In April I was invited to share my thoughts about the politics of the Black left at Platypus Affiliated Society International Convention. Below is the text of what I shared as well as the audio which includes questions from the audience. The crowd was 98% white including a few people from Germany and Canada. I intentionally wrote my piece to black people knowing there would be few if any black people there. I rarely get chances to talk to black people about capitalism and black politics so I seized this moment even if it meant black people probably wouldn’t hear my thoughts in person.
Politics of the Black Left, presented at Platypus Affiliated Society International Convention 2016 by Xavier MaatRa
Find the Audio Here http://platypus1917.org/?powerpress_pinw=23648-podcast (starts around 4:45-19:25)
In 2016 with all the history behind us are we really beginning this conversation with questions such as what is the nature of racism ? Why is it still here? What are the structures that perpetuate it and how can we address them? Or Is it about anti blackness or micro aggressions? When are we going to stop wasting time creating new ways to talk about racism and hoping that one day white people will decide to stop enjoying the comforts that come from the oppression perpetuated by racism and the myth of white supremacy? This isn’t rocket science as long as people are profiting from oppression it will exist.
It doesn’t matter how many anti-racist workshops you attend nor does it matter how often or how well you can cry and whine about how guilty you feel for being a person born so white and so privileged in America. As long as being white helps you to get a job, keep a roof over your head, support your family, and squeeze out some piece of comfort in one of the richest nations on the planet it’s just ridiculous for me to believe that you really care about undoing racism. You can call yourself a progressive, you can call yourself a liberal, you can call yourself whatever you want; if whiteness is a privileged class then the first step for white people is class suicide. What that means for white people is for white people to figure out. There are too many people dying trying to survive this mess for me to continue to spend my precious energy trying to teach you how to stop benefiting from my oppression.
Now what can black people who consider themselves a part of the American left do to free themselves from the mental and social-economical chains of racism and the myth of white supremacy? That’s a question worth examining. I would suggest that one of the first steps towards black progressives addressing racism is to divorce their definitions of comfort and success from the spoils and pleasures capitalism.
The rise of what Glen Ford calls the Black Mis leadership class to prominent positions in American government via mayors of large cities beginning in the 80’s all way up until the almost 8yrs under our first black president has taught us that putting black faces on capitalism, white power structures, and/or American Democracy gets the black masses no where. Ford says this about Obama’s impact on the lives of the masses:
“We thought Obama’s election meant that lots of Black folks would celebrate as their own incomes and wealth went further down the drain, and that many would cheer while a Black commander-in-chief slaughtered people of color all over the world. And we were right.” – Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report
Now that the hype has settled and its undeniable that Obama’s allegiance is not to black people or the left but to the empire of corporate finance that placed him in power. Can we please give up trying to seek liberation via flawed two party electoral politics? Or at least begin to imagine what it would mean to resist pursuing social mobility derived from participating and profiting from a system designed to thrive off of our pain and exploitation. Its time we begin to look towards creating emancipatory political practices outside the flawed two party system, and the limited capitalism vs socialism or race vs class frames.
For this to happen we need to facilitate a mass movement of black people. The black left needs to explore what they can do to encourage a mass movement for Black Liberation that’s not contingent on giving blind allegiance to the democratic party in hopes of getting a piece of the American Pie? I agree with Margaret Kimberley when she said “Too many progressives really yearn for acceptance rather than bringing about systemic change.” Most people are too busy trying to survive capitalism or get a piece of capitalism to really engage in the political education and reflection needed to spark a mass movement of black people away from the spoils of capitalism. Perhaps a nation wide campaign for mass political education rooted in 3 questions to push black people on the left beyond empty rhetoric, identity politics, and blind allegiance to the Democratic Party.
Political Education for Black Liberation and emancipatory political practices on the Left must engage the questions:
1.Can you divorce capitalism from democracy?
2.Has democracy worked for black people?
3.Where are there places in our everyday lives, no matter our social economic status, where we begin to practice new forms of economy and apply values that push us past relating to each other based solely upon our ability to consume or produce?
If we aren’t careful these questions could circle us back to the door of one of the Left’s favorite smoke screen debates of race versus class. To steer clear of that trap I will add the question, If American Democracy and what’s know as Left politics can work for black people why in this so called post racial era of Obama are young people in the streets screaming Black Lives Matter?
Through the lens of these questions the masses could be organized to address the issues Perpetual poverty and materialism, Gentrification/Ethic Cleansing, and the legacy of slavery via police brutality and mass incarceration.
Perpetual Poverty and materialism
We must examine the history of black bodies feeding American Capitalism and its implications for our role in class warfare. There would be no American wealth with out black labor yet the masses of black people are still suffering at the hands of lack.Being poor and disenfranchised is hard but being poor in America is a major increase in quality of life for so many around the world.
What does it mean for the descendants of slaves to build their lives around technology mined by african slaves abroad.Everyday African Americans are buying into what bought our ancestors and still profits from the blood of our babies still today. Have African Americans grown pleasantly plump eating the scraps from the table of American Imperialism? We have to make connections between our issues here, the role of black dollar and global citizenship. If Capitalism Kills why are still fighting for a piece of it.
Gentrification or Ethic Cleansing
White flight is reversing, inner cities are neglected, and public schools are closing at alarming rates. POC are being pushed out of the major cities threatening our ability to organize large numbers of people. The way alot of 20 and 30 somethings talk about Gentrification is so ironic. You have all these white people saying what can I do? How can I be anti racist and fight for racial justice? Yet they have no problem moving into POC neighborhoods and pushing poor people out so they can shop at the local Whole Foods on their quests for mobility. How can they not see the connections between their white privilege, urban blight, privatization of public schools, and the legacy of racism in this country?Speaking of the legacy of racism lets talk
The New Jim Crow, Neo Slavery, or Mass Incarceration.
The role of police brutality and the prison industrial complex in the lives of black brown and poor people can not be understated. Recently BLM pushed the issues of police brutality and mass incarceration into the for front of American politics. BLM was instrumental in increasing the visibility of resistance to the police murders and lack of justice of the American Criminal Justice system for the families of of Mike brown, Sandra Bland, and locally in Chicago Rekia Boyd. Why would a young black person care about voting or debating the role of capitalism in democracy when they can’t walk home from school without the fear of being harassed by the police or caught in cross fire? Why are there still so many non violent drug offenders locked away for marijuana offenses while white millennials are getting wealthy building marijuana economies in California and Colorado?
I will close with this. Look around who is in the room? Who should be here and why aren’t they? Its the role of the black Left to create spaces where the masses can reflect and take action. We must put the tools for liberation into the hands of the masses if we want to see major changes in the conditions of black people. If we just continue to sit around with each other and ask the same questions we will go in the same circles while people continue to get manipulated and massacred by oppression especially the tyrants of racism, capitalism, and the myth of white supremacy that binds them together. If we would just leave the American Dream and the trappings of this consumerist fame worshipping culture alone and believe in our capacity to build something beautiful together then we might begin to see some glimpses of liberation. There is so much freedom in our creativity our global impact on the arts and spirituality speaks to that. What would happen if we (I’m speaking to children of African Diaspora) across the world, turned that creative energy towards a livable black liberation politic for the masses?
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