The contradictions between women of color and white women, and the lessons from the movement amid the Portland struggles against the systemic racism.

Rome, august 6th 2020.

Original Italian writing

Since the evening of July 31, the federal police of the National Security Department (the feared US Marshals trained in the violent repression of Hispanic and Latin American immigrants on the border between the United States and Mexico) have had to take a step back, forced by the determination and brave of the struggle movement of Portland. Surely this is a snatched success with the fight whose real dynamics are not to be overshadowed by the representations the media have given to the battles in Portland.

In recent weeks, federal police violence has been described by the democratic media as a “national scandal”, events that constitute serious constitutional violations. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, both Democrats, have formally asked the Trump administration to withdraw the federal forces ordered by Trump. The governor defined that “these federal agents acted like occupation troops …”. Mayor Wheeler stressed “these federal agents are not trained in modern community policies, crowd control or de-escalation strategies … so they are not welcome.”

We would like, incidentally, to reply to the Democratic mayor that certainly the citizens of Portland are Americans and mostly white, and certainly they are not those immigrants which the U.S. Patrols terrorize and disperse on the border between Mexico and the United States with the massive usage of gas, rubber bullets, charges on horseback or by SUVs without any distinction towards men, women and children with colored skin. Would that mean that these violent repression tactics are permissible as long as they are against immigrants, conversely they are not when it is the civilians of Oregon who suffer from them?

Just as we would like to clear up the lies that these democratic whining hides. Police violence against blacks and the movement’s demonstrations began long before the feds arrived. Although the use of modern tear gas has been banned by the various courts of justice in the country, and as reiterated by Governor Brown through a government provision of June 30 that prohibits its use, the provisions of the law make it clear that certainly the the use of tear gas and rubber bullets is prohibited, but only as long as the demonstrations do not constitute a “danger”, do not prefigure a “riot”. So much so that in the days of May, June and July, the local Portland police used these weapons (defined as riot control agents) on more than a hundred occasions against the demonstrations of the “black lives matter” movement. It has always been enough for the Portland Police Department to precede the use of violence with the warning statement for a “riot” declaration.

In really many situations, Mayor Ted Wheeler, which Portland Police Department is under his command, refused to ban its use, defending the legitimate and circumstantial usage of violence by the police, thus earning the square the nickname of “Tear Gas Teddy”.

So why was there this persistence of the Trump administration to send federal police and troops of the DHS and U.S. Marshals in Portland (preparing to send them to other cities as well, Seattle, Chicago, New York, etc.), if the movement was harshly repressed even earlier by the Democrat Oregon?

The violence and police repression in these two months against the whole movement that has given itself on a national scale has been very high, and has made use of the local police forces, the National Guard, the curfew, the thousands of arrests by of FBI agents, of Antifa’s declaration as a domestic terrorist organization, and of white squads. But this national movement has never folded, it has responded blow for blow, thanks to the unity of purpose not only of the black exploited and oppressed by racism, but also with the exploited Hispanics and immigrants, with Native Americans and with that big chunk. of proletarian and precarious white youth who stands up unconditionally alongside the reasons for black lives matter. This unprecedented unity of struggle has created profound creaks in the superstructure of the federal state and in relations with the individual state government administrations of the union, already shaken by the effects of the pandemic. The Police Departments, the Federal Guard did not always respond to the second command as requested, here and there defections among the troops were evident.

The reason for the difficulty of stifling the struggle through repression is well explained in an article published on July 19 also on this bulletin pages, which describes the unprecedented and extraordinary characteristics of this movement that is shaking American society from the depths like a seismic swarm that makes it difficult to govern with yesterday’s policies.

There is a second element that explains the determination of the movement in Portland and the State repressive counter reaction alongside with the extra institutional of neo-white squads.

The Oregon (which became a state of the union in 1859) is the state of the federation where white supremacism and racism against black Americans and native populations developed differently from the rest of the United States of America, characterizing right from the start racial, economic and political discrimination not so much in the segregationist and slavery way, but essentially through a long and deep process of true ethnic cleansing policing.

The Territories of Oregon, even before the constitution of the State of Oregon and its membership to the U.S. Union, outlawed slavery as early as 1844, but not to segregate them but to drive the finally freed slaves out of the region. Peter Burnett, head of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, explained the 1844 law in this way: “The purpose is to keep away from that more problematic class of the population. We are in a new world, under the most favorable circumstances and we want to avoid most of those evils that have plagued so much in the United States and in other countries”.

