Sunday, January 21, 2007 

Repost: Take Five--Points Toward a Summation of the 1st Annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day

My good friend Jimmy Higgins reminded us that simply doing is never enough without summation of what was done. So I have reposted his thoughtful summation of the first Blogging Against White-Supremacy Day (to borrow from comrade Lauren). So for your reading pleasure:

Take Five--Points Toward a Summation of the 1st Annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Okay, so this is kind of low road. I didn’t have a topic (like political James Brown tunes a few weeks ago) conveniently thrust before me by the world, and I wasn't having much luck casting about for ideas—five kinds of dental floss? five cool episodes of My Mother The Car?

At the same time I have been feeling a little unsettled that the first annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day came and went without any summation. This is, I know, in keeping with the short shelf life of stuff on the Internet but I get old school about this sort of thing. When a project of some political importance is undertaken, there should be some summation. What follows is not that summation, but one guy’s ideas about what happened and how to look at it. Others should please chip in. (The most complete set of links to participating blogs is at Pottawatomie Creek, the blog where the original call went up.)


1. Quantitatively, I count twelve or thirteen bloggers who put up something privilege–related between the 14 and the 17th. (A few who signed up to do it don’t seem to have actually posted at the time.) In addition there were a bunch of interesting comments, especially on the better-established blogs. While I knew most of those who participated, there were a couple of gratifying discoveries, and I trust others had that experience.

2. Most of the posts can be slotted (or forced) into a few broad groupings (leaving out Lauren’s inspired choice of an Audre Lorde poem and CelticFire’s graphic).

Historic documents: Haisanlu, LeftSpot and me

Reflections on Dr. King’s role and his holiday: Bolivariano Roja, the indefatigable LeftSpot, EightOneUnderRedStar

Aspects of white supremacy today: Yolanda (twice). Lefty Henry, John, Modern Pitung

Personal reflections: Jesse on hipness and white supremacy in Santa Cruz and Nelson H on having a White Citizens Council skeleton in the family closet.

[I personally found these last the most interesting and most thoughtful. They were also the most in the diary spirit which blogging still carries from its origins, a spirit which is more personal and less instrumental that most political blogging.]

3. Ya gotta organize. As Mao says, without a general call the broad masses cannot be mobilized. Nelson H issued such a call. But Mao goes on to call for going deeply into the work in a few places to make breakthroughs. As above, this isn’t how Teh Internets work in general, but we aren’t average netizens; we are, most of us, revolutionary socialists, and we know a few things about organizing which may be applicable in situations like this.

For example, uniting with the advanced to win over the intermediate. Two places where more effort, I would argue, would have been richly repaid occur to me immediately. One is Stan Goff’s interesting and well-trafficked Feral Scholar. Even more important, I would argue is the young feminist/womanist of color patch of the blogosphere. Folks like Yolanda and Zooey are steady blogging about white (and male) privilege and the intersectionality of oppressions, never mind a particular day, and coming up with some really interesting stuff.

4. Overall, I thought the first Day of Blogging Against White Supremacy went pretty good and I hope folks are primed to keep addressing these issues over the coming year. Keep your eyes open to develop links and ties with others you come across over the next 12 months who address these questions, so we can start the 2008 BAWS push with a cohort at least triple what we wound up with this time.

5. As I’ve been mentioning every chance I get, The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism, the fantastic new book by Chip Smith and a small research and writing team, will be out within weeks. Along with it will come a new website for the book, which promises to deliver some “value added” for folks who visit it. Right now, I’d like to ask each person who blogged on BAWS Day for permission to add a link to their contribution. If you say “yes,” it’ll spare me chasing you down one-on-one to solicit you.

(Okay, so 5 is not a point of summation. Sue me.)

Monday, January 15, 2007 

Fighting to Lose What White Folks Have

Today is recognized as a day of remembrance for Martin Luther King, Jr. This man's whole life, the life of his wife and family and the many twists and turn that the Black Liberation Movement (BLM) went through during the course of some thirteen years becomes "history." Branded for mass-consumption. Cleansed of dangerous politics. Reduced to trite snippets about peace and non-violence in the most ultra-personal of ways.

Dr. King was a complex human being, to be sure, full of infinitely greater depth and detail than any 45 minute television special with plenty of room for commercials can ever do justice. He was one of the greatest mass leaders the U.S. has ever known. He was on the right side when it came to the majority of society's pressing questions in his time. And yet he was often on what most of the readers of this blog ought to consider the wrong side of any number of disputes within the Black Liberation Movement.

