Tag: Identity politics

Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a Movement.

Black Lives Matter has become an embarrassment.

Even if I were not a supporter of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination (though I wish that he would run as an independent), I would feel this way. Proof of their wholly unserious treatment of serious issues can be found in this sprawling Facebook post, replete with Beyoncé-based hashtags and all, that manages to spend hundreds of words saying nothing of note:

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And then there were tweets like this, which abounded social media:

For a group of people that are fond of telling people to Google It, these folks seem either unwilling or unable to find out what Bernie Sanders actually stands for. However, since I am an organizer (and part of that role is to educate), here are the facts:

  1. This was not a Bernie Sanders rally. It was a rally in favor of expanding Social Security and Medicaid. On the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, polling in multiple swing Senate races and House contests found that Black voters overwhelmingly supported the expansion of Social Security. In Arkansas, one of the most conservative states in the Union and a state that twice elected the dad from 19 Kids and Counting to the state legislature, Black people supported the expansion of Social Security by a 9-to-1 margin. Do their voices matter? Maybe they are also “white supremacists”, as one of the protestors called the attendees of the rally.
  2. Bernie Sanders has one of the best civil rights records of any person to run for president. I know that some former foreclosure lawyers might feel some kind of way about discussing this, but it is important that we discuss things that people have actually done. So here are Bernie Sanders’s ratings from civil rights organizations throughout his career in Congress. Here are the bills that he has sponsored over his time in Congress. All of that, of course, is in addition to the work that Sanders did during the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe someone who made their money off making poor people homeless (even if she did cry about doing so, all the way to the bank) does not care about such things; I suspect that the people reading this blog, though, might feel differently.
  3. This quote from one of the protestors is stupefying. “‘Bernie, you were confronted at NetRoots at by black women,’ (Marissa) Johnson said before adding, ‘you have yet to put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.'” Just in case you were wondering, that would be Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore who put in place much of the aggressive policing tactics that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray on April 12th. The candidate who has stood at the forefront of civil rights advocacy for over fifty years is now being told by Black Lives Matter activists (and liberal columnists) that he needs to be more like, you know, the guy who gave thousands of Black men across his city arrest records for the ridiculously minor legal transgressions. It is a perfect example of the triumph of form over substance in politics.
  4. The notion that these activists are putting anything on the line with these protests is hilarious. You have to chuckle a bit at the notion that these activists are putting their lives on the line….at a rally for expanding Social Security and Medicaid in Seattle. Perhaps they feared the septuagenarians tossing their fair trade Starbucks at them on stage? In any case, whenever the “hooriding” on Republicans commences, please let the rest of us know. Hell, I would be happy with them simply “hooriding” on Hillary Clinton, but we hear that doing so might require actual work, so maybe we will not see that, either. If these folks can’t pull together a coherent, disruptive protest against Hillary Clinton in the way that climate activists just did, how is there any chance of them successfully challenging police violence?

But as much as this series of protests might irritate me as a Sanders supporter, my frustration is not really about him or this ridiculous protest. I am frustrated by what one of the protestors called “the biggest grassroots movement in the country right now” and their lack of interest in winning any tangible gains for those that they claim to have as constituents.

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?

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?