Op-ed Submission: Ignoring Race & Trayvon Martin

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an op-ed piece I submitted. I discuss the importance of acknowledging the role race continues to play in American society in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It is the last article on the page.

Justice for Trayvon Martin: Yes, Race Still Matters

For some Americans, especially conservatives, the election of Barack Obama was proof that race no longer mattered. Sure, these same conservatives often conspired that Obama was not legally the president because he was not a real American, and his birth certificate was fake. They questioned if he was actually born in Kenya, which was such an absurd topic, yet one that Obama was required to address on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, the race problem was solved as evidenced by the election of a black president, according to many conservative pundits.

For those of us who realized the absurdity of white Republicans celebrating the end of racism, the murder and lack of immediate charges against George Zimmerman prove that racism continues to exist. Racism changes, as society does, and so racism is not the same today as it was in the 1960s, and advances have been made, but that does not mean the race problem is solved.

If Trayvon Martin was white, would George Zimmerman have been arrested? Certainly he would have. The police would not have believed that an unarmed white child attacked an armed man who was much larger than him, causing Zimmerman to shoot him out of “self-defense.” Zimmerman’s family has defended him saying that he is Hispanic and not racist. The fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic does not disprove the accusations that he is racist; Hispanics can be racist. Zimmerman saw a black kid in his upper teens in a hooded sweatshirt in his neighborhood and immediately reported him as “suspicious” and “up to no good.”  What was so suspicious about the kid? Would a white kid have had the police called on him for acting suspicious? I am white, and I have never had the police called on me for acting suspicious.

Zimmerman is not the Ku Klux Klan type of racist that burns crosses in black people’s yards if they enter their neighborhood. But Zimmerman craves authority and power and believes that he needs to police the neighborhood for himself, and he also believes it is suspicious if young black males are in the neighborhood. Race still matters in that Zimmerman’s reaction to seeing a young black male in his neighborhood is different than his reaction would have been if it was a young white male. Race still matters in the police’s reaction to seeing a dead black male on the ground was different than if it was a dead white male. The police would not have immediately believed Zimmerman’s account if the races were different, and Zimmerman would not have been immediately suspicious of Martin if he was not black.

The other unsettling aspect of the murder of Trayvon Martin is the legal challenge that the “Stand Your Guard” law poses in Florida. The law was first passed in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 16 other states. This law is what Zimmerman will cling to as his defense, and it allows one to use force if they feel threatened in a public situation without needing to flee. Unless there are key eyewitnesses to the murder to contradict the murderer’s account, the murderer can easily say they acted in self-defense, and then how do you convict the person? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Tribune found how often this law has been used as a defense in murder charges, and justifiable homicides were definitely up. If an unarmed kid can be chased and then shot and killed, and yet the child is considered the provocateur by the police since they had nothing to contradict the murderer’s story, it shows how flawed the law is. It becomes extremely difficult to prosecute a murderer without key eyewitnesses because how can the jury be convinced that the killer was not acting out of self-defense if no one saw it? It opens a slippery slope of how one defines self-defense then. Hypothetically, one could harass someone at a park, follow them around, spit on them, push them, and refuse to leave them alone, then once the person has had enough of the harassment and fights back, the provocateur could shoot and kill the person and then simply claim self-defense to the police. People need to be required to attempt to flee what they perceive as a threatening scene instead of provoking them if they are going to claim self-defense. But the “Stand Your Ground” law does not require this and it sets up the potential for these violent incidents. Clearly Florida needs to revise their gun laws, as well as the other 16 states to have since passed them.

The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin is so unfortunate that one has to feel horrible for him and his poor family and friends. The only way that any good can come out of this killing is if it sparks a much needed renewed conversation about race in the United States and it also makes states reconsider these “Stand Your Ground” laws. Both of these issues need to be addressed, and hopefully this tragedy can make Americans reconsider these topics. In addition, Watch Groups need to have careful guidelines of what they follow. Watch Groups are not meant to be police officers without a badge or training. They should not be trying to enforce the laws themselves, but to watch for laws being broken, and then call the police to take action without getting involved themselves. Trayvon Martin will never get his life back, but we can at least learn something from his unfortunate murder by taking action and learning lessons from it.