Blogging on the anniversary of his birth, attempting to respond to my own general call that we as radicals, socialists, activists and Marxist-Leninists collectively take up issues of white supremacy as our topics for the day, I was thoroughly reminded of Dr. King's complexity. The initial post I had begun last week was much in the vein of what LeftSpot posted yesterday, entitled MLK, the Black Sanitation Workers Struggle in Memphis, and the Ongoing Struggle. I am a Tennessee public sector worker engaged in struggle to win the same rights that brought Dr. King to Memphis in 1968. A day after marching with striking sanitation workers, this trip would ultimately end in Dr. King's assassination. The T.V. specials will leave a large "gap" in King's life and politics that stretches from the 1964 March on Washington to King's death in 1968. They will only briefly mention his work to end the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam and his work against institutional poverty in the U.S. These aspects of who Dr. King was are consistently excluded when his life is presented as "history." And with my personal connection with the trip that fatefully brought him to my home state of Tennessee, understanding and helping others to recognize this gap has always held special importance for me. But LeftSpot's piece is better written and better researched than what I had planned on posting, so on to plan B.

"Just Fighting to Keep What Little Bit They Had Left"
So although I took a couple of hundred words to introduce the King holiday and Dr. King's story as one of complexities, intentional "gaps" and struggle, this is not really a post about Dr. King. Instead it is one dedicated to him and to the work of those who made him what he was. History, as the Gang of Four lyric goes, is not made of great men. History is the aggregate of millions of lives, each filled with her or his own complexities, struggles and gaps. Together these lives form the narratives of nations, classes, peoples and families during certain historical periods. The story I want to tell is one concerning my own family, and the complexities, struggles and gaps I associate with my great-grandfather.

This past summer my wife and I were staying with one of my uncles. We were up playing cards and talking. The conversations had focused on aspects of family history me and my cousins did not know. Stories about my uncle who died when he was 16, drama between my grandmother and her sisters, and how my dad got kicked out and sent to live with my great-grandparents when he was in his mid-teens. When the subject of my great-grandparents came up, my partner posed the $10,000 question. Was it true, she asked, that my great-grandfather was in the greater Nashville White Citizens’ Council?

She may have felt emboldened by her new status our recent marriage had given her within my family, she may have just been a little drunk. Whatever the reason for her asking, her question (and the negative connotation so obviously associated with the way she asked it) stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. Well, at least momentarily. After the folks in the room had a second to catch their thoughts, and my cousin had begun trying to change the conversation my uncle went into a half-drunken tirade. He was shocked by her "crazy" question, my great-grandfather was a good man, “a man of his community.” (Crazy being the an adjective most women reading this will be all to familiar with being labled after asking blunt, truth seeking questions). He even accused her of participating in some great "liberal" conspiracy to make up so-called white hate groups and denied that the White Citizens’ Council even existed.

Ultimately, my uncle conceded that my great-grandfather's politics were atleast sympathetic to the White Citizens' Council, couching his admission within a thick layer of "he just did what was right for people of his race at the time" bullshit. As far as my unlce was concerned, the familial patriarch and other white folks at the time had simply beem "fighting to keep what little bit they had left."

We were to believe that my great-grandfather wasn't a racist bigot who made tons of money by evicting Black sharecroppers and then selling off land that had been part of his mother’s family’s plantation. He wasn’t a Klan sympathizer, even if his own class status demanded that he engage in more cultured forms of repression against Middle Tennessee's Civil Rights Movement. He was not to be remembered for having a banker friend deny my parents a car loan because my Catholic succubus of a mother had corrupted his grandson by living with him prior to being married. He wasn't the one who refused to attend my baptism because he did not attend papist churches. He was, according to my uncle, a good man.

Drawing Lessons
So why share such a story? My intention is certainly not to perpetuate the argument that racism is a personal evil that each of us must overcome on our own. Recent polling shows how bankrupt such notions are. I share it because where there are complexities there are lessons.

My great-grandfather was in several ways what my uncle tried to describe him as - a good man. He deeply cared for his family as best as he knew how; in time he even came to like my mother most among the women and men that his grandchildren married. He was a man of profound moral conviction, although the definitions he used in determining what was moral were truly horrible. Like his moral convictions, my great-grandfather was a deeply damaged man. He was unable to see humanity is others, and unable to really love others as a result. This is the deceit at the heart of what white privilege offers, the ability to be considered "a person" in our society at the cost of white folks' very humanity.

The reason I was able to make it through college with next to no debt is entirely a result of the money my parents inherited upon his death and the lessons about how to generate wealth he taught my father during the 4 years my dad lived with his grandparents. The field of Wealth Studies has produced mountains of research that shows how society distributes both wealth in terms of inheritance and the skills to develop and manage wealth. Studies like United for a Fair Economy's The Color Of Wealth show how white supremacy as a system shapes these phenomena.

And certainly the vigor with which my uncle felt he had to defend his grandfather's actions reeks of sort of response necessary whenever privilege is challenged. Systems of power and privilege are naturalized to such an extreme that an organization used by wealthy white men to conspire against supporters of the Civil Rights movement by denying them home and business loans, foreclosing on their debts, and cheating them out of wages seemed justified to my uncle. Attacking the economic welfare of a community engaged in struggle for its very survival is nothing more or less than "fighting to keep what little bit [white folks] had left."

Mao challenged us to seek out the general in the particular, and radical feminists have argued that we must see the personal as political for nearly as long. I share this story because more than any other personal experience that I can think of, this exchange between my partner, cousins, uncle and I illustrates several of the key theoretical aspects I have come to associate with the study and understanding of, as well as the struggle against white supremacy.

