Category Archives: Black Radical Thought

Understanding Repression, Suppression, Oppression

We tend to conceptualize the terms oppression, suppression, and repression to mean exactly the same thing in general conversation and while this is not true, they are nonetheless, interrelated.

To repress is to keep under control, to keep down or to suppress.

To suppress is to put an end to the activities of a person, body of persons, etc.

To oppress is to burden with cruel or unjust restraints, subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority.

The aim of all three of these is to seek to control a person or group of people for some end that is not defined by the subject but, rather, by the object. Any time person (A) seeks to limit or control the actions or thoughts of person (B) is an expression of repression. Both suppression and oppression are means to achieve repression. At the core of this is the denial of person (B)’s agency by person (A), which is in turn a rejection of person (B)’s humanity. This is precisely how Paulo Friere defines oppression and what is wrong with it in the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

However, the situation is a bit more complex because not all acts that appear to fit the definition of repressive are by their very nature unjust. To seek to control the actions or the thoughts of a rapist, molester, or murderer, or an anti-Black racist Ku Klux Klan member with the aim of preventing harm to others is not necessarily unjust. The factors that may make such repression unjust are not the repression, but the manner in which the repression is carried out. For example, murdering members of a racist group merely for their affiliation and not because they have themselves done anything harmful. To do so is to become the oppressor and not to achieve real liberation for our people, as Paulo Friere argues can happen. Furthermore, this is by definition one of the conditions of genocide.

 

On the other hand, accountability circles and restorative justice practices which bring into focus a person’s behavior respecting their agency and humanity and working through what was wrong with a particular situation and working with them to grow so as not to recreate those same harms is a just form of seeking to help a person develop their thoughts and actions. As such, this overcomes the definition of oppression and is not exactly consistent with suppression because it is not an outside entity that shifts the behavior of person (A), but rather internally within person (B) because through a process of reconciliation their analysis has broadened and deepened, thus, becoming more humanizing.
Understanding these terms and what they mean is vital to developing our critical analysis of the conditions under which we live through deep personal and interpersonal examination. Furthermore, it permits us to engage with the complexity of social organization and what may on the surface appear to fit the definitions of oppression, suppression, or repression and to draw a clearly defined boundary between the just and the unjust practices, policies, procedures, and socialization processes of our world.

True Liberation Requires

I think most people miss the point of what is truly implied by the statement “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I believe that most people miss the duty that is presupposed by this statement that we all have to rout out injustice, exploitation, and oppression from whence it emerges, wherever and whenever. Whether that be from KKK members, racist presidents, teachers, or friends. When our homeboys are being sexist, when our fellow revolutionaries are screaming and fighting to be treated and valued as human beings and are dehumanizing women. To the people we pass on the streets whatever the case may be.

The statement means that I can not experience liberation if someone else is being oppressed or exploited. Our system, as it exists, cannot permit liberation, will not permit liberation, because it requires exploitation and oppression to sustain its existence. To achieve liberation, we have to achieve an entire psychic change, experience a complete overhauling of our collective system of values, completely revolutionize our entire economic structure, and most important our own personal perceptions about ourselves each other and our world must be radically altered and compelled to evolve.

Only then, when injustice in all of its ugly forms is shunned and rebuked, by everyone, will we ever begin to achieve liberation. This is what I understand this statement to mean.

The Struggle to Decolonize

Has anyone else noticed that it is difficult to decolonize one’s thoughts and actions while living in the belly of the beast of a colonizing empire?
The system we live in (or under) is founded on exploitation and practices it in nearly all of its endeavors. The system forms a binary, a dichotomy wherein one is either an exploiter or one is exploited. Put another way, one is either the oppressor or the oppressed. Much of our understanding, false though it is, begins with our education that is more correctly an indoctrination. Even the style of education within this system presupposes hierarchical structure of dominance in what Paulo Freire termed the “Banking System” of education in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, wherein communiques are merely deposited into students who are presupposed to be ignorant, and thus, inferior. The students in order to succeed must concede and adapt to this position of inferiority thereby solidify the exploiter-exploited relationship and contradiction. This system denies the agency of the student and rejects the proposition that all human beings who are not suffering from dehumanization are members of the creation and re-creation of knowledge. Only when such an understanding is reached is it possible to respect and honor the agency of every human being as full human beings. And for so long as the system denies the agency of full human beings then it is an exploitative system.
The learned and practiced adaptive preferences of this system become solidified within a person long before that person enters the workforce, so resigning one’s self to an inferior position of exploitation for another’s gain is standard operation; i.e., it is normalized. Any human being who thinks for them self, who is critical of the system is considered a pariah, is considered an outsider, a person who is against “order,” and is to be punished. This is essentially because the exploiters cannot permit those who have not received the stamp of approval, which has been codified into law, to be the agents of change even in our very own lives and communities, are to be punished, suppressed, and silenced.
This is part of the reason why I believe it is so difficult to decolonize one’s self while living in the belly of the beast of a colonizing empire. W.E.B. Du Bois called it the “Double-Consciousness,” Audre Lorde called it, “Double-Think,” Paulo Freire called it the “oppressor consciousness,” but all pointed to the internalization of the colonizer’s, the exploiter’s identity and perception of the world and of ourselves. We must overcome this indoctrination if we ever mean to achieve liberation for ourselves and all of our sisters and brothers from this system of exploitation and imperialism.
Trust in the power of WE. All long-lasting and effectual change emerges from the bottom-up, not from the top-down, and this is especially true of cultural revolutions. This means that the power to overcome this evil resides within us. It resides within us all.
#AllPowerToThePeople

