Month: July 2015

Anatomy of a Bad-Faith Argument.

In the previous post on this blog, I included the following statement:

“For now, though, this is in support of someone who has dedicated their life to the liberation of communities of color here and abroad. And it is support of one simple concept: if we do not have good-faith debate and discussion, then we do not have successful movements. And without those, we have no change.

I really should not have been surprised that people on social media would completely skip over that part of the discussion. However, intentional misreadings are as much a part of the handwaving and brand-building that goes on there as favorites, retweets, likes, and shares. Since much of the offline world is probably baffled when they hear me talk about this stuff, I figure that I would give an example of such an intentional misreading.

In Support of Rania Khalek and Debate on Issues of Justice and Equality.

I really should not even have to write this post. I doubt that most would ever understand what makes this post necessary.

In fact, whenever I have to explain the stuff that happens on social media to people who spend little to no time in that world, they express a sense of puzzlement at best. It is almost as if I have told them that the oceans are purple, or that I have a third eye in the back of my head.

The Acceptable Social Construction: Racial essentialism and a reactionary “social justice”.

I have a friend that I know from my time in Minnesota. She identifies as a white person, which is not all that uncommon in a state that Chris Rock famously described as having a Black population of two (Prince and Kirby Puckett). If you saw her walking down the street, you would never suspect anything different: very light skin and an accent straight out of a scene from Fargo or Feeling Minnesota. Partnered with a Black man, you would not be able to tell the two of them apart from any other interracial couple (and there are many) in the Twin Cities.

But my friend ain’t exactly descended from Vikings. You see, she is at least a quarter Native American. In Minnesota, a state with a large and politically active Native community, that can be quite beneficial when you are going through either of the state’s university systems. This is because of the legacy of oppression towards Native people in the state. For example, my alma mater, the University of Minnesota Morris, was formed in 1960 by adding a liberal arts component to the University of Minnesota’s West Central School for Agriculture (WCSA). The WCSA was founded on the site of the old Sisters of Mercy-run Morris Industrial School for Indians, which had closed in 1909, the year before the WCSA was formed. Due to this history, any person that can prove their Native background to a certain degree receives free tuition.

Although my friend did not attend UMM with me, it is not hard to find such programs at many of the state’s universities. I used to ask her why she did not avail herself of those opportunities; after all, there were a ton of “Native Americans” at Morris that you would be hard-pressed to find at a pow-wow (a common event at the University) or at a Circle of Nations Indian Association student group meeting. She would simply say, “I was raised as a white woman. I was not raised as a Native American, and it would be wrong for me to claim a community that is not mine simply to get financial benefit.”

Makes sense, right? But judging by the reaction to Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter chair in Spokane, Washington who was born to white parents but identifies as Black, and now University of California Riverside professor Dr. Andrea Smith, sensibility no longer appears to be on the menu.

Dolezal’s road to perdition, as most people living in non-rock-based domiciles will be able to tell you, began when her parents dropped the dime on her born ethnicity. From there, all hell broke loose. It was the major story in every news outlet imaginable. By the time the story began to wind down, Dolezal was enough of a known quantity to warrant my receipt of not one, not two, but three breaking news alerts from different media outlets to my phone informing me of her resignation from the chapter presidency of a NAACP branch in a city with a Black population of barely two percent. The Andrea Smith story does not threaten to explode in the same way that Dolezal’s did. This might be due to the fact that, in the wake of nine dead at an African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina and at least seven church burnings in the last couple of weeks, people have decided that other things may warrant their full attention.

But we should not be under any illusions that absent such inhuman barbarity unseen in the United States since the days of Klan night rides through the South, the Smith story would not have been one that blew up in much the same way. I have blogged a lot about identity politics and the ways in which individual instances have manifested in some incredibly nasty and solidarity-killing ways. But it is time to go beyond the sturm und drang of social media slap fights to examine just how we got to this point. How have we arrived at the point where putatively liberal and progressive activists, organizations, and websites are enthusiastically repeating the foundations of an ideology once confined to far-right reactionaries?

Customers of Democracy: Why the Hanauer-Rolf plan should be rejected.

File this under
File this under “things you never thought you would be fighting for in 2015”.

It should be as obvious as the nose on your face that the working class in the United States has been in a state of crisis and decline for decades now. The emergence of companies like Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit, whose business models rely on the abuse of independent contractors to avoid the burdens of having employees, are just the latest chapter in an ongoing crisis where the old rules of worker-boss interaction have been shredded and almost always to the detriment of the worker. It’s clear that something must be done, but what? What should be done to restore stability to the lives of working people?

Last month, Service Employees International Union Local 775 President David Rolf and hedge fund master of the universe Nick Hanauer published a proposal for reforms to the battered husk of the American welfare state in Democracy. Hanauer, who has had some interesting interviews relatively recently and ruffled the feathers of his fellow billionaires by proposing at a TED talk that income inequality was a bad thing, has teamed up with Rolf, a member of SEIU’s International Executive Board and president of the homecare workers’ union in Washington state, to make a series of policy proposals about securing ‘economic inclusion’ through public policy. Specific criticisms of the policies Hanauer and Rolf propose have been excellently rendered by friend of the blog Matt Bruenig here, so we will be focusing on the political dimensions and flaws of this proposal.

The Black Greeks.

If you are like me, a socialist in the United States witnessing the deadly effects of a neoliberal austerity that no politician has ever dared to challenge, you are watching the situation unfolding in Greece with great interest. After much back-and-forth between the Greek government, led by the leftist Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), and the so-called “institutions” that are lending the country’s Treasury money to remain solvent — the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB) — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipiras decided to call a referendum on the final deal given to the Greek government by the institutions.

This referendum, scheduled for Sunday, has been described by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a choice between remaining in the single currency known as the Euro, or leaving it. If you have followed politics long enough to remember when Eastern European nations like Romania and Bulgaria clamored for Euro membership (and when Turkey claimed that only Islamophobia was keeping it out of the EU), it will not surprise you that such an exit has never occurred in the single currency’s history, and may be a prelude to leaving the EU altogether (also unprecedented).

There will be much wrangling and discussion about whether Greeks should vote yes or no, and many others will much more informed opinions on the specific economic downsides and upsides of doing so (obviously, I hope the No side emerges victorious). But it is the rhetoric used towards the Greek people that has caught my attention. It sounds very familiar, as it is the same language that has been used against people of color in the United States for decades.

Making Black Lives Matter to Liberals.

Only white men care about economic issues.

Politicians like Bernie Sanders who discuss things like economic democracy, the right to form labor unions, and the redistribution of wealth have a callous indifference towards the plight of oppressed communities who simply do not care about such things. 

If this sounds absurd that’s because it is. Women and people of color care a lot about wealth inequality and so-called “class issues,” the cornerstone of Sanders’ presidential campaign. So much so that the polling is unambiguous — those so-called “Bernie Sanders” issues are prioritized by women and people of color again and again.

Given that black people and other people of color are the most likely to consider themselves working class rather than middle class, this makes sense. And since the working class is disproportionately female and nonwhite — and since workers tend to be pretty smart about what is and is not in their material interest — this should not be a surprise.

So why is The New York Times and other liberal media outlets trying so hard to convince us otherwise?