Revisiting my “Black Nationalism and Libya” Post

Libya's first national flag and Libya's new revolutionary flag

I still support the revolutionaries in Libya, though much more hesitantly than I did prior to the reports of their racist persecution of black African minorities. My reason for supporting the revolution is that Gaddafi was a brutal dictator who used Libya’s oil wealth to primarily benefit him, his tribe, and his loyalists, he created a cult of personality around him, and he brutally crushed and tortured his dissenters. I will cheer any time the country’s people overthrow a corrupt dictator who ruled the country with an iron fist for 42 years.

However, in an earlier post I criticized American black nationalists who did not stand with the rebels because, the way they saw it, it was an imperialist war by the U.S. and they supported Gaddafi. With the disturbing stories of the rebels’ racist persecutions — which is neglected by the majority of the American media, as well as NATO and the NTC — black nationalists and Pan-Africanists have gone further to explain their defense of Gaddafi as one out of protecting black Africans. I doubt any of them expected or realized this racist persecution would come at the beginning of the revolution though. Gaddafi has often claimed to be a Pan-Africanist, a leader of Africa, and is a strong supporter of the African Union, but when he first took power he tried to be a Pan-Arab leader, unifying the Arab world and the successor of Nasser in Egypt, but he was generally disliked by the rest of the Arab world, so he switched his allegiance to the African continent and attempted to be the leader of Africa. Gaddafi was simply a narcissist who wanted more power, and when he failed in the Arab world, he reached to the African world.

For those who truly believe Gaddafi cared about Pan-Africanism from the beginning of his rule, think about this: he changed Libya’s Pan-African of red, black, and green flag with a crescent on it to three different variations of common Pan-Arab flags before finally settling on a simple all green flag, which is a symbolic Islamic color and appears in almost all Arab flags. If he was a Pan-African all along, why would he switch the flag colors from Pan-African colors to Pan-Arab colors?

Some “revolutionary Pan-Africanists,” as the site that I linked above claims to be, consider the rebellion one of counter-revolutionaries who are racist against Africans and detested Gaddafi’s vision of a united Africa. Gaddafi was also racist; he suppressed Berber culture and exploited migrant black Africans. Gaddafi supported the African Union (AU), and while the AU is a good idea in theory, its leaders are too plagued by corruption for it to be truly effective in improving Africa. For instance, the AU failed to take any actions against Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe after he refused to step down after being voted out of office. Thus, I do not believe the AU truly represents what is in the best interests of Pan-Africanism or the African people. The AU’s approval and support of Gaddafi has prevented it from recognizing the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya, though some have already. The leaders of Zimbabwe, Algeria, and South Africa have taken a firm stance against the NTC, which will only push the new Libya further into the Arab orbit rather than the African one, which is a mistake by the AU. Gaddafi’s defeat is already obvious, so it is in their best interests to recognize the NTC and begin working with the new transitional government, especially since Libya is an oil rich country that could help the African economies. In addition, support from other African nations may reduce the animosity black Africans face from the Libyan rebels.

While I understand why “revolutionary Pan-Africans” may see the revolution in Libya as a “counter-revolution” rather than a true revolution: 1. Gaddafi was a leading supporter of the African Union. 2. The rebels have persecuted the black Africans and have identified with being Arabs rather than Africans. 3. In recent decades, Gaddafi has used “Pan-African” rhetoric. 4. NATO’s support of the rebels may lead one to believe that the war was a neo-colonialist war for oil. 5. The article I linked to above claims “Gaddafi is not Mubarak and Libya is not Egypt,” and my only question for that is: why not? What’s the significant difference?

But the truth is: Gaddafi was a brutal dictator who was generally disliked by his people. The African Union is, despite its best intentions, is plagued by corruption due to the amount of corrupt leaders that participate in it. Gaddafi’s claims to be Pan-African and unite the African world only came after he attempted to be Pan-Arab and unite the Arab world, but the Arab world rejected him because they saw him as a narcissist only looking to grab more power. The rebels are primarily Arabs and Berbers, both who primarily disliked Gaddafi for their own reasons (Berbers especially, since Gaddafi disliked them), and they make up the majority of the Libyan population. The instances of the rebels’ racism and violence toward black Africans is completely inexcusable and needs to be addressed by NATO and the NTC immediately. Nonetheless, this is a true revolution that is overthrowing a brutal dictator, which I support. They face many challenges ahead; any time you topple one government, the attempt to build a new one is never easy. There will be struggles for power, there will be rebellions, there will be unacceptable instances of violence, and it will take a while before they achieve stability, but their long-term future is brighter without Gaddafi than it is with him.

