I’ve billed myself as an Anarchist for a long while now. I’ve fought against a lot of people who have claimed that Anarchism was individualistic and that it is wholly anti-state. I’ve tried to salvage the term repeatedly from the the white-centric idea that Anarchism is the more prominent “saltine anarchism” or white anarchism, that abounds in philosophy classes and high minded discussion groups.
Two days ago, I made a post about white people not being Anarchists, specifically that it is impossible for us to be Anarchists. As per usual, this post evoked a number of fragile white reactions, which was not unexpected, and very much a tangential point of the post. The main point, however, was more important and one I’ll try to describe in more detail now.
To understand this, you have to first understand whiteness and social conditioning. We could go in depth about social hierarchies and privilege, but lets try to keep this as simple as possible right now. We live in a society that has tried, desperately, to pretend that life is “color blind.” Making the assumption that if we don’t see color, all the wrongs of racism will somehow fade away and the world will be this bright and shining beacon of justice and fairness.
This whole idea is utter bullshit. No white person ever claimed to be color blind because they thought it made the world a better place. White people claim to be color blind when it suits us because by doing so we escape any responsibility for our racist behavior. This racist behavior stems from the racist society that formed our worldview.
Just like white people, the greater society is not color blind in the lease and it never was. It isn’t aspiring to be color blind either, at least not for any benevolent goal. No, color blind is and always has been a freezing agent employed to disarm attempts at pointing out the inequality and oppression in our society. The idea acts as a mechanism that maintains the status quo, and that status quo is the one in which white people are supposedly superior to all others. One in which white people by and large hold all the resources and influence.
The idea that everyone is raised the same, has the same opportunities, develops the same basic worldview, receives the same support, can create the lives they want if they only “work hard enough,” and is the master of their fate, is a facade. Its a lie. It is color blind rhetoric meant to silence victims of oppression and make those with privilege feel like we earned it. It is a means of justifying racism by dismissing the hand-ups society gives to some people, white people, and pretending like our position in the world is entirely based on our own merit.
To add insult to injury this idea developed at the end of hundreds of years of white people getting rich on the backs Black people and the land of Indigenous people. We, white people, built a society in which we already held power, resources and influence and then, when the people we brutalized grew loud enough in their demands, our society, white society, gave them nothing but hardship while tearing down any and every attempt to make their lives better.
Turn the page a could of decades and we, in our infinite white wisdom, created the idea of being color blind, while BBI people were still reeling from blatant systematic oppression that disrupted all attempts to climb the social ladder. We, the benevolent white people, decided that hardship and poverty were the measure of a person’s merit, or lack there of. Hardship and poverty, which were the result of centuries of exposure to systems of brutality and oppression, systems that we created to benefit us, suddenly, defined someones merit via an individuals social position. Suddenly, race had nothing to do with it, or so we said. We pretended that the blatant racism and systems that still exist to this very day had nothing to do with social position at all. After all, that wouldn’t be color blind, would it?
This little fact of course allowed us, the wonderful white folk, to continue on justifying our systematic racism, although we didn’t call it racism anymore because we were targeting people living with the effects of centuries of systematic oppression based on race, but not now, ostensibly, targeting them specifically because of their race. This continued on bolstering our delusion that we were superior, because all the merit system pointed to it, almost by design some might think.
This of course worked out great for white society, because when you are color blind the systems that destroy potential and disrupt community don’t get counted. The systems treat everyone the same in a color blind society, right? We are in an individualistic, merit based system now, so it doesn’t matter how much society is designed to destroy you, if you can’t over come all the hardships, scorn, brutality, and literal roadblocks thrown up in your way, that’s your problem. Somehow, you deserve it because that is what the system of merit says…
Mean while, white people are appraised on the “same scale” as per the universal rules of color blind, except we don’t have any of those systematic oppressors baring down on us. Again, we excuse this because we are just that fuckin good… At worst we, the wonderful whites, live in a society that is apathetic to our goals. In no way do we live in a society specifically designed to destroy our very will to exist, but none of that matters, because its about merit and not race, so says color blind rhetoric.
But, what does all this have to do with me being, or more aptly, aspiring to be, an Anarchist? What does this have to do with the post I made two days ago?
We do not live in a color blind society. People in this society are treated very differently, regardless of our class, gender, sexuality, physical or mental abilities, etc, etc. When you are born, no one knows if you are gay, trans, mentally or physically able, but they know if you’re white. Like it or not every single one of us white people experiences the same fundamental conditioning around our race. Every single one of us, no matter if we are born to obscene wealth or obscene poverty, is conditioned to be white.
