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Southeastern Regional Anarchist People of Color Conference Reportback

Last weekend, March 25-27, radical people of color from across the nation gathered in Asheville, North Carolina. There, at the Southeastern Regional Conference of Anarchist People of Color, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and turned that shared breath into shared struggle: personal, social, and organizational relationships; histories, hopes, and plans for social change.

One of the very first questions asked in the opening discussion of the Southeast Regional was “What is anarchism?? Over the course of an hour, almost everyone present threw out their own definition, idea, or perspective on anarchism. The list of definitions began with “working to end all systems of domination? followed by “complete and total freedom, with a sense of responsibility, respect and collective effort.? Some said anarchism is simply no single, central doctrine; or simply the act of organizing outside of any institutions or system. A reoccurring definition that persisted throughout the conference was that of anarchism as self-definition and self-determination. This perspective seemed pressingly salient to the attending people of color, with the idea voiced repeatedly in many different ways, such as autonomia, zapatismo, hybridity, and recognizing/recreating who we are.

In all of these definitions, many emphasized that anarchism is very importantly something we do; the actions of our lives individually and collectively.

Last weekend, March 25-27, radical people of color from across the nation gathered in Asheville, North Carolina. There, at the Southeastern Regional Conference of Anarchist People of Color, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and turned that shared breath into shared struggle: personal, social, and organizational relationships; histories, hopes, and plans for social change.

The conference, organized by the Asheville APOC collective and in keeping with all things APOC, was open only to people of color. This one fundamental tenet of APOC, respected by most and conversational to some, simultaneously allows for an enormous amount of diversity (as "people of color" encompasses most of the world’s population) and crucially creates incredibly rare safe space. During that last weekend in March 2005, Asheville became a unique pocket where those attending the SE APOC conference for once did not have to explain ourselves yet again, a place where we didn’t have to worry about defending ourselves and bracing for the inevitable offense, be it intentional or unintentional.

This feeling was immense and enduring. As one African-American from Richmond put it, "Personally, now I know what twins separated at birth feel like when they meet for the first time. [This conference] was about the realization that there are people that have shared experiences all over the country, and that we all want autonomy from systems of oppression."

Tia Ceres, also from Richmond and also African-American, had this to say about the SE APOC conference full of people she had never known in any way, "There was so much I took from the conference. Most importantly, being among family and friends. I couldn’t turn a corner without a smile, or a pat on the back or someone acknowledging my existence and starting a conversation with me. From Suncere’s Black Panther fist to Walidah’s Soul Sista swagger, I was among family."

With such a sense of unity and comfort immediately established, all present very quickly had the ability to not only open up – comparing experiences, simultaneously sharing vulnerabilities and strengths – but to also get down to business. It was a sentiment echoed by many: finally, without the need to navigate others’ ideas of race and our places in their imposed ideas, we could roll up our sleeves and get down to the real work of the revolution.

"It is the risks we take that will take down our enemies."
-- Ashanti Alston, during the conference’s opening workshop about feminism, critical theory, sexuality and relationships. Ashanti is former member of the Black Panther Party and former Black Liberation Army political prisoner who served over 14 years. He was recently the Northeast regional coordinator for Critical Resistance, a national radical prison abolitionist organization and is now a member of its New York City chapter. Ashanti also works with Estacion Libre, an organization that works to strengthen ties between people of color in the US with folks in liberated Zapatista territories of Mexico; and is a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

One of the very first questions asked in the opening discussion of the Southeast Regional was "What is anarchism?" Over the course of an hour, almost everyone present threw out their own definition, idea, or perspective on anarchism. The list of definitions began with "working to end all systems of domination" followed by "complete and total freedom, with a sense of responsibility, respect and collective effort." Some said anarchism is simply no single, central doctrine; or simply the act of organizing outside of any institutions or system. A reoccurring definition that persisted throughout the conference was that of anarchism as self-definition and self-determination. This perspective seemed pressingly salient to the attending people of color, with the idea voiced repeatedly in many different ways, such as autonomia, zapatismo, hybridity, and recognizing/recreating who we are.

