Whattaboutism & Chicago

“What About Chicago” is a widely-used bait/distraction from rightwingers and racists whenever the topics of systemic, codified racism and legalized murder of Black people is brought up. It’s also brought up when we talk about gun control, but we’ll get to that issue later. While the Whataboutism is a derailment meant to throw off the stinging critique of racist state and corporate violence, I see the two issues as intricately connected. Those who ask what Black Lives Matter activists and those of us concerned about systemic violence are doing about Chicago interpersonal violence don’t really care, but I’ll answer anyway: We’re tackling systemic, state-sponsored and economic violence as a means of tackling interpersonal violence. For me, that includes mass political education about socialism—and its localized counterpart, reparations—which is a means to achieve justice in my and other communities on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

Socialism is the owning of the means of production of labor by the workers. Capitalism, what we live under now, is the owning of the means of production by the investors and industrialists (aka, the non-workers) and managed by the managerial class, including bosses, politicians, and police. Since White Supremacy was invented to stabilize, further, and enforce capitalism, the system is by nature racist[1] and sexist. Socialism is, thus, a fundamentally democratic economic and political system that leaves more room to antagonize and confront racism and sexism.

Interpersonal violence is often a manifestation of a lack of holistic actualization and purpose[2] and thus seeks purpose through domestic and street violence, through acts of hyper-masculinity, and through escalation of conflicts. It is severely impacted by living with untreated trauma, such as that of experiencing and witnessing violence up-close and not having the tools to deal with it. This helps create a perpetual cycle of internalized violence and the dealing of it necessitates a strategic restructuring of resources, education, and organization of society. To trust the police and jails to carry the heavy load is counterproductive as they are the first to teach the lesson that violence is a solution to conflict. I suggest that this reorganizing is best done through a socialist prism.

Socialism is broad but pliable and must be applied differently in different contexts through time. It would, by necessity, look different in the context of African Americans within Northern cities than it would for those in rural communities, and both would operate distinct than it would for white people in most of the world. Each region would have to both apply it to its location—its social, economic, and political realities and where the oppressed operate there—to the oppressed and marginalized, and connect it to wider, not just national but international struggles.

In the case of these communities in Chicago, the need for both socialism and a distinct version of socialism are necessitated by a context where the people have relied on underground economies due to racist blocking of conventional economics, have and continue to lose wealth and security through the ravages of anti-black racist subjugation and wage theft, and have been under severe police occupation. African American, Latinx and Indigenous communities are all due a hefty amount of reparations for the heavy monetary, physical, and psychological toll that racialized police enforcement, caging, and generational wage-theft have left. And it is the work of those on-the-ground opposed to interpersonal gun violence to point out these injustices as a means of repairing them.

There are other things that we do, of course. In several neighborhoods, mothers occupy heavy corners so that the police and gangs do not. We have regular walks for peace in the hard-hit areas. And we grieve and we plead. We grieve heavily and we plead hard. The care, the concern, the comforting are never reported on mass media, but poor people and people of color come together in ways that the hyper-individualized WASP culture can never comprehend. But we can only do so much alleviating the symptoms when the disease is all-consuming. We need justice, not band aids. And we certainly don’t need to make it worse by further disrupting communities through more and tougher incarcerations and deportations.

One of the biggest ironies is, however, this notion that policing has nothing to do with interpersonal violence, but when the law breaks down or just doesn’t work for you, you go outside of the law to deal with glitches. Sometimes you have the tools to deal with conflict in reasonable ways, but sometimes you don’t. Developmentally speaking, young people are less likely to have those tools, so it is up to society to ingrain them, to teach them, and to nurture and protect them. Restorative justice is a means of dealing with these conflicts maturely and without throwing away lives for foolish mistakes. So, we must work towards having a restorative justice framework throughout the school and community experience to give students tools and to work away from the prison industrial complex that begins for black and brown children at a very young age, often through the school system.

