Blessed Love My Lords and Empresses:
We, your Black brothers and sisters in the West, would like to introduce ourselves to you; have a conversation with you and re-establish a bond with you. Indeed, throughout the years, we have seldom spoken directly to each other and have known of each other only what has been fed to us by a biased, white media, intent on alienating us from one another and sowing seeds of distrust and discord between us. In particular, the white media portrayed you as backward and uncivilized, while at the same time depicting us as lazy, unproductive, criminally inclined individuals who would rather rely on government handouts than work for an honest living. In fact, the United States of America has willfully exported a negative image of its Black citizens throughout the world for the explicit purpose of engendering hatred toward us. This conversation aims to change that perception.
Specifically, we want to show that there is a deeper truth beyond the media headline and it is that truth which Africans on the Continent must understand in order to fully comprehend the continued tribulations of Black people in the West, notwithstanding the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 as the first Black president of the United States. We will tell you about thedifference that makes no difference and the change that brought about no change. We will tell you about the paradox of progress which allows a Black man to become president, even as millions of Blacks are subjected to increased racism and brutality. We will tell you about the shifting nature of racism and demonstrate to you that racism is both an idea and a structure of institutions, impervious to meaningful change or challenge.
We will explain why in the midst of seemingly boundless wealth, Black people have remained poor. We will show you that poverty is not accidental, but rather by design. We will demonstrate how the white man places hurdles in our path to success, then curses us for not succeeding, a practice which led Malcolm X to remark that "[he has] no respect for a society that crushes a man under a heavy burden and curses him when he is unable to stand up under the weight of that burden." We will show you that their contempt for us is based on nothing but the color of our skin. Indeed, we will show you that they hate us when we fail but hateusmore when we succeed.
We will expose the distortion of tying blackness to criminality, and argue that the real criminality is to have wretched poverty in the midst of unbridled wealth. That whatever offense they accuse us of, they have committed greater offenses against us. To put it bluntly and to borrow a line from Shakespeare "we have been more sinned against than we are sinning." Finally, we want to communicate strongly our desire to come home to Africa, but we need your assistance in facilitating our return. We want you to join us in our demand for reparations for Africa and all her children.
Below we provide a small sample of the myriad ways in which our progress in the West was deliberately thwarted by whites and show you the impact of inherited disadvantage. Correspondingly, we want to acknowledge your suffering at the hands of the "colonizers" and the "investors" in Africa. At the end of this communique, it is hoped that we in the West and you on the Continent will realize that our struggles are one and the same and that the need is urgent for us to work together to save Africa and to preserve and advance the interest of the Black race.
To understand our current dilemma, we must go back to the origin of our crisis. The foundation for our perpetual oppression was laid very early. In 1803, the Haitian people, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, defeated the French army and won freedom for the enslaved Blacks on the island, thereby allowing Haiti to become the first free Black Republic in the Americas. As punishment for succeeding against a white army and freeing its citizens from slavery, Haiti became the direct target of European and American hostility. Specifically, Haiti was subjected to unrelenting military invasion, economic embargos, diplomatic quarantines, imposition of U.S.-backed dictators, and demands for reparations. More specifically, shortly after Haiti declared itself a free Republic, France demanded $21 billion dollars (2004 dollars) in reparation from Haiti for depriving France of Haiti's slave labor. Moreover, in 1825, France threatened to re-enslave Haitians, if Haiti did not agree to pay France an additional 140 million francs, as well as grant France a 50% tariff reduction for all French ships docking in Haiti. To meet it financial obligations to the French government, Haiti was forced to borrow money from various French banks at extremely high interest rates. From that time on, Haiti has been struggling under the yolk of a huge economic burden, never able to balance its national budget or offer its citizens a good standard of living. In fact, today, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, as a direct result of the actions of Europe and the United States in 1825. (For a full discussion of the continuing legacy of slavery in Haiti see Randall Robinson's work "An Unbroken Agony.")
