dagNotes: On Progressive Social Action, White Supremacy, and Ideology
Quite frankly, I got swept up yesterday in the celebratory filibuster and protest of Texas SB 5. It was hard not to. What I witnessed from my desk in Korea was moving. Wendy Davis is inspiring. And now DOMA and Prop 8 are gone, too. I should be over-joyed, but I’m not. Here’s the problem:
I quickly recognized I’ve witnessed the same celebratory social action we all saw with Occupy Wall Street at its peak. Yesterday, I posted a quick note about voting rights and wrote nothing more because I wanted to wait and see the next two decisions from SCOTUS. I think most of us knew Prop 8 was dead on arrival but were curious to see how SCOTUS would decide on DOMA. Anyway, I’ve certainly already read bloggers and journalists comparing the victory in Texas, ahead of the two good SCOTUS decisions, to Occupy Wall Street. I initially followed Occupy with hope, but it was a hope that quickly soured as it became clear that it is a kind of social action that illustrates the legacy of white supremacy in the United States more than anything else, an activism in service of a liberal representation of the ideal American—a highly-educated, upwardly-mobile, privileged, straight, white man who has a strong moral conscience yet is a relatively obedient consumer.
In 72 hours we’ve witnessed three victories and one defeat. The three victories were ushered in only after a massive wave of mainstream support across the United States that was patient yet forceful and demanding, almost willing to do whatever it took, financially and socially, to insure victory. In fact, the reactionary, religious right-wing was systematically singled-out from its conservative allies and humiliated in California just as the liberals who got away with supporting DOMA in the 90s were forced to confront their public bigotry and bandwagon political discourse and to apologize and change their ways. Christian conservatism is now nothing more than whining about religious persecution and mainstream liberals have been exposed as neoliberal conservatives full of poor excuses who daily attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
However, SCOTUS ruthlessly gutted the Voting Rights Act and the reactionary right-wing was just as set against that act as it has been set against the other issues we’ve explored this week. So, where was the patient yet forceful and demanding almost willing to do whatever it takes social action to insure the preservation of voting rights? I’ve looked through tumblr archives and searched my RSS-feed history. Only special interest bloggers and journalists and dedicated, professional social-activists have had anything to say. Of course, social justice bloggers are now in an uproar about Voting Rights, but the liberal social justice action is too little, too late. Reactionary activism is useless.
It’s clear to me, blogging from Seoul, that when it comes to black, indigenous, and immigrant peoples’ rights, the US progressive community has other priorities. I think Occupy Wall Street made this clear and suffered as a result, and I think white activists don’t really give a shit. The voting rights issue simply doesn’t register on their activist radars because it doesn’t effect them. I’ve seen more students organizing around tuition increases and loan interest rates than I’ve seen them organizing to insure a key part of civil rights remains intact.
Civil liberties discourse, in the US, is composed as consumers and citizens are composed. As individuals are always already composed by social forces, civil liberties are always already composed by the same social forces. When Occupy Wall Street got going and organized, it’s no wonder white individuals—that is the ideal white individuals (highly educated, upwardly mobile, privileged men and some women)—rose to lead and, without much effort, women and men of color were asked to patiently participate. We saw many examples of communities of color reaching out to Occupy for help and saw those communities’ leaders offer their leadership. And we saw those communities asked to be obedient and patient participants. We saw Occupy insist those experienced and connected activists follow inexperienced, part-time activists. I don’t know about you, but I found it disgraceful, shameful, gut-wrenching.
What progressives in the US fail to recognize is that they, too, are composed subjects of patriarchal, white-supremacist capitalism. Who gave them the idea they occupy a liminal space circumferencing racist and patriarchal culture from which they can intercede into an imagined and corrupt mainstream and heal it? We can call this magical liberalism, I guess. This liberal idealism—we can change things—is problematic because it always insists “we can change things without changing ourselves”.
Until we are willing to confront the paradigms that compose us as ideal citizens—white subjects of a spontaneous social order of a capitalist free market and its imagined Nature that liberates us without regulation—we are doomed to weeks of embarrassing successes like this week where the white liberal mainstream has been rewarded, once again, for its unearned ambition, while people of color and poor people have been only further humiliated and ostracized for not being able to be properly composed and ideal citizens.