Issue #031 Published: 08-07-2020 // Written by: Brian Holmes

White Silence = Consent /// Let’s break down the empire

The US is going through the most violent civil-rights protests since the 1960s. What we see on the streets and on the screens is the full racial spectrum of society and above all of youth. Among those who support the movement, what matters first of all is ending systemic racism. If you are white, then one slogan is most powerful: White Silence = Consent.

This movement demands that whites stand up and denounce the system that structurally privileges them over others. An incredibly large number of people are doing that. I think for most of us - and definitely for me - there is no other way forward on any level, to do with the economy, to do with climate change, to do with international relations or anything else. Our president is a white supremacist. He incarnates the worst of this country and proves how widespread the injustice is. All the official American disdain for other people’s lives, the destruction of neighborhoods, the abandonment of millions of people inside the country, the endless imperialist wars and murder from the air, the wanton and unrelenting destruction of the environment by corporations on the ground, all that is sustained by white consent.

If you don’t agree with the way the country is being governed, then you have to break the silence. You have to actively and vocally support the people in the streets.

This is a dangerous moment. Neoliberalism has left entire sectors of society in ruins and its abuses have given rise to many extremely alienated people. A reactionary backlash is already on its way aiming to deny all the demands of the entire movement. On the center left, among the so-called “liberals,” media figures and so-called leaders will say we have to “bring things back to normal” by using “legitimate force.” Well, there is no normal anymore, and the whole point of this uprising is that the force being used systematically, every day, is illegitimate. Look at how the immigrants working in meat-packing plants are being treated. Look how the cattle themselves are treated. Go around the Middle East and count the number of people maimed by American bombs. This is racism. This is white supremacy. This is the basis of capitalism, of colonialism, of empire.

The Covid threat, the unemployment threat and the backlash threat together indicate a turning point for this society, one that is far more tangible and therefore more actionable than the next one on the horizon (climate change). These things are now being articulated in the streets by Black leaders, who in the six years since the Ferguson uprising have articulated a program for social change that strikes to the heart of accumulated abuses directed at the daily lives of people of color. To support the protests is to understand brutal domestic racism as the existential origin of all the ills of empire, which is the strong progressive theory that you can see expressed everywhere these days. We have to interpret whatever looting and violence that may occur as a symptom of hopelessness - and then bounce straight back to the core issues.

The thing is, the Corona bailout bonanza has gone straight into the financial markets once again – and its high-end beneficiaries aren’t enough to carry the American economy. The neoliberal pattern of development has done more than simply hollow out the base it was built on, now it’s actually destroying the low-end consumer markets that the producer corporations still need, and so the whole pattern of development is literally breaking down, coughing and choking, shattering and burning. Only direct economic threats can convince the electorate of the wealthiest nation on earth to change course. Middle-class liberals have to see that all their wealth and comfort is highly insecure, and that the abandonment of all aspirations to equality makes that insecurity worse. We can also show that in the streets.

What people want - what I want - is a society that cares about Black lives, that recognizes its deep-rooted injustices and that makes the resolution of those injustices into the number one priority. To care is to change social life at the roots. In addition to face-to-face respect, it means investing in abandoned neighborhoods, opening hospitals to everyone, providing education and jobs to those who are lacking, or in short, recognizing systemic differences in life-chances and doing everything possible to address them, with actual successes and not just promises. If political leaders want to overcome Trump, they have to prove, starting now, that they will devote themselves to overcoming white supremacy and ending all the aggression and abuse that flows from it. Anything else is self-interested consent to systemic abuse.

The people in the streets have it right. No justice, no peace. If we want to make it through the pandemic, overcome the economic collapse and make all the changes necessary to survive the onrushing wave of dramatic climate change - in short, if we want peace - we can’t get it through the usual shocked or secretly indifferent silence.

There is a variation on that key slogan. It says: White Silence = Violence. The violence being indicated is not only, and not primarily, what happens in the current protests. If liberal whites remain silent, the reactionary right will unleash even greater systemic violence, this time with armed gangs in your face. It’s time to seize the chance and methodically tear apart the institutions of inequality and racism, while replacing them at every step with something better. There are people with good ideas for doing exactly that. They are called Black Lives Matter.

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