Open Letter to WAC Victoria and others who equate racism with prejudice.

I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group
– Peggy McIntosh

This piece was originally written as a response to a local group that was accused of racism, and failed to address it.  I updated it because I’ve heard lots of the same arguments about ‘equality’ and ‘divisiveness’ since then, and I wanted to revisit these arguments myself.  Racism is thought to be a distraction, a divisive issue, or a prejudice held by ‘those people’ ‘out there’ (but not by me).  For anyone who has spent a bunch of time reading about or working on anti-racism and white privilege, reading this might be a waste of your time.  I’m not writing to anti-oppression activists; I’m writing to myself five or six years ago, when I believed in equality and fairness, and saw all this “identity” stuff as a distraction from the real change that needed to happen in the world (‘the economy,’ ‘the environment’).

I’m against equality when it comes to conversations about racism.  Also, I’m racist.  These are two statements that run against the grain of polite, liberal views on racism (especially among white people like me).  White people love equality (when it suits us): everyone should be treated equally, and then we’d all have equal opportunities.  I used to hold this view myself, and I think it needs to be challenged.  Not only does it fail to address racism; it can reinforce and hide it.  In fact, white supremacist groups throughout North America regularly use the language of equality to challenge any “special status” accorded to indigenous peoples or people of colour (“we should all be treated equally”).  Racism is not just the way that people treat each other, based on the colour of their skin.  Racism–like capitalism–is a structural system, and interpreting racism as simple prejudice merely hides this structure.  It’s the equivalent of saying corporate capitalism is fine as long as we all treat each other with respect (this works out great for the guy with a yacht and two summer homes).

Lefty white people often have a structural analysis of capitalism: we talk about debt, consumer spending, elite control of the monetary system, all that stuff.  But instead of seeing racism as something just as structured and deep-seated, it’s often dismissed as “identity politics” or a “distraction.”  The politics of feminism, racism, and colonialism have been labelled as divisive for decades, often by white men who didn’t like challenges to their authority, were uncomfortable with new ways of organizing, and had no interest in acknowledging or working through their own white male privilege.  The same thing plays out over and over: white folks get called out on racism and they respond with anger, defensiveness, and condescension.  That this happens over and over just shows how deep-seated whiteness is: when white folks fall into these patterns, we are the worst kind of cliché.  For radicals or progressives or people trying to transform our world and make it less shitty, this defensiveness isn’t just oppressive, it’s also strategically unsound, because all these forms of oppression are inseparable and mutually reinforcing.  Rinku Sen says it better than I could:

While the racial dimension of the criminal justice system is obvious to many people, the movement to reform Wall Street may be less so. In economic justice, it is particularly tempting to ignore the links between race and poverty, as well as the profound influence of sexism and sexuality on economic hierarchies.

Everybody’s suffering, and these wedge issues are so often used to divide the working class that many activists lean toward a universal framework for making change. The problem with a universal framework is that what is dominant also gets called universal.

Racism, colonialism and heteropatriarchy are just as complex as capitalism, and they are tied up with that economic system.  In Victoria, for instance, when capitalism started taking off in the later part of the 19th century, capitalists began enclosing land at a rapid rate.  Local indigenous people were criminalized, forced out of the city and onto reservations, and became targets of genocide.  In particular, indigenous women became subject to intensive policing and violence (and still are).  Indigenous peoples had ties to the land, so enclosing land and making private property meant breaking these ties.  The racist hierarchy and the Chinese head tax was absolutely central in creating a cheap labour pool for factories and infrastructure projects like the railroad.  A patriarchal and racial hierarchy was created in Victoria and elsewhere in North America, with indigenous people and black people at the bottom, Asian people (sometimes above them) and white people at the top.

There were debates about the relative positions of the “red, yellow, black and brown” races, but of course the consensus was that white people were at the top.  This is part of white supremacy: whiteness is associated with cleanliness, civility, goodness, intelligence, and progress.  People of colour are associated disease, savagery, evil, stupidity, and backwardness.  This hierarchy has been strengthened and reproduced not only by policy, but by popular culture.  It has powerfully shaped Canadian consciousness, especially that of white people.  And this racist, hierarchical structure is still around: indigenous people and people of colour are more often arrested and incarcerated in Canada.  They are more often targets of violence and rape.  White men are still the most common heroes and protagonists in TV and film.  Today, racialized global apartheid and border imperialism divides families and communities into labour pools in accordance with the needs of capitalism (there’s a reason that temporary foreign workers come to Canada from the Global South, and not the other way around).

