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Social Commentary and Killing The Cop Inside Your Head With MoMa PS5

20 September 2022

Interview with Annabel Blue

Image by: Driely S Carter

“Isn’t it weird how the same people that always talk about dismantling the police, or prison abolition, then turn around and act like the police?”

Social Commentary and Killing The Cop Inside Your Head With MoMa PS5

Aloiso Wilmoth approaches ‘woke’ culture as an existential threat. He implores those willing to have conversations to “kill the cop inside of your head.” Whether Wilmoth’s rhetoric resonates with you or not, his extensive research will be sure to at least provoke thoughtful discourse. The cultural commentator, also known as MoMa PS5 or by his DJ alias He Valencia, navigates the epistemic narratives permeating identity politics—tapping into why self-proclaimed 'progressives' seem to use ‘transformative’ social politics more for self-marketing than engendering actual change.

Sitting down with Wilmoth on a Saturday afternoon, we discuss the rise of the identarian left, racial essentialism and how we can navigate conflict through nuanced discourse.

Annabel Blue: Hey Aloiso, so nice to finally chat. Where in the world are you right now?

Aloiso Wilmoth: Hey Annabel. I’m actually in the Midwest. Everyone always thinks I’m in the city, strangely enough.

AB: Yeah, I was envisaging you being in New York...! I would love to hear more about MoMa PS5 and how your page started gaining traction. Where did it all start?

AW: It started as me just collecting memes and posting them, then I was like… 'Wait, no one wants to see this crap on my main page, I’ll make a separate page specifically for this.' Then last year I caught the virus and I was just sitting at home out of work, on Instagram for a whole day using it as a journal, writing about my frustrations, specifically within dance culture. I was just like, 'Yo we need to be a bit more nuanced here in how we communicate with each other.' It started gaining traction and I guess I started posting more ruthless stuff – like deep-fried blurry texts [laughs] – and people just started eating it up and sharing. Even that famous supermodel Emily Ratajkowski and Deb Hines shared something early on.

AB: Can you tell me a little bit about some encounters you’ve had online?

AW: About a year ago, people were bringing up pretty valid grievances in terms of representation and whatnot. I was fully onboard to have the conversation about how to get more people in the door. Then at a certain point, when something happened to me and I experienced racism, nobody really cared. It gave me an ill feeling. And then it happened again, over and over... and it clicked with me. All of this conversation around liberation felt really performative. It got to a point where people were starting to sort of market themselves in that way. I was like... To hell with this. I’m going in the other direction. I felt like I was being co-opted by this neoliberal discourse. I just wanted to have more nuanced conversations about things without people feeling like they’d get cancelled, or without people being afraid of asking a question. Now, we’re at this point where we have this stuff like the #MeToo movement, which is very valid, but at some point you start getting bad faith conversations too.

AB: Yeah, absolutely.

AW: We’ve kind of reached a critical mass. People are literally building careers off of cancel culture. People always say they want to fix stuff, but they actually just want to perpetuate it because they’re benefitting off it. People are getting book deals off of this. It’s gone from something that was libertarian to something that is straight-up reactionary. People are just harassing people over the most basic things. I wanted to start critiquing this culture. I mean, the original camp was fragmented, but it had pretty valid grievances. But then you see the far-right, and you get to a point where you have to make distinctions. It’s even reached a point where I’m seeing the birth of a new sort of social conservatism akin to political movements that emerged in Europe around 20 years ago. My frustration is that it’s hard to talk about this stuff in digital spaces. I feel like a lot of people aren’t very politically literate.

AB: It’s interesting that you talk about people making careers off of it and getting book deals. I think Africa Brooke once said, “Trauma is lucrative” and I was just like... yep she just nailed it. Because people are kind of monopolising these narratives, like that book... What is it? White Fragility?

We’ve kind of reached a critical mass. People are literally building careers off of cancel culture. People always say they want to fix stuff, but they actually just want to perpetuate it because they’re benefitting off it.

