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AT: Reform Links

The affirmative’s negative state action is the best process to fight against the surveillance state – legal policies might not be perfect but they are a step in the right direction to racial justice

Gray 15, Erin Gray is a staff writer for Mute; an online journal on racial equality and injustice, “WHEN THE STREETS RUN RED: FOR A 21ST-CENTURY ANTI-LYNCHING MOVEMENT,”, NN

If we are to mobilise a 21st-century anti-lynching movement, we must engage not only Wells’s attention to the intersections of racial and sexual violence, but also her critiques of capital and the state, her internationalism, the shift in focus in her later writings to the militant spirit guiding the survival efforts of black industrial workers and sharecroppers, her advocacy of armed self-defence, and her abolitionist analysis of the policing apparatus that captures blacks in a racialised penal relation. [34]∂ These aspects of Wells’s praxis grew out of a black abolitionist tradition of testifying to the fully national vagaries of white sexual domination, political control, and the violence of the law. The women who demanded freedom before Congress in the aftermath of their sexual brutalisation at the hands of KKKops during the Memphis Riots of 1866 drew on this abolitionist tradition, as did the black feminist literary tradition that emerged after Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, to demand that violence directed at individual women be placed in a larger public context and thus in relation to the collective violence aimed at their communities. Other post-Reconstruction writers like Pauline Hopkins, Angelina Weld Grimke, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Barrier Williams, and Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer similarly emphasised the continuities between sexual attacks on black women and the lynchings of black men through the abolitionist strategies of urgent political speechmaking, coalition-building, and internationalism. [35]∂ Those of us fighting to realise a world in which all black lives matter must take seriously this abolitionist framework and place it in historical relationship to our contemporary abolitionist movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). [36] Prison abolitionists maintain that the US system of mass incarceration – which includes surveillance and policing and cannot be located solely inside prisons and jails – is a geographic solution to the social, economic, and political relations it has been designed to contain. These relations include unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness, and they stem in large part from the unfinished project of the nineteenth-century movement to abolish racial slavery. They are the vestiges of the political compromises that shaped the language of the 13th Amendment and that allowed for the recuperation of white supremacist power after the great promise of Reconstruction.∂ The PIC is the primary weapon that has been wielded against black life since conservatives sought to retrench the gains made by civil rights and black power movements in the 1960s. Following the wave of riots that erupted in urban centers in the late 1960s to challenge private property relations that promote the under-employment and super-exploitation of black labour, as well as police brutality and other state-backed injustices, conservatives responded by mobilising a moral panic about crime levels that they erroneously alleged were on the rise. Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign was grounded in the rhetoric of ‘Law and Order’ that marshaled US lynching culture’s historical suturing of criminalisation to black bodies. By individualising revolt in the image of the black criminal, this conservative backlash sought to weaken black revolutionary consciousness and the successful interracial alliances that black radicals were forming with Latino activists and members of the white working class. [37] This law and order project instantiated a punishment industry that, throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, would cut into and largely destroy the social programs and political-educational initiatives undertaken by groups like the Black Panther Party. [38]

Reform in the context of decriminalization is the best system of incremental change – legal change and public advocacy is critical

Carruthers 15, Charlene A. Carruthers is a political organizer and writer for Black Voices, “Black Future Month: End the Anti-Black Police State,”, NN

