Killing the poor tonight: A Copernican revolution in racial politics

Chyatte, D. Joseph



D. Joseph Chyatte SID# 22150296 Killing the Poor Tonight: A Copernican Revolution in Racial Politics “I remember the day I became colored.” — Zora Neale Hurston, “How it Feels to be Colored Me” I was retching and gagging, physically ill, as I watched the video of Philando Castile’s summary execution play over-and-over on the television. My eyes blurring with tears and my teeth clenched, impotent rage consumed my body . . . thinking of Philando’s partner—that strong, savvy, woman—and their small child in the back seat; and how the violence intrinsic to America has once again obliterated life, brutally altering the trajectory of one more innocent family. As the videos of this incident evidence, Mr. Castile and his partner posed no threat; were compliant and calm; and were even travelling with a small child in tow. And yet, the executing officer claimed to have experienced mortal fear during his interaction with the family. Given the Castile’s acquiescent and respectful behavior, one is left with only the conclusion that it was their dark skin that gave rise to the officer’s professed “fear.” In short, by all accounts, Mr. Castile was murdered by an agent of the state because of the color of his skin. And yet, some media commentary concerning this increasingly visible phenomenon of “race”- based, extra-judicial, executions takes great care to include all people of color, and poor whites, within the rubric of those whom suffer from capitalist-police-statefl’rison Industrial Complex (PIC) oppression. Such semantics may be construed as an embrace of the post-modem, post-racial, ideal—one wherein the race-concept is acknowledged as anachronistic fallacy and supplanted instead with a socio-economic notion of oppressor/oppressed. If so, this naturally begs the question: in the discussion of state oppression, police power, and the PIC, do terms such as “white” and “black” still accurately reflect thought-objects predicated upon skin color, or have these terms evolved in response to capitalist Page 1 of 4 D. Joseph Chyatte SID# 22150296 exploitation to define social and economic status, irrespective of skin tone? In other words, have “white” and “black” become post-modern substitutes for Friedrich Engels’ and Karl Marx’s “bourgeois” and “proletaria ” respectively? In heated times such as ours, this is a dangerous question indeed. However, it is not a new question—Bernard Wolfe and the Almighty Mezz explored the racial identity/socio-economic/PIC nexus all the way back in 1946 in their work, Really the Blues. And, as referenced above, Marx and Engels suggested that the only material distinction amongst people are economic ones—that “race” is a canard used to obfuscate and mischaracterize the perpetual struggle between the economically oppressed and their oppressors. While I do not arrogate to have any answers, perhaps turning to the roots of systemic and institutionalized American racism can be instructive. In pre-United States 1676, mainland America’s first populist uprising occurs in response to the tension and violence European colonialism creates on the continent. Remembered eponymously as “Bacon’s Rebellion”—after the movement’s leader, Nathaniel Bacon—the revolt consists of economically disadvantaged citizens, regardless of color, banding together to oppose the policies of Governor William Berkeley and the Virginia Colony planting elite. There are both military and political components to Bacon’s Rebellion: beyond the violent interactions of the Berkeley and Bacon factions, Nathaniel Bacon also succeeds in getting himself elected to the Virginia Assembly. While the colony’s bourgeoisie power structure ultimately stymies Bacon’s assumption of legislative authority, what is important is that Bacon’s military and political successes turn on the movement’s populist amalgam of dark—skinned folks of African descent and light-skinned people of European descent———to wit, “blacks” and “whites.” The only diagnostic of membership in either Bacon’s or Berkeley’s camp is socio-economic status—at its most basic, the insurrection is a class struggle between the so-called haves and have-nots. The Virginia Colony elite immediately note with concern this demographic-dynamic, and begin taking affirmative steps to divide the colony’s workers into opposing groups easier to control. Thus, immediately after Bacon’s rebellion, the first anti-miscegenation laws appear in North America, as well as other ordinances that systematically target and oppress dark-skinned people of African descent. By Page 2 of 4 D. Joseph Chyatte SID# 22150296 design, these laws intentionally alienate poor “whites” from poor “blacks.” Prior to post-Bacon “race codes,” the only identity-salient is socio-economic status: poor “blacks” and poor, indentured, “whites” intermarry, conduct business together, and generally live side-by-side as equals. Following their implementation such a social dynamic is anathema. As such, one can draw a clear and unambiguous causal line from the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion event to the genesis of institutionalized and systemic American racism. So, institutionalized American racism has deep roots and is created by an elite, bourgeoisie, class to protect their property holdings by dividing, disenfranchising, and alienating the proletariat. In this light, racism and its parameters—viz. “black” and “white”——-are simply tools the bourgeoisie use to affect capitalist oppression. In the recent past, other anti-PIC activists—such as Larry Hoover and, later in his life, Malcolm X—became painfully aware of this reality and did everything within their power to mitigate it. That is because there is an unfortunate circularity in asserting the only way oppressed and marginalized peoples may overcome violence and subordination is by a reactionary retreat into the very same arbitrary identities capitalism imposes to divide, and thereby dominate, the worker. If an alienating skin—color-racial-identity is an invention of capitalist/colonialist oppressors, then it makes little to no sense to hold to that imposed identity as a per se truth. Perhaps the Movement’s anti-capitalism/anti-PIC objectives are better realized by seizing and rebranding the anachronisms of “black” and “white” as qualifiers more apropos to describing the nature and essence of the class struggle. Not in some trans- racial, Dolezalian cultural appropriation sort of way, but rather as a radical reorienting of perspective—a “Copernican Revolution” in racial politics if you will. But that’s all easy for me to say——my skin is “white.” In the seconds preceding Philando Castile’s execution there were no considerations of American history or fundamental economic truths. That cop simply saw a dark-skinned man, panicked, and then gunned him down. Have no doubt: Mr. Castile was indeed murdered by institutional and systemic racism, intentionally created to preserve social and economic disparity through the use of police agents as lethal weapons. It is simply a racism that is Page 3 of 4 D. Joseph Chyatte SID# 22150296 now so deeply ingrained in the American ethos it is accepted a priori, becoming tragically instinctual amongst government agents. So what do, or what should, words like “black” and “white’ really mean? I, for one, do not know. But for Mr. Castile and his loved ones there can be no doubt, for if Philando had looked like me he would still be alive today. Page 4 of 4

Author: Chyatte, D. Joseph

Author Location: Oregon

Date: September 21, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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