(This blog post is the first one I’ve written in quite a while at radicalprogress.info. It is more personal in tone than most of my previous ones. It may or may not mark a transition in how I blog here.)
One of the recurring arguments that I’ve had over the years about racism is whether it is inherent within modern Euro/American civilization. Since I am usually arguing with Marxists or Liberals, they both want to rescue some element of modernity such as science, democracy, or capitalism from the claim that each of these depend on racism. Cornel West calls this “the great paradox of Western modernity” that both the flourishing of democracy and the transatlantic slave trade coincided historically.
I, too, believe in science and democracy, not so much in capitalism. However, like my Marxist friends, I want to believe that socialism can be achieved without racism marring it. With racism (and I would argue in a different vein, sexism) we can’t even limit its negative characteristics to the “ruling class” as we can with capitalism, since the examples of racism among the working-class and socialist leaders are abundant.
When I began trying to find a socialist organization to join last year, I kept finding them to be preserves of white guys. I sought out an explicitly socialist, feminist, and anti-racist organization, only to find it to have done pretty good attracting women, but not so much blacks. If I want my political engagement to break out of this sort of white ghetto, I have to travel further afield.
One idea I have is to find a Black Church and attend it with the intent of immersing myself in its living culture. Of course, some have argued that Christianity itself is inherently racist. I’ve found one Black church in Chicago that does have a strongly liberal theology and even on the edge of being post-Christian. It’s an experiment that I think worth doing, though I can’t exactly approach it as one, as being part of a church requires becoming authentically relationally connected to people.
Back to the big question, can modernity be rescued from its racist origins? One perverse sign that it can transcend its origins is the experience of Asian capitalism and Communism. Both of these Western exports have found fairly fertile soil in Asia and have flourished there, though the Communist nations there are actually trending towards a new form of capitalism.
The counter-examples come from Africa, the motherland of humanity, and the poorest, most exploited continent on earth. When South Africa overthrew its apartheid regime and began transition to a multi-racial democracy, many of us where simultaneously thrilled and stunned. It happened so quickly that many of us who’d been involved in anti-apartheid activism were scratching our heads. Just like the collapse of the Soviet Union surprised many of us.
As uprisings surged across northern Africa this past year, many of us hoped that finally Africa was going to stand up to Euro/American hegemony. When Libyan revolutionaries became military partners with NATO, we knew the possibilities of revolution were still bottled up within the narrow strictures of that hegemony. The struggle continues, the questions unanswerable.