“Qui tacet consentire videtur”
As a white male I have to admit that any and all aspects of accomplishment in my American life are tinged, dirtied and infected by an undeniable privileged position I’m allotted due to something as random as skin pigmentation and genitalia. A less random reason for my privileged position is a hoped-for allegiance between me as a working class white male with the very wealthy hands on the levers of power (generally, but not universally, belonging, in this country, to other white males).
This position they have been so dedicated to assure me and others like me seeps through the culture, economy, domestic spheres, psychological reception and politics (to name just a few).
There are institutional and abstract sources to my privilege. There are subtle and complex sources and most certainly very many privileges that are gently granted to me via the violent theft of other demographics’ basic human and constitutional rights. As a white male, despite my limited economic status, I benefit from a racist sexist system.
This position is also assured to me through a complex series of factors that whether by intent or accident leads to the enforcement of my privileges through police and criminal justice policy, law enforcement norms and forensic institutional habits. While all my white privileges often come at a very high cost for others, that price is all the more painful when our privileges are enforced in that place where the legal rubber meets the road of historical reality–how the physical bodies of the authority (in this case, police) treat their community.
These subtle privileges are afforded us white males in the United States with the hope that in exchange we might forget about that whole “class thing” we have in solidarity with 99%. They hope that the gratitude of us favored servants will ease us into forgetting that we are servants at all.
“We are on Master’s side!,” beckons the psychology of the mollified hungry peasants and subtly the more compliant among us hope this means the reciprocity extends past the minor privileges.
Plenty of us white males, helped along by a culture that enforces the delusion that we are especially likely to be among the 1% very shortly, do in fact forget that the same 1% giving us race-based privileges is the same faction that lobbied to close our local hospitals, downsize (or outsource) our jobs and financially maneuvered to foreclose on our neighbors’ homes.
Or perhaps with our gender and race-based privileges (us white males are undercriminalized as a race, overpaid as a gender and often sheltered from broader, changing social realities in urban-subsidized suburbs–which were historically restricted to white folks via FHA nudged redlining) perhaps a lot of us white males can even pretend we are immune from the travails of others just like us.
Furthermore, us white males can find, in the same destructive right-wing ideology that legalized our privileges, justification for stomaching the sight of half of our parents and half of our kids (the female ones) having their basic rights constantly violated and their character demeaned by the very culture that enforces our white male privileges.
Quite a few vocal leaders of the American right wing even encourage us white males to believe we are more successful than others just like us–not because we get special treatment, but rather our white-male-ness somehow gives us extra talent, ability and, in the right-wing paradigm, worthiness (of privileges, of course!).
Popular Democracy 2012: Beyond The Omni-Guilt
My privileged white male position is blatant to me and to those like me in many many ways. Among the ways it becomes excruciatingly obvious are those hundreds of times you can no longer turn you eyes away from the clear difference between the way law enforcement exacts force on people of our white demographic as opposed to almost any other.
This preferential treatment infects and putrefies the mind of many of my fellow working white males who subconsciously internalize it only to externalize it in entitled rage every time someone demands equal rights.
Have we never paused to consider that formula in its mechanics? If someone else’s equal rights threaten us, that means we stand to lose a privileged position. If a fair situation would lead to us losing something, that means we’ve been getting advantage from an unfair situation.
Politics, activism, participatory popular democracy were not meant for privilege. These things, these democratic tools were not mean to construct the halls of power.
Our politics, our democracy, our people’s mechanisms, were not meant for the well-connected gladhand and his easy profits. Our populist version of democracy was meant for every human in this land, but especially as a protection for power-minorities.
Our rights are not here to make the powerful more powerful, nor the wealthy even wealthier. Our politics was not meant for millionaires and their corporations to sprawl through every inch of our society, commons and culture. Our politics, our democratic approach, our defense of everyone’s basic rights–this is the heart of our politics–this solidarity principle.
Our politics were meant for the family of a shot and dying man on an Anaheim street, his last desperate struggle for life ignored by legalized authoritarians who were more worried about witnesses to their butchery than saving a human life.
Our politics was designed to relieve the suffering of the family of a dead marine, shot by racist legalized authoritarians in White Plains, NY. Our politics are not here to protect their murderers.
