Attacking White Power in the Rebellions & Beyond
Forward to the 2012 Edition
The project of sustained insurrectionary activity must constantly chip away at the foundations of white supremacy. Although anarchist practice is assumed to be inherently anti-racist, evidence of this is often hard to find. This should be obvious, but it is worth repeating: to want the United States of America and capitalism destroyed means the task set before us is to attack and abolish the racial order that has enabled these beasts.
The Oscar Grant rebellions gave us a little glimpse of people in the bay area doing just this. In the riots we saw the collective power of Black and Brown young people battling, with little fear, against the established white supremacist order. Surprisingly there was also a small showing of white people in the rebellion as well. This brief show of solidarity from white folks – both those who do have experiences of being criminalized poor young people and those who grew up with relative comfort – reveals that white people can have agency to violently oppose a clearly racist institution side-by-side with non-whites without pretending to share identity or experience with them when it is not the case. Also, contrary to dominant narratives that paint the essence of riots as male-dominated affairs, many queer and female (mostly non-white) comrades took their place at the front-lines, participating in the supposedly masculine rebellion without apprehension. Their participation is sig- nificant as it throws a wrench into the logic of peace-loving, docile femininity and what self -determination looks like for some who live on the axis of gender tyranny and white supremacy. Although most police shooting victims are Black and Brown men, the Oscar Grant rebellions show us that their deaths affect and outrage masses of people across race and gender lines.
During each demonstration and riot where folks gathered to express their rage in the face of Oscar Grant’s murder and what his death represented, the chant “We are all Oscar Grant!” rang through the downtown streets of Oakland. For those indoctrinated into the logic popularized by the non-profit organizing culture that treats identity and experiences of oppression as one in the same, it is inappropriate for anyone other than people of color to yell this slogan. This critique falls flat for many as it is assuming that we yell this to declare collective victimhood rather than a collective proclamation to not be victims. We’d be hard pressed to find any individuals in this society who are victims, but have never been victimizers or vise-versa.
For those of us who are poor and Black or Brown, anarchist or not, we cannot claim to share every experience with Oscar Grant, but we do live our days with the knowledge that we could have the same fate as him if this class-society, with its racialized implications, is not reckoned with. For women and queers, especially those of us who also are not white, our experiences may not mirror Oscar Grant’s life and death, but we too live with the sick threat of violence on our bodies by both the patriarchal, trans misogynist, and racist system and the individuals who replicate the attitudes and oppressive actions of the state. For any of us who are not poor and Black or Brown, anarchist or not, we may not usually fear for our lives when police are near, but it is plain as day that if we don’t all start acting like it’s our very lives at stake as well, not only are we an accomplice to these racist deaths, we foolishly assume we will not be next. For whites who joined in this chorus of “We are all Oscar Grant,” this declaration meant that we refused to be another white person, if being white means letting this shit continue to slide for the bogus justification that this racist violence keeps society (read: white people) safe.
The naiveté of identity politics fails us in this way, both in its obsessions with ranking and compartmentalizing privileges and disadvantages and in ignoring instances where actual human beings, their struggles and relationships to one another are far more complex than their identities would tell us.
The spirit behind “We are all Oscar Grant” is indicative of the attitude of the Oscar Grant rebellion as a whole. Despite the fact that many of us did not generally know each other before those nights because of the racial divisions imposed by society and maintained by ourselves, we found glorious moments of struggling with one another in the streets where our identities or experiences were not collapsed into a faux sameness.
Towards A Never Ending Uprising
Within these pages you’ll see, time and again, examples of racial unity and other social barriers crumbling as each Act proceeds. This should not lead one to believe that the days between or beyond these riotous evenings were days where police shootings ended or where social distinctions and hierarchies disappeared or solidarity was a given. Disappointingly, we all went back to our usual lives as individuals: dodging cops, reading about horrendous police brutality on facebook, struggling to make ends meet, drinking too much, dragging ourselves to school, or doing our hustles. Whatever different “normal” is for each person who ran wild in the streets of Oakland in the name of Oscar Grant, we went back to it.
Throughout the Oscar Grant movement and the occupy movement, despite whatever demographic took part in the street festivities it has remained that those stuck with heavy sentences have been Black and/or homeless, many of whom were on probation or parole. This fact should not reinforce the myth that only Black and Brown youth were arrested, but should highlight the intensely racist nature of the judicial system. If we are to struggle alongside these folks in moments of uproar, we must recognize that they often have more at stake if they get caught up in the bullshit justice system. When folks already criminalized by the system put themselves on the line, there should be unrelenting pressure on the system to the scale that we know we are capable of with hundreds of anarchists in the bay. It’s not that Black and Brown rebels are people to feel sorry for and “help,” nor feel protective of and “keep safe” as they rage in the streets, as paternalistic leftists might suggest. But if we take seriously that these fellow rioters will be our comrades and co-conspirators for bigger and badder insurrections to come, we cannot let them hang out to dry when they’re going down for the same acts that we (allegedly) took part in.
