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Focus After Floyd: Excising Racerot in America

Almost instinctively we rush to the business of likening all forms of power—be it ICE or the military industrial complex—to that singular manifestation of four hundred years of racialized power in America; a habit which has produced effectively zero material gains for American Descendants of Slavery in the post-Civil Rights era. Why?

Seeing power everywhere and roundly condemning it is not an analysis of power. The startling diffuseness of state power we now behold is conditioned by the persistent lack of focus on how we actually begin siphoning it off in a way that truly transforms. And so now is when we need to let the specific power arrangement that has so uniquely shaped American life—one that is so distilled (and nakedly on display) in the knee-to-neck move that ignited a nation—be what shapes our political demands as the generation of white people that simply will no longer stomach that injustice, that will not be distracted from the Work.

This moment right now is so rich with potential reckoning, the road ahead so fertile with possibility for the sort of sacrifices that our parents and grandparents evidently felt weren’t necessary to make in order to heal the group whose wholesale exclusion from American life is what made possible our families’ opportune place within it. And to the extent that we say no to that arrangement—if we deep down hate it as much as we outwardly profess—then this is our chance to be absolutely leadfooted in driving forward the cause of reparations for American Descendants of Slavery and their black agenda. It is not a time to perform our capacity for empathy, or applaud a victory that constitutes some modest reform. It is the time for a sustained and unvacillating show of awareness that no piecemeal approach will root out the rot of race in our society. The solution is non-optional. Look outside.

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The Balance Line: America’s 21st Century Problem & the #ADOS Movement

In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois declared in his Address to the Nations of the World, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line [and] the question of how far differences in race…will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.”

It is of course evident upon reading this that Du Bois was not talking about any one country in particular. However, it would seem to require a special kind of detachment for a citizen of the United States—a country wherein the color line has so thoroughly and uniquely conditioned all aspects of national life (and done so at such great cost to one specific group)—to not consider that quandary in relation to our own nation. It arguably cries out to us more imploringly, more urgently, than to any place else upon the globe.

H.R.40—the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act—is (for all of its many flaws) at its core an appeal to provide as precise an answer as possible to the subject of targeted exclusion that Du Bois pondered over a century ago. And I would submit that if the problem of the twentieth century was the problem of the color line, then the problem of the twenty-first century for America is the balance line; that is, the sum total of those “differences in race” and how in our country in particular they have, across generations, been made to so rigidly delimit access to opportunity for a specific people. This is what H.R.40, in its most effective form, could survey and scrupulously enumerate. In so doing it would reify what has heretofore remained a dim and notional prospect. It would provide committed grassroots activists with a meaningful legislative lodestone they could then leverage and pressure elected officials, and it would constitute a significant first step on the road to transformational justice.

Yet for as critical as H.R.40 would be in realizing that objective—something that progressives have long and solemnly averred to want—it has historically received about as much interest in being taken up by lawmakers as a hornets’ nest might after being tossed into a room full of highly allergic children. That is, at least, until this past year.

In between the 115th Congress of 2017-18 and the 116th Congress of 2019-20, something unprecedented occurred. Co-sponsorship of H.R.40 surged by an astounding 285 percent, increasing from 35 to 135 signatories. This represents a seismic shift in support for a bill that, as recently as 2015’s Congressional session (a full 26 years after it was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers) could not manage to attract more than two cosponsors. And while analyses of this pronounced and abrupt spike in support for H.R.40 has specifically identified everything from a 2014 Ta-Nehisi Coates essay, to a book by Randall Robinson that was published in 2000, to the bill’s development under the decidedly languorous and doddery aegis of N’COBRA since 2001, such reasoning would seem to conceal more than it reveals.

Virtually unmentioned in the prevailing commentary about the degree of attention that reparations is presently receiving is the movement whose very essence has always been to seek that issue’s fulfillment. The American Descendants of Slavery movement (#ADOS)—cofounded in late 2016 by Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore—has taken the issue of reparations and reinjected it into the mainstream of U.S. political discourse, where it has hit like a syringe of epinephrine to the thigh. #ADOS alone has been responsible for the intensifying groundswell of energy around the long ignored matter of providing reparative justice for the group whose exclusion has served as the very grist of our nation’s great wealth. And for the predictable ensemble of notoriety hunters to attribute H.R.40’s present visibility to anything but #ADOS’s relentless and full-throated advocacy would seem to require a kind of double-jointedness of the intellect along with a bevy of ulterior intentions.

Indeed, much of #ADOS’s criticism of H.R.40 is that, in its present configuration, it is a piece of legislation ripe for the grift. Having been shaped principally by the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) and N’COBRA, the language of the bill gores the specific justice claim that is held by ADOS upon the U.S. government and in turn promotes an eligibility criteria so vague and inclusive as to be essentially useless. Moreover, it does this all while auguring a generous payout for the committee and its contractees that would be charged with carrying out the study. As Professor Sandy Darity at Duke University notes, if H.R.40 were to receive a hearing as is—and pass—it would effectively just call the hounds to the quarry.

Dr. Darity has been vocal in his opposition to the designs of these bad faith actors who—while ostensibly beating the drum of advocacy for repair—in fact seem to prefer incubating a nebulous idea of repair in some subcommittee. For whatever reason, they have shown no indication of incorporating the actionable recommendations that Dr. Darity has put forward for inclusion into H.R.40, ones that would ensure the integrity of the bill’s mission and, of course, appropriately remunerate the living descendants of American chattel slavery. Even as detractors of the movement and colleagues have sought to chide and dissuade Dr. Darity from any further involvement and association, he has continued to insist on the righteousness and singular viability of the #ADOS case for reparations. His decades of historical and economic research support that righteousness, and the framework of repair that he has developed would be—if implemented—what transforms H.R.40 from an insulting placebo of justice into a real curative for the group’s economic disrepair.

And to the extent that certain people feel the need to cast doubt on Dr. Darity’s associations in this space in the first place, they would perhaps do better to consider N’COBRA’s motivations for inviting him to speak at their symposiums and appear on their radio shows, using his cachet to boost their ticket sales and listenership only to then, in return, completely disrespect his research by putting his proposals for their H.R.40 bill on ice. That seems, to me, to be an arrangement that speaks to exactly the sort of grubby acquisitiveness in the handling of H.R.40 that Dr. Darity is looking to head off with his edits.

Ultimately, the #ADOS-Darity framework is the only way this thing sees even a sliver of light outside of subcommittee. White Americans will, without question, never support H.R.40 as it currently stands. Nor should we. Because, suffice it to say, those of us who are sympathetic to the cause of reparations have likely arrived at that position through an awareness that the whiteness by which our families derive and share advantage is a direct outcome of other families’ shared history of specific and targeted exclusion. Those families are ADOS. And the very least thing that we can do for those who’ve been excluded from meaningful participation in national life in such an incomparable way is to advocate from a position that it is they alone who we owe. To know who we owe: this is the simplest and most basic prerequisite for a white American who wants to participate in an authentic project of racial justice. It is how we begin, finally, to formulate a real solution to Du Bois’s century-old question.

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On Our Aunt Karens: The Family Business of Whiteness and Shareholder Dissatisfaction

“She did something every child has done—she tried to put the evidence of her offense away from her. But in this case she was no child hiding stolen contraband: she struck out at her victim—of necessity she must put him away from her—he must be removed from her presence, from this world. She must destroy the evidence of her offense. What was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being.”

— Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”


ζ.

White shame is the most combustible substance in America. And what happened in the Ramble is proof that for a black man to interact with us in any way that presupposes basic equivalence is for them to be thumbing the wheel spark of a lighter.

Consider that a black man’s freest day in America is nonetheless one spent in the menacing company of that shame, a thing which—if God forbid he should excite it—seeks only to completely efface the source of its ignition.

We are post- nothing. As a society, the tendency is now demonstrably only toward further immiscibility, and that is and has always been exclusively a white-driven phenomenon. At least in our lifetime the most we can hope for is that we move closer to being post-delusional about the fact that racism in America is not here to stay, and that to the extent that we don’t want our children living with that chronic sickness there is simply no other alternative but to become politicized in such a way that our voice serves as a single and continuous demand to rewrite the functionality of four-hundred years of racialized power.

Because that’s what Amy Cooper’s phone call was. It was an activation of power that is specific to our group and which is designed and maintained to function solely in our families’ interests. That was an ugly dimension of it, but we are all, every last one of us, common shareholders in the larger enterprise which is very efficient at dispersing and expressing that power in far less obvious, subtly murderous ways.

White people shouldn’t even get to call these women ‘Karen’ without including the word ‘Aunt’. To do so implies a distance from the seat of power that doesn’t really exist for us. We are right there. American whiteness is a family-run operation and the only functional insight to be gained by reflecting on Amy Cooper and her actions is that we really have no choice but to put it into liquidation. To work to dissolve it by advocating for reparative justice. But do not be deluded in thinking that repair will not entail a material loss for you and your family; the creditors always get paid first in a liquidation event, and whiteness is running up a 401-year tab on ADOS.