A future for Black people in America must include full decriminalization of acts not considered to be criminal when performed in non-Black bodies. Where we go from here requires approaches to public safety that don't hinge on the control of Black people, empowerment of police and reliance on punitive measures. Our call to action must support restorative justice practices, quality public school systems and good living-wage jobs. The call for an end to mass criminalization must include a call to the end of the Anti-Black Police State.∂ BYP100 Agenda to Keep Us Safe defines criminalization as a process in which behaviors and people are presumed criminal. Criminalization has less to do with what is actually done, and more to do with society's ideas about who is "other," whose behavior is wrongful and who should be punished. The law, media and public perception drive criminalization.∂ Black people who fall outside of the protected norms of whiteness, gender conformity, heterosexuality, middle-class and otherwise so-called respectable appearances are routinely harassed, arrested, sexually assaulted, incarcerated and killed. No person should have to live under the threat, fear or reality of criminalization from a neighbor, police officer or teacher. However, this threat is a reality for many young Black people in the United States.∂ Whether it is Trayvon Martin walking down the street or Renisha McBride knocking on a door for help, Black people are systemically criminalized and killed for acts generally recognized as harmless when non-Black bodies perform them.∂ Criminalization impacts all Black people. Last year Monica Jones, a Black trans woman and activist, was arrested for "walking while trans." Jones explains that "it's a known experience in our community of being routinely and regularly harassed and facing the threat of violence or arrest because we are trans and therefore often assumed to be sex workers." All people should be able to walk down the street without fear of being profiled.∂ From the local beat cop to the police chief, law enforcement agencies, have too much power over our lives. I want to live in a world where police department budgets don't take up over 20% of overall budgets while community services are allocated 6% or less, as they do in cities like Chicago and Oakland. I want to live in the world where society prioritizes quality public education, well-rounded social and mental health services and sustainable infrastructure.∂ The officers who killed Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland, Ohio and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri are reflections of a broad and powerful Anti-Black Police State. Individual police officers are just one party in the breathing-while-Black-pipeline to jail, prison, sexual assault or death. I am less invested in focusing on the character of an individual police officer than the character of the entire system.∂ The Anti-Black Police State protects elected officials who advocate for more police officers while public schools in Black communities are closed and underfunded en masse. Communities must organize against candidates who call for more police and support candidates who have commitments and records of protecting teachers, parents and the public school system.∂ Where we go from here requires us to see that the systems that fund tear gas in Ferguson, MO, the police officers gun in Cleveland, OH, the tanks in occupied Palestine and the detention centers in Arizona are all connected. If enslaved Africans in the Americas could imagine a future where their grandchildren would not be slaves, we can imagine a future without mass criminalization, incarceration and the Anti-Black Police State. Our freedom dreams must be radical. Our way forward must be radically inclusive or it will repeat the same strategies, tactics, policies and ideas that have failed our people before.∂ We'll know Black lives matter when the anti-black police state no longer exists and all people can live with dignity.

Interpretations of whiteness/structural antagonism understands it solely as transhistorical domination of one racial class over another. This erases the political power and inputs people of color have in racial formations—turns any positive potential for movements

Michael OMI, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley, AND Howard WINANT, Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, 13 [“Resistance is futile?: a response to Feagin and Elias,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 36, Issue 6, 2013]

Their essay has an overly tendentious tone and sometimes misreads and misinterprets our book. Still there are many points of agreement between the racial formation and systemic racism theories. Where we disagree most strongly is over our respective understanding of racial politics. Feagin and Elias focus so intensely on racism that they lose sight of the complexities of race and the variations that exist among and within racially defined groups. In their ‘systemic racism’ account white racist rule is so comprehensive and absolute that the political power and agency of people of colour virtually disappear. Indeed, the ‘white racial frame’ (Feagin 2009) is so omnipotent that white racism seems to usurp and monopolize all political space in the USA. Yes, ‘counter framing’ is present, but it appears marginal at best, unable effectively to challenge the pervasiveness, persistence and power of white racism. Since Feagin and Elias dismiss ideas of ‘racial democracy’ tout court, their perspective makes it difficult to understand how anti-racist mobilization or political reform could ever have occurred in the past or could ever take place in the future. They see racism as so exclusively white that any notion of white anti-racism is virtually ignored and completely unexplained.

Despite Feagin and Elias's good intentions of linking their analysis to anti-racist practice, we believe their views have quite the opposite effect: without intending to do so, they dismiss the political agency of people of colour and of anti-racist whites. In Feagin/Elias's view, ‘systemic racism’ is like the Borg in the Star Trek series: a hive-mind phenomenon that assimilates all it touches. As the Borg announce in their collective audio message to intended targets, ‘Resistance is futile’.

We have a smaller space than the main essay, so we'll dispense with a point-by-point refutation of their understanding of racial formation theory. We assume readers of Racial Formation and of our other work know that we are not closet neocons, that we consider racism a foundational and continuous part of US history (and indeed modern world history), that we agree that whites have been the primary creators and beneficiaries of racist institutions and practices, and that we not only respect but also situate ourselves in the black radical tradition, especially the Duboisian tradition. We will focus on our fundamental point of disagreement with Feagin and Elias – how we respectively understand the very nature of racial politics in the USA.

Here we will engage Feagin and Elias on a few important questions that will highlight both where we agree and where we disagree. Our topics are as follows:

• What is the relationship between race and racism?

• What is distinctive about our own historical epoch in the USA – from post-Second World War to the present – with respect to race and racism?

• What are the political implications of contemporary racial trends?

We discuss these questions with the intent of clarifying racial formation theory as well as sharpening the debate with the systemic racism perspective. We appreciate the opportunity to do so.

What is the relationship between race and racism?

In Racial Formation we suggest that the concepts of race and racism should be distinguished and not be used interchangeably (Omi and Winant 1994, p. 71). Some have argued that race is solely a product of racist domination; on that account race does not exist outside of racism. As readers of Ethnic and Racial Studies well know, many writers place quotation marks around race (‘race’) to distinguish their use of the concept from popular biological notions of human variation. This is meant to designate the wobbly social scientific status of the race concept.

