A New School Year

Friday September 9, 2016 was another first day of school for me. As a historian, teacher, activist, son, older brother, husband, and father to Abbey, I am excited to do what I most love — engage the minds of my students. This will be my finest year. I am a product of great teachers. For the past number of years, I have dedicated a year to someone or “ones.” I would like to honor my high school English teacher — Laurie Norton, who represents what makes my school what it is. ACA has been her life and I love her for being a part of a team of teachers that shaped me into the intellectual monster that I am, but also the husband that I am today. My first graduation. Thank you, Ms. Norton.

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The Divided American Left

 

solidarity-divided3A Marxist analysis is a shared methodology aimed at unifying the working class in the continual fight against capitalism; it offers a sense of solidarity among its exploited members, but in the United States, such analysis has failed at mending the color line. The 21st century challenge, of course, is moving white working class people to a place of understanding the complexities of intersectionality and its importance to Marxism and the potential bonds shared with people of color, which would ultimately offset the racial tension that precludes interracial solidarity.

Much like black activists of the past, who called for unity within the Negro race, and who aimed to walk side-by-side with white people, many white workers continue to resist such solidarity, as they support their own privileges. The potential election of Republican Donald Trump best explains this notion. The American left will continue to struggle for unity, as it has throughout its history, unless workers can draw upon their class solidarity and grasp the need for intersectional understanding. The American left has historically been highly disorganized and, at times, struggled to find a unifying position.

I was moved toward leftist thinking in high school due to an emerging interest in the activism and writings of W.E.B. Du Bois. I would later read the works of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, whom made efforts in the left –only to grow frustrated. Then, I was a growing liberal and self-proclaimed Democrat. This was true during my college years — as the president of the Young Democrats; however, by the end of college and into graduate school, I read more about the struggles of black people. And thus grew interested in black Marxism. Though at the time I did not fully grasp Wright’s frustration with the left, I would later come to understand his distrust. This was proclaimed in his essay, I Tried to be A Communist. He noted:

It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great power of trade unions, nor the excitement of underground politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the similarity of the experiences of workers in other lands, by the possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a whole. It seemed to me that here at last, in the realm of revolutionary expression, Negro experience could find a home, a functioning value and role.  Out of the magazines I read came a passionate call for the experiences of the disinherited, and there were none of the lame lispings of the missionary in it. It did not say: “Be like us and we like you, maybe.” It said: “If you possess enough courage to speak out what you are, you will find that you are not alone.” It urged life to believe in life.

Today I fault individuals with the internal struggles of the left. There are race matters among the left, as there are those who lack the skills to bring about solidarity. Both Ellison and Wright, I suspect, would say those to the left failed to meet them. This is a continual issue today. However, unlike the days of the aforementioned black literary folk, there are those seeking change and who are willing to do so by meeting folks where they are. As that population grows, and the other population dissipates, unity will be achieved.

Why do Black Folk Riot?

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Above: Detroit Race Riot, 1967

On the one hand, this is a simple question that can be answered with a simple response. On the other hand, this is a complex question that requires a great degree of explanation. I have opted to give what I see as a simple response to a very complicated question: Why do Black Folk Riot? Blacks riot over systematic problems in society; we do not have the luxury to riot after football games, something white people tend to do.

As I sat and watched the recent riot unfold in the city of Milwaukee, I was pulled to Janette to share my frustration. My tone was harsh as I responded with a lot of emotion toward a privileged white policy official delivering a response to a news commentator. He stated that “they” are burning down their own neighborhood, closing businesses in their community, which employs them, and targeting the very police force that shot and killed an armed black man, who could have brought harm to other black people.

Listening to the coverage was unnerving. He failed to fully answer the question. Black folk have rioted since the days of Nat Turner, who led the 1831 slave rebellion against white supremacy. Turner, motivated by God, and inspired by humanity and dignity for better treatment, sought a desire for hope and freedom.

Black people do not just riot. Years of abuse, discrimination, targeted police brutality, racism, and the injustice of an American capitalist system have furthered deep-seeded levels of inequality in black communities. As a law-abiding citizen –  and one who is opposed to violence, I support riots. It seems to be the only way to bring attention to a country living the “dream” of color blindness. Yep. A grand lie and myth.

This video points to the myth of color blindness and American inequality.

Race riots are a natural part of the American genesis. Yet, folks act as if this is a new phenomenon. Since the arrival of black people as slaves, circa 1619, we have been subhuman actors. After emancipation, we became second-class citizens. In truth, we were never citizens. White supremacy took hold shortly afterward, as it established the age of Jim Crow. In the years immediately following World War I, tens of thousands of southern blacks and returning black soldiers flocked to the nation’s northern cities looking for good jobs and a measure of respect and security. Many white Americans, fearful of competition for scarce jobs and housing, responded by attacking black citizens in a spate of urban race riots. Chicago and Tulsa were driven by white fear and a sense that black folk failed to stay in their place.  In Tulsa, hundreds of whites led a racially motivated attack on blacks killing some 300 people, mostly blacks.

In an editorial immediately after the Chicago race riot of 1919, Crisis editor W. E. B. Du Bois argued in favor of acts of self-defense and armed resistance, despite the editorial’s conciliatory title, “Let Us Reason Together.” Du Bois noted:

If the United States is to be a Land of Law, we would live humbly and peaceably in it—working, singing, learning and dreaming to make it and ourselves nobler and better: if it is to be a Land of Mobs and Lynchers, we might as well die today as tomorrow.

