On Trump’s dog whistling to neo-Nazis

On Trump’s dog whistling to neo-Nazis:

Why Americanism is the incorrect response to fascism

* * *

By Daniel K. Buntovnik, 17 August 2017

 

A political dog whistle: “a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others” [x].

Donald Trump sent a loud and clear whistle to his doggish packs of fanatical far-right supporters in a speech delivered on August 12th, 2017 regarding the wave of violence set off the day before in Charlottesville, Virginia by a rally which drew a historic number of fascist bigots espousing a jumble of neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, “alt-right”, and “white nationalist” genocidal and segregationist ideologies. (Given the name which organizers gave to the rally, one of its main raisons d’être, in addition to preventing the removal of monuments to the Pro-Slavery Rebellion, seems to have been to overcome these rather insignificant ideological discrepancies among adherents of right-wing politics in the United States of America). The most notable violent incident occurred when a member of a contingent of left-wing, anti-fascist protesters named Heather Heyer was killed [x] and a number of others injured by a neo-Nazi terrorist using a muscle car to plow into the counter-protesters. The attacker has been identified as James Fields, who was photographed before the attack standing in formation with a right-wing gang calling itself “Vanguard America”, wearing the group’s Donald Trump golfing outfit-inspired uniform, and holding a shield with the group’s emblem, a Celtic cross made of two crossing fasces, thereby combining two well-known symbols of neo-fascism into one [x]. Vanguard America is, in turn, a member group of a larger umbrella organization called “Nationalist Front” (formerly known as “Aryan Nationalist Alliance”) which brings together a variegated panoply of Klan, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity groups.

jamesfieldsvanguardamerica

Caught in the center of the above photograph is the white supremacist James Fields. Despite a contradictory attempt by the Nationalist Front sub-group Vanguard America to disavow the neo-Nazi terrorist [x], “Commander” Jeff Schoep of the “National Socialist Movement” and founder of the Nationalist Front, issued a statement confirming James Fields’s belonging to the Nationalist Front camp by retweeting a video of the terrorist attack which showed anti-racist activists rushing to the weaponized muscle car which had just been used as a murder weapon in an effort to render it inoperable and thereby prevent further racist, anti-leftist killing. In the retweet, Schoep issued his own statement in which he said “Antifa attacking car [i.e., the terrorist murder weapon] with ball bats. This is what we faced in Cville, armed antifa, & city allowed it,” [x] (my emphasis). In using the phrase “This is what we faced” in this context (a video of Fields “allegedly” running over participants in an anti-racist demonstration in his car), it can be confirmed that the Nationalist Front leader views the murderer as part of his group. In addition to this, the neo-Nazi leader demonstrates an incredible level of hypocrisy in criticizing anti-Nazi counter-demonstrators for being armed with bats, given the well-publicized images of right-wing, paramilitary-style militias armed with assault rifles which were out in force for the “Unite the Right” rally [x].

Despite the fact that the nature of the conflict playing out in Charlottesville was clearly that of supporters of genocidal fascism versus their opponents, Trump adamantly attributed guilt for the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” to “many sides”, emphasizing the words “many sides” by pausing to repeat them a second time in an insincere fashion [x]. While a number of Democrats and “liberals” criticized Trump for failing to identify the guilty party by saying some words along the lines of “radical white nationalist terror”, many in the Democratic Party actually echoed his dog whistle endorsement of American-style fascism by making appeals to “national unity” and “American values” [x].

By fixating on Trump’s lack of explicit condemnation of the neo-Nazi and Ku Klux groups at the expense of paying the slightest attention to Trump’s exploitation of the Nationalist Front terrorist attack as another opportunity to promote more American nationalism, those whose “opposition” to Trump is superficial set up an easy out for him to redeem himself and atone for his “mistake” by fulfilling their wish and making a short pronouncement in which, after repeating in paraphrase what he had already said two days earlier, he said, “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans” [x]. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump made and has fulfilled an explicit campaign pledge to continue the Obama era practice of killing people for nothing other than the blood in their veins, i.e. the kindredness of their blood to that of stigmatized individuals [x], here Trump really only condemns the hate groups insofar as they “cause violence” and behave criminally. This is not a condemnation of the KKK, neo-Nazism and white supremacists and their existence as such (i.e. their right to organize and operate in society), but merely empty words against their illegal tactics, which are inevitably attributed to the infamous figure of the “lone wolf” (as if these “lone” wolves were the only “bad apples” amongst the otherwise upstanding members of the neo-Nazi community). Even American liberals such as Glenn Greenwald continue to defend neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates, so long as they don’t “cause violence” and employ legal methods of struggle, despite the fact that laws in a number of other liberal bourgeois democracies proscribe things such as the use of Nazi symbolism, Holocaust denial, and hate speech [x]. This shows that there is bipartisan support for the legal status of neo-Nazism, which is not a given, even within the confines of bourgeois democracy.

Despite Trump’s tepid condemnation of the neo-Nazis’ illegal tactics and bipartisan support for neo-Nazism’s “right” to fester upon society, on August 15th he spoke publicly about Charlottesville for a third time, arguing that the “alt-left”, a made-up term which serves only to draw a false equivalence between the political Left and the the far-right [x], shared responsibility for the terrorist attack on leftists in Charlottesville [x].

Shortly after the August 14th comments about “criminals and thugs”, Trump went on to say, “We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution.” This is patently false, since Trump’s 90 day travel ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, now halfway expired, hinges on the argument that not all human beings are to be treated equally by the U.S. legal system and Constitution. Once again Trump has rhetorically marshalled the citizenry with Nationalist ideology. This is at a time when his regime appears to be making good on its promise to outdo the previous record-holder, Obama, in effecting more deportations of alien “Others” from the United States [x]. The boilerplate platitude about the U.S.A. being “a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal”, lifted from the Declaration of Independence, is practically meaningless in this context, since chattel slavery outlasted this declaration by almost a century. The phrase “We are all equal” was as incongruent with the real situation of 1817 as it is with the reality of 2017, when so many of us are denied access to basic human rights, treated unequally by the law, and forced by lack of freedom from want and fear to perform unpaid surplus labor during much of our waking hours.

A sober analysis of the facts will reveal that there can be no combination between “Americanism” and anti-fascism. This “anti-fascism” which bases itself on Americanism is ineffective at best, and it is its own form of fascism at worst. I call it the right-wing of “anti-fascism” because, in contrast to the left-wing of anti-fascism, which calls for a multinational revolution against fascism and the conditions themselves which produce it, the right-wing (pseudo) “anti-fascism” calls for liberals (falsely identified with the political Left despite belonging more to the center, in proximity to the Right) to combine with conservatives in a sick display of “national unity”.

What right-wing “anti-fascist” commentary which continues to rhetorically marshal the national “we” (the quintessential subject of fascist reaction) fails to take note of in Trump’s initial response to the deadly Nationalist Front attack in Charlottesville is that it is not merely his “failure” to identify the bigoted antagonizing party to the conflict which is significant, but the way in which Trump’s speech whistles to right-wing dogs, and carries forward their ideology of American nationalism. And by wallowing in Americanism, the would-be opponents of Trump remain tethered to the fascist body, like a gangrened limb.

Expressions of this all-American “anti-fascism” appeared to rise up organically on Twitter, where #ThisIsNotUS became a trend [x]. Not long after that, an anti-“Alt-Right” meme modeled on a World War II era poster featuring the character “Uncle Sam” appeared and began to spread online. This image is worth discussing, as a brief analysis of it will begin to demonstrate that the nationalism of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and centrists and moderates is much closer to the nationalism of the Nationalist Front terrorists than it is to antifascist internationalism.

uncle sam stop the alt right

“Uncle Sam” is of course a personification of the United States and the first thing that stands out about him, besides his striped pants and starred vest, is his whiteness, made overwhelming by his pure white hair. Clearly this symbolic representation of a nation embodied in an individual human being conveys something about the artist’s idea of what “kind” of human being is “typical” or representative of that nation’s hundreds of millions of people. As one writer puts it, “Political cartoons” were (and still are) a reflection of the perceived “racial conditions of a society” [x]. So right away, Uncle Sam is an expression of white nationalism.

Even more problematic is the fact that this particular version of Uncle Sam has been lifted from a World War II era poster which features the racial slur “Jap”. The anonymous(?) creator of the “Stop the ‘Alt-Right’” poster has even kept the same style of bold red lettering at the top of the poster and calqued the “We’ll finish the job” into “We’ll beat ’em” at the bottom, so you know where the inspiration came from.

unclesamjapposter
Uncle Sam has a checkered history of being used to promote the exact same racist demands that neo-Nazis and “white nationalists” demand today, demands like booting out racially othered immigrant populations, treating the “white race” as superior to others, and building an “Imperium” on top of annexed foreign lands.

unclesamchinesemustgo

Here, above, the white nationalist personage of Uncle Sam boots out a racist caricature of a Chinese person. Bottom text reads, “THE CHINESE MUST GO”. This image dates to around 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act anticipated Trump’s so-called “Muslim Travel Ban”.

unclesamschoolbegins

This image from 1899 shows Uncle Sam as a disciplinarian schoolmaster. The Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba (territories annexed by the United States during the late 19th century) are represented by racist caricatures of dark-skinned children. Colonialism was often justified by the alleged need to bring “civilization” to the “child-like races”. The white children sitting behind them are studious and the names of states are written on their books, showing that they represent the American states which by that time had become predominantly populated by white settlers. The text on the blackboard reads in part, “England has governed her colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent she has greatly advanced the world’s civilization. The U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.”

We have sampled just two out of the many Uncle Sam images with strongly white nationalist messages which have been produced over the years, but I think this is enough to understand the point. More white nationalism is not a good response to the “white nationalism” which manifested in Charlottesville. (Note: I place scare-quotes around this term because, like “alt-right”, it is merely a re-branding of white supremacist groups long understood to be of a neo-Nazi nature, made in an effort to improve their public image).

Yet another expression of this pseudo-antifascist All-Americanism in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville began to propagate itself in the online spheres, where it was “liked” by hundreds of thousands of people and probably seen by many more, when someone decided that those who think their own American nationalism to be of the “good” sort would get a kick out of seeing a clip from a 1947 U.S. military propaganda film called Don’t be a Sucker.

In the particular scene which went viral [x], we encounter a character who is meant to be an “obvious” fascist. He’s standing on a soapbox, addressing a small crowd, railing against the quadruple scourge of “Negroes”, “alien foreigners”, “Catholics”, and “Freemasons”. In the crowd we see two men in particular who are listening to him. One of them is later revealed to be an immigrant from Hungary and the other, a natural-born American.

The “native” American nods his head in agreement with everything the fascist says until eventually the latter starts railing against Freemasons.

“Masons? What’s wrong with the Masons? I’m a Mason. Hey, that fella’s talking about me,” the man says.

“And that makes a difference, doesn’t it?” the naturalized citizen of Hungarian origin replies.

The fascist ends his speech and the two men continue talking.

“Before he said ‘Masons,’ you were ready to agree with him,” the second man says.

“Yes, but he was talking about–What about those other people?” the first man says.

Next, and here we get to the “antifascist” climax of the clip, the second man explains, “In this country we have no other people, we are American people.”

Now compare the “We have no other people,” message of Don’t be a Sucker with what Trump actually said on Saturday the 12th day of August 2017, after a Nationalist Front neo-Nazi had just committed a murderous terrorist attack directed against left-wing individuals standing up and demonstrating against racism and fascism:

“No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So we want to get this situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. We want to see where we’re going wrong as a country” [x].

The message from the 1947 U.S. military propaganda film (“We [Americans] have no other people,”) is exactly the same as that which Trump had conveyed by rhetorically marshalling “we” as the national subject in his first response to Charlottesville. Not “we” as in human beings. Not “we” as in opponents of fascism as such. But “we” as in citizens of the U.S.A. “We” as in unquestioning participants in mindless ritual displays of flag-worshipping patriotism. Trump’s boilerplate nonsense about “no matter our color, creed, religion or political party” might sound superficially inclusive and unbigoted to a simpleton. But by excluding nationality, Trump is already excluding the alien “Other” and marshalling the nationalistic body politic. Just think how nonsensical it would sound if he had said, “No matter our nationality, citizenship, migrant status, or if our visas are expired, we are all Americans first.” Simply put, no, “we” are not “all Americans” and dominant culture sure as hell does not treat everyone as though they were “all the same”. This tacky Americanism is a particularly malicious way to respond to a neo-Nazi attack, since neo-Nazis have a long history of attacking the “other people”, not those who are comfortably seen as integral to the nationalistic body politic.

