This post is about the claim that “our quest for social justice and equality for all is the American thing to do!” Because there’s nothing “American” about it given American history, considering the fact that America was actually built on slavery, genocide, oppression – anything but justice and equality and humanity. So, to all those people – especially black leaders leading the Black Lives Matter movement – don’t feel compelled to validate your movement and struggles by insisting that they’re American.
Today, I planned to attend the Millions March at my University campus. (For anyone unfamiliar with this, it’s basically part of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Look it up if you don’t know; you should know as a citizen of this world where injustice is the norm even in the supposedly most civilized, “first world” countries like the U.S. But here’s an article I wrote last month on police terrorism in America that may help explain why this march needed to happen.) It was scheduled for 12pm; we were to gather at a Martin Luther King, Jr. statue on campus and march a couple of miles all the way to the state capitol. Being a strong supporter of social justice and having no excuse not to attend this event, I made sure to go and encourage my friends to go as well. So we go. And then I’m disappointed because someone decided to sing the U.S. national anthem in an effort to prove that the Black Lives Matter campaign had “American” roots, that fighting for justice for black people was the American thing to do! This couldn’t be more father off from truth, reality, and America’s brutal history based in oppressions and injustices against especially black people and Native Americans.
First of all, for the first thirty minutes, nothing was going on; but meh – a nice moment to meet new people also invested in social justice and equality for all… people who actually recognize that black people (including black women, by the way!) are actual humans like you and me and that the American establishment is a racist system that was never designed to protect blacks or other minorities (religious or racial or other) and that it’s a pity that in 2015, decades after the Black Power Movement and MLK’s and Malcolm X’s struggles and efforts, we’re STILL insisting on the full humanity and on the equality of black people! But khair, no worries – I get that planning these things isn’t a piece of cake, and no one ever starts exactly on time, so it’s all good. Besides, I’d come to support and it didn’t matter if we had started yet or not; my presence was still important.
But our not having started half an hour into the event wasn’t even the issue: the issue was that we were literally still standing at the MLK statue two and a half hours later, listening to speeches, not having started our march yet. The speeches were important, don’t get me wrong. Especially this one in particular where the speaker (a woman – I tell you women speakers are just naturally objectively better than men speakers, period!) pointed out that we’re not here to give anyone a voice because everyone already has a voice; we’re just here to help raise those voices, make sure those voices are heard, and provide platforms through which such marginalized voices are recognized. And those voices are our own as marginalized, ignored Americans suffering from sexism, misogyny, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of systemic discrimination that have become entrenched in the American culture and society. This is why this march is important; this is why the Black Lives Matter campaign is important.
But, dude! Then someone stood up and said, “There are claims that this campaign, this march is not American, is anti-American. But in fact, this is very American. And so to show that, we’re going to sing the National Anthem. Fighting for justice is American.” And I was in awe. I wanted to scream.
I’m SO tired of people, minorities (racial, religious, whatever) sucking up to white supremacy, to a racist system that is NEVER going to recognize our voices as legitimate. So what do we do? We attempt to seek validation from this system by kissing its ass, insisting we’re with it and proving that with the national anthem or maintaining that, hey, we ARE American cuz look, the national anthem! (In CAIR and Yasir Qadhi’s case, which I wrote about last month, it is: “I swear we’re just as American as y’all. Proof? We — Muslims, Arabs — sponsored Christopher Columbus’s journey to the Americas.” In other words, we Muslims sponsored the genocide of African and Native American peoples! See, we’re no different from y’all; won’t you accept and love us now? This is disgusting! This whole “working with the system to fight it” is a fruitless effort in most cases, and the few times it may be a productive technique for positive change and progress, it has to be done sincerely and honestly.) You can’t fight against the system and idolize it at the same time. It’s not going to work.
So what’s wrong with the insistence that “what we’re doing IS American; the Black Lives Matter campaign IS American”? The following:
For one, there’s NO need to be validating the campaign! We don’t have to suck up to white establishment to defend our stance for equality and our struggle for justice. The shear fact that we have to announce that BLACK LIVES MATTER, is goddamnit, enough of an insult to black people, but it has to be said because it’s not put in practice. To have to then say, “Well, the reason we’re saying black lives matter is that America itself is a hallmark of justice and equality; we’re simply translating our theories on justice into practice by having this campaign.” Okay, just … just, just stop.
