Reflection on a decade of New Afrikan Movement #3, The Contradictions That Birthed The Movement Pt 2: The Gravity of Whiteness

Mar 07, 2024

In the first part of this two part essay, we discussed the reality of the U.S as an empire with a pretense of democracy. In this second segment we explore the role whiteness plays in maintaining and justifying the loot and control dynamic at the heart of the U.S Empire. 

The Development and Impact of the Loot and Control Model of U.S Empire

It's critical to understand that the “founding fathers” and those that followed in their footsteps were not monsters or evil people. They are simply human beings trying to get their needs met through domination. Calling them monsters obscures the very human dynamics that led to inhumane outcomes. It obscures the fact that our way of life cultivates inhumane needs in otherwise human people. 


Empire, like whiteness, is a drug and Americans of all genres are hooked on both. 

***Pause with that for a second. Just breathe for a minute. 


We understand that might be a hard thing to consider. You might want to just dismiss it out of hand. 


Yet we really want to invite you into considering whiteness as an understandable (though not justifiable) response to an inhumane, unreasonable set of conditions. Inhumane conditions cultivate inhumane societies which in turn socialize people into inhumanity without ever making them anything other than human... 

Whiteness is not an amalgamation of authentic European cultures but rather a race, a fictional but historically constructed political identity centered around empire, the right to comfort and control. People are not their conditioning. As Resmaa Menakem might say, whiteness, decontextualized, looks like culture but is mostly trauma twisted praxis of control. Whiteness is both a set of extractive social relationships that people of all genres can aspire to and seek to maintain (looking at you Ye)  as well as destructive imaginary kinship of light-skinned european descendent people. 

When people of european descent enact whiteness they are not evil people but human beings with an understandable (thought not at all justifiable) conditioned response to the inhumane conditions that whiteness seeks to maintain***

At the WildSeed Society we believe that all human actions can be best understood as an attempt to meet needs with the strategies known and available to us. If the system socializes us to feel unsafe unless we are acknowledged as being in control then we do whatever we can to get that social acknowledgement. No amount of shaming or social punishment will change this. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that shame will only make it worse. 

Once you truly understand this, you will see that even violence is an attempt to meet needs. As James Gilligan said all violence is an attempt at justice. That is to say, all violence is an attempt by the actor to achieve or maintain what they think is right or owed to them. 

Gilligan goes further to say that it is often an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem. We fight to defend what is ours, whether it is our bodies in the case of self defense or our sense of honor, self-worth and dignity. This can be hard to come to terms with. Yet even the worst human behavior can be most constructively explained as people trying to get their needs met through the ways that they have been taught. This doesn’t excuse the behavior but rather illustrates the mechanisms that perpetuate it so that we can stop watering those mechanisms in us and in the next generation. 

Even the white-socialized settler’s ritual violence against people raced as Black is a sickening attempt at building community through purging the other. As James Baldwin insightfully noted, the nigger is a myth created by whiteness because it needed it to justify the violence through which it acquired its land, comfort, and self-hood.

 It was a need that itself arose from the social metaphors Christian Europeans developed prior to the creation of whiteness to understand their world (metaphors of Christian moral purity and piety). This process of making a European Christendom by purging the other has its roots not just in the purging of “the heathen pagans'' of Europe but more succinctly in the consistent oppression and subjection of the Jewish eternal and internal “other.” These metaphors of purity were an active contradiction to the very unchristian-like material relationships of the settler-colonial conquest of indigenous peoples as they had been to Jewish and Muslim other. 

The contradiction between their brutal way of life and their christian ideas created a tension that they resolved by creating the self-justifying myth of race. As long as Europeans chose empire, the contradiction between the brutality of colonial expansion and their self conception created a need for a way of life that could metabolize or transform the unjustifiable violence of daily settler life in search of wealth into rituals of purity and prosperity that aligned with their own self-image.  

Eventually the outnumbered landed European elites, deeply invested in strategies of domination to perpetuate their way of life, found themselves in need of a basis of solidarity with the indentured Europeans who worked for them. This was because they  faced continuous anti-colonial indigenous warfare on the one hand and rebellions of the enslaved Africans on the other. They needed a political coalition that could survive the constant onslaught of understandable de-colonial violence unleashed by indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans. Not to mention many of them were refugees from religious wars in Europe that they hoped to escape in their “new world.” 

Thus whiteness was born as a political project based on a conception of the land owning human defined against the owned slave at the expense of the erased indigenous person and in permanent tension with the unraced Jew.  

