Support SF BayView
Donate or Subscribe to SF Bay View
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

Racism, white privilege in the 99%: If not now, when do we address it?

November 15, 2011

by Minister of Information JR

Minister of Information JR’s article, “My thoughts on Occupy Oakland after the murder and one-month anniversary,” drew a provocative response from his longtime comrade Boots Riley of The Coup (see his comments below); here, JR continues the conversation:

Boots Riley speaks at the Oakland Public Library Oct. 25.
I appreciate the debate, and I respect your opinion although I do not agree. There are many factors at play that we have to acknowledge in this conversation; one is that you are a dope influential artist with a level of popularity that I would say insulates you from all of what is happening on the ground floor of Occupy. Wherever you move, crowds move. You are seen as one of the top voices in Occupy – keep it real – which means that you may not know what’s happening at the grassroots, where we all are not famous like you.

Yes, there are Black and Brown folks that are a part of Occupy. The question is whether they have decision-making power, and if you say they do, do they feel like they do? Does marginalization speak for something? I have been out there many days studying this phenomenon and how people are relating to it. I talked with people Black and white at all levels, not just here but in San Francisco too, to come up with what I think about this situation.

I agree that the mass media has an agenda that is against a people’s movement, so there is no need to debate that point. Do you not agree that the vast majority of Occupiers are white 20-30 year old hippie or anarchist types? Would you disagree that that is who runs the General Assembly? If you remember, on the day that you spoke at the library, it was a well known anarchist who gave you the mic, so that analysis of what is going on is real and cannot be ignored.

Where are all of the Black organizers of Oakland? Many of the people I have seen who are Black are artists basking in a few minutes of fame rather than trying to organize for a better tomorrow, and I’m definitely not insinuating that describes you because I do know some of your political organizing history. Keep it real, and think about it.

The other groups of Black people are new to fighting for social and political issues, which is great. Where is the Occupy Movement leading them? Is this about reforming capitalism and saying we want a few more crumbs or is this against capitalism? It seems to take on both orientations.

Is this against slavery, or is it that some people are just mad because they never get to hold the whip? I would say that the latter is true. Hang out with the Black crew that hang a stone’s throw away from where dude got murdered. Ask them how they feel. Sit there and watch some of the commotion that goes on and is unresolved because Occupy asserts white dominance but doesn’t want to deal with racism in the working class.

Is this against slavery, or is it that some people are just mad because they never get to hold the whip?

The community galvanized against the Riders, the police and city government in the Oscar Grant case, and around Lovelle Mixon, to name a few campaigns that I’ve seen within the last seven or eight years, so I don’t know why you feel like that. You keep mentioning the Black Panthers, but what led to their break with the Peace and Freedom Party? Let’s also talk about what Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright – all in the Communist Party or associated with it – had to say about being led by a force outside of our community toward the end of their lives.

Do you not see racism? Can you see it in this movement? Can you see it in the abstract goals, where there are real situations going on on a daily basis? Where is the support for justice for Raheim Brown in Oakland and Kenneth Harding in San Francisco?

Where is the support for justice for Raheim Brown in Oakland and Kenneth Harding in San Francisco?

In a city where we are reportedly 30 percent of the population, we make up none of the true leadership in Occupy, except for you. If the city “caved in,” shouldn’t we, the people, have asked for more than the chance to “shoot a warning shot” at the port? Most people that I talked to were down to take the port. Why was it a warning shot? I think controlling the port could have brought Oakland to its knees, but we settle for a warning shot? There’s no warning when they shoot. Luckily it was white kids. If the port occupiers were Black, all kinds of shit would’ve already happened.

Boots leads the march from Oscar Grant Plaza at City Hall to shut down the Port of Oakland on the day Occupy Oakland declared a General Strike, Nov. 2. – Photo: Isaac Steiner
The white activists shot the police with paint guns, in the neck, and were not murdered on the spot like Black people would have been at a Black rally. I was there to witness that with my own eyes. Will you deny that white privilege has anything to do with how the police are treating this movement?

Nowhere in your whole response do you discuss racism in the working class. I mentioned that in my article. Where is your analysis on this? I know that that is not convenient to talk about right now. I’m adding to the discussion like everybody else. It is sad that you see it as “pot-shots” when I tell the world what’s on our Black minds. I’m trying to help the movement by hopefully critiquing it and altering it to something we too can believe in.

