Stef (firecat) wrote,

Talking back to anonymous anarchists

I think several of Anonymous's criticisms are true and well said. Several other things on the list strike me as the childish complaints of people with privilege who can't get used to not having 100% control of the public discourse in radical political movements. So I shall ramble on about my opinions. "Things anarchists say to me in private but never repeat in public" by Anonymous 8/4/2015. (Taken from Reddit)

I do not identify as an anarchist, although I share some beliefs in common with some anarchists. So keep that in mind.

1) “Call-out culture was developed to allow activist groups to confront leaders who abused their privilege, but now it is being used to settle petty scores on the level of interpersonal politics. I now have a hard time believing some people when they make call-outs because I have seen too many that were based on nothing. Call-outs have become a way to acceptably inflict social violence and rarely are followed up in any way resembling transformative justice because people are not interested in doing the hard work of working with those who are called out.”

Let's show people not to use call-outs to inflict social violence by not doing it ourselves and by modeling better responses when folks say problematic things. Let's promote the idea of calling in (discussing privately with the person why they are being criticized for what they said, and/or pointing out gently and with reference to one's own personal feelings why what was said is problematic).

2) “As a white person, if I don't automatically agree with whichever person of color is directly in front of me, I run the risk of being labelled a racist. This is a result of good intentions where we want to center people of color and their experiences, but it makes no sense because people of color are not a monolithic block who all agree or share the same experiences. I am basically forced to perform a kind of double-think where I am expected to be able to agree with multiple conflicting viewpoints at the same time – or at least pretend to.”

As a white person, I don't always agree with what a person of color is saying, and I never feel obligated to "automatically agree." But I do usually prefer to shut up about my disagreement unless I'm invited to say something. White people get way more airtime in public discourse than people of color. Probably if I disagree with something a person of color is saying, other people of color also disagree, and I would rather shut up and let them say something, or promote what they said. I do not think that shutting up is the same as "pretending to agree."

3) “The line, 'it's not my responsibility to educate you, educate yourself' is being used too frequently. People should only say this when it would be seriously difficult to help educate someone. Otherwise as an anarchist it is your responsibility to help educate people who want to learn, or to help find someone who is willing to do it. Furthermore, refusing to explain yourself contributes to a form of classism in which people with less formal education and access to information are marginalized within anarchist communities. As well, this line assumes that there are 'correct' resources to be reading that are available, and that the person in question will be able to find them among thousands of conflicting resources.”

These statements don't draw a distinction between a person in a marginalized group being asked to educate privileged folks and a person not in a marginalized group being asked to. A marginalized person always gets to decide whether they have the time and energy to educate an oppressor about their marginalized status. Non-marginalized people do not get to define anarchy in a way that dictates to marginalized people what they are responsible to do around their marginalized status. If they decide not to educate, it is not classism, it's self-determination and self-care. As for "educate yourself"—if you have privilege around the issue in question, you are welcome to decide that it is your responsibility to help educate. And you are welcome, in consultation with the people who are marginalized, to develop education methods that work for all the people you are concerned to educate. "Educate yourself" does not assume there are "correct" resources, and does not assume that any reading is required. If you think so, you're the person with little understanding of how learning happens in the absence of formal education.

4) “Excluding straight/cis/male people makes sense in queer/trans/women's spaces, but often these people are informally excluded in anarchist spaces that are not any of these things. This hurts our ability to cultivate meaningful popular social power. It's also related to a dynamic where men of color, native men, immigrant men and other groups of marginalized men are severely underrepresented in anarchist spaces. It also assumes that straight/cis presenting people have the option of being 'more queer' or 'more trans', which is often not the case depending on their circumstances.”

I agree that excluding straight/cis/male people is wrong in anarchist or progressive spaces as a whole. I think people should be included on the basis of their self-defined political beliefs and on the basis of their ability to act in accordance with the behavior guidelines of the group, not on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identification and certainly not on the basis of what other people assume their orientation or gender is. (However, I don't agree that "cultivating meaningful popular social power" is the important reason to include straight/cis/male people.)

5) “Calling people out for using the wrong language, for example saying 'biological female' instead of 'person assigned female at birth', is harmful and makes no sense because not everyone has access to the same information, they'll never learn if they're excluded, and the 'correct' languages changes every couple of years anyway. People don't want to be associated with us because they see how punishing we are to each other and it turns them off.”

Language matters, and any human group will have terms it considers offensive. To belong to a group it's important to have some sense of how the group uses language. It's absolutely true that no one coming into a group for the first time should be expected to know the correct terms of the moment and corrections should not be shaming or violent. But it's reasonable to hold people accountable for learning over time to avoid terms that are seriously offensive, and it's reasonable to expect them not to turn every conversation into whining about how they can't be bothered to learn new vocabulary. If you can't learn what I like to be called, how can I trust you to remember what else I care about? Another thing that bothers me about this statement is that whenever I hear it, it is always and specifically gender terms being dismissed as unimportant, not terms relating to other marginalized groups. (Probably other groups' language also gets criticized, but I haven't come across it.)

6) “People use 'unsafe' when they mean 'uncomfortable' way too often and it diminishes the meaning of the word 'unsafe' to the point where it's not very meaningful anymore.”

Although I tend to agree, this is rather ironic coming right after point 5.

7) “People's obsession with identity politics means the only people who can say stuff like this out loud have to be able to identify themselves as multiply marginalized, and then everyone immediately agrees about how problematic it all is.”

To the extent that the first half of this sentence is true, I think it's pretty much OK, because people who are multiply marginalized have very little voice in most of society, where people who are not have a great deal of voice. Let the people who are multiply marginalized have one place where they can be louder than the rest of you, OK?

I have no idea what the second half of the sentence even means.

8) “Who cares about who you personally fuck when we're talking about a broad political movement? Get off the ego trip. What we want is health care, affordable housing, jobs, prison abolition, immigration rights, sex workers rights, and the end of capitalism. 'Queer' has become so fashionable that it's being confused with 'radical'.”

There are plenty of queer folks who are not radical. But also, learn your history. Queer folks have been at the forefront of many of these movements, as well as a number of equally important rights movements you left off of your list.

9) “People have no interest in actually changing things anymore. Talking about class and economics isn't fashionable, and in some cases it's downright dismissed and labelled as racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic. Anarchists don't want to build coalitions with working-class people because they don't want to be 'triggered' by having to explain their politics to people who disagree with them.”

Let me know when you've stopped shaking your stick and repeating "Kids these days" and I'll start listening to you again.

10) “We've completely failed to build frameworks for accountability and transformative justice, and instead rely on callouts and social exclusion that replicate the prison system without the benefit of having trials.”

Better frameworks would be awesome, but I'm not going to stick around waiting while you search for multiple examples of callouts and social exclusions that shot people multiple times in the back, left them to die of dehydration in a cell, left them chained to a bed while in labor, forced them to work for large corporations for cents per hour, routinely subjected them to rape, and so on.

This entry was originally posted at, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded