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Reverend James Reeb. Jonathan Daniels. Andrew Goodman. Michael Schwerner. Viola Gregg Liuzzo. John Brown. These are the names of white folks who lived ethical lives and placed themselves in harm's way for the freedom of Black Americans. They also died trying to save white America from its own self-destructive racial wickedness.

In the Age of Obama, the Internet, and post-Civil Rights America, where have men and women of this type of iron will and principle gone? Are they on the lecture circuit? Occupy Wall Street? In the academy? Doing community organizing? Working silently in the shadows?

The nature of white supremacy and the Racial State have most certainly changed and evolved. One does not necessarily confront institutional white supremacy and meta racism with the same strategies and tools that forced down Jim and Jane Crow. Styles do makes fights; perhaps, there is no better example than considering people's movements and how the State and market democracies are vulnerable (or not) to them.

My concerns are not limited to white anti-racists. The same questions can be extended to black and brown people. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, there is a desire to buy into the myth that all of our people marched with King, stood up to white power and Bull Connor, wore berets and leather with the Panthers, or hunkered down with Brother Robert Williams.

The reality is that most people, in any society where collective action occurs, are free riders who benefit from the blood, sweat, and tears of others. But, these same folks do not want to be left out of their generation's defining struggle--just like the many adult children who find out either during a deathbed confessional, or organizing the deceased's estate, that their dads lied about fighting in World War 2.

Many African Americans discover a similar truth. Mom and dad were not at the sit-ins.  Perhaps for fear of going to jail, losing their jobs, or other practical concerns, they were on the sidelines. Nevertheless, they/we/most of us benefited while not contributing though direct action.

I hold a key appreciation for the idea that "the political" is an expansive concept that is not limited to formal political behavior. Yet, and as I have grown a bit older, I have become increasingly suspicious of a tendency to embrace the symbolic, and often the trivial, as constituting purposive politics which substantively challenges arrangements of power and resources.

"Hoodie" politics. Wearing multi-colored rubber or plastic wristbands. Clicking "like" on a cause that will circulate around Facebook. Posting a comment on a blog. The Stop Kony campaign. All of these examples involve making one individual feel like they are participating in a grand struggle. There is no risk, demand, threat, or cost. Thus, can it really be considered substantive political action?

A broadly inclusive public sphere is integral to a healthy democracy (these behaviors can in fact be "pre-political" or serve as a barometer of the public mood; we must also be careful to note how there is also a rich history of debate societies, salons, pamphleting, and public rallies that online spaces are a direct descendant of).

However, my ultimately worry is that for a whole generation these online acts may constitute the limit(s) of their political engagement. There is a double bind at work here as well. On one hand, the major organs of power which influence the day-to-day lives of those born in the neoliberal age that came into being in the 1970s are profoundly anti-democratic. The banking, finance, military, marketing, as well as the commercial and industrial actors who constitute the global superclass, could care less about a given person's vote, sit-in, "approved" protesting, or the like.

Moreover, the sleight of hand is that while they have disdain for democracy, these same agents benefit from the illusion of participation and legitimacy. Thus, the need to create alternate spaces for "democratic behavior" like social media and the Internet. The illusion and spectacle of shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent are cousins to this phenomenon: Americans can "vote" for the winners in a meaningless human freak show; but their votes in the "real world" are a choice between two bankrupt and moribund political parties, an act that has little transformative power over the forces which impact the contours of their society.

The young woman in this video offers up a smart and sharp reflection on race, white privilege, and the lazy thinking that motivates much of the liberal shared empathy crowd who believe that slogans are a challenge to power.

Is this the best they/we/us have to offer? Talking into a camera on Youtube is the new face of politics in the 21st century? What type of politics come from a virtual public sphere that is all chatter and no action in the real world?

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's harder to be like those people you name... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikeconwell, Gooserock, Wee Mama

    ...at the outset because racism generally doesn't lead with the state anymore.  I know some people disagree with that, and obviously you have exceptions like Troy Davis whom the state actually killed,  but that's my overall assessment.  So confronting the state about racism, as they all did, doesn't really do it nowadays.  

    Personally I think the institutional center of racism nowadays is in evangelical protestantism, with all that implies in terms of how any current or future Michael Schwerners or John Browns should act.  

    Romney '12: Ron Paul, without the freedom!

    by Rich in PA on Fri May 25, 2012 at 10:36:43 AM PDT

    •  All the voter disenfranchisement efforts say to me (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, SethRightmer, Vita Brevis, Wee Mama

      that the state still plays a substantial role.   Maybe a less prominent role than it did in the early 60s, but unfortunately it looks like that role is increasing these days rather than declining.

      I guess it's more accurate to it's due to republican policies, rather than "the state".  But it's the power of the state being put to use here, with the republicans pulling the levers.  

    •  styles make fights (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, Wee Mama

      you are spot on. how do we deal with these new centers of power.

      •  It's possible that we deal with them... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, wu ming

        ...precisely like the woman in the video.  As you suggest, we don't yet know what works.  MLK died wondering what works during this transitional period in which the state is no longer unambiguously the center of racism.

        Romney '12: Ron Paul, without the freedom!

        by Rich in PA on Fri May 25, 2012 at 11:34:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's the Driving Force But It Captures the State (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming, RockyMtnLib

      and executes the policies via government.

      Government still needs to be confronted.