“We” hardly need a newsflash to tell us that James Fields and his neo-Nazi and Klan brethren in the Nationalist Front are citizens of the U.S.A. By saying that “our” Americanism comes before anything else, Trump unifies “us” with the neo-Nazi terrorist and all his American partners who, there is no doubt, would be much more inclined to say, “We love our God and our Country and we’re proud of it,” than those of us on the left-wing of genuine anti-fascism, a significant proportion of us being (1) non-believers in the God of the billionaire Trump (that god which is Money), (2) haters of the system of nation-states which dislocates us from our loved ones, kills migrants, and is the basis of every modern war, (3) adequately aware of and versed in the history of fascist bourgeois nationalism and its mass psychology so as to be immune to all of the cues and triggers designed to induce the crocodile emotions of patriotism, and (4) ashamed, ashamed to be marshalled by this sexually predatory, fake-tanned old man into his subject and told what we must love and be proud of.

According to this way of thinking (which says, “We are all Americans first,”) our Americanism precedes, and is therefore more important and reigns supreme over the fact of whether, for example, we belong to a fascist “political party” or an antifascist one, whether we are actively working towards the orchestration of genocide or slated to be exterminated, whether we are perpetrators of hate-crime or victims, or whether we pay other people to produce untold sums of money for us or we work for other people to get paid hopefully enough to make ends meet. For a materially powerful person who is a representative of the ruling class to rhetorically marshal any of the latter categories into artificial unity with the former is to promise physical violence and annihilation. It is to predestine the elimination of “other people” and the prevention of an “Other” consciousness. It is to combine the promise of “We have no other people,” with the resolve to make it so in reality. It is a declaration of war on “Other” people, i.e. “alien” social elements, the ones who do not love the “God” of Trump, who do not love a piece of cloth, who do not see themselves as Americans first and foremost, who identify themselves in other ways instead, who have other priorities.

The fasces is symbolic of the fascist mentality.

vanguardamericafasces

The fasces, the symbol of the Vanguard America gang members seen in this photo and which was also carried by the murderous neo-Nazi James Fields, is a signifier of this idea that national identity should reign supreme in each individual’s psyche. A fasces is a bundle of sticks which stands for the notion that a nation’s citizenry are stronger when collectively bound together than as twigs which, taken individually, snap easily. As a symbol of national unity, the fasces represents the idea that class struggle within the nation is “divisive” and weakens it. By calling for the members of the national body politic to put their civic identity as “Americans” in a position of supremacy over whatever other affiliations they may have, including as members of socioeconomically, racially, or sexually oppressed classes, Trump — and the so-called “progressive” Democrats — attack class consciousness and endorse the fascist mentality.

In the nationalist utterance of Trump, “We are all Americans first”, we can also parse out a deeper significance to the placement of the word “all” in front of the word “American”. Its appearance here is to signify not only that “All of us are Americans”, but that “We are All-Americans.”

The term “All-American” is frequently employed to describe that which is either “composed wholly of American elements” or “representative or typical of the U.S. or its ideals” [x]. Like the somewhat antiquated term “Great-Russian”, which was “used formerly in distinguishing ethnic Russians from other constituent peoples of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire” [x], the term “All-American” has long been used to distinguish between those who have the traits of a “typical” American (white, Anglo-Saxon or Germanic heritage, Protestant, etc.) and those who are marked, wholly or partially, by some “alien” stigmata. By saying, “We are All-Americans,” Trump dog whistles a white nationalist conceptualization of what an “American” is and who “we” are.

This idea of “all-Americanism” is conveyed in the film The Good Shepherd, in the following bit of dialogue between two characters:

Joseph Palmi: We Italians, we got our families and we got the church. The Irish, they have the homeland. The Jews, their traditions. Even the [N word], they got their music. What about you people Mr. Carlson, what do you have?


Edward: The United States of America, the rest of you are just visiting [x].

Several Urban Dictionary entries for “All-American” also detail the racist connotations of this word. Here is the top Urban Dictionary definition of “All-American” [x]:

A word that describes a certain type of ultra-conservative white person who lives in a small rural or suburban towns in middle America. This term is exclusively used by white people to describe their perfect vision of what they believe embodies a true American person. Whites fail to realize just how racist the term “All American” is. If only white people from middle America can be “All American”, that must mean that all the blacks, latinos, asians, native americans and mixed people can never fully be regarded as Americans by the oppressive white society. Think about it, if you are born black in this country, white people will call you “African American”. But the majority of black people born in here in America have never been to Africa and will never go there in their entire lifetime. Its really fucking racist. (Submitted by “thagoldenchild” on May 9, 2008)

Another popular definition for “All-American”:

A conformist who is blindly patriotic, votes Republican not because the values of the party are true to them, but because “everyone else is gay” or they’re scared the terrorists will kill them and does whatever anyone wants for them. All American males usually have blond buzz cuts and are tall, well built and stupid. All American girls will usually have long blond hair, and stupid. They can be of any class, but often tend to be richer, or at least born in a rich suburban family. Still, most rednecks are all American, too. (Submitted anonymously on January 23, 2005)

Shifting slightly, we move now from “all-Americans” to the next bit of the dog whistle: “Americans first”. This is a clear allusion to the “America First” slogan which was adopted by the Trump presidential election campaign in 2016, when he promised that it would be “the major and overriding theme” of his draconian capitalist regime [x]. The slogan harkens back to the “America First Committee”, which was a large anti-war group that petitioned to keep the U.S. out of the Second World War, rendered problematic by the presence of antisemitic and Nazi-sympathizing forces. A latter day “America First Committee” was formed in 1980 by Arthur Jones, a longtime neo-Nazi who took part in the infamous neo-Nazi marches in Illinois in 1978 after the American Civil Liberties Union won them the right to provoke Holocaust survivors by marching through their neighborhoods [x, x]. (Incidentally, the ACLU came under fire in connection to the neo-Nazi mayhem in Charlottesville for, under the pretense of protecting free speech, actually defending the right of the terrorist groups to publicly assemble in armed assault formations and immediately communicating misinformation to the public about the neo-Nazi vehicular assault on leftists that implied that it was accidental and provoked by rock-throwing, although the ACLU later later retracted this false claim [x, x]).

Part of what is significant here is that the latter day America First Committee is one of the founding members of the previously mentioned Aryan Nationalist Alliance, the umbrella organization composed of dozens of smaller Klan, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity factions whose goal is to “unite the right”. According to a press release from another one of the co-founder groups, the Aryan Nationalist Alliance was formed on April 22, 2016 (two days after Adolf Hitler’s birthday, commonly memorialized by neo-Nazi groups). The Aryan Nationalist Alliance later changed its name to Nationalist Front and, in April 2017, Vanguard America joined the so-called Nationalist Front. Two out of the ten speakers who were slated to publicly address the crowds at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally are Nationalist Front members: Michael Hill and Matt Heimbach [x].

Below is the flyer for the “Unite the Right” rally showing the presence of two members of the Nationalist Front on the official list of speakers, which was shared on Twitter in June [x] by “Alt-Right” white nationalist head of the “National Policy Institute” Richard Spencer (who collaborated with Trump’s chief speechwriter Stephen Miller as members of the Duke Conservative Union at Duke University in 2007 [x]).

unite the right flyer shared by spencer

Michael Hill is the leader of the neo-Confederate “League of the South”, while Matt Heimbach is the leader of the “Traditionalist Worker Party”. Both the League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party are member organizations of the Nationalist Front. These two men, along with Jeff Schoep, “Commander” of the “National Socialist Movement” (the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States) appear to be the main leaders of the Nationalist Front [x], although a press release published by the NSM indicates that the Nationalist Front is essentially Schoep’s brainchild; there it is noted that it was Schoep who “unveiled a Historic document detailing a plan for the Aryan Nationalist Alliance” (now renamed Nationalist Front).

Below is the press release, retrieved from “NSM Magazine Summer/Fall 2016”. NSM and the Nationalist Front seem to have done a half-assed job trying to delete references to Nationalist Front member groups like the “Aryan Terror Brigade”, probably realizing that this is not a good look for an organization that claims to “reject illegal, seditious and violent conduct as a model of political change” and be “dedicated to a peaceful process of gaining power”. References to Aryan Terror Brigade and several other founding groups listed in the original press release have been scrubbed from both the Nationalist Front website (nfunity.org) and an NSM web page relating the information about the “historic alliance formed by U.S. white nationalists”. On a similar note, NSM and their NF front organization appear to have made an effort to “go mainstream” and win more adherents by phasing out their use of the swastika and terms like “Aryan” in favor of symbols like the othala rune and terms like “Alt-Right” [x]. Nevertheless, the NSM website (nsm88.org) continues to host a PDF file of the “NSM Magazine Summer/Fall 2016” where these groups, which are obviously incompatible with the objective of bringing neo-Nazism into the mainstream, are listed as founders of Nationalist Front. The Southern Poverty Law Center also confirms this list of NF founders [x].

nsm summer fall 2016 press release

 

The press release also reveals some important facts about the composition of the Nationalist Front which the road rage racist killer James Fields and official speakers at the “Unite the Right” rally belong to. Among its founding member organizations we find numerous groups with penchants for racially-motivated terrorism and violent crime. Let’s just sample a few of these:

One is the so-called “Phineas Priesthood”. This is said by some to be more of a “meme” than an actual organization [x]; an ideology which is nothing but a glorified justification for committing racially-motivated murder. As one source puts it: “Phineas priests take their name from the biblical figure Phinehas in the book of Numbers, who is described as brutally murdering an Israelite man for having sex with a foreign woman, who he also kills. Members of the Phineas Priesthood — which people ‘join’ simply by adopting the views of the movement — are notoriously violent, and some adherents have been convicted of bank robberies, bombing abortion clinics, and planning to blow up government buildings” [x]. The fact that the Nationalist Front names the “Phineas Priesthood” as a founding member of the organization signals that the murdering of so-called “race-mixers” and “race-polluters” serves as an ideological point of reference for what the group hopes to achieve and the methods they are willing to employ as means to those ends.

Another Nationalist Front founding organization is the previously mentioned Aryan Terror Brigade. Members of the Aryan Terror Brigade were convicted of carrying out racist assaults on Muslim-looking people in 2013 [x]. The group is said to be a branch of Combat 18 [x, x], a British neo-Nazi group which claimed responsibility for the terrorist bombing campaign targeting Black British, South Asian, and LGBT communities in London which took place during the days surrounding April 20, 1999, killing three people and causing four others to lose limbs. A group called the “White Wolves”, an offshoot of Combat 18, also claimed responsibility for the bombings [x]. (Another Nationalist Front co-founder is listed as “White Wolves Invictus”).

“Aryan Strikeforce” is another Nationalist Front co-founder group which claims “Combat 18 International” affiliation, as shown on the VKontake profile of the group’s founder Joshua Michael Steever (“Hatchet”), who also founded Aryan Terror Brigade before being kicked out of it and has a history of making terroristic threats [x, x]. Strikeforce is the name of a Combat 18 publication which, before the London Nail Bomb attacks, declared that “The [only] answer is an international terror/sabotage campaign” [x, x]. Numerous members of Aryan Strikeforce were arrested in 2016 and 2017 and are said to have been amassing machine guns [x].

David Copeland, nicknamed “The London Nail Bomber”, was the only person convicted of carrying out the 1999 neo-Nazi bombings in London, claiming to have acted as a “lone wolf” [x]. In part by relying on the doctrine of “leaderless resistance”, neo-Nazi organizations can shift responsibility for all of their illegal actions onto rogue “lone wolves” and enjoy the protection of the capitalist state and “free speech”-defending liberals who back up their above-the-board activism and organizing which pretends to be strictly interested in legal activity. This is a sham pretense. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the nature of an organization founded by groups like “Aryan Terror Brigade” and “White Wolves Invictus”.

It’s worth expanding on one point here and noting that the London Nail Bomber was a member of another British neo-Nazi group, “coincidentally” also named “National Socialist Movement” (like “White Wolves”, the British NSM was also an offshoot of Combat 18 [x]). The British NSM was led by David Myatt, a man who is in turn widely acknowledged to have used various pseudonyms in leading a cult called the “Order of Nine Angles”, which embraces “traditional Satanism” and neo-Nazism, and advocates the practice of human sacrifice as a form of Hitlerian eugenics. In my post “What is Net-Centric Warfare?” from November 2016, I showed how the facelift given to neo-Nazism (by adopting the “Alt-Right” identity and using a cartoon frog called “Pepe” or “Kek” in place of a swastika) has borrowed heavily from Satanic strains of neo-Nazism in developing something called the “Cult of Kek”, which revolves around the belief in “meme magick” and the appearance of Pepe the Frog as a theophany of the Ancient Egyptian god Kek. This runs parallel to the neo-Nazi and U.S. military-linked “Temple of Set”, another Satanic cult appropriating from the mythology of Ancient Egypt.

This cryptic far-right “spirituality” seems to be further manifested by the fact that another keynote speaker at the “Unite the Right” rally was the eccentric eugenics advocate [x] Augustus Sol Invictus, currently a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, who began making sensationalized headlines two years ago in part for claiming to have sacrificed a goat and drank its blood. “Sol Invictus” is said to identify as “pagan” [x]. Tellingly, comparative religion scholar Mattias Gardell notes in Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism that the eugenics-advocating “Order of Nine Angles” cult describes its brand of Satanism as a “militant paganism” [x] derived from the “solar cults of Albion”, i.e. sun-worshipping cults of ancient Britain. “Sol Invictus” means “unconquered sun”.

