrisies, mistakes, and odd little ironies. Obama has never been culpable for what he does; today, Democrats wail that Hillary’s worse crime was being imperfect. The bourgeois elements that are the most visible Democrats can never own up to the fact that their alleged “base” doesn’t have any good reason to come out and vote for them. So like the Red State-bogeymen they invoke so frequently, liberals are sprinting away from reality into a bubble of comforting myths and idols.

Rather than face up to the fact that Hillary Clinton has little appeal outside of Goldman Sachs and whatever the Project for a New American Century is called these days, Democrats are cursing Sanders fans, third-party voters, and non-voters with a hatred usually reserved for vegans. Since they can only imagine their own upper-middle class lives orbiting major urban centers, the loudest Democrats think that everyone who’s not exactly like them is a racist, woman-hating cretin, and hope “that they be educated and moved to the vicinity of the major hubs in the northeast and western parts, that they die off [or] that a country would attack the United States and obliterate them.” Rather than actually learn anything of substance, liberals are doing the only thing their politics really involve: sharing and commiserating over an extremely circumscribed set of insipid pop-culture references that flatter them and insulate them from reality. Those leftist critiques of Obama or Clinton that do manage to penetrate this fantasy-world get angrily dismissed as right-wing media conspiracy theories or Kremlin propaganda. And finally, as with any good whitewash, liberals are going to pretend that Donald Trump represents something totally alien and uniquely menacing, as though Obama hasn’t done everything Trump says he will.

And now, as soon as humanity has its first shot at finally being rid of the Clintons, and taking a small step back from the brink of ultimate atomic horror, these people want to gnash their teeth about America finally becoming fascist.

Fuck them.

If Trump is a fascist, them countless prominent American liberals are too, chief among them the widely beloved Barack Obama. Contemporary America doesn’t look like Nazi Germany for the simple reason that it isn’t Nazi Germany (J. Sakai argues that “Settlerism filled the space that fascism normally occupies”). What the Democrats offer is a slightly more “woke fascism,” in which the slave-owning settlers are remade in entertainment media as cool black guys, with all the “problematic” racist history elided via a harmonious multi-ethnic makeover. It’s worth noting that Donald Trump makes overtures to the same woke fascism as Obama and Clinton: after the Pulse nightclub massacre, Trump promised to defend “the LGBTQ community” from foreign attackers. In other words, Trump and Clinton alike promise a typically colonialist defense of liberal values like gay rights from the swarthy hordes.

So color me unim-fucking-pressed that now that a blatantly villainous Republican is headed for the White House, everyone is talking about a united front against fascism. Of course, given that the vast majority of the newly radicalized loved and still love the child-murdering white supremacist Barack Obama, what we’re talking about is a just another united front against the GOP.

I know it’s ancient history to be talking about the Bush years, just like it’s hopelessly passé to unironically talk about “imperialism” in 2016, but please indulge me. I remember back when George W. Bush was president, torturing people around the world, “shredding the Constitution,” attacking Iraq and Afghanistan and threatening Iran with nukes. At the time, it was pretty common, even popular and fashionable, to call the president a fascist. Even on TV! Everyone who wasn’t a Republican was radical: it seemed like Democrats and communists alike could gripe over everything from a stolen Florida election to the invasion of Iraq.

Then sometime around 2007, a neoliberal and fundamentally conservative mediocrity named Barack Obama showed up, and while he made a lot of noise about how different he was, there was almost nothing of substance to back it up. Once he was president, all the stuff that was proof of George W.’s fascism became a trifling issue, a simple mistake, or a regrettable necessity when Obama did it. As Obama continued George Bush’s legacy, and as Dick Cheney came out in support of Hillary Clinton, liberals stopped thinking of the Bush administration as a fascist criminal enterprise and started seeing it through Sorkin-colored glasses, with a George Bush-Michelle Obama hug at the twilight of the Obama presidency marking the decisive transition.

So I actually remember how this went down the last time the mainstream was this comfortable talking about fascism—although the chorus was never this deafening. I remember that all the liberals quieted down about fascism when their guy was doing it. So did a lot of the radicals, to the eternal shame and discredit of those absolute frauds. As the popular Democrat Obama brought hell to millions with the brazenness of a Duce, calling the president a fascist went back to the fringes, where it had been, and where it will be again once it’s no longer politically expedient for people at the top to have us raising hell against Trump. I know exactly how this goes, since it all happened before, and not very long ago, either. And just like with Obama, whose coronation was a sort of inversion of this, I remember that anyone who’s remotely skeptical of this obviously elite-approved narrative will get dismissed as a crank or a spoilsport.

However, maybe for now we could have some perspective. I know he’s popular and cool, but Obama’s been in office nearly a full eight years. Maybe these last 70 days, the radicals now hyperventilating over Trump could develop some idea of what Obama’s actually been doing this entire time?

And if the still-uncompromising black revolutionary and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal can say “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism–so be it,” then maybe some of the liberals still dry-heaving can pull themselves together and learn a single thing about what America and the world are really like outside their privileged little bubbles? I mean, I know how fond these people are of pretending that they’re the only adults in the room, the only people using their inside voices. Maybe they could try to be as smart as Trevor Noah keeps telling them they are.

In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and be skeptical about all the no pasarán shit that cropped up the instant Hillary lost. Maybe if the inspiring new Credulous Dipshit Brigades could name a single fucking instance of fascism that’s not practiced by Obama, then this whole thing wouldn’t look like such an obviously astroturfed, color-revolutiony scam.

What I know for sure is that any radicals who end up calling liberals comrade in the coming weeks are allying themselves with people who want a more violent, more genocidal, and ultimately more fascist president. Almost every liberal complaint includes references to Donald Trump weakening NATO, as though that wouldn’t be one of the most progressive developments for the good of humanity. This is where liberals give themselves away: just like they wanted Obama to restore America’s reputation after Bush so it could be the most effective fortress of capitalism, they trust Clinton to be a more capable imperial steward than Trump. If you find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with liberals at the barricades, know that your allies are fighting on behalf of American fascism, if the word means what we keep hearing it does.

