Two Readings on Mistaken Identity / Shellyne Rodriguez

Image: Shellyne Rodriguez

The following is part of a forum on Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. To read the editor’s introduction to the series, click here.

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It has been very difficult for me to articulate how I felt about Asad Haider’s book, Mistaken Identity. There were so many clear-cut moments within the pages that resonated with me, and spoke to the experience I was having with identity politics and the current political landscape, And yet, for some reason,  I could not completely get behind it. It called for multiple close reads in order for me to discover that my uneasiness wasn’t because of what was said, but perhaps what wasn’t said, how it was said, and what was misconstrued.

The first time I read Mistaken Identity, I was embroiled in debates with proponents of Afro-Pessimism, which, perhaps due to its poetic nature, has had a huge impact on the arts and had made its way, to my dismay quite frankly, into political organizing spaces. I was furious at the nihilistic way Frank Wilderson’s ideas were being misused to sever the possibilities of solidarity or working in coalition with anyone, producing this ahistorical cultural nationalism unnecessarily hostile towards Marxism. It seemed to me that Afro-Pessimism, like the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement, left us with a mass of politicized young people armed with complex ideas and looking for a way to exercise a collegiate zealousness that is almost a rite of passage and found their outlet mostly through social media.

While there is power to this articulation of anger, it often lacks a deeper knowledge of historical context and a class-based analysis. This dovetailed with a growing focus on identity politics. I was frustrated at how reckless people were in throwing around terms like “intersectionality, ” which was used not to articulate the complexity of identity, but how the layers of one’s oppression could be used to silence opposition by making themselves impervious to any critique or accountability. This, I worried,  mimicked the same hierarchical structures we aim to destroy. I was exhausted, for example, by the uncritical celebration of a Beyonce “in formation,” donning Black Panther aesthetics while calling herself a “black Bill Gates,” and the complete disregard of the staunchly capitalist politics of this black woman coupled with a fetishizing of the BPP. The Black Panther Party, in fact, was not only anticapitalist at its core, but also relied heavily on solidarity, forming networks in the U.S. like the Rainbow Coalition–a project founded by Fred Hampton that included the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Brown Berets, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Chinese I Wor Kuen, and the white Young Patriots Organization from Appalachia.1 This coalition work extended across the globe to all of the so called third world, evident in the founding of a Black Panther Party embassy in Algiers.2

It was in this context of frustration that I received Haider’s book. Mistaken Identity gets right to it. The first chapter takes on identity politics. Haider steps back and lets the founders of the Combahee River Collective speak for themselves, rearticulating what they meant by identity, laying bare for all to see the errors in its current application. We learn that CRC were socialists who wished to insert a feminist and antiracist critique into their praxis. That the then current state of feminism and socialism needed a new lens and that needed to be informed by focusing as black women on their own oppression, “as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”

This fragment of a sentence, correctly contextualized by Haider, is where I think things get lost in translation today. Instead of being about a grounding of identity in broader struggles for liberation, I have heard this line regurgitated many times  as a way to reject the concept of solidarity. This is what happens when things are presented outside of their context and sent off into the world, launched across social media at lightning speed to unfold like some fucked up telephone game. Haider lays this gross misinterpretation to rest with a quote from a statement by founding Combahee member Barbara Smith:

What we were saying is that we have a right as people who are not just female, who are not solely black, who are not just lesbians, who are not just working class, or workers –that we are people who embody all of these identities, and we have a right to build and define political theory and practice based upon that reality… that’s what we meant by identity politics. We didn’t mean that if you’re not the same as us, you’re nothing. We were not saying that we didn’t care about anybody who isn’t exactly like us.

