Friday, October 21, 2011

This is what I was afraid would happen to OWS

A common class background made it a little easier for working class youth – employed and unemployed, housed and homeless – to come together across the color line. This unity is complicated by the dominance of petty bourgeois folks in these occupations. The petty bourgeoisie are small shop owners, as well as professionals who serve in a managerial capacity, such as cops, judges, bosses, transit security, etc. Many of them are losing their jobs, houses, and businesses, and are being thrown into the ranks of the working class, so they are joining this movement. They are part of the 99%, but they have had very different experiences than the groups we have discussed so far, and this shapes their political outlook. Many higher paid workers are not petty bourgeois, but they still share petty bourgeois outlooks and ideas, especially the illusion that they are part of the “middle class”.

I had hoped this time it would be different. This time we’d keep our focus, be smart and not alienate people who it would be profitable to have on the side of the angels. Then I saw this and I knew, just knew, that OWS is doomed. I hope that before it tears itself a part in an orgy of “more-left-than-thou” accusation and counter accusation, somethings get done. I hope that before it alienates educated professionals that income inequality, joblessness and the fact that corporations are not people in any sense gets pushed to the front of the national consciousness enough that it won’t be at all easy to pretend, in six months, that it never happened and for the Beltway media to revert to “What joblessness? The deficit will kill us all!” But I knew that inevitably it would come to this, the inevitable ‘we must smash capitalism’ talk.

Later, in a demonstration that they only love certain *kinds* of working class people--those who aren’t, for instance cops or soldiers--there’s this bit:

They lecture working class youth when we chant “fuck the police” or “cops, pigs, murderers”. They don’t understand that we face police brutality all the time, and we’ve been struggling against it for a long time. Unlike us, these folks (used to) own property , and are used to the police protecting it. They have not yet learned that being part of the working class means owning nothing of significance, it means being dispossessed, and that means getting pushed around by the police who function as enforcers of the rule of the 1%. The police exist to make sure we don’t steal the luxury cars of the wealthy- or occupy the factories that make those cars.

We lecture you because cops ARE working-class people! We lecture you because the cop who deters you from stealing the luxury car is *also* the cop who deters some rapist from breaking into your house at night and violating you or someone you love.

We need to reach out to everyday people in our communities, those of us who are people of color, who are unemployed, who are mothers working more than 1 job to care for our children, who are workers and students. We do not need self-appointed leaders, more interested in their bureaucratic positions, and politicking, than in our collective liberation from white supremacy, police brutality, patriarchy and capitalism.

Best of luck with that.

It is difficult to speculate about where this movement is headed.

Actually, no, it’s not at all difficult to speculate about it. To the degree that OWS listens to this kind of campus radical bullshit the movement is doomed. Capitalism is not going to be overthrown and a whole lot of people aren’t going to trust anyone who is talking about overthrowing capitalism. Some of us--the writers of this piece are not among them--know some history and know how the movie that starts with people shouting about the glorious day when all will own everything in common turns out. It turns bloody and brutal and resembles nothing like a free society. It does not become more equal and just. Rather it becomes more unjust. It didn’t work in Russia. It didn’t work in China, or Cambodia, or Vietnam or North Korea or anywhere else.. It always went wrong, it always turned oppressive. We know this movie.

Earlier in the piece the authors say:

When we work, we produce goods and services to sell for profit, not to meet each others’ needs and desires.

Yes, in fact that’s precisely what we do. I do not go to work because I love my CEO. I do not work hard because I love the people who own the company. I go to work because when I do, I get paid and I can then take that money and buy the things I need and pay others who then go and buy the things they need and so on. There is nothing inherently wrong with that system. It should be a regulated system, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it. They are not going to do away with capitalism and they aren’t going to get all that many people to WANT to do away with it. The authors seem to forget that OWS started out as a protest about jobs. People who want to be able to work aren’t trying to ‘smash the system’ but to reform it so that they can be part of it.

To the degree that OWS buys into this campus-socialist crap it dooms itself to irrelevance. It breaks my heart, though, I so wanted it to be different this time. I wanted my side, the side that is for the people and not for the rich and the powerful, to be smart. Alas, it isn’t so.

The whole sorry thing is posted at People of Color Organize!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Herman Cain thinks we're that embarrassing uncle at the BBQ

Some people go through a struggle and make it out on the other side and think, "Man, that was hard. It shouldn't be so hard for people. I made it, but think of all those who didn't. We need to change our system so that it isn't holding people back, but instead making things fairer for everyone."
Then there are those who experience something similar and think, "I succeeded because I was special. You're not special. You don't deserve what I have because you weren't willing to do what I did to get it. You're weak and you make excuses. I did it, so why can't you?"
The above is from the very excellent blog, The Black Snob in a post riffing on the always brilliant Leonard Pitts column on Herman Cain. Both authors make excellent points about the psychological bag of rocks all black people carry around with us. We all have it and we should probably admit this. If you are a black person who is at all successful, who did well in school, you’ve probably had some period of life where it started to get you down.

