The George Floyd protests in Minnesota, which have inspired similar protests throughout the United States and the world, expose a system dependent on the dehumanisation of black people. Rad Shiba draws from history to reveal that any challenge to that system is as necessary to humanity as it is intolerable to the powerful.
2 June 2020
The blood, sweat, tears, and suffering of Black people are the foundations of the wealth and power of the United States. We were forced to build America; if forced to, we will tear it down. – Huey Newton
On Monday, May 25 George Floyd was murdered by officers of the Minneapolis police department. His only crime was to spend a counterfeit $10 bill at a local pawn shop. We know this was only the pretense for murder. White supremacist violence is one of the foundations of American society. It murdered Philando Castile, Michael Brown, and Alton Sterling; it deprived communities; it imprisoned thousands of people. In a white supremacist society, Floyd’s killers will never face justice. Even in the unlikely event that they are arrested and convicted, that will not be justice. The US government cannot deliver justice for crimes committed against the people. The trauma of this crime and countless others cannot be addressed by those that did and have profited from the traumatizing.
Rightly enraged, thousands have taken to the streets this week. Much has been made in the media of the ‘violence’ sparked in the riots, as if it wasn’t the cop’s violence that started this! And, unlike the rioters, the police killed someone. The destruction of televisions sparks more outrage in the establishment than an innocent man being put to death. This isn’t a glitch in the system, this is American society working as intended, and we all know it. That we’ve taken to looting supermarkets is not proof of our barbarous nature, but that we’re beginning to recognize that the problems of today’s world go deeper than one or two bad cops, or even just the police force alone.
The rulers… have always considered their property more important than our lives. – Assata Shakur
This is why riots have prompted condemnation from commentators on all sides of the political spectrum. Conservative or liberal, politicians and media personalities benefit from the current order, one that counts on people accepting their dehumanization. Voting for democrats may be tolerated, but masses taking freedom into their own hands cannot. For them, power from below is worse than the death of an innocent man, especially when that power is articulated by black people to challenge their dehumanization. The incredible threat this movement poses lies in that it is impossible to challenge dehumanization piece by piece. By challenging their dehumanization they challenge that dehumanization in all respects, knowingly or otherwise, which scares the powerful. Challenging dehumanization means, inherently, challenging the domination of the rich over the poor, the capitalist over the worker, man over woman, and, of course, white over black.
America was founded on chattel slavery. The brutal subjugation and commodification of human bodies funded the expansion of the country into more and more indigenous lands. Capitalism seeks ever new markets, constantly striving for expansion and growth. That growth comes with genocide and colonialism. Those were the forces that the slave rebellions of the 19th century fought. From Nat Turner to the slave rebels of the Civil War, black people never stopped fighting to assert their humanity. Of course, the narrative of the white supremacist is that freedom was handed down from on high by kindly and sympathetic white people in government, but this is a lie. The slave uprisings of the Civil War were nothing short of revolutionary. The logic of racism is that of dehumanization; the logic of revolution can be nothing but that of humanism.
We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. – Malcolm X
Riots, Capitalism, & A New World
If one pays attention only to the mainstream news cycle, rioters must appear as nothing more than bandits hellbent on destroying and stealing everything. They’re shown as modern day urban pirates. At best, these riots are portrayed as the product of a few manipulative insurgents attempting to derail the otherwise peaceful protests. In either case, the argument is the same: the anger of black people cannot be legitimized.
And how could they legitimize it? The mainstream media is both a part of and upholds the very system that has produced this anger. Even reformists, sympathetic to movements such as Black Lives Matter, must affirm the system they seek to reform above the movement in whose name they seek reforms. Even at their best, those within the state must affirm the abstraction of the government above the needs of living people.
Against this, what could possibly be more rational for the oppressed than rioting? What possible reason could they have for prioritizing the wellbeing of power structures and property over their own humanity?
What has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the fact that the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority of those who are hungry don’t steal and why the majority of those who are exploited don’t strike – Wilhelm Reich
Riots are nothing but the dehumanized standing up and rejecting their dehumanization. This does not, and cannot, simply mean fighting against specific treatment, but against the whole bullshit white-supremacist state-capitalist order that expects us all to bow down and sacrifice our humanity to the altar of private profit. Riots are the purest form of rejection of compromise with those who benefit from this system.
Within the riot, we can see a critique of the old world, and not solely in the destruction of property. Scared, atomized people who have been ostracized and disenfranchised are using their actions to speak. They are forcing the world to listen. Moreover, communities long terrorized by gentrification and police brutality, are showing that they have the capability to protect themselves and their loved ones. Supplies looted from the Minneapolis Target were used in a mutual aid network. White people at the riots have begun lining themselves up in front of the police. They are using their white privilege to form a fortress for the people of color they march alongside. Protests have emerged in places as far away from America as Tokyo, Slovenia, London, and Berlin. These actions serve as critique of the old world. The old world tells us that national borders and race matter more than solidarity between working class human beings. It tells us that we need militarized police to keep order and that the only answer to our problems is elections. The riots say no.
Everyone has been glued to the news of the uprising. We watch in earnest to see the old world challenged. No one truly knows what will come next, but we suspect that out of this, at the very least, will come a lot of questioning and conversation. We encourage that very strongly. If we are to truly win, we will have to study and really understand our enemy. To put it plainly, if we want to build a new world, we’ll have to understand exactly what is wrong with the old one. The riots are great teachers. They have targeted massive corporations, white supremacist memorials, and police precincts. We have a lot to learn from those choices. Still, we have to understand what it is about the old world that has led us to this, and what we should replace it with. Only after those ideas have permeated us can we truly begin the impossible, and create the new.
Rad Shiba makes YouTube videos on capitalism, Marx, and ideas of the way forward. For more discussion on these points you can contact this encrypted email.