Black Struggle is International

Nommo Editorial Collective, Annie Olaloku-Teriba, Ziyanda Stuurman and Suhayl Omar

War has come to Amerikkka by Julia Utreras

The racism which finds deadly expression in America’s armed police is heated in the cauldrons of imperialism. We cannot end one without ending the other, and so for our second piece we invited three writers to examine the links between the ongoing racist state terror unleashed by the United States on its citizens and wider struggles against police, security forces and militarism occurring elsewhere in the world.

At the end of May, a black man was lynched. Before his vicious murder at the hands of a white police officer, a black woman was shot by cops in her own home, and before that another black man was killed by white vigilantes. And before that another, and another and another and another and another.

Black death travels. In the time it takes to get from then to now, millions of people around the world have shared news and videos of these killings, their names have fallen from the callous lips of politicians and other enemies of the people. The crows have circled and rain has fallen.

Amidst the pandemic, an abundance of grief.

‘Out of the inhuman black ghettos of American cities, out of the cotton plantations of the South, comes this record of mass slayings on the basis of race, of lives deliberately warped and distorted by the willful creations of conditions making for premature death, poverty and disease. It is a record that calls aloud for condemnation, for an end to these terrible injustices that constitute a daily and ever-increasing violation. We charge genocide’. 1

We charge genocide.

If we saw each death as a single thread woven into countless others their warp and weft would engulf the globe. If we examined each individual thread, studied the nature of their attachments, we would find that to unravel one means to unravel them all.

Another unravelling has begun. Attacks on black lives by fascist and imperialist powers have been met with a fearsome response. The people have said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. The great and terrible beauty of black resistance has not and has never been confined to the shores of North America; it spreads, across the Atlantic, across the Pacific. In Mali, Kenya, Sudan, West Papua.  Elsewhere, monuments to slavery and empire were set alight and thrown in the sea where they belong.

At the same time, trans and queer people have been murdered, gendered violence and sexual assault run rampant in our communities. Racist exploitation and violence, the gender binary and misogyny are inextricable and co-constitutive. Liberation is impossible without a robust feminist, queer and trans anti-colonial and anti-imperial global movement.

A line has been drawn in the sand. On one end of the line lies abolition, the future. Abolition not solely as policy decisions, or the reworking of budgets that contain wealth culled through the exploitation of workers from the Global North and Global South in order to build and expand on occupied lands. Abolition as the toppling of the ideological and material foundations of western civilization’s colonial projects and its seemingly endless desire to destroy those whom it considers inimical to aims. Abolition as demilitarization, the elimination of borders, the affirmation of life and the presence of care.

In the past month, we have been thinking aloud, alone and together, about what potentials the present holds for the creation of a livable world and future. Could we or someone else someday live through the end of Africom? The end of borders? The end of imperial warfare? The end of hunger, homelessness and poverty?

Thinking and working together requires making space for the unknown, alert to the ever-present ‘if’, ‘but’ or question, while understanding the many ways uncertainty can be useful.

To continue thinking with you, we have compiled three texts from writers based in South Africa, Kenya and the UK discussing race, policing, militarism and anti-imperialism and by doing so speak for and to tomorrow’s world.

They and we say:

Nommo Editorial Collective

“War has come home to America in every rubber bullet, in every flash grenade, in every teargas canister, and in every piece of riot gear given to police officers over the past decade.”

Annie Olaloku-Teriba

Death has besieged us. Even as we carve out a radius of 2 metres around ourselves, our collective experience of 2020 so far has been the closest proximity to death in living memory. Entire towns, cities, countries disappeared into bunkers, as daily registers of the dead became the norm. And yet, this spectacle of death, the tallies, the blunt force of isolation has been a circus of innuendo – put simply, the tip of the iceberg. As the pandemic unfolded, we learned that millions of us had brushed shoulders with death without being able to confirm it, carrying a deadly pathogen with no outward sign of decay. The deathly ghoul was supposed to be outside and yet it had lodged in the body – at any moment, we could lose our capacity to breathe – we wouldn’t know it until it was done. Death still hangs in the air as countries decide that, on balance, the needs of capital outweigh the sanctity of breath.