I don’t know how informed you are about Black politics in Oakland, but the campaign to keep the five schools open is a Black- and Brown-led campaign. Can we get some of you and your Occupy crew to support that? Or can we fight against gentrification in East and West Oakland, where Black and Brown families are getting their homes taken, like my grandmother in East Oakland, instead of camping outside of City Hall? Let’s address some of the Occupiers being gentrifiers? Can we politically educate on that?

The campaign to keep the five schools open is a Black- and Brown-led campaign. Can we get Occupy to support that?

What is this mass gathering of people dominated by white folks fighting for? That is what me and some many others are trying to grapple with at the bottom of the 99 percent. Boots, we are eagerly awaiting your response.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe,” both available, along with many more interviews, at He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at

Boots Riley’s comments on ‘My thoughts on Occupy Oakland after the murder and one-month anniversary’ by Minister of Information JR

I wholeheartedly disagree with much of what you say here. First there are a lot of Black and Brown folks involved that the media doesn’t show. I could give you a gang of stories where I’m asking the media why they’re taking pictures of the folks who are dressed in “anarchist” or “hippie” attire, rather than the groups of Black and Brown folks who – in those situations – were a few feet away debating something.

More often than not, the General Assemblies are facilitated by Black folks. And there are always Black folks up on the stage. Somehow, this doesn’t make it into media images. All day at the General Strike, Black and Brown folks were up on stage – high school students, workers, organizers. No media pictures. There is a concerted effort by the media to make this seem like it’s organized by White outsiders.

Second, I’ve been involved with, at various levels, organizations that identify as Black and revolutionary or radical in the past 20 years in Oakland. Occupy Oakland actually has more Black folks involved and definitely more that are actually FROM the hood. Ron Muhammed organized a West Oakland assembly of Occupy Oakland who had an event at Defremery Park – with folks who have been involved at Occupy Oakland.

The march reaches the port with Boots in the lead. He has emerged as the most recognizable face of Occupy Oakland.
Black radicals in Oakland for the past few decades, save for a couple campaigns, have not been able to galvanize the Black population of Oakland. JR, you know this is the truth. Why are you criticizing Occupy Oakland for not doing what you, I or any other Black radical organization has not done in the past 30 years? And Occupy Oakland has only been around for a month.

We also had much of the rank-and-file of the ILWU behind us – which is largely Black. Even the Black Panther Party was criticized for supposedly having mainly White folks at their rallies. This is actually a movement with the potential to galvanize Black and Brown folks in Oakland.

The mayor didn’t LET us do anything. WE reached out to the rank and file of the SEIU, who pressured the SEIU brass, who put out a statement “encouraging” workers to take the day off. They then informed the city that their people will be taking the day off to join the General Strike and to not penalize anyone. The city caved and said they wouldn’t penalize anyone. The police stood back because we had every media outlet in the world following the story. Al Jazeera, BBC, every major network, every newspaper.

Luckily for us, the person that got shot in the head the week before wasn’t Black; it was somebody that the media wouldn’t write off to their White viewers: a young, White, Iraq veteran. So the pressure to look good was on. We had 30-something thousand to 50,000 people marching to shut down the port and we made it clear that a police line was not going to stop us – we would push through. The best thing for them to do was stand down. They were in a lose-lose situation, because if they fought us at that time, the movement would’ve grown much more.

We sent a warning shot that said that we have the power to hurt their pocketbook to the tune of millions. It also served to prove it to the community that it could be done. This is something that organizers all over the U.S. doubted could be done. We are showing that the fight against capitalism is a class war.

There are problems with Occupy Oakland; it is an unorganized movement that is still defining itself. It’s not a party. It’s not even clearly an organization.

Don’t reiterate the same arguments that have been thrown at every movement from the civil rights movement ‘til now. If you have critiques, bring together a group of folks that could change the political landscape in Oakland. Don’t just throw pot-shots to try to tear it down. It’s a worldwide movement – 1,300 cities. It’s new. Give it time and give it help.

This video was broadcast Sept. 28, 2011.



Filed Under: Uncategorized

54 thoughts on “Racism, white privilege in the 99%: If not now, when do we address it?

  1. C. T. Weber

    Black Panther Party did not leave Peace and Freedom Party. Black Panther Party was one of the leading forces in Peace and Freedom Party. Various left organizations struggled for control of Peace and Freedom Party until the election and then everyone left because they thought the party was dead. That includes Black Panthers. When it sprang back to life, most of the old guard did not notice and stayed away. Then Peace and Freedom Party made the decision to go socialist. That is feminist-socialist. They lost ballot status, and in 2003, they became the first political party in the history of California to be removed from the election ballot and requalified. Eventually, they developed a non-sectarian, multi-tendency party. Finally, they are becoming a more unified and more meaningful organization.

