Category Archives: Anti-slavery

Reverse Logic: No ‘God Bless America’ But Damn America for Its Deeds

It’s as if a moral and cultural bomb has been detonated now that this guy tweets and says things not allowed in school. I have youth in my ‘behavior room’ saying stuff right from the president’s mouth. These words and statements we do not allow children to say in school. Racist and sexist and anti-disabilities things, we don’t tolerate but the president is spouting off these horrendous statements. I’ve already got my hands full with young people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities that put them in the behavioral and defiance categories. With Trump, my caseload of high school youth spouting off hate and racist comments is skyrocketing. – said a social worker/counselor at a very big high school near Portland, Oregon

So the beat goes on, as Americans try and handle the boorish and perverted nature of a billionaire (sic) with some absolutely shady and possibly felonious history. He’s an easy mark, really, Trump, and he is not the president of the USA, in any sense of the George W way, if you barely delve into the voter fraud deployed by his conservative, wacko-Zio-Christo henchmen. Simple facts, and I guarantee, if I brought up these facts as a teacher to my youth as a social worker, and if they went back to mamma or papa or my bosses, I would get sacked.

Because, liberals only pout and pucker their mouths and touch their cheeks in abhorrent shock when something slightly right of their middle of the road sensibilities get ruffled.

This country is in the 17th Century, in many ways in the Dark Ages, when it comes to almost EVERYTHING, and our voting, vaunted in the minds of our own leaders as the number one system in the world, well, it’s as corrupt and flawed as can be on many levels, the least not of which is teaching all children that politics is not for them or bad and to stay un-involved with City Halls and State Legislatures.

Greg Palast has covered all sorts of the shenanigans of this country’s most recent voting crimes:

Unlike the rest of the world, the U.S. and the [local] sites are not swift at all to publish the votes that never get counted or the votes that they rejected. It’s huge — the number of provisional ballots in this election will number in the several million … the number of rejected absentee ballots will number in the several million.

Keep in mind that chance of your vote spoiling — that is, you cast it but it doesn’t get tallied — is 900 percent higher if you’re black then if you’re white. And that’s the [U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’] statistical analysis.

So, in that case, we’re looking at… from the experience of looking at the Arizona numbers, previously — and I can go back, there are other purge numbers, and provisional ballots — there is little doubt that Arizona is basically decided not by votes but by votes not counted, or the people turned away from the polls or purged from the voter rolls.

Same with North Carolina. Michigan. North Carolina … without question Michigan, without question Arizona, without question Florida. Probably — I don’t want to go out, because I’m looking at preliminary numbers — I would say probably North Carolina, and possibly Ohio. And, of course, we haven’t looked at Minnesota yet. But I don’t think there’s any question in these states. Pennsylvania.

This is how this country rolls, though, with Botoxed on-the-air non-news deliverers confused, lusting after Hell-fires in the night, clicking tongues about the most innocuous things, absolute reflections of education – journalism-communications schools – gone really bad at the colleges they supposedly attended. Plus, the detritus that is the Democratic party, Hillary lovers, spouting absurdities around Russia changing-affecting-influencing-making the election of this, what appears to be, a fourth-grade reading grade level New Yorker to the US presidency. All this misdirection and miseducation plugging up the emotional-intellectual and religious pipe work that is the collective American toilet system of consumption.

This high school social worker and I talked about two of my youth on my caseload, and in the end, the many youth he is working with, well, young white boys, fidgeting and twitching, they are not all there, so to speak. All these burgeoning yearly populations of special needs youth, creepily vapid and vacant – and this is coming from me, someone who’s worked in prisons, recovery centers, homeless programs, memory facilities, day programs for adults with significant developmental disabilities.

Get into the bowels of our school system, of how wrecked many youth are, and how many are teetering on disaster or criminal injustice interludes, and, well, we have to wonder what exactly is in the water, Marge? What is in those skyscrapers full of Cheetos and those billions of ounces of Coco Puffs and lake-size vats of Red Bull?

To say that Trump is Bandito Numero 45 is as absurd as saying Bush was voted in legally as The 43rd Made Man, yet I have people yammering away – some on DV and Counterpunch – saying, to “get over it . . . the American people have spoken and voted in this Mafia-connected Donald!” And, the power of voter suppression to put in some racist, thug, pro-war, anti-social services, pro-tax theft for the elite senators and representatives guy named The Donald? Do we spend time asking that one?

Bishop William Barber, II: Yeah, I’m very concerned that while we should focus on the Russian hacking, but that we’re missing that the greatest hacking of our system was racialized voter suppression. Let me give you some numbers for your audience.

Eight hundred and sixty-eight. That’s the number of—the number fewer, that we had 868 fewer voting sites in the black and brown community in 2016, black, brown and poor community.

Twenty-two. Twenty-two states passed voter suppression laws since 2010. That’s where 44 senators were represented, over nearly 50 percent of the United States House of Representatives. And at least 16 or 17 seats in the Senate—rather, in the House, probably would not be where they are partisan, if it was not for voter suppression.

Today is 1,562 days—1,562 days since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of ’57 for one day. This Congress, under McConnell and Ryan, has filibustered fixing the Voting Rights Act for 1,562 days. We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting.

So it is amazing to me that we’re having a conversation about Russian hacking, but we’re not having a conversation about racialized voter suppression, which is systemic racism, which is a tool of white nationalism, which is a direct threat to our democracy.

Yet, this country is flummoxed daily with the false flag shooting in Vegas, with the impending three months of unfettered mass consumption, as Homo Retailopithicus charges those neurons to feed the financial shekel collectors in this country of service workers and shoppers.

In Salem, recently, I was one of five male social workers in a group of 60 female social workers. It’s clear I am in the business with broken people, and I was only one of two men speaking up, and confronting the sexism and some really loopy thinking by several Trump female social workers.

We have 16 to 21 year olds, in foster care, and my job is to connect them to school, connect them to their own untapped abilities, to show them life outside of homelessness or the drudgery as burger flipping. There’s a hell of a lot more that we do, and in any given week, there’s some real life changing things I precipitate. Way outside any rotten feel-good TED Talk mumbo-jumbo. Real life saving stuff, too.

So, one of the more senior social workers tried to put her racist, sexist, fourth grade Trump spin/logic to work – the state is tracking our youth who now, over a twenty year span, are in larger numbers working in their teens. This yahoo stated, “It’s because of our great president Trump. He’s helping Oregon’s economy.”

