I think we serve ourselves better in understanding the new normal of poverty and unemployment not by focusing upon Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers and other statistical measures, but by our own observations and direct experiences with the working class. This does not mean we don’t deal with official governmental and other statistical and quantitative measures of the economy and the conditions of working people. We must decide where we begin. I suggest we begin at the level of the lived experiences of working people, particularly Black working people. We must anchor our analysis and understanding at the level of the people, in the factories, communities, welfare offices, churches, union alls etc. There are neighborhoods where nobody works, most young people have been in jail, everybody’s been racially profiled at one time or another, most young men have been stopped and frisked, one half of the young men are either in prison or under the control of the criminal justice system, women and children live in extreme poverty. Government data doesn’t capture this level of misery. But we have to fully grasp the meaning of all of this. It is a picture of oppression that is only equaled by that of the Palestinian people. I suggest that no people on this planet except the Palestinians experience the levels of oppression that we African Americans do. And I think that ours in some ways goes beyond there’s because we experience a type of human diminishment.
Questions of the diminishment of the humanity of Black people have to be considered. Corporate created popular culture operates to diminish Black humanity, not unlike late 19th and early 20th century minstrelsy and Hollywood stereotypes. The anti-black symbology, often performed by blacks, is at new and dangerous level. It says to our children each and every day that you are worth very little and don’t expect anything in this life or from this system, producing a nihilism and expectations of immediate gratification. And if you think you’re going to get out of line, we have forces out here that can deal with you in the most extreme and violent manner. The souls of Black people are attacked each and every day. We haven’t found an answer to it yet. Our people have not yet produced in this period a real culture of resistance, liberation and self and people’s self-affirmation.
The over two million Black young people under the control of the criminal justice system, the vicious severity of the treatment of Herman Wallace’s 41 years in solitary confinement, Mumia 30 years in solitary confinement, surpasses in barbarity even the apartheid regime in South Africa. Even they treated its most dangerous political prisoners with more humanity.
Many people who call themselves left, Marxist and revolutionary examine the system from a structural theoretical position. They and their analysis are disengaged from, separated from the people. I would suggest that for revolutionaries a more accurate way of looking at the system is by understanding the oppressed and exploited victims of the system. Because all of us read tens of studies produced by and published in white left journals, and we could name hundreds of white left academics who produce volumes of empirical evidence about the system. What they never do is talk about the system from the bottom up, from the people, from Black folk, from the working class. The absence of working class centered analysis leaves their analysis devoid of an in depth explanation of Black oppression and dehumanization. Moreover, looking at the system from the top down, from a purely structural standpoint, leaves the analysis unable to show possibilities of changing the system.
On the other side looking at it from the day-to-day lives of the people, as difficult as their lives are, you can see possibilities for change. And then you can see in different ways what the ideological challenges are.