In this context, the slow murder of George Floyd, by a knee to the neck, was indeed a black moment, but also a rare flicker of an explicitly human moment. Not simply a murder by one racist cop, but rather the symbol that keeps this global order afloat; a manifestation of the racism which Frantz Fanon argues “is not the whole but the most visible, the most day-to-day and … the crudest element of a given structure”.2 That moment has awakened – in the slogans of 2015 and 1969 alike – a renewed mobilisation against police brutality and racism. This time, against the backdrop of a pandemic induced struggle for survival within communities of colour and an existential crisis for capital, something feels different. Having just rendered the logic explicit – when it is your lives or our capital, capital always wins out – the racework which could subsume this symptom of a deeply embedded rot at the heart of the global order as just another “bad apple” seems to have lost its bite.

Responding to the huge mobilisations across the UK, which were inspired by the scenes coming out of the US, Boris Johnson addressed the nation: “The death of George Floyd took place thousands of miles away, in another country, under another jurisdiction” but, he went on, “you are right, we are all right to say ‘Black Lives Matter’”. For Johnson, and members of the British establishment, ‘Black Lives Matter’ means something entirely different – that racism is ‘not the same here’, meaning that things are ‘better’ here. 

They are right about the former. As Fanon reminds us elsewhere, “once the initial comparisons [have] been made”, we realise “that the objective problems are fundamentally different”.3 While Britain too has a long history of police murders without recourse, while the engine of racework in Britain is also dictated by the needs of capital, the particular position of its black and brown populations is different. To limit our analysis to the ways in which Britain and the US are similar, is to erase the condition of latent precarity which is at the heart of black and brown experiences of Britain.

The social positions of black and brown (working) classes in the UK were historically and largely continue to be coded as a temporary, migrant section – undesirable remnants of the Empire in the metropole. This has been sustained through a policy of “multiculturalism”, a strategy imported from colonial administration which marks us as external, and organises our presence through a naked language of “usefulness”. “Ethnic origin”, first to maintain industry colour bars, now in the cover of “benevolent” positive discrimination, has been obsessively gathered and stabilised – we are marked fundamentally by the geographical location to which we really belong; ‘Black – African’, ‘Asian – Bangladeshi’, ‘White – Irish’.

The discourse of ‘usefulness’ has been central to ongoing transformations in UK citizenship laws since the late 20th Century which withdraw the offer of automatic citizenship from the formerly colonised who had built Britain’s wealth, while creating a second tier of conditional citizenship for those who had already attained it, or would go on to naturalise. The offcuts, those who the state views as disposable, are transferred back to the periphery, out of sight and out of mind. We saw this precarity play out, for example, during the Windrush Scandal, in which the descendants of Afro-Caribbeans who relocated to post-war Britain, to rebuild a decaying metropole desperately in need of labour, found their citizenship status was in essence revoked, paving the way for the deportation of many who have only ever lived in the UK. 

This notion of “usefulness” has contributed significantly to the positioning of black and brown workers within the labour market which sees them disproportionately represented in frontline jobs. These jobs were often formerly within the public sector but increasingly casualised and privatised (from transport to care). In the unwillingness of the state to disrupt the “the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub”, to impose lockdown restrictions on those whose capital the police serve and protect, we found a casual disregard for the lives of those frontline workers who didn’t have a choice, who couldn’t just work from home. When this specific vulnerability of black and brown people to the pandemic was exposed – we were told that its root was neither the intimate relationship between our racialisation and our stratification within the labour market, nor the racist imperatives of an increasingly privatised and underfunded health system which drives the stratification of lives according to their productiveness. Instead, we were told that it was in our biology, a genetic predisposition to sickness, to breathlessness, to death.

