[News] Why the emphasis on white skin privilege is white chauvinist

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 2 13:38:39 EDT 2008


Speech by Fred Ho, June 5, 2008, State University of New York-Stony 
Brook, Conference on Class in America and Tribute to Ted Allen, 
organized by Michael Zweig

My essay is a challenge to everyone in this room and at this conference.

First, I will argue for a replacement view of American history that 
rejects the inevitability of a white majority population, the 
sanctity of the presently configured borders of the U.S.A., and 
reject any notion of a white working class whose interests are 
special or distinctive for being white.

Second, I shall vigorously critique the emphasis given to "white-skin 
privilege" as the dominant characteristic in the conceptualizing of 
the oppression of so-called "peoples of color" in the U.S., and for 
its odious contribution to reinforcing white chauvinism within the 
U.S. left and working-class by delimiting the struggle of "oppressed 
nationalities" (what I prefer to call so-called "peoples of color") 
to the goal of integration (with the white oppressor nation).

Third, I reject the dominance, centering, emphasis or assumed 
leadership of any struggles for revolutionary change in the U.S.A. to 
be based upon whites or white workers.

I shall argue for the replacement of the "race" formulation and the 
over-emphasis upon "white-skin privilege" with a "return" to the 
national question(s) framework and argue that no separate politics or 
forms of organizing that centers and emphasizes its focus upon whites 
is correct or efficacious, but arguably, harmful and hurtful to the 
cause of building working class unity and power within the U.S.

I propose that Leftists must center and concentrate their efforts 
upon the actual political and structural dismembering of the U.S.A. 
by building the multiplicity of national liberation struggles among 
the oppressed nations and nationalities, the destruction of the 
American nation-state as it has been constructed and construed, with 
the replacement of a multiplicity of new national identities and 
political energies that centers the U.S. revolutionary struggle among 
the workers of these national liberation struggles.

The U.S.A. has a peculiar historical development.  Founded by 
European settler colonization, the U.S.A. grew to its present borders 
through military force, the purchasing of vast land territories that 
were the spoils from former colonial powers (viz., the Louisiana 
purchase from France and the $7.2 million purchase of Alaska from 
Russia), the military annexation of northern Mexico and the Hawaiian 
islands, the expansion of settlements and industries to the Pacific 
Ocean, and the acquisition of islands and territories throughout the 
Caribbean, central America (eg., the Panama Canal) and the Pacific 
Islands (eg., Guam, America Somoa, etc.).   Concurrently, via the 
manipulation of immigration laws, a concerted campaign to repopulate 
the continent of North America in favor of European-descended peoples 
and disfavoring all others, continues to the present.

Before the consolidation of the United States of America could occur, 
the Native peoples who inhabited the land that we now call "the lower 
48", with a rough estimated population range at the beginning of the 
16th century to be between one to 10 million, had to be driven off 
their lands to make way for the new settlers, and ultimately, given 
the resistance by the Natives, nearly annihilated.

At first, the early European settlers were at the mercy of Native 
benevolence and assistance.  However, as the settlers grew in number, 
their capitalist appetite for land and resources intensified.  The 
Natives were unwilling to participate in the construction of a 
capitalist economic and social order.  Social stratification and 
private ownership of land and resources was completely alien to them, 
and once experiencing the cruelties of exploitation and oppression, 
resisted such incursions and assaults upon their way of life and homeland.

The Christians brought the Devil to the "New World" and the Devil was 
them.  So-called primitive peoples did not subscribe to the 
monotheism and anthropocentrism of the Europeans.  It was not 
possible for these societies to regard even their enemies as 
sub-human or without a soul.  It was not possible for them to regard 
nature as not a living being for which they, as humans, came from and 
belonged to.  The Europeans, however, slaughtered and enslaved them 
as if they were logs to be felled, and their land and ecology nothing 
more than objects from which money could be made.

Native Americans could not be coerced into American plantation 
society or indentured servitude.  Their completely non-capitalist 
mode of production, which had proven to be self-sufficient and stable 
for eons, were devoid of highly developed state repression 
structures, which could not be appropriated by and made to service 
the formation, facilitation and social control needs of a capitalist 
economy.  The capitalist mode of production was as inimical to Native 
peoples as the diseases that the Europeans brought.   Not predicated 
upon nor driven by profits and its concomitant social and cultural 
precepts of individualism, private ownership, monotheism, repressive 
state institutions, patriarchy and the nuclear family, etc.  large 
scale social production was both completely foreign and toxic.  Never 
had the Native peoples experienced such pandemics on the order 
introduced by Europeans: both biological and sociological.