Another leading member of the Nationalist Front is Michael Tubbs, head of the Florida section of the League of the South. Tubbs was convicted in the 1990s for his involvement in a plot to start a race war by attacking African-American and Jewish-owned businesses [x, x]. Tubbs has since been released from prison and “was photographed [participating] in several brawls” during the “Unite the Right” rally [x].

The NSM is no stranger to terrorism itself. The case of Samuel James Johnson, a “former” NSM member (because it’s always a “former” member) who went on to found his own “Aryan Liberation Movement” went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 (see Johnson v. United States [x]). Despite plotting to conduct paramilitary-style attacks on a Mexican consulate and left-wing bookstores and assassinate “liberals” [x], Johnson was not tried as a terrorist but as an “armed career criminal”. Uncannily, lawyers presented arguments on behalf of the neo-Nazi on April 20, 2015. The Supreme Court’s decision seems to have been favorable to the neo-Nazi terrorist plaintiff, ruling that the Armed Career Criminal Act by which he had been sentenced to 15 years of prison was unconstitutional.

All of this goes to show that the fascist white supremacist who had conducted the deadly terrorist attack just prior to Trump’s speech last Saturday (August 12, 2017) was, in acting as a member of the Nationalist Front, therefore formally associated with, not only the NF member groups mentioned above which have well documented histories of and connections to terrorism, but also the neo-Nazi organization known as the America First Committee.

Donald Trump’s response to this situation was to invoke a neo-Nazi slogan, a neo-Nazi slogan which has been a neo-Nazi slogan, continuously, for at least 37 years. A neo-Nazi slogan which the Nationalist Front sub-group which the murderous fascist was seen standing in uniformed formation with, Vanguard America, has used in its own propaganda:

america first vanguard poster

Trump’s response has also been to blame the victims of this terrorist attack, the political Left and to make “But not all…” type excuses for the attendees of a rally to defend monuments to Pro-Slavery Rebellion which was officially billed as having multiple speakers affiliated with the Nationalist Front, a group founded by people who openly pine for “an international terror campaign” and spiritual rewards for the act of murdering “race-polluters”.

In uttering the despicable words, “We are all-Americans First,” Trump has blown a dog whistle. When right-wing dogs hear those despicable words, what they understand is:

“We must make our ‘Uncle Sam’-esque National identity our Supreme identity, and act accordingly.”

Or, in other words:

“We must bring Nationalism to the Front.”

There can be no doubt that this is what neo-Nazi ears hear loud and clear.

 


 

rest in power heather heyer

“Valencia, Spain: Mural for Murdered Antifascist Comrade Heather Heyer”, courtesy of Insurrection News [x]


 

ALL WORKS CITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR USE.
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Transmodernity is Burning

Transmodernity is Burning:

A Schizoanalysis of Transracialism and Transgenderism in Paris is Burning

* * *

By Daniel K. Buntovnik, 13 February 2017


What is transraciality, and who is transrace? The Rachel Doležal affair invites the question

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There is debate about the meaning of the term “transrace”. The prominence of discourse around the term “transrace” was elevated in the mid 2010s in the wake of the sensationalized story of Rachel Doležal, a woman who is said to have a verified genealogical tree which traces back to the peoples of Northern and Central Europe (but who is also said to have family members [in-law] of Sub-Saharan African descent), in addition to having deceived people in the Pacific Northwestern region of the United States of America into believing that she was a Black person with a pale complexion, acting as an NAACP leader whilst assuming this identity. She apparently did this by dyeing her hair darker and perming it, using artificial skin pigmentation-modifying (‘fake tan’) products, and perhaps affecting her speech with Ebonics elements. In the wake of the scandal over Doležal’s apparent deception, some individuals added to the discourse by denouncing the use of the term “transrace” to describe individuals like Doležal; they claimed instead that “transrace” should only be used to describe individuals who are raised by adoptive parents of a racial grouping deemed “other” to that of their biological ancestors. (See here, for example). While I do not wish to dwell excessively on this debate over the one “true” definition of the term “transrace”, I felt it was important to start out by acknowledging it before we delve into the topic of transracialism. And yet, another possible definition has been disconsidered: that the adjective “transrace” may fittingly be used to describe individuals who exist in a multigenerational process of racial transitioning.

Franz Fanon describes this multigenerational transracialism in Black Skins, White Masks (1952):

Shame. Shame and self-contempt. Nausea. When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle. I turn away from these inspectors of the Ark before the Flood and I attach myself to my brothers, Negroes like myself. To my horror, they too reject me. They are almost white. And besides they are about to marry white women. They will have children faintly tinged with brown. Who knows, perhaps little by little. . . .

Following the intergenerational/transgenerational distinction developed by theorists in the field of psychogenealogy such as Anne Ancelin Schützenberger, we might call the form of transracialism evoked by Fanon intergenerational, because the racial transition occurs as the result of a conscious effort made by the ancestor on behalf of the descendant, so that the latter may be accepted into a racial category to which the former did not belong, while we might call a multigenerational transracialism transgenerational when it occurs unconsciously, without the individuals involved becoming aware of the process, perhaps due to unconscious absorption of white supremacist cultural values.

Due to white supremacy, the racial transitioning process in America has usually gone in the opposite direction to that observed in the case of Rachel Doležal. That is to say that white supremacy encouraged individuals of the Sub-Saharan African diaspora in the United States of America to long for whiteness, a racial ideal which was construed as an unstigmatized personal state for the individual. American literary works such as Sinclair Lewis’s Kingsblood Royal (1947) and Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life (1933) have immortalized these tales of “tragic mulattos” and “tragic quintroons” like Peola and Neil Kingsblood, protagonists of the aforementioned works for whom being racially “outed” spells personal catastrophe. The upwardly mobile individual is also always white-wardly mobile in a global economy constructed around the fiscal elevation of those racialized as “white”. Perhaps this is why many found the acts which Rachel Doležal performed to be somehow troubling. She achieved upward mobility, gaining a certain social prestige in becoming an NAACP leader, by adopting the mannerisms and the get-up (which we might well qualify as “drag”) that she needed in order to perform an historically stigmatized racial identity.

Drag as transgressive, transcendant tool for moving beyond limitations imposed upon one’s gender, race, sexual orientation

“Drag” typically evokes the practice of male “queens” dressing up and behaving as if they were women. This is, however, a limited understanding. In Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, we see that the drag shows performed at late 20th century balls in New York City consisted not only in the male adoption of feminine clothing and mannerisms (i.e. the gender-bending “drag queens” of stereotypical lore), but that these performances also operated across the racial plane of social difference. And the expanded possibilities of drag which the film depicts do not end there; race and gender are not the only modalities upon which drag operates. As other critics have pointed out, the film “extends this argument [that drag is a practice that can potentially draw attention to the imitative nature of gender itself through its parodic repetition of gender norms] to include the constructed nature of race and class identity as well as gender identity” [See: Lauren Levitt, “Reality Realness: Paris is Burning and RuPaul’s Drag Race” in Interventions Journal (7 November 2013)].

In a segment of the film devoted to the exposition of this class and race-nonconforming form of drag, we see individuals historically stigmatized as Black “homosexuals” perform power drag by symbolically taking on the roles of members of the U.S. military and “successful” (ruling class) white American individuals. Not only do the drag shows include Afro-diasporic subjects dramatically imitating (and thereby critiquing) European thought and behavior, but they also feature gays donning hetero-drag to perform straight individuality, offering thus their critiques of other stigmatized individuals occupying contextually determined contradictory positionalities vis-à-vis oppression, such as heterosexual street thugs “of color”, at their dance battling balls. Therefore, in addition to race, class, and gender, we can also add sexually orientative identities to the constructed modalities upon which drag operates. Closeted gays can be said to be performing this kind of drag in almost every moment of their lives. Indeed,  gender and sexuality researcher Lauren Levitt relates that, insofar as most everybody wants or expects to be accepted as a “real” iteration of a gender or ethnicity, “many writers” have made the case that “everyone essentially is in drag” [ibid].

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This individual dons power drag by imaginatively dressing in the manner of “an American”–a social category which for centuries has been racialized to the exclusion of non-“white” populations.

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A successful American business executive.

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This individual’s drag reflects critical perfomativity of “the boy that probably robbed you a few minutes before you came to Paris’s ball.”

The objective of the drag performance is to exude a kind of authenticity the drag ball community dubbed “realness”, which gender and sexuality researcher Lauren Levitt defines as “the extent to which a performance conforms to the standard by which it is being judged”. When individuals strive for realness in the assumption of new racial identities, it is called racial “passing”.

This broader sense of the possibilities of drag which the film conveys leads us to the realization that Rachel Doležal does indeed engage in a form of drag. A great deal of the controversy surrounding Doležal arises then from those skeptical of her realness, or lack thereof. It has to be admitted though that Doležal did have a fair degree of success in being able to “pass” as Black, her position in the NAACP leadership seeming to add to her realness.

How well does Doležal conform to the abstracted, “standard”-ized notion of “a person of color”? How valid is it to hold individuals up to such standards?

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Rachel Dolezal stands in a yard during autumn

Contesting ruling class recuperations

For what reason have the drag performances depicted in Paris is Burning been valorized by certain hegemonic forces within 21st century American society? It should be considered whether the decision taken in late 2016 by the U.S. government’s Library of Congress to “preserve and honor” the film, while appreciable, nevertheless signals a further step towards the recuperation of the revolutionary race and sex politics the film portrays (for example, in the Marxian, abolitionist attitude it conveys through its emphasis on the liberatory sociality of the drag ball “houses” as an alternative to the coercive sociality of the patriarchal, bourgeois standard of “the family”). This recuperation is mirrored in analogue developments such as the white engineering of African-American-led imperialism at the critical moment of burgeoning unrest at the tailend of the deeply unpopular, bank-bailing regime of George W. Bush, when the U.S. government donned transracial drag, using blackface to preserve its historical white power, as well as the sanctioning of gay-tolerant militarism achieved in 2011 via the repeal of the homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Thus while the generalized upward mobility of Modern Family-esque 21st century homosexual male individuality within U.S. society via developments such as the legalization of gay marriage, based on and enabled in large part by events orchestrated by groups such as the Gay Liberation Movement and other trailblazing radical LGBTQIA+ activists required cultural subversiveness–such as the identification with “Third World” Marxists (e.g. the Gay Liberation Front’s nomenclatural identification with the National Liberation Front, which at that time was engaged in bloody armed conflict with U.S. military forces in Vietnam), the recuperation and assimilation of the traces of this subversiveness by the same forces originally targeted for subversion by subalterns signals a hegemonic counteroffensive.

But a DOLEŽAL archetype poses startling questions for the social movements in general; what do we make of white, or “formerly white”, individuals finding 21st century socio-economic success–however extravagant or modest that “success” may be–in the appropriation of Transatlantic Afro-diasporic Black identity, in the dissimulation of WASP assimilation? And while Doležal made headway in becoming a civil rights activist, does her brand of transracialism not open up the way for presumably less well-intentioned, Justin Bieber-type appropriators who would inevitably adopt this Transatlantic Afro-diasporic Black identity, to monopolize culture-linked profit ventures opened up by the development of black and gay markets and sections of the bourgeoisie? (This trend could be–indeed, has been–analyzed with elder cultural icons, such as Elvis Presley, although many efforts have been made to highlight the fact that Elvis was a Romanichal, and thus “not white”.)

While transgenderism has existed in a variety of cultures, and for a long time, it has become one of the more contentious matters which divides the contemporary gay activist community itself, most noticeable nowadays perhaps when we cleave the latter at its intersection with the so-called “TERF” (or “Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist”, a term which some argue constitutes a slur) community, comprising individuals who may or may not be of Lesbian persuasion. Let us return to the matter of so-called “TERFeminism” later on. For now, we can take notice of the fact that the gay community taking part in the balls of fin du 20ième siècle New York City was also not united in its understanding of what it meant, at that time, to be a drag queen.

The phrase “the gay community” has, by 2017, come to sound somewhat old-fashioned. During the years of the mid to late 2000s, high school Diversity Clubs and Gay-Straight Alliances, tended towards use of the acronym GLBT for “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender”, while in the 2010s the acronym LGBT has come to predominate over the former. We may suspect that this is a feminist victory because “gay” tends towards connotations of male homosexuality, and thus “gay movement” and “gay community” imply patriarchal forms, GLBT implying a gay-headed Lesbian movement. Meanwhile, the positionality of the letter T, at the end of the LGBT and GLBT acronyms shows its subordination, suggesting de-valuation of the transgender or “transsexual” community, which has long been known in part for its drag queens. Based on facts discernible in the film Paris is Burning (1990), many of the drag queens of ’80s NYC identified themselves as men who performed womanhood, and not as trans-women. An example of this is Pepper LaBeija, whose remarks in the film include: “Women get treated badly. You know, they get beat, they get robbed, they get dogged, so having the vagina, that doesn’t mean that you are going to have a fabulous life. It might in fact be worse.”