Where the Vision Comes From

The overall objective is a complete overhaul of the entire system, which includes imperialism, capitalism, sexism, patriarchy, climate change, classism, the prison industrial complex, immigration, and so on. However, if there is anything that we have learned from the history and the present of this protracted struggle is that it will not be won overnight. In the mean time people and the circumstances of their lives continue to worsen and our people continue to suffer. Therefore, a major component of our work must be directed toward mitigating the negative impacts of this racist, xenophobic, patriarchal system. This work must not only be done here in the US, but globally because our people are suffering from the same tyranny worldwide. This is often enacted as defensive measures in response to harmful policies and practices. Those defenses should most definitely continue. And in addition, an offensive is desperately required. Waiting on a government that was not designed to serve us or protect us is a strategy doomed to fail.

 

WE must build our own, for our own. WE can and we must. WE have agency. WE are in control of our own destinies. WE are powerful. WE are courageous. WE are ingenious. WE come from the longest lines of Queens and Kings, Astronomers, Mathematicians, Scientists, Engineers, Architects and Agriculturalists. It is in our genes, our hearts, and our souls.

 

 

The false histories we are taught are designed to deprive us of hope and to strip us of the desire to strive and work toward something better. The false histories we are taught are designed by those in power to keep themselves in power. Our educational systems are not designed to develop critical thinkers who are capable of developing an analysis of the system on our own. It is most certainly not designed to teach the oppressed peoples of the world how to assert our agency and to effect change in this system. This is why the education of Social Justice was removed from the public school system in Arizona, and why ethnic studies are being attacked nationwide. Thus, it falls to us, as it should, to be our own educators to ensure that our people are receiving a radical education that will prepare them to critically analyze our societies and ourselves. It is only through critical self-reflection that we can hope to improve upon what we have done, or what has been done in the past.

 

 

One of the largest pitfalls that our people fall into is a lack of vision about what our world and our societies within our world can be like. This is in large part because the indoctrination that most of us receive constricts our perspective into a fatalistic tunnel vision of potentiality. That is why no matter how bad the system of mass incarceration has been proven to be, or how certain 98% of the brightest and most prolific scientists of the world are concerning climate change, that the public and our politicians hold staunchly to the trajectory that our society is on. They cannot and will not envision alternative means to achieve the same goals.

 

 

Critical analysis lends itself to creativity and creativity is what is necessary for the formation of a new vision. The stifling of critical analysis is the process responsible for constricting the peoples’ ability to envision alternatives. This process furthermore restricts agency and supplants in its place a dependence on large structures of government as the provider of stability and direction. Thus, removing and denying the responsibility of the people to think and act, and furthermore to only be concerned about their selves, as if, as people we are somehow self-contained “monads” unaffected by the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

 

Individualism is an illusion that is destructive to the very fabric of our society and to our connection to the earth. There is nothing that any one of us can ever do that does not impact someone or something else in some way. The concept that we are self-contained is fallacy. Take for example again, language. Language cannot be learned in isolation. In fact, language would be entirely unnecessary if every person was self-contained an unaffected by the world. Quite contradictory, language is one of the basic means of interaction by beings who are not self-contained, precisely because we need each other for survival at the very least, and to thrive at best. Thus, any institution of education that does not explicate and replicate this fact in its indoctrination and inculcation of a generation is not only destructive to the society, but is harmful to the person.

 

 

When humans cannot envision and feel the interconnection and the symbiotic relationship that we have with the Earth, then the destruction of the planet is not perceived as the destruction of ourselves. When humans cannot envision and feel the interconnection and the symbiotic relationship that we share with each other, then the destruction and torture of people is not perceived as the torture and destruction of ourselves. For example, if we value, as I am sure that most people in the United States do, the Freedom of Speech, then this value must govern all speech given a few caveats, which the people agree to. To censor the speech of one person or group merely because they are not liked or agreed with opens the floodgates for all speech to be censored, or to be arbitrarily censored at a whim. That which is done to one of us affects everyone else. Furthermore, and often more disconcerting is that more often than not those whose freedom of speech is constricted are those who have a critical analysis of our societies and who are actively working to improve the conditions of those who are most impacted by them.  In turn, when the torture of one human being is permitted, or the bombing of one town is permitted, that then opens the floodgates to permit those policies to be generalized to others. Lastly, and perhaps the most relevant is that what is done on one side of the planet is not contained to that region, but rather, is felt throughout the world. The eradication of the Amazon rain forests, the burning of fossil fuels, the dropping atomic bombs, the explosions of nuclear power plants, the displacements of peoples, or the extinctions of species are all phenomena that are felt globally. Individualism is an illusion and it is one of the most destructive aspects of our contemporary culture. It is thus vital that our people begin to construct a new vision for what our world can be like.

 

 

This new vision and means will not come from the top-down, but rather, from the bottom up. It is a false education that teaches us that the most effective changes come from the top when the evidence proves that cultural shifts surface from the bottom and permeate an entire society. Language also functions in this manner because language is a function of culture. Grammar is a top down push meant to institute a particular and prescribed form of a language stigmatizing all other dialects and forms of the language. However, that does not cease or stop the natural evolution of a language. The version of English spoken in the United States today was at one time the stigmatized form. The prevalence of a system of education that teaches the opposite of this only serves to maintain the status quo, to sustain the dominance of those in power, and to continue the process of the worsening conditions of our peoples. It is an attempt to stifle the natural and necessary cultural evolution that must occur for us to overcome the injustices of our societies.