The worst mistranslation of this idea has been how it has been stripped of its anticapitalist roots and repurposed by the liberal political machine to its own advantage. Haider mentions  the communications director for the Clinton campaign as an example of someone who cites “identity” as a anodyne political strategy. But it’s also made evident in the subsequent protests of Trump’s ban of transgender people from the U.S. military. Images of Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, a Black, Latino, and Cherokee transman with multiple combat tours under his belt flooded social media as protesters gathered at the Times Square military recruitment site, holding up signs that said “Resist.”3 The power of identity politics without its anti-capitalist roots became a politics that was beating at the door of the military industrial complex for access, rather than a politics that would criticize militarism and highlight capitalism’s relationship to imperialism. Instead, it forced many otherwise radical folk into a position where they were advocating for the right to join the military. Barbara Smith again:

The reason Combahee’s Black feminism is so powerful is because it’s anticapitalist. One would expect Black feminism to be antiract and opposed to sexism. Anticapitalism is what gives it the sharpness, the edge, the thoroughness, the revolutionary potential.

We have seen what identity politics becomes without this edge. It’s for this reason that Haider defines identity politics as “the neutralization of movements against racial oppression.” This definition is informed not just by CRC, but also figures like Huey P Newton, Malcolm X, and black revolutionary theory overall. Haider does an excellent job foregrounding this legacy, allowing it to speak to the most significant concern he raises: The cooptation, and I would add, erasure, of the antiracist legacy by the very people claiming to be championing it. Some of that undoing was by the hands of a black elite and a black political class who wield an unquestioned power over the black poor and working class. We see this, for example,  in the sleazy appropriation of Fred Hampton’s radical grassroots project Rainbow Coalition by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson seized this idea and created a non-profit with the same name, which would “consolidate a large voting block and initiate corporate action and government sponsorship.”4

In the second chapter, Haider rightfully “calls out” the ironic usage of the term,  “intersectionality,” an originally legal term with a specific intention wrongfully applied to Combahee Collective’s political framework. This  misapplication gave birth to a politics that “generalized the condition of the plaintiff,” equating political practice with a demand of restitution for an injury.” In other words, the underlining identity below any combination of identities through this lens is “injured.” Those who hold the most signifiers are the most injured, and win a kind of immunity. The less intersecting lines you possess, the less injured, and you are to remain silent, pay reparations via a Venmo account, and be on standby should you be needed. This is called “justice.” It is a lazy politics that doesn’t require one to do any critical thinking or political work. One is instantly a radical political force just by waking up in the morning, logging on to Facebook and posting cliché inspirational quotes like “my existence is resistance.” It has been in these politicized spaces where class privilege is mostly obscured in my experience. The figure of an Ivy league educated avant-garde queer black non-binary person who lives in an apartment in gentrified Fort Greene, Brooklyn which their parents pay for comes to mind. It is from these elitist spaces that this kind of politics trickled out of unmediated, entering the popular lexicon. But this framework is not part of any conversation at the Christopher Street Piers where the poor and working class queer and trans kids of color still congregate in the summer. This is not the discourse of fast food workers closing up shop and walking to the train station together smoking a blunt. That conversation will likely be about acquiring a swipe into the subway.

 This is not, of course, about shutting down the criticisms of racism or patriarchy. I can be counted on to be among the first to shut down a “brocialist” mansplaining in political spaces. There is a historical context rooted in self-determination that calls for such a scolding to occur, should anyone be so blissfully unaware of themselves or the context they are working within. What I object to, and what I discern from Haider, is that the rigid formula of intersectionality as it is being applied outside of its context, is a mirror image of the hierarchical structures inherent in white supremacy and capitalism. It is a system based on the state’s logic of restitution and punishment, and fundamentally opposed to solidarity. This opposition to solidarity, backed by the philosophy of Afro-Pessimism, severs any possibility of coalition work. Haider takes aim at Wilderson’s ideas and explains that the root of his thinking is based on:

dubious interpretations of Gramsci and the historiography of slavery, that “blackness” is founded on “social death,” the loss of identity and total domination imposed upon slaves at birth—despite the fact that the source of this term, sociologist Orlando Patterson, used it to define all forms of slavery including nonracialized ones.

