“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream, I see an American nightmare.” --Malcolm X
The nightmare continued for the family of Michael Brown with the grand jury decision that police officer who shot him to death would not be indicted. “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions," said the family. "We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch claimed the “physical evidence” did not merit indicting Darren Wilson. But the evidence was clear: an armed white cop executed an unarmed Black teenager.
The Attorney not only blamed Michael Brown for causing his own death, he also blamed the community for fabricating stories and interfering with the truth. But it was only sustained mobilizations that forced the grand jury in the first place, and that shone a light on the epidemic of racist police killings. Since Michael Brown’s death another police officer in St. Louis killed another unarmed Black teenager, Vonderrit Myers, shooting him 16 times.
Sustained protests in Ferguson, with solidarity across the country and around the world, also showed the degree to which the state will use violence to maintain “order,” including riot police, tear gas, rubber bullets, curfews and the national guard. This violence, and the crimes they enforce, are not being punished.
When President Obama said “there’s never an excuse for violence,” he was targeting the victims of violence, not the source of violence. In his address to the nation he claimed “we are a nation built on the rule of law” and that “nobody needs the police more than poor communities with higher crime rates.” But the police are the major source of crimes against poor and racialized communities, to enforce a racist system. SWAT teams were first created to attack the Black Panthers, who were resisting racist police violence.
The situation is no different north of the colonial border. Canada was founded on genocide against Indigenous people and has its own history of slavery. The Canadian police continue to target racialized communities—like the killing of Sammy Yatim last year, and Jermaine Carby last September—and the police response to the G20 protests in Toronto show how the Canadian state also uses violence to maintain an economic “order” that only benefits the 1%.
Many hoped the election of the first African-American president in the US would put an end to racism. But as Angela Davis wrote recently, “Although racist state violence has been a consistent theme in the history of people of African descent in North America, it has become especially noteworthy during the administration of the first African-American president, whose very election was widely interpreted as heralding the advent of a new, postracial era. The sheer persistence of police killings of black youth contradicts the assumption that these are isolated aberrations. Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, are only the most widely known of the countless numbers of black people killed by police or vigilantes during the Obama administration. And they, in turn, represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes.”
The origins of racism
It can seem like racism is timeless, but for most of human history people lived in egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies where there was no systemic oppression. The development of agriculture led to a surplus and an economic class that emerged to control it. The rise of class society based on exploitation saw the first forms of slavery, but these were not based on racism.
As the Trinidadian Marxist CLR James explained, “Historically it is pretty well proved now that the ancient Greeks and Romans knew nothing about race. They had another standard—civilized and barbarian—and you could have white skin and be a barbarian and you could be black and civilized.”
Racism did not produce slavery, the trans-Atlantic slave trade produced racism. As Karl Marx wrote, “The colonies secured a market for the budding manufactures, and, through the monopoly of the market, an increased accumulation. The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder, floated back to the mother-country and were there turned into capital.”
The US colonies exploited black slaves and white servants, who often united in struggle. The state responded with segregation laws and a racist ideology to divide the resistance. As the slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass explained, “The hostility between the whites and blacks of the South is easily explained. It has its root and sap in the relation of slavery, and was incited on both sides by the cunning of the slave masters. These masters secured their ascendency over both the poor whites and blacks by putting enmity between them. They divided both to conquer each.”
Dividing the 99%
This explains the persistence of racism after the end of slavery, as a central tool for capitalists to divide workers. As Marx described, “Every industrial and commercial center in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude toward him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland. This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”
We can see how the Canadian ruling class artificially keeps racism alive to benefit its agenda: racism against Indigenous people to justify taking their land; Islamophobia to justify wars abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home; anti-migrant racism to increase the rate of exploitation of migrant workers, and scapegoat refugees for cuts to healthcare. Meanwhile the police continue to criminalize the Black community, from carding to shooting, to justify the structural violence of poverty and the physical violence of the police. State-sponsored racism encourages individual acts of racism, like the racist flyers scapegoating the Sikh community for austerity.
Solidarity against oppression
Capitalism depends on multiple forms of oppression—racism, sexism, disability oppression, homophobia and transphobia—to increase exploitation and divide resistance. To unite the 99% we need to support every liberation struggle—including Indigenous communities defending their land, migrant workers fighting exploitation, Muslims defending civil liberties, and the Black community challenging police violence and the real crimes of capitalism.
The victories over Apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the US, led by blacks and with broad support, showed how multiracial strikes and protests can defeat racist policies, and link social and economic demands. As the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, explained, “The dynamic that has motivated negroes to withstand with courage and dignity the intimidation and violence they have endured in their own struggle against racism may now be the catalyst which mobilizes all workers behind demands for a broad and fundamental program of economic justice.” The ongoing fight for a higher minimum wage and unionization, which disproportionately affects and is led by communities of colour, is a continuation of that fight.
The working class unites all oppressed groups in society, and has the economic power to bring capitalism to a halt and to build a new world based on peace, justice and equality. A better world is possible. Black and white, unite and fight!
Join the rally "Black lives matter--Toronto peaceful protest action", 6pm tonight outside the US consulate