 

 

The first step in creating a new vision of what our world can be like and to addressing the issues causing the worsening conditions of our people is to institute a radical education ourselves to help foster the critical analyses our people are capable of and responsible for.  We must start with education because for so long as the fatalistic tunnel vision of potentialities is maintained and continues to persist among the most impacted by the harmful impacts of this unjust system, for just that long will our peoples believe we do not have the power or the means to effect beneficial change. The mere act of carrying out this radical education, wherein true histories or rather more complete, comprehensive, and complex histories are taught through a dialogic and dialectic method will provide the fertile ground for solutions to be created and to surface. The system will begin to be seen and understood for what it is, and once that understanding begins to take hold of the consciousness of our people and we are reacquainted with our agency as peoples, acting upon the vision and solutions that take shape is the natural corollary or outcome that follows.

 

 

The first things that will most likely be addressed by our critical analyzers are the immediate conditions causing the suffering of our peoples. The solutions to those immediate problems will permeate our societies from the bottom-up and as the society shifts its cultural center of gravity, the institutions and systems it relies upon will also be revolutionized.

The Illusion of Individualism

The people who believe “crime” is an individual act are still trapped in the illusion of individualism. They are unwilling to see their responsibility in the situation and that until society is healed crime will be a problem and incarceration will increase.

 

Furthermore, the profit motive of the prison industrial complex only serves to interrupt the process of seeking alternatives to incarcerating youth.

 

Blaming and punishing youth, whom it is our responsibility to socialize, for our failure to properly instruct them and providing them an environment in which they can thrive is wrong. That is blame-shifting and it is destroying the fabric of our society.

 

One of the biggest problems the illusion of individualism has create is the destruction of our human necessity for interdependence. One of the factors is simply the size of our society because its very structure denies participation on a level that is necessary to foster interdependence. In a civilization that is so disparate and where participation so minimal the agency and control by people over their environment is fleeting at best. Major corporations are also culprits in this regard. When I refer to creating an environment conducive to the development of youth, I am thinking about an environment that has a foundation of interdependence. When your neighbor is the one growing the food you eat, and you are producing the tools they need to farm it creates a motivation to not harm those we depend upon for survival. Intra-communal violence and harm are reduced by necessity and when the people simultaneously may express more control and agency over their own environments many of the other factors that lead into “crime” are averted. The people will have more time and opportunity to socialize the youth and can elect the method and manner in which they are socialize them that is localized to the needs of the community, not standardized to an entire civilization in a manner that may have no meaning to the youth.

 

Individualism, hierarchical systems of power and control, and agency are the major factors to the ills of our society, and as such, are the major component of the prison industrial complex and why most Amerikans are afraid to even consider an alternative to incarceration. Furthermore, the indoctrination that most Amerikans have received systematically denies the very type of shift we need to occur, and thus, they deny the evolution our society needs in order to thrive healthily.

“All Lives Don’t Matter” by Renaissance

 

Written in response to the “All Lives Matter” slogan and belief that has been a tactic of invalidation of the Human Rights and Civil Rights struggle, which the #BlackLivesMatter Movement embodies, this piece rips into the history of legislation, constitutional amendments, the rise of the prison industrial complex, and the impact these racialized systems of oppression, socially and legally reinforced, and how they harm People of Color.

The twisted and disgusting perversion of my declaring that my life has value and that I deserve respect merely by the fact that I am a human being, into something that is a denial of anyone else’s life having value and deserving respect is purely idiocy and ignorance, and extreme expression of #WhiteFragility and privilege. This system does not treat people all the same and the data that proves this is astounding, but one need only look at the laws and how they have been applied to perceive that this system is racist at its core

Justice, Equity, Liberty: The Revolution

When I was a child, to me there was something magical in the word “American.” It stood for something special. It meant something powerful. I understood it to mean freedom, justice, and equity. I believed what I was told, that “I could be anything I wanted to be.” I dreamed of being a baseball player and a construction worker, an architect, and even the President of the United States. I played baseball, not professionally, but I played on a team. I studied architecture for a time. I owned a construction company for several years. And I was even the president of one of my schools. For most of my life I do not think I ever really doubted the version of America that was taught to me in grade school. The America that was founded upon justice, equality, and liberty. That every human being had the inalienable right to life and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Inalienable means a thing which cannot be made separable. But, if the right to life cannot be separated from any human being, then how can the State justify depriving one of life and therefore, alienating one of their right? Even if it is desirable that if a person is found beyond a shred of doubt to have committed the most heinous and horrendous of acts, and who is also not safe to maintain in confinement should be put to death, how does that justify officers of the law being responsible for the deaths of people who have had no due process of law, no fact finding, and no trial? This does not fit any definition of justice I have ever read. How is it that a State whose guiding principles are liberty and democracy is responsible for the destruction of liberal and democratic societies elsewhere? How is it that a country that screams “freedom” at the top of its lungs, touting privileges and immunities, can simultaneously also be responsible for one of the gravest institutions of enslavement this world has ever known? How is it that in the “land of the free” twenty-five percent of the prisoners of the world, who have been stripped of their liberty, their civil rights, and their human rights are being warehoused and compelled to work in a neo-enslavement? These rights, are rights that are supposed to be inalienable, that is inseparable, but that is not the case. How can a government that touts “equality before the law” also be responsible for the starkest, meanest, longest lasting, and most vile genocide ever experienced on this world, and is still oppressing Native Americans, the descendants of the survivors of that genocide to this day? How is it that a nation, supposedly founded upon equality, can permit at least three different and unequal versions of America to coexist? The version of America that was taught to me and the version of America that I have come to know are inconsistent. The values I was told existed at the core of our society have turned out to be the values we need most at the core of our society, but are absent. It has come about that the America I loved as a child is but a dream, an illusion, and a fabrication. The reality of America is nothing comparable to the dream. It is a nightmare.