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Towards a Politics of Sacrifice: Zaid Jilani, Americanness & the #ADOS Movement

I’m beginning to think that you can do this with all of them. All of them.

So when the next Progressive of Color appears with their smug and absolutely unctuous ridiculing of race-conscious historical analysis and policy goals, just ask Google to reveal everything that race consciousness in America has made possible in their life.

Like Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor-in-chief of Jacobin who last year chided proponents of reparations for being essentially useless impediments to a progressive future, Zaid Jilani gave an interview earlier this week deriding the New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project”, at points literally scoffing at the many, many people whom he feels are so simpleminded as to insist on the primacy of race in shaping U.S. life over the last four-hundred years. It may come as no surprise that—also like Bhaskar Sunkara—Zaid Jilani was raised in a neighborhood in which the black population is estimated to be at 0.01% or less.1

Jilani grew up in Cobb County, Georgia in a neighborhood called Saddlebrook Farms. It was built in ’93, when Jilani would have been around 5 years old. The stone wall that stands at one of the entrances to the subdivision describes it as a “Classic Equestrian Community,” and it is referred to in other real estate marketing lit as a “Swim and Tennis Neighborhood.”2 The homes—which are constructed in the French provincial style of the 18th century—range in price from 640k to 1 million. They typically have 5-8 bedrooms and the kitchens sound Downton Abbeyesque in design.3

It is, in other words, precisely the kind of enclave of wealth one would anticipate finding in the “first tier suburbs” that Rebekah Cohen Morris notes started appearing in Cobb County after white people didn’t “want to risk their children having to go to school with black children.” An educator and anti-poverty advocate herself, Morris details how that history of intense white hostility to Atlanta’s school integration efforts was part of a continuum of ADOS lockout in America that began with slavery and has extended right up into our present, still fixing opportunity and determining today’s winners and losers. Pointing this out, though, is of course something to which Jilani would object. After all, during his Skype appearance on The Hill, throughout which he wore an absolutely simpering and pompous little smirk and looked like a newly whelped mole straining to adjust its eyes to the light, he dismissed the supposedly lazy tendency of some people to “pretend as if every malady in American life is a matter of something that happened between 1619 and maybe, uh, the Civil Rights Act of 1960.”4

That’s quite a statement coming from someone whose family was able to step into a very comfortable and opportunity-rich life in 90s Georgia precisely because of the state’s historically anti-ADOS attitudes and discriminatory state policies. When the Ku Klux Klan staged a motor rally in Cobb County in 1960 to express solidarity with the Cobb County White Citizens for Segregation—who, as historian Mary E. Odem says, “successfully pursued policies [to] separate themselves and their tax dollars” from the region’s American Descendants of Slavery—it’s worth thinking about how it was exactly those anti-ADOS efforts that shored up the property value in the county’s white regions where the Jilani family would eventually settle. Or how later in the run-up to the ’87 referendum on the MARTA expansion (Atlanta’s public transportation system), it was Cobb County residents ginning up opposition and stoking anti-ADOS anxieties with bumper stickers on their cars that read “Share Atlanta Crime—Support MARTA.”

These emphatic remonstrances screened the land on which the Jilani house now stands from what Antonio Moore has coined ‘the contagion’ of property value liability that ADOS, as a bottom caste, were made to be seen and treated as. And as Odem highlights, Northern Cobb County’s fierce defense of its exclusivity (which is to say the total fortification from ADOS encroachment) is not a thing of the past; as late as 2008, residents were adamantly opposing MARTA expansion proposals that would facilitate greater mobility between the area’s urban center and the suburbs. At that time, Jilani would have been a sophomore at UGA.5 And the home in which he’d grown up would have been doing what the shielding of American whiteness had naturally allowed it to do: appreciating by nearly half a million dollars. That wealth—which ADOS were terrorized out of and legally excluded from—is something that Jilani and his family now (and will for a long time to come) very much enjoy.

And so it’s interesting: Jilani has made a name for himself writing, in part, impassioned defenses of the need for historical accuracy in the school curricula. When the GOP proposed revising educational material in an effort to indoctrinate students with more traditionally conservative principles, he took to the Internet and proclaimed how understanding history in a way that corresponds with what actually happened is “the first line of defense for preparing children to be engaged and active citizens in the political process” (emph mine). And when—in another article—he talks about the student walkout demonstration in response to the Ed Boards’ proposals to change the curriculum, there’s a detail Jilani includes about how some of the kids were carrying signs that read “people didn’t die so we could erase them.” Arguably, it is that very same appeal at which Jilani now nakedly sneers.

And while he has extolled the virtue of historical truth informing a person’s politics, he is, at the same time, seemingly very much committed to policing how some people are choosing to engage politically with their truths. From his and his family’s position of such close-knit inclusion into American society—his position of such unmitigated advantage—he berates and heaps scorn upon the very people who for four-hundred years have sought their due for that same kind of access that he had growing up in America, that same abundance of opportunity. And so what does it mean for a person whose whole life is attributable to his country’s instinct to murder and exclude ADOS to then go around giving interviews and writing articles disparaging the idea of insisting on that group’s history being the very marrow of our contemporary political discourse?

Indeed, of those people who’ve died, I cannot think of a death suffered more in vain given someone like Jilani’s eagerness to suppress the centrality of race, of why they died, of what they fought to fix. And if he actually cared about those people—if he actually gave a shit about justice for the group—then he’d know that you don’t go around bleating on about how your politics are so much superior than a politics that actually tries to honor their dead. Truthfully, someone like Zaid Jilani has no actual politics. Not really. It’s a little buffet-style belief template that allows him to breezily invoke damaging rightwing tropes about black families in one interview and then, on another day, write articles posing moralistic Lefty questions like “[H]ow is it we can all start to see that breadth of the American identity so that we can associate people who are non-white with being Americans, too?”

The question sure is rich, considering the speaker and his refusal to accept the idea that Americanness has always been (and still is) whatever’s left over for everyone after you bottom caste a specific lineage. That might be a lot for some groups of people, and it might be a little for some others, but make no mistake, those people who have even just a little of it will fight tooth and nail to deny the bottom caste any share of it whatsoever. So the real question is: how do we make American the specific people from whom Americanness has always been withheld?

It will no doubt aggrieve many who are sympathetic to that project to hear that the answer is through something like a politics of sacrifice; an advocacy that necessarily entails your own loss. It will entail something that—not only will we need to learn why and how we need to make—but which we then will also have to teach our children why and how they need to make it, too, and so on. And any fellow “ally” who is quick to tell you that—even on some small level—they don’t struggle or wrestle with that reality of sacrificing their own advantage is outright lying to you. They shouldn’t be trusted any more than Jilani, who is either simply an idiot or whose deliberate and total absence of humility in the face of his own personal history should inspire fear and rage. Indeed, it is precisely that obvious and blatant disregard for what the group is owed that, when we observe it, should move us past whatever qualms we might have and toward a firm belief in the righteousness of #ADOS politics. Because the kind of politics needed to make ADOS American exists completely outside the little circle-jerk cliques that Jilani so casually moves in and out of. It is a sort of politics that, in practice, looks exactly unlike the careerism that is so obviously at the core of his political commentary, and which—at the absolute most basic level—demands we disabuse ourselves of the false comfort that we can or even should try to circumvent the leviathan that is the lineage-based disadvantage of ADOS, a thing which has made so much possible, for so many people, and all at their group’s complete expense.


n o t e s

1. This is according to the most recent census data on policymap.com. The black people who do live nearby don’t exactly seem representative of the group’s general economic condition, either. Black household income, at the median, is just over 75k. And you’d have to drive several miles until you start seeing a situation where more than .07% of black people are living in poverty.

2. The Saddlebook Farms HOA’s annual fee covers maintenance of the swimming pool and tennis courts. In general, Saddlebrook Farms is almost caricatural in its whiteness and privilege. Blind wine tasting parties are apparently a regular thing, and there’s a Yard of the Month contest, which sounds absolutely tyrannical and anxiety-provoking.

3. Interesting to note here that this particular structural aesthetic refers to the provincial nobility in France who wanted to distance their community from the metropolis they considered “too urban” for their tastes. The very same thing appears to have animated the development of this residential area in Cobb County, but the area’s history doesn’t suggest that the white people were eve remotely interested in using any polite euphemisms like ‘too urban’ to describe their motivations; they pretty explicitly made it clear they didn’t want black people around, which will become apparent in the main text’s next paragraph…

4. For his own high school education, Zaid attended Kennesaw Mountain High, which was founded in 2000 as a magnet school. Ruthie Yow, the author of “Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City”, describes these magnet programs as “mini ivory towers because of subtle gate keeping that locks out poor children.”

