You know what I like, and feel is so important? That he doesn’t say “Men thinks those are THEIR positions”. He says “We think those are OUR positions.”
As a male feminist, he still doesn’t exclude himself from the group of men.
The fact that celebrities are held to a higher standard of scrutiny than corporations is a sad fact of neoliberal activism, and one that reinforces the idea that what you DO is less important than what you say.
What Joan Rivers said on and off stage may be repugnant, but it pales in comparison with the actions of Sony, GE, Apple, and hundreds of other multinational conglomerates let off the hook by both the general public (predictably) but also by the otherwise responsible socially conscious cognoscenti. By not focusing on their crimes in first- and third- world countries alike (including but of course not limited to the promotion of ableist hiring practices and the unconditional support of Israeli settlements - the same crimes which are being attributed to Ms. Rivers), all we are doing is rewarding carefully calculated corporate anonymity.
It has been revealed by the folks over at Jacobin Mag that Louis Giufradda, FEMA Chief under Ronald Reagan, drafted a “contingency plan” for the mass internment of hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of African-Americans as his thesis at the US Army War College at Carlisile Barracks (Pennsylvania) in 1970. What’s remarkable about this document is not its audacity and ethical reprehensibility, but that Giufradda accurately predicted the US government’s “solution” to racial tension, as enacted from the late 1970s through the present.
The Thesis Itself
Giufradda begins “National Survival-Racial Imperative” by giving us a weepy “Last of the Mohicans” type of treatment of the history of racist violence. He begins the report by detailing the history of racism against Native Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese-Americans throughout history, with the usual rap. Native Americans were unfairly forced from their land, Black folks faced a lot of poverty and discrimination after the end of slavery, and Japanese-Americans were the victims of racist hysteria. After rattling off a litany of events of racist violence, Giufradda simply shakes his head at the horrible misfortune of it all. Ending will a general condemnation of racial prejudice, the report, if we take its beginning and end out of context, would make for a decent high school essay. It lacks any insight or even supposition into the actual source of racist social practice itself, beginning the essay with the statement that “Racial prejudice is not an inherent or natural trait. Prejudice is a learned reaction that is undesirable when it is limited to a few individuals, but extremely dangerous when it reaches the level of group prejudice.” This establishes an attitude embedded in every sentence of the thesis: That racism is a thing that is merely in people’s minds, that it only exists for the same reason some people believe in Scientology.
This all seems to take a sudden turn when Giufradda brings up the race riots of the 1960s. He is sure to present “both sides” of the issue, as in, racial violence perpetuated by white people and Black radicals. In explaining the origins of Black radical groups, he more or less concedes that they stem from the deplorable civil conditions that African-Americans live in, but is certain that they do not represent a logical or calculated response, despite the very evidence he presents. He takes note that Black soldiers who had returned from the Vietnam War sometimes refused to serve in National Guard units deployed against Black protestors and rioters, and that Black radical leaders had (correctly, in Giufradda’s admission) to take the violence suffered by African-Americans in the U.S. system seriously. Sprinkled with vague claims about the supposed willingness of Black radicals to commit unremittent violence against white people, Giufradda supplements his conclusions with sociological data which supposedly confirms broad Black support for protest riots. The, *ahem*, possibility that African-Africans suffer degrading and unacceptable violence and poverty is not seen as a serious factor, or as a conceivable justification for radical action. I, of course, would not expect better insight from a military bureaucrat in training, but this is an important factor in the narrative structure of Giufradda’s thesis to keep in mind.
As for the explicit plans to build concentration camps for mass populations of Black people, the Jacobin article on Giufradda’s thesis picks through the unsettling details. Giufradda imagines situations where racial conflict gets out of control, to the point where not only Black radicals, but Black people threaten the integrity of local and state governments. In order to justify the internment of between 500,000 African Americans (his minimal number) [pg 38], he claims that “Unfortunately, the most persistent and radical of the militant agitators have not always behaved in a logical and rational manner. Overestimating their logic and rationality could be as serious an error as underestimating the fanaticism of their revolutionary beliefs” [pg. 42]. We see some crocodile tears about the need to address the causes of racism, including poverty, in order to avert such a possibility. With little doubt, this was simply rhetoric tacked on at the end. For starters, Giufradda, in his time as FEMA chief, was drawn to pontificate on scenarios of potential grand mass destruction*, also coupled with the same paper-thin moral proclamations we see in his thesis. Also, as stated before, we see no real consideration of the way in which conditions of poverty and disenfranchisement could potentially justify Black radical action, but we do see plenty of condemnations of that same radical action.