The values of justice, equity, liberty, and democracy pulse from the core of my being. I believe it is possible for us to achieve a society, as a people, wherein these values are the guiding principles. I see a time and place where our people are appreciated and loved for the natural and necessary differences that make us human beings. I see a world where criticism is valued because it is understood that it comes either from a place of pain or misunderstanding, and as such provides either and opportunity to right wrongs and heal harms, or to illuminate and educate. I see a world wherein the color of our skin reveals the richness of our history, deepens our cultural understanding, expands our conception of what it means to be a human being, and enhances our inclusiveness. I see a world that is more concerned with positive tension than a negative peace, that, is more apt to resort to concession than violent opposition because it is intimately known that together we are stronger, better, more vibrant and alive than we are apart and at odds in competition with one another. I envision a world that embraces sexual difference that has broken free of the chains of discrimination, where the harmful gender norms have been shattered, where there is no prescription for and limitation of what a person can achieve or who they ‘should’ be. Because we have realized that these limitations and prescriptions constrict our ability to evolve as human beings. I see a world wherein everyone has a role to fulfill and no one is bared from or denied work, but that each unique perspective and skill is utilized and allowed the creative liberty to enhance our whole civilization. I see a world when the institution of enslavement is but a relic and a warning against a return to a tragic and ignorant past that not only believed that distinctiveness was harmful, but also that it was possible to evolve in isolation. I see a world wherein “justice” carries its true meaning of that which provides for the flourishing of our civilization and not the perverted and twisted interpretation of it as mere punishment. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that harm occurs when people are in torment, when they suffer greatly themselves and believe they are in such an isolation that what they do unto others is not in reality what they do unto themselves. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that a theft of some form of ‘property’ was because people felt the deprivation of resources, the absence of security, and the void of interconnectedness. And through the lens of equity a path to right these wrongs and to heal these harms would emerge and surface from the pits of despair and suffering, guiding us toward justice and a world in which liberty can flourish.

The path laid before us is certainly not easy and we will not make it there overnight. The ideologies that have guided our civilization to the point it is at now are deeply entrenched and are even attached to people’s sense of identity. These ideologies have been written into law, they have provided the spiritual and theoretical foundations of nearly all of our institutions and social constructions, and even permeate our artistic representations of the world. These ideologies have led to actions that have created harms that now foster feuds centuries-old, whose memories incubate and fertilize distrust and hatred. The outcome thus far, has been an almost inescapable caste system wherein people are locked into privilege or pestilence. Those in the privileged caste, who have their privileges as the result of an unfair distribution of burdens upon people who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised, will not relinquish their grasp of the benefits they reap because they will feel as though they are being wronged. They still operate under the antiquated and quite mistaken belief that what can be taken or secured by force, whether by military, or by paramilitary police, or by personal injury is by right theirs and not the people’s. It is precisely this institution of force that is buttressed with an indoctrination of the ideologies that have led us here that has brought us to an impasse.

The path laid before us is one of complete revolution. A revolution that will not only change the structure and the dynamics of who is in power, but what power actually is. This revolution will not only concern leadership, but the entire composition of our civilization. This revolution will revise our conception of what it is to be a human being. There has yet to be a bloodless revolution, but ultimately, this revolution will and must be waged in the hearts and minds of every single one of us because this is a spiritual revolution. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. We start as spirits, our spirits take form, and to spirits we return. We are not the creations of our institutions, but rather, our institutions are the creations of spiritual beings who have become confused by a human experience dislocated and estranged from our spirits, connection to the world, and to each other. It is this dislocation that permits the violence, the carnage and the havoc that plague our civilization. Because we have been estranged from our connection to the world and to each other we believe that we exist in relative isolation and that what we do to one another does not impact and affect us personally, but that in reality is not possible. Thus, because our spirits emanate out into the world creating institutions through our human form, by waging the revolution on the plane institutions we but scratch the surface. But by waging the revolution on the spiritual plane we go right to the source and from there a revolution of our institutions will take shape naturally as a result. In place of the individualism that has been set as the cornerstone of the foundation of our spiritual core the values of justice, equity, and liberty must be planted and protected so that they may grow and blossom.

What I have grown to understand is that it is not America that I fell in love with as a child, but rather, the spiritual values it espoused. Today, it is still those values that I am in love with and that which I place all my hope and aspiration. In turn, and by corollary, it is with humanity that I place my trust and faith in because we are interconnected spiritual beings who depend upon each and every one of us for survival and liberation. The revolution is on and either we evolve as we greet this impasse, or we shall meet extinction as we destroy ourselves and our world. Such is the nature of evolution. However, I see a future in which our culture has yet again risen to the challenge and overcome almost insurmountable odds. I believe in us. The revolution is budding.

 

 

#JusticeEquityLiberty

 

The White Ruling Class & The Rising Under Class

I think most people merely want to get on with the business of living their lives and so long as there are no interruptions to what they consider normal then they do not become concerned with the things in this world that are unjust or unfair. I do not think they are necessarily at fault for having this desire. It is hard enough to get through school, to maintain a job, to sustain a relationship, to raise children and so on that becoming concerned with the problems of others may seem like too much of a burden to bear. In fact, many may never even notice the pervasiveness of suppression and inequality until someone attempts to challenge the structure and the order of the society in which they live.

