The Anarchy Gauntlet is a column attempting to move away from my more traditional Marxist-themed articles to a framework centered around anarchism, which better reflects my beliefs. Anarchism advocates for the end to unjustified hierarchies from boss-worker relations to even parent-child dynamics as we know them. Anarchists believe in the same post-capitalism, communist society as other far-left groups but differs in the practice and means of achieving that society. These ideas of anarchism will be inherent throughout these articles.
One of the most frustrating aspects of how we engage in politics is when symbolic changes are conceded and when people and institutions take actions that only look good for them but don’t require any meaningful work.
Whether it’s The Lawrentian’s supposed commitments to changing for the better and learning from years of transgressions against LU’s marginalized students, commitments worded quite defensively and performatively, I might add, or Lawrence’s diversity initiatives that may produce meaningful results or just facilitate meaningless panel conversations that don’t address the issues we face here.
All that being said, I’m here to focus on something broader and more insulting: the performative responses to Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Content warning: discussion of police brutality and racism.
If you’ve lived beneath a rock for the last six months, that’s probably a sign you should read more about Black liberation and struggle. The ongoing police brutality against Black and Brown bodies, violence which is centuries-long in scope, has once again sparked BLM protests across the country after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Alvin Cole and many more people. Justifiably so.
Police brutality should never be tolerated, and our silence up until this moment speaks volumes of the white supremacist indoctrination that we all experience in the U.S. However, speaking up in and of itself isn’t always right, particularly when white people try to earn brownie points for their presumed wokeness.
In those instances, it is actually harmful because such an act detracts from the fight for justice by moving the spotlight from Black voices to respected white views without doing much else.
Though I’ve witnessed this phenomenon a fair amount throughout my life, I am constantly reviewing my internal biases that either don’t detect the performative elements of someone’s actions or agree with such actions without realizing its real implications.
In one of my recent conversations with a friend about this topic, we agreed that performative acts often don’t include any real effort on the actor’s part, nor do they challenge the status quo or spark meaningful change.
And, of course, I should mention that this isn’t exclusive to white people, but I’ve noticed performative acts take on different forms depending on the person’s identity. Liberal institutions will hire the likes of Dr. Barret, for example, as a part of their diversity initiatives to give off the resemblance of change.
I can’t speak to whether she has genuine interest in change, but Lawrence and Dr. Barret have continued to dismiss and harm marginalized students over the years. Having a respectable and professional BIPOC in the ranks of Lawrence’s administration makes for good public relations without necessarily addressing the root of Lawrence’s problems.
On the flip side, cliches abound when white people inhabit spaces organized to fight racism and police brutality. One egregious tactic I’ve witnessed is the quoting of Martin Luther King Jr., which makes for very good performative wokeness.
MLK Jr. is both a beloved and hated figure in U.S. history. Hated for being such an effective leader for change, beloved for the mythology and vague history that now clouds his image. There is no other U.S. historical figure that is both more quoted and less understood.
Quoting MLK Jr. allows white people to decontextualize and appropriate his messaging for their own gain, essentially weaponizing a Black man’s words for a white person’s benefit. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” as he once said.
In any case, when white people claim ignorance, they fail to hold themselves accountable and refuse to truly question their internal biases and external behavior.
I want to discuss the Lawrence Liberation Front (LFF) for a moment. While I am taking the time to critique the new student organization, I am doing so with a grain of salt in the hopes of giving them the benefit of the doubt before condemning its leader/membership of anything.
Too often, that’s unfortunately a privilege that only white people get to have, but I’m cautious to cast everyone out without potentially building bridges of solidarity. All that being said, I feel disappointed with their first event.
I disagree with The Lawrentian’s mischaracterization of it as a student protest. It was a stone’s throw from being a performative debut and a big leap from being a vigil in support of BLM.
The first warning sign was that no BIPOC student leaders were present as organizers or speakers. This is despite the organization’s use of symbols like the word “liberation” and the raised fist icon on posters, both of which signify Black Power and Liberation in my mind.
This event also didn’t ask anything of its organizers, the university or the student body; it merely looked good. I know the LLF has plans to expand to more concrete actions, but I think this ‘debut’ of the organization was a poor choice.
It came off as a drop-the-mic, coming-out party utilizing solidarity with Alvin Cole as a cover. One of the more inherent contradictions I witnessed was the call to action for students attending the event to read Black revolutionary thought while the LLF simultaneously hosted a reading group currently focusing on Vladimir Lenin’s “State and Revolution.”
Such a reading may make for a nice theoretical basis for people interested in the history of political theory, but Vladimir Lenin is hardly grounded in the struggles and liberation of Black Americans.
Whether the LLF is a circle-jerk of anarchist thought experiments or a real force reckoning with political struggle is yet to be seen, but I’m not holding my breath.
For now, I encourage y’all to stay vigilant and find ways to meaningfully fight for change that fit within your lived experience, and don’t forget to think critically, rather than passively, about the world around us.