Well, Oregon’s economy has been on turbo charge for five years, and there are hard, toiling jobs in logistics – warehouses – that need backs and brawn. Lots of part-time and temp jobs. And, those 111 people moving into this place a day, well, they need their Krispy Cremes and Carl’s Juniors like the rest of US of Israel. Plus, the world of foster youth is filled with financial obligations, in the legal arena, debts tied to charges and crimes, and in many cases, they owe for bad debts just trying to survive. Some owe child support. Plus the school debt load, is that a real great prospect in young people’s lives, a college degree to serve lattes? The cost of rentals in Portland area are akin to San Francisco’s, so, just to take a shit and burn a bagel and lay out a twin mattress costs big time. If Trump indeed has anything to do with youth in Oregon opting to work in greasy fast-food joints over choosing to go to community college to be pharmacy techs or welders, it would be his ilk’s anti-education, anti-smarts, anti-trades mentality that pushed them into minimum wage hell. Of course, I pointed this out, and my fellow female social workers, many of whom are Hillary Lovers, they gave me as big of a stink eye for confronting this senior social worker as I would have gotten if I had told them how criminal Clinton and Obama are.

This is the magical and see-hear-speak no evil thinking that has taken over the white race in the whiter liberal camp, and it has decayed youth from the inside out. Truly. White social workers go on and on about LGBTQI and sex trafficking, but they nary say a word against the pigs-cops murdering black and brown people or the evil that surrounds them and is them in the form of the industrial military complex.

America murders daily, nanosecond by nanosecond, and we have to talk about which restroom is appropriate for this or that self-identified young person.

It’s the Rachel Maddow and Oprah Winfrey Effect, and the Marvel Comic Hollywood Effect, and the denuding of adult thinking and adult action that comes from a society that is perpetually hooked to the IV drip of college/pro sports-Disney-All-You-Can-Eat-Buffalo-Wing Mondays and Thursdays. It’s the very seed gone weedy from years of mind control by Madison Avenue and the perversions of lies as truth, make-believe as history, a red-white-blue belief that there is some hard-assed Rambo God looking over the USA.

Even the Trump haters can’t rise to the occasion and shake out the crows eating the eyes of our youth from the thrushes that represent a country that is afraid of its own shadow, its own bankers, its own police force and its own military.

Trump, right:

David Cay Johnston: Well, Donald Trump is not at all who people think he is, and I’m very surprised that conservatives are embracing him. For example, Donald’s most famous building, the Trump Tower, instead of building it as a steel girder building, he chose to build it out of concrete, a 58-story—he says 68 stories—a 58-story concrete building built by a company called S&A Concrete construction. And who owned [S&A] construction? “Fat Tony” Salerno, the head of the Genovese crime family in New York, and Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino family. Trump used the same company for other projects that he built, even though they were more costly than using steel girder construction.

When he tore down the Bonwit Teller building to make way for the Trump Tower, he had about a dozen union house wreckers on the site and about 150 Polish workers, all of them illegally in the country, who he paid $4 to $5 an hour and who did not have hard hats. And Trump claimed in a lawsuit that he had no idea that these workers were there in any way other than an appropriate way. And a federal judge mocked him, pointing out that they were easy to spot because they were the ones who had no hard hats.

Donald’s personal helicopter pilot, Joseph Weichselbaum, was a convicted major cocaine and marijuana trafficker whose criminal case landed before, of all people, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister. Now, Judge Barry recused herself, but she also, in the process, made every other judge in the federal system aware of the sensitivity of this particular case.

And in addition, Donald Trump has been found in the past repeatedly to have not paid people he owed money to. It is a standard business practice of his. He has let people think that he fixed Wollman Rink in Central Park for free. He was paid $10 million, but some of his contractors were never paid, because he told them this was a public service project. And he’s been sued innumerable times for racial discrimination of his businesses. He’s been found to have engaged in racial discrimination. He’s not at all who he appears to be.

Which is an understatement and the defining characteristic of ALL corporate heads, ALL politicians who self-identify as money-groveling products of the interlinked (matrix of) lobbies that get perfectly good Christian and Orthodox Jews to turn into prostitutes for the war-toxin-structural violence Kingpins.

Think hard about the absurdity of a Putin Pushing the Levers of All Those Ballot Boxes. Think of that, and the continual attack on his dictatorial nature, and how great those Pussy Riot freaks are in the scheme of things. This is from a country of perversion – drone joystick killers, flyovers during football games, false flag operations and PBS propaganda shows on Vietnam and America’s Illegal War on Vietnam. Putin as the bad-guy, controlling leader. From a country that hired Obama, this multi-million dollar tin soldier for Wall Street. This is a country based on Thugs, Big Time Criminals and Little Men, and one steeped in the Little Eichmann Syndrome, and a population in Battered Spouse Syndrome with this Trump in High Crimes Office. Stockholm Syndrome, and Little Big Man, all wrapped up in this is god’s country Prozac psychosis.

There’s white racist DNA running through the synapses of his or her brain tissue. They will kill their own kind, defend the enemies of their kind or anyone who is perceived to be the enemy of the milky white way of life.

— Jeremiah Wright

I’m listening to Wright now, on Bill Moyers’ show, and goddamn it, we need this person in the role of leader of whatever religious pot this country has to throw our spirituality into to stir up and throw onto the warring leaders of our United States of Corporations.

This is the big hole in America, in that female Trump supporter social worker down in Salem, thinking Trump is supreme, God-blessed, rather than the rodent breeder that he seems to be, nothing but a cartoon, a jumping tweeting thing, a brand or product of the lowest common denominator, denigrating any notion of honoring a smart mind, a sound body, and a confident spirit.

One big hole where youth are put into segregated classrooms when things go south; where teachers are one paycheck away from ditching that profession and selling Mary Kay products; where the entire administrative systems in cities-counties-states are staffed by bureaucrats who could squeeze the last tear out of a rotting onion.

I am faced with workers, careerists, and those like me, social workers, who have a professional turn-over rate higher than NFL second-string quarterbacks. This role we play is like a marionette play, jumping to the bureaucrats’ sadistic numbers game, statistics combing, bean counting and data mining. Hedges, Truthdig:

These armies of bureaucrats serve a corporate system that will quite literally kill us. They are as cold and disconnected as Mengele. They carry out minute tasks. They are docile. Compliant. They obey. They find their self-worth in the prestige and power of the corporation, in the status of their positions and in their career promotions. They assure themselves of their own goodness through their private acts as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. They sit on school boards. They go to Rotary. They attend church. It is moral schizophrenia. They erect walls to create an isolated consciousness. They make the lethal goals of ExxonMobil or Goldman Sachs or Raytheon or insurance companies possible. They destroy the ecosystem, the economy and the body politic and turn workingmen and -women into impoverished serfs. They feel nothing. Metaphysical naiveté always ends in murder. It fragments the world. Little acts of kindness and charity mask the monstrous evil they abet. And the system rolls forward. The polar ice caps melt. The droughts rage over cropland. The drones deliver death from the sky. The state moves inexorably forward to place us in chains. The sick die. The poor starve. The prisons fill. And the careerist, plodding forward, does his or her job.