Remember, it was not easy for the U.S. to build a new government when it first declared its independence; there were many challenges they faced, struggles for power, various rebellions, and they entirely scrapped their first government (the Articles of Confederation) before adopting the Constitution. Political problems plagued the U.S. government’s stability for many years before it managed to achieve a semblance of a true democratic government (which, even then, was not true democracy since it deprived so many people of the vote). Libya’s racism is inexcusable and needs to be ended immediately, and I believe NATO and the NTC need to take a firm stance on the issue, but I still believe this is a revolution — and not a counter-revolution — that will benefit the Libyan people in the long term.

NATO and the NTC Need to Act Immediately to End the Racism in Libya

LIBYA: END THE COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY RACIST ATROCITIES

I posted last night about the racist attacks by some Libyan rebels against dark skinned black Africans, and since then other news reports have come out about it, including a report of twenty migrant black African women claim to have been raped by Libyan rebels. Racism in Libya is nothing new; Gaddafi exploited black African migrant workers, and millions of them are now entrapped in Libya. Yet, some rebels have decided to take advantage of the chaos ensuing since the revolution by attacking, executing, and raping innocent black Africans. While it certainly is not all Libyan rebels, too many accounts of it have come out for it to not be addressed yet.

NATO must threaten to stop supporting the NTC unless the NTC acts immediately to put an end to these racist atrocities. The NTC must make it clear that racist atrocities against the black Africans are counter-revolutionary and human rights violations, and that any rebels found guilty of them will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, just as any of Gaddafi’s war criminals will be prosecuted. I realize that in this time of chaos it is difficult to police all of the rebels, but the lack of public criticism of these acts by NATO and the NTC is unacceptable. I stand by a revolution that overthrew a brutal tyrant, but I strongly oppose any revolution that simply replicates the atrocities of the prior regime. NATO acted responsibly by defending citizens from being slaughtered by Gaddafi’s forces, but now they must act responsibly by defending the black Africans from being slaughtered by some of the rebel forces. NATO and the NTC must immediately speak out and demand an end to these atrocities, otherwise Libya will be no better off than it was under Gaddafi.

It’s time for NATO and the NTC to act as leaders of this rebellion instead of witnesses to it, and lead by calling on an immediate end to these atrocities.

Racism Haunts Libya’s Revolution

Since the rebellion against Gaddafi began in February, I followed the movement against him closely, I cheered the rebels on with each city they took, and when Gaddafi’s forces began to push back against the rebels and slaughtered civilians in his own country, I applauded NATO’s decision to intervene under the pretense of protecting civilians with a loose interpretation of  a no-fly zone. I still believe NATO made the right decision; it was clear Gaddafi was close to crushing the rebellion, and he would have merciless killed thousands in Benghazi, but the rebels still had enough anti-Gaddafi forces on the ground that, with help from NATO’s air force (but without any occupation), they could still easily defeat Gaddafi. It took longer than I expected for them to defeat Gaddafi, and granted they have not captured him yet as of writing this, but the days of his regime are clearly over. I still support the decision for NATO to support the revolution, and I still support the Libyan people’s courage in overthrowing Gaddafi, but the amounting stories of the Libyan rebels’ racist persecution toward dark skinned black Africans, in Tripoli and elsewhere, has diminished my hopes of a truly democratic Libya.

The majority of Libyans are Arabs and Berbers, but there’s a minority of black Africans in Libya who the majority of Libyans do not identify with. There does not seem to be any conflict yet between the Arabs and Berbers, but the black Africans have suffered at the hands of the rebels. Racism is not new in Libya: Gaddafi exploited black Africans as migrant workers, and many Libyans held prejudices toward the black Africans, but while the racism is not new, the actions of the rebels is still appalling.

