Afscme Local 444, retired
"You can't have capitalism without racism"
If you haven't seen this last video from Sandra Bland take the time to watch it. What a compliment to her this video is. The intensity in her face as she is struggling to get her message across and no doubt contain the righteous anger every black person must have over this racist system we live in and what this means for people of her background. As she says in this video with regard to the Walter Scott murder who was shot 8 times in the back as he was running away form a cop, what if it was your uncle. And it's almost a daily occurrence.
The almost daily killing of black people by the police is a national disgrace of catastrophic proportions. White workers cannot be silent about this. The crisis in the urban ghettos, the catastrophic result of drug addiction and incarceration of blacks and people of color in general and the results of 300 years of slavery, a system in which a worker receives no wages and has no more rights than a chair or a horse that someone owns these are all connected. This section of the population was caste outside of society devoid of all rights given to even the poorest white male and also unable to amass capital to any serious extent.
It's insulting to tell black folk to "get over slavery" because the situation they are in today almost 150 years after it was "officially" ended is a direct result of it and the terror that followed reconstruction. Emmet Till was murdered in my lifetime.
I worked with a lot of African Americans and have some close friends and relatives from this community. The comment that Sandra makes above about believing that she would have to marry a white, (or light skinned man) to have "pretty" children struck home with me. I have a good friend of mine, a black woman who once told me the same thing, she was dark skinned and used to say she was "straight up black". It's not just that they would be pretty but they would have more opportunity to escape a life of poverty; they were right. Imagine that, imagine what society has done to someone to make them feel that way about their appearance and their position in society and themselves as human beings. It's the same forces that convince women they need the approval of a man when it comes to what beauty is. We all experience this type of oppression as workers, but we don't all experience it as a result of our skin tone. I remember first reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X and he described the certain hairstyles and appearance he took up to appear more acceptable to white society, I never forgot it. Look at all the movies and TV shows that only changed to any extent at all after the Civil Rights movement.
And we wonder why black is beautiful or the black power slogan developed. It arose as a response to living is one of the most vicious racist societies in history. It was a defense against an assault.
One of my best friends and solid union fighters I have known I first met as we were sitting in a dump truck during a lunch break at work. I was talking about socialism and class struggles and this sort of stuff. He then says to me, "What about this. What can socialism do about this?", pointing to his watch I thought. He could see I wasn't sure what he meant, "What have you got to say about black?" he said.
Lets consider what we might be thinking if white people were being incarcerated and killed daily at the same rate. The country would be in a state of national emergency if it was the case. And please don't give me that line about blacks killing blacks and cops kill white people too, don't start with blaming the victim and then wonder why your racial motives are questioned.
I know as Sandra says above, that all white people are not racists and that many of them, I would add that more than people think, are not happy with the state violence directed at African Americans and also the social conditions of the black working class that is undoubtedly a direct result of a racist society. But it's not enough to feel silently supportive, we must speak out and condemn racism in the most forceful way. We must validate their world. The numerous surveys on social and political issues that always have this big gap between blacks and whites, is not complicated, they have different experiences, society treats them differently.
As she says in this last video, it is a social issue, society treats people with white skin differently. Hell, it treats me differently having an English accent, it's fared me well with cops when I've been in dodgy situations and I can see how people give me an ear or some respect because of it. Women have a similar complaint that their opinions are not taken as seriously as a mans generally. These issues are first and foremost social issues.
I am very proud that the union I was a member of took up these issues strongly when I raised them. Most of the members that were in the meeting the night my local supported the rights of the attackers of Reginald Denny who were facing a racist judicial system were white workers. But the vast majority of us are far to quiet on this issue.
I look and listen to this woman above and she is a beautiful woman, an intelligent woman, a woman that has no hate in her but is confronting a hateful and dehumanizing system and that system took her life. In all my years I never had one black co-worker expect that I should give something up to make up for slavery or racism. I never had one black co-worker expect me or any white worker to take turns at being poor now or give up my job so that an African American could have one. Workers, no matter what their color or race, have a lot more class consciousness than that. There are a few excepts, people that want to climb the social ladder who will ingratiate themselves with racists if need be as they attack white workers, but these are rare and all groups have them
All the many African Americans I have known simply demanded, like most workers, to be treated equally and to be judged on their merits. It's an incredible insult to the people we live and work with when we refuse to validate their general concerns about society.
It is a very easy to overcome the tension that is always there in society, a tension that is imposed form without, that serves only the interests of the white ruling class, and that is to speak out openly against racism, condemn it and the history of it in this country, most importantly, the centuries old assault on African people. Accepting that society treats white skinned people differently does not hurt us, it is a recognition of what is. And it is not because the 1% like us more or because we are the same "race" because color was not a race until the ruling class of this country made it so; ask the Irish who suffered under English rule. Things have changed the 42 years I have been in this country, there is more intermarriage, more of us working together, but we cannot know those we don't socialize with, eat with, drink with. The bosses will not allow such interactions to take place in the workplace because racism is useful to them in the long run.
Blacks know that that the ancestors of the European population were poor, that they suffered, that in some cases in the Southern Apartheid system they could be worse of than slaves as slaves were more valuable. But the isolation of the black population from society and their brutal treatment is special. All they demand from us is solidarity and for us to join with them in their struggle against racism and all forms of oppression. It's a simple as that. Being silent, including not challenging other whites who blame black folks for the conditions not of their own making, won't do.