 

For so long as the people who traditionally have fulfilled service sector roles perform those roles and do not attempt to interrupt or contribute to the ruling roles then there is no need for active suppression. However, when the son of a cobbler or a janitor aspires to become the owner of the janitorial business or even the corporation that employs the janitorial business and questions the rulership of those business owners and corporations then steps are taken to limit the progress of the individual from the underclass. The situation described above may appear unjustified and even wrong, inaccurate, and intentionally to be eschewing the facts and reality. However, this interpretation dissipates when the situation is considered through the lens of dialectal materialism, that is the competition for the control of resources and how this impacts the social fabric of a society. Furthermore, when it is understood that capitalism ideologically fosters a competition wherein victory is only achieved by the destruction of all other competitors, then the reality of the situation described above is not as far-fetched as one might have initially thought.

 

One of the more troubling observations I have made concerning the situation described above is that the rulers within a society often times do not know that they are in the ruling class. When Jim Crow segregation in the United States was in full force and cities had “white only” and “colored” signs plastered all over, it was quite obvious who was in power and who lacked power. However, different the outward appearance of the United States may be today, things are not as different as many believe. There may not necessarily be specific and overt signage signifying where a particular person, from a particular group belongs, but that does not change the net results of the system, which by and large remains much the same. Police officers still participate in context stops of individuals when they are ‘caught’ in the wrong neighborhoods; “sundown towns” are not necessarily a thing of the past. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at Harvard University who is also a Black man, was arrested for walking into his own front door because the police thought he was a burglar. “Stop and Frisk,” a policy that began in New York under Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s, permitted police officers to stop anyone at any time that they chose, to inspect and violate their Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In addition to that violation was also the arbitrary and targeted nature of the law, which primarily targeted young people of color to essentially harass and terrorize them in their own communities; racial profiling. Now here again we hear the that the presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to institute stop and frisk across the entire county under the supposed rationalization that it will help the Black community. Help the Black community to do what? Stay in a pre-scribed place. Not the place that we belong, but the position within this society which has been imposed upon us. In 1964, Black people could not vote in the United States and as such, also could not participate in juries. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed making illegal the infringement of the voting rights of all people, especially, as it had been done through the cryptic practices of poll taxes and literacy tests. Yet, as a result of further, clever legal finagling today there are over twelve million people who are disenfranchised within the United States and thus the net result is unchanged. The police institution is still predominately staffed and controlled by white people, the courts are still predominantly controlled by white people, the jails and prisons are still primarily controlled by white people, and the politics are still controlled by white people. All of these observations are readily apparent whether by first-hand account (walk into a courthouse or police department or legislature), or by statistics. The fact that there is a Black person for President, Barak Obama, or person as a Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, does not alter the reality of who holds the power and control. The issue here is the rule, although people may want to focus on the exceptions to the rule like they make a significant difference to the net results. Yet, tell a white person that they are part of the ruling class and they will oppose the proposition as staunchly as an accusation of capital murder.

 

Many white people operate under the perception that they are not part of the ruling class because they do not interpret race as being one of the major factors that contribute to class and also tend to deny the prevalence of racialized privilege.  These two condition are not only correlational, but are mutually reinforcing; i.e., the two structures work together to maintain the social order and class structure whereby Black people are largely politically, socially, economically, and socially constricted into positions of inferiority. To be certain, the control of capital is factor that impacts and delineates all people and many white people are certainly impacted by this in a negative manner. But, their mere affiliation with the group of people that are white removes many barriers that Black people must overcome to simply begin to compete in this system. Obstacles that many white people will never in their life have to consider prior to applying to school or a job, before walking into the grocery store, when a police officer pulls behind them in traffic, or renting an apartment, etc. When Black people are able to overcome some of these obstacles that are invisible to white people we may hear something like, “wow, you are very articulate” (for a black person; the end is usually left unspoken, but the intent is implied and felt). This is why a Black man with a college degree and no “criminal” record is at a disadvantage when competing with a white man with no college degree and a “criminal” record for the same position. A disadvantage that has been institutionalized and is reinforced by racial determinations within the United States society.

 

A very harmful outcome of these circumstances is the phenomenon of internalized racism, whereby the implications of the racialized class structure become a component of the identity of members from the subordinated group. This is expressed in terms of the belief that white people are superior and that Black people are inferior in intellect, politics, beauty, economics and so forth, and furthermore, that this is the way it is supposed to be. It leads to an apathy that limits the horizon of potential to but the near future because long-term planning tends to seem like “pipe dreams,” that is, things that are unachievable or unrealistic. It further leads people to feel satisfied with mediocre standards of living because they tend not to believe they deserve better and are worth more, that their contributions to society do not warrant a greater share of the profits of that society. The prevalence of the inner-city ghetto is the quintessential example of this in American society, wherein it seems the people are locked in a negative-feedback-loop of degradation into a deplorable and demeaning existence. These negative feelings are internally reinforced among those who are members within the subordinated group and may be expressed in phrases such as; “sell-out,” or “Uncle Tom,” of “look at you trying to be white.” A Black person is likely to hear something like this from other Black people when we excel in education, or we use something other than the local slang, or when we can manage to get into or graduate from college, or when we beat the odds and get a good paying job. The internalization of racism can go much further and people have even acted so as to prevent the others from progressing, such as the very conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has taken stances both against the application of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action. In 1982, Republican President Ronald Reagan, made Thomas the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of whose roles it was to oversee the application of the Affirmative Action laws. Then in 1991, another Republican President, George Bush, placed Thomas onto the Supreme Court to replace the nearly polar opposite retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Civil Rights lawyer who with the NAACP at the time, won the Brown v. Board of Education suit in 1954. All going to show that an exception to the rule, Thomas very likely having benefitted from Affirmative Action going to Yale Law School (the same school as President George W. Bush Jr.), has worked to undermine that very system that would level the competition field for so many. These institutions, policies, and practices paid for with the blood of our predecessor’s and years of their lives being undermined by one of the people they were designed to help, and did help, can be nothing but the manifestation of internalized oppression. When the dynamics of the hierarchical class structure become internalized by the people marginalized and minoritized by that structure it has the tendency to imprison them into a negative belief system that permits the system to function almost unchecked or unchallenged.

