Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid writing by women and gender minorities.
On the radical left, there are both subtle and blatant forms of colonial white supremacy. I want to draw attention to a subtle form of white supremacy that I would call “judgmentality”. This is the ‘mentality’ in which (mostly) white people feel entitled to be arbitrators of right and wrong of everything, universally. The observations I will share are based on my experiences of being non-Pākehā tau iwi in leftist, queer and feminist movements in Aotearoa.
I am sharing these thoughts not for white leftist self-improvement to be better people, but to consider how the way structural racism is reproduced in supposedly anti-oppressive movements and not remain complicit.
When people first develop radical analyses of the world, I have seen a tendency to be self-righteous and judgmental of people who are ‘not there yet’. This identity as a radical becomes a marker of difference and is cultivated by critiquing those who are problematic, liberal etc. I have totally done this. When I was working mostly with white anarcha-feminists, I used to have a few close white girl friends that were extremely judgmental about other people’s politics. Their politics were always correct and pure. They wrote people off and were militant in their approach. For some contexts, I thought that was staunch and totally appropriate, especially when it’s challenging men for sexism for example. However, that culture of judgmentality seemed to be less about changing the system and growing radical social movements and more about cultivating an elitist individual identity or exclusive group culture of “the chosen ones”.
White judgementality also crosses the line when white people feel entitled to judge people of colour struggles and be mediators between different groups of people of colour. I’ve had Pākehā friends tell me where my place should be in supporting tangata whenua. Over and over again in white-dominated groups and spaces, I’ve seen Pākehā act as the experts of other people’s struggles and judges of what less privileged people should and shouldn’t do. It’s frustrating when Pākehā people don’t know when to shut up, when it’s not their place to speak, when the position they are criticising from is a place of privilege. The relational power they hold operates in the same way as the unequal power relations that define structures of racism and colonialism.
Think about the role of a judge in the court system. The judge, usually an old heterosexual white cis-man, has the decision-making power over the guilt or innocence of a defendant, and the punishment if decided guilty. The judge, in the western legal imagination, is also seen as neutral and objective, with no investment in the cases. Their position rests on these ideals and faith in the ‘fairness’ of their judgements. Of course, no person can ever truly be objective or neutral, there are always political, cultural and epistemological biases. Judges, like the police, as many people already know, have been instruments of colonisation, rape culture and capitalism.
These features of a judge also exist outside of the courtroom. White people often see themselves as the ‘neutral’ voice, especially when they have an outsider status in a situation where their subjectivities are not invested in the struggle in question. They often claim ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ in narrating, defining and judging the struggles of other people. This is also known as the West knows Best mentality.
White judgmentality is another performance of racism that is more latent can be under the guise of benevolence. It reeks of colonial ideas of civilisational and intellectual superiority. People most directly affected in a situation and most marginalised are the ones that knows best how to organise and fight for their liberation. Solidarity means support, not taking over or thinking you know better. Respect and support the leadership of groups most disempowered by hegemonic power.
The last thing we need is more judges. They are part of the same (in)justice system as the police and the prison system: an arm of the colonial settler state that maintains violent social hierarchies and rampant economic inequality. Like the May 1968 Paris slogan “kill the cop in your head”, the judge needs to die too.