I’ve regenerated

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The theredandblackstork blog is now finished, an ex-blog, if you please.  I worked out that not a single person remembered what the blog was called, and therefore have opted for a more snappy czarnykapturek.  I mean, that is my name.  (For people who don’t speak Polish, it is pronounced charnuh captoorek).

So long, goodbye, and thanks for all the fish.

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Burakburgers

This article is not about burakburgers.  I couldn’t think of a snappy title.  But anyway, before a few brief points, I just want to say that I have come to the view that one hasn’t really lived in/been to Wrocław until one has had a burakburger.  I did think about coming up some ill-fitting metaphors about how this blog is the burakburger and you are the tomato sauce, but I didn’t even convince myself of that, so here’s a nice photo I nicked:

ImageNo really.  The ones at the Christmas market by Vega were well nice, and the ones made by Złe mięso are boss.

Anyway, a few points:

Firstly, you know the film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” by Werner Herzog?  It is an excellent film, and the beginning is stunning.  “What does this have to do with Wrocław?” I hear you say.  Well I got a bit bored when I saw it, wanting the action to begin.  However, it’s worth seeing, and while the rest of the film carries the plot, the film without the beginning loses something.

It’s like that with my series about “multicultural Wrocław”.  The upcoming articles will be dead good (the next one will look at the issue of language), seeing as stuff will be said that I’ve never heard said, good stuff, but the series will be more complete by reading the introduction.

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To crowbar – to forcefully include an irrelevant theme into a text/dialogue

I’m not saying that the articles will witness a slow grasp on reality culminating in murderous activities, like Klaus Klinksi brilliantly portrays in the film.  I’m not begging you to read it.  That’d annoy me if someone did that to me , or if I begged you to post the article on Facebook/tweet it/read them out in front of masses of people/hang upon my every word and the such.  Nah, I’m just saying that I reckon it’d be worthwhile to read it (which is me being very polite.  Basically I believe that you should read it, but I won’t come out and say that.  The article is boss, as is most things that I write).

Second thing.  Yeah, it was cool when the Facebook page of the “March of Independence” was deleted by the Facebook administration.  I mean, it’s ran by (what 161.infocafe rightfully call as) rebranded fascists and its parades in Warsaw and Wrocław have been linked to violent attacks.  Turns out that Facebook in Poland want to clamp down on hate speech.  Well I’m not so glad about this.  Firstly, the evening after the deleting saw a new “March of Independence” page set up, which got 10,000 “likes” within two hours.  The same day saw the “Big clean up of Facebook from hate speech” page deleted by Facebook as well, presumably due to complaints by fascists/racists/idiots about “left-wing hate speech”, something that I’ve seen elsewhere, whereby an antifa group page got taken down.  This belays a common mistaken belief that there is such a thing as a left-wing version of the likes of Neo-Nazis.  I’ll write more about this fallacy another time, but for the moment I’ll summarise by saying: It’s a load of rubbish.

More cutting analysis after the weather.

I mean, the thing is is that the old March page was “liked” by many people who don’t live in Poland, and that they gain a lot of financial help from immigrants in GB as well as US Poles/Pole-Americans (whatever they call themselves), where, and I say this with respect for the anti-fascist/left-wing tradition there, there is a strongly polarised view of matters of Islam, multiculturalism, sexuality and so on.  When I say strongly polarised I mean, as one says in the US, “bat shit crazy”.

But still.  A strong reaction against fascism and racism requires people to report hate speech on Facebook and Twitter and stand up against it online and in real life.  Dodgy views in a healthy civic society would be automatically challenged.  Even if that means trailing through comments on Gazeta Wyborcza.  This means being vigilant about, say, a protest planned in Wrocław by a group known for violent attacks on Roma premises by reporting this to the Facebook admin.  Yes, I know it won’t stop the protest, but still, the dissemination of hate speech must be countered, even if the Facebook admin are very flawed.

Which brings me to point three.  We need more than internet activism (yes, you know that. Yes, I know that you know that).  Protests by some residents of Tarnogoj about the setting up of places of residents for the Roma from Romany who have been living on a settlement on ul. Kamieńskiego had strongly antiziganistic undertones.  In a later article (me saying that must get annoying by now) I shall look at this more.  I won’t lecture you on concrete signs of solidarity that these Roma need, things like teaching them Polish, something Nomada have been asking for.  (Anyone of you speak fluent Polish and have some time?)

