Monday, June 1, 2020

The Privilege of the Anarchy Tourist

I have seen the sentiment expressed that the people who show up to protest police violence and the people who show up to break shit and steal things are two different groups. It's difficult to make an accurate assessment based on anecdotal incidents recorded on shaky cell phones, but it does seem to me that there's some truth in this claim. We've all seen the clips of white kids in masks wrecking stores while African-Americans beg them to stop.

So: if we act on the assumption that the looters are one group, and protesters are another, let's discuss how they became conflated. Because I think this is in large part the legacy of a specific kind of online commentator whose work I've encountered all-too-frequently this week. I call this person the "anarchy tourist."

The anarchy tourist sits in a quiet home, miles away from the action, raising a fist in proletarian solidarity as black communities burn. The anarchy tourist fills my social media feed with Langston Hughes poems about exploding raisins and references to "the language of the unheard" in between snacks purchased from a supermarket that the anarchy tourist knows will still be there tomorrow, and next year, and in a decade.

The anarchy tourist is the biggest badass in the world while sitting behind a keyboard. But he (it's ALWAYS a he) is behind that keyboard for a reason. Because if ever confronted by the realities he cheers on--a tear gas cannister, a burning building, an angry man wielding a fist full of rebar--the anarchy tourist would curl up in a little ball and cry.

The anarchy tourist believes property destruction is a distraction, a red herring offered up to distract us from the loss of Black Lives. Indeed, the anarchy tourist might well go further, and say that property itself is theft (this is a popular idea among those who've never lost everything).

But we have fifty years of hard-won experience with riots and their aftermath. And we've learned the hard way that a riot never really ends. Communities which experience rioting experience long-term economic devastation. Businesses that burn don't grow back, and new ones don't take their place.

The anarchy tourist doesn't like it when people talk from the perspective of the owners of these businesses. They are usually invisible victims. But many of them are people of color, and whatever their ethnicity, they lose their livelihoods, their dreams, and decades of effort and capital. Imagine serving a community for twenty years, building up networks of human connection--learning your customers' unique quirks and foibles, their hopes, the names of their children--and having it all snuffed out in seconds some pasty-faced undergrad in a black bandanna with a bottle of jellied gasoline.

But of course, it's not about the owners of the businesses primarily. In many cases we're talking about remotely owned chain stores. In these cases, when the business burns, dozens of local residents lose their source of income, and enter into the nightmare of unemployment during this second Great Depression. And their customers, many of whom lack reliable transportation, have to find new places to obtain their diapers. Their meals. Their insulin.

The owners matter. The employees matter. The customers matter.  These people matter. The anarchy tourist would likely acknowledge that, if pressed. But what matters more, to the anarchy tourist, is signalling his support for the struggle. There's no currency to be gained online through concern about property crime. So when he sees businesses and lives destroyed, the anarchy tourist screeches that it's a distraction from what really matters.

Or...what matters this week, anyway. Because last week, the anarchy tourist was up in arms about some other Greatest Outrage Ever. And next week, something new will be.

My friends on the left like to talk about "privilege". And when I watch the anarchy tourist, I think I understand what they mean. Privilege is watching somebody else's community burn on your TV, and taking pleasure in it as a necessary and desirable thing. Privilege is being able to make the carnage disappear with a flick of your remote control. Privilege is being warmed by the fire and not having to live in the ashes.

I watch those chains of African-American protesters standing between the stores at which they work and shop and a bunch of white kid cosplayers carrying garbage cans, and it seems like they maybe have something to tell me. I'm trying to listen. What I'm NOT trying to do--ever again, if I can help it--is sit behind a keyboard showing how "down with the cause" I am by playing anarchy tourist.

Anarchy tourists actively propagate structural racism under the banner of anti-racism.

Don't be an anarchy tourist.

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