I’ll be addressing four general problems within the Mainstream (and particularly clickbait-y electoral-focused) Progressive Movement (aka White Progressivism), largely based on some fractures exposed at a Social Security rally last weekend where Bernie Sanders was interrupted by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. With a few exceptions, these comments are not directed at specific people. We all have areas we can’t quite navigate around without much assistance. But right now it seems white progressives are not willing or able to be assisted even as their stated goal is equality and justice – it seems they are under the impression that because they agree with and vote alongside progressive issues that they have arrived and are doing all they can for People of Color. Yet, the causes of equality and justice & black and brown lives are more important than any one single person’s feelings and certainly more important than White Fragility or Male Ego, both of which have been informing the Mainstream Progressive Movement (MPM/WProg) as the fallout from the Sanders confrontation displayed.
- On Controlling the Narrative in White Progressivism
In spaces that are dominated by White men, you can be guaranteed that there is an unhealthy dose of masculinity and whiteness. In these spaces, people of color, LGBTQIA people and women (and certainly those who inhabit the intersections) may not feel welcome to question the prevailing White male wisdom. Whiteness and Hetero-CisPatriarchy create triple-binds:
- They create atmospheres where those privileged by them believe that they are natural born leaders and filled with wisdom and logic;
- The privileged are so ingrained to believe that their reality is default that they cannot imagine those not them face an alternate existence and way of thinking;
- Those outside of these modes of privilege are not allowed to question their reality unless they have won tacit approval from white, cis males
Under this triple-bind, it becomes apparent that to question the ways in which White Supremacy works is to threaten white people who fall under the scope of said criticism. To criticize the racism of the Tea Party is offensive to those affiliated with the GOP. To criticize anti-blackness or silence of progressives is to threaten the kindheartedness of white liberals and leftists.
A repeated mantra lectured at black people is Senator Bernie Sanders has been working for black rights since before most Black Lives Matter activists were even born – as if this makes him immune to critique, as if he actually does more for black people than black people do themselves. A lot of white racists claim some aspect of Martin Luther King’s legacy. Charlton Heston marched with King as well but Malcolm didn’t. To be honest, most of Sanders’ presidential run up to this point has been colorblind and most of his anti-racist actions took place, well, before most Black Lives Matter activists were born. But Janet asks, “What have you done for me lately?”
- On Violence Against Women of Color in Progressivism
“The statement Black Lives Matter is a racist one in itself.” – comment on an anti-BLM progressive thread.
While statements such as this are not violent in and of themselves, they point to a general attitude among White people that does not take seriously the violence directed at black people from white-run political, judicial, and economic systems. In fact, key points that the Black Lives Matter protesters addressed in Seattle had to do with white liberals ignoring or even perpetuating acts of violence against people of color in Seattle (the occupation of Seattle on stolen Native lands, the building of new prisons in the county, Mike Brown’s murder-versary). For addressing these issues of violence against people of color in front of would-be progressives, the Black Lives Matter protesters were themselves met with violence from many of these same White Progressives (grabbing, throwing objects at). When the protesters shone light on the White racism coming from the audience, then the attacks from White liberals became much more vicious. Nearly every white progressive I spoke to or heard from in the last week took the statement from BLM about “White Supremacists” personally at least initially even though it was not directed at them personally nor even generally.
For many black women in the world and especially in the United States, it is hard to exist and resist the ways your existence is reduced. For when you do resist, you are policed. Often even met with police violence or threats of police violence, as the black women BLM protesters found when audience members yelled for the cops to taze them.
The other day, the progressive stalwart Salon published an article titled, “Feminists, We Have to Stand with Megyn Kelly – Even if We Disagree with Everything She Stands for.” A title like this makes light of what Kelly and white conservative women with platforms such as she actually does, melting her ultra-racist statements with a hefty platform on an incredibly influential station down to mere disagreements of opinion. Kelly’s racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism actually harms marginalized and oppressed people – particularly women of color and especially black women.
Additionally, it leaves me wondering where White Progressivism was when Suey Park was receiving death threats for calling out the anti-Asian racism of Stephen Colbert, one of our heroes? Busy shredding her, ordering her to apologize to a megastar for daring to suggest (as a joke) that his show should be canceled. Something that was not going to happen ever became a such a threat to White Progressivism that progressives forced other Asian-American activists to throw her under the bus. Criticism of WProg from the marginalized left is such a threat to White Progressivism that people who claim to fight for equality for all have no problem using sexist, racist, condescending, and threatening remarks against women of color – to such a point where it endangers their lives.
Even more recently, Jennicet Gutierrez and Marissa Janae Johnson have experienced this violence from the very same White Progressives who claim to be helping them. At the Bernie Sanders rally, Johnson and her Black Lives Matter co-horts were met not just with heckling and boos, but with hands, with projectile, weaponized fruit, and with calls for the police to detain, arrest and taze the protesters. White Progressives were calling for state-sanctioned violence against the very activists who protest state-sanctioned violence while they cry that they already affirm the cause of those same activists.
It begs the question: does the MPM actually respects those it claims to champion because it sure hasn’t listened to them nor does it know what they demand in their own liberation? How many white progressives were calling for the arrest and deportation of Gutierrez for her interruptive statements on the health and well-being of (and violence against) detained, undocumented transpeople?
A fatal error of mainstream Progressivism is a lack of any sort of internal dialog and accepted critique. White progressives cannot believe that anyone from the Left would point out hidden (to them) racism. They argue that conservatives are the “true racists” and that any Liberal/Leftist is truly on “your side”. “We’re on your side” is a lie if the people saying that are ignoring you until you interrupt them and then want you jailed and hurt for interrupting them.