What Wilderson manages well is the articulation of the suffering and brutality imposed on black people. This cannot be denied. But this is located within debilitating and antagonistic academic writing that, taken literally, puts us where we are now: with so called black radicals who trivialize political organizing because “black people are socially dead,” who believe that it’s a political act to do nothing because we must “destroy the world.” Meanwhile, they read Wilderson’s musings sitting in a café that occupies the space where a four decades old black owned mom and pop shop was recently displaced. They walk past the old Jamaican tenants huddled in the lobby of their Crown Heights building organizing a tenant association because their apartments are rotten with mold, and the landlords won’t repair a thing. But our young radicals won’t participate because they are mighty fine being socially dead in their newly renovated, overpriced apartment. The materialist and the organizer within me rejects such a haughty position, violently.

It wasn’t until I read Fred Moten that I was to digest Wilderson somewhat. Moten conjures empathy for Wilderson and space for engagement by unpacking his own reaction to his ideas. As much as I dislike Wilderson, I needed to chew on it. For Moten, what Wilderson accomplishes is invaluable and yet a bitter pill to swallow. Moten contends with his idea that to be black is to be nothing, but ultimately he states that:

the ongoing genocide that we survive is predicated on the notion that black people or black lives have no value is structurally and historically wrong: we were not only assigned a value but a price, within a structure of vile politico-economic relations that are structured, in the first place, by the simultaneous imposition of individuation and the theft of the capacity to individuate.5

Moten opens up room to think about Wilderson’s work alongside him and find responses to it, to take it seriously. He contends with WIlderson’s idea that “the black man is not.” Moten offers an unpacking of this thought which begins with Fanon, winds its way through Wilderson’s understanding of normative subjectivity (which Moten calls “rigorous,” containing  “a cool Lacanian maneuver” in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason). He pushes us further in, and we end up thinking through Zen writings and Nishida Kitaro, a Japanese philosopher from the 1930s, to find the “something in the nothing.” All of this happens in the context of a response to Harold Mendez’s exhibition, But I sound Better Since You Cut My Throat, which takes its title from Moten’s poem, “Rock the Party, Fuck the Smackdown.” To take this work seriously and think it through was something I could do on a poetic level and even on a metaphysical level which, as an artist, I am not opposed to.

Yet all of this effort to understand Wilderson is lost when one reads, as Haider points out, his brutal rejection in 2014 to the view that the experience in Ferguson was comparable to Palestinians. Incredibly, he based his rejection on the Arab slave trade and Arab antiblackness. I was immediately reminded of a moment in 2016 when I witnessed members of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine share that the black student union at their school refused a solidarity project because they “didn’t want their political work to be subverted by some other POC issue.” We can collectively cringe at the capitalist undertones in such a statement that views movement work through the lens of competition. Wilderson’s reckless remarks have a consequence. It kills the capacity for solidarity. I thought about Fanon, whom Wilderson is so indebted to, in the thick of the Algerian Revolution working alongside Arabs and the Black Panther Party’s embassy there. I thought about the messages of solidarity from Palestine that coached freedom fighters in Ferguson to “run against the wind, not rub their eyes when gassed, and to never rinse with water, use milk or coca cola.”6 Even now as I type these words, we are currently contending with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s decision to rescind an invitation to honor Angela Davis because of her ongoing support of the Palestinian people.7 The egregiousness of Wilderson’s implications coupled with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s rescission of the honor is made more explicit when we remember that Davis grew up in Birmingham, that her mother worked with this organization in its formative years and she was a neighbor and friend of the families of those four little girls murdered in the 16th street Baptist church bombing.8 All of these thoughts led me to the conclusion that Frank Wilderson could go fuck his (non)self. With that being said, I think there is a possibility to rescue the term antiblackness from Wilderson, and I will say more about that later.