What we need now, what a locational socialism can give us are full employment and a guaranteed income; fully-invested schools and community hubs; the collectivization of private property into public and personal property as the community and individuals within the community need; free and full access and control of medical care; an end to food disparities and hunger; the decriminalization of people of color which includes the abolition of violent policing, the release of prisoners, and a complete restructuring of the justice and immigration system; the end of colonial and settler colonial wars and a complete destruction of the military industrial complex, out of which the seeds can be utilized for rebuilding areas ravaged by the dogs of war; the fruits of our labor; and a labor system that invests in rather than robs from the material, social, economic, bodily and psychological needs of our communities. If these points sound familiar, it’s because the Black Panther Party outlined these 51 years ago in its Ten Point Platform.

May we give it the time and attention it–and we–so radically deserve.

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[1] This is not to say that socialism is an automatic solution to racism, but that it contains tools and has space to institute anti-racist measurements more effectively and fully than capitalism. This post will try to give a brief run-down of some of the ways that socialism intersects with anti-racism, largely through the imagination of anti-racist socialists, leftists, and radicals.

[2] Often those involved in state or privatized violent policing of private property (police, security guards, military, paramilitary, and gang enforcers, for instance) find their purpose in personalized violence and are thus employed by those with private property interests to protect their property first and foremost, at the cost of lives.

Note: This post originally appeared on my Patreon page one month ago. If you support my work through there you can receive tons of exclusive and bonus content, as well as early previews such as this piece and chapters for upcoming books.

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Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

Affirmative Gutting

Four initial thoughts on the efforts of the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department to end collegiate Affirmative Action practices:

1) I know that liberals spent the last few weeks defending Sessions from getting fired by Donald J. Megalomaniac in order to defend both the ongoing Russian investigation and, probably more centrally, some sense of order and precedence in the White House cabinet. True, perhaps we’ll get further on the Russia investigation with Sessions protecting Mueller, et al, then we would if the AG post became a revolving door. And maybe, after a while, the trade off will be worth it just to see Trump packing his bags and the GOP panicking. But the way that Sessions acts while at the head of the single most powerful policing and legal agency in the world doesn’t give me any hope that any investigation into Trump will stand anyway, let alone that anything of value will come about from it. Furthermore, any chance for any procedural decorum is clearly out the window in Mar-A-Lago & McConnell’s stints. Democrats wasted opportunities to blow through filibusters when Obama was in office thinking they could use the procedure when they become the minority power, and to what end? Perhaps we’d be better off with no Attorney General than to stick with Jeff Klansmans.

2) Remember that Trump, like Bushie before him, is a legacy child. Affirmative Action doesn’t mean shit to people who’ve been born into wealth, into connections, into the racist family business. If Affirmative Action is truly a threat to the Myth of Meritocracy, then why are these legacies and inheritances not? Could it be that the Meritocratic Myth is simply a manifestation of and protectorate of White Supremacy and Capitalism? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that property and trust funds should not be handed down to children of wealthy people; the kids didn’t earn that. They should go out into the world with a clean slate like the rest of us poor suckers and make their own way. Maybe, in fact, we should begin this process at birth. Since over one-fifth of all children live in poverty in the United States, it’s not fair that Barron Trump got to shit in gold lame diapers while 400,000 innocent children are placed in foster homes. Send him to the streets to earn his keep!

3) In the post Black Wall St era, the best hope for build-up for Black and Latinx wealth has been through AA programs–not just in college acceptance but in hiring. But then those programs began to be gutted under Reagan and both Bushes, particularly under their judges, and Black wealth subsided. The Republican administrations and legislators also worked to kill federal unions, where the Black middle class was rising. The demolition of welfare under Republican and neoliberal Democratic administrations then took the bottom out of poverty. In fact, this notion that somehow Trump is a different breed of Republican is fully repulsive. He and his are merely trying to finish what their heroes got primed. He’s following the business ethos that Reagan and Thatcher pushed to its logical conclusion: Always Be Closing.

4) If anything, this final swig at Affirmative Action demonstrates we need full-on socialism and reparations anyway. Universal preschools and daycare, guaranteed income, an infrastructure that reaches to the working and permanent underclass, abolition of debt and prisons… It’d also be nice if we can stop relying on prestigious college education to be the determiner of worth.