In essence, the goal of the liberation of blacks was their expulsion, the use of the whip and the compulsion to drive them out of the Oregon Territories. Another law, passed in 1849, that banned black immigration into the territory itself. The law was repealed in 1854. But its exclusion clause was again incorporated into the Oregon Constitution of 1857, which despite several successive attempts to remove it remained in effect until 1926, effectively preventing black Americans from residing in the Oregon country by law. Another law adopted by the state in 1862 required all ethnic minorities still resident to pay an annual tax of $ 5, while interracial marriages remained prohibited by law for all the years from 1861 to 1951 (almost 100 years).

Although the exclusion laws were rarely enforced, their goals were achieved: in 1860 only 128 African Americans lived in Oregon out of a total population of 52,465. The 2013 censuses record that only 2% of Oregon’s population is black while that of Portland only reaches 5%. In essence, the history of Oregon is characterized by a whiteness Christian “Zionism” with stars and stripes ante litteram, which erased the racial problem by giving a hand of whiteness, where violence against blacks and racial prejudice in society and in institutions is so deep that it has become a natural element of society, whose social relations between classes along racial lines and prejudices have also ultimately conditioned the common psychology of black Americans themselves.

A natural fact of society that in our days, those of the Coronavirus days, determines that some Oregon counties, for example Lincoln County, at the end of June issued a provision that exempts Black Americans from the obligation to wear a mask in places and in public businesses. It would seem a liberal initiative in favor of African Americans, but Ranika Moore, a Black activist from Aclu (American Union for Civil Liberties) explains instead that the use of a mask by a black man is like “suggesting people to look like a dangerous person, due to the racial stereotypes that have spread ”. In essence, the state acknowledges that in society the Black people is already a “suspect” by “nature”, especially when he/she circulates “with his/her face covered”. Therefore, the Black man, already abundantly terrorized by the indiscriminate violence of whites, obtains this kind concession from the democratic state.

The history of this territory therefore makes Oregon the white state of the Union par excellence, which has seen the mass murder of unarmed black men by the police and demonstrations by right-wing extremists and Boogaloo Boys in recent years proliferate.

The unprecedented movement against systemic racism that has pushed into its ranks large social sectors of exploited Hispanics and young White Proletarians with no any reserves, today shakes the whole of these social relations originating from the peculiar characteristics of colonialism and internal racism in Oregon. The movement of such vast magnitude and the social seismic swarm it is producing in Portland, it is creaking the idyll of this apparently “race-free” white society, which is already shaken by the free-falling economy and the pandemic.

So, with good reason, Donald Trump smells burning, and threatens first and then plans to send federal troops to Portland, verifying that the state police were no longer able to “cleanse the city of this hive of terrorists”. The “Diligent Valor” operation launched by the White House in the first days of July, resulted in the unbridled violence of the U.S. Marshals and the Border Patrols of the Security Department in the streets of Portland, made up of manhunts, kidnapping, raids carried out according to street guerrilla tactics, trying to realize what the police had failed to do. The capture of Portland youths of color and whites during demonstrations by the U.S. Marshals, without formal and legal arrest and with the flavor of a “night of broken pencils” of dark days of Argentinian history, is the consequent corollary to terrorize the youth proletarians in revolt so that they never dare take to the streets again.

But where the repression of the local police department and local government institutions have failed, the repression of the federal state has also failed. A new element of the ensemble of white Oregon’s idyllic social relations, already shaken by the crisis, has emerged as a social contradiction from the bowels of the earth’s shifting crust, sounding an alarm bell for Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden and all the democratic and liberal intelligentsia.

An unexpected social sector of the world of workers and exploited suddenly takes the field, giving strength and further courage to the battles in Portland, bringing out an important element of the general social alienation of capitalism and the social relations it determines: that is the gender oppression and the patriarchal submission of women, which the taking to the field of the “Wall of Moms” represents.

PORTLAND, OR – JULY 31: Moms United for Black Lives Matter march up Salmon Street during a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 31, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Friday was the second night in a row without police intervention, following weeks of clashes between federal officers and protesters in Portland. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

A stand up into the struggle that not only marks a forward trend in the re-aggregation of a proletarian front and of the exploited also along generational lines, but that binds together potential, contradictions and difficulties from which this movement starts, divided according to racial, generational and gender lines, as a consequence of the general capitalist oppression.

