Tribal War! by Mykel Board

Mykel Board - You're Wrong!

Mykel Board – You’re Wrong!


by Mykel Board

The leftist ideologue, like the Christian bible thumper, is entirely evangelical– she will not be satisfied until everyone who doesn’t think like she does is either converted or jailed under hate crime legislation. – Jim Goad

The trouble with being a leftist– or a rightist– is that you soon discover so many people “on your side” are complete assholes. –Mykel Board

Fuck! I’m gonna die! I sit a the computer, typing these words. My stomach is killing me. Last night… a visit to Todd’s Mill, a new bar in town. Now my body now seeks revenge… in spades. The even browner brown ale makes its way through my large intestine. I trace the path. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to finish this sen…. Hang on!

Holy shit! That was great! I needed it…. and I shat an L-shaped turd! How is that possible? A turd cannot make a sudden turn? Look at it. Squeeze a tube of toothpaste. It may not squirt in a perfectly straight line, but a right angle? It defies logic. Can’t happen! But there it is… in the toilet. A turd… from my own body… at right angles to itself. Plain as the stain on my fingertips. I flush before I think to take a picture (a selfie?). You’ll just have to believe me… but how did it happen?

Flash to the 1980s: I write a column about the Toronto Anarchist Convention. At that convention, I’m annoyed by, among other things, a workshop called: Creating Spaces: for women only. How can you have an anarchist space “for women only?” It defies logic. Can’t happen!

I scribble in a blank calendar spot: KLANARCHY: for whites only. In half an hour, my scribbling is x-ed off. In an hour, the whole calendar is down. My protest disappears like an L-shaped turd.

Flash to this year May: I’ve written elsewhere about an Oakland Anarchist bookfair. The editor of Anarchy Magazine calls for a burning of the churches. Okay, he’s an anarchist. That’s what they do.

“What about black churches?” comes a shout from the audience.

“Burn the black churches. Burn ALL the churches,” comes the response.

What happens? Volunteers for Qilombo, a black anarchist group, confront the editor and his pals. BAM! Out of the conference. LEAVE, NOW! Why?

“You said BURN THE BLACK CHURCHES! That makes you a racist.”

Two groups of anarchists. Both anti-government. At right angles, one group attacking the other– becoming the cops they hate. It’s like an L-shaped turd! Impossible.

But wait, there’s more. In an amazing YouTube video, two groups of feminists demonstrate on campus. There’s a march. Actually they’re trying to start the march. It’s not exactly clear what’s happening, but they can’t seem to get the thing started. They’re shouting at each other.

“This march is for women only! Everyone needs their own space.”

“Why does women’s space exclude trans-women? You’re defining what women are…?”

“I’m not defining! I’m….”

And this is all at high-pitched screeching volume in those girl voices that are as annoying as– and even more piercing than– frat-boy guffaws. I bet it would be fun to watch on acid…. I haven’t taken acid in 30 years.

Flash to: An anarchist conference in Portland Oregon, 2013. Not satisfied with their own space, Portland anarcha-femmes hold the whole conference hostage. In a presentation, they rise as a trained choir and shout together,


They shout it over and over again. The speaker can’t speak. She’s silenced by the spoken mob violence of the protestors. Their totalitarianism blocks any communication… Government censorship is no more effective than this bunch.

And so it goes. Each sensitive group is so concerned about ITSELF. So ME! MY TRIBE! that it no longer matters what people believe… only what they ARE. Biology is destiny!

I’m a Person of Color®. I’m a Womyn®. I’m a Trans-Woman/Man/Am®. I’m a fill-in-the-blank. You can’t know what it’s like. Jesus fuckin’ christ!

I’m a Jew. I love matzo-ball soup, bagels, and the hora. Every Passover, I go to a Seder. Every Yom Kippur, I fast. BUT, I don’t give a shit if YOU’RE NOT A JEW. You’re welcome to matzo-ball soup, bagels, my Seder, fasting… and the hora. The synagogue may be Jew-space, but you can come in and join me there.

