Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
According to a Harris Poll published in May this year, students of color at US universities and colleges are less likely to seek out help for depression or anxiety issues. These students also report experiencing a greater volume of micro-aggressions than White peers. Other factors also pose mental health risks for students of color.
These may include culturally-unrepresentative campus environments, racial discrimination, social stigma, micro-aggressions, marginalization, as well as difficult transitions between home and campus. The brutal realities of racial discrimination on college campuses is no secret, as we have seen in the recent case of Martese Johnson, an African American honor roll student at UVA. Thus, the combined effects of a mix of these factors can result in great academic costs for students. According to a CollegeBoard report from 2013, only 49% of African American students complete their 4-year degree, compared to 71% of White counterparts.
Research also shows a higher prevalence of depression among students of color than White students, suggesting a correlation between persistent college disparities and mental health issues. Further, there lies another discrepancy between the need for treatment and actual utilization of treatment among students of color. This might be explained by additional stereotyping and discrimination experienced when seeking out providers. It might also be explained by the cultural mismatch of providers. Hispanic, African American, and American Indian individuals are half as likely to have health care coverage compared to the average American, adding another dimension to the issue of access to quality mental health services. Access to services, however, has proved extremely beneficial. Studies show that students receiving counseling services are more likely to remain in school and complete their programs within five years of enrollment.
The Steve Fund (TSF) is the nation’s only organization geared toward supporting the mental health needs and emotional wellness of college students of color. TSF works with universities and colleges, researchers, nonprofits, and community groups to develop and support programs and strategies for mental and emotional health as youth of color enter, matriculate in, and transition from higher education. Their mission is to “grow knowledge and thought leadership among researchers, practitioners, young people and national leaders, work in partnership with charitable organizations and educational institutions to promote mental and emotional wellbeing of students of color, build awareness and voice among students.” TSF sponsored this year’s Black Solidarity Conference held in June at Yale and stressed the significance of mental health and wellness for Black college students. Workshops addressed issues ranging from micro-aggressions and on-campus racial discrimination to African American attitudes toward mental illness, attracting more than 700 undergraduates to the conference. Ms. Bell-Rose, co-founder of TSF underscores the importance of culturally sensitive approaches to support mental health and emotional wellbeing. She notes that these culturally specific needs are generally understudied and underserved. TSF aims to positively impact the delivery of mental and behavioral health services to young people of color supporting their academic potential and futures.
The organization recently partnered with Crisis Text Line to provide students of color with mental health support. This initiative is meant to improve critically needed access to crisis counseling among young people of color. Using advancements in mobile technology, TSF with Crisis Text Line, will recruit and train a group of youth of color to become crisis counselors. Text messaging is a central component of TSF’s strategy to meet the mental health needs of college students of color. Operating entirely through text messaging, a unique keyword for youth of color will provide access to free, 24-7 support during a crisis. The service is expected to launch in the winter this year.
For more information, please visit: http://www.stevefund.org/crisistextline
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J, and Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: Variation across student subgroups and across campuses. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 201(1): 60-67
Written by Serie McDougal and Sureshi Jayawardene
The United Nations General Assembly met on Friday, September 25th in New York to adopt the “Transforming Our World” 2030 sustainable development agenda. This development agenda is a global plan of action for reducing inequality and achieving sustainable development. The significance and meaning of this development agenda for the African continent has already been examined. Tony Elumelu highlights that the private sector will need to play a crucial role putting this agenda into effect. Moreover, he notes that the tie between African entrepreneurs and governments requires continuing collaboration with donor agencies, philanthropists, and local non-governmental entities through the shared purpose of achieving these goals.
UN development agendas are often discussed on a national and even regional level. However, inequality increasingly takes place between diverse groups within nations. From an international perspective, the United States presents a unique situation. The dominant image of the US is that of an affluent and powerful nation. Nevertheless, a close look at the social realities of African Americans draws attention to internal inequalities and highlights the slippages in the wider appearance and reputation of this industrialized, highly developed, and affluent nation. Because of this, it is important to consider how the UN development agenda relates to the concerns of people of African descent within the US. Currently, people of African descent in the United States continue to face challenges including, but not limited to, underfunded and poor quality education, unlawful police killings, increased economic inequality, and sustained attacks on voting rights. Thus, how do these and other African American concerns fit within and without the 17 sustainable development goals affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly?
This question is particularly important given that at the end of 2014, the UN declared 2015-2024, the International Decade for People of African Descent to recognize that people of African descent are a distinct group whose human rights need protection and promotion. The specific objectives of this proclamation include “the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.” At the national level, states are encouraged to take thoughtful and practical action to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance toward people of African descent. Four major areas are emphasized in this area: recognition, justice, development, and multiple or aggravated discrimination with special attention to the conditions of women, girls, and young males. At the regional and international levels, organizations and agencies are called to disseminate and implement commitments under the Durban Declaration, assist states in implementation of programs and policies, gather statistical evidence, incorporate human rights into development agendas, and honor and preserve the historical memory of people of African descent. It is important to consider the significance of the UN’s new development goals in light of these specific objectives for people of African descent during the next ten years.
1. End poverty in all forms everywhere. The UN focuses on the need to mobilize resources and create policy frameworks to achieve this goal on an international scale. Although the agenda focuses on gender equality in the ending of poverty. In the American context, it is important to look at both gender and racial economic disadvantage. Presidential candidates must be pressed to present policy platforms that address: increasing the minimum wage, job training programs, job development programs that target areas with high levels of unemployment. Moreover, candidates should be pressed to address how they will enhance the current level of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in employment and in the banking industry for example. African Americans must press candidates to address their plans for closing the racial wealth gap, enhancing enforcement of fair housing, mortgage and lending practices, creating programs to address financial literacy, and preparation for the changing job market for racially underrepresented groups. A novel initiative that could prove effective is the development of an alternative scoring model for lending agencies. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has recently urged government-sponsored enterprises to improve the ever-widening wealth gap.
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote agriculture.
African Americans often live in areas where healthy food is not sufficiently accessible, affordable, or available. Food desserts and many African Americans’ concentration in them contributes to a myriad of health consequences. Current presidential candidates must be pressed about their intentions as they relate to expanding the current healthy places initiative, tax breaks to farmers markets, placing grocery stores in low income neighborhoods, and other initiatives that create greater food security for communities with less access to healthy food.
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
African Americans continue to face less access to quality healthcare and increased exposure to environmental toxins (such as lead and unsafe housing). Current presidential candidates must be pressed about their intentions as they relate to increasing access to quality health care and expanding policies such as the family medical leave act, and the affordable care initiative, improved nutrition in public schools, and access to safe places to engage in physical activity (safe parks and recreational facilities).
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
African Americans are positioned to benefit greatly from investments in early childhood education, child literacy programs, investments in STEM programs for racially underrepresented groups, access to affordable quality higher education, improving public schools, and enhance cultural congruence in education. Neither the UN nor the US has emphasized the necessity and significance of cultural relevance in teaching and curriculum.
5. Reduce inequality within and among countries
With the increased attention to the long trend of unlawful law enforcement killings of Black people in the US there is a great opportunity to press current presidential candidates to implement and refine the Grand Jury Reform Act to improve the process of investigating changes against law enforcement officers who use deadly force against civilians. This focus needs to be considered alongside other regulatory measures such as increased use of body cameras, demilitarizing local police, increased screening of officers, increased monitoring and prosecution of police abuses, and changing the culture of policing.
6. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics boasts the steady rate of national unemployment at 5.1% in September. The Black unemployment rate remains high – at 9.2%, nearly doubling the White rate 4.4% - although the Black civilian labor force expanded considerably in May. Moreover, the unemployment rate for Black teenagers (ages 16-19) was SIX times the national average (31.5%). This rate is also nearly twice the national average for teen unemployment. Years of unemployment in the African American community continue to cripple its overall ability for sustainability. Explanations for this crippling problem include incarceration rates, poverty, segregation, and low education achievement. Race, too, plays a significant role in finding work, even as laws make race-based discrimination illegal. Research finds that even with qualified African American applicants, racial signifiers such as their names and even their professional networks can be used against them.
7. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
Cities with large African American populations are plagued with segregation, poverty, and police brutality among many other issues. A group of Black youth in Baltimore, MD have been working on a proposal to increase the safety and sustainability of Inner Harbor. This project exemplifies productive collaboration between inner-city youth, businesses, and the City to establish goodwill with law enforcement and curb youth-on-youth violence. Safe and inclusive city space is important for African American LGBTQ members as well. Elders in this particularly group are often cautious about seeking aging services due to the discrimination they anticipate. Programs that support ex-offenders’ reentry into communities to reduce recidivism rates are also necessary. In Boston, an organization designed to help ex-offenders develop personal training skills and find decent-paying jobs has assisted several hundred young men. Overall, while local initiatives are important, state and federal officials must bolster these efforts through policy.
8. Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Globalization has opened foreign sources of large pools of cheap labor for US corporations. Although it makes the production of goods cheaper, it has also had the effect of creating downward pressure in job sectors where African Americans have historically been overrepresented, such as manufacturing. Many African American workers can benefit at home from promoting strong labor standards, environmental regulations, and rights to unionize abroad. Such an investment may protect industries that poor Americans depend upon while also curtailing the flow of poor migrants that the US social services are not prepared for by strengthening their home countries.
Written by Serie McDougal
Historically, even without any rights, African Americans have always been political actors (King, 2010). The political progress they have made has been the result of activities both inside and outside of so-called mainstream political processes. Malcolm X’s fundamental analogy for the Black liberation struggle was the slave planation. On the slave plantation, there were many forms of resistance including participation in abolitionist networks based in free territories, there were those who distributed anti-slavery literature written by people like David Walker and others, but then there were those who engaged in armed rebellion, those who escaped, and ultimately there were those who engaged in disruption in the form of sabotage, breaking tools, destroying crops, faking ignorance or illness, poisoning food, and planning work strikes. What makes one strategy more respectable than another when Black lives are at stake? Perhaps it will not be until each of these strategies is recognized for its contribution to the freedom we currently enjoy that we will put an end to shaming Black activists for using the tactic of disruption that has been a staple of the Black political legacy.
THE REWARDS OF CONTEXT
As #BlackLivesMatter has recently been criticized for engaging in the interruption of presidential candidates, it is important to put such political expression into historical context. Some think their tactics inappropriate or unsophisticated. However, disruptive activities have always been a feature of political expression in general and specifically for people of African descent in the context of the United States (Morrison, 2003). #BlackLivesMatter activists interrupted the campaign events of Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton, and more recently, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s press conference on violence.
This may be a case of objectives taking precedence over tactics. It must also be noted that in the wake of their tactics, politicians have been forced to address their concerns in the form of policy proposals and press releases on critical issues ranging from the treatment of Black transwomen to institutionalized police abuses. However, it would be a mistake to identify the recent tactics of #BlackLivesMatter activists as being outside of the respectable political process.
Originally, in this country, Black people’s humanity was not acknowledged, much less their political interests or access to official political structures. Because of Black people’s long time exclusion from these structures, they engaged in politics and gained political voice through other means, including protest and oppositional activities (Morrison, 2003). Indeed, many of the organizations that have been champions of civil rights and racial equity, such as the National Urban League, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and so many others have their roots in the very same tactics. The Southern Christian Leadership Council, for which Martin Luther King emerged early as a spokesperson and leader, emerged out of the politics of disruption (Montgomery Bus Boycott). Over time, Black people have learned that so-called official political channels, including voting and litigation alone are insufficient methods for gaining freedom and justice. They have also learned of the limits of moral reform strategies. What to do when public policies are undermined by a lack of political will, when votes are not counted, and laws are stymied by failure of implementation or enforcement? Black political movements have learned to couple mainstream political channels with the kinds of strategies #BlackLivesMatter activists are currently using.
An additional mistake that is made in understanding these tactics is the assumption that interruptions are the organizations’ sole form of political activity. Perhaps mistake is the wrong word, because, this false characterization of #BlackLivesMatter serves a functional purpose. This view is a tool used to delegitimize the movement so that political leaders can feel justified in not addressing authentic political concerns.
Leaders who think that these disruptions are mostly spontaneous and unorganized, driven by emotion and not strategy, and are short-lived are making an error in judgement as such thinking is demonstrably contradicted by the successes of the civil rights movement.
NECESSITY OF MEANS
It was disruptive tactics combined with behind-closed-door meetings and official political channels that resulted in the passage of the voting rights act of 1965. When the masses of Black people put the strategies used by Black organizers and political activists in historical context, they cannot be shamed and undermined as unconventional or inappropriate. If Black lives are on the table, who has the luxury to play respectability politics with political expression? After all, whose convention is the standard of political activity? In 1941, A. Phillip Randolph called for a March on Washington due to the government’s failure to pass an executive order banning discrimination in job industries that receive federal funds. Randolph’s strategy was to immobilize the government and force it to pass an executive order. In response to the plan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed executive order 8802 creating the Federal Employment Practices Commission. How do you challenge institutionalized racism by relying solely on afflicted institutions? Such a strategy is beyond the concept of hope or gradualism, it is the politics of superstition. What should prioritize one strategy over another in any given scenario if not necessity? If Malcolm X’s proclamation is correct, then indeed, necessity should be the basis on which we evaluate all available means of political expression, not the mainstream politics of respectability that secure the status quo.
King, K.A. (2010). African American politics. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.