The white and Hispanic working mothers who until now were relegated to filling the role assigned to them by the patriarchal oppression of modern capitalism, that of candid guardians of their sacred children, those of the “apple pie” women and moderators for the good of the family, those same women who still live in the privilege of being part of white society, have taken stereotypes and turned them against Trump’s authoritarianism by creating a human shield of mothers to defend their children against the violence of the federal police.

These mothers break into the fight spontaneously, but not immediately and directly to take the field against racism and police violence. However, they are quickly forced to reinstate the defense of their children with the objectives of the struggle for which they are in the streets: support for the cause of black lives matter, do away with racism. In doing this, these women face a series of contradictions and prejudices that permeate the entire white proletariat, which thrives on the narrow privilege of belonging to the white society.

The joining in the struggle immediately forced these women to establish a close connection with mothers and black women who were already engaged in the protest – connection that has not been without difficulties. These women amid the struggle organization they had to face and verify the typical stereotypes of female oppression (in some respects considered useful elements to stop the repression): who would ever attack a good white mother? Once the illusion was burnt, because the police troops did not discount anyone, these women had to begin to question their self-image, their condition of social exclusion and verify that this is also conducted according to the same racial lines that characterize the general capitalist oppression and alienation.

These are the days when the “wall of mothers” captures all the journalistic attention, which overshadows the ultimate reasons for the movement against racism, and which focuses the camera lenses exclusively on the representation of white mothers only. A media attention that is silent that behind of this there is the precious support and encouragement of women’s organizations of black women, who engaged struggle against police violence against their children from many years, such as Mothers of Movement, Moms Against Senseless Killing, Moms Demands Actions and the black women of Don’t Shoot Portland (which also deals with domestic violence against black women).

What this media attention expresses it is precisely the imposed reflection of the stereotype of the woman as a figure of moral value by virtue of her motherhood, for which the white one is the only one to deserve attention. But if it’s a black mom who worries about her children’s health, as black activist Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland explains, the public wonders “and we ourselves wonder: are we black mothers good moms? do we have enough money? are we married? “. In a television interview with Bev Barnum (Hispanic and one of the promoters of the Wall of Moms) she is asked why all this attention on the wall of mothers? Almost in tears she replies: “because many of my mothers are white, and for some reason we inspire pity in white people”.

In the struggle against repression, black and white women are forced to confront both these stereotypes caused by the oppression of race and gender that have so far hoped for them, distanced from each other and even opposed. White mothers who have lived in their increasingly narrow privilege of being white, are called in one fell swoop to have to deal with gender oppression and their own bias and racial privileges. Taking the field that takes place, and must be noted, not without internal conflicts and contradictions between women themselves, contrasting women between black and white. This fracture occurs first of all precisely by virtue of the fact that the female condition of double oppression exposes women to a greater force of penetration by social racism and all the racial prejudices that follow. More the woman is marginalized and alienated, than more she binds herself under her privilege of being white, than more she takes refuge under the wing of the capitalist patriarchate.

Black women in those days experience a rapid growth in their sense of frustration at the journalistic overexposure received by white mothers alone. They warn the latter not to be deceived by the spotlight, by the pernicious attention of the media, by their stereotyped representation. Conversely, it happens that the whites who finally come out of the patriarchal cloak of the family are partially fascinated by it.

Factors that challenge the unity of mothers and women, whose mobilization appears to those of color as too biased against Trump’s authoritarianism, and with less attention to the fact that systemic racism in Oregon dominated society even before the Trumpism . They fear that white women may lose sight of the original reasons for Portland’s battle against systemic and police racism, so that the same young white boys and girls have been taken the streets for days.

Suddenly, the situation arrives at public criticisms of anti-blackness attitudes by some of the most prominent whites in the movement, when they file the “Wall of Moms” as a “non-profit” association at the Oregon state. The frustration of black Americans is the result of the fear of seeing the bitter experiences of the past repeated: “here we go again! The usual organizations of “white allies” that take the limelight for other political objectives on the skin, on life and on the struggle of blacks”.

The political clash between the women of the movement, mumbled in the square, then explodes on their social media groups. The harsh controversy is immediately captured by the US press and various chauvinist commentators, who uses these events to move a frontal attack against the “wall of mothers”, especially against black mothers, and to discredit the entire movement of these months against racism in Portland.

