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White allies or white takeover in Portland’s BLM protests?

in Current Affairs/Politics & Social Justice by

Now in its ninth week of demonstrations, Portland protesters maintain a line of resistance. Yet, it is mostly white. One local leader says Black Lives Matter demonstrations have turned into a “white spectacle.”

Portland protests have become a mélange of dissent for some. For others, it is a site of cooptation and chaos. While demonstrators have taken on various modes of resistance, the president of Portland’s NAACP chapter, E. D. Mondainé, feels that the mostly-white rally-goers “want to be allies, and they want to be friends,” but would be more effective “if they were to be behind Black Lives Matter movement and strategize with us as how we take it [to] another level.

For Mondainé, a senior pastor at Celebration of Tabernacle church pointed to a picture of a nighttime white, female protester sitting in the middle of the street in front of officers while in the buff. Video footage shows the woman positioning herself in a ballet or yoga pose as police officers fire rubber bullets in her direction.

In an NPR interview, Mondainé said it was a “tipping point for him.” Explained the NAACP leader, “this is the same woman that – my great-great-uncle was lynched for just speaking to a white woman. This is what led to the death of Emmett Till.

Though the woman has been dubbed the “Naked Athena,” her actions closely resemble Nigerian women’s effective demonstration tactics in the Delta Niger. In 2002, hundreds of women stormed into a Chevron Texaco oil refinery demanding that the company offer jobs, educational resources and local opportunities to local residents. After a week, the women threatened to remove their clothes. “The women, particularly the elderly ones, also threatened to strip naked in protest, an act regarded locally as a curse,” explained Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi in research presented in Oil and insurgency in the Niger Delta.

Nigerian marketer sells clay pots in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Photo credit: Omotayo Tajudeen.

. . .

Author and professor, Mitchel S. Jackson asked in a New York Times opinion piece, “Who gets to be naked Athena?

Jackson furthers:

But I’ve also been musing on the subject of weirdness — how that quality requires freedom, or at least the belief that one possesses it. How the ability to express passion and courage and weirdness is a product of that privilege; how a sense of utopianism of the sort that exists for white people in Portland, my hometown, leads to a certain audacity when it comes to both self-expression and political radicalism; how that audacity can make a city into a tempting target for a federal government that’s determined to look tough against a purported paragon of eccentric liberalism.

So far, the woman has chosen to to speak to press, she is reported to be a fair-skinned woman of color. While Mondainé call the nude demonstrator and other the protesters’ attempts, “well-intentioned,” he sees it as taking the focus off of racial justice. There are those who echo Mondainé’s sentiments. Then there are those who disagree. 

Says Esha:

“Washington Post always doing its job to kill democracy in darkness. Cross-race solidarity is good. But, here they are trying to paint it as bad. Anytime, you take on power, the more citizens we have the better it is.

. . .

Marcus Walters responds:

“E.D. Mondaine is a Pastor, and he has some excellent points. The criminals rioting are not helping. He is however wrong, federal officers are doing nothing unconstitutional. In fact they are being very, very restrained. This could be very kinetic, but it’s not. Talk to a lawyer.

. . .

Adds, Mark Keogh:

“E.D. Mondainé doesn’t think much of this sort of demonstration of solidarity. Apparently it’s all just performative, angsty white appropriation again.”

. . .

Nicholas Cruse, the progressive martial artist opines:

“We need black progressives to speak up about this ASAP. This isn’t the first story I’ve seen like this. The establishment is purposely trying to destroy BLM by driving a wedge between the races and using useful idiots like the Portland NAACP head to do it.”

. . .

For this person, the protest will organically shift into something bigger:

“The protests are also going to be expanding and encompassing a range of issues that are all intertwined. With millions on the verge of becoming homeless and federal agents kidnapping people off the streets this is becoming an all out battle against the fascist state.

It’s hard because you want to keep the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement but at the same time things are escalating so quickly that we don’t have a moment to step back and collect ourselves. The divisive rhetoric is a distraction when we need militant solidarity.”

In the discourse of Portlanders, Mondaine is resolute in continuing to press for racial justice and equity. “Sun Tzu reminded us that all war was deception . . . we are at war . . . we won’t stop.”

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