Sunday, June 20, 2010


As participants gather for the US Social Forum in Detroit, let us all hope that the struggle against white supremacy and racism is brought to the forefront. A study of the World Social Forum in 2005 in Brazil presents an interesting and analysis on this. Hopefully, some of the deficiencies cited in the study have been dealt with since then, but I bet that is not the case.

Below is a sample of the report.  To view the entire report from UCR Institute for Research on World-Systems University of California-Riversidego to

The Contours of Color
at the World Social Forum:
Reflections on Racialized Politics, Representation,
and the Global Justice Movement

Racism and the Global Justice Movement
             The racial composition and dynamics of the World Social Forum needs to be understood within the context of the global justice movement. Many scholars and activists have critiqued the overrepresentation of whites, within the global justice movement. Martinez (2000), for example, reported that only five percent of the participants in the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in SeattleWashington were people of color. She attributed this underrepresentation to concerns about police brutality; difficulties in actually getting to Seattle because of prohibitive travel costs, child care needs, or an inability to miss work; a lack of knowledge about the WTO made worse by the fact that blacks and Latinos are less likely to have Internet access than their white counterparts; and the fact that no people of color were spokespeople in the media coverage leading up to the protests, which set up the expectation that the protests would be overwhelmingly white. Martinez concludes her article with examples of how WTO policies do in fact have greater consequences for people of color than whites.
             Inspired by this essay, some U.S. activists formed Anti-Racism for Global Justice in 2000, an organization dedicated to educating global justice activists about the ways in which racism affects their organizing, and how to overcome this (Anti-Racism for Global Justice 2000). Chris Crass, one of the founders of this organization, suggests that part of the key to overcoming racism in the global justice movement is to address white privilege within it.  Crass also calls for white organizers to recognize and follow the lead of people of color within the global justice movement (Crass 2002).
Responding to Martinez and others’ assertions about the overrepresentation of whites within the global justice movement, Starr (2004) offers an analysis of the mismatch that often occurs between anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizing within North America. Among her main conclusions are the following:
·        The anti-globalization emphasis on correct anti-imperialist analysis as the key to anti-racist campaigns is totally inadequate from the anti-racist perspective, which sees anti-racism as a specific kind of process of local organizing.
·        The movements have, at times, severe differences in what they understand to be “empowering” for strangers (and how differential empowerment is racialized). These differences are rooted in whether proto-activists are conceptualized as isolated individuals or people embedded in oppressed communities.
·     The anti-globalization movement assumes (perhaps incorrectly) that diversity of tactics successfully provides space for ideological and tactical expressions of anti-racism (and any other liberatory politics) while the most important aspect of anti-racist organizing is safe, dignified, non-white-dominated organizing culture (Starr 2004: 149).
Similarly, in Webs of Power, another U.S.-based activist, Starhawk (2002) acknowledges that there is a lack of diversity within the global justice movement and offers several approaches towards building a diverse movement. Among these approaches are: framing the issues in a way that it inspires most people to act; doing introspective work with regards to one’s own racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.; and making the political culture welcoming to all (Starhawk 2002). For Starhawk (2002), the most important thing to remember is that there are “interlocking systems of oppression” and everyone is affected and experiences oppression differently. These differences should not be a source of conflict, but rather an opportunity to find commonality in their oppression and to build solidarity. 
             Of course, people of color have long organized for global justice both within the United States and abroad, although their struggles have often been overlooked by white U.S. activists (Smith 2007: 97-112). In fact, the global justice movement, which became visible in North America in 1999, emerged from earlier protests against the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s lending policies in the Global South in the 1970s and 1980s, protests involving many people of color. The revolt of the Zapatistas in ChiapasMexico in 1994 was another pivotal event for the global justice movement, bringing international visibility to both opposition to neoliberal global capitalism and the assertion of indigenous rights (Smith et al. 2007; Rubin 2004). Nevertheless, problems of white privilege and exclusivity within the global justice movement are not isolated to North America, as our study of the 2005 WSF meeting in Brazil reveals.

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