********************  POSTING RULES & NOTES  ********************
#1 YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
#2 This mail-list, like most, is publicly & permanently archived.
#3 Subscribe and post under an alias if #2 is a concern.

Nikil Singh responds to Adolph Reed on FB:

This is my fairly long response to Adolph Reed's latest screed. The response is intended to be a bit all purpose, since if you've read one of these lately, you've read them all. As someone who has read and learned a lot from Reed's scholarly work, I was hesitant to put this out there, since I want to resist the kind of camp thinking that these polemics encourage. But for those who honestly struggle with what he has had to say recently and repeatedly come up short, you may find something of value here. (You can find the original essay at:

Reed claims that focusing attention on racial disparity in police violence *necessarily* draws attention away from a broader and more accurate class reading of the sources of such violence, and thus [as with all such focus on race and racism in his view] *necessarily* allies with the program of neoliberal market governance, and [again] proves the general bankruptcy of the black “professional managerial class” (pmc) and allied (mostly academic/non-profit complex) hucksters peddling anti-racism snake-oil as a cure for what ails us.

His primary evidence for this is that numerically more whites than blacks are routinely killed by police (in spite of otherwise significant racial disproportionality), and that many of the 'whitest states' have the highest per capita rates of police homicide, and that neither of these things can be explained by a focus on racial differentials. [BTW this argument can be made even stronger with attention to county by county distinctions within states and to urban rural divides.]

The substantive question about making sense of police violence in mostly white and rural counties is important, but it is also something of a non sequitur, for Reed's target is actually something much broader -- that is, that the focus on race obscures and deflects. But there is little more than presumption to his now oft-repeated axiom, (put forth without much evidence, but with plenty of ad hominem venom), that attention to admittedly disproportionate anti-black violence somehow prevents or “distattends” to other sources of police violence (and to wider, more pertinent inequalities) -- specifically that related to policing and punishing the surplus poor, of all hues.

Once again, I am not saying that this point is always invalid. I think it is true -- sometimes. Anyone who does political work seriously has to face the ways that cheap identitarian grandstanding can be used to narrow and undercut a more radical program and widening of egalitarian affiliations. But there are many other ways to say this and to show this, just as there are very different theoretical and political articulations of anti-racism.

What Reed will never consider or countenance, is the possibility that attention to racial disparity, racial inequality and racial violence might actually be one important route to more radical and universalist demands, something that has been shown repeatedly in the history of black freedom struggles, as well as in labor struggles, and that would seem to represent the kind of political orientation that he ostensibly supports.

When this exact kind of thing occurs (in the very moment in which he writes), as, for example, when black activists lead opposition to instances of police murder of non-black people in Los Angeles and elsewhere, or the laudable, detailed, if also messy and demanding 'vision for black lives' platform, Reed ignores it, or is dismissive, describing the vision for black lives platform, for example, in unspecific and (ultimately contradictory terms) as "fine" when narrowly reformist, but otherwise non-strategic, unachievable, “politically wrong-headed” and “empty sloganeering.”

The alternative that Reed himself proposes is a windy, yet deflating turn to full-blown abstraction -- non-strategic and unachievable on its face -- and I dare say, something on the order of an empty rhetorical postulate: {"Challenging that immensely fortified and self-reproducing institutional and industrial structure [of the carceral state], he writes, "will require a deep political strategy, one that must eventually rise to a challenge of the foundational premises of the regime of market-driven public policy and increasing direction of the state’s functions at every level toward supporting accelerating regressive transfer and managing its social consequences through policing.”}

No duh. Of course, no sign of any such "deep political strategy" is on offer here, or anywhere I've seen, even in embryo, since Reed's stock in trade is to find all manner of fault and failure in the guise of merciless criticism of the most inane and hyperbolic racial controversies. (Note the thousands of words he dropped on Dolezal, but that's another matter). Never mind either that his own most recent politico-strategic recommendation is a call to unite the vote around Hillary Clinton. Damn those contradictions.

In this piece yet again, I think, Reed shows that his mind is sharpest when used as a mean scalpel against erstwhile opponents, those on whom he pours vitriol and ridicule, but that largely masks the fact that his own argument, (once the invective is cleared away) is a more or less banal call for a unified class struggle to overthrow the neoliberal order (after Clinton is elected).

What otherwise could be the motivation behind or purpose of painting Alicia Garza, Patrice Cullors, Deray McKesson, and of course poor Ta Nehisi Coates, quite distinct political actors, not to mention the multiple and diverse organizations that signed into M4BL, with the same broad brush? In what sense can the clearly left, anti-war, and radically egalitarian 'vision for black lives' platform – whatever one’s disagreements with its specifics or ultimate efficacy -- be understood as advocating a focus on race and racism that defaults to a politics of anodyne, elite diversification -- a clear implication of Reed’s broader argument?

For someone who claims that political investments in the carceral state are complex and cross-cutting and demand careful strategic thinking and painstaking cultivation of new and ever more broad political assemblages, this argument is not only sloppy, but not a little pernicious.

Particularly egregious is the claim that there has been a moderation of capricious police violence against black people since the 1960s, something that is somehow meant to invalidate arguments that emphasize the long duree of specific black bodily violation in the United States as a key to racism's durability. But this is actually a kind of bait and switch, for what is post-1960s mass incarceration if not an evolution of what has long been an intertwined regime of race and class domination whose specific lineaments and change over time is precisely what so much important recent scholarly and public intellectual work has tried to capture? (There are so many I could cite, [I am not just talking about Michelle Alexander] but refrain from doing so here, since I do not want anyone to feel conscripted to my viewpoint here. I will say that for his most determined acolytes Reed's brand of criticism has become a license not to read.)

The main irony of all this in my view is the fact that Reed believes that the focus on a generalized racism *necessarily* cuts the left off from allies in the fight against the neoliberal order we despise, and yet, that it is just fine in his view to trash and traduce many politically active younger people who might actually be recruited as allies in such a fight, particularly given that quite a few of them have expressed substantial sympathy for social democracy, if not socialism.

A second lesser irony is Reed’s repeated accusation that the black pmc has a vested occupational-material interest in a kind of mystificatory racial discourse, but that Reed, who occupies a very similar structural position (in the Ivy academy no less), and also produces a highly repetitive and imperiously unreflective kind of writing, is somehow immune from the politics of racial representation and clickbait constituency cultivation. Alas, these days, every vain bonfire attracts its gang of moths.

Lastly, coming as it does in this time, when openly racist, that is ideologically white supremacist, mobilization of constituencies by the right is increasingly viable and politically formidable, attacks on pretty much anyone who is actively and publicly challenging overt racial domination as a neo-liberal sell-out is at best irrelevant, and at worse corrosive of the capacious vision of left solidarity that the current moment demands.

Full posting guidelines at: http://www.marxmail.org/sub.htm
Set your options at: 

Reply via email to