 

People have a tendency to grow comfortable with things that are familiar as they get used to the way that things function, regardless of how beneficial or harmful the circumstances may be. White people who are not familiar with the constraints that Black people contend with and are relatively comfortable with the circumstance of the conditions of the United States society will lack the necessary motivation to interrupt the way things are. Furthermore, because economic class distinctions do impact white people with all the relevant political, educational, and social implications; any interruption from Black people into that system may seem like a corruption of their opportunities as a result of the added competition. Yet, instead of focusing attention on those who are members of the most elite group and who control the distribution of resources and thus the opportunities within our society, the people who are most closely identified as being related to the interruption are blamed and targeted.

 

Most recently, when Black Lives Matter emerged as a national political platform it was challenged with All Lives Matter and even Blue Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is merely the assertion of equitable value of human life due a specific respect that is not tinged with subordination. Yet, white people felt as if their lives were somehow being devalued by this proposition and also felt the need to challenge it by claiming that all lives already had value and that there was no need for a specific assertion of value of a particular group because they do not believe that there are subordinated groups in this society. The slogan “All Lives Matter” was the tool they created to accomplish a supposed ‘rebalancing’ of the social order they had grown comfortable with. Blue Lives Matter was an even more specific attempt to rebalance the attention away from the systemic inequalities Black people are subjected to, towards the police institution itself. As if somehow the police were ever in the disadvantage of anything or that they needed any more power or authority. The “Blue Lives Matter” slogan was the tool utilized by police officers and their proponents to reestablish the unquestioned authority of the police institution in its role to maintain the hierarchical, racialized, class structure of economic privilege.

 

The pushback to “Affirmative Action” wherein the policy has been assaulted as being “reverse discrimination” and “reverse racism” is another prime example of this phenomenon of blaming the interruption of the social order on those most closely identified with the disruption of their privileges. For the first time, a space was being made for Black people whereby some of the barriers invisible to white people were legally disbanded and they were forced to compete with Black people not having barriers to access. They found it difficult to compete and felt that it was an imposition into their comfortable social order. White people, because they had also internalized their “racial privilege” couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that they were being out-competed by Black people and still do not. We are likely to hear such things as “you only got into that school because you got a scholarship,” which is an expression of class discrimination, and “you only got that scholarship because of affirmative action,” which is an expression of racial discrimination because it is code for “being Black and thus unworthy.” These two factors are not only correlational, but are mutually reinforcing. We are likely to hear these things even in states where Affirmative Action has been repealed because of the pushback from white people. The belief that Black people are inferior is so pervasive, and the maintenance of the social order is so important that any imposition or interruption is immediately challenged with the focus being on those most closely identified with the interruption. Thus, when Black people began to break out of the social order we had been constricted into, there was immediate pushback by those in the ruling class of this hierarchical society to put Black people back into “their place,” and yet it will undoubtedly be argued that racism is a thing of the past and that the social outcomes are not equitable to the outcomes of the legal impositions of the past.

 

Chattel Slavery in the United States as it existed in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries was official abolished in 1865, with the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A hundred years after that, Jim Crow segregation as it existed throughout the end of the nineteenth and for the first half of the twentieth century in 1964 and 1965, with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, respectively.  First and foremost, the Thirteenth Amendment did not abolish the institution of enslavement, it codified it into United States law. Second, slavery is an institution that humans have depended on for thousands of years in multiple cultures and civilizations, and has depended upon the identification of subordinated groups to justify the imposition of servitude and subservience upon others. The belief systems that rationalized enslavement did not disappear from the human consciousness and social fabric merely because it was abolished by law; the feelings and sentiments are still very much alive and continue to harm the entire civilization; e.g., the Prison Industrial Complex. In addition, we are only one-hundred and fifty-one years removed from the end of the American Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which is but a blink of an eye relative to the millennia the institution of slavery has survived through. Thus, to presuppose and to assume that the belief system which rationalized enslavement no longer exists and that the impacts of the institution have somehow disappeared is not only premature, but also, inaccurate and ahistorical. It is actually cognitive dissonance and a mere justification to rationalize the maintenance of the current hierarchical social structure.

 

White people are not interested in releasing the privileges they have which grant them opportunities or relinquishing their political position to share with the subordinated groups who are currently minoritized, marginalized, and disenfranchised. White people are not interested in challenging the most elite ruling group because it will undermine their capacity to compete for the meager resources they are granted access to and control over. White people are not interested in deconstructing the invisible barriers that grant them a negotiation advantage in rental, educational, business, economic, political, and purchasing situations. It is not in their best interest to do so, that is, it is not in their self-interest to share resources and opportunities because that would decrease their potential and likelihood of living a relatively comfortable life.

