Archive for social movements
Métis activist Chelsea Vowel brilliantly captures the essence of a grassroots indigenous movement currently unfolding in Canada:
Although thousands of indigenous people all over Canada rallied together under the banner of ‘Idle No More’ … there has been very little media coverage on the movement. Most of what is being said in the mainstream media is focused on Bill C-45. I’d like to make it clear…they’re getting it wrong … Canada, this is not just about Bill C-45 … In short, Idle No More’s Manifesto is what we have always been talking about, whether the particular focus has been on housing, or education or the environment, or whatever else. What lies at the heart of all these issues is our relationship with Canada. And Canada? This relationship is abusive … I can go find dismal statistics on pretty much any aspect of life for indigenous peoples in this country; trot them all out and say, ‘look it’s really bad’ and you will nod and say, ‘wow it sure is’, but that still won’t make it clear for you. I need you – WE need you, to see the forest and not just the trees.
The “forest” to which Vowel refers is the on-going colonial relationship Canada retains with its indigenous population, a relationship many Canadians believe no longer exists. Or, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a relationship they conveniently deny or ignore, precisely because it does not serve their economic interests.
The message of the Idle No More Movement is an inconvenient truth – a threat to the Canadian government’s neoliberal agenda.
It is time for Canada to end discriminatory approaches dating back to colonial times and honor the rights of indigenous peoples as secured in Canadian and international law.
April Blackbird is a sociology honours student and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
April 4, 1968, about 6:01pm. We should always remember that time. It has now been 44 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was moving conceptually and in his actions in a more radical direction combining antiracist, broader anticlass, and antiwar efforts—which efforts likely had much to do with his assassination. (Photo: Wiki-images)
I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday, and can still remember the time of day when one of my students at the University of California called me to tell of the terrible event, and I can still remember well my and his distressed emotions as we talked about the shooting. (We did not know Dr. King had died at that time.) He was one of the few African American students then at that university and as one would expect was devastated by the event, as I was too
In some ways, King’s assassination marked the apparent end of much of the black civil rights movement in the 1960s, not necessarily a coincidence. One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder about this historical timing — or to wonder where this country would be if thinker/leaders like Dr. King and Malcolm X had lived to lead an ever renewed rights and racism-change movement.
The events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination need to be taught everywhere. In late March 1968 Dr. King and other civil rights leaders participated in and supported the local Memphis sanitary works employees, black and white, who were striking for better wages and working condition.
Conditions in Memphis, as elsewhere, were very oppressive for workers, in both racial and class terms, as this wikipedia summary makes clear:
In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.
King gave his last (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) speech at a rally for the workers at the Mason Temple in Memphis.
This is the famous section near the end of his prophetic speech, where he reflects on death threats he had often received:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
Let us remember him well, and especially his prophetic antiracist, anti-capitalistic, and antiwar messages, on this day, April 4, 2012.
Continuing our Black History Month series about documentaries, the recently released “Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975″ is an important film that serves as an introduction to the Black Power movement in the U.S. as seen through the lens of Swedish journalists. This short trailer (1:59) explains a bit more about the film:
The film features archival footage from the period with voiceovers from contemporary artists. While I didn’t find that the voiceovers added much of value to the film, some of the archival footage – particularly the clip of Angela Davis responding to an interviewer’s question about ‘violence’ – is compelling and makes the film worth watching.
The film becomes problematic in the last half when it locates the demise of the Black Power movement on the rise of drugs in the Black community, both of which it seems to suggest is the fault of Black mothers. This is a serious misstep on the part of the filmmakers as it feeds into dominant narratives about Black pathology.
An excellent companion text, and one that offers a much more nuanced analysis of the Black Power movement, is Professor Alondra Nelson’s Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). While the film brackets the Black Power movement off to a bygone historical era, Nelson’s work extends that lens to the present day and demonstrates how that struggle continues, and does so without resorting to tropes of Black pathology, but instead focusing on empowerment within the Black community in the face of ongoing discrimination.
The film is available on most PBS stations on the Independent Lens series (check local listings), and is currently streaming on iTunes and Netflix. Nelson’s book is available from University of Minnesota Press, at the usual online retailers, and of course, independent book stores (good reminder, @Joyce!)
Over at the Village Voice website the provocative African American critical theorist and savvy analyst of U.S. society, Greg Tate, offers “Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folk Appear Down To Occupy Wall Street,” a humorous and sarcastic take on this issue. (See other comments on Tate’s piece here and here.) Most of the Occupy movements do appear to have been disproportionately white.
