Editors’ Note: On this Columbus Day, we bring you Part Three of an explosive five-part interview series Joshua Frank, author of Left Out!, conducted with University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill this past summer. Read Part 1 and Part 2 in this comprehensive series.
Ward Churchill: Oops! You're right. I was passing right by Franken, who, as I understand it, has lately joined the chorus by using the televised version of his Air America program -- I guess you're aware that Air America is Clear Channel's "liberal alternative" to itself, eh? -- to parrot O'Reilly and Hannity with regard to yours truly. The problem is that he wasn't trying to do some funny impersonations; he was apparently serious. That being so, how about you ask him for an interview on the theme of, how did he put it in his book, "lies, and the lying liars who tell them"?
JF: Franken won’t return my calls [laughter].
WC: Ha! Yeah, well Maher's a different story. He was one of the very few people, aside from myself, Susan Sontag is the only other one I could name off the top of my head, who openly contested the way the hijackers were officially depicted in the immediate aftermath of 9-1-1. Lost his job over it, too, and you've got to respect that, even if, like me, you're not especially in tune with his overall politics.
Besides, after Maher picked up his HBO gig, he had Janet Reno and me on the same show. That gave me a chance to ask her face-to-face whether, since Waco, she's had occasion to reconsider her ideas on how to respond to suspected child abuse. She gave me a sort of puzzled look, so I explained how some of us tend to think that sending the FBI to burn the kids alive wasn't much of a "solution". It really wigged her out, and I'll always have a soft spot where Maher's concerned, since, however unwittingly, he afforded me the opportunity to impose what may be the closest to an actual penalty she ever pays for what she did to those poor kids.
Maher's gotten all gushy lately about the "prospect of democracy in Iraq" being somehow redemptive of the slaughter over there. Sometimes he sounds like a comedic reincarnation of Rudyard Kipling. Then there's Dennis Miller. From a liberal perspective, he used to do some really good, biting stuff. Since 9-1-1, though, he's ridden the tide of reaction for all it's worth, coming out of the closet as an unmitigated Nazi whore. For my money, the only one of these guys you can count on to remain consistent with their supposed principles over the long haul is George Carlin, but maybe I'm convinced he's a safe bet only because he's already stayed the course for 40-odd years.
JF: So, you're saying you've gotten no support from the "white" left? Is that it?
WC: No, I'm not. There's been substantial support from important sectors of the left academy, which, of course, is predominantly white. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Emmanuel Wallerstein, Richard Falk, Robert Jensen and David Stannard, among many others, have all made strong statements affirming the quality and importance of my scholarship as well as their solidarity on the issues. The same, albeit on a lesser scale, with such prominent centrists as James Sterba. Hell, even Jay Custer, yup.
JF: No kidding?
WC: No kidding. He is a direct descendant of the famous "General" and an editor for North American Archaeologist to boot. Even he's made an unequivocal statement vouching for the integrity of my work.
All of this has of course been actively ignored by the media mainstream at both the local and national levels -- so far as I know, Chomsky alone has been quoted thus far, once and quite briefly, in the Denver Post -- even as they've been lavish in quoting scholarly nonentities like Thomas Brown and John LaVelle to the opposite effect. So, too, the fact that, testimonials from luminaries aside, there's been a substantial demonstration and organizing of broad-based support within the academy, notably by progressive faculty members at Pitzer College and on my own campus. These efforts are both ongoing and, I'm happy to report, have been steadily widening their focus, treating my case not as a uniquely unjust phenomenon, but rather as being symbolic of something far bigger and much more sinister.
Among serious activists outside the academy -- and, by "serious," I mean those pursuing fundamental rather than cosmetic changes to the status quo -- things have been even better and more promising. Not only have the usual suspects like Derek Jensen and John Zerzan stepped up, but, with the possible exception of Anarchy magazine, I seem to have remarkably solid support across the entire anarchist spectrum, which is composed, let's face it, predominantly of whites. Somewhat ironically, since I've been unsparingly critical of them over the past 30 years or so, I've received very much the same kind of unqualified support from hard-line Maoists.
This has really astonished me, but I've gotta give it up: both the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and its recent spin-off, the Maoist International Movement (MIM) have used their weekly papers to advance some of the best analysis of my case and its implications yet published. MIM has been especially consistent in putting its cadres on the street to do political education concerning my case, gathering signatures on petitions supporting me, and the like. This has led to some interesting results, to say the least.