Now I know, a lot of you are reading this and thinking; I know this already, and you probably do. But we “know” it. It is some ethereal factoid floating around our brain. It is a conscious knowledge that has no effect on the subconscious conditioning that we’re hardly aware of, if we’re aware of it at all.
The reality is that white people are not conditioned to the kind of oppression necessary to truly understand the nature of Anarchism. We cannot conceptualize a world free from oppression, because we lack a total comprehension of what oppression really is.
Are many of us oppressed on some other line of oppression? Yes, undoubtedly. But, then, even in that oppression, we still have our privilege to fall back on, don’t we? We are still members of a society that has been whispering in our ears since the delivery room florescent lights first shined down upon us, that we are different from “them.” That we are better than “them.” That “they” are responsible for their own problems. That “they” are the “criminals” and “welfare queens.”
And no, society doesn’t always whisper it in so many words. Its more discrete than that. Its in the subtle tones and accusatory remarks. Its in the racist jokes that everyone in the all white group are laughing at. Its in the all white group itself. Its in the news stories and police reports. Its in the dual systems of “justice,” in which white people “made a mistake” and “shouldn’t have our potential ruined.” While, Black people are “criminals” and “deserve to be locked up.”
We learn to be white the same way we learn language. We observe the “normal” of our surroundings and it colonizes our mind. Humans in general are social beings, we form our identities, our sense of who we are, around this normal. We seek to belong to it, emulate it, and receive acceptance from it. White people with no other commonality to their surroundings always have the simple convenience that comes with being white. We always have that to fall back on and a white supremacist society that will welcome us into the fold with a loving embrace because we, as white people, will surely help protect the white privilege generated by BBI suffering.
White people, no matter how different we are from one another, share the privileged reality that comes with being white. This privilege disconnects us from real Anarchism and the act of striving towards Anarchism requires that we confront, dismantle and destroy the systems that generate that privilege.
How can we, as white people, claim to be Anarchists while those systems are eagerly waiting for us to return to them and carry on the systems of white supremacy?
How can we, as white people, claim to be Anarchists when, at any second, we can decide that we know better than those oppressed, and we just don’t feel like doing the work required of us?
How can we, as white people, claim to be Anarchists when we still see the world from the hyper individualized white point of view?
How can we, as white people, claim to be Anarchists when we are benefiting from the suffering and oppression of so many people?
We can reject our privilege all we want. We can claim that we are using our privilege to help those oppressed. We can pretend like we’ve crossed some imaginary line and could never ever return to being that typical, oblivious, white person who centers themself in every topic while dictating other’s oppression to them… We can lie to ourselves about a lot of things, and in those lies exists our white arrogance, stoking our ego, whispering “I’m not like other white people.” “I’m better than other white people.” “I know better than other white people.” “I know better than everyone….”
White people can’t be Anarchists, because every one of us is tainted by a society that has planted toxic seeds in the deepest recesses of our minds. We are ticking time bombs just waiting until we’ve had enough of this “degrading” and “humiliating” treatment to explode and reclaim our imagined birth right of praise, honor and superiority.
White people can’t be Anarchists, because being an Anarchist isn’t like flipping a switch; today I am, tomorrow I’m not. Today I’m Anti-racist, tomorrow I turn a blind eye. Today I fight against oppression, tomorrow “I don’t feel like it.”
Being an Anarchist is a mindset, it is a way of co-existing with other human beings, one which precludes privilege and the idea of being more important than others. White people in the world today just can’t exist on that level, but it doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it… To do that, we need enough humility, constant humility, to over come all the social pressures that inflate us. We need to be, and will always need to be, working against the current of our society. Should we fail, get tired, or simply not feel like it, we will be swept away by it, down stream, back to whiteness, as though we never left.
Being an Anarchist, striving to be an Anarchist, is not an easy thing. It is not so simple as calling yourself it, or reading a book, or just liking the idea. Its work, constant mental as well as physical work. It takes a kind of self policing and a lot of humility, because humility is required to listen, and we, the privileged people, with no bearings in a world of oppression, cannot get anywhere without being quiet and following the directions of those who know better.
So, no, white people can’t be Anarchists, but we can aspire to be and if you were ever inclined to blanket yourself in the label, then aspiring should be enough. “Aspiring” implies you know you have work to do, while “being” implies you’ve already done the work. Our work is never done, and so we aspire.