A few months ago, I got into a debate online with a white woman I did not know. She was “scared to death” about the direction of this country and felt Obama and his policies were going to ruin the United States. She was worried about the “new world order” and saw Obama as the face of it. While acknowledging “problems” starting under Bush, she believed things were much worse now under Obama.
Her reasoning epitomized white privilege so I asked her one last question which i had a feeling she would not, or could not answer: When were things “better” in this country? Name one time.
as i suspected, I never heard from her again…
maybe she thought she was being set up for a history lesson…and she was. I wanted to ask her if things were better when the indigenous’ lost their land and lives? or Africans and African Americans were enslaved for hundreds of years? Or maybe during the rule of jim crow domestic terrorism? lynching? the great depression? segregation? crack? 50% youth unemployment in cities in the 80s? For her, today’s “sky is falling doomsday” is for many “just another day in the U.S.A.”.
I’m not sure she learned anything that day….but i know i did. James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time may be upon us.
“But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent.
It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” – James Baldwin
Before Obama won the election, I knew his presidency would be the opportunity for reckoning. I wrote and said many times that this country was not ready for even the symbolism of a black man as head of state. White supremacists would revolt..and in many ways have (politically, rhetorically, and even in some cases, violently).
While Obama has no real power (or desire) to threaten white supremacy, the symbolism of him being the president is more than many in this country can bare. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have decided to employ the same strategy that has been utilized throughout this country’s existence to protect white supremacy and the status quo power structure: stroke white fears.
Bacon’s Rebellion: The Writing on the Wall
Early slavery was “indentured servitude” for many Africans and Europeans that were brought in bondage (some kidnapped). Many worked for years and then earned freedom. That is why there were free Africans in VA and other areas from early on (some of which even went on to own slaves themselves (but that’s another story). Chattel slavery “for life” as it came to be was a result of this fear of the poorer masses (white and black) coming together and threatening the planter class (elite). Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 was a symbol of their greatest fear and THAT led to “African” based “slave for life” system, and white supremacy as an ideology to keep poor whites supporting a system that never benefited them…they were taught one thing: “at least you are not black”.
And the pattern has been used ever since…Birth of a Nation was the visualization of white fear post Civil-War. Reconstruction time was a very progressive time for the African American community, including land ownership (some of which was seized from confederate former slave owners) education, & political representation (to the point we have not seen since – why you often here preface “first Black _____ since Reconstruction…etc.). Black progress was real and Black wallstreet (Tulsa OK) and Mound Bayou (Mississippi) were models of it … but white America was NOT ready and domestic terrorism as a strategy was implemented (KKK, lynching, white mobs and finally Jim Crow by law for a century). Trust me, history does repeat itself when we do not learn the REAL lesson… these days, I hear talk of repealing the 14th amendment?! exactly…
Obama’s presidency has been about nothing BUT the ongoing racial struggle in this country…it is the latest chapter if you will. I want to take a minute to give the historical context…i will use black history but this can also be done with Native Ameican History, Chicano history, and so on…
With progress made, there is always backlash…
TO secure our freedom:
1. David Walker’s Appeal (calling for enslaved Africans to secure freedom by any means)
2. Bacon’s Rebellion (class based revolt)
1. racialization of slavery (from indentured servitude to slave for life)
2. black codes for non-enslaved African Americans
1. Abolition movement to end slavery (from reform tactics like pressure though press and courts to radical revolts to moral religious tactics)..led to whole free state/slave state – congressional politics of representation 3/5 clause etc.
THEN to secure freedom we:
POST Civil War – RECONSTRUCTION ERA
1. Federal FREEDMAN’S Bureau
2. gains in education, land, and political representation
1. Domestic Terrorism, birth of KKK
2. Legalization of Jim Crow
THEN WE TRIED:
1. Booker T. – building institutions but not fighting racism,
2. DuBois – NAACP, tried reforming system, holding to its ideals,
3. Garvey – actually inspired by Booker T., self determination, building black institutions and economic empowerment with black money not white donors like Booker T. had
1. J Edgar Hoover hired first black agent to infiltrate UNIA.
2. Black leaders pitted against each other as tactic (Washington v. DuBOis, Garvey v. DuBois)
3. Internal strife (movements brought down from within/tactic used in revolts earlier too)
2. MLK v. MALCOLM,take sides (tactic divide and conquer which Malcolm X later rejected)
hip hop – voice for youth coming of post-CR era
commodfied – frame one dimensional and sell for profit while reinforcing stereotypes..see BAMBOOZLED
1. tea party
2. “liberal” squabbling on politics instead of organizing actions (which i argue is very purposeful and again refer to Malcolm X speech on foxes and wolves..liberals and conservatives)
3. the fear of a brown planet (immigration debate, 14th amendment, etc.)
I write all this to basically point out that we have to make sure we know not only what we are fighting for (freedom, justice, sustenance)…but WHO we are fighting for (people’s class), and who we are fighting against (elite)…because there have been many times in history we have been pitted against each other as a tactic when we could have united and been a powerful force for our own freedom…we can either learn lessons of history, or continue to repeat them…
Ms. Sherrod breaks it down plainly on why understanding and dealing with white supremacy is critical to building class consciousness…it has not only been A strategy but it has been THE strategy of the owning class since before this country formed…back to colonial days..
We cannot be free until they are free – James Baldwin
For working people to come together (again – see Bacon) they must first recognize the humanity they share…and white supremacy is the roadblock denying that truth. That is what the white middle class has done for this system…people will continue to support a system that only benefits 1% until they recognize that they are not a part of that 1%…they are a part of the 99% masses across the globe of all hues…
so i say all that to say this:
If you really study the struggle of black history and the use of white supremacy to keep iniquity alive, as i have said many times before…even the symbolic aspect of a “black” man being the president of this racist empire and how it is driving white supremacists crazy was change enough for me to believe in…lol.
Obama’s presidency is an opportunity for this country if we seize it..Before Obama rattled white supremacists awake, they were able to hide behind institutional racism and now they have to come from behind the Bushes (pun intended), show their true color (pun intended) and let the fall out begin (AZ, tea party, 14th amendment now etc)…which will FORCE US to do what we have to do to …FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM…and THAT is what i’ve been waiting for…The Fire Next Time… it’s time and i’ve been ready..