For me, it started in junior high school. I started hearing ‘why you trying to be white’ and it was coming from other black students. I was psychologically prepared (or so I thought) for that kind of sentiment coming from white students and even white teachers. I was not at all prepared for that sentiment to come from my own people! Some of that was probably being sheltered in amongst a horde of black academics and white-collar professionals in the Sacramento area in the 1970s. Our AME church was not someplace anyone was going to say that those of us who were doing well in school were trying to be white. The adults had all struggled too much to say it and any youth who thought to speak that way to another young person was not going to have a pleasant go of it should their words fall into the ears of an adult. The extended family in California were all middle-class or upper-middle class so the expectations on us were the same. The extended family in Alabama and Louisiana didn’t necessarily get my sister and I and they probably resented us because our parents provided us with a level of material comfort my aunts and uncles (particularly on my father’s side) didn’t. But again, no one would have dreamed of discouraging academic excellence. The young black families who rented from my parents wouldn’t have dared to say anything about trying to be white. My sister and I were cheered on as the vanguard of what was going to be a glorious generation that, when we were adults, would march forth and really show America a thing or two!

So when I ran into this sentiment as a seventh-grade student I didn’t know what to make of it. It was a kind of psychological perfect storm because along with the racing hormones and gangly body that makes the early teens just a cavalcade of fun, the attack of ‘you trying to be white’ hit me in the precise spot I had absolutely no psychological defense for. High school was no more fun than junior high in that respect. It may be hard out there for a pimp but that is a day at the spa compared to the life of a black geek in high school in the 1980s. Dante himself wouldn’t have put such exquisitely sadistic characters in his Divine Comedy. I got angry. I mean really, really angry. For reasons I did not understand at the time, I blamed my black skin. The logic being that if I had not been born black, I might have been a nerd but no one would claim that I was not really white. To this day, three decades on and counting, the term Oreo is like nails on a chalkboard for me. So through my high school years, I tried hard not to be black. I didn’t want to but by the time I was in the Army I realized that wasn’t changing so I had damn well better make peace with it.

Sometime around the early 1990s, after I had come out (which, honestly, was made much easier by being estranged from the black church and the mainstream black community) I had the psychological epiphany that is highlighted above from The Black Snob. I realized that I was lucky, privileged, gifted and special and that with all of that I still had to work harder. I thought of my own circumstances, the ways in which I had to do more just to get the same recognition and I thought of my parents and how much more they had to do and my thought was not “I’m special, you’re not” but “I had so many things going in my favor and this is how hard I have to work. How much harder would it be for someone who didn’t have the advantages I did. Life is hard, anything with a decent payoff is going to require a lot of us, but it shouldn’t be that hard on people. Certainly not for something so completely arbitrary as skin color”. At that point a psychological weight lifted off my shoulders and kept me from becoming the kind of black person personified by Herman Cain and, even more poignantly, Clarence Thomas.

I am not calling either of these men Uncle Toms. I won’t throw that accusation around, certainly not cavalierly. I am saying that both of them seem to be, well, embarrassed by most of the rest of us. It seems as if they believe that if it weren’t for all of us blacks who aren’t conservative Republicans their lives would be substantially better. We are the relatives who are an embarrassment. It’s like there’s them and all the rest of us are that uncle who shows up at the BBQ that everyone knows is going to get sloppy drunk, say something really inappropriate and embarrass your parents.

For Mr. Cain to claim, as he has a couple of times now, that racism just doesn’t hold anyone back any more is not right. It’s not even wrong. I’m not saying that in any given situation where a black person does not get the job, the promotion or the grade they believe they deserve that race is a factor. It may be but it is not always a factor. This isn’t 1957 or, for that matter, 1967. I’m not saying that too many of us are too quick to jump at the racism explanation for our disappointments when, chances are, we’re the cause of our own problem or, for that matter, simple bad luck or timing. When I was laid off from a start-up in 2000 it wasn’t because I was black, it was because the dot com bust was upon us and my timing was, in a word, crappy. It would have been wrong (and demeaning) for me to claim that I was singled out for layoff because I was black when my boss and I were the ones to turn out the lights for the last time. Somewhere in between Mr Cain’s fanciful notions that racism simply doesn’t intrude in people’s lives and the knee-jerk excuse making is the real world. It would be nice if Mr. Cain and Justice Thomas were to join us there but, alas, there is no sign of that happening soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It could be worse