  2. PeterHap

    Nobody talks about "Chinese privilege" in China. Nobody talks about "Haitian privilege" in Haiti. Nobody talks about "Japanese privilege" in Japan. Nobody talks about "Somalian privilege" in Somalia. Antiracists talk about "white privilege" in white nations, ONLY white nations. They say they are antiracist. What they are is antiwhite. Antiracist is a code word for antiwhite.

      1. GeoffHolden

        You anti-whites have got nothing.You stand accused of pushing white genocide.Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white.

    1. phil

      Nobody talks about "Chinese privilege", "Haitian privilege", "Japanese privilege" and "Somalian privilege" because they don't have privilege. Only the rich elites have any privilege at all and those so-called "elites" in those countries are nothing compare to the ones in the US and Europe. In China, the government ban Google from the mass public, so you can't even have the "privilege" to freedom of information, and they can not have more than one baby per family. In Haiti, there are millions of people starving to death, and the same goes for Somalia. In addition, warlord pirates run the show over there! In terms of "Japanese privilege", there is also an occupy movement in Japan protesting against the 1% who have everything, and the rest who just want to get by in this horrible economy. (And guess who created the economic melt down? it surely wasn't minorities.) They were rich white elites that choose to gamble on the lives of poor people of EVERY color. That is privilege for you.

      On the topic of anti-racist as code word of "anti-white", it's bogus. No one is hating on whites, people (white people as well) just realized that whites have had it great for a long time, and instead of ignoring the past, it's important to address it now. Whites have had a great head start on the marathon and minorities just want to be on the same playing field that is all. So instead of defending rich elites ( because they don't give a shit about you), you should join hands with people of color and maybe all our voices will finally be heard.

  3. Ann_Garrison

    On Sunday I called Ayanda Kota of the Grahamstown, South Africa Unemployed People's Movement and produced barely more than a minute of KPFA News on Occupy South Africa, the only Occupy Movement on the Africa map yet. I put it on my website and Facebook page,…. Two days later someone from Voice of the Cape, a South African community radio station, called to ask me about Occupy Oakland. Actually the host was a Somalian who has taken refuge in South Africa, and Voice of the Cape is an Islamic radio station.

    I asked Ayanda Kota if he'd like to write something explaining one of the signs at Occupy South Africa: "94 [the year Mandela was elected] Changed Fokol."

    When Wuyi Jacobs, a Nigerian American, said he was going to do a segment about South Africa this Saturday on WBAI, I suggested he talk to Ayanda Kota.

    My point? Occupy is giving people reasons to connect, all sorts of people. That's all.

    There are reasons why Oscar Grant, Troy Davis, and Scott Olson became symbols as universal as they have and Kenneth Harding and Raheem Brown have not. I'm certainly not saying that there's anything acceptable about their police executions or the response. I'm just saying something about symbols. There are some obvious reasons why Oscar Grant and Troy Davis became international symbols of injustice, and why Scott Olson did as well.

    On the night of Troy Davis's execution, as we saw people all over the world holding their breath and praying for him, I was doing the same but also asking myself why that much of the world wasn't doing the same for an African political prisoner, Victoire Ingabire, who will quite likely be facing a 30 years to life sentence in Rwanda for disagreeing with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and I certainly knew race wasn't the reason. It often but not always is, and I don't think Scott Olson's near death is the reason he became such a symbol. He would have become just as symbolic, maybe even more so, had he been Black.

  4. Zrinyi

    Here's some rich non-White countries by world standards:
    Does Singapore require diversity?
    Does Malaysia require diversity?
    Does Israel require diversity?
    Does the UAE require diversity?
    How about China? Does China require diversity until their people are a minority? China is on the way to becoming wealthy, so we should start early on that, right?
    You see we are on to you anti-Whites. We know what the end goal is. Dress it up how you like, what you want is White Genocide.

  5. Zrinyi

    Africa has 2/3 of the World’s natural resources and some of the World’s most fertile farmland.
    Africans have 56 countries all to themselves, yet demand to live in White countries, with White people, and the right to rule over Whites as well.
    Africa is the product of Africans, and Mexico is the Product of Mexicans.
    White countries are making the transition to a non-White country; all Brown countries are poor, unless they are standing on oil.