Some responses to “Privilege Politics is Reformism”


Will’s recent piece, “Privilege Politics is Reformism” has brought about many charged conversations online,  in person and also in the comments section.  Conatz puts it well when they say that the challenges such a piece faces is on the one hand, “the assault of privilege politics warriors circling [their] wagons,” and on the other hand, the “white class reductionists/’social war’ reductionists missing the point when they say they agree.”

Yet, this piece has also managed to carve out some space and language for those of us who don’t fall into that dichotomy, those of us who see sex, race, gender, disabilities and class struggle as inseparable. It has helped us find one another. Those of us here in BOC aspire to form multiracial and multigender organizations and communities that support the leadership, development and militancy of oppressed people, recognizing our varied expressions and the challenges involved in such projects. We believe in the possibility of transformation through collective struggles for liberations. Hopefully we can grow forward into more conversations around healthy organizational practices that can navigate the tension of both being products of an oppressive capitalist society, and being self determining agents of change shaped by common struggle.

We compile some responses to the piece here by fellow comrades who are active organizers. Black Orchid Collective members do not agree with all the premises and conclusions of the pieces but post them here because these are useful and healthy debates.

Invisible Man has written a response entitled “Be Careful With Each Other, So We Can Be Dangerous Together.” Like the original piece, Invisible Man draws heavily from the traditions of Malcolm X, Fanon, CLR James and the Black Power movement and come to different conclusions. They pose questions to the original such as, why should we assume that the white militants we organize with, are not white supremacist? Why should we assume that they do not inherit the white supremacist ideology that has placed them above all non-white people? Should non-white militants organize independently so that they can gain sufficient power and strength? Are such organizations an expression of racially oppressed people’s self liberation?  They further discuss the experience of non-white people when they address the racism of white organizers, to question the possibility of multiracial organizations.

Here, Suzy X also engages with this piece and points out the tendency of some organizing circles to glorify arrestable actions over other forms of resistance. What are the consequences of this? Does this reproduce militancy as gendered and ableist? Is it true that non-street actions are necessarily “less arrestable?” and by implication, less militant? Why is there today such a distinct separation between street actions (deemed arrestable) and community programs? What was the tradition of the Free Breakfast program or the Young Lords takeover of  Lincoln Hospital? How have revolutionary community programs differentiated themselves from today’s non profit industrial complex?

Suzy X brings up thoughtful and important questions, ones that can help us clarify ways forward in the Decolonize/Occupy movement. Relatedly, do planned arrests erase the self activity and militancy of those others who had not deemed themselves “arrestables,” but who do also take courageous direct action when push comes to shove? In this “All Power to the Positive” podcast, our comrade Matt E  also has a fresh perspective to offer regarding this.

Finally! Here are the links!

1) Be Careful with Each Other, So We Can Be Dangerous Together by Invisible Man

2) A response by Suzy X

Looking forward to more conversations!

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5 Responses to Some responses to “Privilege Politics is Reformism”

  1. beyondresistance says:

    Yep, well said. It’s the kind of discussion that (I think at least) will lead to a really effective anarchist communist praxis, one that does not reject out traditions but grows it, in order to deal with the material conditions of our everyday struggles (whatever and for whoever that may be). Congrats to Black Orchid and friends for doing so.

    One text that I’ve recently started reading, although getting on a bit, is Selma James’ ‘Sex, Race and Class’ and the Wages for Housework literature (http://libcom.org/library/sex-race-class-james-selma). Whether one agrees or disagrees with her/their analysis, I like the way they approach class struggle and re-frame it to open its horizons. In the period we are in, such an opening can only be a good thing.

    • beyondresistance says:

      Sorry, I should note that it’s Jared commenting, and in a personal capacity…

  2. red zarathustra says:

    I was very pleased with Will’s essay, though I did not agree with it entirely, it put out some good food for thought. I generally take issue with “privilege theory” not because I don’t want to acknowledge that I have any or deny its existence, but because I find it has no praxis. Often, too, I don’t think it has particularly much nuance. The idea of it being a “politics of retreat” rings loud to me, often when I encounter it with so-called “anarchists” it us put forward almost as an excuse for inaction — and when that happens it seems like we all lose. I also found these two responses helpful for continuing the discussion on this matter. I hope that Will will continue to write on this topic and perhaps even respond to some of the critiques raised?

    Alternatively, I’d noticed that a lot of responses to this in social media and blogging were really… bad? I had noticed a lot of people attacking Will on a personal level and also seemingly confusing his race. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed fairly clear since they participated in the OWS POC caucus that they were in fact not white. I saw a lot of reblogs on tumblr and facebook saying “well of course a white guy thinks this”. It’s a shame some people did not want to take the time to construct a dialogue and critique of Will’s essay.

    • mamos206 says:

      “Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed fairly clear since they participated in the OWS POC caucus that they were in fact not white.”

      This is correct. A lot of people either didn’t read Will’s piece carefully enough or are purposefully erasing his experiences in order to prove an ideological point. It’s also worth pointing out that Black Orchid is a multi-racial and multi-gender organization, not a majority white male group as some folks have suggested. We are posting these pieces and encouraging this discussion precisely because we are trying to overcome white supremacist dynamics that CAN emerge in multi-racial groups, and are working to develop a healthy practice of multi-racial revolutionary organizing in our own work. We aim to address race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, nationality, other power dynamics directly without falling into the privilege politics that Will critiques. I’m not saying we have all the answers, but it’s frustrating when some people just dismiss all this work by falsely assuming everyone invovled is white or male.

  3. FM says:

    Thank you for this.

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