No ‘Je Suis Charleston’?: The De-politicization of Black Oppression

Where are the international marches of solidarity with African Americans? The statements from world leaders condemning the terrorist attack and calling on U.S. Authorities to crack down on the white nationalist terror networks developing in the U.S.? Where are the marches in white communities condemning racism and standing with black people? Why no ‘Je Suis Charleston’?

The fact that these questions are not being raised by most people speaks to the adroit way in which the propagandists of the U.S. state, with the corporate media in lockstep, successfully domesticated and depoliticized the murderous attack in Charleston, South Carolina.

First, President Obama, as the government’s chief propagandist, defined Dylann Roof, the white nationalist assailant, as a pathological, hateful loner who had easy access to guns. The words “terrorist” never crossed his lips or the lips of any other officials of the national government.

Then, the state and corporate media followed-up this framing with a fascinating slight-of-hand stunt: instead of focusing on the domestic security threat posed by violent, racist right-wing extremists groups in the country, the old trope of gun control – along with a new twist, removing the Confederate flag – became the new focus! The implication was that by removing the Confederate battle flag – a symbol of white supremacy and the defense of slavery – from public buildings (no one bothered to explain why, if this was the rationale for removing the Confederate flag, there would not be a discussion around the need to reject the national flag also), that would somehow move the country towards racial reconciliation, much like electing a black president was supposed to do.

The effectiveness of this propaganda effort paid off just a few days after the attack. The domestic and international press gave full coverage to the spate of “terrorist” attacks that took place in three different counties but missing from that coverage was any connection and mention of the terror attack in Charleston.

However, it was at the funeral of Rev Pinckney, the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murdered by Dylann Roof, where the concluding act of the governments’ obscene efforts to co-opt and deflect the pain of the attack played to a world-wide audience. President Obama turned in one of his best performances of a life-time of performances for white supremacy. His eulogy was a masterful example of his special talent to embody an instrumentalist “blackness” while delivering up that blackness to the white supremacist, U.S. settler project. In his eulogy, he couched his narrative of “American exceptionalism” in the language of Christian religiosity that was indistinguishable from the proclamations of the religious right that sees the U.S. as a state bestowed with the grace of their God.

Obama sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and lulled into a stupefying silence black voices that should have demanded answers as to why the Charleston attack was not considered a terrorist attack, even though it fit the definition of domestic terrorism, or why the Obama Administration collaborated with suppressing the 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which identified violent white supremacist groups as a threat to national security more lethal than the threat from Islamic ‘fundamentalists’.

Because of this threat and the depraved indifference to black life by the U.S. government, international attention and solidarity is critical for African Americans. Yet, by quickly deploying the Obama weapon – aligning the government with the victims of the attack but defining the attack as a domestic criminal act – the political space for international solidarity with the plight of African Americans was significantly reduced, at least in relationship to the Charleston attack.

There is another element of this story that compelled the Administration to get out in front of this issue. Obama needed to draw attention away from the fact that his Administration caved under the pressure from the “respectable” racist right-wingers in Congress who criticized the DHS report in 2009.

John Boehner, the leader of the House of Representatives, characterized the report as “Offensive and unacceptable.” According to Boehner, the Obama Administration should not be condemning “American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”

Instead of defending Secretary Napolitano and the report issued by her Department, or taking the opportunity provided by the report to educate the public on this internal threat, Obama threw Napolitano under the bus and the DHS pulled the report from its website. The unit responsible for monitoring white supremacist organizations and movements was dismantled, and the threat of white supremacist violence becoming the victim of Washington politics.

This is the mindset and the politics of this Administration and the political culture in the U.S., where the differential value placed on black life allows black life to be reduced to an instrumental calculation when considering issues of international public relations and domestic politics.

The result?

For all intents and purposes, the tragedy in Charleston is over, closed out on a song written by a captain on a slave ship in 1779 and sung over 200 years later by a black man still in the service of white supremacy.

Closing the historical circle: White Terrorism at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

“…It is time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time we have to let the same world know we’ll blow their world sky-high if we’re not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.” (Malcolm X)

Two hundred years ago, it is quite likely that Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African who managed to purchase his freedom and co-found the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, met in the relative safe space of that church to plan the slave rebellion that marked his entry into history. Set for June 17 1822, his audacious plan was to free as many Africans as possible, commandeer a ship from the Charleston Harbor and set sail for the free territory of Haiti, which had defeated Napoleon’s army and established itself as the first African republic on the planet. After Vesey was betrayed and his plot uncovered, local whites burned the church to the ground, only to be rebuilt again by the Africans of Charleston.

In what can be seen as a metaphor for the African American experience in the U.S., almost two centuries later, Dylann Storm Roof, a militant white nationalist, stood up in the sacred space of Emanuel AME church on June 17, the anniversary of Vesey’s planned rebellion and unleashed a murderous attack on a small gathering of Black worshippers.