Once it became clear that Native submission wasn't going to happen, 
American settler-colonialism proceeded full force with genocide: the 
destruction of the native mode of production, a horrific 
"ethnic-ecological cleansing" that cleared natural and human life, 
which had existed and evolved for tens of thousands of years, an 
unprecedented ecocide, genocide and matricide waged for a few 
centuries, all for the purpose of the imposition of a new 
settler-colonial society that would become the U.S.A.

Once the process of ecocide-genocide-matricide was underway, and 
settler-colonialist society expanded, endeavoring to build a 
capitalist mode of production foisted upon a continent that neither 
needed nor engendered it, the newly expanding U.S.A. proceeded with 
the importation of a foreign-originated labor force, to at first 
supplement the already-existing indentured labor force of former 
Europeans, and then once the cotton gin revolutionized the 
instruments of mass production, for large scale agrarian labor.

Why were enslaved Africans more suitable?  African feudalism and 
proto-capitalism (the production of commodities for exchange and the 
social and class relations needed to facilitate that exchange) had 
similarities to European feudalism and emerging capitalism:  Large 
scale social production, huge surpluses, huge repressive state 
apparatuses (often used to facilitate slave trading among other 
Africans, Arabs and Europeans), widespread use of precious metal 
currency and also non-metal symbolic currency (eg., cowry shells), 
development of large sectors of production for exchange (textiles and 
food production), rich resources for luxury items coveted by the 
European market (precious metals, ivory, etc), elaborate 
infra-structure from centuries of inter-continental trade with Europe and Asia.

Imported Africans didn't arrive as a ready-amalgamated nationality or 
people.  They were valued precisely because they were so disparate 
and ethnically-culturally-linguistically so varied, and with the 
forced splitting of kinship and family ties, made even more conducive 
to organized exploitation for capitalist plantations.  Hence U.S. 
capitalism necessitated this ironic amalgamation of Africans in the 
U.S.A., erasing particular African national or tribal identities for 
the new, amalgamated oppressed nationality identity as African Americans.

During the entire 19th century, the expansion and consolidation of 
the U.S.A. nation-state included massive land acquisitions that 
included the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France battered by the loss 
of Haiti and strained from its foreign wars and domestic revolts; the 
military conquest of 2/3rds Mexico which became incorporated as the 
U.S. southwest; the ongoing pacification wars against the Native 
peoples; the acquisition of territorial spoils from the 
Spanish-American War; and the illegal military annexation of the 
Hawaiian islands, 3000 miles from the Pacific shores of the 
U.S.A.  In the early 20th century, the vast territory of 
resource-rich Alaska, purchased from a war-and-revolution-battered 
Russia for a measly $7.2 million in 1867, would be conferred U.S. 
territory status in 1912.   By 1959, two lands, completely 
disconnected from the other 48 states, would become the 49th and 50th 
states of the U.S.A. (respectively, Alaska on January 3, 1959 and 
Hawaii on August 21, 1959).

 From the 18th to mid-19th centuries, during the consolidation 
process of the U.S.A. nation-state, the American bourgeoisie had 
constant external conflicts primarily from England and France, as 
well as a growing internal conflict between the southern agrarian 
capitalists with the northern industrial capitalists.  The Civil War 
was the consolidation of a unified nation-state under the political 
and economic leadership of the northern industrial capitalists, who 
victorious, and in control over the surplus profits of the 
internationally-traded southern-produced cash crops (cotton, tobacco, 
etc.) could now begin the formation of American finance capital and 
expand throughout the Americas and to the rest of the world 
(exporting either direct U.S. colonial rule and/or financial 
domination).  As this unprecedented and exponential expansion of 
capital was occurring, huge labor needs had to be filled with the 
importation of labor from around the world and this period of the 
late 19th century is really the emergence of a U.S. multi-national 
proletariat, tho fitted into a constantly shifting racial 
matrix.  This shift is primarily characterized by the increasing 
binary categorizing of "race" as "white" and "colored". The price of 
the ticket to settler-colonial Yankee American society was to become "white."

The myriad forms of national inequality conjoined with white 
supremacy to consolidate the U.S.A. as a racially defined 
nation-state in which an American or anything American became 
synonymously white.