And if you think Trump is more evil than Obama or Hillary Clinton, you’re ignorant as fuck and you’re a liberal.

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Beyoncé, Baraka, and the Battle For Radical Memory

“The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without truce to obtain them.” –Fidel Castro, VII Congress of the C.C.P.

“You learn from the past, that’s why you teach history. Our rulers, the oppressors don’t want our young kids to know what came before them so that each time they have to start over from scratch. But there’s this rich history of struggle.” –Brian Becker

For people trying to radically remake society in a more just way, the task ahead is monumental. The task is easier when there is a pre-existing path that can be followed, and it’s more difficult when those seeking greater democracy have to chart an entirely new course. This means that for those seeking to maintain the system as it is, there’s an enormous incentive to sever the connections to past experiences that have proven successful.

This sort of dynamic will play out in any society with serious inequalities and premised on exploitation. It’s what’s under the surface of a recent political meme around the Green Party’s candidate for Vice President, Ajamu Baraka. The idea, articulated most explicitly by Disney/Univision’s joint media venture Fusion, is that Baraka is an obvious deviant because of his criticism of pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles. For those with only a cursory knowledge of the latest trends in both politics and mass culture, the connection might seem tenuous or absurd—why, after all, would love for a particular successful pop musician be a prerequisite for entry into the august ranks of Serious People?

It has to be noted from the outset that it wasn’t Baraka and Beyoncé’s crowd of left-wing critics who elevated the former Destiny’s Child to the ranks of anti-racist symbol, thus worthy of a politicized critique. Like anyone or anything put before a global audience, Knowles enjoys her prominence by the efforts of a multi-billion dollar media machine, the patronage of more powerful individuals, marketing savvy, and then her own talent and her fans—in that order. Along the way, Knowles was elevated to the status of a very important symbol, whose critics are reflexively self-marginalizing by having the sheer audacity to criticize the great individual. Among those who defend Beyoncé from a political standpoint, the pop-star’s symbolic power is that 1) her stature as a successful black female artist, and her output, make her an inspirational symbol for millions, especially black women who are in particular need of inspiration, as well as 2) the fact that more recently, Beyoncé’s use of 1960s-inflected Black Power imagery, and her association with figures in the Black Lives Matter movement, makes her a figure who will advance progressive causes and help weaken white supremacy in America. Those who defend the superstar as a anti-racist icon argue that the presence of Panther-inspired imagery drums up interest in the movement that can be leveraged for progressive end. Invoking righteous black rage, the logic goes, will contribute to the wider anti-racist struggle. In a performance at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé further cemented her association with opposition to white supremacy by enlisting the mothers of black Americans murdered by police in her performance.

In the face of this narrative, and the sheer volume of encomia praising Beyoncé as a transformative progressive figure, certain people have offered a counter-argument grounded in what could be called a more traditionally socialist view of history. Beyoncé’s critics who are not black can be easily derided as racists by her supporters, but Beyoncé’s loudest and most prominent leftist critics include black radicals with unimpeachable credentials like critical theorist bell hooks, activist and Black Agenda Report editor Glen Ford, and the recently controversial Ajamu Baraka. These critics, many of whom participated in the liberation struggles of the 1960s, insist that Beyoncé not be read as a transformational symbol who will push change forward, but as a flesh-and-blood person with cognizable political principles who is beholden to the wealthy interests that have given her her platform. It should hopefully be obvious that only the latter interpretation is a substantively socialist one, grounded in the material conditions of our actual society; while the latter is a liberal capitalist one, based on a starry-eyed view of how change happens, a neoliberal faith in magic individuals, and a totally ahistoric perception of how the cultural industry doles out rewards and sanctions.

Ajamu Baraka’s crime against mainstream decency was to criticize a recent appearance by Knowles at the Super Bowl halftime show, during which Beyoncé and her backup dancers wore the black leather-and-beret attire of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), which FBI director J. Edgar Hoover famously described as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” For Baraka this constituted a cynical instance of appropriation; “the cultural power of neoliberal capitalism to co-opt opposition, monetize it and provide some mindless entertainment” at work. Indeed, a basic knowledge of capitalism would make Baraka’s critique something like common sense—why would the capitalist media, through a multi-millionaire intermediary, celebrate the image of America’s most prominent Marxist-Leninist vanguard party during the most expensive televised spectacle of the year if not for nefarious and patently pro-capitalist purposes? Baraka himself claimed as much in the article linked-to by Fusion as proof of his well-deserved marginality, though they chose not to provide his actual critique: “In an era where the image is dominant and meaning fluid, what is still real, concrete and observable is the operation of power. Situated and controlled by an elite that bell hooks refers to as the White Male, capitalist Patriarchy, it’s a power that exercises with devastating efficiency its ability to shape consciousness through its control of the major means of communication and cultural production. It was those white men and their representatives that placed Beyoncé on that stage at the Super Bowl. It is incredibly naive to think that anything subversive or even remotely oppositional to the interests of the capitalist oligarchy would be allowed expression on a stage that it controlled.”

Baraka’s accusations of appropriation for capitalist ends has a long historical precedent. The phenomenon of wealthy interests exploiting revolutionary heroes and imagery by denaturing them of radical content and using them to repackage the status quo is nothing new. As early as 1917, Lenin opened his text The State and Revolution by warning of a phenomenon in which

“During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”

Since black Americans have historically been the US settler-colony’s most progressive constituency, tactics like this one have been deployed for years. It has recently been evident in the decision to replace the face of Indian-killer extraordinaire Andrew Jackson with that of Harriet Tubman, at a time when the wealth disparities between black and white Americans have reached levels unprecedented since the Jim Crow era. Going back a few years, it can be seen in what Professor Cornel West has called the “Santa Clausification of Dr. Martin Luther King,” whose image was appropriated in the service of presidential candidate Barack Obama, a lifetime servant of what Dr. King called the three interrelated evils of white supremacy, economic exploitation, and militarism.

