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The new segregation: Antifa redefines ‘Black Lives Matter’

September 10, 2017

The alt-right’s No to Marxism rally on Sunday, Aug. 27, in Berkeley drew opposition that far outnumbered the White Nationalists. One witness estimated that black-clad Antifa, gathered here at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, made up about 20 percent of the counter-protesters. – Photo: Amy Osborne, AFP

(Oh, by the way, the Fascists are already here!)

by Cecil Brown

“A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.”

– William Blake

Berkeley, Calif. – I am standing on the corner of Center and Oxford streets, facing the crowd of five or six hundred.

People are carrying “Black Lives Matter” posters. Some of them are large, some small, but they all have “Black Lives Matter” posters. I have been in other rallies – like the one I went to in Oakland – where I saw one or two white people wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts, but when you see so many white people wearing them, you begin to wonder about the meaning of the slogan. Especially since there are no Black people in sight.

As I watched a homeless Black man wander between and among these whites with their “Black Lives Matter” signs, I observed their behavior towards him. He would ask somebody, some female, let us say, and she would turn and connect his touch with his face, but then she would smile and look away. She would make no connection between the content of the sign she strutted and the poor human asking for a dollar to buy a Big Mac over at the McDonald’s on University and Shattuck.

As I drew deeper into the crowd, I began to notice that not all the whites who wore the slogan “Black Lives Matter” had the same attitude towards wearing it. There were, first of all, young women who wore the slogan with a sly look and a definitely embarrassed expression when I, a Black man, looked at them.

In looking at my iPhone photos, I see a blonde-haired woman in shades and a black T-shirt with the white letters of Black Lives Matter, grinning as if to say, “Look how stupid I am!” Then there were the others, of course, who wore “Black Lives Matter” slogans with a certain defiance.

Then there were people who wore it because they are generally the kind of person who has little sense of what they wear. They could look at you, a Black man, and not even have enough self-imaging to notice anything different. (I agree with Roland Barthes (“Mythologies” 1957) that people should be held responsible for their appearance.)

As I got deeper in the rally, I could see there a group of white people with a “Fuck you” attitude who wear the slogan with pride – white pride, if you will.

This latter would be, of course, a male, leather-clad dude.

When the crowd moved down Center Street to the Berkeley Pubic Library, there was a meeting of the anti-fascist group, the black-clad Antifa. Here the slogan Black Lives Matter was ripped of its meaning to Blacks and replaced with a meaning for Whites Who Hate Fascists. Here the sign – as a Black sign – is totally degenerated and exploited.

When the crowd moved down Center Street to the Berkeley Pubic Library, there was a meeting of the anti-fascist group, the black-clad Antifa. Here the slogan Black Lives Matter was ripped of its meaning to Blacks and replaced with a meaning for Whites Who Hate Fascists. Here the sign – as a Black sign – is totally degenerated and exploited.

Other slogans were “From Charlottesville to the White House: Shut Down White Supremacy!” “Unite and Fight the Right!” “Nazi Is German for Small Penis!” “Queers United Against Racism!” “East Bay United Against Racism!”

Now, as we moved down Center Street, this iceberg of a people, we hear the drums. When I heard the rhythmic Afro-American drums beating, I thought, “Ah ha, the influence of the African drummers is here!”

The African drums, since Congo Square during slavery, since the second-line, and the Black Panther rallies in Oakland and the Black Arts Movement always set the rhythm to protest.

But as I drew closer and looked closer, I saw that all of the drummers, to the man and woman, were white. These white drummers learned their skills from the African drum sessions all over the Bay Area.

We came to a Black woman who was chanting political slogans to the crowd that gathered around her.

She was a Black woman I had recorded during the Occupy Oakland when she exhorted the crowd on the corruption in Wall Street. As I had then, I took out my iPhone and captured her performance. Fore performance it was!

Her chants revealed that she was a gifted rapper, for she could rhythmically shout through the messages of slog fangs like a griot performing in ancient Mali. She had the original chants too.

This reciter is a gifted orator. With a mic and a great voice, she used the call and response technique that Africans brought her with them in the 17th century.

