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Keeping Things White: The Problem with Theory

Strawberry Jello analysis opinion

If you want to keep an organization white, do these things:

  1. Demand a production level that doesn’t take into account the individual circumstance and stressors a person might be facing
  2. Prioritize the outcome over the process
  3. Assume you have shared beliefs and experiences
  4. Value reason over emotion, masculine over feminine
  5. Establish the Truth

From Hegel to Marx, to Engels, to Lenin.

How do we decide what is true?

Why theory?

“These new readers were still willing to look for validation in traditions incapable of keeping up with the pace of societal transformation.”

John-Baptiste Oduor for Foreign Policy

The future of radical thought is young, Black, Indigenous, disabled, and queer. Stop looking to academia for answers about power you can see in your own community and interactions. Academia is still keeping those populations out, by its very structure and function. Through the idolization of upper-middle class German philosophers and Soviet military clothing, we both center whiteness and increase inaccessibility to the ideas themselves. Although yes, I know the boots are sexy. But did Marx have any business becoming the mouthpiece for class struggle? By legitimizing some theorists because they’re dead white men, while we ignore the power analysis that the people at the bottom of these hierarchies and structures have to offer, we are aiding colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and all other similar structures whose very bedrock is respectability politics and legitimacy.

What does it look like for lived experience to be valued over education, power, and prestige? I think it means cutting out the academic elitism— to value the political values spoken, sung, put in a meme, as highly or higher than classic theory. It’s not enough to diversify your authors of theory.

Organizing, writing, and theorizing for its own sake is a privilege for the middle-class socialists. So in that sense, they are staying true to Marx and Lenin. :) To get connected and have solidarity with non-white organizing, shift your focus to providing basic needs. Let’s keep our organizing real, tangible, and on the ground. There are radical BIPOC in our community, they just don’t want to work with us because of our compulsive white posturing. There’s a direct inverse relationship to the flashiness of your actions and its radical potential. What we really need are sustainable networks of food, water, healthcare, etc. that decrease our reliance on the state and allow us to distribute resources equitably. So if you have any practical skills, offer them for less than you can afford. If you don’t, learn them. Your time is better spent making sure that every single neighbor is housed and fed, than learning the difference between bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. Because marginalized communities are marginalized in theory and in academia, we shouldn’t be asking how to make them fit in these spaces. Rather, ask why we are investing so much time and energy into things that are designed not to work for everyone? Let’s take a critical look at the institutions of oppression we are legitimizing.

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