Why do we need tribal warfare? Why do we need space ONLY FOR US? It’s a cheap version of the whites-only country clubs. Who needs it?

Enough ME, already. It’s a staple of the right. Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “There is no society” ONLY ME!

Leftist identilovers say “there is no society” ONLY MY TRIBE. Who needs it? I don’t need to be defined by the lack of foreskin on my penis. Poverty, economic inequality, the erosion of personal freedom, these are not ME issues! They are WE issues.

Flash to Punk Rock: Ratos de Porao are in New York for the first time in more than a decade. Yowsah! They’re playing at a Latino metal / punk fest in Queens. White metal, Latino metal (that is, white metal with finer asses), white punk, and RATOS! You’re too young to remember when Brazilian hardcore was king of the world. Think Ohlo Seco and Colera. Ratos was part of that.

I’m late to the show. I had to teach until 9 and it was a long subway ride. I walk from the subway to the club in Queens. Esneider lives around here, maybe he’ll be at the show. That building ahead. BLACKTHORN, it says on the awning. The whole building is black. Outside are a bunch of Hispanic guys– my size, long hair, wearing black. This must be the place.

Gilberto waits for me outside.

“Ola Mykel,” he says, “you’re three hours late. You become Mexican or something?”


I walk in, grab a beer at the bar. On stage is a bouncer. A big white guy, with a bigger belly. He’s pyramid-shapped. Not aggressive, just standing there… dull eyed. He’s got the heavy-lidded, hung-lipped look of someone whose numchucks are more numb than chucked.

Also on stage is DRIVEN MAD. It’s a metal band. I don’t like metal… The band is all long-hairs except for the singer. Shaved head, he looks a fuck of a lot like Ben Weasel. He sounds like Jello Biafra would, if someone were squeezing his balls.

And he’s all over the place. KABLU! He leaps from the stage to the bar. Pole dancing like those guys on the subway. Then SPLOW! On the floor… this way… that way… confronting… and loving… the audience at the same time. The crowd is eating it up. They should be. This guy is great. This band is great. The best thing I’ve seen in ages. This isn’t metal. It’s… It’s… Then it hits me. IT DOESN’T MATTER!

Between songs, he speaks… in Spanish. It’s school Spanish, as formal as in Spain, but he speaks to the Latino crowd IN SPANISH… becoming WE instead of ME! I’m in love!

There’s a bigger pit for the next band. The singer stays on stage, so the crowd makes the action instead. I move toward the back as the mosh pit grows. Most of the audience is Hispanics. That means they’re more my size. Who can I stand behind? A five foot four inch guy doesn’t make much of a shield for a five foot three-inch guy.

The adrenaline is rushing. A girl, skinny, wearing leather pants and a tight tank top, pushes her way through the crowd to the pit. That’s what I like to see. Girls in the pit.

But… she’s got something to prove. Not only is she smashing her fellow dancers, she’s slamming into the audience, pushing random people, throwing them down, not giving a fuck. She pushes me. I punch her in the stomach. A karate chop… kung fu actually. THWAP. Not thinking… just a split second reaction. I feel her tight abdomen against the side of my hand. She doesn’t blink an eye. I wait for the delayed reaction… a subtle hand rubbing the offended part. Nothing. I’m disappointed… or relieved.

Ah, the sound booth. Just three steps up, but those three steps give me just the boost I need. I can see… be slightly above the crowd, and in relatively safety. I climb two steps and stand next to a door that says PLEASE DON’T LEAN ON THE DOOR. I don’t lean on the door.

A prissy skinny guy with a blond beard and tight black jeans pushes past me. I step down to let him enter the booth. The band plays. It’s more heavy metal, and I’m lovin’ it. The prissy guy returns and glares at me. Doesn’t say a word. I smile.

“Move!” he says.