In all of these definitions, many emphasized that anarchism is very importantly something we do; the actions of our lives individually and collectively.

Throughout the discussion, many folks talked about how they didn’t necessarily identify as anarchists, or identified to different degrees. One person commented on how, while they personally drew a huge amount from anarchist theory and silently affiliated, she feels so instantaneously marginalized by the labels people apply to her already that she isn’t particularly interested in acquiring any new ones – a sentiment that earned lots of nods of agreement.

It’s important to note that our definitions of anarchism were created simultaneously with our list of what we wanted out of the APOC conference. Thus, our suggested meanings of the political idea of anarchism were inseparable from the real concerns, issues, and desires we raised. This list was vast: solidarity with indigenous struggle; historic and current relationships between communities of color and the police; Black Bloc/direct action as tactic and privilege; anti-war and anti-imperialism; classism, sexism, masculinist ideology; gender (pronouns, language and identity); internal and internalized oppression; our own traditions of anarchism; reaching and supporting young and/or single anarchist parents; awareness of space, comfort, and safety; slavery conditions in the United States; definition of "our" communities; identifying as POC, looking white, multi-racial folks; learning from mistakes ("fluid solidarity"); identifying obstacles to solidarity; borders and immigrants; networking to take care of basic needs such as health care; POC exploitation of other/own POC community(ies); exploring our own roles in capitalism, religion, military; using and creating media; developing creative ways of communicating; raising consciousness, speaking out, bringing it back… and that doesn’t even include everything.

"We are behind enemy lines."
-- Suncere Ali Shakur, in his opening remarks. Suncere is one of the four founding members of the all black grassroots organization TRIBE; a member of DC Mayday, a DC-based organization for the rights of the homeless and decent housing for the poor; founder of the Marshal Conway Children’s Free Breakfast Program; founding member of the DC Café Mawonaj; and organizer for the Free the Dragon Political Prisoner forum.

As we emerged from liberating feel of the opening discussion and prepared to move into a weekend of workshops, nothing could have grounded us more in the seriousness of ideas and intentions discussed then the wall of Black Panther history Ashanti presented us with. Detailing every murderous moment of police repression, the display remained a palpable reminder throughout the conference of the differences in experience radical people of color must deal with.

Of course, the workshops examined the contemporary ramifications of these very same distinctions. Political prisoners here in the U.S, military recruitment targeting our communities, covert wars across the Americas and overt wars overseas – all of these effecting not distant, different others, but people who look like us, who are related to us, who sometimes are precisely us.

"The Marines: the few, the proud, my family," was how Walidah Imarisha, a political poet and prison rights and militarism activist, opened up a workshop entitled "Going AWOL: Staying Out, Getting Out, and Organizing Against the Military". Together with Diedra Cobb, a conscientious objector from Hampton, Virginia, she went over all the insidious ways the U.S. armed forces are ruthlessly recruiting our brothers and sisters to kill our brothers and sisters. Walidah outlined the three reasons people sign up for the military – money for college, job opportunities, and the opportunity to learn other languages and cultures – and then one by one debunked them – 80% of those who sign up don’t qualify for college funds, 90% will be left without job skills that translate into the real world, and it’s awfully hard to use and/or appreciate your skill with language and culture when you’re wounded, dead, or stuck still fighting in Iraq due to stop-loss policies. Diedra spoke to her experiences with all of these issues, as well as testifying to how military personnel are pushed to lie to get you in and keep you in. Diedra also spoke about the work she now does, helping people meet their basic healthcare needs and thus avoid joining up to do so, and talked about how in creating and participating in counter-recruitment, we must be able to provide these alternatives to people in order to be truly effective and libratory.

This is just one example of the depth of the workshops presented at the Southeast Regional. Other titles included: "Free the Dragon: Political Prisoners"; "Globalization as Racism"; "Environmental Origins of Racism"; "Can APOC Kill Freddy Krugar? Potentials in the Face of Danger"; and "Resistencia a Plan Colombia", as well as several guerrilla workshops. One workshop that very unfortunately did not happen was about the American Indian Movement (AIM) Struggle. Despite avid interest from many conference attendees, the presenter was missing in action – a big disappointment, as participation and representation from Native Americans has been an ongoing, self-identified need in APOC events.