Right, that’s all for now.  Hope you’re having a good start to 2014.

“Multicultural Wroclaw”

Is Wrocław multicultural?  I reckon not, and not only I think that.  In their special on Wrocław, Polytka magazine quotes Professor Hana Cervinkova who says that “Vratislavians claim that their city is multicultural but really it is monocultural”.  Pope John Paul II may have said in 1997 that “Wroclaw is a city situated practically at the meeting point of three lands which through their history are very closely united to one another. It is, as it were, a city of encounter, a city that unites”, but this meeting doesn’t happen.  Bohemians, Germans and Poles have been here, but hardly any of them have been here at the same time.  There was and there is little meeting.

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Wrocław 2016: The shallow city?

Nah, I reckon that multiculturalism as it tends to be understood is flawed in that when people talk of it they tend to only mean different nationalities and religions.  From that perspective Wrocław isn’t multicultural.  Recent census results have shown that if you look at nationalities other than Polish in Wroclaw among people who are registered we’re talking about less than one thousand people who have other nationalities.  Same with confessions/religions other than the RC church.

This concentration is flawed.  I wish to say more about this in a later article, but for now will simply point out that Amartya Sen, in his book, “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destinyshows that we are comprised of many different identities and that (what is often called as) intercultural meetings does indeed happen in Wrocław, but not in the way in which people most people think.

I mean, “when you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good”.

Now, as it happens, at an event in the Wroclaw museum of contemporary art last November, Dr Julia Makaro and Dr Kamila Dolińska presented their report, “On the multicultural monocultural Wroclaw” whereby they interviewed people in Wroclaw about multiculturalism in Wroclaw.  They came to the surprising conclusion that the great majority of people think that Wroclaw is multicultural, and 97% of them see this as positive.  The reason why they believed that Wroclaw is multicultural is that they hear different languages, can buy different types of food and see different styles of architecture.

For me this, while being fairly shallow, and leaving aside the issue that those who speak other languages tend to be tourists (by that logic Oświęcim is a multicultural town), and those who sell different types of food tend to be Poles, this is a useful starting point in trying to build respect for diversity.

Klaus Bachmann righfully points out that there’s a difference between being for multicultural in theory and in practise.  We might as well be pragmatic and try to make it work in Wrocław, to stop Wrocław from being a shallow city (well the water can stay shallow) and be a fitting Capital of Culture.  This blog shall therefore see a series of articles addressing various multicultural competences (let’s call them that, I prefer “transcultural competences”, but explaining that will require a whole article which would tire your patience) such as the issue of languages, power, identity, the creation of the concept of “foreigners”, the situation of Roma from Romania and other clever stuff.

 

The dead bird around our white necks

The poem, “Rime of the ancient mariner” by Samuel Taylor Colderidge tells of a mariner who, on a ship bound on sail killed an albatross, the “bird of good omen”. Bad luck befalls the shipmates, they run out of water, and they “blame the luck on the mariner, about his neck, the dead bird is hung”*.

Picture from the film Black Venus

Picture from the film Black Venus

White people have a dead bird hanging around our necks, that of the legacy of colonialism, which has resulted in a racist socialisation that not only manifests itself in being anti-“PC” but also, and even in anti-racist initiatives.

This reflection has been prompted by the “Exhibit B” performance that took place as part of the Dialogue festival in Wrocław.  I’ll describe it as I experienced it.

Once we had showed our tickets we sat in a cafe (in the Browar Mieszkański), where people were allowed 25 at a time to enter the performance area. I was in the last group, which went into a small room, sat down and two women spoke formally to us about us not being able to take photos or talk in the exhibition. We were given numbers and my number was called first, so I was the first to go in.

The first part was an exhibition with skulls of antelopes and other animals, as well as costumes. There was a board saying what was in the part, which included “pygmy (male), pygmy (female)”. Indeed, there were two people standing still. I didn’t know what the hell to do. Should I say hello? Should I look at them? Feeling unsure, I went to the next part, which again had a living person, this time with a board about “asylum seeker” with height measurements, weight, religion and other personal details written on it. The “asylum seeker” stood still, looking at me. Again, I felt uncomfortable and moved quickly on.

