Yannick Giovanni Marshall
It bears repeating. There is a direct line between the murder of Tyre Nichols and the banning of African American Studies courses in Florida. Between the spectacle of our public execution and the claim that the study of Black life lacks educational value. It is the same line that could be drawn from the klan throwing Black people off bridges and Black people being brutalised in the art, ads and scholarship of previous generations. A line, a thread of manufactured Black disposability that if pulled out, would unspool this marathon of a colonial event that terms itself American society.
It bears repeating. Black people are being disposed of on dark streets and in curricula, as it is not enough to banish the emancipated population from white streets and hurry them off into jails and prisons and lifelong surveillance. They are deprived of electoral power and “redistricted”, entangled in new and improved Jim Crow regulations, put into rhetorical stocks, derided as “criminals” who do not deserve reparations in speeches intended to excite more than half of the country.
Asking for mercy on the street is responded to with blows. A century of Black writing memorialising the pain, thinking of ways forward is met with book burnings. Only the most plaintive, racist-forgiving “representatives” are invited onto news programmes to speak for us, only to be spoken over by Black conservative hustlers who produce articles that massage the shoulders of negrophobes. Negrophobes who then rush to wave the same few recycled Black conservative names around, praising their pieces as “groundbreaking” and “interesting new perspectives”. These perspectives are always as original as racism.
But what if a new perspective is indeed timely? Or if not new, but one dusted off from traditions older than the waiting for the American Enlightenment and its promised land of Civil Rights and equality – one drawn for the more thoughtfully pessimistic slave revolt? What if a hope that is not tangled in the beards of slave owners moonlighting as presidents and merchants of children – held up, to this day, as the founders of liberty – has arrived at its moment? A hope in the tradition of that section of the people not operating on slave-master’s time and not waiting for those who are addicted to horse-whipping people to see that “it wudn’t right”?
Anti-colonial hope is the hope of those who have not accepted “their place”. It is the philosophy of impatience, of a boundary setting borne out of the radical disagreement with colonial society’s position that Black life and Black thought is meaningless. That is, with the white supremacist position. It is not only the position of those with burner social media accounts or with nothing to lose who replied to the Black Lives Matter movement with Black Lives Do Not Matter. Or those who mocked the killing of George Floyd, acting out kneeling on his neck in an attempt to prolong the pleasure of the killing just as those of previous generations removed bones from the charred remains of lynching victims to keep as souvenirs.
It is the position of those who speak about African American Studies having no value and out of the other side of their cheek say that Western civilisation should be praised and must be a required course. It is the position of those who say of the killed – Eric, Trayvon, Sandra, Michael, Ahmaud and the thousands unnamed – that they were criminals and not martyrs. And of their killers – who used the complaints filed against them as coasters and falsified incident reports – that they are innocents, heroes, and to be excused for human error. The chasers are the frightened; the chased are the aggressors. The murdered “were no angels”.
It bears repeating, those who say this would lynch angels. To excise Black voices like a back-talking tongue and remove the record of Black pain is a more sophisticated, more expertly crafted Holocaust denial. Never the crude Holocaust denial of neo-Nazis, but a glossing over corpses to produce the revisionist story of America, the Good. To ban Black Studies is to deny Black lives the right to speak without the use of too heavy, too obvious a muzzle. To declare that the slave cannot testify. To disappear the historical record of white supremacy and put in its stead Nazi-sanctioned history, the only history the state’s racist base will accept. Settler-colonialism produces a population incapable of doing otherwise.
It is the position, also, of the Democrats. Those who state openly and uncontroversially that the congresspeople who give speeches at white nationalist conventions are their friends. Who are forever frozen in the gesture of reaching a hand over to the “other side of the aisle” to those desperate to keep the flame of Jim Crow alive. Who order our submission through “unity” with a side that still executes our innocent and gleefully ignores exculpatory evidence. And it is the position of the liberals calling for “police reform” in a voice growing increasingly tired and meek and indistinct from the conservative’s obligatory “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. Not that police reform is to be taken seriously. The state has beaten Black and Indigenous people to a pulp on behalf of settler society, and in concert with it, for centuries, everywhere.