Besides, America was not built on justice, equality, and the full and equal dignity of all humans; America was not built on even the recognition of all humans as equally human. In America, even today for the most part with few exceptions, only Protestant Christian white upper-class men are treated like full humans. The rest of us — women, non-Protestants (although this is somewhat changing: Catholics are also being acknowledged as equal more), Blacks, Native Americans, Muslims – – are not treated equally at all.
Instead, America was built on oppression, slavery, injustice, discrimination against the poor, non-Protestants, non-Whites, women. The U.S. constitution, written and signed on September 17, 1787, lays claims to the equality of all people, but “people” didn’t include women, black people, natives, immigrants of certain origin (Chines sometimes, other times Japanese, these days Arabs, South Asian, African, and more broadly, Muslims) — and ironically enough, the framers of the Constitution themselves owned humans as slaves (black people), destroyed Native American cultures and history and heritage and languages and identities and lives and people and brought in people from Africa like they are things and objects to be used and abused, and centuries later, the ramifications of what the founders of America continue to haunt those it has most affected — black people and Native Americans. Recently, I read a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that reads, “Those who deny freedom to others don’t deserve it for themselves,” and I laughed out loud. Dude, this man himself owned slaves, thus denying freedom to others. So clearly, he himself didn’t deserve any freedom (he didn’t – none of the slave owners did). People be like, “But things were different then; they were just living in their time period” – oh please. The real test of a human’s sense of humanity is when she/he is able to stand against injustice when others fail to see it as injustice. At various points in history, people have had to risk their own lives to stand up for justice (think Malcolm X, for example), fighting against oppressive tides of their time and society; imagine where we would be as a humanity today if people like Malcolm X had said to themselves, “Meh, this is just how things are; it’ll be different for later generations.” Who is supposed to stand up and say, no, wrong is wrong in every time period?
But that’s not why I wanted to emphasize in this post. I wanted, instead, to talk about my disappointment with appeals to the idea of what’s American and what’s not in our struggle for social justice and the Black Lives Matter campaign.
So what exactly is “American” about the Black Lives Matter campaign? Nothing. It is entirely un-American because the idea of “American” is not based on equality, empathy, compassion, humanity, justice. It is in fact to support and promote imperialism, colonialism, injustice, wars, illegal occupations, white supremacy, and otherwise arrogant claims to superiority (including certain forms of western feminism from many white feminists). Say to so much of the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world, suffering in the hands of America either directly because of its policies today or because of wars it’s started and promoted there, that your quest for social justice is an “American” thing, and wait for them to laugh. We need to recognize this unapologetically. White people / white Americans getting hurt over this, screw you; this isn’t about you, and i don’t care if your feelings are hurt because someone’s pointing to the very obvious facts of history to you. YOU may not have directly been involved in your forefather’s slavery and objectification and abuse and exploitation of black, Natives, and other peoples, but those people’s descendants continue to suffer because of YOUR forefathers’ decisions, policies, abuses, and oppression; your ancestors’ oppression of people who didn’t look and believe like them continues to be an obstacle in everyone’s efforts for social justice and equality for all. Our generation of black people, too, like you, weren’t directly involved in slavery – but if they’re facing its consequences, it’s only fair that you at the very least not feel offended when someone points these things out, shut up and listen, and do everything in your power and capacity to be of service to the struggle for equality for all.
And I say this campaign is not American not to invalidate it or to imply that it shouldn’t be happening or isn’t important at all (lol?). In fact, I think to claim that it’s American is to validate it by submitting to an oppressive system that actually doesn’t give a damn about the ones insisting that they’re simply being American by fighting for their equality. It is only in recent, modern times that America has come to be associated with justice – but it shouldn’t be because its definitions of justice are incomplete and they don’t apply to all people everywhere. Read some alternative views on the “War on Terror,” for example, or CIA’s torture report. Or about minority / non-white Americans struggling to gain equality in America or be treated with justice.
Besides, one of the slogans we keep chanting in all these protests is:
Indict. Convict. Send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!
And as some of the banners and posters said:
“A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” Exactly!