First, before reading this, go read some stuff by Endria Richardson, like this blog post, this essay, or this story. I’ve been reading a ton of her stuff lately and it’s very good. I’m linking to her to try to amplify voices of QT/BIPOC (over my own voice).
Second, this video with Angela Davis is wonderful and clarified a lot of things for me, so please watch it — it’s amazing.
But ok, if you want my thoughts, here they are. These are thoughts on racism in the US and the anti-racism work that is being done and contended right now in every sphere of our lives.
The air in the US is electric right now. Electric with the crackle of megaphones, the boom of fireworks, shouts of pain and victory and sadness. As the electricity sparks and sputters and arcs from the streets into homes and classrooms and clubs and friendships, does it dissipate?
People on TV right now talk about facts. They want crime rates to compare to incarceration rates. They want sober budget analyses. They want safe and sure precedents for police abolition. They want neat and tidy political discourse to come from people like Obama. They want historical analyses to give a fair trial to the true character of a statue of George Washington. They want calm, reasonable, logical debates. They want body counts.
This is like waking up to a bear tearing up your campsite and stopping someone from hitting it over the head with a cast iron pan to ask them to explain why bears exist. Like, why do you feel the need to reconstruct human rights from first principles? If you want evidence, go to a protest or read twitter and see the pain. There’s a fucking bear. Even if you just woke up and are not quite sure if it’s a bear or just a hundred impossibly coordinated squirrels, you better start throwing frying pans. Or at least don’t stop the people who are. Why won’t you just believe the millions of people telling you that things are not ok. They are so not ok, and have been so not ok for so long, that things have to change and they have to change now. And yes I do mean actually abolish the police, yes I do mean that white people in positions of power should actually hire BIPOC to replace them, yes I do mean that capitalism itself will anchor racism to this world as long as it exists because it is a system that places a price on human beings and extracts value from their minds and bodies and sorts people into groups and says some lives are more valuable than others.
These are not my logical claims. I will not debate them.1 I will not tell you why I believe them and you shouldn’t expect anyone else to either. But you need to look into the eyes of people who have suffered and listen to them when they tell you that these things are true. When we trust Einstein that, in fact, a pencil in motion is slightly shorter than a pencil at rest, we don’t say “well I don’t know, this pencil right here looks about the same.” We trust Einstein because he was an expert in a field called physics. When a black person/indigenous person/person of color tells us that we need to abolish the police, we believe them because they are an expert in a field called racism.
It’s not up to you to discover anything. The world will not instantly make more sense or be more harmonious and ordered if you get someone to explain slowly and logically to you why Black Lives Matter. This may expand your personal satisfaction but it will not expand human knowledge. Anti-racism work has gone on for hundreds of years. People much smarter than you or me have thought quite a lot about racism and we should listen to them when they say that, no, the solution is not to turn color blind and commit to being nice to your neighbors. You don’t have to understand this from the axioms of the universe. That work is already done for you.
Yes, if you’re working on tropical Grassmanians or trying to design a post-quantum one way function, then you should use your facts, because this is on the frontier of human knowledge and you’re probably one of a few dozen people who knows what you’re talking about when you write your research papers. No one feels anything in their bones about “positroidal subdivisions of the (n-1)-dimensional hypersimplex.” But in anti-racism, please just don’t get left behind. Just sit down and do the work. (This post is not really about what “the work” is, but there is plenty to read about that.)
Please stop asking for facts, crystal clear gems carefully mined from the dirt and set in gleaming bands of erudite language. Stop asking for debate, play violence that is ok because each side know that they are just showing off their sharp minds and at the end of the day they can go home and everything will be ok because yeah, we really don’t know if we should embrace GMOs or not, and there is interesting policy to be intellectually debated there. When you ask BIPOC to debate their lived experience and justify their anger, you are doing violence. And it is not play violence. Stop asking for logic, steely logic that is so much stronger than throbbing bleeding hearts. Stop asking for precedent. Like, yes I’m aware it’s not safe to abolish the police. I don’t go for a walk and think oh hey let’s abolish the police for fun. But why the hell do you think its safer to have an armed security apparatus designed for the protection of property and the enforcement of the capitalist hegemony? Maybe there’s no precedent because things have been fucked up for as long as there were apparatuses that recognized a thing called precedent, and maybe precisely because of those apparatuses. Stop asking for performance reports that explain precisely why a more diverse workforce will make you more money.2 Even if you had to lose a leg for a more diverse workforce you should do it because white supremacy kills people.
If riots are the language of the oppressed, then the language of the privileged is a witty remark, a bulletproof argument, a clever turn of phrase in an op-ed that the whole editorial board agrees, yes, is very nice and will make people nod knowingly and close the newspaper with satisfaction. The language of the privileged is a budget report, a statute, a briefing, a footnote containing a citation pointing to more language of the privileged.
Sometimes its important to speak the language of the privileged. In the work that has to be done, privilege — money, land, professional connections, eloquent writing, careful research, political and economic power — are some of the most useful tools that exist for tearing down privilege itself. But to speak this language about the need for change itself is to drown it in molasses.
Yes, clearly, I understand order is important. I think that’s probably one of the first things people that know me find out about me. I might be a socialist but I am not an anarchist. I appreciate order and structure and efficiency. But you don’t need order and structure and efficiency to knock out the bear that’s tearing down the flimsy walls of your tent. Believe the person who wastes a precious second to kick you in the shins because there’s a bear right there and you think there’s still a chance it might be squirrels. Feel the electricity. Embrace it and let it make your muscles twitch.
EDIT: this FiveThirtyEight story is relevant.
1Ok, if you must debate them, do it with me because I have energy for it that other people, for whom this is more painful, do not.
2My mom actually does roughly this, so I feel obliged to clarify that this is great for the purpose of making progress and change, but not necessary for starting change.