Part I: Critical Habits
I recalled Jimmy Boggs’ insistence that “blacks are locked in the concept of racism.” It’s “the most devastating thing that ever happened to us,” he used to say. Instead of seeing it as “a challenge to take us to another plateau, it has become an excuse for why we can’t do anything.”
- Grace Lee Boggs
Today, we have to take a step forward…and ask: Who is the emergent here? And we will see, every time, the narrative of class mobility.
- Gayatri Spivak
It may be a controversial thing to say, but here goes: the anti-capitalism that emerged out of the Occupy movement made a lot of self-identified people of color (PoC), myself included, anxious. So anxious, I think, that the validity of what quickly became stock PoC critiques of Occupy—which targeted everything from the whiteness of the movement to the problematic use of the term “Occupy” on land that is already genocidally occupied—also became ways of avoiding critical confrontation with our own responses to (and often direct dismissal of) what was (is? has been?) a pretty rare moment of mass mobilization in this country, a moment of mass mobilization that could have turned out differently. PoC critique soon became meme-like: it ceased functioning as a vehicle to carry generative ideas or intentions for confronting the problems we diagnosed, and its production and circulation quickly became an end in itself.
Along the way, many of the critiques soon became ahistorical. In one PoC collective meeting I attended, I heard it said more than once that occupation was an “inherently racist” tactic, a statement at which one wonders what the hell those folks in the American Indian Movement or those black students at Willard Straight Hall could have been thinking?! And with that, Irony 101: in the rush to critique and, by critiquing, to dismiss, the language and tactics of occupation as inherently racist, we participate in the erasure of our “own” radical histories. Such histories, if used instead as a resource, might just as easily have been a way of organizing ourselves to embrace occupation as a tactic of the oppressed, and toward a strategy toward building the kind of collective momentum we might want (or learn to want) with and from each other.