|Originally from http://www.illegalvoices.com, website of People of Color Organize:
Interview with the author of Settlers, covering Chicano Mexicano liberation, the Southwest and settlerism, for the Latino-culture program Sexto Sol. The show originates from KPFT in Houston, Texas. The collective assessment of Sakai and Aguilar was that the interview was ‘ok’; part of the challenge is making larger revolutionary concepts accessible to a possibly uninitiated radio audience. Please read on with this in mind. J.Sakai wrote a book in the 1980s called Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat. In it, Sakai takes apart U.S. history, examining the development of the U.S., the white working class and oppressed nationalities, especially Mexicanos, Africans, Native nations and Asians. He tears down popular lies about history, and posts fresh perspectives for revolutionaries of color.Ernesto Aguilar conducted this interview on June 17, 2003, covering Chicano Mexicano liberation, the Southwest and settlerism, for the Latino-culture program interview was ‘ok’; part of the challenge is making larger revolutionary concepts accessible to a possibly uninitiated radio audience. Please read on with this in mind.
Ernesto Aguilar: In the early eighties you wrote “Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat,” a book that took a deep historical look at the role of white workers in lives and histories of oppressed people. Can you break down for listeners what inspired you to write Settlers and the ideas you put forward in it?
J. Sakai: Well, I wrote it because at that time — and we’re talking about the mid-‘70s when I started working on it — it seemed to me that every time there was a struggle or an outbreak of something, or an act of injustice happened, racism, there were always more and more calls to study people of color. More books piling up about us, we’re getting funded to do things, but actually, we’re not the problem. The problem is white people. So I said ‘what about them?’
The other thing, of course, is, at the time, I was working in an auto parts plant. As a revolutionary, I had been taught all this stuff about class unity and how white workers and workers of color were going to unite. Except in real life I didn’t actually see that. What I saw was there were some good guys who were white, to be sure, but basically the white guys were pretty reactionary and they were always selling us out. So I was trying to figure out where did racism in the white working class begin? Is there a point when they started selling out or got misled or something?
EA: And where did that lead you?
JS: That led me all the way back to Plymouth Rock! I’m not a historian, or wasn’t then. I started reading and figured ‘maybe it happened in the 1930s, before we were born.’ Or ‘maybe it was the 1920s,’ going back and back. It was like treading water. I never found ground.
I figured out that actually there wasn’t any time when the white working class wasn’t white supremacist and racist and essentially pro-empire. Yet I couldn’t figure, ‘how did this happen?’
That’s when this whole idea came to me, which isn’t my idea. But at the time I knew a lot of African revolutionaries in exile from Zimbabwe and South Africa, whose people were waging guerilla wars against the colonial powers. They were always talking about white people, but they didn’t really mean race. They kept using the term ‘settlers’ and they kept talking about ‘settler colonialism.’ Then I ran into some Palestinians and they talked about the Israelis that way. It was ‘settler colonialism,’ i.e. that European populations had been imported to these countries to act as the agents for capitalism and for the ruling classes. And at that point, of course, the light bulb went on over my head and I said, ‘my god, that describes America.’ Continue reading