The response to Black rebellion are all distinct types of “reforms” to politically sedate Black surplus populations and sustain white settler-capitalist hegemony.
“The violence being exported everyday in and around the could be changed with a shift in political leadership, but an inevitable and continual outcome of superstructures.”
“Everything has changed on the surface and nothing else has been touched[...] In a way, the state is more powerful than ever, because it has given us so many tokens.”
On Thursday, June 17th, President Joe Biden signed a bill establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. According to CNN, the holiday becames the first federal law holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983. Ultimately, the bill will allow a fragment of the nations’ surplus populations —excluding much of the largely racialized lumpenproletariat and underclass— a day ‘free’ from the capitalist exploitation and alienation that comes with the traditional day-to-day of the laboring class. The timing of the implementation of the national holiday—amidst rebellions, particularly in Minneapolis, in the aftermath of Winston Smith’s clearly politically-motivated, state-sanctioned assassination—cannot be understood as anything other than yet another attempt at anesthetizing the captive Black colonies in sentimentality and symbolic gestures.
"…this is the afterlife of slavery—skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. i, too, am the afterlife of slavery."
—saidiya hartman, lose your mother: a journey along the atlantic slave route (2006)
The institution of Black slavery, that rendered Black captives as chattel, capital, productive property, was economically, culturally, and politically ubiquitous. Yet, despite its legacies and afterlives, there has been no material reckoning, or atonement for its anti-Black psychosexual and physical terror and violence. In fact, the ghosts of what is largely understood as slavery’s past, have continued to manifest in the economic polity, modern policing and prisons, and social, cultural, and ideological underpinnings, etc. Descendants of Black captives whom, in many ways, remain hyper-surveilled, overpoliced, hyper-exploited, underpaid, alienated, and often succumbed to occupation of our communities and premature death, have little-to-nothing to show for being major instruments in assembling and maintaining the global capitalist economy since we were trafficked to the Euro-Americas. But you are damn sure we have one month per year, and now an extra day, to learn about and hashtag-celebrate the most whitewashed and bleak articulations of Black historical events—events that have largely only taken place because of Black resistance to white terror, violence, and domination.
“A critical genealogy of White Reconstruction requires close examination of the non-normative—nonwhite, queer, non-Christian, and so on—iterations of white supremacy within contemporary institutionalizations of diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. Such non-normativities are constitutive of (rather than incidental or exceptional to) the protocols, planning, and statecraft of contemporary counterinsurgency/domestic war, extending and complicating rather than disrupting or abolishing the historical ensembles of anti-Black and racial-colonial state violence.”
—Dylan Rodriguez, White Reconstruction
Since 1776 and the founding of the United States of America, the white power structure has been in a constant state of attempting to—arguably, at times, successfully—ideologically and politically sedate the most wretched, particularly the Black colonies, through incremental concessions and symbolic gestures while ultimately supplementing white rule. As Gerald Horne has taught us, this founding itself was brought into being after a successful power struggle against the British rulers to preserve the institution of Black slavery. As noted by Dylan Rodriguez in the epigraph above, and throughout his book White Reconstruction, the white settler-colonial state has had to “undergo substantive reform to remain politically and institutionally viable.” This includes, but is not limited to, incremental (neo)liberal reform as sedation and the multicultural diversification of settler-colonial, surveillance-capitalist, and imperialist apparatuses.
If we are to understand the American project itself as a consequence of intra-European counterrevolution to preserve the institution of slavery. The civil war as described by
Frederick Douglass, “[starting] in the interest of slavery on both sides[...]both despising the Negro, both insulting the Negro.” The Reconstruction era as an attempt to establish a workers-democracy—in the aftermath of the countless slave revolts across North America and the Civil War ultimately ending chattel slavery—only to be defeated by ruling class forces. Jim Crow as an inevitability of the settler state and its individual deputized upholders’ idiosyncratic anxieties surrounding the collapsing synonymity of Blackness and the slave positionality. The Civil Rights Movement as an understandably decentralized reformist effort toward Black freedom, through attempts to expand the civil liberties of Black people within the American colony, co-existence with whites within the white power structure that became co-opted by the state ordained Black bourgeoisie and US intelligence leading to mild concessions. Then, we—as Black people—have to understand that we have been in an outright war of attrition with the white power structure for nearly half a millennium.
“The ghosts of what is largely understood as slavery’s past, have continued to manifest in the economic polity, modern policing and prisons, and social, cultural, and ideological underpinnings.”
It is important to recontextualize major historical events — from the Civil War, to the crushing of the Reconstruction era, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the rise of neoliberalism and the expansion of the carceral regimes posited as the solution to Black rebellion in the 1980s, to modern policing and prisons, etc. — are all distinct types of “reforms” to politically sedate Black surplus populations and sustain white settler-capitalist hegemony.