This latest outrage followed on the heels of the execution of Walter Scott by a Charleston police officer a few months ago. The video of the Scott murder and the constant images of brutal cops behaving with an air of impunity as they murder and beat Black men, woman and children across the country have generated a growing sense among African Americans, even the pro-American apologists, that Black people are under a racist siege.

Yet, for Dylann Storm Roof, the Black people in that church were the aggressors and he was the defender of white civilization, the “American” way of life and spirit that President Obama praised in his speech in Selma. Obama pushes the liberal version of the white nationalist narrative of inclusiveness and integration into the U.S. settler project by the subordinate racialized peoples., But Roof and many other white settlers are committed to upholding an unaltered view of the U.S. shared by the “founding fathers,” who established the U.S. as the first racist republic in history.

Roof is reported to have said that black people are rapists and are taking over HIS country. While it is easy for everyone to condemn and even pathologize Roof for his views, an honest assessment of the racialized discourse used to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions would reveal an ideological consistency between Roof’s fear and loathing of the non-European “other” and the messages conveyed in recruitment posters for the U.S. military that depict soldiers waging war in far-off places to protect OUR freedoms in the U.S. Military propagandists know that the representation of the “non-white other” informs the imagination of most Americans when they think of foreign threats to the “homeland.”

A new generation of African Americans are slowing coming to the conclusion that it does not matter if it is the streets of Bagdad or Ferguson — they/we are the enemies, who, as Roof said, must be stopped. The irrational, violence-prone racialized “other” occupies a permanent space in the consciousness of so many in the U.S., which is why it has been so easy to mobilize public support for U.S. military interventions and campaigns of political subversion, from Iraq to Venezuela.

Sermons have already started condemning violence in the U.S., while the U.S. continues to send arms to known Islamic extremists in Syria, provide logistical and political support to the Saudi’s brutal and illegal war in Yemen, arm and train neo-Nazi fascists in Ukraine while militarily pivoting to Asia – and no one in the corporate media will call it hypocrisy.

Obama and the ruling class in the U.S. are not concerned with violence. Obama just wants to make sure that the violence is state-sanctioned. While he moralizes about gun violence and the availability of weapons, he continues to allow massive military arms to be passed from the federal government to police forces through the government’s 1033 program. And the fact that the U.S. is the biggest arms merchant in the world is information that Obama will never share with the public.

Quotes by Dr. King about the need for a non-violent response to the racist assault we are under in the U.S. are once again being pulled out. The Dr. King quotes they don’t repeat, however, are those about the U.S. being the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. And they certainly will not remind the people that Dr. King argued that the only way the U.S. might hope to cure itself of the maladies of racism, materialism and militarism is through a radical restructuring of society. No, we won’t hear that Dr. King, and few will know about Vesey and his connection to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. But we know Malcolm, and Malcolm’s words bring the clarity we need today to close the circle of struggle.

 

The Political Economy of Black Opposition to Free-Trade Neoliberalism

President Obama and the corporate democrats continue to press Congress to provide Obama with trade promotion authority (TPA), or so-called fast-track authority to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the first of a series of pernicious so-called free trade agreements.

The Flush the TPP website, a major resource for the anti-TPP movement characterizes the TPP as: “A secret trade agreement…(that) threatens to undermine democracy by entrenching corporate power in virtually every area of our lives, from food safety and the environment, to worker rights and access to health care, the TPP is about much more than trade. It is a global corporate coup.”

In the process of organizing the fight-back to deny President Obama fast-track authority to conclude the TPP and ram it through Congress behind the backs of the people, I wrote about the fact that in some black circles there was uncertainty regarding the priority that the TPP should be given or whether or not it was even an important issue for African Americans.

However, over the last week African Americans organization have rallied in opposition to the TPP and established its defeat as an immediate priority for black people, even as some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are wavering in their initial opposition as a result of pressure from the Obama administration.

Saladin Muhammad, long time union organizer, veteran of Black Liberation Movement and spokesperson for the Black Workers for Justice, captures the view of a number of black activists who are naming neoliberal capitalism as the enemy: “structural policies of global capitalism like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), must be opposed and challenged by the Black working-class as part of the struggle for Black liberation and social transformation.”

The logic of Saladin’s comment is grounded in a critical analysis of the relationship between African Americans and the capitalist political economy that suggest that the debased conditions of black working class existence in the U.S. is produced and reproduced as a result of the inner logic of this system.
And since the degrading and dehumanizing conditions that characterize black working class existence are inherent to this system and cannot be altered through liberal capitalist reforms, an anti-capitalist position is the only logical political position that African Americans can take.

Its Capitalism not Culture:
“Current configurations of so-called “free trade” agreements are at best kinder and gentler, neoliberal versions of more of the same. For the vast majority of Black workers, who languish without relief at the very bottom of the economic rung, such agreements only reinforce longstanding exploitation, visceral racism and denial of good jobs and equal opportunities.” (Jaribu Hill, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights)

Contrary to the culture-of-poverty nonsense being offered by Obama and his neoconservative friends as a way to explain why African Americans are engaged in “unapproved” resistance in places like Baltimore, the real explanation for the conditions that produced that resistance is situated within the context of the very same neoliberal capitalist policies being championed by Obama with the TPP.
A number of scholars have argued that capitalist globalization has had a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans over the last four decades.