After watching Paris is Burning, my interest in learning more about the history of the U.S. gay community spiked as I recalled much of the hubbub which 21st century gay rights activism front groups for Marxist political organizations claim was roused out of the masses from the mere mention of the Stonewall Uprising, when homosexual members of the New York working classes were decisively victorious in staging a sort of insurrection due to social conflict between them, exploitative organized crime groups, and the harassive police forces. So it was around the same time that I viewed Paris is Burning that I watched another documentary film, also hosted by Youtube, that I had found about the Stonewall Uprising which occurred after an unlicensed, Mafia-rackateered gay bar called the Stonewall Inn was raided by oppressive, homophobic police. After that documentary was feasted upon by my eyes and ears, I saw a short video about five, or possibly ten, American gay riots which occurred before Stonewall, as far back as 1959, in California. From these sources, I gathered that the “gay bar” culture had really begun to spread during the 1960s. It occurred to me that, in a way, the gay bars replaced the speakeasies of the 1930s, being illegal drinking establishments which were sometimes owned by the mob. But there do exist those aficionados of the “gay bar” scene who may eschew the “homosexual lifestyle” itself, if we consider patterns of sexual relations between organisms constitutive of a lifestyle. One may also wonder about the sexuality of Italian mobsters who visited the Stonewall gay bar, if only to collect their dues. But I do question the value and legitimacy of the discourse of those individuals who advocate supporting the identity label “Queer” as a meeting point between the LGBT community and the LGBT community’s “weird” friends and then in retrospect perhaps do support the value and legitimacy of this notion, because I believe that one can, and indeed many do, frequent gay bars without necessarily having a true sentimental connaissance of homosexual desire, and therefore be identified, by some in the society in which that individual lives, as “straight”, but not the kind of “straight” that’s chill with gay bars–therefore becoming “Queer” in a way, due to proximity in the social movements historically associated with “homosexuality”, “bisexuality”, and “transsexuality”.

Trans- affinities

It had come to my attention that some of the drag queens in the film Paris is Burning were white-passing, due to the fact that in the comments section of Youtube, where Paris is Burning is hosted and available for viewing, a comment left by some forlorn internaut could be found identifying Dorian Corey, a drag queen, by the epitaph “the white drag queen”.

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In this still from Paris is Burning, we see Dorian Corey, who laments, “Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I really wanted to look like Lena Horne. When I grew, of course you know, Black stars were stigmatized. Nobody wanted to look like Lena Horne. Everybody wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe.”

Thereafter, another commenter chimed in, chiding the writer of the previous comment and asserting that Dorian Corey was African-American or Black. I’m not sure which ethnonym that commenter asserted to be applicable to Corey; perhaps they did not even identify one ethnonym or the other, but simply stated that Dorian Corey was, in fact, “not white”.

In the case of these individuals such as Dorian Corey and other lighter skinned, blue eyed “Negros” called (e.g. Walter Francis) White, it is thought that they are Black because of the One Drop Rule, which states that though they may in actuality be mainly European of ancestral extraction, they are in actuality BLACK due to the “predominance” of black blood over white blood. Frances Cress Welsing took this a step further, establishing the notion of whiteness as a genetically recessive phenomenon in her groundbreaking Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation, formalizing the pseudoscientific One Drop Rule from the standpoint of Critical Race Theory.

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Above: The original Walter White, a prominent African-American leader in the same organization as Rachel Doležal, before his name was culturally misappropriated by the father-figure actor from the American sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” in an early 21st century prestige television program about methamphetamine.


Frances Cress Welsing was a successful psychoanalyst who, alongside other luminaries who brought forth the discourse of Afrocentricity during the 1970s and 1980s, mastered the craft of psychoanalytic, and some would argue, “pseudoscientific” racial theorizing.

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Frances Cress Welsing

Though aspects of Cress Welsing’s multi-decade oeuvre could possibly be subjected to a number of sound criticisms, more deserving of recognition and attention here is one of her final nuggets of wisdom. I refer here to her astounding analytic insight into the twisted psyche of Dylan Storm Roof, the White Southerner currently on death row for having perpetrated on June 17, 2015 the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which he ended the lives of nine innocent individuals for no reason other than his white power delusion (though we must be careful not to excuse or downgrade the responsibility/despicability of white power political extremist thinking and organizing with psychopathological terminology such as “delusion”). Shortly before her death on January 2, 2016, Cress Welsing illustrated clearly with her elegant, prosaic speech that Dylan Storm Roof had a racialized sexual fetish, perhaps based in a violence-prone complex of racialized sexual inferiority, which was expressed with the symbolic re-presentation of his phallus as a large black pistol, playing up the racial stereotypes.

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Above: In this photo we see the soon-to-be lethally injected Storm Roof placing a firearm in an arguably sexually suggestive location in relation to his body, dangling it between his legs, and surrounding himself with potted flowers. Sigmund Freud advises that we should not forget that flowers are in fact the genitals of plants. Notice how the black pistol forms a graphic connection between the reproductive organs of the non-human life forms and those of Storm Roof. This racialized sexual transference–the replacement of the white penis with the black phallic object–stands as further evidence of the intersectionality of transgenderism and transracialism. Although Storm Roof’s phallic substitution does not constitute transgenderism (the pistol being a male gendered, penile object), it is transsexually transracial.


The attentive viewer of Paris is Burning will observe the interesectionality of transracialism and transgenderism, which is particularly striking in personages such as Dorian Corey (though not only). The film evidences a certain affinity between the phenomenon of gender-transitioning and that of “Negro” to “white-passing” (to “white”) transgenerational transracialism–a historical process occurring among many individuals who also happened to share an interest in transitioning themselves from being “men” into being “women”, whether permanently in day-to-day life or temporarily in the ritualized context of the balls.

The academic who prefers not to capitalize the first letters of her pen name, bell hooks, identifies the project of the drag queens depicted in Paris is Burning as simultaneously transgenderist and transracialist in “Is Paris Burning?”, a chapter in her 1996 book Reel to Real: Race Sex, and Class at the Movies:

Within the world of the black gay drag ball culture she [Livingston] depicts, the idea of womanness and femininity is totally personified by whiteness. What viewers witness is not black men longing to impersonate or even to become like “real” black women but their obsession with an idealized fetishized vision of femininity that is white. Called out in the film by Dorian Carey [sic], who names it by saying no black drag queen of his day wanted to be Lena Horne, he makes it clear that the femininity most sought after, most adored, was that perceived to be the exclusive property of white womanhood.

But let us consider why, on the most basic level, this affinity exists.

As evidenced by their common prefix, it can be remarked that transgender and transracial peoples are fundamentally alike for one essential reason: they are in transition. One transitions from a gender; the other, from a race. Like drag performers, they also commit what is viewed as transgression by transcending the limitations socially imposed on their assigned identity.

There are some significant differences between the phenomena of gender and race transitioning. One is that the gender transition takes place within the course of a lifetime, affecting primarily the individual, while the racial transition described here is transgenerational, affecting collectivities such as clans and family units, as in the fictional examples of Peola or Neil Kingsblood.

Transgenerational transracialism is the story of coercive assimilation to white supremacist society, which explains why more members of the Afro-diasporic population in the U.S. now identify, or perhaps are identified by others, as “white” than as “black”. That is to say that, despite both the One Drop Rule and Cress Welsing’s notion of white genetic recessivity, so-called “interracial” sexual-reproductive relations (or “miscegenation”) have in fact caused more individuals among the U.S. population which is of varying degrees of mixed European and African ancestry to be identified as “white” (or “passing”?) than as Black. This is made possible by the white supremacist drive of bourgeois anti-culture, which also introduces “colorism” into the heart of the Black community. It seems more of a question of cultural assimilation than a would-be problem of “genetic drift”; the hegemonic white patrons of Western colonialism seemed to catch on symbolically, with many more Littles and Clays than Xs and Alis coming to predominate over the Afro-diasporic populace. However, this white supremacist push to transgenerationally assimilate “minorities” cannot be resolved with a superficial change in the way of thinking about racial identity, such as by merely instructing these white-passing, distantly Afro-diasporic masses to accept themselves as “genuinely” Black due to their existence being the direct result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. That’s why it is also important to render cultural practices such as aesthetic skin bleaching taboo, and to diminish sentiments of racial fetishization of whiteness as a desired sex characteristic by giving due value and implementation to notions such as black pride and beautifulness. Only then will the current historically-based form of Transatlantic Racialized Slave and Master Social Classes discrimination be overcome. The hard cores (aka nucleos duros or asilis) of each national, or ethno-cultural, archetype will survive for some time in a mosaic fashion within the united global world economy, even as this develops into an environment of total cultural egalitarianism. What “white people” have to understand is that whiteness is not so much an ethno-cultural expression, but a tool of capitalist coercion which censors such expressions.

Some leftist writers implicitly suggest that Karl Marx himself was “transrace”. In “On the Social Ontology of ‘Race’ — Was Karl Marx White? And Is He?” Steve Darcy at The Public Autonomy Project essentially argues that, given 19th century Europe’s racial othering of Ashkenazic Jewry, Marx was perceived as racially “Other” in his day, but given the near-consensus among 21st century individuals that Ashkenazic Jewry is encapsulated by “whiteness”, Marx has therefore become a transracial subject, having been non-white during his own lifetime while nevertheless being now (rightly?) considered a “dead white male”. I would, however, contest the notion that Marx’s epitaph should read “dead white male”, any more than Dorian Corey’s ought to, because if we accept the previous half of this argument (i.e., that Marx was perceived as racially “other” during the 19th century, considered as something analogous to what might today be called “a person of color”), then he should still be understood, as a historical personage, with that fact in mind. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Karl Marx was perhaps of African descent, his family having called him by the nickname “the Moor” due to “his dark complexion”.

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Drawing of a young Karl Marx, whose nickname “the Moor” is said to have reflected his physiognomy.

Darcy’s consideration of Karl Marx as transrace is analogous to the way in which drag queens such as Dorian Corey may be perceived by ignorant early 21st century viewers of Paris is Burning as belonging to another “race” than the one with which they were identified by populaces of late 20th century New York (or by more knowledgeable individuals of our time who are aware of the historico-cultural context in which the film’s personages lived). In this perspective, it is clear that transracialism exhibits a high degree of contingency upon historico-contextualization. Ironically, the Youtube commenter who thought Dorian Corey was a white person, seemed to somehow discount the very point Corey tries to make in the film about the other drag queens identifying more with the white Marilyn Monroe than the black Lena Horne. Corey seemed to view the transracial aspect of the drag queens’ aspiration as pathological. Corey informs us that, “In a ballroom you can be anything you want”, but signals disdainfulness for the fact that most wanted to be white. This white supremacist drive has other bizarre manifestations, such as a whole sub-genre of hypnotic videos, also available on Youtube, featuring low-frequency and binaural sounds to help individuals “get pale white skin” (trigger warning: deeply unsettling).

Let’s return now briefly to the previously mentioned issue of the divide which exists among and/or between the members and supporters of LGBTQIA+ communities and a certain type of women’s movement activist labelled, usually by critics of this line, as the “trans-exclusive radical feminist”.

An interesting selection of facts begins to emerge when we cross-analyze LGBTQIA+ discourses and so-called “TERF” discourses, along with those of another group often allied with the latter, the “SWERF” (or, “Sex Workers Exclusive Radical Feminists”, another term which those to whom it is applied often deride as a stigmatic exonym, similar perhaps to calling advocates of reproductive rights “anti-life” instead of “pro-choice”). It appears that while transphobia can and does exist among homophiles, it is less likely, although not impossible, for homophobia to exist among transphiles. It is, on the other hand, still quite possible that misogyny exists among transphilic homophiles. We get this sense of homophilic transphobia a bit in Paris is Burning, when some of the gay drag queens vehemently dispute the notion that they would become “girls” or “women”. In this light, the ’80s NYC gay community involved in the ball and voguing scene might be seen as sexually fueling the capitalist sex trafficking trade, because these transgender and gay male drag queens served to increase the liberation of individuals from the sex economic repression of the moral mainstream of society, which in turn liberalized and enhanced the sexual marketplace, the figure of the trans-woman scarcely separable from the trans-woman-philic straight male sex commodifier, whom members of the heteronormative society deride as homosexual, not accepting the trans-woman as a “real” woman, whom the “TER” feminists chastise for re-inforcing gender roles as opposed to transcending them.