What do we tell the school counselor, the advisers, the teachers, and what role do we have as the villagers in It Takes a Village, as uncles and brothers and grandsons and fathers and nephews?

Here I am in Spokane, visiting my 21-year-old daughter, who is working as a coffee barista, living now on her own, $600 a month studio apartment in an old part of town inside a 1920 house cut into threes as apartments.

I ran down the hotel hallway looking for coffee, and there’s convention rooms, and lo and behold, a six-hour training, “Building Self-Regulation in Children with Autism, ADHD, or Sensory Disorders.” This is a common scene these days in my field, and in attendance are parents, I can see. This is the new normal, Sensory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, Sensory Integrative Dysfunction. SPD, SID, ADD, ODD, ADHD, an unholy alphabet soup created by the pesticide society we have invented. Plastics in milk, fumigants in burgers, hormones in cheese, glysophate in bagels, and an entire organic chemistry dictionary’s worth of things killing the womb, sucking the sanity of our unborns’ central nervous systems.

As we know, the evil chickens of military-chemical-prison-financial-surveillance-legal-energy-big ag/big pharma-education have come back to roost. There’s no way of getting around that! Rev. Wright:

And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian decent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African decent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!

The Power of Truth, Love, and Justice Now

In early February, my 7th grader and I took a walk to our local coffee shop for a conversation. About what, I had no idea. A father-and-son visit to our neighborhood coffee shop had been a tradition of ours since he was around 9 years old: every now and then, when our busy family schedule would permit, I would treat us both to a drink – a mocha for me usually, and for him a hot chocolate or, as he grew older, a chai – and we would talk about whatever was on his mind. A middle class parenting luxury built on leisure time and disposable income.

I quickly learned to let him set the agenda, and then engage with whatever degree of seriousness he brought to the topic. Sometimes I was able to anticipate his choice of subject; sometimes his declared interest was startlingly unexpected. Over the years, topics had ranged from the extremely heavy (“Can we talk about genocide, Dad?” he had inquired on one occasion and, on another, “What is ‘rape’?”) to the comically complicated (“Can I be a polytheist and be Jewish at the same time?” he once asked his non-Jewish, secular father).

This time, I expected my son wanted to talk about politics, specifically, the newly installed presidency of long-time icon of post-industrial capitalism, Donald Trump. As we walked to the coffee shop, Trump was entering into the third week of his presidency. There already had been mass protests against the new administration’s efforts to shut down the country’s international refugee program, protests against intensifying deportations of immigrant workers, against misogyny and sexism, against a new officialdom that would weaken public supports for working people, environmental protections, education, and access to health care. The phrase “Trump’s America” had become a commonplace in the mass media, to the indifference of some Americans, to the delight of many, and to the horror of many more.

I was a bit surprised, therefore, to discover that what my son wanted to talk about most was race and racism. His primary interest was not who now held official power but why racism was such a persistent obstacle to the goal of equality. He understood, he said, “that race is a made up thing,” and yet knowing that fact “doesn’t seem to make it go away.” He proposed that we read a book together. Something non-fiction “on the subject of race, civil rights, and equality,” was his preference. He made it clear he wanted to understand better the history of race and racism in the United States.

“Race is a pretty big topic,” I exhaled, after a long, thoughtful breath. I was mulling possible choices, and feeling daunted by the problem of identifying just one book, accessible to a middle schooler no less, that would allow us to explore the history of race and racism in our country. Then, thinking about recent political news, I asked him “Do you know who Frederick Douglass was?” “No, I don’t,” he replied. “The current president of the United States may not either,” I observed wryly, and explained how, just a couple of days before, Trump had awkwardly used the present tense in a strikingly vague public remark about the famous ex-slave and abolitionist (who died in 1895): “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” he had said.

Trump’s comments, delivered at the start of Black History Month, were widely interpreted as evidence the nation’s chief executive had no idea who Frederick Douglass was. “That’s pretty weird,” the 7th grader assessed. “I mean, I didn’t know who Frederick Douglass was until you told me, but I’m in middle school.” We talked about how it’s okay to admit you don’t know things, and about how some things are important enough that everyone should have some knowledge of them. We returned to a theme of a few previous coffee shop conversations – that history is an important dimension of the present – and decided that Frederick Douglass should be on our reading list. This would be our little act of rebellion against official forgetting.

What my son and I didn’t know at the time of our initial conversation was how much, and how clearly, Frederick Douglass would speak to us of the present. Over the two and a half months that followed, as we read and discussed our way toward the final page of his Narrative, we found ourselves confronted, over and over, with the vitality and relevance of what Douglass has to say. It wasn’t just the two of us talking about Douglass’s narrative, a couple of white, middle class people chatting in the abstract about an artifact of black history. Douglass spoke to us of our country, unsettled us in the quiet and comfort of the local coffee shop. He spoke to us about who and how we need to be, now.

Voice and Property

The first thing one notices about the Narrative is Frederick Douglass’s voice. “He’s such a great writer, Dad,” my son repeatedly enthused over the course of our readings together. Douglass’s eloquence and clarity were astounding, he explained, because he had been enslaved from birth through young adulthood. “That he can write like that, when he wasn’t supposed to, after all they did to him …”

My thirteen-year old loves reading and is enamored of language, word play, and storytelling. For his bar mitzvah a few months prior to our reading of Douglass, he had written a d’var Torah (a commentary on a passage of the Torah) in which he retold the story of Abraham and Isaac from Isaac’s perspective, revealing from within the canonical story about faith another tale, one of domination, betrayal, and abuse of authority. He had, in other words, recently developed a commitment to, and appreciation for, amplifying the unheard and the silenced. He understood immediately what Douglass was doing with his Narrative. As I read aloud from the text, my son heard the sound of defiance, of liberation. He heard an Isaac telling his own story.