One of the high points of my spring was when, unbeknownst to me at the time, a bunch of MIMsters cornered Rocky Mountain News reporter Charlie Brennan on the sidewalk outside the Women's Building in San Francisco -- he was there because I was speaking inside -- and told him he wasn't taking another step until he signed their petition supporting me. Man, I'd love to have seen the look on his face! They eventually cut him loose without signing, but let's just say he's stopped stalking me around the country -- he'd earlier shown up at a talk I gave at the University of Wisconsin's Whitewater campus, and a few other unlikely locations -- and I think the MIM people can take credit for his absence. Sooooo...
Between the two poles represented by the anarchist milieu on the one hand, and what remains of the "party-building" left on the other, I've gotten very solid gestures of support from VVAW and Veterans for Peace, both of which are mostly white, as well as the more militant sectors of the environmental and animal rights movements. There've also been e-mails of support from several thousand white folks whose politics aren't immediately classifiable. It should be noted that despite the organized nature of the avalanche of electronic hate mail I've received, there has been a far greater number of spontaneous communications expressing support and solidarity.
Much of this -- over half, I think -- comes from what I call the "kiss my ass" factor. That's a group who more than anything seem motivated to applaud the fact that I've refused to back down, most of all my refusal to apologize for offending those I've offended by saying what I've said. My read is that there's a substantial pool of disaffected whites out there who are at once profoundly anti-authoritarian and anti-racist, and that they're almost begging for someone or something to give shape to their zeitgeist, galvanizing it and thereby unleashing its transformative potential.
That's where the left media are supposed to come in. Their purpose is not merely to provide the "alternative" of more accurate news reportage and/or editorial commentary critical of the status quo. These are important, of course, but the more substantive responsibility of any genuinely oppositional media is to advance the sorts of analysis and interpretation that stand to consolidate the latent potential I was just describing, and propel it into the next phase of its actualization. In other words, it's their function to engage in "advocacy journalism" of the most serious and unequivocal sort, a call to arms designed to facilitate the literal dismantling of the system generating the myriad forms of oppression they report on and verbally condemn.
Therein lies the default. Not only have the more prominent media figures on the left failed to meet this last -- and most crucial -- of their responsibilities, they've usually done exactly the opposite, joining hands with their colleagues in the rightwing media to actively discredit anyone whose words or deeds might, if pursued to their logical conclusion, serve to precipitate fundamental rather than superficial changes to the structure of power and privilege embodied in this country's white supremacist status quo. In this sense, they serve not as an alternative to, but rather as a completion of the propaganda system forming the first line of defense relied upon by those presiding over American business as usual.
That's how you end up with "lefties" like Marc Cooper and Al Franken saying things that are interchangeable with what's being said by rightwing hacks on the order of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. The preponderance of heavies in the left media are just as white as the big names on the right, and thus have an equal stake in explaining reality to "the masses" in such a way as to preserve and protect the white supremacist bedrock upon which their monopolistic claim to the privilege of explaining reality ultimately depends. If the logic sounds a bit circular there, it's because it is.
On the whole, for all their pretensions to the contrary, I'd say these guys are very comfortable with the status quo. So comfortable, that every now and again you see a left media luminary like Christopher Hitchens do a Dennis Miller-style "transition" to the right. A lot of people are surprised when something like that happens, but they shouldn't be. Anybody who paid attention to Hitchens' postulations on race relations over the years -- his 1992 piece in The Nation on the Columbian Quincentennial, to offer a prime example -- found it unsurprising. A lot of us, in fact, viewed him all along as being little more than a closet rightwinger. The line is always thin to the point of anorexia in these circles.
JF: Okay, let me rephrase my earlier question. Are there any exceptions to what you're saying about the white left media?
WC: Sure. You are, aren't you? And Alex Cockburn came out with a very strong piece in my defense right off the bat. It ran in CounterPunch and, I think, in The Nation as well, back in early February. Mickey Z, Tim Wise and Carolyn Baker have also done some good stuff. Then there's Shannon Service, who did a really excellent hour-long piece for Free Speech TV. But y'all are very much exceptions, exceptions prove rules, and the rule has been very different. Not that everybody else followed the lead of Cooper, Lappé and some others I've mentioned in openly attacking me. That's the other pole of exception.
