Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era

Since the rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, Black people throughout the United States have been grappling with a number of critical questions such as why are Black people being hunted and killed every 28 hours or more by various operatives of the law? Why don’t Black people seem to matter to this society? And what can and must we do to end these attacks and liberate ourselves? There are concrete answers to these questions. Answers that are firmly grounded in the capitalist dynamics that structure the brutal European settler-colonial project we live in and how Afrikan people have historically been positioned within it.

The Value of Black Life

There was a time in the United States Empire, when Afrikan people, aka, Black people, were deemed to be extremely valuable to the “American project”, when our lives as it is said, “mattered”. This “time” was the era of chattel slavery, when the labor provided by Afrikan people was indispensable to the settler-colonial enterprise, accounting for nearly half of the commodified value produced within its holdings and exchanged in “domestic” and international markets. Our ancestors were held and regarded as prize horses or bulls, something to be treated with a degree of “care” (i.e. enough to ensure that they were able to work and reproduce their labor, and produce value for their enslavers) because of their centrality to the processes of material production.

What mattered was Black labor power and how it could be harnessed and controlled, not Afrikan humanity. Afrikan humanity did not matter – it had to be denied in order create and sustain the social rationale and systemic dynamics that allowed for the commodification of human beings. These “dynamics” included armed militias and slave patrols, iron-clad non-exception social clauses like the “one-drop” rule, the slave codes, vagrancy laws, and a complex mix of laws and social customs all aimed at oppressing, controlling and scientifically exploiting Black life and labor to the maximum degree. This systemic need served the variants of white supremacy, colonial subjugation, and imperialism that capitalism built to govern social relations in the United States. All of the fundamental systems created to control Afrikan life and labor between the 17th and 19th centuries are still in operation today, despite a few surface moderations, and serve the same basic functions. Continue reading

Why Bill Clinton’s Apology and Barack Obama’s Prison Drive-By, Token Clemencies Are Cynical Election Year Posturing

[Beware, the electoral season is upon us and the masters of political deception and fraud are invading every home.  In the US, every four years, presidential elections are theatrically staged, designed to confuse and disrupt popular movements against class exploitation and racial oppression, and other democratic movements. The elections claim to be “the way democracy works”, and people “must vote” for politicians to represent their interests. Whoever wins, the people’s interests are lost in the shuffle, and their independence and political initiative and action has been suffocated or destroyed.  Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have in their Presidencies continued the mass incarceration, predominantly black and brown men and women, at world-record levels, and now they have made a dramatic last minute cosmetic relief to cleanse their legacy, at least rhetorically, so that Hillary Clinton’s campaign may not have to apologize to potential black voters for the Bill and Barack legacies.  They cannot avoid blame for things too many know.  —  Frontlines ed.] 
A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon, 07/17/2015

Ten whole years ago, back in July 2005 when the Black Agenda Report crew was still at Black Commentator, I wrote that

With under 5 percent of the world’s people, the US accounts for 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners.  More than half its 2.2 million prisoners come from the one eighth of its population which is black.  Today, an astounding 3 percent of all African Americans languish in prisons and jails, and nearly as many more are on probation, parole, bail, house arrest or court supervision… Right now, the shadow of prison squats at the corners of, and often at the center of nearly every black family’s life in this nation.”

Yesterday President Obama repeated some of these same figures, and they are pretty much the same. Total US prisoners are still 2.2 or 2.3 million, and a slight drop in the black incarceration rate makes us now a little less instead of a little more than half, but the overall picture is unchanged in a decade. The president then announced the release of forty-some nonviolent federal drug offenders out of a total of about 70,000, and stopped in at a federal prison Thursday. The same day, ex-president Bill Clinton offered a half-hearted “apology” for his 1990s crime bills, which he admitted “set the stage” for state and federal governments to nearly double the US prison population.

Why? Why did President Obama wait six and a half years into his presidency to say the basic damning numbers and free a token handful of drug war prisoners? And how come Bill Clinton, fifteen years out of office chose this week to publicly admit that black mass incarceration was maybe not the best public policy?

Continue reading

Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

The 73-year-old socialist got where he is by sticking to his guns. But his righteousness stunts his political reach

Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

Desiree Griffiths demonstrates at a Miami protest, Dec. 5, 2014; Bernie Sanders (Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Bernie Sanders is who he is: a 73-year-old socialist inured to being told he’s wrong, politically, who’s developed an ironclad hold on the conviction that he’s right. So it’s not surprising that he’s resisting learning lessons from his early campaign stumbles at winning support from African Americans and Latinos.

If you’re a Sanders fan, part of what you like about him is that he sticks to his guns. In fact, Sanders fans are a lot like him: used to being on the political margins, they’ve learned to take refuge in the knowledge of their righteousness, which eases the sting of being perpetually in the political minority.