If you tell European immigrants that the path to the belonging they crossed an ocean to seek is by holding on to land that you stole for them they will, by and large, bloody their hands to keep that property. They will, by and large, come to see colonial violence as necessary to preserve their way of life. They will, by and large, tell stories about their violence that first rationalize and then justify their behavior. They will, by and large, identify with the powerful who promise them comfort and righteousness rather than the exploited who call them murderers.

Thus, over time, the praxis of social control that the empire needed to sustain itself became rituals of Americanism. For centuries the children of European settlers were socialized as white through the reenactment of anti-indigenous violence while playing “cowboys and indians.” Lynchings were similarly communal affairs where the ears, noses and even genitas of lynched Black men were collected as souvenirs and where european children socialize (or are traumatized) into being white. 

This violence (both in actual warfare, police actions and play) has become a central American ritual to extend the comfort and land of whiteness to new generations. Anti-Black violence in particular, as articulated in Frank Wilderson’s Afro Pessimism, is the blood ritual through which whiteness reifies its humanity in an attempt to psychologically rinse blood off with blood. 

Anti-Blackness At The Heart the American Way of Life

This whole dynamic of loot and control perpetuated by empire as a way of life has been deeply influenced by the logic of slavery. In some ways, the logic of slavery is a crystallization of the three crises

Slavery is a mode of social reproduction that strips a group of people from their history in order to isolate them from a sense of belonging that would otherwise allow them to make claims of a society. It can lead to the material abundance of a society as whole that is hobbled by a grotesque and inhumane level of spiritual and cultural underdevelopment. 

As Orlando Patterson notes slavery–in every society in which it is found–is defined three things: social death,  general dishonor and natal alienation. Slavery was always seen as a condition in lieu of a death sentence (social death.) The slave could not earn honor and their achievements were often attributed to their “masters” (general dishonor.) They were also stripped of their kinship with others, of their ancestral history and family structures such that no one was able to make a claim on them for better treatment (natal alienation). 

Americans are quick to punish and many of our institutions are based on cruelty in no small part because of this legacy of slavery. (We are also quick to financialize human cruelty because of this legacy. The financial markets that now dominate the U.S economy got their start as bonds men and insures of slave traders.) 

Through rituals of lynching, incarceration and rape of Black people the impact of both the violence needed to keep the white masses in line (through poverty, strike breaking and domestic violence) and imperial violence to guarantee their standard of living (invasions of other countries and violations of indigenous sovereignty) are transformed into the brick and mortar of law and order. Through collective public rituals of violence, the shame that arises from the contradiction between a belief in Christian charity and brother keeping and the reality of empire is buried deep down through a violent initiation into a tribe that shared your guilt.

Over time that buried shame crystallizes into something darker as violence becomes a normal part of American life and mass shooters seek to convert record numbers of killing into belonging offered by the news cycle making one a celebrity (the closest thing to nobility America has).  One could write a book about how the white evangelical church substitutes the land of indigenous people for the body of Christ and blood of black people as the blood of god but that’s beyond the scope of this (already too expansive) essay series. 

Anti-Black Antipathy Becomes General Antipathy

History shows that when you spend your life treating others as if they were less than human you lose something of your own humanity. You can’t really develop as a full human being if you always need to keep your foot pressed to someone’s neck. [Important to note here that have temporarily lost full access to your humanity does not make one less worthy of human or more worthy of inhumane treatment.] 

This is perhaps clearest when you examine the rise of mass incarceration during the 1970’s and 80’s at a time when the U.S empire largely ran out of places to loot. With the decolonial struggles of the long 60’s, the U.S could no longer expand its empire through direct looting as it had in Hawaii and the Philippines in earlier periods. There were no more indigenous lands to steal and then force the descendants of enslaved people (or victims of U.S invasions turned refugees) to work for slave wages. 

Thus the system turned on itself, consuming the public institutions and infrastructure that loot had funded through a program of neoliberalism and austerity. Wages we slashed and public institutions privatized to maintain corporate profits. The great society which had built community institutions that used affirmative action to give jobs to Black and Brown people were privatized in favor of white run non-profit industries unaccountable to voters.  

Without loot to share to pacify the domestic population, empire turned more and more to policing. Often using the same weapons that it had stored up for foreign conquest it could no longer launch to quell labor disputes and rising tide of militant Black, indigenous, and youth resistance. As is often said of the 70’s, the war in Vietnam came home, courtesy  of the 1033 program

With mass incarceration jobs were created in the same rural regions that a generational earlier had moved to major urban areas to turn raw materials looted from the global south into industrial goods. With shrinking growth, Black labor, no matter how cheap, was no longer needed. It became more profitable and sustainable to warehouse Black and indigenous men in prisons than to fund a second new deal.   Tracy Huling makes this clear in hear article “Building a Prison Economy in Rural America.” 