The norm, as I was starting to say earlier, has been something far more insidious, ranging from silence to blatant condescension. On the silence front, take Amy Goodman, for example. She did one rather insipid segment with me on Democracy Now!, and no follow-up. Air America's been even worse; I did one very good interview with its Atlanta affiliate early on, but, again, no follow-up. The Portland station dithered for days in June when local organizers tried to set something up in conjunction with a speech I gave, before deciding they had "no time available." Actually, the word is that Clear Channel's corporate headquarters put out the word that several of us from the Denver area are not to be allowed air time because of a couple of things we might bring out about the background of Dan Caplis, who they're apparently grooming for some sort of national programming slot.
Even on Boulder's own progressive radio station, KGNU, I've been invited to do exactly one morning interview segment; no follow-up and nothing during the prime-time evening program blocks. This raises a related question: Where, oh where, is my old pal, David Barsamian? He's Boulder-based, after all, and we've worked together for years, but he's yet to make so much as an overture for an interview to be distributed through his well-established Alternative Radio enterprise.
Condescension? Try Bruce Shapiro's piece in The Nation back in February, wherein he starts out by acknowledging the quality of my scholarship and ends up conceding the necessity of supporting me in the face of the right's attempt to purge me from the university. The space in between, however, is largely devoted to reviling my "broader political writing" -- by which he means my political analysis -- as being "adolescent," "noxious" and "uniformly hackneyed." Decoded, what he's saying is that he heartily disapproves of my focusing upon the form, function and effects of white racism rather than the trendier oppressions of white folks with which he prefers his readers be preoccupied. In effect, his main goal seems to have been the recording of his own credentials as a Noble White Man, willing to defend a wog despite the indefensibility of the wog's politics.
Mike Albert played a similar game in one of his ZNet commentaries, first extolling what he called my "many contributions," then positing the need to defend me in my "weakness," before expending considerably more energy decrying the fact I'm inclined to hold those mostly white folks who actively contrive to profit from the mass death and immiseration of mostly brown children accountable for their comportment rather than restricting culpability to whoever happens to be holding the reigns of state power at any given moment. It's worth mentioning that Richard Oxman immediately responded with a line-by-line demolition of Albert's attempt at extending blanket exoneration to those I've referred to as "little Eichmanns."
The same basic formula has been employed by so many pundits on the white left over the past few months that it's become seriously boring. Dare I call it "hackneyed"?
Now, contrast this sort of "support" to that articulated by Mumia Abu Jamal when he wrote that I not only have the right to say what I've said, but that I've been analytically correct in saying it. Or Yuri Kochiyama's public statements repeatedly comparing my circumstances to those of Malcolm X. Or the Seneca writer Scott Richard Lyons' powerful affirmation of my work -- and of me personally, for that matter -- in Indian Country Today. Or the sheer force of Haunani-Kay Trask's and Kathleen Cleaver's declarations in my behalf. Or Rafael Renteria's commentary, "Ward Churchill and White America," in which he advises those signified by Albert and Shapiro to "look in the mirror" for a full-face view of racial chauvinism at play. I could keep going, but I think you get the drift.
JF: Can you explain how this all fits together with your essay, "Some Push Back"?
WC: The common denominator among those I just mentioned is that they're all people of color. The equivocators are not. This is not to say that all white lefties have been equivocal (I've already addressed the fact that a lot of them haven't been) but, rather, that the equivocators have quite uniformly been of what one wag recently described as being of "Caucasian Persuasion." There's a very pronounced pattern to it, and it's entirely consistent with my experience of how things tend to shake out "on the street."
I've already covered the way the e-mails and letters I've recently received are breaking out, and that gets to it in a way. What I've not yet mentioned, however, is that the present "controversy" generated by the right over my perspective on 9-1-1 isn't the first. The original brouhaha, which was far less public, came from the left, mostly by e-mail, during the first few days after the "Roosting Chickens" essay was posted on Dark Night's website. I got several dozen missives in the first week or so, virtually all of them from self-described white Marxists of one stripe or another, most of them from New York, or saying they were, and all but a handful devoted to informing me of their outrage at the Eichmann analogy.
