Letters, April 1999

The New Abolitionist welcomes your comments and will be publishing selected excerpts of correspondence in these pages. Editorial responses are posted in red.

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Black liberation history is one of the first baby steps Louis Beam is being dared to embrace in the essay "Not So Fast: Freedom and the Black Revolution" [April 1999 New Abolitionist]. In the essay, "The Revolution Will Be Complicated" [July 1999 New Abolitionist], Billies and Harvey overcomplicate matters, arguing that sexuality is the prime tool of oppression. This type of reasoning separates the oppressed, keeps us under the thumb of the state, spinning our wheels, fighting among ourselves.

Of course, anyone who has studied previous issues of Race Traitor and the New Abolitionist have noted that these do not "ignore the intersection of oppression" and are not devoted only to "white and black" issues. Billies and Harvey disregard that the former essay was written as a response to Beam, not as a strict definition of what the New Abolitionist and Race Traitor are all about.

Secondly, I found it unsettling that Billies and Harvey labeled a black cleaning woman being revered for "her cooking... a sweepotato pie, no less," as a sexist stereotype. This is a cultural aspect of Black and Southern women, one prided by myself and many women I know in the communities of the South and Midwest. To label this as a sexist stereotype is to condemn it. Condemnation of a culture one may not share leads to cultural homogeneity, or totalitarianism. This is unacceptable. If Billies and Harvey want to comment on culture, perhaps they should write essays about their teachers, "Collins, Lorde, Smith, Anzaldua, Logones, and many others."

Susan Douglass, Tulsa, OK

First I would like to thank you for sending me the May 1999 issue of The New Abolitionist. It's the first one I've had the opportunity to read since the debut issue and while I really enjoyed reading the newsletter I see imperialism as being the principal contradiction rather than whites identifying themselves as whites. This is not to say that the work you are doing is not extremely important, but as evident in the bombing of Yugoslavia we know that white imperialists will murder in masses even fellow white racists whenever its dominance is in question.

I also have to admit that I have a hard time seeing John Brown as a symbol of the abolition of the white race. By declaring whiteness as a mindset this excuses "race traitors" from radical direct action. I can see John Brown as a symbol of the abolition of this racist prison system.

Kunta Kenyatta (R#140-858) / Ohio State Penitentiary / 878 Coitsville Hubbard Road / Youngstown, OH 44505

Thanks for your letter. We agree with you that the global system of plunder is ultimately the system we have to overthrow and replace. However, we believe such a task is impossible so long as a great number of this country's poor prefer the privileges of whiteness to the chance to build a new world. In their defense of their privileges, whites will support the plunder of Africa, the looting of Latin America, and even the bombing of people who, if they ever came to our shores, would be defined as white. Also, we do not consider whiteness to be merely a mindset. More importantly, it is a system that privileges some and subordinates others, while impoverishing the lives of all of us. For us John Brown is a call to traitors to the white race to join the rest of humanity through direct action to overthrow that system.

I am a black 30 male year old male. I am well cultured having traveled to many different countries. I deal with both societies. I work with educated white males during the day and bond with poor uneducated black males and females after. My brothers gripe about not being able to find jobs while I deal with racist white men all day. Racist white males want us to play this game that's a little played out. What happened at Harper's Ferry is nothing compared to what is coming. A lot of blacks are fed up, from discrimination to police brutality, its getting worse. Often while conducting business over the telephone I know I'm often mistaken for a white male. Once they see me in person I notice the look in their eyes; that scared look. They know we're coming.
Kevin Richardson

I have long pondered over the default of whiteness in our society and find your websites fascinating. Your philosophy makes the utmost sense, but I'm afraid you'll have your hands full for a very long time trying to push it forward. The articles are provocative and do get the brain juices flowing.

But, I am not a Harvard professor, or a business owner, or a writer, or an artist. I am just a marginally lower middle class "white" person who would like to be able to do some small things in my daily life to further the breaking down of white privilege. Can you offer any "bite-size" actions I might take? Should I wear a t-shirt or a button that says "Don't assume I'm white"? Should I check "other" on the census next year? Should my next move be into a "redlined" community? I hope you don't think I'm being flippant or too simplistic. I'm seriously looking for something I can do a la "think globally, act locally."