Got a nail in one of my tires on the sidewall. Which means I have to replace the tire. Which means I have to replace all *four* tires. Because I have an all-wheel drive vehicle and the way the AWD transmission works either I can replace all four at once or I can eventually have to replace the center-differential on the transmission. Probably going to run about $700 for the set.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Now THIS is the life

It’s a bit past four, I’m streaming Duke Ellington to my iPhone and listening using Bluetooth headphones so if the phone rings I can just answer and immediately put on my tech-goddess hat. I feel like the weight of a certain amount of pretending to believe certain things for the sake of having the community I live in has passed from me because I realized, earlier this week, I couldn’t stop pretending that things that are nonsensical really made sense provided you just didn’t think about it too much or didn’t try to apply it to the real world. If you simply put that stuff to the side, the ideas were as solid as possible.

I also realize that I have been squandering my mental energy and writing talent on message boards for far too long. The ideas that I’ve been trying to communicate over on ButchFemmePlanet are altogether too complicated for a message board format and there is a kind of persistent reflexive pseudo-egalitarianism that I think is, ultimately, toxic to really good, meaty intellectual discussion. Plus it’s all on a message board so it’s never going to be seen by a publisher or editor or blog aggregator or, for that matter, anyone else who might be able to help me move toward publication.

So the energy that doesn’t go into writing my book is going to go here.

There are two projects that I have been going back and forth with (my writing habits appear to mirror my reading habits) committing to neither. One is a sci-fi spy novel set in the Pacific Republic, a Asia-bloc nation that spun off when the United States breaks up. The lead character, Grace Nakamura, is a spy-master who specializes in defections.

The other, the scarier book, is non-fiction. What I am after is nothing less than to show, from the point of view of one of the people who is supposed to benefit from the postmodernist/deconstructionist ideas that have seeped out of the left-leaning academy and made it into the mainstream of left-leaning (but not necessarily liberal) thought. There are a whole lot of ideas and theories that have been bandied about, most of which do not appear to have been checked to see if reality was at all in agreement. The goals of postcolonial thought are the right ones, from my estimations. The methods, on the other hand, I know won’t help.

The Left in America needs a reset, which is the working title of the book. I intend to call it Reset. Sometime last night or perhaps this morning I had an epiphany. If I took all the little scraps of writing I did when posting on those message boards, sometimes casting--forgive me for saying it--pearls before swine, and redirected it into my actual writing I could get this book to a place that I’d feel comfortable trying to find a publisher. So that is my goal. I’m either going to write a spy novel (which I’ve always wanted to do) or I’m going to write a non-fiction book (which I’ve also always wanted to do).

I’m about to go mix myself a cocktail, in 37 minutes I can log off the phones and then take a nice hot bubble bath to just let it all go and then spend a weekend with my wonderful and beautiful wife. Damn I’m a lucky woman.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Good bye, good luck and I tried to warn you

We used to be on the same side. I used to sit next to you and thought we were all rowing in the same direction. I have to leave you now because I cannot ally myself with the Left any longer. For twenty years I tried to ignore the evidence of my own eyes and ears. I tried to tell myself that the things I read that seemed nonsensical did make sense but I didn't understand them. I was wrong.

I thought that the Left, more than the right, wanted to build a society where people would not be judged, as much as is humanly possible to do so, on the basis of their skin color. I thought that the Left wanted a society where a black woman and a white man were seen as having the same legal and political rights. I thought that the Left wanted a society where anyone who worked hard and play by ’The Rules’ would not be left behind unless things had gone wrong for everyone. I thought that the Left conceived of the problem as being a matter that a qualified woman could only rise so high in corporate America. Instead I found that they thought the problem was that people had jobs in corporate America at all.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came today when someone on a message board where we were discussing race posted the following from Russell Means:

At this point, perhaps I should be very clear about another matter, one which should already be clear as a result of what I've said. But confusion breeds easily these days, so I want to hammer home this point. When I use the term European, I'm not referring to a skin color or a particular genetic structure. What I'm referring to is a mind-set, a worldview that is a product of the development of European culture. People are not genetically encoded to hold this outlook; they are acculturated to hold it. The same is true for American Indians or for the members of any culture. 

It is possible for an American Indian to share European values, a European worldview. We have a term for these people; we call them "apples"--red on the outside (genetics) and white on the inside (their values). Other groups have similar terms: Blacks have their "oreos"; Hispanos have "Coconuts" and so on. And, as I said before, there are exceptions to the white norm: people who are white on the outside, but not white inside. I'm not sure what term should be applied to them other than "human beings."