Now here's where it gets truly bizarre, and I swear I'm not making this up: Every single one of those expressing indignation claimed that s/he had a relative in the World Trade Center. And none of those relatives were stockbrokers, investment bankers or the like. Words like "Cantor-Fitzgerald" never even came up. Hell, none of the supposed relatives were even rank-and-file firemen or cops. No, they were all described as having been janitors, maintenance people, food service workers and such, the great majority of them people of color, and a disproportionately large percentage as having been recent immigrants from Third World countries.
None of this was true, of course. The New York Times shortly began publishing photos and biographical sketches of everyone who died in the Trade Center; I read every one of them, and the demography was about what I'd expected. It follows that the basis upon which the initial wave of complaints from the left were mounted was blatantly contrived, so much so that I considered writing it up as a parody in which, of the fewer than 3,000 persons killed in the WTC, more than 4,000 were relatives of white lefties, and of those 4,000, at least 5,000 were working-class immigrant people of color bearing no responsibility whatsoever for the horrors of American empire. The Twin Towers complex, it turns out, didn't actually function as a hub of U.S. economic globalization in any sense at all. Instead, it was something more along the lines of a gigantic homeless shelter.
The nature of this initial and entirely spurious reaction by the left tends, I think, to spotlight what may well be the most taboo of all topics among self-styled progressive whites: the extent to which they're inclined to be every bit as heavily-invested in the paradigm of American Exceptionalism as the right-wingers they purportedly oppose. Certainly, there was no way to readily distinguish one from the other when it came to the fervor with which they arrived at an instant insistence upon the inherent "innocence" of those killed on 9-1-1. Left, right and always white, they very nearly managed to coin a new term, fusing "innocent" and "Americans" into the single word: "Innocentamericans".
It was an altogether stunning illustration of the sociocultural pathologies Stanley Cohen discusses in his States of Denial, and, of course, the more particular phenomena analyzed so ably by Karl Jaspers in The Question of German Guilt. Such behavior is nothing unusual for Euroamericans, by the way. In his Benevolent Assimilation -- a truly excellent book -- the historian Stuart Creighton Miller chronicles a very similar assertion of "radical innocence" by mainstream Americans immediately following revelation of the genocide perpetrated by the U.S. during its conquest of the Philippines at the turn of the last century.
This is from one example. From there, you can -- as I have in A Little Matter of Genocide, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens and elsewhere -- trace the record of comparably self-serving denials of reality all the way back to the inception of the Republic, or forward into the present moment. What you encounter adds up to a seamless whole. In this sense, the history of the Euroamerican mainstream has been undeviatingly consistent.
As Susan Griffin observes in A Chorus of Stones, "there are whole disciplines, institutions, rubrics in our culture which serve as categories of denial." Put another way, denial is not just integral to but definitive of what Griffin, writing as a white woman, perceives as being the "American Character." And, coming as it does from an explicitly Euroamerican perspective, her perception is both entirely accurate and commendably honest.
But here's the catch. Who does Griffin mean by "our" when she refers to "our culture," the one she describes as being so pathologically afflicted with denial? Black folk? Brown? Those of Asian or Polynesian descent? How about American Indians? You see? Even as she critiques the American Character to devastating effect, she frames it -- or perhaps even conceives of it -- exclusively and not very subtly, in terms of her own whiteness. That which is white thus equals "America," for Susan Griffin no less than for crudest of aging Mississippi Klansmen.
Here, it seems to me, we find the pulsating heart of white racism. In its essence, it consists of the presumption that anyone Other than white holds meaning -- hence, value -- only in relation to whiteness, a dominion in which, in and of themselves, unwhite "others" possess no meaning or value at all. Often, as I suspect is the case with Griffin, the attitude is so deep-set as to operate well below the level of awareness, and is therefore intractable. So subliminal is the mindset at its core that, confronted with evidence of her own display of it, Griffin would no doubt seek to deny it, thereby consummating the very pathos she herself has explicated with utmost eloquence.
I've been working on an analytical essay developing this theme for the past couple of months. Let me read a bit of it into the record, so to speak, because doing so will probably get us to where I want to end up faster-and, hopefully, more clearly-than whatever I might spin off the top of my head at this point. Okay by you?
WC: Okay, here goes:
In its most discernable manifestation, white racist presumption appears in its carriers’ assertion of a unilateral entitlement to define -- that is, to “name” -- the Other in terms constructed entirely of utility and convenience to themselves. For those cast as Other, the true measure of white racist imposition is encountered first, foremost and always in this perpetual process of naming: They, and They alone, are positioned to determine who you are, are not, might be, what each station denotes, and why. This is because, so They continuously declaim, that which is knowable is truly “Known” only to Them, or in ways devised and sanctioned by Them, for purposes They themselves approve.
