Recently I’d run into several essays that were synergistic in many ways, at odds in some ways, and I thought I’d try to weave a few of them together for a greater understanding of the ongoing social movement that hasn’t yielded what the more radical participants and philosophers have wanted.
To begin with, I’d like to highlight some of Lorenzo Raymond’s ‘Misunderstanding the Civil Rights Movement and Diversity of Tactics’, at tacticaldiversity.wordpress.com.
The author uses as a basic framework a contretemps last year between Jonathan Chait (whoever he is) and Ta Nehisi Coates about the ‘efficacy of the black insurrection, Chait having written that regarding Ferguson, ““Property damage and looting impede social progress.” Coates had answered with this:
“The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,’” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!”
Chait had recently doubled-down with a paper on ‘right-wing backlash’, to which the author answers:
“The weakness with the thesis is not that there was no serious white backlash to the anti-racist movement, but that the backlash started as soon as the civil rights struggle began in the mid-1950s, not suddenly after the mid-60s Northern rebellions.”
Raymond offers his take on the limited gains of the non-violent civil rights era with examples, and references excerpts from Michael Klarman’s book From Jim Crow to Civil Rights.
“Klarman’s work builds on that of scholar Gerald Rosenberg who demonstrated that no dramatic change for Black liberation occurred until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The direct impetus for that law was rioting in Birmingham in May of 1963: thousands of local blacks defie Martin Luther King’s exhortations to nonviolence, set fire to nine square blocks of downtown, and sent a police officer to the operating room. The author of the most comprehensive study of President Kennedy’s civil rights policy, Nicholas Bryant, noted that
It was the black-on-white violence of May 11 – not [the nonviolence of the previous weeks] – that represented the real watershed in Kennedy’s thinking…Kennedy had grown used to segregationist attacks against civil rights protesters. But he – along with his brother and other administration officials – was far more troubled by black mobs running amok.²
Birmingham wasn’t an isolated episode; Black insurrection flared across the country for the rest of 1963 and into 1964. Sometimes it was milder than Birmingham and sometimes it was more explosive. SNCC leader Gloria Richardson recalls that in her campaign in Cambridge, Maryland, activists exchanged gunfire with National Guardsmen just a few months prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
“…burning in every city, North and South…”
“President Kennedy’s response to Birmingham is the key historical moment of the movement. According to White House tapes, the president initially thought about sending federal troops to Alabama in May 1963 with the idea of acting against Blacks if the rioting continued—not against Bull Connor. He ultimately kept the troops on stand-by. As the month wore on and Kennedy saw Black rebellion spread to Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, he eventually concluded he would have to make a major gesture of support for African-Americans. On June 11, he gave his landmark Civil Rights Address, in which he first proposed the Civil Rights Act. The Address acknowledged the role of riots:
“This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety…The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.”
As I remember it, it was Bobby Kennedy who’d changed his mind. But the thrust of arguments in his essay were meant to back up his assertion that:
“…the riots in Ferguson were objectively the best thing that happened to a movement that was already more than a year old. In August 2014, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had been almost completely forgotten by white America except as grim punchlines, while national civil rights leaders were more concerned with Chicago’s gang killings than with the national wave of police terror. Yet by December, in the wake of recurring rioting in both Ferguson and the Bay Area, the Ferguson PD was under investigation by Amnesty International, the Justice Department and the United Nations…”
Along the way, he mentions anarchist author Peter Gelderloos’s book ‘The failure of nonviolence’.
He further calls out the concern-trolling of the liberal left and even radical whites who maintain that ‘insurrection is not strategic, this is what the police want’.
“Most of the time they manage to stop short of asking “why are they burning down their own neighborhood?” –if only to be mindful of clichés—but some can’t even help themselves there. In the aftermath, Amy Goodman (seemingly channeling Alex Jones) will spread conspiracy theories on how the government “orchestrated” the rioting.¹
The respectability politics of nonviolence will return.”
I’d disagree with him on that; it certainly did seem that the National Guard stood down in black neighborhoods from what we’d seen, and there were times it seemed as though agents provocateurs did set fires. The larger point was that the tate cared far more about harm to property than it did (and does) to citizens of the Rabble Class, be they black, brown, or mentally ill.
Now Joel Northam echoes many of his sentiments in his ‘The Black Lives Matter Schism: Towards a Vision for Black Autonomy’ at hamptonintitution.org. He calls what he saw early on in Ferguson heroic youth waging war with a militarized police state armed with only bits of rubble and glass bottles, and against all odds forcing them to retreat. But immediately in Ferguson, and later in Baltimore, came the popular response of many distancing themselves from the unruly youth:
“Cloaked in a veneer of inclusiveness, it drowned out the original spirit of resistance that the rebelling youths exhibited nights before. The message was “we don’t want to be associated with them and we will ‘resist’ within the confines of rules and regulations given to us by established power”.
Then came boatloads of ‘think pieces’ dedicated to denouncing riots, looting, and so on.
“This schism between militant resistance and respectability has since become more acute. The mass movement has become amorphous, and what should have been channeled into organic revolutionary energy has dissipated under the weight of having an incoherent structure and lack of a declarative revolutionary political program that includes building international, intercommunal alliances with other Black left movements and anti-imperialist organizations worldwide. This flaw was seized upon by petit bourgeois elements, who have seen fit to reduce the Black Lives Matter movement to a “New Civil Rights Movement”, hell bent on simply effecting policy changes rather than assigning it the character of a revolutionary liberation struggle that requires a coherent strategy and a diversity of tactics for its success.”
