Neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention
– Adolph Reed, The limits of anti-racism, 2009
Contemporary movements of activism have provided massive representational gains for various oppressed groups, such as people of color. In 2018 we have more multicultural movie stars, legislators, and CEOs than ever. It’s almost impossible to deny the bolstered presence of marginalized folks in the marketplace of ideas.
Yet, since the most impactful forms of racist violence occur on a massive social scale, we cannot limit our understanding of racism to the plight of the individual. To fully understand the means by which we can eliminate racial stratifications, we must therefore look to the material conditions that breed systems of racism, not just microagressions and think-pieces.
Reflecting on the inability of non-profits and identity politics groups to achieve concrete, substantive reform that might curtail police violence and ensure greater democratic accountability, this presentation explores the ways in which racism and activism evolved in parallel. Traveling from the colonial invention of the white race to the neoliberal condition of present, What is to be Activismed? seeks to:
- Build a material analysis of racism
- Critique contemporary efforts of “anti-racism”
- Discuss how to meet people where they’re at
Critiquing the interpretation of contemporary organizing efforts in the framework of identity politics allows activism to liberate itself from liberal notions of race realism and realigns racism as materially conceived.
I did this presentation on September 20th, 2018 for the UNC Campus Y’s Portraits of Racism: Speaker Series & Workshop on Organizing Against Systemic Racism.
or the video:
Here’s a list of readings I used to build this presentation. These authors’ works don’t wholly represent my views, but they each contain valuable insight into the matters discussed. In no particular order:
- The Panthers Can’t Save Us Now by Cedric Johnson
- We Are the Left? Yeah, Right… by R.L. Stephens II
- The Birthmark of Damnation: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Black Body by R.L. Stephens II
- Marx, Race and Neoliberalism by Adolph Reed Jr.
- The limits of anti-racism by Adolph Reed Jr.
- Peak superhero? Not even close: How one movie genre became the guiding myth of neoliberalism by Keith A. Spencer
- How Race Is Conjured an interview with Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields
- RACE – The Power of an Illusion by PBS
- The FBI’s Secret War by Branko Marcetic
- How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth by Matt Bruenig and Ryan Cooper
- Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy by Rick Perlstein
- The Disturbing History of the Suburbs by Adam Conover
- Power Anywhere Where There’s People by Fred Hampton
- Give Up Activism by Andrew X
- Food Workers’ Strike (1968-1969) by UNC Libraries
- Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1 by Karl Marx
- The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by INCITE!
- The Invention of the White Race, Volumes 1 and 2 by Theodore W. Allen
- The matter of images : essays on representations by Richard Dyer
- Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
- Power in Movements Social Movements and Contentious Politics by Sidney G. Tarrow
- Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
I’d like to thank Trash Pup Dot Com Presents for the succinct and powerful images at the end of the presentation.
Additionally, I would like to thank Raleigh-Durham IWW for the galaxy brain meme idea.
The title of the presentation is a play on Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement
There’s a lot in this presentation that’s grossly oversimplified due to the time constraints of the presentation. As a result, I’m certain that I probably misstepped and missed a few dates or references. That being said, I firmly stand by the sentiment of this presentation: Don’t be an activist, be an organizer. If your goal is to eliminate racism, then you’ll have to do it through massive grassroots movements.
Lastly, if there’s anything on this presentation you would like to discuss with me, the best way is to message me on facebook. Thanks for reading!
Last Updated: 10/6/18