The neoliberal restructuring of the national economy that began in the 1970s and accelerated under Reagan in the ‘80s ushered in a period of economic stagnation and decline in black America from which we have never recovered. Not that life was a bed of roses for African Americans who had just migrated from the totalitarian conditions of the South during the Second World War and in the years following. However, there was some relative economic advancement, although uneven, in the immediate post-war period for African Americans able to land a job in the industrial heartland of the country.
However, the always precarious situation of black workers and the relative weakness of the black middle-class became an existential crisis after the capitalist implosion in 2008.

While the destructive impact of the economic crisis was experienced by families and individuals in every sector of society – except the super-rich – for African Americans the crisis was nothing short of catastrophic.
Staggering losses in household wealth, income and labor force participation decimated large portions of the already small and fragile black middle-class and plugged black workers into desperate poverty. The latest capitalist crisis, however, revealed something even more frightening for African American workers.

Not only did the economic crisis strip away the chimera of prosperity created by access to easy credit for most workers who hadn’t experience real wage increases in decades and were living paycheck to paycheck, but it also exposed an unacknowledged and unspoken reality for vast numbers of unemployed black workers: that they had moved from the category of being a part of the “reserve army of the unemployed” – labor ready to be reemployed when the economy picked up – to the category of a surplus work force. That is, it became painfully obvious that black laborers had become a work force and population that was no longer needed in the globalized U.S. economy.
Today the labor participation rate for African American men is the lowest on record. The plight of African American women is ever more precarious, although their employment rate is a little better. However, African American women’s increased participation in the economy is offset by the fact that black women are disproportionately tasked with the responsibility of caring not only for themselves but their children. Linda Burnham points out an additional economic reality that black women face and that is because black women are overrepresented in the low-wage sector they suffer from both the gender and the racial gap in wages.

Confined to unsteady and unpredictable low wage service sector jobs, it should not be surprising that the fastest growing population of homeless in the U.S. is African American women with children.

Neoliberal globalization also had a devastating impact on working people in cities like Baltimore. The shattered communities and pockets of absolute poverty that exist in that city did not come about as a result of fathers not being in the home or black people not taking advantage of opportunities but is a direct result of the 100,000 unionized manufacturing and seaport-related jobs lost in Baltimore when those jobs were shifted out of the U.S. by corporate and finance capital. The closing of Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Works that employed 35,000 people and the dramatic reduction of jobs at Baltimore’s port were body blows that the working class community of Baltimore never recovered from.

The terrible reality facing increasing numbers of African Americans is that as the U.S. continues to shift to a low-skilled, low-wage economy, the labor force is also contracting, with the result being that large numbers of African American workers and the poor are destined to not be able to secure full time employment during their entire lives!

And for those lucky enough to secure a job, the new jobs that are projected in the U.S. will be in such low-paying occupations as fast food, food prep, retail, and healthcare aides.

North-South Solidarity in the Struggle to end Global Oppression:

The systemic capitalist crisis that led the captains of finance and free-market capitalism to line up for rescue by the state in 2008 dramatically exposed the fraudulent nature of neoliberal capitalism as a strategy for long-term, sustainable capitalist progress.
This is true in the capitalist center as well in the peripheries of the global system. That is why black opposition to neoliberal free trade agreements is not just based on the negative impact of those agreements on black people in the U.S. but on the recognition of a common agenda with the exploited and colonized peoples’ of the world in ending global capitalist oppression.

Opposition to the TPP and free-trade must be seen as one front in the resistance to further U.S. imperialist consolidation. Jaribu Hill reminds us that “free is a misnomer for control and a maintenance of a status quo that will always require the sufferers to suffer more while maximum profits are made on their backs and at the expense of their safety and yes, their lives.”

African American oppose the TPP because we understand that the workers in Vietnam, who will be primarily women, are being primed for super-exploitation under the terms of that agreement. We understand that under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), millions of farmers were driven from their land in places like Oaxaca, Mexico and ended up landless urban dwellers in Mexico or working for slave wages as undocumented workers in the U.S.

We oppose the TPP because neoliberal free trade between the U.S. and Colombia has resulted in the accelerated loss land for Afro-Colombians as their lands are stolen for illegal mining and the corporate expansion of palm oil and sugar cane processing for bio-fuel production for the markets in Europe and the U.S.

And even though the elites of those countries who are part of the agreement prostrate themselves before Uncle Sam, we oppose the TPP in the name of the people of the global South.

For those who might ask why African Americans would question and oppose free trade agreements, we point to history and say that if there any people on the planet who should question so called free trade it should be the descendants of the people victimized by the most barbaric trade regime in the history of the planet.