Douglass’s voice is strong, and his strategy to expose the moral abomination of slavery is to attend, through his personal testimony, to all of the forms of dominance and degradation it employs. Douglass speaks bluntly of slavery’s emotional violence. The very first paragraph detains the reader with the fact that Douglass doesn’t know his own birthday or age. “[T]he larger part of slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs,” he writes. And in the first couple of chapters Douglass takes time to describe the material conditions of enslavement. He itemizes, for example, the food and clothing allowances for the enslaved: 8 lbs. of fish or pork and 1 bushel of cornmeal per month per adult; 2 shirts, 1 jacket, 2 pants, one pair of stockings and one pair of shoes per year. Children who did not work in the fields were given no shoes, stockings, pants, or jacket. “Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.”

He draws his readers’ attention to the life of the enslaved child. One can discern here the intersection between Douglass’s own experience as a piece of property, on the one hand, and the economics of slaveholding in the United States on the other. Whereas other countries in the hemisphere replaced their slave population – the way a factory owner replaces worn out machine parts – through importation of newly enslaved Africans, the United States banned the international slave trade in 1808 and so, at the time of Douglass’s writing, the country’s slave population was maintained mostly through births. Children born into slavery represented a renewal or replacement of fixed capital, to use the language of economics. Logically, when children are conceived as things, as inputs useful for the accumulation of wealth, it is not normal human development that is required to reach their potential, but instead a process of thingification. Birthdays are thus irrelevant. Or, more to the point, the elimination of birthdays, of the annual ritual of celebrating the individual life and its progress, becomes necessary. Similarly, clothing for the child is an investment input that makes limited economic sense prior to the age of productivity.

We spoke a bit – as odd as it might seem, it feels right to include Frederick Douglass in that “we” – about how the emotional brutality of slavery stunted the development of not just the individual but the entire community. Much of our first conversation centered on this passage in particular:

It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the childʹs affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

Douglass presents this organized assault by the propertied class on the parent-child relationship as evidence of the immorality of slavery. But this is no mere sociological observation on his part. This is personal. He tells us he has no knowledge of his own father, and little memory of his mother, who labored until her death a dozen miles away from where he spent his early childhood. What is most powerful here – a power I could see in my own child’s reaction, and feel in my own parent’s heart – is how Douglass voices the experience, from within the otherwise silenced position of the child, from the dark inside of a system of economic subjugation: “Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.” Isaac denounces his bindings.

A voice from within the machinery of enslavement – this is what Douglass brings to discussion of the history of racism in the United States. Our reading sessions, and our reflections, became premised on the recognition of Douglass’s as an improbable voice that, against all odds, was not suffocated forever under the reifying weight of a racist economic system, the way countless others were. As our conversations continued, Douglass recounted to us tales of the life of the enslaved on Colonel Lloyd’s Great House Farm. Chapter three of the Narrative opens with a description of Lloyd’s prize fruit garden and the temptation it represented for the enslaved, who were “severely whipped” if suspected of even trying to take fruit. This passage is followed by a description of Lloyd’s horses, which “were of the finest form and noblest blood,” and how Lloyd would beat the horses’ enslaved caretaker for any perceived inattention to the horses’ needs.

I pointed out to my son that the combined, and likely desired, effect of Douglass’s stories was to illustrate the place of the enslaved person within the master’s estate. The slave was property, but of dramatically lesser value than a garden, and of much lesser value than a horse. Both the garden and the horse were possessions of great prestige, and required constant care and attention, of a sort the master himself was not willing or able to provide. The master was proud of his garden and his horses. Meanwhile, his treatment of the enslaved person was uniquely punishing and arbitrary.

Then, we read the final anecdote of the chapter: Colonel Lloyd owned so many afro-descendant people laboring on so many farms that he did not recognize them all, and many of them did not recognize him. And thus one day, Lloyd happened upon “a colored man” and interviewed him about who was his master and whether he was treated well. The man replied that Colonel Lloyd was his master and “No, sir,” Lloyd did not treat him well. Speaking this truth resulted in Lloyd ordering him chained and sold to a Georgia trader, “forever sundered from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.”

“What is this story about?” we asked ourselves. Separation. A stripping away of relationships. A purging from the “thing” of emotional attachments. A cruel punishment to be sure, and, once again, undeniable evidence of the rank sociopathy of slavery. But punishment for what? At its heart, the story is about voice – about the fate of voice under the dominion of a particular regime of property. Asked to speak the truth, the unsuspecting slave does precisely that, and in doing so violates the logic of property that governs the master-slave relationship. The slave was entrapped by the master in an act of public speech, an attempt to speak of justice. The master’s response was a re-assertion of the process of thingification. Property has no voice. That power is reserved for the propertied.

This is not the only place where Douglass focuses his readers’ attention on the silencing of voices by the political economy of his America, of our America in the mid-19th century. In chapter two, when Douglass discusses at length the songs of the enslaved, that very same problem of voice, of the erasure of voice, and therefore of truth and of public appeals for justice, resonates with the clarity of a bell. “To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery,” he tells us. “The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience.” And then he adds, “Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery.” And yet, he notes, even in the northern states there are those “who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness.”

Douglass seems to use music to teach that the problem of voice extends to the ear. Whose voice? Whose ear? The Narrative is an act of public speech, directed at the nation. We were delighted as we imagined Colonel Lloyd’s angry, threatened, disapproval. But the most important truth, as with the banishment of Lloyd’s truth-telling slave, was that even though a voice may be heard, it must be listened to in order to matter. Douglass wants his readers to hear the inner life of the property relationship. Not the voice of the haves, but of those who have been had. He speaks to his readers directly about hearing the slave’s voice as evidence of injustice, entered in the public record and evaluated: “The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.”

My son’s interest in music, an omnivore’s appetite for all things musical, made it important to spend some extra time with this. Although Douglass does not explicitly mention minstrelsy – a popular form of entertainment at the time of his writing, in which white men blackened their faces with grease paint and sang and danced their mockery of slaves –his discussion of music is clearly a counterpoint to minstrelsy’s stereotyping of the enslaved as happy and simple-minded. We talked about those racial stereotypes and their long historical shelf-life, of Disney’s absurdly upbeat slave song “Zip-a-dee-dooh-dah” from Song of the South (which won an Academy Award in 1947, more than a hundred years after the publication of Douglass’s Narrative) and how you can catch a glimpse of our country’s racial history in the smiling face of Aunt Jemima making the magical promise of labor-free meals to American consumers. American history is littered with this kind of racial ventriloquism.

We talked as we read, surreally sipping our coffee-shop drinks alongside Douglass. We practiced listening and looking carefully, to better hear and see our country’s racial history. We listened to Odetta’s haunting deep-toned rendition of the traditional lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses,” and talked about the injustice recorded in the lyrics. The master’s baby is promised “all the pretty little horses” while another child – the baby of the enslaved mother who sings the master’s child to sleep – suffers the absence of its mother. Odetta’s version of the lyrics sings of separation, emotional devastation, and the slave child’s voice: “Bees and butterflies/Picking on his eyes/ Poor little thing is crying Mammie.” We noticed that many versions of the song exclude that troubling stanza. Whose voice and whose ears, indeed.