When the rebellion began, rumors emerged that Gaddafi was using black African mercenaries in his military, which has not been verified and rejected by some researchers, but with Gaddafi’s mentality, it would not surprise me if he recruited any mercenaries that he could, including black Africans. However, I have no evidence that these rumors have any factual basis, but would it surprise anyone if Gaddafi did hire black Africans to serve as mercenaries in his efforts to defeat the revolution? Anyway, whether these rumors have any truth to them or not, certainly not all black Africans worked as mercenaries for Gaddafi, yet many rebels have treated all black Africans indiscriminately, and some rebels have executed already captured black Africans who they accused of being mercenaries, and calls for “ethnic cleansing” have already been discussed. Perhaps the most disturbing sign of the overt racism among some of the rebels is the graffiti that applauded the rebels as the “brigade for purging slaves, black skin.” Gaddafi’s forces have executed prisoners, prisoners of war, civilians, hospital patients, and anyone else they could take their vengeance out on since losing power, but the rebel forces need to prove they are the higher moral force than Gaddafi’s regime, and their indiscriminate racism has called that into question.

As I said earlier, I still rejoice over a revolution that overthrew Gaddafi’s 42 year long tyranny, but I am now much more skeptical over whether the Libyan revolution will live up to its democratic aspirations. The truth is the revolution had some flaws from the beginning: it was composed of diverse rebels who shared no ideological commonalities except for their opposition to Gaddafi. I have no doubt some revolutionary Libyans are disgusted by the acts of violence by some rebels against black Africans, who are now fearing for their lives. However, during a violent revolution that has been so disorganized, it is unfortunately difficult to enforce the ethics of war on all the revolutionaries. One Libyan submitted an op-ed piece denying the racism among the revolutionaries, but based on every other report, there seems no question that some rebels have committed racist atrocities that need to be stopped immediately. The rebels are composed of different factions: some proponents of human rights, some Islamic fundamentalists, some who simply resented or suffered during Gaddafi’s rule, some opportunists looking for power, and many other factions. There is no consensus among the rebels, and while I do believe the NTC (National Transitional Council) has good intentions for Libya and the people, uncertainty remains among who will fill the vacuum of power, whether they will live up to the democratic aspirations of the early rebellion, and what kind of human rights violations the rebels will commit. I am not surprised by the human rights violations; as I said, in a revolution, some rebels will take advantage of ensuing chaos. I am disappointed, however, in how widespread it seems, and how there has been a reluctance of the French, British, and U.S. officials in denouncing the acts of racism; the three powers supporting the rebels’ campaign immediately need to call on the rebels to act in a more humanitarian measure if they want to continue to receive military support or their financial aid, which is currently frozen.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Revisiting His True Message

A Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was unveiled in Washington D.C. last week at the site he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The monument has become controversial not because King was a controversial figure in his time, which he was, but because of the amount of money spent on the monument, the fact it was created by a Chinese architect, and the belief that it misrepresents King.  There has been criticism that the monument is “communist” architecture, it has been criticized for representing a politically divisive king rather than one of an American Christian, and also that it portrays King as an “authoritarian figure” rather than someone who spoke of “racial equality for blacks.”  I think these criticisms are all overreactions, but I do not care to discuss the monument itself, but instead focus on King’s legacy. I reject the critics that say it misrepresents King because it does not focus exclusively on his “dream” of racial equality. If one wants to the monument to be meaningful, it is important for us to remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. really stood for instead of the image that many Americans have crafted of him. The “I Have a Dream” speech was an iconic and a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The speech is best known for the stanzas where King discusses his dream, especially this one:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Ideally we could live in a nation where people are judged by their character rather than the color of their skin, but this quote has unfairly come to define Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy without the larger context of it and has often been misused to declare that “race doesn’t matter.” A recent polls shows that the majority of Americans believe “King’s dream” has been achieved, essentially stating that race no longer matters. After the election of President Barack Obama, conservatives immediately declared that racism was officially over and we achieved King’s dream; while at the same time many conservatives questioned Obama’s birth certificate and whether he was truly an American worthy of holding the presidency, as if those questions had nothing to do with race. King dreamed of race no longer mattering and led protests that contributed to the passing of Civil Rights laws, and Americans voted for a black president, but neither of those mean that race no longer matters. Ask the family and friends of the innocent black man in Mississippi who was beaten, run over, and killed by white teenagers looking for a thrill, and then bragged about it afterwards, if race no longer matters. You don’t even need to ask the black man’s family — just ask the white kids responsible for the racist murder if race no longer matters. That’s one violent and gruesome incident, but statistics also point to blacks getting less pay for the same amount of education, companies preferring to hire whites over blacks, blacks receiving stricter punishments for crimes, racial profiling, the differences in education, and people subconsciously react different to different races. Race matters! That does not mean we are racist and hate another race, but it means we need to recognize how race plays a factor in everyone’s lives and how we are conditioned to think of other races. Only when people realize how race affects them on a daily basis will we be able to start overcoming the problems of race. The “color-blind” approach does not work because it overlooks and denies the existence of racial problems that exist in society. If we realize that race matters — to everyone — we can begin dismantling the social construction of race and overcoming it, but as long as we pretend that we do not care about race, we are simply preserving the existing racial structure.

