Angie Speaks, and the Battle Against Racism on the Left

A recent round of controversy shows that racism remains wildly misunderstood even by those who profess to lament it.

BreadTube is very white–that much is known, but rarely talked about is the mechanism through which it became white. Last night, Angie Speaks posted a tweet deriding her common subjection to misogynoir tropes by people assigned-male-at-birth (shortened as AMAB) and it ushered in an entire thread of debate within the online leftist community on whether Angie’s language constituted transphobia and should therefore be unconditionally damning, or is the treatment she’s been getting from her detractors a confirmation of the very behavior she’s cautioned against in the post.

To begin to even understand why this controversy is harder to parse than most, it’s important to lay out the ideological differences between someone like Angie Speaks whose view of bigotry is defined more by class struggle, and her critics — among whom is Korviday and Luxander — who see the fight against bigotry as a manifestation of shared identitarian struggle. To Angie, being on the pedestal of great privilege when whiteness is supercharged through erstwhile masculinity is enough of a unifying experience that it doesn’t merit setting a distinction because the social script of oppressing black women in the UK (and the West more broadly) is very much central to the white man’s narrative, that reassuming a different gender role isn’t an automatic off-switch for these behaviors–her detractors assumed malicious intent by implying she used ‘AMAB’ to express transphobia, which seems to have further pigeon-holed Angie Speaks into the “angry black woman” stereotype, something she’s actively working to combat as waves of unrelenting criticism keep pouring in.

Angie might yet have to sacrifice an offering for those who are at the cutting edge of social justice terminology, but it doesn’t mean that her point was worth entirely dismissing–the ferocity of the response she’s gotten is ample proof that white people are uniquely ambivalent about the experiences of black women, which becomes doubly the case when misogyny is introduced later down the equation. The criticism seems almost paradoxical in nature–Angie’s critics are claiming she’s essentializing manhood such as it became okay to lump trans women and cis men into one category (even though ‘AMAB’ tacitly acknowledges the role of external judgement in assigning gender), all-the-while being the kind to typically advocate for a more fluid understanding of gender, under which masculine traits are not uniquely masculine, and could therefore be assumed by non-men regardless if they’re trans or cis.

This is the logical conclusion of identity politics when pushed too far–people are left trying to parse out conclusions out of a complex web of hierarchical considerations on which “identity is worth protecting most” and they end up throwing other marginalized groups under the bus because their conception of fighting oppression is so heavily centered on a language of liberal social economics in which no wrong answers exist, only for the opposite to ostensibly be the case.

“Donut liberal Twitter” is what that has come to be colloquially known as–this comes from an encounter dating back to 2017 when Nina Turner had her entry rejected to the DNC with an offering of donuts and water instead as reconciliation, prompting large swaths of the liberal left to dub any demands made by black women within the leftist movement as emanating from ill-justified pomposity. This is what Angie Speaks has essentially faced–her refusal to yield so easily to the demands of a predominantly-white detractorship is deemed so incredulous, such that it nullifies any of her claims to reject that behavior on the basis of misogynoir. Essentially, it became a case of “My transness overrides your claim to misogynoir, making your experiences invalid” and it’s quite jarring to see that the debate has sloped down to a glorified version of oppression olympics where lanes of bigotry have become races to be won by few, rather than marathons where everyone makes it to the finish line.

This story is an encapsulation of what has gone historically awry when black women venture to make themselves a cozy place within the leftist movement–they’re navigating boundaries set by dominant groups, and are scolded with fiery indignation whenever they overstep them even the slightest. I’ve gotten my fair share of racist language in the past so it doesn’t strike me as particularly surprising that the left is as guilty of this as the right, but it doesn’t make it any less of a burden to see that whenever a person of color is seen as out of step, they’re punished much more harshly than their white counterparts almost every single time.

What makes it further puzzling, is that protest against racist attitudes is often placated against these recurring instances where that promise is not made good on–it is one thing to keep advocating to show up for black women when it’s needed, and it’s totally another to reject that responsibility when time comes to materialize it. Stemming the tide of bigotry only on performative terms has the potential to sew insurmountable discord within–those who fail to see that the pretense for intersectionality isn’t overriding of any one’s single concern are subjecting their activism to so much pressure, that it continues to break whenever competing frameworks of pluralism advocacy are at play. Since the left isn’t as value-driven as the right, the impetus for them to agree on a baseline interpretation of much of anything is much less present, making them more prone to continuous disagreement at the expense of building successful coalitions.

This isn’t meant to invalidate the trans community’s concerns–I’m non-binary myself, and I know what it’s like to have my identity invalidated on the regular. It is merely pointing out that in an age where transphobia seems to lace so much of our own social media diets, it is useful to isolate those emotional trappings from statements that are otherwise agreeable with very few adjustments. To build a successful political movement, more bridges have to be built than burnt, and especially in the case of the left, they should resist the urge to self-sabotage because of what could be best described as a petty tussle over semantics. It was the reason ContraPoints booked it from social media, and it could be the reason many more will follow if Twitter continues to be a source of much unwarranted distress.