One of the more brilliant things that Haider does is to profile the life of Amiri Baraka. It is by far my favorite chapter in the book. In it, we are able to live through the many political formations that manifested in his life. Formerly known as LeRoi Jones, he began by navigating what it meant to be a black poet in the very white beatnik scene in Greenwich Village. A trip to revolutionary Cuba followed by the assassinations of Patrice Lumumba and Malcolm X radicalized him and he turned toward black separatism and cultural nationalism, settling in Harlem and then Newark, or the “New Ark.” Baraka worked there on electoral campaigns to put black people in “positions of local political power.” However, he eventually came to see that the result of this was the consolidation of some political power for the black bourgeoisie who in turn became the bureaucratic management for poor and working class black people, counted on to carry out the neoliberal policies for the state. Having lived this realization, Baraka abandoned cultural nationalism and turned towards Communism. As Haider reports, “he begins to organize cab drivers rather than building a separatist culture,” because, as he would come to learn, there is “no straight line [that] could be drawn between identity and politics.” Haider, however, wants to make a correlation between Baraka’s cultural nationalism and “passing,” and here is where he and I start to fall away from each other.

I was confused by Haider’s usage of Rachel Dolezal as a metaphor for passing. I disagree that Baraka was performing a kind of passing. That Baraka was reducing politics to identity performance through his cultural nationalism and his “disavowal of his white milieu and the white selfhood it fostered.” I think it’s unfair to impose these conclusions on the young LeRoi Jones and his becoming Amiri Baraka. Baraka, wasn’t performing anything. Black lives and black freedom were at stake in a way they had never been before and whether or not I or anyone agrees with the many methods employed or positions taken throughout the 60s, it was always about freeing black people, no matter the class composition. At least at that time. The thread in Haider’s argument is a fear of inauthenticity. Its the inauthenticity, or “an introjection of white guilt” that creates the conditions for wanting to “pass.” For Dolezal, it’s her whiteness, and for Baraka, it’s his middle-class upbringing. But Baraka’s middle-class upbringing is hardly a reason to lump him together with Dolezal. Baraka turns 30 the year the Civil Rights Act is passed. For the first time in his life, he is granted some protections under the law as a black man. We must not trivialize the gravity of this moment nor the significance of the fights that preceded this moment. We must not sweep away Baraka’s experience as a black man in Amerikkka. Black pride, black power and the aesthetics that accompanied these movements were essential and had entered the lexicon for the very first time in African American life during this period. Baraka was seeking comfort in his blackness by way of cultural nationalism and black separatism. Throughout the 60s, Baraka witnessed the uprisings springing up across the so called third world in an effort to break the chains of their oppressors or at least die trying. That must have meant something to a politicized subject who formed part of “an oppressed nation within a nation fighting for self determination,” something that is recognized 40 years prior to that moment as drafted out by Vladimir Lenin and Indian communist M.N. Roy in the “Theses on the National and Colonial Question.”9

Elsewhere in the book, Haider quotes Baraka as saying, “Having been taught that art was ‘what white men do,’ I almost became one, to have a go at it.” For Haider, this means that “any personal success as an intellectual thus meant a kind of passing.” Again I find that Haider is misusing this term. What Baraka is describing here is Du Bois’s concept of double consciousness. Du Bois says that double consciousness forms in American blacks because we live in a society that has been historically repressed and devalued. As a result, it has become difficult for black people to unify their black identity with an American identity. In other words, it forces black people to view themselves through their perspectives but also through how they might be perceived by the white world.10 What Baraka says comes from a place of not just having to navigate the white world as a black man but also from recognizing his own audacity in inserting himself in avant-garde circles within this white world and the added pressure and anxiety this produces. I know from experience what it means to “talk white” or code switch at work, at a housing management office, or to police so that they perceive me as “friendly and harmless” and don’t fuck around and kill me.

For black literary figures, this is something that shows up in the writing, and there is a process of unlearning that one must endure to remove the significance of that white gaze. Toni Morrison confronts this issue of the white gaze in a 1998 interview when she describes for Charlie Rose, her host, a review she received for her novel Sula:

It, said ‘yeah well this is all well and good, but one day she, [meaning me], will have to fess up to the real responsibilities and get mature and write about the real confrontation for black people,’ which is white people. … As though our lives had no meaning — and no depth without the white gaze. I’ve spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books. And the people who have helped me most arrive at that kind of language were African writers. Chinua Achebe. Bessie Head. Those writers who could assume the centrality of their race because they were Africans … and they didn’t explain anything to white people. Those questions were incomprehensible to them. Those questions that I would have as a minority living in an all white country like the U.S. … Here was a language, a posture, here were the parameters, I could step in now, and I didn’t have to be consumed by, or concerned by the white gaze. That was the liberation for me.11