5. His sister, who now works for the Pentagon’s top weapons supplier and Fortune 100 company Lockheed Martin, would have been studying at Parsons, an elite art and design school in Manhattan. From there, she would make the not-exactly-lateral move to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2014, the New York Times announced her marriage to Gregory Whitten, who works as an “independent consultant to Fortune 500 companies on healthcare, including the pharmaceutical industry, health IT, and both federal and private sector entrants.”

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Left Unsaid: #ADOS & the Roses

1.1

Ryan Grim’s book, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement, begins—as most Lefty exhortations tend to nowadays—with slavery.

More specifically, it’s the North’s response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that Grim argues can provide a better sense of our current political moment’s dynamics and offer insight into what’s needed to meaningfully stem the tide of cultural conservatism. “Moderation and compromise could no longer counter the far Right,” he writes, describing a spirit of progressivism that had taken hold in a segment of white society following the South getting a legal boost to pursue a regional expansion of its slavocracy. “Only a movement bent on the full blown destruction of slavery was capable of meeting the challenge. It was the 19th Century American version of socialism or barbarism.”

As analogies go, it’s imperfect. But the ease with which it’s made is consistent with the U.S. Left’s eagerness to always invoke the specific plight of ADOS when thinking about and insisting on (as We’ve Got People indeed does) a mass movement politics in America that centers a multiracial, multiethnic working class agenda to challenge the spread and entrenchment of corporate interests. Left unsaid however is how the full-spectrum exclusion experienced specifically by ADOS over the course of centuries has rendered them uniquely vulnerable in modern coalition politics. More often than not, these sorts of alliance-based initiatives have co-opted ADOS’s struggle for inclusion as a cosmetic feature rather than earnestly worked to ensure its incorporation and advancement. After all, if, as Grim argues, the black freedom struggle in America first exposed the “cynical lie” that change cannot be effected (a feat he feels should inform today’s Left’s vision of what’s possible with progressive, broad-based coalitions), then it seems important to also bear in mind how—since ADOS provided us with that glimpse of the seemingly impossible (and since the Left has greatly expanded and diversified its electorate)—we’ve nevertheless allowed the group’s condition as the nation’s bottom caste to remain essentially the same.

In this way, ADOS exposes yet another ‘cynical lie’: namely, that when it comes to entering into political relations with their group, there will be meaningful recognition among the constituent parties of the specific debt that they are owed.

1.2

Left-wing coalition politics in post-1970s America is as much a story about the coming together of many marginalized identities as it is the erasure of ADOS identity in particular. With that, of course, goes the group’s unique, core grievance that they are due financial restitution from the U.S. government. We’ve Got People seems to reveal this phenomenon more than conceal it. Writing about the wave of progressive candidates vying for office following the 2016 election—among which the Ocasio-Cortez campaign figured as the most prominent—Grim claims that it “had begun with a rock thrown into the water in 1983 in Chicago, with the election of Harold Washington.” Powered by a coalition of “progressive whites, blacks, and Latinos”, Washington’s campaign and eventual victory in becoming the city’s first black mayor was also what, according to Grim, “convinced the black community that electoral politics—beyond marching and movement building—were needed to move the Democratic Party forward.”

It’s difficult to read that analysis and not hear “electoral politics” functioning almost euphemistically, as something like a thinly veiled censure of ADOS acting in self-interest (‘beyond marching and movement building’). And in positing a nebulous idea of Democratic Party progress as the optimal upshot of their political advocacy (rather than, say, a Democratic Party that is responsive to the community’s particular needs), Grim seems to capture the grossest of assumptions among the modern Left; namely, that ADOS should freely volunteer their vote to a party that may or may not reciprocate that support legislatively. ADOS marching and movement building were, moreover, clear expressions of their specific (and unfinished) plight (which, it’s worth recalling, Grim opens his book by citing as the source of such great hope for our own battles). And so it’s real hard not to bristle at his suggestion, just a few pages later, of their apparent limitations in the post-1970s political climate and the implication that the group’s cause is ultimately best served by dialing back the direct-action demonstrations meant to foreground their ongoing struggle. The community should instead work to support candidates in the mold of Jesse Jackson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose campaigns “drew thousands of new people into Democratic politics” and which recognized the urgency of “bring[ing] together poor whites, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans to attack poverty and inequality.”

1.3

The reader of We’ve Got People, however, will search in vain to find a similar attitude expressed by the author toward non-ADOS groups when it comes to their respective political fights. Discussing the LGBTQ community’s 2010 campaign to force the hand of the Obama administration in repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, Grim lauds the uncompromising assertions of queer identity that were then on display from “fearless”, “committed”, and “hungry” LGBTQ activists across the nation: “They needed Obama to champion the civil rights movement he had promised,” Grim writes, “and to make that happen, they were—perhaps more than any progressive movement—primed to go to war with the administration and the man most of them helped elect.”

Grim also observes how it was precisely the hardcore affirmation of LGBTQ identity in the public sphere—at marches and rallies and in the gay rights organizations that had formed following California’s Prop 8 decision—that ultimately effected a number of legislative gains for their group: “[W]hat the White House, Democratic lawmakers, and even gay Beltway advocates never counted on was having the post-Prop 8 rage from the streets arrive at Washington’s doorstep,” he recalls. “Indeed, the relatively small but dedicated group GetEQUAL grew out of the National Equality March [and t]hroughout the rest of Obama’s first term, the group would serve as an inconvenient reminder of what LGBTQ Americans expected after helping elect the strongest democratic majority government in generations….Several times that year, lesbian, gay, and transgender veterans handcuffed themselves to the fence surrounding the White House, using the spectacle to alert the ubiquitous White House Press Corps and the nation that a key Democratic constituency was losing patience.”

Nowhere does We’ve Got People suggest that the LGBTQ community needed to learn the supposed wisdom in going ‘beyond marching and movement building’, or to begin coalizing with other groups to advance their cause. As they rightly understood—having dependably supplied the Democratic Party with their vote—the sole exchange was between their group and the leadership of the Democratic Party. The LGBTQ activists, as Grim observes, had turned their struggle for inclusion into an “electoral weapon” and forced Democrats to “pick sides.”

The question though, then, is why are some direct action initiatives, like those adopted by the LGBTQ community that explicitly aimed to “convince Democratic lawmakers of a bigger electoral price to pay for failing to advance gay issues than for pushing them”, seen as being of a piece with sound political strategy, while—in the context of ADOS—they are a mark of political inexperience and/or divisiveness?

As We’ve Got People’s chapter on how the Democratic Party was ‘moved forward’ for the LGBTQ community makes clear, it was never about mere representation for them, but rather reciprocation regardless of the sexual preferences of whom they’d helped put in office. There is literally no mention throughout the chapter of the need to construct a more socially inclusive coalition of poor whites, Latinx or Native Americans to advance gay rights; instead, LGBTQ gains were, from the beginning, predicated on emphatically asserting who they are as a group and fearlessly “own[ing] their truth”.

This much is apparent when Grim recounts the day the Supreme Court struck down the marriage ban. He alludes to how Obama’s remarks that day, about the “courageous truth tellers” who’d made such an achievement possible, echoed Harvey Milk’s words nearly forty years earlier: “‘Gay brothers and sisters,’ Milk began, addressing a crowd on June 25, 1978, Gay Freedom Day in San Francisco, ‘you must come out. Come out…to your parents…I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives. I know it is hard and will upset them, but think of how they will upset you in the voting booth.”

1.4

The story of this year’s Democratic Primary is the neoliberal torpedoing of the Left’s progressive ambitions. That defeat is a direct result of how the Party’s progressive element routinely moved to suppress precisely the sort of radical expression of ADOS identity that would have galvanized grassroots activists and in turn promoted a greater focus on their group’s agenda. That, in turn, would have made possible a conversation within the community about how—by voting for the centrist candidate—the older generation would indeed be substantially hurting them in the voting booth. “If Bernie Sanders had come to us with a real black agenda, with reparations as the heartbeat, we would have made it our business…[to] neutralize Clyburn,” Yvette Carnell, co-founder of the #ADOS movement said, referencing the House Majority Whip’s crucial endorsement of Biden ahead of Super Tuesday. “I mean do you really know what ADOS looks like when reparations is on the table as a give? Do you know how we come out when the thing that we’ve been asking for, and the thing that we deserve—when the debt is on the table—do you know what our turnout looks like once I get out there and Tone gets out there and starts explaining what reparations means to everybody in South Carolina, to people with hookworm, and people with all kind of stuff going on. How we are going to raise your wealth level and have protections in place and ownership in place; do you know what turnout looks like…with a real reparations agenda?”

1.5

The Left does not know what that mobilization of ADOS looks like. And if 2020 was any indication, it arguably does not particularly care all that much. To which one can only respond by expressing hope that the sheets in the bed of defeat they are making have a high thread count, because as long as they continue to deny the absolute centrality of ADOS to their electoral success, they are going to be laying in it for at least another four years.