The TERF and SWERF critique of “transgender-ism” thus replicates the critique of certain social justice advocates against Rachel Doležal’s brand of “transracialism”; if the goal is to abolish gender, then the goal is surely to abolish race as well. This proposes a bit of a problem however because we could anticipate that different tensions might arise from the proposal to mold all of the world’s peoples into some pan-human descendent kin. If we take the Noel Ignatievian notion of “racial abolitionism” at face value, that we must “abolish the white race”, there is a real tension between, on the one hand, the idea that this racial abolitionism is largely metaphorical, and that by superficially changing our ways of thinking and behaving, we remove our socially constructed racial identifications although the pan-human descendants will continue to display a range of physiognomies relatively similar to that which exists now, and on the other hand, the idea that privileged sections of “First World” populaces will need to be deported en masse to more egalitarian environments in the so-called “Global South”, where the formerly privileged are likely to perceive egalitarianism as social subordination until the consciousness of their descendants has been altered to fully accept the abolition of white supremacy. If we accept the One-Drop Rule-esque Color-Confrontation Theory of Frances Cress Welsing, then we must admit that the transition of humanity’s descendants to a pan-human kinship will preserve human blackness while eradicating whiteness. The premise of this proposition (that the abolition of racism, combined with white genetic recessivity, results in the abolition of an oppressive social construct disguised as an ethno-cultural group known as “white people” but not in the abolition of “black people”) should perhaps be reconsidered, because it forms the entire basis of anti-miscegenationist hysteria and the neo-Nazi ethos.

The “Homosexuality” of White Supremacist Thought and Behavior

A bitter irony of the white supremacist (also known as “America First-ist”) and/or neo-Nazi worldview is that Nazism, or white racism in general, is actually fundamentally premised on Homosexuality. I know this is a startling claim, but I will explain why this is so in the text which follows.

Nazism creates the sexual fetish of race, proclaiming the Aryan-on-Aryan action needed to create a HOMO-genous racial community, a volk based on the HOMO-sexual love which one Aryan man feels for one Aryan woman, and vice versa. Now that we have established Nazism as a sort of homosexual ideology, we can also observe that it nevertheless incorporates heterosexuality on the gender plane of desire. This contradiction is possible because semi-autonomous planes of sexual desire rely on many basic features of the human body and identity which can be exploited for the Twoness principle: masculinity, femininity, blackness, whiteness. The only difference between the gender and racial planes of sexual desire though is that, gender being historically and culturally linked to sex (and until the emergence of gender theory, essentially synonymous), gender preference in sexual orientation cannot be rightly considered a “fetish”, while sexual orientations axed around preferences with regard to the race or ethnicity of potential sexual partners are fetishistic, because ethnicity is not an intrinsically sexual feature, or at least not linked to sex in the same way as gender. Nevertheless, the reproduction of racial identity groupings (e.g. “white people”) relies on sexual reproduction, so the anti-miscegenationist, the white supremacist, nationalist, neo-Nazi, or “alt rightist” sexualizes white skin and other physical features associated with pseudoscientific “white” racial identity, turning these features into sex characteristics. The emergence of the term “cuckservative” or “cuck” as a neo-Nazi or alt-right insult for rival white nationalists (or rather, conservative U.S. nationalists/American patriots who just so happen to be white, such as Jeb Bush, for example) who do not embrace anti-miscegenationism, which “[alludes] to a genre of porn in which passive white husbands watch their wives have sex with black men” also demonstrates the sexually fetishistic nature of this ideology’s fixations.

Culturally, an important divide within the right-wing white people community exists between advocates of Christian identity, who believe that “white people” are “a lost tribe of Israel”, and those such as Augustus Sol Invictus, Varg Vikernes, etc. who reject “Judaeo-Christianity”, embracing instead efforts to construct a new Eurocentric pseudo-spirituality by appropriating aspects of the pagan mythologies of pre-Christian Europe, sometimes combined with Satanism–(there are also those such as Michael Aquino and Richard Spencer who do the same thing but, in an even more blatantly culturally misappropriative manner, construct their Eurocentric pseudo-spiritualities around African, namely Kemetic, mythology [See: “Temple of Set” and “Cult of Kek”]). This can be quite revealing about the racially fetishistic homosexual nature of white supremacists, because the ancient peoples of the arbitrarily delineated landmass known today as “Europe” were known for valorizing homosexual relations. In Plato’s Symposium (circa 380 BC), the Ancient Greek man Pausanias, known for being the lover of the male poet Agathon, distinguishes between two forms of love.

Pausanias maintained that there exist:

  • (1) Common Love, or Popular Love, which occurs between a man and a woman, and
  • (2) Celestial Love, which is homosexual and exclusively male.

In Ancient Greek culture, the hegemonic belief was that men were superior to women, and therefore the homosexual love between two superior, male beings was superior to, and spiritually more powerful than heterosexual love, occurring between a superior and an inferior being (i.e. a man and a woman). Nazism inherits this same paradigm, sublimating only one minor aspect of it (transferring the operation from the gender plane of sexual attraction to the racial plane of sexual fetishism), in considering racially homosexual unions of white couples superior to the racially heterosexual unions between members of the so-called “master race” and the supposedly “inferior races”. In the modern iteration, this form of homosexuality is encouraged through the policies of white supremacist leaders such as Obama, who deported more foreigners from the United States than any other president, and Trump, whose recent short-lived ban on millions of racially “othered” foreigners from the possibility of entering the United States served to reinforce diminution of the chances that the insular people of the Fortress-like white supremacist state will encounter “inferior” peoples and procreate with them.

Another indication of late-stage Nazism’s indebtedness to the supremacist ideal of Celestial Love is hinted at in the former’s advocacy of transracialism. The neo-Nazi David Myatt, founder and predominant theorist of the eugenics-cum-human sacrifice advocating Satanic cult called “the Order of Nine Angles”–analysed in my treatise “What is Net-Centric Warfare?”–calls for the transformation of Homo sapiens into something he dubs “Homo Galactica”, a so-called “master race”. Like Pausanias’ Celestial Love, Myatt’s Homo Galactica advocates supremacist unions and alludes to outer space, suggesting a “heavenly” outcome for those who engage the superior sexual practice. Only the gender supremacist aspect of “Celestial Love” has been swapped for racial supremacism in the “Homo Galactica” master race fantasy.

The appearance of homophobia among white supremacists is a point of tension, and perhaps an Achilles’ heel to their ideology, because, like the white-passing characters in Kingsblood Royal and Imitation of Life, the exposition of the homosexual genesis of their doctrine may inspire terror in the neo-Nazi psyche, threatening to bring it shame and embarrassment. The fascist repression of homosexuality expressed through homophobia and anti-LGBT bigotry has traditionally been, in the final analysis, deemed necessary in order to sublimate the drive of “standard” homosexuality (especially male-on-male “Celestial Love”) into the racial (white-on-white) homosexuality required for the fulfillment of the “Fourteen Words” (i.e., the neo-Nazi ethos).  In this case (in which the fulfillment of modern Christian white racial homosexuality is predicated upon the sublimation of ancient pagan gender homosexuality), the elimination of the homophilia taboo from the gender plane of desire may erode in part the basis for coercing individuals into compliance with the white supremacist value of homophilia on the racial plane of desire.

On the other hand, the recent attempt by sections of the far-right to give neo-Nazism a facelift not only by rebranding it as the “alt-right”, but also taking a slight step back from machismo and “traditional” heterosexual masculinity (e.g. confluence of the alt-right with so-called “beta” masculinity, or the emergence of misogynistic, anti-feminist “men’s rights activist [MRA]” gay men) is revealing of a rapprochement between neo-Nazism and homosexuality, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by many of those who have begun to study this iteration of “information age” neo-Nazism. The attempt of sections of the alt-right to revive the ancient principle of male supremacist “Celestial Love” is another instance of recuperation and fascist subversion, capitalizing on advances made by the Left in the sphere of gay rights to serve oppression by attempting to force a realignment of gay men to stand on the side of the oppressors, in the U.S. military and corporate world, alongside adherents of white male bourgeois supremacy. Still, “traditional” white supremacy’s basis in racial homosexuality can easily lead white supremacists of the more “traditional” (anti-gay) variety to slip into practices which would be perceived as “homosexual” in the common understanding of that term. In that regard, the instauration of a “Celestial Love”-grounded white male supremacist movement, whose embryo can be located within the emergent neo-Nazi alt-right is a natural ideological development, making sense from the standpoint of dialectical materialism. This happens because the fetishistic sexualization of white skin, a non-sex trait which has been transformed into a sex trait within the white supremacist ideological framework, leads the white nationalist to be constantly in search of desirable sex characteristics in potential brethren with whom he seeks to form reactionary political movements to ensure the continued sexual reproduction of the so-called “white race”. The singular devotion to the ideal of whiteness, combined with the de-valuation of feminism common in white supremacist circles, leads the male neo-Nazis to view whiteness tout court as the primary object of desire, a sex characteristic of unmatched importance.

Although it is true that the most vehement producers of homophobic discourses almost always simultaneously grapple with the repression of their own latent homosexual desire, it would be incredibly misguided to invoke the openly racially homosexual and consequently latently gay nature of white supremacists to augment homophobic discourse by trying to dress up anti-LGBT bigotry as antifascist. Our praxis must incorporate the consideration that within the fascist camp there exist two antagonistic premises, which must both be combatted: the homophobia which racially homosexual Nazism has traditionally favored (seen for example in the fact that gays were also victimized by the Holocaust) as well as the misogynistic gender homophilia of the pre-Christian Europeans (e.g. Pausanias) to which the modern Eurocentric, racially sex homophilic ideology is indebted and reconciling with.

A tragic setback for gay liberation occurred in the early part of the 20th century in part because of the confusion aroused by Nazism’s reconciliation–then in its infancy–with the male supremacist homosexuality valorized by pre-Christian Europeans. The nascent Soviet Union had already begun establishing gay rights at this time, but the homosexual militarism of Ernst Röhm, Hitler’s closest friend and a gay man, and many of the Nazis at the highest echelons of the political hierarchy of 1930s Germany, provided ample fodder for homophobes to slander the gay community of the young Soviet Union as fascist sympathizers, inhibiting thus progress in lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and questioning spheres as well. This setback for the social and sexual revolution under the Bolsheviks stands as ample evidence of the deterioration of the quality of the revolutionary vanguard hegemony within the Communist political party under the homophobic leadership of Joseph Stalin, who directed many politically and ideologically illiterate people to enroll as members of what was meant to be the most advanced segment of the populace in terms of social woke-ness, the Communist Party.

Conclusions

Transgender and transrace individuals both must deal with similar emotions. Shame and terror are key among these. Transrace characters like Sinclair Lewis’s Neil Kingsblood and Fannie Hurst’s Peola on the one hand are terrorized by the fear of being made to feel disgrace and shame through having their identification with a stigmatized racial grouping exposed, while transrace individuals like Rachel Doležal perhaps feel similar emotions in being exposed as identifying with Black culture despite lack of Transatlantic Afro-diasporic ancestry. It hardly needs to be said why transgender individuals are also terrorized, given these transphobic societies we live in, which double terrorization for trans people of color, such as the unjustly incarcerated CeCe McDonald.

In terms of trans-modernity, the neo-fin de siècle society depicted in Paris is Burning seems to sit at an interesting threshold. In a way, late 20th century New York was like The Matrix, waiting to be “red-pilled” by–you guessed it–“Nine / Eleven”! After 9/11, everything changed. Mechanized police forces began to pummel the alter-globalizationists with lacrimogen–oh no–wait, they did that before 9/11… Ah well, 9/11 accelerated shit, allowing CIA director Bush’s son to enact some slick new imperial machinations. Similarly, while trans-modernity emphasizes the notion that we really shouldn’t get too carried away with trying to pinpoint the location of a postmodern rupture with modernity, the trans- affinities the film highlights do nevertheless resonate in an uncanny way on any historical timeline that might be constructed with them in mind. Transmodernity is suggestive of a process moving beyond modernity in a way that the notion of postmodernism falsely locates in the past. Similarly, transgenderism and transracialism suggest processes, not necessarily of transitioning from one race or one gender into another, but of moving beyond binary traps. Transracialism and transgenderism need not be predicated upon the maintenance of gendered and racialized core “types”, such as the “African” and the “European” or the “gentleman” and the “lady”.

If we apply the same bifurcating logic which premises transraciality and transgenderism to the title of Livingston’s documentary itself, its complement must be that Kinshasa is Cool, because Kinshasa is the second most populated city of the French-speaking world. These form thus the yin and yang of La Francophonie. The Eurocentricity of this equation, erasing the presence of Lingala and other indigenous Congolese tongues, resonates with the tendency which certain critics of the transracialism and transgenderism depicted in Paris is Burning (such as bell hooks) claim exists for these to be too soft on white supremacy and patriarchy abolitionism, being happy to simply gain privilege and power by transitioning from black to white, from sad and destitute poor gay boy to spoiled rich straight girl. The resonance of Paris is Burning is felt in the late period with musical hits like “Ni**as in Paris” by Jay Z and Kanye West. The city of Paris seems to evoke in the Western, American mind in some ways a liberatory and also aristocratic lifeway, with sexualized and racialized as well as Orientalist aspects, as in the lyrics of one of the most common variants of “The Streets of Cairo” (i.e., “There’s a place in France, where the naked ladies dance”).