Dear Barbara,
Thank you for your letter. Abolitionism is a political project, like opposing a war, abolishing slavery, or fighting for free public health care. One need not be a Harvard professor or a businessman to engage in politics, but one does need to think about getting together with others, both locally and globally. Any or all of the things you suggest may be useful as part of a group effort. Our aim is to build a movement. Toward that end, we maintain a website and publish a journal and newsletter. We invite you to read our material and take part.

My first visit to your website was such a refreshing way to start the day! I've had 38 years of white privilege and I'm happy to see it directly challenged. I, for one, am tired of white whining, especially about affirmative action. Almost everything I have is the direct result of the power of being white-where my grandparents lived, the jobs they had, the property they owned-all impossible if they were not white. It is inconceivable that my parents could have had successful careers in Northern Idaho, be financially stable, and send me to college if we had not been white. Affirmative action got me into medical school, because I was a white woman. Am I thankful? Yes, but I'm ashamed too. I know that this country was literally built by our African forebears and their descendants deserve credit, and every opportunity for success. The greatest American story is the resistance, accomplishment, and community created under the worst of circumstances by enslaved Africans! I commend all Americans for working to end racism. Your website lifted my spirits and encouraged me to keep doing my part. Thanks.
Sue Taylor, MD
Seattle WA

I have just learned about your organization and am trying to get my mind around your ideas. If I understand it, your intent is to eliminate the concept of whiteness and the privileges associated with it. I am white, don't think I'm better than anyone else, and it makes sense to me. As long as we continue to think of being white as being different than others, how can we eliminate inequality?

Here's a question: What about "blackness, yellowness, redness" or any other skin-color race designation? Would not a better goal be the elimination of divisions based on skin color, or, for that matter, any other physical characteristic?

Regardless of your answer, thanks for moving the dialogue beyond the old, tired discussion of racism that brings little change or hope to any of us.

We don't think that black, yellow, and red have played the same role in history as white. The white race is a club whose purpose is to defend and expand unearned privilege, whereas blackness, redness, and yellowness serve at least to some degree as defenses against oppression. We believe that the abolition of whiteness would have consequences for the existence of "other races," but we can't be sure what those consequences would be, and we don't take the same approach toward them we do toward whiteness.

Just a word of support from Great Britain. Your opinions seem correct to me in every way. However, I have one (small) question: Throughout your articles you speak merely of the abolition of the "white race" as a mind-set. Whilst I laud this goal, you do not seem keen to turn the same argument against all the other "races" on a global scale. We should abolish all "races" which perpetuate their hegemony on the basis of skin colour. Or ancestry. Or caste. Or any other trivial point. While I appreciate that you are Americans addressing American race issues, it would be nice if you could be a bit more global. But I'm nit-picking really. You've given me a new term for myself-RACE TRAITOR-and have forced me to think about issues which I haven't touched in a long time. I wish you every success in the future and hope and pray for a "race" free world.
Yours, David E. Wickes

David, Thank you for writing, and we're glad you share our goal of a race-free world. But tell us, where in the world do "other races" exercise power-in your terms "hegemony"-over whites?

Over the past several years, I have noticed a resurgence of Celtic pride here in the United States, which, as an American of Irish ancestry, I originally viewed with some interest. To my dismay, I came to realize that this trend was completely devoid of social action and was in fact hypocritical and empty. Irish ancestry was just another commodity to be shown off like a new pair of sneakers. While many Irish-Americans romanticize the Irish struggle, they freely partake of the privileges of whiteness here in the United States and often look upon blacks and immigrants with hateful disdain. I want no part of that. A friend introduced me to an issue of Race Traitor and I was amazed. For the first time I was able to "see" whiteness. I recently bought the Race Traitor book and have been devouring the articles. I can now see that the construct of whiteness is oppressive and deceptive. It is tragic to see how whiteness becomes internalized by those called white and those who are deemed "other." This deception has helped the ruling class perpetuate human tragedy in the U.S. and around the world. I'm sharing what I've learned with friends and family to help them challenge their views of race and power. I hope they will become traitors too.
Matthew Foote

Hello Chris and Joel!!
I'm Richard Bourque from Columbia Connecticut. I wrote a while back expressing some interest in your publication as I, too, feel that the concept of whiteness as an identity needs to be dismantled. I also agree with this approach as a more positive one than the anti racist approach. I appreciated many of the articles in the publication, notably the one on "Why Abolitionists Are Not Anti-Racists" and "Renew the Legacy of John Brown." I also felt that the article concerning "Copwatch" is very good, but the last sentence in that article astonished me: "...but if you're a cop, save your dime, pig."