1.6

If nothing else, 2020 invites serious consideration of the inverse of We’ve Got People‘s big claim that the victory of Harold Washington back in ’83 signaled to the ADOS community the necessity of conforming to Leftist orthodoxy going forward. That—if they wanted a version of the party that would be more accommodating to their needs—they would necessarily have to pivot from a style of politics that was univocal in its concern toward one more universal in scope. But maybe that’s backwards. Maybe the progressive defeat in 2020 should help convince the Left that it is they who in fact need to reevaluate their stance on specific policy for ADOS, and that that is what will in turn drive the Party forward.

Maybe with the timely recognition of this there will be a place in future books like We’ve Got People to celebrate the self-interest advocacy that characterizes the #ADOS movement. After all, how dissimilar, really, from the words that Harvey Milk spoke (which embody a spirit that Grim obviously admires) are those that are being spoken by Yvette Carnell today as she recommends the Left understand its progressive destiny as uniquely bound up with the ability of ADOS to organize and advocate for itself: “If you give Generation X and below a reparations agenda…and fold [it] into a Leftist agenda…[#ADOS] would have been able to go make a case to our parents and grandparents, [saying] ‘What are you doing? You’re hurting me, because I need reparations; I need this.'”

1.7

What fails to really obtain in the American Left is just how badly they (the Left) need it, too. And they need ADOS to start getting reparations sooner rather than later. Because until they do, the alterity of ADOS—which in the economic is just so particular, and just so totally absolute—will leave the progressive Left incapable of resolving the contradictions inherent in applying universal policy prescriptions to a society that has bottomcasted one specific group. Not prioritizing reparations for ADOS in a Left agenda is, at its core, a categorical denial of those people’s right to participate in American life in even a minimally normal way. It is rubber stamping the status quo, consigning them uniformly to the bottom (again), and clapping for yourself.

1.8

Because the basic assertion/appeal at the heart of a minority movement for inclusion in American society is this: we are like you. In We’ve Got People, that point is frequently made explicit. Describing the immigrant rights campaign, Grim writes about how the movement “leaned on an assimilation-heavy strategy that rhymed with the approach taken by the LGBTQ community: there’s nothing scary about us; we’re just like you.” Indeed, as Grim explains, it was precisely because of how the LGBTQ community leveraged their “unique dynamic for a minority in America” (that is, their being “a part of every race, gender, culture, religion, political party, and socio-economic group in the nation”) that allowed for an “outsized impact” (relative to their small demographic) when it came to achieving legislative gains.

But to the extent that increased acceptance of a minority group in America relies significantly on a diverse socioeconomic makeup within the group itself, then ADOS—as a class structureless group—simply does not meet this basic requirement. And this is exactly the point. This is the pill to swallow. For ADOS, the burden of proof to demonstrate how ‘like us’ they are can literally never be on them; instead, it is necessarily up to us to come to terms with the fact that we are us only because we have never let them be like us. And so, so often the discourse of the Left seems to be a project of gag ruling anyone who dares point out that basic fact of American society.

1.9

To know ADOS is to know a genealogy of disadvantage that resists absolutely the Left’s facile end run around American history. It is to perceive the insurmountable advantage afforded (and the measure of societal tolerance ceded) any group whose level of poverty was not made to operate on the replicative mechanism of generational exclusion. It is to then perhaps be able to place yourself and your capital-i Ideas about justice in relation to their specific condition and begin to think that if you want to start on down the road of anticapitalism then it might be a sensible first step to begin with the group whose families have been made to serve as that system’s most useful placeholder for failure for the last four-hundred and one years. Which would be, of course, to actually meaningfully invite ADOS to join you in your fight by first demonstrating to them how you actually respect them enough to acknowledge the ways in which their fight is different in nature and that it will thus necessarily require a radically different solution.

2.0

But it is here where the Left and it’s vanquisher, Joe Biden, converge. What the Left said to ADOS in 2020 was, in essence, the same thing said forty years earlier by the man who—now addle-brained and smiling—is well on the way to the Democratic nomination: “I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay [reparations] for what happened 300 years ago.”

Confronted with the idea of the salience of lineage in America, the Left became refractory. They revealed a level of regressiveness at the core of their political project that is sure to hobble future efforts at electoral success. Because when they failed to take seriously the concerns of ADOS, they willingly forfeited a crucial internecine fight that needed to happen in the ADOS community if Biden was to be blocked. They showed how, despite their pronouncements of radicalism, just how content they are to not take on some of the oldest ideas and the oldest attitudes. They said: we’re not interested in taking actual power there, and power was more than happy to stay exactly where it was, which is to say totally and completely out of their reach.

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And They Will Moralize with More Lies: #ADOS Story Time With Jess Aiwuyor

In what is without a doubt the most reductive, strained, and flawed analogy thus far given for what it means to belong to the group whose ancestry has been made to carry and pass down the exponential cost(s) of chattel slavery and its many, many resimulations in America, Jess Aiwuyor poses this unspeakably offensive question to those very same people: “Let’s say, for example, you had a grandmother that, at one time in her life, went to prison,” Aiwuyor writes, before then asking: “Would you then proclaim yourself to be a ‘descendant of prison?'”

The sole point of this callous and dismissive little thought experiment is to try to tease out what Aiwuyor seems to feel is the absurdity of the group petitioning for legal recognition as American Descendants of Slavery, which—for the past couple of years now—is what they’ve been organizing around for the express purpose of establishing a legitimate claim to compensation from the culpable entity which sanctioned their ancestors’ bondage and also (in ways both overt and covert) the repeated applications of its basic formula over the past 150 plus years.

And but OK. Absent a willful ignorance of history and/or having lived and been educated in outer space, it is not, of course, even possible to accept the assumption on which this analogy rests: that chattel slavery and imprisonment can be neatly swapped out for one another in a discussion of what it would mean to even consider a unique genealogical experience in the U.S. having been sprung from the very group-specific cataclysm of the former. This much is obvious when one takes into account the basic fact of the latter’s not being a condition that is specific to one group.

The only way we could honestly do the comparative do-se-doe Aiwuyor wants us to do here (and I know honesty about the ADOS situation isn’t exactly a thing sought after with much fervor by opponents of the movement, since being honest about the scope and depth of the exclusion that ADOS face introduces a slew of nuance and complexity that might make us appear not so, like, y’know, not so ‘woke’ or whatever, but, maybe we can try…) is if one’s grandmother had somehow been imprisoned in the same way that an ADOS person’s grandma would have been enslaved. That is, if she was born into prison. I’m talking about if she was literally delivered inside the cell by her mother, who was herself born into prison in that exact same manner, and she the child of a woman who, in her turn, had also been brought forth by one who too had been born into the totality of that prisonlife, each of them being issued the same life sentence, and so on and so on until we get back in time enough to that one who was among the first to be dragged into that Evil and who began birthing babies which, in ways so unnatural and so hideously and infinitely tragic, became less her own babies than that Evil’s babies—systemstuff to be worked, beaten, sold and wholly absorbed into that which was utterly and uniquely devoted to siphoning away from them whatever it needed—their bodies, their labor, their personhood—in order to make wealth, yes, to be sure, but maybe above even that (no, absolutely above even that) to make and imbue meaning outside of the prison.1

Is that the context of the prison in which we find our imagined person in Aiwuyor’s hypothetical? The person whose situation she intends to use in order to trouble the belief in the legitimacy of—or the value in—a person identifying in such a way that articulates a grim, awful and all-surrounding truth about his or her life in this country as a descendant of slavery: that as such you were conceived in and delivered from two wombs—that of your mother and that of your oppression. Child of the one and subject of the other.

This is what it means to get deep-down honest about the sprawlingness of chattel slavery in America. The absolute non ‘stint’-ness of it. The way it thoroughly resists glib, facile analogies owing to the singular manner in which it was made to encase a whole succession of people with demobilizing prospects while the world around them just rushed on. And I gotta tell ya, I don’t really see why someone so ensnared in that existence wouldn’t call themselves a ‘descendant of prison’ when that prison has so obviously proven to be the most materially consequential event in that person’s life. When it has proven to be that which has completely distorted his or her basic experience of what it means to be a citizen in this country, a country which—it is always essential to point out—this person’s grandma’s (wrongful) incarceration in that prison effectively built. Because if I’m this person, and me calling myself a Descendant of Prison is how I advocate for the obviously wrongful imprisonment of my family and the specific and continuous and unrelenting harm that that institution’s legacy has wrought so heavily upon us and my entire group—the one whose bottom castedness derives from that specific experience—if that’s how I most effectively and precisely locate the cause of why my life looks the way it does, and if that’s how I take that particular claim to the offending party in order to secure redress for everything that was outright stolen, then yeah I’ll wear a t-shirt that says ‘Descendant of Prison’ every day of the fucking week while I am advocating for it to be made right, and then, once it is, I’ll wear one every day after so that you don’t ever forget.