This actually-existing racism isn’t because of ‘prejudice;’ it’s because the racist structure of Canadian society (and global capitalism) is still intact, despite declarations that we’re all equal now.  In some ways, structural racism has strengthened.  Indigenous people are still denied access to and control over their territories, and their communities are the most frequent targets of environmental racism, where huge projects like the tarsands dump their toxic waste.  White flight from cities has created ‘food deserts’ where communities of colour have no access to fresh food.  Gentrification systematically pushes out poor people of colour to make room for white yuppies.  These are not accidents, but they’re also not caused by a few bad racists either.  They happen because mainstream North America is based on a racist, colonial, patriarchal, ecocidal and capitalist structure.

This structure is where white privilege comes from.  It comes from a centuries-long process where policies, law, policing, popular culture, and economics have come together to systematically privilege white people.  This racist structure hasn’t gone away just because Canada has declared that we’re all equal now, or because some people of colour are rich now.  What this has done is make the racist structure harder to see and understand (especially for white people), creating the perception that “we’re all equal now” and generating anxieties that white people are now disadvantaged, because certain policies (like affirmative action) don’t treat everyone equally.

If you’re a white person who has been raised in mainstream Canadian society (like I am) then you’re racist.  I’m racist.  And I benefit from white privilege.  That doesn’t mean I’m evil.  It means I accept that racism is everywhere in our society; it’s the basis of “Canada;” it’s not some rare accident that happens every once in a while when I say the wrong thing.  It has shaped my sense of who I am, how I relate to people, and how I deal with conflict.  At my worst, when I’m embodying the cliché‎ of whiteness, I’m entitled, defensive, guilt-ridden, and condescending.

A recent article by Sarah Milstein points to some of the ways that white people can address our own racism:

  1. Recognize that even when your good intentions are truly good, that’s totally meaningless.
  2. If you feel defensive when talking about race with a woman of color or reading about race in a piece written by a woman of color, assume the other person is saying something especially true
  3. Look for ways that you are racist, rather than ways to prove you’re not.

The upshot of this structural understanding of racism is that it’s not the end of the world when I say something racist.  That doesn’t let me off the hook; it means that it’s bound to happen, and what matters is how I address it, and learn from it, and make myself accountable to the folks pointing it out.  Or alternatively: how I get defensive, argue, justify, explain my good intentions, and become the cliché‎ of a white guy who can’t even acknowledge his own shit.

Acknowledging racism and being accountable when we’re called out is just a way to avoid being a giant asshole; it’s not a path towards an active, anti-racist politics.  Because racism is a structure, it needs to be challenged structurally–‘out there’ as well as ‘in here.’  Saying that is easy, but this is way more complicated (and more demanding) than just avoiding white defensiveness.

A friend recently suggested that I should shut the fuck up about love and trust and radicalism and just embody those values, if I care about them so much.  Maybe the same goes with racism and the other oppressive systems I benefit from: I need to struggle with them, and feel it, and dig deep into myself, and I’m much better at reading and writing and thinking.  I’m becoming more and more ambivalent about my own writing on oppression and activism.  It’s not that writing is useless, and we should all stop reflecting on practices, but does this reflective work do the unsettling, discomforting work we talk about, or are we narrating our own I-know-better-than-you-ness?  Does this writing on structural racism end up creating more distance between ‘those people’ who don’t know yet and myself (who says he didn’t know before but now he does)?  Smack-downs and quippy truths feel good, but if unlearning racism is about discomfort, maybe my words should be less comfortable (this paragraph was the hardest to write).  How can white folks write and talk and learn about racism collectively, and fumble around together, rather than setting ourselves as up as teachers or knowers or allies?

I’m not an active anti-racist organizer, and that fact makes me uncomfortable too.  It’s even more uncomfortable to disclose it publicly, while writing about racism.  But there are lots of inspiring, ongoing conversations and resources from experienced organizers:

Andrea Smith – The Problem with “Privilege”

Chris Crass – Let’s Build Liberation

Catalyst Project – Reflections and Thoughts on White Anti-Racist Organizing

Chris Dixon – Ten Things to Remember: Anti-Racist Strategies for White Student Radicals

19 responses to “Open Letter to WAC Victoria and others who equate racism with prejudice.

