An injury to one is an injury to all
By Rathi Ramanathan
Hailed by Dr Cornel West as “the most sophisticated and courageous radical intellectual of her generation,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor brings a political sharpness to the progress of Black Liberation to many of us who follow and support the Black Lives Matter movement from outside the United States.
Her first book – released earlier this year – entitled From #BLACKLIVES MATTER To Black Liberation is a must read for people of colour here in Australia. Why? Because the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement of Australia was inspired from the Black Movement. But more importantly, it resonates deeply with the contested and political narrative by ideologues surrounding the continued oppression of Australia’s First Nations.
The book explores why the movement, marching under the Black Lives Matter slogan, has emerged under the nation’s first Black president. Police brutality is not new phonomenon; it has existed in some form or other since the abolition of slavery. But it was, ironically, never a priority for President Obama, who believed any evidence of strong support of issues pertaining to the oppression of African Americans would lend himself to criticisms that he did not represent all Americans, just African Americans. This point of view not only defies logic, but is evidence of a classic shift to opportunistic politics that unfortunately many successful Black leaders and elites have similarly taken in the post civil rights era.
The Black movement was the nexus of social protest throughout the 1960s, and Dr Martin Luther King recognised this in the months before he was killed.
“In these trying circumstances, the Black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of the Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws- racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”.
As rightly pointed out by Taylor, this nexus continues to exist and is equally relevant today in examining the post civil rights era across western democracies; with the State continuing to operate in the interests of the elite, and the corporate sector. But now it comes with a different twist, the cooperation of the new Black political class and closer to home in Australia, a small but growing Aboriginal political class.
An important contribution of the civil rights and Black Power explorations of the era was locating the roots of Black oppression in the institutional and material history of the United States. The high point of this recognition came with the publication of the Kerner Commission report which plainly stated that “white racism” was responsible for Black poverty – “White society created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
In Chapter 2 of her book, Taylor examines the origins of ‘colourblindness’ as an ideological tool, initially wielded by conservatives in the Nixon era to resist the growing acceptance of ‘institutional racism’ as attested by the Kerner Commission report as the central explanation for Black inequality.
“American exceptionalism, culture of poverty, mutually reinforcing concepts used to explain the persistence of Black poverty while deflecting attention away from the systemic factors rooted in US history as a settler colonial state that came to rely on slavery as its dominant mode of production”, argues Taylor. Indeed, the continuing pursuit of cheap and easily manipulated labour did not end with slavery; instead shifting concepts of race were utilised by the political class to explain Black inferiority as the central explanation of Black inequality, while absolving the State of any culpability.It is the rhetoric used to explain United States as the place of unbounded opportunity, freedom, and democracy – although the the vast majority of African Americans have not enjoyed equal outcomes of its White counterparts despite opportunities like affirmative action.
Historically, the insistence that Black deprivation is rooted in Black culture and in Black people has deflected attention away from the systemic roots of racism, compelling African Americans to look inward instead of making demands on the state and others. Successful African Americans have now accepted the explanation of “culture” and “personal responsibility.”
Case in point: “President Obama was reluctant to offer or support a Black agenda: he also played a destructive role in legitimizing the “culture of poverty” discourse. At a time when the entire western world was pointing to corrupt practices on Wall Street and illicit gambling in global financial markets as the causes of global slump, there was Obama blaming Black fathers and Black parents not reading to their children at night for the absence of secure work and stable home lives in Black communities.”
Here in Australia, culture too has become loaded. While the progressive side of politics continue to see cultural safety as a key principle to be respected in progressing self determination for our First Nations, the Right side of politics have bandied culture for problems ranging from drinking to sexual violence.
I was astounded to hear a coworker tell me that the death of the late Aboriginal singer Dr G Yunupingu could have been avoided if not for the culture encouraging heavy drinking.
This person insisted if he had been White, his fellow white friends who have ensured that he was taken to the hospital instead of being encouraged to not receive treatment for his medical condition. My response that White musicians have also been reported to suffered overdoses seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Returning to Taylor’s book, I was particularly struck by her thinking around using the language and framework of privilege which has now become mainstream. Taylor finds the term unhelpful in fighting inequality. Privilege is about explaining differences and frameworks like intersectionality situates a black working class woman differently from her White counterpart as she will experience a harsher oppression. However Taylor argues the casualisation of white supremacy is crude broad stroke and only alienates whites who are oppressed.
“Liberals ( dems) don’t provide a credible alternative to this uniquely American cruelty when they parrot the same contempt by reducing the experiences of ordinary white people to “privilege” in ways that do not resemble and certainly do not make sense of the actual experiences of working-class white people. Any effective movement needs to locate and address oppression -be it from corporations, power, class and authority.”
In conclusion, not only was the Black movement a threat to the racial status quo, but it also acted as a catalyst for many other mobilisations against oppression. From the anti war movement to the struggle for women’s liberation, the Black movement was a conduit for questioning American democracy and capitalism.
“Racism in the US has never been just about abusing Black and Brown people just for the sake of doing so. It has always been a means by which the most powerful white men in the country have justified their rule, made their money, and kept the rest of us at bay. To that end, racism, capitalism and class rule have and will be interwoven in such a way that it is impossible to imagine one without the other.” Go Taylor.
Between 2 worlds – Russell Irving
Remote Indigenous communities, destitution, sex offender, the intervention, poverty, violence, alcohol, drug abuse, sex offender, the intervention, powerlessness, despair
A ceremony held since the dawning of time
family groups travelling hundreds of miles across potholed tracks in broken down wrecks
Gathering in their hundreds, housed, fed, loved
Sisters and mothers and daughters and grandmothers and aunties preening, sharing, laughing, gossiping
Glistening, proud, muscular sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers painted, gliding and stomping
singing spears quivering
Certain of who they are where they belong
Shaking the earth, calling the ancestors
holding at bay a fractured calling from the west
Night time as dark and silent as our imaginations allow
Night owls, crickets, winds of eternity and loneliness
Kept at bay, placated by clap sticks and ancient voices across ancient lands
biding time,welcoming the dawn
finally a ritualistic cleansing is enacted, a baptisimal rebirth re-affirming all that is eternally eternal
traditional obligations in contemporary lives
beacons for navigating two complex worlds.
READ ABOUT WORKING CROSS CULTURE IN WADEYE FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A TAMILIAN.
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