Obama is only the latest and most-celebrated of a long legacy. For centuries there has been a black bourgeoisie who has advocated accommodation to white supremacy, in exchange for privileges for a few and the promise of incremental change in the future. Indeed, there is every reason to situate Beyoncé in the highest echelon of this black accommodationist bourgeoisie. If all someone knew was that Beyoncé was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who is friends with the U.S. President, that would be enough information that to conclude that her politics are liberal, at best, with all the capitalist accommodation that label implies. Based on her entrepreneurship, one could also assume that she will be involved in the exploitation of working people—a fact confirmed by a recent story about her clothing line using sweatshop labor, making her less another compromised celebrity and more of an enemy of workers. However, it is in her association with the Black Lives Matter movement that Beyoncé’s service to her billionaire benefactors is most useful. Rather than being a uniquely powerful progressive symbol, Beyoncé Knowles is a living, breathing person, with actual politics. It is the substance of these politics that Fusion is trying to obscure by smearing Baraka and Beyoncé’s leftist detractors as patently insane figures.

True to form as a bourgeois capitalist, in her association with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Knowles has been most closely linked with prominent figurehead Deray McKesson. McKesson has been noteworthy for the speed with which he was elevated to his status as an avatar of the movement, his prolificacy with social media, his nebulous funding sources, and the degree to which he now acts as both speaker for and gatekeeper of the wider movement. McKesson joined the movement after a career working as a “ruthless administrator” with Teach For America (TFA), the school privatization outfit which has seen a boom during the Obama presidency. Among proponents of public programs, union advocates, and opponents of neoliberal privatization schemes, TFA embodies much of the current push to privatize everything in sight.

By virtue of his platform and association with a movement against police brutality, McKesson enjoys a leftish reputation. It’s important to note, then, what reactionary and power-serving ideas McKesson is remaking as progressive. When pushed, McKesson notes that BLM has nothing to do with “taking away capitalism.” He insists upon a fact-free revisionist view of American history, which oddly positions capitalism as a result of white supremacy, and not the other way around. In addition to his prolific tweeting about his favorite brands and extraordinarily disingenuous defenses of his TFA career, McKesson also frequently posits privatization as an ideal course of action. McKesson has, for instance, publicly mulled privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, both the largest public employer in the country and an organization that disproportionately employs non-white workers. Most germane to the current subject, McKesson has positively compared the spread of charter schools to the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program. The Black Panther’s free breakfast program provided not only nutritious meals to people badly in need of sustenance, but an embryonic framework standing against the AmeriKKKAn state. By providing for the needs of the community as well as giving recipients a valuable radical political education, the BPP’s breakfast program was a cornerstone of a viable insurgency—for that reason, FBI Director Hoover called the program “the best and most influential activity going for the BPP.”

However, the free breakfast program was dangerous only because it was part of a larger cohesive socialist political agenda. Of late, there has been a campaign to “Santa Clausify” the BPP by praising their breakfast program while omitting the radical political context. While right-wing anti-communism presents the Panthers as violent anti-white terrorists, liberal anti-communism depicts them as nonthreatening community organizers, whose paramount concern was an anodyne interest in child welfare. It’s the latter image that Knowles and McKesson are exploiting, in order to push a concrete economic agenda. That agenda, when enumerated publicly, is quite clear: to roll back what welfare and social programs remain, in order to privatize that which is still part of the public good. The solution to racism, according to these progressive-branded figures elevated by moneyed interests, is more capitalism.

Capitalism, which invented contemporary white supremacy in the 17th century, exploits racial categories in order to maintain the status quo. For that reason, accommodation to capitalism as tacitly put forth by Knowles is objectively white supremacist. What Knowles offers her corporate patrons is a vector for inverting reality, to remake capitalism into something anti-racist. The alchemical formula is simple: take symbols of black resistance, remove the radical political content political, drape oneself in them and then sell privatization (while getting rich in the process). McKesson offers the most overt and concise version with his comparison of the BPP’s social programs to school privatization. This is particularly necessary because as capitalism’s current crisis continues, the increasing use of naked force will require more subtle ideological coercion in order to augment the police state.

Again, the phenomenon of using elite-friendly progressives against more threatening radicals, while remaking compliance as resistance, is nothing new. The same tactics were employed during the last period of great radical political turmoil. To use just one example from that period, though there are countless others that followed the same course, James Forman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) wrote: “After the call for Black Power had become popular in the United States and other countries, McGeorge Bundy, former National Security Advisor under the late President John F. Kennedy, called a meeting at the Ford Foundation in New York City of twenty or more Black leaders. Bundy announced to the assembled Black leaders that a decision had been made to destroy the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and to save the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This decision was based on an assessment that it was possible to wean CORE away from the concept of Black Power through massive infusion of money for its operation. In the case of the SNCC, however, the assessment was that it was too late to save it; it had to be destroyed.” In Black Awakening in Capitalist America, Robert Allen explains why: “CORE’s militant rhetoric but ambiguous and reformist definition of black power as simply black control of black communities appealed to Foundation officials who were seeking just those qualities in a black organization which hopefully could tame the ghettos. From the Foundation’s point of view, old-style moderate leaders no longer exercised any real control, while genuine black radicals were too dangerous. CORE [fit] the bill because its talk about black revolution was believed to appeal to discontented blacks, while its program of achieving black power through massive injections of governmental, business, and Foundation aid seemingly opened the way for continued corporate domination of black communities by means of a new black elite.”

