By Arielle Iniko Newton
Two years ago, I was a part of an organizing collective that sought to combine the talents and experiences of community organizers involved in racial, environmental, and class justice struggles. We recognized that our movements overlapped in ways that were intentional, deliberate, and concrete. Guided by our radical imaginations, we hoped to create a sustainable network embedded with cohesive messaging, public outreach, political education, and measurable impact.
Heading this initiative was a woefully unqualified white man whose deep ties to the nonprofit industry enabled him to finance the operation. He was smug, arrogant, and mediocre. A failed community organizer and dreadful manager, he thought his curated knowledge of organizing theory and Black cultural expression supplanted the lived realities of anti-Blackness. He performed his anti-Black misogyny by deliberately pitting me against another Black women whose work I deeply admired and vision I sincerely respected.
Needless to say, this cross-sectional attempt at movement building failed. Thousands of dollars wasted. Dozens of activists disempowered. Potentially fruitful relationships strained. Irreparable harm done.
In this current fascist era, a disjointed left is calling for us to all “unify.” I am sympathetic to this call, though it is one that is almost humorous in its vapidity.
I recognize the unique threat this fascist regime presents. In less than a month, this political conglomerate has attacked and undermined all leftist causes. Between the fights for Black Liberation, environmental protection, equitable education and health care, transgender inclusivity and safety, media access, and protections for the undocumented, refugees, and immigrants, unrelenting violence has already been enacted through executive, legislative, and judicial means.
Sensibly, leftists fighting for all these causes should marshal our political and socioeconomic influence against fascism. But we need not embrace anti-Blackness or abandon pro-Black values to do so.
To some degree, unity requires an abandonment of principle. Unity demands that we move towards a nebulous center and shed away the fringes that are deemed unimportant or unpalatable for mass appeal.
And Blackness is always unimportant or unpalatable in these settings. Given that anti-Blackness is so pervasive outside of organizing circles, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it also penetrates even the most controlled of social justice huddles.
Ideally, in places of “unity,” the first principles organizers, activists, and spectators would abandon are their own anti-Black prejudices and subservience to white supremacist power. Imagine how sustainable a cross-leftist movement would be if there were firm and unapologetic recognition that law enforcement is inherently dangerous to Black people, and thus thanking and taking pictures with officers in pink pussy hats is problematic and offensive, to say the least.
Consider a mass leftist movement that was not viscerally defensive when the opposition levies slanderous charges that we are all paid protestors, and instead advocated and actively worked to ensure that Black organizers receive compensation for our labor.
And yet, the fractured left does not abandon their anti-Blackness, and instead demands that we fall in line, protesting and organizing in ways that are most palatable to the opposition and the mainstream.
I’m completely clear that we are not born with perfectly fastened racial analyses. Comprehensive analyses take time, mistakes, education, communication, and the resolve to push past those profound moments of discomfort.
Effective organizers meet people where they are at—unless it is where folks are only intent on destroying them. Black organizers should not be exposed to a motherfucker who is feeling their way out of their own anti-Blackness.
The amorphous “greater good” is not reason enough to expose ourselves to toxicity. Doing so, in fact, threatens liberational successes because a significant cadre of Black organizers are left disillusioned with movement building and unwilling to continue the fight for an equitable society. Protecting the energy of radical Black organizers should always be priority. Placating the spinelessness of an opportunistic, disloyal sector of the social justice left will certainly lead to failure.
Effective organizers know their position. We know our core competencies, strengths, and interests well enough to position ourselves within movements to shield the most vulnerable Black organizers from psychic harm.
Cross-elemental leftist organizing is a massive responsibility requiring a complete divestment from anti-Blackness.
Although the initial work of rooting out anti-Blackness from all corners of our movements will initially take an immense and sacrificial amount of labor, the just reward is a cohesive and robust supra-movement in which the most marginalized are centered and protected.
Leftist history is smeared in the blood of Black people who were forced to organize with white supremacists, anti-Black people of color, and even anti-Black Black folks all for an intangible “greater good” that ultimately never materialized. Our bodies, labor, and perspectives were used to funnel political victories that ruthlessly discarded us, nominal societal progressions that invisibilized us, and perceived economic advancements that uprooted our communities.
I fear this current leftist iteration is yet again traipsing on this bloodstained path. But we can no longer serve as the slaves for everyone else’s freedom.
Arielle Newton aka Iniko is an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, an Editor of RaceBaitR, and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of BlackMillennials.com. As Head Girl of Ravenclaw, she is an unapologetic mermaid, abolitionist, and radical militant freedom fighter.