As the five second memorials to Dr. King are made on day-time talks shows, mid-day news casts and prime-time public service announcements, I will ponder my great-grandfather's life, with all his sins, complexities, failures and successes. And by knowing where my family comes from, I hope I can draw strength that sustains me in the on-going struggle I and other white people must wage in order to destroy this most horrible of systems. That will be my tribute to the life and struggle of Dr. King. That will be my homage to the millions of freedom fighters whose contributions gave us this holiday.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 

Blog Against White Supremacy, a General Call

Even with my calendar sitting in its obligatory spot on the left corner of my desk, I can barely believe that we are already into the second week of January. In less than a week we will celebrate the Martin Luther King Holiday, one of the few "people's holidays" we have to celebrate in this country.

In the coming weeks I'm challenging myself to take on questions of white supremacy and white privilege as a central focus in all forthcoming posts. I extend this challenge to others in our corner of the blogosphere. I remember Villa Villekula's call for bloggers to make "classim" the topic en vogue this past Labor Day; and in this vein I propose a very specific form of the aforementioned challenge.

Let's take the MLK holiday as an opportunity to blog against white supremacy.

A broad topic indeed, but one that is so foundational to any other conversation we might have, whether we are talking about patriarchy, capitalism and class structure, popular culture. Plus many, many folks already do this daily. But the idea is a more coordinated effort to flex out collective muscles. If others agree with this idea, spread the call far and wide. Everyone has a solid 6 days to get a story worked out. At the very least transcribe a good theory piece and put together a decent intro. Get friends who don't blog involved. I'm always amazed at the shear number of folks on MySpace - get friends to post something there in the blog section or even as a bulletin. It doesn't matter, just lean on them to do it.

Drop a comment on this post if you are up for it, and I will start to keep a list on the side-bar along with a post early next Monday with a lists of blogs to follow that day. And another shout out to Villa Villekula, since she ultimately serves as my inspiration for this idea.

Monday, January 08, 2007 

Arnold as America's Tommy Douglas ?

I intentionally avoided the use of the cliché mixture of exclamation points and question marks in the title to the post, but it took some self-discipline to be sure. In California's newspaper from the San Francisco Chronicle to the LA Times and beyond in the so-called paper of record, the New York Times, the media is abuzz with Schwarzenegger's called for a state-wide single payer health insurance program that would cover every last Californian (up-to and including undocumented children - whether or not undocumented adults would be covered remains unclear to me).

Although the California Nurses Association did have a press release stating that their President Deborah Burger would be available for comment, while pointing out that the Governator already vetoed a bill that would have created just the sort of program he now claims to promote. Many have long pointed to the experience of our northern neighbors as tome from which lessons ought to be drawn in our own countries struggle for just healthcare. The life of Tommy Douglass offers some starting point when attempting to do so.

I certainly plan to follow this story in the coming weeks to see what sort of twists and turns it will inevitably take.

Friday, January 05, 2007 

United Campus Workers - CWA local 3865's Holiday Banquet

On December 19, 2006 United Campus Workers - Communications Workers of America (UCW-CWA) local 3865 had its annual Holiday Banquet and Employee Celebration. This year, the local had several cosponsors: East Tennessee Jobs with Justice, CWA local 3805 (at BellSouth) and that local’s retirees association, as well as the Newspaper Guild-CWA and Mailers-CWA locals in town. Additionally, as a result of some outside of the box thinking on the part of UCW leaders, CWA International President Larry Cohen was in town to give the key-note and strategize with UCW-CWA activists. Close to 300 people showed up; a good time was had by all.

The following snippet even made its way into the Thursday's CWA e-newsletter:
Knoxville Locals Strategize with CWA Leaders

December 22, 2006

In Knoxville, Tenn., about 300 CWA members from various sectors spent a lively evening talking union with CWA President Larry Cohen and other leaders at an "Employee Celebration" sponsored by four CWA locals on Dec. 18.

From bargaining rights to organizing to building the Stewards Army, CWAers talked about how to build union power and make gains for working families in this so-called "right to work" state with no public worker bargaining law.

Sponsoring the event were CWA Locals 3865, United Campus Workers, representing 460 employees at the University of Tennessee; Local 3805, representing telecom members; Local 33076, representing newspaper workers at the Knoxville News Sentinel, and Local 14351, representing mailers at the newspaper. Joining the crowd of 300 were CWA District 3 Vice President Noah Savant and D3 staff members, plus members of Jobs with Justice, the Teamsters, UNITE HERE and other unions.

The United Campus Workers local, which gained 160 new members this year, is organizing and mobilizing members to press the state legislature for gains and improvements.

The newspaper workers and mailers locals are fighting back against management's demand to eliminate cost of living increases and substitute an unfair merit pay system, and the telecom local is battling "force adjustments" and other assaults on jobs.

By building the Stewards Army and working to build our bargaining power, CWA can achieve our critical goals of quality jobs, health care, retirement security and bargaining rights, Cohen said.
Not bad at all for an organizing project that was suppose to fail in 2 years...

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