against 'entrenched identities'

Michael Eisenscher meisenscher at
Wed Jul 1 23:01:39 PDT 1998

At 12:21 PM 7/1/98 -0400, Max Sawicky wrote:
>> Oh Max, you have been inside the Beltway too long if you think that DC/PG
>> County is the most likely place to find real world expressions of what you
>> call "practice." That's like saying Atlanta is representative of
>Au contraire, I would argue that DC/PG is an excellent
>test case. For non-natives, Prince George County in
>Maryland adjoins the District and has seen major
>population growth of working-class blacks, as well
>as wealthier ones. Few better places for the germination
>of black activism could be imagined. The District is
>really two cities. One is the "inside the beltway" that
>some people like to rant about when they run out of arguments,
>though I'm not referring here to Mike E. It is the world of
>the Federal government and all those seeking to influence it
>or profit from it, a world in which my participation is much
>less than imagined. The other Washington is that of residents
>east of the park, mostly black, for whom the Federal government
>is where they work and not the object of their professional
>or political interest. (An exception is that lately the Feds
>directly run the DC government, so they are the object of more
>notice than normally.) The idea that all these folks are
>politically absorbed in the Federal government is silly.

While I do not dispute your description of two cities, the point I was trying to make is that because so much of the local economy is linked to federal government institutions, and because of the influence that policy and power brokers for vested interests have over the politics and political culture of the surrounding communities, even the "other" city about which you speak is not truly reflective of what you would expect to find in other areas of the country. I don't pretend to know the Black communities of DC and its surrounding areas, but my six month stint there in '95 did give me a sense that even in those communities, the shadow of beltway politics is huge. It distorts not only how the world looks to those in its shadow but how those who would be likely to become the active agents of change interact with both their own communities and with the power structure that overshadows them. I would like to be proven wrong and maybe someone on this list can set me straight about that.

>Sections of DC and PG are just as troubled as the worst parts
>of a Detroit or Chicago. You are right in the sense that DC/PG
>is just one place and not a decisive test of the question of how
>much black activism is going on.

And that's my central point. It is not just not a decisive test, it is not a representative one on which you would draw conclusions for the larger society.


>> How many predominantly white conferences have you been to in which there
>> were a multitude of tendencies, some extreme, others not? These rarely if
>Plenty, but they were never called "The White such and such . . . "

But that's the point! They did not have to advertise themselves as the "White such and such" because they were not drawn together via their identification as victims of oppression on the basis of the whiteness. These confabs were largely or entirely white precisely because of the social constructions of race that exclude Blacks unless their is a conscious determined effort to dismantle the multitude of overt and hidden barriers to their participation. It is white society that has defined Blacks as "the other." It is a failure to understand the implications of the experience of being cast as "the other" that causes some on this list to react so emotionally and judgementally to the desire of Blacks to meet together in order to better figure out how to deal with their situation, without having to simultaneously negotiate their relationships with us, however well-meaning we may be. By the very nature of the BRC there were bound to be elements present who represented an anti-white reactionary nationalist point of view. So what? There were not representative of the gathering nor determinative of its deliberations or outcome. To insist on our "right" to be present, or to suggest that failure to include us (whites) is reflective of some fundamental ideological or political flaw, is to suggest that we do not have confidence that Black radicals, meeting on their own, would come to the right conclusions or that our absence would necessarily result in them taking the wrong path to social change. What that says about us is far more damning than anything it says about them.


In solidarity, Michael

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