White supremacy compels us to analyze how anti-imperialism is a necessity in our resistance against oppression. All of our struggles are intertwined.
We are living in a particularly radical time right now. Seriously. I feel like everyone says that every couple of years, but this feels different. The energy in the air is different, so to speak. I’m personally inclined to shout-out Saturn entering Aquarius, which happened in March. And, to be clear, every time this occurs—and when its shadow is being cast over everything (because remember, Saturn ain’t no small planet)—some big societal shifts happen. Shit gets done. Some things that have happened when this placement comes back around include the advent of the internet, smack-dab in the middle of the civil rights movement (and shortly after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law in July of that same year), and the stock market crash of 1929.
But for those who aren’t too keen on astrology, you’d probably be more inclined to credit this large shift to the combination of rage and ire stemming from a pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment rates that have been exacerbated by said pandemic, the lack of a just and robust social net, AND the fact that the state (a la the police) continues to shoot and kill Black and brown people with impunity. With that being the case, many of us are finally expanding our minds and imaginations and this has come with the realization that things like, I don’t know, the police being able to get away with murder is wrong and that they should be defunded and abolished as a result. With this being the case, many have (re)turned to the works of radical ancestors, organizers, activists, writers, educators, and leaders like Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Walter Rodney, Assata Shakur, and others, to show us how much our oppressions and resistance are intertwined and how to change the world around us.
The work of many of these organizers and activists not only focused on police brutality, but on the all-encompassing reality of white supremacy, colonialism, and carcerality. However, though many people have somehow grasped the corrupt nature of the police, some still have a hard time grasping that the U.S. military does in fact commit the same atrocities abroad. In the name of “democracy” (read: imperialism).
As this is the case, I’m here to say that the struggle for Black lives—both here and abroad—requires us to also be vehemently against imperialism in all of its forms. And to illustrate this, here are some quotes from prominent Black thinkers and activists (many of whom were either communists or socialists) who believed the same:
1. Martin Luther King Jr.
Quote: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
2. Angela Davis
Quote: “As a black woman, my politics and political affiliation are bound up with and flow from participation in my people’s struggle for liberation, and with the fight of oppressed people all over the world against American imperialism.”
3. W.E.B. Du Bois
Quote: “The history of our day….may be epitomized in one word—Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910.”
4. Malcolm X
Quote: “And I might point out right here that colonialism or imperialism, as the slave system of the West is called, is not something that’s just confined to England or France or the United States. But the interests in this country are in cahoots with the interests in France and the interests in Britain. It’s one huge complex or combine, and it creates what’s known as not the American power structure or the French power structure, but it’s an international power structure. And this international power structure is used to suppress the masses of dark-skinned people all over the world and exploit them of their natural resources.”
5. Robert F. Williams
Quote: “Not only do we support the right of our brothers of Vietnam to defend themselves against the armed aggression, repression and tyranny of U.S. imperialism and its running dogs, but we wish to thank our brothers for the splendid examples they are giving us. Our people are being inspired by the effectiveness and the great successes scored by the Vietnamese people in their armed struggle of self-defense and liberation. After almost 200 years of inhuman bondage and shameful dehumanization under the present U.S. Government, our meek and passive people, like our brothers of Vietnam, Cuba, the Congo, Mozambique and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America we are beginning to cast off the imperialist inspired curse of turn-the other cheekism. Yes, on the very mainland of Neo-colonialism our oppressed people are turning the streets of racist and imperialist America into battlegrounds of resistance.”
6. Assata Shakur
Quote: “Cuba is very important in that struggle, because Cuba is not only talking about racism in abstract terms, but connecting it with imperialism, which is the underlying motor of racism today. The underlying reason that racism keeps on being promoted in all of its various forms today. I think anybody who is honestly struggling against racism must struggle against imperialism and vice versa.”
7. Gwen Patton
Quote: *“Samuel Young was murdered because United States law is not being enforced. Vietnamese are murdered because the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy in violation of international law. The United States is no respecter of persons or law when such persons or laws run counter to its needs or desires. We recall the indifference, suspicion and outright hostility with which our reports of violence have been met in the past by government officials. We know that for the most part, elections in this country, in the North as well as the South, are not free. We have seen that the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act have not yet been implemented with full federal power and sincerity.
We question, then, the ability and even the desire of the United States government to guarantee free elections abroad. We maintain that our country’s cry of “preserve freedom in the world” is a hypocritical mask, behind which it squashes liberation movements which are not bound, and refuse to be bound, by the expediencies of United States cold war policies. We are in sympathy with, and support, the men in this country who are unwilling to respond to a military draft which would compel them to contribute their lives to United States aggression in Vietnam in the name of the “freedom” we find so false in this country.”
*As one of the authors of the 1966 “Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: On Vietnam”
8. Kwame Nkrumah
Quote: “Colonialism and its attitudes die hard, like the attitudes of slavery, whose hangover still dominates behaviour in certain parts of the Western hemisphere. Before slavery was practised in the New World, there was no special denigration of Africans. Travellers to this continent described the inhabitants in their records with natural curiosity and examination to be expected of individuals coming from different environments. It was when slave trade and slavery began to develop ghastly proportions that made them the base of that capital accumulation which assisted the rise of Western industrialism, that a new attitude towards Africans emerged. ‘Slavery in the Caribbean has been too narrowly identified with the man of colour. A racial twist has thereby been given to what is basically an economic phenomenon. Slavery was not born of racism, rather racism was the consequence of slavery.’ With this racial twist was invented the myth of colour inferiority. This myth supported the subsequent rape of our continent with its despoliation and continuing exploitation under the advanced forms of colonialism and imperialism.”