One workshop near and dear to this IMCista’s heart was "Representing Ourselves: Building a Media Justice Movement," led by Selina Musuta, a freelance journalist, DC Radio Co-op member, and Free Speech Radio News Correspondent. In an hour and a half that somehow managed to encompass everything from answering lofty questions like "What is Media Justice?" and "What is Media?" and providing up-to-the-minute legal updates on independent media struggles, to the nuts and bolts of interviewing and starting a pirate radio station, Selina emphasized over and over again the incredible need for POC, and indeed everyone, to be creating their own media and telling their own stories -- "Getting other people to report on their own issues is crucial because I don’t have the right to represent them." In an earlier workshop, she had spoken to the importance of self-representation, saying: "If you don’t have the power to represent yourself, other people do and they don’t know your needs. If you can’t represent yourself, other people will fill that space and do it for you."

So here you have it. The collected thoughts of the people of color from Richmond, Virginia who attended the Southeast Regional APOC Conference. Two African-Americans, one Palestinian-American, and one Indian/Pakistani-American carpetbagger who we let do some typing. It was hard for us to find the time away from our jobs, our classes, our activism, and our emergencies to cobble this together collectively, but we knew it was important. In reporting, however, we’ve also carried with us the concern of revealing – after all, APOC folks have been systematically targeted since the network's inception: preparing for the November 2004 FTAA protests in Miami, getting arrested and abused while there, and targeted at RNC protests in New York, August 2004. As one Richmonder said, "The more a movement like this grows, even independently from the white-led vanguard, the more the heat will be on us as activists of color. A big concern that came out of this for me are the safeguards against the police repression. It was put into context for me by Ashanti's beautiful historical display of what happened to the Panthers and Suncere's workshop on political prisoners. That's just how much activism is not a game. I think to a lot of self-defined 'anarchists' in Black Blocs it's all fun and games like on Peter Pan and the Lost Boys."

Tia echoed this sentiment and tied it back to the importance of APOC being a people of color only space, "APOC is actually defined as anarchist and autonomous people of color. Autonomy not just from the government but from the unjust privileges of our white counterparts." And, despite all the wonderful things about the conference and how much we’d like to talk about them, despite the fact that at the conference we spent very little time having a "bitchfest about whitey" as some people have actually asked us, we know we have to end this article by preemptively reiterating this conversation about POC safe space with you.

We had to deal it with at the conference (though the one incident of intrusion was in some ways far outweighed by the enormous support we had from white allies who cooked for us relentlessly), and the APOC webpage and list serve has to deal with it all the time. So, white folks, before you ask us all those questions you’ve just been dieing to test us with since the beginning of this article, here are all the answers, and this is all the time we’re willing to grant them.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS/COMMENTS from www.illegalvoices.org

Q: Aren't you being racist?

No.

Q: Aren't you being separatist?

No.

Q: Aren't you being exclusionary?

No.

Q: Is this group anti-white?

In the words of Bobby Seale, "We're not anti-white. We're anti-oppression."

Q: Are you authoritarians?

No.

C: As an anarchist, I don't agree with your position. It puts identity politics over the interests of class [insert long series of blah blah blahs]...

The anarchist and progressive movements, particularly in the last 20 years, has consistently put identity politics (or, the power to control the movement's direction and silence opposition on the part of mostly white men, although occasionally by white women as well) over everyone else's interests, period. Likewise, anarchists' white-left counterparts have been equally guilty of putting their potential to control Black and oppressed masses ahead of the interests of the working class (or any other class but a small cabal of white men). Books such as False Nationalism, False Internationalism go exhaustively into such topics.

Q: Wouldn't you get more accomplish with white people as part of the dialogue to hear out some things?

Two problems with this question:

1.) It presumes people of color won't accomplish as much without white anarchists, which is false.

2.) It presumes people of color want white anarchists to explain away, "fix" or deal with issues that people of color themselves need to confront.

Q: Shouldn't we all unite and take on these issues?

Of course.

