Who is Oakland?
This pamphlet - written collaboratively by a group of people of color, women,
and queers - is offered in deep solidarity with anyone committed to ending
oppression and exploitation materially. It is a critique of how privilege theory
and cultural essentialism have incapacitated antiracist, feminist, and queer
organizing in this country by minimizing and misrepresenting the severity and
structural character of the violence faced by marginalized groups.
According to privilege theory, white supremacy is primarily a psychological
attitude which individuals can simply choose to discard instead of a material
infrastructure which reproduces race at key sites across society – from racially
segmented labor markets to the militarization of the border. Even when this
material infrastructure is named, more confrontational tactics which might
involve the risk of arrest are deemed “white” and “privileged,” while the focus
turns back to reforming the behavior and beliefs of individuals. Privilege
politics is ultimately rooted in an idealist theory of power which maintains that
psychological attitudes are the root cause of oppression and exploitation, and that
vague alterations in consciousness will somehow remake oppressive structures.
This dominant form of anti-oppression politics also assumes that demographic
categories are coherent, homogeneous “communities” or “cultures.” This
pamphlet argues that identity categories do not indicate political unity or
agreement. Identity is not solidarity. The violent domination and subordination
we face on the basis of our race, gender, and sexuality do not immediately create a
shared political vision. But the uneven impact of oppression across society creates
the conditions for the diffuse emergence of autonomous groups organizing on the
basis of common experiences, analysis, and tactics. There is a difference between
a politics which places shared cultural identity at the center of its analysis of
oppression, and autonomous organizing against forms of oppression which
impact members of marginalized groups unevenly.
This pamphlet argues that demands for increased cultural sensitivity and
recognition has utterly failed to stop a rising tide of bigotry and violence in an
age of deep austerity. Anti-oppression, civil rights, and decolonization struggles
repeatedly demonstrate that if resistance is even slightly effective, the people
who struggle are in danger. The choice is not between danger and safety, but
between the uncertain dangers of revolt and the certainty of continued violence,
deprivation, and death. There is no middle ground.