Note: The following is a presentation made by Mr. selah at The Black Radical Tradition in Our Time, 2016 Conference - Temple University, Philadelphia PA
title of our panel today is “Challenging White Supremacy: The
Black Radical View”, a richly
wide-reaching prompt, as we live today in a world ever-increasingly
consumed by the oppressive views, beliefs, force and power of
ravenous white supremacy.
we have heard, white supremacy is a disease. It is recalcitrant, and
resistant to most forms of treatment.
with patriarchy and capitalism, it is a chameleon, a toxin able to
infect its hosts silently, often misdiagnosed as ego, religion,
tradition, or ignorance. White supremacy is highly contagious: it
has been known to be transmitted orally: in the venomous, caustic
cancer of the tongue (watch your language); it has been transmitted
through skin to skin contact: the loveless embrace or the domestic
fist or the cold shoulder to the community (watch everything you
build and keep
moist towelettes on deck);
I’ve even heard stories of it being waterborne, airborne and
spread telepathically. I heard that if one happens to touch one
afflicted with the illness and then one happens to rub ones eye it
can render ones vision distorted or blinded or worse…color
blind. I’ve heard it attacks even our dead, condemning and
convicting our corpses. (Guard the graves.)
get the picture. White supremacy is a motherfucker.
as Brothers West and Montiero reminded us, it is one that the Black
Radical Tradition has wrestled with for centuries and, as this panel
implies, it is a motherfucker that calls us, especially today, to
remain ever vigilant and war ready.
I’d like to speak of a particularly pervasive symptom of white
supremacy. A telltale sign of the sickness: vicious individualism--
a uniquely western epidemic and export.
is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social
outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual.
Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so
value independence and self-reliance advocate that interests of the
individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social
group, while opposing external interference upon one's own interests
by society or institutions such as the government. Individualism
makes the individual its focus and so starts "with the
fundamental premise that the human individual is of primary
importance in the struggle for liberation.
principle permeates patriarchal, capitalist, and white supremacist
systems and is as American as the $.99 McDonald’s apple pie.
this afternoon, with this and vigilance in mind, I’d like to
illuminate a place where this virtue of white supremacy flourishes
right beneath…our thumbs.
call this talk: No
One Hand should have all that Power: How Social Media May Not Be So
Awesome and Popularizes White Supremacist Individualism.
generation’s relationship with social media is…complicated:
with many tensions and contradictions. This relationship is widely
examined as binary. And most analysis sides with its most positive
elements. Most herald it as the “great connector and community
constructor”, “democratizer”, “voice-granter”,
and “power builder” of our age.
disagree. The cooperative nature of this tool is exaggerated, it’s
importance inflated to proportions that threaten to cripple the next
generation of liberation fighters. I posit that is has now become an
asylum for neoliberal values and an arena where unchecked hate,
dominance, farce, and individualism now flourish and threaten to DOOM
our chance at building a mass collective movement of the people.
have reached a point where the hammer is being misrepresented as the
house and many of social media’s most talented practitioners
have preached embracing it as the pinnacle of representative power
and solidarity at the expense of building real community and
live in the age of uploaded avatars, insecurities and weaknesses in
the name of forming community. Social media coddles the individual’s
expectation for recognition and a false sense of connection through
that recognition. Our tangible feelings are lost in the experience
of impersonal expression.
with the ability to reach others at the push of a button, we see many
examples where Social Media makes us hyper acclimated to isolation
and distance: the very antithesis of the Village. Thousands, maybe
millions, of young people are adopting the belief that movement
visibility in social media not only guarantees destiny and victory,
but also celebrity and awareness: with deadly consequences to our
movement. The indicators are seditious: Our movement is obsessed
with doing the “biggest,” “most shared” thing
and, subconsciously, lead ourselves into a war against our movement
partners. Then there is the cynicism, the searching, the scrolling,
and the beat of the thumbs against the devices that soon sour vision
and even influence strategy.
simply, we aren’t fighting patriarchy, white supremacy or
capitalism-- we are vying for virtual validation. This competition
is intensely individualistic, apathetic, and na´ve to the joys
of being fully present in a moment, to the sacrifice and commitment
that it takes to build a powerful thing that contends with powerful
things and transforms relationships to power and destiny.
us question it’s distinction as a “great democratizer.”