Similar schemes were set in place in the United States. Shortly after the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, the U.S. government and its white citizens devise new ways to keep Blacks enslaved and oppressed. Among the many practices and schemes put in place to hinder the development and growth of Blacks were:
• The Enactment of Vagrancy Laws - Numerous states enacted "vagrancy" laws which were so vague that a person had no way of complying with these laws. Accordingly, Black men were systematically rounded up and arrested for vagrancy, after which they would be taken before a county judge, found guilty, then a fine would be imposed and the man sentenced to 30 days in prison. However, because most Black men could not pay those fines, their sentences would be extended to one year of hard labor. In this way, white America was able to continue its practice of forced labor without compensation, under brutal conditions. This practice continued for many years.
• Discriminatory Housing Laws – Black codes were developed after the end of slavery and race determined (i) whether a person could own property (ii) where a person could own property (iii) where a person could live. Residential patterns were established by racialized zoning laws established in the late 19th century. When this practice was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1917, white citizens created restrictive covenants in their real estate deeds to prohibit any white from selling his or her property to Blacks. Blacks, therefore, were confined to living in the worst areas and environments, often at the sites of toxic waste dumps.
• Redlining - Redlining was a means by which banks would designate neighborhoods where they would not invest, and these were generally black neighborhoods. Thus, Black communities, stigmatized and denied access to loans and other resources, often became places that lacked businesses, jobs, grocery stores and other services. This, in turn, would cause upwardly mobile Black to leave these neighborhoods, further causing these communities to fall into chaos and despair. Thus, redlining further entrenched the problems of concentrated poverty, thereby creating and reinforcing a vicious cycle of decline for which Black people themselves were blamed.
• Restrictions on Entreprenurship - Black people's attempts at economic self-sufficiency and independence were thwarted by whites at every turn. Specifically, Blacks were restricted by law from participating in business on the open market. In fact, explicit state and local policies restricted the rights and freedom of Blacks as entrepreneurs. Indeed, numerous industries and various types of businesses were off limits to Blacks. Furthermore, those types of businesses opened to Blacks were restricted to all-Black, segregated markets, thereby depriving Black businessmen access to customers of other races. In other words, Blacks could only sell to Blacks but other business people such as whites, Jews, Japanese, and Chinese were allowed to sell to each other and to Blacks as well. Above all, Blacks were also forced into the role of consumer, then cursed for not being sufficiently industrious.
Eugene Robinson says it most succinctly in his book entitled, "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America". Mr. Robinson states that Black progress was not just discouraged, not just hampered, but actually outlawed. Blacks were prohibited from learning to read and write; were prohibited from going into certain types of industries and were prohibited from doing business beyond the black community.
• Education – Our access to education was severely limited and even in those rare situations where we managed to get a good education, we were prevented from pursuing higher professions, such as law and medicine. Instead, we were channeled into athletics and performing arts, under the theory that we were good at those things, but not at science and math or intellectualism, generally.
• The Criminal Justice System – Black men are disproportionately targeted for police brutality, arrests and ultimately incarceration. Every year, numerous Black youths are killed by white police officers and thousands are locked up for crimes that go unpunished if committed by white youths. The scope of the problem is vast and the situation grave. Here is a frightening statistic: 70,000 rapes take place in prison annually. Who do you think this is happening to? What impact do you think this is having on our communities, on the Black race? [I am writing a separate paper on Mass Incarceration in the United States and the misery that that spawns for Black people.]
In addition to the structural barriers to achievement which whites erected, ambitious Blacks and successful Black communities were targeted for attacks. Among those incidents are:
• Rosewood community in Florida – In June 1921, the thriving Black community of Rosewood was burned to the ground by racist whites who could not tolerate the success of Black people. Accordingly, an angry mob, supported by the government, completely destroyed the schools, churches, businesses and homes in Rosewood. Hundreds of Blacks lost their lives and property loss was estimated at $2.3 million. Numerous such incidents took place throughout the United States, where thriving and successful Black communities were sacked by whites, with many Blacks killed in the process. This was to serve as a deterrent to Black people advancing.
• Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – In 2005, after hurricane destroyed a predominantly black community in New Orleans, the people were left without help or resources for an unreasonably long time. Those seeking refuge in neighboring white communities were turned back by white government officials and were even fired upon by white citizens. When help finally arrived, the rescue workers would bypass Black people to save the white people of the town.
