What follows is a letter from (as it is signed below) some queer women of color, regarding the fiasco at Hunter College in NYC on March 4th. We print it here, not because we wish to bring the debate concerning what happened at Hunter home to California (we weren’t there). Rather, because this letter gets at some of the deepest, structural contradictions within the discourse of identity politics today. If the past weeks have shown anything, they have shown that in this country, there is no way to avoid an explicit (anti-)politics of race and gender in the US — and for very good reason. Race and gender cleave us into pieces, both to the benefit of capital and the detriment of movements. How do we adapt to this situation? Certainly, we start by listening to what women and people of color have to say about it…
Over the past few days, dozens of communiqués, letters, and statements have been circulating regarding issues of race, gender, and disrespect on M4. We have no intentions of addressing or disputing particular accusations or narratives regarding M4 in this statement; these things will inevitably be argued about elsewhere. Here, we attempt to discuss the language and politics that have been used in framing these issues.
As queer women of color, we feel as if we are trapped in the middle of all of this talk about identities. We have had, for some time, our own frustrations with and critiques of a number of white men with whom we have worked. At the same time, we are uncomfortable with the way in which the identities of “people of color” and “women” are being used to critique and condemn the events of M4, because we – as queer women of color – don’t agree with how these critiques and condemnations are being framed. In fact, we’re not just uncomfortable; we’re actually really angry about the way a small group of people, purporting to speak for the entire population of CUNY, has hijacked this rhetoric of talking about privilege and identity and deployed it in a fashion entirely too simplistic, generalized, and essentialist. Issues of privilege and identity are incredibly important to us and we wholeheartedly agree that they should be talked about. But as it stands now, identities like “person of color” and “woman” are being invoked in order to mask reactionary politics, and furthermore, are being employed in ways that contribute to the erasure of our identities as active participants in militant struggle.
Our political position is not one that comes from a platform. It is not even really a position so much as complete contempt for the system that forces us into the positions of “queer” “women” “of color” and everything that these socio-structural locations imply. White supremacy and patriarchy do not simply function by awarding some (white males) with privilege while denying it to others (women of color). Rather, the same mechanisms that create and maintain the identities of “women,” “queer,” and “people of color” also inflict their damage upon straight white men. And furthermore, we are all fucked over by capital and the commodity form indiscriminately. Liberal feminisms and anti-racisms taught us that we just want what rich white men have – but we have since come to realize that we do not want that either. Our socio-structural positions mean we are even more fucked over under capitalism than any rich straight white dude, and because of this, our need to destroy this world is infinitely more urgent.
One of the major lines of discourse over the past few days has been about how a group of “outside agitators” attempted to get wild without the consent of the Hunter student body. We do not need the “consent of the people” – and when you sound like the fucking Constitution, it’s difficult to believe you really understand the material conditions of being a queer woman of color under capitalism. We cannot sit on our hands until “the masses” decide to act.
Of course, increasing capacity is crucial to building a critical mass of individuals who have the ability to shut down the system: a clandestine vanguard is not the answer. In a situation like M4, people are becoming aware of their collective anger and their collective desire to do something more than stand around and chant. This anger can be facilitated by working to stoke the fire or, alternatively, can be slowed when radicals prematurely throw logs onto the flames before people are in the moment. This is not to suggest that folks are not already angry or that they need to talk about their feelings to come to the realization that they’re against the system; rather, it’s to point out that there are better and worse ways to increase our revolutionary capacity. This is a conversation about tactics, one with important ramifications for “oppressed identities” most affected by capitalism and ineffective action against it – but it has been framed as though the privileged want action, while the oppressed want peace. We oppose this dichotomy wholesale: we assert that it is in fact the most privileged who have the luxury not to contemplate these issues in terms of effectiveness and totality.
The Hunter walk-out was called in response to a national statement from California demanding a general strike. The group who organized at Hunter in the weeks leading up to M4 included many of those denounced as “outside agitators” – individuals who were from the beginning interested in a day of direct action. A vote for having an indoor demo was passed by a coalition of (mostly) Hunter students. There was a framework in place for militant action to occur – if anyone hijacked anything, it was the people who colluded with campus security, the Hunter administration, and the police (these are all synonymous) by herding folks outside. This effectively crushed the radical potential of the indoor demo, and reduced the action to a PR event for the Left.
Some have claimed that the speakers at the rally were composed of women and people of color, and that interrupting them was misogynist and racist. We disagree with this employment of critiques of privilege. We are not against “straight white boys”; rather, we are against the processes that create and maintain these identities of “women of color” and “straight white boys.” Whether or not the speaker at a rally is a woman or a person of color or queer is irrelevant in this moment: when she is speaking AT the crowd, when she is colluding with the State to crush militant potential, when she is maintaining the systems that oppress us, she is a politician. She is our enemy. To assume that a woman of color has our interests at heart, simply because she is a woman of color, is essentialist: fuck Condoleezza Rice.
We realize that some are put at risk by introducing arrestability to situations. We cannot dispute this. Some of us have been relegated to solitary confinement when arrested with a group of white people for no other reason than being brown, we have been sexually harassed in jail, we get slapped with more charges than our white friends. We are fully cognizant of the fact that some people are exponentially more susceptible to arrest, brutality, and sexual assault for no reason other than their skin color and/or gender. That said, these are also vulnerabilities we face walking down the street. Being arrested in a political situation means we are more likely to be protected to a certain extent from these possibilities. Our politics demand solidarity: we do jail support to keep tabs on those in custody, we know how to sweet-talk the bailiff to speed up the process, and we know how to get hooked up with lawyers – all of which mitigate the dangers that follow being arrested. Blaming the escalation of tactics for our vulnerability completely denies the fact that it is the cops who are doing the arresting, the state that presses charges, and white supremacy that puts us more at risk for arrest.
Finally, it bears mention that the reactionary use of politics based on race and gender obscures much more important conversations about racism and misogyny. It is crucial that we address the sexism of a dude using the word “cunt” as an insult, and more importantly, of furthering shame and stigma around STIs – which is problematic in and of itself, but also hampers the disclosure of STI status that is necessary for informed consent. More generally, “playing the race/gender card” to talk about strategic and political disagreements – for example, using the term “anarcho-imperialist” to create a narrative about “white downtown anarchists” rolling into the “POC” CUNY campus uninvited with intentions to colonize – makes it even more difficult to call out legitimate instances of racism and misogyny.
Perhaps some tactical missteps were made in the course of the events on M4. This is another conversation, one that should – and will – be had. Nevertheless, we are of the opinion that something is always better than nothing: everyone is already complacent, already alienated. California said March Fo(u)rth – not stand around.
Some Queer Women of Color
Brooklyn, New York