In an interview at Howard University, Gerald Horne discusses the weakening and marginalization of Black radical independent institutions, publications, and leaders, such as Shirley Graham, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, as a trade-off to disintegrate Jim Crow in return for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and “other examples of legislation meant to chip away at Jim Crow.” Horne goes on to question whether the price for political “freedom,” in the electoral arena (which many Black radicals would argue, in the age of neocolonialism and pseudo-independence was never actually freedom) was substantial enough to warrant celebration as a form of Black progress without the economic infrastructure and self-determination needed for true liberation and justice. Just like in the 60s, as Horne notes, we are still performing uneven trade-offs with white power. We demand an end to police terror with Defunding the Police at the outset; they give us painted Black Lives Matter streets, while celebritizing, commodifying, and cannibalizing the names and faces of Black martyrs like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We demand healthcare, living wages, and erased student loans; they give us a federal holiday. In the post-Civil Rights era, and the state’s crushing of Black Power, there has been a depoliticization, if not outright assassination, of Black politics: all symbolism, uneven trade-offs, bare-minimum concessions, and identity reductionist representation as a substitute for actual Black power and self-determination. In the era of neo-colonialism, with the expansion and symbolic inclusion into the plantation economy through our coerced [lumpen]proletarization, we have been anesthetized to our continued exploitation, alienation, destruction, and genocide. Liberal multiculturalism, reform, or as I would call it, political anesthetization, at the very least, temporarily, has been able to halt the “problem” of black resistance.
“The understanding that modern policing has emerged out of the dreadful history of Black enslavement brings with it an urgent need to acknowledge what is not yet behind us. The plantation isn’t, as so many of us, Black and otherwise, think or at least wish to believe, a thing of the past; rather, the plantation persists as a largely unseen superstructure shaping modern, everyday life and many of its practices, attitudes, and assumptions, even if some of these have been, over time, transformed.”
- Rinaldo Walcott, “On Property”
Though there has been a virtual erasing of our chains and the physical plantation (at least for those of us who are not “legally” incarcerated), the plantation economy has expanded and the mere logics and ideological production have remained the same: keep the slave(s) in check. The white power structure has always been concerned with keeping its thumb on the pulse of its slave population. There has been a non-stop, coordinated counterinsurgent effort by the white power apparatus to divert energy away from the inevitable radical potentialities of the slave, colonized, dispossessed, and superexploited classes—especially as capitalism’s contradictions become far too blatant to disguise. The marking of Juneteenth National Independence Day is just a continuation of the settler society’s legacy of empty promises and symbolic gestures to supplant material gains and maintain their hegemony.
“We demand Black Lives Matterm and an end to police terror with Defunding the Police at the outset; they give us painted Black Lives Matter streets.”
The United States is incapable of bringing about true justice or accountability for the crimes of its psychosexual and political economy beyond these hauntingly insulting and psychopathic attempts at state recognition of its own historical aberrations through moral symbolism. True justice and accountability must be avoided at all costs by this power structure, as this would inevitably expand the political imaginations of people, leading to the incrimination of every cop, soldier, politician, wall street hack, ceo, etc., and exposing itself for what it is: illegitimate and obsolete. Once you realize that all of the violence being exported everyday in and around the US are not individual aberrations that could be changed with a shift in political leadership, but an inevitable and continual outcome of superstructures built on and sustained through anti-Black slavery, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, everything begins to make sense. It is liberatory. Heartbreaking. Infuriating, even. Because the solution becomes clear. It is the solution that everyone—whether subconsciously or not—is doing everything in their power to avoid coming to. It is the solution the United States and its propaganda networks spend billions of dollars every year to shield from the psyches of its captives. It is what Black captives in Haiti realized circa 1791, and are still being punished for ‘till this day.
There is a special, psychopathic irony in the legitimation of Juneteenth through the colonial-capitalist state’s immortalizing of the liberation of the slaves through the very structural foundations in which said slaves were rendered productive property as captives, in which the legacies of slavery remain pervasive across social, cultural, political, and economic lineages. Not to mention the colonial and imperialist technologies inspired largely by the events of (anti-)Black slavery and colonialism, exported across the imperialized world for the purposes of land, capital, and resources—under the guise of (white) freedom and democracy. To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what is the state’s recognition of Juneteenth to its Black captives? To the Afro-Palestinians living under the world’s largest open-air prison on the United States’ dime? Or the slave-labor of mineral miners in the Congo supplying the U.S. resources? How can visualizations of Nancy Pelosi and Black lawmakers singing Lift Every Voice and Sing in ceremony for the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday—while actively rejecting Black organizers’ rallying cries that could improve Black people’s material conditions and save lives, such as Defunding the Police— signal anything other than yet another colonial lullaby to anaesthetize our dreams and efforts toward Black liberation and self-determination? While openly and unapologetically pledging their allegiance to multiculturalist white supremacy in the age of neocolonialism?
“How can visualizations of Nancy Pelosi and Black lawmakers singing Lift Every Voice and Sing in ceremony for the bill making Juneteenth a federal holid
“Let me put it this way, that from a very literal point of view, the harbors and the ports, and the railroads of the country, the economy, especially of the southern states, could not conceivably be what it has become, if they had not had and do not still have, indeed, for so long and for so many generations, cheap labor. I am stating very seriously, and this is not an overstatement: I picked the cotton, and I carried it to the market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing[...] This, in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. And no one can challenge that statement, it is a matter of a historical record. In another way, this dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”
This article previously appeared in Hampton Think.
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