9. Elaine Brown
Quote: “Well, the, the Black Panther party was never a nationalist organization. Um, in the sense that we, our purpose was not to build a Black nation. We felt that the oppression of Black people was our primary, more subjective interest. And that interest could best be served by the freedom and the, ah, destruction of oppression for all people. So therefore that would include other people of color, women, and anybody else who was disenfranchised and was oppressed by the system that we felt was the real perpetrator of all of this, ah, harm and ill, which was a system of capitalism in the United States and ultimately of imperialism. So when we recognized early on that the war in Vietnam, ah, had nothing to do with Black people and our oppression, that we were doing no more than being cannon fodder–our first position was not to take a position against the war, but to suggest that Black men not go into the war. And so we promoted, if you look at some of our early papers, you’ll see us promoting Black men saying, “Don’t go to the war.” We would never allow our own Panthers to be drafted. We would send them down to the draft boards in Panther uniforms with Panther papers, and say, yeah, I’m ready to go and of course the draft board would be glad to have them leave as opposed to go to Vietnam. So, generally speaking, we tried to discourage Black people from being a part of the war because we were cannon fodder, and we did not have an enemy in the Vietnamese people.”
10. Paul Robeson
Quote: “I do not hesitate one second to state clearly and unmistakably: I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler”.
11. Muhammad Ali
Quote: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people, or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom, and equality.”
12. Patrice Lumumba
Quote: “This historical conference, which puts us in contact with experienced political figures from all the African countries and from all over the world, reveals one thing to us: despite the boundaries that separate us, despite our ethnic differences, we have the same awareness, the same soul plunged day and night in anguish, the same anxious desire to make this African continent a free and happy continent that has rid itself of unrest and of fear and of any sort of colonialist domination. We are particularly happy to see that this conference has set as its objective the struggle against all the internal and external factors standing in the way of the emancipation of our respective countries and the unification of Africa. Among these factors, the most important are colonialism, imperialism, tribalism, and religious separatism, all of which seriously hinder the flowering of a harmonious and fraternal African society.”
13. Walter Rodney
Quote: “Imperialism is itself a phase of capitalist development in which Western European capitalist countries, the U.S.A., and Japan established political, economic, military and cultural hegemony over other parts of the world which were initially at a lower level and therefore could not resist domination. Imperialism was in effect the extended capitalist system, which for many years embraced the whole world – one part being the exploiters and the other the exploited, one part being dominated and the other acting as overlords, one part making policy and the other being dependent.”
14. James Baldwin
Quote: “The sun did set on the British Empire, and there won’t be any more British gunboats down the Chinese rivers. I am trying to explain that I, speaking now again as a black man, have been described by you for thousands of years. And maybe I loved being described by you. But time passed, and now whether I like it or not, I can not only describe myself but, what is much more horrifying, I can describe YOU! Now this is why in this country which we call the leader of the West, there is such confusion. This panic is the real key, as Mr. Make pointed out, to what we call, in this country, anti-communism. The people who are running around throwing people in jail and ruining reputations and screaming about Communists wouldn’t know one if he fell from the ceiling. And wouldn’t care! What they are concerned about is propping up somehow the doctrine of white supremacy, so that they can seem to have given it up, but really still hold the power.”
15. Kathleen Cleaver
Quote: “There is a document I was told about, I have not actually seen it, but a document in the possession of the State Department that was released somehow. It stated that what the government needed most to prevent, what they were most concerned about, was the formation of close alliances to work together between African American or black revolutionaries, the Arab revolutionaries and people fighting in Asia and Latin America, which is exactly what we were doing. We were working with people in Cuba, people in Mexico. We went to conferences with Vietnamese. When Eldridge left the country and went to North Africa, Algeria, we organized something called the International Section of the BPP, which put us right in the same town with representatives of the MPLA from Angola, ZAPU and ZANU from Zimbabwe, ANC from South Africa, with people who were fighting in Ethiopia, in Canada, the FLQ, in Brazil. So we made that link – completely. We were very clear about the way that the struggle that we were a part of was similar to struggles going on by people of color who were all fighting against the same imperialist. It was anti-imperialist from the beginning, and recognized that we were up against the same enemy.”
16. Huey P. Newton
Quote: “In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is not one fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for inter-national alliances to deal with this problem.”
17. bell hooks
Quote: “In mass culture, imperialist nostalgia takes the form of reenacting and re-ritualizing in different ways the imperialist, colonizing journey as narrative fantasy of power and desire, of seduction by the Other. This longing is rooted in the atavistic belief that the spirit of the ‘primitive’ resides in the bodies of dark Others whose cultures, traditions, and lifestyles may indeed be irrevocably changed by imperialism, colonization, and racist domination. The desire to make contact with those bodies deemed Other, with no apparent will to dominate, assuages the guilt of the past, even takes the form of a deﬁant gesture where one denies accountability and historical connection.”
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