Now, after giving our tickets we were given pieces of paper which gave a bit of info about colonialism in Africa and the “human zoos”, whereby Black people from Africa were showed as exponates in order to show white Europeans how exotic, undeveloped and backward they were. This knowledge in my mind, I decided to only briefly look in the eyes of those in the exhibition, not wanting to stare and be rude.

The exhibition went on and got more grisly, with parts related to slaves who had been killed in brutal ways, or heads from Herero people who had died during the genocide between 1904 and 1907 who had been cut off and sent to German scientists in order to “biologically prove” their backward nature. I continued to feel uncomfortable, even though this is a theme I know more about, the death of people trying to enter/trying not to leave the EEC/EU. The thing was, the people looking at me were not looking neutrally, rather, with emotion in their eyes.

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In the last room were posters showing those who were playing in the performance. One spoke of the sense of “guilt” Europeans feel.

Here’s the thing, in my work I do anti-racist workshops, I’ve been involved in initiatives against prejudice (with racism forefront in mind) and I’ve openly spoken about the need for people from GB to deal effectively with their colonial past. Why would I feel uncomfortable? Is it guilt?

Unconscious racism among the “good people”

Well…I remember saying racist things as a child in the 1980s. I remember saying nothing when I saw racist things happen. There’s more to it than that though. I mean, I was quite young then, not reflected. Nah, there’s more to it than that. I remember how, when meeting people from the Solomon Islands in about the year 2000 I was all nice, buying them posters and generally speaking slower and louder to them, all from the motivation of being “nice”.

Once while attending a training about combatting anti-semitism, we were taught about one form of German anti-semitism whereby non-Jewish Germans may not feel comfortable when meeting Jewish people (from any country); this will be demonstrated through a feeling of being ill at ease, passive hostility or even being patronisingly nice, no matter what generation they belong to.

My theoretical knowledge about a non-Jewish German defensiveness about Jewish people became more real in this exhibition. Those who were looking at me were representing victims, and I as a member of a white society am representative of the perpetrators, in that I (a) was born into the western civilisation that did racist crimes and (b) as a result of my socialisation have acted “oddly” around Black people, even in my attempts to combat racism.  I am not saying that I felt guilty because I thought that I made those things possible, rather, a sense of shame that I am part of the thought system that makes modern day racism possible.

Unconscious guilt among those who are “anti-PC”

Notice how so far I’m talking about myself. As the designer of the performance Brett Baily said, the main actors and actresses are the visitors. Indeed, on the list of the exponates was also written “visitor(s)”. Like how people from Africa have become a huge area of projection, this exhibition was about myself, about how uncomfortable I felt with feeling like a perpetrator. It is this uncomfortable feeling that I know with modern German anti-semitism that can lead to feelings of resentment or a desire to switch round the victim/perpetrator relationship; this is similar the many comments in online social mediums about those refugees who died in the shipwrecks at Lampusa were “to blame”, or that those to blame where those who were transporting them, instead of looking at an inhuman EU policy regarding refugees.

The German feminist Birgit Rommelspacher wrote in her excellent book Dominanzkultur that white people, when they meet Black people do not react neutrally, they’ll feel like they’re walking on eggshells, they have to watch what they say in case they get called racist, they are aware of the crimes done to Black people and therefore feel unconsciously guilty; they also know that racism still exists. Like with non-Jewish Germans when they meet Jewish people, this can take the form of hostility. A need to defend oneself from being “guilty” among young Germans is something I’ve heard many times when, it must be noted, no-one mentioned the need for those present to be feel “guilty”. It may sound far-fetched, but why would some white people take so much effort to defend themselves, I mean, if they’ve done nothing, they have no need to defend themselves. They could simply laugh accusations off.

The issue is not whether someone is guilty or not or consciously feels this sense of shame, it’s about that people have not dealt with difficult areas of the biographies of their families or nations and therefore the mere presence of representatives of the victim group can call into question their (or their familes’) sense of being “good”.