I step down. He enters the sound booth. I go back on the stairs. The pit looks more violent now. Some meatheads, fists swinging, looking for trouble. They’re banging into other meatheads. Those meatheads bang back. There’s gonna be a fight.. a big brawl between these guys. I can see it. One of ’em is down. Here comes the boot to the head… Nope… Another guy bends toward him… helps him up… They hug… laugh… Best pals in the world… Holy shit!

The door of the sound booth opens. Prissy boy whacks it hard against me.

“Look,” he says through gritted teeth, “you can’t stand there. Can’t you read the sign?”

He points to the DO NOT LEAN sign.

“I think so,” I tell him. He tsks loudly and goes out. He’s soon back and I jump off the stairs to accommodate him. In a few seconds, a monster white guy appears. Tree-trunk muscles, shaved head, tight black t-shirt that should,–but doesn’t– say DON’T YOU DARE FUCK WITH ME. He stands at the top of the stairs, so I can’t.

I get it. Our bearded whiteguy told SECURITY about what a trouble maker I was. So, instead of a 5’3” old Jewish guy on the stairs, there’s a 9 foot monster on the stairs. Yeah, that helps the situation… makes a clear passage. I go for another beer, return and stand right next to the staircase. The monster glares at me. I smile.

Before long, the monster leaves for the men’s room. Can I do it? I press in my stomach muscles. Push the fingers of my right hand against my tonue. YES!!! I puke on the stairs. Then I move up to the side of the stage.

I stand next to a colored bouncer, at the edge of the stage. Ratos are on now. And things are gonna get even better. The first few songs are fun, kind of speed metal punk… hardcore with a lot of mugging from Gordo, the singer, who must be almost as old as I am. The crowd is wild. The band is having a great time. I return with another beer.

Fuck, the same girl I chopped in the stomach is at it again. PLOW! She’s on stage… throwing her arms around… hip-smashing Estevan. the new guitar player. He’s only trying to remember his chords. She’s an asshole. No way around that. POW! Security is up. there. First the white guy– the nine foot tall macho booth protector. He grabs her by the hair… pulls… drags her to the side.

POW TWO! Her boyfriend, long hair… skinnier than most… leather jacket. He shoulders through the crowd and leaps over the barrier onto the stage. KABLAM! He lands one on the bouncer’s neck… a fist… not a karate chop. STABOOM! The black bouncer standing next to me is on the stage… and the retarded white guy is in the middle of it… fending off blows while the black guy punches back. Then the other white guy… the macho one… sent by the sound crew to protect them from me… gets in the action.

The band stops. Shouts of MATA LOS something-or-other rise from the crowd. PANIC. People run toward the door, t-shirts over their noses. Why? I don’t… shit… I’m dripping snot… not dripping… flowing, snot puddles down my mustache, soaking my beard like twat juice from a squirter. My eyes burn. Fuck, they maced the crowd. The bouncers sprayed everyone. Show’s over, I’m getting out of here.

Gilberto grabs my shoulder, pulling me like a dad trying to save his drowning son… into the entrance… to the front door. The door glass is smashed. The outside gate is down… over the glass… KABLOW, something smashes into that gate. It bulges but does not break. We’re frantic… looking for a way out. There is an exit… with an emergency PUSH HERE handle… one way… like at a bank ATM. We’re on it. WEEEE-EEEE-EEE WEEE-EEEE-EEE. The alarm? A police siren? No time to check. We’re outta there.

Flash to the next day: Gilberto and I are off to see R-Tronika at ABC NO RIO. Who should be at the door waiting to collect my 8 dollars? Esneider!

“What happened to you last night?” I ask. “I thought you’d be at the Ratos show. Let me tell you about it!”

“I’ve already seen it,” he says. “It was on YouTube last night.”

“Why weren’t you there?” I ask.

“That’s a heavy metal place,” he says. “Not my thing… by the way, what color were the bouncers?”

