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The following remarks were read at the Black Life Matters conference in Tucson, Arizona, on January 15, 2015.
Good morning, everyone. I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you in person but am very glad to be part of this conversation.
My message here today is a message to the Black grassroots. I know there was some discussion about why this conference is taking place in the halls of a university or in Arizona. It may not be the best place to deliver a message to the Black grassroots but circumstances created this space and I know the organizers are committed to the conversations going beyond the halls of academia, so I share these comments in the hope that they reach Black people on a move.
Plainly, what I want to say is that we, Black people everywhere, see you and we are with you in the struggle.
It has been, for Africans outside of the U.S, significant and joyful to see the movement for Black life and dignity take hold, grow and capture the imagination in this moment there. The most recent uprisings and mass actions across the U.S have been the culmination, as I see it, of mobilizations and organizing that has been ongoing for decades and that were visible in response to the lack of government action to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, to the case of the Jena 6, of Troy Davis, of Trayvon Martin, and now of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, as well as in the attempts to build viable alternatives as in Cooperation Jackson. This moment in the movement has been triggered by the revolts in Ferguson but the movement is a movement for Black lives, Black life[i], Black dignity and Black self-determination in the tradition of Black liberation struggles. Understood in this continuum, it has been wonderful to hear Assata Shakur present in the chants in Ferguson “it is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win,” and indeed in this movement we must call out the names and organize to secure the freedom of the political prisoners that remain captive in U.S prisons for also demanding and defending Black life and dignity: Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Robert Seth Hayes, Albert Woodfox, Mumia Abu Jamal, Herman Bell, among too many others.
There has been an outpouring of global solidarity for the Black movement in the U.S by Black people in, to name but a few, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Brazil, the UK, France and from non-Black people who are also fighting against imperialism the world over, including in Palestine, where the historic solidarity between African and Palestinian peoples continues. Black people globally are claiming ‘we are Ferguson’ as an understanding of our linked fate and common oppression and in many cases because the manifestations of global anti-Black violence are so similar. In South Africa, for example, a booming prison industrial complex and accompanying State and non-State so-called ‘security’ apparatus is being established to protect capital from economically oppressed Black people (rather than protecting the masses of Black people from the violence of capitalism). In the U.S., a Black person is killed every 28 hours, and in Brazil approximately 118 Black people are murdered every day in what Afro-Brazilians are calling a silent genocide. One hundred and eighteen Black people are murdered every day!
The outpouring has highlighted not only the linked fate between us but also the asymmetry of how far the cries of indignation of les damnés carry. We have heard the cries of Ferguson echo across the globe. And yet, wherever we are we must listen hard to hear the resistance in Burkina Faso, in Guinea, in Colombia, in Sudan, in the DRC. To remix CLR James, the only place where Black people do not revolt is in the pages of the capitalist media. Just as anti-Black oppression is global and takes many forms that are embedded in systems of white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, ableist, capitalism, resistance by Black people is also global and it is all of our duties to ensure that we are seeing, listening, being inspired by one another and living our solidarity with one another.
In Colombia, Black women have been in permanent assembly in the offices of the Ministry of Interior of Giralda since November 27 as part of their fight to protect their lands and territories from mining, to end the war on their bodies and to resist displacement. In Madagascar, peasants and farmers resisted massive land grabs, their uprisings leading to an overturn of government. However, their gains are being reversed in the name of liberal democracy. More broadly, the fight against land grab in Africa is a fight for Black life and survival, for self-determined development and is a global fight for the future that we all need to be paying attention to. With the collaboration of African governments and elites, about 20 million hectares of farmland has been grabbed since 2008, using the all too familiar justification that the land is unoccupied or unused. The land claims of pastoralists, women, peasants and small-scale farmers are marginalized from formal land rights processes and access to law and institutions by the colonial framework of land ownership that favors markets and businesses. Land use that is non-commercial, including medicinal, spiritual or grazing for pasture, is ignored to make way for large-scale, high-yield ‘production.’ Biodiversity is being patented, flora and fauna commodified, and water grabbed – this is no longer the prediction of great writers like Octavia Butler but the terrifying reality. Significant public relations efforts, by, amongst others, Bill Gates in partnership with Monsanto, to persuade governments and farmers that GMOs offer the solution to food insecurity are obscuring the market-dependency that this and mono-cropping would create for already market-marginalized small scale farmers on the continent. The sustainable future that global capitalism is envisioning and aggressively creating is one in which technology beats nature to maintain the luxury of a few. Black lives and lands remain commodities and disposable. Despite the threat, communities across Africa have been resisting land grab, and women have been organizing beyond borders to claim ‘we are the solution’ to sustainable food production.
