I just came across an excellent article on race in America in Vanity Fair, written by an MSNBC host to plug his upcoming book. A surprising source for an analysis that revives, at least figuratively, the idea that black communities in the US are part of a process of internal colonization. It’s an odd mixture of Marxian anti-imperialist and liberal discourse. Here is the thesis:
Nixon was, of course, correct that black Americans “don’t want to be a colony in a nation.” And yet that is what he helped bring about. Over the half-century since Nixon delivered those words, we have created precisely that, and not just for black Americans but for brown Americans and others: a colony in a nation. A territory that isn’t actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than from within. A place where the law is a tool of control, rather than a foundation for prosperity. We have created a political regime—and, in its day-to-day applications, a regime of criminal justice—like the one our Founders inherited and rejected, a political order they spilled their blood to defeat.
And here is an observation on how colonialism, both historic and present, relies on complicity by elite layers of the colonized people:
From India to Vietnam to the Caribbean, colonial systems have always integrated the colonized into government power, while still keeping the colonial subjects in their place.
Half the cops charged in the death of Freddie Gray were black; half were white. The Baltimore police chief is black, as is the mayor. And Freddie Gray, the figure upon whom this authority was wielded?
Well, to those in the neighborhood, there was never any question what race he would be.
This is what distinguishes our era of racial hierarchy, the era of Black Lives Matter and the First Black President. Black political power has never been more fully realized, but blackness feels for so many black people just as dangerous as ever. Black people can live and even prosper in the Nation, but they can never be truly citizens. The threat of the nightstick always lingers, even for, say, a famous and distinguished Harvard professor of African and African-American studies who suddenly found himself in handcuffs on his own stately porch in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just because someone thought he was a burglar.
And a passage comparing and contrasting the rule of law in Nation and Colony:
In the Colony, violence looms and failure to comply can be fatal. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas prison cell, was pulled over because she didn’t signal a lane change. Walter Scott, the 50-year-old black man shot in the back as he fled a North Charleston police officer, was pulled over because one of the three brake lights on his car was out. Freddie Gray simply made eye contact with a police officer and started to move swiftly in the other direction.
If you live in the Nation, the criminal-justice system functions like your laptop’s operating system, quietly humming in the background, doing what it needs to do to allow you to be your most efficient, functional self. In the Colony, the system functions like a computer virus: it intrudes constantly, it interrupts your life at the most inconvenient times, and it does this as a matter of course. The disruption itself is normal.
And a rare observation that while the US security apparatus disproportionately targets black people, it is also part of a wider system of repression against the working class in general:
The Colony is overwhelmingly black and brown, but in the wake of financial catastrophe, de-industrialization, and sustained wage stagnation, the tendencies and systems of control developed in the Colony have been deployed over wider and wider swaths of working-class white America. If you released every African-American and Latino prisoner in America’s prisons, the United States would still be one of the most incarcerated societies on earth. And the makeup of those white prisoners is dramatically skewed toward the poor and uneducated. As of 2008, nearly 15 percent of white high-school dropouts aged 20 to 34 were in prison. For white college grads the rate was under 1 percent.
All of this echoes the points I tried to make in an essay I wrote 2 years ago on police violence, about how in numerous working-class communities across the US the police are more or less an exploitative and lawless occupying force. And there has been much, much more hard evidence on this that has come out since then, ironically in no small part due to the various Department of Justice investigations into the police forces of many major cities like Chicago and Baltimore. Thanks Obama!?