Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pam Noles, Malcolm X was not as simple as you think

The anti-racists of scifi fandom are currently after Neil Gaiman, apparently because they don't know that American Indian funeral customs were different than European ones. Debbie Reese, who began this, has her own timeline here. She is doing her best to address this ethically, but she seems to believe in some form of ideological anti-racism (for its flaws, see Thandeka and Sharon Smith), so she's more concerned with the phrase "a few dead Indians" than its context or Gaiman's handling of American Indians in his work.

(As usual, when this discussion comes up, I'm amused that some of the people screaming racism use "Native American" rather than "American Indian," even though many American Indians agree with Russell Means, who said, "I abhor the term Native American...I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins.")

Pam Noles turns up in Reese's timeline. I'd forgotten about Noles, but I'd liked what I knew of her years ago—she sent a great letter to Captain Confederacy. When I went to her website, I found that I have top billing in her sidebar: Is That Ignorant Man Lying About Malcom X Again? Here's A Handy Link For Rebuttal.

I admire the thoroughness of saying I'm both ignorant and lying, but I can't admire her selectivity in discussing Malcolm X. A few points:

Like all capitalists who wish to argue that his rejection of racism when he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was due to his embrace of Sunni Islam, she ignores this quote:
“Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries, and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America. It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.” —Malcolm X / El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
Noles has a search box on her blog, so I ran the following words and phrases through it: socialism, communism, capitalism, classism, and class issues. The response was "Your search ... did not match any documents" for socialism, communism, and classism. There was one hit for capitalism, but that wasn't Noles; she was quoting Ursula LeGuin (who was writing sloppily or like a liberal by referring to "profit-motive capitalism" as if there might be another kind). There was one hit for class issues: Talking about Alan Moore's The Black Dossier, Noles says, "for all that’s nifty about the League, the other big missteps outside of racial issues has been the void around homosexuality and class issues. Arguably, the class issue should be a hefty presence considering the works and creators being used as springboard." She's quite right that class should be a "hefty presence" in any story set on Earth, and especially in one that uses Victorian or Edwardian characters. But her one aside appears to be all she has to say about class issues in her blog.

Anyone reasonably familiar with Malcolm X knows he had harsh words for capitalism:
“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, the capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”
But the man who said that does not exist in Noles' "rebuttal".

She says, addressing me,
Convenient it may be to take the binary approach of either/or when dealing with prickly issues, it rarely works. What you said was Some people divide the world into black and white so they can decide who they can ignore. I divide the world into the rich and the poor, so I can't ignore anyone. My first thought is, well, that's mighty white of you. My next is wondering if you noticed just how sloppily you set the frame. You have set issues of race apart from issues of class. I suppose it's fine for anyone to draw a rigid line around what matters and what doesn't according to their world view, but it's disingenuous to then claim one is not ignoring everything that's outside of that pretty framed box.
Her "that's mighty white of you" is telling. But I understand why, from her perspective, my skin color matters more than my argument.

As for "setting the frame", if she had a way to leave comments on her blog, I would ask her where I ever divided the world that way. I share her distaste for binarians. I've never denied that racism exists. I've never denied that institutional racism exists. I've bled from the blows of racists; it would be hard for me to deny racism.

My division does not set issues of race apart. It sets them within issues of class. As Thandeka says in The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy: "...we must not forget that white racism was from the start a vehicle for classism; its primary goal was not to elevate a race but to denigrate a class. White racism was thus a means to an end, and the end was the defense of Virginia’s class structure and the further subjugation of the poor of all "racial" colors."

It's true that I can't agree with anti-racists that racism lies everywhere. Thandeka is right when she says that anti-racists "make an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America." Indeed, my greatest complaint with anti-racists is their inability to answer this question about power that I've asked several:
For years, I wrestled with whether Malcolm X was right when he said you can't have capitalism without racism. Clearly, liberals and conservatives are working desperately to create capitalism without racism. But I've finally come to see that Malcolm X was right: if you don't redistribute wealth, the distribution of wealth will be racially disproportionate. If you do redistribute wealth, capitalism ends. It's a Catch-22 that anti-racists ignore. Do you have an answer?
ETA: What’s sad is that Noles and I should be allies. We share a visceral objection to racism. But I believe the class struggle underlies the race struggle, and how to bridge the gap between those who are primarily anti-racists and those who are primarily anti-capitalists, I don't know. But my hand is always open for peace.

ETA 2: Tweaked (I hope) for clarity.

ETA 3: Pam Noles made a new post saying I'm lying about forgetting about her post. I really wish I had the awesome memory that people seem to think I have. Anyone's memory of the past should be suspect, mine definitely included. Memories change over time. Courts are slowly learning that eyewitnesses can be astonishingly unreliable because humans begin rewriting their past as soon as they begin to reflect on it. She or I or, most likely, both of us, being human, have done that.

Since I've been covering things she doesn't know about Malcolm X, here's another quote about his willingness to be more inclusive than those who demand ideological purity: "We will work with anyone, with any group, no matter what their color is, as long as they are genuinely interested in taking the type of steps necessary to bring an end to the injustices that black people in this country are afflicted by. No matter what their color is, no matter what their political, economic or social philosophy is, as long as their aims and objectives are in the direction of destroying the vulturous system that has been sucking the blood of black people in this country, they're all right with us."

Now, it's true he didn't like nonviolence and said "But if they're in any way that compromising, dangerous type of person, then we think they should be dealt with."

But it's also true that he stuck up for Martin Luther King on several occasions.

And so far as compromising goes, I suspect the politically ineffective approach of modern anti-racism would seem far more compromising and dangerous to him than the approach of the socialists he admired.

ETA 4: I just figured out what happened in this particular disagreement. It's not that I forgot her post existed. I just never knew (or perhaps had completely forgotten) that she put it in her sidebar.