Today, activists trying to undo forms of exploitation including white supremacy and the police brutality that sustains it might look to the past for guidance. In recent memory, the most prominent sustained challenge to this bourgeois power was a proletarian movement, often called the Black Freedom struggle, elements of which saw their struggle as interlinked with anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist struggles throughout the globe. These working class movements, many like the Black Panthers explicitly Communist, rejected the promise of more purely symbolic changes offered by the bourgeoisie: as Malcolm X said, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.” Instead, these movements advocated nothing less than total liberation, which would necessarily mean a radical restructuring of society and a transfer of its productive forces from a privileged few to the exploited many. People today have the benefit of sharing the earth with people who actually participated in these movements—though the latter’s numbers are decreasing. Panthers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Bruce Dixon; or activists like Glen Ford and Ajamu Baraka remain relatively uncompromised—and uncompromising—public figures.

Of course, a population with the least to lose animated by radical socialist politics is the ruling class’s worst nightmare. Thus, one of the tasks faced by those who seek the status quo is severing the connection between activists today and radicals who cut their teeth in the liberation struggles of the 1960s and ’70s. To that end, the line taken up by Beyoncé’s defenders is one of elder-bashing. Beyoncé’s left-wing critics who can’t be smeared as white supremacists thus become the victims of derangement. In this vein, Fusion treats Ajamu Baraka as self-evidently abnormal, while even people who claim anti-capitalist politics deride bell hooks as a hypocrite out-of-touch with contemporary times and insufficiently appreciative of a certain celebrity’s powerful symbolism. Cornel West faced the same criticisms when he responded to an attack on his reputation by MSNBC celebrity Melissa Harris-Perry. As with Baraka and hooks, what separated Professor West from his corporate-backed, Democratic Party-linked critics like Harris-Perry and Michael Eric Dyson was that West insisted on a traditionally socialist, class-based vision of justice.

Their real crime is insisting that radicalism should be genuinely radical, and more importantly, for knowing the difference between real radical change and mere gestures. Their crime is demanding that justice involve actual substantive change for the many—not merely more consent, remade as something transgressive by a lot of slick marketing and smoke-and-mirrors. In order to fight this change, the forces of the status quo present history as a narrative of relatively straightforward progress. Obama himself offered such a vision in his January 2009 Presidential Inaugural Youth Ball, when he shared the liberal arc-bending-towards-justice narrative as one in which “a new generation inspired previous generations, and that’s how change happens in America.” Since some people know better, and they know from firsthand experience, past generations of activists get derided as unfortunate relics. This derision can be seen in everything from the current spate of celebrities appropriating black radicalism to the narrative around the Brexit. Twitter user “Crypto Cuttlefish” points out that in the 1960, contemporary radicals could have spoken to workers who had engaged in actual shooting wars with Federal troops and hired company thugs in the 1930s; likely CIA asset Timothy Leary summarized this decade to his audience as “the boring ‘30s.”

Baraka opens his critique of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance by introducing himself as “a culturally alienated, old, disconnected 1960s and ‘70s radical trying to live and struggle for revolutionary change in a world that might have passed me by.” Baraka understands the fault lines, the actors on either side, and what is at stake. Fusion closes their hatchet-job on Baraka with a smug “Now this is the type of candidate the people can get behind.” Fusion is trying to erect a cordon sanitaire around people like Baraka because the corporate interests Fusion represents know the danger that uncompromised radicals represent. That is why the smear campaign against Baraka exist: to sever the connection between black resistance and Communism, which offers humankind’s only hope. In an interview with Jared Ball of iMixWhatiLike!, Black Panther Dhoruba Bin-Wahad points out that today’s movements “are disconnected from the radical tradition, from radical history. So because they’re disconnected from it, they are condemned to repeating the same mistakes that were made, first of all, and second of all, they’re not availing themselves of radical tools of resistance. They’re being hamstrung by their own limited politics” (Part 2, 26:55.0). Bin-Wahad points out that the quickest track to building an effective resistance is to reconnect to the writings of black radicals like Assata Shakur and Franz Fanon, who provide alternatives to what Bruce Dixon calls the black misleadership class. According to Bin-Wahad, the movement is hobbled because future leaders “haven’t been empowered yet, because they’re separated from the radicals traditions” of black Communists like Assata Shakur, Robert Williams of the Revolutionary Action Movement, or the Black Panther Party. “And once they lock into that, and they connect it to their lives [and] their own living experiences, then you got to look out.

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Why Privilege Discourse Predominates

Last week, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (briefly, the DPRK or North Korea) earned some unexpected praise from liberals for its racial politics. This is an odd development coming from this crowd, whom are more likely to discuss the DPRK in US State Department terms as a racist, “Stalinist” dystopia. For those who advocate dismantling white supremacy by any means necessary, the DPRK has decades of praise-worthy experience. Based on the principle that “the great anti-imperialist cause of the Asian, African, and Latin-American people is invincible,” Kim Il sung hosted numerous freedom fighters in Pyongyang during the headiest days of decolonization, including Che Guevara and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers. Like socialist Cuba, the people of the DPRK have spilled sweat and blood defending national liberation movements throughout the African continent. However, North Korea’s years of revolutionary internationalism have gone unmentioned in widely praised and shared pieces like one written by Kinfolk Collective. Instead, the DPRK is being praised at arms-length for the incarceration of Otto Warmbier, a 21 year-old University of Virginia undergrad. According to the narrative shaped around Warmbier’s arrest and sentencing, the DPRK has momentarily rendered a valuable service by revoking Warmbier’s white privilege. This event and the narrative around it are just the latest in a larger trend, which reduces and obscures wider forms of exploitation by explaining them solely through the relatively narrow discourse of white privilege. The result is a minimizing, distracting, and ultimate whitewashing of both imperialism and the capitalist system it serves.