A Black woman chanting political slogans to the crowd that gathered around her is a gifted orator. With a mic and a great voice, she used the call and response technique that Africans brought her with them in the 17th century: “We are proud revolutionaries, radicals, liberals, democrats, anti-fascists. Get a poster, a flyer, get organized. Get out there, Berkeley, and stay out there!”

She calls out, “Hell no to deporting immigrants from this country!”

The white audience responds, “Hell No!”

“Hell no to kicking trannies out of the military!”

“Hell no!”

“Hell no to bullying queer youth!”

“Hell no!”

“Hell no to keeping women from getting an abortion!”

“Hell no!”

She has a rapid-fire delivery and spits out slogans like an oral poet: “No KKK! No racist USA!”

She ended her performance act with a brilliant hortatory call to action: “This is not just about Berkeley and San Francisco,” she charged. “This is about the fate of humanity!”

The tightly packed responders shouted back: “They said Trump would not be elected. They said that his programs would not go through. But they did, and they are here now. This is happening, folks. This is happening. They are doing it on our watch!”

In other words, the enemy is already here. “We are proud revolutionaries, radicals, liberals, democrats, anti-fascists. Get a poster, a flyer, get organized. Get out there, Berkeley, and stay out there!”

I followed the rally to the park, where we were expecting to meet the enemy, the White Nationalists.

Video footage shows Al Letson, who was covering the event and had his recording gear strapped to him, jumping in to protect a man being beaten with sticks and kicked by protesters clad in black, the uniform of Antifa. Letson said he was hit a few times but not injured. “I thought they were going to kill him, and I didn’t want anyone to die.”

The White Nationalists were hard to find. When the crowd did find them, they are a few white guys who were cowered by the black-clad anti-fascists.

In front of City Hall, in the grass passage, the anti-fascists cornered two guys. The guys backed up, with their hands up, warding off the attackers.

But it was no defense. The anger of the anti-fascists would not be abated until they had actually struck some physical blows on the faces and bodies of the other white kids.

There was one scuffle when a group of anti-fascists attacked the White Nationals and it looked dangerous, but a Black man in a red shirt jumped in and pulled the Antifa members off him. The man in the red shirt turned out to be Al Letson, host of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal public radio show and podcast.

This is the man in the red shirt, Al Letson, who said, after the White Nationalist he protected reached out to him on Twitter: “I’m a journalist … I did what I feel was right as a human being, but honestly I’m not interested in having a kumbaya moment with him.”

Later, an hour later perhaps, we all stood in front of a truck from the back of which several speakers summarized the events of the day as “Running Evil Out of Our City!”

On the platform-truck was Kamau Bell, star of the news journal, The United Shades of America – a local hero because he blogged his being ousted from a local restaurant because he was hitting on a white woman. Turned out the “white woman” was his wife. But he was muted by the fact that this new segregation has more to do with excluding Blacks than it does with including them.

As the speakers wound up, the Antifa group paraded in front of us. As I look at their black-clad gear, with masks of black, they remind me of the Black students in 2007 who stood across Sather Gate in protest of the lack of Black students and faculty at Cal. This is so similar to what the Black students did 10 years ago.

In addition to coopting the music, the drumming, the slogans, they also appropriate the concept of Black violence against the oppression. In this case, the Black fighter is replaced by a white person who represents the Black fighter.

This would not be the first time whites masquerade their struggle for independence. In the Boston Tea Party, the rebels dressed in Native American gear. Yet when they were fired from England, they turned on the Native Americans.

When I lived in Berlin during the East German era, I got a first-hand observation of how anti-fascism becomes the new fascism. The whole world of the East Germany was founded on this fight to get rid of the Nazis. Christina Wolf, the East German writer, pointed out this contrition in her best work.

As soon as the Berlin Wall was down, when they were encouraged to do so, the antifascists’ children turned into “skinheads” and set out to attack “Jews, Blacks and homosexuals.” The wall went down in 1989; within months you had headlines like, “Violence by Bands of Fascist Skinheads Stalk East Germany.” Like the White Nationalists in Charlottesville, they were singing Hitler slogans.

