“If you think, like me, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it is unbiased and treats everyone fairly, I guess you can use a catchy slogan, like ‘Defund the Police ”, but, you know, you lost a large following as soon as you say it.
The above quote is from an interview former United States President Barack Obama gave to Snapchat’s Good Luck America.
If there are to be rulers – and rulers on equity – they should not be men who once presided over an imperialist state. There is no fairness in the drone strikes, evictions and detention, the attempted slaughter of democratically elected leaders or being the primary custodian of the theft of colonial lands and the institutional violence that exposes indigenous and black populations at the greatest risk of succumbing to poverty and police violence.
It is problematic for the former president to play the role of communication sage when his own slogans of “hope” and “change” have not proved sufficient to meet hopes of an end to torture and deaths in custody. Or modify in a satisfactory manner the discriminatory systems of sanctions and confiscation of civilian objects. Or thwart the efforts of the successful administration, less concerned with racial fairness, to resume a series of death row murders via the resumption of federal executions or the deliberate mismanagement of a pandemic that kills in such a way. disproportionate amount of non-whites.
The problem is also to associate the articulation by the militants of a program aiming to immediately get rid of a classist and historically anti-black institution and to neutralize it with a marketing strategy.
Much worse, however, is Obama’s work to reinforce the myth that campaigns for the survival of blacks must, above all, strive to present themselves in the best light to invite society at large. A larger society is the problem.
The course of history is often changed by small groups of like-minded people. The Combahee River Collective, Black Panthers, MOVE, small slave cells overturning the wagon of slaves en route to transport them as cargo to a plantation. If these groups let go of the truth they felt in their bones, if they adjusted their message to fit larger sections of society, they wouldn’t have been as effective as they were.
The work of black radical freedom is directed against mainstream society. What this society has been conditioned to find acceptable, what it finds pleasurable, what it finds justified, and the limits of what it thinks is possible is our problem. We are not getting to a satisfactory place by conforming to or approaching anti-black society.
If all black movements adjust their language as Obama suggests, there would be no trace of our truth, nor of our fundamental and passionate disagreement with the state of affairs. The radical and pure and simple imagination of blacks of a future without anti-darkness would be erased from history. The only record we would have of our dissent is sheepish pleadings to a racist society, harmlessly reduced to fragile liberal ears.
There is no audience that would be awakened from the edges of their seats by a clever and well-crafted motto. None of them who weren’t already making their way to the front lines as soon as they heard about George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, or the Zong massacre. It is not so much that our demands risk losing a large audience, but the general public showcases our struggle. We have too much confidence in the revolutionary will of those who respond to the ten-thousandth racist murder with “it’s so sad”.
Obama himself admitted that he was the type of person to read Frantz Fanon and Gwendolyn Brooks not for what they mean to our lives, but to take women. In this, he models the fleeting and parasitic interest in the intellectual work of radical black thinkers which is not always convertible to useful activism.
One wonders if Toni Morrison could have gotten out of their photographed embrace if she knew that Obama may have sprayed the CliffsNotes from his novels all over himself like cheap cologne.
The great white whale that sustains black lives will always prove elusive. Polls have shown that increasing support for the uprising against racist killings is a pipe dream, which disappears almost as soon as it becomes measurable. Those genuinely affected by George Floyd’s death in a life-changing way are now radical and will not be sidetracked by what some may feel like too angry singing or too impractical request.
Those, on the other hand, who were pushed by the swell of crowds forced to sit down and watch an eight-minute and 46-second murder so bluntly discriminatory that it weakened, for a moment, their “bad apple” apologies. And the transparent calls for retraining are now dissipating with relief with this crowd returning to their established places of faith in “America, the fundamentally good”. Devoting your talents to the work of recovering them is a foolish task.
Instead of appealing to the people who can always take a little more violence against the black state, it may be better to rally those who have had enough. Those who are not moved by the effectiveness of the slogans but by their distaste for institutionalized and constantly legitimized white supremacist violence.
Liberal support is not essential to the cause of black freedom. In fact, liberalism is one of the most effective tools to keep black liberation at bay. It glorifies the peaceful expectation of justice. Even dogs are not invited to sit while being abused.
And these are the liberals that Obama has in mind when he talks about a potential audience. As the man who had his effigy lynched and is branded a hateful American terrorist more than anyone alive, he knows better than anyone that the Tories don’t come, no matter how deferential, how many times magnanimity is executed. , or how many times a black hand reaches “the other side”.
Maybe slogans designed to save our lives shouldn’t be designed primarily for other people. Perhaps straightforward and straightforward statements have a longer longevity, provide greater comfort and inspiration to those they are meant to serve than those watered down to please an ambivalent audience on the issue of justice.
The black-fisted songs of “Black Power” may, in the end, turn out to have done more good for the cause of freedom than “keeping hope alive”. Maybe #landback addresses a specific injury, acts for material reparations, and is a necessary break through the colonizing culture that has trained its youth to chant “this land is your land, this land is my land”.
The bugle sounded but the Liberal reinforcements did not come. Instead, they pretty much got on with their lives, save for the occasional nod to the phrase “the country is taking a racial toll.” A phrase that suggests that the demand for “responsibility” is the equal and opposite reaction to the half-millennium of anti-Black asphyxiation of a hemisphere.
It is not clear how we would arrive at a criminal justice system that treats everyone fairly in a country where half of the electorate voted for the re-election of a white supremacist administration. Some of those 73 million are senators, directors, presidents of police unions, security guards, judges and correctional officers. They are no more likely to be interested in an equitable society than the segregationists and confederates of yesterday whose monuments they fight to preserve.
Revolutionaries, when white, are presented as role models by politicians like Obama. Even when their “catchy slogans” are much more aggressive, polarizing and threatening than “Defund the Police”. Patrick Henry “Give me freedom or give me death!” was probably not greeted warmly by British loyalists and yet it is praised.
Of course, the blacks he enslaved and whipped had just as much right to be just as energetic. Certainly, the protest against the “general mandate” which gave British colonial administrators the right to ransack through settler homes can also be adopted by blacks against the institution these settlers created. Whoever kicked in Breonna Taylor’s door and fired. The one who gropes teenagers against cars and stops and searches vehicles of blacks who seem addicted to turning off taillights.
Obama’s implication that substantial change only comes after a door-to-door campaign and the recruitment of those who have shown a fleeting interest in black survival is not supported by historical evidence. It is a nationalist myth. One who cries out that we are together in this same American people instead of bearing witness to society as it is: a concatenation of local struggles, warring classes and interests, historical patterns of discrimination and disinterest strong and popular for justice for blacks.
The Liberals are not coming. Their war horses will never leave the stable, regardless of the flowery invitation. We would do well to stop listening to Obama and engage in an uncompromising struggle for freedom.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.