Palestine’s October 7 uprising has proven to be a true “mask off” moment for much of the left. Figures like Naomi Klein, Bernie Sanders, and Cornel West (the latter of whom is easily the most surprising among the three) have, in recent days, felt the need to equivocate on the situation in Gaza and condemn “both sides” for the violence. (And, if we are being honest, Sanders has always been wishy-washy on the issue of Israel’s occupation of Gaza.)
Hamas’s Oct. 7 revolt has also fully revealed the rank hypocrisy and empty posturing of liberal “wokeness” and “anti-racism.” Indeed, if there is any trace of silver lining to be found in the last two weeks of bloodshed and carnage, it is that we may finally be witnessing the death of “wokeness.”
All of the liberal, race-reductionist “theorists” who, for the past decade or so, have been urging leftists to “de-colonize your mind,” seem to want nothing to do with oppressed people’s actual efforts toward decolonization. Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nahesi Coates*, Robin DiAngelo, and other prominent race-reductionist figures have been suspiciously silent during the last month.
One would think that these black “intellectuals” would, naturally, side with the people of Palestine over the predominantly white, settler-colonialists of Israel. One would think that these prominent black figures — who, no doubt, understand the daily reality of racial oppression — would have no qualms about standing in solidarity with Palestine. That to do so would be a “no-brainer.” One would be wrong.
Maine’s Anti-Racism Tzar
Case in point is Maine blogger and anti-racist activist, Shay Stewart-Bouley. Since 2013, Stewart-Bouley has maintained the blog, Black Girl in Maine. She also serves as the Executive Director for the Boston-based “non-profit,” Community Change, Inc.
For the past decade, Stewart-Bouley (who was “exiled” to Maine from Chicago — a fact she never seems to tire of reminding readers of) has lectured white liberals to “do the work” of anti-racism. All white people, according to Stewart-Bouley, must “grapple” with their own personal “white privilege,” so they can “center” the voices of people of color.
In keeping with critical race theory’s nebulous, postmodernist orientation, Stewart-Bouley never clearly articulates what, precisely, this anti-racist “work” entails. All that is clear is that this “work” is — in true neoliberal fashion — highly individualized, anti-communist, and entirely devoid of any class analysis. This lack of class analysis is, perhaps, unsurprising given Stewart-Bouley’s own upper-middle class, PMC status.
And Stewart-Bouley gets paid to speak to large groups of white liberals about this shit.
Decolonize Your Mind — But not the Real World
Stewart-Bouley’s October 15 blog post on the recent uprising in Gaza (titled, “There are No Winners, Only a Collective Pain,”) blames “both sides” for the bloodshed.
While stipulating that she is “by no means a geopolitical expert on Israeli-Palestinian affairs,” (hey, at least she admits it…) Stewart-Bouley then proceeds to describe Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack as “short-sighted.” Perhaps, tactically speaking, it was. But the overall efficacy of Hamas’s revolt strikes me as beside the point.
The 2.4 million, densely populated people of the Gaza Strip are oppressed. They are being crushed to death by the boot of Israeli occupation. They are housed in the largest concentration camp on Earth. They have no state, no military, no food, no water, and no access to basic medicine. They are, in other words, desperate. And desperate, oppressed people will fight back with whatever few means they have at their disposal. Oppressed, marginalized people have every right (even, one could say, a duty) to fight for their collective liberation.
This begs the question: What would Stewart-Bouley suggest the Palestinians do? She offers no advice on the matter — though she strongly intimates that “nonviolence” would be the “correct” and “proper” path. Perhaps the people of Gaza should “vote harder”? Oh wait — the last parliamentary elections in Gaza were held nearly two decades ago…
Israel has, for decades now, blocked any and all peaceful avenues for Palestinians to pursue a potential two-state solution. The Israeli government has actively sabotaged every peace deal it has been presented with. And it has violated every ceasefire agreement imposed on it. Thus, violence is the only option Hamas has left. As the saying goes, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
This is not to glorify or condone Hamas’s violence. It is merely to acknowledge that it does not erupt out of a vacuum. It is not, contrary to the U.S. media’s routine racist depictions of the Palestinians, the product of some innate “evil” unique to Arabs.
But Stewart-Bouley makes no reference to this history. She does not mention the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Indeed, the word “occupation,” appears nowhere in her piece.
Instead, she speaks in vague, empty platitudes that “Tensions are high all over,”; “…violence … begets more violence,”; and “rational and reasonable minds are needed” to end the hostilities on “both sides.” And my personal favorite cliched cop-out: “Life is not always black-and-white; sometimes there are many shades of gray.”