As I mentioned, the above quotation has come to define Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, but we need to look outside of that quote, and outside of that speech, to see what Martin Luther King, Jr. actually  stood for if we want to truly honor him instead of using him as a symbol to show the racism that once existed. King held more radical beliefs than most people now days are willing to recognize. Although Americans tend to focus on his desegregation message, King understood that desegregation was not the end of America’s problems and other things need to be addressed. One of the critics of the monument I linked to above argues that the monument should have portrayed King as an American Christian, and therefore left out some of the more radical and international quotes that are imprinted on it. Hence, I want to discuss King’s broader message; not that King’s racial desegregation message was not important, but it was not all that he stood for, and that is not what he should only be remembered for. We must pay attention to King’s larger message to truly appreciate and honor him. Let me point out just a few of King’s quotations that people who manipulate King’s image for their own purposes tend to ignore (thank you internet for helping me find these various quotes):

King on Vietnam:

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam.
I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak
for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I
speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the
leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.

King’s criticism of the U.S.’s growing involvement in Vietnam is generally known, but usually not considered to be part of his larger philosophy, which significantly limits King’s beliefs to a strictly American national approach instead of recognizing the struggle for rights as a transnational one. It is a transnational criticism of the war in Vietnam because King points out that poor Americans are paying for a war that has absolutely nothing to do with them, and the only thing that it is accomplishing is destroying the lives of people in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam harmed both the people in the United States and Vietnam, and therefore King understood the negative implications of the U.S.’s neo-colonialist Cold War foreign policy in a truly global approach. In addition, King — like Malcolm X — spoke out against the war in Vietnam before the large counterculture movement emerged and also reprimanded the war.

King on military spending:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching
spiritual death.

Like King’s criticism of the war in Vietnam, he realized that the U.S.’s excessive military spending (“the military industrial complex”) came at the expense of spending on social programs. While the U.S. continued to build up its military to threaten and dominate foreign markets, it increasingly reduced its funding of social programs that would have benefited the American people. The money spent on the military would benefit those who were heavily invested in the weapons industry as well as the wealthy capitalist class who could exploit the people and resources of foreign nations that had a neo-colonial regime forced upon them, meanwhile average Americans gained little to nothing from the military buildup, and often young Americans died for the benefit of the elite.

King on poverty:

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of
civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant
animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

King’s call to abolish poverty is significant because he clearly understood that desegregation is not the final solution to America’s domestic political problems. I believe this is as important as any of King’s ideas, yet many Americans limit him to his calls for desegregation and his “dream” for people not to recognize people by the color of their skin. King was well aware that the U.S.’s domestic problem extended beyond just racial segregation; something had to be done about the disparity of wealth and the amount of Americans who suffer due to the limited regulations of capitalism. In King’s day, his critics called him a “communist” for pointing out the ineffectiveness of capitalism to deal with poverty. Of course, King was not a communist, but he also understood that strict capitalism failed to benefit the majority of the world’s people, and therefore King wanted fairer wealth distribution. In the 1960s, King’s opponents — from the Ku Klux Klan to the FBI — criticized him for pointing out the injustices of capitalism, but now most Americans ignore his criticisms of capitalism and focus only on his criticisms of segregation, as if he believed segregation was the U.S.’s only problem. Ironically, King went from being labeled a “communist” in the 1960s to now having his monument called “communist architecture.”

