An Era of No Good Options


Right now, for me, it’s this question:

From what source do we derive our power?

*   *   *   *   *

As a Black and Jewish (European) mixie, two genocides mark my recent ancestry. One of them is relatively uncontested. Holocaust deniers exist, sure, but it would be difficult for most Americans to look at my Opa’s identification papers from the 1930’s, see Dachau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald written in old-timey script, and still insist that my relatives were not systematically starved, gassed, hanged, and burned in ovens, with the stated intention of ridding the world of Jews.

The approach to the question of Black genocide in the United States, though, is different. Systematic anti-Black state violence is more commonly labeled an atrocity, a violation of human or civil rights, or a category of racist oppression.

The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

“In whole or in part.” This has been the subject of debate and disagreement, even among those who consider themselves experts.

“The part must be a substantial part of [the targeted] group,” some say. “The aim of the Genocide Convention is to prevent the intentional destruction of entire human groups, and the part targeted must be significant enough to have an impact on the group as a whole.”

The determination of when the targeted part is substantial enough to meet this requirement may involve a number of considerations. The numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial…

The historical examples of genocide also suggest that the area of the perpetrators’ activity and control, as well as the possible extent of their reach, should be considered. … The intent to destroy formed by a perpetrator of genocide will always be limited by the opportunity presented to him. While this factor alone will not indicate whether the targeted group is substantial, it can—in combination with other factors—inform the analysis.

When Black members of the Civil Rights Congress brought a paper to the United Nations in December 1951, charging the United States with genocide, they were accused by the U.S. government of exaggerating racial discord in order to advance the cause of communism.

But you can judge for yourself.

Has a “substantial part” of Black people in the United States, historically and in modern times, been targeted and killed on the basis of race?

Has the area of the perpetrators’ activity and control been proximate to the area where Black people live?

Have the millions of African and Black people murdered on the basis of race, during the transatlantic slave trade and its ongoing aftermath, been “emblematic of the overall group” and “essential to its survival?”

Or does this mass murder not qualify as genocide because Africans kidnapped and brought to these lands were intended to be used rather than eradicated? Because white colonizers have always relied on Black lives to underwrite their economies, both in Western Europe and in the “New World?”

Where does genocide figure into the master-slave dialectic? How does it fit into class warfare, the “war” of which implies mass killing, yet the “class” of which requires subjugated strata alive enough to labor, produce, and serve?

Is it a non-genocide because there is no single Black group to kill off? Because there is no such thing as a monolith in the African Diaspora? Or because we lack unity, with parts of the Black group menacing and disavowing other parts?

Why do I feel like I’m trapped in an argument about the difference between rape and “forcible rape?”

*   *   *   *   *

Does it really matter what we call it?

Does a designation of genocide or non-genocide really affect our approach to halting the machines of Black death?

And again, in halting these machines, from what source do we derive our power?

*   *   *   *   *

The Trump-vs-Hillary debates are painful and depressing to witness, in part because they recall, for me, this weird double standard around genocides.

Trump’s bigotry, like the genocide of Jews, is widely recognized and broadly denounced. He condones torture. He wants to lock up Muslims. He wants to build a wall.

Hillary’s racism, meanwhile, simmers in ambiguity. Normalized. And anti-Blackness is key to its normalization. While Trump promises torture, Hillary facilitates it. Domestically, she has helped orchestrate mass incarceration: the ongoing caging and torture of U.S. citizens and non-citizens, including by means of solitary confinement and malnourishment. Hillary accomplished this on the basis of anti-Black fearmongering. “Superpredators.” She supports the death penalty, even though (or because) it disproportionately kills Black people — Black people whose threats to society are considered more dangerous, whose lives are considered less redeemable.

Still, progressives and Leftists focus on one predator: Trump. Trump, who represents the “forcible rape,” the unequivocal genocide.

*   *   *   *   *

If more of us understood ourselves to be living through — today, this minute — the prolonged, slow, but no less legitimate genocide of Black people in the U.S., would we act differently than we do right now? Would we approach the question of Black freedom with more fervor?

And if so, what would we do?

From what source do we derive our power?

I’ll be honest: I’m tired of dropping banners. I’m tired of a select segment of us chaining ourselves to shit in protest, just to be outwaited by the police. (#BayAreaProblems.) I’m tired of spending so much energy to oust a couple of politicians, with no real plans for replacements, and no inspiring, ongoing People’s platforms to sustain us.

I know it sounds bitter and cranky. But I’m grateful, too, that people are trying. I believe we’ll find a way.

Even in this era of no good options.

*   *   *   *   *

Influenced by / Food for thought:

1. “New Social Contradictions” (Marxism Through The Back Door): An Interview with Cedric Johnson

2. “My Four Months As A Private Prison Guard” by Shane Bauer for Mother Jones

3. 2013 Rounding Up of Native people in Wolf Point, Montana

4. FBI Redefinition of Rape in 2013, though the old definition is still on the web site as of this writing.

One thought on “An Era of No Good Options

  1. Kristin July 30, 2016 / 9:16 am

    Thank you for this post. So many of my activist friends are in a similar place: not knowing what the right path is forward, but hoping that we will find a way. I’ve been reflecting back on twenty years of activism and organizing, feeling like so much has gone right but so much wrong, and feeling like the pieces of the puzzle are all there, if only we can put it together. Here’s to finding a way.

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