  1. you will receive none of that so long as your groupies cower away from the debate challenge we issued. “Social justice” is entirely about a group of subversive people whom think they are the judge and the jury. You have no authority for either, I think a neutral 3rd party should hear the evidence and make a decision. Tell you what we’ll even throw the facebook group in to the victor of the debate. You want something from us, and we want something from you, and it is a stalemate till your side decides to finally stop behaving like ignorant children throwing a tantrum.

  2. Great. I assume the “neutral 3rd party” will probably have to be white, and maybe male, and in no way subversive or connected to the social justice movement. Maybe Ron Paul could come do it…

    • I never said any of those things but I do not expect to have a “neutral 3rd party” full of social justice advocates either, hence why both parties choose since both parties would split the cost.

  3. are you not familiar with “conflict resolution process”? Or is violence more the social justice style of justice?

  4. I think most conceptions of conflict resolution (social justice and otherwise) do not conflate that process with a debate where one side is declared the winner.

  5. Who is this idiot that was too much of a coward to sign his real name to this bull shit article??? Must be one of those fake communist activists !

  6. Actually they do when someone is being accused of a crime.

  7. it’s either guilty or not guilty. What’s the matter, scared of who might be found guilty of the accusations?

  8. “Xtofury” is Ryan Elson. And I don’t debate wingnuts. http://xtofury.blogspot.ca

    • Yeah I bet zoe, guess you don’t want the facebook group then? You that fucking chicken? Bawk bawk bawk. She won’t debate because even with the stakes as they are there isn’t a sane person on this planet who wouldn’t see through tracy park’s extremist, derrick jensen, black bloc, anarchist, dgr and elf butt kissing lies. This is why she accused us of stalking when noone from wac bothered to disrupt her little coffee shop meetings, last time I checked our clashes occured entirely at public rallies. You do realize that there will be a debate, I will make one happen, regardless if it happens as proposed here or if it happens in a court, because I fully expect you to be held accountable and you eventually will. Also, for the record, zoe’s form of justice is violence by soliciting aid from black bloc, that is how your hero zoe handles things, and if it happens there’s a trail that clearly leads right back to you. So best of luck with your bs, in the meantime since you don’t feel like being civil we’ll give you a few weeks to simmer and then we shall see how victoria enjoys having ALL of your seedy connections revealed, I’ll start by plastering langford. You may find people do not like violence advocates, so enjoy. I don’t care how many black bloc you send my way, if I have to wheelchair my way door to door to show everybody your writings on violent people and violent movements. If I have to burn your idol derrick jensen and his entire end:civ and put one at every residence, I will.
      The real wingnut is the crazy lady, the anarchist tied in with the rainbow family for example, the lady with a criminal record for public nudity and other arrests (such as that time you are getting busted by 3 rcmp officers).
      Then to read your paranoid dellusions about agents following you around, hahahaha! Right!
      When it comes to credibility I think first and foremost criminal record checks would go a long way! Also I see allegations before of group lying to screw cops over, as well as involvement in that whole david eby scandal where his legal observers disappeared before the real mayhem started. Which indicates foreknowledge of the commission of a criminal act. If anything I’d have to say your affiliations, the violent groups you offer praise to, and all the fingers you’ve got in the activism pot makes you guilty as sin and one way or another victoria will know every scrap of the disturbing shit greg and I have been uncovering about you. Coward.

  9. Interesting read. To be clear we have ‘Marxists’,women, seniors, and yes non-white people in WeAreChangeVictoria who come to our meetings, events and on our email list.

    WACV is a non-partisan set of individuals who very clearly strive for 1) Property Rights, 2) Honest Money, 3) Non-violent Change, 4) Limited Government, 5) Alternative Media, 6) Liberty, 7) Legal Justice, 8) Public Awareness and Education, 9) Food Security, 10) Emergency Preparedness – as listed on our ‘Core Planks’ page on the website.

    More from our ‘About Us’ page: Our mandate is to raise awareness and encourage peaceful activism. Our members come from all walks of life, races and genders. Anyone is welcome to participate in We Are Change Victoria as long as they have a peaceful, positive attitude, are passionate about truth and justice and who do not break the principles outlined in our Code of Conduct or continually obstruct our group bylaws.

