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Dear ACABby: A Punk Advice Column By jimmy & bryan

Minneapolis punks jimmy and bryan answer Razorcake readers’ concerns in Dear ACABby, an advice column for the rest of us. Today, they address the politics of entertainment on the left. If you’ve got a problem you’d like Dear ACABby to have a go at, you can email them at [email protected] and they’ll get back to you here at razorcake.org.

Dear ACABby,

I recently had an experience that sparked some introspection and, to be honest, some anxiety and fragility.

I’m white, trans, and non-binary, and consider myself a leftist. I believe that all institutions of power must be justified by the populace, that white supremacy is a systemic force actively harming BIPOC, and that capitalism is exploitative and doomed to fail.

In my spare time, I enjoy watching some YouTubers as entertainment. Topics range from current events, to debunking alt-right YouTubers and generally clowning on liberals (e.g. Big Joel, The Serfs, hbomberguy, etc.). All-in-all, entertaining stuff when done by a charismatic personality. Like in a lot of spaces, these YouTubers tend to be white, cis-men.

I shared a video with a person I’ve been sweet on, a fellow leftist. They do a lot of direct action, and mutual-aid is their full-time job at the moment. They expressed that they tend to never watch leftist content made by white people, and that so many leftist ideals have been in place in BIPOC communities for a long time, but are overlooked due to white supremacy and erasure (100% true).

At this point, the fragility set in. By no means am I basing my praxis on these white cis-male YouTubers; they act more as entertainment (aka like binging
Breaking Bad). I was nervous attending protests downtown this past summer (due to being trans-femme and fears of being incarcerated while being trans), and opted to use my money to donate to local Black-run organizations and do childcare for parents that attended protests and similar direct action.

In my logical mind, I know that there are a diversity of tactics, that the YouTubers I watch are probably not even problematic themselves, and that it’s common for folks to feel like they “aren’t doing enough.” But in my fragile mind, I feel like I need to be doing more. That I should replace all the content I watch with BIPOC-run podcasts and junk. I think perhaps I’m being affected more by this due to the fact that I’m crushing on this person at the moment…

In our conversation, I got some great recommendations for indigenous-run podcasts (shoutout to Red Nation!), and love supporting these channels through Patreon and other monthly-subscriptions…

…but how can I address my inner fragility? Can I still watch a white leftist comedian laughing at Ben Shapiro reading WAP in its entirety without feeling like I’m a bad leftist? Should I remain stalwart that I am doing the best I can, continue to devote the money I have to organizations, and keep an open mind?

Signed,

–Aging Radical

Hey Aging Radical,

Here’s the thing: we leftists are overly concerned with matters of consumption. This perhaps comes from growing up in a culture that teaches us that we are a product of the shows we watch or the things we can afford—that what we watch, read, or listen to is tantamount to doing something, or at least a representation of the things we do. Just tap into Instagram and you’ll see a well-meaning keyboard activist posting an infographic with the captions “I can’t believe no one else is posting this!” as if posting something is effectively a meaningful act in itself (also literally everyone is posting it anyways). At the end of the day, what we do for entertainment—or the simplified messages we make viral on social media—don’t actually matter that much.

That said, I think we (as in white people) all can do better to read/listen to more Black authors and entertainers. White supremacy plays a major role in who gets published or “platformed” and who gets viewership, making it easy to duplicate those decisions in our own consumption just by virtue of not going out of our way. It’s not surprising that Ben Shapiro has one of the top ten podcasts, and he is clearly not a very smart man. So keep laughing at him reading WAP; it’s entertainment, but at the same time, definitely add more BIPOC artists/writers/thinkers to your repertoire. (We recommend Saidiya Hartman, N.K. Jemisin, Marquis Bey, the podcasts Throughline & Still Processing…) When it comes to broadly leftist thought, and not just entertainment, there are certainly a lot of white guys out there with opinions (not to mention the commonly accepted “canon” of thinkers being nearly exclusively white men). Even if they’re right, we’d encourage you to diversify in this realm more than anywhere. Of course some of ’em are on point, and some aren’t—that’s always true. But many ideas that have become lefty mainstays have been part of many non-white cultures/ideologies for centuries, and the history of Black radical organizing and writing in the United States alone could fill a few bookshelves. There’s a million and one reading lists out there: be curious, not cowed by the anxiety of “doing it right” or the sheer amount of work out there; don’t be afraid to poke around, explore and just see what sticks. Just be mindful of where your information comes from, who is being prioritized and who isn’t, and how you might be reproducing the latter dynamic.  Don’t stress the small stuff, but let’s keep tryin’.

Unlearning white supremacy is a lifelong process that also includes acknowledging and dealing with white fragility, at this point a bit of a buzzword that we noticed crop up in your answer. While we think (and know) the concept is very useful in discussing the reactions of white people to talking about race, often, indeed, characterized by fragility, we’d be hesitant to characterize this reaction as such. “White fragility” as a concept is largely about a refusal to deal with the problem at hand, i.e., white supremacy, often by centering one’s own discomfort/guilt/other negative emotions “caused” by the discussion. It seems like you’re dealing with these emotions in a productive way rather than centering them by making a good-faith effort to do better (whatever that means). Framing yourself as guilty doesn’t always help—it’s better to work towards being a “good leftist” (which is not to say you’re not already one—from what it sounds like, you’re pretty damn involved) than shame yourself for being a bad one. It’s also worth the reminder that we’re (speaking as two white people to other white people right now) all on our way. Guilt can be a good sign that you need to step up and do some work on yourself, but don’t dwell there or it can become paralyzing—and here, it seems like you’re having a much more positive response than either guilt or paralysis can account for. Call ’em like you see ’em, but a growth mindset is generally more generative than one of guilt.

Take care, and happy reading and listening!

jimmy & bryan

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jimmy & bryan are two Minneapolis punks and zinemakers, a poet and photographer, respectively. They like long walks to the taqueria, their absurdly meticulous hobbies, and workin’ towards a world beyond capitalism (and the pandemic). You can send them your advice inquiries at [email protected] and they’ll get back to you as soon as possible.