“Black and white,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “That always happens. Black and white guys don’t get Latinos. They think there’s violence. Then they MAKE the violence.”

Yo, he’s right and wrong.

Wrong: musical correctness, making THIS kind of music okay and THAT kind of music “not my thing.” Before yesterday, I thought that way too. I learned. Maybe I knew all along. In Mexico, or Guyana, or Estonia, I saw folk music with speed metal with pop punk. Sometimes all from the same band. “I like the music,” rather than I AM A PUNK ROCKER. No one gives a fuck what you are!

Right: Sometimes race can make a difference. If those bouncers were Hispanic, the riot wudda never happened. The shithead girl would have been grabbed, lifted over the barrier, and gone back into the crowd. Maybe someone else would have punched her.

So my ME vs WE thesis has a hole, as does every generalization. Sometimes race is important. It’s certainly worth considering to preserve the peace. You wouldn’t hire a black guard to frisk under the sheets at a Klan rally. We can bend identity… use it… but we don’t need to be trapped by it. Ruled by it. So here’s my conclusion.

We need more I LIKE than I AM. We need more, LET’S WORK AS PEOPLE, than LET’S WORK AS (Blacks, Women, Transsexuals, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Whites, blah blah blah). Narrow identity destroys HUMAN identity.

English has two kinds of WE: the INCLUSIVE– you and me– like we need to end hunger in America. There’s also the EXCLUSIVE WE– me and my group– like we need our own space. That means This is not YOUR space. We (inclusive) need more of the former and a fuck of a lot less of we (exclusive).

I’ll be in Detroit in June. It’s the Alternative Media Conference. The workshops will sewers of identitute. Some examples?

* POC-led Healing and Organizing Strategies
* Smashing Assumptions: Muslimahs in Sport
* Black Femme Blogger Meet-Up (I shit you not)

and my favorite: Creative Digestion for People of Color (I L-shaped-turd-double-shit-you -not.) That one includes this description: In this caucus we will reclaim the dirtiest parts of ourselves, and explore how cleanliness and hierarchies of fluids stem from colonialism, capitalism, and ableism. We will also discuss how the white supremacist capitalist food system affects our relationships with eating, fucking, and excretion. Come prepared to make art, share stories, and get messy. This is a POC-only space.

Uh oh, looks like I’m going to have to bring my calendar-scribbling pen: CREATIVE EXCRETION FOR WHITE JEWS. This is an OJF (Old Jewish Farts)-only space. I’ll let you know what happens.



Essentialism and the Problem of Identity Politics

Lawrence Jarach
Essentialism and the Problem of Identity Politics

Preliminary Theses for a Longer Discussion on Essentialism and the Problem of Identity Politics

1. Essentialism is the idea that there exists some detectible and objective 
core quality of particular groups of people that is inherent, eternal, and unalterable; groupings can be categorized according to these qualities of essence, which are based on such problematic criteria as gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and class. These external qualities are almost always marked by visual cues, making the categories more obvious and/or easier to notice. These qualities contain social and — more importantly from an antiauthoritarian perspective — hierarchical significance to those marking the cues and those marked by the cues: sexism, in the case of gender; racism in the case of skin tone; the unwanted attention of authorities in the case of any and all different looking/acting people. Racism, sexism, classism, and most other forms of historical oppression are ideologies and policies maintained and justified by essentialism.

2. For a person or group of people on the receiving end of racism and sexism (etc.), essentialism can appear to be a powerful defensive perspective and counter-narrative. Rather than promoting categories of denigration and subordination, the counter-essentialist discourse of Identity Politics attempts to invert the historical categories of oppression into categories of celebration. This is often initiated by appropriating insults and turning them into acceptable, even honorable, labels. What had once been intended to harm the Other thereby becomes a way to show pride in the Group Self. Keeping with the inversion process, the counter-essentialist often merely turns the categories of Otherness upside-down, making visually identifiable members of the Oppressor group into enemies. A sense of belonging either to a group that has oppressed or been oppressed is immaterial — essentialism is not the exclusive domain of oppressors.