The metaphor of national DNA here proves apt, in that it would seem you can no more realistically deny how the expression of some trait in a person corresponds with a unique sequence of information passed down and stored in the strands of DNA than you can deny these same processes being responsible for the expression of the particular features of American society. And in much the same way that geneticists isolate a specific fragment of DNA for the development and diagnostics and treatment, so too do the justice-minded turn their attention intently toward the particular mutation in the sequence of our national history that has resulted in the abnormality of ADOS life? The deformity of our apparent ideals. And what identity but ADOS speaks more clearly to the black person in America whose ancestry contains the event of chattel enslavement and who to this very day does not have the luxury of neatly relegating that experience and all of its pulverizing aftershocks to a fixed moment in the past? Who has not and cannot discover a way to escape the fact that in the body politic of the United States we have forever, since their group’s arrival here, sought to absent them from society, to absent them from all aspects of national life, to absent them in order to give ourselves presence. What else is #ADOS but a complete repudiation of that? What else is #ADOS but a way not to escape that, but to overcome it.

And like, I’m sorry, but from what vantage do you speak, anyway, Aiwuyor? How do you possibly say, in the context of a discussion about the lived experience of what it means to shoulder the inter-generational burden of chattel slavery, something as moronic as, “Let’s say, for example, you had a grandmother that, at one time in her life, went to prison.” You should be ashamed of yourself, making an egregious, bullshit proposition like that. Who are you trying to persuade that what ADOS are doing is stupid? Them? It can’t be. Because how are you going to appeal to the phenomenon of incarceration—a feature of ADOS life that is so bundled into the cost of slavery that it is widely regarded as its most obvious reconstitution—to try and convince them that they should avoid identifying with slavery in a way that suggests it is inseparably intertwined in every aspect of their being? It is so inescapable that, even when you go out of your way to try and undermine its intensity of effect, it nonetheless manages to rear its dreadful head and assert its permanence in these people’s being.

It would almost be humorously ironic if in fact it didn’t first make you want to vomit. Which, for you, it clearly doesn’t. It just gives you an opportunity to get on your pedestal and preach hoary platitudes while all around you these mindless sycophants who are themselves equally disengaged from the total horrors of the ADOS experience applaud you. And but which is also why for all of the anxiety and nervousness and consternation that you evince about how supposedly ‘de-humanizing’ it is to foreground the deep connection between the institution of slavery and the experience of native-born blacks in every dimension of national life in America, you consistently reveal yourself incapable of grasping how the implications of it still ripple out in its highly specific and utterly humanity-negating manner. Anyone clear-eyed can see that it is precisely the recognition of the humanity of American Descendants of Slavery, and how that humanity has long been denied, that animates the #ADOS political project. Theirs is a work of affirmation and no one—absolutely no one—should take you seriously after this latest fling at trying to contradict and corrupt that fact.


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1. Of course reading Aiwuyor carefully shows that it wasn’t even a life sentence that this imagined person’s relative served. Their ancestor’s imprisonment was, according to her, only “at one time in her life.” So does that change things? Does that suddenly make the idea of identifying as an American Descendant of Slavery seem purely ridiculous? Well, let’s maybe say that, OK, so one day the door to this person’s grandma’s cell swings open and she’s quote-unquote free to go out into the world and get on with the rest of her life as a ‘free’ citizen, ostensibly leaving the dehumanizing condition of imprisonment behind her. Except that society, it turns out, is still uniquely and demonically hostile to people who were once imprisoned; to be honest they’re maybe even more so now that the formerly imprisoned people walk among them all day flaunting that badge of freedom the way they do, which is a thing that you’ve just got to imagine absolutely burns deep inside the darkness of these people’s minds who weren’t imprisoned and who basically only know themselves in relation to those other people’s condition of un-freedom (I mean no, yeah, they’re obviously completely livid and terrified; they’re so livid and terrified that they’re literally severing the genitalia off of these ‘free’ people, shoving it into their mouths, and leaving their totally mutilated corpses swaying high from a thick limb of a cottonwood where birds alight on the shoulders of the dead to peck at their scalps, their gaping eye sockets, and whatever else of their flesh that isn’t so charred that the birds don’t just lose interest and end up flying away [the whole point, obviously, is to display the corpses in such a way as to let all the other newly ‘free’, along with their children, know in the most vivid sense possible that what they behold when they look aloft at that dangling body is a vision of their own possible end; the reminder that that same thing can happen to each and any one of them, at any time, without any warning whatsoever, out of the absolute clear blue; that’s the knowledge that society needed this person’s grandma to walk around with in her head twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week from the time she got out of prison until she was buried and could finally—in the most literal sense of the phrase—rest in peace]).

And then I think one other thing to consider is that this person’s grandma’s every ancestor had also spent his or her whole life wrongfully imprisoned just like she did. So obviously those people hadn’t exactly left her much in the way of actual material goods. And so this person’s grandma, when she’s quote-unquote free, she can’t really get adequate housing, and what little work is available to her is exploitative beyond all possible imagination and has basically a nature to it that is mightily reminiscent of her time in prison. And so anyway that’s basically life in America for Grandma. I don’t think I need to spell out for you the total un-lavishness of the inheritance she then leaves her own daughter when she eventually dies. And but so the daughter (which is Aiwuyor’s imagined person’s mom), you might say, had a bit of a better go of it here in the good ole U.S. of A, because she came of age at a time when society had really begun to make ‘progress’ and become sensitive to the plight of people whose ancestors were at one point wrongfully imprisoned (even though at this time our country had begun welcoming many, many other people whose ancestors were at one point also wrongfully imprisoned, albeit imprisoned by a different country, but who bore enough of a resemblance to our prisoners here that no one in America could much tell the difference between their prisoners and our prisoners. Not that they really cared to). And then society said, it said, “We will not discriminate against anyone based on the fact that they were imprisoned. That is wrong, and we have adopted a much more tolerant and impartial means by which we will determine winners and losers, and that is one’s financial standing.” And I have to think that when they heard that, everyone who had ancestors who’d spent their lives here in America being locked up behind bars, or strung up in trees because their family’d been locked up behind bars, well, they just all sort of looked at each other like, well shit. And so maybe it’s more accurate to say that while things seemed like they might have been easier for this person’s mom, in fact they really weren’t easier at all. She was still very much being forced to deal with basically all the same problems of what it means to essentially be excluded from life outside the prison, just like her own daughter would be. The manner of how that condition continued to be manufactured all the way down to her just shifted a little each time. And I gotta say that, while this person couldn’t say for sure, it probably seemed to them that they definitely weren’t gonna be able to leverage any appreciable advantage that her mom was able to secure in her quote unquote free adult life. And so I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if I’m this person, then I’m finding it real, real hard—despite what some other people are saying to me—to not be able to draw a straight line from where I’m at right now in my life right back to—not just where my grandma was at—but where my whole damn family line has been ever since some godless monsters decided to throw us into prison. (We’re still using prison as a proxy term to have this discussion, right? That is what you wanted?)

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Tales From the Grift: Jessica Aiwuyor’s Ongoing Fictionalization of #ADOS

You ever been to a dinner party and catch the host softening a stale loaf of bread by wrapping it in a damp towel and placing it in the microwave? Me neither. But I have read multiple anti-ADOS articles written by Jess Aiwuyor, which is basically the same thing.

In both scenarios, what’s put in front of a person is old and warmed over, with the only difference being that the stale bread was at one point actually good. The same cannot be said for Aiwuyor’s uniformly dull, dishonest, and lecture-like ‘critiques’ of #ADOS, which—before she’d even first put pen to paper—had long passed their expiration date and have since essentially just been laying around the Internet sprouting mold.

It’s getting harder not to feel that Aiwuyor is anything other than a hired gun for the keepers of the status quo. Or (and maybe this is more likely it) that in churning out these articles she is doing anything other than signaling to those relevant parties how keen she is to faithfully serve in whatever custodial capacity they might recommend. She is, after all, a self-identified ‘storyteller’. And if you find your eyes kind of auto-siding at that descriptor, I assure you that you’re not alone. In this space, a self-professed ‘storyteller’ who suddenly materializes with such evident zeal to discredit and police a justice movement led by this country’s bottom caste should rightly be regarded as more creature-ish than sincere.