[Both laugh]

AW: I was just telling people, “Don’t buy this book.” Just read James Baldwin or something [laughs]. These books are actually the problem. People talk about liberation and ‘white fragility’ and whatnot, but it’s all completely rooted in individualism and ultimately paints whiteness as inherently evil. And I think that’s dangerous. I’m just like... what makes these so-called ‘progressive’ liberal people any different than a guy like Louis Farrakhan? I mean, both are rooted in guilt, not actual solidarity. [Laughs] White guilt doesn’t help any of this. It doesn’t help anyone because it detracts a person from actually interacting with or speaking to communities and learning and helping. When you boil everything down to racial essentialism, there’s a danger. Because you put blinders on instead of thinking of things like class or  culture, and how these play a role in society.

AB: I heard you talking on the Fucking Cancelled podcast episode called We Need Socialism Ya’ll Can Get Some Damn Therapy about solidarity versus allyship. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your ideas on these. Do you think the two intertwine or do you think that there’s a polarity?

AW: To me, allyship is an individualistic thing. So, when somebody announces themselves as an ally, it’s like, “Oh, look, I’m a good person. I’m an ally, I do good.” We should recognise people are all equal, as opposed to this weird religious self-flagellation thing.

AB: I see a lot of self-flagellation in these rigid echo-chambers, and it’s obvious when someone has been harassed or bullied into it...

AW: Yeah, I feel like people should just stop that, and stop making others feel like that because solidarity is all about finding a shared struggle.

AB: I’m finding particularly on social media—"The Nexus"—as Clementine and Jay call it on Fucking Cancelled that people try to shift away from using the term solidarity and instead, they focus on allyship. These words are losing their gravity now because they’re thrown around a lot in leftist political discourse.

AW: It keeps creating these weird tribes. It’s almost as if people mentally misinterpreted intersectionality or even identity politics. People just look at a single identity and they don’t look at everything else that it overlaps. As a result, it creates this competition where people keep moving the goalposts. This is what happens when you make everything individualistic, as opposed to collective struggle. One month it could be like, “Support black trans people.” And then the next it could be, “Support white, poor people addicted to meth in the suburbs.” Everyone is making it this individualistic thing. These struggles actually overlap.

AB: And it’s all caused by the same system, even though some people have it worse than others.

AW: It all falls under the same umbrella: capitalist exploitation. This way of doing things destroys any notion of class struggle or class recognition. It’s weird because you see people post all these images of the Black Panthers or other radical movements from the 1960s or 1970s. I’m like, “Did y’all even actually read what these people were saying?” Because what they were doing was the complete opposite of this identarian logic.

AB: Why do you think we hold on to historical social constructs?

AW: Humans are very paternalistic. If you look at ancient times, we’re always looking for a kingdom of some sort. We’re always looking to be led. A lot of people don’t realise that we have so much collective power from the bottom-up as opposed to these top-down hierarchical structures. People are looking for somebody to save them or lead them. Society is built on hierarchy.

AB: I guess you could say then, in a modern context, this top-down logic translates to social media and enables watchdogs to do their thing. This is the worst place to be having these conversations too, because everyone just takes one-sided narratives and run with it.

AW: Yeah, it’s very carceral. Isn’t it weird how the same people that always talk about dismantling the police, or prison abolition, then turn around and act like the police?

AB: [Laughs]. Yeah, it gives me a headache.

AW: So there’s this Black Panther, Lorenzo Ervin, and he used to be a Marxist-Leninist. He fled to Cuba after killing a KKK member, then he lived in the Soviet Union just before its collapse. When he was living there, he realised it wasn’t the utopian state that their propaganda presented to the rest of the world. He was like, 'This is the actual police state.' People were suffering. It turned him into more of what you would call a classical libertarian socialist, or anarchist. What he says is basically, 'Kill the cop inside of your head.' He wrote a whole essay on how we have to challenge authoritarian tendencies. I found that interesting, especially coming from somebody who was originally a Black Panther. He managed to see their downfall and how they did things wrong.