What is the point of our democracy? To ensure the rights of all, including those who would be bullied by the powerful (no matter the power-fulcrum: economic, politics, social, etc).
If our form of community-powered government refuses to engage in these struggles, struggles like the fight against police brutality, than as a wider movement we have not only failed–we are also convicted as undemocratic. This is a non-negotiable, unshakable and unequivocal line for us.
Every time such a struggle exists, democracy demands we stand up. Every time we don’t, not only have we failed our fellow human being, we have failed ourselves as shareholders in a wider struggle for a fair, sustainable and engaging way of living.
The Solidarity Principle: Never-Ending Allies for a Never-Ending Struggle
Whether it’s the abuses wrought on Occupy protesters in New York, Oakland, Chicago or Albany; whether it’s the hundreds of police departments who clearly have institutionalized the prioritization of white lives over non-white lives; whether it’s the gun-running and human rights violations of the NYPD, or the pandemic race and class exploitation of California’s various police forces, we lie every time we pretend this isn’t an epidemic that damns our still evolving democratic experience to its core.
Credibility for any political movement does not arise from the simple, easy challenges it warms up to. The credibility of any political movement lies in the necessary, effective struggle it engages in for its movement stakeholders. To be frank, it’s why us white males have so many privileges.
These white male privileges of mine were fought for, institutionalized and defended by parties who saw a lot to gain in my white male privileges–most importantly a hopeful fading away of my worker consciousness, and the birth of tacit support. That’s why the right-wing and the 1% that sponsors their politics carries so much weight among the privileged white population–they “delivered.” They curried those minor race and gender privileges which desperate lives values so much. We might even forget to ask about the context of our limited and otherwise unpleasant existence.
But we’re little more than an economic variable in the eyes of this nations’ most powerful people and corporations, and the maintenance of my race and gender privilege is itself an economic variable the 1% manipulates. The 1% gets to keep a lot more if they share a few scraps with a numerical minority of the population than if they had to share their concentrated resources with the rest of us.
White males aren’t special–it’s just cheaper for the 1% to maintain their hegemony if they get us to believe we are (and thus break our mechanism for power–our Solidarity Principle).
Our politics, our populist, progressive approach, is flexed in service and solidarity, in humble building and attentive diligence. Furthermore, I would humbly posit that our leftist politics demand we immediately pay prime attention to all who are being abused in our community (in any condition or context) not just because it’s the right thing to do (and when did we forget to do things, “because it was the right thing to do?”) but also because our own mechanisms for “delivering” to our movement stakeholders are dependent on the breadth, organization and power of the solidarity we muster and manage.
We can do so much more for liberating ourselves when we work to liberate others. This is not just emotionally comforting, it’s politically powerful. In its national impact and level of human tragedy, the multi-generational plague of police brutality demands a large movement, involving all the stakeholders of the democracy, not just the losers of its unfair applications.
Police brutality is a complex and long-standing plague on our national community. This is an area where the entirety of the Left, from democrat to anarchist, must liberate not on just the individual case-by-case level, but also challenge every historical and institutional situation where police brutality presents itself as a tendency.
We have to publicize this reality. We have to challenge present-day Jim Crowing on a case by case basis. We have to connect these fights. Our oppressors connect to better their oppression. It is absolutely imperative that we connect to better our liberation.
We have to make this a national issue, from local to federal. Not just vertically, but horizontally as well. My town is your town. The differences between them, those are places where we learn to hone our vision. The challenges from a privileged class? Those are the times when we evolve our ability to empathize and organize.
Ever since the raging, but buried, racial tensions of the 50’s, the modern day American has been presented with nationally obvious moments of fatal injustice at the hands of law enforcement, ugly moments that uncover America’s ghosts but also historic opportunities to digest a bitter truth and progress towards a far better reality.
The jury has long been out. We have failed to produce a fair and even-handed justice system.
There have been hundreds of famous cases of police brutality in our lifetime and thousands more buried in the labels and metrics of a system meant to massage the perception of its racial behavior (now more obvious, now more subtle). The broad based stats are in, the anecdotal evidence is in and if none of that catches our attention, our regularly recurring anti-police brutality uprisings (a component of American police history as long as there’s been any) should be fairly convincing.
