Monday, February 20, 2012

Racial Inequality in the United States

This article originally appeared in the Howard University Newspaper, The Hilltop.

The bees work.

Their work is taken from them.

We are like bees-

But it won't last


-Langston Hughes, "Black Worker"

The United for a Fair Economy's annual State of the Dream report demonstrates the deep and enduring racial inequalities in the United States and the need for a revitalized Black Movement.

Of late, the Occupy Movement, a de facto white Left movement, has put a spotlight on class inequality in the U.S. The other positive side of #occupy is its challenge to electoral politics as the primary mode of political expression. Although #occupy issues overlap with Black issues, as of yet, racial inequality has not become a central feature in the Occupy Movement.

Racial inequality is a direct of result of an ongoing Whites only affirmative action program. In 1862, the Homestead Act transferred the title of government land almost exclusively to whites. Almost one hundred years later in the wake of World War II, due to white supremacist practices, a large number of Black veterans were unable to take advantage of educational opportunities, home loans, and job training skills offered by the G.I. Bill. And, more recently, mortgage companies targeted Blacks and Latinos for adjustable rate mortgages that precipitated the economic crash of 2008.

These and numerous other policies have had detrimental life consequences for Africans in America. Last year the Pew Research Center released a study showing the median net worth of white households compared to Black households had risen from 12 times more in 1984 to 19 times more in 2009. At the same time, Blacks receive 61 cents for every dollar a white person earns.

Not surprisingly, for over forty years Blacks have experienced triple the poverty rate of whites. This is just a sample. In most areas, including education, housing, employment, and of course, mass incarceration, Blacks have more of the bad things and less of the good things.

What is more, these are not just words or statistics on a page or screen, these numbers represent the real life chances for human beings.

The historic and continuing racial oppression of Black people in the U.S. has helped to produce a common experience and history. In effect, it has molded them into a nation. What is necessary then to resolve the national oppression of Blacks in the U.S. is a Black Nationalist movement that has a critique of capitalism.

The oppression of Blacks is fundamentally rooted in economics but, due to the history of this country there is a unique type of anti-black racism in the U.S., and even the world. Furthermore, the movement should reject narrow nationalism and instead be open to coalitions with other oppressed nationalities and class conscious white workers.

The primary challenge is a generation of Black people who have been inundated with post-racial propaganda from the right wing that states that race is virtually irrelevant and white Left opportunism that asserts race should be completely subservient to class.

Therefore, a mass based political education is necessary to assist the millennial generation in attaining the understanding that their oppression is at the foundations of the current world system and a Black Nationalist movement isn't a preference, but a historical necessity.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black Student Abolitionism

This article originally appeared in the Howard newspaper, The Hilltop.

"I'd open every cell in Attica—send 'em to Africa."

-Nas "If I Ruled the World"

Last week Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, spoke at Rankin Chapel about the need for Black students to reject American consumerism and sacrifice for a cause greater than them. Alexander, following in the tradition of Angela Davis, has identified the elimination of mass incarceration as a noble cause.

Davis' scholarship and activism shows how prisons are a multi-billion dollar industry primarily because, according to the 13th amendment, enslavement is legal in the U.S. in the form of prisons. Therefore, Davis identifies as a prison abolitionist and traces her political lineage to the abolitionist movement in antebellum U.S. Unfortunately, most Black students are totally unaware of their own abolitionist tradition.

Several notable Black abolitionists such as Henry Highland Garnet began political organizing at the African Free School in the 1830s. While a student, Garnet caused uproar in the community when he helped to found an anti-slavery organization named after one of the most militant abolitionists of the time, William Lloyd Garrison. After graduation, he was an uncompromising advocate for armed struggle to end enslavement and emigration to Africa.

Another standout Black student abolitionist, John A. Copeland, while a student at Oberlin College helped to liberate a Black man in Ohio who was captured after escaping from enslavement. He eventually dropped out of Oberlin to join John Brown in his violent attempt to overthrow the slave system. Copeland gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life.

Howard University is no stranger to Black student abolitionism. In the 1930s, Howard students joined the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC). (The first Snick!) SNYC was founded by two Black communists. Although its membership included non-communists, its communist members envisioned and struggled to create a classless-stateless society without prisons.

If the current generation is to pick up the torch of abolitionism similar to Garnet, Copeland, and SNYC members, they must reject American individualism, consumerism, and celebrity culture. In a society that states our human worth is determined by material possessions and the amount of goods you consume, the notion of fighting to abolish all prisons is perceived to be futile and utopian, but the tide may just be turning.

All over the world, from Arab countries to the Africa to Latin America, as Martin Luther King stated "the cry is we want to be free." The abolition of all prisons can only come as a result of a complete transformation of the economic system.

It appears that we are entering the beginning stages of such a movement. Here is our chance. Now is the time for us to reclaim the Black student abolitionist tradition.