Imagine you’re in prison. There’s people from every culture and race locked up with you. The guards give extra benefits to prisoners from Europe and treat Africans worse but tell you all that everything is equal. The guards sleep in cells in the prison, too, but they enjoy having power greater than other prisoners. We all got to vote for candidates the prison management gave us to choose from – and hey, the new Warden is African!
What I’ve just described is the nature of America – the new Rome, the empire of empires: the prisonhouse of nations. Lenin once used that phrase to describe the Russian Empire of his day. Within our borders are African people, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Irish, Italians, Polish, German; every nation in the world has some representatives in this country.
We’re all locked up in this jail together and the guards tell us every day that we’re all Americans, where hard work will bring us freedom – the same slogan that appeared over the gates of Nazi concentration camps. After all, we’re better off than most of the countries our ancestors come from. What’s not to like?
Many of the nations brought to America have struggled to maintain their identity, their sense of who they were before they were kidnapped from or otherwise forced to leave their homeland and set up shop here. But there is a sizable section of the population that chose to come here. They were able to afford it or found a way to innovate or exploit others so they could afford it.
America, in this way, is more like the Soprano family from the TV show. We get nice clothes, plasma screens, cars and watches… Just don’t ask any questions about where it comes from and especially don’t interfere. Here’s your cut – why don’t you buy yourself something nice. Smile! You’re in the family now.
This is the story for many European originated Americans, anyway. This mafia empire was built for them on the genocide of the Natives, the backs of African slaves and the colonization of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Cuba and many other peoples.
Those people have been exploited, used up and thrown away to rot in barrios, ghettos and reservations. Many whites are increasingly finding, however, that their role in enriching the top 1% is through. No more is the American Dream keeping the white prisoners of this camp content. They are finding out that their destiny lies in their version of the ghetto: the trailer park.
Karl Marx in his Eighteenth Brumaire wrote that those trying to master a new language always begin by translating it back into the tongue they already know. In times such as these, where change in America is nearing some form of realization in the minds of many, how do we bridge the translation gap for white folks who are now entering (on a mass scale) the world that poor people of color are used to?
At one time in history, poor whites did form an organization for the uplifting and unification of their people. In the slums of Chicago, the Young Patriots Organization brought together white folks who migrated to the city from Appalachia and the Midwest in search of work. They allied themselves with the Young Lords Organization (a Puerto Rican group) and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Ever since J. Sakai’s groundbreaking work Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat we have come to understand that most whites, even working class folks in factories and mines, adopt loyalty to the United States government as a function of their privilege. They imagine or know that if they submit to the regime, eventually it will benefit them and their families. Maybe, like in our prison thought experiment, they will get to become guards instead of mere prisoners!
This fantasy is fading and a new realization is dawning: we have nothing to gain from loyalty to the empire. Whites are slowly discovering that, in the long run, they gain more by pursuing freedom for everyone. A progressive white culture is emerging, based out of its poorest elements, and each new generation is less and less attached to their ancestral defense of empire.
White radicals have long attempted to avoid or sidestep the question of their identity. Many Anarchists, Communists, Libertarians and other political groups of whites have advocated the line that “race is fictitious” and need only be ignored (or overlooked?) in order to be defeated. People of color in large numbers have rejected such an outlook. The understanding has been that when we pretend there are no cultures with power dynamics involved, we automatically submit the spirit of the conversation to the unspoken framework of whatever culture the people leading the discussion are informed by.
Whether we name it or not, whether we recognize it or not, everything in our communication and mannerisms is framed by the culture of your origin. It is unimaginable to people of color that whites have not considered that they are white, that its not something they are aware of on a regular basis as they are of their own cultures and heritages. White folks are taught to suppress this awareness, to not discuss their culture and heritage openly.
Nationalism is not a means of submitting an individual to a cultural mass they do not feel connected to but a way of understanding oneself as a product of a community and culture which has shaped your mind and informed you with experiences. Many whites have difficulty with this because many of their ancestors did terrible things for terrible reasons and distancing themselves from this legacy makes them feel more comfortable about themselves.
However, this misses the point. The lesson of nationalism is not guilt or pride by association but the desire to set an example for the future, for your own progeny or that of your community. What is a community? It is those around you who speak your language, who share your culture and ethical values, who exist around you and with whom you associate, whose children are impacted by your deeds and words.
The election of America’s first Black president is an attempt to redefine the Black identity. Obama sets the bar as a “good Negro” who listens to his conquerors, does what he is told, and is allowed thereby the most powerful and prestigious office as a reward for his loyalty. If other Black Americans do the same, the story goes, they too might be President. He is culturally connected to Black folks, yet he is loyal to “his” government.
Do young black men and women dream of bombing Afghanistan and sending drones out to kill innocent people? Do young black men and women dream of being Top Cop, leading representative of oppression? The Barack Obamas and Condoleeza Rices of the world clearly do. But they are the real minority.
Obama is the last ditch attempt of the ruling class of America to justify its existence in the eyes of an increasingly international opposition within its own prison cells. It is an attempt to make the oppressed feel included, to calm them down and avoid a social revolution.
Thankfully for the revolutionary and righteous people of the Earth, the opposite is happening. Whites are jumping ship and attempting to define themselves in this new era, seeking greater understanding of the people for whom oppression has been a known fact for some time.
Poor people as a whole are attempting to understand, for the first time, what it means to be American. They are coming to know what it means that we are all poor and all part of the same class. Nobody is accepting Obama’s line to identify with the USA, but formulating a more radical realization that our individual liberation is bound up collectively with all people across the barriers of race and culture.
The intensification of class consciousness and cultural-national awareness among all sections of nations within America should and gradually will lead to a greater unification of all poor people. It is a slow process but one that sets us on a path to eventual liberation for all people in America if we are bold enough to advance it in a real way.
We’re all on a path of deepening our understandings of ourselves and the world around us. In order to know what lies ahead of us, it is important first and foremost to understand what lies within us.