There’s a kind of weird, horoscope-y quality to Aiwuyor’s latest anti-ADOS reheating. “The year 2020 is pivotal for the Black community,” she tells her readers. “This is a year of change but it’s also a year of deception.” Mercury retrograde in Pisces blah blah blah. This is what supposedly serious political criticism looks like when it comes from the #ADOS opposition. It is literally the equivalent of something you would find inside a fortune cookie. And while Aiwuyor desperately wants her audience to believe that #ADOS—under the subterfuge of a reparations movement—promises to yield nothing but further marginalization for black America, the most she can can offer them (all she has ever offered them) is a culling of last year’s discredited claims (e.g. the one about #ADOS being primarily “bots” and “fake [online] accounts”—a claim that even some of the most strident of anti-#ADOS figures have really backed away from, presumably because every major news outlet that has covered the movement over the past year has been repeatedly unable to produce the sort of evidence that would corroborate the allegation. Nowadays, the only people still seriously talking about bots and Russian disinformation campaigns in relation to #ADOS are doing so in what seems a kind of boozy wreckage on national television where no one can actually challenge them on how totally preposterous they sound).1

Among the other reasons that Aiwuyor offers her readers for why they should “beware #ADOS” is how the movement refuses to become an accessory to N’COBRA or NAARC, which is just like, dude, obviously #ADOS is going to unhitch its wagon from the organizations that have heretofore utterly shat the bed with respect to their delivering meaningful and transformative justice for black America. Obviously. And you can try to frame that break as like treasonous or whatever—as an act of broad sabotage by a bunch of petulant and perfidious black Americans—but the fact of the matter is that ADOS, by just about every available metric, is backsliding to where they were at before these groups were established. Think about that. The question is not how could they be doing this, it’s how could they possibly not? How could they not, in taking stock of their situation, fail to recognize the need to radically overhaul the existing approach to their repair? I mean fuck…

ADOS owe no one anything. It is in fact they who are owed everything. And, at the absolute minim, they are owed some basic deference in how they as a specific group with a specific justice claim choose to self-identify and pursue it. If you don’t like it, fine. But at least try to argue your side from a place of integrity? You don’t get to just declare that the movement is co-signing race science just because their political project challenges your assumptions about what solidarity looks like in 2020 and because it complicates a shallow, naive and entirely one-dimensional understanding of how the world actually works. You don’t get to say that they are “dehumanizing” black America by trying to gather under a coherent identity that segment of it whose ancestors were quarried in Africa like animals and who were brought here to be made to labor and live in much the same manner ever since. Aiwuyor would have us believe that #ADOS is ‘dehumanizing’ that group? Really? Are we absolutely sure it’s not the other way around? That it’s not Aiwuyor who is in fact doing so much of the very dehumanizing that she claims to abhor? Because it sure seems to me that—when it comes to ADOS’s ability to know and articulate exactly what they are owed and by whom; to describe as precisely as possible the specific contours of their oppression and then advocate for repair in like measure—Aiwuyor seems to think of them as being on about the same cognitive level of a fish. It seems to me she expects from ADOS what the farmer expects from his draft animals in the field: that they are to simply submit to the yoke; the yoke for ADOS being, of course, the contemporary ‘woke’ norms that have been so casually destructive to their group.

No, what #ADOS is in fact providing the group is the possibility by which they might actually be treated as humans in the country that their ancestors’ suffering built and which today still hums briskly along on their unique exclusion and failure. Because by all indication, to be a descendant of U.S. chattel slavery means that you are bequeathed nothing of such immediate material consequence and salience to your experience as an American as the aggregate, hundreds years’ efforts by that country to thoroughly gut your life of opportunity and access. And it is so contemptible that anyone would try to de-center that reality and harangue ADOS just because they are actually brave enough to stick their necks out for one another when basically no one else will and try to begin undoing some of that disadvantage for the ensuing generation. There is, at least from my vantage, something infinitely more human expressed in that tendency, in that willingness and resolve, than anything I have yet to read in Aiwuyor.


n o t e s

1. Furthermore, what seems completely lost on Aiwuyor is that describing for your readers what “journalists and researchers have documented” as being typical features of online disinformation campaigns, but then omitting how in fact no journalist or researcher has actually been able to conclusively identify #ADOS as being even tangentially linked to any such network of disinfo, doesn’t actually make your theory true. It just makes you supremely irresponsible, and betrays a basic contempt for your readers who you apparently feel don’t really deserve anything beyond your evidence-free editorializing. For Aiwuyor, it makes her, in the most literal sense of the word, what she ultimately only is: a storyteller.

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Shout Now Then: #ADOS and the Kitchen Sink Criticism

Still clearly reeling from the experience of having been called a “boomer” by a young #ADOS activist in Indianapolis recently, U of I professor Sundiata Cha-Jua took to the pages of the News-Gazette last weekend to whinge about the “generational conflict” he sees enervating the black freedom struggle in America. This division (which, for Cha-Jua, reveals itself principally in terms of “temperament and tactics”) first became apparent to him during the Ferguson riots in 2014. There, in the protesters’ response to the murder of Michael Brown, he saw not the primal, wordless yell of a people whose country had repeatedly demonstrated to them that their pain, however vivid and immediate it might be to them, was a thing essentially beyond recall to the rest of America; but rather, he saw only the behavior of a younger cohort of activists with a “severe lack of political education”, and who were—in comparison to his own generation—“less studied.”

Since Ferguson, Cha-Jua believes the “millennial” side of the divide has become not only increasingly myopic with respect to tactics, but altogether traitorous. He claims that black millennials (which he identifies as “largely working class”, but who’ve illogically espoused “pro-capitalist” and “nativist” attitudes) have been politicized away from a vision of collective politics and liberation as embodied in the black radical tradition of the 70s. And given the anxious and patronizing register in which Cha-Jua is writing (a register that, as of late, has really come to define the musings of an uneasy and jittery old guard confronting the prospect of its obsolescence), it should come as no surprise when he locates this generational “tendency”—as he calls it—squarely within the #ADOS movement, since that is the very thing that has undoubtedly given rise to those feelings of disquiet since its emergence into the mainstream of U.S. politics.

Indeed, such a move seems, at this point, only natural. Not because the characteristics that Cha-Jua lists actually describe #ADOS, but precisely because they don’t. After all, isn’t that loose, exaggerated and inexact relationship to actual truths about the movement the basic modus for so much of the toilet limescale that passes as criticism of #ADOS nowadays? Isn’t one, as a critic-commentator, encouraged and rewarded for indulging in that vulgar inclination to simply feed into the prevailing misperceptions about #ADOS instead of exercising some actual discipline and scrupulousness in covering their approach?

I mean, to take what is only the most obvious and conspicuous tell of bad faith, and the total absence of really giving much of a shit about the object and substance of his critique, Cha-Jua does not even seem to know what #ADOS stands for. And he—like so many before him—substitutes the noun ‘slaves’ for ‘slavery’, the acronym’s correct institutional designation, and whose unique reconstitution and felt legacy right up into the present moment the movement is meant to refer and underscore.1

And so of course one can’t realistically expect someone who evidently has no interest in even correctly naming the movement for his readers to then provide them anything in the way of accuracy regarding the thing’s actual mechanics. And on this expectation, Cha-Jua fully delivers. Nonetheless, the string of mischaracterizations prompt some interesting questions. Like, for instance, why the effort to generationalize the movement as a ‘millennial’ one? I mean, it seems to me that—while there’s obviously a contingent of black millennials involved and doing serious advocacy on behalf of the #ADOS movement—insofar as there’s a real pronounced generational aspect to it, it’s unmistakably Gen Xers. It’s also no secret that society (particularly Boomers) has certain assumptions about millennials, and harbors generally disdainful feelings for them, and so it’s not exactly difficult to imagine a situation in which Cha-Jua’s ‘millenialization’ of #ADOS is just a sort of cynical attempt to play to those presuppositions and deny the movement any maturity or the capacity for actual insight/understanding about the world in which they live and which has dealt them a uniquely shitty and essentially un-playable hand. And all #ADOS is saying to millennials (to everyone, really) is that they need to be aware of the fact that there is a ton of ideology presently at work in trying to make them feel that everyone else seated at the table nowadays is holding an identically lousy hand, and to be critical of the suggestion that swapping out the dealer for someone like Sanders (the “surging” and “most leftist” [sic] candidate whom Cha-Jua concludes his article by endorsing) is going to produce much in the way of parity for ADOS—parity, which is to say justice, which is to say disadvantage for everyone else. Sorry. That’s the pill. You can either swallow it or stay screaming and bartering for some other white America-mollifying possibility while the solution to actually heal ADOS remains firmly lodged in our national throat. But it’s not going anywhere. We swallow it, or eventually we choke.

And I guess that’s the thing. Throughout the article, it just feels like Cha-Jua is looking for a new reason to denigrate the group for not being sufficiently class conscious enough or whatever to ignore or further delay justice for them—to stay forgotten—and for not just falling in line behind the most quote unquote radical candidate in the Democratic field. ‘Millennial’ feels like just the latest log to be thrown into the dying fire that is #ADOS smear journalism, a fire that simply just will not catch the way detractors of #ADOS want it to. It’s also—given the author’s clear intention to rally support for Sanders—probably the weirdest choice yet, since black millennials is the group that already overwhelmingly backs Sanders. And insofar as Cha-Jua wants to drag a certain generation of black people over the coals for having absolute shit politics, it’s really his own generation that he ought to pillory and flay, since a full two-thirds of Boomers support fucking Biden—a candidate who, perhaps more than any other currently vying for office in the Democratic field, has ensured that #ADOS stays playing with the absolute lowest of cards.

