With Allies Like These: Reflections on Privilege Reductionism — there is just so much gold here. Not a complete endorsement of the article, but a loud sigh of relief: at least we weren’t the only ones thinking this. Some highlights:
“Black Power can be dismissed as anti-feminist and homophobic. Labour struggles are racist, colonialist, and patriarchal. Radical feminism is anti-trans*, anti-sex, and sometimes homophobic. Other feminisms are pro-capitalist, and white-centred. Gay liberation was dominated by white, affluent men. Components of all movements sought to integrate themselves in political power structures and Capital. In order for an idea to be worth considering, the generator of the idea must be politically pure. And since the purity has to do with strict adherence to a code of speech and conduct which was developed and is learned primarily through universities in the past twenty years, which are accessible only to a portion of workers (and in departments which are desirable to far, far fewer than even have access) the pool of people who are able to speak with any authority is quite small. Interestingly, it does not include many on-the-ground organizers, past and present, but is dominated by those who have access or desire to pursue a formal education in Progressive Studies.”
“For the privileged subject, struggle is presented as a matter of personal growth and development—the act of striving to be the best non-oppressive person that you can be. An entire industry is built on providing resources, guides, and trainings to help people learn to challenge oppression by means of “checking their privilege.” The underlining premise of this approach is the idea that privilege can be willed away. At best this orientation is ineffective, and at worst it can actually work to recenter those who occupy positions of privilege at the expense of wider political struggle. Andrea Smith reflecting on her experiences with anti-oppression workshops, describes this issue:
These workshops had a bit of a self-help orientation to them: “I am so and so, and I have x privilege.” It was never quite clear what the point of these confessions were…It did not appear that these individual confessions actually led to any political projects to dismantle the structures of domination that enabled their privilege. Rather, the confession became the political project themselves.”
“The culture of anti-oppression politics lends itself to the creation and maintenance of insular activist circles. A so-called “radical community” — consisting of collective houses, activist spaces, book-fairs, etc. — premised on anti-oppression politics fashions itself as a refuge from the oppressive relations and interactions of the outside world. This notion of “community”, along with anti-oppression politics’ intense focus on individual and micro personal interactions, disciplined by “call-outs” and privilege checking, allows for the politicization of a range of trivial lifestyle choices. This leads to a bizarre process in which everything from bicycles to gardens to knitting are accepted as radical activity.
Call-out culture and the fallacy of community accountability creates a disciplinary atmosphere in which people must adhere to a specific etiquette. Spaces then become accessible only to those who are familiar with, and able to express themselves with the proper language and adhere to the dominant customs.”
“If we accept that a) confrontation is relegated to privileged social positions, and that b) inclusivity is an uncompromising imperative, it follows that pacifism is the only acceptable approach to struggle. There exists an essential contradiction. Within the framework of anti-oppression politics it is only the most oppressed who are considered to be legitimate actors in struggle (the role of the privileged is the ally). Yet, it is argued that militancy is for the privileged alone. Thus, the only option available is passive resistance. The framing of confrontational forms of resistance as belonging to the realm of privilege acts to relegate necessary tools — actions, tactics, strategies, etc. — to a domain that is inaccessible. It re-inscribes, rather than challenges the unequal distribution of power in society, acts to erase militant histories in which oppressed peoples have engaged in violent resistance, and further thrusts a role of hapless victim onto those who are oppressed. There is nothing liberatory about this.”