 

Therefore, since this is the reality of the context in which we live it is up to us, as Black people, to interrupt the status quo hierarchical, economic class structure held in place by racialized divisions. We have to seek to understand the internalization of racism and how it manifests in our lives and in our communities, and how it functions to hold us in a position of inferiority by doing the white man’s work for him. We are already being oppressed, we do not need to oppress ourselves with the garbage they want us indoctrinated with. This means that we have to stop consuming the media the white man propagates, which utilizes the tropes and stereotypes that portray our people in positions of inferiority; and we have to stop relying on and trusting their media machine that presents to us fabrications that they attempt to pawn-off on us as news. Each time we marshal the courage and muster the people to transgress the invisible barriers of class and racialized divisions, they send in their internal colonization force, the police, to suppress the advancement of our people from abject poverty and suppression into liberation and equality. Then they attempt to paint the political activists as “criminals” who according to them are breaking the “laws,” and who are upsetting the “order” of things. We have to recognize that these laws that criminalize our claim to liberty and equality are but the tools of an antiquated system of hierarchical privilege and subordination. Furthermore, that it is their indoctrination through their school systems and media that sustains the fragile veil of equality that people believe exists in the United States. Their indoctrination machine has been so effective that many Black people do not even know that we deserve more and that it is not our fault for not being able to compete equally in this system. That we deserve better than ghettos and prisons, that we deserve elite educations, that we deserve jobs that provide more than merely making ends meet week-to-week, that we deserve a further horizon than tomorrow as a future to strive for. We deserve to not live in fear that because of the color of our skin we may not make it home from school or the grocery store alive.

 

It is understandable that most people just want to go about their lives and not to create ruffles or to stand out. For white people it undermines their social order and comfort. For Black people we risk being killed and imprisoned. That most people, and especially white people do not recognize this difference in potential outcomes is a major part of the problem. It is ironic, but most from either side will never even recognize that there is a problem until someone from the underclass attempts to climb out of the position this society has boxed us into. To make matters worse, until a sufficient amount of people from the underclass stand up and oppose the structure of oppression, the privileged class will continue to deploy and employ its rationalizations and explanations to criminalize those of us fighting to claim our human rights; fighting to claim what we are due and that which we deserve.

 

Above all else what must be understood is this; rights are not granted, they are fought for and won. We cannot rely on, or wait for our oppressors to wake up magically realize that what they have been doing is wrong and that for some reason against all logic that they will simply concede their unjust privileges to us. We have to demand that they relinquish their unjust earnings. We have to demand reparations. We have to press for equality and equity and we have to bring it into being. We have to fight for these things because they will not be given to us.

 

We only demand what we have a claim to by Right.

What is Really Going On

Street crime, drug addiction, and delinquency have been asserted to be the result of the immorality of the impoverished. Therefore, poverty, which is a human creation, that is, it is an institution which is being blamed for the depravity of the people in our society. The extension of this is that those who are most disenfranchised and without the power to influence and shape society are being blamed for the creation of the institution of poverty. Yet, there cannot be poverty if there is not the massive consolidation of wealth. Thus, if the object of the “Tough on Crime” and “War on Drugs” campaigns that lead to the development and expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex were really to heal the immorality of our society, then the most obvious solution given the underlying assumptions would have been to eliminate poverty and diminish the pervasive disparities of this country. This would mean that the best method and strategy to limit the harms that occur in our society is to redistribute the control of wealth merely beyond the threshold of their being people who are impoverished. It is not the case that people do not want to work yet, it is the case that many cannot afford to work because the minimum wage in most states does not even begin to permit a family to escape poverty. When a person has a forty hour work week and still has to rely on welfare to eat and maintain a place to live, and at the end of the month are still in poverty is the quintessential example of the creation and maintenance of a system of impoverishment. But, this solution has been rejected because it is believed to present too much of a short-term burden in exchange for a long-term peace and moral maturity. Those who claim to be the most concerned with the immorality and depravity of our society, and who are also the most responsible for their existence, are also least interested in doing what is necessary to solve the problems they themselves have created. Instead, to retain their comforts and privilege they blame the people least responsible and most disenfranchised, while expanding the penal code and criminalizing even the smallest infractions, that are then arbitrarily enforced by the police institution, to put these people behind bars to further fatten the pockets of those most responsible by increasing the prison labor pool.

Double Consciousness and the So-Called ‘White Standard’

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself though the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

~W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)

I think it is very important to deeply consider what we perceive as the standard by which we begin to measure our conceptions and perceptions from. On the one hand, Du Bois is identifying that the so-called ‘white-standard’ which has been arbitrarily set as the objective and thus, has been normalized as what and who the ‘true American’ is, is very problematic for people who do not identify as cisgendered-white-wealthy men. If that is the standard from which we measure from, then people who look and identify as we do will always feel left wanting and inadequate. It is my belief that it is because this standard has been internalized that Black people and other PoC tend not to perceive ourselves and other PoC and Black folks as valuable as we actually are.

This so-called standard is a false standard. In fact it is no standard at all. The cis-gendered-white-wealthy-man is an anomaly and is in reality nothing more than a fabricated ideal of what is presented as the norm. Wealth is not nearly distributed widely enough even among white males to be reckoned as norm even within said group. Furthermore, White people in general are in the minority worldwide, and are quickly becoming the minority in the United States, so by that reckoning they are not the norm either. However, and this was especially true at the time that Du Bois wrote this, that what made the ‘white standard’ the touchstone was the power structure that was in place.