King on the purpose of religion:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must
be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an
irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

This is a particularly interesting quote when considering the current political scene of the U.S. King, of course, was a reverend and a very religious man, but he — like America’s “founding fathers” — knew religion’s place in society and knew where it did not belong. The church should not rule the state; it should not have any power over the state or the political process. Instead, the purpose of the church is to provide morality to the people, and he believed a moral people would make better citizens and therefore a better state. Meanwhile, the so-called Tea Party candidates intend to use the church as a tool and interpret laws based on their religion.

King on the purpose of life:

If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

This quote reminds me of two other advocates of black freedom and political progress who died were also prepared to die for it:

“The price of freedom is death.” – Malcolm X

“If you can’t find something to live for, then you best find something to die for.” – 2Pac

King, Malcolm X, and 2Pac all dedicated their life and careers toward something they would die for: freedom and progress; and each anticipated their own death, but did not let it stop them from promoting their messages.

While many people try to place Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the opposite ends of the spectrum during the Civil Rights Movement, if one compares their messages in the last years of their lives, he or she will find they have much more in common than is often believed. Neither one was willing to accept the status quo; Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a conformist who would settle with just desegregation, nor was Malcolm X an anti-white racist who wanted total segregation. They both desired a world where the rich would not exploit the poor, where the powerful nations would not colonize the underdeveloped nations, where the oppressor would not hold down the oppressed, where the military would not receive preference over the people, etc.

If we are to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember him for who he truly was and what he truly believed, and not what for some Americans want to pretend he stood for. He did not believe in American exceptionalism, that desegregation was the solution to America’s problems, or that Christianity should rule the government.

In Defense of Dead Prez’s politics

"Revolutionary But Gangsta"

I did not expect my first real post on my new political blog to be about a hip-hop group, but Dead Prez is not just any hip-hop group. Since their debut album “Let’s Get Free” in 2000, Dead Prez has rejected the trends of mainstream hip-hop in favor of a revolutionary political message. Their slogan is “RBG” for both “Revolutionary But Gangsta” and “Red, Black, and Green” (the flag of Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist movement). Their message is similar to the beliefs that Malcolm X began to develop late in his life and also similar to the Black Panther Party’s philosophy: a combination of revolutionary black nationalism, though not black segregationist, Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism, and socialism.  Hence, Dead Prez belongs in a political blog just as much as a hip-hop blog.

The reason I decided to write this article is because I attended a Dead Prez concert last earlier in the week, which I enjoyed immensely, and afterwards I spoke to one of the members briefly, and he could not have been more friendly. Upon hearing this story, someone who is familiar with Dead Prez’s music — but perhaps not as immersed in their message as myself — said to me that he was surprised the member didn’t say “F*ck you cracka!” to me (I am “white”). I responded, in an admittedly condescending tone (I later apologized), that Dead Prez does not hate whites and they are not racist against them, and he laughed and said it was “stupid” of me to listen to them because they always talk about hating “crackas.” I admit that set me off: Malcolm X faced similar criticism even after he departed the Nation of Islam and reformed his beliefs to reject anti-white racism and segregation. Growing up as a white kid, I had an unusual fascination with Malcolm X, and I displayed it proudly, but I often had to defend Malcolm X from other kids who teased me for my interest in a supposed “anti-white racist,” which always annoyed me. I have been a fan of Dead Prez since 2000, and I often have had to defend myself for liking them for the same reason. So, as a white fan of Dead Prez’s music and message, I felt it necessary to clarify and defend Dead Prez’s political message to those who continue to believe Dead Prez is “anti-white.”

In actuality, I do not even need to explain it; Dead Prez has stated their position on the “race question” in several interviews that can easily be found online. I think the best answer I have seen is from the now defunct hip-hop website NobodySmiling.com, but an excerpt of the interview is quoted on this Assata Shakur forum. M1 states the biggest misconception about the group is:

“You know like, “They hate White people!” We don’t hate White people, I hate the oppressive system that has come to benefit more White people than anybody else in the world; it has happened in the legacy and the hands of many White people. Not that they are all responsible, but I think people need to know just because I say, “Power to the Black and Brown,” doesn’t mean I wanna take nobody else’s power away.”