White privilege as an academic concept dates back to at least the 1930s, when W.E.B. DuBois described the “invisible wage” that being white conferred on the white working class. This “public and psychological wage,” according to DuBois, created an incentive for the white working class to perpetuate white supremacy—it was an integral cog that kept the larger machine running. The concept made its way to popular use through university humanities departments, particularly the work of professor Peggy McIntosh, beginning in the late-1980s, and it’s used to refer to the fact that people who are perceived as “white” aren’t subjected to racism. Today, privilege discourse is the dominant framework for discussing racism. It’s a multi-million dollar industry, as universities, corporations, and the US military institute privilege courses. The dominant position this discourse occupies—especially its patronage by white supremacist institutions like the military and big business—indicates that large segments of the ruling class find the overwhelming focus on privilege discourse to not only be non-threatening, but valuable.

Privilege-focused discussions of the Warmbier case leave out nearly all the information someone would need to understand North Korea’s place in the international system, and why the state functions the way it does. They don’t mention the decades of Japanese occupation, which was fought largely by anti-colonial communists. They don’t discuss the US–imposed partition which split the peninsula in half, the brutal fascist government that was installed in the southern colony, or the almost genocidal war that killed 3 million Koreans and leveled nearly every city. Neither do they mention the relentless existential threats that America levels against the DPRK every day, or the blockade and penetration of the north by spies. As it has for centuries, racism plays a central role in undergirding imperialism. This is especially the case with the DPRK, which the American media constantly portrays through racist caricatures. Think of the case of North Korea vs. Iran: Islam render Iran’s objectively non-existent nuclear weapons program terrifying, while anti-Asian stereotypes make the DPRK’s A-bomb something to be laughed at. However, the focus on a white college student’s privilege doesn’t engage even latter this point—instead, it obscures these facts in favor of an Orientalist portrayal of the DPRK as another despotic Asian tyranny like capitalist Singapore (a comparison the Kinfolk piece makes explicit), noteworthy only when it puts white Bros in their place.

Erasing myriad facts and historical context in favor of the singular discourse of white privilege seems to be getting increasingly popular. Lately, it’s been applied to everything from the US’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima to the murders of black Americans. As far as the latter, the most famous recent example is that of neo-Nazi Dylann Roof. The Kinfolk piece even speculates that his treatment at the hands of police likely emboldened Warmbier. Unlike the black Americans who are murdered by the police and state-sanctioned vigilantes at a rate of one every 28 hours, Roof was safely arrested the day after he murdered 9 African-Americans at a black church in South Carolina in June 2015. Following his apprehension, hundreds of outlets reported that not only did police provide Roof with the customary protective body armor, but a free meal from Burger King on his trip to jail. This last point, for many, catalyzed the idea that the issue of white privilege was the paramount concern in the wake of the Emanuel church murders. “The Charleston shooting is a textbook example of White Privilege,” according to one writer. “Dylann Roof’s treatment proves White Privilege is very real,” wrote another. One headline summarized the tenor of mainstream coverage: “Dylann Roof indicted, white people discuss Privilege.”

Almost immediately after Roof’s arrest, the dominant narrative became about the need to confront White Privilege in order to prevent racist murders like the one in Charleston. For White Privilege, rather than White Supremacy, to so dominate the conversation is already a limited focus on symptoms rather than causes. Beyond the minimizing effect inherent to fixating so thoroughly on Privilege to the exclusion of larger systems, though, there are deeper problems with privilege-heavy narrative. Privilege-centric discussions, like the White Privilege framework itself, deal exclusively with individual identities. If, as the mainstream liberal accounting had it, Roof received kid-glove treatment on account of his White Privilege, then the police response was based primarily on who he was rather than what he did. To the hundreds of paid commenters pushing the Privilege narrative in the aftermath of the Charleston murders, this likely doesn’t raise any red flags. Many of these writers and talking heads compared Roof to George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who profiled, stalked, and murdered black teenager Trayvon Martin in a Florida suburb. Hours after the Martin killing, Zimmerman was free after a quick chat with his local Police Department. However, commenters on both the liberal-left and the right accurately observed that Zimmerman was half-Peruvian, rather than lily-white complected—and it’s not impossible to imagine that under different circumstances, Zimmerman would be looked at askance by Minutemen-types.

Conversely, following Roof’s arrest, there was extensive commentary blasting the Justice Department’s decision to not label the Charleston murders an act of terrorism. Many pundits argued that this was a clear expression of Roof’s White Privilege in action, since “terrorism” has long been a racialized category of political violence. However, many non-white people—including actual al Qaeda members—enjoy special privileges when their goals align with those of the US State Department. Only 3 years after 9/11, the US government was secretly supporting the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (literally al Qaeda), who would become NATO’s shock troops in the war against Qadhafi’s government. Only this week, it came out that the Brussels airport bombers were yet another group of violent extremist criminals who were long known to Western intelligence agencies yet somehow managed to perpetrate a terrorist crime that will further empower the NATO regimes. Neither is it true that whites are never categorized as terrorists. The state shows absolutely zero compunction about branding Caucasians terrorists and handing down decades-long sentences, based on the flimsiest evidence, as long as the politics motivating the action are anti-capitalist, rather than white supremacist. As Tarzie noted in an essential piece on the subject, while the FBI observes that “white supremacy extremism” has been on the rise since the ‘90s, a top domestic terrorism official claimed in 2005 that “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.” While eco-terrorists and militant animal right activists have yet to kill a single person, the destruction of nature and exploitation of animals are the cornerstone of the capitalist system. When considering the state’s actual relationships to various types of “terror,” alongside the fact that the melanin content of the accused afforded them no special dispensation, it’s clear that the state’s response is being driven by something more than a simple skin-tone analysis.