Morrison, M.C. (Ed.). (2003). African Americans and political participation. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO
The First Thing We Ate was not Each Other: Black on Black Violence and Toxic Black Masculinity - Self Mutilation Disguised as Salvation
Written by Chris Roberts
Baltimore, and Black People Waking Up to Shoot Back
This article makes the argument that intra racial criminals who commit “Black on Black violence” are puppets, both willing and unbeknownst, doing the bidding of white supremacist patriarchy. This article makes the supplemental argument that Black people have historically resisted this intra-racial violence, and not been solely collaborative or compliant in our destruction. This article highlights, but is not exclusive to, Black men who commit intra racial violence, but such violence is committed by all Black people in different ways (those examples are beyond the purview of this article). The intra-racial criminal assumes participation in this puppetry will save them from the fate of those in their community they harm. However, they are nothing more than pawns in a larger scheme, ultimately mutilated by the same toxic masculinity and/or mechanism where they seek refuge. The two examples of “Black on Black violence” drawn as parallel in this article are Africans trading other Africans into slavery and Black people harming each other in “inner city” communities in the U.S.
Baltimore is my hometown. My coming of age as a youth was in both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Having resided in Oakland, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as an adult, I am familiar with the buoyancy of Blackness throughout the “inner cities” of the United States, floating in the irksome waters of white supremacy. And though I have lived in each of those places for a substantial period of time, and each holds a piece of my heart, Baltimore has been, and always will be, my hometown. Baltimore is both battleground and bunker, ghetto grave and gullah island, many of us either shooting up or shooting out someone or something. Whether looking for a way out, a way in, or a way up tired of being down, be it at basketball games or burials, in Baltimore one becomes accustomed to shooting. The phenomenon encountered in these communities is propelled by “anti-blackness” described by Saidiya Hartman, Jared Sexton, and Hortense Spillers and others, specifically Frank Wilderson as a “structuring irrationality” where Blackness is non-human, humanity is only white, and its very conceptualization is intrinsic to being enslaved. For further literature on anti-blackness check out the exemplary online “gathering of resources” at antiblacknessisatheory.tumblr.com.
I have not had anything close to the first hand experiences with drug trafficking, gun violence, domestic violence, and homicide that so many of my peers have undergone. But these things were always right outside my window, at family gatherings, or right down the hallway at school. Not as close as possible, but certainly not far away. This is important because, though not in the same way, and not nearly to the same degree, I find resonance with my own life’s journey and the words of Baltimore City native D. Watkins: “I never consider myself to be a shooter, but gunplay is all I know.” It is not only those of us who experience first-hand this “spectacle of death” who are accustomed to gunplay, for though this happens, the violence, as outlined in the work of Lawrence Grandpre in The Black Book: Reflections From The Baltimore Grassroots, is as spectacular as it is mundane. And due to the routine nature of anti-blackness, many of us become too petrified or pacified (through no fault of our own) to pose certain questions. Amidst the bullets, bodies, and balls cascading into buckets above and below the ground, we rarely pause to wonder who wins, why have we been shooting ourselves for so long, and whose guns are these? Earlier this year that changed, and masses of Black people in Baltimore, and across the world remembered the first thing we ate was not each other, we remembered that we can not only shoot up, or shoot out, but in the words of Dr. Akinyele Umoja we can shoot back, we did shoot back before, and we will shoot back again.
Freddie Gray, Police Smokescreens, and Black on Black Violence Defined
On April 12th 2015, Freddie Gray was killed by the Baltimore City Police Department while in their custody via an arrest that the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Esq. termed illegal. Gray, once in police custody, was placed in a police van, the functional descendent of the slavery-era paddy wagon, for a “rough ride” to the police station. Gray never made it to that police station, instead during the process of his arrest and transport he suffered what the State Medical Examiner’s Office termed a “high energy blow” which severed his spine and caused his death in the hospital days later. Gray’s murder was, at the time, the latest in a litany of murders of Africana people at the hands of the police departments of the United States. Yvette Henderson, a Black woman was killed by Emeryville Police in Oakland, California in February; Mya Hall, a Black trans* woman two weeks prior was killed by the National Security Agency in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area; Walter Scott, a Black man from South Carolina was killed by Charleston Police eight days before Gray’s arrest.
Following Gray’s murder, Black people have continued to be under assault by the police state and other appendages of white supremacy, the latest examples being 1) the massacre in Charleston at Emmanuel AME Church where nine Black people were executed by racist terrorist Dylan Roof and 2) Sandra Bland, a Black woman, was killed (author’s assertion) in police custody in Waller County, Houston, Texas with her death being framed as a suicide. Meanwhile Baltimore, in the aftermath of Gray’s death was the epicenter of an uprising of Africana unrest, justified rage, and focused activism. Property damage, theft, and protest were just some of the valid modes of resistance deployed by Africana people in the face of constant anti-black policies and practices that have permeated the city for centuries. Gray’s death has, in the city of Baltimore, been this generation’s boiling point. A boiling point that has bubbled for decades with names such as Tyrone West, Anthony Anderson, George King, and many other young Black people who met a similar fate as Gray at the hands of Baltimore police. In the months following Gray’s death and the subsequent uprising, Baltimore City has seen an increase in violent crimes, with 43 homicides in May and 31 June this year. These numbers are some of the highest the city has seen since the 1970s and 1980s. According to The Atlantic, “... arrests are down across the city—there were 1,177 arrests in May 2015, as compared to 3,801 in May 2014,” a practice known as a “slow down.” Also, residents have noted that there has been a decrease in response to their calls to the police. David Graham of The Atlantic writes that “A slowdown would be to both punish citizens for lashing out against the police and also to create a cautionary statement: This is what your streets will look like without cops. Is that really what you want?” In addition to pointing to the slowdown as the reason for the increase in crime, there have been other theories postulated by police and politicians.
One of the more prominent among those was issued by Former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts when he stated “There’s enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year… That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance on the streets of Baltimore.” Given these options, one is led to think that Black people have either overdosed themselves into oblivion or have the capability only to cannibalize themselves without the constant surveillance of the police. Both views lay blame for death and destruction endemic in Baltimore at the feet of poor and working class Africana people in the city. These perspectives posit that their pain is their fault and their death is their desire. The premise established by these perspectives is that Africana Baltimoreans who rose up and protested against the police must enjoy their children attending more funerals of family members and friends than field trips. The “real” solution in the eyes of the proponents of these perspectives is to create an environment where police can “do their job” and the “bad guys” can be taken off the street. In a previous Afrometrics article, I analyzed the inability of the police as a profession and institution to substantively curb violence in Black communities due to its intrinsic function to protect white property, white safety, and “correct” Black bodies. Nevertheless, the primary cause of the death and destruction in Africana communities the eyes of the mainstream media, politicians, pundits, police, and many others is Africana people themselves. Statements such as “it’s their fault” “we kill ourselves more than they kill us” and “the real issue is Black on Black crime” are abound in the popular discourse.
The result has been an inability to craft culturally rooted efficient and humane long term solutions to the very real problems of intra-Africana community violence. Having been inculcated in pathologizing ourselves as deserving of pain and designed to destroy has rendered us ill-equipped to harness the cultural recesses of our ancestral knowledge in a liberatory fashion. Instead we lean on white supremacist interpretations of our reality to determine how we solve the problems of white supremacy (their solutions: police reforms, legal amendments, etc.). Such an approach is futile and reductive, one that only leads to our continued place with our necks under the proverbial boot of white supremacist patriarchy. Alternatively, this article seeks to reverse that trend by using our own creativity and history to show that we have repeatedly resisted such intra-Africana community violence and sought solutions in our own ways. For the purposes of this article, that intra community violence, with Black men as both victims and perpetrators, will be understood as Black on Black violence: “the assaultive, homicidal, and suicidal violence committed by Blacks against Blacks in ways that are self-and mutually destructive, egregious, and gratuitous” (Wilson 1990).
Herein there are two examples of Africana people resisting and creating solutions to that “Black on Black violence" while understanding white supremacist patriarchy as the root cause and beneficiary: 1) Africans and the Slave Trade, 2) Baltimore and Crime Spike post-Freddie Gray uprising. Those two examples serve as the foundation for a main argument of this text; that Africana people, and Black men in particular, are not reckless and uncontrollable savages incapable of existing humanely without the surveillance and correction of white supremacist patriarchy. We as Africana people are full human beings with our own cultural epistemologies and ontologies, capable of bringing into the world our own accountability models and liberation concepts. In order to effectively understand the phenomena Wilson describes as “Black on Black crime” we must begin our analysis on the African continent and the institution of slavery.
The Maafa and the “Savages” it Purported to “Save”
For centuries, white supremacy and Arab domination constructed the African as sub-human and functional only in the role of an enslaved tool for their own perpetuation of power and domination. Each of the aforementioned enslavement systems functioned in large part due to the narrative that both systems propagated of the African as backward and savage, unable to come into the modern world without the “assistance” of the “benevolent civilizing conqueror.” Large scale trade of enslaved people became normalized through the Arab trade (7th century to 20th century roughly), but it was the European trade (16th century to 19th century roughly) though concurrent with the Arab trade, which exacerbated that enslavement into a global and chattel phenomenon. Justification from the Europeans came in many forms, but the three most common refrains were, and in many cases still are, “Africans traded other Africans into slavery,” “they did not resist being enslaved” and “they were uncivilized; in need of saving.” These three statements, assumptions, and falsehoods operate together to create the idea that Africana people deserved the pain of enslavement and desired to be enslaved.
In Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies Sylvianne Diouf (2003) writes, “If the idea that the deported Africans walked quietly into servitude has lost ground in some intellectual circles, it is still going strong in popular culture; as are the supposed passivity or complicity of the rest of their compatriots and their lack of remorse for having allowed or participated in this massive displacement” (ix). The enslavers and colonizers of Europe utilized Christianity as a vessel for justifying their enslavement as they needed to cast the non-Christian West Africans as fit for serving Christianity, hence serving whites. The Africans’ lack of the “right” kind of religion deemed them in need of being “saved” from their toxic past, and brought into a more “civilized” future. And the historical narrative that makes such a practice seem benevolent and not toxic is the one that Diouf has highlighted as needing interrogation.
Most historians, according to Diouf, cast Africans as only either trading partners or cargo in the context of the slave trade(s). The trope of trading partners of the past can be read as the Black “thugs” and “criminals” trope of the present age. The cargo trope of the past can be read as the concept of the “helpless and ignorant" Black community trope of the present age at the mercy of the evil Black gangster and his or her crew. The African collaborators and traders of the Transatlantic Slave Trade exists in much of the same way that the inner city Black person who kills and sells deadly drugs to other Black people does today. And in mainstream discourse it is argued that Black people “or any human beings” being cargo would have been bad, in the same way that so many Black people dying en masse is not unique but “any human beings” dying en masse would be wrong. But the reality is that it wasn’t just “any human beings” who were cargo in the 17th-19th centuries, nor was it “any human beings” who introduced that system of enslavement that made them cargo. And today it isn’t “any human beings” that are dying due to state sanctioned (police normality) or state (so called Black on Black) violence. The rhetoric of “any human beings” is akin to the “All lives matter” rhetoric.
When mainstream scholars, theorists, and pundits exalt “all people had slavery and slaves” they obscure and ignore the specific nature and horror of the Translatlantic Slave Trade. The flattening of perpetrators of the transatlantic slave trade as a vague “everyone” is how white supremacy absolves itself for being held accountable as the root creator and beneficiary of that enslavement system. Simultaneously, framing the primary resistors to the transatlantic slave trade as white abolitionists allows contemporary whites to historically see themselves as the “good” white people who sought to rid the world of a toxic system and save the “helpless” Africans. This is emblematic of what Dayvon Love describes occurring in Baltimore during the context of a fight against a new Youth Jail in The Black Book: Reflections from the Baltimore Grassroots. Love writes: “... through Baltimore’s self-proclaimed social justice communities was the overwhelming presence of white adults and Black youth... Black youth were literally being used to give legitimacy to the white liberal fight against the youth jail” (Grandpre and Love 2014). The Black youth in this case the “helpless” and the white adults, the “good.” Meanwhile, this scenario leaves the Black youth only two options to see himself as: perpetrator or follower, as it left the enslaved Africans only two options to see herself historically, as Diouf states, either as trading partner or cargo. Never as emancipator, resistor, liberator, or freedom fighter. We are inundated with the language of white abolitionist and white savior, yet we are not nearly as often exposed to language that positions us as agents in our own survival and defense.
Speaking of language, “If the word Holocaust is a fitting and immediately understood description of the crime against humanity that it was, the expression slave trade, by contrast, tends to let the collective consciousness equate this crime with a business venture. Naturally, genocide and other crimes against humanity are not commercial enterprises...” (Diouf, 2003). The term genocide did not exist until 1944 (possibly 1943) when Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the term as, in his view, the most accurate descriptor for the Nazi Holocaust of Jewish people in Europe.
Before such wide scale annihilation met Europe, the exacting of the very similar actions by European powers was deemed necessary for the project of imperialism and the expansion of Western civilization. This similar phenomena of the paucity of worth Black trauma and death in the eyes of the West emerged with convict leasing, segregation, and police brutality in the United States, each being a non-issue until few whites met similar fates as countless Blacks. With convict leasing it was Martin Tabert, young white convict working in Florida in 1921, with segregation it was Goodman and Schwerner, two white Civil Rights activists in the “Deep South” of the U.S. in 1964, and with police brutality it was the militarized crackdown of the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011. Each of the aforementioned representing a moment where Black people had endured something for decades prior, but it was “just the way things were” until it happened to white people. Therefore, African Psychologist Marimba Ani operationalized the term Maafa; "a great disaster of death and destruction that is beyond human comprehension and convention… it’s chief feature is the systematic denial of the humanity of people of African descent, which occurs in many ways and across numerous circumstances” (Ani 1994). Due to the function of whiteness to dehumanize Blackness for white validation, the traumas experienced by Blacks must not be seen as crimes against humanity committed by whites, but intrinsically deserved due to some defect of character or mental faculty. And if Black trauma somehow is considered tantamount to genocide and more specifically, a Holocaust, White society demands we view the perpetrator as always Black themselves. This is where retorts such as “they let themselves be enslaved” “they didn’t stop it” “they kill themselves” and so on begin to sprout from the discursive landscape like weeds.