The criticisms of #ADOS are so tiresome. They have been from the very beginning, because they’re all just so bad. It’s now just becoming kitchen sink criticism—say literally anything. Anything at all. Make something up. Does it make sense? I dunno, not really. But who fucking cares, right? Whatever you do, just do not take sincerely their situation. Do not treat them with honest intentions. That’s the basic axiom of #ADOS crit. Instead, argue that they are working class and that their politics ought to reflect exclusively those concerns. That’s it. End of discussion. Case closed on what to do about centuries of racism in America. And if they say anything to dispute that, literally shout into their faces that they are fascists, capitalists, bigots, whatever. Berate them until their false consciousness bleeds out of their ears. If they bring up the fact that America made them a uniquely wealthless segment of the working class—if they say something about how that particular dimension of their experience within the general American proletariat is one so indescribably oppressive and burdensome that if their politics don’t absolutely start there, then, just forget it, it’s game over for them—just shout louder. Yell at them the exact same despicably cheap and hollow things you’ve been shouting all along, just more emphatically. But shout them now, because sooner or later, inevitable as the setting sun, history or the hand of God or whatever force you think eventually comes around and sets the scales at balance in the universe is going to sew righteousness throughout this land and it is going to strike you dumb and mute in the process, leaving you to do nothing but stare impassively. So shout now then.


N O T E S

1. Indeed, so routine is this ‘error’ among the #ADOS commentariat, that it’s difficult not to recognize it as a deliberate misnomer, one that’s intended to evade the extremely important matter of specificity when it comes to slavery in the American context (and its awful scope), and to fix the event that animates the #ADOS justice claim within a group of people who’ve long been dead, and with whom the institution ostensibly died as well. Which, well, obviously it didn’t. Today every cent from chattel slavery is still coursing throughout the system, predominantly within the same group of people, and still determining outcomes that—on a basic level—sure look an awful lot like those observed in plantation life. And until that is meaningfully changed, it’s extremely hard to see how slavery can be neatly relegated in any sense to a past occurrence in the country).I

 

 

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Knowing the Voltron

The Voltron roves across Twitter, a crude accretion of grift, bruised egos and begrudgery. It’s a doddering thing, infant-like in its tendencies and possessing the sort of mega arrogance that naturally attends a coming together of con-artists who’ve all somehow managed to never really get caught at their game. Now it wears a clergy collar, but don’t mistake it as worshipping anything other than its own reputation, its own renown. It never has and it never will.

See it go off ravenously in search of more timelines. That’s all it wants—more timelines, more things on which to make its horrible, hateful noise. And that is, in essence, all the Voltron really is: just noise. It’s a kind of squawking. Block it. Don’t block it. Report it. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. It won’t ever go away. But the fact that it won’t go away also doesn’t really matter, because the Voltron operates under the grand delusion that a growing chorus of voices all chanting “Trash!” at an idea can actually result in that idea’s death.

Think about that for just a second. Imagine what you must indulge in yourself in order to think that you can kill an idea on Twitter. We live in a world that saw fascism—another idea—survive a war that wiped out three per cent of the global population, but these people think they’re going to kill an idea that actually seeks to heal a people by blue checking it to death? By RTing each other?

See the witless vultures circling the Voltron’s head. See around its feet a pack of simpering imbeciles. See it dragging behind it a limp, barely alive thing, an absolutely miserable record of real world accomplishments. It trails the Voltron as it roams Twitter like a tantrum-prone child possessively clutching its blanket. It loves its blanket. See the prelate, the Voltron’s latest component, hold it up by its tatters and shake it angrily when someone from #ADOS challenges him. ‘Look! We sued Alabama last year!’ ‘We sued Myrtle Beach last year!’ ‘We sued Prince George’s County last year!’ What—he asks with absolutely dripping contempt—has #ADOS accomplished? In fact, last month, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals “agreed with the State of Alabama that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue the Attorney General over their complaints about Alabama’s minimum wage law.” Last week it was reported that the Prince George’s case awaits hearing in another appellate court with what seems equally dim prospects for success. The Myrtle Beach thing is the third iteration of a case that has languished in defeat since 2018. These are less ‘wins’ than windows into what awaits black America without—as Yvette Carnell has said—“chang[ing] the discourse that’s going to be in court,” and the economic power to actually back and protect the group’s ostensible rights. And that’s the thing that #ADOS has, over the past three years, done more to meaningfully advance than the Voltron has done in several decades.

What’s blindingly apparent is that the Voltron has nothing whatsoever to offer in the way of a better alternative as a response to the very real crisis that confronts ADOS in 2020. It offers them nothing unique. Nothing that actually penetrates. Nothing true. Only an insistence upon the old, ossified forms that no longer fit in the world, at least not right now. And right now is all that can possibly matter to ADOS. It insists on selling them a soil that is incapable of supporting new growth. And when you dare to point that out to the Voltron, its face floods a kind of indignant crimson and its mouth starts to froth. It fumes bitterly and eventually it calls you trash. There. That’s your alternative.

The Voltron is what manifests when those old forms are under threat. It’s what emerges in response to a situation where people actually start to notice their abandonment. And the Voltron mobilizes so swiftly and manically because the questions that start being asked when a whole group begins perceiving the fact of their abandonment are ones that necessarily contain the possibility of exposing the whole lot of these hucksters as being totally complicit in that group’s miserable condition. That threat is always there for these people, always latent. That threat animates the Voltron, and it rages at the sight of #ADOS doing the slow, hard work of pulling people into the orbit of its idea. It rages hardest at how the #ADOS movement proceeds with the very conviction that the Voltron is right now in the process of losing, or rather, having it ripped away; namely, that there is no doubt on its claim to the future. #ADOS is reclaiming the group’s singular struggle against their immiseration and despair, and all the Voltron can do is choke on its own rage at how it can’t annihilate that idea, how the movement remains visceral and alive in a way they have never know, no matter how desperately they all try to render it insignificant or banal.

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Understanding Aiwuyor: Laziness, Lies, and the Clout Bait of Clouding #ADOS

About midway through Understanding ADOS: The Movement to Hijack Black Identity and Weaken Black Unity (the first of what I’m sure will amount to a small volume of anti-#ADOS literature by Jess Aiwuyor, since this one was met with such raptures from those who are seated at the popular table she so nakedly longs to join), the author asks ten questions that she seems to feel will problematize the #ADOS initiative and highlight its supposedly crude, narrow and ultimately bogus criteria for determining eligibility for reparations. They range from issues of the identificatory (e.g. how would lineage be proven in African Americans with “no trace of documentation beyond grandparents or great-grandparents”?) to issues of the administrative (e.g. who is going to manage this “fact-finding/witch hunt expedition”?).

Of course, she doesn’t actually want to know these things. And it’s worth noting, before going any further, that while there’s a quality of sheer laziness apparent throughout Aiwuyor’s entire ‘report’, nothing in its 27 pages quite so captures that intellectual lethargy like leaving these questions (and the other totally legitimate ones that she raises) unanswered for her readers. Moreover, it’s next to impossible not to feel that by presenting these questions in a way that suggests to her readers that there are in fact no answers to them (or that the mere fact of asking them somehow serves to implicitly confirm the supposed deficiencies of #ADOS), that what animates this supposedly sedulous dive into the politics of #ADOS is less a desire to seek out actual information about that project and more a determination to obfuscate and further muddle its message.

As a piece of quote-unquote scholarly writing, there is nothing even remotely rigorous about what Aiwuyor has produced. There is nothing actually meaningfully informative or communicative about it, which (it seems to me anyway) is maybe what writing should at least aim for in the grown-up world in which we live and on which stuff like Aiwuyor’s intends to comment. Understanding ADOS is purely an expressive act of writing that strives (and certainly succeeds) only to validate Aiwuyor’s own template of assumptions and preconceptions that she brings to it. And in doing that, she violates just about the most elementary and basic axiom of argumentative and critical writing: namely, try not to assume that your reader automatically shares your opinion of yourself as being the smartest person in the room. It is, in fact, your obligation to other adults (who in reading your ‘report’ are taking time out of what is probably their extremely busy day) to respect the idea that if you assert a proposition, that reader is then realistically going to expect some proof of its accuracy. Unless of course your only intent as a writer is to encourage your reader not to look too closely at—or to think more deeply about—something that might be worth their attention.

