Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black People, and How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended

Once Again: The Form Changed But Oppression Remains

It was not until World War 2--nearly 100 years after the Civil War--that a basic change began to be brought about in the situation of Black people in the U.S. Millions of Blacks went from a rural life to an urban setting. They went from being peasants (tied to the land as sharecroppers and poor farm owners) to being mainly proletarians--not tied to any one place or any one job but forced to live by selling their labor power (their ability to work) to the capitalists, or going unemployed if the capitalists could not get enough gold by working these proletarians.

Actually, the mass migration of Black people off the southern plantations to the cities of the North (and the South) began during World War 1. At that time there was a big demand for workers in the defense plants and other factories, and the war cut off the huge flow of immigrants from Europe who had come to America for years before that war. In short, the capitalists needed a lot of workers and there weren't enough white workers to fill the need, so some Black people were allowed in--on the bottom floor.

But not long after World War 1 the great economic depression of the 1930s forced a slowdown of the migration of Black people to the cities--with massive unemployment everywhere the cities no longer seemed to offer hope of a better life. Yet when World War 2 broke out at the end of the 1930s and as production and employment soared through this war, masses of Black people once again began moving to the cities, especially in the North--away from the plantations, open segregation, and terror of the South.

The biggest change came in the years after World War 2. Southern agriculture was drastically changed. Tractors were brought in on a large scale, and mechanized methods of planting and picking were also introduced in a big way. Machines were replacing human labor and patterns of land ownership were being changed. Millions of Black people were uprooted from the land and pushed toward the cities by the "invisible hand" of capitalism and its supreme commandment: profit, and more profit. Even for those Black people who wanted to stay--who maybe owned their own land and were trying to make a go at farming it--the great majority were forced to give it up anyway. Before, the interests of the capitalists dictated that Black people be forced and terrorized to remain on the southern plantations. Now, these same capitalist interests dictated that Black people leave the southern farmlands.

On the basis of these economic changes, certain political and social changes had to be brought about also. Segregation was brought under fire. Battles were waged, and barriers were knocked down. Black people could no longer be legally denied the right to vote or to eat in the same restaurants or even use the same bathrooms and drinking fountains as white people. Lynchings of Black people, which had been a common thing in the plantation South, became much more rare, though they did not stop completely.

The '60s Upheavals and Changes Since Then

These were among the gains of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. But, first of all, these gains were the result of great struggle and sacrifice--they were won--they were not a "gift" from the "high and mighty." And more, what the capitalists up top did give in to--the changes that they did come across with--were those changes that were most in line with their own interests and needs, or that posed the least threat to their whole system.

They were faced with a massive, militant struggle. They were faced with the danger that this struggle would continue to explode all out of control, especially as the Civil Rights movement gave way to a revolutionary Black Liberation movement in the late 1960s. And they were faced with the fact that openly treating Black people in the U.S. as "second-class citizens" cut against the game they were running in the Third World.

In Africa, Asia, and elsewhere in the Third World, people were rising up against colonialism, and the rulers of the U.S. were fronting as "champions of freedom and democracy," trying to sucker the struggling peoples of the Third World into accepting domination by U.S. imperialism in a new kind of colonialism. But this scheme was given a crushing blow by the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people, who went up against the tremendous firepower of the mighty USA and drove it out, wounded and weakened.

This was happening at the same time that in the U.S. itself the Black Panther Party, drawing inspiration from Third World liberation struggles, stalked onto the scene and called out the whole system. The Panthers and revolution captured the imagination of Black people--especially the new generation of Black youth--and of others as well. America was gripped by upheaval.

The rulers of America showed their gangster soul in dealing with rebellion and revolution. The National Guard and regular Army troops were called out to put down uprisings in the ghettos, and they shot down many Black people. The police and government agents murdered more than twenty Black Panthers. Hundreds of Panthers and other revolutionaries were jailed. But at the same time the government and the media built up un-revolutionary so-called "leaders" and hyped schemes of "making it" within the system, declaring to the world that the USA was now living up to its promise of "liberty and justice for all."

One result of all this was that some doors were opened, at least part way, and more Black people were allowed to "make it" to "middle class" status. In fact, this "Black middle class" was built up as a kind of "buffer"--a group that should feel they have some kind of a stake in the system and that should act to keep the masses of Black people from rising up and tearing up the whole country. Along with this a lot more Black "fronters" for the system were brought out front: suddenly there were a lot more "Black faces in high places." The plan has been to create "role models"--people who are supposed to prove that you can "be all you can be" by going along with the program. But what is the real deal with all this?