“Anti-fascism became a means of integrating people into the new state that exculpated the vast majority of Germans,” one study of “Anti-Fascism and Nazism” by Stefan K. Berger reveals, “and contrasted their anti-fascism with the evil of Nazism.”

“Historical presentism,” he wrote, “began to dominate the reports on anti-fascism, which legitimated the stance of the socialist block in the Cold War and made the imperialist United States and its allies into worthy successors of the fascists. Fascism in the GDR became externalized and de-historicized.”

I look at the masks of the Antifa group. I am wondering who they really are.

Why did they disguise themselves?

Two days after the rally, the newspaper reports their “new found fame.” The article goes on to describe them as if they were rock stars. They wear black pants and sweatshirts, with either helmets or hoods over their heads, bandanas across their faces as at Sather Gate – and dark sunglasses, goggles or gas masks over their eyes. Many carry makeshift shields and flags, whose staffs can quickly become weapons.

They call themselves “Antifa,” short for anti-fascist, and they’re part of a loosely organized national network of anonymous anarchists. The movement during much of this decade has been a common sight at Bay Area protests spurred by police shootings, the Occupy Wall Street movement and Donald Trump’s election as president.

I stood there at three o’clock in the afternoon looking for some of the Antifa group.

Now I’m thinking, do I know some of them?

After all, I was at the same meeting with some of them when they were making the decision to go Antifa style.

These people were the same ones I had met at the meeting a few weeks ago, the Anti-Police Terror Project meeting at Eastside Arts Alliance.

I remember this one woman from Montana, who described herself as a 6-foot-2-inch “white girl” and just arrived in Oakland. “How can I defend myself?”

She was told that she had right to defend herself with a bat. There was a sign-up list for that group. I am wondering if she is one of these hundreds of black-clad faces now looking at us.

The Antifa group claimed that they wanted to run the White Nationalism, the “evil,” out of Berkeley. But they used the same techniques of bullying, debasing and humiliating their opposition.

The Antifa group claimed that they wanted to run the White Nationalism, the “evil,” out of Berkeley. But they used the same techniques of bullying, debasing and humiliating their opposition. In appropriating Black social movements, Antifa chose their virtual identity without recognizing the humanity of the ones they appropriate from.

The signs they used were derivative of other social movements. Yet there was no acknowledging of this.

Arthur Schaper, a Trump supporter from Torrance, said he was attacked by Antifa activists during last week’s Berkeley protest. He said several masked Antifa members cornered him, broke his glasses, stole his red “Make America Great Again” hat, ripped a Trump flag off of his shoulders, pepper sprayed him and covered him with glitter.

The group chose their virtual identity without recognizing the humanity of the ones they appropriate from.

Using the mask of the Black revolution to express the hidden values of your own group is to put yourself in the persona Alison played of the “white girl” in the movie “Get Out.”

MIT Professor Fox Harrell has published an article, “Reimagining the Avatar Dream Modeling Social Identity in Digital Media,” on how digital technology makes it possible to adopt as many “virtual identities” as one would like. Professor Harrell uses the term “blended identities” to describe how you may take several attributes to make a “blend” of the physical and virtual qualities.

In some ways, therefore, the rally was an example of how one can chose a virtual identity by the sign he carries, the accoutrements of clothing. But the limitation is that this new identity excludes the other person, even when that person is the source and origin of your imitation.

About 200 Black UC Berkeley students linked arms to form a human barrier under the university’s Sather Gate on Nov. 17, 2004, protesting their underrepresentation among the student body. Dressed entirely in black, with black scarves over their mouths, the students stood grim-faced and silent for two hours, from noon to 2 p.m. These are Black people representing themselves. – Photo: Bonnie Powell

The appropriating of Black social movements reminds me of Richard Rothstein’s new book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” (2017), and the important distinction he makes between de facto segregation and de jure segregation. The latter is the segregation that is the result of laws passed and decisions made by the government. De facto segregation is the result of it “just happened that way.”

Why are there one or two Blacks at the rally? Oh, Black people are at the beach, or watching football. Or, to be really honest, they are in jail.

But the real reason is de jure segregation.

