Back in October of 2010, the NAACP released a report on the Tea Party. The report never came out and claimed the Tea Party was racist, as many on the left had already suggested. It did, however, claim that the Tea Party had “given platform to anti-Semites, racists and bigots.” The NAACP wasn’t saying the Tea Party was full of skinheads, but it was full of whites with a “nationalist” bent.
The Tea Party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement who are in their numerical majority, angry middle-class white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them.
As it turns out, every word of that description can apply to the Occupy movement. A survey arranged by the Occupiers last October found that they were 81% white and 1.6% black (vs. 77% and 13% in the general population). And no one would argue that the Occupy movement is calm or focused. They certainly seem to believe “their nation” has been taken from them by the Wall Street one percent. And yet the NAACP hasn’t written anything about the Occupy movement.
But now a group of self-identified “people of color” has. Two weeks ago, 19 individuals, many anonymous, co-authored a letter to the Occupy movement, which they accused of being a “straight-white-man approach to movement building”:
Some of us participated in the formation of Occupy People of Color and Queer People of Color groups in order to hold space, or find refuge when encountered with incidents of racism, sexism, or homophobia. The simple fact that our groups served this purpose shows that OWS spaces prioritized the wants, needs, values, and culture of heterosexual white men first. Frankly, many of us have encountered this straight-white-man approach to movement-building too many times to count. In fact, many of the same characters that have attempted to dominate movements in our communities in the past are the same people who lead OWS from the light and shadows.
The physical presence of multitudes of white Occupiers on Wall Street, which was once the site of Native genocide and African chattel slavery, is troubling. Though Occupy activists now widely share the history of Wall Street to show that its foundations are corrupt, they use this truth to justify a new occupation that is 80% white and 68% male.
Beyond the critique of the movement and its leadership, the letter also sketches an unflattering picture of life within the camps:
A culture of violence was allowed to take root at many OWS sites but was masked by calls to unite under the banner of the 99%. Many of us experienced or witnessed slurs, attacks, and intimidation based on our race, culture, age, socioeconomic status, educational level, ability and/or perceived gender and sexual identities at Occupy encampments. When we attempted to challenge these abuses, we were silenced or ostracized. We were told that talking about the incidents limited other’s freedom and gave the police an opportunity to invade the camps.
The letter states that 35 people joined a conference call to discuss these issues in November:
Despite the diverse experiences held by the 35 people on the call in cities all over the nation, the overwhelming majority agreed that the encampments were not safe spaces for people of color. Some of us cannot attend a meeting ever again for fear of retaliation and physical assault now that we have spoken out. While supporters of Occupy might characterize these events as isolated incidents or unrepresentative of their movement, they cannot hide the fact that people of color do not and never have participated in large numbers.
The point here is that people of color within the movement are noting the largely white makeup of the group and its leadership. Back when the Tea Party was in the news, this sort of demographic analysis was considered a significant story. Now that the far left Occupy movement is facing the same problem, the media and groups like the NAACP have no interest. Shouldn’t a neutral media treat similar stories about the racial make-up of populist political groups even-handedly? Why aren’t they?