Morrison goes on to describe how in the novels produced in the U.S., particularly in the 1940s and 1950s by black writers, one could always hear what she called “the address of the narrator over your shoulder” addressing and explaining things to a white audience. For Morrison, the black writer must undergo a process to first recognize it and then to set about finding one’s own voice. For Baraka, the answer was cultural nationalism and the Black Arts Movement. A sort of extreme shot in the opposite direction. But this is not passing. Passing is a clandestine performance historically undergone by black people in the U.S. whose features were ambiguous enough to allow them to move through society without the scarlet letter of black skin. It, too, at its core, is an act of self- preservation. That is categorically different than the Dolezal performance. In the quest to undo a dangerous identity politics, which Haider defines as “the neutralization of movements against racial oppression,” we must not abandon particularities and nuance. Context is everything and experience matters.

The second time I read Mistaken Identity was a complete reversal of my first experience, and indicative of the historic tug of war that black communists in the U.S. have had to constantly reconcile. It was on the heels of debates with comrades about the term antiblackness. I thought it was important to explore the concept and to be in dialogue with proponents of Afro-Pessimism. As a black Marxist, I am not content with being one of three black comrades in the room. The Black Radical Tradition is so rich in the U.S. and yet, for some reason, the political spaces I have encountered continue to be very white. I understand fully that there are many substantial reasons for this, but I refuse to throw my hands up about it. And sometimes that means contending with other ideas, for the sake of dialogue and debate. To explore what, if any, openings there might be; I’m here for it. This, of course, garnered a few eye rolls and arrogant remarks from segments of the left. I wondered about this dismissive attitude towards people who were still struggling with the concept of race while living through this particular political moment: a racist backlash to a black president, a rise of a reactionary far right, the urgent need for a Black Lives Matter movement as a result of an onslaught of police killings, a reactionary Blue Lives Matter countermovement by the police state and a president Trump. I understood the need to challenge this political derailment of the legacy of antiracist struggle and the ideas that were framing them but academic arrogance wasn’t going to do it and neither was trivializing race-based political organizing. In my experience, what this kind of posturing actually accomplished was giving the impression that the left had regressed back to a political line from the early 20th century which viewed prioritizing race in political organizing as, “a weapon of reaction for the defeat and further enslavement of both [blacks] and their brother,” a position which was undermined by the Comintern.12 It also played into the false portrayal of the left as proponents of “All Lives Matter” hidden behind class reductionist language. That race is a social construct is a fact but what’s the point in shutting down conversations about race among people who are inquisitive about such things who perhaps haven’t quite arrived to that understanding or maybe hadn’t even been exposed to these ideas? It was for this reason that I co-led a black reading group in the summer of 2018. It was short-lived, but it brought together Black Marxists and Afro-Pessimists. It was also for this reason, that I felt like I needed to readjust my lens in my second reading of this book.

In the introduction, Haider is telling his story. He’s the son of Pakistani academics and was born in a small town in Pennsylvania. For Haider, being a Pakistani American seems to only marginally inform his self-hood. That’s understandable. His parents made the decision to come to “America.” They weren’t dragged here by force in chains, and they were not fleeing. There is no sadness, at least not for him (we cannot speak for his parents), about a “somewhere else” that was left behind. Haider is just a Desi kid with parents from Karachi. This felt significant for me. Because it appears as though Haider has never wrestled with how his race, ethnicity, culture, or the longing for a country of origin shapes identity. There is no room for cultural nationalism in his heart, the way it has been in mine, or in Baraka’s, or in the heart of his students at UC Santa Cruz. It is an experience portrayed across latinx culture expressed through an old song, by Facundo Cabral, which has become a lament of sorts for immigrant communities who have been gone for so long that they now feel estranged.