White people using Black people in advertising

In the aforementioned “Deutschland schwarz weiss” book Noah Sow gives excellent examples of how even attempts to seeingly make people “pro-African” can be racist.

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“In Africa the children never come too late to school, rather, they never go to school”

Ah, right, so white children are educated but black ones aren’t, so Africa is one homogeneous place, so black means dirtiness (note the black coming off on the T-shirt).

It is here where, despite the fact that Poland didn’t have colonies (though the human zoos did get shown in Prussian-occupied Poland in Warsaw and possibly Poznań), Polish people cannot be left off the hook. Even if this is just a clumsy form of racism, the fact is that people in Poland have been influenced by the standard form of European racism. I mean, look at this advert, where Mike Tyson sings about not being able to control himself, is rough and wild, because “that’s how Black works”.

I am not writing about beatings ones breast, simply I am saying that it is possible to acknowledge the way in which we were socialised into racist thoughts without having to get all hung up about being “bad” people.  Let’s chill.  Our parents and teachers and others who influenced us were not necessarily arseholes.

* Yes, I am quoting the Iron Maiden song. I hadn’t heard of the poem before I had heard the song.

NOP threat on BWA gallery


As the man faced with 100 slices of bread and a few tubs of butter said, we need to get spreading.

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Such as this.

A screening of a film by Tomáš Rafa about nationalism in Europe was to be shown tomorrow evening at the BWA art gallery in Wrocław.  This was cancelled due to online threats by members of the NOP.

Now, the head of BWA in Wrocław Marek Puchała said that the showing of the film was postponed due to the unhappy coincidence that it was to take place on the same day as the day of commemoration of the Żołnierze wyklęci, partisan anti-communist forces (it would be better to concentrate on Dydd Gwyl Dewi on March the 1st, for Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, who spoke of the importance of love and peace)  (What do you mean, that isn’t relevant?)  Puchała said that, as there will be a demonstration by NOP members to commemorate that day it could be dangerous, as I understand it, as a number of fascists would be together and pumped up and ready for doing something against “leftists”, represented in this case by BWA.  It seems that the film will be shown in BWA at another date.

Now, here I could tell you that I was right about what happens when people didn’t stand up to fascists on November 11th 2011.  But I’ve done that before.  I could also mention that there is a key gap in effective ways of dealing with history in Poland, but I’ve said that before as well.  I could also link the threats to other hate-crimes in Wrocław since the 11th of November 2011, leaving people concerned with hate crimes with a general feeling of hopelessness, but again, I’d be repeating myself.  I doubt you’d like that.

No, I’ll concentrate on one thing.  I wasn’t aware of the showing of the film, and neither were friends of mine.  This isn’t a big story in itself (my own minor traumas not being particularly relevant in this case), but does show a problem in Wrocław about publicity.  I know various anti-fascists, various friends and friends of friends are active in the social sector, and I’m a “liker” of various relevant groups on Facebook like WolnyWroclaw and  Żywa Biblioteka, but still, we didn’t find out about the film.  Had I been regularly attending events at BWA or “liked” them on Facebook, I would have found out about it.  But I hadn’t even though that someone like BWA would show such a film, a film that I could have watched.

It’s like when a client of mine expressed disappointment to me that she didn’t know that Cafe Pestka was showing the film Żydokomuna together with a discussion with its creator Anna Zawadzka.  She is not on Facebook, where I had found out about the film.  It’s also like when I attended an anti-discrimination forum last year where a complaint was made that organisations do their own events and don’t tell other people.

I don’t think that, by and large people are keeping their events secret, rather that their target audience is narrow.  Sometimes you have to know the right person in order to find out about events.  That may reflect good networks on the one hand, on the other hand in the year 2013 information needs to be out there.  Events like the upcoming “Wrocław for everyone without hate parade” on the 23rd of March and certainly with the Hardcore Help Foundation Day on the 9th of March will happen, and not everyone  who would be interested will found out about them.

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As I’ve said before, we need a Wrocław coalition against fascism, at the very least, in order to spread information about events.

I ask of you, dear reader the following: If you work in an organisation, perhaps you could speak with your colleagues about the possibility of working in an open coalition.  Otherwise, let me know on Facebook or Twitter of events that others should know about.  My blog here is a small attempt to help those people who are working hard against fascism and for diversity, so therefore I would ask of you to make my blog known to friends and colleagues.