African people did indeed collaborate and often benefit financially and otherwise from providing the Europeans with Africans to enslave. Such a massive entrenchment of whites into the heart of the African continent would not have been possible without substantive African betrayal and collaboration. This cannot be ignored, nor should it. The Akan, Dahomey, and other African people established decade-long (sometimes century-long) partnerships with enslaving Europeans. They received gold, copper, gunpowder, rum and other goods from Europeans in exchange for the human bodies of their fellow Africans. However, such a business was not something that any of these African peoples sought out, none of them sought out the Europeans to whom they desired to sell fellow Africans. As with much crime in inner cities like Baltimore, the drugs and weapons are funneled into these communities with indifference and/or assistance from local and federal governments. One of the more prominent cases of this was cocaine trafficking fueled by the Iran-Contra conflict in the 1980s exposed internationally by San Jose journalist Gary Webb. In Los Angeles, there were individual Black drug dealers and gangs that benefited financially from the drug trade, ensnaring their own communities in the web of crack addiction and the subsequent gun violence. However, they did not create the drug system nor the drug supply, and ultimately their financial gain was minimal when compared to the political and economic benefits it garnered the U.S. in their foreign policy objectives. Similarly, it was the European who came onto African soil and created the capitalistic climate where many of these African countries assisted in the enslavement of other African peoples, so that their particular group would harness some semblance of safety. In the case of both the African slave trader and the inner city drug dealer/gang leader, these are collaborators, not to be confused or conflated with instigators and primary facilitators.
Slave Trading as Black on Black Violence to Protect and Empower Whiteness
Diouf, in her work, shows that the collaborations between Africans and Europeans were far from simplistic. In some cases, Africans sold other Africans into slavery to avoid being enslaved themselves. Quite a few African peoples, with the barrels of guns facing them down, were given the choice of being collaborators or corpses. Many Africans were convinced by whites this was their destiny, and that escape from the system was impossible. There was often no fine line between starving and feeding the system due to the consistent reduction of African agency this process caused; “Resistance, accommodation, and participation in the trade and attacks against it were often intimately linked… (Diouf 2003). Though Westerners and African traders and rulers entered “commercial relations” the parties cannot be seen as equal business partners, protected puppets perhaps, but equal partners, no. Though monies and benefits were exchanged between Africans and Europeans “The violent seizures of people, however, did not entail any transaction; the affected African communities were not involved in business deals” (Diouf 2003). One sees violent seizures of power of a similar variety in cities like Baltimore today, the harsh realities to which Black people in such places are subjected to are often anti-Black and anti-human, often producing self-mutilating and community destroying psychologies that people take on to survive. In an interview with two Black men from Baltimore City, Dayvon Love of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle organization, is told by Gary Johnson and Orlando Gillyard that one has no clue the depths to which daily existence under state violence, and socio-economic decimation via anti-Blackness will drive a person. Those who judge people in these circumstances as choosing this life for themselves are woefully in denial about the power that white supremacy wields. Though it may not appear that way to those on the outside, no one wakes up feeling thrilled about aiding in the enslavement or harming of their community, these are not the things people dream of doing when they are children. Black people have pushed back against these psyches, from slavery to today, whether the historical records acknowledge it or not.
“If nothing else, the need for shackles, guns, ropes, chains, iron balls, whips, and cannons — that sustained a veritable European Union of slave trade-related jobs — eloquently tells a story of opposition from the hinterland to the high seas” (Diouf 2003). However, opposition to enslavement is often the last thing that many think of when thinking about Africans’ relation to enslavement.
The function of the idea of the enslaved behaving solely as willing, docile, and non-confrontational in their enslavement serves to bolster the ability to craft the Maafa as business, not genocide. It does not seem logical (to a Western capitalist society) for a person to willingly accept negative outcomes of a genocide. With business, on the other hand, one is expected to accept negative outcomes as the sometimes unsavory costs of any trade or venture. However, enslavement was not merely unsavory, it was mass murder, and we must confront this, the sooner, the better. If history downplays and dissolves the narrative of resistance while exalting acquiescence, Africana people are reduced to enslaved or slaving, never liberatory resisters. However, the threat of African resistance to slavery was a constant and daily reality that confronted the enslavers and the collaborators. On a practical level, Diouf cites the recollection of a slave trader that “‘One must, without any hesitation, shoot at them and not spare them. The loss of the vessel and the life of the crew are at stake.’” Above all, the crew and the vessel were to be protected, any glimmer of the light of resistance that shone in the eyes of the enslaved Africans was to be gouged out with haste. Such efforts to quell insurrection proactively were framed as being beneficial to the physical safety of the enslaved, protecting them from sure death that they would meet if they dared to resist their captivity. “‘In some areas… the level of distrust and hostility [between enslavers and enslaved] was so high that as soon as people approached the boats ‘the crew is ordered to take up arms, the cannons are aimed, and the fuses lighted’” (Diouf 2003). In 2010, Detroit Police Department SWAT threw a flash grenade into the house of seven year old Black girl Aiyana Stanley-Jones, then shot her in the head within seconds. Police were conducting a raid of the house, and without hesitation Jones was shot dead, because her life was not as valuable as making the “dramatic arrest.” The suspect they were looking for, her Uncle, submitted without incident to the police. In 2014, Cleveland Police shot twelve year old Tamir Rice within “1.5 to 2 seconds” after arriving at the park where he was playing with a toy gun. One more sentence on Tamir, then connect to paternalism and shoot first attitude since the slave ships. Symbolically, Rice represented a danger to the life of the crew (whiteness) therefore he was to be shot and not spared. Whether Rice represented any real physical threat to those around him (which he did not) was not of consequence, as in the slave trade, such choices are to be made by the protectors and proprietors of whiteness without hesitation. The police assumed the role of parent and arbiter, the one with the endowed moral compass to decide whether Rice lived or died. The same paternalism is imbedded in many social justice movements “... often animated by the idea that white people are needed to save Black youth from this cesspool of pathology” falsely presented as protection (Grandpre and Love 2014). The historical record of African indigenous resistance paints quite a different picture.
Walter Hawthorne returns us to the era of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, providing the following as an example of resistance “abandoning places that were easily accessible and therefore vulnerable to attack” (Hawthorne 2003). This practice of intentional migration and exodus was something that many African peoples practiced whose communities were being raided and destroyed by the slave trade. One may read this as a precursor to the practice of creating maroon communities that emerged throughout the Caribbean and North America by many enslaved African peoples during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The other modes of resistance which I seek to highlight here are quotidian and armed rebellion. Along with the migration patterns, these are vital because they are forms of resistance that were not sanctioned or supervised by members of the European enslaving society. These were not Western Abolition movements, nor were they the American Colonization Society, nor were they “reformed" students of Christian missionaries, these were Africans who resisted enslavement on their own cultural terms and with their own cultural tools. For Rashid, resistance was “a plethora of spontaneous, organized, covert, or overt actions designed to thwart the intentions of the kidnappers, slave traders, and slave holders” (Rashid 2003).
Rashid informs readers about a rebellion in 1750 on a Danish slave ship that ended with the people on this vessel fleeing and establishing their own "free settlement in the mountains off the Sierra Leone coast” (Rashid 2003). “The free communities should be seen as counter to the ronde. Like the maroons in the Caribbean and the Americas, the enslaved Africans consciously created these communities to assert their freedom, separate themselves from their slaveholders, and gain autonomy over their lives” (Rashid 2003). Rashid reminds us that resistance occurs on multiple levels, and that slavery was a layered process, and one’s enslavement was not just on the plantation. “Those who were in the process of being enslaved, as well as those who were enslaved, used different methods to counter the different manifestations of servitude. From the point of capture to the ships or to the slave villages, they utilized escape, violence, and maroonage to try to restore a sense of self-dignity and autonomy over their bodies” (Rashid 2003).
Self-dignity and bodily autonomy was, for many of these Africans, not about seeking the next available seat of power, instead, Rashid contends “enslaved Africans routinely affirmed their freedom, not by absorption into the slaveholding societies or by renegotiations of dependent relationships — as argued by some scholars — but by outright rejection and opposition to servitude” (Rashid 2003). This historical lesson in the ancestral recesses of our African past teaches us that to be free is not to replicate our dehumanization of each other, but rather to fully honor the humanity of ourselves and our community. It is from this lesson that Africana people may begin to understand both enslavement and Black on Black violence as harming us, and strengthening the very system of oppression that is oppressing us.
Often, the intra-Africana violence aspect of the transatlantic slave trade is cast as desired and causal solely on the part of Africans who traded other Africans, their benefit is rendered equal to that of European society writ-large. Furthermore, their role as “equal” in the Maafa is used to situate and posit the European enslaver as “no different” than anyone else, and having no more blame in the genocide of Africans that was enslavement than “the Africans who traded other Africans into slavery.” Joseph Inikori succinctly outlines why it is Europe who owns fundamental blame for what Ani terms the Maafa.
The evidence is clear that the Atlantic slave trade was caused by European demand for captives… European explorations brought together Atlantic basin economies and societies at different levels of commercial and politico-military development. The commercial and politico-military advantage of the western European nations meant that the needs of their states and economies determined what was demanded and produced in the trade relations between Western Europe and Western Africa. European colonization of theAmericas radically transformed those needs, which in turn radically changed what the European traders demanded in western Africa — from trade in products to trade in humans (189)
Inikori establishes Europe as both instigator and chief beneficiary of the Maafa. This assertion calls into question many of the assertions Eurocentric scholarship has made about “everyone” being “equally” to blame for the atrocity of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. For example, “[By] Depicting slavery as natural, inevitable, and necessary, texts offer tacit support of slavery as central to the rise of the Eurocentric global capitalist economy (Ogden et al., 2008 ) without considering its link to racist ideology and accumulation of resources (Magubane 2004 ; Sivanandan 1982)” (Weiner 2014). Meanwhile, scholars such as Henry Louis Gates posit we should, “publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization.” Such a de-racialized power analysis seeks to be very elaborate in “exposing” the violence in our reactive treatment of each other , yet remains very obtuse and vague in calling out Europeans’ casual and violent treatment of Africans (enslaving). Complicit, yes. But alike, most certainly not.
When historically dishonest people conflate the creating of the enslavement system with participation in the system, they critique the puppet as if she isn’t guided by strings. When people conflate the intra-racial Black criminal with the system of self-hatred ingrained in him by white supremacy, they critique the puppet as if he isn’t guided by strings. Of those who would blame Africans for their own Maafa, Penny Hess of African People’s Solidarity Committee profoundly writes:
The setting up of collaborators among the colonized population has been a successful tool of domination in every instance of European colonialism around the world. Africa is no exception… A unilateral colonial economy, which starves the people and creates the dependency on the colonial power, is militarily enforced. The European invader gets richer and richer through his bloodsucking relationship, and offers resources, guns and special status to a minority sector of the oppressed population. The selected “elite” or the colony can themselves become enslaved or carry out the will of white power. If they take any stand independent of the colonizer as have, say, Panama’s Noriega or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in today’s world, white power spares them none of its wrath… It is an anti-black expression of unity with the oppression of African people, saying, ‘They did it to themselves.’ Meanwhile all white people everywhere still benefit from the parasitic economic system which has as its foundation the enslavement and continued exploitation of African people.
Part of African resistance is holding accountable the internal traitors and perpetrators, the internal agents of the system, but from a position that critiques and analyzes their unique participation in the system not collapsing their participation in the system as the “same” or “equal” to white supremacy. Ultimately, understanding that their participation is that of a puppet to a ventriloquist. The puppet is purposeless without someone pulling the strings and a puppet cannot both be puppet and puppet-master and the same time. In the case of extended-self mutilating Africans, some are unaware they are puppets, but others willingly embrace the strings.
Though it has been argued here that European desires are the crux of the issue when it comes to intra-Africana communal violence, this piece in no form seeks to absolve Black collaborators and contributors to the oppression of other Black people. In fact, it is my assertion that only through understanding European desire as the beneficiary of Black on Black violence will we be able to stop it and hold certain intra-Africana communal abusers accountable in a way that is relevant. Relevancy in my view is not “ending” the blame game, as Gates has argued. If we begin our analysis by placing blame primarily on the individual African enslaver or Black gang member, we lose any way to establish the origin of our cannibalistic fatalism via intra-communal violence. If we end our analysis without placing any blame on the individual African enslaver or Black gang member, we lose any way to establish trust and safety of those harmed by them, removing all possibility for communal accountability among African people. Additionally, if we flatten blame across the board as the same, we blunt the need for specificity of solutions and equalize roles of Africans and Europeans in the trade. Instead, relevant accountability is a recognition of intra-Africana communal violence as a betrayal of Ubuntu for individual gain. There must be a confrontation of culpability, such an adoption of Eurocentric individualism is something for which one must atone, and atonement does not equal acceptance back into community, and may very well end in exile/banishment. Wade Nobles, Black Psychologist, speaks of the extended self: the idea that the self is not composed merely of an individual human, but that individual in relation to their wider Africana community. Slavery operated on breaking down communal bonds between Africans (many family units were torn apart, children were taken away from their mothers, etc.) and we were sold individuality as our path to survival. At this crucial point in our existence as Africana people, we must work to remove violent people from our spaces who make our spaces unhealthy and unsafe for others. This might be accomplished via exile or banishment or some other mechanism. There is no place for Black people who harm and oppress other Black people in our community and negate their humanity. Liberators and leeches cannot inhabit the same body. There will be no liberated African future if African people are unable to trust, affirm, and be accountable to each other.