The Anaheim Uprising, the LA Riots, the Watts Riots, these are just the recent or most memorable anti police brutality uprisings. Hundreds of other insurrections have bubbled up in America’s history fueled by the fury of a habitual injustice for which there is no rational remedy.
No more corpses are needed to prove our failure. No more graves need to be filled for it to be evident many of our police forces enforce law with a double standard, depending on your race, class and gender.
Dismantle the Rubics Clusterbomb to Rebuild a People’s Engine
We have to make police brutality a national issue because it already is, whether we talk about it or not. Meaning it will continue happening whether we notice or not (and especially if we don’t challenge it).
We have to make this a national issue specifically because it deals with the difficult interaction of class, race and social status. This aint gonna easy, my people (and I mean us working people–everywhere, of any variety).
We have to make this a national issue because if anyone, anywhere in our community is being denied their basic human and constitutional rights, we as a community of active democracy-enablers have ourselves been denied a portion of our basic human and constitutional rights. Our mechanism for “delivering” is weakened any time anyone in our community is taken.
Our own Solidarity Principle must hold true and fast. The solidarity between the 1% keeps them where they are. Without our own strong solidarity, we’ll stay exactly where we are.
Without our working class allies, we are powerless. Without us, our working class allies are powerless.
But police brutality is not a “clean” issue, where solutions are obvious and easily attainable.
This is a complex, layered pandemic. There will be no easy answers. But it is also this very complexity of the problem, involving everything from demographics to class, that screams out for our attention. In that it tackles so many intertwined forces that also oppress us in other places in our lives, by engaging in the struggle against police brutality in each one of our cities (and then together, nationally) we will slowly built up the comfort-level, knowledge and expertise it takes to disentangle our culture from the various corporatist forces laying siege to the United States.
If we don’t make this a national issue, we continue to see our fellow human beings degraded and our own working class power fading along with our allies’ last scraps of humanity. But if we make this a national issue then we take a sturdy new step towards broad-spectrum struggle.
Imagine if the unions, themselves members of oppressed communities (whether us white males want to admit it or not), turn out in powerful unwavering solidarity with people of color, the poor, the legally marginalized, in their resistance against police brutality?
What if steelworkers came out in solidarity for these abused communities? What if the AFL-CIO organized millions of its members to go in hard on their state legislators until they broke free of the deathgrip of the prison industrial complex? How many more jobs would be availabe for AFL-CIO workers with all those extra resources floating around our community?
Here’s the bigger, better question: if the AFL-CIO came out for these difficult painful fights alongside our besieged communities, how much more solidarity would the AFL-CIO be able to muster from our communities when they themselves are besieged?
What if the Con Ed workers had turned out to defend New York’s communities during the terror of the Giuliani years or the gradual criminalization of New York City’s people of color through Bloomberg’s Stop-and-Frisk? What if they’d been there with us after Ramarley Graham? What if those thousands of organized, disciplined workers joined the communities they lived in during these hard times. What if they fought not just for a liveable wage but also for the dignity of their fellow community members? How would the current struggle between Con Ed workers and management have played out differently?
When we say we need a critical mass, it’s for far more than the aesthetics and moral beauty of standing up for those outside of our immediate needs. In critical mass, in a form of activism where we deliberately look for places of solidarity with our fellow working people, we create the only engine broad, powerful and mobile enough to challenge the much more powerful and mercurial machinations of Big Capital.
Police brutality should become a national issue for the Left. From the pain it causes, to the issues it brings up, to the value of each one of our fellow Solidarity stakeholders–it begs for all of us, including and especially white males like myself, to stand up for those communities that are being broken by the very people who should be protecting them.
For too many years we’ve acted like the King County Sheriff Department. How did they avoid high numbers of reported police brutality? They stopped reporting them. Other times, we’re like the NYPD, which has gone to the extent of painting over a legal mural in Inwood that depicts their brutal behavior towards the community.
What Orwellian solutions to the 1%’s problems!: “Bury the numbers. Hide the pain.”
But hiding the evidence of brutal policing does not make that brutal policing disappear. Denying this has been a multi-generational pattern brings back none of the thousands of unarmed victims murdered by police. No one is resurrected by our historic denial. In fact, we can pretty much bet that our complicit silence aids and abets the abuse of our fellow human being. White male or otherwise, our true freedom is dependent not on the oppression of others, but on enabling the freedom of all.