Finally, I wrote this article “Potzebujemy koalicję wrocławską przeciwko faszyzmowi”  in Polish.  Would someone be so kind as to proof-read it?  I wish to pass it onto to various groups.

Normality is a pain in the arse

I am increasingly coming to the view that as well as focussing on Nazi-saluting drunks, we need to combat normality itself.

An interesting article was published in the Toruń version of Gazeta Wyborcza.  In it the Toruń university Professor Mariola Chomczyńska-Rubacha said that children in Polish schools are being taught stereotypes about the gender roles of men and women, stereotypes that contribute to sexism, demonstrated through research into textbooks in schools .  One example  on entrepreneurship whereby a family budget sees the father having a fishing rod, the son gets a bike, the daughter books and the mother gets nothing.  In another example on maths saw a father wanting and taking a credit, while the concerns of the wife is restricted to potatoes and bread for 20 zloty.  Female members of families in textbooks often have trivial operations with low prestige.

This is normality.(From flowersandchocos.com/)

It is normal for women to give men flowers.  No really.
(From flowersandchocos.com/)

“If you assign behaviours, activities and personality traits of people to a particular sex, their individual opportunities to be who they would like to be will be limited”, said Chomczyńska-Rubacha.  She goes onto to say that when one looks at the organisation of schools (where 80% of teachers are women while most directors are male), the treatment of children (boys being told to move benches, girls told to clean) as well as the textbooks, one sees clear conservative gender roles being taught to children in schools.  A five-year old I know has said the following: “When the wife is good the husband will give her flowers” (the husband has power, however, he doesn’t get any flowers) and “boys can cry, but men are not allowed to”.  Somehow the child has picked up standards of what is normal, of what boys and girls, men and women can do.

Of course, there is no empirical facts to show what men and women should actually be doing.  Of course, there are a few obvious biological differences, human women can give birth and breastfeed, men can stand up to piss.  One could say that men are stronger, which is true when one looks at averages, although saying that a few hundred years of men doing largely physical work will have had an effect on genes.  In any case, there is nothing to suggest that men should be the person responsible for income in the family* or that boys should move chairs.   I’m not being PC here, it’s simply untrue to say that men don’t do things like cook, clean and take the children to school.  What is taught in schools does not reflect reality.  It’s like the view that all people born in Poland are Roman Catholic, or eat meat, or drink vodka.  That we know someone/some people like that doesn’t mean that it is true.

We receive so much information and need to simplify things, hence definitions of normality.  When many people do this societal rules come to being.  That different people, for example, hear animals making different noises (the five-year old I mentioned is convinced that dogs go “how” and not “bark”, “woof” or “yap” speaks of socialisation.)  That’s a fairly banal example.  The thing is, as professor Chomczyńskia-Rubacha says, these concepts of normality can be a pain in the arse (alright, that’s a liberal translation).  Girls will feel obliged to be the “good” mother, staying at home, while the husband earns more money.  They’ll do this as it is considered to be normal.  (In fact, men I know are more likely to be paid more and put into positions of power.  There are reasons other than sexism, of course, such as that testosterone increases risk-taking, but still.)  As I said here, this can create all manner of pressure for women in Poland.

And the thing is this, men don’t 100% benefit from this.  Look at the lower lifespan of men partly due to them being told to “be a man” and not worry about their health, or look at higher suicide rates for men, who are told not to cry or show emotions.  That 80% of teachers are female means that boys are largely taught in schools by women can result in, as said in the article boys being conditioned that girls are better learners and hardworking.  My experience in school is that the girls tended to sit forward at class and get more attention from the teachers.  I felt under pressure to not be a “swot” and therefore paid less attention to learning.

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Now, I am not saying that the people making school textbooks are cackling evil laughs as they do so, thinking “we’ll really fuck their lives up ha ha ha”.  No, a key point about prejudices is that that are sometimes not conscious, not deliberate attempts to discriminate.  No, they reflect what we consider to be normal.  Or at least, we accept things are being normal as people in our families, schools or churches told us them, i.e. people in authority.  I recall indeed a children’s fairy tales book published in Poland a few years ago that contained anti-semitic caricatures (can’t remember the name of it).  Talk of doing anything considered not to be “normal”, say, being vegetarian, gay, not wanting to celebrate Christmas (not that I’m linking the three example) can be opposed not due to any rational reason, simply to an attachment to a flimsy definition of what is considered to be normal.  Opposition out of grounds of normality for normality’s sake shows a lack of faith in the reasons why decisions are made.