This last sentence is ironic given that throughout Stewart-Bouley’s decade of writing, she has consistently presented anti-racist “work” as nothing less than black and white. If a minimum-wage, non-unionized store clerk in Portland so much as looks at a black patron the wrong way, Shay is calling for “white allies” to boycott the store.
Nor has she ever afforded white working-class Mainers the same benefit of the doubt she offers Israel. In Stewart-Bouley’s mind — and under the rubric of “critical race theory” — all white people are inherently and irredeemably racist, regardless of how active they are in anti-racist activism. According to this race-reductionist view, all white people — including, apparently, those who are poor and homeless — benefit immensely from “white privilege.”
Consider this recent TikTok video Stewart-Bouley shared:
Yes, I realize the TikToker here is trying to be irreverent and “funny” — though I find little about homelessness humorous, myself. But his complete bafflement at the very real economic conditions under capitalism that cause homelessness (yes, even among members of the white working-class) simply reinforces the reductionist, racial essentialism that characterizes woke identity politics. This is the same sort of victim-blaming the right engages in.
The Moral Cowardness of Condemning “Both Sides”
In a telling passage, Stewart-Bouley all but admits the moral complicity of her fence-riding. “Some will say that this is a cowardly approach,” she writes, “a ‘both sides’ approach, an ‘All Lives Matter’ approach. I would disagree. …I have come to see that strict binary thinking does not always serve us well.”
Perhaps it does not in other, more mundane matters. When it comes to matters of genocide, however, I am firmly of the belief that one must pick a side. To do otherwise, to remain neutral in times of obvious evil, is to in the words of Albert Camus, side with the executioners.
This failure to call out Israeli war crimes for what they are should, once and for all, expose Stewart-Bouley for the grifter that she and her identity-politics-obsessed ilk are. Even the friggin’ DSA is further to the left of her on this issue!
The coup de grace comes in the fifth paragraph of Stewart-Bouley’s blog post. “As a member of a marginalized group, I have always stood with those who are marginalized and who seek liberation from their oppressors,” she writes. “Yet in this instance, to make such a statement almost feels like a cliche.”
But she is doing the exact opposite here! She is not standing unequivocally with Palestine — the clearly marginalized group in this highly asymmetrical conflict. And even if standing in solidarity with Palestine is a “cliche” … so what…? Indeed, I would argue the “cliche” would be to dutifully affirm Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
This misplaced sense of “nuance” only serves to obscure the reality of what Israel is carrying out in Gaza: Mass genocide. Contrary to what the cable news pundits insist, there is nothing “complex” or “complicated” about the situation in Gaza. This has long been Israel’s goal: The complete elimination of the Palestinian people. The Israeli government is now cynically exploiting the Oct. 7 attack as an excuse to carry this mission out.
Fortunately, for Palestine, however, working-class people throughout the world are no longer buying Israel’s propaganda. Public opinion has shifted dramatically on Israel — particularly among young people. Turns out you can only bomb hospitals and refugee camps so many times before even cable news stenographers like Wolf Blitzer begin to turn critical.
The Scourge of “Wokeness”
Let this finally be the death knell for “woke” politics. Liberal wokeness — along with its associated “anti-racist” practices like “cancel culture” and “privilege-checking” — has been a scourge on the left for the last two decades now. It has kept the left splintered and divided. And its elevation of identity over any shared sense of class solidarity has hindered the establishment of a genuine working-class revolutionary movement to topple capitalism. Is it any wonder why corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, and Bank of America are so quick to tweet out their support for Black Lives Matter?
This is not to suggest that we should ignore the vile threats of racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of oppression that the ruling class uses to divide the working class. Rather, that our appeals to workers should be based on our shared sense of class solidarity — not on reductionist identity politics.
I maintain that it is possible to win over some working-class members of the Trump MAGA-right. Some of these working-class voters could be won over to a socialist program — but only if we make an effort to appeal to them. We cannot simply dismiss them as racist, irredeemable “deplorables.” And we are not going to win them to our side with moralistic hectoring about how they can purge the innate white supremacy within them. This strategy of creating a broad, class-based “Rainbow Coalition” worked for the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. It can work for us, today.
In the meantime, let’s dismiss race-reductionist grifters like Stewart-Bouley for the petty-bourgeois apologists for imperialism they are.
- At the initial time of writing this piece, Ta-Nehisi Coates had not publicly said anything regarding Israel’s onslaught of Gaza. He has since spoken out against it. This is encouraging. Figures like Coates are (sadly, in my opinion…) highly regarded among liberals. Coates has a large following and if he can convince members of that following of the truth of Israel’s genocide against Palestine, I am all for it. So, credit where credit is due.