From:   Tarak Kauff <>
Sent time:   Wednesday, November 16, 2011 8:39:47 AM
Cc:   i heart rmo <>
Subject:   Re: [september17discuss] On the implications of how we frame our rhetoric

I'm sorry, with all due respect to the author, I do not think all or even most blacks and people of color feel his way about the occupy movement. If they do and I am wrong, that is sad and I hope it changes. But I think it's rather misleading and divisive to call this "Occupy Wall Street's Race Problem." 

This is probably the most inherently anti-racist (by it's very nature) left movement to come along in a while since the Freedom Rides. I see people of color directly involved in practically every occupation, not only Wall Street's in NYC, and hope to see more as the movement grows. (BTW please watch today's Democracy Now! for a great and stirring analysis of the occupy movement) This is a world-wide movement about human beings and this planet and it has deep universal roots and sympathies. 

Many things in the below article are undeniably and profoundly true, even understated, as to the centuries long violent oppression against people of color, and let's not forget the genocide on indigenous Native American people which continues, as does the oppression in the black and Hispanic communities to this day. 

That said I do not agree with the conclusion that somehow blacks have been situated at the "margins" of the movement. If that is even partially true, we need to correct either that actuality or the impression of it. This movement is wide open. Come in, make your own, bring your issues against the system of oppression, that, in different ways, some subtle (but no less dehumanizing) some more overtly blatant, oppresses all of humanity. 

We need to us raise our voices, (as we are doing so powerfully) not against each other but against the common enemy of this planet and it's denizens - all of them. 

This is not a white movement, nor is it a black, brown, yellow or red movement. It is all of us. Let's remember that. I would like to point out that this "common enemy" as mentioned above, the 1%, is not universally white in color (although it is still primarily white euro-centric in roots and essence.) As far as race, it is this vicious, greedy system and those who profit from it, the misguided and addicted fools at the top, those who have isolated themselves from the rest of humanity, who still use race as a way to separate us. 

For us, the people, while we acknowledge and exult joyfully in our differences of culture, skin color, age, gender, sexual orientation - for us - there is only one race, the human one of which are all members. We need solidarity. I don't know what else to say. We are in this together. Power to the people - all of us. 

Tarak Kauff
Veterans For Peace
845 679-3299

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.  Oh had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.
Frederick Douglass

On Nov 16, 2011, at 1:16 AM, Jon Good wrote:

The below article articulates very well many of the challenges of how this movement is perceived by communities of color.  Certainly our intent is not to be alienating, but if people feel alienated, then we need to consider it when we speak.



Occupy Wall Street's Race Problem

by Kenyon Farrow

The economic crisis has disproportionately affected people of color, in particular African Americans. Given the stark economic realities in communities of color, many people have wondered why the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t become a major site for mobilizing African Americans. For me, it's not about the diversity of the protests. It's about the rhetoric used by the white left that makes OWS unable to articulate, much less achieve, a transformative racial-justice agenda. 

In this way, white progressives subscribe to the same “slavery” line conservatives use to incite white fears of economic and political subjugation. Rush Limbaugh, according to Media Matters, equated the 2009 health-care law to slavery, noting, “It's not going to be a matter of whether you can or cannot pay. It won't be a matter of whether you have coverage or don't have coverage. What'll matter is that all of us will be slaves."One of the first photos I saw from the Occupy Wall Street protests was of a white person carrying a flag that read “Debt=Slavery.” White progressive media venues often compare corporate greed or exploitation to some form of modern-day slavery. But while carrying massive amounts of debt, whether in student loans, medical bills, or predatory balloon-payment mortgages is clearly a mark of a society that exploits poor and working-class people, it is not tantamount to chattel slavery. In fact, slaves, who were the property of others by law, for centuries symbolized wealth. A slave, as property, could be sold as a commodity to clear debt. Currently, black households carry about $5,000 in wealth compared to $100,000 for white households, according to a recent Brandeis University study. Arguing that white working- and middle-class people are slaves to debt or corporations undermines not only the centrality of the African slave trade to the birth of the modern corporation but the distinct ways in which debt prevents many blacks from achieving middle-class status.

Pundits have observed that many black people may be staying away from the Wall Street protests to avoid (additional) direct contact with police. Last year, New York City carried out 600,000 random stop-and-frisks, half of which were conducted on black citizens, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union; it makes sense that blacks, who are often in daily contact with police, would stay away from an event where interaction with law-enforcement officers would be inevitable. In fact, on October 22, scores of OWS protesters joined a Harlem demonstration against the practice of stop-and-frisk, during which several people were arrested.   

In contrast, many nonwhites assume the worst in any interaction with police, and if the worst doesn't occur, we often consider that the exception, not the rule.But when the New York Police Department began to act violently against the mostly white protesters on Wall Street, many of the videos posted by OWS attendees on YouTube made the point that protesters were arrested, beaten, or pepper-sprayed “just for asking the police a question” or for “just exercising their right to protest.”

In a London Guardian op-ed, white feminist writer and Democratic strategist Naomi Wolf wrote that she was arrested at an OWS demonstration while “standing lawfully on the sidewalk in an evening gown,” as if to connote that nice white ladies on the way to high-society gatherings wouldn't or shouldn't be treated as criminal by the police. She went on to detail the ways in which police lied or broke the law in handling the protest. Though blacks and Latinos are never mentioned directly, statements that accuse police of misconduct when they clash with ostensibly law-abiding activists highlight how much white occupiers take for granted that only “criminals” will be the target of police violence and harassment.

Another fundamental flaw of white progressives (like many participating in the OWS movement) is the “take back our country and/or democracy” framework. In order to be invested in that idea, you have to see and believe that you had some stake in it to begin with. If you've been stopped and frisked 50 different times with as many fines to pay, or you're HIV-positive and your welfare benefits were cut off because you were too ill to keep an appointment with a case manager, it's hard to believe that the government is just broken—it seems pretty insistent and hell-bent on your demise.

Comparing debt to slavery, believing police won't hurt you, or wanting to take back the America you see as rightfully yours are things that suggest OWS is actually appealing to an imagined white (re)public. Rather than trying to figure out how to diversify the Occupy Wall Street movement, white progressives need to think long and hard about their use of frameworks and rhetoric that situate blacks at the margins of the movement.