Why the “White Ally Industrial Complex” Cannot Bring Justice
It goes without fail that if more than 3 white liberals get together and talk about race, especially if there is a person of color in the group, one of the libs will inadvertently ask some form of the question “am I okay? Am I racist?” Beyond the patronizing and tokenized status this kind of question puts on any non-white people in the conversation, it misses the point: racism can only be confronted as a structure of power.
The construction of race and its massive material effects are not about individual culpability or moral absolution. It’s not about individual people being ‘cured’ or given 21st century woke indulgences, because the structure is beyond the individual. Performative white anti-racism does not help reverse the greatest destruction of black wealth in America after the 2008 financial crisis or change the widespread biases of the police or make any redistributive policy like reparations any more possible.
So much white liberal anti-racism comes back to inadvertently reinforce current hierarchies and power structures that make long-lasting justice a Sisyphean struggle. When liberals try to push the boulder further up the hill, they are pushing with only one hand due to their inability to critique capitalism, empire, and the exploitative relationship to White Supremacy. Since before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, American White supremacy, colonial expansion, and capitalist exploitation have been intrinsically linked.
Even the word “ally” belies a level of separateness. Any cursory glance at history shows how allies can change and how one’s status as an ally is itself contingent on the other side of the agreement. So when we traffic in that language, there is an implicit message that the party with less power has better keep their end of the bargain. What are white liberal anti-racists asking for so their end of the bargain will be kept? Money and power, of course.
The ascendancy of modern individualism, the kind of individualism fused with market fundamentalism, means that there will always be a market for people who feel bad about their station in society who wish for absolution. Individual absolution does not change the structure of power, but it sure is a good way to make the privileged feel comfortable and as though they are making the world a better place. This is the sick compromise between capital and many anti-racist activists that has rendered so much political energy inert for the past decade.
The rise of more explicitly radical anti-racism groups like Black Lives Matter can serve as a healthy counterweight to the individualist delusion that defines so much of the mainstream conversation about race. The structural critique made by BLM is a necessary antidote, but we still must be wary of liberal tendencies towards marketizing and individualizing these movements and ideas. The allure of capital has lead to some bizarre moments where a growing class of activist/commentators will bend over backward to make white liberals feel welcome and safe rather than challenged such as when DeRay McKesson had international pop star and avatar of white feminism Katy Perry on his podcast to teach her about white privilege
Fellow whites: stop obsessing over whether you are ok or bought the right product or are supporting the right media personalities and asking for PoC racial absolution. There are no magic words for forgiveness or the perfect collection of products to buy. Instead, we must build collective power in the tradition of A Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, and The (actual) Black Panthers, fusing labor movements, anti-capitalism, and anti-racism. There is no way to battle the evils of one without confronting the other. The hierarchy of race cannot just be replaced with a monarchy of wealth, as it will just inflame the worst aspects of both.