In the wake of the terrorist attack in Charleston North Carolina, I am amused by the outrage of my (mostly Jamaican) counterparts, who just a week ago engaged in finger wagging at the African American community as they protested against racially biased extra judicial killings by the police. Why are they burning down their own communities? There must be a way to address the issues through the system? Why can’t they just be peaceful? Some even went as far as to praise the lord for their mixed heritage and its civilizing effect, signaling African heritage as the source of barbarity, just like the good little colonial pupils we are.
The hypocrisy is blinding. Amusing at first, but then completely aggravating. We trample on the graves of heroes who literally burnt cities down for our freedom. As we celebrate our heroes, the faces on our money, I am reminded of how many of us, had we lived during the era of Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle, would have sold them out to massa and given them a strong talking to before watching them hang. How quickly we forget the impossibility of working through systems that were designed to oppress. How quick we are to accuse our brothers and sisters in the north of irrationality and barbarism. We feign knowledge of what life is actually like for African Americans, because after all “I lived there for such and such years and never encountered any racism…so”. A thorough investigation of the circumstances under which Americans actually live would require too much effort, and most importantly, undermine our view of ourselves as exceptional (more on this later).
This is us. Burning shit down.
Perhaps you might say, this is not comparable. It is after all 2015, and most reasonable people denounce slavery as an absolute evil. There are systems that we can work through for change.
This response would show a lack of understanding of America and American racism. Firstly the subjugation of black people in America did not begin and end with slavery. American racism continued to be socially, legally and institutionally embedded long after slavery. African Americans have had to live through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Ronald Reagan (whose war on drugs is directly responsible for reinforcing a racial justice system and policing and whose ‘welfare queen’ stereotype persists even in the face of the evidence).
Historically, loss of property, pain and economic consequences are the only things which have caused oppressive systems to change and adjust. Economic sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa combined with organized, armed and violent resistance by Umkhonto we Sizwe, are the real reasons for that system’s demise. White people did not suddenly have a change of heart.
I am not endorsing violence as a first resort, but I am acknowledging the pain of the oppressed and the fact that violence is historically an effective means for an oppressed people to gain attention for their cause.
I am often baffled at the lack of empathy from West Indians for the plight of African Americans. For decades African Americans have been screaming under the crushing weight of American racism, which is institutional and pervasive. Yet only when it smacks us in the face, as in the case of Charleston, or when Jon Stewart, a white man, says the same thing African Americans have been saying for centuries, only then do we believe.