On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, we remember Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the white Argentine doctor who lost his life fighting capitalism-imperialism in Latin America.
Some have had problems with Che as the most iconic image of revolutionary struggle in Latin America, as his whiteness has undoubtedly influenced his popularity. There are others who even claim he was a white supremacist.
Before being exposed to revolutionary ideals, Che was no different from the common white settler in Latin America. He came from a privileged background and pursued a career in the medical field, inaccessible to most. During his life as a medical student, there was nothing to suggest he would break away and “betray” his race and class. In fact, his “Motorcycle Diaries” showed him to be quite the opposite: he reproduced the racist stereotypes of the colonial settler classes in Latin America.
As a 31-year-old, Che joined the Cuban revolutionaries who were plotting an overthrow of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. At that moment, he went from being an ordinary, privileged white settler to someone who embraced the struggles of the oppressed masses. He effectively abandoned the material comforts and privileges that had made his life comfortable and facile.
That’s not to say that Che was able to shed the racial prejudices that had been instilled in him as a child and throughout his adult life. His diary entries written while he fought as a guerrilla in Africa’s Congo demonstrate this. There were several instances when the white-settler stereotypes that he was conditioned with revealed themselves.
Despite his shortfalls, normal for a white man in a white supremacist world, Che did more for the people of Latin America than most white people. Public orator Tim Wise, for example, is celebrated for his work in denouncing white supremacy and racial injustices in the U.S. (from which he makes an absurd amount of money). Yet, he never addresses the underlying capitalist-imperialist structures that create white supremacy, nor will he ever give up the same privileges he denounces.
While Che failed to pronounce himself at length on the racial inequalities suffered by the people of Latin America, what he did do was give his life fighting the fundamental structures that make those inequalities a reality.
Celebrities like Macklemore or even politicians like Jeremy Corbyn are upheld today as “good white people” who are in solidarity with those who suffer at the hands of racial injustice. However, all that these “good white people” do is pay lip-service. None of them are actually willing to tackle the structural basis of these injustices: the capitalist-imperialist system.
Today, when revolutionary white people are practically non-existent, Che’s legacy serves as a blueprint for action. He proved that you can be white and a revolutionary.
It’s not enough to simply talk, theorize or publish articles. White people must betray capitalism-imperialism by paying reparations — be it in the form of financial contributions to revolutionary organizations or by fully sacrificing themselves as Che did.
Anything besides this is worthless to the liberation of Third World peoples.