The Unbearable Misogynist Whiteness of "Black Widows"
By Oriana P.
additional research, expert advice and editing: Cherneyy Koshka
People from different cultures and regions in the world often have very little understanding of local racial and sexist slurs and vice versa, local colonial traditions such as the Sinterklaas/Black Pete festivities in the Netherlands and Belgium are not recognized as offensive by the local white people because things like Blackface aren’t under the same scrutiny in Europe as they have been in the US for various reasons. In every case it takes listening to the victims of discrimination and their testimonies against racist verbal attacks and racist traditions to obtain an understanding of what racism looks like in different societies. However too many people do not take the time to listen to local people - often because of a superiority complex, the very refusal to listen is racist also - and this ignorance is what regimes and governments bank on when they want to defame an enemy in their propaganda. Because of, willful, obtuseness racial slurs can then sneak in unhindered and this mentally prepares the audience to accept “the otherness” of the enemy, or rather victims, of imperialist states.
Even though racism looks different from the outside in different areas of the world, and is therefore not always recognized as such, it still stems from the same oppressive white supremacist patriarchal system. When analyzing the offensiveness of a racial and sexist slur such as “Black Widows” and trying to grasp its true meaning we need to first and foremost examine the racist conceptualization of blackness out of which whiteness emerged that ultimately became a global idea. To really be able to situate racist blackness in all of its settings it then becomes necessary to investigate what whiteness means in a global framework outside the context of the west - another illusion that needs to be deconstructed - and then apply it to a local racialized situation. In addition we also need to examine the myth of gender normative masculinity and how that leads to toxic masculinity, misogynist attitudes and sexist views of liberated women and female fighters. It is primarily the discourse, the way something is presented, that is able to shape perceptions and therefore create power or take it away. It is the way we see things that determines the relations to power in society. Therefore, whoever dominates the narrative and appeals to our pre-existing beliefs of racial, class and gender classifications is able to create their position of power and more recently it is Russia who has become the master of ceremony when it comes to propaganda and manipulating public opinion. Russia is playing the rest of the world like a fiddle, not only governments but also extreme-right wing as well as extreme-left wing parties and movements. Fascism becomes anti-fascism, anti-fascism becomes fascism, imperialism becomes anti-imperialism and peace really means war. In order to make sense of this smorgasbord of confusion and distraction tactics we need to get to the root of the problem and keep our eye on a couple of principled truths: invasion, occupation, oppression, slavery and genocide are always wrong, resistance against these things is inevitable and just and nobody is superior or inferior. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.
Whiteness became an identity through the manufacturing of the concept of “Negro” - the name the colonists and slave masters gave to enslaved African peoples - in feudal pre-capitalist colonial Europe mirroring the same mechanisms by which the idea of the “Occident”- the west - came to be through the invention of the “Orient” in Orientalism and through an artificial creation of Europe and later through an artificial division of Europe into East and West. It was in fact the antagonistic attitude towards the colonies that provided Europe with its racist identity. The concept of something always exists in its relation to something else thus when we give a negative meaning to one thing then its opposite must be positive. Furthermore, the old Greeks may have invented democracy - that pillar of western society - but it was only democracy for the free men. Women and slaves were not included in this emancipatory idea. Oh the irony of designing a system that wants to give everybody an equal chance to participate in the decision making process but then getting to decide who is included in “everybody”. Exactly that exclusionary aspect traveled together with democracy throughout the ages. Patriarchy still permeates western society and the rest of the world on every level. Whiteness then is a socio-economic and political hegemonic idea culminating in global imperialist white supremacist patriarchal capitalism and it was formed specifically through the social, psychological, political and cultural origins of slavery, colonialism, racism, chauvinist nationalism and male chauvinism, which became the roots for the structures but mostly the capitalist ambitions of feudal society.
Malcolm X said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism” and he was correct. You also can’t have capitalism without sexism and patriarchy. Contemporary Europe is not a product of capitalism but of slavery and patriarchy first and foremost and it is racism, racialism and patriarchy that determine capitalism instead of, what is generally assumed within pre-dominantly white male anti-capitalist leftist circles, the other way around. The shortsighted condemnation of capitalism - one in which racism and sexism are largely ignored and one in which the primary focus is on class - is in and of itself based on an ideology that originated and functions explicitly within a European tradition and whose raison d'être is exactly capitalism, namely Marxism and everything related. These old philosophers essentially believed in European exceptionalism and ignored the realities of the system at large even though, ironically, Marxism proclaimed internationalism. Some forms of Marxism would later serve as vehicles for criticism on exclusively US neoliberal capitalism and ignore capitalism in a global context and its sources – whiteness and patriarchy - thereby automatically becoming a mouthpiece for Russian imperialism and colonization because of simpleminded logic that dictates that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Sadly though, they are missing the actual enemy because they are incapable of stepping out of their own white and west supremacist patriarchal box and can see no further. Recognizing the real enemy would mean looking in the mirror and taking responsibility. If they were capable of stepping out of that box they would realize that their dear Russian empire - the host of their ideological identity - was built on suppressing and exploiting indigenous peoples in the same manner as the West. It is that blindness that leads contemporary Marxist-Leninist and other anti-capitalist movements to focus solely on class and class struggle and to consider the fight against racism and sexism distractions from the "real fight against neoliberalism". In that process they conveniently overlook the colonialism of the Russian empire, from the Czar to the USSR to Putinism. Once capitalism - and only the western neoliberal kind of course - is abolished, they say, racism and sexism will automatically be resolved. Such close-mindedness is mind boggling and has far reaching consequences. Any fight against capitalism must in fact start with the fight against racism and sexism because those are the two pillars of whiteness and it is whiteness that spawned capitalism.
