It Takes a Certain Strength to Be a Human Being, Or, the Fragmentation of Meaning in Baltimore

Explaining how something becomes possible does not require that the ‘something’ in question be explained away. Many of the non-violent protestors and would-be spokespersons for the events in Baltimore have not made this distinction.

From the view in New Jersey, there seems to be an acute fragmentation of perception and understanding about the tactics and interpretation of the events in Baltimore. As the Times reported, a young member of the Crips noted that gangs had temporarily unified to protect Black businesses from looting. I mention this only to note that this suggests a level of tactical awareness among some of the protestors inclined to destroy private property. That Chinese and Arab businesses in these communities are also, globally speaking, marginalized, is a point that James Baldwin deals with at length in “Negros Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” This points to a contradiction in the tactics in Baltimore.

It is a tactical error among protestors in any situation to segment themselves into color-based blocks. This fact stings with a particular venom in ghettoized Black communities where the Black (male) body is simultaneously a target of police-surveillance. The appearance of the Black male body in the city is inseparable from the appearance of the suspect in the eyes of the police. This occurs at the same moment when Police Chiefs of ghettoized cities across the country deny the importance of race full stop. ‘We only see Blacks in these communities: Blacks are victims and criminals; how can police be racist?’ they ask. Perhaps this is because the police cannot and do not wish to see themselves. For no matter what the force’s racial composition, policing-of-the-ghetto-from-without is a white concept, a white power structure.

What do I mean by whiteness? And how, if I have just said that the colorline cannot be the line that guides mobilization, can we destroy whiteness while uniting in solidarity with all oppressed persons? Simply: whiteness is not a cultural identity the way Blackness in America is one. Whiteness has no history apart from the history of oppressing a group and telling that group, “I am white and you are X.” To the extent that poor working and non-working Americans of European or Arab or Asian descent agree that they are ‘white’ or that they adhere to the markers of whiteness: ownership, cultural oppression of others, sexism, elitism, they reaffirm the reality of whiteness in America. These are the minds that are most destroyed, most pitiful in their bad-faith efforts, for the are the minds of the self-colonizing. On the flip side, all capitalists are white. This point is so obvious that it hardly needs saying.

For there never was a man so white as the President of the United States if he allows a war in his own nation to continue (the very idea of a thing called Presidency is a white idea). There never was a man so white as to participate in the assault of firefighters and medics who are attempting to mitigate the destruction and suffering of other marginals. Notice, I say the firefighters and the medics: it is the direction one applies her energies that determines one’s ‘color.’ Either one is for community or one is for oppression. Color in America is the metaphor of oppression; and do not let yourselves believe that a metaphor cannot draw blood.

The white man is the man who attacks another man. The human being is the man who destroys that which destroys others: human beings may break the windows of a chain department store, or they may put out a community center that is raging in flames. But they do not aim to hurt men simply to make them hurt.

The human being who strikes to equalize power can have no color. This person does not seek to harm, but liberate. The white man strikes at targets indiscriminately with a view to enrich his own power over others, to dominate, to colonize minds. In the process, he colonizes himself.

It should be sufficiently clear by now that anyone can be white with a little hatred; one doesn’t even need money. But it takes a certain kind of strength to be a human being. The police officer who laid down his gun and took off his helmet to join the protestors renounced his whiteness. We need more people to renounce their whiteness in this way, while understanding that a few rallies–or even a few ‘riots’ as they have been called–will not be enough to dismantle the white police.

This leads me to address the confusing role that some of the anarchists in Baltimore have played in interpreting the events. A poster named “ACAB” on anarchist news seems to miss entirely what an anarchist principle of resistance is and what its goals might be. In long and rambling narrative of the night of 25 April, the writer confounds the Baltimore police, the National Guard, and (implication) all capitalist businesses in a conglomerate of “the State.” The author suggests that every aggression against a police offer is also a unified aggression against the failed State.

It is true that whatever idea of a state there is in Baltimore has failed to act as anything other than a surveillance force. But the problem remains that “the State” does not exist. That may be its greatest failure. It is ironic, then, that the main wellspring of action for this anarchist is the synthetic totality of the State. Would she have to think harder about her actions and her tactics if there was no unity to destroy? Has she not made herself an object, a mere battering ram against any target whatever? Indeed, it is more alarming, more agonal, more terrifying, to contemplate that there is no master agent, no co-ordination, no unified intention among those who hold power over us and oppress us. In short, the concept of the State is fantasy of power. It is the very fantasy that enables the idea of the riot, another fantasy of totality.

For those who identify with white power, the riot (from about 1935 in the US) is a term that attempts to totalize differentiated actors (with different personal interests, aims, and outlooks) into a single object, a single-minded Other unified by a lack of individuality. The alternative is to posit that the revolutionary riot is predetermined in its outcome, which is basically to posit another fantasy of external control over oneself. To fantasize that one abandon one’s self to the riot displays an acute tendency of the self-colonized mind.

But I have already gone on too long to begin to discuss how problematic is the mindless interchanging of ‘protestors’ with ‘rioters.’

Now, a concluding word. The tactical impulse displayed by those gang members who have organized to protect children and local businesses have it half right. (If only those people had to courage to admit to one another that they were human beings and not gang Crips or Bloods!) We need protection from domination and there is no better way to do that than from the standpoint of community. The alternative is police domination imposed from without, of white oppression, of our invisibility apart from our brief appearance on the streets and in the courts as mere objects-of-governance.

Upon close inspection, all will find that the money that changes hands in Chinese bodegas and Black bodegas does not itself change color. To be against capital is to be against all capital. To be against whiteness is to be against those who seek to dominate, to own, to oppress, to harm for harm’s sake. The idea of arbitrary color-unity has wrought more destruction in this country than any other precisely because it has enabled capital to keep oppressed groups isolated from one another. And we supply the labor in their stores and in policing our own minds.

We must develop our community in solidarity with all of the oppressed in all of their various situations. This is our only hope. All: renounce your whiteness, and renounce your hatred.