Oaxaca, Brad Will, and Why We Care: That "Racism" piece
It has been just over a week since the killing began in earnest down in Oaxaca. One of the first to die was IMC journalist Brad Will. Many people here in Cascadia knew Brad, and felt his loss personally. But now, it seems, they are being asked to hide their pain, on the grounds that it might be perceived as unseemly. I did not know him, but I too am a media activist, and so he was my comrade. And so yes, I care. But now, I'm being asked why.
For those of us here in the North who have been following the story of the Oaxaca commune for many months, there is a bizarre irony. Because a white activist from somewhere in the east wrote a piece entitled "RACISM IN THE NORTH: How White Privilege Teaches Us to Value Certain Lives Over Others," and it's been making the rounds of myspace pages and IMC sites all over the place. The article, written by a white man, goes on to decry the fact that people care about the killing of Brad Will, and to accuse "indymedia" (among other alternative media outlets) of racism for allegedly not covering the story of Oaxaca until Brad was killed. It is the author's assertion that, because Brad was white, his death was perceived as more important than the deaths of those who died with him.
I have thought a lot about this article. I have tried to consider it carefully, to respond carefully to the concerns raised there. I, too, fretted about the corporate media's response to the situation down in Oaxaca. I was painfully aware that the story of this incredible uprising was not being covered in the mainstream media. And I was well aware that race and class and political ideology were the reasons why. So when the author of the "Racism" article put forth his concerns that white privilege in the alternative media world had prevented a proper perspective of this situation, I carefully considered it. Since I read and post to this site so often, I concentrated on the charges regarding indymedia. I looked through the coverage on the indymedia network about Oaxaca. Could it be true? Was there racism at work behind the concerns over the death of Brad Will?
Here is what I discovered. I discovered that Portland indymedia had been covering the story of Oaxaca for months. This was no surprise, since I had been reading about the situation here, coming here for updates. But more than that, I checked other sites, and I realized that indy has been covering this story as it is designed to do. That is, up close, personal, and generally local. Indymedia is a global phenomenon, and the various indy sites generally concentrate on local issues unless something really big is going on somewhere else. This is the way to do media, because people from the local community are in a better position to report on and understand the context around events happening in their own community than people from a world away would be. This facet of the indymedia network is actually a cure for the phenomenon of the elite "journalist" riding in on a white charger taking the words from peoples' mouths. It is expected that people who care about an issue happening in, for example, Mexico, will take the time to click on the relevant local site -- in this case, the Oaxaca site. That way, you get the story from the people themselves. You will be hearing the story as told by the people in the midst of it, the people who are living it. So any activist who did not bother to check Oaxaca IMC for the rest of this story apparently does not care what the Oaxacan people themselves have to say about it, but would rather read what Whitey in El Norte has to say.
This doesn't mean that indy sites never cover stories that are not local. No, when something is either really big news elsewhere, or it is locally relevant, it will make its way to our local site. So, for example, when police violence cuts open the streets of Portland, we read about it on our site but not necessarily on a site in Mexico. But when that police violence took the life of Jose Mejia Poot, a Mexican national, it made news in Mexico. And when 500 women took over a television station in Oaxaca in August, it made front page news here in Portland. And when the crackdown started, and people were being killed down there, it made front page news here. And all through the heavy fighting there, as our comrades have needed our solidarity, all the sites in the world have focused on the situation.
So the Oaxaca situation has been very, very big news on indymedia, and any activist who is not aware of that probably needs to check his own racism, rather than that of others. Because this news is always available, if you only care to check. If you check the left side of the screen, you will see links to every indy site in the world. And hey! There's a Oaxaca site right there. This site has been broiling with the news of Oaxaca for much of the summer, because it has been close, personal, local information. The Chiapas site as well, has had a lot of information about the uprising, as there is a lot of local interplay between the govt reaction to the Oaxacans and the govt reaction to the Zapatistas. I've been checking these sites, but apparently the person who wrote the "racism" article has not. He does a great disservice to all the IMCistas from Central and South America, who have been fighting at our sides all this time, who have been just as much a part of the indy network as any Nothern IMCistas. He, himself, has attempted to erase their efforts and their contribution to Indymedia, by ignoring their very existence and focusing instead on only Northern IMCs. He implies that it should be Northern IMCistas covering this story all this time, rather than listening to the words of the people right there, telling this story for themselves.
His own issues, be they racism or ignorance of the way indymedia works, led him to put his words into the mouths of others, and that is taking on an unearned privilege. Because when I check the indy sites in Oaxaca, and in Ecuador, and in Bolivia, and in Argentina, and in Brazil, and in Chiapas, I find Brad Will prominently mentioned. Not because he's white, not because he's American, but because he was a comrade. Because he was there. Because he was an IMCista. He was "one of us." So this white guy, Eric whatever-his-name was, who wrote the piece on racism, does not speak for Latino comrades. He speaks from an armchair somewhere, from white guilt. But he does not speak for the rest of us.
He said, in his article,
"The organizers of a speaking tour of APPO
delegates in Los Angeles have been overwhelmed with phone calls since
Brad Will's death."
