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Make Some Noise: A Revolution in the Making

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For much of this year, I have had revolution on my mind. I have had many sleepless nights. I have had many good faith debates and conversations. I have spent an incredible amount of time just thinking. In the context of the United States, is revolution possible? What do I mean when I say revolution? Why do I think revolution is the only option that should be explored when trying formulate a plan that achieves racial justice? These questions have plagued me. I have been confronted by my own limitations throughout this process. I have had to deal with the fact that I am only one person. White supremacy is a beast that controls our everyday existence. On my own, it will be impossible to defeat it. On my own, I will surely fail. Revolution is difficult. Theorizing about a way to make black lives matter in a real way is difficult. I owe so much of what I have come up with in terms of an answer to those who have come before me. While I may not agree completely with the methods many have used to try to acquire humanity on behalf of those forgotten and written out of the human context, I do not deny their influences. I do not wish to reduce their efforts. We are all doing the best we can. I hope, that in some way, I may also add to the conversation that has been taking place since the inception of race as a defining marker of worthiness and humanity. I have tried my best to synthesize my thoughts and to provide a framework worthy of consideration.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Before the summer of 2016, I was the quintessential reformist. I believed in the United States as a nation. I believed that the values of justice and liberty and freedom could be extended to all. I believed that speaking truth to power through protest, through political intervention, and through widespread calls to reform the specific institutions that are broken in this country would eventually cause a tidal wave of change to sweep through this nation. I believed in the process. However, several pivotal occurrences changed the way I see the United States as a country, the institutions that order our everyday steps, and the individual people who call themselves Americans. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile just a day apart were the catalyst for me. These murders still haunt me. I am still left breathless when I remember waking up on July 5th, 2016 to the video of the despicable murder of Alton Sterling. The agony of waking up the very next day to a video of Philando Castile’s murder. Both at the hands of police officers. Both with men who announced upon being approached by police that they were armed. The backdrop of these occurrences will always be a justice system that failed Trayvon Martin, a justice system that failed Freddie Gray, a justice system that failed Tamir Rice, a justice system that failed Sandra Bland, and a justice system that failed Eric Garner. Black lives were being stolen from the earth and it seemed like all we could do as a nation was pray for the lives that were lost and call for a restructuring of police departments. We protested, we marched, many gave speeches and their condolences, and state sanctioned institutional violence continued to be exposed. Finally, the stories that black people have told for years were being watched and scrutinized on tape. Our lives could be snuffed out while a camera records the entire event, and our justice system will turn away from the sight. We are dying by the second, and while blocking traffic, lifting signs, and using hashtags were all noble pursuits, it became clear to me during this summer that these tactics were proving to be futile. I needed to know how we got here. I needed to know how a country that claims to be for equal justice, for the rights of all, for the pursuit of life and happiness, could sit idly by as black lives one after another were stopped by speeding bullets. Where is the lineage of these United States? What do we have to do to never have to bury our fathers, our mothers, our sisters, our brothers, our daughters, our sons, and our friends again?

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

“White Supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today” (Mills 1997:1).

In his book entitled, The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time, Christopher Lebron sums up “the problem of racial inequality as the problem of social value: blacks do not occupy an equal place in the social normative scheme, thus are not accorded equal moral value” (Lebron 2015:124). What exactly does this mean? In the context of the theory that I am developing, this means that because of the unnamed system of white supremacy, black lives in the United States and around the world have been devalued. Because of this, the United States has always had a problem with justifying allocating justice, freedom, and equality to people who have always been perceived as subhuman. If there is a moral value gap, this means that the application of equality and fairness to black people is not a priority because they are deemed unworthy of such rights and freedoms.

