How (Not) to Challenge Racist Violence
Date Written: 2017-08-24
Publisher: Canadian Dimension
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21271
As white nationalism and the so-called "alt-Right" have gained prominence in the Trump era, a bipartisan reaction has coalesced to challenge these ideologies. But much of this bipartisan coalition focuses on individual, extreme, and hate-filled mobilizations and rhetoric, rather than the deeper, politer, and apparently more politically acceptable violence that imbues United States foreign and domestic policy in the 21st century.
Protesters are eager to expend extraordinary energy denouncing these small-scale racist actors, or celebrating vigilante-style responses. But what about the large-scale racist actors? There has been no comparable mobilization, in fact little mobilization at all, against what Martin Luther King called "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"- the United States government, which dropped 72 bombs per day in 2016, primarily in Iraq and Syria, but also in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, making every single day 9/11 in those countries.
Over the years I have come to see more and more of what Adolph Reed calls "posing as politics." Rather than organizing for change, individuals seek to enact a statement about their own righteousness. They may boycott certain products, refuse to eat certain foods, or they may show up to marches or rallies whose only purpose is to demonstrate the moral superiority of the participants. White people may loudly claim that they recognize their privilege or declare themselves allies of people of color or other marginalized groups. People may declare their communities "no place for hate." Or they may show up at counter-marches to "stand up" to white nationalists or neo-Nazis. All of these types of "activism" emphasize self-improvement or self-expression rather than seeking concrete change in society or policy. They are deeply, and deliberately, apolitical in the sense that they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decisionmaking, or how to bring about change.