Can and should America continue to breathe if it continues to suffocate African American people and our communities?
“Leaders of grassroots black communities' demanding equality and justice are commonly perceived as enemies of the state.”
"To be Black in America and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time”. -- James Baldwin
Protests and violence erupted in at least 30 US cities in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. A white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, is charged with Floyd's murder. The officer had his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 45 seconds. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Floyd was not responsive after gasping for air and stating numerous times, “I can't breathe."
Chauvin's actions are not about law enforcement. It's about enforcing white supremacy, the foundation on which this country was built. Many black Americans see the protests as urban rebellions a continuation of black struggles for freedom and justice. Franz Fanon (1925-1961), the psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary from Martinique wrote, "When we revolt it's not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe."
The urban rebellions prompted by George Floyd's literal suffocation are a metaphor for the structural and systematic suffocating of black people throughout America. The cumulative, historical, and contemporary impact of oppression and violence visited upon black people are emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually exhausting. But, we are a resilient people.
“It's about enforcing white supremacy, the foundation on which this country was built.”
According to the Washington Post's database, tracking police shootings, since January 2015, 1,252 black people have been shot and killed by police. Many of them were just trying to live their lives. It is alleged that Eric Garner was selling single cigarettes when officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, to arrest him. Crashing into a storefront window, and tumbling to the Staten Island sidewalk Garner gasped, and wailed, 11 times, "I can't breathe." Garner’s death prompted massive protests in New York. Garner’s final words, soon echoed on the streets in dozens of American cities.
In November 2015, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was playing in a Cleveland, Ohio public park. Responding to a report of "a guy with a gun" Cleveland police shot and killed Rice less than two seconds after pulling up beside the gazebo, where he sat alone. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun.
Philando Castile, also in Minneapolis was driving home from dinner with his girlfriend when he was stopped and gunned down by a policeman in from of his young daughter. An unarmed, Michael Brown, was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri and, his body remained in the street for hours.
"Sometimes if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up." -- Huey P. Newton
Dating back to the murder of Emmitt Till, and beyond, there has been a callous disregard for the humanity and dignity of black people in general and black men in particular. Complicating the issue is the complicit behavior of many judges, juries, prosecutors, and racists police departments determined to protect their "own," regardless of the circumstances.
Additionally, most corporate-controlled media will not address the structural causes of the racism, exploitation, and oppression of black people, and very few in academia are willing to do so. There is a direct connection to capitalism and a corrupt political system bought and controlled by multi-national corporations, lobbyists, media conglomerates, and powerful financial institutions. Black and white commentators making lavish salaries are firmly entrenched and protective of corporate-controlled media. They will not or cannot address the structural complexities of these issues.
“There is a direct connection to capitalism and a corrupt political system.”
The modern capitalist world and American democracy is essentially a colonial occupant in many black communities throughout America. These communities suffer from limited economic opportunities, substandard educational systems, compromised black and white politicians, and police forces comparable to occupying armies. They are too often brutalized through racial violence and subjugation and exploited by corporate capital and power. The leaders of grassroots black communities' demanding equality and justice are commonly perceived as enemies of the state. This is obvious in the ongoing militarization of police departments and president Trump's tweet, “when the looting starts the shooting starts." In contrast, some activists in black communities see predatory lending, substandard housing, living conditions, and redlining as white-collar structural looting. In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard."
Through webs of imperialism and capitalism, different colonized and racialized black communities recognize each other, connect their collective human degradation and form relationships, some official and others unstructured, that can circumvent the divisive intentions of capital, political systems, and corporate media. These relationships are threatening to oppressive economic, social, judicial, and political structures of America. They can potentially become the foundation for radical coalitions as vehicles for organizing struggles for the revolutionary movements required to end the systematic oppression and exploitation of black communities nationwide. Consequently, local, state, and federal governments in concert with some corporate media entities are attempting to denigrate the true intentions of the protesters and frame them as "thugs and bad people.” The dehumanization of people of color in the United States is essential to maintaining the status quo.
“What I really feel is necessary is that the black people in this country will have to upset this apple cart. We can no longer ignore the fact that America is not the... land of the free and the home of the brave.” -- Fannie Lou Hamer
In popular culture, the statement "If you are not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" is often attributed to Eldridge Cleaver. However, its' religious roots probably go back to the Christian Bible, Matthew 12 verse 30: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." Regardless of the origin, the questions are: can you sit on the sidelines, and does not helping make you part of the problem? Can and will the structural oppression, racism, and exploitation fundamental to capitalism be addressed by those who enjoy the fruits of capitalism? Including but not limited to politicians, corporate media pundits, corporations, religious practitioners, and academia. Fanon wrote in, Black Skin, White Masks, "Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief."
Black Americans of all ages demanding structural change in America connect to Langston Hughes's poem “A Dream Deferred.”
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Again, Fanon wrote, "When we revolt it's not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe." Can and should America continue to breathe if it continues to suffocate African American people and our communities?
Dante J. James is an Emmy Award winning independent filmmaker, Black Pearl Media Works.
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