Separation. If my son and I could have spoken to Douglass, across all that separates us, we would have had to confess that the emancipation of the enslaved is remembered in America today with little real grasp of the social and emotional abjection systematically visited upon African American communities by generations of economic and political elites. We would have had to inform him that, in this country that speaks so proudly and loudly of freedom, that there still is no national celebration of the abolition of slavery. Overwhelmingly, whites are hardly even aware of Juneteenth celebrations in African American communities. We would have to acknowledge that we were discussing oppression from a place of comfort. Separation, Frederick Douglass might answer back, is a strategy of the powerful.

The 7th grader and I discussed at length about how the abolition of slavery only changed the law, and that abolishing the culture and relationships organized originally around the economics of slavery is a longer, slower, more fraught undertaking. About how our society hasn’t shed a political economy in which some of us are “less than.” About how voice is still mostly a power of the propertied.

My son and I spoke to each other in the guiding presence of Douglass’s voice as we slowly made our way through the Narrative. We were confronted with questions, not all of them immediately about race. How does one begin to understand the long, cold shadow cast by slave-holding practices across our nation’s history? What forms of silence govern us now? What kinds of separation punish and contain unauthorized voices? Whose voices are absent from the public conversation? Who is listening to the nation’s Isaacs?

Resistance, Past and Present

We realized, as we read, that Douglass had written a story of origins – like a superhero origin story, but rivetingly real. As the story unfolded, Douglass learned to read and write, resisted the will of his masters, physically battled a slave-breaker, eventually committed himself to his own liberation, and finally escaped to the north and became a vocal opponent of slavery. The Narrative, in other words, tells the genesis story of his voice, of the public power of his truth telling and activism. We realized we were, in a sense, holding Douglass’s “super power” in our hands, all the while reading about how it got there.

The superhero analogy is mainly meaningful for how it doesn’t fit. To be sure, Douglass presents plenty of villainous behavior, including whippings and murder, brutal working conditions, denial of food and clothing and health care – conduct that he describes, aptly, as evil. But what organizes that behavior is not an evil mastermind, as the comic books would have it. The organizer is a system of exploitation, and the relationships that system imposes on human potential. The powers the hero develops are not super human, but grounded in the basic, civic skills of reading and writing, and in the cultivation of relationships of love and solidarity. Unlike superhero stories (and, frankly, a broad spectrum of popular entertainment), in Douglass’s account what is wrong is more far-reaching and systemic than we would like to believe. Meanwhile, the power to right what is wrong is more within our grasp than we would like to admit.

What was wrong with America in the mid-19th century was profoundly wrong. In chapter four my son and I encountered horrifying descriptions of murders of black people by white people, murders that were not prosecuted partly because slaves had no legal status to serve as witnesses. “I speak advisedly when I say this,” Douglass reports, “that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.” Infamously, the U.S. Constitution accounted for slaves as three-fifths of a person, for the purposes of system maintenance (i.e., calculating political representation and taxation), and categorically denied citizenship to non-whites. Douglass indicts the legal system and a dehumanizing culture. “It was a common saying, even among little white boys,” he tells us, “that it was worth a half-cent to kill a ‘n—–‘ and a half-cent to bury one.” Law and culture and economics conspired villainously against black Americans.

Something electric arced between past and present when we read these passages in the Narrative. “To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished, the one always following the other with immutable certainty,” Douglass told us. My son made an immediate connection between the murders of three different slaves known to Douglass and the litany of African-Americans brutalized by the authorities in recent years, victims of violence whom Black Lives Matter activism has effectively made into household names: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and, gut-wrenchingly, on an on. We could feel the righteous anger in Frederick Douglass’s description of the murder of Demby by Colonel Lloyd’s overseer, Mr. Austin Gore. We could hear “Say his name!” and “Black Lives Matter!” in Douglass’s voice, one hundred and seventy-two years back. In the quiet comfort of our local coffee shop, the many silences of our country’s history, past and present, were roaring in our ears.

Douglass describes a systemic and relational evil. In chapter five Douglass recounts his first taste of the possibility of a life different from the plantation when he is sent to a new owner in Baltimore, and meets Mrs. Auld: “And here I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions.” But in chapter six, he observes the corrupting power of the economic order on what had felt like a promising relationship: “That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.” Douglass describes slavery as “irresponsible power,” a corrupting force that debases both master and enslaved. Mrs. Auld’s most laudable qualities are destroyed by the master-slave relationship: “the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.”

We returned to this insight – that the way a society is organized can shape human character and possibility – throughout our conversations with Douglass. We talked about how our relationships are molded by forces and structures that came before us, by roles into which we are pushed by institutions and economics, by demands imposed and forms of authority that must be negotiated with, like it or not. We talked about the ways we are possessed by the past – about how people still talk about “dialing” the phone, when nobody has dialed a damned thing in decades; about the dead hand of centuries of slavery hanging similarly on the steering mechanisms of our country. I felt a fleeting despair (What exorcism can expunge such possession?), but when I asked how do we abolish those vestiges, my son responded without hesitation: “White people need to learn that they aren’t superior to anybody.”

Learning is important action. As we read of the origins of Frederick Douglass’s voice, we began to see that learning was, in fact, an important part of Douglass’s response to what was wrong with America. After his move to Baltimore, Mrs. Auld’s efforts to teach Douglass (who was around 8 years old at the time) the alphabet and writing were discovered by her husband and immediately forbidden. “If you teach that n—– how to read,” Douglass quoted Mr. Auld as reasoning, “there would be no keeping him.” As a result, Douglass resolves (in his first deliberate act of resistance) that he would learn how to read. “From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

Education, the great equalizer; knowledge as power; learning sets us free. All comforting notions for an already comfortable middle class reader, and an educator, like myself. Comforting and familiar also for my son, a student. It would be easy to accept education as the answer to what is wrong, past and present, and I suspect that this is precisely how Douglass’s Narrative is read by many Americans – as an individual’s progress through adversity, raised up and out of subjugation by his own wits and dedication to self-improvement.

But my son and I sensed there was something more to Douglass’s story. The most immediate object of Mrs. Auld’s fury – after Douglass’s literacy had been forbidden – drew our sharp attention. “Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper,” Douglass observes. Reading (and eventually writing) certainly allowed Douglass to escape some of the logic of the master-slave relationship. Nonetheless, I argued in our discussion of the passage, it was not just reading that was off limits to the slave. Douglass was denied the events and perspectives of civic life. The public arena was fenced off, policed. No voice, no ear for the slave.