• Paul Robeson – After graduating at the top of his class from Columbia Law School in New York in 1923, Paul Robeson was unable to find a job as a lawyer. When he was ultimately hired by a law firm, he faced so much discrimination, ever from the secretaries and the clerks, that he was forced to leave the firm. As a consequence, Paul Robeson he was forced to go into theatre and performance, one of the few fields that were available to Blacks, although not without harsh discrimination.
• Reginald Lewis, an able and successful businessman, was hindered in his bid to acquire Beatrice International Foods, a thriving conglomerate having 64 companies in 31 countries. Ultimately, Mr. Lewis had to hire a white man to "front" the deal in order to successfully effect the acquisition of Beatrice Foods. The white business men became enraged when they discovered that Reginald Lewis was, in fact, the person behind the acquisition. They could not abide the idea that a Black man should own such a successful company. Reginald Lewis died in 1993; it is widely rumored that he was poisoned.
• Bill Cosby - In1992 and 1993 famous actor and comedian, Bill Cosby, was denied the right to acquire National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), the number two broadcasting network in the U.S., at that time. Once again, the powers that be could not abide the idea of a Black man owning a mainstream media outlet, which would allow him to help control the images of Blacks that is projected around the world.
To be sure, a few carefully selected Blacks are allowed to advance to certain positions (i.e., Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan etc.). However, the remaining millions of Blacks are poorly educated; unemployed; homeless; confined to depressed neighborhoods; suffer from ill health; are brutalized by police or are incarcerated at disproportionate rates. The successful Blacks may be the elite of the servant class, but they are still the servant class. Thus, in measuring progress, we have to look at the collective, and not just at the exceptional successful Blacks.
Indeed, there is great strategy involved in allowing a select number of Blacks to advance. Specifically, in positioning a number of Blacks in top positions, it helps to deflect accusations of racism in America. Thus, people become focused on what America looks like rather than what it does. Accordingly, the principle of fighting structural discrimination is eclipsed by the desire to showcase difference through symbolic gestures. Therefore, the presence of Blacks in certain position is little more than "window dressing" and any perceived change is simply cosmetic. Furthermore, the system could never remedy the Black condition because the system IS the problem.
The same is true with the Presidency of the United States. Although a Black man occupies the office of President of the United States, this achievement must not be interpreted as a structural change in the system. You see, racism is not simply about whites as obvious villains and Blacks as obvious victims. To be sure, racism is a system of oppression that discriminates against people on the basis of their race. But racism is not static; it has a shifting nature so that it can give something on the one hand, and takes away something greater on the other hand, yet, at the same time, gives the illusion that it is receding. That is the genius of the system. Therefore, so long as the system remains intact, the question of which individual holds power is irrelevant and, thus, Barack Obama's election works as a subterfuge which causes Black people to relax their position and convince them that they are living in a "post-racial" society, where race no longer matters. But that would be a grievous mistake on our part, if we should disarm at this time. In fact, Obama's election should confirm for us that no matter our achievement, what "progress" we seem to make, racism remains intact. As stated above, we must recognize that our redemption will not come from within the system, but rather from our resignation from the system.
Indeed, they want to dupe us with the illusion of a post racial society so that when we talk about continued racism and discrimination our arguments are immediately discounted and we are accused of living in the past or of practicing the same discrimination of which we complain. They call this "reverse discrimination." But we must be able to see the difference between "racial distinctions intended to impose white supremacy" and "racial distinctions intended to undo the harms of white supremacy." In sum, we are not anti-white; we are just pro-Black.
Like us in the West, you on the Continent have been subject to brutal colonialism, imperialism and now Chinese "investments." We are aware of the lopsided contracts you have been forced to sign; the many incidents of multinational corporations dictating the terms of a trade agreement or outmaneuvering African governments in negotiations. Similarly, they have convinced you that their white culture is more advanced than yours and that they are better at governing than you are. In this way, they hope to erode your self-confidence, your abilities and your culture. We are aware of the myriad ways in which they undermine your political and economic system; how they promote internal strife to create unrest or rebellion, thus "proving" that Black people are unable to maintain a stable government. We know fully well the nature of these people.