It has been a dramatic day and night in the struggle front, demonstrating that the recomposition of the exploited front is not an automatic fact. A community of struggle conditioned by the divisions that racism and white supremacism for hundreds of years have carved into the depths of society and among the exploited themselves. Controversies that confirm that the taking to the field of white working women cannot take place without having to contend with their own specific internal bias.

The need to continue the struggle, however, resulted in the emergence of the shock from the premise for a forward overcoming of the divisions, for the search for a more solid ground of unity.

Women have worked hard to create a new group on social media as a gathering and organizing element of the struggle, called United Moms for Black Lives, setting aside the old group to avoid journalistic exploitation. A large number of white, Hispanic and black working mothers joined the new group on social media and continued to actively participate in the struggles of the following days. But the contradiction and the controversy was not painless. Working women, black, white and Hispanic, experienced it with a deep feeling of acute pain. The pain of those who recognize the limitations and sometimes the failures in achieving a genuine unity of purpose and a solid community of struggle. Even today, there are comments of jubilation for the taking to the field of the “Wall of Moms” of white workers and mothers (4) on the websites of Portland black women’s organizations, which has not been canceled despite the heated controversy.

After an understandable confusion, women of all colors tried to react by trying to heal the fracture. Many white women, accompanied by black sisters and on the basis of the experience of the struggle that saw them engaged together, have sown the seeds for a profound general awareness of what is the origin of exploitation and their division and opposition. This anonymous white mother describes it to us, addressing all the women of the Portland movement:

White Moms of Black Lives Matter. Sure, I was crazy about what happened, but it’s not like we’ve never been fooled easily before. As soon as we truly understand the depth and breadth of our complicity and active participation in brutal and systemic racism, we freak out. Comprehensibly!

I thought I was a good person. An ally. But I was watching the black Americans murdered by the police and I thought they deserved it. For decades I have done nothing but invent excuses to extend my privilege. This is a great truth to be absorbed.

Let’s see an easy way to alleviate our guilt and grasp it out of desperation for relief.

Then we slowly realize that we have blindly invested in the same white capitalist patriarchy once again.

We need to put our shit together and really start centering black lives in our hearts. Pain relief of conscience will only be available once racism is eradicated in America.

Because white mothers are neither protective nor protected! Our bodies are not sacred vessels for white children. Each of you saw it in front of the Justice Center. Those federal mercenaries never cared about black mothers, but we thought they looked after their white mothers. The racists and fascists who serve the white capitalist master do not care about the period of human life.

Stalin showed us this. Hitler too. The Founding Fathers. So I hope we can keep the last two days as a reminder of what happens when we don’t focus on black leadership. When we follow a whisper in a crowd because it is much safer to escape than to stand. When we resort to tears of complicity and submission rather than honoring our strength. We can do it. Together. We don’t judge ourselves as we learn. No internal war. You really put Black Lives Matter in our heads / hearts / souls, so at the center of the narrative. Let’s do it well“. [posted into in a Portlanders women Facebook group thread].

We are on the 70th consecutive day of the fight against systemic racism in Portland, which continues against the local police, the Democratic mayor, now that federal troops have had to take a step back. It also continues amid a rise in shootings and suspicious murders of black people in different neighborhoods of the city.

Although we currently record that the Portland night demonstrations see relative less mass participation, the momentary retreat of the federal forces is a success of the struggle and the movement. Of which the unexpected and sudden participation of working women and mothers of all colors played a decisive and central role. The flattery of the Democratic Mayor and of the Governor for a generic reorientation of the movement against Trumpist authoritarianism and according to their electoral trajectories, these have found bread for their teeth.

And I would also like to be able to say directly to these heroic black working women, that the seed was sown by cracking the wall of prejudice that divides white working women from you. While I would like to invite the whites to consider the anonymous letter above as an encouragement to continue this path. If black women now feel alone again in the battle against systemic and police violence over the lives of blacks, look at the experiences of these two months of national struggle and the Portland Days.

Look at the origins of the early 20th century feminist movement in the United States of America, when the essentially white “suffragette” movement in the New York and Washington D.C. marches where the “whites” relegated the black women with racist contempt at the end of the ranks.

This awareness expressed during the struggle by the working women and mothers of Oregon black, indigenous, of all colors and whites is an unexpected result, also a success of the struggle unleashed in the days of the Portland battles, another new piece of this extraordinary movement that has given itself in the name of George Floyd.


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