The question of transraciality also arises in the Rromani community with regard to the relationship between groups of Rromani individuals contrastively characterized as Kashtalo and Pakivalo by some Rroma, such as blogger Cîrpaci Marian Nuțu, who describes this relationship in terms evocative of antagonism or parasitism. This could be an interesting starting point for another comparative analysis, given the similarities in the development of racism in slave societies during early capitalist modernity on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the systematic enslavement of Rroma had already taken root in the Ottoman-dominated provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia (which formed the basis of the modern Romanian state) during the pre-Columbian period, the formation of the Black Atlantic identity was several centuries retarded in comparison to that of Rromani identity, giving Rromani identity more time to be attacked with racialist goals of diffusion and dissipation. These efforts to eradicate Rromani identity are the source of the name Kashtalo (meaning “wooden” in Rromanes [the Rromani language]) in reference to persons of Rromani ethnicity who do not have knowledge of the Rromani language. During the period of enslavement, Rromani castes were often delineated occupationally, with wood-working Rroma being one caste which stopped speaking Rromanes, so the Pakivale rroms, who did manage to keep speaking Rromanes, are regarded by some as more “authentic” Rroma than the Kashtale, whose transraciality pushes them to the verge, if not past the point, of becoming gadze (non-Rroma). Cîrpaci, the previously cited blogger, accuses Rromani NGO’s of underrepresenting the Pakivale, and overrepresenting the Kashtale, whom he insinuates exercise a deceptive degree of fluidity when it comes to either dissimulating or owning up to Rromani or “Gypsy/tsigan” identity based on convenience.

Future social and political movements are likely to necessarily be inclusive of individuals whose subjectivities are shaped by a variety of trans* processes operating in the realms not only of sexuality and gender, but also intergenerational and transgenerational ones operating in the sphere of ethnic or racial belonging, while in the same time providing space for a variety of perspectives informed by both critical race theory and gender critical theory, including those critical of the kind of “transracialism” exemplified by the case of Rachel Doležal, which is not a transgenerational phenomenon but occurs within the lifetime of an individual. Just as the transformation of one thing into another, like Marxian dialectics, requires room for contradiction, so too should social movements be big enough to, in their unity, house contradictions. The goal of the political left is to usher in the demise of capitalist wage slavery and imperialist oppression via solidarity among individuals, to transit the final phases of modernity, and we begin to think forward to our collective transcendence into a communist civilization whose quality is quintessentially postmodern. Meanwhile, in this transmodern era of socialism we remain haunted by the outputs of modernity which live and die all around us in the same time.

ALL WORKS CITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR USE.
**Update, 17 September 2017** : After publishing this article, I received both positive and negative feedback from persons in online spaces dedicated to both transgender as well as gender critical or “trans critical” communities. Some in the former were averse to so much as entertaining the thought of a trans*-informed analysis of Rachel Doležal, while some in the latter did not appreciate that, despite having used scare-quotes to signal a degree of skepticism when introducing the term, I referenced a discourse as being known as “trans exclusive” or “TERF”. I have edited the text to better reflect that, not unlike the use of “trans cult” to describe trans* activism and culture, this term is understood by many of those to whom it is applied to constitute a term of abuse, in addition to clarifying a couple of thoughts in the conclusion of this piece.

Remembering Sun Ra: (Not a Jazz ‘Man’, but an Antiwar Hero)

“You can’t say you a man. sun_raIf you do, you’re filthy and abominable. And you can’t say you’re a man because if you do you’re like the beast that perishes.”

– Sun Ra

In this article, we will take a look at the life of the African-American musician Le Sony’r Ra (1914-1993), better known by his stage name, Sun Ra, and the opposition to war he exhibited throughout his life, through the contextual prism of current events.


These days, it’s easy to fall under the impression that intensification of imperialist war barely disguised as a humanitarian ‘last resort’ is not just inevitable, but what’s necessary, correct, and just. Across the media and the political spectrum, the supposed righteousness of state-sponsored, socially-sanctioned, extrajudicial killing is being beaten like a drum loud and louder into our collective mind. You’d think maybe ‘we’ would’ve learned something after the debacle of the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’, but no.

Last Friday the 13th, a mass casualty incident in Paris succeeded in arousing a widespread outpouring of proclamations of sympathy for victims of terrorism and, perhaps more tellingly, belief in and solidarity with ‘universal’ values, which recent bloodbaths of a similar nature in Ankara, Beirut, and elsewhere failed to elicit, the saturation of social media with tricolore profile pics testifying to this fact. Conveniently ignoring the massacre in Paris on October 17th, 1961 of perhaps well over 200 North African immigrants, the selectively amnesic capitalist mass media has widely and erroneously billed the Paris mass casualty incident of November the 13th as “the deadliest violence to strike France since WWII.”  Sadly, we’ll never know the precise number of those murdered by Parisian police on October 17th, 1961 since, even when murderous imperialists do acknowledge that they’ve committed crimes against humanity, they “don’t do body counts.” The incident inspired ‘Socialist’ French president François Hollande to declare a ‘state of emergency’, strengthening not only the repressive state apparatus, but also the ideological state apparatuses (by giving the state the power to ‘control’ media). Since then, the ‘state of emergency’ has been extended for at least three more months, the president is calling for reforms to the constitution, and the government has even gone so far as to announce that it will be dispensing with the European Convention on Human Rights. (But don’t worry; human rights lawyers and NGO industrialists assure us that only non-fundamental, alienable, and violable so-called ‘rights’ like due process, privacy, and freedom of movement will be affected. It’s not a carte-blanche to do “whatever”; “human rights violations will simply be judged with more flexibility.” And plenty of other states have already long undone the adage that all rights are “interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible.”)

Meanwhile, in America, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush: everyone agrees, it’s time to contain, degrade, and ultimately destroy these Islamist mofos, they tell ya hwat. Turn on Fox News and you’ll hear folks like Tucker Carlson, Geraldo Rivera, and all the rest of those propagandist pieces of shit railing on about the need to annihilate the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.’ Tune in to MSNBC and you can hear the same thing, interspersed with timid warnings about why it’s bad to scapegoat migrants. Self-proclaimed anti-imperialists cheerlead the Russian bombing campaign in Syria, and anarchists praise Kurdish fighters, who now collaborate with the U.S. No matter where you stand, it’s virtually never a question of whether or not to wage war, but how aggressive ‘we’ must be in waging war.

On November 20th, 2015, one week after the mass casualty incident in Paris, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding the entire world join in on the action, seemingly indicating that the ‘War on Terror’ may be escalated to heretofore untold epic proportions and comfortingly promising of a temporary surge in mass casualty incidents which will in the long term reduce the number and frequency of mass casualty incidents.

“This world, with American leadership, can and must come together to destroy [ISIS and Al-Qaeda].” –Bernie Sanders at the 2nd Democratic Debate

It was a little easier to be anti-war about a decade ago; with George W. Bush in charge and waging a war in Iraq that was a bit more blatantly based on criminal pretexts, a more active social movement against militarism meant that there were more sizeable numbers of folks with whom one could link up and plot disruptions of the war machine. In certain milieus it seemed everybody loathed ‘Dubya’. There was a popular meme from those years called “same shit, different asshole,” featuring George W. Bush juxtaposed with Adolf Hitler. I myself managed to, using black permanent marker, draw Hitler moustaches on a poster-sized photo of President Bush which one of my high school teachers, a one time Republican representative in state legislature, kept in his classroom. Hilarious to me at the time, the teacher didn’t seem to notice this unsubtle, perhaps juvenile détournement, since it stayed that way for months. But then, the managers of U.S. Empire elected a new approach public relations: white power in black face. Nobel peace prizes delivered by drones simmered down the anti-war movement quite a bit, but it wasn’t long before the cult of LaRouche had its Hitler Obama posters out. Of course, comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are far from cutting-edge. From reductio ad Hitlerum to Godwin’s Law, Nazifying one’s enemies has, for over 60 years, been a convenient and sometimes powerful rhetorical device; one that even the U.S. government itself employs in propaganda against its current boogeyman, an apparent enemy whose mediatized wickedness is bordering on, if not surpassing, comic book levels.

In an article entitled “The Islamic State and the Cynicism of Nazi Analogies”, Natasha Lennard highlights a fact which we will reiterate here: “the subtext of any Nazi comparison by a US official is to invoke a moral obligation to engage militarily.” Nevermind that the United States of America was the primary exporter of eugenics to Germany, or that American industrialists were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler, that its most beloved amusement park was the brainchild of a goddamn Nazi, that the US actively deported German Jews and would-be Holocaust survivors to Europe, and only entered into the Second World War as a result of a rival imperialist power’s attack on what had less than fifty years earlier been an independent country which Theodore Roosevelt declared to be arbitrarily granted to the USA by ‘manifest destiny.’ WWII was ‘The Good War’, the ultimate just war, “a morally clear-cut conflict between Good and Evil.”

It’s not exactly hard to sympathize with the draft dodgers of the genocidal Vietnam War, but to evade conscription during World War II? That could potentially be scandalous. Surely everyone has a duty to stop fascism. “No Gook ever called me a Nigger,” a popular Vietnam era slogan went; but plenty of Krauts did call the local African diaspora, whom they subjected to forced sterilization, ‘Rhineland bastards.’ Evil shit indeed. Perhaps there was no other time when it was more difficult to be anti-war in the USA than during the Second World War. Though the First World War had its Espionage and Sedition Acts, it was a blatantly inter-imperialist war. But out of the First World War emerged the Bolshevik Revolution, and so the former revolutionary defeatists had some semblance of a stake to defend in the Second. And recent and current U.S. wars have been fought by an all volunteer military, so it doesn’t take a lot of guts to refuse to fight these days.

Le Sony’r Ra, better known by his stage name, Sun Ra, nicknamed Sonny, leader of the Intergalactic Myth-Science Solar Arkestra, is best remembered for his prolific jazz career and pioneering role in the genesis of afrofuturism. However, he was also a conscientious objector to war, for which he is far less remembered. Little public record of this episode of Sun Ra’s life existed until the publication of John Szwed’s 1998 biography Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (not to be confused with the 1974 blaxploitation sci-fi film Space is the Place, which stars Ra). Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914, Sun Ra was drafted into the US military in 1942. This marked the beginning of an ordeal which would eventually lead to his jailing in Alabama and internment in a forced labor camp in the middle of a forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. Known as Camp No. 48, it was part of a theocratic gulag system administered by the Civilian Public Service (CPS) from 1941 to 1947, consisting in total of 152 camps and smaller urban ‘units’ across the United States.

Sun Ra couched his resistance to participation in the war in Christian rhetoric, despite lacking membership in any church. This was probably the best bet for anyone seeking recognition as a conscientious objector, as morally-grounded exemptions from forced transformation into a human killing machine were, since the First World War, effectively limited to followers of the ‘historic peace churches’: Quakers and Anabaptist sects (i.e., Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Schwarzenau Brethren). Furthermore, it was not until the 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Gillette v. United States that the possibility would be opened up of conscientious objection based outside of affiliation with a “well-recognized religious sect or organization whose existing creed or principles forbid its members to participate in war in any form” (i.e., ‘historic peace churches’–Quakers or Anabaptists). Gillette called his religious belief ‘Humanism.’ The ‘historic peace churches’ hold state-sanctioned violence as contrary to Christian morality. As religious movements, they were originally conceived in Northern Europe and in North America are rooted in overwhelmingly white congregations. This effectively barred African-Americans from being conscientious objectors. As Sun Ra would note during his draft ordeal, “[my case] has embittered me to such an extent that I am wondering whether a Negro has the right to be a Christian or whether it is even remotely possible that any white man can ever be expected to deal fairly with my race.” During the First World War, conscripted members of these congregations were forced either into ‘noncombatant’ military service or prison, where some were tortured and extrajudicially killed. It was the leaders of these churches, who had united to form the National Council for Religious Conscientious Objectors, and shortly thereafter merged with the Civilian Service Board to become the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO), in response to the Selective Service and Training Act of 1940, who actually concocted the plan to set up a network of forced labor camps under their control as a more desirable alternative to either ‘noncombatant’ military service or imprisonment. Camp No. 48, where Sun Ra was interned, was administrated by the Church of the Brethren.

Initially (and surprisingly, since he was not affiliated with a church), the government recognized Sun Ra as a conscientious objector, and the local draft board informed him that he would be granted the right to be detained in a remote forced labor camp as an alternative to military service. But for Sun Ra the musician, the church-run civilian gulag was no more desirable an alternative than ‘noncombatant’ military service or prison. As he appealed this decision, he was in communication with pacifist organizations and the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO), whose members were more sympathetic to his case than those of the local draft board. In one of these correspondences, he writes:

My orchestra and the management of it, the arranging and composing, the rehearsing, the developing of potential talent, that is my work and the only earthly pleasure I love. To separate me from music would be more cruel than standing me by a wall and shooting me. I think I would prefer the latter. I hope you understand why I am so staunchly against being in any kind of camp where one must live according to certain rules and regulations and requirements. If it were possible to be in civilian life and be of help I would appreciate greatly this consideration.