Unfortunately, the mutually reinforcing self-righteousness of Sanders and his supporters is a liability for his promising presidential campaign. Sanders has a genuine problem with the Democratic Party’s African American and Latino base, and no amount of insisting that class supersedes race will change that. I wrote about it last month, and got a ton of pushback from Sanders backers. Then came the conflict at Netroots Nation on Saturday, where Sanders was heckled by Black Lives Matter protesters.

Continue reading

Selma (the Movie) vs. the Strategy of Malcolm X

by tacticaldiversity, June 1, 2015

Last month many of us celebrated the 90th birthday of the one of America’s greatest revolutionaries, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X.  That his birthday follows his assassination date (February 21) on the calendar seems appropriate this year, as Malcolm could be said to be resurrected these days:  from condemnations of US racism at the United Nations, to self-defense against cops in NYC, to Black rifle clubs in Texas, to mass rebellion in Baltimore, to a growing disillusionment with the two-party system and doctrinaire nonviolence in America, he has seldom seemed more relevant.

This is all the more remarkable given that the representation of Malcolm in popular media is more distorted than ever.  2015 opened with the Martin Luther King biopic Selma giving us the most forgettable (perhaps the only forgettable) portrayal of Malcolm X in cinema history.  In some ways, the muting of Malcolm was inevitable; an accurate depiction of the Muslim leader presented a danger of upstaging King in the movie the same way that he often upstaged King in real life.  But that isn’t any excuse for the distortion of Malcolm X’s politics and the role he played in the Black freedom struggle.

In the short scene in which he appears, Malcolm comes literally hat in hand to Coretta Scott King begging to address the protesters and be a part of the movement.  He appears to have arrived uninvited, crashing a party he has no real place in.  As he offers to scare the segregationists with an “alternative” to MLK’s nonviolence, he hints that this is actually just a bluff because his “eyes see in a new way.”  Everything about this scene is fundamentally wrong: Malcolm explained himself to Mrs. King after, not before, he gave his speech—a speech which he was invited to give by the director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Selma Project.1  And when Malcolm spoke of offering an alternative to King’s pacifism, it was anything but a bluff.  Continue reading

May Day 2015 — Dock Workers Walk Out to Protest Police Killings

Workers of All Colors Unite!

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in the Bay area will use its monthly stop-work meeting on Friday to idle the ports of Oakland and San Francisco to protest recent police killings of African Americans. The executive board and membership of Local 10 aligned its “Union Action to Stop Police Killings of Black and Brown People” with International Workers’ Day, which is celebrated on May 1 in many countries.

May Day in Oakland: ILWU March and Rally Against Police Terror!
STATEMENT TO THE BAY AREA LABOR MOVEMENT
A CALL TO ACTION!
April 22, 2015
The membership of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 has voted at its meeting on April 16, 2015 to call for a stopwork meeting on May 1st. It is fitting that on May Day, International Workers Day, Bay Area ports will be shut down to protest the racist police killing of mainly black and brown people. This is the first U.S. union to take such action. Local 10 took similar action on May Day 2008 to close Pacific Coast ports stopping all work to demand an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first such anti-war union action in American labor history.

ILWU Local 10 dock workers march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. The work stoppage shut down all 29 West Coast ports demanding an end to the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as support for immigrant rights.

Continue reading

No Justice in Baltimore – No peace in Baltimore

[The Maryland officials blame the riot on “outside agitators” and on “groups of thugs roaming the streets attacking innocent people” — a description which many have applied to the Baltimore police in their recent murder of the innocent black man Freddie Gray — the most recent of a repeated chain of events across the country. — Frontlines ed.]

Baltimore erupts in riots after funeral of man who died in police custody

A man walks past a burning police vehicle, Monday during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A man walks past a burning police vehicle, Monday during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Ian Simpson, Reuters, April 27, 2015

BALTIMORE – Rioters hurled bricks, looted businesses and set fires in Baltimore on Monday in violence that injured at least seven police officers following the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody.

The disturbances broke out just a few blocks from the funeral of Freddie Gray and then spread through parts of Baltimore in the most violent U.S. demonstrations since looting in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. Continue reading

Film Review — “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”

[Almost all bourgeois media depictions of the Black Panthers have been highly sensationalized, racist, and scarified, designed for bewildered viewers to dismiss.  Some have had a more sympathetic, even empathetic, edge, though usually told in terms that say, “that’s in the past, it won’t happen again.”  But this review connects this new film with its relevance  today in a society riveted and outraged by  the everyday, country-wide, routine police killings of blacks. — Frontlines ed.]

Wickham: The Black Panthers redux

by DeWayne Wickham, USA Today, February 17, 2015
New documentary tells another story of revolutionary group than the one we’ve been told.
NEW YORK — The Black Panther Party is back.
Not the one-dimensional, gun-toting, leather-jacket-wearing caricature that dominated news coverage of the black revolutionary organization during its heyday in the 1960s.
And I’m not talking about the Black Panther Party that was both the target and creation of COINTELPRO, the secret FBI counter-intelligence operation that sought to “neutralize” the Panthers by virtually any means necessary.