The endless arguments on social media, during which we all go back and forth with each other like one hellish see-saw ride, are tiring yet deeply compelling — the drama of it all, to the onlooker, feeds a craving that many rarely acknowledge. Still, these exchanges, as pedantic as some may be, are often rare opportunities in which marginalised groups can communicate with media gatekeepers, and in some cases tell them off.
There is something almost cathartic about watching members of the commentariat unravel at the slightest push back, to follow along as their fraudulence is laid bare. You’re able to witness them struggle and stammer, in real time, when confronted by those they regularly make invisible. And yet, despite this short-lived relief, the erasure and marginalisation continues.
Take for example Jill Filipovic, who remains nothing more than a well-made caricature of every white liberal with a saviour complex. She smugly accused today’s socialist left of being “more 1930s than 60s”. “Remember who was excluded from political participation in the 30s?,” she asked. You could almost taste this patronising, flippant derision that is so common of those who turn out to be nothing more than gentrifying legacy hires with platforms they’ll never deserve. The response Filipovic received in light of this grotesquely ahistorical accusation was swift. Everyone from Corey Robin to local US organisers began chiming in with a blow to her argument more devastating than the last. And among the white socialists were Black, and leftists of color, of many political affiliations, some of whom began to discuss their frustration with being denied the right to their own historical existence. And of the lucky few that Filipovic decided to respond to a majority of them were white. This is the performance the rest of us have grown accustomed to. After all, how else are you going to accuse socialists of being white men if you’re made to acknowledge the existence of Black and PoC socialists? Of those who exist on the margins of society and express, in the strongest terms, radical politics. Especially those of us who are not a part of the Bernie Sanders coalition, but far to their left.
We don’t exist, but for the illustrations of us they use to peddle neoliberal policies, and centrist organising tactics that are about as spineless and cartoonish as their very ideology. Those of us who come from non-white backgrounds, and who identify as leftists, are constantly made to feel as though we are both imagined and irrelevant. Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman, when she’s not jokingly saying she likes that Hillary Clinton has murdered a lot of people, has claimed that most of her leftist detractors are just white men pretending to be people of color, and they’re being paid by Russia to do it.
They’ve chosen to deliberately, and maliciously misrepresent our radicalism for their own benefit. The white, socialist men are hijacking the voices of people of color—they say—and yet you will never catch them engaging with us outside this framework. We are only good enough to exist as garments — worn on occasion when they want to make it known that they are here to save us from this so-called white ideology. From time to time, they will eulogise the most hardened reds, all for the sake of public impression; they’ll quote the likes of Malcolm X, and share their images with finely trimmed quotes, while stripping them of all context, and historic substance. It is for the sake of publicly emphasising a radicalism that they themselves do not have. They comfortably borrow the language of radicalism in a way one plays dress-up in borrowed clothes.
It isn’t just Filipovic, and Joan Walsh, but others—so many others—who choose to communicate and argue almost entirely with white men for the sake of further isolating us. They understand that our identities threaten the very heart of their assertion, that the ‘left’ does not exist beyond whiteness. So which is it? Are we invented or are we inconsequential? And what about those they continue to whitewash, who sacrificed their very lives in order to better our world? Paul Robeson, Hussain Muruwwah, Frantz Fanon; Grace P. Campbell, Claudia Jones, Louise Thompson; Benita Galeana, Elvia Carrillo Puerto, Elena Torres. There are countless names we could list that have left deep impressions upon our politics, that have shaped how we see and communicate with the world, for the better, and whose words have had a tremendous liberating effect.
The most insidious grift to stretch out beyond the election remains to be the very white, liberal paternalism that we see expressed by writers like Filipovich, and others. They are all widely celebrated media figures who have long occupied influential news, television, radio and publishing spaces, and they have used these positions of power to speak on behalf, and often times for, marginalised communities.
What remains incredibly frustrating is that there is not even a cursory acknowledgement of our arguments, even those made delicately and with more civility than has ever been offered us. To some this might seem like an unimportant matter to be troubled by, but these writers and commentators shape the way the public consumes politics, and their readers often go on to mimic the attitudes and language these figures express and use. It isn’t about who’s blocking who on Twitter so much as it’s about who’s denying their existence in the service of their own egos, and agendas. This is more than a slight offence. It is a deliberate and often times profitable racket meant to suppress a budding, unashamedly leftist movement that threatens to unseat counterfeit experts who do little else but pontificate. And the publications they write for, who have assembled their brands on the backs of our stories, who only seek out our work for the sake of fabricating diversification, are just as guilty.