The relationship between white skin and immunity from state repression is nowhere near as clear-cut as the Privilege-only narrative. Neither, though, is America’s white supremacist system and its anti-black racism in particular. In his book The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, historian Gerald Horne lists numerous examples of black Americans speaking foreign dialects and languages or otherwise affecting some alien identity in order to enjoy some respite from Jim Crow. In a lecture on the book, Horne describes a dilemma the US government faced posed by African diplomats, and what it reveals about America’s white supremacist system:

“The US State Department, when Kenya was rising to independence, it was felt that it would complicate relations with Nairobi if Kenyan diplomats came to Washington, which was then a Jim Crow town, and they would then be subjected to Jim Crow. So it was suggested that the Africans wear badges, so that they would not be mistaken for black Americans. So the point that I’m trying to make is that if racism is a necessary explanatory factor in explaining what has befallen people of African descent in North America…it’s not a sufficient explanation, because if it was wholly sufficient then being able to speak French in Birmingham, Alabama during the Jim Crow era would not have been able to help you at all.”

What Horne is insisting on here is a conception of America’s white supremacist system that incorporates the political dimensions of racism—and that means its economic causes. “[M]y deployment of the terms ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ is intended to invoke the political more than the biological or even the anthropological,” Horne explains. “If the latter were mostly at issue, there would be little need for these Africans to adopt other ‘black’ identities.”[i] Anyone who’s spent time in an American university humanities department or read a lefty website in the last couple decades is likely familiar with the fact that race, and the categories of white and black, is constructed socially. What’s less likely to enjoy mainstream purchase is a traditional radical or Marxist perspective. This view, advocated by critical theorists and historians like Horne, J. Sakai, and Frank B. Wilderson among countless others, holds that ethnic groups became “white” according to the service they rendered to settling America. According to this view; groups like the Irish, Italians, white Hispanics, Slavs, et cetera; became white when they could be relied upon to maintain the settler-colonial Empire and the interests of its ruling class. In practice, this meant the mass-murder of the continent’s indigenous people and the brutal oppression of African-Americans. Reflecting the fact that it’s primarily political and economic in nature, ethnic groups can have their whiteness revoked. This has been the case for Middle Easterners after 9/11, and for various Balkan ethnicities depending on economic or military necessity.

It’s necessary to lay this out because there’s an increasingly popular idea that white supremacy lacks a class component or economic causes. One of the most prominent contemporary advocates for this view is heavily retweeted Black Lives Matter figurehead and former “ruthless” Teach For America administrator DeRay McKesson, who argues that “White supremacy is rooted in the devaluing of blackness, [and] economic oppression is a byproduct.” Anti-black racism, by his lights, is rooted in a pathological aversion to dark skin—thus, McKesson claims, the enslavement of Africans would’ve existed even if it weren’t profitable. The concomitant economic benefits of slavery to the ruling class must’ve just been a happy accident to the slave-owners known as the Founding Fathers.

deray tweet

A centuries-long system of trans-Atlantic slavery carried out mostly to “devalue blackness” is the corollary of a policing system that buys white murderers a free lunch based solely on the shared racial affinity known as Privilege. The singular focus on viewing racism through what Horne called “anthropological” rather than political terms effectively erases the class component that motivates American white supremacy, making it an issue of white derangement. This is the argument made by R.L. Stephens in an obituary for Dr. Frances Cross Welsing, an academic who in 1969 formulated a theory of racial struggle motivated by biology rather than politics. Stephens points out that 1969 was the same year that America’s secret police, in a domestic dirty war against radicals called the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), decided that the Black Panther Party would be crushed, murdering revolutionaries including Fred Hampton and Bunchy Carter. At the same time that socialist resistance groups like the Black Panthers were forging an international struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy; Welsing’s scholarship enjoyed the patronage of capital by pushing a world-historical view that blamed those evils on something like collective white antipathy, with racism and capitalism following an irrational desire to protect Caucasian genes. According to Stephens, “Her work, in effect, helped gut Black political resistance by delegitimizing anti-capitalist Black radical politics.”

In 1968, J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” citing their activism, appeal, and explicitly Marxist politics. During COINTELPRO, dozens if not hundreds of left-wing revolutionaries were murdered, and thousands more imprisoned. An integral component of COINTELPRO was the use of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan as paramilitaries. During this period of state repression, one-quarter of all active Klan members were FBI agents or informants. The 20th Special Forces Group, based in Alabama, deputized a local Klan chapter as its intelligence-gathering wing, allegedly exchanging weapons for information on local black radical groups. The KKK’s actions during COINTELPRO were in many ways a repeat of supremacist violence during the First Red Scare, which reached its peak in 1919 and 1920. According to historian Albert Szymanski, “government complicity with organized violence and intimidation of radicals” was “an important repressive force in this period.”[ii] Groups like the KKK and the American Legion, a paramilitary gang made up of veterans, targeted socialists, communists, anarchists, trade unionists, and labor activists with thuggish repression. Szymanski adds “like the Legion’s early vigilante activities, the authorities turned a blind eye to most Klan activity directed against the left.” Though groups like American neo-Nazis and the Klan are often at odds with the Federal government, as white supremacists they can be relied upon to fight the ruling class’s real enemies. Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report explains

“The FBI’s war has always been against Blacks, radicals, and now Muslims – ideally, Black Muslims. The national security state’s legitimacy is based on (white) mass fear and loathing of the Other, in whose pursuit all civil liberties are extraneous. Such dark energies are not conjured out of thin air, but mined from the deep reservoirs of America’s racial history. Hate sits like a thermal resource to be tapped and redirected at the whim of those in power. The U.S. national security state needs the ferocious hatreds of the [Cliven] Bundys and [Jerad and Amanda] Millers – and the [Tim] McVeighs – to sustain a planetary War-Against-All, a war that, on its own premises, must end with annihilation of the Other.”