Unquestionably, it has opened the door for millions of marginalized
to be heard and seen by allowing for the stories of scores of once
invisible people to be elevated. That is a power previous
generations could only hope for. Yet, a true democracy weighs both
the power of individual identity with the responsibility to the
collective. There is no responsibility or accountability in the
online arena. (Save for Twitter feeding frenzies launched when
someone goes afoul of groupthink).
is an anonymity that shields many from the repercussions of their
lies and feaux leadership; allowing for many to enjoy the fruits of
freedom without the labor of accountability. It is this lack of
responsibility, to a collective to a community and unchecked
liberalism even within
our ranks that
created the vacuum that
the DeRay McKessons of the world-- individuals-crowned-leaders by
white liberals with no base, no experience, and cobbled analysis now
ascendance is the favorite American tale: the story of an individual
who through snark and soundbite and brand alone can accrue the soft
power of influence and online followers and the very real power to
speak for Black people. This narrative is happening on our watch and
must be challenged.
of our youth are internalizing the notion that democracy is the
ability to say and do as you please without the responsibility of
consequences or to a collective greater than oneself. It is a Right
Wing Pipe Dream: a generation of black folk poised to ferociously
defend individual liberties under the banners of a “Freedom”
and “Democracy” that is inherently individualistic and
movement must attack this belief at every turn. Democracy is work.
It challenges selfishness and greed and is the building block for an
alternative conception of society. We must think of our
responsibilities to others in everything that we do and build. The
Black Radical Tradition has always been the champion here and we must
not allow subversive, anti-revolutionary personalities and
mis-leaders to own this conversation any longer.
to its merit as the great connector and community builder. One would
be a fool to ignore the obvious: that social media is a virtual
passport to places and people worlds away. But what we gain in long
distance connection I fear we lose in close ones. We’ve all
seen the signs: trains and restaurants and parties filled with people
with their eyes transfixed on their palms, collections of people
reduced to insular individuals locked in an ever expanding digital
universe. We find it easier to upload every corner of our conscious
to the Web in the name of forming community. And yet, we lack the
energy and desire to engage the energy around us. Even with this
great collective weapon, here we find another example of it being
used to make us intensely individual and incapable of empathy and the
joys of the present.
and communities are built and sustained through deep personal
relationships which challenge dominant narratives of success,
opportunism, and supremacist tactics. Social media is a tool toward
building transparent forms of relating and articulation but cannot
replace the work organizers must do in order to demonstrate other
modes of positive radical communication. We have to continue to
create and imagine ways to resolve conflict and affirm each other’s
voices. We should challenge the notion that Social Media can do any
more than serve as a gateway to organizing in the here and now.
Anything less than a strong on the ground accomplice to this virtual
reality will surely doom this burgeoning movement moment nurtured and
developed over time. We have to embrace this necessary truth or else
fall victim to distraction and deception.
examine its position as a barometer of a movement’s power.
There are many definitions of power. To use a concept coined by
American Political Scientist, Joseph Nye, I propose that social media
is an expression of “soft power”. It is appealing and
attractive. Culture becomes an ambassador and infiltrates where an
individual can become a movement onto oneself without accountability
or collective support. It attracts and coopts instead of coercion. It
is a process of lobbying through less transparent channels for
political or non-political influence. Social media’s power lays
in how powerless people are and society becomes more prone to control
organizers contending with clear and present exertion of “hard
power”: “the use of military and economic means to
influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies”,
we cannot grow comfortable here in our capable wielding of Social
Media “soft power.” Our opposition relishes our reliance
on inherently disconnected online tools and forums to measure, guide,
and direct our movement. They crown online leaders (they tried us
for a minute) with the obvious goal of co-optation and the subversive
goal of teaching our people that those individuals with millions of
followers are the drivers of change.
telling, many crowned “leaders” openly advocate against
building grassroots organizations (with some valid critiques, yet
painted with brushes far too broad) in lieu of online engagement and
refuge. More sinister, there is a growing fear amongst many liberal
circles to contend with and grasp hard power. This fear has evolved
into outright aversion. This activity reveals itself in the
reactions by many to direct action tactics and can only be described
as counterrevolutionary and anti-movement.