3. The discourse of counter-essentialism includes the ideologies of innocence and victimization, which can quickly transform an identity based on the history of shared oppression into a posture of superiority. Counter-essentialism supposedly proves that the victim is eternally innocent, so victims’ actions and reactions are forever beyond reproach; all good Christians know that suffering is ennobling. Oppression is never the result of anything the victim has actually done to the Oppressor, so whatever strategies of resistance the victim chooses are legitimate. Self-defense is its own justification.

4. The adherents of Identity Politics rarely — if ever — question the criteria leading to victimization. They can’t conceive of the possibility that the elevation of any particular culturally constructed marker into a significant value — laden category could lead to oppression. Unlike Oppressor essentialists, counter-essentialists ignore the complexities of relations of power (which are conditional and contingent); but like Oppressor essentialists, they revel in the smug self-assurance that their Identity is static, independent, and eternal. Essentialists create and maintain their own privileges through the institutionalization of power; counter-essentialists through the institutionalization of innocence.

5. Franz Fanon, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and many other Third World national liberationists even less reputable to anarchists (like Castro, Tito, and Mao) inspired generations of self-described revolutionaries in the Imperial Metropole to fight against discrimination, racism, colonialism, and oppression. That all these Third World nationalists thought, wrote, and acted within a statist — and usually Marxist-Leninist, which is to say Stalinist — framework is also clear. Despite this, as successful anti-imperialists, they retain a certain appeal and credibility among anarchists. After all, what anarchist would be in favor of imperialism?

6. The philosophy and vision of self-determination requires an appeal to world political opinion; it is as if so-called revolutionary nationalists wanted to say: “We are mature enough to run our own governments, make treaties, engage in trade with the established states of the world, and control troublesome dissidents.” On a certain level, these soon-to-be national leaders accepted and promoted the justification for colonialism — namely that the natives were too child-like or uneducated to determine the proper exploitation of the natural resources of their lands. They wanted to show — either through the force of morality (as in the totally mythologized case of Gandhi) or the force of arms (as in the totally romanticized case of Che and others) — that they were worthy of being reckoned and negotiated with, and eventually recognized as equal partners in the realm of statecraft. National borders invented and imposed by colonial powers would be respected, trade agreements would generally (or eventually) be concluded with the former colonial power, laws drawn up by the former colonial masters against internal dissidence would continue to be used, etc. The native bourgeoisie took over all the institutions of government, deflecting — through appeals to explicitly cross-class ethno-national unity and solidarity — the more basic struggle between exploiter and exploited.

7. The gender- and ethnic-based liberation movements in Europe and the United States of the late-1960s/early-1970s took their ideological cues and justifications from these successful anti-colonialist struggles. The rhetoric of Third World national liberation was used constantly, to the point where many African-Americans, some women and other self-identified oppressed groups began to describe themselves as “internal colonies.” Minorities of all kinds had already been identified as subordinate Others by the elites of hierarchical societies; the facile identification of the colonial exploiter and his institutions as the oppressive Other is at the heart of the trouble with Identity Politics. The assigning of blame, responsibility, and guilt to everyone identified as belonging to the category of oppressive Other curtails the possibility of transcending hierarchy and domination; this process merely inverts the values placed on particular classes or groups of people, regardless of their personal complicity in historical or contemporary oppression.