“However, it is still fair to say that at base, that is at its epistemological substratum, Marxism is a Western construction-a conceptualization of human affairs and historical development that is emergent from the historical experiences of European peoples mediated, in turn, through their civilization, their social orders, and their cultures. Certainly its philosophical origins are indisputably Western. But the same must be said of its analytical presumptions, its historical perspectives, its points of view. This most natural consequence though has assumed a rather ominous significance since European Marxists have presumed more frequently than not that their project is identical with world-historical development. Confounded it would seem by the cultural zeal that accompanies ascendant civilizations, they have mistaken for universal verities the structures and social dynamics retrieved from their own distant and more immediate pasts. Even more significantly, the deepest structures of "historical materialism," the foreknowledge for its comprehension of historical movement, have tended to relieve European Marxists from the obligation of investigating the profound effects of culture and historical experience on their science.”
~ Cedric J. Robinson in “Black Marxism”
Marx hardly invented hot water when he dissected capitalism and characterized it as exploitative. Predecessors like David Ricardo and Adam Smith had done that before him. What made Marx and Lenin different was with who they sided with but, as it turned out, their ideas of class conscience and the proletarian revolution were only mobilizing myths to grab power and oppress the indigenous peoples they colonized. Once the leadership - the vanguard party of "professional revolutionaries" - controlled the means of production the resources still had to come from somewhere after all. They also didn’t invent the concept of an egalitarian society and their "egalitarianism" resulted in one of the most horrific and bloodiest dictatorships the world has ever seen. Egalitarian societies already existed but they didn’t consider these societies “industrialized” meaning “civilized”. Their only goal was the establishment of a Marxist-Leninist socialism and their proletarian revolution could only happen when capitalism had come to fruition, which wasn't the case in a Russia that was still for the most part a feudal society and counted many community organized clans and tribes of indigenous peoples that had already been colonized by Czarist Muscovy. In other words, they - Lenin and later Stalin - colonized egalitarian societies in order to establish their own version of an "egalitarian" society. No, that makes sense, the USSR brought communism to the world like the US brings democracy. Take for example the Chechen-Ingush (Vainakh) peoples from the North Caucasus, a region that always has had to deal with some form of Russian imperialism.
“Chechen-Ingush [Vainakh] society has always been egalitarian, unstratified, and classless. Traditionally there was no formal political organization and no political or economic ranking. Clans differed in size but not in prestige. Each clan was headed by a respected elder. Clans and villages were autonomous. Only in response to extreme external threats such as (in historical times) the Russian invasion of the Caucasus did any society-wide leadership emerge; it was exclusively military and always temporary." ~ from The Ingush (with notes on the Chechen): Background information
All of this is not to say that Marxism can’t be useful - its analysis of capitalism surely is since capitalism is indeed ubiquitous and we need to understand its mechanisms in order to fight it - but Marxist ideology needs to be modified and expanded and recognized for what it is as fitting in the box of whiteness, just like democracy for that matter. What is meant by the "proletariat" anyways? There is no consensus on who belongs to that class not even within one country let alone a consensus on an international proletariat. Are peoples from “developing” countries expected to fight for the labor rights of the workers in rich western countries? And are they expected to adhere to yet another European system or ideology? White people just want everyone to believe in their European myths. Class and class conscience are essentially myths, race is a myth and so is socially constructed masculinity. All those myths were created with the explicit intent to oppress, invade, colonize, exploit and abuse. If we want to fight the now global oppressive system of whiteness and patriarchy it is necessary to deconstruct those myths.
Whiteness and the West are perceived identities that emerged by creating “the other” and creating the “other” was necessary to justify slave labor and white dominance. For the “pure”, “modern”,”civilized”, “Western” world to appear African culture had to be negated because how else would it be possible to dehumanize your slaves and reduce them to items and pieces of property? Items and things are not supposed to have agency therefore any trace of human resemblance had to be erased as much as possible hence African slaves needed to be stripped of background and culture and to that end European historians worked diligently to erase African culture from the European mind and history books. In Czarist Muscovy and later the Soviet Union a similar process took place with the deportation of nations aimed at the russification of indigenous peoples and thus the erasure and dissolution of their cultures.
“The deportation of nations began in 1937, when the Koreans of Sakhalin and the Far East were sent to Central Asia. In 1941 all of the Volga Germans were evicted, and starting in 1943, Karachais, Kalmyks, Chechens and the Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Muslims were subjected to deportations. Azerbaijanis were being evicted from Armenia and Georgia, Kurds and Armenians from Azerbaijan, and Pontic Greeks and Armenians from Krasnodar Krai.
The monstrous totalitarian machine was destroying the lives of a huge number of people, who lost their homes and their land. They found themselves in a foreign land, in a foreign culture, with a foreign language, but this was exactly what the initiators of deportation wanted–a dissolution [of cultures] and an aquirement of a new culture, the Soviet one, and a single language: Russian. Afterwards, there would be a dreadful return back home, after being pardoned by the Soviet government, and pain–from [seeing] the captured homes and the abandoned cemeteries of their ancestors.”
~ Oleg Panfilov, Professor, Ilia State University (Tbilisi, Georgia) in “Raised by hatred”
The first President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Dzhokhar Dudayev, understood that people deprived of historical memory have no future, which was of course the goal of the Soviet Union and still is the goal of the Russian Federation. By taking away the past of indigenous peoples their future becomes non-existent. They are forcefully assimilated into the dominant Russian culture and involuntarily “dissolved”. Their language, their traditions, their dress, their food, indeed their whole identity disappears and only their skin color remains, which is used to mark them inferior so they can be exploited.
“Colonialism orients itself to the past of an oppressed people and aims for its distortion, disfiguration, and annihilation. The devaluation of precolonial history acquires a dialectical significance today”
~ Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The necessary manufacturing of the concept of the “Negro” in order to justify slavery had been constructed from previous racial fabrications. Within European history slave labor had existed from the Roman Empire, and later the Greeks, with its “barbarians” - basically anybody who wasn’t a member of the Roman Empire or ancient Greece all lumped together - and kept going all the way through medieval times into modern ages. Incidentally the arrival of these “barbarians”, the totalizing myth created by the rulers, coincided with the shaping of a fledgling European civilization. The blueprints for France, Germany, Spain, and Italy were essentially the kingdoms the Germanic tribes had established under Roman rule. However, the roots of racism as we know it weren’t to be found in the hegemonic culture of ordering relations between Europeans and non-Europeans but rather the internal tensions between Europeans amongst each other most notably between the ruling elites and the “masses”, another totalizing myth lumping the different lower orders together - wage laborers, peasants, serfs, slaves, vagabonds, beggars and immigrant workers and foreign soldiers such as the Irish, the Germans, Polish people and others.
