A Black nation is rising: race and the uprisings of 2020
It has been over a year since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police department and the subsequent uprisings in defiance of the system that led to his death. Acronyms and slogans such as “ACAB,” “BLM” and “defund the police” that once saturated the world have seemed to disappear overnight. Day after day, month after month, year after year, the list of Black martyrs gets longer and little is done beyond the cosmetic utilization of their names within news headlines, Instagram bios and sadly, even Tinder profiles.
Black death has become a brand in itself to capitalize on. Victims’ names can be uttered for applause and used as platforms for white people across disciplines to push political agendas and cultivate followings that have no effect on the state of Black life within this country. That is to say, we Black people exist within a limbo space where we have little control over our own movement. We are told how to write, speak and act when demanding our freedom from the same entities that deal out our oppression.
What holds back the BLM movement and similar movements is a matter of consciousness. The contemporary movements for Black freedom in this country are chained by Americanisms — the desire to be and fully become “American.” What holds back our movement is that we still hold within us, either subconsciously or within our practice, the desire to integrate into broader white American society. We should not be seeking a claim to America’s colonial legacy. Black people within this country have a different founding story from settler-colonial white America. As Malcolm X said, “Our forefathers weren’t the Pilgrims. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us,” and through this understanding, we come to know that Black people are not “Americans.” We Black people within America were introduced to this land as enslaved persons, conceptualized as “slaves” to be mere mechanisms for the construction of a white European empire — a manifested destiny, rather than a group that was ever intended to share in its bounty.
After the United States gained independence from Britain, an event which only proved to be a pro-white “revolution,” Black people were still held in bondage as slaves. Black people as slaves were nonpolitical actors. They were not allowed to be present when the laws and tenets of the American government were being crafted. This is to say that Black people have always existed outside of de jure American life, colonial subjects, rather than citizens. The nature of Black people as colonial subjects was enshrined in the historic Supreme Court Dred Scott case in which the Supreme Court ruled Black people had “No Rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Even after the Civil War — America’s bloody reckoning with race — Black people were still considered by white America to be wretched entities thought incapable of embodying the so-called “democratic” principles of America. Black people, in the minds of white people, remained racist caricatures, scarred by their innate racial nature of being ignorant and bestial. Despite Black participation in the Civil War and the legal ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, Black people existed as de facto non-citizens, cast out by the dominant white America. Governmental legislation has never warranted a better integration of Black people into the broader society.
For Black collaboration in defeat of the south in the Civil War, we were promised land. This deal was scrapped immediately following the war, and promises of “40 acres and a mule” which were sworn to be appropriated from Confederate plantations withered to nothing. This great betrayal of Black people by the United States government in turn created the birth of contemporary Black nationalism, as this betrayal was the original sin from which the debt of slavery had yet to be repaid. Black sovereignty was usurped via a white lie, and in turn created a legitimate demand of Black America to have something of their own. Black people had been shoved away from full citizenship and forced to live as an internal colony of white America.
The limitations of the current state of anti-racist activism are that its goals remain assimilationist. The call for “equal rights” makes us ask, equal to who? Why is it that whiteness is the measurement of equality within American society? Why would we want to fight to be “equal” in a system that equates humanity with whiteness?
We Black people are not Americans, we are merely labeled “American” to keep us quiet and to keep us chasing a reality that is impossible to achieve. Rather, we comprise a separate nation, a separate people which demand not “equal rights’’ but sovereignty and self-determination.
We should not be rallying behind a slogan that demands our oppressor regard our humanity, but rather, we should rally behind the demand for our right to govern ourselves. We have our own dialect, music, names, clothing, values and founding history — the bedrock of a nation.
What purported allies of Black America should realize is that to aid us is not to co-opt our struggle, but to understand that you must shut up and take leadership from Black people, because ultimately this is a sovereign anti-colonial struggle rather than a shared racial problem.
The rebellions of Ferguson, Minneapolis, Baltimore or Watts were not racially motivated “riots,” but revolts against an entire imperial system which extracts life and labor from the internal colony of Black America.
In an America that is increasingly disintegrating along the racial, national and economic fault lines of its own creation, we as Black people should not be rushing to hold together the rotting Frankenstein monster of the United States that is stitched together from mutilated remains of indigenous nations and chattel slavery plantations. When the empire falters, it is not the duty nor the inclination of the colonized to keep it intact. We have an opportunity to demand something of our own and to complete the decolonization movement of the previous century.