Neo-Plantations and the Function of the “Bad” Black Person
In Baltimore, and urban cities like it throughout the world, though temporally different, we find a similar social order to that which confronted the African peoples who were enslaved by the Europeans centuries ago. Instead, the physical enslavement of yesterday through shackles and ships has taken the contemporary form of cultural castration, epistemological starvation, deadly drug inundation, weapons influx, deplorable housing infrastructure, and abhorrent health care protections. White supremacy still demands captives, yet today those captives are not destined for Brazilian plantations and the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Nowadays, the captives demanded of white supremacy are fed into the Prison-Industrial Complex and the grave. There is money to be made in bailing, bonding, body bagging, and burying Black bodies. Black people exist in perpetual captivity in the 21st century neo-plantation of the Americas. Black people in the U.S. makeup 13.2% of the country’s population but 37.5% of the prison population, thus disproportionately represented as prisoners. In the past eleven years, the number of private prisons in the United States has grown from five to one hundred. “Just between 1980 and 1994, profits [of contracted prison labor] went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month.”
The racist system of incarceration that permeates much of the United States benefits and is populated by the mass of intra-Africana community violence and stop and frisk/broken windows policing that exists in cities like Baltimore. The mainstream media contends that the uprising in Baltimore produced a spike in crime, yet I assert there is no way a police force can stop these very crimes. By nature of the very profession of police, it requires Black people to correct, corral, or put beneath concrete. Therefore, “bad” Black people who police can send to the prison industrial complex is what the system demands, not what the system shall eradicate. But, their validity within the eyes of the society is that they operate for the collective benefit of the society. However, the more insidious reality is that much in the way the white abolitionist/missionary movement on the continent serves to establish whites as saviors and Black people as helpless, the narrative of the police as necessary casts whiteness the savior (police as proxy for whiteness because it serves and protects white interests) and Black people again as helpless. In both cases, indigenous Africana people represent a sort of evil, on the continent it was the false conception that they had backward religions and propensity to sell each other into slavery. In Baltimore, it is the false idea of the Black on Black criminal as the chief perpetrator of crime and violence who needs to be shut down by the “good guys” (i.e. the police).
The violence that Black people face/d at the hands of other Black people is/was real. Under slavery, the African collaborator often believed that their privileged status with the Europeans made them better and afforded them some sort of protection against meeting the same fate as their fellow Africans. For the collaborator, they viewed their position of trader and collaborator as a choice, they fancied themselves business partners with Europeans, for many Africans bought the myth of slavery as business too. However, in genocide, today’s collaborator is tomorrow’s corpse. The inability of the collaborator to see that, combined with the selfish urge to preserve oneself by any cost and all means is what the oppressor counts on. Inikori argues that the “…process of establishing captive-collecting vassals … depended on the continued widespread existence of politically fragmented communities” (Diouf, 2003). In other words, part of why the slave trade was able to perpetuate itself was because Europeans created a climate where Africans did not see their extended self in the African who was in shackles while they lived in relative comfort for the moment. Europe, as Inikori established, created a societal structure where individualism became indicative of survival and communalism ended in capture.
This positioning of individual protection and safety became something that Europeans cast as their divine right to dole out, only to the most worthy of the “lesser people”, the Africans. And of course, for an African to deem oneself worthy in the eyes of whiteness, this African had to emulate (but never reach) whiteness, which by definition meant to dehumanize Blackness. The more willing one was to sell other Africans into slavery, the more cache one gained with the Europeans. However, this cache, unbeknownst to the collaborating Africans, was not secure, but fleeting. As soon as one African’s favor in the Europeans’ eyes wore out, there would be another more ruthless, more anti-Black African willing to sacrifice other Africans for the myth of momentary safety from whiteness’ wrath. Such desire to show off for whiteness how anti-Black one can be out of the false belief that it will garner some protection from whiteness’ wrath is as contemporary as historic. We see this daily in the abhorrent treatment by many Black men of Black women, Black women to Black men, and Black men to other Black men ourselves. Intra-group violence does occur between and by Black men, Black women, Black gender non-conforming people, and all other folks who exist within Blackness. It is imperative to note that each of those intra-group violences are not the same due to systems of power that privilege certain Black people, often “cisgender” Black men over others such as patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. The foci of this essay are violences perpetrated by Black men intra-communally where their victims are Black men and Black women primarily.
The Anatomy of Toxic Black Masculinity
In Black on Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination, Amos Wilson, African Psychologist, outlines the way that Black men are socialized to view harming other Black people and themselves as necessary for their ascension to manhood. Wilson lists a myriad of examples of media and historical platforms that frame Black men as inept unless performing procreation or persecution. White supremacist patriarchy does not desire for Black men to reach the status of white men, but the system counts on Black men viewing the status of white men as desirable. In the realization that as Black man one will never reach that status, the adaptation many make as recourse is often to harm those they feel have made their reaching of that precarious pinnacle impossible: other Black people, Black women especially. In their minds it is their proximity to these “others” that has stained their ability to transcend the blemish of Blackness, forever marring them in the eyes of whites. Therefore, harming other Black people becomes a way of attempting to wipe the stench of Black from one’s manhood and gain access to the power and privilege of white manhood (which is beyond a mere desire to “be a white man”). This is what shall be understood in this work as toxic Black masculinity.
When speaking of toxic Black masculinity, social scientist William Oliver describes “dysfunctional compensatory adaptation, in that it causes more problems than it solves” (Oliver 1989). The trading of Africans into slavery by other Africans was also a dysfunctional compensatory adaptation, in that it ended up exacerbating the reign of the slave trade instead of exterminating it. For contemporary context, of Africana people who develop these adaptations to white supremacist patriarchy “chewed up and spit out as shells of what they once were… in motion for the sole purpose of rabid materialism and consumption… and young African-American males in particular, suffer from a cultural void” (Jackson 2015). This cultural void means that before people will seek to remove all resemblance of their community from themselves, they must see that community as separate from themselves. This dehumanizing process leaves the Black person that remains as little more than a hollow shell, attempting to fill oneself with the blood and bodies of “others” consumed in their wake. Not out of some innate evil on their part, but because they quite simply don’t know how to eat anything but themselves.
Hiphop artist Lil’Boosie encapsulates this mindset better than most, when in his song Mind of a Maniac (2009) he proclaims: “Man, you wonder why ya child so bad, because the f*cking body bags done hypnotized my a**.” Boosie is explaining how the normalization of Black death warps one’s mind to view taking and destroying Black lives as not only normal but necessary to humanity. As was the case during The Maafa, the loss of Black life was so commonplace that it manipulated some Africans to only see the lives of other Africans as valuable in their ability to secure money or safety (albeit momentary). Lil’ Boosie also states in this song that his “Heart full of f*ckin pain cause I’m tired of gettin’ stabbed and grabbed.” This fullness of pain often drives those who have been consumed by this toxic Black masculinity to deploy violence and posturing of being violent for protection. D Watkins provides a searing example of how this posturing plays out when he writes of himself and his friends having guns in Gunplay is All I Know, “We weren’t killers and didn’t even think about dealing at the time. We were just scared kids who didn’t want to lie dead in the streets like our brothers, fathers, friends and the rest of the black dudes who get murdered all over the country.” This confluence of fear and fate leaves many Black men believing that their choices are limited to doing the killing or doing the dying.
In Black Power: Minstrelsy and Electricity in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man", Johnnie Wilcox writes of Black masculinity and dehumanization explored in Ellison’s classic “...black boxing machines fight one against the other as schizoid subjects, members of a pack together in their aloneness...present functioning prepares them for a lifetime of pursuing symbolic capital while reassuring the powerful white men who watch that these machines will not recognize anything beyond the ring's borders as legitimate targets of their violence” (Wilcox 2007). Incendiary levels of violence are allowed to exist in the “inner cities” is because their ramifications are experienced within the borders of Blackness by Black people, with whiteness as the unharmed spectator. Black bodies existing under white supremacy are cast as deserving of the violence they inflict upon one another, self-inflicted harm is said to be their “natural” disposition. In the “inner city” the police play the roles of referee and promoter, walking a tightrope of ignoring and inducing the violence. In cities like Baltimore the police are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.
“The spectacle of convulsing black bodies entertains and comforts the white men… provides the white men with some assurance that their own place in the system of capital is not a bad one” (Wilcox 2007). This is the sadistic truth; the reality that having Black men bounce from bellies to burial grounds like pinballs reifies the position of dominance whiteness currently enjoys in our society. As a result, the interior psychological architecture of many Black men is indeed as Lil’ Boosie says in his song: “I ain’t got no mind. Welcome to the mind of a maniac.”
Baltimore, Arnesha Bowers, and the Brutality of Toxic Black Masculinity
Intra-racial “Black on Black violence” is real, harsh, traumatic, and sometimes hurts more than violence from white people because one feels a sense of experiential betrayal. This is poignantly articulated by Black women and Black LGBTQ people who write at length about the ways that patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia provide havens of momentary faux safety for Black people whose sex, gender, and sexual orientation identities afford them privilege in this society. Authors such as Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Janet Mock, Kimberlee Crenshaw, Dawn Elissa-Fishcer, Layli Mapryan,and Assata Shakur among others outline how such privileges have often made violence against Black women by Black men, structurally permissible and ancillary in the “broader scheme” in the eyes of many people. Currently, activists like Patrisse Cullors and Charlene Carruthers have used #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter and #BYP100 to address this very issue. In the same way that many Black men are socialized to not see their fellow Black men as their extended selves, many Black men are socialized to see Black women and other Black people similarly. These are two sides of the same self-alienation coin that are flipped daily in the mind of the Black on Black criminal. In the case of the male Black on Black criminal, Amos Wilson describes this as his inclination to “equate violence with masculinity. His capacity for violence is correlated with his sense of security, his use of it, the most appropriate expression of his ‘manhood.’ Violence is often his most effective way of gaining ‘respect’ control of others, and his environment” (Wilson 1990).
Following the uprisings surrounding Freddie Gray, Baltimore City saw a most gratuitous case of just this type of violence, physically perpetrated by Black men against a young Black girl. On June 7th 2015, the body of 16 year old Arnesha Bowers was found, having been raped and her body badly burned inside of her home, which had been set ablaze by arson earlier that day. Three Black men have since been indicted in the rape and murder of Arnesha Bowers. Some City officials have grotesquely scapegoated the uprisings in the name of Freddie Gray and others as the catalyst for Bowers’ murder and other violent crimes committed by Black men in Baltimore. However, what these officials fail to realize is that Black people have been killing each other long before the Gray uprisings, and the flowing of white supremacy’s internal toxins in our communities has been an issue for us long before 2015. A mind capable of the violence in the Bowers murder, as Wilson reminds us, is one the male Black on Black criminal (and the writ large Black on Black criminal) received from and shares with the white male narcissistic racist; “...the Black on Black violent criminal in American society is essentially a “copycat” or imitator of the narcissistic racism endemic to the White american community” (Wilson 1990). In line with that type of Black brute self-fulfilling hypermasculinity performance, Bowers’ death has since been connected to a supposed “mission” for gang initiation, as has been the case in Baltimore plus other major cities, around instances of intra-racial violence. Toxic forms of Black masculinity are often defined by the veracity with which one can berate Black women/girls who don’t acquiesce Black men’s/boys’ whims. Black on Black violence is used to prove one’s dedication to the objectives of white supremacy, particularly in the form of debasing and sexually assaulting the bodies of Black girls and women. Wilson says the intra-racial criminal shares the following with the white narcissistic racist: “his intended victims have no rights they cannot defend successfully against his depredations… An authority onto himself… his victims have rights only he may condescendingly give them” (Wilson 1990). Bowers a young Black girl, was dehumanized on multiple fronts, being both Black and a girl. This was not the result of the Baltimore uprisings, in fact the uprisings brought many of the gangs in Baltimore together. The Baltimore Uprisings brought Black people closer to seeing themselves in Arnesha Bowers, not farther away. Black people in those gangs who, as Wilson states, were taught to emulate the white racist narcissist, began to remove the strings of racial cannibalism, and see themselves as a collective of Black people, under attack against the real power structure, white supremacist patriarchy. Arnesha Bowers’ murder was a form of intra-racial violence with roots more insidious than the public officials of Baltimore City are willing to admit, the uprisings are a nothing more than a convenient scapegoat. There are droves of Black women in Baltimore City who are doing the work of healing, therapy, and organizing around the issue of intra-racial violence committed against Black people, girls and women in particular. One such exemplar is Mothyna Brightful is a social justice advocate who works at Turn Around, a non-profit in Baltimore “that works with victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault” as Director of Community Education. Brightful does invaluable work in the lives of Black girls and women throughout the Baltimore City area. Additionally, Shawna Murray-Browne, MSW, LCSW, is a Baltimore based Social Worker whose practice Kindred Wellness LLC provides “mental health therapy, life coaching, Sista circles and events that heal, empower and renew women, girls, & families particularly those of color.”
Though the situation is dire, African people are not defeated in our quest to overcome this systemic violence against our bodies and minds. In the same way that enslaved Africans, as we learned from Rashid, focused their resistance on thwarting the objectives of their oppressors, Jackson posits that rooting one’s sense of self, purpose, and identity culturally in African people collectively serves to thwart the objectives of white supremacist patriarchy as it relates to Black men.
CityStreets+SlaveShips: Tidal Waves of Intergenerational Anti-Blackness and Resistance
The Middle Passage, where millions of Africans were submerged in the depths of clipper ships, many of which docked in Baltimore City’s Inner Harbor less than 250 years ago, was the original rough ride. Surrounded by decaying flesh, death, and defecation, along with the tumultuous tides of the Atlantic, the ride to the Americas for enslaved Africans was a most abhorrent one. In fact, “Slave ship owners often threw Africans off the ships just to collect the insurance money. One famous case was that of a ship owned by William Gregson and George Case (both former mayors of Liverpool, England). The captain threw 133 Africans into the sea….” Freddie Gray was also thrown into a sea of sorts, every curve of the city streets analogous to the ripples of the ocean that thrashed the bodies of his ancestors. His shackled body bouncing to and fro, his transporters indifferent to the suffering of their cargo, his survival tangential. During a rough ride, this “dark tradition of police misconduct… suspects, seated or lying face down and in handcuffs in the back of a police wagon, are jolted and battered by an intentionally rough and bumpy ride that can do as much damage as a police baton without an officer having to administer a blow.”