He uses that to argue that we must all be so racist up here, in El Norte, because we started calling then. He does not mention that the phone calls began flooding in when they did because that's when all the killing began. That's when the government crackdown started. That's when plain-clothes govt paramilitary agents began shooting people to death in the streets, and tanks began rolling in. And he does not mention that Brad Will, an IMCista, was one of the first to be killed in teh crackdown. Nor does he mention that the government might have gotten away with their cover story -- that the killers were "just disgruntled townspeople" -- if it had not been for the footage Brad shot as he was dying. It was his footage, IMC footage, that told the story to the world, that these were not just "townspeople," that they were in fact, the police.
Eric does not mention that the reason why Brad Will was killed was because "indymedia" DOES care. Because he was covering this story FOR indymedia at the time of his death. So yes, even here in El Norte, people cared enough about this story. Enough for an IMCista to risk his own life, to give his own life, for the story of the people of Oaxaca.
Eric goes on to say, "We cannot jump on the revolutionary band wagon and ride out the heroic end of the struggle, now that they have created their own radical potential." By that, he seems to mean that solidarity for a fallen comrade is somehow inappropriate. That solidarity with the people of Oaxaca at this moment when the government forces are cracking down upon them with tanks and tear gas and guns, is wrong. I suppose, from the comfort of one's armchair, in the din of one's own head, it may seem so. But this is a real struggle, out here in the real world, with real comrades' lives at stake. So I will stand and be counted for the people of Oaxaca, and yes, for a fellow IMCista, and I will not take the time to wallow in Eric's guilt first.
And again, he says:
"And in Oaxaca, the people have labored, and struggled,
and sacrificed their lives, and now that we see all that they have done,
we seek to, at least, call it our own, and at worst (and what I fear the
most) co-opt it."
No. See, that's racism. That is a very racist assumption, that white people in El Norte can, or would, somehow co-opt this struggle. That trivializes what is really happening here. Because what is happening here is people, white and black and brown, people are being inspired. More inspired than any of us has been for years, by a courageous and awesome struggle going on in Oaxaca. It is people, all over the world, learning from the example of our brave companeros. It is all of us being so exhilarated and inspired all summer, as we watched the growing resistance, and tried to soak up all the lessons they were teaching us over Radio Universidad, and over the articles all over the indymedia network. We have been learning to resist from people who are showing us how it's really done. And as the crackdown began, we were with them. We did whatever we could think to do from up here. We stormed embassies and called in favors and sent down supplies, and did whatever we could do. Not because we imagine ourselves for a moment charging in on shining stallions, but because they are, in every sense of the word, our comrades. Because we care. Because we need each other. This is mutual aid.
Todos somos Oaxaca.
Perhaps Eric has not been following this story, maybe he was not aware of this struggle until last week. But many of the rest of us have been glued to Radio Universidad, and to the voices of our comrades -- coming often via indymedia. We have been on the edge of our seats, and we do care. We did not just start caring last Thursday, when Brad was shot. But we started mobilizing for real last Thursday, because it was clear at that moment that the shootout was beginning. And because the people of Oaxaca asked us to. So that's why we care.
As for the allegation of racism, I am troubled by the fact that this was put forth at this moment by a white guy, presuming to speak from his college-course armchair for people of color. That, all too often, is the unwitting face of racism. If the people of Oaxaca are not troubled by the fact that IMCistas care about Brad Will, if they do not see this as racist, then why should I take the white guy's word for it that it is racist?
At this moment, we are all coming together to resist a growing oppression, and to stand in solidarity with our comrades, and Eric's facile and divisive analysis of the situation is, in my opinion, inaccurate and unhelpful. This is not to say that there are no grains of truth there. It is certainly true that there was privilege in Brad Will's status as a white US citizen, for all the good it did him, and that it makes a difference in being able to call on congressional reps and the like, that we can say, "They killed an American citizen." Yes, that is troubling. And it's certainly true that the corporate media is replete with images of white supremacy. That violence against white Americans is treated as a graver crime than violence against people of color, both in the corporate media and in the US criminal "justice" system. All these things are true. God, there is so much racism in the world. Yes, that is true. But Eric's assertion that we are somehow racist because we care about our IMC comrade, or that we did not care about Oaxaca before his death, or that we would not care now if he had not been killed, these assertions are simply wrong. What is more, they are, in themselves, racist. Eric did not do his homework. He did not bother to check the Oaxaca indymedia site before raising his allegations. He did not bother to ask anyone in the communities for which he presumes to speak before slinging his accusations. And he dismissed without comment the very real and meaningful impact the Oaxaca struggle has had, is having, on activists here in the North.
Now, I realize that he wrote this from somewhere far away from here, that he knew nothing about the Portland indy site, so I can forgive him for not knowing that we have been able to read about Oaxaca here on our site for many months. That's not what bothers me about his lack of research. The thing that bothers me is that he did not even bother to look at the Central American sites. Apparently, he did not even know they were there. How insulting to the people of Indymedia, the people who keep this network together, in the South.
These are my thoughts about the "Racism in the North" article that's been circulating through myspace. I should add that I am merely a person who reads this site, and who occasionally contributes to it. I am speaking only for myself. If you take issue to my words, please take them up with me, and not with "indymedia." I am not speaking for "indymedia," I am speaking for myself.
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