This partition between white and black America is underscored by Douglass’ mention of The Columbian Orator, a book Douglass states he “got hold of” and read covertly “at every opportunity.” This book is one of a couple of texts from the public arena that Douglass references in chapters seven and eight (the second being an anti-slavery poem by the Quaker abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier). After a little research, I discovered that the Orator was a widely used schoolbook (especially in the north) that taught civic virtue through eloquence, public speaking viewed as a mode of moral action fundamental to democracy. It contained, among other texts, public speeches by George Washington, first president of the republic, and an anti-slavery dialogue between a master and a slave concerning the slave’s freedom. Douglass’s newspaper habits and auto-didactic civic education (through a book he “got hold of”) were studied violations not only of the master-slave relation but of the very boundaries constructed, by race and property, around citizenship in the United States.

So, yes, learning was critical to Douglass’s journey to freedom. He wasn’t breaking out, though – he was breaking in. He was knowingly trespassing in the public arena. He was negating separations imposed by official power, not retreating into the privacy and individualism of self-help. He studied the newspaper, and he appropriated a civics reader, but he also sought to develop proficiency in reading and writing by “making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street.” With these children Douglass engaged in public dialogue about slavery – “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” he argued to an audience of his peers. He reports that “they would express for me the liveliest sympathy.” Voice and ears convened around issues of common concern. His transgressions were relational: A counterpower to the politics of separation.

These were “poor white children in our neighborhood.” My son noted that these children probably also had a limited experience of freedom because of their poverty. He argued that, because they were children, they were also deprived of rights until reaching adulthood, a fact of social life that Douglass explicitly recognized. (For his 7th grade history project my son had been reading Janusz Korczak, an early advocate of children’s rights who was killed by the Nazis at Treblinka, and so children’s subordination and exclusion from public life was on his mind.) Douglass experienced real solidarity with these kids: “It was to those little Baltimore boys that I felt the strongest attachment.” There is no voice, we learned from Douglass, without ears. There is no public arena without relationships. Relationships – that is where power is defined.

Love and Citizenship

Douglass tells us his first attempt to escape was a group effort. He had shifted from an earlier personal, even internal liberation (“I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact”), to a collective and solidarity-based orientation. This meant defining freedom in a different way. Freedom was no longer an individual objective: “I was no longer willing to cherish this determination alone. My fellow-slaves were dear to me. I was anxious to have them participate with me in this, my life-giving determination.”

Their plan discovered, Douglass and his co-conspirators are jailed. In describing their predicament and treatment, Douglass emphasizes the group over individual experience. “The fact was, we cared but little where we went, so we went together. Our greatest concern was separation.” Douglass uses the word “separation,” or some variant, five times in the space of three paragraphs. Domination versus resistance: “Their object in separating us was to hinder concert.” We thought back to the slave-owners’ practice of separating mother and child, and my son noted that the opposite of separation appears to be love, in Douglass’s telling. He focused my attention on Douglass’s language when describing his earlier efforts to create a school: “The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other.”

Little wonder that, after escaping north, Douglass dedicated himself to the liberation of others. We asked ourselves now, as we finished reading the Narrative, just as we had asked before, “What is this story about?” Over the course of our studies with Douglass, the theme of separation had been voiced many times, a bright thread woven through his text. Separation of parent from child, separation of slave from community, separation of white from black, separation of those who make liberation a common cause. Relationships caught in the gears of the social order.

Douglass cultivated relationships alternative to those imposed by a system that literally banked on his silence. He stubbornly insisted on access to the public sphere, for himself and others. He developed civic skills denied by the system, and used them to promote systemic change. Entangled in the systemic villainy of America’s 19th century political economy, these were Frederick Douglass’s responses. The story of the emergence of his voice is a story of resistance to reification, of a refusal to be reduced to a mechanism of the status quo. Telling the story was itself a public act of resistance.

Frederick Douglass’s flight to freedom, we decided, was a carefully planned invasion of the public arena. Born into slavery, he refused his legally assigned status as someone else’s property. In effect, he expropriated himself. Fenced off from citizenship, denied full and equal belonging to the national community, he cut a hole in the fence, shouldered his way in, and demanded recognition of his truths and their relevance to the public interest, to justice. He was, in the parlance of today’s debates around immigration (every deportation a separation), an illegal.

Importantly, he did not think of his freedom as a flight into the private pursuit of individual happiness. His Narrative is all the evidence required to appreciate this. In his text Douglass becomes an “I” who speaks publicly among equals, his readers a nation of “thous,” voice and ears gathered together in defiance of the prohibitions and separations of the existing order. His voice convokes, speaks to, new relational possibilities. Which is to say, Douglass “does” citizenship in a way different from most of us, who accept all kinds of atrocity and exclusion, as long as our own back yard is unaffected. A citizenship that abides separation, versus his politics of love.

Here we were, generations later. Douglass had us wondering, questioning. Who profits from defining freedom as private happiness instead of engagement with the public good? Who among us labors without a public voice? What kinds of relationships define us as a nation? What kind of citizens are we now?

On the final page, we couldn’t help but notice how Douglass signed off. Not just “sincerely,” but also “faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice – and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred cause.” One hundred and seventy two years later, Douglass addressed himself to the kind of citizens we need to be now. Committed to a different kind of power, arising from relationships defined by truth, love, and justice. Able to hear, even in (especially in) the quiet comforts of our personal freedom, a din of silences all around.

Caribbean Reparations Movement Must Put Capitalism on Trial

Why is the reparations movement in the Anglophone Caribbean not putting capitalism on trial in its campaign to force British imperialism to provide financial compensation for its industrial and agricultural capitalists’ enslavement of Africans? To what extent is capitalism such a sacred spirit or god whose name should not be publicly called in order to avoid attracting its vindictive and punishing rebuke? Are the advocates of reparations truly convinced that British imperialism’s payment of financial compensation for the enslavement of Africans would end the economic marginalization of the labouring classes who are toiling under capitalist regimes throughout the region? Why are we willing to place racism or white supremacy in the dock but not its creator – capitalism?

On 17 December 2007, the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution that made March 25 the annual commemorative International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This day should be used as a rallying point by people of good conscience to press the former major slaving states such as Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden to pay reparations for their participation in the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. The General Assembly’s initiative is an acknowledgement of the over fifteen million Africans who landed in the Americas and the over thirty million captives who died during the process of catching and delivering them into the Holocaust of Enslavement.

