Troubling the Waters, the Trouble with Boycotts
By Myles E. Johnson @hausmuva
It becomes hard to tell the difference between what resistance is and what is desperation. 2016 made that even clearer. The year has been exhausting and traumatic. Stuck between a rock and a hard place is usually referred to as just a phrase about a fleeting moment of difficulty. However, 2016 has frozen that moment and made these difficult moments perpetual and constant. Politically, culturally, personally, and otherwise, 2016 has been the kind of year that has wounded us relentlessly. I see it on the faces of everyone every time I leave the house. I can see behind people’s eyes and tell they are tortured. This is new. I used to only be able to spot one or two troubled or exhausted people in the grocery story. Perhaps, the rest are hiding it well and some other are genuinely at peace. Now, I walk through the grocery store and everyone looks one moment away from reaching the breaking point that they thought they were going to reach around June. We are wounded.
In times of feeling wounded, it is a normal to desire to heal. That search for healing looks different for everyone. Personally, it may look like healthy amounts of meditation and sleep. It may look like unhealthy amounts of a substance or neglecting your body. Politically and culturally, it gets more complicated than just keeping survey of your body. This domination we desire to heal from shifts and transforms and leaves us weary routinely. Surely, our resistance to this domination must do the same.
This is easier to say than to practice because when you are assaulted and wounded, the first thing that is stolen from you is your ability to be patient. You must react and quickly. It is human. If you are being mauled by a bear, you run or fight, you do not get the chance to patiently meditate on the situation. Domination throws you in similar circumstances, sadly. This leads to boycotts and protests that hardly ever get interrogated beyond being seen as a function of resistance. I don’t believe this to be wrong totally, but in desperate need of re-evaluation.
During my first protest the crowd chanted, “Black lives matter!” For that moment, mourning and resisting black people were the heartbeat of the streets and that phrase was the pulse. I was resisting, or so I thought. Commentary from Toni Morrison on the white gaze served as an intervention to this idea, however. I had to pose the question that, who exactly are we attempting to convince that black lives matter? It could not possibly be other black people because surely we know that ours lives are paramount. It dawned on me that this protest song functions as a plead with the master narrative and the interlocking domination systems we want freedom from. However, these cries from our mouths are futile because moral pleas will always be futile in the face of domination. To paraphrase Stokely Carmichael’s words, “In order for non-violence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” To attempt to convince the interlocking dominations that a black life is valuable, that it matters, you must assume that domination has moral compass or conscience that can disrupt itself from perpetuating violence. This is false.
A scandal broke out when it was disclosed that Facebook investor and former Paypal owner, Peter Thiel, would be donating 1.25 million dollars to Donald Trump’s political campaign. A new life of the scandal was born when it broke that Facebook owner, Mark Zuckerberg sounded politically neutral to this fact and Donald Trump in his entirety. He is quoted saying, “That’s ultimately what Facebook is all about: giving everyone the power to share our experiences, so we can understand each other a bit better and connect us a little closer together.”
The immediate response to this news from many was to boycott Paypal, Facebook, or a combination of both. I didn’t have the same sense of urgency because I know domination doesn’t just live with one company, network, or brand; it is the sum of everything that exists in the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. If you look at virtually any company that we would describe as wealthy, there are white men that manipulate this domination along with their privilege to survive and to continue to oppress. The only difference is Thiel’s violent capitalist practices were made public. The practice of boycotting Paypal as radical stance serves as more of an inconvenience to those that must navigate violent capitalism in inventive, radical, and entrepreneurial ways. Zuckerberg’s political neutrality shocked some, but not me. Often liberal whiteness is performance that goes as far as it can, until something like power or privilege, might need to be compromised.
Assata Shakur is quoted saying, “I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I have heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject. As far as I can tell, you have the extreme right, who are fascist racist capitalist dogs like Ronald Reagan, who come right out and let you know where they’re coming from. And on the opposite end, you have the left, who are supposed to be committed to justice, equality, and human rights. And somewhere between those two points is the liberal.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary. History has shown me that as long as some white middle-class people can live high on the hog, take vacations to Europe, send their children to private schools, and reap the benefits of their white skin privilege, then they are ‘liberal’. But when times get hard and money gets tight, they pull off that liberal mask and you think you’re talking to Adolf Hitler. They feel sorry for the so-called underprivileged just as long as they can maintain their own privileges.”
It was not profitable for Zuckerberg to abandon Trump or his supporters because no matter how much they engage with violent white supremacy, he makes money from them. Where some may see a basket of deplorables, Zuckerberg sees a basket of profitables.
I don’t name these failures to resist as ways to sound particularly cynical about the status of radical resistance in 2016, but to empower each one of us to know that the one thing domination is not, is intelligent. The power of domination comes from desperation and cowardice, not genius. Most resistance techniques we arrive at are reactionary and meet domination at its intelligence level. Instead, we should rise to the occasion of our own radical genius and conjure plans to transgress and resist that not only help us survive and navigate domination but empower the people and find relief in traumatic years like 2016.
Myles E. Johnson is a writer located in Atlanta, Georgia. His work spans between critical and personal essays, children’s literature and speculative fiction. Johnson focuses on black and queer identities, and specifically, the intersection of the two. Johnson’s work has been featured in Bitch Media, NBCBLK, Huffington Post, Out Magazine and The Guardian.