Lebron also describes a bad national character that is sewn into the fabric of the United States. The legacy of the United States is one of violence. It is one of theft. It is one of oppression and marginalization. The history of the black man in the United States is the history of the United States. Our heritage has been “historically underwritten” by white supremacy. Our laws are founded upon it, our everyday lives are shaped by it, our ideas and conceptualizations are deeply influenced by it.White supremacy has emboldened the United States to perform insidious acts of violence against black lives while at the same time proclaiming itself as a nation of moral fortitude, justice, and equality.

With these two concepts in mind, one must ask the question: if we are living in an age where racial injustice is largely seen as an affront on human rights, why are we still seeing and experiencing such a huge social value gap? Why is there a disconnect?

Charles Mills spends the entirety of the Racial Contract describing this phenomenon. The United States is living within the framework of the racial contract that has been window-dressed as a valid and credible social contract. As stated by Mills, “we live in a world which has been foundationally shaped for the past five hundred years by the realities of European domination and the gradual consolidation of white supremacy” (Mills 1997:20). The racial contract has been authorized by the system of white supremacy, to write all nonwhite beings out of the social contract. The racial contract works as a moral, political, and epistemological rule book. The racial contract categorizes individuals as persons and as subpersons. Those who are white have always retained the category of person while nonwhite beings have always retained the category of subpersons. This is important to note because it largely explains why there is an unequal presentation of justice and fairness in this country. For those who are white, justice is largely applied on a regular basis. While there are exceptions because the system is not perfect, white people benefit from the ways in which the United States has been structured because it was built on the basis that to be white is to be human and deserving of rights that are only awarded to those with full personhood.

The social contract, on the other hand, is the idealized illusion of what America truly is. In this context, the social contract are the values and ideals attached to democracy, liberalism, liberty, meritocracy, individualism, and hard work. These pieces of the social contract appear in the racial contract as ideas that apply only to persons, white people. The social contract, however, aims to make these ideas universally salient. The social contract aims to make invisible the ways in which the racial contract actually affects our everyday conceptualization of what it means to be an American.

Why don’t we recognize this?

“The racial contract has written itself out of existence” (Mills 1997:73).

For the most part, blatant and overt manifestations of white supremacy have been phased out. Though one could very well make the argument that with the election of Donald Trump, these overt forms of racism have resurfaced. However, as a nation, there is a significantly large percentage of people who believe that racism is wrong and that all lives should be valued the same. In our modern era, it seems as though the social contract has been equally applied to all. However, that is the point. The racial contract is being continuously rewritten to face each iteration of social configuration. Every era has seen a new way in which white supremacy has held on to power in this country. Slavery, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, consistent genocide, and mass incarceration are examples of how white supremacy can wear different hats. The system aims to protect itself and rewrites itself into the context of whatever structure is in place. This is why we can live in a country that is literally operating under a racial contract, and still have people believe that race is a thing of the past and that we live in a post-racial America. For white supremacy to protect itself, it remains largely unnamed. It works to go undetected. The terms of the racial contract are written in such a way as to create “structured blindness and opacities in order to establish and maintain the white polity” (Mills 1997:19).

While we may seem to be heading in the right direction in terms of racial justice because black people have constitutionally been accorded the rights that were historically denied to them, the value gap has never been addressed. The ways in which white supremacy continues to target black lives has never been addressed. These are the problems. Where do we go from here?

WHAT IS THE GOAL?

By wanting the racial contract destroyed, we want the United States that is no longer built on the hierarchical valuing of white lives over black lives. We want our full personhood to be recognized.

However, the problem with attacking the racial contract without also attacking the social contract is that we are not realizing that both were born in the same place. The racial contract underwrites the social contract. This means that the social contract as it now stands, could not exist without the percieved subpersonhood of black people. The social contract would fall apart without the racial contract to validate its existence.

So what does this mean? Ultimately, it means we have to seriously think about revolution as a viable option in attaining racial justice. We must be committed to not only destroying the ideas that go into making the racial contract a real thing, but we must also get rid of the social contract that actively disguises these motives.

So the goal, if we are serious about wanting black lives to matter in a real way, must be the destruction and restructuring of the social contract writ large.

