The elevation of anti-blackness as a kind of universal problem eliminates the basis for solidarity among the colonized and puts some African Americans on the side of U.S. imperialism.
“The revival of racialism has been the death of genuine solidarity.”
“The reality is we are a country built on a racist house of cards, and the pandemic is showing us how racism — specifically anti-Blackness — impairs our ability to respond, hurting all of us.” – Jhumpa Bhattacharya
What are the specific realities exposed by the coronavirus in the U.S.?
We have seen the data. African Americans make up 13% of the population but account for half the cases of COVID-19 and almost 60% of the deaths nationally. The specific national breakdown is horrific.
In Wisconsin Blacks make of 6% of population but 40% of deaths. In Chicago 30% of population but almost 70% of deaths, and a similar story in New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and other city and towns across the country.
But is anti-blackness the explanation for this? Anti-blackness is an essential component of the “Afro-pessimism” framework and while many employ this language and frame, I would caution us to be careful.
There is no question that what is referred to as anti-blackness -- the dehumanization, distain, and inability to perceive the full humanity of people classified as Black or African – exists as a phenomenon.
This racialist perspective was integral to white supremacist ideology and provided the rationalization and justification for the Christian European transatlantic slave trade and brutal colonization of the African continent.
“Anti-blackness is an essential component of the ‘Afro-pessimism’ framework.”
White supremacist ideology is pervasive, and its internalization is not dependent on one’s race, ethnic or national identity. For some, the emergence of the anti-blackness framework is seen as a subsection or more developed articulation of the presumptions of white supremacist ideology. But the anti-blackness frame is actually a radical epistemological departure.
While the anti-blackness framework identifies African enslavement as a pivotal determinant in the contemporary expressions of anti-blackness, its sustainability, however, has transcended enslavement as its material genesis and has become a permanent element of the psychic condition of global humanity, according to Afro-pessimists. Anti-blackness exists as a negation of black humanity not only for Europeans but allegedly also for the colonized non-Black peoples of the word.
Time does not permit me to delve into this more in this conversation. But, I raise this precautionary argument because I believe the anti-blackness frame poses significant political and strategic challenges for African people to build anti-colonial, anti-imperialist relations of reciprocal solidarity and struggle in the fight to defeat the Pan-European colonial/capitalist white supremacist patriarchy.
“Anti-Blackness has become a permanent element of the psychic condition of global humanity, according to Afro-pessimists.”
It is the Pan-European project that emerged with the invasion of the “America’s” in 1492 that shaped and characterizes contemporary global relations of power and the specific national contexts in the U.S., Brazil and Venezuela!
In the U.S. can we say that it is just anti-blackness that explains the systematic closing of community healthcare facilities and hospitals in Black communities, the decisions around land usages that resulted in the citing of toxic waste dumps and all kinds of dangerous industrial processing plants in Black communities that then resulted in various illnesses from upper-respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung cancers to cardiovascular diseases and Hypertension and diabetes?
Is it anti-blackness, or neoliberal capitalist policies – austerity; privatization of public services including healthcare; escalating housing costs resulting first in the concentration of the black working class and poor and then our ethnic cleansing referred to as gentrification; the over-representation of black workers in low paying service jobs; meatpacking facilities; grocery store workers; delivery services; janitorial companies; security; nursing homes and adult care facilities?
The anti-blackness framework obscures more than it clarifies.
“Is it anti-blackness, or neoliberal capitalist policies?”
In the U.S., it is the structural relations of the capitalist economy that determine the objective realities of Black people in general and the debased conditions of Black working class and poor.
Not grounding our understanding of the social/historical conditions and experiences of our people within the context of already existing colonial capitalism is problematic. In the U.S., for example, that framing gives ideological currency to the corrupt and opportunist belief peddled by the race hustlers in the service to the Democrat Party that suggest that all we have to do is get rid of something called anti-blackness and reform neoliberal capitalism and everything will be alright. Oh, I almost forgot. Everything will be fine once we get white folks in the midst of losing their empire to give us reparations!