He lauds the overall movement’s challenges to, and heightened awareness of, the status quo of institutional racism, but he totally sees the danger that the celebrities of the movement are being coopted by the MSM, visits with capitalist Democrat politicians, grant offers, and crap solutions like Campaign Zero (created without consultation to the mass base of folks who’ve been putting their lives on the line), as if the police state can be ‘reformed’ by politicians, as the movement pauses, breath held, to see what the next election will bring.
“We say “Black Lives Matter” as a reminder to us as Black people that our lives matter regardless if we’re accepted as human by white society or not, and is said as a declaration of resistance to our condition as beasts of burden for capital.
But a declaration is not enough. Neither are policy reforms, symbolic political actions and awareness campaigns. What is needed right now is an entire shift in orientation. A complete overhaul of all of the resources we have and can acquire at our disposal dedicated to the purpose of relinquishing our dependency on the economic system that exploits us; the building, maintenance, and defense of our own institutions and organs of power, channeled for the general uplift of our people, for our people, and by our people. The institutions that the state uses to oppress us must have their diametrical counterpart built by us for liberation purposes and must function to fill the void that has been left by the excesses and crises of transnational capitalism. Responsibility for the defense of our institutions rests with us, and this defense will also serve the purpose of resisting any and all attempts to put us back on the capitalist plantation.
We must strive for nothing less than the goal of complete self-determination and autonomy of African descended people in the US and abroad, working hand in hand in communal fellowship with other oppressed peoples who have their own contradictions with the power structure. Only by aligning ourselves with the international anticolonial, anti-imperial movement can success be achieved, as we represent only a little less than 13% of the national population. [snip]
“The autonomous movement explicitly rejects of the kind of separatist reactionary nationalism which is unfortunately endemic to many formations within the Black Liberation movement. It rejects the hetero-patriarchal ethos that women should be relegated to servant status. It rejects the demonization of Black queer and trans people and instead uplifts them as leaders. We hold that one immediately relinquishes the role of “vanguard” if one subscribes to Eurocentric authoritarian hetero-patriarchal standards of gender and their corresponding roles as the norm.
The movement for Black autonomy does not include coexistence with white supremacist authority in its platform. We understand that the development of a scientific, intersectional revolutionary political theory that is applicable to our specific material conditions in the US, and our development of a praxis that tangibly counters the power of white supremacist institutions that control our lives, is the difference between being victims of genocide or soldiers at war. We understand that the striving for autonomy means provoking violent reactionary resistance to our advances. We accept this. We understand that Black liberation means human liberation, so we act in solidarity with the oppressed. Long live the Black resistance. We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
A tall order, in any event, and yes, he knows that there will be incredible backlash both from the state and white supremacists.
Bobby London, writing for Counterpunch.org, writes ‘No Leaders, No Masters: We Must Liberate Ourselves’ is a bit contradictory, so I’ll just let the title stand for it.
In ‘We Will Not Stop Talking About Racism’, Martinez and Ware talk about black social activists being told and shown that ‘they’re too political’, or are taking flak for the term #BlackLivesMatter. But this is the most illustrative point of their essay:
“Still worse are black manifestations of this sentiment. For many middle class black folks, the unspoken state of being is adjustment to injustice. Their way of thinking says, “I’m comfortable in my privilege working next to and with white people–please don’t mess that up.” Oppressed people so deeply identify with oppressive conceptual frames that they fail to see that those who speak truth to power, do so from a place of pain.
The insidious nature of white supremacy is such that black and brown people will more readily identify with the feelings of the dominant group about what is being said than with those expressing truths concerning the reality of their condition. Shame is so deeply felt that moments of individual black failure are worrisome because they ‘set black people back.’ The goal implicitly articulated in this statement is white approval of black bodies and behavior.
What’s worse, many of the same upwardly mobile black folks who try to silence others are themselves in pain. They intuitively see that they are ‘othered’ by white co-workers. They are not invited to the social gatherings. They are only consulted when sports or hip-hop are the topic of conversation. And their children are sometimes welcomed to play with at the house of their white friends, but white children never visit the house of the black child. These are the concessions. This is the price of the ticket. You get access to white spaces. You get access to economic opportunity, but you are perpetually an outsider. You are never fully accepted. White Americans want cosmetic diversity without the burden of black and brown political and social consciousness. This desire for black and brown faces without a commitment to egalitarianism is widespread.”
They give examples of what ‘safe’ black women behavior, and ‘safe Latina’ behavior, then give plenty of examples of institutional tokenism, some schools that have made ethnic studies, illegal (Tucson and South Dakota ride the top of the list), textbooks removed, etc..
Items from the last Killer Kop Katch-up:
this Peace Officer’s gun fired ‘accidentally‘, thus the county DA will not prosecute him. ‘not justifiable, but not criminal’. as far as i can tell, he might as well have blown the smoke offa the end of the barrel before he holstered it, just like in the old westerns.
the man he shot might be permanently paralyzed from the base of his neck down. he will be ‘likely’ be prosecuted for his deeds, though. drunk driving and manslaughter in the death of his wife.