Hence, They not only “know you better than you know yourself” but “what's best for you” as well. Predictably, the latter turns upon the perceptions of Those who Know as to what might at any given moment be of most benefit to Them. For the Other, this entails an existence captioned in the language of intrinsic inferiority at best, or, in the worst case, out-and-out existential negation (figuratively, literally, often both). Within a perception of “reality” based in the strata of such presumption, the wielding of white supremacist prerogatives becomes so familiar as to go unnoticed by Those who enjoy them, seeming natural, therefore inevitable, and thus both right and just.
Wherein lies the potential for culpability? White supremacism, speaking in its emic voice, admits to none. It is in fact incapable of such admission. Guilt cannot be reasonably said to inhere in being and doing that which is right and natural, irrespective of how it might effect essentially irrelevant Others. Within the psychoconceptual parameters by which they are established, whiteness and its attendant privileges comprise their own justification. By the terms of its very existence, then, the cognitive structure of white racism denies even the possibility that genuine empathy, less still such sentiments as regret or remorse, might be extended beyond the pale of itself.
Only the most forceful of etic intrusions are sufficient to disrupt the fantasies of innate superiority and concomitant entitlement to possession of all and everything entertained at the most primal level as a conception of Self by Those infected with the mass psychosis of white racism. Reciprocation of the dehumanizing treatment They have accustomed Themselves to visiting quite universally upon valueless Others is often --perhaps always -- requisite to penetrating the veil of Their delusion so deeply that They, some of Them, will be jarred into conceding that the realm of meaning might perhaps not be reserved unto Them alone, that the Other can never be consigned-was never in fact consignable-to a terrain “outside of history,” that s/he or “it”, too, is endowed with a fully human face.
The jolt of such cognition, however momentary, produces a series of aftershocks: recognition that the life and fulfillment of a brown-skinned child is just as “important” --which is to say “worth” every bit as much -- as that of a white-skinned child, for instance. Thence, it will be all but invariably admitted that the Other is, or might yet become, “just as good as We are.” Promising on its face, this supposedly “enlightened acknowledgement” is actually the most cynical of white supremacist ruses, evading as it does the very possibility that whiteness might reduce to the signification of anything other than “goodness”, thereby reasserting its station as the condition to which all Others can/should/must aspire. It is thus no more than a reaffirmation of white supremacism, albeit in a form clad in the soft trappings of liberal sophistry rather than the fundamentalist armor of “conservatism”.
For the instant of cognition generated by an exemplary act of reciprocation to produce a different result, it is necessary that the intervention be continued with equal force, but in another manner, one expressly designed to increase rather than alleviate cognitive dissonance within the status quo. This is to say that the Other must seize the moment of Their greatest cognitive disarray to (re)claim the all-important power of definition; that is, to call what has just happened by its right rather than Their preferred name and, in the process, bestow the correct name upon Them.
To clarify: The Other cannot be content with liberal concessions as to her/his/their basic humanity; it is essential that They be forced to confront and ultimately confess the implications of what They, in their whiteness, have done-are in fact still doing-to fully human but unwhite Others. On this, there can be no polite hedging to spare offense to the tender sensibilities of the offenders. (They have long since honed to unrivaled perfection the ability to do this for themselves; such is the time-tested stuff of their collective denial). The naming must be both unsparing and of the “in your face” variety.
Example: Those brokers and “market technicians” who harness their proficiencies-as all of them do-to attracting investment in corporate enterprises, the profitability of which derives from extracting veritable slave labor from brown-skinned 12-year-olds throughout the Third World, are by no reasonable definition “unaware” of what they are doing or its effects upon those enslaved. It is, after all, their stock-in-trade to know with considerable precision why the value of certain stocks may be expected to increase more rapidly or sustainedly than others.
Hence, they are in no sense 'innocent' of the sheer carnage induced by the sweatshops their energies are devoted to proliferating. Instead, they function as “desk murderers,” a type of malignancy best symbolized by Adolf Eichmann, the mid-rank SS officer who-always at a sanitary step's remove from the ugly stench wafting from the “product” his energies made possible-unstintingly applied his technical expertise to the logistics of genocide, thereby ensuring that the Nazis’ exterminatory system operated in the most efficient and profitable manner possible.