In contrast to this perspective, we consider race to be real because it is ‘real in its consequences.’1 Our ideas about how the meaning of race is produced are basically Duboisian and Jamesian: we all make our racial identities, though we do not make them under circumstances of our own choosing. Race and racism do not exist merely because of white domination, but also because of resistance and independent action: what C. L. R. James called ‘self-activity’ (James, Lee, and Castoriadis 2005 [1958], p. 99). The process of making and remaking race – racial formation – is fundamentally political. It is about the ‘freedom dreams’ (Kelley 2002) that shape racial conflict as much as the white racism emphasized by Feagin and Elias.

As Feagin and Elias acknowledge, we have developed a fairly detailed approach to racial politics, centred on the constant and cumulative interaction of what we call ‘racial projects’. In our account, racial formation proceeds through such projects, which both signify upon race (representing it, interpreting it) and reciprocally structure social relationships (of power, inequality, solidarity, etc.) according to race. If there is a disagreement with Feagin and Elias here, it seems to be about how much power people of colour have in this process of race-making, this racial formation process. In their account, the very meaning of race is overwhelmingly, if not totally, shaped by a ‘white racial frame’. By contrast, we believe that people of colour have a lot of power in the production of racial meanings, much more than Feagin and Elias are willing to concede.

OK, what about racism? There are points of agreement and difference between Feagin and Elias's perspective and ours. We provide a hard-core definition and extensive discussion (Omi and Winant 1994, pp. 69–76), defining racism as a racial project that combines essentialist representations of race (stereotyping, xenophobia, aversion, etc.) with patterns of domination (violence, hierarchy, super-exploitation, etc.). Racism ‘marks’ certain visible characteristics of the human body for purposes of domination. It naturalizes and reifies these instrumental distinctions. Racism is the product of modern history: empire and conquest, race-based slavery, and race-based genocide have shaped the modern world; they have been met with resistance and sometimes revolution, also race-based in crucial ways. This is where race comes from: the drive to rule, and the imperative to resist.

Feagin and Elias think (white) racism shapes race. Although they read us quite selectively and negatively here, they recognize that we also identify whites as the most comprehensive practitioners and by far the greatest beneficiaries of racist practices. We agree that racism is a ferocious force, a deeply structured-in dimension of US (and world) society. But this is apparently not enough: Feagin and Elias also want to confine racist agency to whites and whites alone. We argue that not all racism is white, and that people of colour can practise racism as well.

Let us look more deeply at this question. Who is white? Beyond the question of the contingent and highly porous boundaries of this group lies the question of whether there are any ‘positive’ dimensions of white identity or whether it is a purely ‘negative’ quality, signifying only the absence of ‘colour’.2

Then there is the ‘white privilege’ question, which builds on Du Bois's analysis (1999, p. 700) of the ‘psychological wage’ received by poor whites in virtue of their race. While we are in substantial agreement with the ‘privilege’ argument regarding whites’ ‘possessive investment’ in racism (Lipsitz 1998), there are problems there too. How do we account for white anti-racism if we understand privilege as the source of racism? Is white anti-racism even possible, if racism is envisioned as an economistic zero-sum game in which clear winners and losers are demarcated?

We think that race is so profoundly a lived-in and lived-out part of both social structure and identity that it exceeds and transcends racism – thereby allowing for resistance to racism. Race, therefore, is more than ‘racism’; it is a fully fledged ‘social fact’

like sex/gender or class. From this perspective, race shapes racism as much as racism shapes race. Racial identities (individual and group), and other race-oriented concepts as well, are unstable. They are not uniforms; races are not teams; they are not defined solely by antagonism to one another. They vary internally and ideologically; they overlap and mix; their positions in the social structure shift; in other words they are shaped by political conflict.

In Feagin and Elias's account, white racist rule in the USA appears unalterable and permanent. There is little sense that the ‘white racial frame’ evoked by systemic racism theory changes in significant ways over historical time. They dismiss important rearrangements and reforms as merely ‘a distraction from more ingrained structural oppressions and deep lying inequalities that continue to define US society’ (Feagin and Elias 2012, p. 21). Feagin and Elias use a concept they call ‘surface flexibility’ to argue that white elites frame racial realities in ways that suggest change, but are merely engineered to reinforce the underlying structure of racial oppression.

Feagin and Elias say the phrase ‘racial democracy’ is an oxymoron – a word defined in the dictionary as a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. If they mean the USA is a contradictory and incomplete democracy in respect to race and racism issues, we agree. If they mean that people of colour have no democratic rights or political power in the USA, we disagree. The USA is a racially despotic country in many ways, but in our view it is also in many respects a racial democracy, capable of being influenced towards more or less inclusive and redistributive economic policies, social policies, or for that matter, imperial policies.