One barbed reason Tate offers is that African Americans want to see the OWS movement stay alive. If it got to be known as a “Black Thing,” then white officials like
Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly would feel compelled to set more upon the movement than decrepit desk sergeants with pepper spray.
Another point is that African Americans already have a “radical heart,” which has been shown many times. They are certainly not afraid to participate:
Protest history shows our folk couldn’t be turned around by deputized terrorists armed with dynamite, firebombs, C4, tanks, AKs, machine guns, fixed bayonets, billy clubs, K-9 corps, truncheons, or water hoses. Stop-and-frisk has prepped most brothers to anticipate a cell block visit just for being Slewfoot While Black.
That is, African Americans have never shown they were scared of fighting societal oppression.
Two of his reasons get seriously at the core issue of the relationships of contemporary capitalism and systemic racism. One more reason is that African Americans have long ago realized something that the OWS folks seem to be late in coming to understand–that is,
that American elites never signed the social contract and will sell the people out for a fat cat’s dime—hey, no news flash over here. Black folk got wise to the game back in 1865 when we realized neither 40 acres nor a mule would be forthcoming.
Then Tate’s number one reason gets even deeper into this issue. Capitalism, as usually framed in OWS discussion, is often of less immediate concern to black Americans than systemic racism:
Experience shows that racism can trump even greed in Amerikkka—especially in the workplace. White dudes with prison records get hired over more qualified bloods with not even jaywalking citations. You don’t have to be as high up the food chain as banker-scum to benefit from white supremacy or profit sideways from the mass povertization of the Negro.
Tate’s points about the need to consider the relationships of actual capitalism and racism brought to my mind just how Western capitalism got its first huge surges of capital and wealth, in the process Karl Marx called “primitive accumulation.” Recall this famous passage from Das Kapital:
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. . . . [They all] depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode . . . . [C]apital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.
Western capitalistic wealth and production thus began with the violent looting of resources and forcible enslavement of numerous populations. All these chief moments of early capitalistic wealth accumulation involve non-Europeans–indigenous peoples, Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans—those racialized as “not white” in the dominant racial framing of white Americans ever since. Capitalism is so intertwined with systemic racism in its distant historical origins and contemporary history that it has been a mistake for analysts and activists to try to separate them. To the present day. Capital today still often comes “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”
In my The White Racial Frame book I not only discuss this age-old white racial frame, which accents both white virtue material and anti-others material, but also the important counter frames to this dominant white frame that people of color have developed. In the U.S. case African Americans have developed an especially strong counter frame over centuries, perhaps because they have had the longest period of time situated firmly within this systemically racist society.
One feature of U.S. systemic racism involves a rather intentional collective forgetting by whites of key African Americans who articulated and often organized around a strong counter frame. Let me remind our readers of a few of these great Americans.
One of the first to put counter frame down on paper was David Walker, a young African American abolitionist working in Boston. In 1829 he published a strong manifesto, entitled Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Demanding full equality, he wrote to his fellow African Americans with revolutionary arguments in an anti-oppression framing, so much so that slaveholding whites put a large cash bounty on his head. (He died young, probably as a result.) Walker analyzes slavery and racial segregation for free blacks quite bluntly. Most whites are “cruel oppressors and murderers” whose “oppression” will be overthrown. They are “an unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood-thirsty set of beings.” Whites seek for African Americans to be slaves to them
and their children forever to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears!
He then quotes the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and challenges whites:
Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us–men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation! . . . . I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?
A little later in the 19th century, an admirer of Walker, the African American abolitionist Henry Garnet, gave a radical speech, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” at a National Negro Convention. Garnet’s counter framing is very assertive and to the point, and it is also an address to those enslaved. He offers a structural analysis of “oppression,” arguing too that the white “oppressor’s power is fading.” African Americans like “all men cherish the love of liberty. . . . In every man’s mind the good seeds of liberty are planted.” He calls on those enslaved to take revolutionary action:
There is not much hope of redemption without the shedding of blood. If you must bleed, let it all come at once—rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.” He concludes with a strong call to rebellion: “Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties.
One of the most brilliant of the 19th century analysts of systemic racism was the great abolitionist, Martin Delaney, who among other actions worked in revolutionary efforts to overthrow the slavery system. (In May 1858, he and John Brown gathered black and white abolitionists for a revolutionary meeting in Chatham, Canada. Four dozen black and white Americans wrote a new constitution to govern a growing band of armed revolutionaries they hoped would come from the enslaved US population.) Directing a book at all Americans, Delaney emphasizes the
United States, untrue to her trust and unfaithful to her professed principles of republican equality, has also pursued a policy of political degradation to a large portion of her native born countrymen. . . . there is no species of degradation to which we are not subject.