Capitalism and Slavery in the Caribbean

A key goal of all yearly progressive remembrance activities in the Caribbean and elsewhere should be to educate or remind people of the fact that capitalism was the primary force behind the extraction of the labour power of enslaved Africans. Of equal importance is the need to etch into the consciousness of the public that white supremacy or racism was simply an ideological tool used by the capitalist enslavers and various European states to morally justify the enslavement of Africans. Racism was deployed by these early capitalists and their respective national states to mask the purely economic motivation behind the development of an enslaved labour force.

In the seminal and classic book Capitalism and Slavery that was written by the late historian and statesman Dr. Eric Williams, he states that the brutal, exploitative and exacting labour condition of white indentured workers served as the template for the institution of African enslavement or slavery:

Here then is the origin of [African] slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had not to do with the color of the laborer but the cheapness of the laborer…. The features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his “subhuman” characteristics so widely pleaded, were only later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed and resorted to [African] labour because it was the cheapest and the best. This was not a theory; it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter.1

Williams asserts that slavery, as “basically an economic institution,” gave birth to racism. He further states that “Unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan.” Racism or white supremacy is now an autonomous system of oppression that intersects with patriarchy and capitalism to create differing degrees of labour exploitation within the ranks of the working-class.

The point that should be centred in the minds of revolutionaries and radicals in the Caribbean is that capitalism, the architect of racism, is still negatively impacting the lives of the working-class descendants of enslaved Africans as well as the societies that were built by their exploited labour. The late revolutionary, organic intellectual and historian Dr. Walter Rodney convincingly argues and documents in his ground-breaking text How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that capitalism was the main contributor to the stagnation of Africa’s economic development (see Chapter 4 – “Europe and the Roots of Africa’s Underdevelopment – To 1885).

Rodney’s indictment of capitalism and its retardation of the potentiality of the greater portion of humanity (the labouring classes) should be duly noted by the reparations activists or advocates who are playing footsie with capitalism:

… the peasants and workers of Europe (and eventually the inhabitants of the whole world) paid a huge price so that the capitalists could make their profits from the human labour that always lies behind the machine. That contradicts other facets of development, especially viewed from the standpoint of those who suffered and still suffer to make capitalist achievements possible. This latter group are the majority of [humanity]. To advance, they must overthrow capitalism; and that is why at the moment capitalism stands in the path of further human development. To put it another way, the social (class) relations of capitalism are now outmoded, just as slave and feudal relations became outmoded in their time.2

Dr. Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has written an excellent and easily comprehended book, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. It is a must read for people who would like to understand the basis of the claim for reparations from Britain for its role in the enslavement of Africans and genocide against Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, Britain’s Black Debt has placed the misbegotten child of capitalism – racism- on trial, but not the inherently exploitative and soul destroying parent – capitalism. If we are going to throw the book at capitalism for chattel slavery, we are morally and politically obligated to do the same for the wage slavery of capitalism under which the Caribbean working-class is currently being exploited.

Caribbean States and Reparations

Today, we are witnessing the unconscionable, but politically understandable behaviour of the neocolonial states in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in divorcing their call for reparations from measures aimed at throwing capitalism into the cesspool of history. These member states of CARICOM are all committed to the implementation of social, economic and political policies that have enshrined capitalism in the region.

They are interested in reparations as a way to deal with their balance of payment, budgetary and development challenges as seen in the call for debt cancellation, technology transfer and a formal apology and not statements of regrets in this regional body’s Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice.

While these governments are acting like capitalism was not the real culprit behind the economic exploitation of enslaved Africans, progressive civil society groups and individuals who are advocating for reparations should not be silent or conveniently forgetful of this historical fact. We should expect the liberal petite bourgeois or middle-class reparations advocates to not indict capitalism. Their class interests and aspirations are totally immersed and dependent on the continued existence of capitalism. The petite bourgeois elements, unlike the labouring classes, display high levels of class consciousness and the former group tends to allow its class interests to guide its thoughts and actions.

However, radical and revolutionary reparations activists and supporters have no business not putting capitalism on the stand in their activism and general public education initiatives. As political activists who are committed to ending inequity and exploitation that are rooted in the social, economic, political and cultural structures of society’s principal institutions, they should know that capitalist economic relations and practices are a major source of oppression.

As such, they ought to educate the public on the reality that the capitalism that exploited the labour of enslaved Africans is the same capitalism that exploited them as wage slaves after the end of slavery. Capitalism is still exploiting Caribbean workers and taking the lion’s share of the profit that comes from the labour power of the working-class.

CARICOM’s ten-point reparations proposal is implicitly using the societies in the global North as the model of social and economic development. The mature capitalist societies in North America and Europe are characterized by widespread income inequality and concentration of wealth as well as the political marginalization of the working-class. How can such societies in good conscience serve as the standard of social, political and economic development for the Caribbean?

Reparatory Justice for Social Transformation and Dual Power

In the Caribbean, the revolutionaries and radicals must advance a reparations agenda that demands Britain/Europe’s financial compensation for the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. It has been estimated that Britain’s reparations payment to Africans in the Caribbean would be in the region of £7.5 trillion.3 The £20 million paid to the enslavers of Africans after the 1838 abolition of slavery in the British Empire would be worth about £200 billion in today’s currency.4

The proposals below ought to be a part of the Caribbean reparations movement’s programme and be seen as a part of the general class struggle. The neocolonial Caribbean states do not need the immediate payment of reparations to undertake some of these demands. The social movements in the region must organize around these demands as a part of a dual power strategy or infrastructure of dissent or anarchist transfer cultures:5

Promote labour self-management and economic democracy: The governments in the Caribbean must capitalize national and regional Worker Self-management and Entrepreneurship Funds from allotments out of the respective annual national budgets. These funds would be controlled by progressive civil society forces. These financial resources would be used to finance and support worker cooperatives and other labour self-managed companies as well as the work of the support organizations and structures that are necessary to ensure the viability of the workers’ ownership, control and management of their workplace.

It would be the duty of the revolutionary and radical organizers to ensure that a critical mass of the worker-cooperators embrace labour self-management as a part of the class struggle and the fight for socialism. The worker’s democratic control of the workplace combined with popular assemblies would be the laboratory or training ground for the self-management of the future stateless, classless and self-organized (communist) society.

Include labour self-management in school curriculum: The governments in the Caribbean should restructure the curriculum and place at its centre knowledge of the oppressive nature of chattel slavery and wage slavery as a system of labour extraction and exploitation. Of equal importance is the strategic need to adequately educate the students in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions about workers’ control, ownership and management of the workplace.

