Many people know Martin Luther King as having led the march against racism, but hardly any are aware that he was organizing a march against poverty, for socialist policies to redistribute wealth, writes Fatima Shahzad
The eruption of outrage which resulted from George Floyd’s death is undoubtedly one of those events that will be looked upon in the history of the 21st century as having shaped its course. It is only fitting, in moving forward, to look back and understand exactly what led to this, not just in the United States, but its broader implications and lessons for the entire world. It is crucial to understand that the murder of George Floyd by cops isn’t in itself the only cause for what we are witnessing, but was indeed the tip of the iceberg of a fundamentally broken system, which too often seems incapable of doing any better.
Ask yourself: what determines the legitimacy of an authority? The probable answer would be: its usefulness or requirement in serving the public good, or upholding a certain moral integrity which every person should be entitled to. In this context, has the US police lived up to this standard?
Policing, as an institution in the United States, has its roots in the South where it was used to control African-American slaves and keep them in line with the orders of their white masters. It was most common in the South’s industrial and agricultural sectors which thrived on slave labour and formed the foundations of modern American industry. The prime function of the police was to brutalize, threaten and control blacks, in order to exploit their labour to its maximum point and use that to generate wealth for the owners.
Moving into the 20th century it was closely affiliated and indeed shared a huge fraction of its membership, millions (members or sympathizers), with the Ku Klux Klan. Again, in accordance with its legacy, it was devoted to criminalizing any opposition to white supremacy via lynching, excusing or directly participating in mob violence, and abusing blacks by any means available to them. It was also instrumental in isolating black communities, imposing segregation, withholding access to any social services and preventing them from voting to completely silent their voices and possible representation in the electoral system.
Then came the Civil Rights Movements, a culmination of resistance and struggle against a draconian “order” being imposed on blacks. Apart from the bold victories it won, such as the passing of the Civil Rights Act and end to legal Segregation, it produced in the long term, many ideas and warnings which were to be heeded for racial equality to truly be realized. These are reflected in the works of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis and Franz Fanon among others. Without going too deeply into any single one over here, it is still possible to understand the systematic problems they diagnosed and their strategies to combat them.
At the core of their struggle was the pursuit of equality, dignity and freedom to be enjoyed by one and all. However, these concepts are much deeper than mere speeches, platitudes and even legislation. Martin Luther King Jr showed the power of non-violent resistance, and the importance of changing racist notions surrounding character. The importance of Franz Fanon in this service was his insight on the experience of being a person of colour in a country where that is symbol of inferiority, and is a basis of discrimination. Not only this, but the internalization of that experience and one’s very identity being reduced to the colour of their skin.
On the other hand, Angela Davis published a strong condemnation of the prison system and called for its abolition, citing the fact that it’s inherently oppressive and brutal, and cannot further the cause being fought for. Malcolm X was consistent with this, as it doesn’t mean that there is no need for security and order, but that the police fail to deliver that and thus victims should have the right to resist. Groups like the Black Panthers were important for this reason. They aimed to do the work in black communities which the white supremacist state police did not, specifically to ensure their defense.
In modern day America, a black man is 28 times more likely to be stopped by cops compared to a white man. Black people are charged with petty theft and drug offenses more so, even when a white man is more likely to commit and possess those same substances. The Prison Industrial Complex, mass Incarceration and murders like the ones we’ve seen with Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd among so many others reflect the systematic use of violence against blacks.
Many problems which are more prevalent in the black community are a direct result of historical and institutional racism. Many people know Martin Luther King as having led the march against racism, but hardly any are aware that he was organizing a march against poverty, for socialist policies to redistribute wealth and equalize a society polarized by class, hitting minorities and black the hardest.
By now, there are certainly a range of issues highlighted which resonate with you. That is precisely due to the fact that they plague our society as they do in former colonies, where the colour of your appearance, your economic status was associated with your character, with the treatment you received, with the rights you were given or rather lacked. Our federal expenditure going to benefit the establishment, where people of a different caste, religion, ethnicity and class who are looked upon unfavorably by those with power and privilege, being condemned to a much more difficult life. Indeed, the average Balochi, Pashtun, Hazara, Ahmadi, Sikh, Hindu, Christian need not read about it to learn this injustice, for their experience is enough within our own country.
The fact that our state’s budget distribution has been disproportionally favouring one group over another, to uphold the status quo and to let it exercise its power with impunity over the rest. Using our taxpayer money, building their civilization on the exploitation and violence visited upon the underprivileged people who they deem as savages and insurgents. It seems the concept of state terrorism doesn’t exist to people of such a persuasion. To plunder, loot, exploit, and abuse a community (racial, ethnic, religious) isn’t a crime, but people letting out that anger and protesting and rioting is the biggest crime that earns condemnation. Malcolm X’s saying “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing” is prophetic in this case.
But what does all of this imply for our future? First of all, we have to hear the voices and demands of those silenced for too long. We also have to recognize that lives of everyday people don’t matter in our current capitalist system, outside of their productivity in terms of profits. We must move beyond it, collectively, mindful of the fact that if it was George Floyd who was targeted by it yesterday, it could be you tomorrow, and we cannot give up until everyone can live and breathe freely, and let that be the legacy of the black lives matter movement along with the many struggles here and everywhere.