All this is to show that the US ruling class’s relationship to supremacist violence is a lot deeper than free Whoppers. So given this history and the material interests at play, when a Dixie-loving admirer of Africa’s apartheid settler-colonies murders 9 black people as part of a “race war,” it seems ahistoric and reductive in the extreme to label his treatment the result of anything so narrow and minimizing as mere “Privilege.”

Many well-meaning progressives might concede that the privilege lens has problems, but maintain that it’s mostly a useful framework for structuring anti-racist politics. However, a series of encounters between protestors affiliated with Black Lives Matter reveals just how bankrupt privilege discourse is as a primary motivating concern. The first was an August 2015 encounter in which protestors confronted Hillary Clinton, during which the protestors performed what Glen Ford called a “self-humiliation.” Providing an object lesson in what happens when the vague, feelings-driven language of liberal anti-racism meets the actual power structure, the future president delivered what could be charitably called a shellacking. Ford writes

After about two minutes of rambling by [BLM activist Julius] Jones on how ‘mass incarceration just doesn’t work’ and ‘you [Clinton] have been in a certain way partially responsible, more than most,’ punctuated by ‘uh hums’ and nods from Clinton, Jones gets to the point: ‘Now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s gonna change the direction of this country?’

Clinton [interrupted]: “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate….”

In the absence of real demands by #BLM (or any evidence of a developed worldview), Clinton assumes the role of methodical agent of change…. The strategy – if one could dignify it as such – is inherently impotentwhich is why corporate lawyer and war criminal Hillary Clinton found it so easy to reduce Jones and his colleagues to school children at an elementary civics class.

When confronted with questions of personal progress and emotional intent, Clinton was able to easily evade any meaningful accountability in realm of what activist Doug Williams calls “Intro to Sociology-style ephemera.” As a lifelong political operative, Clinton was able to brush off insubstantive and largely apolitical appeals to delve into her heart. Given time to properly stage-manage an event, though, Clinton was more than happy to meet “protestors” on these terms. In October 2015, Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists under the Campaign Zero banner to ostensibly answer questions about American policing. Just how much the Campaign Zero crew represents the Black Lives Matter grassroots is up for debate. Campaign Zero is headed by BLM members – including DeRay McKesson, Brittany Packnett, and Johnetta Elzie – who are on exceedingly cordial terms with the Democratic Party establishment and have been anointed the movement’s spokespeople and signal-boosted by many in high places. One writer labels Campaign Zero’s platform “a reactionary political formation built on a mixture of liberal compromise, neoliberal opportunism and reactionary conservatism.” It’s abundantly clear, though, that for the Clinton campaign an ideal “opposition” is made up of sympathetic, ideologically aligned careerists speaking primarily in the language of privilege discourse. Add cameras and, voilà, the party has been “pushed to the left.” Ford again says

“They appear to believe their mission was to ‘educate’ Clinton (although they would have done far better to have educated themselves on political movement history, practice and theory).

Actually, the #BLM crew’s primary mission was to force Clinton to mentally grapple with white privilege, and to grasp how Black people ‘feel.’ #BLM’s aim is to assure that the next president has a deeper understanding of the workings of racism – presumably, deeper than the current, Black one. In the course of the conversation, Elzie said Clinton ‘…would listen and acknowledge that her experience was totally different than any of the black people at this table. It took her awhile to get there, but she got there. So I’m hopeful that she will continue to have this educational conversation with herself to acknowledge her privilege.’

The #BLM philosophy is that therapeutic dialogue with members of the power elite is politically more effective than the presentation of core demands. (Certainly, it is better for the future careers of the #BLM interlocutors.)”

Again, for Clinton, there’s likely nothing better than a discussion about how she feels about her skin: it has almost nothing to do with her actual policies, and provides ample opportunity for her to adduce her good intentions going forward. These encounters reveal the myriad shortcomings with privilege discourse: its focus on the symbolic and performative over the material, the erasure of history in favor of feel-good personal progress narratives, the non-existence of class concerns, and the funneling of liberal activists into proven dead-ends. These, though, are the logical outcomes of an overwhelming focus on privilege discourse because they are built into it. In a New Yorker interview, Peggy McIntosh, the progenitor of contemporary white privilege theory, explained “The key thing [about the white privilege framework] is to let people testify to their own experience. Then they’ll stop fighting with each other.” When her interviewer understandably asks if it’s meant to be a form of therapy, McIntosh clarifies “I wouldn’t say [it’s] therapy, because psychology isn’t very good at taking in the sociological view. But it has to do with working on your inner history to understand that you were in systems, and that they are in you.” Understanding and checking one’s privilege is meant to be a tool for perceiving one’s place in a larger structure and making space for members of historically disadvantaged groups. It can’t explain the structure, provide historical context, or prescribe a solution. Privilege is, by design, a tool for self-analysis and confession. Making it the paramount theory leads to several outcomes. One is the advent of rituals where activists publicly own and disavow their privileges, as described by Andrea Smith’s “the Problem with Privilege.” Since privilege deals primarily with the internal realm, “These rituals often substituted confession for political movement-building.” While Smith explains that there is a value to the process, “for this process to work, individual transformation must occur concurrently with social and political transformation…through the creation of collective structures that dismantle the systems that enable these privileges.” Liberal privilege discourse doesn’t provide insight on changing anything other than one’s mind, because it’s not supposed to. For a candidate like Clinton, who is marketed as a progressive while upholding the worst aspects of this evil system, a discussion about her internal racial monologue is a perfect place to shunt well-deserved scrutiny.