No soy de aqui, Ni soy de alla/ I’m not from here, nor am I from there No tengo edad, ni porvenir/ I have no age, Nor a future Y ser feliz, es mi color de identidad/ and to be happy is the color of identity13

Haider is simply a kid from Pennsylvania, who post 9/11 experienced an intensified level of racism which he describes as placing him in a “double bind, between the Muslims and the Whites.” I have to ask though, where was everyone else? What about the black people or the Asian and Asian Americans or the Latinx people in his small town? Didn’t they provide some context for your lived experience growing up and in this moment? Of course, I’m making the assumption that people of color were in his world, as they are in mine, but perhaps not? I remembered thinking back then when I saw the front page of the Daily News that those 19 men wanted in connection with 9/11 could easily pass for Dominicans! I suppose I am wondering about this binary in his experience, the muslim and the white.

Haider finds allies in books. Two specifically for him were game changers. Huey P. Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was culturally closer to him through Malcolm’s faith which Haider had rejected in his own life. For Malcolm, according to Haider, Islam had led him “Past his fixation on his own identity and toward a solidarity with the whole world.” Fixated. This is the word he chose to describe Malcolm’s political work prior to his pilgrimage to Mecca? As “fixated” on his identity? Putting aside his black separatism and the problematic elements of the Nation of Islam, how else were black people living under the viciousness of Jim Crow suppose to organize themselves? Under what banner? If black people were going to overthrow this system and carve out any breathing room for themselves, they had to do it as a unified people. Suspicion of white people who rule over the systems of control that dominate us is common sense. Much more so in the mid 1950s. Organizing people based on identity at that time was necessary and was tied on a very basic level to survival. Look at the enormity of the task and the price black people have paid. Assassinations. Prison. COINTELPRO. Chemical warfare through heroin and crack cocaine. The wholesale planting of a narcotics economy in our communities followed by the war on drugs.

I am down for “ruthless critique” but this is an example of the dismissiveness and carelessness I have often encountered when it comes to conversations about race on the left. I feel put in a position to have to overexplain and justify why a step back and other considerations that perhaps are “not scientific” must be considered. In that way, maybe I am not a good Marxist. Maybe I haven’t read the right things, which is usually the response I get in these kinds of conversations. Whatever that means, fuck it. I don’t want to be good Marxist or a good anything for that matter. I just want to understand some things—“being happy is the color of my identity.” Perhaps, I feel a kinship with Baraka’s positionality in that even as a communist, he, as Robin D.G. Kelley points out, “persistently focused his cultural and political interests on the contradictions of black life under capitalism, imperialism and racism.” Perhaps I, too, like Baraka, believe that the black proletariat is the vanguard of the world revolution “not because of some mystic chauvinism but because of our place in objective history… We are the vanguard because we are at the bottom, and when we raise to stand up straight everything stacked upon us topples.”14

Lastly, I want to address what I meant earlier in this essay, when I said that we might “rescue” antiblackness from Afropessimism. My understanding of antiblackness is shaped as a Puerto Rican woman of African descent. While I am a light skin woman, I possess features that make me identifiable as a black woman. Black Americans from the south call this “high Yellow” and in the Spanish speaking Antilles (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic) this is called Jabao. My hair in my experience has been the determining factor in how this plays out. My mother, who is also jabao, began chemically straightening my hair when I was six. My grandmother who is very white-passing commented on my nappy hair almost daily. This is despite the fact that my grandfather, her husband and the father of her five children, was the color of ebony and the source of my thick unruly hair. Indeed, my grandmother has always been antiblack, although she denies it. I have no doubt that my grandmother loves all of her grandchildren, most of whom are visibly black, but that does not make this 78 year old jibara exempt from what is a violent colonial structure that predates her. Still, there are an infinite amount of instances where the darker child is rejected while the lighter skin child is favored. In my family, there is a mythical Tia Rosa, my grandfather’s oldest sister, who was able to pass. My grandfather’s mother, an African woman, raised this daughter and gave her everything, sending my grandfather off to work at the age of six to provide for her. When she came of age, she wanted to leave Puerto Rico, and so they sent her to New York.She never returned, rejecting the blackness of her family and disappearing into a world that would never know her African roots, leaving them deeply wounded.