C: 'I have fought for civil rights for people of color/have biracial kids or friends-partners of different races/feel passionately about these issues, and I resent you discriminating against me because I'm white.'

Two problems here too.

1.) Having people of color as friends, lovers or comrades; having children through such unions; participating in civil rights activity; etc. is, for white people, a choice and should not be equated to living the experiences of people of color.

2.) There are many resources available for anti-racist white activists. There are few people of color spaces for organizing and dialogue. Feel free to use these resources.

... and the list of questions goes on...

ARCHIVE OF PAST VISITOR COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS from www.illegalvoices.org

"Katie Johnson" writes: As you have previously stated,''Color is NOT a choise'', so why judge someone for something they have no control over. Yes, your ancesters land was taken and colonized, but I didn't do it.Nor, any other white person around you.What if you were born ''white''? What would be your long, thought out, smartalic response to this web site?I see how you injoy playing people and recieving there angry reactions.To tell you the truth,i really thought you were just some punk kid pulling some prank joke, but now i just realize that your a man with an ignorince that no one or thing could ever help.i'm sorry that you are truely blind to what this world is really about.I hope that some day you will wake up and realize that it's not the past that matters but, the ''right now''. doing wrong to others as done to your ansesters, nothing will ever change for the better

Response:

These are not issues of blame, but acknowledgement of the problem, the beneficiaries of past and current injustice, and reddress of such. Whites today, almost in whole, have benefitted in some fashion from past and current injustice, whether that be through patterns of education, employment, housing and criminal justice. Much of it is unconscious (meaning most whites don't ask to get power and privilege), but it exists.

If I was born white, I'd hope I would have the foresight to be conscious of power and privilege, and see that I benefit from it. If I were born white, I would hope I wouldn't make it my job to deny race is an issue, or that everything today is okay because I didn't own a Black slave. If I were born white, I'd hope I wouldn't be a sorry excuse for a human being by sending defensive, upset email to defend one's whiteness or how them colored folks just whine about the past.

Not having white people on a listserve is in no way equal to historical wrongs and societal inequities today or in the past.

00BakerMark@qe.dorset.sch.uk writes:
I have read your Q&A page and was surprised to notice that you are actively racist towards white people, how can you have a free and equal world when people are still discriminated against?! You have not made it equal, simply turned the tables AGAINST white people, there is no equality just a reverse of the racism of the past. Feel free to argue your point with me, I believe in a completely equal system.

Response:

Never should our goal be to change your mind or validate your politics. This project is not an anti-racist movement or an anti-racist endeavor. It's an endeavor intended to create a space for people of color to express their perspectives on a variety of issues affecting us, as communities most profoundly affected (historically and pragmatically) by racism and associated issues. While that, in itself, is a positive and proactive expression against racism (and thus implicitly anti-racist), the APOC movement comes together on our own terms and independent of definition of or direction by the white-led movement.

We speak primarily to people of color, who often feel silenced in white-led movements, find a space to speak their minds. We have very few spaces, and this is one.

Reverse-racism is an extremely weak argument and plays into some of neo-conservatism's worst elements.

Josh S says:
hey why do u complain so much...seriously if u really hate this contry so much why dont u leave....since i probably wont get a response can i make a suggestion....i dont think u wanna leave and go back to whatever 3rd world country u can from to face the real problems there...you complain about whites being racist...its all u "colored" people who are racist....just look if one of you walked through a white part of town nothing will happen....now reverse that... a white guy walks through the black part of town whats gonna happen...in the best case he'll get jumped and robbed...so why dont u shut your face stop crying suck it up like men and go on with your life....and stop hiding behind your color!!!!! pls resond love to hear your side

Response:

If one has complaints, one should leave the country? Should this rule cover the first complaint, or should we institute a complaint limit? If anyone complains “so much,? like say, 20 times, they should leave. That could work. Or perhaps, if one is of an ethnic background from which the land was taken and colonized , the subjects of complaints should themselves go. After all, it wasn’t their land or that of their ancestors to colonize, correct? After all, this isn’t the land they “came from,? following your sharp logic. This is land their ancestors came to. The American Indivian Movement of the 1970s or the Brown Berets of the 1960s, to illustrate, could be argued "hated" the United States. But, obviously, the land is theirs, not that of the U.S. government (which didn't honor upwards of 300 treaties signed with the Native Americans and Mexicans). Thus they really have nowhere to leave to.

