How we understand the current uprising in the wake of multiple police killings is critical. It is not only a protest. If we are fortunate, it stays an uprising — against a whole system built on anti-Blackness. This is not about a few “bad apples,” but an entire institution that has a monopoly on the definition of “justice.” It is about people’s psychic, emotional and economic investments in a heavily resourced system that functions to protect white supremacy through anti-Black violence. It is about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and so many others, as well as the hundreds of years’ worth of violence against Black communities. As such, and as the world is witnessing — because of the gravity and depth — every strategy to disturb, let alone upend this world, will be taken.
But in recent days, I have received too many messages and phone calls that essentially ask, “I know you’re against police violence, but are you in support of looting?” Before a long pause and depending upon my mood, I will talk about how the United States is built upon the looting of land, resources and human life from Indigenous peoples. I will emphasize that this nation is made possible through the theft of Black humans, life, labor, cultures and families — through the legacy of chattel slavery, the prison-industrial complex, the child welfare system, the medical-industrial complex, the educational system, and the culture vultures who love all things Black but have been extremely quiet during this time. On other days, I simply say, “Black lives over property every day.”
Sometimes, people ask why the uprising is happening. I am forced to recall that the U.S. educational system has done an incredible job in inducing historical amnesia and reproducing multicultural white nationalism while policing Black youth and Black culture. As a former educator, I don’t remember teaching about the depth, breadth, gravity and ongoing implications of the transatlantic slave trade, the genocide of Native Americans, nor the U.S. occupation and colonial wars in Vietnam, Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Samoa, Laos, Cambodia and elsewhere. I am reminded that this schooling system does not teach about the legacy of anti-Black violence, including the 1951 “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” petition, which was submitted to the United Nations. This petition documented 152 killings and 344 other acts of violence against Black communities in the U.S. between 1945–1951. We have barely learned about the important work of the Chicago-based We Charge Genocide campaign that continued in the legacy of resistance. Nor has the nation learned about the history of the Chicago Police Department with torture and the brilliant organizing to win reparations for the more than 100 victims, most of whom are Black men. Instead, I am aware of the ongoing history lessons and political science courses that drill down the importance of the Constitution and of the history of the U.S.’s purported greatness. I am also reminded that schools do not only help craft a white nationalist narrative and identities, but the policies and practices have historically and foundationally been anti-Black.
Very rarely are we taught that anti-Black violence is enacted by and makes white supremacy possible. We know this through the transatlantic slave trade, red-lining and racial covenants, the Tulsa massacre, policing and incarceration, educational and health disparities, and more. These forms of violence are committed by individuals and institutions in order to delineate and protect the supremacy of whiteness and its borders. Unfortunately, communities that consciously or unconsciously subscribe to the nation’s values and systems that are built upon anti-Blackness are implicated in the violence until we all work to upend it.
When people ask why this uprising is happening, I am also forced to painfully recall a willful ignorance that is made possible through privilege and safety. For way too long, people — particularly non-Black communities — have benefited from anti-Blackness (and albeit differently, anti-Indigeneity).
There is a (real or imagined) privilege in being able to believe in, let alone to realistically rely on, the police. There is an Amy Cooper, who so easily called on the police to attend to her manufactured white fear and tears, in every workplace and predominantly white neighborhood. She readily weaponizes her white womanhood to incriminate and punish Black communities. This violent form of comfort and reliance upon criminalization makes police violence possible.
There is also a relative ease in the ways that so many non-Black communities love and wear Black culture, but are either silent or only perform solidarity in the war against Black death. The ways that their forms of support do not help to create substantial systemic change instead fulfills their own guilts or comforts their own sadness. Instead of creating change or centering Black rage or leadership, corporations and institutions clamor to declare solidarity as a trend. Instead of redistributing funds, helping to house gentrified and displaced communities, helping to advance campaigns to defund and abolish police, or deeply invest in community-based economies, they capitalize off of grief with empty letters of support and new marketing strategies. This uprising demands for everyone to actively divest from all forms of policing, to redistribute resources and help create conditions for communities to thrive.
When people ask about why the uprising is happening, they fail to realize that this was all a work in progress. Organizers and educators have long worked to prepare us for this moment. This work is in response to a system and world ready to implode because too many have been invested and profited from Black deaths. There are civilians, non-police officers, who have also committed anti-Black violence in their neighborhoods or schools; populations of people who appropriate Blackness but scoff at movements to acknowledge Black suffering, let alone share their resources. There are many who rail against the destruction of businesses, but do not work to systematically welcome Black communities into their own. None of this means that people have to experience violence, but it does mean that lives are built upon anti-Blackness, and people should not have the luxury of deciding when or where they will participate in working to end that violence.
Anti-Black violence isn’t only about police violence. It is systemic. It takes place through other state institutions and is interpersonal. These layers of violence and the silence or disregard for their impacts beg for an uprising against “business as usual” — figuratively and literally.
When people argue that the uprisings have negatively impacted businesses and corporations, we have to know that many of these businesses have been historically and contemporarily built upon so much bloodshed.
More than 100,000 people have died — many of them Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color — from COVID-19. Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s fortune grows by $24 billion as his company’s workers and other essential workers continue to be dangerously exposed to the virus.
All of this incites justifiable rage. When someone says that the shutting down of businesses will cause people to lose their jobs, one cannot help but say, the job that makes $15 an hour or less, while corporate executives make hundreds of thousands more?
People are long exhausted of a system that does not fail them but systematically robs them of health, their lives, their labor and too much more. The U.S. has benefited those who are financially resourced and those with racial capital — while systematically working to debilitate others, particularly Black communities. While there is ongoing resistance and defiance, this moment is when we are able to witness, support and participate in a collective uprising.
Because when people ask what this is about, it is not only about the violence of the police — the entity that needs to be defunded so that resources can be redirected toward historically neglected communities, including Black, Indigenous, low-income communities of color — it is about an entire nation that was built upon and continues to build upon the ongoing looting of Black (and Indigenous) communities. This cannot be a time in which people are interested in saving themselves, especially not when we are in the middle of a global pandemic that is decimating entire populations. This is not the time to try to save this violent nation or anything that it once was. It is a time to create an entirely different world because Black lives depend upon it. There can be no going back.