Remember, we are talking about people who have no compunction about poisoning a river where women, children and cattle go to get drinking water, as was the case in Namabia when SWAPO fought to eliminate colonial rule. We are talking about people who would manufacture germs in a lab such as the HIV virus to kill millions of people for the sole purpose of acquiring the people's land. We are talking about people who have attacked or killed our freedom fighters such as, H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie; Marcus Garvey; The Right Hon. King Emmanuel Charles Edwards; Patrice Lumumba; Kwame Nkrumah; Steve Biko; Nelson Mandela; Jomo Kenyatta; Winnie Mandela; Malcolm X; Maurice Bishop; Walter Rodney; Robert Mugabe; Albert John Luthuli; Walter and AlbertinaSisulu; Kenneth Kaunda; Hector Pieterson and countless others.
We are talking about people who are now inducing African countries to impose greater restrictions on issuance of visas to Blacks from the West, especially Rastafari. People who want to compel African countries to adopt or endorse social policies (such as homosexuality) under the threat of reduced financial aid and in total derogation of these countries cultural practices or moral principles. In every way possible, Europe and America continue to impose its will on Africa and its people.
Yet, for all that the white man has done to us and continues to do, we remain loyal to him and to his system. In fact, in a masterful act of treachery, the white man continues to retain a position of trust and reverence among Black people, a situation that is as perverse as it is paradoxical. That is why, in his book entitled "Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery" psychologist Dr. Na'im Akbar writes that the slavery that feeds on the mind; that invades the soul of men; that destroys a man's loyalties to himself and establishes allegiance to forces which seek to destroy him, is an even worst form of capture.
Brothers and sisters, the evidence is all around us. White people don't love us, they never will and they seek only our destruction. In furtherance of that objective, whites have consistently tried to create division among us, by pitting Blacks from the Caribbean against those born in the U.S., and all of us in the Diaspora from you born on the Continent. They have even told some of you on the Continent (especially Ethiopians, Somalians and Eritreans) that you are not Black or "Negroid" like people in other African countries or those of us in the West. Their strategy continues to be "divide and conquer." In a further effort to keep us alienated from each other, they continue to advance the argument that you on the Continent participated in the slave trade.
Indeed, the argument that "our own brothers sold us into slavery" has become more popular and prevalent in recent years. However, it is dishonest to compare the role played by Blacks in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with that played by whites. After all, it was whites who invented the system; it was whites who forced many Blacks to participate or risk their own enslavement; it was whites who transported us across the ocean in some of the most inhumane fashion; it was whites who divided families; it was whites who auctioned us off as chattel; it was whites who raped our women; it was whites who savagely beat us and lynched us if we rebelled against any injustice; it was whites who kept this brutal, savage system of slavery going for hundreds of years; it was whites who made huge amounts of money from enslaving Blacks; it was whites who said that Blacks are less than human, were animals. So we don't want whites to tell us about your participation in the slave trade unless they are ready to hear some hard truths about themselves. Your participation does not relieve whites of their culpability.
Sadly, many Blacks in the West have taken up this position. (When the oppressed starts making the argument for the oppressor, you know the oppression is complete). Fortunately, most of us in the Diaspora have recognized that we need to be careful because when we countenance this type of argument, we legitimize the behavior of whites and become co-conspirators with white men in their never-ending quest to evade responsibility for the atrocities they have inflicted upon the Black race. In any event, whether or not you on the Continent participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is no business of the white man. This is a family affair, an internal matter and will be handled as such, without the interference of any white man.
Another point to be made is that the Jews are guilty of worst behavior toward their own brothers; but no one likes to talk about that. Jews delivered thousands of their fellow Jews to the Nazi regime, knowing fully well that the people they gave up would be exterminated in the gas chambers. Those Jews were handsomely rewarded for betraying their brothers; but that discussion is always stifled and never pursued.
My brothers and sisters on the Continent, it is time for us to unite and work together. We must move to erase the socially constructed barriers that continue to imprison and divide us. Black people cannot afford to be divided by ethnicity, tribal or political affiliations, geographic boundaries, gender differences, culture or religion. We must unite across all these divides, if the Black race is to be preserved and become strong.
