The identity politics born out primarily by the group APOC (Anarchist People of Color, Illvox) to discuss race within the context of the anarchist movement, has been a major part of anarchist discourse since around 2002 when the APOC network was formed.
Beyond this narrow understanding of identity in terms of the language of “political correctness” is an effective strategy. The strategy one should aim for is past identity politics altogether in a land where comrades seek to empower all members of the anarchist community and have respect for their comrades and themselves.
Sitting in an identity politics workshop led by an APOC chapter, however, you might wonder if it is even okay to speak your opinions on identity if you are a white person. This is the legacy white anarchists have inherited from white activists from the 60s, who sought to be “allies” to other peoples’ struggles, which usually took on a strictly anti-imperialist form. This is still the primary form white peoples’ activism takes on today. However, the anti-imperialist platforms are not necessarily anarchist (and usually not.) I tell people I am anti-imperialist because I am an anarchist.
I look around the room during an APOC workshop and see the guilt-stricken faces of white people all around me. All the white people in the room are quiet. What are they thinking right now? Perhaps my opinions have already been heard since I am white? Perhaps I should let someone else speak instead? How should I phrase what I am about to say so that I won’t be perceived as ‘privileged’ or ‘inconsiderate’? How can I express myself without on some level trying to conceal myself? Finally a white person cannot conceal themself any longer and decides to talk about the problem white guilt. He asks the group whether he should feel guilty or angry about it. The group responds by answering something along the lines of, “Only you can decide that.” Is this a therapy session? – I wonder to myself.
Not that there’s anything wrong with group therapy. But I wonder if the white people present are falling into a cycle, one that is no stranger to leftist movements past and present.
Today identity politics can only be thought politically, because all thought is touched by the politics of identity-being, either as its promotional content or mode of concealment.
And yet, if we are fated to experience the full meaning of the “identity politics” society has created, and if we are destined to be fully aware of the implications of abandoning politics as anarchists, then this should also indicate that a counter-movement is already in motion by militant anarchists of all colors and identities.
Identity politics is a fatal strategy since it does not push the milieu to greater understanding, but rather, separation. At any rate identity politics is largely navigated by the activist left, as evidenced by most articles on the Illvox website, and most the chatter on social media about identity politics. See for example, “Five Things White Activists Should Never Say.”
Identity politics cannot overcome the identity-isms which society created for itself, and by extension, inherited by the anarchist milieu. That discourse succeeded in bringing issues of privilege and entitlement to the forefront of the white activist, non-profit complex. It introduced guilt to white ally-activists when they realized they did not have enough people of color in their rank-and-file. However, this strategy also succeeded in bringing an anti-political tendency (anarchism) back into the framework of purely political speech, and a post-leftist milieu (anarchism) back into the framework of the anti-racist left.
But identity politics, the fatal strategy, is unconditionally in service to this political machine of recuperation – always giving into its decisions, its promotions, its biases. What does it mean to really practice anarchism, instead of merely vying for anarchism politically?
A person at the APOC workshop poses the question: “How can a ‘safe space’ exist in an unsafe world?”
(Check out Open Letter to a White Student Movement.) What this does is impress the “safe space” discourse and the inverse hierarchy of privilege onto the group consciousness. In the context of “pro-revolutionary struggle,” to think some people are less entitled to revolutionary action than others is a fatal strategy.
Let’s look at who uses the safe space discourse. At this APOC workshop in Seattle many of the annoying people were not actually aware that they were attending a workshop at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair. They dropped in from liberal academic group listings, or from non-profit style organizations. The most annoying person there, I found out later she was a Christian missionary who had white guilt written all over her. Did she come to APOC’s workshop to learn how to be a white Christian person among unsaved people of color? There are some questions you do not need to ask to know the answers to.
I would like other anarchists in the Northwest, whether or not APOC is your forte, to consider some personal questions. What does it mean to accept this milieu for what it is, and to accept yourself for who you are? It seems the challenge is, how can you not think of yourselves politically, when politics is all there is to think? What does it mean to have self-respect, not respect for a different hierarchy of identities? What does it really mean to live out human destiny under the decidability of yourself?
Yo, take action!