The call for anti-bias training and bodycams is not a call for change. On the contrary, it is evidence that the society intends to protect the status quo. It is the act of covering up the pattern in the prisons and streets of the settler-colonial world from Australia to Alaska with a tarp of false hope. “Perhaps if we tinker with recruitment and representation or add a Civilian Review Board justice will roll down like the waters.” Meanwhile the ex-president, the darling of lynch mob society, is reportedly winning hearts once again with promises of hangings, guillotines and televised “group executions” if re-elected in 2024. But something is failing. The media spokespeople, the academics and esteemed cable news panel guests are no longer being believed when they speak of shocking breaks in trust, failures in training, disappointments in those who are “supposed to protect” or whatever answer they pull out of the raffle basket to suppress the Black proletarian anger at the latest killing.
Racists and liberals come together in the belief that Black people are cursed to carry some generational cross of always suffering at their hand. And we have been force-fed this since birth, trained to see our brutalisation as unfortunate “tragedies” and the anti-Black pogrom as “just the way things are”. But things are faltering. People are waking up. Yes, they are woke. Woke. A stolen term with which both racists and liberals lampoon Black radical ideas and a Black temperament no longer accepting the way things are. The people are rejecting the old “democracy is slow” calm-down trick in the time of fast fascism. They are no longer tolerating the servile position, proving humility to be deserving of the deliberately ambiguous “change”.
Woke. This generation’s term to replace the “rebellious Negroes” and “dirty rotten abolitionist” and “uppity” and “radicalised Blacks” slurs we forced out of date. A term no one doubts would have been spat at students jailed for sitting in segregated cafes. And by the same sorts of people. Flung with the same vitriol and with the same purpose as the N-word at the schoolchildren integrating apartheid schools. A term used as a licence to scrub this history from the textbooks and, like a vase of flowers placed over a crime scene, a patriotic history placed atop it. One describing those enslaved in the torture chambers of the colony’s industrial cotton fields as “happy farmers”. Lying. The best colonist’s history can do.
Wokeness, tarred and feathered. Students are warned away from it. Academics rush to deny it. Woke ideology – laughable and ineffectual – and yet, it must be made illegal. Black thought must be conspired against by the government and its client educational institutions, mocked on air and at colonist kitchen tables, in a desperate attempt to hang on, by tooth and claw, to the society gutting the Black poor.
It is the last attempt to shoo away the anti-colonial rousing and kneecap the Black radical imagination. But their strength is flailing and the social order built by slave masters is burning up. The anti-colonial future is bursting forth. A future that escaped from the clutches of white racism. An anti-colonialism not only to be read in police stations burning like slave-master homes but in the Palestinians resisting ethnic cleansing, in the voices of the Indigenous people ordering #landback, in the patriarchs being shut up, in the sanctioned peoples defying extortion, in the workers unionising everywhere. Even the seas and the sun are in revolt.
At the front line of anti-colonialism, as always, is a militant unapologetic Pan-Africanism. A borderless solidarity among those whom the colonial world branded the lesser. Not only refusing to sit in but tearing out the back of the bus. Taking the wheel of a new, swarthy-skinned future as unexpected as it is inevitable. After the colonial society’s “racial reckoning” that led, predictably, to nowhere, their staged conversations solving nothing, achieving nothing but ratings and profits for the class that aid and abet lynch mob society, Black anti-colonial recognition is spreading. Racism is not, as is often sworn, a tragic legacy impinging on the enlightened “better” present. It is a choice.
Having an anti-Black world is a choice. Society has chosen to remain the same. And now fewer and fewer of us are satisfied to stay on the porch, knocking at the door, peeping through the blinds, hoping to catch a glimpse of freedom.
It was too much to knock once. Knocking for the whole day is absurd, much less knocking for – how many years has it been? Anti-colonialism says those who remain pleading at the door are at best irresponsible. In any case, they should stay there. There is no building a home with those still draped in the hides of slavery. No racial reckoning for the world’s Rhodesias. The masters have chosen to remain masters. And those racist forgivers shrieking about reform and training and reckonings have lost their audience. Welcome to the era of no more.