IDENTITY POLITICS AGAIN

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Thu Apr 20 12:20:54 MDT 1995


Thanks, J-B. It's good to finally persuade, or remind, someone of
something. Reed is indeed one of the people I was thinking of.

You ask why white intellectuals ought to be more sensitive about
criticizing Black movements and leaders than vice versa. Of course white
writers and thinkers can make a helpful contribution. Mike Davis is a good
instance. It helps that he has a sterling record of anti-racist struggle.
But the general reason concerns the asymmtry of power between Blacks and
whites as well as general respect for self-determination. When Black
intellectuals criticize white supremacy, they address something to which
they are subject and know from the inside out. When whites, even radical
intellectuals, tell off Blacks, there is a risk of that _being_ a
manifestation of white supremacy, or being perceived as such. And in our
segregatede society, whites often don't know what they're talking about.

I don't think this is a reason for whites _not_ to participate in critical
dialgue with Black movements and intellectuals, or to be scared off by
reflex nationalist race-baiting by Blacks who expect all whites to butt
out or tail abjectly. It is a reason to proceed cautiously and
respectfully and to remain aware of the limitations of any white
contribution to Black self-organization.

One nice thing about attacking the Bradleys, Barrys, Youngs, Wilson
Goodes, etc. is that since they are public figures whose actions affect
whites no less than Blacks there is rather less need for restraint. They
can be trashed as capitalist politicos as well as race traitors (not
our--white radical's job).

--Justin Schwartz

On Wed, 19 Apr 1995, jones/bhandari wrote:


> I largely stand corrected by Justin.  I was thinking of a progressive radio
> station's support here for the nonsense of African Liberation weekend.
> Many of the columns which Justin refers to, I bet, were written by Adolph
> Reed, Jr. who for example did critcize Andrew Kopkind for naively accepting
> Jesse Jackson as a black leader.
....
But as for the general
> tenor of dissenting magazines, Justin is doubtless right.
>

> Justin raises the real point of white paternalism.   As part of the larger
> problem of the relationship of intellectuals to everybody else, yes, this
> is a very real problem (has anyone read Max Nomad's diatribes against
> intellectuals).
>
> How this problem is more complex when the intellectual is white and the
> ordinary people are African-Americans is not clear to me--I am not sure it
> is any more complex at all.   Certainly few of us would have trouble with
> African-American intellectuals criticizing Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh:
> an example of preventing the white masses from liberating themselves? So
> what is the problem when it is visa-versa?  Clarification here would be
> appreciated.
>
....
If a (white)  intellectual can
> help to  clarify the critique of a (black) reactionary or a (black) mayor
> (as if his or her color mattered), that will not thereby make the
> revolution, and it won't necessarily be paternalistic. It could just be
> helpful.
>
> As for Justin's point about attacking more powerful leaders than Farrakhan,
> I think that he is right. Very right.  And here Mike Davis taught many of
> us quite a bit about the Bradley and Riordan regimes.
>
> As for my suggestion that SOME white leftists are happy to have their
> knowledge of  African-American people come to them through a few select
> leaders, then I fear that I am right. Well, Reed is right; he makes this
> point all the time.  Enough is not being done to fight what is still an
> apartheid society.
>
> Comradely,
> Rakesh
>
>
>
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