Part of being a good comrade is being able to give and accept critiques of each others' politics. When a comrade puts forth politics you have disagreement with, it should be your responsibility as a comrade and a revolutionary to voice those disagreements in a principled way. To do otherwise would be liberalism and serves only to weaken the revolutionary movement.
It is in this spirit that I offer a critique of the weaknesses of the politics of the "Smack a White Boy" group within Anarchist People of Color (APOC) and a small critique of APOC itself. It is my hope that this will contribute to the debate currently happening within APOC and lead to more cohesive politics and a stronger APOC.
Sam Emm, APOC-NYC
Smack Bad Politics, Abolish the White Race
As a participant in Anarchists People of Color (APOC) in New York City, I have been very aware of the serious weaknesses of the APOC model. We organize around two things: being Anarchists (some prefer Anti-Authoritarian or Autonomist), and being people of color. There are a few serious potential problems with this.
Firstly, the "Anarchist" part of Anarchist People of Color is never defined. Anyone who has spent any time at all studying Anarchist politics knows that someone calling themselves an Anarchist can range from repairing bicycles and serving dumpster-dived food to building revolutionary unions or other forms of dual power. The politics of participants in APOC (I use the term "participant" over "member" because APOC is generally not a membership-based organization) reflect this diversity.
Secondly, while I think it's safe to say that we have a shared definition of what it means to be a "person of color" (which I would briefly define as a person who does not receive the set of privileges enjoyed by "white" people), the implication here is that we share a common experience of racism. This is just not the case, with people of African descent and indigenous peoples suffering from the effects of white supremacy in a very different way in the United States.
With APOC having such ambiguous politics, I watched with interest when a group of APOC coming out of D.C. APOC and Philadelphia APOC put out the "Smack a White Boy Statement" in Mid-March of this year. The same groups just recently put out a "Smack a White Boy Part Two" statement. While both statements definitely put forth a more focused set of politics for APOC, there is a serious problem: it gets white supremacy all wrong.
The first "Smack a White Boy" (SAWB) statement/action was organized around the March 21st, 2009 anti-war march in Washington, D.C. organized by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition. The SAWB group had a few critiques of the ANSWER march.
First, they call them on their own racism saying that "the current anti-war movement is rendered irrelevant by its refusal to address the critical component of white supremacy" and "[t]he racist anti-war movement is devoid of any self-critical process to acknowledge or address how white supremacy contributes to the oppression of people of color within the movement."
Secondly, they critique the march itself saying "[a]side from providing one the opportunity to pat oneself on the back, what purpose is served, or more explicitly, how are activists supporting the people of occupied Iraq and occupied Palestine by marching on the offices of warmongering corporations on a Saturday when no one is there?"
This is all well enough but what is the alternative SAWB offers? They say that "if we as people of color maintain our continued involvement in their spectacle of 'resistance,' outside of our disruption of this spectacle, it will further empower their smug entitlement and white supremacy" so they proposed to disrupt their march to "stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq and Palestine" and that their disruption will be a "space of unity, empowerment, and self-determination wherein it will be made explicitly clear that we will no longer be marginalized, tokenized, and ultimately silenced by those who claim to speak in our names or in the names of our family and friends fighting for liberation around the world."
From the choice of the "Smack a White Boy" phrase to the action they proposed and carried out, the SAWB group personalizes white supremacy and misdirects people from seeing white supremacy as a systemic issue. Instead it posits it as being an individual issue.
This individualism is seen in the proposed solution in the call: to participate in a march as an act of "resistance" and making it a place of "unity, empowerment, and self-determination." The white left is rightly criticized for the "spectacle" of their march being resistance but the posited alternative is to go and "stand in solidarity." How does this build power for people of color and for the working class as a whole?
The second SAWB action, called "Smack a White Boy Part Two," takes this individualism to a whole other level. In late July of 2009, a CrimethInc convergence was organized in Pittsburgh, PA in a people of color neighborhood that is being gentrified. Eight folks organizing around SAWB politics, in order to stop CrimethInc's "gentrifying force" came to the convergence space, gathered up the possessions of those in attendance, and shouted "Get the fuck out!" as an "eviction" action. "This is not an act! Get your shit, or we'll remove it for you!" they said. When some of the attendees of the convergence attempted to use force, their response was to say "Don't try and fight us, we are not pacifists, we will defend ourselves!"
Here individualism has degenerated further into machismo. Their attempt at attacking white supremacy here goes beyond disrupting the activities of other Leftists, this time they were willing to get physically violent in their confrontation (under the guise of self-defense). Again, this does nothing to attack or disrupt the system of white supremacy and instead focuses its energy on attacking those who accept what W.E.B Dubois called "the psychological wages of whiteness."
White supremacy is a system. As the original Bring the Ruckus statement says:
"White supremacy is a system that grants those defined as 'white' special privileges in American society, such as preferred access to the best schools, neighborhoods, jobs, and health care; greater advantages in accumulating wealth; a lesser likelihood of imprisonment; and better treatment by the police and the criminal justice system. In exchange for these privileges, whites agree to police the rest of the population through such means as slavery and segregation in the past and through formally 'colorblind' policies and practices today that still serve to maintain white advantage. White supremacy, then, unites one section of the working class with the ruling class against the rest of the working class."
What does the actions and politics of SAWB do to fight this? Nothing. It also serves to do the State's job for it by creating further disunity in the Left (more than anything, it discredits APOC as a whole and has created conflict within it). Instead of falling into this kind of individualism, the task for APOC should be to attack the systems that prop up white supremacy such as the police, prisons, ICE, etc. Projects like Take Back the Land in South Florida or the various Copwatches around the country are good examples of this.
Race is a biological myth, but a social fact. We don't need to "smack" individual white people (although I can think of many who deserve it). APOC needs a strategy that attacks whiteness itself. A strategy that breaks up the system of white privilege and forces white workers to join people of color united as a class instead of holding us down to prop themselves up.
Our slogan should not be the individualistic motto, "smack a white boy." It should be the revolutionary watchword, "Abolish the White Race!"
Sam Emm is a member of Bring the Ruckus in New York City.