Eichmann's peculiar notoriety arises, no doubt, from the fact that what he facilitated was done, not to unwhite Others but to whites themselves. Thus, his subsequent pleas of 'innocence' or that he should at least be accorded some right to mitigation or redemption-that he'd personally killed no one, had been a good husband and father, civic-minded and culturally sensitive (he spoke Hebrew, no less), and had merely done his job to the best of his ability-though all true, were to absolutely no avail. In the end, he stood exposed before the world for who he and what he was, convicted of his crime. For this, he paid with his life.
It may very well be that Eichmann was punished, not for his actual “crimes against humanity,” but for his transgression of whiteness; that is, for having done to unto certain whites that which whiteness decrees will be done only unto Others. His real crime, however, was to embrace an outlook in which it was/is permissible to dehumanize anyone in such fashion, thereby establishing the model, both psychointellectually and in terms of precedent, for what the Nazis eventually did to Slavs and Ashkenazi Jews, right along with such nonwhite untermensch as the Sephardim and Gypsies.
In this, the most elemental dimension of his criminality, Eichmann had and still has no end of company. It includes not only the earlier-mentioned and overwhelmingly white corps of brokers and finance techs who knowingly feed their bottom line from the rotting corpses of Third World children, but in a very real sense anyone who identifies with and seeks to defend either them, personally, or the order emblematized by their minds and deeds. So transparently commonplace is the baseline evil embodied in Eichmann that no less astute an observer than Hannah Arendt was led with some bewilderment to classify it as a “banality”.
Rephrased, all who exhibit the pathology of whiteness are at issue, and all who take as their objective anything less that a complete eradication of the white supremacist edifice may be rightly said to share it. Those who struggle to rationalize, justify and thus preserve either the mentality or its manifestations have no more legitimate a basis for complaint with regard to whatever fate may be imposed upon them by the multitudinous Others they've defiled than did Eichmann himself. In this connection, there remains much to learn from Fanon.
Okay, that's enough.
JF: I’m not asleep yet.
WC: There's more [laughter], but I'm sure you can see where I'm going, and what's upsetting white folks from all points on the political compass. It doesn't matter whether you're Bill O'Reilly or Marc Cooper, my analysis doesn't leave any wiggle room within which you can pronounce your own "innocence", much less maintain your accustomed privilege of defining for everybody else what their options are, or "should" be, vis-à-vis the status quo. It's downright infuriating, I suppose, and they've responded accordingly.
Now, let's go back to "the street" for a moment. We've spent most of our time examining the response pattern of whites. By contrast, consider the fact that I don't know a person of color who didn't have the same gut reaction to 9-1-1 as me: It was just chickens coming home to roost. If there was a question involved, it was "what took them so long"?
I'll grant you that while the pool of people I know personally is substantial, it's hardly a definitive sample, even of the intellectual/activist community. But, check this out: Ever since I came up on O'Reilly's radar screen, and especially during the period when he and his rightwing media cohorts were bearing down on me with the most intensity, I've had random people of color greeting me with big smiles and effusive thanks. For a while there, I couldn't be out on the sidewalk in Denver without drivers honking and giving me the power salute. People were literally crossing the street to shake my hand, not only because of the "in your face" nature of what I'd said, but -- and this seems to have been important to them -- my refusal to back down in the face of the tremendous reaction it provoked.
We're not talking about folks who spend their spare time reading David Roediger, either. These were delivery people, baggage handlers at the airport, custodial personnel, food service workers, parking lot attendants, people in toll booths, mostly black, Latino and South Asian, including a fair proportion of recent immigrants. Funny thing: I've yet to encounter anyone fitting this description who seemed in the least confused about the fact that I wasn't referring to them, or people like them, when I used the Eichmann metaphor; at least I've never been asked to explain it to a person of color. And, to amplify an earlier point, I've yet to interact with a single one of them who professed to have a white Marxist in their family.
In any event, this pattern hasn't been evident only in Denver. It's been the same everywhere I've gone since February: the Bay Area, Honolulu, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, even Milwaukee and Spokane... and Northern Saskatchewan, for that matter. On several occasions, I've had white reporters tagging along, and they've been visibly stunned by the response I've gotten at a grassroots level. I have to admit that, at times, I've been a bit overwhelmed by it myself.