The racist fabrication of blackness started with religion. In the 9th Century the idea of Europe wasn’t so much a terrestrial social reality as a religious empire through Christianity and this religion helped shape the identity and the artificial manufacturing of Europe. In those days Europeans regarded all dark skinned people as coming from Africa, a continent they only knew from the Bible and one which was shrouded in mystery. The European mind had already been conditioned into viewing black as evil and the opposite, white, therefore as pure and good because of the Scriptures that referred to the devil as “the black one”. Again, it was the antagonistic position towards “bad” blackness that gave the “good” identity to white people. Because of the religious negative connotations of black all dark skinned people then became “the devil” and were called “The Moor” or “Ethiope”. According to the Europeans of the time all these Africans came from Ethiopia, which was of course an “accursed place”. The fact that Spain had been invaded by the Moors from 711- 1492 AD didn’t help with the fears and added to the imagination and perception of black people. Never mind that the Moors were instrumental for bringing scientific progress to Spain in the areas of Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Geography and also Philosophy and that their cities in Spain were one of the most modern in Europe. To compare, when in Christian Europe ninety-nine percent of the population were illiterate the Moors had established no less that seventeen universities. When Europeans were finally able to distinguish between brown and black people, between the “Orientals” and the “Africans”, “The Moor” was replaced with “The Black Moor” to refer specifically to black people. Eventually, because of the expansion of the African slave trade, “The Black Moor” became the Spanish-Portuguese word “Negro” and lost it satanic fearful meaning in favor of more useful attributes to slaves and forced labor - dumb and animal like.
In fact the figure of Black Pete in Belgium and The Netherlands is a perfect example of how the images of the Moors and black slaves merged. The story that is told to small children is that Black Pete, the helper of Sinterklaas, climbs through chimneys to deliver packages to good children. He looks black because of the chimneys or so the story goes. However this helper is dressed very expensively with big golden earrings and lavish fabrics. According to the celebration theory, which denies that Black Pete has anything to do with slavery, Black Pete is the representation of a Moor, a Muslim invader. Whereas it is entirely possible that the image of Black Pete was partly inspired by the Moors it is undeniable that the Black Petes are "helpers" of Sinterklaas or rather servant slaves, which was customary for rich households in Europe as well as in Russia during the reign of Catharina I. Sinterklaas and his Black Pete entourage arrive in Belgium and the Netherlands by boat from specifically Spain and the Moors had of course invaded Spain and were later persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. In Northern Europe slavery went out of style by the 11th and 12th Century - although not entirely non existant - but it still flourished in Southern and Eastern Europe up until the 15th Century. Before the official "discovery" of the new world slave trade across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seaboard was blooming bringing slaves to Southern France, Italy, Portugal and yes, Spain. Keeping servant slaves was part of every day life and a symbol of prestige and status and they were well dressed in costly clothes - like expensively primped pets - similarly to what Black Pete wears. Still, black people in Europe were always associated with the Moors. From 1558, the start of official records, until well into the 17th Century Africans were described as 'Blackamoors", "Neygers", "Aethiopeans" and "Negroes" in Tudor parish records in England.
"there are of late diverse blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are already here to manie...Her Majesty's pleasure therefore ys that those kinde of people should be sent forth of the lande"
~ Elizabeth I of England in a letter in 1596. The result of the letter was that slaves were rounded up and given as "payment" to German slave trader, Caspar van Senden, for his services.
Elizabeth I had at least one African serving her personally to whom she referred to as "a Blackamoore boy," or "little black a More" in warrants detailing the kind of fine clothing she ordered for him from clothes-maker Henry Henre.
"garcon coat...of white taphata cutt and lyned...striped with buckeram bases...knitted stockings (and) white shoes"
Black Pete is kind of fearful on one hand because he carries a whip and a big bag in which he puts naughty children never to be heard from again – the devil stealing our children. On the other hand he is funny and clumsy and simpleminded, very childlike as the African slaves were described. As it happens by 1650 the Netherlands had the strongest of all slave trades and it was thanks to slavery that the Dutch economy prospered. In the late 1900’s Leopold II put Belgium on the map as one of the cruelest colonial countries in the world by stealing a fortune from the Congo - ivory and rubber - and subjecting the natives to forced labor and all kinds of atrocities. Under his regime millions of Africans were slaughtered but since they were not really considered human public opinion in Europe didn’t care about them. Leopold II used most of the profits for numerous major construction projects in Belgium, both public and private. He donated the private buildings to the Belgian state right before his death. With all this wealth rolling in is it any surprise then that slavery and colonization were celebrated through folk traditions? Slavery became culture and contemporary culture still expresses slavery and the power relations within society that were built in colonial times. Sinterklaas for example is dressed as a bishop - the original template for the character was in fact a bishop - and here, in this whole cultural tradition, we can witness the relationship between Christianity and Islam played out as it is understood in the West with Christianity/Sinterklaas dominating over Islam/Black Pete - The Spanish Inquisition stomping out Moorish culture and forcing them to convert to Christianity - as well as the colonization of Africa while both are demonstrating white western dominance. Contemporary Islamophobia is still based on this fear of Islam taking over “our norms and values” by which the Western Christian culture and society is meant.
Essentially white identity, Europe and, as we shall see, the West are all ideas that were founded on Christianity. Modern western atheists and Enlightened Knights crusading for Reason, which in their mind means anti-religion, and secularity are all still part of a Christian nation - cultural or religious - whether they are aware of it or even want to admit to it or not. Christianity lies at the root of the very identity of whiteness and it is for that reason Muslims become persecuted worldwide because they are seen as a threat against the privileged position of the dominating religious identity.