Similarly, African Americans were forcibly brought to the United States and stripped of their cultural identities, nationalities and history. Various historians speak very vividly of slaves prohibited from all non-'American' expressions of culture in an effort to break those ties and pride. Clearly, because of the forcible assimilation through slavery and, later, through adoption of assimilated practices, former African slaves and descendants of African slaves today have a stake in America if no other reason than their ancestors built the infrastructure and, sadly, were by their bodies the means by which the system of capital (particularly in the 1600s) was undergirded.

Very intriguing.

This is, as you have surmised by now, a long deconstruction of the very stupid argument, "love it or leave it," which is intended purely to shut people up rather than reach consensus. It's an anti-democratic and cowardly argument that neglects every human rights convention known as well as the ideals upon which most American-born individuals are raised.

Not that the argument here is real bright anyway. "Suck it up like men"?

Alex Peterson wrote:
"How can you call your group anti-racist when it excludes a racial group? Racism is defined as "Discrimination or prejudice based on race." So the fact in which you are discriminating against the white racial group makes your organization racist, does it not?"

Response:

No.

First, it’s important to come correct about language, dictionaries, history and who generally writes them.

English language dictionaries comprise a sub-chapter in the history of the English language, which was born in the 5th Century A.D. with the invasion of England by Germanic tribes. As the Germanic conquerors remained in England, the language of one of them eventually prevailed; Anglisc. The effort of quantify language was a result of finding a means to assimilate people and words into the dominant (conquering) culture.

This hasn’t changed much. Usually, it’s the dominant culture which writes dictionaries. It comes from their perspective. For example, “Hispanic? is a perfectly valid word in the dictionary to address those of Mexican, Latin American and similar descent, but lost in that definition are the struggles that the Chicano civil rights movement fought for recognition beyond Nixon Administration definitions. “Negro? is in the dictionary as a term used for African-Americans. It’s certainly a definition, but so what? A “riot? is defined as “a wild or turbulent disturbance created by a large number of people,? and is now referred to as a “rebellion? (“an act or a show of defiance toward an authority or established convention?) by revolutionaries, because they know how loaded such terms are.

History is littered with words whose definitions mean nothing, but whose politics and context mean everything. This is the real issue.

Progressive-minded people attempting to use the dictionary to prove their point is trite, because many like to spend a great deal of time talking about politics and context, but fail to grasp reality when it truly affects them. Racism is indeed defined by some dictionaries as “Discrimination or prejudice based on race.? But the politics and context of racism in many countries are about power: who has it, and who doesn’t. Discrimination is about who has opportunities and who doesn’t. Is prejudice systemic subjugation of people of color for 500 years, or the request by people of color to have their own space? They can’t both be in real life, although in your dictionary, it’s probably very black and white.

Ken Hiser wrote:
"I find it amazing the hypocrisy of this event. Anarchist meetings regarding freedom but having it be only for people of color (whatever THAT means)?? This is the epitomy of hypocrisy and separatism. You should be ashamed. Unity is what is needed not separatism. And before you assume anything, YES I am an anarchist activist.what a pity."

Response:

People of color have the right to organize autonomously; your self-importance about ideals is completely removed from context or history. The feminist movement built autonomous spaces in the 1970s. That movement grew and gained a lot from it. About the only folks who don’t know it, of course, are anarchists who never read radical history before making defensive rants about 'separatism.'

"I just wanna ask you a question: how can you describe yourself as an anarchist and, in the same time, segregate like you do? I'm a man of color: i'm white. I am in a minority group also: i am an anarchist."

Response:

Minority as defined as both "ethnic, racial, religious, or other group having a distinctive presence within a society" and a "group having little power or representation relative to other groups within a society." However, if you're going to claim that both definitions are the same, perhaps a remedial English course is in order.