As previously mentioned, in the days of the Maafa, the enslaved who died en route to the Americas were often tossed overboard. But in the age of social media, Gray’s body couldn’t have been dumped on Mosher St. after he indicated he couldn’t breathe, it would’ve been bad for business. Instead, he succumbed to his injuries in a hospital days later. Death by rough ride is the death by overboard toss of the 21st century. Now let’s juxtapose Gray’s murder in police custody with the murder of many Africans in custody enslavers. In both cases, Africana people are often blamed for our own suffering. The argument goes like this: with murder on slave ships, A. Africans sold each other into slavery, so that equals B. they did it to themselves. And with Gray, A. Black people exhibit intra-racial violent behaviors (Black on Black violence) so that requires B. the constant police surveillance and aggression practices which led to Gray’s illegal arrest. The crux of this narrative about the deserving of decimation thrust upon Black people is that it is upheld by the falsity that only through white-led organizing/activism have Black people come to resist their enslavement and intra-racial violent behaviors. This is how the uprisings in Baltimore get classified as unruly and unorganized riots that will accomplish nothing. It is the same premise that allows historians to cast African resistance to slavery as minimal and minute, irrelevant until the benevolence of the white abolitionist movement. It is the same logic that fueled the police slow-down in Baltimore City following the uprisings, a logic that contends: without the police, without white protection and white guidance, the Negroes will eviscerate each other. Hence, all resistance before white people show Black folks the right way isn’t real resistance, but misdirected anger and frivolous rioting. Resistance indigenous to Africana people, prior to and independent of white guidance is removed from the annals of mainstream history and rendered myopic in mainstream contemporary discourse. The fact of the matter is that whiteness has no issue with the “Negroes” eviscerating themselves, only that it be done in a manner and medium to their liking. The fact of the matter is, the only thing that white guidance has led Black people to has been a myriad of rough rides masquerading as salvation. From the shackles on the slave ship to the handcuffs on the police wagon, Black people have borne the burden of white benevolence with nothing less than our lives.
“Most Africans resisted enslavement with all of their energy. Rebellions on slave ships were common. According to one source… There was probably at least one insurrection every eight to ten journeys.’” However, in most educational settings abolition and resistance are said to have begun with William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe. “Africans successfully rebelled in 1532 aboard the Portuguese slave ship the Misericordia. The 109 Africans on board “rose and murdered all the crew except for the pilot and two seaman. Those survivors escaped in a longboat. But the Misericordia was never heard of again.” However, in most educational settings Roger Sherman Baldwin, lawyer in the Amistad case, and John Brown, white abolitionist are said to have given the “real” traction to abolishing to the peculiar institution. The valorization of the individual white resister obscures the vile systemic reality of white supremacy while obfuscating African resistance methods as imperfect and inadequate. Such is the case in Baltimore City, however, there are many Black people and organizations throughout Baltimore who are in their own way, shooting back against white supremacist patriarchy and using African culture plus Black lived experience as their foundations.
B African to B More: Culture and the Necessity of Sankofa
On the importance of culturally endemic and indigenous resistance Shawn Ginwright, Africana Studies scholar, writes “An emancipatory vision for Black youth means that being rooted in African culture is a starting point for identity development, but not the end point…. Once Black youth understand why Blackness is degraded around the world, they can identify ways that they degrade Blackness in their own lives” (Ginwright 2010). For the African who enslaved other Africans, and for the Black on Black criminal who harms his own people, this means unchaining oneself from the entrapment of white supremacist puppetry, and cutting the strings. Ginwright continues by saying “Constant and relentless questioning of Black youth’s assumptions about Black identity can develop in them social justice habits” (Ginwright 2010). The Baltimore Uprisings were the example of the emergence of a social justice habit (resistance to oppression) in real time by a people who questioned the killings, the shootings, the racism, people who resisted what they were being told about why Freddie Gray died, about why Tyrone West died, about why so many in Baltimore for so long have died. From Ginwright we learn, “culture and identity provide Black youth with purpose that is both rooted in the history of Black struggle and connected to the problems of everyday life” (Ginwright 2010). In the sankofic (term introduced to the discipline by Donela Wright, M.A.) connecting of shackled Africans killed in the past to Freddie Gray in shackles killed in 2015, many Black Baltimoreans through culture and identity became rooted in their purpose, resistance to white supremacy for the goal of African liberation. The Baltimore Uprisings were an instantiation of Baltimore’s Black youth accepting what Serie McDougal and Michael Tillotson, two Africana Studies scholars, term their “ancestral assignment.”
In Baltimore City, there are numerous examples of Africana people utilizing indigenous modes of resistance, birthed and cultivated within their own cultural context, doing the work of their “ancestral assignments.” The following are examples of such groups and individuals. The group 300 Men March is a group that believes in “responsibility and non-violence” as a guiding philosophy and seeks to curb local violence. Author D. Watkins has used his life experiences and literary acumen to position his voice as a seminal one in the movement for a more affirming and just Baltimore, particularly for Black low-income and working class people. In his articles such as Too Poor For Pop Culture, Gunplay is All I Know, These Are The Two Baltimore’s: One Black One White, and Black History Bulldozed For Another Starbucks, Watkins has established himself as a voice in both the nuanced battle against intra-group violence and the war against white supremacist patriarchy. In the arts, there is the work of Mia Loving, curator and founder of Invisible Majority, a creative community incubator, led by her and Blaqstarr together. Loving has done extensive work in Baltimore City around creating and holding intra-communal spaces of affirmation and justice for Black people. Invisible Majority holds space for Black youth and community members to have opportunities to artistically express and work through the anti-Blackness which inundates people daily. Loving’s sister, Sache Jones runs the Afya Community Teaching Garden, which is located in the Park Heights community of Baltimore City. Jones’ space address the abundance of food deserts and structurally racialized food inequality in Baltimore. Lastly, but far from least, there is a Baltimore based organization called Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle (LBS), “a grassroots think-tank which advances the public policy interest of Black people, in Baltimore, through: youth leadership development, political advocacy, and autonomous intellectual innovation.” LBS’ Board of Directors members are Lawrence Grandpre, Adam Jackson, Brion Gill, Deverick Murray, and Dayvon Love. In their own way, each of the aforementioned groups and individuals are doing the work of shooting back against white supremacy in Baltimore City and beyond.
“In the Morning, Will U Be Here in the Morning?” Intra-Violence is Ultimately Homicide
The belief that sacrificing some members of the community for the protection of others against a community that seeks to destroy the entire community is as reductive and flat out wrong, resulting in what I term “faux safety.” It has never brought the collaborators anything but a postponement of their day of facing the same fate as their victims. But, the comfort of this faux safety is often so intoxicating that Black people, many times Black men, will serve other Black men, Black women and Black LGBTQIA people to the wolves of whiteness for one more day in their wool. This illusion is what enticed so many Africans to send other Africans into slavery, and it is the same illusion that makes Black people harming and destroying other Black people will lead to anything short of our collective genocide. It is as Angela Davis said, “For if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” As long as so many Black people remain puppets to the desires of white supremacist patriarchy, we will continue to be the undertakers of whiteness, decapitating our people, not realizing it is us who is due to the gallows at dawn.
 Henry Louis Gates, “Ending the Slavery Blame Game,” New York Times (New York, NY), April 22 2010.
 Vicky Peleaz, “The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery,” Global Research (New York, NY), Marchl 31 2014.
Written by Paul Easterling
Wednesday morning April 29, 2015, less than a mile from Patapsco and Washington Ave in South Baltimore, while looking after my toddler sons at the playground of our apartment complex, the deep feeling of terror came over me as I realized I did not have my cell phone with me. The terror was not caused by the thought that I might miss a call, text or post on Facebook, but from the feeling of helplessness because I was caught without any means of protection against the police. Cell phones may be the only protection many people have against a “servant of the peace” with ill-intention. Carrying a gun or knife is not a viable option for me, or many others like me, because that only serves as reason and justification for police violence. All we have are recording devices which can document the unbiased truth of any incident. And here I was, caught out in public with two young and precious lives without any means to protect them besides my wits, my two-hands and the off chance a person may walk by armed with a cell-phone.
Nothing happened to me or my kids as they eventually got bored by the fact that no other kids were around and wanted to go home. But the feeling of helplessness lingered with me throughout the week as my family and I watched the unrest within our community from the safety of our homes. Police terroristic violence against American residents of poor neighborhoods, particularly along racial lines, is a well-documented problem that has persisted since the law enforcement institutions of American states, counties and cities have existed. The only advantage in living with this problem during the technological age is that fact that victims of police violence and abuse can record these incidents and spread them across the country (and the world) with relative ease and speed using their handheld devices.
Audio-visual technology is a phenomenon that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took advantage of over fifty years ago in the rural American south to get the world to realize the severity of the problem of racial segregation and violence in the United States. He strategically created circumstances for cameras to capture the brutality, as well for the world to witness and experience the terror of Black life in America.  Kevin Moore, the young man who recorded Freddie Gray’s arrest, worked within the same parameters of this historical protest strategy. This is to say that technology can help give validity to the voices that call for action against police subjugation and brutality. For a critically minded and well-informed public, it is not enough to just say what is, there must be proof. Audio-visual technology helps to provide that proof and the technology of social media allows it to spread across the world at a rapid pace, making it extremely difficult for violators of human rights to maintain innocence in the face of obvious guilt. Therefore, I applaud the efforts of citizens to document the horror of Black life in America and encourage the continuation of this strategy as it is historically grounded as a viable weapon against police terrorism.
Furthermore, the tradition of active resistance against oppression is also very much historically supported in Maryland. For instance, Harriet Tubman of Dorchester County, Maryland, reminds us to: “Never wound a snake: kill it.” As well Frederick Douglass, from Talbot County, Maryland, argues that “the thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes the rebellion.” In addition, Thurgood Marshall, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, maintains that “sometimes history takes things into its own hands.” Lastly, in pursuit of justice for Freddie Gray, the residents of Baltimore this week echoed the sentiments of one of its fictional icons from the show The Wire, Omar Little, who reminds us all that when justice is withheld in such an egregious manner in Baltimore, the people will “huff and puff.” These quotes demonstrate in a qualitative way the spirit of resistance that comes from Maryland’s most notable African American icons, both historical and fictional. This is only to suggest that what happened in Baltimore this past week is in line with the historical patterns and cultural ethos of African people who reside in the state of Maryland. Thus, I encourage those who can and will to fight on!
 In the last year alone there are the cases of: Michael Brown in Fergeson, Missouri, Eric Garner of Staten Island, Tarika Wilson from Lima, Ohio, Aiyana Jones of Detroit, Michigan, Walter Scott from Charleston, South Carolina, Tamir Rice of Cleveland and Rekia Boyd of Chicago. Those are just the cases that managed to make national news which says nothing about those cases that only made region news or that were not reported at all.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. (New York: New American Library, 1964).
 Baltimore Sun, Sunday May 3, 20154 “Man who shot Freddie Gray arrest video: “I finally made a difference.”
 I further applaud the efforts of the protestors because they once again proved their morality and humanity over and above the police department by the very fact that throughout all of the unrest not one cop was killed. The Baltimore Police Department cannot make such a boast as this problem was caused initially by the killing of an unarmed Black man in restraints.
 Iam A. Freeman, Seeds of Revolution: Collection of Axioms, Passages and Proverbs, Volume 2. (Bloomington: iUniverse LLC, 2009), 43.
 Frederick Douglass, The Essential Frederick Douglass (Radford: Wilder Publications, 2008), 675.
 Mark DeYmamaz, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 13.
 Omar Little. The Wire (season 1, episode 9).
Written by Chris Roberts
The White Supremacist Teleology of the Police
In his essay The Theoretical and Methodological Crisis of the Africentric Conception Black psychologist W.C. Banks described teleology as a “sense of directedness, of definite ends, of definite purpose” (Banks 1992). Given the historiographical outline of the police in the previous two parts in this series, from its European ideological origins to its contemporary manifestation in the United States, it should be clear that the definite purpose of this entity is indeed to sustain the white ruling elite and its benefactors (the white community writ large) extending the “collective responsibility for maintaining dominance over the Black slaves among them” (Hadden. 2003). In the eyes of the police as an institution, Black people can only exist as slaves because a liberatory Africana humanity, what Modupe describes as “Africana existence on Africana terms” is diametrically opposed to the definite purpose of the police to decimate and dominate Africana people, by any cost and all means.
In the 21st century, we find ourselves square within the scope the same white supremacist police entity; it has just adjusted its appearance. The definite purpose of the police profession, from its inception to today, is inexhaustibly clear. It is as Malcolm X said, “racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.” The current model can be found in police departments such as, but not exclusive to, Cleveland, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Ferguson. Though those are the ones listed, it is important that we understand, as Malcolm X also said, “everything under Canada is the South” so these new models of racism via policing are not the exceptions of the U.S., but they are the norm.
If the teleology of our oppressors police force is “the continuation of white supremacy for the purpose of situating Black/Africana/African people as a criminal denomination of sub-humanity in need of eternal punishment and surveillance” then what is our teleology as Africana people? What is our sense of directedness as it relates to tackling this deadly threat. It is my offering to, what I hope is a very robust and critical discourse on this topic, that our sense of directedness be towards self-protection for the purpose of intra communal strategizing and healing.