Proposition 209, ending affirmative action in California, was created to legally justify cutting down the population of African American students at Berkeley. The result today is that only 2 percent of the students in UC Berkeley are Black. In 1989, I walked up the hill in San Francisco with a lot of people, including Jesse Jackson, to witness Ward Connerly to pass the law, the results of which still affect our daily lives.

The effect of such de jure laws is revealed in the lack of Blacks in the ranks of protesters in Berkeley.

Proposition 209, ending affirmative action in California, was created to legally justify cutting down the population of African American students at Berkeley. The result today is that only 2 percent of the students in UC Berkeley are Black and few are in the ranks of protesters.

To the answer that whites might give who are sporting “Black Lives Matter” signs or shirts that “we are representing Black people,” my response is this: “You don’t express Black identity by wearing a T-shirt. I generally like to represent myself.”

The Black spiritual which we sang at the end of the rally means that each person has a “light,” a form of being his own expression. It doesn’t to mean let my “light” shine for you.

I do not believe that Black people need to be led by white people.

Now I’m thinking, a white person carrying a “Black Lives Matter” sign is not saying, “I like Black people.”

The sign says the opposite: “I like Black people in so far as they can be reduced to a sign that I can wear to show that I am good white person and not a negative white person – i.e., a White Nationalist.”

But from the point of view of the homeless Black man, who is still asking for a dollar among the self-conceited crowd at the color-blinded rally, neither group – the anti-fascists nor the Fascists – mean anything to him. The sign communicates their indifference, their unwillingness to recognize that a living Black person has any communication with the semiotic world that the new segregationists live in.

In East Germany, the anti-fascist movement failed, according to Konrad H. Jarajush, “because they ended up developing the same strategies and techniques of the fascists themselves.” The skinheads began to attack Blacks, but it was the Gypsies that were their target.

When the alt-left and the anti-fascists attack the “White Nationalists,” it’s not unlike the skinheads attacking the “Gypsies.” But the larger implication is that the left-thinking fellows are not so smart that they can’t see that.

What was it that William Blake, the poet, said: “A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate / Predicts the ruin of the State.” I’m still thinking of that brother wandering among those Berkeley folk with their Black Lives Matter signs trying to get himself something to eat.

Novelist and educator Cecil Brown, who teaches Urban Studies at Stanford University, is best known as the close friend, screenwriter and biographer of Richard Pryor and as the author of “The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger,” “Stagolee Shot Billy” and most recently “Pryor Lives: How Richard Pryor Became Richard Pryor: Kiss My Rich Happy Black Ass.” Brown can be reached at browncecil8@me.com.

 

5 thoughts on “The new segregation: Antifa redefines ‘Black Lives Matter’

  1. Guest

    This is fucking stupid.

    More bourgeois identity-as-private-property pretending to be radical.

    It fucking isn't.

    If your target is always the left and revolutionaries, then guess what: you're a conservative.

    Reply
  2. marcos

    During the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, it was well understood that if black students were to put themselves in harm's way doing direct action, that the violent consequences that the state would visit on them would be unacceptable. Thus, it was we white kids who put ourselves on the line with support from the black students to bring the issue to bear through direct action.

    What is expected during actions, to provide a bibliography of sources for political action as if they were patented so that proper attribution could be ascribed to originators? Organizing amidst racism (sexism and homophobia) to end racism, sexism and homophobia involves working with racists, sexists and homophobes.

    I really appreciate the erasing of Jews and anti-semitism from the political context of neonazism and fascism. Perhaps the point is to ensure that the only response to fascism and nazism is incessant naming of the problem per identity politics and calculating relative rates of oppression via intersectionality? Given that we Jews and queers were almost exterminated by nazis in our family's lifetimes, we don't fuck around when it comes to contesting nazism. The moment that calls for our genocide pass their lips, all bets are off.

    My main question is who gets credit for first punching a nazi and must we credit that person?

    Reply
  3. Ann Garrison

    Interesting pov. I attended this demonstration, though I left before the much reported violence. It's never been my impression that "Black Lives Matter" was a more central Antifa slogan than "No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA."

    Reply

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