Race and the Neo-Liberal Turn
We should not view Giufradda’s thesis as a one-off bluster, or even as the fantasy of an old-school archconservative. As many-a-scholar of political economy have observed, the late 1960s saw the fomentation of ideas among government bureaucrats and business professionals on how exactly to respond to the radicalism, both student and colored varieties, as it was blossoming in the anti-war movement and civil rights movement. As political scientist Bernard Harcourt has argued in his book The Illusion of Free Markets, a new ideology rapidly developed in response to the failures of the post-WW2 regime to properly suppress political dissent in the United States, one based on a broad notion that society achieves social harmony by conforming to economic harmony, and that the disruption of economic harmony should be viewed as verboten by politicians and policy makers. One of the progenitors of the neo-liberal consensus, future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, wrote and distributed a rallying cry for a political rebellion on the part of the wealthy and powerful. In 1971, he said that “One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates, in its own destruction” [pg 2]. It was time to take the gloves off, and cease “tolerating” people who struggled for the end of poverty, or the end of structural violence against those who are wronged by American capitalism.
Powell’s vision of a business revolt would be realized by the Carter and Reagan administrations, and hasn’t been seriously questioned by any president or prominent congressman since. Giufradda’s vision of a radical solution to radicalism amongst the oppressed has also come to fruition, but in the form of the new American prison system. Giufradda’s realized dream also has never been seriously questioned by either a sitting president or a congressman of serious stature.
One of the best ways to suppress any revolutionary or rebellious activity, as governments around the world, both capitalist and otherwise have learned, is to build something which inhibits democratic possibility. When Paris’ streets were plagued by labor rebellions and community uprisings in the mid-1800s, Napoleon III’s chief urban planner, Baron von Haussmann, demolished entire communities and constructed wide boulevards across the city. These boulevards could not be blockaded or seriously defended by the smaller side of an asymmetrical force, and Parisian slum dwellers and workers had often used blockades to defend themselves against the French military in the past. When the Paris Commune, the first socialist society established in Western Europe, came under attack by the military in the 1870s, it could not defend itself against the military might which flooded into the city through the military-enabling infrastructure that had become embedded in the city. The traditional avenues of opposition (literally!) had been destroyed.
In the post-60s era, American cities saw an explosion of crime, the return investment on almost a century of planned ghettoization of minority communities and FBI assault on Black and Latino leadership. The Young Lords became the Vice Lords, and many of the Black Panthers’ young followers, with the movement broken and scattered, became gangs as well. When Powell’s vision of organized prohibition of economic reforms, the hellish conditions in American slums became permanent, its change was unthinkable in the eyes of bureaucrats, mayors, and businessmen, and they had the power to make it unthinkable for everyone else. In Giufradda and the policies which followed the zeitgeist he sat at the beginning of, the solution was found in mass imprisonment, which continued to rapidly grow, until the United States was the undisputed prison capital of the world, with staggering amounts of Black and Latino/Latina people ripped away from the general populations and the communities they grew from.
Although the truth was always perfectly available for those who simply wanted to take the time to look at the facts, Giufradda represents the consciousness behind the move towards mass incarceration. Not the “subconsciousness,” or the secret desires of white people, but the type of thinking which could look at the mass assault on minority communities and say that this is not only okay, but the best course of action, and in the same breath, insist that there is no racism involved here at all. In his thesis, Giufradda strips away rationality from black radicals- social practice, in his explicitly stated view, is imply learned behavior. Not consciously chosen by those involved in these social practices. Not in reaction to real understandings of real realities. It follows the traditional paternalism of the U.S. government and the ruling class which thoroughly dominates it, where the past grievances of minority peoples may receive an insincere nod, but whose behavior is ultimately treated as an irrational outburst amidst unideal historical conditions. It’s the same sort of thinking which was employed by Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, in his editorial writing when he admitted that white dispossession of Native American nations was deplorable and unjustified, but that the cultural extermination of Natives was the only rational solution to the problems presented by the history of white violence.
