by Patrick Korte

Crossposted from Telesur

Black Americans aren´t just an oppressed racial group, but an internal colony, whose formation was grounded in the institutions of European settler-colonialism and slavery.

On August 9, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown’s body lay dead, riddled with bullets fired by police officer Darren Wilson, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, a recent high school graduate, was two days away from starting college with hopes of working as a heating and air conditioner repair technician, before police ended his life. For several hours, police allowed his corpse to lie in the street as blood streamed from his body, and disbelief transformed into outrage as the people gathered. It was not long before a highly militarized police force, equipped with advanced weaponry used by U.S. counterinsurgency forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, stepped in to contain and suppress the spontaneous uprising – overwhelmingly restrained and nonviolent – of the people of Ferguson. The police unleashed dogs – German Shepherds no less – and the racist violence of America, supposedly long overcome, once again reared its ugly head in the public spotlight.

In the face of such blatant disregard for Black life, James O. Pasco, Jr. of the Fraternal Order of Police had the audacity to state that “to suggest that police officers are a marauding, white occupying army out there to deprive minorities of their civil rights is at variance with common sense.” However, when examining the evidence, one cannot help but scoff at such a claim. What is at variance with common sense is viewing America’s increasingly militarized police forces as the protectors of the rights of the people, when every 28 hours there is an extrajudicial killing of a Black person by police forces, private security guards, or vigilantes; when the U.S. has the world’s largest prison population, with the prison incarceration rate of Black men being six times higher than that of white men; and when Black communities have the highest poverty rate – 27.4% (with Latino communities close behind at 26.6%) – in the country.

Ferguson is emblematic of the state of Black America: 67% of the population are Black, 22% of the total population live under the poverty line, and the majority white police force (only 3 out of 53 officers are Black) has a history of taking despotic actions against the population. As recently revealed by The Washington Post, several fellow officers of Darren Wilson are facing civil rights lawsuits for a variety of allegations, including “killing a mentally ill man with a Taser, pistol-whipping a child, choking and hog-tying a child and beating a man who was later charged with destroying city property because his blood spilled on officers’ clothes.” In all of these cases, the majority of police officers involved were white, and the majority of victims Black. While some would like us to believe such heinous crimes are the result of “mismanagement” or “a few bad apples,” such commonplace human rights violations are manifestations of a deeper problem. From the murders of young Black youth by police to the neglect of Black communities devastated by natural disasters, from the massive prison population to overabundance of low-wage, non-unionized jobs, it seems clear that persistent injustice is systematic, deeply rooted in the structure of American society.

Perhaps we should revisit the work of Jack O’Dell, former editor of the progressive magazine Freedomways and one of the great but often forgotten voices of the Black Liberation Movement in the 20th century. O’Dell spoke of the situation of Black Americans not simply in terms of their status as an oppressed racial group, but as an internal colony, whose formation was grounded in the institutions of European settler-colonialism and slavery, and whose oppression coincided with that of the indigenous First Nations and Chicanos. O’Dell challenged orthodox conceptions of colonialism that viewed the colonial relationship purely in terms of an “overseas territory and strange, unfamiliar people living on that territory.” Rather, O’Dell argued for a dualistic analysis of colonialism: “A people may be colonized on the very territory on which they have lived for generations or they may be forcibly uprooted by the colonial power from their traditional territory and colonized in a new territorial environment so that the very environment itself is ‘alien’ to them.” While the former situation applied to the indigenous First Nations and Chicanos, the latter situation was unique to Africans who were “forcibly removed from their traditional territory of African societal development and transported to a new territory unfamiliar to them, colonized and enslaved. They were not permitted to enter the mainstream of institutional life in the new environment (America), but instead were forcibly excluded from participation by a system of mechanisms established by those who owned the land and other means of production in the new territory.”

Even after the overthrow of chattel slavery during the American Civil War, the status of Black Americans as an internal colony was maintained, primarily through the reversal of the revolutionary program of Reconstruction (1863-1877), whose completion might have enabled the construction of an alternative historical legacy. However, the persistence of “the mechanisms of colonial rule” – such as land monopoly, forced labor, political disenfranchisement, and apartheid – ensured continued subjugation.

So, what does O’Dell’s theory of internal colonialism have to do with recent events in Ferguson and the continuing struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people? For starters, it offers a radical analysis that goes to the root of the problem of racism in America by examining its structural characteristics in historical context. Such an analysis understands the oppression of Black Americans as more than an informal policy of discrimination, but part a deeper historical process of dispossession and subordination arising from colonialism (whose development itself is integrated with the systems of capitalism and heteropatriarchy). This analytical perspective highlights that it is not enough to simply change the face of the President or police, but that deeper structural inequalities – such as the relationship of dependency between oppressed nationalities and the oppressor state – must be understood, uprooted, and superseded by emancipatory social institutions and relations.

This analysis could constitute the foundation for the development of a revolutionary vision of intercommunalism, itself a component part of a broader participatory socialist vision, in which a new historical legacy between communities is constructed based on self-determination and mutual aid. This analysis and vision could inform an internationalist perspective in which the liberation struggles of internal colonies is connected with the struggles of oppressed people globally, from Gaza to Ferguson, from Kurdistan to New Orleans. And finally, as a means of getting from the oppressive present to the liberated future, we must develop a program for self-determination, such as the Every 28 Hours Campaign of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), which supports the formation of self-defense networks to monitor and resist police terrorism, waging campaigns to institute police control mechanisms, and building people’s assemblies as a means to develop community self-management and self-sufficiency.

It is the duty of all revolutionary and progressive forces throughout the world to support the struggle against colonialism in all its varieties, be it white supremacist internal colonialism at home, or neocolonial wars of aggression abroad. What we require is an organization of revolutionaries, united in a shared analysis, vision, and strategy, bringing together oppressed nationalities, women, LGBTQ2GNC (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two Spirit, and Gender Nonconforming) people, and the working class, to aid the development of One Big Movement for the liberation of humanity and the planet. From Gaza to Ferguson, Let Freedom Ring!

Organization for a Free Society

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