As the surge in protests, looting, and uprising occurred several months ago, close friends and colleagues, unbeknownst to each other, asked me the same question, “do you think this is it?” By it, they were referring to a change that would fundamentally transform the society. Being known as a revolutionary scholar, I am not surprised by the question but I tend to surprise people with my answer, “it depends.” Having predicted that Donald J Trump would win the 2016 presidential general election against Hillary R Clinton, I had hoped–actually, it was more like expected–that his administration would help bring us closer to the edge of revolution. Trump’s everything you need to demonstrate what the United States is as a nation-state, society, and country: narcissistic, sociopathic, delusional, dysfunctional, unethical, irresponsible, incompetent, and untrustworthy. The United States has had presidents with one or more of these qualities in the past but Trump is the perfect cocktail at just the right moment.
The Administration of Barack Obama pacified, placated, and anesthetized much of the population on the sweet nectar of hope while perpetuating war crimes in other countries (e.g., drone bombing and overthrowing governments without a declaration of war), deporting thousands of economic and social refugees fleeing countries that the United States destabilized for decades, allowing corporate interests to attack Indigenous people and exploit their land, and refusing to create or, at the very least, support a Black agenda. Only a few in the so-called Left dared to criticize, challenge, or confront the Obama Administration. Those that did were roundly chastised. Most were caught up in the misguided and simplistic identity politics of the Obama campaign strategy–make him Black enough to get Black votes but not Black enough to alienate non-Black people or do anything substantial specifically for Black people. The fact that Obama was raised by the European-American, maternal side of his family and acculturated into anti-Blackness by them escaped more people who do not subscribe to the adage–all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.
And yet, in response to vigilante and state-sanctioned violence against and murder of Black people, the Black Lives Matter movement came to life during the Obama Administration. The term, “Black Lives Matter,” is a plea as much as it is a rallying cry. It asks anyone and everyone in earshot to value Black lives and Black people. It is very different than the chant of the 1970s, “Black Power.” In the latter, Black people were speaking to Black people to call for the exercise of Black people in the interest of Black liberation. Many of the chants associated with or emerging from Black Power carried that same spirit of self-determination: “I am a revolutionary,” “all power to the people,” and “free the land,” and “no justice, no peace.” There are definitely leaders and participants in the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) that carry that same spirit even as the phrase most commonly associated with the movement is less radical by the standards of Black radical traditions.
I say less radical because of course Black lives and Black people matter. They matter to me. They matter to the many of the members of the Black community. Asserting that Black lives matter–the lives of the descendants of the first people of the earth, first human communities on earth in Africa around Lake Nyanza–is no big feat. Only fools would not recognize that such a people matter. So the standard is and must be deeper than merely the acknowledgment that Black lives matter. The question becomes if they matter to you, then what are you willing to do as a result. And to that question, in my humble opinion, there are only two answers: reparations or revolution.
Scholars have already amassed tons of evidence that the United States was founded upon settler-colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, and capitalism woven together int a system that treated African people as chattel slaves and, after slavery, a collective threat to and sources of extracted cultural resources for the American way of life. I will not rehash those studies here because to do so would be to buy into the myth that white supremacy is a function of ignorance and naiveté rather than self-preservation. For anyone who is that ignorant in this day and age, read a book. Read Chancellor Williams’ The Destruction of Black Civilization, Jerome Bennett’s Before the Mayflower, and then the 1619 Project curated by Nikole Sheri Hannah-Jones and then come back to this article.
A clear assessment of that evidence reveals that the problem of anti-Blackness can only be solved through reparations or revolution. By reparations, I mean a process, really a set of processes that allow for:
- An assessment of what white supremacy and anti-Blackness have done to African people in the United States from the founding of the nation using slave labor through the present moment of structural violence and systemic racism in all areas of social life and activity
- A nationwide presentation of the results of that assessment including educational materials, learning opportunities, and conversations
- An accounting of the monetary value of the harm white supremacy and anti-Blackness has inflicted on African people in the United States from the founding of the nation using slave labor through the present moment of structural violence and systemic racism in all areas of social life and activity
- An allocation of funds from federal, state, and municipal/local governments as well as corporate budgets made equaling the assessed monetary value for the self-determined purposes of those African people who have been harmed or whose families have been harmed such that the psychological, psychic, social, cultural, economic, physical, spiritual, and emotional wounds from that harm can be healed
Reparations is the non-violent solution to the problem of anti-Blackness. It requires the consent of the American people through their elected representatives. For the most part, it keeps the United States as a society and nation-state intact. It is a clean and neat process, speaking relative to the other option–revolution.
By revolution, I mean a process, or set of processes whereby we tear this motherfucker to pieces. Revolution goes by another name decolonization. In his book, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist and revolutionary scholar-practitioner, theorized that “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” It is violent because revolution allows people to release the suppressed rage they’ve been carrying for generations. Oppressors experience revolution as a violence because the freedom, justice, and liberation of oppressed people is a stripping away of the source of their addictive gratification and that is, literally and figuratively, a shock to their system .It’s going cold turkey on quitting structural inequity and being at the top of a social hierarchy.
Revolution would address many problems that both the Right and Left have determined Black people have. Black-on-Black crime. Revolution solves that problem because Black people in revolution focus their attention on taking from the system that harms them what they need when they need and share their surplus with other Black people. Black-on-Black violence. Revolution solves that problem as Black people in revolution target for violence, first and foremost, those people and things necessary to bring about the destruction of the system that harms them. Depression and suicidality among Black people. Revolution drastically reduces depression as Black people in revolution turn the rage outward rather than inward and use that rage to destroy the systems that harms them and its agents.
Revolution is a violent solution to the problem of anti-Blackness. It requires the consent of Black people living in the United States and our co-conspirators but no one else’s consent. It will mean the United States as a society and nation-state will no longer exist at its successful conclusion. But what are the odds that it could be successful. Certainly after decades of the militarization of the police, rise of the surveillance state, and military spending that has provided the United States with the largest military in the history of the world by far, it is inconceivable that there could be a successful revolution in the United States. Unless you can consider that all those systems rely upon human beings to operate. How many times a day are you confronted with how poorly people do their jobs, the impact of someone without a work ethic, the fallibility of human beings, the ways in which random, unforeseen/unplanned circumstances throw off a set of intended outcomes, etc? Ever been to a post office? A state or local government office? A public school? Chaos and complexity can mess some stuff up. And Black people–a people who brought the world polyrhythm, improvisation, and ritual–are experts at chaos and complexity.
So, there are decisions to make on all sides. Each on their own timetable. A decision by one side could preempt the choice of others. Folks will have to choose wisely and before it’s too late. Have you decided yet?