In addition to his dedication to his orchestra and his religious objections to killing, Le Sony’r Ra was financially supporting one of his relatives through his musical work, and he was in a poor state of physical health, which made the kind of manual labor required at the work camp dangerous for him. Nevertheless (and despite having been cited Paragraph 652.11 of the Selective Service Regulations which the NSBRO had informed Sun Ra supported his exemption), the all-white local draft board ordered Herman Poole Blount to render himself to Camp No. 48, approximately 850 miles from his home, on December 8, 1942. When Sun Ra informed the draft board that he “would probably not show up at the designated time,” they threatened him with jail. Reporting back to the NSBRO how the local board had handled his appeal, he writes, “Gandhi, Stalin, Christ, and a lot of people who fought for right know of jail.”

As Szwed explains in The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (1998), Sun Ra was shunned by most of his family for his refusal to go and fight the Axis powers. But Ra quite rightly identified the fascist-imperialist ideology as occupying not only Europe and Asia, but also the Deep South he lived in. In his correspondences with the NSBRO, he admonishes the local draft board for “smack[ing] of Hitlerism,” and snatches the wig off of domestic inequities when he writes, “Unfortunately, I am not living in a part of the U.S. but more a section which seems a member of the Axis and which is determined that no Negro will ever receive justice.”

Shortly before Sun Ra’s arrest and forced relocation, Szwed informs us that,

On December 2, he received a sympathetic note from J. N. Weaver, head of the Camp Section of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors, telling him that he would be given another physical examination when he reached the camp, and that he would be discharged if he was not physically qualified. He concluded, “I suggest that you report to camp and we shall do everything in our power to see that you get justice.”

On December 8 Sonny failed to appear at CPS Camp No. 48. A week later they came after him, and took him away to holding rooms set aside for malingerers and subversives at the old post office building not far from his house. His family, still humiliated and angry, refused to have anything to do with him. Only his brother Robert’s wife and daughter came to visit him, where they found him spending his days writing letters to his bedridden great-aunt, the FBI, and President Roosevelt.

One can hardly fault Sun Ra for declining to travel across the country for a physical examination. Three counties southeast of Birmingham, Alabama lies Macon County, where the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments had begun ten years earlier, in 1932, and would continue for another thirty years, until 1972. These experiments, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on rural and impoverished African-American men, are remembered as some of the sickest, most fucked up cases of unethical human experimentation carried out by the U.S. government. Black sharecroppers were left with untreated syphilis treatment so that Public Health Service researchers could observe the deadly effects of the curable disease. When some of these human guinea pigs were, like Herman P. Blount, drafted into the military during World War II, draft boards began notifying the men to take penicillin treatment for the disease following physical examinations which were a routine part of induction, only to be prevented from doing so by the Public Health Service.

After he was arrested, Sun Ra remained in jail for 39 days until he was forcibly relocated to Camp 48 in desolate Marienville, Pennsylvania. Szwed writes that “camp life was a daily routine of forestry work followed by evenings of rest, discussions of religious matters, and reading. (…) The camp at Marienville was not segregated, and for the first time in his life [Sun Ra] had daily contact with white people, and he joined in the nightly discussions of the evils of war and the morality of resistance.” Arriving at Camp 48 in early February 1943, Sun Ra’s health rapidly deteriorated under the forced manual labor regime. “Suffering heart palpitations, headaches, backaches, stomachaches, and (…) paralysis on his left side,” he complained to the camp director until he was finally granted medical examinations and the camp’s doctor and psychiatrist both “recommended him for immediate discharge for reasons of physical disability.” At last, in late March 1943, he was set free, classified as a bona fide conscientious objector.

A little over a year after his ordeal had begun, Sun Ra wrote again to the National Service Board of Religious Objectors to request a subscription to their newsletter. “Certain of a sympathetic audience,” Szwed writes, “he went on to talk of morality, and the role of teacher he was assuming in civilian life:”

At all my band rehearsals I talk to the fellows and try to make them see the point of knowing and admitting to oneself whether he is right or wrong and how fine it is to know the ecstasy of being right. Due to many aspects which discourage, the young Afro-American often loses initiative and other valuable principles of life

I never speak of conscience, which makes them listen more eagerly as they think I will. I am beginning to wonder if conscience isn’t like intellect–you either have it or you don’t. The majority of people in the world don’t think, they dodge social problems and many other things which puncture their ego. Is it because they don’t have the brain? Some of them, maybe? Then what about the conscience? … Sometimes I think it is an abnormality to want to help others and to care about anything but self. The world is so selfish that sometimes I don’t care whether I live or die. I’ve tried to be selfish and unthinking, conscienceless, but I can’t.

Since the U.S. military no longer recruits via conscription, the law regarding conscientious objectors is, for now, seemingly irrelevant. But this is actually not such a fortunate thing as it might seem, as what it truly signifies is that there is a large pool of dumbasses who think that Call of Duty or Ghost Recon gameplay and plotlines resemble reality or that spending a couple years as a conscienceless killing machine is a great way to “pay for college” and “get professional experience”, or more desirable than working in a low wage job or being homeless or even suicide.

Unlike another famous so-called, would-be ‘conscientious objector’ named Bernie Sanders, Sun Ra was, legally speaking, an actual conscientious objector. This is because U.S. law on conscientious objectors, clarified by the previously mentioned Gillette v. United States (1971) case, holds that conscientious objectors must be opposed to war in any form. In other words, they have to oppose all war in general, and not only one or more particular war(s). While Sanders refused to fight in the Vietnam War, he later went on to endorse wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Gaza, and now, as if that wasn’t enough to permanently tarnish his reputation as some kind of antiwar icon, displays his warmonger credentials by proclaiming that “[the] military option [against Iran] is always a possibility,” and hypocritically calls on the young people of the Middle East to fight as U.S. surrogates in Syria and Iraq while at the same time claiming to “get very upset at people who are so prepared to send other people’s kids into that war.” Sun Ra, on the other hand, had a lasting conscience, exemplified by work from his later years such as “Nuclear War” (1982).

Late 1942 and early 1943 were surely a transformative time in the life of Herman “Sonny” P. Blount. His avant-garde efforts to assert his civil and human rights and to resist war during those years deserve more recognition.


If you were not familiar with Sun Ra or this episode in his life, then you have never read Raving Radicals Bathed in Blax, my 21st century proletarian novel which is also a satirical geopolitical thriller, because in it Sun Ra makes numerous appearances. In Raving Radicals, I have taken a few creative liberties. Unlike the real Sun Ra, who claimed to be from Saturn, the Sun Ra in Raving Radicals inhabits Rátopia, another ringed gas giant in an alien planetary system orbiting around a star called Szulo. Rátopia is similar to TrES-2b, the blackest planet ever discovered, except that it is even darker than TrES-2b and it has not been discovered; this is why it is called “the darkest planet unknown to Man.” Raving Radicals is a novel about jumping beyond the realm of possibility. Because mainstream political thought has pushed proletarian revolutionary change beyond the realm of possibility, it is necessary to embrace the fantastic, to realize the impossible.

“There is a message in all of my music. It’s all about people doin’ somethin’ else other than what they have done. Because what they have done is the possible, and the world the way it is today is the results of the possible that they did.” – Sun Ra

Fantastic literature, in the view of Bulgarian-French literary theorist Tzvetan Todorov, is a present-oriented genre, constantly at risk of vanishing into thin air because it is, in essence, the state of hesitation; it is the occupation of the liminal mental space before one has decided whether the happenings of a tale are feasible or infeasible in relation to a particular worldview. Rather than being an autonomous genre, the Fantastic is situated in between the past-oriented Strange, or the supernatural explained (into which it dissolves when bizarre happenings are better explained in terms previously known conceptions) and the future-oriented Marvelous, or supernatural accepted (which absorbs it when the outlandish overpowers the senses to the extent that a new worldview must be admitted). Raving Radicals as fantastic literature is thus highly extroverted towards elements of conspiracist ideation, from weather modification to melanin theory, posited within a constellation of more conventional social facts to build up this tension. In this particular passage, one of the book’s protagonists, Tisha Ulroy, has just arrived in the Uhuru Union, a Pan-Sub-Saharan Africanist proletarian state, to set up a diplomatic mission on behalf of the Socialist Rromani Republic of the Banat, a communist Gypsy state in Eastern Europe which she previously helped to establish along with her comrades of the Radical Book Club, an ultra left-wing activist group.

Eventually the bus went beyond the outskirts, into the countryside. Afternoon faded into night. Many celestial bodies could be seen. The Dog Star, or Sirius–as it is sometimes known–shone darkly upon the savannah as the speeding metallic block traversed it.

The Dogon members of the Uhuru delegation began to recount with pride to Tisha how the elders of their tribe had passed down knowledge to them of the star system Sirius. Dogon cosmology had been a curiosity to Western scholars since the early 20th century, when French ethnologist and honorary Dogon tribesman Marcel Griaule had brought the tribe’s inexplicable savoir of the star system to the world’s attention. Improvements in observatory and space exploration technologies would later confirm Griaule’s findings, demonstrating that a Dogon hogon, or ritual elder, was able to accurately anticipate the layout of the Sirius star system. Some of the Dogon claimed that the source of this astral knowledge was none other than Sun Ra, the alien jazz musician come from the ancient dream of a Black man via Saturn.

The Twa members of the Uhuru delegation disputed the Dogons’ claim. One Twa man instead attempted to convince Tisha that Sun Ra had actually been a 20th century African-American man who had fabricated his extraterrestrial backstory in a dissociative response to torture inflicted upon him near Tuskegee, Alabama during imprisonment for draft dodging during the Second World War. This first Twa man’s assertion was, however, disputed by another Twa man who claimed that, though Sun Ra was a 20th century African-American man, he was the descendent of a Dogon hogon. Furthermore, Le Sony’r Ra’s abundant melanocyte receptors, not to mention his copious amounts of the consciousness-altering hormone melanin, had allowed him to perform ancestor communion at will.

How could they have possibly known these facts? The Twa people, known for their supple pineal glands, which were rumored to be immune to calcification, were said to be adepts in the art of liminal epistemology, able to abstract invisibility from the visible. It was thus that they knew much about late stage capitalist barbarism, and formed well articulated critiques of it, without ever needing to leave the rainforests.

Cinema and Slavery in Romania

By Daniel K. Buntovnik

In Eastern Europe, a silence long held is being disrupted, by the film industry, no less!

aferimposterRecently I seized the opportunity to go and see Aferim! (2015), which is [virtually] the first film ever to depict the enslavement of Rroma (Rromani people) that occurred for some five hundred years in the present day territories of Romania.* Director Radu Jude, writing in conjunction with novelist Florin Lăzărescu, set out to develop a screenplay that would elucidate a historical period which Romanian society is for the most part reticent to acknowledge — much less critically engage with. Here these two have defied the norm and succeeded. For that we should all say Bravo! to them and their award-winning movie. In an interview with MEDIAFAX, Jude cites Țiganiada (1812) by Ioan Budai-Deleanu and Ciocoii vechi și noi (1862) by Nicolae Filimon as being among those few Romanian literary works which do make mention of this slavery, though largely only in passing. The void is not less existent in the English-speaking world, where historiographies and critical analyses of exploitation and domination have also tended to leave the matter untouched. For example, treatment of slavery in Romania (and enslavement of Rromani people elsewhere) are noticeably absent from Orlando Patterson’s landmark work Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982), “the first full-scale comparative study of the nature of slavery”, as well as from Edward Saïd’s Orientalism (1978).  An exception includes Ian Hancock’s The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution (1987).

Set in the year 1835 and in Wallachia (or Țara Românească–“Romanian Country”–one of the territories which would later unite to form the modern day nation-state Romania), the main protagonists of the film are a father-son duo called Costandin and Ioniță. Costandin is a bounty hunter whose objective is to capture a runaway slave named Carfin and return him to his master, a boyar (nobleman) by the name of Iordache. Their quest takes them through the Romanian countryside with its villages, mountains, forests, plains, peasants, priests, and țigani–a Romanian language racial slur used to refer to Rroma which has no exact equivalent in English, but which is usually translated as “Gypsies”. (In fact, țigan comes from the Greek term athinganoi, the name for members of what was a religious sect in the Byzantine Empire, which means “untouchable”, while Gypsy is a diminutive form of Egyptian.) Eventually Costandin and Ioniță track Carfin to the neighboring county where they must bribe a local official in order to be directed to the home of a peasant couple who are harboring him along with another fugitive Gypsy, a young boy named Țintiric. Soon enough, Carfin reveals to his captors that the real reason for which he fled from Iordache’s estate was not because he stole some money (as had been alleged) but because Iordache’s wife, Sultana, seduced him while he was watering horses in the stable.

