I was sat recently in a room as white as Cumbria. It was full (80ish) of white people who sincerely believe that the revolution will only come when the last capitalist is strangled with the intestines of the last racist. There were three women of colour present. I was sat next to one, a friend, (who prefers the term black). She is, as I said to her, one of my very few Black/poc friends (as in, I’m no better than any other white person on this matter).
And the meeting was about climate change. And the meeting was all culminating with… Fucking Glasgow.
But wait. This. I’m a white guy. And if I am gonna write about whiteness and climate change, I gotta flag some debts. Beyond the debts to folks like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Bob Moses and others who’ve shaped my thinking long term, more recently, Mary Heglar has been just nailing it. To not read her is to court serious ignorance. Follow this link, read this piece then come back.
“I find it nearly impossible to look at the climate crisis without seeing the consequences of all the times white folks told people of color: “Wait, we’ll get back to it later.” To be satisfied with “incremental change” and not “push too far.” To settle for band-aids atop gaping, festering wounds.”
Back? Right, well, go away again and read this piece too. Then come back.
Where was I? Oh yeah, fucking fucking Glasgow. There was even someone there, from Glasgow, telling us we should all be there in November for this fucking COP26, big fat emotacycle that it will be.
Imma call it now. The obsession with “summit hopping” is just another manifestation of white privilege. Not as blatant as chanting “we love the police” or sending flowers to Brixton Police Station, but another manifestation nonetheless. Harder to see because it would be horribly conflicting to see it. Summit hopping is just another way for us white folks, with our unexamined privilege, to avoid the tricky work of local activism around local issues, of building coalitions with people who don’t talk like us, dress like us, speak like us and have the same/similar experience of the state (1).
Instead we can get to prepare for months for some big international jamboree, displaying our virtue, our knowledge, our concern. Those who go will be the students, the retired and those who can take annual leave. Those with caring responsibilities, those on zero hour contracts, those who can’t afford to get nicked, will not go. And will feel second class for it, no matter what assurances are given that “we are all crew.” And for what? To achieve what exactly?
And there is a zero-sum game here. Time we spend on that is time we don’t spend on local issues.
And yes, as individuals these people will admit that they don’t expect Glasgow to be a magical solution. But the emotional and organisational imperatives are overwhelming. And the herd mentality is overwhelming. It’s not the Abilene Paradox, it’s the goddam Glasgow Paradox (except the reasons for it are not difficult to understand).
Where does the white saviour thing come in? Allow me to use my reconditioned IPhone6 (2) to share the scribblings I made and shared with my black friend.
First, the Glasgow shitshow and its demobilising potential… (see also here)
and then, because I wanted to make my friend laugh (with/at me), and because it’s true-
I suspect many people enraged by this post will have stopped reading by now. But for the record
- I am not saying everyone who is “organising” for Glasgow is a racist.
- I am not saying everyone who wants to go to Glasgow is a racist.
That would be absurd, and I am leaving the absurdity to those among us (and there are many) who think that the current system is in ANY way sustainable. It has been a horrorshow for most people of colour for a very long time. And a lot of white folks. The horrorshowness of it all is expanding, is all (oh, and don’t even start me on the other species we allegedly “share” this planet with).
For clarity, what I am saying is that there is more to unexamined privilege that we folks with most of the privilege can understand without a serious and painful effort.
What I am saying is we need to listen carefully to those among us – black, white, indigo, green with polka dots – who are making an argument about white privilege that get our hackles up, that get us defensive. Because if the claims makesus angry, well, there’s quite possibly something to them, eh? And it then becomes a question of whether we retreat into the comfort of white tears, of being allowed to be angry (and who gets to be legitimate and non-hysterical in their anger is a whole other blog post). Or if we try to manage our emotions and think with clarity about who we are, why we do what we do and what is not getting done that really really needs to get done because we’re too busy organising the next emotacycle.
FINALLY, those of you who know me, online or in meat space, know that I am hardly any bloody paragon of virtue. I am full of unexamined privilege (some would say full of other things). I have pissed off people I massively respect, and had my ass (quite rightly) kicked to the kerb, more than once, which is a source of ongoing regret (the pain caused to others, more than the exile). But pointing out that I am a hypocrite (for the record – I AM A HYPOCRITE) does not invalidate the argument I’ve made. Counter-arguments could well do that, but ad hominems are not counter-arguments..
Okay, FINALLY FINALLY. We have work to do. Summit-hopping is going to at the very best be a massive distraction from that work. At worst it will kill the possibility of building that mass movement (less white than Cumbria please) that we all agree we need. We white folks have the privilege of a choice. I hope we have the wisdom and the courage to choose right.
(1) This is NOT to say that all white people have the same privilege in relation to the state. If you’re working class, well, the truncheon will come down on you too. You The middle-classness of various environmental activists didn’t protect them from being abused by the SpyCops..
(2) Nonetheless originally mined by children, gorillas killed, put together by slaves prevented from killing themselves with those safety nets.