So anyway, I guess that’s my preamble-y bone to pick. And I say it only because it took me all of about three minutes to type up those aforementioned questions into an email to send to Dr. Sandy Darity, the individual who—as even Aiwuyor herself acknowledges in her article—has contributed a great deal to the understanding of what reparative policy conceived within an #ADOS framework might look like in the U.S., and who is thus exactly the person to whom a responsible writer would try to reach out in order to address and perhaps help clarify any questions that arise when thinking about certain less-than-straight-forward circumstances.1

Anyway. Within a few hours of my having sent that email, I had in my inbox a characteristically thorough response from Dr. Darity delineating each one of Aiwuyor’s hypotheticals, the answers to which I won’t include here because I’m not gonna do Aiwuyor’s own work for her. This article is intended less as a rebuttal to her mischaracterizations of #ADOS (there’s a fine one of those already out there) and more as a rebuke of her obviously self-serving and totally dishonest motivations for even writing about #ADOS in the first place. The terrain of actual ideas is clearly not at all where Aiwuyor intends to meet and wage a contest. Hers is a work of propaganda. And because propaganda doesn’t aim for the minds of its audience, there’s really no point in trying to intercept it on that level by earnestly addressing the ‘substance’ of what’s being said. The point, rather, is to simply reveal to that audience the ways in which the propagandist proceeds from a position of total contempt for them—how the propagandist starts from the premise that her audience in fact has no free thinking minds to begin with. And if the idea is that, because I’m white, I’m necessarily to be checked from speaking on issues like this, or in this manner, then that’s fine, because libelous crud like Understanding ADOS can’t help but eventually meet its comeuppance, and at some point someone somewhere who is the permissible color or gender to point out its many, many flaws in both conception and execution will happen upon it and do exactly that. Until then, consider this a placeholder.

And also until then, consider this: what seems to, above all, cause Aiwuyor the most worry and anxiety about the #ADOS model of repair is the matter of documentation—‘slave papers’ as she tellingly and disparagingly terms it. This is, of course, what would give legal validity to an individual’s justice claim against the country that enslaved his or her ancestors and which has since been in the highly profitable business of essentially caste tending his or her group for the last century and a half. The cynical intent behind her deployment of ‘papers’—a charged word if ever there was one in our present political moment—is glaringly obvious. And one should have little difficulty understanding exactly what kind of menacing specter she is trying to raise in borrowing the parlance of immigration enforcement and putting it in the mouth of the #ADOS movement. For her, ADOS asserting its particularity is something that she needs to portray as promising, at best, excessive bureaucracy, and at worst, the monstrous barbarism of the state. It must promise these things, but never, ever that which is in fact its very seed: justice.

Yet, for such an avowed pan-Africanist, Aiwuyor seems quite ignorant on what actually happens out there in the real world, in the 21st century, when you begin abstracting out from the specific cultural identity/historical experience/victimhood of an oppressed group, particularly as that identity/experience/victimhood relates to a justice claim held against the group’s national transgressor.

Indeed, one need only consider the quilombo movement in Brazil, a reparations initiative that has sought to have permanent land titles issued to the descendants of slaves whose ancestors had escaped the plantation and subsequently established autonomous, free settlements throughout the country’s hinterland (i.e. quilombos).

In just about every way, the quilombos embody a kind of pan-African ideal, not only in their initial resistance to the dehumanizing condition of bondage, but also in their societal organization, which—as Aviva Chomsky points out in her article, Why Black Panther is Revolutionary, Even Though It Isn’t—was committed to “reviving or recreating neo-African forms of government and culture.” Nonetheless, while it worked to preserve these modes and customs particular to the continent from which they’d been taken, the emancipatory politics espoused by the quilombo people on Brazilian soil were ones that initially rejected any theoretical system that sought to erase the distinction between their specific plight and those of other oppressed peoples. Addressing the Second Congress of Black Culture in the Americas in 1980, noted pan-Africanist and Brazilian scholar Abdias do Nascimento said in his essay, Quilombismo: An Afro-Brazilian Political Alternative, “Quilombismo, as a nationalist movement, teaches us that every people’s struggle for liberation must be rooted in their own cultural identity and historical experience.” How is this assertion any different from what #ADOS has been saying all along? Why does it seem that Pan Africanism has so radically curtailed its tolerance for one group to articulate the importance of acting in self-interest? For cautioning the limitations of a political-social struggle that tries to encompass a plurality of oppressed at the expense of one group’s singularity? Is that not precisely what Nascimento speaks in defense of when he says something like, “Unanimity is impossible in the social and political field. We must not waste our time and energy with criticisms that will come from outside the Quilombist movement. We need to develop constructive self-criticism, within our own organizations, in the sense of widening our Black and Quilombist consciousness toward the final objective—ascension of the Afro-Brazilian masses to the levels of power.” And finally, does not Nascimento, in declaring, “Nationalism here must not be translated as xenophobia,” make the very same plea for respectfulness and an understanding of intention that today redounds from within the ADOS group as they pursue their particular justice claim here in the U.S.?

If Quilombismo was able to be accepted on those terms, then what is it about the #ADOS movement that makes such agreement with its approach impossible to find? Is it the fact that #ADOS refuses to pretend that these internationalist alternatives for popular black political organization have not unequivocally failed and that the world has not changed in such a way that the terms of engagement must necessarily be re-evaluated in light of those changes? Because they read the actual political landscape and not just old texts and politics tracts? Because they have the sense that the once trickle of possibility for an international uprising has not been handily stanched by just tightening the tourniquet of capital? What does it mean today in 2020 to seriously commit to trying to slacken that tourniquet?

Because if the idea is that the solution resides in there being less distinctions among black people throughout the globe, or in a country, then the present state of Brazil’s quilombo movement may prove instructive.

Having initially required claimants who sought recognition as quilombos to be able to trace their lineage to a runaway slave settlement, a 2003 decree issued by then-president Lula Da Silva expanded the legal definition of quilombo and allowed essentially any Afro-Brazilian community to apply for certification so long as a majority of its residents agreed. In other words, in Brazil, you can essentially opt into the ethnicity of a quilombo. At the time of Lula’s decree, the number of certified quilombo communities was at 29. In just ten years, that number swelled by 8,000 per cent. And while this extremely inclusive collective of poor black Brazilians no doubt elates the pan-Africanists who locate a radical potential in such a oneness of black people, the capacity of it to actually deliver justice leaves a lot to be desired.

In a 2014 article entitled “10 Reasons Brazil’s Quilombo Reparations Program is Failing Afro-Brazilians,” Dr. Jan Hoffman French, a professor of anthropology at the University of Richmond and author of Legalizing Identities: Becoming Black or Indian in Brazil’s Northeast, cites the fact of there being no official definition of quilombo—of the definition of quilombo for purposes of recognition “remaining permanently in flux”—as something that seriously complicates and hampers the group’s ability to make effective land rights claims. In addition, a report on Afro-Brazilian property rights released by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice highlights how—even though the group may rightfully be entitled to land claims—the quilombos are too economically dislocated to meaningfully oppose wealthier interests who have competing land claims and (naturally) a far great amount of political influence. The report also identifies how, in the absence of “meaningful government intervention”, the quilombos are simply too vulnerable to monied interests and the country’s vivid legacy of racism to stave off further marginalization.

In other words, the lack of a specific legal identity for a group and a lack of government intervention/protection specific to that identity have served to consistently undermine that group’s efforts at securing reparative justice. Are these not the two very things that #ADOS foregrounds in the reparations component of their national black agenda (an agenda which—it bears repeating—would in fact prove advantageous to all black Americans)? What does it mean that, while so many rural Afro-Brazilians could align with one another against the state in a bid for land claims, it simply did not seem to matter precisely because they all have been made to be so poor? So uniformly politically weak? Is the solution to incorporate yet more poor blacks? Or does a more viable approach for consolidating power consist in developing a more exacting definition of who is owed what compensation for particular state-enacted harms, and for that group to then mobilize and advocate for government policy in order to insulate and develop that compensatory wealth? Does not the #ADOS national black agenda speak to the group’s ultimate aim of using that compensatory capital and government protection to secure political influence in order to then work towards enacting broader change and protections for all black Americans? Thinking more broadly, what are the implications for efforts at international support across diasporic black communities when the respective groups actually begin gaining some influence from the compensation to which their specific cases against state oppression entitle them?

It just seems strange that Aiwuyor doesn’t even attempt to ask these kinds of questions when thinking about #ADOS. From start to finish, it’s reflexiveness, rather than inquisitiveness, that appears to govern her examination of the movement. And it’s difficult on some level not to wonder what a Pan Africanist like Nascimento would have made of Aiwuyor’s conclusion, which is, in effect, to issue a rallying call for a coordinated takedown of it. After all, doesn’t Aiwuyor—by encouraging her readers to reject out of hand the particularity of the ADOS experience—fit exactly Nascimento’s description of what he felt was the most repugnant of adversaries? A person who, he says, in doing what she is doing, “merely display[s] a form of contempt for us, since they do not respect our identity nor the specificity of our history and problems as victims of racism, nor our struggle to overcome that specific oppression.” Isn’t that Understanding ADOS in a nutshell?


1. Not to mention the fact that Professor Darity tends to exhibit a preternatural patience and be maximally respectful when discussing with his interlocutors some of the more ambiguous aspects of the mechanics of this thing.

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