Regarding the significance of the film’s title, it might be interesting to partake in an exercise of pseudo-etymology. The Romanian word aferim resembles the word afară, which means “outside” or “out” and can also be used in the sense of “(get) out!” or even “kicked out/deported” (dat afară). Romanian verbs are conjugated in the first person plural (we) with a suffix ending in -m, so if afară was to be converted into a verb infinitive, you could anticipate that aferim might signify “Let’s get out!”. But aferim actually means “bravo” or “well done”. What could there possibly be to applaud in a film about slavery? Ironically, far from being a call to get out from the yoke of slavery, “Aferim!” is what Iordache tells Costandin when the latter returns his “crow” to him. Dictionaries list the word aferim as a Turkicism (one out of a number of words imprinted onto the Romanian language from the period when Wallachia and Moldavia were under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire).

While critics Veronica Lazăr and Andrei Gorzo have proclaimed Aferim! to be “something new in Romanian cinema”, they and others have also touted the film as a Western à la Vlach, pointing to an apparent influence from this genre observable in its frequent shots of expansive landscapes with men on horseback and wagons. Here Gypsies have even been analogized to American Indians. This is hardly groundbreaking in and of itself, since the conventions and tropes of this seemingly quintessentially American film genre were long ago appropriated (and, to an extent, subverted) by Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain, giving us the Spaghetti Western and the Red Western, also known as the Eastern (which in its Romanian form gave us bizarre blockbusters like The Prophet, the Gold, and the Transylvanians [1978]). Both movements had significant overlaps with the Revisionist Western: a set of films that emerged alongside the postmodernist turn that tend towards undermining the narrative stupidity of the Wild West as the rightful domain of the white settler. Inevitably, Aferim! has also drawn comparisons to more recent American movies like 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, but it is certainly much more than a rehash of these films. Jude never loses sight of the brutal particularities of the 19th century Wallachian context.

Besides being described as a Western, Aferim! has also been called a drama, a tragicomedy, an adventure/road film, and a historical film. While these are all valid ways to describe Aferim!, it ought be recognized as more than the sum of its parts. As cinéma engagé, Aferim! engages society with its past, present, and future.

But why does this historical episode need revisiting — and what is really being revision-ized?

Insofar as this particular historical period has until recently remained unvisited by cinema, we are not coming back to anything, but approaching something new. What we do revisit in Aferim! are actually present day social attitudes (in particular, antiziganism, misogyny, even antisemitism). By delivering a fictional narrative situated within a past reality, it reveals what are unmistakably the roots of these attitudes. The ubiquitousness of disdain for Rromani people embodied in the characters’ frequent slinging of the term cioară (“crow”), for example, bears witness to continuity between past and present. Jude contends that the choice to film Aferim! in black and white functions as a signal of its irreality, marking the rupture between the reality of Gypsy slavery and the constructedness of any revisitation to this time preceding the invention of motion pictures. However, paradoxically, this actually, in a way, adds to “the sentiment that one is seeing a live transmission from Wallachia, 1835” because black and white images have come to represent a generalized bygone era whose boundaries become more and more indeterminate as we leave it further and further behind.

The Revisionist aspect of the film also means pushing back against what little narrative does exist acknowledging the enslavement of Rromani (and Tatar) people at the hands of the Romanian Orthodox Church, nobles, and principality-states. In Romanian society, the “official” narrative is one that downplays and minimizes the reality of Rroma enslavement. Its main tactics are to highlight alleged fundamental theoretical differences between sclavie (slavery) and robie (a form of servitude which some contend has no direct translation into English) in an effort to show that no, there was no slavery in the Romanian territories: only robie. This stress of difference between sclavie and robie which denies their synonymy, is at the same time accompanied by a playing up of the similarities between robie and feudal serfdom. Aferim! demolishes these pedantic arguments by laying bare the chasm of difference in social statuses ascribed to țigani and Wallachian/Vlach peasants. In this regard, Aferim! is a “Revisionist Eastern”.

Despite its orientation towards the past, the film is clearly forward thinking. At one point, as Costandin and his son travel on horseback with their captive Gypsies, Costandin wonders out loud about what people will say about them in hundreds of years. He asks (and I paraphrase): Will future society revere us, their forefathers who have blazed the trails for them? Will they speak of us with a sense of gratitude for what we’ve done and what we’ve left them with? Will they say anything about us at all? Costandin answers his own questions: No, and if the future generations do say anything at all, it will only be to curse us. The bounty hunter’s musings here have a measure of ambiguity to them. In Costandin’s interrogatory monologue about relations between the living and the dead, the dead could be him and his son (and the larger ethno-religious community they’re a part of), but the dead could just as easily be the Gypsy slaves in their captivity. Costandin’s comments seem to reflect the research of ethnologist Patrick Williams, who presented findings about his time spent with Manush (Rromanies of Germanic [Sinti] origin in France) in the book “Nous, on n’en parle pas” (1993). For Williams, the way that the dominant French society erases and renders Rromani communities invisible was reflected in the way these Sinti Rromanies render the dead invisible by avoiding talking directly about them and by discarding their belongings whenever possible, and treating the belongings with a special level of care if it was not possible or very undesirable to discard them. Iulia Hasdeu summarizes the idea nicely, “The dead are to the Manush as the Manush are to the gadže: one doesn’t talk about them, but accords them a place in the cosmic order.” “In order to constitute their real presence,” Williams writes, “they have chosen to refer to real absence.” In other words, the silence of the living is what allows the voice of the dead to be heard, and this silence is held out of respect for the dead. Similarly, blogger Qristina Zavačková Cummings recently spoke of “Nostalgia as Forgetting”. Accordingly, Costandin is quite right to assume that any breach of this silence would be a curse. Aferim! is a Revisionist pox upon the “official” narrative of Gypsy slavery because it does much to break the silence about it. The film brings dishonor to the dead partisans of slavery in exposing them as the cruel, naïve, close-minded bigots that they were, and it may even bring shame to their descendants, those who have vicariously and transgenerationally inherited their attitudes. It was without a doubt for this very reason that King Carlos III of Spain demanded the erasure of any mention of the “Great Gypsy Round-up of 1749” (which resulted in decades of enslavement for Rroma in Spain) from the preamble to a new law on Gypsies in 1772 on the pretext that “it does little honor to the memory of my brother [Fernando VI].” [Antonio Gómez Alfaro, La Gran Redada de Gitanos, Ed. presencia gitana, Madrid, 1993. Page 9. ISBN 84-87347-09-6]

From an economic perspective, the minimizing, downplaying, and even outright denial of the reality of the 500 year period of enslavement of Rromani people is in line with the capitalist strategy of divide-and-rule, which uses race and ethnicity to drive a wedge between members of the working class. It also makes us overlook a major source of contribution to modern day wealth. Romanian slavery negationism perpetuates the invisibility of Rromani labor and the myth of the lazy Gypsy. Salome Kokoladze debunks this myth and shows in her article “Cooking in the Basement: The Invisibility of Romani Labor and the Profitable Discrimination” how social prejudice, alienating workplace conditions, and lack of legal recourse puts racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities at increased risk of hyper-exploitation, all while ensuring increased levels of good ol’ regular surplus-value-extractive exploitation for the more privileged poor (or, “middle class”) who are dimwitted enough to exalt themselves over their would-be comrades with the psychological wages afforded them by their white bourgeois heterosupremacist overlords.

(Warning: spoilers in the following paragraph)

Costandin illustrates the aforementioned middle class psychology in a lot of ways. He exalts himself over the slave Carfin, while he practically cowers in fear of the boyar Iordache. Costandin almost seems to redeem himself in a few instances. First, he shows skepticism towards the dehumanization of Rroma when he asks a priest if Gypsies are indeed human beings, and this priest says that they definitely are (but that Jews are inhuman and in Moldova they use Christians instead of horses to pull their carriages). Ioniță sympathizes with Carfin so much that he actually implores his father to release their captive, and tell Iordache that they could not find his slave, but Costandin rejects this on the basis that they won’t be paid if they do not retrieve the slave. He is not impervious to the injustice of it, but within the logical confines of this system, profit is simply higher on the priorities list. Costandin also humanizes Carfin to an extent when he assures him, after the latter begs to be set free for fear of being killed by his master, that Iordache will only give him some strikes of the whip for his misdeeds. He is putting “a human face” on slavery. When Costandin returns the slave, he even puts in a good word for him with his master, cautiously informing the boyar that the fault lies with Sultana. The woman and her infidelity are more to blame than Carfin, Costandin argues. But when Iordache gets ahold of his property, this myth of the possibility of a gentler slavery is, like Carfin, castrated. Aghast at this boyar’s perverted sense of justice, Costandin tells Ioniță that they should leave. His consolation for Ioniță: “He wasn’t your brother!” In the final scene, Costandin assures his son that his future is bright; he will join the army, fight some wars, and surely make an officer’s rank. Social atomization allows him to sacrifice others on the altar of his narrow self-interest.

Aferim! also sheds some light on what was the then crystallizing Romanian national identity. When, in a forest, Costandin and Ioniță come across a wealthy Ottoman travelling by carriage and asking for directions, Costandin revels in having sent him in the wrong direction, where he is likely to be attacked by bandits. He also dislikes Russians, and listens to a priest mock Hungarians. Director Radu Jude, in the same interview cited above, succinctly points out the hypocrisy in the fact that there is a commonly held belief in Romania, which basically amounts to a cliché, which says that many of the country’s problems are rooted in the fact that it has always been at the intersection of inter-imperialist conflicts, and yet many of the same people who express this idea are reluctant to consider that 500 years of slavery, which we are only 150 years distant from, might have left some significant traces on the present.

The film has solicited plenty of negative, defensive reactions from specimens exhibiting these petit bourgeois and nationalist psychologies. In an East that it is no longer “Red”, these mentalities are all the rage in some circles. These spectators are offended, not by the fact that the Orthodox Church was relatively recently a slave-owning institution, but by the fact that they are being reminded of it.

Film critic Elena Dulgheru derides Aferim! as, “the hipsterization of history”. Clamoring to sound the alarm bells of reverse racism, she writes:

“The movie pretends to speak about hate, discrimination, and ignorance, being itself made with hate and ignorance towards a misunderstood history, read from the screen of an iPod, scoffed at before being tackled; made with constant and sickly discriminatory incrimination of Orthodox clergy and faithful Christians as the principal causes of the so-called “Vlach backwardness”, so that you ask yourself if somehow the obsessive defamation of Orthodoxy and Romanianism, present from the first shot to the last, were [sic] not somehow the principal motivation for making the movie.”

In his review “What I understood from the film Aferim”, Gabriel Duca, in also describing this topsy-turvy world of oppressed white Christendom, quite rightly perceives the dual Red and Revisionist heritage at play in the film, though from a reactionary perspective:

“Well, how to start giving my opinion about Aferim!? Do you remember anticlerical propaganda from the 50s? While priests, monks, and nuns were thrown in Communist prisons, Party propaganda always brought forward stories about greedy priest and monk drunkards who kept the people in the darkness of unawareness and who sought only to fill their own pockets, wagering exactly on the people’s lack of culture, religion — opiate of the masses, etc.  Well, those old ideas (oldies, but goldies) that we thought long forgotten, we find them in Radu Jude’s multiple award-winning film Aferim!

What novelty does this film nevertheless yield? Yes, it’s a question of novelty. If films made by “The Party” presented the hard life of Romanians to show where we would have been left if “liberating Communism” would not have come, and films made after 1989 presented us with the sad life under Communism to show us where we would be without “democracy and European values”, Mr. Jude’s film combines these two “strategies”: clichés once presented by “The Party” are now understood through the prism of “liberty, tolerance, and European values”. Only by virtue of “tolerance” and these “values” have we arrived where we’ve arrived. Without them we would have remained primitive and boorish ignoramuses, like the characters in the film.”

In an East that has long since traded in its red flags for the blues of the EU and NATO, making a film that emphasizes the humanity of Rromani people might reasonably require receiving a grant from some occidental NGO’s. In this case, the film was sponsored in part by the Foundation for an Open Society, associated with George Soros, a business magnate and philanthropist of Hungarian and Jewish origin and a favorite boogeyman for imbeciles pushing the “Zionist Occupied Government” conspiracy theory. It is unfortunate that a genuine Left does not have the resources to fund more cultural projects like this. However, there should also not be any stake put in the myth of capitalism with a human face. Reformist progressives may from time to time help raise awareness of key issues to an extent (and reforms are certainly welcome on the path to upheaval), but Malcolm X hit the nail on the head when he said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” This is because capitalism–the system of rule by entities concerned with atomized financial gain–can only maintain itself if the masses are sufficiently lacking in awareness of how and why human rights are intrinsically violated by this system of rule and of the fact that they can act together to end this unjust situation. Because capitalism relies on instilling false consciousness–that is, dubious ways of perceiving one’s place and one’s relations to others in society, in the economy, on Earth–it is highly unlikely that these dubious ways of thinking can be fully extricated from the fabric of this system’s repressive and ideological state apparatuses. As Aferim! shows, promises of “gentler injustice”, especially those made by people who appear to speak with authority but who lack the actual power to make good on those promises, are likely to end in depraved perversity.

* [Updated on 11 September 2015]: Actually, the first film to depict slavery in Romania was a 1923 silent film called Gypsy Girl in the BedroomHowever, it is a lost film.


All works cited in compliance with the fair use doctrine.