Just as Europe is more of an idea than a geographical location so is the West. Scholars are not entirely sure where Europe ends in the East and exactly which countries are considered “West and western” and which ones are “East and eastern” is something that is constantly shifting and depends on geographical, geopolitical, cultural and socio-economic interpretations. The West first emerged in Western Europe when Europe became divided into western and eastern Europe because of religious, historical and cultural reasons. However these days the “West” exists far beyond Europe and not all of Europe is considered “western” in the new meaning of what the West stands for. For example, the United States and Japan, which is clearly located in the East, are considered western countries whereas Latin America, which is located in the western hemisphere, is seen as a Third World country that is trying to catch up with “The West”. The West thus stands for exceptionalism that originated in Europe and refers to industrialized developed countries that are modern, secular and capitalist. It is the beacon of Enlightenment that other countries strive for or should strive for according to the arrogant western mentality and it was created based on comparison when Europe came in contact with other societies and countries that were very different in patterns of development and culture. By observing others the differences became the standard for measuring the achievements of the West. Out of this comparing the mold of the West was slowly forged. Such a narrative allows for a classification of societies into western and non-western countries and an evaluation based on values and images. Western countries are “good” and the non-western countries are “bad”. This idea of the West essentially amounts to an ideology and it is closely connected to whiteness. The implications of this is that the “West” plays arbiter of who is worthy of support and who isn’t. Brown Muslim people in the Middle East and the Caucasus are generally speaking not worthy of support. So why would the West care if the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria keeps claiming they are independent from Russia and essentially always have been? Why would they not support that truth? Because when the Russian Federation claims “the conflict” - by which they mean their occupation - is an “internal affair” it gives the West the perfect excuse not to have to interfere in the face of atrocities and genocide, which would be expected from rich powerful countries who constructed a new identity as the proud defenders of human rights, right on top of their colonial identity.
"The Chechens have to deal with the (mis-)conception that their country is part of the Russian Federation. The double standards by which the international community views the conflict do not only stem from lack of understanding of the historical background to the conflict. Bias is a very undermining factor. Why could the Russians commit genocide in broad daylight and escape scot-free, whilst Chechen reaction is scrutinized to a fault, the Chechens having to go out of their way to ‘assure’ the world that they would not play dirty? ‘Moderate’ Chechens have come to realize that the idea of an independent Chechen Republic must get the approval and support of the West. However, in the West, Chechnya and Chechens are in general perceived as part of the Muslim world, non European as it were, and as such alien to the Western ethos. Although this view is certainly one explanation of Western apathy towards the Chechens, it is not the only one. The West forcefully intervened on the side of the Muslim Bosnians and Albanians and saved them from ethnic cleansing by the Christian Serbs. Not only did they bring Serbia to heel, they also ousted Milosovic and eventually brought him to justice. This could have been motivated by the fact that conflicts were right in the middle of Europe, not on the murky periphery. The Russians were not very happy with this development, for it had set a disturbing precedent. It would seem that killing Muslims wantonly, which the Russians had been doing for hundreds of years, was no longer an acceptable thing. Although Serbia was a more manageable target than Russia, perhaps a time will come when the Russian war criminals will also be brought in handcuffs to The Hague"
-Amjad Jaimoukha, Jordan 2005, "The Chechens"
The main reason however for the West looking away from the genocide Yeltsin and Putin have unleashed on the North Caucasus is because the West is a direct beneficiary of the occupation of Chechen lands. Russia is Europe’s biggest supplier of energy through the “pipeline of peace” that carries oil, gas and Chechen blood and that runs through Ukraine - which is why Russia invaded Ukraine - into Western countries such as Germany. Grozny, the capital of occupied Chechenya, may look like a pretty, modern and well developed city but looks deceive and behind this front hides extreme poverty and desperation. The North Caucasus (Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Dagestan, Chechenya, Ingushetia) is the poorest occupied region of the Russian Federation with the highest youth population and highest unemployment rate.
"The republics survive on subsidies from the federal budget allocated by Moscow (which controls the management and exploitation of all natural resources in the area). The centralized allocation of tax revenues to Moscow restricts any possible regional growth."
Russia is also the European Union’s third most important trading partner.
“Economic sanctions against Russia would damage Germany itself. Sanctions are always bad for Germany as an export-driven nation.”
~ Phillip Missfelder, a senior member of the German legislative body.
Besides Europe Russia also has major dealings with the US going from Boeing selling planes to Russian airlines Aeroflot and UTAir to oil and gas deals between Exxon-Mobil and Rosneft not to mention the fact that Russia joined the World Trade Organization in 2012. In short, the lives and livelihood from the local brown people is gladly sacrificed for the rich white Westerners to indulge in their lavish lifestyles so needed to exude whiteness superiority.
Whiteness didn’t stay in Europe though and spilled over to other countries around the world where, in some instances, it even became adopted by non-white people as the standard to strive for or through an internalization process because, in addition to the socially constructed concepts of white identities and positions, whiteness also contains a material aspect based on the distribution of wealth and power that fits in the overall context of racial hierarchy. The socio- economic superiority of white people has been established on a worldwide level primarily through the riches of large scale slavery and this global white supremacist system becomes copied in local settings. Take for example Japan where a localized system of whiteness exist in which the privileged are people that are considered non-white in a global context, the Japanese, but who are “white” within Japanese society and this is possible because first, whiteness is simply a mentality that doesn’t always correspond to skin color and that is mostly associated with power and second, there is no such thing as the white race. Every single person on earth carries the DNA of various peoples. We estimate and judge the different races mostly by appearance and that’s when skin color becomes important. In Japan the “white” Japanese are the ones with the privileges and this elite dominates the non-Japanese, which ironically can be white people. Whiteness is contextual and depends on a host of other factors such as age, gender, nationality, wealth and class and not always on an appearance related to race. It’s based on who is considered “us” and who is considered “others”. A derogatory term for foreigners in Japan is “Gajinn”, which means “outsiders” and those include white people. However, the beauty standard in Japan is still white and this becomes apparent through the bleaching agents in beauty products and in cosmetic surgery ads that feature young white models as the standard of attractiveness and desirability. White is the ideal that is being chased but that is only on the surface. It is actually whiteness that is being desired because that’s what is superior and white skin and white features are merely symbols of that.