This idea that the people who disagree with you, particularly if they share your skin color, are fair game for slurs like apple, Oreo or coconut was a bridge too far for me. Perhaps that is because I well remember the stings of being called that because I did well in school and read for pleasure The same argument was made ‘you’re black on the outside, but you think like a white person’. If we took those words and put them in the mouths of a white man, there isn’t a person anywhere on the North American continent who calls themselves Left, Socialist, Liberal, Progressive, or anti-globalist who would not, in heartbeat, condemn the speakers. But since the speaker was not a white man but an American Indian, no statement he could make would invite condemnation.

I can no longer call myself a woman of the Left because to do so puts me in bed with people who, while claiming to be against racism, cannot bring themselves to call it bad or wrong. This raises the question of whether or not we should care about racism if we aren’t ready to put a judgement on it and call it wrong. If it’s not bad, if it has no more moral or ethical weight than whether one likes science fiction or mystery novels then there’s no point in expending energy about it. Who cares? Racism should only concern us if it is bad behavior but on the Left we have decided that there are very few actual bad behaviors.

Being a conservative is bad behavior and being a Republican is just this side of homicide to the Left. But racism? No. Not bad. Something that white people do and should feel guilty about, yes but not bad. Capitalism? Yes, that’s bad. We don’t much like that on the Left.

This is disingenuous. Either racism is actually bad--in which case we should be prepared to stand up and say that it is unacceptable behavior or it isn’t. If it really is bad but we’re not going to say that it is so that people will ‘feel heard’ or ‘feel listened to’ when they make racist statements we are lying. We are pretending that our motives are noble and in this case we will do rather ethically dubious things in service of our agenda. There is very little concern about that behavior.

The list could go on and on. The Left likes to mock right-wing populists for their creationism and for their denial of climate-change but they are no more pro-science than those they oppose. The following, again from Russell Means:

"This is what has come to be termed "efficiency" in the European mind. Whatever is mechanical is perfect; whatever seems to work at the moment--that is, proves the mechanical model to be the right one--is considered correct, even when it is clearly untrue. This is why "truth" changes so fast in the European mind; the answers which result from such a process are only stopgaps, only temporary, and must be continuously discarded in favor of new stopgaps which support the mechanical models and keep them (the models) alive. "

This was plucked out and posted to the thread by someone who claims to ‘love science’ but that is because he has mixed up actual science for New Age interpretations of quantum physics. Those interpretations have as much to do with actual science as Neo-Nazi historical revisionism has to do with actual historical study of Germany during the Nazi period. The language is the same but the methods could not be further from one another.

I used to see these right-wing populists on the message boards, screaming at people because they felt liberals were hypocrites. I still think they are out to lunch but I have a bit more sympathy for them. I don’t think they’re out to lunch because liberals aren’t hypocrites, I think they’re out to lunch because they’re solution was to buy into ideas that are no more grounded in reality than the Leftist idea that quantum mechanics means that we can wish ourselves rich or other such New Age nonsense.

The Left is going to go into 2012 with a profoundly confused mindset. They are not going to know what hit them. No small number of people on the Left will, ultimately, vote for a Green candidate or not vote and encourage others not to vote as a way of “teaching Obama a lesson”. Obama is going to lose next year and they will wake up January 2013 and will then try to ignore the fact that President Perry is being inaugurated. There will be a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing. Then they will paint their signs and fire up the chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! Capitalism has got to go!” If they have other designs for 2012, I wish them luck.

So, I’ve said good-bye and I’ve wished good luck. Now, the part where I say I tried to warn the people who I was formerly allied with.

I am a reasonably intelligent woman with an ability to turn a phrase from time to time. I have a very analytical mind and am a formidable debater. The Left does not want me on the other side. For a while now, I’ve hinted that I may turn my back and if I do, I will be disgusted and if I am, I will write about it.

For all those anti-racists who are actually okay with racism, as long as white people aren’t the one’s being racist, for those who think that we should not even try to have moral conversations about what is right and wrong or what is the best way to live, to those who are willing to stand up and applaud the most racist, sexist, homophobic statements provided that the speaker is non-white I tried to warn you. I tried to tell you that this path was troublesome and ill-conceived. But you loved your Foucault and Derrida too much to realize what they were actually on about. You enjoyed your anti-Western, anti-European posturing so much that you got into bed with any non-white person with an anti-imperialist cause even though, at the end of the day, they would happily take your queer ass to the gallows. If you are of the Left, if you believe that the West is the cause of the world’s problems, if you believe that it is nothing more than imperialism for American feminists to condemn the fact that Saudi women can neither vote nor drive, you have--through your own ideologies and defenses of them, sloppy and nonsensical as they were--created an adversary. Well done. I did try to warn you.