Issue 8, Fall 2009
Rebel Youth reprints edited notes from a talk by Asad Ali given at the March 09 Young Communist League’s Ontario schools, and developed further at the August 09 YCL school. We reprint this here as one perspective on a important question, with the hope that it will be of interest not just to other YCLers but all people in the broad movement for social justice. We welcome dialogue on how to better understand and address racism, sexism and heterosexism. (If you would like a copy of the full notes, unedited, please write
and we will put you in touch with the author.)
Why is understanding racism, sexism, and heterosexism important? Do we here today reflect the full potential of a revolutionary organization? Does racism, sexism, heterosexism exist outside the YCL? If you think it does, are we immune from it?
No one is immune from the racism, sexism and heterosexism. We can't overthrow capitalism in Canada by ourselves as we exist today; the revolutionary movement will need to include broader sections of people of colour, women, and queers if we're going to have a chance. This talk is about some of the things we need to understand so we can grow even further than we already have.
1. We need to understand racial and patriarchal supremacy, and the liberation from it, as historical and social processes. These aren't arbitrary oppressions that divide the working class. For example, there is discrimination against left-handed people too, but why don't we find capitalists dividing workers into right-handed workers who oppress left-handed workers? The processes of racism, sexism, and heterosexism are not arbitrary; they are historical processes, like capitalism, that predate capitalism. Fredrick Engels in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and State explains how these processes develop with private property and pre-capitalist economic systems, how patriarchy developed so men (fathers specifically) could keep control of private property while the state developed so one people could dominate other peoples. Similarly, the movement to liberate ourselves from these historical and social oppressions is also historical and social; like the class movement against capitalism it is rooted in our development as humanity.
2. There are social processes that maintain racial and patriarchal supremacy, and social processes are also trying to break out of it. This is not a “zero sum game.” Capitalism uses these pre-existing systems of oppressions and transforms them, but they do exist apart from capitalism because they are rooted in pre-capitalist systems of production that haven't disappeared even though capitalism is the dominant one. Religion also is closely tied with different forms of racism in terms of why some peoples adopted certain religions throughout their communities. It's no accident that the northern Germans and Swedes are Protestants while the French, Spanish, and Italians are Catholics. Religions were adopted by different people as part of a historical and social process as well.
3. Recognize denial and dodging admission of privileges as a “defense mechanism.” When getting screwed over, we can usually feel it in our gut – even if we don't understand how we're getting screwed over. It's good to trust your gut in those situations. But if you know you don't fully understand racism, or sexism, or heterosexism, don't trust your gut. Instead, slow down, take a breath, if you feel a “defense mechanism” kicking in, and consider where it's going. It might best better not to say something, even if you don't see why it is racist, sexist, or heterosexist. Avoid jumping to an opinion. You might not “get” the issue yet, so avoid giving uninformed opinions. Realize your own role in the historical systems of racism, sexism, heterosexism and check yourself before you dodge an uncomfortable responsibility.
4. What are the ways white, male, and straight supremacy are perpetuated? What ways are people of colour, women, and queers kept in their place – or even threatened? Maybe it's just a suggestion that things could get ugly for them. Could we be reproducing or repeating stereotypes, jokes, behaviors, references? What is the role of the news and media in perpetuating white supremacy, and how might we be playing into that? Taking racism, sexism, and heterosexism out of an analysis of any news event can give twisted results that can be the opposite of what is actually going in.
Karl Marx said "there is something in human history like retribution: and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself." (The Indian Revolt, New York Tribune, Sept. 16 1857). What Marx is saying is that there is such a thing as payback. In this particular case Marx was criticizing the British public for being horrified at the tactics of Indian revolutionaries. If they wanted to see the source of the horror, Marx said, look instead at how the British were treating the Indians and others before the revolution. Take the sexist and male supremacist attacks Thelma and Louise went through in the famous movie of that name. If this wasn’t considered, you might end up just blaming Thelma and Louise for the violence – instead of recognizing what they are giving payback to.
5. How can we perpetuate anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, and queer liberation? We should support the development of leadership of people of colour, women, and queers, and orient ourselves towards the organizing happening within communities of people of colour, women, and queers. If we're not aware of the organizing happening in these communities it is not because it is not happening – it just seems that way because we're not paying attention. In personal interactions, be aware of interrupting and listen: pay attention. Social movements that are here today are not necessarily what will be around tomorrow. This is different from tokenism (which is just including a representative for formality’s sake) instead of connecting with the process of change, revolution.
6. Conduct meetings, events, and ourselves everywhere not just for today's YCLers but for future YCLers who will be joining us from communities we haven't reached yet. Would we act the same way if they were here today? Would the people of colour, women, and queers who will be joining the current YCL people of colour, women, and queers find our group to be different in terms of racism, sexism, heterosexism than other groups out there? We should make sure that we don't tell jokes or make comments that perpetuate the racism, sexism and heterosexism that exists outside the YCL, echoing the subtle and open threats that reverberate outside.
7. Get the people, issues, and communities of color, women, and queers on your radar. If it looks like nothing is going on, it probably means you're not looking deeply enough or with an orientation towards what is developing. As we build relationships with each other, and learn to recognize each other, our ties will come in handy when “the shit hits the fan” and we all need to find support from people we can trust.
8. Initiate solidarity and support when people of colour, women, and queers are under attack. Initiate corrections and challenges within the YCL and workplaces and other organizations. Do the capitalists have a better sexual harassment policy than we do? Would we initiate disciplinary charges against someone for racist sexist homophobic remarks? Initiate criticism and self-criticism, don't leave anyone hanging alone to fight for themselves as that will be a mortal danger to our organizations.
9. Privilege is not the same as power. True solidarity is when it counts, when you have to sacrifice privilege/comfort to defend those who have no comfort in the current situation, and pay a price alongside those who don't have a choice. Solidarity is empty if it doesn't go into action when it's needed and is just words said from comfortable positions. Trust is built only when it counts. If you hold back support because it makes you feel uncomfortable, who is winning: white/patriarchal supremacy or liberation from it?
10. Keep reading and discussing current events as an exercise. Is a certain news story part of a racist, patriarchal, sexist, or heterosexist project? Be aware of the stereotypes and how you might be perpetuating them.
11. Don't be silent or passive or accepting of anything just to avoid dominating if you are white/male/heterosexual, play your role in liberation because no one else will play it for you.
12. We are part of the social change we are fighting for and “things don't stay standing.” If you are not developing forward on these questions, then chances are that you are not developing in the direction you choose – you are moving in the direction the boss chooses for you! Stay on top of these issues, because unbeknownst to you, racism, sexism, and heterosexism could be staying on top of you, and using you.
(1) http://colours.mahost.org/org/whitestudents.html Ten Things to Remember: Anti-Racist Strategies for White Student Radicals by Chris Dixon
(2) http://colours.mahost.org/org/whatiwish.html What I Wish I Knew: My Own Goals for Anti-Racist Practice by Catherine Jones
(3) http://colours.mahost.org/articles/karens.html The White Collective (a blinding glimpse of the obvious) by Barbara Karens
(4) www.nccri.ie/cdsu-cop.html Anti-Racist Code of Practice, National Community Development Programme, December 1999
(5) From the classics: Engels Preface to Origins of the Family Private Property and State