His counter framing is one of resistance and extends the old liberty-and-justice frame beyond white rhetoric:
We believe in the universal equality of man, and believe in that declaration of God’s word, in which it is positively said, that ‘God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.’
Delaney attacks whites’ stereotypes of African Americans with a detailed listing of important achievements of numerous free and enslaved African Americans and emphasizes how enslaved workers brought very important skills in farming to North America that European colonists did not have. African American workers were the “bone and sinews of the country” and the very “existence of the white man, South, depends entirely on the labor of the black man.” Delaney emphasizes that African Americans are indeed very old Americans:
Our common country is the United States. . . . and from here will we not be driven by any policy that may be schemed against us. We are Americans, having a birthright citizenship.
Let us bring these and other important 19th African Americans back into our contemporary history, as they were both thinkers and activists in the long tradition of people fighting for liberty in the United States. Note too essential elements of the black counter frame in these and many other black thinkers and activists too often forgotten writings from the 19th century: a strong critique of racial oppression; an aggressive countering of white’s negative framing of African Americans; and a very strong accent on the centrality and importance of liberty, justice, and equality for all Americans. African Americans have been perhaps the most central Americans in keeping these liberty and justice ideals constantly alive and imbedded in resistance organizations over four long centuries of freedom struggles in the racist history of the United States.
Clearly, much discussion about continuing struggles over racial oppression is generated daily across the country, although often outside the mainstream media and political sectors. Given the racial realism so well argued by Derrick Bell (see philosopher Tommy Curry’s provocative summary of these issues here), one has to wonder, can real multiracial democracy ever come to the United States? I ran across some provocative writings of Frederick Douglass today that always make me pause and think deeply about the ongoing struggles for justice and equality in this country.
The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, one of the three or four greatest Americans ever in my view, said this in a famous speech in Canandaigua, New York, on August 3, 1857:
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. . . . Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others. (Frederick Douglass, “The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies,” The Frederick Douglass Papers, ed. John W. Blassingame [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986], Volume 3, p. 204.)
Heard any reports of “flash mob violence” in the news lately? Now that “flash mobs” are apparently no longer limited to the “cute” actions of white upper-middle class people, such as dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” now they pose a threat to the social order, and must be vilified. These mobs have been called an epidemic (see here), while some Black leaders like Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia have condemned the participants for their actions. These mobs (or in some cases so-called “flash robs”) have occurred predominantly in big cities like Philly and Milwaukee.
Another important morsel of information concerning this news story is that the bulk—if not all—of the mob participants were young and Black. It did not take long for conservative commentators to jump on the “liberal media” for ignoring the story, or at least glossing over the presumed racial nature of the incidents (CNN did have an extended piece on it though).
Despite the inclination of conservatives like Michelle Malkinand John Bennett to insist that these acts have been racially based—more specifically, black-on-white—the reality is that race might not have been the motivating factor. For example, in response to the flash mob activities in Philly, the First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said the following:
You can’t just simply look at the race of the offender and the race of the victim and say it’s ethnic intimidation. It may be, but we’re not sure…We’re in the business of what we can prove, not what we think.
Nonetheless, conservatives continue to claim a double standard on how news media report on stories such as these. Progressives might even struggle to deal with these conservative claims. Tell them to look at the bigger picture concerning race-based violence in U.S. society.
Tell them about the reality of hate crimes in this country: namely, who is most likely to be victimized. In 2004, approximately two-thirds of victims of race-based hate crimes are African American. This percentage has not changed much: in 2009, out of 4,057 race-based hate crimes, 2,902 were “Anti-Black, accounting for nearly 72 percent of all victims” (note: the FBI reports anti-Jewish hate crimes as religious-based, while anti-Hispanic are deemed as ethnic-based). Only 668 of the victims were classified as “Anti-White,” or about 16 percent (see here).
This discrepancy in the numbers is especially revealing given the fact that white non-Hispanics make up the solid majority of the U.S. population, while African Americans constitute just 13 percent. All I can say to Malkin and others like her is: why aren’t we hearing more about the hate crimes committed against Blacks in this society?
What explains this outcry over the recent “flash robs” apparently committed by Black youths? This response from mostly white conservatives is nothing new: (1) crack-cocaine was never a problem until it began to affect white communities; (2) gun violence in schools was never a big deal until post-Columbine. Now flash mobs have become a problem because, as we have seen in the Middle East and Britain recently, social media can be used to challenge the social order. I think there are a number of factors at play here, including generational differences, cultural lag, and socioeconomic factors.