When we stay alienated, separated and divided, white man wins. Some have argued that skin color is not a sufficient basis on which to unite but we believe that our collective experience as victims of racial oppression is all the cohesion we need. White people have always united around skin color, notwithstanding any internal differences. We should do the same.
In this connection, we urge you to petition your respective governments, tell them about us and our plight in the West, tell them how we continue to suffer at the hands of whites and that the election of Barack Obama does not diminish this truth. Tell them that we work hard and continue to strive but that each time we reach the goal post, they move it further and further away.
Tell them that the system was designed for us to fail; that the system is "rigged" against us in the Diaspora, as it is rigged against you on the Continent. Tell them that the system is rigged against Black people universally. Tell them that in judging Black people's advancement or lack of advancement in the West they should bear in mind that success and advancement are tied to more than individual effort; they are tied to the willingness of the larger society to allow access to those seeking to enter. Tell them that in many cases we are honorable people forced to do dishonorable things.
Tell them that the destructive behavior that some Blacks engage in is a direct result of the oppression under which they are forced to live. Tell them how white men quote statistics as proof of Black men's criminality but that statistics do not reveal cause nor do they give balance or provide context for the information upon which the statistics are based. Tell them to not accept racial stereotype as fact. Tell them that the bad behavior is both a cause and a consequence of our condition, so that the symptom and the syndrome are one and the same. Tell them that most of us have done everything they require of us, yet it is not enough for we cannot do the one thing white men require most of us, in that "we cannot stop being Black." Tell them again that despite any wrongdoing they perceive on our part, "we have been more sinned against than we are sinning."
Tell them to be ever vigilant against the deception of the white man. Tell them that the white man's methods may have changed but not his motives. Tell them to not impose any restrictions on our travel into Africa. Tell them to reject the argument that slavery was good for us, that we in the West are better off than you on the Continent because of slavery and that European culture is superior to African cultures. No, they are not brighter or more intelligent than Africans; they are not more industrious than Africans; they are not more creative or ingenious than Africans. They are simply more evil and godless than Africans. What they excel at is deception. Tell them that white man's doctrine is as sweet as honey but as corrosive as acid. Remind your governments that all that the white man has achieved has come at our expense. Their "advanced society" was built with the forced labor of Black people. The minerals they used were stolen from Africa, after they pillaged the continent and forced the people into servitude. The "know-how" they acquired was done by copying us, after which they destroyed our libraries and great civilizations. The monuments and artifacts in their museums belong to us. They are criminals who continue to profit from their misdeeds, both past and present.
Tell your government about Rastafari. Tell them to look closely at Rastafari culture and what it promotes; what it means for the dignity of the Black man; how it pledges it's loyalty to Africa above any place else; how it affirms the Black man's humanity; how it doesn't require the Black man to subordinate his culture to European culture. Tell them that Rastafari serves to lessen the demoralizing effects of the degrading roles that Black people are forced to assume in the world. Tell them that Rastafari stands as the defender of the poor and the powerless, in David's perpetual battle with Goliath. We know that the governments of Africa have been fed a negative image of Rastafari, so that they may reject the culture and Rastafari people. But tell your government that our only offense is that we reject white man's culture and that the white man is running scared because he is losing his grip on the Black man's mind.
Above all, tell them we want to repatriate. Tell them to join us in our demand for reparations from the governments who enslaved us. Tell them that we must collectively reject welfare, foreign aid and IMF loans and demand reparation because we prefer justice to charity. Tell them that Africa and her children are entitled to reparations for the damages they have suffered. Tell them that this is true, despite any seeming generosity from white government with whom they transact or any "nice" white person with whom they share a friendship. Tell them that our fight is not against individual whites, only the oppressive white system. Tell them that slavery and discrimination are social problems that demand social solutions – not individual misdeeds that demand individual reparation. Tell them that Africa's children in the West need their love and loyalty. Tell them we want to re-unite with our mother.
Tell them we want to come home.
One Perfect Love,
Your Blood Brothers and Sisters in the Diaspora
Empress Marina M. Blake (Bobo Shanti House)