“Bernie marched with Dr. King before you were born!” is a common retort to the risk-taking action that Marissa Janae Johnson performed. If so, he should know that disruption is necessary and no politician is above criticism.
“You’re turning off potential allies!” Hey, we all have different points where we enter into solidarity, but if being criticized lightly (and not personally) hurts too much, maybe you’re not invested in black life to begin with. Black Lives Matter activists are turned on and called opportunists* for exposing lingering racism among liberals whose reception of BLM has been milquetoast to say the least.
But these same WProgs who claim that we should support racist white women for (rightly) calling out conservative misogyny will have no problem performing misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women), threatening women of color who question the lingering White Supremacy within the Progressive movement.
Is the Mainstream Progressive Movement tuned toward liberating movements against violence directed at women of color, or is it another avenue of this violence?
- On Respectability Politics in Progressivism
Actions that disrupt are considered rude. Disruptive actions, however, are supposed to upset us and make us consider why we are upset. It’s a pain rising in the nerve center of the privileged and the oppressors.
White Progressives love to claim the victory, words, and work of the Civil Rights Movement. Or at least Respectable Martin Luther King, Jr. “What made MLK so great,” they say, “is that he was a responsible person who…” It’s funny because these dudes never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“. But moreso, they imagine a movement that never had need to disrupt people, businesses, and order; that never broke the law. That the whole movement was grounded in civil disobedience. And that disobedience was unruly, hurt businesses, was unlawful. Because the law was recognized by the CRM participants as being inhumane and immoral. As being specifically violent towards the lives of black people.
The law is recognized by Black Lives Matter participants and accomplices as being inhumane and immoral. In fact, it is the law and the practice of the law that is being targeted by the BLM movement. Legality and the exercise of it was used to keep black people from political, economic, educational, healthcare and housing power – elements that led to black death in absurd measures; under this rubric, not much has changed, even as the degree of violence has been reduced.
Respectability Politics is a tactic of White Supremacy, determining that people of color and women will never truly be able to confront White Supremacy until they have every last duck in row. If they disrupt the status quo, they need to go back in line. That violence committed to immigrant transwomen of color by cis men is not so bad when you consider that the TWOC acted outside of modicum (this according to a pro-gay magazine). This civility is the silence in which people of color are choking.
It was this civility and respectability that Marissa Jenae Johnson sought to confront with the power of the cross behind her. I Corinthians 1:18-25 says that the cross – a brutal state-sanctioned means of mass execution that James Cone likened to lynching of black folks and that we can compare to police and carceral violence against black and brown people in the United States – is foolishness to the powers that be in the world, to the established, to the empire, to the worldly. The cross is not respectable – it is solidarity with the oppressed, the suppressed, the marginalized, the lynched. To take our crosses upon us is not a light duty. This is what King recognized as he faced down the KKK, presidents, and the Chicago segregationalists; what Bree Newsome drew on and recited from while taking down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina; how Jeremiah Wright was speaking from when he condemned the United States of America for its empire-building.
I am only as respectable as the cross.
I am only as apologetic as the cross.
I am only as concerned with worldy powers as the cross.
I am only as concerned about upward mobility as the cross.
I am only as neutral, as polite, and as comforting as the cross.
I am only as rational as the cross.
This is my offering. The Spirit convicts, directs, and affirms me.
But this shit is scandalous. That is the call of discipleship.
I live like the resurrection is coming and Christ is sovereign. It is utter foolishness. It is life.
I do not worship Caesar. I cannot partake in Babylon. I cannot serve two masters.
Believe, I have made my choice.
Fuck your respectability. It is a matter of silencing. And silencing is death.
- On the Need to Dismantle Outrage Politics in White Progressivism
The White Progressive Internet* accepts and even tolerates this overt racism and misogyny because veiled racism and misogyny is an integral component of the clickbait and outrage politics they need to fuel the consumer capitalism of advertising-run blogging. Consider how clickbait titles work, and how easier it is to engage an audience that already despises Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and especially Ann Coulter by using incredibly unflattering pictures to show them at very unfeminine views. Clickbait elicits and even welcomes any type of engagement – and that engagement easily, often and regularly turns misogynistic and transmisogynistic.
Capitalism – and particularly consumer capitalism – exists and thrives through exploitation. The easiest and fastest ways to make money is to exploit the most vulnerable, the least listened to, the most disrespected because they do not have as much power to call out the veiled attacks on them. In the progressive blogging world, any marginalized group who does not succumb to conventional progressive thought (in light of the triple-bind outlined above) is ripe to be called “crazy”, “stupid”, “blind” and any manner of ableist terms. But these insults are ok because they generate offense and offense generates hits and hits generate ad revenue from sponsors who are likely to exploit the poor and dark-skinned anyway.
Clickbait Progressive Blogging opens a vicious cycle that rewards mostly white men for being awful even as they claim to be superior (another factor of White Supremacy and Patriarchy) because they believe in equality and justice – even while they are practicing racial, sexual and gendered oppression in the name of their beliefs.
*Among those who’ve tried it and end up in the “That’s pretty damn racist club” are progressive blogs such as RingofFireRadio, Progressive Secular Humanist (who apparently decided to attack her twice. Good form, White bros), Forward Progressives; Reverb Press, Fifth Column News…
**Where is this money coming from? Who is paying activists?