Friday, November 23, 2007

The Massacre at Thibodaux

I've been writing about African-American resistance of late and always like to remind my readers that African-Americans and European-Americans have throughout U.S. history joined together to fight injustice. One such story unfolded in 1887 when sugar cane cutters tried to organize a union in St. Mary, Terrebonne, and Lafourche Parishes in Louisiana, better known to some as "the sugar bowl."

At the time, most cane cutters were being paid $13 per month in script which could only be spent at the company store. Goods at the company store, of course, were marked up on average as much as 100% or more over retail value which typically meant that most of the workers wound up and often stayed in the red. And local lawmakers did their part by making it illegal for workers to leave the sugar plantation owners' land until their debt was paid. Uh-huh.

On the first day of the crucial harvest period in November of 1887, ten thousand workers--one thousand of them White--let it be known that they were NOT going to harvest the crop and they were NOT going to vacate their plantation-owned cabins. In fear that their valuable crop was going to get caught by a freeze, plantation owners turned to Governor McEnery (a plantation owner himself), who quickly sent in troops to "resolve" the issue.

Over the next couple of weeks, tension continued to build until on this day in 1887, somewhere between thirty and three hundred workers were rounded up and shot to death after being told to run for their lives. To read the whole story, go here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thinking About "Thanksgiving"...

I've been trying to figure out what it is we celebrate on Thanksgiving. "A bountiful harvest," we're told. A bountiful harvest the Europeans would not have had, had the indigenous "savages" of the Western Hemisphere not taught them how to produce it before the Europeans decided the continent wasn't big enough for all of us.

This has, unfortunately for millions in the world over the past four centuries, become the pattern of the United States as a culture and as a nation. We come smiling (most of the time) and then strike mercilessly and without, it would seem, conscience of any kind. What kind of people, one wonders, has NO conscience? And what might be the eventual destiny of such a people?

European capitalists snatched North America from the native civilizations that had lived here for thousands of years and, in a matter of only two centuries, have all but destroyed it, building cities that even many of us now seek to abandon. The process of laying waste to all of the beauty and abundance that had sustained itself for millions of years has now unapologetically poisoned the soil, polluted the air and waters, and exterminated the wildlife to the point of extinction. But first had to come the genocide of the indigenous human protectors of all the natural magnificence the Europeans so coveted and then so destroyed.

So we will belly up to the table today -- those of us who can afford to do so (and the statistics tell us that we are fewer than ever this year, with one out of ten in the U.S. not having enough to eat, many of these being children) -- and we will eat our way into a stupor. This "celebration" is to thank whoever we thank that we have much at the expense of others, that we are "safe" in a world where we support making others unsafe, that we have a "right" to do whatever we must to maintain our strangle-hold on the resources of every other people in the world, even our "allies," and to maintain that strangle-hold by any means necessary, knowing full well the ultimate result of such a plan for mass collective suicide.

What we need to be grateful for is that we have not, as yet, met our demise as a nation and as a people, that we can yet set a different course. There are repeated examples throughout history of populations who lived long in bondage and then struck out on their own for a promised land with no idea of where that was or what it would look like. Perhaps we, too, need to set our hearts toward the highway, as it were, to opt to survive and flourish rather than struggle and waste away, in bondage to a way of life that increasingly bewilders and reduces us. As more and more of us are touched by the cancer of our addiction to fear and materialism, more and more of us will come to imagine (as John Lennon once suggested) a different, better world, where we can be proud of something besides our credit limit and our military might.

In the meantime, we might want to be grateful, as well, that there are still remnants of the indigenous peoples we so summarily decimated. Their history is long. Their wisdom is deep. And if we learn to honor what is true over what is illusion, if we look inside our hearts instead spending all our resources decorating our social and physical outsides, if we ask for the guidance we so desperately need from those who have lasted so very long even in the face of ruthless attack on every level, perhaps there is hope for us yet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Remember To Buy Nothing On Friday

Supporting the consumer culture that encourages spending money we often do not have to buy things we typically do not need to buy supports globalization, White supremacy, sexism, addiction, and low self esteem. In fact, nobody wins but the rich guy. Is that the world you want to support? Buy nothing on Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chiquita Banana Update

Thanks to, I learned the following:

The American fruit giant Chiquita has been hit with a new lawsuit on behalf of victims of Colombian paramilitaries. Earlier this year Chiquita admitted to paying one point seven million dollars to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. terrorist watch list. On Wednesday, nearly four hundred Colombian plaintiffs filed a civil suit seeking almost eight billion dollars in damages. Plaintiff attorney Jonathan Reiter said Chiquita should be held accountable for the killings it helped fund: "The principle on which this lawsuit has been brought is that when you put money into the hands of terrorists, when you put guns into the hands of terrorists, then you are legally responsible for the atrocities, the murders and the tortures which those terrorists commit."

