Here is a response from Karl Steel. Please take a moment and read it. I am only asking to be judged for what I actually believe and what I’ve actually said, and I have never said, suggested, or implied that race and gender are not wholly unique sites of oppression, or that solving those oppressions belongs anywhere below our highest priorities. I merely said that I don’t believe left-wing discourse, as currently constituted, ignores race and gender issues. Don’t confuse my claims about attention with claims about efficacy. Saying that there is a lot of attention focused on race and gender is a wholly different claim than saying that we’ve got them covered. Indeed: it’s precisely that tendency to mistake intention for effect that muddies these discussions.
And you guys… we have to stop arguing by telling others what the believe instead of arguing with what they actually believe. It’s useless and destructive. I spend so much time now articulating what I don’t believe and haven’t said that I have no time to articulate what I do believe and intended to say. Each of us is the sole determiner of what we believe. For the love of god, please stop trying to find convoluted ways to accuse others of saying things that are plainly wrong or offensive rather than rebutting what you find wrong about what they actually think. We can’t win that way. We can’t.
Above is a mural by Marela Zacarias, the gifted left-wing muralist. In the early to mid 2000s, Marela was a close comrade and friend of mine in the anti-war movement. Like many people I knew in my daily activism days, I’ve lost touch with her. And as with many of them I wish I hadn’t. I mention Marela because, while I have no right to define her politics for her now, not being in touch with her, at the time she was a Marxist. Not just a Marxist, but a far more educated and orthodox Marxist than I ever have been. In that, she was just one of many, many women and people of color who have taught me about socialism, communism, and Marxism. And yet I find people like Marela are written out of existence every day by those who suggest — as there are many who do — that socialist, communism, and Marxism are only the province of white men.
This is ugly for several reasons. The first is that it plays into a very disturbing trend I’ve noticed of white liberals and leftists essentializing and instrumentalizing people of color as a kind of rhetorical tool. So, so many political arguments on the left today devolve into white people attempting to assert who is a closer friend to people of color. I don’t think that this can possibly be a means to achieve racial justice. Instrumentalizing human beings is ugly business. And in the zeal to assert that one is in closer solidarity with people of color very often prompts people to draw a narrowing vision of what people of color can be. At my old blog, I often fought with my commenters about the phenomenon of black conservatives. When they would instrumentalize blackness and talk about a default black political identity, I would point to black conservatives and ask why they didn’t count. And while the people arguing with me were too politic to come right out and say so, it was clear that what the ultimately thought was that black conservatives weren’t “really black.” In that way, a supposed stance of anti-racism became a way in which white people defined black political identity. That’s just a terrible way to behave.
Second, I think it just does a kind of intellectual and spiritual violence to people to deny that they exist for short-term political expediency. I have known hundreds (hundreds) of post- or anti-capitalists in my life who were people of color, women, transgender, or gender queer. I have known dozens of women of color who were Marxian or Marxist. I have known Indonesian socialists, Nigerian communists, and Peruvian Maoists. I have known people raised in inner city America who can cite chapter and verse from the Manifesto. None of this should be a surprise to anyone, not in the world of Che Guevara, Mao, and Alexandra Kollontai. Nobody who understands the history of radical black nationalism, South American independence movements, African anti-colonialism, or Southeast Asian history should make these mistakes.
None of which means you have to be any flavor of socialist or Marxist, and none of which means you have to believe that socialism or Marxism are best, or best for women or people of color specifically. Just argue what you think is best, for whatever groups and identities you think you have a responsibility to advocate for. But argue honestly, and if you’re white, give up on the temptation to treat people of color as a rhetorical bludgeon.
Now please stay tuned for a multi-part series from somebody or other, “deBoer declares white people most important, says socialism no place for people of color.”