Both for the purposes of social control, detailed in the important 
work of Ted Allen and others, and for what I've argued as the 
necessity of nation-state identity and structural formation and 
consolidation, the separation of peoples into "white" versus 
"others/foreigners/oppressed" in the U.S.A. was facilitated by the 
virus of "race" as a bio-social pseudo-scientific/cultural 
construction, extended from its original applications by European 

The privileges accorded to "whites" (i.e., those accorded the 
status/identity as Americans) were consequently rooted in the 
conquest and subjugation of entire peoples, and reproduced and 
consolidated by a matrix of ideological, political and socio-cultural 
privileges granted to those who were accorded the status and identity 
of being "American" (which meant white).  Those deemed white/American 
had the benefits of glorification and "manifest destiny", whereas 
complete dehumanization was the condition for all those deemed 
"non-white" and excluded from consideration as Americans.  White 
racism and white supremacy thus become normative.  That which is 
American is equated as white.  That which is or who is not "white" 
are NOT American.

Large influxes of Europeans to the U.S.A., including those who 
suffered national oppression in their homelands, such as the Irish, 
or faced harsh persecution, such as Jews and other religious-ethnic 
groups, were accorded the opportunity to join white American society, 
and share in the spoils of white-settler colonialism and 
expansionism.  Though such European groups encountered initial 
discrimination, overall, the access and possibility for white 
assimilation was far preferable as participants in the consolidation 
of the Yankee nation-state than the perpetual wretchedness of 
exclusion and oppression for non-whites.

The unprecedented opportunities of settlerism, both real and hyped, 
included such privileges and enticements as the possibility for 
ownership of small plots of land, relative freedoms including voting 
rights for white males, small business ownership, and a host of other 
opportunities.  What was required to access these real or 
propagandized  privileges was a dedication to and support for the 
Yankee American way of life: kill off the Indians and take all of 
their land, disallow citizenship and competition from formerly 
enslaved Africans, remove and exterminate the Asiatics, keep the 
Mexicans subjugated.  All "white" immigrants were given relatively 
unrestricted access to American citizenship.  With the Chinese 
exclusionary immigration laws, tantamount to genocide, the Chinese 
were the only immigrant group which steadily decreased in number for 
nearly a century. Racist immigration exclusion and persecution 
extended to all Asian/pacific groups until 1964.    Asian/Pacific 
peoples were the first and primary targets of racially-explicit 
immigration quotas and restrictive laws.

The formal history of the U.S. is the narrative of oppressor nation 
building.  The counter-narrative is the history of the oppressed 
nations and nationalities.  The American multi-national proletariat 
emerges during this historical process, beginning after the Civil War 
with the unification of American capital, the integration of a common 
national market (greatly facilitated by the trans-continental 
railroad for which super-exploited
Chinese labor outperformed the higher paying Irish workforce, and for 
which the Chinese workers were both barred from the ranks of U.S. 
organized labor as well as the annals of American history), the 
promotion of a white supremacist American historico-cultural 
narrative and identity with a full repertoire of Yankee Doodle Dandy 
mythologies and grand master narratives from song to scholarship.

To conclude my analysis of the historical development of the American 
nation-state, I want to summarize the concomitant white oppressor 
nation building process and the process of national oppression as 
indelible to American society:

1.   White skin privileges both are byproducts of and contributors to 
white settler colonial national construction.
2.   White privileges, as partial, tenuous and minor as they may be 
for poor and exploited whites, exceed the condition of national 
oppression relegated to those not conferred as white: genocide, 
terror, extreme restrictions, exclusion and constant brutal oppression.
3.   In many cases whites have not been the majority population in 
"American history", but became dominant both numerically and 
socio-politically through genocide, unjust immigration laws, forced 
exodus, ghettoization and marginalization, all practices aimed at the 
repopulation of the continent to ensure the hegemony of white supremacy.

The problem of race is that it primarily juxtaposes the political 
question as one of integration, as one of learning how to get along 
with one another, and not dealing with the question of returning land 
and territory and the battle for national equality.  So it is about 
how do we get rid of our racist ideas or how do we deal with white 
privilege.  White privilege is only one phenomenon of national 
oppression.  The privileges happen because of the inequality between 
peoples, of which the first basis was depriving people of their land, 
resources and control of the fruits of their labor and 
innovations.  The process of Americanization was the seizure of land 
and territory and then absorption or assimilation of that territory 
and those peoples into this mythical white supremacist thing called 
America.  African Americans become Black Yankees when they assimilate 
the imperialist history and values of the Unites States, as opposed 
to seeing themselves as oppressed nationalities.  Malcolm X 
demarcated the difference between identifying as oppressed versus 
identifying with the oppressor values and narrative: "We [Africans in 
the U.S.] are not Americans, we are victims of America".

