Preliminary Reflections on the George Floyd Uprisings, Taking Sides and Positionality, How to Contribute to the Struggle (by Pina Piccolo)
These are momentous times we are living in and they call for all and each of us in the US or connected to the US to take a position (the famous “Which side are you on?”) as we try to figure how to best analyze and act in the situation we are faced with.
In the past decade things have reached boiling points in various other countries with varied results in the aftermath, suffice it to think of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Chile, but what has brought things to a boiling point in the US and has shown the potential to bring the struggle for human liberation to a higher point, is the nationwide uprising to win justice for George Floyd. This struggle shows once again how African Americans have been on the forefront in the struggle for human liberation and precisely because their own status as humans has been challenged by white supremacy, as testified by the fact that on May 25, 2020, in the center of a large city of the upper Mid-West such as Minneapolis a black man can still be publicly lynched by the police based on the expectation of impunity, unleashing what has been the largest nationwide uprisings and movements since the Civil Rights and the Vietnam war. A movement that represents the boiling point of many contradictions of neoliberalism at this stage and encompasses people, in majority young people, of all walks of life and races.
Precisely because of the importance of this historical moment and because its inception lies solidly in the Black community, all of us who participate need to take a long deep look at our position within it, question ourselves about where we come from and where we are going, consider what was at one time called ‘what we bring to the table’. Whether we prefer to express it in the parlance developed by the segment of intellectuals tied to reflections on identity, or those who refer to Marxist, decolonial or anti-imperialist analyses, or those who have a background in the environmental and indigenous peoples struggles, we need to consider our position or positionality within it, so I’ll start with myself. I am white, and that entails a whole set of privileges and prejudices that are often unacknowledged and require mental alertness and willingness to make changes, while acknowledging that neither the white world nor the black world are monolithic blocks, theories and practices developed within those two worlds are legion, without counting those developed by other people of color including native people, and often conflicting with each other, as can be attested by someone who has been a participant for over 40 years. I continue working on it in the course of actually being part of the struggles, trying to maintain a critical stance towards my motivations and own work, with highs and lows, and modalities that have been different through the decades and are bound to change yet.
Another significant aspect of my position is the fact that I am 64 years old, I have spent my life since 16 involved in various movements, including closely with issues of Black liberation and anti-imperialist struggles, both in the US and in Italy, applying the skills and spaces available to me at various times, and creating some with great difficulty and a lot of help from like-minded people. Though the daughter of Southern Italian peasant with a third grade education who migrated to the US, I was fortunate enough to be in that generation of people who could go to college, I have made my living mostly through teaching and translating and now I am semi-retired and devote most of my time to writing and literary journals I coordinate. What we do is often intertwined with the circumstances we were born in, mine were to be born the daughter of Italian immigrants of peasant background in the mid nineteen fifties in a town of Northern California that boast that most ethnically diverse population in the State, so the issue of how to relate to different parts of that populations was not dictated by theories. As a matter of fact, my family members have taken a variety of approaches to it throughout our lives often generating great amounts of conflict between us. Like many people in my generation, it most certainly wasn’t Robin d’Angelo who brought the issue to the fore for me. Because of my accent, my appearance and the people I hung out with, especially in my university days, actually in the US, I have often been read as foreign, sometimes as a POC. In the days of the US embassy hostage crisis, I have been told by frat boys in Berkeley to “Go back to Iran”, sometimes I have been called sister, but in have always clarified that I am Italian, though not particularly identifying with the ethos of that country from the 1980’s on. Similar things have occurred in Italy where I have variously been labelled a US imperialist, a racist, have been subjected to lectures on politics, racism and anti-imperialism usually reserved for 6 years olds.
Another aspect of my positioning is that I am a woman, a single mother with a 24 year old daughter and as such I continue to be in touch with the world of young people, their aspirations and troubles. I try to live in 2020 rather than be stuck on my glory days of the 1970’s, but maybe I can still draw from that energy which doesn’t leave the heart and the mind and it probably ignites my enthusiasm for the leading role the youth are taking in these uprisings. They continue to be a constant reminder of why I have chosen since a young age to be guided by a moral compass that shows a South of rebellion to the capitalist system and search for possible ways in which humanity can liberate itself, though in recent decades it become clear that our destiny as a species is inextricably tied to how we live on this planet with all its various components, not only the human ones. And this has impacted the struggle for Black liberation as well, judging from the prominence of struggles like that for clean water in Flint, against contaminants in poor neighborhoods and against gentrification.
This brings me to my current perspective on the situation in the US. I agree with the views that were expressed by Cornel West, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor and Bakari Sellers in a recent interview on Democracy Now and see the potential represented by this nationwide movement, a boiling point that has summoned not only black people but youth of all races rebelling against the lynching of George Floyd and the impunity of its police murders, as well as being the result of international balances an, the state of the Empire and global neoliberalism. In that interview Prof. Yamahtta-Taylor emphasized over and over that it represents the boiling point of various contradictions of neoliberalism both as the manifest domestically and internationally as far as US Empire. The implosion and explosion of these contradictions create a very favorable environment that call on each of us to figure out how to best work for the demise of the ‘System’ (to use an archaic word). Because of the centrality of the US in the world system today, though I am currently in Italy, at the price of sounding polemical, I think the international solidarity events need to stoke the rupture potential in the US as well, with its ripple effects on countries in its orbit, and not simply be used as an example of how it applies to struggles against racism abroad. Though that is sorely needed, it must not be disjoined from what international solidarity can do for the struggle in the US as well. Encompassing in international solidarity protests demands issued by the family of George Floyd and the movement in the US, including the level of charges to be brought and defunding of the police, can not only help bring pressure on the US, but also familiarize people abroad with the content of that struggle, which is generally viewed solely with a simplified ideological lens that leaves out any notion of complexity.
Though I have worked both in the US and Italy and it would seem only natural to continue doing so, I think these developments in the US bring me to question where I can act most effectively; in these latter months I have come to the conclusion that the best way for me to contribute to the struggle is to focus my activities on work in English which has a broader reach internationally. Based on that I am contributing to the struggle by disseminating news from alternative sources and first-hand accounts, translating poems originating in the black community such as Danez Smith and many others, offering as much space as possible to Black voices in the online journals I coordinate, and sharing from their channels, as well as conveying the analyses that are coming out of the US to as many people I can reach with my channels. If you are aware of interesting analyses related to this juncture, please contact me and pass them on.
Cover photo by Melina Piccolo.