Chiquita says it fell victim to an extortion attempt and made the payments only to protect its employees. But a private investigator hired by the plaintiffs disputed Chiquita’s denials. The investigator, William Acosta, says his findings leave no doubt over Chiquita’s complicity: "Most of the victims during our interviews in Colombia always mention Chiquita as being the party which sends people to threaten them."

Chiquita is already facing another lawsuit from relatives of one-hundred forty-four people killed by Colombian paramilities. The company has paid a twenty-five million dollar fine to the U.S. government, but none of the money has gone to the victims’ families.
Why am I not surprised?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Looooooong Road Home To New Orleans

I got a notice today from Color of Change asking me to support a bill intended to help poor people return to their homes in New Orleans. Many of them are African-American. Besides signing the petition in favor of the bill, I decided to post their email and its accompanying video from Brave New Films (above):

New Orleans public housing residents have been fighting for over two years to return to their homes. Many of their units were minimally damaged by the storm, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has shut them out. HUD plans to demolish most available public housing units and replace them with mixed-income housing. While there are good arguments for mixed-income housing, HUD's plan calls for far fewer total units of affordable public housing, and it completely ignores short-term housing needs. The inevitable result will be thousands of low-income residents--most of whom are Black--pushed out of the city.

S.1668 honors the right to return of all New Orleans public housing residents and takes steps to preserve affordable housing in New Orleans. It requires the re-opening of at least 3,000 public housing units and ensures that there is no net loss of units available and affordable to public housing residents. The bill quickly passed in the House earlier this year, and after thousands of members pushed for the Senate to take action, the bill was introduced to the Senate by Senators Landrieu and Dodd. Now the bill is in danger of dying.

Last month, the Bush administration came out against the idea of reopening public housing units in New Orleans, with a HUD representative making the dubious claim that HUD "can't get people into" existing housing units because "they won't come home." Louisiana Senator David Vitter opposed the plan on the grounds that it would "re-create the New Orleans housing projects exactly as they were," which is simply not true. What no one can dispute is that the failure to provide affordable housing for low-income residents has contributed to the huge drop in the Black population in the city. Whether they'll admit it or not, opponents of S.1668 are working to reinforce this trend.

The Gulf Coast needs a housing policy that welcomes all citizens home, not just those who are wealthy, privileged, or White. The Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act is the last great hope for New Orleans public housing residents who want to come home. But it won't pass if we don't fight for it. Please join Color of Change in demanding that your senators support S.1668.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Little? White Lies

This has been a hectic and somewhat disconcerting week, during which I have received some information with which I have not been able to come to grips as yet. There are many whisperings, some quite frightening, frankly. But there are many people--both African-American and European-American--who stand strong in their commitment to make this a better world. I simply don't trust myself to write about this stuff yet. So, rather than leave you hanging, I post this Barry Deutsch cartoon* about the stuff White people tell themselves to rationalize and justify their clinging to the sickness of racism. Joe Feagin calls these "sincere fictions." I would argue that they're FAR from sincere.

James Baldwin once said, "You can find out everything you need to know about race in the United States by asking a White person would they like to be Black." And that's what I'm talkin' about.
*Click on the cartoon to make it large enough to see clearly or print out.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Short Reading List On Black Resistance

After I wrote a recent post on Black resistance to White oppression, a commentator mentioned a couple of books worth reading and inspired me to create the following list of a few books I commonly recommend on the topic. The list is in no particular order and is in NO way comprehensive. In fact, I'm hoping that readers will add to the list in the comments section. But this will give those who are interested some options with which to begin.