Not centering the generalized experiences of colonial and capitalist exploitation of the colonized eliminates the basis for solidarity among the colonized, and in the case of the U.S. results in some African Americans finding themselves on the side of U.S. imperialism.
As we have seen among some sectors of Black people in the U.S. that the struggles around Palestine, the war in Yemen, sanctions and subversion against Venezuela, expansion of AFRICOM, Syria, Colombia, even Haiti don’t even register as concerns. In fact, one can be defined as a progressive Black person and be in alignment with U.S. imperialism through silence and non-opposition.
“Not centering the generalized experiences of colonial and capitalist exploitation of the colonized eliminates the basis for solidarity among the colonized.”
My last two points:
In the U.S. Black women are now a majority of black workers. However, they are concentrated in the service industries, domestic work, care-giving – pre-schools, nursing homes, cleaning services, fast food, poultry workers. For these black workers, the cost of employment is vastly different when tasked with the responsibility of children and paying for childcare just to be able to work.
And as the primary income earner with children, it is a devastating crisis for the whole family unit when a Black woman dies or is incapacitated by COVID-19. The COVID-19 crisis for Black women workers is on top of the ongoing crisis of “third world” level infant and maternal mortality rates suffered by Black women in the U.S.
These gendered structural contradictions cannot be explained by the anti-blackness framework by itself.
Second point: The hyper-attention of “blackness” and the incessant search for the manifestations of anti-blackness among other colonized and exploited working class people of color has had a profound impact on radical organizing in the U.S. It has become exceedingly difficult to build anti-colonial and anti-imperialist solidarity among the nationally oppressed and working classes.
The examples are too numerous to cite of how pro-blackness – the internal corollary to anti-blackness, has become a convenient and opportunist framework that obscures the collaboration of specific classes within the category of blackness to align with white power in the U.S. and throughout the African world.
“The COVID-19 crisis for Black women workers is on top of the ongoing crisis of “third world” level infant and maternal mortality rates.”
But one example I will share is the work the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP). BAP is involved with building a campaign to shut down the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) and the military-to-military relations the U.S. has with the various African states run by the comprador bourgeoisie. In building opposition to this imperialist project, the anti-blackness frame obscures and distorts the class interests at play both in the U.S. among the Black petit bourgeois “misleadership” class that gives support to AFRICOM and the neocolonial rulers in Africa.
The effectiveness of the framework’s appeal is reflected in the passionate denouncements of Chinese economic activity in Africa by some Black activists while those same super-black activists remain silent on AFRICOM!
I agree with sister Annie Olaloku-Teriba who said that:
“The reactionary usages of the anti-blackness framework have facilitated the conceptual separation between domestic and international resistance.
And has “facilitated the replacement of anti-imperialist (transnational) frames of thinking with anti-racist (national) ones. The revival of racialism has been the death of genuine solidarity, shaping the political imagination of this generation of theorists and activists for the worse.”
That is why the conversation that Afro-Resistance organized today, bringing together activists from throughout the African world and overcoming the language separations of three languages – Spanish, English and Portuguese.
As black internationalists, we know the struggle is global. Decolonization was never bound by race or any other imposed category meant to divide us. Solidarity implies building beyond these colonial frameworks. It is hard work that begins with working from places of difference.
“We know the struggle is global.”
The framework of solidarity and struggle represented during this webinar can counter the class-based (petit-bourgeois) political obscurantism and conservatism of anti-blackness and keep us on the correct path of revolutionary solidarity against a common enemy.
I end with a quote from Ho Chi Minh: If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?”
No Compromise, No Retreat
Shut Down AFRICOM
All Power to the People!
*Afro-Resistance is a new formation led by women activists from throughout the African diaspora. The other participants in the webinar included, Vilma Reis from Brazil and Jesus “Chucho” Garcia from Venezuela and was moderated by Janvieve Williams Afro-Resistance Director from Panama and residing in the Bronx, NY.
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. Baraka serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Peace Council and leadership body of the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC). He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. He was recently awarded the US Peace Memorial 2019 Peace Prize and the Serena Shirm award for uncompromised integrity in journalism.
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