A lot of people today are writing about the crisis we see all around us—the U.S. debacle in Iraq, the abrogation of democratic rights for American citizens and the fact that the U.S. economy is going down the tubes.
Most people base their analysis on the premise that today’s problems have come about because of a deviation from the “fundamental values” on which the U.S. was founded. Or that this is something resulting from political corruption and the particularly odious Bush administration.
The problem is most people are searching for answers but are stuck inside the confines of our narrow myopic viewpoint. Most of us peek out of our ivory tower without noticing that it sits on a pedestal of the oppression of the majority of humanity. We are locked into a white way of looking at the world—examining an increasingly problematic reality, only as it affects us. The truth is there is no deviation from America’s values. This country was founded on slavery, genocide and colonialism. The crisis we are trying to sum up is the crisis of imperialism.
I am a white woman, an activist, a member of the African People’s Solidarity Committee. APSC organizes in white communities under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party, which is led by Omali Yeshitela, worldwide African leader, revolutionary, author of the book One Africa! One Nation! Working under Omali Yeshitela and the strategy for Black Power enables us in the solidarity movement to begin to see the world through the eyes of African and other peoples, a very enlightening and liberating experience. Suddenly the reality of the whole other “parallel universe” of colonized people—and our relationship to it—becomes glaringly visible.
From the perspective of African, Indigenous and other colonial subjects, what the U.S. is doing around the world today is nothing new. It’s what America and Europe have done from the very beginning. It’s just that now the imperialist joyride is ready to crash and burn off the next cliff and we have to take notice.
The impending downfall of the U.S. economy is not the result of the policies of Greenspan, the Fed, Bernanke or Bush. U.S. imperialism is in crisis because peoples around the world are fighting back, fighting for their lives, fighting for control of their own land, wealth and resources. The U.S. is no longer able to lord it over them with impunity to feed our children at the expense of theirs. Why should diamond workers in Sierra Leone work for 30 cents a day when they could own the mines themselves on their own land?
Europe in the middle ages was barren, impoverished, oppressive and disease ridden. We call it the dark ages. But in China, India, Mongolia, Persia, Iraq, Mali, Ethiopia and among the Indigenous inhabitants of North and South America people were doing just fine. There were thriving ancient trade routes and longstanding global economic relationships. Europe was poor and alienated from the loop. Queen Isabella had to hock her jewels to finance Columbus’ trips to America.
Today Europe and North America are incredibly wealthy and democratic and everyone else is poor and oppressed. What happened?
Europe saved itself by its assault on Africa, the Americas, Asia and others.
By the late 1400s Portugal had already extracted 700 tons of gold from West Africa into Europe. More importantly Portugal began to turn African people into its most lucrative commodity. By the year 1500 Portugal had already established a slave trade of nearly 90,000 human beings, bringing about what Marx called the “rosy dawn” of capitalism.
Every major war in Europe was fought over who would control the trade in African people. The Spanish, the Dutch and ultimately the British took it over. Even the now-glorified pirates were out there in the waters trying to get a piece of the action. Pirates were the “free trade” movement of the day struggling for individual entrepreneurship in the slave industry in opposition to the government-owned slaving monopoly.
The result for Europe was an explosion of wealth unprecedented in world history. The triangular trade, ship building, mineral processing, cotton milling, sugar and tobacco refining and the entire spin-off economy necessitated the expulsion of the peasants from their traditional lands into the cities as workers.
At the same time African people were pushed inland from the coasts as they saw their way of life, culture, civilization and traditional economy destroyed. An open, welcoming people now lived in constant fear that their families would be captured, kidnapped, tortured and enslaved.
This same process was going on in the Americas: genocide, slaughter, rape and pillage—theft of land, gold, silver and resources. Even the concept of democracy came to France and England from the Indigenous societies. There wasn’t the word genocide then. That only happened later when white people did to other white people what they had been doing to African, Indigenous, Asian and Arab people for hundreds of years.
Throughout Asia the same story played out—the Opium Wars to colonize China, the conquest of Southeast Asia as incredibly lucrative drug colonies pumping wealth into France and Britain.
So when were things different or better than they are now?