“In the United States today there are more prisoners than farmers. And while most prisoners in America are from urban communities, most prisons are now in rural areas. During the last two decades, the large-scale use of incarceration to solve social problems has combined with the fall-out of globalization to produce an ominous trend: prisons have become a "growth industry" in rural America.

Communities suffering from declines in farming, mining, timber-work and manufacturing are now begging for prisons to be built in their backyards. The economic restructuring that began in the troubled decade of the 1980s has had dramatic social and economic consequences for rural communities and small towns. Together the farm crises, factory closings, corporate downsizing, shift to service sector employment and the substitution of major regional and national chains for local, main-street businesses have triggered profound change in these areas. 


The acquisition of prisons as a conscious economic development strategy for depressed rural communities and small towns in the United States has become widespread. Hundreds of small rural towns and several whole regions have become dependent on an industry which itself is dependent on the continuation of crime-producing conditions.” –Building a Prison Economy in Rural America by Tracy Huling

All this happened during integration fights as well. Integration spread the willingness to disinvest in public infrastructure since it now meant funding services for Black and Brown people. In a sense, America gave up on democracy as soon as the people meant all the people. Funding and people left the inner cities for the more privately funded suburbs until the inner city looked more like a reservation or open air prison–a concentration camp–for lost African tribes than the center of American life they had earlier been.

By the height of the 1980’s greed was good but new markets were drying up internationally as the whole world had by then been supplanted to the logic of capital and there were no more societies ripe for what is called primitive accumulation (turning relationships between people and the land into services and commodities.)  Thus financiers turned their sights on public assets just as community was being replaced by mass culture. Local stores were bought up by impersonal national chains that sold the same thing everywhere. Music, movies and literature were controlled by a few powerful corporations trying to sell us what they think we wanted. 

At the same time, vital public goods like national forest, the post office, weather service, community centers and even space exploration have been sold off (if not outright given away)  to feed the imperial addiction to growth. The extreme financialization of the U.S economy that started in the late 70’s has gotten to the point that banks now longer fund productive growth (i.e. investing in business that make things people need.) 85% of financial assets held by banks are now spent buying financial instruments created by other financiers. It's just money chasing money with more and more wealth being unavailable for actual production of things to meet human needs. 


We created an abstract  high tech, low touch world. 

The Rise of Black Movement


It is this dynamic that Black Movements arise from. Black movements are fueled by the contradiction between our constrained humanity within an imperial way of life and the innate human desire for recognition of our expansive humanity. The racial justice movement seeks to reconcile this contradiction by accommodating empire; by softening its edges and giving Black people an equal share of the loot. 


The Black Liberation Movement sees the possibility for resolving the contradiction in the creation of a world aligned with our memory of who we were as Africans before we were enslaved and our vision who we all could be as humans once we are truly free. 


The Movement For Black Lives  is a direct response to the U.S imperial way of life and the systems of control it necessitates. It is a response to the social death we experience when the videos of the execution of Eric Garner are played over and over again in the media. It is a response to the general dishonor we see when people love what we create but refuse honor that we created it. Perhaps most viscerally, it is a response to the fact that the cries of Mike Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, were not enough to stake a claim that her son’s life mattered. It took an entire city of Black people to rise up for society at large to notice. 


It  is also a response to general conditions under which this anti-Black logic plays out. As our comrade Reece says, its hard to organize Americans in America without dealing with American problems. So the Movement for Black Lives must resolve this contradiction of anti-Blackness and empire in context of this neo-liberal turn in which communities are being destroyed. 


It must do this despite–and because of–the crisis of unacknowledged history that leads us to not know our own past. It must do this even as the sources of our trauma are often unknown to us. 


It must speak to the crisis of belonging in the context of a high -tech world in which we have thousands of friends but no one we are close enough with to sit with us in a hospitable waiting room. It must resolve the crisis of belonging in the context of the first two generations of Black people to be sent out into a nominally integrated world that doesn’t love them. 


It must respond to the crisis of social reproduction in which the care economy–already devastated by falling wages, closed shelters and defunded public services–is destroyed by covid. It must respond to the crisis of social reproduction in which the community institutions we used to rely on are outdated, underfunded and under attack by forces of privatization. It must respond to the fact that most millennials have rarely engaged with a functional social institution so they can’t imagine one would look like under community control. 


Whenever the movement does not resolve these contradictions or give internal solutions to these crises we see it start to be shaped by them. This is where we will begin in our next essay, how the movement has been shaped by these same crises. 

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