Do some of us – whites and people of all races – find ourselves shrugging and accepting that it is normal for Black people to go to jail? We feel indignant when someone is murdered by the state, but somehow feel less moved when someone is kidnapped and held captive by the state. Why is it so shocking to us when a white anarchist comrade goes down for a year, but not when many Black or homeless comrades are locked up repeatedly, and for longer sentences?
There is an unquestioned and deeply seeded logic embedded in the psyche of American society that has taught all of us, white or not and anarchist or not, that white bodies are to be cared for and coddled while non-white, especially Black bodies are assumed to be criminal, expendable, and not to be trusted. Without consciously and intentionally bucking against this logic, Black death —be it psychological, physical, slow, or fast— will remain the norm and will make any attempt of insurrectionary or revolutionary activity reek of insincerity and history lessons unlearned.¹
It’s more obvious than ever that leftist politicians and NGO admins with grant money dollar signs in their eyes have done and will do very little to address every day problems for —or with— folks from Oakland’s hoods. The question that anarchists must seriously grapple with is, do we blow just as much hot air as our leftist enemies?
Beyond our lackluster efforts in countering state-repression of our fellow rebels, have we also left the response to everyday atrocities to be tackled by those who we know are invested in the very institutions that perpetuate these everyday oppressions and exploitation? It’s fine (great even) that we can’t stand to do reformist campaigns to make daily life more tolerable. That being the case, what are we willing to do? If we can’t stand the victim-making rhetoric that strips power from the very people who must wield it, if we loath representational politics and neither want to speak for or do anything for anyone who is “not us” where does this leave us? For many of us who are white and/or male anarchists we know that calls to “check privilege” and tip toe around language do little to nothing to topple racial and gender hierarchies. Throwing ourselves into the role of social service providers also misses the boat. What strategies are left available? Are these theoretical dead ends that cannot be solved or are we lacking the resolve and imagination necessary to answer these questions through meaningful deeds? Given the fact that we found ourselves struggling around the atrocious murder of Oscar Grant, why don’t we see ourselves in similar ruptures sparked by the daily abuses faced by oppressed people, your neighbors, your kids’ friends, your co-workers?
It’s Going Down With Or Without Us
Insurrections, rioting, mass-expropriations, occupations, and all sorts of unimaginable forms of class warfare are not only inevitable, but are happening all over the place with more frequency and veraciousness as the crisis that is capitalism deepens.
It is crystal clear that various groups of the deprived, exploited, and violated have and will continue to organize formally and informally toward the demise of their oppressors, those who remain neutral, or each other.
The side of history on which we find ourselves is not determined by whether or not we share the experiences of one horror or another or how we individually identify, but on our own resolution to see the end of each of these miseries which perpetuate this racist, capitalist, shit show called society.
To those of us who cooperatively destroyed capitalist and state property, humiliated and terrified police and yuppies, and found power and a sense of dignity together that we had never known before; and to those who found ourselves high off the lack of social divisions in the streets of Oakland during a moment of open revolt, let’s figure out ways to maintain these experiences outside of a riot. We must play a part in continuing this rebellious trajectory as a motley crew of insurgents, or be prepared to be deemed irrelevant – or worse – the recipients of the wrath of the righteous people who anger slowly but rage undammed.²
1. It is worth noting that whiteness as a social category was created and promoted by plantation owners and other capitalists in the early days of America’s colonization, to put a wedge between the workers they were exploiting and enslaving. Before this poor fair skinned people were dirty Irish, criminals expelled from England, indentured servants, trash, etc. This was done both through extreme terror campaigns against those who co-conspired in insurrections on plantations, shipping docks, and in urban centers and also in convincing the poor, recently-named “whites” that they had special privileges which were under threat by those of darker skin color, thus creating a perfect situation for the no-longer- shook capitalists where whites began putting racial solidarity above class solidarity. So now-a-days most darker skinned people live in crippling poverty while white capitalists are still rich fucks who rule over them. What is often over-looked, however, is that in exchange for accepting the privileged position of White, whites still make up half of those in the US living in poverty, left to the whims of the same ruthless whites in power. This is to say, selling out one’s class-members and helping to prop up a racist system through clutching onto a psychology that our white friends, family, and selves are somehow more exalted than non-white folks, has for hundreds of years effectively been a shot to our own feet.
2. “This monster — the monster they’ve engendered in me will return to torment its maker, from the grave, the pit, the profoundest pit. Hurl me into the next existence, the descent into hell won’t turn me. I’ll crawl back to dog his trail forever. They won’t defeat my revenge, never, never. I’m part of a righteous people who anger slowly, but rage undammed. We’ll gather at his door in such a number that the rumbling of our feet will make the earth tremble.” – George Jackson, Blood in my Eye, 1970