WHICH METHODS HAVEN’T GONE FAR ENOUGH?

Most of the activist movements for civil rights in the United States have been centralized. The top-down leadership model is dangerous in many ways. It allows for complacency among the masses. It effectively lets us all off the hook for a problem that has a communal solution. We are more likely to feel less shame and guilt about our ignorance because we have faith in the wisdom, brilliance, and organizing power of those in charge. This is dangerous because revolution of any kind is difficult. Peaceful, or unflinchingly defiant, these movements will always be decapitated if there are a few heads seen as the ones in charge.

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Civil Rights movement of the 60’s was not a failure. The wins of this era are not lost on me. I stand on the shoulders of those who valiantly fought for equal rights and equal protection under the law. However, I do not think this movement went far enough. While I laud the decision to be a nonviolent force, I do not agree with the motivation. Dr. King and many that were involved in this struggle for liberation and freedom wanted to be included into the social contract. They saw the United States government as an institution that promised something they did not deliver on. They wanted the social contract to be expanded to include black lives. While this is an understandable and certainly justifiable position to take, I argue that it does not attack the heart of the problem. A dedication to reform, a dedication to inclusivity, a dedication to simply adding onto the rotten framework will always lead to the strengthening and rewriting of the racial contract to support the illusion of the social contract.

President Barack Obama

On November 5th 2008, the New York Times declared the victory of newly elected president Barack Obama with the following headline: “Racial Barriers Fall in Decisive Victory”. For many, the election of Barack Obama ushered in a new age of racial equality. Many felt as though this victory was proof that the United States had finally laid to bed its ugly racial history and would be able to walk into a new era of post-raciality. A color-blind anesthetic was released over the populace and many believed that Barack Obama would usher in a new change for American life. We were wrong. The election of Barack Obama had the opposite effect. Rather than being the salve to heal the wounds of America’s racial past, the election of Barack Obama provided further evidence that racism as a “racial structure—a network of social relations at social, political, economic, and ideological levels” is still thriving in the United States (Bonilla-Silva 2015:3). President Obama’s victory did not signal an end to racism or an end to inequality. His victory magnified the effectiveness of a new form of discrimination that is based on the erasure of race in social life.

While his personal achievement cannot be minimized, Barack Obama’s ascension into the White House is problematic for blackness in the United States. As he calls for unity behind President Trump, Barack Obama has been quoted and touted as the ideal black person in a Donald Trump America, as opposed to those protesting the election of Trump. Barack Obama’s messaging is being used as a way to criticize and demonize blackness without the display of overt racism. He is a way to support a black man without having to support any substantial change or even acknowledge that racial inequality exists. In a post-racial America, the election of Barack Obama ultimately bolsters the narrative that racism has ended. This is dangerous because the mere presence of Barack Obama in the White House can be used as a mechanism to silence anti-racist accountability movements and to ridicule any mention of racial inequality. The election of Barack Obama has become a silent but deadly killer of the black identity in the United States.

Black Lives Matter Movement

The Black Lives Matter Movement is very close to the way I envision revolution to go. The movement has a decentralized leadership structure. There is no way to shut it down because it is organically grown. Black Lives Matter actively confronts the problem of subpersonhood by forcing us as a society to confront the actual humanity of black lives in this country. Black Lives Matter is great at marketing and branding itself. A movement of this magnitude should feel accessible and salient to lots of people and Black Lives Matter is able to make the case that civil rights for black people is a problem for all of us. However, as of right now, the movement’s main goals do not call for overhaul. The movement aims to build on top of a rotten foundation by having police departments restructured or by making the justice system more just. While these are all important goals, they cannot be where we stop the conversation. There has to be more to than that.

WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT/PROPOSAL?

To achieve racial justice, we must revise and reconstitute the social contract through the act of revolution as a way to destroy the racial contract and as a way to redefine personhood. What exactly does this mean? As discussed in the section about what the goal of our efforts must be, we cannot aim to end racism or the influences of white supremacy in this country without seriously dedicating ourselves to creating a social contract that is built in good faith.