The political logic of "anti-racism" or "fighting white-skin 
privileges" ironically privileges the target of struggle upon the 
attitudes and behaviors of whites.  It presumes white leadership, the 
apriori-ness of white numerical majority, the sanctity of the current 
borders and configuration of the 50 states, and even the presumption 
of white working class inclusion in the revolutionary struggle to end 
U.S. imperialism, viz., the domination of U.S. monopoly capital in 
the domestic aspect of such struggle.  And hence, the U.S. left since 
its formal inception, with the exception of such notable energies as 
the African Blood Brotherhood, the CPUSA adoption of the Comintern 
position of the Black-belt Nation thesis, and the revolutionary 
oppressed nationality movements of the 1960s-early 1970s, has been 
plagued with the fundamental white chauvinist problem of centering 
and basing the U.S. multinational working class movement upon the 
white working class, i.e., the focus and concentration upon the 
workers of the oppressor nation, rather than centering, focusing and 
basing the leadership and development of forces among the workers of 
the oppressed nations/nationalities.

The U.S. multinational working class has erroneously been viewed as 
necessarily being a white majority (and the attendant chauvinist 
presumption, with majority white leadership).  Rather, oppressed 
nationality workers are not only the numerical majority relative to 
their populations, but have, both respectively and collectively, it 
can be argued, greater political inclination towards radical and 
revolutionary positions due to the intrinsic nature of their 
contradiction with imperialism: super-exploitation combined with 
national oppression and external domination.

Only in the above cited notable exception of focus and concentration 
upon building the political leadership of the revolutionary national 
movements have any forces truly respected and grasped the objective 
reality that the national movements are objectively revolutionary, 
irregardless of, and with or without, the approval, presence or 
support of whites and white workers.

Thus the white integrationist-white chauvinist plagued Left has 
disregarded the importance of building and leading 
"nationality-in-form" formations, such as oppressed nationality 
student unions, militant community forces, independent cultural 
institutions, and the creative labor formations that elevate the role 
and leadership of oppressed nationality workers.  The U.S. left has 
given scant emphasis upon the struggle to force the U.S. government 
to honor all treaties made with the Native nations, fighting for 
national rights, self-government, return of stolen lands and 
resources, reparations and the dismantling and eradication of all 
vestiges of white settler-colonialism, including the hegemony of 
classical music orchestras, white mythologies in education and 
scholarship, and even the notion of a white identity.

As part of upholding national self-determination, the U.S. left, in 
engendering the multiplicity of national liberation struggles, would 
support the dismantling and reconfiguration of the U.S. national 
borders should the struggle of oppressed nations culminate in forms 
of independence, autonomy or new federation relations.  Asian 
Americans, for example, in the oppressed nation of Hawaii must choose 
between siding with the Yankee oppressor nation/identity or with 
being part of the oppressed Hawaiian nation: electing to identify as 
"I'm kanaka maoli (Hawaiian) of Japanese descent," (or whatever new 
appellation is created in which immigrants to the Hawaiian nation 
explicitly identify with the Hawaiian nation and not with the Yankee 
nation-state, for example).  A white person must proclaim, "I am a 
new Afrikan of European descent" or a "Xicano of European descent", 
should they reside in what is now Mississippi or Texas, respectively.

Whites must recognize that they owe no special allegiance to white 
anything, including even the privileged view that the primary role of 
white leftists or white anti-racists is to concentrate in white 
communities.  Whites have no entitlement to monopolize anything, EVEN 
THE DRAGS OF ORGANIZING WORK!  The best way to "unlearn" whiteness 
(and be a true race traitor!) is to for people of European descent in 
the U.S.A. to give their all in exactly the same way as oppressed 
nationality freedom fighters: liberate stolen and occupied lands, 
return of resources and wealth, reparations, and to build a new 
society that will certainly mean the destruction of the U.S.A. as it 
has historically been constructed and construed, and the 
coming-into-being of voluntarily-associated liberated peoples and societies.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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