Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mike Klonsky, SDS National Secretary

The White Question

Published: New Left Notes, Vol. 4, No. 12, March 20, 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The growth of the black liberation struggle on the campus has produced various responses from within the mother country. As the first round of campus confrontations simmer, we must take time and evaluate what has developed so far. For all the campus struggle and rebellion against the racist nature of the schools, there has been little critical analysis done. This is primarily due to the fact that many SDS chapters went into these struggles completely unprepared for them, While the contradictions were sharpening each day for the small percentage of black students on the college campuses, the white students were, as usual, thinking white.

The reaction to white supremacy on the campus came sharp and quick. San Francisco State, Columbia, Valley State, Duke, Madison, Kent State, all blowing up, one after another, left many newly developing chapters in a frenzy. White students had to react. A challenge was placed before them. “Which side are you on?” Black students led the way, demanding that the schools begin serving their people, demanding black studies departments, black history, open admission to white schools, an end to racist treatment of athletes, etc....

Incorrect Responses

Generally speaking, you could say that white students reacted in one of two ways. The first response came as many SDSers and campus radicals called for “white demands” to go along with black demands, so that whites could fight “their own struggle” and not “tail after the blacks.”

The second response was to support the black demands in a liberal fashion. That is, to deal with racism as a single issue, again seeing the struggle as the “black people’s thing,” only this time supporting it for that reason instead of the usual racist pattern which stemmed from an unwillingness to ever follow black leadership.

Both of these responses were inadequate and therefore wrong; and, as a result, black students on campuses everywhere have found themselves isolated and left at the mercy of repressive state power.

I believe there has been a failure on the part of many SDS members to see the struggle against racism as a two-pronged attack. The first prong is the fight, led by black people, for self-determination. This struggle, coming out of the understanding that black people in America have been colonized and stand as a nation within a nation, with the revolutionary right to determine their own destiny, should be supported by all revolutionaries. In fact, support for self-determination for the black colony is the key demand white people are going to have to fight behind before any successful class struggle within the mother country can be waged for the liberation of all the people.

The second prong is the struggle, led by whites, against white supremacy. The lack of any white-organized fight against the white-skin privilege, the keystone of capitalist exploitation, has left the masses of white students void of any understanding of their own role in the struggle, even on campuses where confrontations have gone on for weeks. A clear example of this lack is San Fernando Valley State, where hundreds of white students were arrested in support of the Black Student Union’s demands for a black studies program, open admissions, etc., when they correctly sat in buildings and carried out actions, sometimes militant ones, in support of the black students.

White Privilege

While support of the black liberation struggle at Valley State was good, there was a void in the struggle because there was never an attack against white supremacy and the white-skin-privileged position of students at the school. A situation occurred where many white students were willing to get arrested in support of blacks, but were not willing to miss examinations so a strike could be called because failing or missing an examination would challenge the whole privileged position which white students are placed in. This privileged position is key to the maintenance of students’ allegiance to the ruling class.

Historically, as long as whites were allowed a few more crumbs from the table than black people, they were quicker to attack black people trying to gain equality than they were to attack the ruling class which exploited both of them.

Fight White Supremacy

The biggest need on the campuses at this time is a well-defined program, coming from SDS, attacking white supremacy and the class nature of the schools. A program of this sort, which could be learned and understood by the masses of students, with a key point being support for the black liberation struggle and the right of self-determination, would serve as a guide when spontaneous struggles, led by black students, erupt. The lack of any such program on many campuses prior to black-led struggle? meant that SDS chapters didn’t even grow through the struggle. At Valley State, in fact, traditionally the largest chapter in Southern California, SDS practically disappeared.

Now, again, this program would not mean that white students opportunistically raised “white demands” (even under the guise of “class demands”) whenever the black students led a struggle for self-determination. What it does mean is white students having an analysis of white racism ahead of time which provides them with the tools to attack this “white problem.”

This would also mean an end of the crying that is becoming more and more common among students at some campuses, “we can’t do anything here because the black students are bourgeois” or “cultural nationalists.” It is racist to think that white people cannot lead the attack on white supremacy when cultural nationalists exist. Until the white problem in America is struggled against, there cannot possibly be revolutionary class unity.