Much of the Black public wanted to believe that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was going to mark an end to racism in the United States and the dawn of a new era of racial equality and harmony. Many in our ranks hoped that the State would no longer be against Black people but for all U.S. citizenry, of which Black people would be more ingrained than ever before. There was similar fervor in the country during the 1960s with the Civil Rights Act and the alleged desegregation of public schools, the idea was again, that racial harmony was just over the horizon via non-violence and faith in the political process. However, the Black youth of the 60s came to a sobering realization, that the horizon they yearned for was not coming, and that realization, as Dr. Akinyele Umoja tells us in his book We Will Shoot Back “The failure of the national Democratic Party leadership to seat the multiracial delegates of the MFPD and to support the MFPD’s challenge to the legitimacy of segregationist Mississippi Democrats… [and] After all the bombings, deaths, and other forms of terrorism endured by Mississippi Blacks and the Black Freedom Struggle… many activists lost faith in cooperation with White liberals and the democratic party as a means to secure the goals of the struggle” (Umoja. 2013). I contend that the Africana youth of 2015 find themselves at a similar crossroads. The Department of Justice has proven itself unwilling or unable to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the murderers of Black people. The international human rights organization Amnesty has proven itself unwilling or unable to address the critiques of racial subjugation levied by Black activists within, and external to its organization.
The luster off the Obama election gone, and the blood of countless Black people killed by the State still fresh, I contend the Africana youth of today are headed to the same conclusion of the 1960s youth in that “the Movement and Black people in general would have to rely upon themselves and their own resources for their own protection” (Umoja. 2013). Therefore, self-protection is understood as an assessment of the practical ways in which the tactic of armed self-defense which Umoja defines as “the protection of life, persons, and property from aggressive assault through the application of force necessary to thwart or neutralize attack” (Umoja. 2013). The reason I advocate for armed self-defense as self-protection is because it will start us on the path of riding ourselves of the fear we have of the police profession. “Ultimately, the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi and the South was a fight to overcome fear. Blacks overcame fear and asserted their humanity…armed resistance played [a role] in overcoming fear and intimidation and engendering Black political, economic, and social liberation.
Intra Communal Strategizing:
Intra communal strategizing as a point is imperative because the teleology of the intra communal members will be different than that of the external communal members. This is highlighted in the work of Grandpre and Love in the text The Black Book: Reflections from the Baltimore Grassroots warns of the non-profit industrial complex. I value their critique of that, especially given that in many “coalition” meetings around issues of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, non-profits. Love states “Those of us on the front line of the fight are not seen as worthy negotiators on these issues that directly affect us. This fundamental contradiction explains the way in which white supremacy informs the inability of people to see Black people as having the collective wherewithal to manage and operate large institutions. Until this mythology is dispelled we will be subject to white control…” (Love, 167). The first point here is that Africana people must discuss the intentional creation of space and place in a way that is not stifling but empowering to Africana people. Secondly, it is indeed from the intentional creation of space that the third point can be addressed. The reason I advocate for intra-communal strategizing is because if our goals are averse to the reason of existence held by the police profession, then.
University of Indiana Bloomington scholar Maria Abegunde says of healing in "Sankofa in Action: Creating A Plan that Works," “Although many approaches in the literature on healing, ritual are holistic... they tend to focus on what I believe are symptoms (violence and the result of violence) as opposed to the cause(s) of the wound. I am suggesting that attention must first be given to the spiritual origin(s) of violence before addressing any of the other issues" (Abegunde, 2011). Healing from this particular type of trauma is something that is very intergenerational, both physically and spiritually. The previous two points work in concert with this point because the self- protection is the immediate response to police professions assault on Black bodies, the intra-communal strategizing session was more short term because there must be a space held to critique and analyze potential solutions in a way that fosters community decision making across our intersections of class, gender, sexuality, etc. Lastly, the healing component itself is important because it is here where grief and affirmation are on full display. In regards to grief, Malidoma Some contends,
If there is no expression of grief, it will affect the living and the dead detrimentally... it is the presence
of community that validates the expression of grief. This means that a singular expression of grief is
an incomplete expression of grief. A communal expression of grief has the power to send the
deceased to the realm of the ancestors and to heal the hurt produced in the psyches of the living by
the death of a loved one" (Some, 1993).
In order to grasp or even approach the spiritual origin of centuries of trauma under the whip of the slave patrol to being in the crosshairs of a gun, there must be a time and space set just for that. Many of us cannot begin to conceive of grieving for those Black people we hear about on them on the news more than every hour. The practice proves too daunting or exhausting, occurring with such normalcy that ones choices often seem to be numbness or emotional overload. Grief is the process, particularly from an African cultural perspective that sets aside space for the human to process the unspeakable. I suggest the creation of rituals and practices rooted in the African traditions of the past. And the battleground the healing and the spiritual is the core because as African people our teleology or our definite purpose is not just material, but it is by definition ancestral.
This article has engaged the topic of police professionalism from its inception to some examples of its contemporary manifestation. I am of the belief that if our goal is “liberation” and by liberation we use Amilcar Cabral’s definition of the returning of a people to their historic personality, combined with Danjuma Modupe’s Afrocentric concept of “Africana existence on Africana terms” then Africana people must begin to divest, if not yet physically, at least ideologically and morally from the belief that the police profession is anything more than a system that will only dehumanize Africana people for the sake of protecting the profits, financial and otherwise of white supremacy. No amount of “good-cops” or individuals “from the community” can change the nature of the police profession; hence the initial suggestions for alternative places for some engaged youth to direct their energy.
One fundamental component of establishing Africana existence on Africana terms is listening to the suggestions Africana activists on the ground that are directly engaging the trauma of the police force and profession. I view this as the first stage in self-defense against the police, because the people most in tune with the self are those on the ground with their ear to the street. Some of the activists who should be contacted by those interested are Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, Erica Garner, Alicia Garza, Jasiri X, Cherelle Brown, Charlene Carruthers, as well as the following organizations: #BlackLivesMatter, Organization for Black Struggle, Millennial Activists United, New York Justice League, We Charge Genocide, and The Black Youth Project 100 among other organizations. Each of the activists named have first-hand on-the-ground experience both protesting and organizing against the police force from a position of Africana agency. Each of the organizations listed also have first -hand on-the-ground experience both protesting and organizing against the police force from the position of Africana agency. In this series of essays, I have offered both analysis and critique. On the macro level I am of the opinion that we must start from a position of agency as African people, not merely Negroes reacting to whiteness. This is both macro and fundamental because theory is, as Amilcar Cabral taught us, a weapon, and, as Bobby Wright taught us, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” So indeed, we must stand on firm cultural ground, be oriented towards Africa, and, as Molefi Asante reminds us, claim a victorious consciousness for our fellow Africana people and ourselves. However, on an existential level, I think, as Dr. Sonja Peterson Lewis states “You have to speak to the people, before you speak for the people.” Therefore, I would suggest starting with these activists and organizations I have listed in regards to on-the- ground direct action, as it is my judgment that their voices will be some of the most necessary, poignant, accountable, and accessible, which is precisely the starting point for any revolutionary movement; not pontificating from on high, but cultivating and crafting our tactics and perspectives from the Black grassroots.
Written by Chris Roberts
U.S. History of Police Departments
The first police departments in the northern United States, Philadelphia (1833), New York, and Boston, all are based largely off Sir Robert Peele’s model and his nine operational principles. The particular situation in the States was the abundance of intra-ethnic strife between different European groups such as the Dutch, the Irish, and others. However, this was an external push factor that led to the implementation of those police departments, much in the same way the thieves in England were an external push factor. But it still was a subsidiary force in their creation, as the internal end of protecting white supremacist profit and dehumanization of Africana people via the slave trade still was the internal end of the profession in the United States, as it was in England. Many of the historians of the police in the United States would like to tell a narrative of the Northern departments a la Gangs of New York, a dedicated force of public servants dedicated to order and peace in their community amidst organized crime and mass riots. Those same historians will then juxtapose the Northern departments as therefore distinct from the overtly racist Ku-Klux-Klan minded gunslingers of the South, who openly sought to use the police concept to subjugate the “Negroes.” The fact of the matter is, that both the North and the South despised and ignored the Negro. The Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois explained profoundly the ethos of the Northern despise of the “Negro” particularly during the Civil War in his text Black Reconstruction:
To the Northern masses the Negro was a curiosity, a sub-human minstrel, willingly and naturally a
slave, and treated as well as he deserved to be. He had not sense enough to revolt and help Northern
armies, even if they were trying to emancipate him, which they were not. The North shrank at the
very thought of encouraging servile insurrection against the whites. Above all it did not propose to
interfere with property. Negroes on the whole were considered inferior beings whose very presence
in America was unfortunate (56).
If it was indeed as DuBois articulates (which I assert it was), one must reach the conclusion that if such a fervent belief in the inherent inferiority of Black people consumed the white U.S. consciousness in the 1860s, there is no reason to believe that roughly thirty years prior when most of these Northern police departments were created and professionalized that such belief wasn’t just as, if not more prevalent.
Therefore, the sub-human treatment of Black people by the police, government, law, and military was not an example of individual bad actors in Northern cities among an otherwise abolition and freedom minded mass of concerned white folk. Rather the protection of such sub-human treatment was necessary for the exacerbation of profit and construction of the United States as a global superpower that the enslaved African be present in the country. That said the entity most adept to protect the ability for white supremacy to treat Africana people in that manner was the police profession. The founders of the country never envisioned or wanted the “Negro” to be an equal contributor and member of the American republic. The “Negro presence” was particularly abhorrent to one of the most Northern, “forward-thinking” devout adherents to the idea of “America.” Benjamin Franklin, American polymath, politician, and founding father long held concept of the new country as an Edenic refuge and destination for white people. To understand this concept of Edenic one should look to the work of philosopher Benjamin Cocker in his following description:
… commencement of an Edenic race in an Edenic centre, the calling into being of a specially endowed and Divinely instructed man, the covenant man, who was the figure of Him who was to come, that is, he was the type of Christ, the Teacher and Redeemer. The Edenic man appears as the instructor, the teacher of the prehistoric races. This is “the seed” through which God will elevate and bless the Turanian, the Khamite, the Negro. The Caucasian race, fix it as you may has always been the missionary race, the civilizing race, the educating race, in every age (110).
With the Edenic centre as the United States, this concept of the white man as the instructor of the prehistoric can also be read as the slave patrol defense of “promoting honor and industry” among the enslaved. In each case, the white savior is required to punish, correct and bring those farther from him (also read as farther from Him and Eden) closer to him. Benjamin Franklin expressed “a longing that an ‘Edenic’ North America might become a production hub for the world’s “purely white people,” according to Singh. Given Franklin’s positioning of America as Eden, it was not, nor ever would be, in the eyes of such founders “fit” for those who do not bend to the benevolent guidance of the white saviors of the desolate of the world, among whom the “Negro” was the peak. The fate of those who refused to bend to the Edenic whims of the white ruling elite was to be broken, they would be “corrected,” and the institution of such correction was the slave patrol, the police profession. This subsection has sought to establish beyond reproach that the Northern conceptualization and professionalization of the police is rooted in the belief espoused, per Singh, by Benjamin Franklin that “The majority of Negroes are… cruel in the highest degree… [Franklin doubted that] mild laws could govern such people, which is to say that he affirmed the whiteness of police” (Singh. 2014).
In the 21st century, we find ourselves square within the scope the same white supremacist police entity; it has just adjusted its appearance. It is as Malcolm X said, “racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.” The current model can be found in police departments such as, but not exclusive to, Cleveland, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Ferguson. Though those are the ones listed, it is important that we understand, as Malcolm X also said, “everything under Canada is the South” so these new models of racism via policing are not the exceptions of the U.S., but they are the norm.
U.S. History of Slave Patrols
The planter class of enslavers, the ruling white elite in what began as the Thirteen Colonies, and eventually became the United States existed in a state of constant fear. According to historian Sally Haden in Slave Patrols, "Southern whites feared their slaves and needed mastery over them...though they tried to be vigilant, many whites lived in almost a 'crisis of fear' from one rumor of rebellion or insurrection to another" (6). Due to this they developed a public law enforcement entity of volunteers, and later employees, whose task it would be to ensure the order and proper behavior of the enslaved. In his turn of the 20th century work The Spawn of Slavery W.E.B. DuBois described this public law enforcement entity as “a system of rural police, mounted and on duty chiefly at night, whose work it was to stop the nocturnal wandering and meeting of slaves, it was usually an effective organization, [to] which all white men belonged” (DuBois. 1901a/1982). These rural police were known as slave patrols, and it is my assertion that they served as the teleological bedrock of what we know today as the police apparatus in the United States.
Sally Haden states that patrols “were not created in a vacuum, but owed much to European institutions that served as the slave patrol’s institutional fore-bearers” (Haden. 2003). Haden continues by revealing that “in the South, the ‘most dangerous people’ who were thought to need watching were the slaves – they were the prime targets of patrol observation and capture. The history of police work in the South grows out of this early fascination… Most law enforcement was by definition, white patrolmen watching, catching, or beating Black slaves” (Haden. 2003). This background is important because we must understand the tactics of the police in their dehumanization of Black people today as not the isolated province of rogue cops, rather core components to the policing profession in the United States. The particular police system in South Carolina owes much of its structure to Barbados, as the majority of its first settler-colonialist came from there, with enslaved Africans in tow of course. Hadden states “Once a Caribbean patrol system existed that could be elaborated on, colonists in the Carolinas and Virginia developed their own distinctive slave patrols in the 18th century” (Haden. 2003). Given this information from Hadden, it now becomes clear that in the history of the United States and the Caribbean, the profession of slave patroller predated the profession of police officer, and therefore obviously played a major role in the Southern policeman archetype. These patrollers emerged initially as community members who all rallied around the collective desire for the “pursuit, capture, suppression, and punishment of runaway slaves” along with the “promoting of honesty and industry among the lowest class who are our slaves” (Hadden. 2003). In this South Carolina example one sees the double edged sword of the slave patrol, on one edge it “corrected” the flesh and on the other edge it “clamped” the mind, both truths contoured the Africana person into a state of, what Michael Tillotson calls, perpetual agency reduction.