“Food Is a Weapon”

From theologian James Cone’s The Black Church and Marxism: What Do They Have to Say to Each Other? (paper delivered in 1980):

I have been convinced that the black church cannot remain silent regarding socialism, because such silence will be interpreted by our Third World brothers and sisters as support for the capitalistic system which exploits the poor all over this earth.

For example, between 25,000 and 50,000 people die each day from starvation, a cause that is directly related to the persistence of national and international economic orders that foster distorted development. The former secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, well known for his racial slurs, said it bluntly: “Food is a weapon. It is now one of the principal tools of our negotiating kit.”

From a Rolling Stone story covering the Republican National Convention in 76, while Earl Butz was still Secretary of Agriculture (content note for racist/sexist remarks):

Pat [Boone] posed a question: “John and I were just discussing the appeal of the Republican party. It seems to me that the party of Abraham Lincoln could and should attract more black people. Why can’t that be done?” This was a fair question for the secretary, who is also a very capable politician.

“I’ll tell you why you can’t attract coloreds,” the secretary proclaimed as his mischievous smile returned. “Because colored only wants three things. You know what they want?” he asked Pat.

Pat shook his head no; so did I.

“I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. That’s all!”

Pat gulped twice.

Butz resigned a few days after calls were made for his head, but he claimed he did it on his own (that seems unlikely) and that he did nothing wrong.

A few thoughts on reading these:

  • Remember that Pat Boone was himself a nice racist, hired to whitewash the Race Music (as in, Rhythm & Blues and early Rock N Roll that sounded too black) for the innocent White Christian kids across America.
  • Butz clearly outlined his racial animosity, and did so to a reporter and a famous musician. In the open. At a national convention. In the post-Civil Rights era. Don’t think that it isn’t still happening. Paul Ryan may be more careful about his views now, but he’s still racially animositic; in large part because class warfare is his life.
  • Butz was in control of food and production as a kind of supermanager of agrarian companies. What does it mean to black and brown farmers and consumers to have a white racist in charge of food supply and farming justice in the Land of Plenty? Why did it take a directly racist comment to get him fired when he admitted elsewhere that he’d use food as a weapon?
  • Butz was hired by Nixon and stayed under Ford. Until this article spread, no one deemed it fit to question how he operated, only what he said when they were dirty jokes.
  • George W Bush, Reagan and Nixon had a lot of the same characteristics of the Illegitimate President of the United States, but with some charm and/or intelligence and, by degrees only, humility. Many of the safeguards that Trump has taken out or will take out were already proposed or committed by the earlier three. What now is different besides the degree and the speed to which he’s taking it? What sets “p*ssy grabber” apart from Reagan who defunded family planning globally and domestically? I’m convinced that language plays a big part of it. Language and bluster.
  • Like Butz, Trump has no shame. None. Don’t expect Trump to go willingly, either. And since he has no shame and is a blundering racist, sexist, classist idiot, he’s a perfect cover for Republicans who can always say that they were forced to follow Trump, even though they’re informing him and using his bluster as a cover. Expect Medicaid and Food Stamps to be cut, with or without Trump’s blessing. Because food is a weapon.

On Praxis Versus Stasis: #TheNewPacifism

Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.
Galatians 3 (The Message)

I identify as a Christian, as a communist, as anti-violence, and as an anarchist. Which I know confuses the mess out of people (partly why I like to identify as such).

But these are words. Markers. They help to frame, but don’t quite place. What does it mean to be a Christian (and particularly a White, male, straight) Christian in the United States? Both Cornel West and George W Bush are Christians. What does it mean to be a socialist – as one tends to think of Che, Mao and Castro, of violent unions and Soviet propaganda or super-duper unions and guys on Macs talking about revolution in coffee shops? And how does that jibe with they typical understanding of anarchism – whether that be Sex Pistols fans burning stuff down, wearing handkerchief masks and beating down cops in the most popular imagination, or people who really like Ron Paul and Austrian Economics who insist that taxation is coercive theft and government is slavery.

