28 May 2012

Capitalism sexism racism

The pamphlet Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation has been circulating in Occupy Oakland circles. It is long, smart, provocative, radical, and well worth the time it takes to read it.

Speaking of capitalism as though it were somehow separable from racist exploitation, gendered violence, and the gamut of complex oppressions facing us in this world, confines antiracist and antipatriarchal struggle to the sphere of culture, consciousness, and individual privilege.
Understanding racism as primarily a matter of individual racial privilege, and the symbolic affirmation of marginalized cultural identities as the solution to this basic lack of privilege, is the dominant and largely unquestioned form of anti-oppression politics in the US today. According to this politics, whiteness simply becomes one more “culture,” and white supremacy a psychological attitude, instead of a structural position of dominance reinforced through institutions, civilian and police violence, access to resources, and the economy.
For too long individual racial privilege has been taken to be the problem, and state, corporate, or nonprofit managed racial and ethnic “cultural diversity” within existing hierarchies of power imagined to be the solution. It is a well-worn activist formula to point out that “representatives” of different identity categories must be placed “front and center” in struggles against racism, sexism, and homophobia. But this is meaningless without also specifying the content of their politics. The US Army is simultaneously one of the most racially integrated and oppressive institutions in American society. “Diversity” alone is a meaningless political ideal which reifies culture, defines agency as inclusion within oppressive systems, and equates identity categories with political beliefs.
Communities of color are not a single, homogenous bloc with identical political opinions. There is no single unified antiracist, feminist, and queer political program which white liberals can somehow become “allies” of, despite the fact that some individuals or groups of color may claim that they are in possession of such a program. This particular brand of white allyship both flattens political differences between whites and homogenizes the populations they claim to speak on behalf of. We believe that this politics remains fundamentally conservative, silencing, and coercive, especially for people of color who reject the analysis and field of action offered by privilege theory.
The absurdity of privilege politics recenters antiracist practice on whites and white behavior, and assumes that racism (and often by implicit or explicit association, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia) manifest primarily as individual privileges which can be “checked,” given up, or absolved through individual resolutions. Privilege politics is ultimately completely dependent upon precisely that which it condemns: white benevolence.
The one month Occupy Oakland encampment was blamed by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and its city government partners for everything from deepening city poverty to the failure of business led development, from the rats which have always infested the city plaza to the mounting cost of police brutality. An encampment which fed about a thousand people every day of its month-long existence, and which witnessed a 19% decrease in area crime in the last week of October, was scapegoated for the very poverty, corruption, and police violence it came into existence to engage.
In a complete reversal of 60s-era militant antiracist political movements, we are told by these politicians and pundits that militant, disruptive, and confrontational political actions which target this city bureaucracy and its police forces can only be the work of white, middle class, and otherwise privileged youths.
We are told that the victims of oppression must lead political struggles against material structures of domination by those who oppose every means by which the “victims” could actually overthrow these structures. We are told that resistance lies in “speaking truth to power” rather than attacking power materially. We are told by an array of highly trained “white allies” that the very things we need to do in order to free ourselves from domination cannot be done by us because we’re simply too vulnerable to state repression. At mass rallies, we’re replayed endless empty calls for revolution and militancy from a bygone era while in practice being forced to fetishize our spiritual powerlessness.

I give you those quotes to whet the appetite. The pamphlet merits reading in its entirety.

For readers unfamiliar with the context, the allusions to “safety” reference an ongoing activist discussion of how actions which risk confrontation with police are affected by racism, since these confrontations have gentler stakes for activists in a position of privilege (White, male, cisgender, bourgeois, able-bodied, et cetera) than for people of color, women, trans people, the poor, the disabled, et cetera. Thus many activists argue that proposals of confrontational action reflect “privilege”, and the movement should avoid these tactics out of respect for the “safety” of movement participants who are people of color et cetera. (I haven't been able to find a link to a good articulation of this argument; if any of my readers can, I'd appreciate a link.) This pamphlet disagrees, saying that systemic injustice means that one cannot secure “safety” for oppressed people without vigorous political action, so that this argument for safety takes effective tools away from the movement and therefore supports systemic oppression.

I don't know. I need to think about this for a bit. Three things give me pause.

I respect its anticapitalist critique, and have made many of the same noises myself. At the level of consciousness-raising, we have too little radical criticism of capitalism out there. But at the level of political action, anti-capitalism isn't a program; you need to be pro-something-else. And I don't have a good image of what post-capitalist order I would advocate. The authors of “Who Is Oakland” don't offer one either. Advocating more vigorous and effective action without a positive program is profoundly unsatisfying. Not that I have any answers of my own to offer ... which leads me to value consciousness-raising more than the authors of the pamphlet evidently do, so that we can work on the problem of finding a positive program to advocate.

I also distrust the deliberate vagueness about what more-vigorous actions it proposes. I have a deep skepticism about political violence; it isn't just more vigorous and effective than non-violence, it takes us to a different place altogether, a place where I hesitate to go. I believed from early on that Occupy should explicitly reject violence and vandalism in order to remain a popular movement because these tactics alienate too many Americans. But advocates for vandalistic actions compelled Occupy Oakland to accept a “diversity of tactics” principle, and as a result has not been able to counter people pointing to the actions of vanguardists (and almost certainly provocateurs) to discredit the movement. So the pamphlet's hints that it supports confrontational activism arouses my skepticism.