There is not even an agreement on a global scale on what peoples are considered white. In the US white people are also called Caucasian and what is referred to these days are the white people of west European descent and not at all the peoples from the Caucasus anymore. The reason white western Europeans are called Caucasian is historical and dates back to the early racial classifications according to which skin pigmentation is the primary difference between races. It was the German philosopher Christoph Meiners who came up with the term in 1785. He theorized only two races existed, the Caucasian race or the “beautiful”, those with the “whitest most blooming and most delicate skin", and the Mongolian race or the ‘ugly”. He included in the Caucasians most of modern day native populations of Europe, the original peoples from West Asia and Northern Africa, the Indians and the Guanches. Meiners believed in the superiority of the Germans and called all non-German Europeans “the dirty whites”. However, in the Russian Federation the peoples of the Caucasus are actually referred to as “the blacks” and the use of “black” here has the same derogatory meaning as its original meaning that created whiteness in the first place and for the same reasons it became derogatory, namely imperialism and colonialism. The Russian Federation, as its predecessors the USSR and Czarist Muscovy, is still occupying vast regions of the Caucasus and holding its peoples hostage to steal their land and natural resources. It is for that specific reason the occupiers and imperialists are in need of the dehumanization of the “other” so they can justify their occupation and atrocities. The Caucasian peoples are greatly discriminated against in the Russian Federation and are also sometimes called “the monkeys of the mountains”. By calling them black the Slavic Muscovy are establishing their white superiority and this creation of “otherness” is closely related to outward appearances - it is in reference to the slightly darker complexion of Caucasian peoples in relation to the skin color of Slavic peoples and to their darker hair and eyes - and the biological and therefore racist and fascist understanding of race. Things become even more complicated as to who is white and who is not within Russia not to mention Muscovy's Imperial legacy of forced assimilation of "non-white" peoples within the Russian Federation. This classification of white - in this case Slavic- in the Eastern regions reaches beyond Russia. Croats and Serbs see themselves as 100% white and they are big white supremacists. Serbs consider Bosniaks Slav brothers but brothers who betrayed them because they became Muslim so they don’t deserve to live. Serbs only like Russian Orthodox nations but they don’t like Bulgarians because Bulgarians are not Slavs and they call them “Turkish scum”. Bosniaks do not see themselves as Slavs, they were only put into the Slav category because of communism but under communism they were all considered Muslim only because they are Bosniaks. Furthermore, the Slavs are not even indigenous to the lands of Muscovy. They migrated from Ukraine (Kievan-Rus) and stole the name “Rus”. Albanians and Kosovars (Kosovo's Albanians) and some Macedonians are mostly designated as non-white. In short, it’s all a power struggle on who is the whitest and that is whoever has the power because historic narrative has established white to be the best. Whiteness is about power and one is considered white by consensus, by socio-economic superiority or by whoever shouts the loudest that they are white.
Western neo-nazis and white supremacists like Richard Spencer - the fascist who coined the euphemistic and misleading term “alt-right” to describe fascists and who rightly got punched in the face for his white nationalist positions - consider Russia “the sole white power in the world." It is ironic how the western neo-nazis want to help Putin restore the “glory” of the former Soviet Union based on white chauvinist nationalism and supremacy while the founders of the actual Soviet Union, Lenin and Stalin, had not a drop of Slavic blood in them. As Trump, Putin’s secret weapon to destroy western liberal democracies, neo-nazis operate from the conviction that there’s an attack on “white culture” by everything non-white but also by feminists because those undermine their fragile and chauvinist masculinity, which is a necessary component of white supremacy. As it turned out, many of the Charlottesville violent white supremacists started out in misogynist male bonding environments such as the online gaming communities, pick-up artist culture (men bragging how many women they can pick up and have sex with and exchanging tips on how to pick up women) and “incels” (the involuntarily celibate, men who feel rejected by women). These are the kinds of men that feel insecure about the empowerment of women and are at a complete loss of what their role as men should be in a society that recognizes women who act outside of their gender normative roles. They feel that the empowerment of women disempowers men and that their masculinity is under threat. They see Trump as “their” president exactly because of Trump’s vile misogynist rhetoric and of course because “real men” would never vote for a woman. Voting for Trump meant revenging their damaged sense of masculinity and women are keenly aware of this and of the danger that was coming as was evident when millions of women took to the streets in the largest global march the world has ever seen, the Women’s March in 2017 right after Trump’s election. It is also no coincidence that Putin, the hero of western fascists and certain 'leftists", displays an image of a rugged man when he parades his manliness in front of the camera in his many outdoor shirtless activities that inspired the famous image of him riding a bear bare-chested. When the Charlottesville nazis chanted “you will not replace us” it wasn’t just their pledge to prevent others from taking away their socio-economic privileges they think they are entitled to but in addition they were actually referencing Jewish and black men stealing “their” women. When they talk about defending and “protecting our women” it speaks of deep misogyny, white and male entitlement and sexist masculinity. The language of “men protecting women” is hugely problematic because it victimizes women and makes them dependent on men. It becomes even more problematic when it is claimed that men are supposed to protect women if they want to be seen as men because that means it becomes more about their “masculinity” than anything else. The language of “our” women is equally problematic because it refers to possession. In both cases it robs women of agency. Women don’t belong to themselves, they belong to men and they are weak and vulnerable creatures in need of protection. Once again socially constructed masculinity obtains its meaning by being the opposite of socially constructed femininity and if women are defined as the weak gender then logic dictates that men are the strong ones. Our beliefs shape our world and we become what we believe. It is therefore imperative for men with fragile egos that women remain in their weak and vulnerable roles because if women become empowered and thus strong these men would lose their very identity.
In France the intersection of whiteness and patriarchy became painfully clear when a group of white policemen surrounded a brown woman on the beach and basically forced her to disrobe. The modern secularized version of whiteness with all its talk of how "liberated" women are in Western society literally policed a woman's body and dictated what she could and and could not wear. Women's bodies - and especially non-white female bodies - are not their own in modern, secular Europe and this right there destroys the myth of the neutrality and openness of secularity. Modern secular western society is still white, male and essentially cultural Christian. Christian nuns are allowed to wear a veil but Muslim women are not.
