Many academics know about the great book by Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. However, I think it’s not common knowledge outside of academics who specialize in race that he’s been involved in two journals, Race Traitor and The New Abolitionist, both focusing on undoing white privilege by abolishing whiteness. This is all old news at this point, but I’m just now reading some of the online archives over at Race Traitor, and loving the unreconstructed marxism of it all: “Abolish the White Race – By Any Means Necessary,” “Aux Armes! Formez vos Bataillons!” and “A Real Citizen’s Review Board.”
The white race is a club, which enrolls certain people at birth, without their consent, and brings them up according to its rules. For the most part the members go through life accepting the benefits of membership, without thinking about the costs. When individuals question the rules, the officers are quick to remind them of all they owe to the club, and warn them of the dangers they will face if they leave it.
RACE TRAITOR aims to dissolve the club, to break it apart, to explode it. Some people who sympathize with our aim have asked us how we intend to win over the majority of so-called whites to anti-racism. Others, usually less friendly, have asked if we plan to exterminate physically millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of people. Neither of these plans is what we have in mind. The weak point of the club is its need for unanimity. Just as the South, on launching the Civil War, declared that it needed its entire territory and would have it, the white race must have the support of all those it has designated as its constituency, or it ceases to exist.
Tropes of treason and fidelity to whiteness play out in Shannon Sullivan’s book Revealing Whiteness, and I think she effectively addresses the inefficacy of treason given the role race plays in our psychic and social lives, the ways in which every decision to ‘shed’ one’s race is deflected by the embodied signs, habits, and privileges of race that simple intentions cannot forgo. If we can’t get to anti-racism through careful attention, thoughtful deliberation, and political will, then John Brown-style insurrections won’t get us there either. That sort of aggression simply reinscribes the validity of the club and the impossibility of ordinary life outside it. Manifestos fail precisely because their words get the blood flowing, encourage us to feel righteous, devoted to a cause, zealous: we skip over the discomfort of confronting our privileges by immediately agreeing to jettison them. The zealot pretends he can be free of his privilege by officially declaiming it, while nonetheless preserving most of what marks him as white. If he engages in violent insurrection, he nonetheless gets better treatment, even in punishment, than non-whites. No, I think Sullivan is right, here: we cannot be rid of privilege, we can only put it to use, undermining itself, analyzing itself, drawing attention to itself. Even if Ignatiev has gone back to leading the revolution against kosher toasters or whatever he’s up to now, I’m glad that there are scholars who are not letting the matter drop.