Archive for the 'Black' Category

Black Working Class Radicalism in Oakland

Black Panther Party members outside of a Safeway, in the East Bay, during the Safeway boycott (photo by Stephen Shames).

Historian Robert O. Self, in his book on geography, capitalism, and its affects on the Black population in the San Francisco East Bay, wrote:

In the workplaces and communities of midcentury West Oakland, African American residents forged a distinct laborite culture that blended class politics with civil rights.  Based in the Brotherhod of Sleeping Car Porters and other black railroad unions, as well as the left wing of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) on the docks and the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCSU) on the ships, this culture extended its influence broadly through the East Bay…This culture extended its reach across time.  Black longshoremen, veterans of the brutal class wars on the docks in the 1930s, articulated an internationalism that would, by the 1960s, influence Oaklanders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale as they founded the Black Panther Party.  Black leaders from the railroad unions established political strategies in the 1940s that would guide a generation of activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  From one decade to the next across the second half of the century, these neighborhoods were home to a rich range of laborite, community, civil rights, and eventually black liberation politics.

Oakland provides an excellent vantage from which to launch an inquiry into this history.  Best known as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party in 1966 and as a national fulcrum of black radicalism throughout the late 1960s, Oakland was also a major seat of African American influence in California politics beginning in the late 1940s and the home of an extensive tradition of black social advocacy and organizing.  Indeed, the generation of black activists before the Panthers developed strategies, alliances, and sources of power that profoundly shaped the political terrain of race in both the East Bay and California as a whole.  Recovering the story of that generation, men and women who achieved none of the national media exposure and fame of the Panthers and faced little of the state-sponsored harassment and investigations, allows us to appreciate both the surprising continuities as well as the jarring divergences between the activists of the 1940s and 1950s and those of the 1960s and 1970s…The long postwar black liberation movement in the East Bay featured a fluid political environment in which philosophies and strategies competed with and interpenetrated one another.  Above all, in the decades after World War II, civil rights in Oakland stood less for civil rights than for economic rights, the foundation on which black American political demands had rested since the 1930s (5-6, 12).

Reference

Self, Robert O.  2003.  American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

W. E. B. Du Bois on Imperialist Hypocrisy

W.E.B. Du Bois

In an essay titled “The Souls of White Folk,” written in 1920, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote:

Conceive this nation, of all human peoples, engaged in a crusade to make the “World Safe for Democracy”! Can you imagine the United States protesting against Turkish atrocities in Armenia, while the Turks are silent about mobs in Chicago and St. Louis; what is Louvain compared with Memphis, Waco, Washington, Dyersburg, and Estill Springs?  In short, what is the black man but America’s Belgium, and how could America condemn in Germany that which she commits, just as brutally, within her own borders? (Du Bois, 926)

Source

Du Bois, W. E. B.  Writings.  New York: The Library of America, 1986.

Fanon on Language and White Supremacy

Black Skin, White Masks

In one of Frantz Fanon‘s earliest works he writes about language and cultural hegemony:

A white man talking to a person of color behaves exactly like a grown-up with a kid, simpering, murmuring, fussing, and coddling. It’s not just one white person we have observed, but hundreds…To speak gobbledygook to a black man is insulting, for it means he is the gook. Yet, we’ll be told, there is no intention to willfully give offense. OK, but this is precisely this absence of will-this offhand manner; this casualness; and the ease with which they classify him, imprison him at an uncivilized and primitive level-that is insulting.

If the person who speaks to a man of color or an Arab in pidgin does not see that there is a flaw or a defect in his behavior, then he has never paused to reflect. (Fanon, 14-5)

Source

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008.

Fanon on Ontology and Hegel

Fanon

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), in Black Skin, White Masks wrote that:

Ontology does not allow us to understand the being of the black man, since it ignores lived experience.  For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.  Some people will argue that the situation has a double meaning.  Not at all.  The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man…(Fanon, 90)

Fanon later goes on to explain the situation of Black men and women (in the French colonies and France) in Hegelian and Sartean logic.  He explains how human beings are in constant relation to each other and how each person is in conflict with the other in order to get the other to notice her or him and acknowledge his or her existence:

Only conflict and the risk it implies can, therefore, make human reality, in-itself-for-itself, come true.  The risk implies that I go beyond life toward an ideal which is the transformation of subjective certainty of my worth into a universally valid objective truth.

He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me.  In a fierce struggle I am willing to feel the shudder of death, the irreversible extinction, but also the possibility of impossibility.  (193)

The black man is a slave who was allowed to assume a master’s attitude.

The white man is a master who allowed his slaves to eat at his table.  (194)

When the black man happens to cast a savage look at the white man, the white man says to him: “Brother, there is no difference between us.”  But the black man knows there is a difference.  He wants it.  He would like the white man to suddenly say to him: “Dirty nigger.”  Then he would have that unique occasion-to “show them.”

But usually there is nothing, nothing but indifference or paternalistic curiosity.  (196)

Also, in footnote 10 on page 195 Fanon distinguishes between his master/slave narrative and Hegel’s master/slave narrative:

For Hegel there is reciprocity; here the master scorns the consciousness of the slave…Likewise, the slave here can in no way be equated with the slave who loses himself in the object and finds the source of his liberation in his work.  The black slave wants to be like his master.  Therefore he is less independent than the Hegelian slave.  For Hegel, the slave turns away from the master and turns toward the object.  Here the slave turns toward the master and abandons the object.

Man and Brother

Source

Fanon, Frantz.  Black Skin, White Masks.  Translated by Richard Philcox.  New York: Grove Press, 2008.


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