And I find myself very conscious that my hand-wringing over these questions reflects a characteristically White guy move.

So: Food for thought.

21 May 2012


Black Widow asks:
Loki? The “trickster god”? Who tricked who?

20 May 2012

The best TV show

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is better than The Wire, according to a man who should know: David Simon, the creator of The Wire.

We thought some prolonged arguments about what kind of country we’ve built might be a good thing, and if such arguments and discussions ever happen, we will feel more vindicated in purpose than if someone makes an argument for why The Wire is the best show in years. (“Buffy,” by the way, was the correct answer to that particular bracketfest.)

That, of course, is just an aside on the way to talking insightfully about much more important things. Click through for more David Simon awesomeness. (And I've found the New York Times interview, and then the follow-up interview he alludes to. If you care about this stuff, you may want to read those first.)

Worth reading. But I disagree with Simon about one thing: I love love love Buffy, and the episode “The Body” is the single best hour of television ever made, but The Wire is far and away the best TV show I've ever seen.

Update: Still.

17 May 2012

Check your sources

So this plan to swiftboat Obama in the 2012 election was just found and published by the New York Times.

In the words of Jeremiah Wright, “The chickens have come home to roost.”

You would think that people planning on attacking President Obama as being a Scary Black Man would know who most famously said that the chickens were coming home to roost. Come on, guys. If you're going to be evil racists, the least you can do for America is do it properly.

10 May 2012

Global climate change denial debunking

Skeptical Science offers an index of answers to common arguments by global warming deniers.


Imagine my total lack of surprise at learning that the Bush administration apparently never debated the Iraq war, they just bulled their way into it.

In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course. Moreover, the administration engaged in active measures to avoid scrutiny of its intentions, with the president repeatedly claiming there were no war plans "on his desk." The testimony of senior British military officers to the United Kingdom's Iraq Inquiry (the Chilcot commission), documented in the Archive's analyses, explicitly demonstrates that even America's closest ally was closed out of the CENTCOM planning until “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was far down the road.

Also in contrast to the military planning, there is no record that the Bush administration crafted any plan to attain its goals by means other than covert operations or war.

I have worked in organizations which made “decisions” that way myself.

04 May 2012

How to make a great product

This is an update to the diagram from my old article about product development roles.

Engineering, design, marketing, and executive leadership all act as advocates for the different elements of a successful product or service — product management is the role that brings it all together.

03 May 2012


The clock's ticking before Avengers comes out. With my skills in Advanced Jossology, I have been trying to predict how the movie is going to go. But most of it isn't a challenge, given what we already know: there will be banter, there will be them Learning To Be A Team, et cetera. And unsurprisingly, Joss has confessed that he loves S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson, because Clark Gregg is just his kind of actor, so there's no magic in being able to call that Coulson will get some good stuff in this movie.

But I have two little predictions that I'd like to have on the table, to see if I can call it right.

Number one, I know that Joss is in love with Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. When I saw him speak at ComiCon, he took a question from the audience and was beside himself when he realized that the questioner was dressed as her. When he wrote Astonishing X-Men, the story became Kitty Pryde Saves The World. So while Fox still holds the rights to movie adaptations of the X-Men, and Joss has said that he doesn't want to lard the movie up with too many inside jokes for Marvel Comics fans, I think he won't be able to resist a wink toward her. I'm imagining someone saying, “All this firepower and what we need right now is someone who can walk through walls.”

Number two, we know that Joss likes his Strong Woman Characters, but the only female Avenger we have is Black Widow. (I'm guessing that he lobbied hard to get The Wasp, too, but no luck.) And she's really just a non-super human being with spy and kung fu skills and a few little gadgets. How's that going to work?

I have a theory. You know that moment in the trailer where they are all standing in a circle? Hulk roars, Thor hefts Mjölnir, and Black Widow racks the slide on a little pistol? A friend was mocking that, talking about how a Glock just didn't rate compared to Iron Man's armor. But think about Batman when he's serving in the Justice League — him being a normal human being keeping pace with superheroes through wit and grit makes him the most badass of them all. Joss is going to find a way to sell Black Widow to us in the same way.

I'm picturing a scene something like this:

Captain America (to Black Widow)
No offense, ma'am, but I'm not comfortable bringing someone into this battle who doesn't have ... advantages ... like the rest of us.

Iron Man
She's tougher than she looks. But I feel protective toward her, too.

Black Widow
(Walking up to Iron Man. Sultry.)
Think I can't take you, Mr. Stark?

Iron Man
I thought you'd never ask.

Widow puts her hands on Iron Man's shoulders, and they exchange a look. Then in a dizzying flash of badass martial arts moves, she strikes his armor in a few key points and steps back, looking smug. Iron Man, to his obvious consternation, is frozen stock still.

Iron Man
Uh ... guys?

Do you have a way to take out all of us?

Want to find out?

(big grin, throwing up his hands)
I'll keep my dignity, thank you.

Bruce Banner
Me too, if it comes to that?

Absolutely, Dr. Banner.

When we get to that moment from the trailer in the actual movie (no doubt after Captain America bellows “Avengers assemble!” for the first time) we're going to be thinking, “Wait, she was badass enough barehanded, and now she's got a gun!?!