Smith’s point dovetails with the second, less commented-on development: the minimizing of things like white supremacist violence, or capital’s assault on states that chart an independent course, as expressions of white privilege. Today, as Black Lives Matter protestors work for a way to end police brutality, they may look to previous examples that moved towards this goal. In the 1960s, explicitly socialist movements like the Black Panther Party formulated an answer, which involved primarily material forces. These activists achieved what they did because they understood that a white supremacist state won’t change its fundamental nature due to appeals to a non-existent conscience. As Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale summarized in a 1968 speech, the question is how to make the police “behave in a desired manner.” When directly confronting this state, and the ruling class it serves, privilege discourse is largely useless because the professed feelings of its functionaries are irrelevant to how it behaves. The dominant class must be made to behave in a desired manner. If enough people are going to band together to make it, a necessary first step is seeing beyond minimizing, liberal narratives. It’s worth noting that Peggy McIntosh wasn’t the first academic to update DuBois’ critique of privilege for the modern age. In his 1975 book The Invention of the White Race, Theodore W. Allen explained white privilege as a wage paid by the ruling class. McIntosh’s innovation was to remove the Marxist content from Allen’s work, turning a systemic critique into something personal. The liberal privilege framework is so prominent precisely because it usefully misdirects from the capitalist system’s causes and functions, absolving the ruling class of its role. Like anything we’re bombarded with, it’s useful for perpetuating the system rather than dismantling it.

Given this, of course the Clinton presidential campaign would embrace messaging about privilege. In January 2016, Clinton was asked about how “white privilege affected her life” at an Iowa forum. “For the duration of January 2016,” according to one culture writer, “it was the foremost topic of conversation. Seemingly each day meant another story about white privilege in the news,” naturally failing to investigate why this is. The writer then praises the “raw Hillary Clinton” for “[avoiding] the three most common pitfalls in discussing one’s own white privilege.” In a speech the following month, Clinton called on the Caucasian constituency to check their privilege. After the Charleston murders, Clinton was one of the most high-profile voices blaming white privilege.

For Clinton to discuss her personal history and cognizance of her privilege is undeniably a win for her, since Clinton has decades of black peoples’ blood on her hands. Dylann Roof became an extremist after reading from a cesspool of white supremacist websites; there’s scarcely a shade of difference between the most deranged racist filth online and Clinton’s 1993 comments about “superpredators.” Burnishing her law-and-order credentials, Clinton dog-whistled a warning about savage (black) youths roaming the streets committing wanton violence, outside the boundaries of humanity, who could only be controlled through state violence. One needn’t go back to the early ‘90s, either—Clinton was instrumental in engineering the blockade of Haiti that killed thousands after the 2010 earthquake, to say nothing of the Clintons’ much longer ugly history on the island. As Secretary of State, Clinton is the single individual most responsible for inflaming an ethnic cleansing campaign that killed as many as 50,000 black Africans during NATO’s destruction of Libya (it was Clinton’s office that pumped out the propaganda about Qadhafi’s government using African mercenaries).

The erasure of this history is a useful and expected outcome of the dominance of privilege discourse to the exclusion of all else. If racist terrorism and imperialism are caused largely by unexamined white male privilege, then the solution is to elect non-whites and non-males. And if privilege is largely denatured of substantive political meaning, then it doesn’t matter what their politics are (as long as they’re Democrats, obviously). Given the economic interests that dominate the Empire’s liberal wing, this means voting for non-white and female neoliberals—in a huge coincidence, privilege discourse’s focus on the individual and symbolic is the essence of neoliberalism. Ultimately, that means electing people like Barack Obama, whom Adolph Reed accurately described in 1996 as

“foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.”[iii]

If white privilege is the fulcrum of anti-racist politics, then an exploiter who lacks certain privileges will naturally be more progressive than a white capitalist. The Kinfolk piece on Otto Warmbier discusses Warmbier’s Economics major and involvement as a Managing Director of an “alternative investment fund.” However, this isn’t used an opening to discuss ways in which economic institutions are a tool of softer imperialism; rather, it’s coupled with Warmbier’s fraternity status as proof that he’s a white guy who’s not One of the Good Ones. When a “foundation-hatched black communitarian voice” like Corey Booker, who claims that criticism of hedge funds are “ridiculous” and “nauseating,” is deeply implicated in the worst expressions of finance capital, the class-free liberal response is literally “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

America’s beleaguered voters got a heavy dose of this in 2012, when one of the dominant narratives around the Obama campaign was that principled leftist abstention was an expression of white privilege. Opposition to the president’s mass-murdering or fealty to Wall Street was turned into the sole domain of white brogressives, manarchists, brocialists, and various privilege-unchecked bogeymen. Following Obama’s re-election, and not letting a good thing go to waste, opposition to US-fomented proxy wars throughout MENA was re-written as yet another example of white privilege. Its full-blown resurgence on the 2016 campaign trail is a sign of things to come. Today, there’s little challenge to privilege discourse’s dominance. Like anything liberal, it can appear stridently progressive given enough attacks from the most vulgar parts of the right. This is particularly true with discussions about White Privilege online: read any of the comments on a given article, and one finds up to hundreds of reactionary comments arguing that racism is a thing of the past, with “white privilege” being a fantasy ginned up by race-hustlers as part of white genocide. This launders privilege discourse, a useful tool for neoliberal misdirection, as a product of the left, with any criticism being rolled-up into the category of “white tears.”

However, anything that is so enthusiastically picked up by race-baiting war criminals, Wall Street shills, school privatizers, and various neoliberal vultures—who are objectively making the lives of marginalized communities worse—needs to be looked at with the most extreme skepticism. These are the sorts of people who want you to see everything solely through the realm of feelings and professions of intent. That tool kit is woefully inadequate to unmaking their world, and it is so by design.

 

 

Notes:

[i] Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. NYU Press. 2014 p. 262

[ii] Albert Szymanski, Human Rights in the Soviet Union. Zed Books. 1984. p. 172

[iii] Adolph Reed, “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice, January 16, 1996—reprinted in Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene, New Press, 2000.

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