Politics Is Dangerous: Against Innocence

goodbyeinnocenceThe recent LIES: a journal of materialist feminism is an excellent collection of critical essays, reflections, communiques, and other writings. Despite its obvious roots in ‘zine culture, it rises above such classification; perhaps what I like best is that the collection presents things to disagree with. Many of these authors have certainly spent time in the world of the personal essay, which puts most writers in a position too vulnerable to propose anything worth disagreeing with your friends about – ‘recognize my experience or fuck you,’ – yet these authors reinvigorate the true meaning of the phrase “the personal is the political.” This isn’t a dumb boys club that starts the night with a good argument that is only to be forgotten  after a few slaps on the back at the bar. This is the lived realization that friendship is political, which is now understood as the politics of struggle built on intimacy but hidden by the seemingly-innocuous cover of “friendship as a way of life.” Yet friendship here is neither an underground network of subversive cells nor a support group turned family, it is the way we make it through our miserable lives by being political. They’re not looking for reform, rights, recognition – they’re laughing at Andy Warhol selling pictures of his mangled chest, they’re eagerly sharing diary entries about cheating the boss and getting back at bad boyfriends (aren’t they about the same?), and they’re trying not to gloat about having their finger on the pulse of the struggle way before everyone else.

But for me, the real gem of the journal is Jackie Wang’s “Against Innocence: race, gender, and the politics of safety.” Wang’s article ramps up the politics of difference with Fanonian militancy, which is framed by a deadly important point: white liberalism’s insistence on virtue establishes a caesura between two types of subject, the biopolitical “good black” (“good girl,” “good gay,” and the list goes on…) and the necropolitical “bad nigger,” as played out in the cases of Trayvon Martin, The Jena 6, Isaiah Simmons, and CeCe McDonald. This point itself is not new; what is remarkable is Wang’s category: innocence. As a diagnostic, innocence is an indispensable concept. After discussing the whiteness of safe space policies, Wang outlines the core of the argument:

As a Fanonian, I agree that removing all elements of risk and danger reinforces a politics of reformism that just reproduces the existing social order. Militancy is undermined by the politics of safety. It becomes impossible to do anything that involves risk when people habitually block such actions on the grounds that it makes them feel unsafe. People of color who use privilege theory to argue that white people have the privilege to engage in risky ac- tions while POC cannot because they are the most vulnerable (most likely to be targeted by the police, not have the resources to get out of jail, etc) make a correct assessment of power differentials between white and non-white political actors, but ultimately erase POC from the history of militant struggle by falsely associating militancy with whiteness and privilege. When an analysis of privilege is turned into a political program that asserts that the most vulnerable should not take risks, the only politically correct politics becomes a politics of reformism and retreat, a politics that necessarily capitulates to the status quo while erasing the legacy of Black Power groups like the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. For Fanon, it is precisely the element of risk that makes militant action more urgent — liberation can only be won by risking one’s life. Militancy is not just tactically necessary — its dual objective is to transform people and “fundamentally alter” their being by emboldening them, removing their passivity and cleansing them of “the core of despair” crystallized in their bodies.32

Opposite innocence, Wang therefore reconfigures a partisanship of difference based neither in isolating purity or relativist openness. I am looking forward to future elaborations on this forms of politics.

5 thoughts on “Politics Is Dangerous: Against Innocence

  1. It’s an amazing piece. What do you think of its charges against insurrectionary / nihilist thought and Tiqqun?

    1. When the parody is taken as deadly serious, it deserves harsh critique.

      Tiqqun and insurrection deserves whatever critique is coming to it, yet both have enough strong ideas to survive even the most withering critique.

      Wang’s critique of tiqqun and insurrection is structuralist, borrowing from wildersen, and tiqqun is overly agambenian. I disagree w both of them on (deleuzian) bergsonian grounds, which b massumi outlines well here http://www.brianmassumi.com/textes/Introduction.pdf

  2. In Jackie Wang’s article, there was a critique of the mainstream media’s individualistic approach to cases like Trayton Martin where racism is said to be a factor, with its focus on determining the innocence of the victims of violence in those instances, where the MSM demonstrates its usual unwillingness to treat the systemic reality that it is fully complicit in, and a later critique of the liberal ‘safe space’ argument described as delimiting and a projection of power, which makes the statement:
    “That does not mean delegitimizing the claims made by survivors — but
    rather, rejecting the framework of innocence, examining each situation
    closely, and being conscientious of the multiple power struggles
    at play in different conflicts.”
    Well, we could say of the safe space that in a society with varying levels of traumitization from the subjectification of the whole, that entering anywhere comes at one’s own risk, and how could it not. Safe spaces are impossible under the circumstances. But if we are engaged in a discussion with rape survivors for example, making an inquiry about what they were wearing, from that point onward this approach would likely beggar further dialogue, let alone examination of each situation. A space conducive to individual expression within a collective that borrows a little conscientiousness from the analysis of power struggles seems valid to me. The human condition and the effect on survivors. I would say it needn’t seek our consideration it it is not already implied as being given in advance. It may very well be one of the more important elements to a prospective dialogue, that differentiates from the liberal narcissism in its intent.

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