American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker
Black Consciousness in South Africa by Steve Biko
Garvey and Garveyism by Amy Jacques Garvey
The Negro Revolution by Robert Goldston
Runaway Slaves by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
Black Students by Harry Edwards
We Want Freedom by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Antislavery by Dwight Lowell Dumond
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin
The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman
Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas by Richard Price
Here I Stand by Paul Robeson
A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Hailey
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton

As I have already stated, there are many, many more such books. And I have only listed books, though there are some essays (such as "Dynamite Growing Out of Their Skulls" by Calvin C. Hernton, ") and even some letters (such as "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, "Letter to a Farm Boy" by Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin's "if they take you in the morning" letter to Angela Davis in the 1970's) that are so classic on the topic that they stand alone on their own merit. And it could be argued that many of the poems, fictional stories and plays written by African-Americans since the 1700's have been couched in either recounting, defending, explaining, or inciting Black resistance in one way or the other. You will have to find out that on your own (and I hope you will, no matter what your skin tone).

In any case, I just listed here the first few that came to mind. What books on African and African-American resistance would you add?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Don't Be Confused -- Hate Spills Over

There has been much in the media of late reporting the hanging of nooses and other reactions in apparent response to a September 20th march of more than 50,000 people against institutionalized racism in the United States as manifested in Jena, Louisiana, over the past year. Some want to claim that the nooses hung in a tree in Jena a year ago were a "prank," even though I would argue that White people in general do not for one moment perceive the hanging of nooses as a prank. They know very well what nooses mean not only to African-Americans, but to White people in the U.S., as well.

There's nothing "prankish" about the torturous murders of innocent people of color over a period of five hundred years. According to the statistics, 3811 incidents were officially labeled lynchings between 1889 and 1942 alone. That averages out to one every five days for fifty-three years. They occurred all over the country. That figure doesn't even count the incidents involving a body that never surfaced or a "suicide" such as Malcolm X's father's wherein he hit himself in the head and put himself on a railroad track to die. And, needless to say, lynchings didn't stop in 1942. In fact, anyone that doesn't recognize what happened to Megan Williams this summer in West Virginia as a slow-motion lynching is just quibbling over details.

But I would like to remind my readers that the mindset that hangs nooses is a dangerous one to many European-Americans in this country, as well. On this date in 1979, a group made up of both African-Americans and European-Americans gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina, to protest against the Ku Klux Klan. Before they could even get started, however, forty KKK members and American Nazis drove into the crowd, got out of their vehicles, pulled out their automatic weapons and opened fire, killing five and wounding ten others. The massacre was filmed by four television stations. Nevertheless, after two trials, two all-White juries acquitted all defendents and no one has ever served a day in jail for these cold-blooded killings in broad daylight while law enforcement officers looked on. The five who died were a nurse and two doctors, a graduate of the Harvard divinity school, and a Cuban immigrant who graduated magna cum laude from Duke University. None were African-American, though all were active in union organizing, poverty programs, and the push for racial parity.

True, in 1985, a civil jury found the city, the Nazi Party, and the Klan guilty of violating the civil rights of the demonstrators, resulting in a payment of $350,000 total to include all parties. This is one of the only times a police department has been held accountable for cooperating with a hate group in the matter of a wrongful death. Still, when a grassroots movement demanded the seating of a 2-day Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005 to investigate the matter, White Mayor Keith Holliday and some of the city council voted along racial lines NOT to support the Commission's work.

My point? If you look like me and have ever had a date or even dinner with an African-American; if anyone in your extended family is married to, living with, or has had a child with an African-American; if you hire an African-American to work for you; if you invite an African-American to visit you in your home or visit one in theirs; if African-Americans go to your church; or even if you think in the most vague and generalistic terms that African-Americans are citizens of the United States and therefore have the absolute right to every privilege and protection under the U.S. Constitution, then YOU could be accused of being the enemy of those who see you as a threat to the future of "White" America and will tell you so in no uncertain terms. There is no gray area with these folks. Just thought you would want to think about that the next time you hear somebody say hanging a noose is "just" a "prank." And just in case you're wondering, the photo above was taken in 2003.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Quote of the Week

This Ricardo Levins Morales poster is available from Northland Poster Collective, a wonderful source of posters, buttons, bumper stickers, calendars, gifts for the holidays, and so forth, ad infinitum.