      But Gandhi and King both faced opposition that could be largely shamed, and they both understood that a differently minded opposition would not have been moved by their nonviolent and shaming methods.

      That's the case for fundamentalism. We could protest and shame for a thousand years and they will wear it proudly like a badge, unless the day comes they find it starving them for membership.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri May 25, 2012 at 11:02:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The role of the writer and commentator (7+ / 0-)

    This is about breaking down the barriers that define media.

    It is hard to predict what will come of this, but it should not be taken for granted that a national forum for wide open discourse has never existed before.  

    I repeat: never.  existed.  before.

    Yes, there are probably too many people who are satisfied that posting on blogs like this or making You Tube videos is a great accomplishment.  There should be more efforts to innovated new forms of activism in real communities.

    But thought leads to action.  This young woman's very clear minded critique is a great example of critical thinking taking place.  She stands out all the more because many young people are lost in an educational system that has betrayed them.  

    I think that more people are needed who can practice the art of thinking and writing and speaking.  This enriches the discourse that is out there and is a counter to the punditocracy that the mainstream media supports.  

    Somehow, we have to empower the First Amendment so that it can really provide the function of an Enlightened Publick.  

    The fact that our whole mental environment has become just one big shopping mall of the mind, is what threatens our future.  

    Thanks for bringing this up.  This video is one of the most hopeful things I have seen lately.  

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Fri May 25, 2012 at 10:54:59 AM PDT

    •  you are spot on (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, Wee Mama, RockyMtnLib

      we are early in what the internet can do for citizen mobilization and activism. We had the Arab Spring and OWS. But remember, the former were folks with boot on the ground involving themselves in the most old fashioned politics in existence--fighting and dying in a struggle for their rights.

      she is spirited and you are also right that with failing schools this type of engagement is not being encouraged, it is being killed and smothered.

  •  entitlement without empathy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RockyMtnLib

    permits almost anything.

    could care less about a given person's vote

    could not care less?

    gracias, maestro.

  •  Subset of the Great Enlightenment Problem. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wu ming, isabelle hayes

    The Enlightenment and from it our system of government both presume a society that broadly shares the same interests, a key element of that being that the economy and the people are essentially the same thing.

    In such a society every issue --not just racism but economics, foreign relations, environment-- is helpfully addressed by people creating their own messages, writing and calling to the press, phoning their representatives and yes creating signs and slogans. It all goes into tilting the policy playing field in a helpful direction. It goes into encouraging some of the few to take physical public action and creating a climate that leaders will rise to rally.

    --In an intact society.

    But we don't have one any more.

    Ownership and its economy are foreign and global, they are not American, they are not tightly dependent on Americans for labor and consumption, but their interests here are vulnerable to restraints the Americans would place on them to benefit the peoples' general welfare.

    This is not the world that our Enlightenment system was built to operate in. We're closer to the world of Braveheart's pre-Enlightenment, pre-Rennaissance Highland Scotland, where there lords had important interests outside the country and the people needed the lords more than vice versa.

    Nobody in the 99% other than some older Blacks and others who have fought serious marginalization has habits and expectations for coping with its society being against it. We're still plodding along blogging, youtubing and such in the habits of a past society in which such noise would begin to sway the culture.

    --As it has, in the case of marriage equality, where popular sentiment is shifting faster than on almost any issue of modern times.

    If I could think of something helpful to suggest about structural racism, racial prejudice and these things, I'd also have the key to how to turn the United States back into a democratic republic with a democratic economy.

    It starts with the fact that whatever good idea I might have, I don't know how to deliver it to enough people for anything to come of it.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri May 25, 2012 at 11:14:52 AM PDT

  •  Blogging vs marching (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buddabelly

    LIking vs sitting-in

    Different tools, but some similar goals in changing hearts and minds to lead to changes in policy and practice.  I doubt gay rights would be anywhere near as far along as they are without the internet/social media component. Even the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/ALEC boycott stuff, while it doesn't make a direct change in policy or practice, sets the stage for acceptable and allowable behavior that over time should lead to more substantive change.

    from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

    by Catte Nappe on Fri May 25, 2012 at 11:44:00 AM PDT

  •  chatter matters (4+ / 0-)

    in order to build coalitions big enough to push back against the institutional and cultural power of racism, you need to prepare the ground among a much broader passive but sympathetic population. white people talking to white people about racism is an important small part of a much bigger effort at opposing racism in a society defined by it in ways seen and unseen.

    it would be a mistake to claim that it's the most important part, or that it is enough by itself, but it certainly is part of the puzzle. no need to dismiss it.

    •  By just pushing back against my parents' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming

      racist attitudes, I cemented my own rejection of those attitudes into a much stronger set of beliefs than I otherwise would have.

      By having the opportunity to hear an anti-racist essay written by a white, northern newcomer into my Houston school in the 7th grade, I was bolstered in my own similar but tentative and forming beliefs. I can still see the determination and lack of fear in her face as she read the essay to a classroom full of skeptical southern white students. Much like that in the video above.

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Fri May 25, 2012 at 08:25:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There's a whole tapestry of things we can do (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    to effect change. Our talking to each other is necessary, but not sufficient.

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Fri May 25, 2012 at 12:53:29 PM PDT

  •  Malcolm X taught (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    that the most valuable thing, perhaps the only valuable thing, that white people can do to fight racism is to take on the task of educating other white people against racism.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Fri May 25, 2012 at 02:46:30 PM PDT

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