(ed. Originally posted March 2, 2012 – here!)
Two weeks ago Occupy LA held its first Black Power GA, organized by antiracism campaigner and OLA comrade, Brother Michael Novick, staunch Occupier Nigerian-American Brother Dele, Brother Bilal Ali of LA-CAN, and Occupy the Hood / Foreclosures powerhouse, Brother Kwazi Nkrumah.
Unfortunately, OLA Media didn’t think it important to cover the Black Power GA, nor the Skid Row GA, so no livestream exists of these historic events. However, Occupy the Hood’s Shadow Media will soon be releasing reports about both. A commentator had this to say about the event and its impact on OLA:
I think it was a successful event as far as it went, focusing the attention of the Occupy LA General Assembly on the history and currency of Black resistance in the US and internationally and its impact on the possibility of liberation and transformation in society as a whole. Most of the speakers in fact objected to the concept of “Black History Month” (and the theme of the GA was Black History, not Black History Month). But this exposed the unspoken assumption that the rest of history is “White History.” As a person of fairly immediate European descent (my father came to the US from Poland as a teen in the 1930s), I have come to realize that “White History” is in fact “false history,” the propaganda inculcated by the 1%, the ruling class, the power elite, the bourgeoisie, whatever name you want to give them.
I remember the moment in college when I was talking with one of the few Puerto Rican students in the college, who told me that in Puerto Rico, they had tried to teach him to identify with George Washington as the “father of his country.” Thinking about the absurdity of that, it suddenly came to me how absurd it was that I had been taught to do the same thing.
Frantz Fanon, the Algerian psychologist who theorized about African liberation and mental decolonization from European colonialism and domination, wrote a book called “Black Skin, White Masks,” about the identification of oppressed and colonized people with their oppressor and colonizer, the internalization of their oppression. While many have come to understand that, fewer realize that “white skin” also comes in “white masks.” The very concept of “whiteness,” and the attempt to amalgamate a “white nation” in the US in particular, is rooted in colonialism racism, false consciousness and oppression, out of which “white skin privilege” grows, and the identification of working class people of European descent with our alleged “race-mates” in the 1%. This is a false consciousness, inculcated in part by a false history, the “lies my teacher (and parents) taught me,” the history of kings, emperors and presidents. White history is a false history, not only for Black people or indigenous people, but for all people, including “white” people.
At the GA, I spoke briefly at the invitation of Bilal Ali about the impact of Black/African revolutionary struggle on the consciousness and practice of people of European descent, and how my generation was radicalized by the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the world wide upsurge of anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but how, in the face of repression, many retreated back into acquiescence and compromise with the empire, into making their separate peace. This was not restricted to so-called “white” leftists by any means, but the operation of privilege, particularly white-skin privilege, was definitely a factor. But I also emphasized that people need to understand that “privilege” is a mechanism of social control, just as much as oppression or repression. When I, as a teacher or parent, extend privileges to my students or my kids, it is in order to control their behavior (in a more sophisticated and effective way) than I could simply by the threat of punishment. Prison guards and wardens extend privileges to certain prisoners. In a hierarchical, exploitative economy and society, privilege operates as a social control mechanism at and throughout all levels. What is crucial to understand is that anything you have by privilege, you possess by virtue of having surrendered your rights — what you have by privilege is your conditionally, conditioned on “good” behavior as defined by the power extending the privilege, and can be taken away at any point that power determines you have stepped out of line. Privilege is a trap, not only because it divides those who have it from those who don’t (think about the “teacher’s pet”) but because it inculcates a form of madness and illusion.
If you believe that what have by virtue of your privilege is in fact a manifestation of your earned superiority or entitlement, you are not functioning on the basis of a clear-eyed perception of reality. You may claim to oppose oppression, but if you deny the existence of the privileges that are the flip side of oppression, you cannot functionally do so.
This is not an argument for “white guilt.” That’s just another manifestation of privilege and self-pity. It’s an argument for taking responsibility for studying true history and actual reality. Privilege is not something to feel guilty about any more than oppression is. They are both social manifestations of economic and political realities that must be challenged, overturned and uprooted.
Otherwise, the Occupy movement will become one more in the long list of social movements in the US that failed to overcome its own weaknesses or effectively build on its own strengths and breakthroughs. And that is something that we cannot afford to allow to happen – the stakes are too high, the consequences too grave. The damage the empire has done and is doing to the environment, to the lives of too many people, not just in the US but globally, the destruction of elemental human rights, is too extreme.
The “We Are the 99%” slogan is a good beginning at breaking a white supremacist and white-privilege identification with the 1%, with our own oppressors and exploiters (and granters of privilege). But it is only a beginning — we must strengthen the identification with the rest of the 99%, particularly the communities of resistance that have been fighting the Empire for decades or even centuries. This involves humility and self-criticism. It means that when we get caught out acting like Occupy is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and disparaging the efforts of people who have been struggling against the rule of the 1% far longer and perhaps more effectively — as seems to have happened with the OccuPicnic in MacArthur Park — we need to check ourselves. Otherwise, as has become the case, it leads to even worse contradictions and consequences, such as calling the cops on people who are doing revolutionary transformative work.
If we don’t like the history that has shaped us and the current reality, the solution is not denial — it is to go out and make some new history of our own — a history based on solidarity and a respect for self-determination. One way to make that history (as we did with the Occupations) is by building for the May 1 General Strike. But to do so requires uniting with other radical, grassroots forces beyond the ranks of Occupy itself — which will be a tremendous learning experience. In doing so, we will inevitably make errors, but the key is to have an open-hearted, open-minded commitment to self-criticism.
Following the GA, affinity groups dealing with white privilege, racism, decolonization and immigrant rights have formed, demonstrating the power of this movement to grow, adapt and change.
The GA featured a great variety of powerful, inspiring speakers, among them:
Dedon Kamathi of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, founded by Kwame Toure (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and briefly, the BPP). Dedon was a member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in San Diego and is to this day an avid surfer and a member of the Black Surfers Association. The AAPRP sponsors African Liberation Day events every year, mostly with African Student Unions and Black Student Unions from campuses around southern CA. He hosts a radio show on KPFK, “Freedom Now” on Saturdays at 2:00 PM.
Abdul of the Black Panther Party, accompanied by Justice and Dino of The Black Riders Liberation Party all gave moving speeches talking about self-defense, police oppression, the politics of class and race, and urging Occupiers to build coalitions, and provide mutual support between the BRLP and Occupy. Their contact info is in most issues of Novick’s long-running zine, “Turning the Tide,” which people can find online at http://www.antiracist.org. They can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out videos at on YouTube and visit their website here.
The Black Riders Liberation Party is actively seeking allies to help with their community work, including food programs and after-school programs. Get involved! (Ed. in November, 2012 – the BRLP initiated the InterCommunal Solidarity Committee in Los Angeles!)
Jericho Amnesty Movement national website is http://www.thejerichomovement.com and the NY Jericho folks maintain an email distribution list of political prisoner news. The local chapter meets the third Saturday of each month at 5:00 PM at the Southern CA Library for Social Studies and Research, 6120 S. Vermont Ave., between Slauson and Gage.