Christopher Niles and Racism

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at
Thu Dec 3 13:45:55 PST 1998

eric beck wrote:

> >Having spend 23 years as an activist in Mississippi myself, working with
> >dozens of others who are still there dedicating their lives to a struggle that
> >has been their concern since the fifties and sixties, all of us working at
> >subsistence incomes among the people we were organizing, never twinging as we
> >patiently discussed capitalism and socialism in the course of struggling for
> >desperately immediate material needs, I cannot see anything but racism in
> >Niles' post. Finally I see why Niles wants to deny that such a thing exists.
> There is the easy way to abort debate: resort to the old "You're a racist"
> (or facsist or sexist or etc.) even though there is no real proof of it,
> even though it takes some incredbible intellectual gymnastics to arrive at
> the accusation of racism(how's that for some clever turns of phrase).

Yes, but Christopher is just chock full of such gymnastics himself. And he's making claims about what people ARE. Ken presented an pretty straight-forward preface for making a claim about what he saw in what Christopher WROTE.

> I can see something other than racism in Christopher's post: I can see lots
> of overgeneralization ("most of them hailing from an American
> middle-class..." "American "leftists" and "activist" are not really
> interested in sacrificing anything..." "most reform struggles...") based,
> from what he writes in his post, on fantasy and frustration rather of any
> real experience or personal knowledge. I also see lots of loopy logic
> ("Both "activism" and the "left" need to die in order for a disciplined,
> creative, morally and ethically anchored, un-sentimental, revolutionary
> anti-captialist, pro-democracy opposition to be born") that barely masks a
> directionless critique of leftists. His problems with activists are
> simple-minded and very unfair. So I can see lots of reasons to criticize
> him--some of which you used--without resorting to the knee-jerk
> name-calling.

I agree with virtually all of the above. I think it's wrong to accuse Ken of "resorting to the knee-jerk name-calling." But I also think the other points you make are more likely to lead somewhere useful.

> Just because he criticizes, however wrongly, what you do and
> who you specifically work with does not make him a racist.

True in principle, but now you're misreading Ken.

> This may be irrelevent info, but I remember Christopher posting in the past
> that he wants to burn down the prisons in Washington, DC (percentage of
> black inmates, 90) that he wants to enable a rather poor neighborhood of DC
> to set up its own radio station (percentage of black population, 80), and
> that the signature on some of his posts has been "The New Abolitionists."
> Maybe all this was cheeky, but I dont think so; I took him seriously. And
> of course none of this means he isn't a racist, but I don't see where your
> proof comes from--other than it being an easy accusation to make.

"The New Abolitionists" was a term used by some of the white folks associated with the founding of the NAACP. It's always seemed more ludicrous (given Christopher's osetnsible politics) than cheeky to me. But cheeky enough, I suppose.

How any of this proves that a given post of his isn't racist is beyond me, however. A good deal of what he writes seems dedicated (consciously or not) to racial mystification (in the name of the exact opposite, natch!) A racist streak in such thinking is hardly unheard of. We all know we live in a racist society, and have to struggle against internalized racism on an ongoing basis. One needn't be playing "holier than thou" to call things as you see them.

But what's most important is that Ken presented a specific context for his claim -- and you're doing a good deal to ignore that context. Again, I agree that your critical approach is probably more fruitful, but Ken was expressing a point of view borne of experience you seem (inadvertanly, I'm sure) too eager to brush aside.

> > Finally, why do you
> >put the words "the cause" in quotation marks?
> Because he was mocking the people he was describing. Cheap, yes, but it
> doesn't mean he is against the cause.

Not by itself. In the context of everything he's written, though...

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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