    We are pro-peace (anti-war), pro-freedom, pro-property rights, pro-environment, pro-people, pro-responsibility, pro-justice, pro-honest money, pro-preparedness, pro-individual, pro-liberty, pro-live your life as you choose through non-aggression and volunteerism without infringing on anyones else’s life, liberty, or property.

    We have a very public track record. We have made many wonderful friends and coalitions over the years and we continue to do so. We get a lot of invitations to locals events and we always put out best foot forward.

    We certainly oppose all forms of discrimination, prejudice, racism, and violence. Please do not assume that any individual speaks on behalf of everyone who attends our public WeAreChangeVictoria meetings, events, and activities.

  10. Reblogged this on Radical Tides and commented:
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  11. Great synopsis. WAC is actually providing a really great example of lots of flaws and problematics in many activist circles. So it’s nice to use them as a good practice board for dealing with ‘problem activists’ within our community. Because, as much as I would like to say they are not apart of my community, they ‘are’ a part of my responsibility to address. They speak the same populist rhetoric (not bad rhetoric, just language) as I/We do. So it’s a good way for me (and others), as a white male, to reflect on my own actions and how I may or may not perpetuate further racism knowingly or otherwise. And how to deal with what many great thinkers would call: assholes.
    I think the next sub-issue to address with the WAC’s is conceptions of violence, both in relation to modern western liberalism, and the manufacturing of consent for systemic violence that relieves us from responsibility. Resulting in what appears to be the illusion that people like Tracy Park… who’s chosen name ‘is’ Zoe Blunt express malicious intent for their individual actions whilst addressing a “greater” Kantian evil or ‘violence’.(i.e. killing an animal isn’t the worst thing you can do to an animal, or throwing a rock through a Goldcorp window may be warranted violence in relation to murdering Guatemalan indigenous, Ghandi would have used violence, though non-violence was more strategically useful, Che Guevara… the list goes on) Nick… you wanna write another one, jk. 😉 Luv ya!
    *heavy tones of patronization intended.

  12. “Ghandi would have used violence”. man that is just ridiculous on so many levels I am not even going to comment. What is wrong in your heads that you feel the need to advocate for violence and vandalism? Lovely connection that you’ve got! Funny how the rats comprising this web of social subversion come out of the wood work! The debate table has been offered but I doubt any of you violence preaching low lifes would take us up on our offer.

  13. xtofury, the tragic glory of heroes is that they reside on pedestals – and fall so easily once you have become acquainted with them.

    “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent.”

    “If the people are not ready for the exercise of the non-violence of the brave, they must be ready for the use of force in self-defense. There should be no camouflage… It must never be secret.”

    “He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour, by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden.”

    ~Mahatma Gandhi

    WACVictoria, I think there is a difference between a politics claimed and a politics performed. You may claim to oppose all forms of oppression, but sadly one of your members is harassing a solid community organizer, you unapologetically scheduled Doug Christie to speak, and are pro-property rights (which were the main legal tool for dispossessing Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen to fatten the bank accounts of the colonial elites, past and present). It is always hard to admit that we’re wrong, particularly if we are white and male. We white males spend our whole lives being told that we are right, being told that we deserve a lot of respect, attention, and an easy life. When we come to grips with being reduced to workers in a capitalist system, its easy to react by attempting to control our immediate environs, the people in our lives. It takes courage to reject this reactionary behaviour, to admit our ability to be wrong. Please, take the courageous path. Follow up on the suggestions at the end of this letter.

    • Matt, in this life i’d rather stick with the lot that are capable of things like forgiveness. Your consensus is not and i am sitting on a convo that i obtained where the consensus is deciding on illegal acts as a group. That entity in itself is criminal. It is a divisive, “left-only” entity with obvious connections to violent and radicalist groups. You sit here preaching violence, trying to convince others to favour it; which i think is absolutely vile and scummy. I think if i go to court the fact that i’ve captured information on what sort of things the consensus discusses and makes decisions on might be enough to implicate all of those whom are using ano ambiguous entity for cover. That is all i am going to say, the consensus is nothing but a conspiratorial, criminal, diseased beast that i want to have no part in deciding my future. Period. It’s dirty politics and violence advocacy are the exact reason why i think it’ll be great to have exposed, because the criminal entity called “social justice” will not be that which achieves ano enlightened humanity moving forward. It’s funny watching you guys twist in the wind, the popular public opinion is not in favor of occupy, you’ve done nothing but waste and “not apply the university training” most of you have. Tax dollar sponges, whom instead of being civil engages in random acts of terrorism on guys like doug christy (for over 20 years), dean fortin (smashing his home window and then the comments i see from sean orr and orthers are what i would call disturbingly supportive of criminal acts). If this winds up in violence i can tell you that based on my experience, only those who resort to it as a means of control and manipulation will end up losing. Josh has already had his children’s safety. From a stand point of morals and ethics your collective is patently sick! We’ve all gotten to experience it for ourselves first hand and now you think we’ll be intimidated into silence while the likes of you lay judge, jury and executioner? Blow me.