What is distinctive about our own epoch in the USA (post-Second World War to the present) with respect to race and racism?

Over the past decades there has been a steady drumbeat of efforts to contain and neutralize civil rights, to restrict racial democracy, and to maintain or even increase racial inequality. Racial disparities in different institutional sites – employment, health, education – persist and in many cases have increased. Indeed, the post-2008 period has seen a dramatic increase in racial inequality. The subprime home mortgage crisis, for example, was a major racial event. Black and brown people were disproportionately affected by predatory lending practices; many lost their homes as a result; race-based wealth disparities widened tremendously. It would be easy to conclude, as Feagin and Elias do, that white racial dominance has been continuous and unchanging throughout US history. But such a perspective misses the dramatic twists and turns in racial politics that have occurred since the Second World War and the civil rights era.

Feagin and Elias claim that we overly inflate the significance of the changes wrought by the civil rights movement, and that we ‘overlook the serious reversals of racial justice and persistence of huge racial inequalities’ (Feagin and Elias 2012, p. 21) that followed in its wake. We do not. In Racial Formation we wrote about ‘racial reaction’ in a chapter of that name, and elsewhere in the book as well. Feagin and Elias devote little attention to our arguments there; perhaps because they are in substantial agreement with us. While we argue that the right wing was able to ‘rearticulate’ race and racism issues to roll back some of the gains of the civil rights movement, we also believe that there are limits to what the right could achieve in the post-civil rights political landscape.

So we agree that the present prospects for racial justice are demoralizing at best. But we do not think that is the whole story. US racial conditions have changed over the post-Second World War period, in ways that Feagin and Elias tend to downplay or neglect. Some of the major reforms of the 1960s have proved irreversible; they have set powerful democratic forces in motion. These racial (trans)formations were the results of unprecedented political mobilizations, led by the black movement, but not confined to blacks alone. Consider the desegregation of the armed forces, as well as key civil rights movement victories of the 1960s: the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Naturalization Act (Hart- Celler), as well as important court decisions like Loving v. Virginia that declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. While we have the greatest respect for the late Derrick Bell, we do not believe that his ‘interest convergence hypothesis’ effectively explains all these developments. How does Lyndon Johnson's famous (and possibly apocryphal) lament upon signing the Civil Rights Act on 2 July 1964 – ‘We have lost the South for a generation’ – count as ‘convergence’?

The US racial regime has been transformed in significant ways. As Antonio Gramsci argues, hegemony proceeds through the incorporation of opposition (Gramsci 1971, p. 182). The civil rights reforms can be seen as a classic example of this process; here the US racial regime – under movement pressure – was exercising its hegemony. But Gramsci insists that such reforms – which he calls ‘passive revolutions’ – cannot be merely symbolic if they are to be effective: oppositions must win real gains in the process. Once again, we are in the realm of politics, not absolute rule.So yes, we think there were important if partial victories that shifted the racial state and transformed the significance of race in everyday life. And yes, we think that further victories can take place both on the broad terrain of the state and on the more immediate level of social interaction: in daily interaction, in the human psyche and across civil society. Indeed we have argued that in many ways the most important accomplishment of the anti-racist movement of the 1960s in the USA was the politicization of the social. In the USA and indeed around the globe, race-based movements demanded not only the inclusion of racially defined ‘others’ and the democratization of structurally racist societies, but also the recognition and validation by both the state and civil society of racially-defined experience and identity. These demands broadened and deepened democracy itself. They facilitated not only the democratic gains made in the USA by the black movement and its allies, but also the political advances towards equality, social justice and inclusion accomplished by other ‘new social movements’: second-wave feminism, gay liberation, and the environmentalist and anti-war movements among others.

By no means do we think that the post-war movement upsurge was an unmitigated success. Far from it: all the new social movements were subject to the same ‘rearticulation’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001, p. xii) that produced the racial ideology of ‘colourblindness’ and its variants; indeed all these movements confronted their mirror images in the mobilizations that arose from the political right to counter them. Yet even their incorporation and containment, even their confrontations with the various ‘backlash’ phenomena of the past few decades, even the need to develop the highly contradictory ideology of ‘colourblindness’, reveal the transformative character of the ‘politicization of the social’. While it is not possible here to explore so extensive a subject, it is worth noting that it was the long-delayed eruption of racial subjectivity and self-awareness into the mainstream political arena that set off this transformation, shaping both the democratic and anti-democratic social movements that are evident in US politics today.
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