By Monica Moorehead, Workers World, 16 March 2005
The following is excerpted from a talk at a Feb. 25 Black History Month forum in New York.
It is certainly true that Black people in the U.S. as a whole are not in the same economic and political situation today compared to a half-century ago. But can we still say that Black people in general have full equality?
Facts and figures don’t lie.
According to a Jan. 17 New York Times article: “Black middle-class families on average had one-fourth of the wealth of similarly educated, similarly employed white middle-class families. … Black families as a whole had only 10 cents in wealth for every dollar white families had, according to government figures. … less than half of Black households own their homes, while 75 percent of white households do.”
Here are statistics issued by the Urban League in 2004: “The 2000 census found that 91.8 percent of white students graduated from high school, compared with 83.7 percent of Black students. … On average, Blacks are twice as likely to die from disease, accident and homicide as whites; the life expectancy for Blacks is 72 years, or six years less than that of whites. The average prison sentence for a Black person is six months longer than that for whites.”
There were more young Black men in prison in 2002 than in universities and colleges. (Justice Policy Institute, 2000)
Lynchings, by and large, have been replaced with rampant police brutality.
Black people are “officially” 12 percent of the overall U.S. population. So where are the 12 African American senators?
Right now there is only one Black senator. There are only 39 Black members of the House of Representatives which numbers 435 members overall. We are all aware of the gross disenfranchisement of Black voters.
These facts prove that political and economic equality is still being denied to Black people as an oppressed nationality in disproportionate numbers.
What is the root cause of this inequality for Black people in the United States?
Racism is endemic to capitalism. It goes back to the days when Native nations were forced off of their lands through mass extermination, slavery and the legacy of slavery, the theft of two-thirds of Mexico, wars of colonial expansion in Puerto Rico, the Philippines and much more.
Workers on the whole are exploited by the bosses. But a vast majority of the workers are super-exploited and super-oppressed—if they belong to a particular nationality, if they are a woman, if they are attracted to the same sex or have a “different” gender expression.
Despite a range of social strata that continues to narrow as living standards, including real wages, drop, there are still two fundamental classes: the working class, the overwhelming majority of the world who own nothing but their ability to labor, and the tiny ruling class which owns everything. Therefore the struggle between these two classes is inevitable and irreconcilable.
Within this general framework racism is the main weapon that the bosses use, not only to super-exploit and super-oppress whole peoples based on their nationality, but to divide and conquer the multi-national working class to keep us from uniting against all of the injustices.
The current movement must try very hard not to repeat mistakes made in the past on the importance of building solidarity, especially with the most oppressed. During the 1920s, the Universal Negro Improvement Association or the Back to Africa movement was the largest mass movement of Black people at that time and of the 20th century as a whole. It was an international movement of Black people, with a strong base in the United States, who were organizing to go back to their African homeland.
Their movement was led by the charismatic Jamaican leader Marcus Garvey, who was a nationalist. The U.S. government attempted to repress this movement by demonizing its leadership. Instead of defending Garvey against racist government repression, many white socialists and communists in the United States attacked him. Why? Because they disagreed with his view of putting the aspirations of Black people before the aspirations of the entire working class.
This white chauvinist behavior was a tre mendous setback in the struggle against racism and national oppression, which is part and parcel of strengthening class unity. These particular communists and socialists forgot the significant principle that Lenin stressed: that Marxists must defend the right to self-determination for oppressed nations. Faced with more isolation by the broader movement and intensified government attacks, Garvey was eventually deported to Eng land, where he passed away and eventually so did the movement he helped build.
The main lesson is that disagreeing with the nationalism of peoples of color should not become a barrier to building class unity against a common oppressor.
Uniting the struggles is key
Recently, President George W. Bush introduced his 2006 budget, amounting to $2.57 trillion. More than 150 social programs are on the chopping block in order to make the war makers and super-rich very happy while cities and rural areas deteriorate.
These cuts will have a great impact on Medicaid, educational programs like Head Start, Pell student grants, the Environ mental Protection Agency and much more.
At that same time, on top of the $200 billion that Democrats and Republicans have already spent on the Iraq War and the so-called war on terrorism, Bush plans to ask Congress for an additional $80 billion. This war budget represents class warfare here and abroad.
There is no doubt that Black people and other people of color will suffer from these cuts in disproportionate numbers.
The working class here is suffering from low wages, declining benefits, speed-ups, outsourcing and budget cuts. The bosses are trying to take back all the gains that were won in the 1930s and 1960s through mass, militant struggle.
The flip side is that the high-tech, low-pay restructuring of the economy is laying the material basis for forging political solidarity within the working class to carry out the struggle for human needs.
For March 19, the second anniversary of the Iraq War, there is a worldwide call for protests. Many of these demonstrations will demand that the money going to sustain war and occupation be spent instead on human needs.
This merging of demands is coming from strong working-class leadership—like those who initiated the Million Worker March. The MWM leadership is playing a leading role in building the March 19 protests.
The Million Worker March was initiated by the Black leadership of Local 10 of the International Longshore Workers Union in San Francisco along with Brenda Stokely and others. It signals the birth of a new, independent workers’ movement to win real justice and equality especially for the most oppressed workers, including immigrant workers.
So let’s win more activists to help advance the cause of liberating our class from the shackles of all forms of oppression and exploitation. They are out there, and the only way that we can attract them and win them to our ranks is to organize, organize and organize.
Long live the struggle for Black liberation! Long live the struggle for class emancipation! Build a workers’ world!