AB: And you also really love Adolph Reed too, right?

AW: Yeah, a friend introduced me to his writing because she thought a lot of the things I was posting were in line with his views. The fact that he single-handedly predicted the rise of Obama, and the shift towards a neoliberal ‘Black excellence’ code that was completely removed from any sense of liberation, was fascinating to me. I like how he talks about analysing class and culture. I think the narratives we’ve been seeing in socio-political landscapes don’t really talk about class at all. I’m not interested in Black excellence or Black essentialism. Just because I’m Black doesn’t make me more exceptional than the next person. I’m more interested in critical engagement with Black art. I think about the future and honestly, we’re really going to have to transcend these social categories. I like Adolph Reed because he definitely pokes at that.

AB: I’ve been thinking a little bit about that too recently, the idea that race is a social construct. Can you speak a little more to it?

AW: Okay, so, some people that I talk about a lot are the Fields sisters and they wrote a book called Racecraft. They basically interrogate the evolution of race over time and how the goalposts are constantly moving. To me, people seem to not be looking at past colonial definitions. If you look at the history of continental Europe, there was so much fighting. Over time, you get British people differentiating themselves from Irish people, then people were emigrating to colonies and class becomes the divider. At one point, the idea of whiteness and blackness in America didn’t exist. Then there was Bacon’s Rebellion (1675-76), where a bunch of colonists in America started getting slaves. They were attempting to harden racial castes of slavery so as to deflect subsequent united uprisings. So much damage was done—they even wrote laws. This is when we started getting concepts of whiteness and whatnot. Before that, it literally did not exist. Another person who interrogates this stuff is Abdullah Öcalan, a Kurdish writer and one of the founding fathers of the YPG – he’s in prison now, in Turkey. Another writer is Benedict Anderson who wrote a book called Imagined Communities where he talks about how a nation is basically a social construct. I also think there’s a sort of American exceptionalism being projected onto the entire world. People talk about race in a very Americanised way, one that you can’t apply to the Middle East or Asia, for instance.

AB: What do you think about American politics being projected onto other countries, and social-political spaces adopting them?

A: I actually spoke about this with Lee Lin Chin, the amazing Australian commentator. She basically says that American exceptionalism doesn’t work. People like to use American race politics to learn about Indigenous communities in Australia, and it doesn’t work.

AB: What do you think of Africa Brooke and her essay Why I’m Exiting the Cult of Wokeness?

AW: Oh yeah, I remember being like, “Welcome to the club." She talks about how fitting into these ‘woke’ circles felt almost religious.

AB: It's definitely cult-like. People want to believe what they want to believe without fact checking. It's literally ludicrous.

AW: People don’t give others the benefit of the doubt a lot of the time. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. For me, it’s confirmation bias that a person can’t change or there’s something inherently bad about them. As a kid I was bullied and introverted, so I kind of understand where it comes from. I like to empathise with people and try to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of just casting them away.

AB: No one likes to offer up tangible solutions either.

AW: Yeah, I try to lean into this thing where, even online, I’m like, “Yo, you can always just call me and talk about it.” People don’t realise they can just pick up the phone instead of yelling at people via email or on Instagram. People keep replicating that authoritarian hierarchy.

AB: Totally. Okay so tie things up, I know you’re well read… What’re you reading at the moment?

[Pulls books from shelf behind him]

AW: It’s called Soup Rolled by Peter Franco Payne. It’s exploring how, since the ancient Hellenistic era, the world has become more interconnected. Silk Road began and Buddhists from Asia, North Africa or even the Middle East were travelling—there were even Buddhist statues in the desert before fundamentalists. So yeah, I guess I’m reading books that are looking at history from alternative angles.

@moma.ps5

@he_valencia

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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