One more point: Of course, being critical of societal conventions of normality can involve all manner of awkward questions, such as to the nature of the family.  Families are social constructions as well.  A family can exist without a man, or a woman for that matter.  We assume the family model of two parents to be normal, purely because we have seen that happen a lot.  Bob Avarkian is right (I don’t say that very often) in that people would grow up differently if they didn’t eat food at home with their parents, rather ate them in canteens.  Their sense of the “in-group” would change.  What the human being and how it understands social relations is changeable.

Another example: People say that we have to have capitalism, along with all its abuses because “people are selfish”.  I’d agree that people tend to be selfish in the present societal relations that we have.  The question arises whether it is the selfish person who makes the selfish system, or the other way around.  Capitalism was and continues to be a form radical social engineering (bringing many good things).  Challenging whether, however people are naturally selfish may lead us in radical directions.

Perhaps it’s due to attachments to power that opposition to being critical of normality is made.

Shouting at ourselves

I’m currently reading “Violence” by Slavoj Žižek and there’s one section that set me thinking about the nature of civic activism, especially anti-racist activism.  He offers an analysis of the film “The village“, an analysis which I actually found more interesting than the film itself (you can watch the film here).

The film is about a village where people (who think it is 1897) live in Pennsylvania which is cut off from the rest of the world by a wood, a wood they don’t enter due to creatures,  “Those we don’t speak of” which live there.  As long as they don’t enter the wood, the creatures won’t enter the village.  The drama comes when one of the protagonists (seen in the photo above) dares to exit the village boundaries.  To cut a long story short, it turns out that the creatures don’t exist, rather, they are a myth concocted by the village elders (comprising of people from a support group for people whose relative have been murdered) in order to stop people leaving the village into the world which they see as dangerous.  Through a few props but largely by the power of the myth people stay in the village.

Of the creatures Žižek writes that “The evil is part of the inner circle itself, it is imagined by its members”.  This evil, this threat is effectively one that the villages themselves have created.  This threat of violence, of danger is actually themselves, a projection of their capability for violence.  The wood represents their unconscious.  There lies hidden desires and fears.

Right-wingers in Warsaw last November

Early in June I was co-leading a trip of people to Oświęcim and Kraków, whereby we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. One evening in a splendid anarchist pub in Kazimierz over a pint or two of Kasztełan we discussed being involved in anti-fascism.  It came to the point where we were analysing ourselves: With Nazis, we can put all the shite we’ve seen and experienced on their shoulders; we cannot go shouting and agitating against everyday holders of prejudicial views but with Nazis we can allow ourselves to show hatred.  It’s like they’re scapegoats for all the shite in our societies, in our lives.  That we define ourselves as anti-racists and/or anti-fascists, it means that part of our identities is a reaction to other people, and therefore they form part of our identities, albeit in a reactionary form.

This makes an anti-fascist demo a personal event.  On the other side of the police line are not just Nazis but also people we know from our pasts, people from our everyday life who annoy us because of their views.  Nazis form a psychological function in allowing us to think of ourselves as being “good” people, working for a good cause.  We can account for our feelings of hate by making our work “just” and “right”.

I could be wrong, like.  Certainly, I don’t want people to stop working against racism and fascism because of any possible unresolved inner tension.  Obviously, I’d rather people be active against racism.  In any case perhaps it is the case that those who have experienced injustice can be more active against racism.

What I am saying is that I believe it to be healthier to be aware of ones motivations, to be active in a more reflected way.  One can continue to be socially active, while also being aware of why wants to do that.  Conscious actions can produce more energy.  It can also lead to people not unquestionably identifying with people or groups perceived to be “victims”.  The person being hit with hammers at home can be a man, and the person wanting to do a “Holocaust” in the Middle East can be a Palestinian.  It means being more critical regarding accusations of racism.