This reduction of Africana collective agency was a vital component of the slave patrol profession because equally as important as devaluing Africana life on Africana terms, the slave patrols served to protect whiteness, and position that protection as a collective responsibility, which reaches back to the Hegelian aim of the police as “care for the particular interest as common interest.” For the slave patrols, the particular interest was the dehumanizing of the African because that particularity was made a common interest by the way such dehumanization, reinforced whiteness. Nikhil Pal Singh defines whiteness as:
a status conferring distinct—yet conjoined—social, political, and economic freedoms across a vertiginously unequal property order. A conscious assemblage, it was designed to extend, fortify, individualize, and equalize the government of public life in a world dominated by private property holders whose possessions included other human beings and lands already inhabited yet unframed by prior claims of ownership (1).
These slave patrols operated for centuries killing, arresting, and dehumanizing Africana people on a regular basis. These law enforcement officers were legally empowered to whip, search, strip, rape, and beat Black people, Black women in particular. According to the history books, the slave patrols ended their practices after the Civil War for the most part, however, I assert that the slave patrol merged with the existing police profession, which was a different manifestation of the same teleology. The police profession today still values white supremacy and negates Africana humanity. Haden reminds us that the “…language used to describe slave patrols also permeated police activities long after patrols were gone. The ‘beat’ originally used as a geographic means of organizing slave patrol groups in South Carolina and other states, became the basic area that policeman supervised” (Haden. 2003). Additionally, we learn from the work of Haden that the “stakeout” tactic became professionalized in the police force due to it existing as a common practice in slave patrols.
Written by Chris Roberts
According to the team of activists running the website mappingpoliceviolence.org “At least 304 Black people were killed by the police in the United States in 2014.” According to The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, numbers like this average out to a Black person being killed extrajudicially by the police every 28 hours. There are some who believe that this amount of time between the killings of Black people by police has dipped to one every 21 hours in 2015. In the media, cases such as those highlighted in the aforementioned statistics are described as examples of police brutality. Cassandra Chaney and Ray Robertson in their article Racism and Police Brutality define police brutality as “the use of excessive physical force or verbal assault and psychological intimidation” (Chaney and Robertson. 2013). Though it is true that such treatment is brutal, I contend that such treatment is not a discernible departure from standard practice and function of the police. In the United States and much of the African world that has been pierced by the cutlass of European colonialism and white supremacy, policing by definition is brutal; there is no other form. To police Black/Africana/African people in the United States is to be brutal. This essay is the first in a three-part series that investigates how the concepts of "police and "policing" developed in Europe and traces the history of its colonial and contemporary applications to those of us who are Black/Africana/African in a manner that is brutal. This first essay focuses on the development of the concepts of “police” and “policing” as conceived in Europe.
“To protect and serve” is the mantra of the Los Angeles Police Department and many others in the United States. However, upon further investigation it becomes painstakingly clear that this statement has selective applicability. The police protect the state along with its property, and the police serve whiteness vis-à-vis the continuation of white supremacy for the purpose of situating Black/Africana/African people as a criminal denomination of sub-humanity in need of eternal punishment and surveillance. Therefore, no level of reform or “change of culture” that is implemented to respective police departments or institutions, as long as they are in function and/or name “police” will shift the outcome of their work from being anything but the isolation and decimation of Black/Africana/African people and the protection of whiteness, by any costs and all means.
European History of the Police
The concept of a police force first emerged on the scene in the European world in France during the 10th century. This concept, polizei, was a meshing of “an artillery, a horse patrol, a foot patrol, watchmen” and a supervisor (provost) to enforce the law remained the model for a long time. Centuries later, during the reign of French King Louis XIV, Europe saw its first centralized national police force in 1667. The supervisor under Louis’ rule held the title of Lieutenant General, and this person was to “represent the state in the city… guarantee the security of Paris [and]… upgrade moral behavior” (Levinson. 2002). To ensure the preservation of that desired “moral behavior” from this system, the practice that Law scholar Jean Paul Brodeur describes as “high policing;” the gathering of intelligence about and suppression of potential threats to the society’s pre-existing distribution of power arose. It is from this “high policing” that one sees the justification of undercover agents and informants for the purposes of intelligence gathering and suppression. The European scholar Mark Neocleous posits that primarily “Polizei was concerned with the abolition of disorder” (Neocleous. 1998).
A little over a century later, the first official, modern police department in Europe was created, the Thames River Police in 1798, which according to their museum’s website was “the first policing body ever to be set up. Its sole objective was the prevention and detection of crime on the Thames and it was to become the forerunner of many other police forces throughout the world,” New York’s Police Department among those influenced by Thames River Police. The creation of this department was spurred by loss of import dues by traders whose ships docked at the Pool of London and other areas along Thames River and theft at the ports. The same museum website describes the origins of the department by stating that with the “advice of Jeremy Bentham's legal knowledge, Mr. Patrick Colquhoun, LLD., the principle magistrate of Queens Square Police Office, Westminster convinced the West India Merchants, and the West India Planters Committees to finance the first preventative policing of the central shipping area of the Thames.” For our purposes, the important parties here are the West India Merchants and The West India Planters Committees because these were, according to the Museum of London, the raisers “of the capital that funded the building of the West India docks [which were]… the physical manifestation of London’s corner of the Triangle trade. The Dock was used by at least 22 know slave trading vessels.” Given this historical reality, once can see that the impetus for the professionalization of the police in the British context emerged directly out of a desire to preserve property and profit drenched in the blood and built on the bodies of enslaved Africans. The British profit from the Transatlantic trade of enslaved African people is the teleological bedrock of the police profession in England. And England is of particular import because it was the colonial governing body of the independent country that would become the United States.
The Thames River Police would eventually merge with the Metropolitan Police Service. This second modern European police department was started in 1829 by Sir Robert Peele in England in Scotland Yard, and it began as a department that was to “manage the social conflict resulting from rapid urbanization and industrialization taking place in the city of London… focus primarily on crime prevention—that is, preventing crime from occurring instead of detecting it after it had occurred” (Archbold. 2012). The distinction of MPS here is crucial for two reasons. One, because it is from here where one finds the police department to which many departments in the Northern part of what we now know of as the United States (states above Maryland) modeled themselves after. Two, the professionalization of policing via Sir Robert Peele’s uniform implementation and nine principles combined with the public sense of self as connected to the police. In particular, his principle of “…the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police … give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence” is imperative to understanding the teleology of U.S. policing, especially in the South.
European Teleology of Police via Hegel
The following section will be a discussion based in European philosophical thought because the police, both profession and concept, as we know them are Eurocentric, therefore the culturally congruent perspectives for discussing their sense of directedness are European. It should be understood on the part of the reader that Eurocentric philosophy has been utilized to justify the enslavement of Africana people for centuries, and the philosophy engaged in this subsection has been causal and complicit in that oppression of Africana people. Teleology in the words of the European philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is “the truth of mechanism.” The author Christopher Yeomans describes this as Hegel critiquing mechanism and implying [in regards to an object or thing] “the means’ own nature is itself an end. The state of an object worked on by an external end can only be understood as external with respect to some immanent end of the object” (Yeomans 2011). In other words, a thing does not operate independent of the desired destination or outcome it was made to reach, and that “internal end” must be explicated to fully understand the thing. In our example, that thing is the police. This is a vital point because it is here where the “internal end” of the police concept is explained, and I assert that the police profession is a thing cannot go against its internal end, its very nature. For Hegel, as articulated in the research of Mark Neocleous, the internal end or “aim of the police [is to] care for the particular interest as a common interest.” (Neocleous.1998). In Policing The System of Needs: Hegel, Political, Economy, and the Police of the Market one learns that the main interest of the police, according von Justi, a contemporary of Hegel’s was:
… maintenance of state power and the proper police of the market …ultimately, the same goal. In this sense the main interest of police was the development of commerce and the production of wealth. For von Justi, ‘all the methods whereby the riches of the state may be increased, insofar as the authority of the government is concerned, belong consequently under the charge of the police.’ To this end the state should secure a flourishing trade and devote its power to the preservation and increase of the resources of private persons in particular and the state of prosperity in general, by overseeing the foundations of commerce (46).
With the “production of wealth” as its objective, the only thing needed for the police was a “flourishing trade” that would serve to increase the “resources of private persons in particular and the state of prosperity in general.” One such trade was indeed prevalent and in full swing, that being the Transatlantic Slave Trade of hundreds of millions of enslaved Africans, throughout which the African continent was raped and tens of millions of Africana people were killed at the hands of Europeans. This genocide is referred to by Africana Studies scholars as The Maafa or African Holocaust, a term which was operationalized by African Psychologist Marimba Ani. One has to understand this in order to confront the reality that the police are something much more insidious than a public force with individual racists who equate to nothing more than a few rotten apples in what overall is a good, well intentioned batch of people. But rather, the reality of the situation is that the police profession was created in England for, to use Hegel’s term, the “particular interest” of protecting the sugar, rum, salt, and other assets of European capitalism in the Caribbean that were all gained due to the enslavement of Africana people which served the “common interest” of whiteness and its benefactors (white people). No amount of good will or good intention can change the truth of this statement. The police profession may have arrested plenty of white thieves in England who stole sugar, rum, or salt. However, those thieves were not the reason the police force was created and professionalized; it was the profit and exploitation their theft cut into that prompted the creation and professionalization of the police force. The arrest of those thieves was simply a by-product of the overarching concern of the police force to protect white supremacy and the profits of the Maafa enjoyed by Europe. In the minds of the white philosophical elite this concern for profit did not equate in a justification of the Maafa/enslavement of Africana people.
Jeremy Bentham, the European philosopher whose advice and legal insight was foundational in Patrick Colquhoun founding and professionalization of the Thames River Police is one such white philosopher. Bentham is regarded in much of European history as an abolitionist, however his brand of abolition was not abolition at all in my estimation, but rather a gradual road to nowhere, a la the “all deliberate speed” U.S. Supreme Court ruling on segregation in the 1950s. In the essay British Utilitarianism’s Justification of Negro Slavery Nathaniel Adam Tobias writes: “this abolition could take place without overturning their [those who enslaved and traded other persons] own condition and their fortunes, and without attacking their personal security… This operation need not be suddenly carried into effect by a violent revolution, which, by displeasing every body, destroying all property, and placing all persons in situations for which they were not fitted, might produce evils a thousand times greater than all the benefits that can be expected from it. Tobias continues when he explains Bentham’s distinction between “slave-buying” and “slave-holding” insofar as slave-buying, or “plunging” people into slavery is worse than “finding” people already in slavery. In other words, from this Eurocentric perspective Black people were not “plunged into slavery” but rather they were “discovered being inferior and ignorant” therefore Europeans of Bentham’s time “find” them enslaved not because white people had chosen to enslave them, but rather enslavement is where white society “found” them. ” (Tobias 3). The concept of policing is to ensure the stability of social order, and the police, by definition in a white supremacist society, maintain that white supremacist social order. In the minds of the structural architects of policing such as Bentham, the police forces of today are not “buying” or “plunging” people into an enslaved position in society, rather the police force is “finding” Black people in that status already, and maintaining order, which by definition is antithetical to the Black people who “find” themselves in slavery ever “finding” themselves in anything different. To concretize this point I will return to Hegel, the protection of the profits of white supremacy and its necessary dehumanization via enslavement of Africana people to exacerbate those profits is not merely an end that is sometimes met via the police, but rather it is the internal end, it is “the truth of the mechanism” that is the police profession.
Written by Mikana Scott
“Once you go, you know” and “Wherever you find your smile, you’ll find ours” are two slogans that have been or are currently being used by the Jamaican Tourist Board and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. In 2013, tourism comprised of 28.5% (USD $4 billion) of Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 and 25.4% (KYD $713.1 million) of Cayman’s GDP. Tourism as defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization is, “a social, cultural and economic phenomenon which entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional purposes.”
For the Caribbean region as a whole, reports state that the total impact of tourism in 2014 can be estimated at 14% of GDP at $49 billion. However, scholars have noted that there are many Caribbean islands that rely heavily on tourism such as Antigua, a former British colony that relies on 70% of its GDP/income from tourism. The Bahamas (former British Colony), Aruba (Dutch Constituent) and Barbados’ (former British colony) economy relies on 50% of tourism contribution as do other islands (Conway 114). For many Caribbean countries, tourism is an important sector, with most of their economy based on it. While Caribbean countries garner substantial income from the tourist industry, analysis must be done on the direct beneficiaries as well as the costs/impacts associated with this specific sector. This article will focus on the English speaking Caribbean, specifically countries that were former British colonies.
History of Tourism in the Region
During the mid to late 1900s tourism within the Caribbean has developed rapidly, aided by modern technology and transportation. However, origins of the tourism industry in the Caribbean go back to the late 1800s. Taylor credits the banana trade with the US and the use of banana boats that carried Americans to Caribbean countries (Jamaica especially) as the starting point. Additionally, banana companies were the first proprietors of hotels in the region (qtd. in Miller 36).
Tourism that we know today, a mass, standard experience began in the mid-1900s is described by Duval as being a period of “undifferentiated products, origin-packed holidays, spatially concentrated planning of facilities, resorts and activities, and the reliance upon developed markets such as the US, Canada and Britain” (qtd. in Williams 192). This mass tourism comes in 2 different forms - the coastal beach resort and cruise ship packages. These experiences are known as ‘3s’ - sun, sand and sea tourism (Goodwin, 4). Leisure and recreation are the primary reasons for persons from North America and Europe visiting the Caribbean and since the 1950s this has increased substantially.