"We see a similar battle over women and women’s bodies in today’s mainstream media in Europe, particularly in efforts to demonize Muslims and/or Arabs. Women are consistently used to show how progressive and modern Europe is, either by images of them wearing a bikini/underwear/or as little as possible, or with statistics that show how emancipated women are because they work/earn money (despite this drawing them into a capitalist structure of repression). Not only does this create a narrative of women in Europe being ‘free,’ which is far from the case; it simultaneously creates the narrative of women who do not look like European women (whatever that is) or act like European women as backwards/traditional. Once this narrative is constructed, it becomes the lens through which women in non-European cultures are understood."
~ Sara Salem in "The Symbolic Use of Women"
The road of the Charlottesville neo-nazi male bonding groups lead to misogyny and “rescuing” their masculinity to “rescuing” the nation from “white genocide”. This is exactly what happened in nazi Germany when the propaganda of the male dominated white supremacist movement, fascism, made Germans believe the continuation of their race was under attack and the purity of their blood needed to be rescued from the “impure” - Jews, Roma, the very ill, the mentally disabled, homosexuals, and anybody who wasn’t considered “Aryan”, an imaginary white race. It was no coincidence then that “Blood and Soil” was another slogan at the Charlottesville deadly neo-nazi rally in which a white woman was murdered by the white supremacists who later mocked her death. So much for “protecting our women”. Fun fact, toxic masculinity celebrates competition, which happens to be the main driving force behind capitalism. Patriarchy is a cornerstone of capitalism, you can’t have capitalism without patriarchy.
Even though Putin, the hero of both the neo-nazis and many leftists from the west, is a big promoter of global whiteness - which as explained originated in Europe - he positions himself as the opponent and the savior of the west. This has to do with the lines drawn between the Eastern and Western Bloc as determined by the Soviet Union and the Cold War which became manifested by the Iron Curtain - again, Putin’s narrative within the Russian Federation is to restore the “glory and order” of the Soviet Union and he therefore seeks to restore those borders - and with the division of Europe based on religion. Since the 11th Century Christianity has divided Europe into East and West. Broadly speaking western Europe is catholic or protestant and uses the Latin alphabet whereas eastern Europe is orthodox and uses Cyrillic script. Some exceptions exist though because Greece is predominantly orthodox but is generally considered a western country.
Putin and his sidekick, the überfascist Alexander Dugin who designed the Eurasia project and whose ideas are inspired by the ultraconservative Russian Orthodox Church aka the Moscow Patriarchate, which is under the control of the FSB, want to “rescue” the neoliberal West from its own decadence of multiculturalism and civil liberties such as women’s and gay rights. The Eurasia projects demands that the Russian Federation extends its sphere of influence to spread its “rescuing” ideology - white supremacy, conservatism, authoritarianism, patriarchy, homophobia and militarism - throughout the west and it does this through various propaganda channels and strategies aimed to undermine the liberal western democracies, such as supporting extreme rightwing (Front National) and extreme leftwing parties (Syriza) that can help break up the EU. All of this costs money and it is therefore crucial that the Russian Federation restores some of its former occupied territories - by invading and illegally annexing - such as Ukraine that hosts the pipeline carrying the oil and blood of the already occupied territories of the Caucasus into Europe. Putin needs control over this pipeline and over the Caucasus resources because he wants to remain the primary seller of oil to Europe. At the very least the Chechen peoples should have a share of the revenues of that trade. Putin is not budging though and it is for that reason the Chechen freedom fighters are currently in Ukraine helping their Ukrainian brothers and sisters fight the Russian invaders.
Since Russia is also the world’s second largest producer of gas it can order Europe around by threatening to cut off gas supplies. To ensure this position of leverage and to bypass Ukraine - just in case Ukraine's resistance is too strong - Russia wants to build two other pipelines, the Turkish Stream, which only benefits Russia and not at all Turkey, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline running from the west of St Petersburg directly into Germany through the Baltic Sea, which would increase its share of the Germany gas market to more than 50%. This poses a direct threat to the stability of Europe. Furthermore, Europe urgently needs to become aware of the fact that Russia seizing its neighbors’ pipelines, like for example the Baku-Supsa pipeline that runs from Azerbaijan’s capital Baku through Georgia’s Black Sea port of Supsa to Western markets, is a way to bullying its neighbors into submission which Russia still sees as vassals of the Soviet Union. Putin’s nostalgia for the former USSR and even Czarist Muscovy results in a creeping aggression into Georgian territory in what they think of is “restoring the old administrative borders of the South Ossetian autonomous province that existed during Soviet times” and this with the help of Ossetian “separatists”. However, “the South Ossetian autonomous province” is actually the Tskhinvali Region of Georgia and always belonged to Georgia. The Ossetes have no indigenous rights to the lands they call "South Ossetia". Russia is just stealing land once again and fabricating the story that that region is rightfully theirs. If Europe wants to diversify its energy supply and cultivate business relations with independent countries it will need to react with tougher measures to Russian aggression and not in the least because this aggression includes genocide. What runs through those pipelines are the natural resources stolen from the peoples of the North Caucasus who have been massacred for them. Without those natural resources the Russian Federation would collapse.
It is therefore no big surprise that any resistance against the Russian occupation of the North Caucasus was going to be met with a stiff propaganda campaign devised specifically to dehumanize the enemy and to become part of the international imperialist “war on terror” narrative that has served so many terrorist states looking to expand their empire one way or another. Putin actually literally became president on the promise to commit genocide on the Chechen people and he made good on that promise. You don’t get support for genocide without carefully mentally preparing public opinion by convincing people the enemy is a dangerous monster - not human - that needs to be destroyed at all costs if the nation is going to be safe. Incidentally, this is also how the extremist Buddhists from Myanmar are justifying their massacre of Muslims which level of cruelty even surpasses the sadism of Daesh and Syria’s Assad combined. The Buddhists are campaigning to dehumanize their Muslim victims so the world won’t care and sadly it’s working because the world in fact doesn’t care.
“Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak...when they become strong they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals”
~ Ashin Wirathu, Leader of ‘969’, the anti-Muslim Buddhist supremacist movement from Myanmar
One target of preference for the Russian sensationalist dehumanization program of the Chechen resistance is the Shakhidki, female self-martyrs or suicide bombers from Dagestan and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria usually dressed in niqab, who are being covered in the media under the derogatory name “Black Widows”. It was a perfect target because female violence is still deviant from the male norm and therefore already carries in and of itself a sensationalist and/or in some cases a romanticized characteristic. Female violence is ensured of an audience that will happily let its imagination run wild. Kurdish militias like the YPG for example are effectively fetishizing female soldiers and - oh the irony - calling it feminism to recruit amongst young male western activists in order to get them to fight for their chauvinist nationalist agenda. It’s like using sexy women to sell cars and calling that feminism. Of course these foreign fighters are under the illusion they are fighting against terrorism, the “war on terror”, and for an anarcho-communist state. Propaganda can be powerful.
"To suggest that 'gender and sexual revolutions' are being accomplished by joining an authoritarian party participating in the imperial 'war on terror' not only functions as an erasure of other struggles but also as a colonial rewriting of what the struggle is in Syria.
As a result of the Western leftist ethno-orientalist fascination with Kurdish Rojava's "feminist" militarisation model which supposedly leads to "women's emancipation", feminism and broader social justice movements replace and silence local communities' struggles, including women's and queers."
~ Razzan Ghazzawi, Syrian Palestinian scholar and activist
The aim of the Russian Federation in the case of the Shakhidki is not to recruit however but to repulse to such a degree that it becomes justified to use special measures against them. Generally when male suicide bombers are being reported on in the media it is their ideology and their motives that get all the attention. Not so with female self-martyrs. The uniting theme for coverage on these kinds of women fighters is questioning their rationality, their agency and their womanhood, which is based on a comparison with a constructed narrative of what it means to be an “actual” woman. It is another instance of objectification and sexist judgment because it deals with the choices a woman is allowed to make within her gender. The Shakhidki from the Russian occupied territories are especially under scrutiny because this enables The Russian Federation to build a discourse that discredits the whole of Chechen culture – dehumanizing the enemy – and link all Chechen fighters, who are still fighting in a war that never ended, to the “international threat of Islamist terrorism”. Russia needs support in its “war on terror” and this can be demonstrated by the fact that the Russian Federation is distributing the “Black Widow” narrative to a non-Russian speaking audience through its various western channels such as RT and GlobalResearch, which is then replicated by western “news” outlets like The New York Post, Fox News, and Breitbart News whose executive chairman Steve Bannon served as the White House Chief Strategist, a newly created position in the Trump administration. Western journalist Michael Weiss even used the slur indiscriminately in his book without properly explaining that it is an extremely derogatory term plus he went with the standard propaganda narrative that is questioning the women’s agency and freedom of choice. “Whether he prompted Ramazov to become a “black widow,” as female Russian suicide bombers are known, or she took the decision herself is unclear” is what he writes in his book “Isis, inside the Army of Terror”. The fact that he calls “Black Widows” specifically “Russian” suicide bombers also speaks volumes of his willingness to help russify colonized peoples. Shakhidki are obviously not ethnic Russian, they are usually Chechen women or women from the indigenous tribes of the Dagestani peoples and they are fighting against the occupation of their lands by Russia. Calling them Russian would be like calling Palestinians Israeli. The whole story of Diana Ramazov as connected to IS also doesn’t check out. Typically Shakhidki are in no way shape or form linked with IS and the whole thing smells similar to that other story of so called Chechen fighters of the Caucasus Emirate swearing allegiance to IS, which turned out to be a special FSB operation. Any “terrorist expert” should have picked up on that. In short, the western media helps promote a deeply offensive slur that was purposely constructed to justify invasion and extrajudicial measures against Chechens and is therefore complicit in the ongoing colonization and terrorizing of indigenous peoples fighting for their land, their families and their culture. It is unclear if these western writers are coming from a place of ignorance, which means they shouldn’t be presented as experts, or if they indeed have a vested interest in helping to promote the Russian colonization of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and other regions in the Caucasus.
The “Black Widow” myth is inflammatory for several reasons. First of all, because of the use of the word “black”. Every time this is used in reference to anyone from ethnic North Caucasus descent it is used in its original racist and abusive meaning, which is the non-human opposite of the pure and noble white race, and with the specific purpose to enslave and oppress. When the Kremlin wants to smear Chechens it will call them black one way or another. For example the famous Chechen commander Ruslan Gelayev, who was known as “Angel”, became “Black Angel” in all Russian propaganda coverage. Calling someone black in the context of Russia is the same as calling someone the n-word in the context of the US and Europe. The second reason "Black Widows" is inflammatory is because of the use of the word “Widow” plus the whole slur together is a poisonous spider. “Black Widow” is even more derogatory than the n-word because besides being racist it is also sexist. The specific propaganda strategy is to deny these women rationality and intellectual capacity to make informed decisions and deny them independent agency. They are painted as vicious poisonous monsters, Black Widows or womanhood gone insane, that are driven by emotion rather than being politically motivated individuals. Their motivation as free actors is called into question and it is argued for example that it’s not their own choice because they might have become widowed after their militant husband died in the struggle and they now no longer have a future - they are crazy widows consumed by grief. The derogatory narrative is a combination of victimization, radical feminism and mental illness: these traumatized and despairing women are manipulated or forced by circumstances, they are women suffering inferiority complexes and trying to prove their value or bored housewives looking for an adventure or are mentally retarded or crazed by grief and bent on irrational revenge. Not once are they covered as rational human beings with real political motivations for their actions.