When George Washington was a notoriously brutal owner of 318 African people who made him a wealthy man? Washington gave those whom he enslaved a daily nutritional allotment of a handful of cornmeal and fish parts.
When Thomas Jefferson was raping his 13-year-old slave Sally Hemings and threatening his human property if they approached his lush organic gardens?
When James Monroe was claiming this hemisphere as the playground and colonial toy of white North America?
When Andrew Jackson was killing the native people and skinning their corpses to make leather thongs? When president after president was carrying out the annihilation of the native people? There were sixty official “Indian Wars” to wipe out the owners of this land, by the way. Sixty Fallujahs and Abu Ghraibs right here. The Indigenous people still live in concentration camps in poverty with an average life expectancy in the 40s.
The more I study slavery as the economic impetus of this country the more it becomes clear what Omali Yeshitela states over and over again. The U.S. economy and entire social system was founded and built on these crimes against humanity.
The auction blocks and slave markets—from New Orleans to Shockoe Bottom in Richmond VA to Wall Street in New York—were the center of economic activity and development. Law firms, brokerage firms, the “stock” market, hotels, restaurants, transportation, universities were built on this. What wasn’t connected to it?
Some might say the Abolition Movement reflected positive American values. Well, Abolitionists were upper class white people who wanted to end the slave trade to make direct colonialism easier. King Leopold, who slaughtered 10 million people in Congo and cut off the hands of millions more as punishment for their refusal to harvest rubber, was an Abolitionist.
Some talk about “globalization” as the new form of economic exploitation. What’s that about? Capitalism has been global from the start—a world trade in exploitation, oppression and genocide throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.
The promise of wealth for the Average (white) citizen in the U.S. came at the expense of slavery and genocide of others. If white immigrants came here and couldn’t get a job they usually didn’t protest at city hall. They more likely formed gangs in the Northern cities and engaged in the century-long low intensity warfare against African people who had escaped the plantations of the south and were trying to eke out a living in the north.
The New York garment industry was so dependent on cotton harvested by enslaved Africans in the south that New York City seriously considered seceding along with the confederacy in the civil war. White workers in New York rioted and lynched African people when they found out they were being drafted into the Union Army.
Lynchings throughout the south and Midwest were carried out by regular working white people who perceived their interests to be found at the expense of African people. The thousands of lynchings over the years were not furtive middle of the night escapades. They were festive events enjoyed by women, men, children and the elderly.
When African people built a self-sufficient economy of their own—sometimes it was quite prosperious—it was attacked by white mobs and burnt down as in Tulsa OK and Rosewood FL.
White people could get real estate—something never available to them in Europe—by simply becoming a pioneer, a civilian soldier carrying a gun against the native people and stealing their land. Volunteer cavalries slaughtered the native people and gleefully committed unspeakable atrocities like cutting out the vaginas and uteruses of Indigenous women and using them as hat bands and for their saddle horns.
The gold rush is glamorized but it was accompanied by state-subsidized genocide in California. For the enjoyment of all those single white men in the Sierras during the gold rush a whole economy of sex slaves grew up with the kidnapping of 10-year-old Indigenous girls who were sold for $200. Most chilling the state of California paid out more than $1 million in 1850 and 51 to white people who brought in scalps of Indigenous people.
After slavery there was convict leasing. Hundreds of thousands of African people imprisoned in concentration work camps after the civil war based on the Jim Crow laws. This went on for about 70 years. The white man’s slogan for this expendable free workforce was, “One dies, get another.” Convict leasing rebuilt the southern economy. It was responsible for about 75 percent of the economy of Alabama in the late 19th century for example.
What about the Mexican war that stole most of what is the U.S. southwest from Mexico.
What about the “splendid little” Spanish American war, that stole Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines?
What about the U.S. war on the Philippines characterized by atrocities, torture, the “water cure,” and blatant calls from Americans for genocide of the Filipino people?
The first and second world wars were wars to re-divide the world among the imperial thieves. At the end of the second world war the U.S. emerged as the leader of the capitalist world. Struggles for national liberation were rising up throughout the world—India, Kenya, Cuba, Algeria. The US. established a new policy—neocolonialism, in which a tiny elite is selected from inside a colony to carry out the will of the imperial masters.