    • Ooh I’ve thought about this one for a while now. It seems social justice has some ethics issues. First it must stop promoting violence. Second it must stop trying to intentionally inflame the indigenous considering we’ve been able to figure out where the government money is going for students–to international governance school called cigi since 2001 which has been meddling with other school’s programs and is also behind indigenous geared university programs, sounds like a government planned small pox blanket to me! What makes the indigenous think they’ll have an easier time resisting the whims of an even larger government body that is based further away?

      Given this government’s history I wouldn’t trust anything they fund, to the tune of 34 million dollars. Cigi is funded by rim, government of all levels, power corporation (lol! Sure fire sign of corruption), research in motion, and soros! Cigi has a quarter billion in liquidity and a 60 million dollar campus in waterloo.

      Anyways your social justice movement is using the indigenous, making promises that will never stay kept once the power in won! Just like occupy had used the homeless. Play to the down trodden and like every other communist in a communist uprising, chuck them away once the agenda is accomplished, historically it is so and I really don’t think your lot to be any different.

      The elites are trying to close the trap on humanity and idiots like your koolaid crew are just the ones enabling it. Point being the centralization, and pretending like “collectivism” is exclusively the politics practiced by the indigenous.

      If you people really wanted to fix the situation you’d be considering all of the options, such as the real solution:

      That is to say the indigenous and anybody else that is sick of the oppressive boot should stop using money and stop enabling the system. In fact, given the treasonous behaviour of our own government engaging in activities which clearly undermine our nation’s sovereignty, I’d recommend the indigenous team up with the rest of us, who cares if some of us are white, we can all battle to retain our sovereignty together.

      But I am not on any collectivist’s side, I would like to have reason to work again, and “global government”, coersion, authoritarian government, will not be very compelling means for me. I didn’t vote for it, nobody in this country ever had a say, and that is deeply concerning. Canada has the best parcel of lands and resources moving forward into the future, we don’t have to fucking share with other nations, and I say we just boot all of these quacks to the curb.

      Aside from world governance I see that cigi is pushing geo-engineering. How does that play into your environmentalist equation when the very thing you are fighting for, is going to grant itself the power to geo-engineer? If it’s anything like how we’ve handled GMO’s, then humanity is assuredly heading for an epic disaster and nature is really going to pay the price! Violence is what happens when people want to step in another’s life and run it for them without giving that person an opportunity to be responsible on their own, and believe me that with your attitudes you will likely see it within your lifetime and more than likely will wind up regretting ever advocating for such a thing. This world can still get a lot more ugly, and I hope if you are the ones to drive people there you get back the violence 10 fold. If you were advocating for the right things and fighting back in the proper way, violence is not necessary at all. Maybe you lust for violence then? Violence is only ever ok in self defense. Just because I like a few things a man says or believes in, does not mean that such a person has never said anything their whole lives that I would disagree with.

      Maybe that’s your problem in the social justice movement, you don’t make individual choices you buy into whole packages/agendas. Which I find to be completely sickening considering the “educated” involved in occupy/defend our coast/red squares/INM. — you are all the same fucking people in all of these!

      I also hate liars. I’ve noticed that collectivists believe that sacrifice of truth and/or ethics to achieve the agenda is ok. I personally feel it is evil and will be demonstrable of the sort of future hell on earth that will be created at your movement’s collective hands.

  14. xtofury, it seems like did you not read the quotes by Ghandi that I included above. If not, please have a look, and allow me to ask what your thoughts are?

  15. Oh and change your blog name to “mono politics” it’s more fitting!

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