All the while, the Conservative government moved with the cloak of pandemic to tighten the bounds of borders which choke us. The border regime has long been a site of particular vulnerability to state violence for black and brown people. The cocktail of chartered flights, aggressive privatisation and violent racism offers brutalisation or death with no recourse to justice. It was at the border that immigration officials refused to believe that Pinakin Patel and his wife were legitimately in the UK on holiday, setting off a chain of events which ended with the 33 year old dying of a heart attack at Yarl’s Wood. Murder by profiling. It was at the border that Joy Gardener was bound and gagged with handcuffs, leather straps and thirteen feet of tape until she suffered irreparable brain damage, dying of cardiac arrest days later. Murder by containment. It was at the border that three G4S guards pinned a handcuffed deportee, Jimmy Mubenga, in his seat while he repeatedly told them he could not breathe. Murder by deportation.

To highlight this particularity is not to say that the struggles of people of colour in America and those of people of colour in Britain are not intimately tied – they are – but to clarify the sense in which this is the case. There’s an old line from Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, which comes to mind: “the best care package we can send to revolutionaries around the world is the work we do here at home”. This was meant in two ways. First, to reassert the extent to which, while the material realities of racial domination manifest themselves differently within our local contexts, they are part of a whole, global system of Capitalism which relies on the brutality of imperialism to facilitate its exploitation of the global masses. Second, to encapsulate the extent to which the levels of integration within the common enemy, the single multifaceted beast which brutalizes the masses – mentally and physically – renders it doubly vulnerable to shared struggles. A blow to imperialism anywhere weakens its capacity to terrorise us all.

The urgent task of every generation, to repurpose the words of Frantz Fanon, “is to rediscover what is important beneath what is contingent”.4 We find ourselves once again in a moment which is seeking to do precisely that. This lesson, has recently been re-articulated by the most unlikely source, a virus first discovered in a corner of the world that few of us had heard of. It marched across the world, apparitional but highly contagious. It’s bringing capital to its knees, exposing the mystifications of neoliberalism, upending the assumptions of superior Western development by exposing an embarrassing lack of preparedness.

In recent mobilisations we see that our anger too can be a pathogen, a crisis for capital – contagious even without contact. If this solidarity can take root, if this rage can coalesce around a movement which effectively locates the global through a ruthless interrogation of the local, we may very well see another pandemic in our lifetimes, one which turns the barrel of hope on the structure which rests on all of our backs.

Annie Olaloku-Teriba is a writer and independent researcher investigating the theory and history of ‘Blackness’.

“In the past month, we have been thinking aloud, alone and together, about what potentials the present holds for the creation of a livable world and future. Could we or someone else someday live through the end of Africom? The end of borders? The end of imperial warfare? The end of hunger, homelessness and poverty?” 

War has come home to America
Ziyanda Stuurman

For decades the United States has waged wars all over the world, using the spectacular might of their military to destabilise countries and topple governments under the guise of “democracy”, anti-Communism, and so-called Wars on drugs and terror campaigns. Now, with another craven and immoral leader in the White House, Donald Trump is again showing that that same power can be turned inwards too.

War has come home to America in Trump’s threats to deploy the military in the streets in American cities against protestors mobilising against police brutality and institutionalised racism. But this isn’t at all new. War has come home to America before. On the 4th of May 1970, 4 students were killed and 9 others were wounded when armed members of the National Guard shot anti-Vietnam War protestors at Kent State University in Ohio. The violence that America was inflicting on Vietnam and Cambodia was mirrored by soldiers’ attacks on protestors, a pattern that has been repeated numerous times since. And it has always been tied to America’s addiction to war and the military industrial complex.

In August 2014, Time Magazine published an article about the frightening escalation in police violence against protestors in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer from the local force. Reinforcements were sent into the city and subsequently spread out over numerous cities in the following months and for the first time, many Americans noticed the armoured vehicles, guns and riot gear they wore. All of this was a result of years of military surplus supplies being sold and diverted to local and state police forces from the excesses of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the 1033 Program. The clear parallels between the military in foreign countries and the highly militarized police forces at home was plain to see on social media, on television and in front of everyone’s eyes.

War has come home to America in every rubber bullet, in every flash grenade, in every teargas canister, and in every piece of riot gear given to police officers over the past decade.