According to conservative and patriarchal viewpoints “real” women are supposed to be mothers and wives, nurturing, pristine, soft, beautiful and fragile. When a woman takes up weapons, when she becomes a fighter, she is no longer a “real” woman. In the best case scenario within patriarchy a female soldier is seen as an “honorary man” or maybe an “auxiliary man” because of extraordinary circumstances such as war. Russia employed many women in their armies but only as temporarily replacements for men. As soon as the emergencies were lifted the women were ushered back to their gender normative roles in society. Since Russia views itself as the whitest and therefore the best they see their culture, in which women stay within their gender roles, as superior. When another culture rises up and resists their occupation with women fighting as soldiers, snipers and suicide bombers - not as temporarily replacements for but as equals to men - it is then a chance for Russia to denounce the whole culture as inferior exactly through the smear campaign against these female fighters. After all, the history of Caucasian Muslim culture is full of women fighting as equals or in some instances as superiors to men such as Taymashka Molova of Gekhi, a Chechen woman commander under Shamil. The chauvinist masculine culture of whiteness in Russia cannot but strongly resist this kind of threat to their supremacist identity. Especially female suicide bombers are a golden opportunity to turn the enemy into beasts that warrant extrajudicial measures.
If we truly want to fight for equality and justice it is crucial that we deconstruct our language, our symbols and our belief systems because those are the things that are rooted in a colonial past and they are still being used in a colonial present to shape minds, opinions and emotions. After the deadly Charlottesville neo-nazi rally that took place because they wanted to protest the removal of a colonial statue people in the US finally woke up and demanded the banishment of these symbols of racism and slavery. In the aftermath in Belgium the discussions around the removal of the Leopold II statues flared up again as were the discussions around Black Pete and the use of the n-word. Europe is way slower in coming to terms with its colonial past and taking responsibility. Many white Europeans get defensive and argue, just like the Charlottesville neo-nazis, that nobody has the right to touch their history and their customs even when their history and customs were constructed on and express slavery. They are in fact defending their identity and for their identity to remain intact non-white people necessarily need to stay inferior and submissive. The n-word shouldn't be such a problem either. It’s not meant in a racist way, they say, and black people shouldn’t be so sensitive and get over it already. It is the privilege of whiteness to tell others how to think and feel. In Russia in the meantime statues of Stalin are being erected all over the country in a massive display of tribute to this genocidal dictator who, together with Hitler, drenched Europe in rivers of blood. How long before European fascists will want to erect monuments of Hitler and how long before the discussion of this will become normalized in the name of freedom of speech? Our symbols and our language are what contribute to our culture and if we accept things like the n-word and “Black Widows” in our everyday conversation it is a white, racist and sexist conversation and we help promote the oppression of people. It means we are exactly the same as the Charlottesville neo-nazis. White supremacy and misogyny run much deeper than neo-nazis taking to the streets. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.
Munroe Bergdorf, transgender poc activist, said it best in her reply to L’Oreal, the company that fired her over her ‘rant’ about white people and racism right after the Charlottesville rally.
"First up, let's put my words in context, as the Daily Mail failed to do so. This 'rant' was a direct response to the violence of WHITE SUPREMACISTS in Charlottesville. It was not written this week. Secondly, identifying that the success of the British Empire has been at the expense of the people of colour, is not something that should offend ANYONE. It is a fact. It happened. Slavery and colonialism, at the hands of white supremacy, played a huge part in shaping the United Kingdom and much of the west, into the super power that it is today.
Whether aware of it or not, in today's society the lighter your skin tone (people of colour included) the more social privileges you will be afforded. Whether that's access to housing, healthcare, employment or credit. A person's race and skin tone has a HUGE part to play in how they are treated by society as a whole, based on their proximity to whiteness.
When I stated that "all white people are racist", I was addressing that fact that western society as a whole, is a SYSTEM rooted in white supremacy - designed to benefit, prioritise and protect white people before anyone of any other race. Unknowingly, white people are SOCIALISED to be racist from birth onwards. It is not something genetic. No one is born racist. We also live in a society where men are SOCIALISED to be sexist. Women are SOCIALISED to be submissive. Gay people are SOCIALISED to be ashamed of their sexuality due to heterosexual people's homophobia. Cisgender people are SOCIALISED to be transphobic. We do not need to be this way. We are not born this way and we can learn to reject it. We are just socially conditioned to think this way from an early age. With the right education, empathy and open mindedness we can unlearn these socialisations and live a life where we don't oppress others and see things from other people's points of view.
So when a transgender woman of colour, who has been selected to front up a big brand campaign to combat discrimination and lack of diversity in the beauty industry, speaks on her actual lived experience of being discriminated against because of her race and identifies the root of where that discrimination lies - white supremacy and systemic racism - that big brand cannot simply state that her thoughts are not "in line with the ethics of the brand".
If you truly want equality and diversity, you need to actively work to dismantle the source of what created this discrimination and division in the first place. You cannot just simply cash in because you've realised there's a hole in the market and that there is money to be made from people of colour who have darker skin tones.
The irony of all this is that L'Oréal Paris invited me to be part of a beauty campaign that 'stands for diversity'. The fact that up until very recently, there has been next to no mainstream brands offering makeup for black women and ethnic minorities, is in itself due to racism within the industry. Most big brands did not want to sell to black women. Most big brands did not want to acknowledge that there was a HUGE demographic that was being ignored. Because they did not believe that there was MONEY to be made in selling beauty products to ethnic minorities.
If L'Oreal truly wants to offer empowerment to underrepresented women, then they need to acknowledge THE REASON why these women are underrepresented within the industry in the first place. This reason is discrimination - an action which punches down from a place of social privilege. We need to talk about why women of colour were and still are discriminated against within the industry, not just see them as a source of revenue.
Racism may be a jagged pill to swallow, but I suggest you force it down quickly if you want to be part of the solution. Doing nothing, does nothing and solves nothing. Empowerment and inclusivity are not trends, these are people's lives and experiences. If brands are going to use empowerment as a tool to push product to people of colour, then the least they can do is actually work us to dismantle the source, not throw us under the bus when it comes to the crunch. At times like this, it becomes blindly obvious what is genuine allyship and what is performative.
I stand for tolerance and acceptance - but neither can be achieved if we are unwilling to discuss WHY intolerance and hate exist in the first place."