For the purposes of this theoretical lens, my definition of revolution is as follows: the act of revolution will be the complete overthrow of the United States institutional body as it currently exists. Every realm of social configuration will be dissolved and rebuilt with the aim of creating a foundation that better articulates what it means to be free, what it means to be a person, and what it means to have inalienable (civil) rights. The revolution itself will be remaking of the democratic experiment. This will be done in a variety of ways, beginning with a complete overhaul of the United States Constitution. The constitution and all laws that were subsequently birthed from this contract operate in bad faith because they are inherently flawed. They were designed to oppress and to marginalize. Revolution must quite literally involve re-examining every aspect of what it means to be American and to decide which ideals we wish to uphold in this new framework. By completely remodeling this infrastructure, the revolution will be a rebuilding of the entire structure of the United States from the ground up.

Many people have asked me if my plan for revolution includes violence. It does not, for several reasons. Revolution will have to be nonviolent to work. By nonviolence I mean that those who accept this theory and wish to create the kind of country that honors the personhood of all will not use violence as a way to change the hearts and minds of those in power. Violence has always been the tool of the oppressor. Always. By nonviolent, I mean we as the oppressed will not seek to use violence as a way to force the oppressor to cede power over to us. As Paulo Freire says in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “whereas the violence of the oppressors prevents the oppressed from being fully human, the response of the latter to this violence is grounded in the desire to pursue the right to be human.” We forfeit that right and place the burden to free themselves back onto the oppressed by using violent tactics as a form of liberation. In addition to this, once violence has been introduced into a social configuration, it becomes institutionalized. If we as a collective have lived in a society that glorifies and protects institutionalized violence, it would be ill advised to sew those seeds into an entirely new framework. It makes the chance of reversion back into destructive patterns that much more likely. Whether or not this is possible is not really a question I have the answer to, nor feel like I need to have the answer to at this particular moment.

WHAT MUST WE DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL?

Paolo Freire says it best: “At the point of encounter, there are neither utter ignormauses nor perfect sages. There are only men who are attempting, together, to learn more than they know now.”

I believe that widespread education is paramount to reaching a level of consensus among the general populace that will make revolution as I have defined it possible. This education is very specific in nature. It will not look like the educational structure that currently governs the way we learn and acquire new information. Freire in his book describes a sort of education as praxis called problem posing education. This framework puts students and teachers on equal levels. They simply become people in the quest to learn and share what they have learned with one another. The goal of this form of education should be to make both student and teacher “simultaneously teacher and student” at the same time (Freire 1981:59). Education as the exercise of freedom aims to counteract an educational system that has been constructed to indoctrinate students into the values and ideas of the dominant group. Education must change because one cannot use the very educational system that has been charged with making sure students do not perceive that we are living by the narrative of a racial contract to fight for liberation. Education must change because one cannot use the very educational system that has been meticulously designed to ensure that whiteness as a system retains power in this country to fight for liberation.

“What will you do with those who do not want revolution?” This question has come up in many conversations and while I understand the motivation, it detracts from what I arguing for. Total consensus will not be necessary for this revolution to take place. Such agreement is not a realistic goal to strive towards because in a civil society there will always be dissenting voices. Besides, we are currently living in a country where everyone does not agree with the ways in which the country is being run, yet nothing is being “done” to those individuals. The point of the revolution is to create a system where truth can actually be spoken to power in a way that allows for the very real chance and probability for change and improvement. As the current institutional infrastructure of our society currently stands, reform seems to lead to further repression because the foundational narratives upon which the United States is built continues to reproduce and sustain themselves throughout everyday interactions.

There are so many questions left to answer. But if we let the questions paralyze us, we would never get anything. Malcolm X once wrote, “I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”

Let’s make some noise.

 

 

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