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ACTOS Y LETRAS
En línea desde el 11 de abril de 2016
Patrias. Actos y Letras is a digital imprint of Communis
Año VI / Vol. 24 / enero a marzo de 2022
One Theory Fits All Amilcar Navarro
Originally written in English, from Havana, by Amilcar Navarro for Patrias. Actos y Letras.
14 de abril de 2021
In the United States there is a habit of interpreting all social phenomena through the crystal ball of race. As a child, my poor grades in school could be reduced to a low IQ stemming from a pattern written into my sub Saharan African DNA, and today every act of reactionary violence or “micro aggression” committed by a white person is best understood as an act of privilege, implicit or explicit bias rooted in whiteness. The recent shootings in Atlanta almost a month ago at the moment of this writing have suffered from this strange American approach embraced by an incoherent center left intent on explaining all contemporary social relations through race and gender over class, as well as over potent ideologies such as religion.
This new form of reductionism is a classic example of popular social theories and ideologies that suit the times, capture the imagination, help make sense of social relations, secure the careers of social scientists, and find their way into the common sense of the culture via the media and “public intellectuals”, all of which can eventually lead to public policy. These ideas provide a sense of shape and form in the complicated world we encounter and find ourselves in outside of our homes. These ideas are produced within multibillion-dollar institutions known as universities and they serve their makers in the same way automobiles serve the automobile industry. They create jobs, sell books, and make rock stars out of journalists, activists and academics who see themselves forced by their own trade to publish perhaps more, and less cogently, than what they would want or be ready for, in order to justify their elite jobs within the culture industry. These ideologues are not necessarily actors with grand political schemes, and they are better understood as workers who must produce commodities in order to maintain their jobs. They are also not fully responsible for how their products are embraced or used politically.
Critical Race Theory was once an obscure and varied ideological current confined to books and inter-elite university inquiry, but the current protracted crisis of capitalism, dating back to 2007-2008, and the leftward shift in popular sentiments (the 99%) has created for the center left the need to discuss inequality, discontent and injustice in ways that do not address class or the inherent contradictions of capitalism. Like the attempts to explain a storm or an earthquake in terms of the mystical, unfortunately the secular man or woman of the West often falls into the same trap by forcing their narrow ideology onto any and all events of the day. The recent massacre in Atlanta has been analyzed by the center left in the same fashion. I refer to center left and center right as it is difficult to identify the varied and broad adherents to “anti-racism”, who represent not a single ideology, political party, or class. This broad mix of Americans range from billionaires who vote both Democrat & Republican to middle-class Democratic Party voters, the activist industry and millennial Social Democrats.
On March 16th, 2021, Aaron Long, 21, began a shooting rampage which targeted Asian massage parlor workers, leaving eight persons dead, six of whom were Asian. The racial identities of the two non-Asian victims seem to be either of no importance or inconvenient, as they upset the theory of a racial motive behind the massacre. While the courts have yet to establish motive, the assailant had said he was suffering from sex addiction. Allen is an evangelical Christian, and his victims, in regard to whom the media insist squarely on the fact that they were Asian, were also workers, sex workers. It is important to mention that all of this has happened at a time of increased anti-Asian racial violence in the United States, and so observers of such acts of violence are not wrong to consider racism as a motive. However, the assailant is not a member of a white supremacist organization, and he has made no comments professing a commitment to white supremacy. So why to insist on labeling the massacre in Atlanta a result of racial animus? The roots of race-centric sociopolitical theories and race politics have a long history in the United States. White identity and “racial codes” have their origins in the constitutions of the Virginia and Carolina colonies, back then this multi-class coalition of whiteness was the solution to an unstable plantation economy, and following the Civil War, in the absence of any other political option, race politics became the primary vehicle through which black Americans struggled for full citizenship.
The pseudo-science of race is part of our common sense in North America, and the amount of control it has afforded northern and southern elites over labor is unique in the Americas. On both the right and the left, race is something we can’t seem to leave in the past. This is our unfortunate intellectual and political history in the United States. In the case of the Atlanta massacre, the assailant has admitted that he had acted out of desire to manage his own desires. As it already was pointed out, he claims to suffer from sexual addiction and has no clear connection to any white supremacist organization. The point of political violence is to wave a flag and gather like-minded individuals to the cause. In recent years as in the past, white supremacist political violence has been accompanied by a manifesto or written statement giving clarity to the motives behind the act. In the United States white supremacist violence is often a public act of defiance to integration and Reconstruction, and a warning to both race traders and to an ascendant black middle class to stay their place and respect the tradition of racial separation. Anti-Chinese violence often came in the form of mob terror attempting to protect “white jobs” in times of little opportunity and an excess of labor.
"Critical Race Theory was once an obscure and varied ideological current confined to books and inter-elite university inquiry, but the current protracted crisis of capitalism, dating back to 2007-2008, and the leftward shift in popular sentiments (the 99%) has created for the center left the need to discuss inequality, discontent and injustice in ways that do not address class or the inherent contradictions of capitalism."
Mobile home in Norfolk, Virginia
"What Divides Us is Class, Not Race," Jeff Rubin, Quillette, October 24, 2020.