This—is passing. This is also an instance of antiblackness. It is racism, but it’s a particularity within racism. It’s the premise that while we are all colored, we are not as colored as black people. It’s the distance that people of color create between themselves and blackness. It’s why my grandmother sneered at my hair and pinched the noses of babies in the family to “train them to be thinner.” It’s why whenever I identify myself as black to latinxs people, they get uncomfortable and try to assure me that I’m at least a “Mulata,” followed by “but you don’t look black,” ignorantly meant as a compliment. This has happened to me more than I care to say.

Antiblackness is visibly black latinxs claiming indigenous blood to explain away their African features and the anxiety that produced the urge to do so. Antiblackness is me in a remote town in the Ecuadorian Andes stopping to talk to an old indigenous peasant woman, who after she softened, warned me about those black people in the town because “they steal.” This of course is a global iteration of antiblackness rooted in colonialism that is in addition to the exported antiblackness via the media on television screens across the globe. Racism in the U.S. is as traditional as apple pie and the villain in the story has traditionally been black people. TV shows like COPS that helped to merge black people and criminality in the consciousness of people are syndicated internationally.15 Let’s pause to take this in for a moment. The exploitation of the crack epidemic and the war on drugs in our communities made for good TV. This spread the message globally: that these black people who were agitating for freedom a decade or two prior have never been trustworthy, hardworking or good. The heroes here are the cops. Having learned this in a myriad of ways, the first thing an immigrant must do upon arrival, especially if a person of color, is to create as much distance as possible between themselves and black people.

A closer look at the concept of antiblackness provides us with an opportunity to address what I like to call the multiple broken picket lines that exist between us. And to end the scapegoating of black people and address this false sense of proximity to whiteness gained through the rejection of black people that I believe to be bound up with the desire to achieve the American dream. This unspoken understanding that we might not be white [and so we are all less than] at least we aren’t black. This is the status quo. When I visualize Racial Capitalism, I imagine a drawing of a pyramid. The racialized aspect of this pyramid, which mirrors class, is depicted in the image of the pyramid by a gradient that moves from black on the bottom to white at the top.

Antiblackness is yet another method of disruption by the ruling class, which functions in the way that capitalist competition activates us all and alienates us all. So that we are clamoring to get to be as close to the top as possible. It locks on to preexisting relations and traumas shaped by colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and a vicious white supremacy funneled through capitalism. It is for this reason that I believe that antiblackness is a useful contribution to antiracist work and should be salvaged. Not in the way that it has been misused by those who have also misused the CRC’s work and Crenshaw’s intersectionality, but as a way to identify the particularities of this kind of racism and to deal with it. In our work, among ourselves, and to use this lens going forward in how we move in the world. I believe this will help us to mend some of these broken picket lines in order to achieve Haider’s Insurgent Universality.


  1. Jeffrey Haas, The Assassination of Fred Hampton (Chicago Review Press Incorporated) 2010 pg.4
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/1970/09/14/archives/black-panthers-open-office-in- algiers.html
  3. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/trans-soldier-shane-ortega- on-trumps-military-ban-how-to-save-america-112146/
  4. https://rainbowpush.org/organization-and-mission
  5. Fred Moten, A Poetics of the Undercommons (Sputnik & Fizzle), pg. 29.
  6. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11036190/Pal estinians-tweet-tear-gas-advice-to-protesters-in-Ferguson.html
  7. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/07/us/alabama-rights-award-angela- davis/index.html
  8. http://hiphopandpolitics.com/2013/09/14/angela-davis-looks-back-at-the-16th- street-church-bombings-50-years-ago/
  9. Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams (Beacon Press) 2002 pg. 46.
  10. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1897/08/strivings-of-the- negro-people/305446/
  11. https://charlierose.com/videos/17664
  12. Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams (Beacon Press) 2002 pg. 46.
  13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs9DxdtXKF0
  14. Kelley pg 107.
  15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cops_(TV_program)#International