Further, the students would be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitude to collectively self-manage worker cooperatives and other worker self-managed companies. We must challenge the public education curriculum that prepares learners, at public expense, to work in capitalist enterprises. The worker self-management ideas and practices should be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Develop comprehensive land reform programme: According to  Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”:

Jamaica’s landscape still bears the scars of the most ferocious form of agricultural production ever devised, as plantations kept their vice-like grip on the best land after Emancipation in 1838, with all subsequent distribution programmes only ever acting on the margins of these inhumanly constructed yet sacrosanct institutions.6

The preceding state of affairs is essentially the situation in the rest of the Anglophone Caribbean.

The governments in the Caribbean must undertake a comprehensive land reform programme that puts flat, arable land in the hands of the labouring classes. Enslaved Africans and indentured South Asians and the Indigenous peoples worked the land and their descendants must now exercise stewardship and control over it.

In order for them to take land out of the capitalist speculative market and to end the idea of the ownership of land by individuals, these governments must create the legislative framework for the establishment of community land trust (CLT). CLT are structures that are used to protect land from the rise or fall in the value of land based on speculation or the whims and fancies of capitalist demand and supply of land and housing. The access to land should be based on the right of collective use or usufructuary rights and not the right of private ownership. Each generation should be the steward of land and not its owners as under capitalism.

Create a cooperative housing programme: The condition of a large proportion of the housing stock in the Caribbean is an assault on human decency, especially for those who live in urban squatter settlements or overcrowded, ill-repaired housing in urban and rural communities. The state must create national funding programmes to support the development and maintenance of cooperative housing by the people through their organizations.

Cooperative housing is a way to engender popular, democratic and collective control and management over the housing by the people who live in these units and to undermine the idea of housing as a tradeable commodity. The members of cooperative housing would have security of tenure but would not be able to pass on the property to their heirs.

Establish working-class friendly labour laws: The system of chattel slavery in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas was a very vile form of labour exploitation. The slave masters did not simply exercise power over the labour power and the fruit of the labour (profit) of the enslaved African workforce. These capitalists also owned the enslaved Africans.

The brutal legacy of exploitation of African workers continued after Emancipation in 1838. In the Anglophone Caribbean of today, progressive organizations ought to develop broad national and regional campaigns to force these neo-colonial governments to create worker-friendly labour laws that make it easier for workers to join or form trade unions. Severe or prohibitive fines must be levied against employers who violate the rights of workers to form or join trade unions. It is hypocritical of governments to demand reparations from British imperialism for slavery, while facilitating the exploitation of workers through laws that are titled against the power of workers in the workforce.

The rate of unionization is very low in the Caribbean and it must become a priority of progressive social movement organizations, socialist organizations, the revolutionary petite bourgeoisie and trade unions to push for legislation that will give workers a greater level of bargaining power in the workplace-based class struggle.

Establish popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed: The revolutionary and radical forces in the Caribbean’s reparations movement must work with other progressive forces throughout society to establish a federated system of popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed. These assemblies would function as the direct democratic structures of political self-management that seeks to approximate the communist self-organizing concept of “the administration of things and not the governance of people.”

The assemblies would be the local, regional and national organs through which the labouring classes discuss, plan and determine their economic and social priorities. The masses would implement their main concerns through their alternative and oppositional institution as well as organize and impose them on existing and domination economic, social, cultural and political institution. In this contestation for power, the peoples’ organizations would use all available and ethical means to advance their liberation.

Perry Mars documents in his book Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left that a section of the The Left in the Caribbean has a tradition of using or advocating the deployment of assemblies to connect with the people:

What these parties have in common is their strong advocacy of what are called variously ‘people’s parliament’ or ‘people’s assembly’ representing mass democratic participation in grass roots self organizations.7

Further, The Left sees assemblies as political instruments that compensate for the fact that the liberal capitalist democracies in the region are not responsive or represent the needs of the people. Assemblies should not be used as consultative or information-sharing bodies by nationalist and socialist revolutionaries or radicals.

These political assemblies are supposed to be proactive and positive structures that familiarise the people with the idea and practice of shaping all decisions that impact their lives. Mars notes that in the Caribbean:

The problem with the ‘people’s assembly’ is that the implementation does not necessarily eliminate the tendencies towards political centralization and elitism as far as leadership of the movement is concerned.8

From the period of chattel slavery to the current period of neo-colonial flag independence, the Caribbean labouring classes have yet to exercise substantive power over the political institutions that govern their lives. A system of popular assemblies with the capacity to challenge the authoritarian liberal capitalist democracies for power would be one of the best expressions of reparatory justice in the Caribbean.

Conclusion

The struggle for reparations in the Caribbean should become a site of the class struggle and organizing the people for socialism or communism. Capitalism must be put on trial for aiding and abetting the enslavement of Africans and genocide against the Indigenous peoples.

The proposals that are outlined above for adoption by the Caribbean reparations will not become a reality in the absence of national campaigns that organize the people into their self-organized class-based and other popular organizations. We are seeking to build a counterhegemonic force or alternative power bloc to contest the existing forces of domination and to advance the long-term struggle of putting them out of business.

The neo-colonial governments have jumped in front of the reparations bandwagon and are trying to set the agenda. It is incumbent on the popular forces to organize the people in order to wrest the agenda setting initiative from the state and impose their programme of action on the state through the organizing of the labouring classes and other oppressed groups within its ranks.

It is critically necessary for the organizers who are organizing the people from below to do everything possible to utilize all available opportunity to build the capacity of the oppressed to challenge and undermine the existing white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist political order. It is for this reason that a dual power strategy must build the embryonic economic, social and political structures of the future socialist society, while engaging and contesting the existing institutions of power.

It is in this light that the development of worker self-management over their workplaces and the establishment of a system of popular assemblies as the seat of working-class political power becomes necessary. The reparations movement can play an important catalytic role in helping to ideologically prepare the people for the completion of the Second Emancipation in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas.

  1. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 18-19.
  2. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974), 10.
  3. Hilary Beckles, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2013), 175
  4. Ibid, 144.
  5. Jeff Shantz, Re-thinking Revolution: A Social Anarchist Perspective, Philosophers for Change. Shantz is opposed to using the concept “dual power” but his preference for “infrastructure of dissent” or “anarchist transfer cultures” is not a variance with a dual power strategy that focuses on self-organization of the working-class and oppressed identity groups within that class.
  6. Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”, Journal of Agrarian Change, 4, no. 4, (October 2004): 463.
  7. Perry Mars, Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), 113.
  8. Ibid, 113.