Here on the one hand is a publication concerned with human justice that stereotypes policemen into "pigs." There's a lot of good cops out there, both Euro-American and African-American, who don't deserve that epithet. If there is anyone whose support we need it is those cops on the beat who are as concerned with human justice as we are. By calling cops "pigs" we denigrate those officers who haven't engaged in racist activity and brutality. Wouldn't their input be valuable at some level?

I hesitate to subscribe to a publication that engages in this stereotyping. This is a disappointment for me.

My generation fought long and hard for many years to end racial injustice and the war in Vietnam. Now that many from my generation are retiring I hope there are others who will return to the idealism we held at that time. When I heard of this publication I was very encouraged, but I feel calling all cops pigs undermines the credibility of your cause.

Next week I am participating in a demonstration at the University of Connecticut against police brutality in view of the numerous killings of young black men by the police here in Connecticut in recent months, and other cases in New York City and elsewhere. I would have no hesitation in subscribing to your publication if you retracted that statement in a future publication.
Richard Bourque
Columbia, CT

Hello Richard,
Thanks for your thoughtful note; I appreciate your kind words about the New Abolitionist. Regarding your criticism of our use of the word "pig" to describe the police, if your criticism is that name-calling with one's enemy merely substitutes bravado for real political struggle, I can accept that. Taunting can be a sign of the lack of engagement in struggle as much as it can convey disgust with the actions of an oppressor.

However, I suspect the basis of your criticism lies somewhere else. If I am correct, it seems that you do not like the use of the word "pig" because it stereotypes the police and, as you put it, "denigrates those officers who haven't engaged in racist activity and brutality." Here is the source of our disagreement. For you, it seems, the problem of police brutality and racism is the prejudiced actions of individual officers or perhaps a "culture of abuse" that is tolerated or condoned within individual police departments. For us, however, the police serve an institutional role in a white supremacist system. Their job is to be on the front line enforcing the color line that ensures the subjugation of Black and Brown people and preserves the privileges of the white race. The police perform this role not just through blatant acts of brutality (which are, on the whole, relatively rare) but through their everyday operations: traffic stops, profiling, stop-and-searches, sweeping Black neighborhoods, slow response time to 911 calls in Black neighborhoods, police union political activism, "community policing," etc. When we refer to the police as "pigs," we are referring to this role that all cops-Black or white, male or female, nice or mean-play in our society. Cops are engaged in whitist activity even if they've never pressed a baton to Black flesh in their life.

We are not branding all cops as bad people-I'm sure some of them would be lots of fun to hang out with after work. But just like it didn't matter who was behind the SS badge in Nazi Germany but rather the actions carried out under the badge, what matters is not the individual personalities of police officers or departments but the role of the police in general in a capitalist, whitist society. For this reason, I'm much less interested in winning the "support" of cops on the beat than I am in building a society in which cops don't exist. (Of course, we would be pleased as punch if cops were to switch sides and join us in our struggle.)

So again, if your criticism is that calling cops pigs takes away from the seriousness of our critique of the police, your point is well taken. If your criticism is that the real problem of police brutality is just a "few bad apples" on the force rather than the police itself, then we simply must disagree.

I thank you again for your thoughtful letter and I hope you consider subscribing to the New Abolitionist.
Joel Olson, co-editor
New Abolitionist

I don't like calling cops "pigs" either. My reasons are: (1) it ignores the pressures on people, especially poor people, that lead them to take jobs on the police force, something that others of us who merely serve as lower level cops can manage to avoid; (2) it doesn't account for cases (admittedly not too many) of cops who betray their badge, for example the Afro-American Patrolmen's Association in Chicago in the 1960s or the prison guards at Lucasville who spoke out in defense of the prisoners, or Diop Kamau, the ex-cop who started a copwatch program; (3) just as the term "white" is enough, "cop" is an adequate description of someone's social function and no further insult is necessary; (4) it ignores the degree to which all of us in this society, especially whites, are involved in policing others. I say this as a schoolteacher and a parent. I would add that it is perfectly understandable why people who are fighting against what the cops represent would call them "pigs," and if that difference leads someone who otherwise agrees to withhold his support, then he is getting his friends and his enemies mixed up.
Noel Ignatiev
Editorial Board, New Abolitionist

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