“Honor can exist anywhere, love can exist anywhere, but justice can exist only among people who found their relationships upon it.” (Ursula Le Guin)
White people in North America don’t know what racism is – how it feels, what it does to Black, Indigenous, and racialized people’s lives, what it means to live entire lives resisting it. We’re part of racist systems, structures, and practices, and we can perceive some of what they do, but because of how white people are placed and formed inside this particular death machine, we can’t really know it. White supremacists know a lot about how to mobilize and practice racism. And white people who are trying to work against racism can learn a lot about what whiteness is, what it has been, and how to fight it, and we should! I’ve seen so many white friends working on this knowing sharing various five-point lists, like this one, offering good points about social media posts well-intentioned white women should resist, or this one from SURJ with ways white people can show up to combat white supremacist violence. Many of my white friends wonder how to go beyond five-point lists, what to do after they read the books listed on any of a thousand google docs listing resources for white people, after they donate money to people targeted by white supremacy, after they write to their elected representatives, and what it really means to “organize our own,” rather than expecting racialized people to do that work for us. Many of us are coming to see that knowing is only half the battle, and it’s barely a fraction of the war.
For white people in particular right now, forming and participating in collective organizing is our best approach to fighting racism. It matters for sure to intervene as individuals in ways that disrupt white supremacy – putting our bodies between the cops and the Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour they target, calling one another in, educating ourselves, redistributing the money we have unjustly received, and so on. Many of the things we do that refuse our privilege knapsack are useful, and may contribute to what were formulated in the journal of the same name as “race traitor” activities. Today we think of race traitor behaviors as acting as accomplices, not bystanders.
Joel Olson helped to theorize race traitor politics. His gravestone reads: “What is the most damage I can do, given my biography, abilities, and commitments, to the racial order and rule of capital?” This is a good question for all of us. And yet, precisely because of the ways that whiteness operates to make us believe we are individuals unconnected to the social world, we white people might tend to try to answer that question by thinking that the most damage we can do is to really know and understand how messed up the world is and how shameful our whiteness is. We might think that the most important things to do are to express our confusion on social media, increase our understanding of the harms of racism, or voice our determination to be different.
None of these things express the most damage white people can do to the racial order and the rule of capital right now. They are all, and only, what we can do as individuals. Nothing we do as individuals can match what we can do together. And yet, the bridge from “learning about things on the internet” to “working collectively to organize our people” is a bit shaky and not as obvious as it should be. And if the most damage we can do is collective, which it really is, we should make that bridge between “me” and “we” obvious, firm, and accessible. I follow white antiracists of the past, such as Mab Segrest, in believing that real race treason demands collective forms to be effective, sustained, and responsible.
I’m part of a small anarchist collective, one that has made a deliberate decision to try to build social infrastructure to support collective resistance in our city. We do things like host an evolving organizing guide with specific resources for Ottawa, put out a weekly list of radical events that we hope will help people connect with organizing and education that’s happening even if they aren’t part of a social scene or on social media, and collectively write things (including this history of racist police violence in Ottawa that I wish were not really relevant right now but is).
A couple of years ago, we did a bunch of work on how people can organize collectives, and why it’s good to do political work in an organized, mutually supportive, and mutually accountable form. We think of this as “Getting It Together.” We wrote up an article, made the curriculum for the workshop available for anyone who wanted to offer it, and have done a couple of audio interviews about it. All of that is here, and maybe most of what I want to say here is: If you are wondering how to do collective work against racism right now, there are resources to help you! As we wrote back in 2018, “This is a moment of significant opportunity. Thousands of people are mobilizing for the first time, or rejoining the struggle after some time away. We firmly believe that well-organized collectives can contribute to resilient left infrastructure that will help us find one another, share knowledge and experience, stick it out over the long haul, and grow large-scale, formidable movements.” This rings true for me today.
In the conclusion to her three-volume meditation on enslavement and complicated freedom, written (of course) for young adults, Ursula Le Guin stages a reflection on collectivity through a character who is enslaved and wins his freedom. Reflecting on the impossibility of trust in relations between enslaved people and enslavers, he realizes, “Honor can exist anywhere, love can exist anywhere, but justice can exist only among people who found their relationships upon it.” We live today in a world without justice. And as the slogan says, without justice, there can be no peace. But because this world contains so much love, I do think we can build relationships that collectively bend toward justice. I really hope we white people get it together to help in that project.