That aside, we should take Malkin’s and other conservatives’ responses as a reminder that their so-called “color-blindness” is a sham and their allegiance to and defense of the white racial frame continues on.
There is a very insightful and provocative post by HamdenRice on Dailykos.com. This is a central argument in there:
But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans. And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general. His main impact was not to make white people nicer or fairer. That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind. . . . I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech. My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.” Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.
The evidence for this impact of Dr. King and many other African Americans who fought a real system of totalitarianism and terror, especially but not exclusively in the Jim Crow south, can be found in much research literature and popular accounts, for example here. But somehow has not made it into the mostly white-controlled media or educational curricula.
Peter recently noted some Guardian reporting on the urban revolts in England. Let me add a little to that. The Guardian paper in England has reported on an analysis by Liverpool professor Alex Singleton on some 1,297 people who had their first hearing in magistrate courts on charges associated with the people’s revolts in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool. Most are Londoners.
As any social scientist who has studied such revolts in the U.S. could have told them in advance, most of those who revolted were the young male residents of very impoverished areas. That is exactly what the Singleton/Guardian analysis reports for these urban revolts. Singleton discovered most arrested lived in very poor urban areas, with a high percent in extreme poverty areas:
. . . with 41% of suspects living in one of the top 10% of most deprived places in the country. The data also shows that 66% of neighbourhoods where the accused live got poorer between 2007 and 2010. . . . Only a very small number in our data were aged over 30. More than 90% are male.
Others have noted that people of color engaged in revolts in their areas, and impoverished whites in yet other areas. Most have been charged with theft, having stolen goods, burglary, or violent disorder. Increasing impoverishment and unemployment in an age where people expect a decent standard of living is the stuff out of which such urban revolts is made. The Guardian, to its credit, takes on the centuries-old rationale of the rich and elites in society, who always see “rioters” as criminal or just rioting for “fun and profit,” to quote a conservative U.S. social scientist on the African American revolts of the 1960s and 1970s. They note:
David Cameron [white conservative British prime minister] said this week that the riots “were not about poverty”, but the Guardian’s database of court cases raises the question that there may be, at the very least, a correlation between economic hardship and those accused of taking part in last week’s violence and looting.
Indeed, it does. And it always will be thus for this type of urban revolt. And the white racial framing denying the real reasons for such revolts seems to be age-old, suggesting some problems with theories like that of “racial formation theory” that substantially neglect issues of institutionalized racism and entrenched systemic racism and that tend to accent dramatic changes over time in a Western society’s “racial formations.” At least in whites’ racial framing of events like urban revolts by people of color, changes are much less than such optimistic theories of “race” typically suggest. This is true, too, for many other areas of systemic racism.
A regular blogger (Meteor Blades) over at dailykos.com has a very interesting and lengthy overview of the famous “freedom rides” that began a half century ago today. It may be hard to believe, especially for the younger generation, that many of their parents and grandparents lived through, and participated in, these critical events of our extraordinarily racist history:
There were only 13 brave hearts when they climbed onto southbound Greyhound and Trailways buses in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago today. But within a couple of months there were hundreds of them, black and white, riding public buses into the jaws of Southern intransigence. They were jeered, threatened, harassed, beaten, jailed and firebombed. Their courage eventually helped crush that unique brand of American apartheid known as Jim Crow. But on that balmy spring day when they embarked for New Orleans, segregation ruled the land through which they were traveling, a forced and illegal separation backed up with billy clubs, tear gas, fire hoses and the fangs of police dogs and policemen.
That is in the totalitarian United States, which is what it certainly was in many areas during the nearly 100 years of Jim Crow segregation, many people–mostly black Americans but also some whites–were brutalized, injured, and killed by violent whites, both private citizens and public officials. It did not matter that the federal courts had declared such discrimination unconstitutional, for many whites in the totalitarian South in 1961 Jim Crow segregation was still very much the law. The blog post concludes thus:
Today, it’s easy enough for anyone to call the Freedom Riders heroes. But they were not viewed that way in their own time, and not only in the land of Jim Crow. The White House was unhappy with them, among other reasons, because of the image of the underside of America they exposed. Local media were predictably terrible in their depiction of these fighters for justice, but the national press presented them as rabble-rousers who were, a mere 100 years after the Civil War began, pushing things too far too fast. That’s always the way oppressed people are viewed, of course, no matter how just their cause, no matter how long they have waited.
And now the collective memory, especially the white mainstream recorded memory, has generally sanitized this era of Jim Crow segregation or suppressed its memory.