Gathoni Blesso: Across the globe we observe similarities and intersections in black people’s struggles in both Western and non-Western contexts. This stems from pervasive socio-political and cultural notions that black bodies can a) be commodified, hence b) be consumed, and, when of no use, killed. The consistency with which black people are made disposable, is a result of the global grip of white economic templates. At the core of the ripping, raping and exploitation of African descended people’s bodies, energies, creativity and souls (not to mention the eradication of entire societies-wisdoms-cultures) is the monolithic cultural thinking that is whiteness. Whiteness, as a system, converges it’s interests with other societies and institutions of ‘power’ across the globe, to produce economic benefit through the creation of discourses, perspectives and structures that position being black as being sub/non-human and disposable (in narratives, bodies and futures). This instinct to consume black bodies has a name in some cultures, and Wetiko is one name given to it by the First Nations Peoples. The simplest definition we have is from Jack Forbes the Native American philosopher, who described it as, “the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.”
In the last few months I have been focusing on the ways in which the category human has been applied across time by human governing systems – in particular white-supremacist imperialist capitalist systems – as a lens through which to think about the resurgence of anti-blackness that is currently sweeping the world (in continuity to the well-erased profound historical contexts).
This trail of thought ensued in November 2015, when I joined the Black Women’s March in Brasilia. The march was part of a feminist global organizing platform for movement building, strengthening solidarities and critical rethinking of alternatives in relation to emergent post-capitalist rhetorics. The diverse conversations around Afro-Brazilian women’s rights to negotiate their thoughts, bodies and roles in Brazil’s democratic state were all underpinned by narratives of the racist structures that are silencing, commodifying (not metaphorically, there is a history of black bodies being circulated as commodities), overexploiting, victimizing and killing the Afro Brazilian population – dating all the way back to slavery.
In the conversations building up to the march, community workers from across the Americas and the African continent met to share the contexts of their different geographies and collate new organizing principles. What became apparent in this conversation was the similarity in the lived experiences of young black people in these different contexts. Young black people find themselves faced with a (non)choice which comes down to either assimilation into capitalism (with an understanding that assimilation can, but does not necessarily mean benefiting i.e. we see black elites who assimilate and benefit and we also see the majority of black people assimilated as labor to be consumed) or, if one refuses assimilation, disposability through criminalization of poor black youths usually resulting in imprisonment or death.
As each person gave their organizing backgrounds from the Favela’s in Brazil and the urban- poor youth in Kenya to black communities in the US, there was a realization that the common denominator in the shared experiences of extreme violence and criminalization, was being black and unwanted within white- neoliberal- systems.
In Rio, 2012 preparations for the World cup put a lime light on the persistent racism that affects the Black Favelas. The documentation of the “clean up” process to make the city “safe” for the games brought out the concentration of Black Residents more heavily in the substandard, precarious urban spaces effectively reserved for those without full rights
Perhaps one of the most well known campaigns around this has been #BlackLivesMatter which ensued after the outrage over the number of young black and brown men criminalized, imprisoned and killed by the police in the United States. With the last mapping being, the profiling, abductions and killings of poor black youth in Kenya to control and protect property.
Grounded in these conversations, it seemed fundamental to map out the collective psychosis of white supremacist thinking in late-stage capitalism within the global socio-political and economic formations. Amongst the many deployed strategies to maintain power, was (has been) the over assertion of control and silencing of the autonomy and voices of the majority of a people. The methods have varied from economic marginalization, creation of poverty, instigation of deep inequalities, eradication of diversity, excessive dispossession of the poor from their homelands for business ventures, investing in war economies, immigration restriction, and murder – through state and militarized violence etc. The use of these tactics is most ignored and prompts least consequence when used against and over the lives of a) poor and particularly b) black people.
The pervasiveness of anti-blackness across the globe suggests that whiteness is not only spread through white peoples bodies but as a system that comes to work through various bodies. It is a system that functions to primarily benefit white bodies, but also one that has realized its survival depends on the assimilation, to different degrees, of other bodies.
For instance, the language of development in the African continent is one of assimilation. It has required African states to “move on from” the doings of colonialism to maintain good relations that in return “secure” economic growth. The frenzy of “Africa Rising” has allowed the re-possession of land and exploitation of resources by different foreign interests, and their local proxies- through whole strategies, relations and tactics to dispossess, divide and rule over the lives of African peoples. These interests may no longer walk in the same bodies, as in the colonial regime, but emulate the same cultures that reinforce anti-black and anti-poor sentiments*. Take for instance the collusion between state and capital in the Marikana massacre of 2012 where police killed 34 miners for protesting the over- exploitation of their labor. Or the linkage between the U.S. war on terror rhetorics and tactics with the Kenyan state’s desire for economic and hegemonic domination, to extract resources in Somalia. Or the vicious cycle of civil war in the Congo, which has been instigated, controlled and funded by imperial powers to mine the world’s richest minerals.
As a result of this, the societies and most importantly, the land has become unbearable for African peoples to nurture and exist in, forcing immigration into foreign lands~ where the same conditions of erasure, exploitation of disposability continue. Many people do not survive the passage out of the continent. Last year only, the deaths resulting from immigration of Africans from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and other war torn countries- attempting to cross the Mediterranean was unfathomable. Those who do survive the passage face increasing levels of immigration restriction into Europe, paired with a cycle of deportations that amount to sending people back to their deaths. African migrants across the world face anti-black violence the most notably being the slave like conditions of exploiting labor from and murders of domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Many of whom only return through the repatriation of their dead bodies.
There is a lens that is largely being ignored in attempts to imagine post-capitalist- futures- this missing link is a result of the evasion of the reality that capitalism is born of white supremacist thinking and domination- and is therefore directly linked to anti blackness, and consequently the erasure of black lives and futures. Unless capitalism’s origins in the project of Empire are acknowledged we will continue to hold the flawed assumption that humanness is universally agreed upon. The current circulating prescription of being human is one offered by white capitalism- and is highly fueled by control, greed and need for constant accumulation. As different societies, across the globe, increasingly invest in these structures and relations, we risk narrowing the potential for nurturing of alternative (less cannibalistic) versions of being human.
Written by Gathoni Blessol, Decolonization movement builder, Community Organizer with /TheRules.org Originally published in Pambazuka News.
Part of the Seeing Wetiko series. See all articles here.
Lead image by Francisco Goya.