Briefly, I believe in following Jesus Christ as my Lord and his counter-intutive ways of loving my neighbor as myself and seeing the Supreme Creator God in every person and interaction. This definition isn’t necessarily the same type that Billy Graham or Pat Robertson would use, but it fits in within the history of Christianity.

I also come from a tradition that states that Christianity is a central identity – that “once saved, always saved.” I suppose maybe that is true, but I see salvation as being something that is never complete, never full (of course, we mean different things when we speak of “salvation.” But Christians have generally meant different things by these terms throughout Christian histories and traditions): salvation as following Jesus and acting according to his Spirit as mediated in the world. It’s “captivating every thought and principality” and so there is never a point of completion, never a destination. Always a journey. (This idea isn’t unique, of course. Just rather foreign to some sections of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.)

Socialism and anarchy appear paradoxical. But, in short, socialism and anarchy combine to be the sharing of resources and wealth and political agency of each person – from what each has to what each needs (socialism) but without centralized power (anarchism). Generally, when people hear these terms, they also imagine a kind of netherworld destination. With these two, it is a place, a no-place, a Utopia. Rainbows and ponies and all that razzle-dazzle (not that there’s anything wrong with rainbows and ponies!) where all problems are forever solved and everyone drinks free milk pumped by brawny hands and sits on down pillows and 4000 count thread sheets sewed by delicate fingers.

feather love

But I can’t subscribe to that. There will be no such future state, because that is not who we are – we are not wired like that and there will always be someone to take advantage and oppress. Rather, I think of anarchy and socialism as trends, as direction, as practice. Not a future destination– but a way of equality and solidarity and mutuality where no one group or person is marginalized or oppressed for another, where all are represented and the underrepresented are finally represented.

It is for this that I cannot separate my Christianity from my praxis, my anarchism from my praxis, my socialism from my praxis – they must be more than words. They must be doings. Faith without deeds is dead, said the Apostle James, brother to Jesus.

Just as integrally, I cannot separate any of these from feminism and womanism and mujerism, from anti-racism and post-colonialism, or from anti-ageism and anti-ableism and all intersectional forms of justice and equality and talking back to the colonizers and oppressors.

It is feminism and anti-racism and anti-ableist agency that teach us how to recognize all people as fully human and respect places, identities, and the things that the privileged and powerful see as abnormal, as oddities, as less-than. These movements also teach us to identify and deconstruct the systems of power and violence that keep people in the margins and that deny access to integral resources and support. White men cannot quite comprehend the oppression and violence that black women face on a daily level through just the lenses of pacifism or anarchy or socialism because none of those strains are neutral. They come about through prisms, and for white men, they come through the perspective of white men. So we must learn to adopt and sync to other views as well; for though we White men can never lose our perspectives, we are foolish to merely retain ours as if it were the ONE TRUE objective perspective. There is no such thing.

Some would-be radicals will say that all of this is extra excess and nonsense. That all you really need is communism or anarchy or Christianity and the rest just naturally fall into place. But each identification has troubling aspects. Each identity must be subjugated to questioning and interrogation for its participation in White, Male, Cis-, Class, and Hetero-Supremacy.

When I teach or tutor or write or become involved in community efforts or parent, I consider that I am not the only shaper, that my experience is not universal; I am not the only person influenced and influencing this world. I can’t teach without desiring to empower my students and trying to meet each of them as not just students, but as equals, as human beings, as complex and wonderful people. I can’t father without believing fully that my daughter is a full and equal human being who is now a little girl and that I want to make the world somewhat better for her while helping her carve out a good path in this hostile world – hostile to women’s bodies and experiences and minds.

That is why I am not satisfied with just anti-violence or just Christianity or just anarchism or just socialism.

And so I listen to the marginalized and oppressed voices and I practice and I meditate and listen some more.

It sounds like something Jesus would do, bear with others. And so I try to act in accord.

Note: This is the third in my series on the #TheNewPacifism synchroblog, all of which are hosted by Political Jesus.