The recent deployment of unidentified federal law enforcement officers in Portland, and the threat of further deployments in Chicago, New York City and other Democrat-led cities resembles the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign countries to “restore democracy” and other nebulous reasons given at the time. The American government is so adept at using the smoke-screen language of democracy, law, order and human rights to justify its actions elsewhere that it is no surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to international history that this is now happening within its own borders.

The militarisation of police forces across every level of law enforcement has made the already racist and deadly system of policing in America even more efficient at causing great physical harm to those deemed less worthy of respect and life. Unless this moment and momentum is seized to defund the military, to defund local police forces in order to reinvest money into social services, and to sever the parasitic relationship between military contractors and the police, America may never roll back the power the police now have.

All of this is important for countries outside of America too. Defunding - as a route to the abolition - of the American military will result in the end of America’s military presence in foreign countries; a presence that is often there to occupy and topple, not to assist with ‘peacekeeping’ or the restoration of democratic rule. Most importantly, the now global campaigns against drugs and terror are almost wholly defined on American terms: private contractors sell arms and equipment and the government gives military aid to foreign countries under the guise of these campaigns, which have directly and indirectly fueled repression and state violence in Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria, Yemen and countless other countries. When the enemy is drugs or terrorism, governments have unlimited political will and surprisingly deep pockets to spend money on ‘protecting citizens’ – aided and abetted by the United States – but when the enemy is poverty, inequality and hunger, that same enthusiasm seems to disappear.

The war at home in America right now is of great consequence to us all because America’s reliance on war as an means to economic trade, and foreign influence continuously puts a large number of the world’s population in the same kind of danger that protestors at home face at the hands of militarised and brutal police officers.

Ziyanda Stuurman is a South African-based graduate in critical security studies and international development, with research interests in militarised policing, international relations and gender studies

“It is not enough to reform or decolonize. It’s time to ABOLISH.”

When We Lose Our Fear, They Lose Their Power 5
Suhayl Omar

As black people in the US continue protesting the horrors inflicted by the police and the military, we must remember the fight against Imperial and white supremacist policing extends from Ferguson and Minneapolis to Palestine and  Kenya.

In Kenya, the language of war, carcerality and punitive ‘justice’ has infiltrated public health, as the government fallaciously compares quarantine to prisons and curfews to death sentences. Such language has been used to justify the excessive use of force (and murder) by Kenyan police to enforce curfew and quarantine, and to accelerate the unconstitutional demolition of homes and forceful evictions in Kariobangi and Ruai that have left many Kenyans with nowhere to go during curfew hours and no shield from two deadly viruses: police brutality and the coronavirus.

These colonial and imperialist tactics are not new to the fascist ‘Uthamaki’ regime, which has continually prioritised obedience over consent. To fully understand the issue of police violence, we must acknowledge how it is deeply intertwined with the history of British colonialism and imperialism in Kenya. As the British prepared to colonize Kenya, they established the first native policing structure, under the East African Trading Company (EATC), a structure mainly used to police and criminalize Kenyan natives living on the land. The British empire ‘conquered’ Kenya in 1896 making it a British protectorate, and less than a year later in 1896 the first prison was built on Kenya’s coastline (now Mombasa). During this time no welfare establishments were built, clearly showing the priorities of British imperialists: to cage and repress the native population.

Even in the neocolonial era, after formal independence, the state has done everything in its power to criminalize poverty, increase surveillance and use military force against its own citizens. Since the start of lockdown, curfew violations have been used as a pretext for the killings of more than 90 people by the police, with the vast majority of these deaths occurring in poorer communities.  What we are witnessing is the fruits of a bloody coalition between the ‘Uthamaki’ regime’s war on the poor and the government’s reliance on police violence as a method of virus management and as a mechanism of social and political control.

In Kenya the removal of the colonial powers through independence has not meant liberation for the Kenyan people. While the structures of colonial oppression remain, this time manned by black guards and officers, it is not enough to reform or decolonize. It’s time to ABOLISH.

Suhayl Omar is a Kenyan based community organizer and researcher. His interests lie in theorising policing, surveillance, militarism and Muslim precarity in Africa and beyond.