Christopher Niles and Racism

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at
Fri Dec 4 13:47:34 PST 1998


> (Niles):
> "Activism is about revolution? Do you really believe that most--I say most,
> Ken--activists (not a very precise term, it must be emphasized) are aiming for
> revolution and not reform? I'd really like to know which activist you're
> talking about. Sure, I've met a few in my times but they sure as hell ain't no
> majority."
> ... Revolution is not created by an act of will. It is created
> when the exploited class and oppressed masses can no longer
> continue living in the same way, AND when the ruling class can
> no longer rule in the same way. BOTH of those conditions are
> necessary preconditions for social revolution. That "final
> conflict" is resolved either by the reconstitution of society
> anew or by the common ruin of the contending classes. So to
> demand that activists either be "about revolution" in every
> breath, or else to treat them as dirt, indicates your own lack
> of seriousness.

(Or perhaps simply well-intentioned confusion.)

> People struggle to better their conditions of life. When they
> do so in common cause with others similarly situated, and
> in solidarity with those who suffer equal or greater exploitation
> and oppression, the struggle merits support. These struggles
> have revolutionary content because they challenge the otherwise
> normal competition among the workers which Marx called the
> secret of bourgeois rule. Activists are the people who take
> on the tasks of intervening in such struggles with whatever
> personal and material resources they can bring to bear to
> enhance the prospect of victory. To condemn that activity is
> barbaric.

Ken has really hit the nail on the head right here. Demystified all the label-slinging in an unflashy blaze of down-to-earth common sense.

Niles, in contrast, seems to be wrestling with phantoms, as exemplified by his battles with all those terms in quotes.

Let me try to explain this a bit.

In another post Christopher Niles wrote:

(Me):-> >
> >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.
> Yet another "white" man accusing a Black man of having "racist"
> tendencies.

Well, of course, we ALL have racist tendencies. We're creatures of a racist system with a racist history. For example, I just reviewed *Honey, Hush: An Anthology of African American Women's Humor*. It has a whole chapter "Just Like A White Man." Why is there a whole body of humor around blacks trying to act white? Because a lot of blacks DO try to act white. Is anyone on this list going to pretend there's no racist self-hatred involved in this?

I don't mind that Niles tried to lump me in with low-life scum like Bill Bennett, it's just symptomatic of his engagement with phantoms. He hasn't listened at all to the context of my remarks. But WHY is he so incapable of hearing what's being said? Why the desparate need for condemnation without understanding? Why the desparate need to purge himself of the deamons represented by "activist" and "leftist"? Why the need to create a new heroic identity for himself, and to simultaneously defame those who do not measure up?

Perhaps part of the answer comes from Niles own admission

> As for me, as a recovering "activists" and "leftists," (who, yes, grew up
> in the so-called "middle-class"),

like the the subjects of the humor in "Just Like A White Man", Niles is a victim of identity-based self-hatred, now as a middle-class black. This, too, is something that afflicts millions, and it's totally misguided to treat as an individual shortcoming on his part. It's a systemically-generated condition.

How do we handle privilege in a system we want to overthrow? It can NEVER be resolved. It has to be struggled with as long as the condition persists. The illusion that we CAN resolve such contradictions by a sufficient act of will or purification is itself just another aspect of the system. The kind of common-sense understanding that Ken provided in the passage above is a way out: do the work, and the necessities of struggle will SHOW you, on a day-to-day basis how to deal with such contradictions -- but they will still be there again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Niles continues:

> I'm realizing how my American optimism has interfered with
> my ability to truly appreciate what it really means
> to sacrifice. Which is to say that I've not--in my eyes at
> least--sacrificed very much and I am trying to learn what
> it really means to sacrifice

This illuminates his earlier remarks, claiming that "activists" "optimisim" divided them from the working class. That statement was on its face OBJECTIVELY ridiculous. One reason socialism has had such a hard time in America is precisely BECAUSE of working class optimism, as virtually everyone has remarked at some time or another. (Lottery tickets anyone?) But this latest passage helps us understand what this statement was really about -- it was about Niles search for purity, renunciation and redemption.

Keeping our heads on straight about day-to-day struggle provides an invaluable benchmark for sorting out the phantoms and deamons that afflict us, individually and collectively. Thus, Ken's remarks were a very potent dose of medicine for what ails the left. It's not that he has the right "line." It's that he has the right attitude. If we all had that attitude, then our arguments over the right line would be a good deal more substantive and more fruitful.

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at

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

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