8. For most women liberationists, the category of Woman — reduced to a hermetic category based only on gender — became the only category of importance. The denigration and oppression of women was clear everywhere: discrimination, rape and other forms of violence, harassment, the expectation and enforcement of motherhood and heterosexuality, and the myriad ways of keeping women dependent and subservient. Women liberationists declared Patriarchy to be the Enemy, some taking the next logical step and making Men — reduced to a hermetic category based only on gender — the Enemy. 
For most black nationalists, the category of Black — reduced to a hermetic category based on genetics and race — became the only category of importance. The denigration and oppression of blacks was clear everywhere: discrimination in the form of Jim Crow, lynching and other forms of violence, harassment (especially by law enforcement), the expectation and enforcement of servility, and the myriad ways of keeping black people dependent and subservient. Black nationalists declared White Racism to be the Enemy, some taking the next logical step and making White People — reduced to a hermetic category based on genetics and race — the Enemy.

9. Race and gender, similar to other culturally specific ideological constructs, are both real and unreal. Unreal in the biological sense; conceptions of these distinctions do not correspond to objective — that is, non-culturally based — categories. Real in the sociological sense; there are clear ways of discerning racism, sexism, and other forms of domination and exploitation regardless of any particular cultural context. They are therefore deserving of critical attention. Those who champion the discourse of gender studies have done an excellent job in analyzing and shattering the contingent nature of how gender is understood, showing that particular combinations of chromosomes and genitalia are only a part (and arguably not even the most important part) of what makes gender meaningful. Critical race theory is also an encouraging and interesting recent anti-essentialist development.

10. Colonialists and their apologists consistently promote mythico-ideological categories of domination. People opposed to hierarchical institutions already understand and expect that. The main conceptual contradiction of anti-imperialists (those who supposedly oppose colonial practices) is their own acceptance of Euro-American prejudices and stereotypes — only with the values inverted. The categories of denigrated Other (black, savage, woman) created and maintained for the exclusive benefit of Eurosupremacists and sexists are not called into question; their objectivity is self-evident, based on the common sense of the culture originally created by the racists and sexists. Everyone can tell whether someone is male or female — it’s biological. Everyone can tell whether someone is black or white — it’s scientific. Even before (but especially during) the formative years of European colonialism, Science and Biology were seen as methodologies for discerning Objective Reality. Anti-imperialists, as good Marxist-Leninists, find nothing troubling about Science; it’s what separates their particular ideology from all other forms of socialism. However, Science is an ideologically driven pursuit. Thinking of Science as some neutral examination and discernment of facts for the sake of technological progress, increasing human liberation, and knowledge about the universe should be treated as any other form of wishful thinking. Knowledge is not separate from the uses to which it has been and is currently being put.

11. Group self-definition would seem to fit in with the anarchist principles of self-organization and voluntary association. Counter-essentialist identity can even be understood as an attempt to recapture kinship-based community, destroyed by the imposition of industrial capitalism (which is based on division of labor and the resulting atomization and alienation of individuals from each other). It remains problematic, however, because it is an identity forged within the ideology of victimization; it rests on the same arbitrary and constructed categories that were previously formulated to justify oppression. Creating a supposedly liberatory counter-narrative that remains based on visual markers can never possibly question the validity of an oppressive ideology. The other problem is the promotion of an ideologically constructed identity. Such an identity demands group loyalty and solidarity over and above the actual lived experiences of the individuals involved. 
The person who is attracted to the promised sense of belonging offered by any institution (whether an oppressed group, a hierarchical organization, or any formation promoting Unity) must agree to the prior distinctions and categories created by others. Once the counter-essentialist agrees to the boundaries of inclusion/exclusion (which is step one on the road to separatism), s/he can’t identify or be identified any other way; whatever criteria already exist in the counter-essentialist narrative are the only ones that matter. This Identity Fundamentalism requires that any person interested in radical transformation relinquish the ability to define her/himself. S/he must dissolve any self-awareness into pre-existing categories of significance. Biology — no matter its ideological and cultural constraints — is Destiny; subjectivity can only be sacrificed and/or suppressed. One of the first authoritarian lies is that someone else knows better.

Essentialists, merely by casting a cursory glance at their chosen Other, already know all they need to know about that person. Separatists, nationalists, anti-imperialists — essentialists all — call that Liberation