What is the point of political violence if not to advance the cause of a particular group? While there is no evidence that this particular attack was racially motivated, corporate media op-ed pages and US politicians were quick to insist that it was. Says US Democratic Senator, Tammy Duckworth: “It looks racially motivated to me.” Or Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock: “We all know hate when we see it.” Five days after the massacre, Sung Yeon Choimorrow was quoted by ABC News as saying: “This is racially motivated sexual violence against women (...) The reason they died wasn't just because they were women, even though that's what the killer says it is (...) They were murdered because they were Asian American women. You cannot separate the two.” The Department of Race & Resistance Studies at San Francisco University maintains: “(...) these murders are not the result of interpersonal and individualized feelings of 'hate'. They are shaped by a long historical arc of U.S. violence against Asians and Asian Americans fueled in part by colonialism and militarism in Asia and the Pacific.” This might be so, but what if the assailant, as in this case, has no connection to a racist organization or does not state or admit any racist motive for his actions? Religious violence is a complicated package to unravel. While it might be enticing to deposit the entire history of U.S. Pacific colonialism into the events of the Atlanta massacre, it might not be true or helpful, and while I am the first person to begin to look for a material analysis of what has happened, I must first understand this person in the context of the explanation they have given to us. I have no doubts that this massacre was an example of reactionary violence. I am also capable of connecting so-called interpersonal violence to its socio-political origins. The massacre in Atlanta has clear and admittedly sexist motives. When a Christian goes on a rampage of moral purity, dispatching the lives of women who also happen to be sex workers in order for the assailant to manage his desires, it should be considered an act of political violence on its own terms. We should be vigilant in combating racism, but let’s not ignore the right-wing movement sweeping Latin American and Africa known as Evangelism. The enemies of liberation and solidarity are not only racists.
Evangelism is an openly anti-queer, anti-feminist and anti-emancipation movement with significant political connections and ambitions. Its structure is decentralized, without a Vatican or a manifesto. It is best understood as a network of small and mega churches spread across the planet committed to “traditional values”, the Prosperity Gospel, and the most visceral and backward strains of anti-communism. Despite its decentralized and leaderless structure, this movement has been able to exercise significant political power while mobilizing its followers and adepts around socio-political issues such as abortion rights, sex education and gay rights. This international network of churches and charitable organizations made its mark via the election of Ronald Reagan, becoming a significant voting block within the United States, and its most ambitious move was made in 2013 by supporting anti-gay legislation in Uganda, which initially proposed execution, and later life imprisonment as a penalty for engaging in homosexual acts. Luckily, by August 2014 this law had been ruled invalid on procedural grounds by the Constitutional Court of Uganda. Evangelism must be seen for what it is, a right-wing religious movement obsessed with reversing some of the most modest advances made by women and gays in the 20th Century.
Within two weeks of the Atlanta shootings the media cycle had moved on. With nothing to gain from the deaths of these workers, the Woke internet bloggers have nothing left to extract from this massacre of mostly Asian sex workers. The trial will prove to be too complicated to make sense of if your only analysis is that race animates all of human behavior. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 5,000 workers died as a result of workplace-related injuries in 2019. Workers, and the daily violence they encounter due to unsafe working conditions, are invisible to the elite liberal establishment. The guardians and beneficiaries of the liberal elites will have nothing to offer to the working class for as long as they will continue insisting that the only violence and inequality worthy of debate is that which stems from our identities. Writes Judith Butler: “(...) what we call identity politics is produced by a state which can only allocate recognition and rights to subjects totalized by the particularity that constitutes their plaintiff status.” (The Psychic Life of Power. Theories in Subjection, California, Stanford University Press, 1997, p. 100). It is in this space that civil rights organizations make their money and conceive the oppressed groups. This reductive approach to analysis and activism obscures the complex nature of oppression under capitalism, masking the intricate fabric of social relations that lead to attacks such as the one in Atlanta and other acts of violence.
Identity politics —which is a class politics— has been embraced by billion-dollar industries such as universities, news & media outlets, the giants of Silicon Valley, and now the White House itself precisely because it gives cover to the engine of oppression and continues a politics of patronage, allowing churches, NGO’s, and minority rights organizations to ventriloquize the demands of the working class. Identity politics advocates and practitioners have been able to appropriate the language of black radicalism and feminism while advancing their own interests, and managing the potential threat of a working class & multi-racial movement capable of addressing the roots of the certainly ever-complex but nonetheless still-discernible-in-terms-of-class web of violence and exploitation under capitalism. If we discuss the Atlanta massacre without discussing the dangers and misery sex workers endure every day, then we are not actually talking about the roots and the social and political meaning of this new heinous attack on innocent lives, just about one more instance of dark human cruelty and bigotry instigated by a falsely clear factor: racism. We do not need to transpose racist motives onto every violent act of the State or those of its white citizens in order to justify our outrage, or articulate the rot found in our society. What is needed in this case is acknowledgement of the danger of wage labor itself, the rights of sex workers and immigrants, as well as a political response to the dangers of sexism embedded in the monotheistic traditions. Evangelism will continue to grow along with hopelessness and the precarious life we all face in the 21st Century. The evangelicals can offer something we can’t, which is comfort in uncertain times at the cheap price of lies, obscurantism, extortion and manipulation. The obligation of the revolutionary Left is to provide analysis able to rise above the common sense of the times, solutions that meet people’s needs and provide alternatives to the mysticism of the church and academia, so that to the comfort of false hope or token, deceitful recognition, we could oppose the strength of political clarity and effective tools for action.