There's been a marked drop-off in this sort of thing since June, when the last of the full-glare media spotlight was turned off, but, by then, it had become abundantly clear that my analysis of 9-1-1 touched just as deep a nerve in people of color as it did in whites, but for diametrically opposing reasons: On the whole, those of color have demonstrated that they agree with me at a really elemental level; for whites, it's the precise opposite. That's exactly the pattern I thought would prevail, so it goes without saying that, personally, I feel quite validated by the response pattern.
What I want to see now is a further shaking out along those lines, in a way that involves an increasingly mindful inclusion and expansion of that earlier-mentioned pool of anti-authoritarian/anti-racist whites -- "race traitors," if you will -- and starts to consolidate a genuinely liberatory consciousness in this country. It's been a long time, the early '70s in my estimation, since that sort of dynamic has been evident.
JF: So you want a return to the principles, as opposed in some respects to the practice, emblematized by the early Black Panther, the Brown Berets and Chicano Moratorium, the Young Lords, etc?
WC: I do want to see a return to those principles of the groups you mentioned, and a few others you didn’t, like I Wor Kun, Rising Up Angry, the Young Patriots, VVAW and the early American Indian Movement, among numerous others, and I do want to see us pursue the promise embodied in the original Rainbow Coalition established by Fred Hampton, not to be confused with Jesse Jackson's subsequent imitation. That's the idea underlying the All Nations Alliance in Denver.
More broadly, you can find a lot of what I'm talking about within what's called "hip-hop culture" (it took me a while to figure that one out, even though Fidel Rodriguez and his cohorts in East LA were already referring to me as being "an elder of the hip-hop movement" by some point in the late-90s), although there's obviously a lot of work to be done, if it's to realize its transformative potential. The key is to understand that the requisite consciousness exists, at least in embryonic form, that certain of the component parts are also there, organizationally speaking, and that the potential for actualization is therefore real. And, of course, the neocons are doing a truly amazing job of polarizing things, thus galvanizing the hip-hop impulse into ever more coherent modes of resistance.
JF: What role do you think you can play in all of this?
WC: As I see it, my own role in the process, having managed to crystallize a reaction via my 9-1-1 piece, is to utilize the opportunity thus presented as a vehicle upon which not only to further demonstrate the ubiquity of white racism, but to demystify some of the more sophisticated means by which whiteness asserts and sustains itself. In the latter connection, one of the predominating features of white supremacism is, as I mentioned earlier, its appropriation unto itself of the prerogative to unilaterally define the meaning of everyone and everything, exclusively in accordance with its own perception of need or interest.
That being true, it was absolutely certain from the outset that They'd respond to my turning the definitional tables on Them by reasserting Themselves in ways designed not so much to discredit my framing of 9-1-1-although They certainly tried to do that, by way of the consistency with which They insisted upon misquoting my essay-but to discredit me, personally, and thereby my broader analysis. Hence, all the fishing around in my credit history and driving record, raising of doubts about the "quality" of my military service, eliciting of comments from ex-wives, former in-laws and outright enemies, etc., in addition to Their remarkably belated -- not to mention sudden -- "discovery" that my scholarship exhibits what one commentator described as being a pronounced "absence of rigor."
Had this been the end of it, the entire media campaign might be summed up as simply a drive, à la those recently conducted against Bellesiles, Davis and others, to redefine me in ways that would neutralize my credibility in primarily political and scholarly terms. That was hardly "the end of it," however. Right from the start, there was an additional dimension bespeaking a desire on the part of my attackers not only to nullify whatever intellectual influence I might wield, but also the nature of my identity itself; that is, my very existence as a human being. What They really wanted, in other words, was to override my signification of self by imposing Their own upon me, thereby negating me altogether.
This, of course, assumed the form of Their raising questions with regard to my "Indianness". You know, "Is he really an American Indian?" That sort of thing. At first, it was just part of the more general chorus, but it was always there, and it was by far the most explicitly racist aspect of what was going on. So it occurred to me that if I could draw Them out on the theme of "Ward Churchill and the Indian Question," it might provide a really useful illustration of exactly what I've been trying to explain about whiteness and the power of naming. What I wanted was for Them to put the racial agenda right out front.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.
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