Note: In the newsletter version, this edition of Little Red Letter is incorrectly numbered as #36. In this web version, it has been corrected to #34.
Each January I am reminded of my alma mater’s annual debate on the pros and cons of canceling class on Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day. A private, liberal arts college (with less than 10% of the student population identified as people of color) hoping to keep up its “commitment” to diversity and inclusion, it assigns a small team from the student government to organize an entire day of MLK-related discussions, panels, keynotes and lunches – but, these events are entirely optional for the student body. Professors were asked to incorporate the events into their Monday, students were encouraged to attend events even if their classes were not accommodating, and if neither worked out, then that’s that, they tried their best, they really did. And to me — to students of color — the overall message of MLK Day was this: that you can discuss racism, imperialism and poverty (MLK’s three tenants of evil) but only when it was convenient to the white status quo.
Each January, I pull out MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and relish in his biting commentary on the “white moderate,” thinking about how neatly my alma mater fits into his definition of one:
…the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season’….
White moderates come in many forms. We can laugh at the liberals and their institutions all we want, but I have heard white leftists argue that economic justice will bring racial justice (it won’t); that focusing on race does little to focus on the advancement of feminism (also wrong); and that bringing up race in general divides the leftist movement (I wonder who says that?). These arguments just prove one thing to me – that white leftists are telling socialists of color to wait, to continue to center whiteness.
This January, the groundbreaking docuseries on child predator and abuser R. Kelly, produced by dream hampton, aired on Lifetime, revealing the open-secret of sexual violence in the music industry and subsequent targeting and vulnerability of young black girls. The only people who were talking about this were black women…and only black women. I heard crickets from white comrades – this was not brought up in conversations, not mentioned on social media, nothing. The contrast is striking compared to the barrage of think-pieces, commentaries and hot takes from white people when news broke of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior. What made the news about R. Kelly different? Socialists of color cannot wait for the answer. We already know it.
This January, I want you to ask yourself: Why haven’t I educated myself on the vulnerability of black girls? Why haven’t I looked into the historical repercussions and interlocking oppressions that uniquely affect black women? What can I do to fight the patterns of behavior within myself that perpetuate white complacency? Am I a white moderate “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice?” Can we change our capitalist economic system without addressing the patriarchal and white supremacist norms that allow it to function?
This January, let us commit to feminist accountability, an intersectional analysis coined by activist Ann Russo that practices anti-racism, community accountability and transformative justice through a feminist-lens. The first component of feminist accountability I want you to focus on is this: consider the ways that your own behavior might contribute to the interlocking systems of oppression we are trying to dismantle — and connect it to the social and political issues we are fighting. Consider how you can change those behaviors — to account for the harm you may have caused — because you can. In this fight for a better world, feminist accountability presents an opportunity to all people to play a role in ending violence and oppression, and to build up communities accountable to each other that we want to see in the world. You are a part of this community. Let’s build it together.
One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.
Martin Luther King Jr
Save the date for:
10 Strikes, One Evening: A Book Discussion with Erik Loomis
Thursday, February 21, 2019⋅ 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
East Side Freedom Library (1105 Greenbrier St, St Paul, MN 55106, USA)
The Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and East Side Freedom Library (ESFL) are proud, honored, and ecstatic to invite you to an evening with Erik Loomis, labor historian and author of his latest book, “A History of America in Ten Strikes,” on Thursday, February 21 from 7 PM to 9 PM. “A History of America in Ten Strikes” is a concise, insightful portrait of America through its labor movements and union organizing – the good, the bad, the racist – set against important political, social and cultural contexts at the time (ie. the general strikes by slaves during the Civil War). Because labor history is US history, Loomis not only weaves in dozens of other labor actions throughout the book, but also skillfully illustrates the issues that have plagued labor in US society. Loomis calls out the xenophobic, racist and sexist sentiments that have hindered the success of worker power, while also showcases the solidarity that has united labor movements in spite of it. Today, these lessons are invaluable to the preservation of grassroots organizing.
For Further Review
With so many great podcasts, articles, books and videos coming out, it’s easy to miss something great. Here’s a few things we’ve found and loved recently:
Here’s a real banger about resolving the perceived tension between class and identity.
This one seems to hit a little close to home.
A debate with economics writer Steven Pearlstein.
We have all enjoyed chocolate but rarely think of the source, its time we come to terms with our consumption.
Mosley, a writer more known for crime fiction, focuses this non-fiction work on how African-American elites have betrayed emancipatory movements, and how the Democratic Party has betrayed African-Americans.
Slavery is thriving in Libya, where thousands of Black Africans hoping to get to Europe instead find themselves bought and sold, forced to work for nothing, and facing torture at the hands of their owners
They deserve no sympathy for their awful views, but values voters aren’t wrong to whine: almost no one wants their money.