Globally, women and queer folk are resisting and building alternatives at the intersections of patriarchy and capitalism. In the U.S, I have been dismayed by the erasure of Black cis and trans women’s lives even within the Black Lives Matter movement. Where was the mass mobilization when Tanisha Anderson was murdered by the police? Where was the mass mobilization when Deshawnda Bradley was killed? Where is the movement for the sixty four thousand Black women that are missing in the U.S? On the continent of Africa, we witness the attempt to disappear Black women and queer lives and life from the very narrative of African identity. Armed with imported religious fundamentalisms, the promise of capitalist prosperity and the necessity for diversion and division, an alliance has formed to enshrine patriarchy, heteropatriarchy and transphobia into the fabric of Africa. It’s important that we not fall into the trap of asserting that oppression and oppressive practices are a manifestation of African culture or tradition. As Amilcar Cabral reminds us, culture is dynamic and perpetually being made. Culture can be used as a tool for liberation or for the purposes of domination: the choice sits with us. Patriarchy is not my culture even if the system of patriarchy dominates the practices of those around me. I choose the traditions of freedom, respect, love and self-determination that are just as much embedded in the history and practices of my people. Women and Queer Africans are choosing and creating an Africa outside of the bounds of patriarchy by mobilizing in Soweto for Pride, through hundreds of people taking to the streets of Nairobi in miniskirts when a woman was stripped naked for being indecently dressed and by demanding an end to violence against sex workers under the banner of Black lives matter.
Black people came out globally to ‘Bring Back our Girls’ after over three hundred children were abducted from school in Chibok, Nigeria in May. The response of the Chibok community and the Nigerian women’s movement sounded the alarm and spurred global solidarity from Philadelphia to London, Cairo to Dakar and Johannesburg. But our girls are still missing eight months later and many more Black lives have since been lost to the proxy battlegrounds of a global war that has been raging in a barrage of silence. When the demand rang out that our three hundred abducted Black girls be brought back, the outcome was more U.S troops with ‘boots on the ground’ in Africa. Militarized responses from the U.S are not new, but the humanitarian justification for U.S military infiltration into Africa is nonetheless duplicitous, be it in the response to ‘Bring Back our Girls’ or to the Ebola epidemic that has taken nearly eight thousand lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola became an epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and not in Spain, the United States or the UK, where there were also cases, because of systemic and entrenched impoverishment and inequalities: in other words, the differential effects of Ebola are directly tied to capitalist systems of exploitation. And it is capitalist interests that have maintained the attention of pharmaceutical corporations backed by the U.S military in the Ebola crisis, not human solidarity. Because Black lives matter we must build ways of being that disrupt imperialism, patriarchy, militarism, disrupt the entire system and sustain Black life.
Despite the unprecedented Black presence in the U.S administration, the murder, mass incarceration and impoverishment of Black people continues. Similarly, for the last fifty years, African states have had African administrations that do not serve the interests of African peoples. When there is no justice, there is just us. In this moment when the attention of so many is on the Black liberation movement in the U.S., there is significant political mileage in claiming ally-ship with the movement – the woodworks will be full. But genuine solidarity requires ‘fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives’[ii], co-conspiracy rather than empty declarations of ally-ship. Co-conspiracy will require long-term commitment, introspection, and practice. It might start with a hashtag or wearing a t-shirt, it certainly can’t end there.
I have seen, admittedly with some glee, consternation amongst sections of the Black community in the U.S around the organizing tactics and methods of the mobilizations for Black life and lives. During the uprisings in Tunisia, a communist comrade recounted that every evening he wrote an analysis of what was happening and how it was happening. Every morning he tore up his analysis. In only a few hours, what he understood felt no longer applicable, relevant or even enough to understand what was happening. The people were creating revolution. Not from a text book, the red book or any other book, but from their own experience and knowledge. Learning in action was the order of the day and a leaderfull[iii] not leaderless, movement was being created in the image of the aspirations of the people involved. It was definitely not a perfect uprising, there have been significant losses over the last four years but revolution is a process and without a doubt the uprisings changed Tunisia, Africa and the rest of the world in significant ways. The uprisings in the U.S feel similar in that they are grounded on years of organizing and part of a transformative process, they are leaderfull not leaderless and they have swept the old guard to the side to make room for the articulation of the peoples’ aspirations. In Tunisia, the call was for ‘bread and dignity,’ in the U.S it is for Black lives. Both have clear affirmations and both affirmations challenge the economic, social, and political global order in their demand.
The systems of oppression that we challenge locally are global and we have a global Black village. We have a duty not only to indict the system, to shut it down, but to build new ways of being, doing and sustaining. We must become, in the words of Assata, weapons of mass construction. Indeed, we have nothing to lose but our chains.
[i] Fred Moten makes an important distinction here on Black lives and Black life: “We need to understand what the state is defending itself from and I think that in this respect, the particular instances of Michael Brown’s murder and Eric Garner’s murder are worth paying some attention to. Because what the drone, Darren Wilson, shot into that day was insurgent Black life walking down the street. I don’t think he meant to violate the individual personhood of Michael Brown, he was shooting at mobile Black sociality walking down the street in a way that he understood implicitly constituted a threat to the order he represents and that he is sworn to protect. Eric Garner on the every day basis initiated a new alternative kind of market place, another mode of social life. That’s what they killed, ok? So when we say that Black lives matter I think what we do sometimes is obscure the fact that it’s in fact Black life that matters. That insurgent Black social life still constitutes a profound threat to the already existing order of things.” See more: vimeo.com/116111740
[ii] Samora Machel
[iii] “The only leadership I can respect is one that enables every man and woman to be his and her own leader” June Jordan, Civil Wars