M1 makes it clear that it’s not white people that he detests, it’s the power structure that places some whites at the top and has benefitted them at the expense of black and brown people, while I would add that the power structure has also exploited many poor and working class whites.

As a side note, some of the commenters on the forum in response to M1’s quote disagree and lambast whites as “devils” and their “enemies.” Comments like that, and the ideology of Afrocentricism as a whole, I believe are counterproductive: no good will come from hating one race or placing one culture above another. For true progress, people need to accept all races and cultures; stop pretending that African or European cultures are superior to the other, and begin acknowledging the influence and interactions of the many cultures of the world. Hip-hop itself is a great example of this global cultural interaction, which I will likely explore in a later post.

To return to my point, even though M1 literally states that they “don’t hate white people,” I want to explain where the belief that they are “anti-white” comes from, and also clarify and expand on what they truly hate and believe, which in many ways I sympathize with and support. Dead Prez does have some lyrics that may lead one to believe that they “hate whites” if misinterpreted and not taken in with their larger message. Here are a few examples of how someone may get the idea they’re “anti-white”:

  • From “Police State” on Let’s Get Free: “The average black male / spends a third of his life in a jail cell / because the world is controlled by the white male”
  • From “We Want Freedom” on Let’s get Free: “Yeah, I’m for Peace / But I’ll kill ya if ya f*ck with my moms or my niece / See we all want peace, but the problem is / Crackers want a bigger piece”
  • From “”Walk Like a Warrior” on Revolutionary But Gangsta: “The white man got the wealth he held back / We’re living in hell black and nigg*z can sell crack / … / Now how you ain’t gonna fight / For the white man’s laws hell naw / For the cause, because we got to get what’s ours / Gotta struggle for the motherf*ck*ng power”

These are a few examples — and there are several others — of Dead Prez referencing whites, which without truly understanding the larger political context, may sound racist. But to say that “the world is controlled by the white male” or “the white man got the wealth he held back” does not mean that literally and exclusively all white males control the world. Dead Prez is referencing the elite of society: the most wealthy who own the most land and the most resources; with many exceptions, white males are the majority of this group. White males (not all) benefited more than any other group from capitalism, the exploitation of slave labor and wage labor, and colonizing foreign lands and pillaging their resources and labor. Sure, it is a generalization to say that the world is controlled by white males, but it is not meant to be taken literal, which is the case for much music and poetry. By “white male” or “white man,” Dead Prez is referencing the capitalist power structure that has benefited white males more than females or any other race, and whites — though certainly suffering exploitation of their own — have, in the grand scheme of things, been the least exploited of all the races.

Dead Prez is aware that some blacks have also benefited from capitalism, and they ask those who have to reach back and help the community. In the song “Hit Me, Hit me,” from Turn Off the Radio: The Mixtape Vol. 1, Dead Prez rap:

Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey – hit me, hit me / Michael Jackson, Bobby, Whitney – hit me, hit me / Magic Johnson, We need about $50,000 – hit me, hit me / Dr. Huxtable help us build a hospital – hit me, hit me

Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and the others have all benefited from capitalism to become millionaires, and Dead Prez is criticizing them for not helping out the community more. It is worth noting that these black millionaires all made their money through the entertainment industry, and once they had that money, they branched out to invest in other ventures, which made them even wealthier. The entertainment industry provides the best opportunities for blacks to earn money because there continues to be discrimination in hiring practices and many blacks lack access to as good of schools and facilities as whites. Of course, there are exceptions. Perhaps I will elaborate on this point in a future post.

I do not necessarily agree with everything that Dead Prez says, but for the most part I strongly support their message. As I’ve said, they are not racist, and their overall message is exactly what I believe. They come from the perspective and tradition of black revolutionaries, which I respect. They advocate radical change to the current system, which exploits far more than it benefits, and creates a society where there is a drastic division between the rich and everyone else. The American political system is broken; capitalism has created extremely wealthy corporations, banks, and lobbies that have much more influence over the government than any voter can. No politician can be elected to office without the support of major corporations, banks, and lobbies, so what can we do — as Americans — to change the system? This is why I support Dead Prez’s politics.

“The only constant is change.”