During this period Caribbean countries were also beginning to agitate for political independence from their colonizers. Many of these governments were unable to finance the enhancement of their tourism product by themselves. Therefore, Western lending agencies such as development banks and international organizations such as the World Bank financed these projects which included large hotels (Williams 193). Western agencies such as the International Money Fund (IMF) believed that tourism was an economy that would help these small islands that did not produce significant agriculture or have natural resources to export. Additionally, they foresaw tourism assisting in diversifying the economies of islands (such as Jamaica) that had a lot of debt.
Agreements with Western lending agencies have had two lasting impacts that are felt in the region to this day:
1) Through the IMF and its Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), Caribbean governments incurred substantial debt, which led to their reliance on these institutions, forcing them to ‘adjust’ their economic and social structures to the liking of European and American institutions.
2) The Third Lome Convention (1986-90) according to Patullo, concretized Europe’s relationship with countries on the African continent, the Caribbean as well as those in the Pacific. While it supported Caribbean countries expanding the tourism sector, it also tied politically independent countries with their former colonizers (qtd in Williams 193).
Kwame Nkrumah defines neo-colonialism as “that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” (qtd. in Biney 127). Another definition states that power is taken from local and regional entities and is concentrated in foreign owned companies (Williams 191). What does neocolonialism mean in the Caribbean context as it relates to the tourism industry? These newly independent countries had the expectation of political and economic freedom; however, this was not possible within the parameters of the tourism industry. Neocolonialism is an occurrence when the natural resources, culture and even citizens are commodified for the enjoyment, pleasure and leisure for a majority of Europeans and North Americans visitors.
The Word Tourism Organization (WTO) reports that by 2020, a quarter of the world’s population (1.95 billion) will take a trip overseas. The majority of these tourists however are from the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan. In the Caribbean the tourism industry is comprised of white management, white American and European guests, low wage majority black local labor, with profits being made by overseas international firms (Bennett & Gebhardt 15). Williams (191) posits that historically the region historically has been the subject of mass exploitation. Whereas during the enslavement period it was agricultural production for Western markets in the form of sugar and cocoa, today tourism is a new form of colonial relationship. While the countries in the region have different languages and ethnicities due to colonization, they have engaged in similar production sectors that have greatly changed their environment: “plantation agriculture, mining and tourism” (Baver & Lynch 3). It was believed that focusing on tourism would enable these newly politically independent economies to diversify their economies and break away from the sectors they relied upon during the colonial period (Williams 192), however in discussing the costs and impacts of tourism in the region we see that is not the case.
Management of the tourism industry is largely in the hands of others. While there are small locally owned hotels they are vastly outnumbered by the majority of large, multinational hotels. Hotels and restaurants do contribute to local employment, but many local / Africana persons are employed in lower paid jobs such as housekeeping and food preparation, while white expatriates are found in managerial positions (Williams 194). Infrastructure was financed by foreign investment with there being lower import duties on equipment and raw materials in trying to appeal to overseas business. Therefore it was/has been more profitable for investors than for the islands who gave them import cost breaks. Additionally beneficial relationships for foreign airlines and tour operators had to be arranged (Williams 193).
Due to many vacation packages being “all inclusive” and all expenses paid, there are few tourists that leave their hotels and pay for goods and services from the local community. All-inclusive travel packages were seen as the solution to tourists’ fears of ‘crime’ and ‘harassment,’ however this results in a closed economy owned by overseas corporations. Money is not injected into the local economy and Mullings even goes as far as to state that tourists are told that tips are ‘not necessary’ therefore even less money is able to be circulated in the local Caribbean economy (qtd. in Williams 196).
Many all-inclusive packages also provide their own transportation, souvenir stores, entertainment and recreational activities. This greatly disadvantages local taxi drivers, vendors and craftsmen who rely on tourism as a means of employment. Additionally, local business owners are shut out of the economy, as the primary institutions: airlines, tour operators, travel agents, hotel operators are ‘largely owned, controlled and managed outside of the region’ (Williams 196). Mullings makes the connection that this is reminiscent of the colonial economies of the Caribbean, when European countries externally controlled islands’ affairs (qtd in Williams, 196). Therefore this closed economy results in local culture being diminished due to foreign influence, with these vacations becoming a European/American version of the Caribbean (Williams 195).
Examining the ways black bodies are portrayed, the smiling waiters, the gentle way hairdressers’ braid cornrows into European women’s hair, Patullo states that from its origin, tourism has echoed the enslavement period. There is a folk memory and collective remembrance of African people ‘serving’ Europeans for hundreds of years during the enslavement period, however now they are doing it for hourly wages (qtd. in Williams 196). This paints a picture of how marginalizing and demeaning the industry is to the African collective psyche. UWI Professor Hilary Beckles, after analyzing the relationship between the business elite, the state and citizens, is of the opinion that tourism is the ‘new plantocracy’ (qtd Williams 196). There are a select group of persons that own the majority of infrastructure in the industry, and it is posited that black people are still marginalized in their own country. While Africana people are the majority of the labor in this industry, they are not included in the decision making process (due to multinational corporations owning the land, commercial interests, ports and duty free outlets) (Patullo, 65 qtd. in Williams 196).
The Caribbean is 4 times more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world (Daniel 72). Yet, the majority of the profits ends up with foreign investors.
Additionally, tourism strategy is determined by the global economy. Globalization increases difficulty for individual governments to intervene and manage the industry as these countries ‘have minimal control over the disposition of their resources’ (Miller 35). This is due to the region’s weak position in the global economy as it has always been shaped by external forces: the enslavement period and plantation agriculture, labor migration, colonization and contract farming, mineral extraction and now tourism.
Scholars are in agreement that tourism harms the environment, as it decreases the capacity of an area to handle man-made wastes. Harbors are also dredged and coastal environments disrupted to build hotels and resorts. Additionally, water contamination is a problem, as large hotels are the prime source. There are also issues of pollution, human waste, destruction of mangroves and coral reefs (Miller 37).
On a larger scale, the Caribbean is dealing with deforestation (Haiti is experiencing desertification), urbanization, air & water pollution and destruction of coastal ecosystem (Baver &Lynch 5). Due to the small size of the islands and the importance of a vibrant ecosystem one would expect stringent environmental policies and laws. However instead of adopting protectionist measures, tourism has played an integral role in the exploitation of the environment. When environmental regulation and enforcement is put in place, they often serve the tourism industry and real estate development, often at the expense of citizens (Baver &Lynch 6). In Jamaica it is stated that by 1992 all but nineteen of the island’s four hundred and eighty eight miles of coastline had been privatized (Goodwin 9).
Ecotourism is a new trend in the tourism industry which has occurred due to environmental damage as well as expansion (since tourism is a capitalistic system). However these beautiful landscapes are created by excluding local residents Miller (37).
This new, ‘holistic approach’ to mass tourism is often seen at odds with the community, as issues of access, privatization and enclosure of natural resources are often geared toward tourists and not the local community (Baver & Lynch 14). Images of clean pristine beaches, free from pollution and also the ‘aggressive’ local peddlers, raise concerns about usage. For the tourism industry the solution is often to control the access. Therefore public parks, are not for the local public at all, but for tourists. While there are forms of ecotourism that are locally initiated and managed, there are limited effort to support those businesses / activities. It is instead assumed that benefits will trickle down through employment.
The land and environment that communities used to use for fishing, firewood and subsistence resources are now essentially for tourists only (Miller 38). No longer is the land that was used for agricultural purposes and the coastline for fishing and recreation available to the public or locally owned, but rather for a select (majority white) overseas population. According to Sheller, “the picturesque vision of the Caribbean continues to be a form of world-making which allows tourists to move throughout the Caribbean and see Caribbean people simply as scenery” (qtd in Baver & Lynch 8).
Culture as Performance
Many persons that visit the Caribbean are there to enjoy the natural beauty, the relaxation and the stress free activities. However for others, Caribbean culture is seen as exciting and enticing. Historical buildings, cultural practices, public festivals as well as the population interest certain tourists (Daniel 170). Junkanoo in the Bahamas, Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, Batabano in the Cayman Islands are just some of the festivals that are celebrated throughout the year. It is posited however that in the context of globalization and cultural identity, tourism is representative of ‘inauthenticity and alienation’. By concretizing Caribbean culture it attempts to redefine and package practices and natural resources as ‘commodified spectacle’ and a rigid experience (Bennet & Gebhardt 15). Not only is this presented to the tourist, but the local population relearns their history and celebrations through a lens not created for or by them.
For Jamaican cultural icon and scholar Rex Nettleford, in describing Trinidad Carnival and Gombey in Bermuda he isn’t concerned about the commodification of those events. He chooses to focus on local Caribbean needs and tastes first, and tourists secondly. He attempts to reclaim Carnival and place it within Caribbean culture, and then if necessary as a tourist phenomena (qtd. in Bennet and Gebhardt 16).
Opposition to this can be found within cultural studies as some argue that this type of tourism can be foundational to policy that assists in forming a country’s cultural identity. However, this type of inauthentic practice will only facilitate in building a ‘simulated’ culture base for these Caribbean countries (Benet & Gebhardt 16). Furthermore in citing Homi Bhabha’s ‘mongrelity’ of culture, scholars state that this will reiterate this modern whitewashing of African culture in the Caribbean, and frame it as racial and cultural hybrid. This passive hybridity has been adopted by local elites to attract tourism, which benefits their interests more than the majority of citizens (Benet & Gebhardt 17).
Tourism as Anti-Liberatory
In examining this palatable way in which Blackness/Africanness has to be mixed and presented as Caribbean creole or hybrid, Joel Streiker states that this helps economic interests of local elites as it reassures white European tourists who see Blackness as ‘threatening’. This passivity which masks racial discrimination and class politics discourages political organization around Blackness, and according to Streiker “..hybridity forms part of a strategy of domination rather than liberation..” (qtd. in Bennet and Gebhart 18). Not only is there a suppression of Blackness, but there are also demands of the population to present themselves in a pleasing way to tourists (Miller 40). The local population must always be courteous and pleasant, therefore Africana people are seen as important components of the Caribbean brand, as long as they are creole smiling people.
There are many components that make up the tourism industry. All aspects of society are affected: economically, environmentally and culturally. Since the beginning of the tourism product, development has been influenced by outside multinational corporations and organizations. Therefore what does that mean for a self-sustaining and self-sufficient Caribbean?
For Africana persons living in the Caribbean and in the larger African diaspora, in depth conversations about the concept of tourism and the tourism industry must be had. Alternative ways of analyzing the industry and understanding how Africana people are affected by this sector of the economy must be done. For many Caribbean people, growing up in a tourist destination is seen as a normal occurrence and for many employment within the industry is seen as preferential. Countries that still have colonial ties cannot achieve true independence if these linkages are not made. Additionally, for African persons traveling to the Caribbean, a deeper understanding of the tourism industry and the ways we unknowingly contribute to the degradation of Africana people needs to be had as well.
Additionally scholarship within Africana studies must be produced that focus on this phenomena. For the most part scholars are located in Hospitality & Tourism Studies, Political Ecology, Environmental Studies, Cultural Studies and Anthropology. It is extremely problematic when Africana people in the Caribbean are continually referred to as ‘other,’ and when concepts such as ‘modernity’ are tied to travel (with travelers meaning white European and white American). Cultural transmission is still discussed in many works as going from center to margin - with Caribbean people being the margin. These are ideological problems that must be identified and corrected from and by African people. Africana Studies, in researching and writing about phenomena occurring wherever African people are present must be in these conversations. Archaic and racist constructs must not be present when we are understanding the tourism industry as it affects many Africana people in the Caribbean.
For traveling Africana people making connections within the Diaspora, utilizing travel companies such as Travel Noire, African Diaspora Tourism, or organizations such as Afrocentricity International that frequently hold conventions within the African Diaspora is important in combatting the oppressive ways tourism functions.
Continuation of concentration of ownership, infrastructure, access to natural resources and policing Africana culture and bodies by Western entities have all contributed to the pacification and false liberation of Africans in the Caribbean. Control of narratives, cultural practices and ownership on African terms is essential for the de-commodication of Caribbean countries and Caribbean peoples.
Baver, Sherrie L. and Barbara Deutsch Lynch. “The Political Ecology of Paradise.” Beyond Sun and Sand. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. JSTOR. Web. 16 March 2015.
Bennett, David and Sophie Gebhardt. “Global Tourism and Caribbean Culture.” Caribbean Quarterly, Vol 51, No. 1, March 2005: 15-24. 15 March 2015.
Biney, Ama. “The Intellectual and Political Legacies of Kwame Nkrumah.” The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol 4, No 10, January 1012: 127-142. 19 March 2015.
Conway, Dennis. “Tourism, Agriculture, and the sustainability of terrestrial ecosystems in small islands” Island Tourism and Sustainable Development: Caribbean, Pacific and Mediterranean Experiences. Google books. Westport: Greenwood Publshing, 2002. Google Books. Web 20 March 2015.
Daniel, Yvonne. “Tourism, Globalization, and Caribbean Dance.” Caribbean and Atlantic Diaspora Dance. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011. JSTOR. Web. 17 March 2015.
Goodwin, James. “Sustainable Tourism Development in the Caribbean Islands Nation-States.” Michigan Journal of Public Affairs, Vol 5, 2008:1-16, March 2015.
Miller, Marian A. L. “Paradise Sold. Paradise Lost: Jamaica’s Environment and Culture in the Tourism Marketplace” Beyond Sun and Sand. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. JSTOR. Web. 15 March 2015.
Williams, Tammy Ronique. “Tourism as Neo-colonial Phenomenon: Examining the Works of Patullo & Mullings.” Caribbean Quilt, Vol 2, 2012: 191-200. 14 March 2015.
Written by Serie McDougal