Anarchist politics (falling under the second part of said definition) for many are a choice -- they're a daunting, often difficult choice many struggle to come to, but they're nevertheless a choice. Put crudely, one can choose to accept conditions as they are, choose to rebel against them, or decide to profit from the society at large and become an oppressor. Like everyone, I salute you as an anarchist comrade; we have chosen a set of politics for which there are no easy answers, and of which the state will stop at nothing to exterminate. Being an anarchist is not easy, but again, it is a choice.

Being a person of color is not a choice. It is more than this piss-poor corner-store philosophy of "I'm a man of color: i'm white." Unlike the heaping pile of trash that masquerades as "anarchist theory," being a person of color is not a half-assed, rhetorical deal -- it's reality. Study after study continue to indicate that a class of human beings just like you are incarcerated more frequently; given shoddier educations, childcare and "choice" of pretty damn much everything; denied homes, employment, loans and health care; treated with suspicion as immigrants; given the harshest work at the lowest wages; bashed by so-called anarchists and radicals as "segregationists" and "nationalists" for the blasphemy of wanting a voice; and treated as a lower caste of citizens because they are a different skin color, have a different culture and a different set of mores, history and identity than you. They did not make the choice to be people of color -- discrimination, oppression, murder and history are theirs to bear.

Now, of course, you could claim those are ills of the larger society and have nothing to do with you because you're an anarchist. In that case, you need to pitch your little punk-rock friends and just join the local conservative party now, since you'll be there in 20 years anyway, waxing poetic to your snotty kids about the days you were a Generation XYZ version of the hippie.

You're not an anarchist at all.

These issues are, in fact, ours to challenge if we are to demonstrate the liberating nature of this movement to people without hope. However, these politics are still a choice. If, in ten years, you decide you no longer want to be an anarchist, you can, it is somewhat safe to say, get a nice set of clothes and a nice hairstyle and you will be able to join the ruling class if you wish, get a profitable job, a nice home in an upscale neighborhood and perhaps run a chain of overpriced coffee shops. It is almost certain you can expect to not be pulled over, beaten and killed (without prosecution) by the police; denied loans, housing fit for the shelter of human beings, or nice schools for your kids; or chased by a gang of slur-shouting thugs or denied medical attention from the beating you may get from said thugs because you're white. There will be NO repercussions to your choice of being an anarchist, which you can mostly write off as youthful indiscretion. Men like David Horowitz (a former youth radical turned wealthy conservative columnist paid to bash the left) can attest to that.

How can anyone call themselves an anarchist and "segregate" by wanting a people of color space?

The decision to make this a people of color-only space is a collective one, made by the vast majority of this list. But even at the most basic, we have a right to determine how we dialogue about our experiences, our ideas and aspirations as anarchists of color.

Many of the list people feel isolated and intimidated into silence by a movement which cares more for the fate of a tree than that of their brothers and sisters being warehoused in prisons, or denied basic rights, or denied housing and health care. Others feel the (mostly white, in many aspects racist) anarchist movement is itself at a dead end. Still others feel the best way to build an anarchist movement in the communities of color from which many of us hail is by dialoguing with people who share our histories and politics. All, on some level, appreciate the effort of white comrades like you, but want to talk about common experiences and feel like they're not alone.

From the eyes of a person of color, the anarchist movement, in my opinion, is VERY "segregated," white countercultural and completely disinterested in an equal voice for Black, Brown and all indigenous people. Most of the attitudes are frankly Neanderthal, and it's no wonder so many of us are sometimes embarassed to be called anarchist. One Latino comrade was told people of color could not support people of color and not be a racist. Another brother who, upon telling a white comrade of people of color dialogues, was told it was "interesting." One of the reasons this forum is exists is because the anarchist movement is a long way from being egalitarian, desegregated and honest with itself about its history, our history and a means to effect real change in a world in which they are, in numerous respects, irrelevant.

Which brings me to the question you should be asking..... why?

Why does this list exist? Why are we here? Why do we want a space for only people of color?

We're not "segregating" white people out because we don't like you, are playing some 'reverse racism' card. We're not trying to perversely 'make whitey pay.' Many of us are here because, whether it differs from your view or not, we don't have a voice in t

 
 


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