(blackness) is produced through struggle and a resistance to live and
become, not through the passive witnessing of spectacle and speaking.
There is warmth in our intimacy and sincerity that can only be mocked
by Social Media but can never fully be replicated or experienced.
Soul is made through the tension of life’s obstacles and one’s
many methods of overcoming. It is what feeds and nourishes our
analysis comes from a personal reflection.
quite some time, Social Media was my public Hall of Mirrors. Judge
and jury to every action and movement. It inebriated my ego and
courted my insecurities. I was off-center; my self-perception
self-curated online. Without it, I began to recognize the “little
things”— the tiny triumphs coming to comfort me in the
recognized my most vicarious nature. How I used my timeline to
escape the stress, isolation, or perceived shortcomings of the
present. I looked in the mirror and saw my deep desire to be known,
remembered, and valued. I recognized the lengths I would go to keep
hold of Social Media’s illusionary embrace. I was passively
skeptical of each performance of resistance I saw on my timeline.
Human actions became perverted caricatures.
it was the act of putting the phone face down that forced me to see
the people in front of me or maybe the silencing of all the
commenting that made me listen to the actual voices of people around
me. I could hear my own voice more clearly. It was a fasting of the
spirit. I was no longer overwhelmed with newsfeeds of death, pain,
politics, and posturing—at least for the time being. I gained
some solace from the numbness and cynicism growing from the constant
posts on my timeline. I became more connected to the people around
me. I actively participated more in every day events. There was
Newness again. I was reunited with a time before we knew what
everyone ate, who everyone loved, where they vacationed, how their
day went--all before meeting them. I was meeting people outside of
other’s interest in them.
what is our duty as a movement in challenging this?
We must build organizations, actions, and practices that have mass
educational appeal and also transform intimate relational presence or
engagement. Our movement must return the
Collective to its
rightful place in our analysis, practice, and vision for tomorrow.
encourage our community organizers toward true and exhibitions of
democracy, community, and power. Not followship and diffusions of
responsibility. We must ferociously challenge the notion that any
one of us is more important than all of us. We must re-embrace the
great strategic value in everyone not knowing everything you do, when
we do it, and whom we do it with. We have been conditioned to be
complicit in compromising our best strategies, delivering our plans
publicly. We must envision new strategies in this ‘1984’
must wrest our movement from the clutches of individualism and the
false message of microwave movement. A movement can be educated and
invigorated online, but never built there. A true movement is one
based on deep relationships that can withstand the winds of trend.
We have all watched cyber solidarity and camaraderie drown in the
shallow waters of online connections. Building relationships with
people requires being present. Nothing--no amount of speeches, witty
tweets, shirts, appearances, or protester pictures--can replace that.
King speaks from the grave: “We must rapidly begin the shift
from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented"
society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property
rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets
of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being
challenge us all to bask in the magic of the here and now, reserve
precious moments for your memory, implore our communities to reunite
with all of their many selves—not just the Avatar with the most
likes. We must remind our movement of the magic of the collective
community. We must get lost in conversation with our innermost
thoughts and idiosyncrasies. We must seek out the “why’s”
and the “how longs”, and once again be amazed and
embarrassed at ourselves. We must remember a time where love was a
warm embrace, liberation a hot meal with comrades in the kitchen and
a song in the heart, and victory more than headlines.
and only then, will we challenge subversive cyber white Supremacy and
truly hold a united future in the palms of our hands.