In the 1960s the Black Power Movement emerged inside the U.S. The cry for Black Power shook this system to its foundations because it was a revolutionary movement of the colonial African population inside the U.S.’s own borders. The movement was crushed by an internal counterinsurgency plan called COINTELPRO. Headed up by the FBI COINTELPRO was responsible for the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton even as the U.S. was assassinating Patrice Lumumba and overthrowing Kwame Nkrumah in Africa.
It is a well-documented fact that as part of the defeat of the movement of the 60s the government flooded the African communities with heroin and then crack.
The illegal drug trade is estimated to be worth $500 billion a year, a commodity incredibly important to the stability of the U.S. economy as a whole. Those profits are reaped at the highest echelons of U.S. society and filter on down. Drug wealth is certainly not in the public housing projects and working class neighborhoods where African men are criminalized and locked up for life as drug “kingpins.”
Along with the drugs came the prisons that now house millions of young African and Mexican people on ‘three strikes” and mandatory minimum laws.
The prison business is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The majority of prisons are located in rural white communities whose economies went bad in the 80s under Reagan. The prisons have been essential to the economic welfare of enormous sectors of white society for the past 25 years. Towns throughout the U.S. are vying to get prison jobs and to fill those cells.
Where would the U.S. economy be if the 2 million people locked up in prisons were out on the streets looking for jobs?
Then there is the “housing bubble,” which is bursting before our eyes. Just like the gold rush and land out west, housing for the past 10 years or more has been a get-rich-quick scheme at the expense of the African community.
With low interest rates white working people could buy up houses, fix them up and “flip” them for profit. This is gentrification in the African neighborhoods, dispersing whole communities by pricing them out, forcing foreclosures on the homes of homeowners, raising property taxes, driving up rents.
Subprime mortgages have been the only mortgages available to the majority of the African community, even the middle class. With their hugely exploitive rates, these mortgages are impossible to maintain for a community that usually has zero assets. The collapse of the subprime mortgage industry will mean that 2.2 million mostly African, Mexican and other poor people will lose their homes in the next few months.
The U.S. economy is parasitic. It always has been. There are no good old days of lofty American values and principles of democracy and common good. The U.S. is in crisis today because around the world people are refusing to let America and Europe bully them to extract the resources they need to live.
Venezuela and much of South America says no to the U.S. Look at Bush’s tour of Latin America. Even the closest U.S. neocolonial puppets were forced to criticize Bush because of pressure from the people.
The people of Lebanon stood up. The Palestinian people are fighting to free themselves from U.S.-backed Israeli colonialism. The Iraqis are fighting.
Africa and African people dispersed around the world are resisting too. There is a growing organization called the African Socialist International made up of African organizations around the world. The ASI articulated the revolutionary democratic demands during the recent month-long strike and rebellions in Guinea-Conakry.
The ASI’s theme is One Africa, one nation. Africa and all its resources belong to African people everywhere. That just makes sense. Africans kidnapped to the Americas as slaves have the right to return to their homeland and enjoy the vast wealth of Africa.
The U.S. and Europe are used to walking all over Africa taking whatever they want. Those days are over. Africa is fighting back.
White people should work in the white communities to educate others of us about the truth. We can be a force inside the belly of the beast for the right of African and oppressed peoples everywhere to their national liberation and justice. It’s in our true interest as human beings to stand on the side of the rest of the world instead of holding up an old oppressive system hated by the majority of the world.
The U.S. economy is facing collapse. This is a good thing. Out of this collapse will come a just economy beneficial to the majority of people everywhere.
I think we can be about more than our bellies and our wallets. I think we can join the struggle of humankind for justice in this hideous violent world. People around the world must free themselves of this vicious violent tapeworm that feeds itself at the expense of others.
A better world is inevitable as all those who have been the objects of history for half a millennium begin to speak with their own voices, expressing their own aspirations, crafting their own destinies. All those subsisting on a dollar a day on lands worth billions of dollars are taking back what is rightfully theirs. This is the dawn of one equitable world community without war and oppression.