It doesn’t matter your background if you are oppressing folks; you are an oppressor. That’s it.
I’ve spent the better part of the last month and a half observing the incoming president and his team parade the new cabinet under the guise of “diversity.” It’s this long, drawn-out attempt to justify selecting nearly identical folks Obama had picked for his team (and we all know how that turned out). The president-elect’s team is filled with former state department members advocating for US imperialism and a board member of a military defense contractor, along with others with histories who made their careers by oppressing the Global South.
I wrote a piece earlier this year briefly discussing the history of the term “identity politics” as something entirely different from the way politicians today exploit peoples’ identities, but an idea of politics formed by Black feminist socialists in the 70s. It did not matter to me that Harris had been selected as VP. It’s clear her record has demonstrated she has little to no regard for working for Black folks, and she’s a prominent example of how a Black person can be egregiously anti-Black. Countless scholars, from Fanon (freshest as I’m reading him currently) to DuBois, spoke vehemently about what we consider the Black petit-bourgeois and its desires to uphold racial capitalism. It is in the interest of oppressors to diversify and maintain the heterogeneity of the highest class to feign some semblance of equality, even though we know there has never been such a reality here. This class manifests itself in the likes of the Congressional Black Caucus (Clyburn being the most prominent) or even in other formerly Black progressives who have since abandoned a vision for liberation.
I am a member of the Black petit bourgeois. I am never, ever going to deny that reality. I come from a very privileged background and go to a very very well-funded university (which has quite a disturbing history for gaining its ranking). But the last thing I would ever claim is that just because someone from my background is in charge, that would even remotely translate to some sort of better outcome for me or my family or other Black people. The leader of the most powerful nation in the world was a Black man, and he oversaw the single greatest wealth loss of Black people in US history. He refused to pardon or offer clemency to Brandon Bernard, who was executed this week, along with hundreds of others. He oversaw the militarization of police against Ferguson protestors. He now is speaking for the first time in years to criticize and belittle Black organizers about how ineffective “Defund the Police” is (even as how highly popular and supported both the slogan and the idea is).
When I learned and understood what Obama did to Black people before, during, and after his presidency shattered and affirmed to me there is no form of representative politics possible in this racial capitalist system that will not utilize Black people as props to keep us oppressed.
As we heard the former VP talked down and criticized civil rights org leaders this week, his decades of racist public policy and rhetoric will continue. That is a certain fact. You can even watch the Zoom discussion now too, but I won’t link that here to save you whatever anger you may feel seeing that. Do I care sometimes or somewhat if you were also Black and wanted to lead? Sure. But if those politics come with a vision to continue to keep our people oppressed both either here or abroad, I have no interest in being in solidarity or working with you. Too often folks skate by rationalizing and repeating harmful rhetoric because they are a part of that given group. And that should never be tolerated.
I’ll continue to read, write, and work on the issues that I care about. But I’ve gotten to the point where representative politics are near the tail-end of issues that I care about (largely because I believe they obfuscate blame and inhibit our ability to organize for liberation). As these next four years begin, I suggest evaluating who genuinely has your interests at heart, whether that be folks in your community or even the politicians you have voted for. People who look like you can and will oppose liberation. The sooner we all shed that discomfort with that reality, the sooner we can learn from those who have similar visions and ends where we all can truly be free.
Being Noah Tesfaye #161: When Those Who “Represent” You Oppress You
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