In this narrative, (which is more than a narrative, but also a material reality for people of color), it has been already decided that it is unacceptable for the following to change: The class-structure which determines the relative social standing of different racial and ethnic groups, the authority of the U.S. ruling class, the absolute authority of the U.S. military, and the absolute control over finance and capital by traditional elites. There is hardly a single serious social or political conflict in U.S. history which does not touch on these issues, and the idea of confronting the question of racial equality without confronting these factors is patently absurd. However, this absurdity which lays at the foundation of neo-liberal discourse and practice, is our “reality.” It isn’t the true reality of course, and it is jutted through with cracks and fissures. When it comes to narratives such as this though, it isn’t so important that they represent reality, as that they are backed up with the threat of force, either physical or financial. Thus, in a sick way, Giufradda’s thesis is profoundly rational in its conclusions, more rational than those who came after him and couched mass incarceration in the rhetoric of personal safety. The problem is, as is usually the case with government and military bureaucrats who try to ethically and practically justify their actions, sprouts from profoundly irrational soil. And make no mistake: The rationalities advocated by Giufradda and Powell have been highly effective in accomplishing the social goals of the white ruling class in the U.S. The foundation itself is, however, incompatible with the rational well-being of millions of people, and no “rational” systems sketched from its foundations will ever overcome this fact.
Thus, in attacking and blocking out political possibilities, the white bureaucrat can, in fact, look at mass minority incarceration and say that it is a rational decision to construct such a carceral regime. Even those who in a literal sense are members of minority communities, such as Barack Obama, can conduct this type of thinking, as long as they align themselves with white “rationality.” We can see this in his administration’s extension of carceral logic in the aggressive deportation of 1.5 million people from the United States, a policy that serves white ruling class interests, and views entire minority communities as problems to be solved by the implementation of force. As with Giufradda, we can imagine a member of the Obama administration simply claiming that they are dealing with the mess left to them by past “irrationalities,” and that no other solution is conceivably reasonable. “There cannot possibly be blood on my hands, because I had no choice.” It’s telling that Hollywood movies and American television, and videogames are obsessed with scenarios where supposedly good people are forced to make harsh decisions for the greater good, because it mirrors the consciousness of the bureaucrats who proudly kill and destroy in the name of their “rationalities.” They congratulate themselves for not saying racist things or wearing pointy hoods, and leave it at that, as far as their moral self-examination goes. The German-Jewish philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer, during World War 2, speculated that this blindness was an intrinsic character of bourgeois governance, to both put these narratives into practice and to disseminate them throughout society. Dialectic of Enlightenment is a fine book, but we do not need it in order to see this. It’s happening right here, and the rotten hypocrisy of the Giufraddas, with its glaring inhumanity, and only hold up through its cracks and fissures so long. The problem is exasperated by the concrete presence of the prison system itself, and the real power (in the most primitive sense) held by the American ruling class. Ironically, the system, by concertizing prohibitions on democratic change, only raises the stakes. For those who suffer under structural, well-enforced violence, a sledge hammer is the “rational solution” to the prison archipelago.
I will have an undergraduate class, let’s say a young white male student, politically-correct, who will say: “I am only a bourgeois white male, I can’t speak.” … I say to them: “Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?” Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very determinist position-since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak… From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programmes of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will have earned the right to criticize, you be heard. When you take the position of not doing your homework- “I will not criticize because of my accident of birth, the historical accident” - that is the much more pernicious position.
Decolonization is the act of naming/understanding the violent practices of colonization and subverting them in a myriad of ways. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. It happens every time we engage in economies of barter, it happens every time we respect someone’s gender pronoun, it happens when we learn of each other from each other, it happens when we recognize our interdependence and care for each other as though our lives depend on it, because they do.
I don’t know if it is possible to impose an artificial separation between community organizing, community building, and love. I think that community organizing can be a really ableist concept that ‘requires’ that bodies function in particular ways in order to be ‘actively’ doing something. Audre Lorde tells us that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
And in a system of colonization and capitalism that would have us believe that we are only valuable when we are producing something-knowing that–it means that rest, self-care, and community care are such significant acts of decolonization.
Just because one is socially located on the oppressed side of power relations, does not automatically mean that he/she is epistemically thinking from a subaltern epistemic location. Precisely, the success of the modern/colonial world-system consists in making subjects that are socially located on the oppressed side of the colonial difference, think epistemically like the ones in the dominant positions.