Still true to this day, white men control much of the politics, business, and media which shape our world and our perceptions of it. For example, the ‘scary black male predator,’ which Hillary Clinton is noted for exploiting in speeches is a prime example of this touchstone being put to use. The concept of the scary dark ‘other’ is old and I have traced it back to Ancient Greece and the term ‘barbarian’ which, was used to disparage the Persian people. I have also encountered it studying explorers and colonists when they employed the term ‘savages,’ to describe native indigenous populations. The same meanings those words carried, is carried by the word ‘nigger,’ and are carried by the terms ‘thug’ and ‘criminal.’ The meanings associated with these terms are uncouth, untamed, uncivilized, illiterate, unteachable, lascivious, sexually promiscuous, weak, and feminine, but also hyper-masculine. After mass media emerged within our society, and following the Civil Rights Era the terms ‘thug’ and ‘criminal’ were made synonymous with Black by very clever politicians and during the 80s with the War on Drugs under the Reagan administration, the ‘scary black man trope’ was exploited with a new veracity. The result was the villainization of an entire generation of black men that was so effective that by the end of the 90s and epidemic resulting from the shortage of black men was declared. Most were incarcerated in the rapidly developing Prison Industrial Complex ushered along by the Clinton administration’s 1994 Crime Bill.

During the 80s and 90s, gangsta rap also emerges and becomes a highly profitable venture. One of the clearest, most distinguishable images from gangsta rap is the ‘scary black male predator’ who shatters all the social conventions of American society and makes his own way by feeding his own people poison, killing all who get in his way, is hyper-sexual and masculine, uneducated, and acquiring riches until they end up dead or in prison. However, this is neither how Hip Hop began, nor is it what comprises the vast majority of the artists who wield the skill and participate in the craft. Again, we see something that has been normalized that by no means forms the majority and the questions are how and why?

Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, the author of “Hip-Hop Revolution,” equated gangsta rappers with being “modern day minstrels.” A minstrel is the fictitious rendition of a Black person that accentuates and exacerbates the most stereotypical features attributed to Black people for the purposes of humor that began in the 1830s. Essentially what is being done is that the “perception” of Black people is being compared to the ‘standard’ in a very demeaning and dehumanizing manner. This has also been called “Black Face.” Ogbar argues, correctly I think, that when Black males fulfill the role of a gansta rapper that they are in effect putting on Black Face for a primarily white consumer population. To some extent, those acting out these roles like Ice Cube or Master P, are expressing the internalization of the standard. However, much like the earlier minstrels who also were black, it was a means to an end to gain financial security. Whatever the reason, the result has been the perpetuation of the ‘white standard’ and its foil the ‘scary black male predator,’ the ‘criminal,’ and the ‘thug.’

In part, Du Bois was seeking to inform the Black population of this dynamic of the United States culture and to re-empower and re-imbue those most affected with the truth; the ‘white standard’ is a farce, but the power and the impact of it is very real.

Which brings us to what Du Bois is revealing about the “double consciousness,” namely, that because of this standard and the internalization of it we (our people) tend to perceive ourselves from the perspective of the progenitors of the so-called ‘standard.’ Any Black person who has had to seek employment with a white-male owned business, with white-male managers has probably walked into their offices knowing exactly what their worth is and what they are capable of while simultaneously also knowing what their worth and capabilities are perceived as. This contradiction often leads to what has been termed “Code Switching,” i.e., shifting, augmenting, or otherwise concealing the features that are most stereotypically ‘Black.’ For example, the usage of ‘proper English’ in place of the stigmatized although, just as grammatical, African American Vernacular English. This is done to appear closer to the ‘white standard,’ not necessarily to be perceived as more white, per se. Other characteristics may also be augmented such as, dress and body language. The further away from the ‘scary black man trope’ we can get the better; at least, that is how the game is played.

This is merely one example, but the phenomenon can be witnessed throughout the society of the United States. It can also be observed between other groups, such as, between men and women, wherein there are wage-gaps and glass-ceilings. The more masculine a woman can present herself, the more likely she is to be respected in a male dominated world. To complicate matters more, if the woman is Black that is a triple consciousness, and if the Black woman is also Trans that is a quadruple consciousness, and if the Black Trans woman is also poor that is a quintuplet consciousness. The intersectionality of these oppressions and systems of power dynamics are pervasive. The point is that there is no sector of this society, the buses, schools, friendships, stores, traffic, anywhere that is free of this phenomenon. Anywhere and everywhere that a Black person can be in this society where there are also white people the “double-consciousness” also exists.

The importance of Du Bois’s observation is the realization that once the phenomenon is identified and the truth is revealed to people they can then begin to unpack the social fabric of this so-called ‘white standard.’ Today we are in a much different position than in 1903 and we have access to much more information, historical or otherwise that reveals our people did not begin as an enslaved people, and that cis-gendered white males do not comprise the majority of our society, let alone the world. It helps us to begin the process of undoing the internalization of this ‘standard’ by allowing us to see that we can form our own standards. It further helps us to see the folly and the harm of the standards we hold other people to, unjustly. We may even begin to see that some standards need to altogether be laid to rest because of how harmful standards can be in some regards. Having a standard that killing is wrong is probably a good general standard to have. However, having a standard of beauty can be very problematic and hurtful. The difference I believe lies in the attribution of value to people based upon a standard, especially since they have tended to be set at a level or on something that is almost impossible to achieve and is anything but the norm; anything but standard.

A phenomenon that seems to be such a pillar to so many of the harms the people in our society suffer, it begs the question, if a culture shift is what we need to heal so many of these harms, should this not be one of the places we begin our work?