Chris Hedges on Occupy and the End of Empire

Brace yourself! It’s three hours of Chris Hedges, but he pretty much lays it all out.

I wanted to highlight one part where he addresses a question from a viewer about white supremacy and white privilege, which he seems to have a very good handle on.

At about 1:32:25 in, @MelkiJRussell asks, “Can Chris talk about the issues a Black man might face saying the same thing he says to a white audience?” to which I think Hedges gave a great answer:

Well (pause), look at what’s happened to Cornell West when he has gotten up and criticized Barack Obama. He’s been attacked roundly, including within the Black mainstream media. To get up and speak an uncomfortable truth, as Cohen has done throughout his life, is to have a lot of people turn away from you, to turn their backs on you. I’ve spent over two decades of my life living among people who are not white. And I speak Spanish, as well as Arabic, and French, and it has been a long process as a white, privileged male, to begin to understand the reality of white supremacy, both as it manifests itself within the heart of the Empire and on the outer reaches of Empire.

There are all sorts of assumptions that I can make that people who live in marginal communities and people of color cannot make. It’s important, I think, for those of us who come out of positions of privilege – and we spoke about the two and a half years I lived in Roxbury – to put ourselves in these environments, because we are forced to confront our own blindness.

And when you develop close relationships with people who suffer, whether they’re Palestinian or whether they’re African-American in the inner city, when they become people you love and care about, and you see how entire systems are conspired against them, it becomes painful for you, but I think more importantly you begin to see all the things that up until then you were unable to see, and that that blindness – there’ll always be a kind of gulf between you and those who are oppressed. There will always be an inability to understand. You get as close as you can, you work as hard as you can, and then you accept your own deficiencies.

I think that very, very few people – one of the books you put up there was Litwack, the historian, who’s really a remarkable historian, who wrote a trilogy of books, that I’m about to start – I teach in a prison, I’m about to start in a couple weeks, and I’m teaching those three books, and it’s the aftermath of the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and then he wrote a beautiful, sort of thin essay, contemporary essay called “When is Free Free?”.

But very few – Howard Zinn had it – but I think very few people manage to cross those lines, and it really takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of work, and a lot of self-reflection and self-criticism.

The one thing I find odd is that he is explicitly not anti-capitalist. He is against “corporate capitalism” or “unfettered capitalism”. But capitalism will slip out of any fetters we put on it – all that would do would buy us time, and as he understands, we are running out of time. That’s why I think the only reasonable course of action is a full anti-capitalist revolution.

Updates 2012/1/4

Added transcription of Hedges’s answer.

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