By 1965, the end of de jure measures emboldened de facto racism. Often, white communities sought to further and empower the police to guard their property against “thuggish” black folk. In part, such measures driven by white politicians have allowed for decades of mass incarcerations.

Below are brief summaries of black riots due to police brutality, as reported here in The Riot Act.

  • Chicago, 1919. On a hot July afternoon, a black teen-ager named Eugene Williams went swimming in a customarily “white” area of Lake Michigan. Angry white beach-goers pelted him with stones until he drowned. When police refused to apprehend the culprit and instead arrested a black onlooker, blacks, who had long considered the police to be insensitive to their concerns, attacked the officers. Whites retaliated, ushering in four days of brutal violence in which policemen at times abetted the white-on-black assaults.
  • Harlem, 1935. On March 19, department-store employees apprehended a 16-year-old shoplifter and whisked him off to be beaten in the store’s basement. An outraged crowd massed on 125th Street, as rumors circulated that that police had broken the arms of a black woman who tried to help the boy—made plausible, again, because of the police’s record of hostility to Harlem’s blacks. Rioting ensued for the next day, resulting in two deaths.
  • Watts, 1965. On Aug. 11, police stopped motorist Marquette Frye on Avalon Street in the Los Angeles ghetto. Frye resisted arrest, a crowd gathered, and more policemen came. When some of them roughly manhandled Frye’s mother, the story took hold that cops had kicked a pregnant woman in the belly, further angering the mob. Violence reigned for four days, with 34 people killed.
  • Detroit, 1967. On July 23, police raided a black drinking and gambling club, arresting some 80 habitués. Hordes of neighborhood blacks massed outside the establishment, first taunting the policemen, then throwing stones. A swarm of police cruisers swooped in but made no serious effort to disperse the crowd. Spontaneous looting and arson followed, and five days later, 43 people lay dead, many killed by police or National Guardsmen.
  • Miami, 1980. On May 17, a Tampa jury acquitted four Miami policemen in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black businessman, whom they had beaten to death after chasing his motorcycle—the latest in a series of cases of police brutality. Mayhem followed, with black mobs attacking whites and white policemen retaliating with deadly gunfire. Eighteen people lost their lives.c-rnvlzvffxx-940x392

Since the Watts riot of 1965, racism and the growing economic disparity in L.A. contributed to levels of violence that came to a halt after police officers were acquitted for the brutal beating of an unarmed black man named Rodney KIng. As pictured above, the L.A. riot brought rival gangs together to protest community inequality. This riot reduced years of black-on-black violence in L.A., as the murder rate declined. The killing of Freddie Grey by cops launched the city of Baltimore into a riot, which brought in the Department of Justice, who concluded that years of targeted hostility toward black and brown people and economic inequality were systematic issues. As I noted above — riots can be good. Cities such as Chicago might need a  riot to address gang violence, economic inequality, police brutality, and racism.

What Lives Matter?

“To posture oneself alongside the ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ movement is to erase the true oppression of our black population….Similar to “separate BUT equal” you have “ALL LIVES matter” as seemingly espousing that all lives do, and should, matter. Yet, white folks didn’t create this hashtag on their own; its a reaction, similar to how one would view segregation. Segregation is not the normal state of things, its an active decision. One would not need to say “BUT EQUAL” if something were inherently equal. Similarly one would not need to defend that “ALL LIVES” matter in response to “BLACK LIVES” mattering, if there were not something inherent underlying their assertion — namely, racism.”

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Give the full piece a read here.

God and Black People

The Negro soul is a complex soul. Black folks will tell you that the black soul hides the burdened of millions of Negroes who suffered at the hands of white supremacy. The march from the oppression of slavery to the injustice of Jim Crow has left the soul marked with millions of burdens that only God can remove. Black oppression was God’s design. In part, a comparative design he handed the Jews. Black folks have long held to the Jewish-Exodus narrative as they relive the accounts of their bondage, which involved centuries of slavery, a migration from mass injustices, lynchings, unemployment, and mass incarcerations.

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As noted by the drawing published in Crisis Magazine by editor W.E.B. Du Bois, the white South represented a moral contradiction to the Gospel of Christ, who reminded the white South, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”. This 1916 depiction showcases the fear that encapsulated blacks to the point of drawing on biblical narratives about freedom.

However, not all blacks hold close the Christian narrative. Better yet, many have seperated themselves from the narrative of being God’s righteous people. Being a black atheist in America is a challenging position to reside. A black atheist within the black community has amounted to levels of criminality. Black folks have long used religion as a way to find answers for their historical suffering within the confines of white America. And though there are black folks who live a life of moral contradictions vis-a-vis scriptural rules, there is no place for nonbelievers. Remember, God rescued the American Negro from bondage. Centuries of lynching and years of Jim Crow created a universal sense of “togetherness” as it relates to the black church.

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Above: Ray Lewis, the once arrested but never convicted of murder is seen here on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Lewis, who is quick to thank God for his many blessings, was captured in an image of baptismal renewal. Lewis will tell you that God gave him a second chance, seeing that many felt he was involved and guilty of at least destroying evidence.

Black entertainers represent one of the greatest misrepresentation of normative black-religious culture. After one scores a touchdown, he pauses to give thanks to Jesus, pointing to the heavens or saying a prayer, while marking his uniform with a cross like action. Speeches, interviews, and award acceptances are easily engulfed in a thanks be to God reference. So when NFL running back Arian Foster stated he does not believe in God, it caught many by surprise. Foster’s denial of God will receive greater criticism from the black community. God has blessed him with riches and fame, yet he rejects a God who rescued his race from oppression. Thus, Foster and others have rejected their righteous place in the kingdom of heaven.