First, even the position of the "Black middle class" is not a secure one and they are still subjected to discrimination and racist degradation. By the start of the 1980s about 20 percent of Black families (1 out of 5) earned $25,000 or more a year, but this was still well behind whites: over 35 percent of white families (more than 1 out of 3) earned this much. And even those Black people who "make it" into higher-paying jobs are still concentrated in the lowest rungs of those jobs and still treated like "second-class citizens."

Here is a story that gives a glimpse of what goes on. Recently it was found out that at Chicago's O'Hare Airport supervising teachers for air traffic controllers "deliberately created unsafe flight patterns when Blacks were at the control panels to mar their training records" to keep them from getting a job as an air controller! Among the 100 air controllers there, one is Black (and only three are women) and the lone Black "repeatedly has been passed over for promotion." (From an October 31, 1988 Jet magazine article based on a Congressional report.)

This is not an "isolated incident." It is the kind of thing that goes on all the time. It is something all too familiar to Black people--and to anyone else who has looked at all honestly into the situation. And it happens on every level. Segregation in housing and discrimination by real estate agencies, banks, insurance companies, company management. . . police harassment and brutality. . .racist insults and degrading treatment. . .and on and on--this is what this society subjects Black people to, even those Black people who have "made it" to one degree or another.

Since the 1960s, Blacks have also made gains in education, specifically in the number of years of school they finish--with many more finishing high school and many more going on to college. But in recent years programs that opened up higher education to Black people, at least a little bit, are being cut back. And here is a cold fact that makes clear where things are really at: the average income of a Black family headed by a college graduate is less than the average income of a white family headed by someone who has only graduated from high school.

The fact is that, despite a certain buildup of the "Black middle class"--and despite the great publicity given to the very tiny handful of Blacks who have become millionaires, or whatever--there is no significant section of Black people "making it big time" in the world of capitalism. Black businesses, with few exceptions, are very small-scale. There are very few, if any, Black companies among the list of big money-making corporations, and there are very few Black executives among the major white-owned firms.

There remains a big gap between whites and Blacks in the "middle class." Looking at "middle class" households with incomes between $24,000 and $48,000 a year, the "net worth" (the combined savings and property) of white households is more then 3 times that of Black households in this income category. For the white and Black populations taken as a whole, the difference is gigantic: the average "net worth" of white households comes out to about $40,000 for each household, while for Blacks the average is just over $3,000 for each household--the white average is more than 10 times greater!

This is not to say that all white people are wealthy. In fact, the majority of poor people in the U.S. are white. But the percentage of Blacks who are poor is much higher. And while there is a sizable number of middle class white people who are more or less "economically secure," there is only a small minority of Black people in that category.

Since the 1960s, during the period when there has been some opening for the growth of the "Black middle class," limited as it is, the situation of the masses of Black people has gotten even more terrible. As just one measure of this, in 1981 over half of the Black families in the U.S. earned less than $15,000 a year. In 1982, 35.6 percent (more than 1 out of 3) Black people lived below the "official" poverty line. This is a higher rate of poverty than in the 1970s--in fact it is higher than at any time since the beginning of the 1960s. In the inner cities unemployment is on the same level, or even higher, than it was in the country during the devastating 1930s economic depression.

For Black youth in the inner cities it is even worse. The number of kids in the inner city born in poverty is rising sharply, the unemployment rate for inner-city teenagers is sky-high, and the government admits that half of these youth may never see what it calls a "legitimate job." As the rap tune says, "I went looking for a job every day last week, but it turned into a crazy game of hide and seek. Because every place I looked it seemed a job wasn't there. I might as well apply for food stamps or welfare." But of course government programs like food stamps and welfare are under attack from the highest levels of government and are being cut down and turned even more into programs of control and repression.

Is it any wonder--does anybody really not understand--why in a situation like this, crime in the inner cities is at an all-time high?! What answer can the powers-that-be give to a 16-year-old member of the Crips gang in Los Angeles who said: "Gangs are going to never die out. You all going to get us jobs?" No, the government has no answer. No answer but to blame Black people themselves once again for the miserable situation the system has put them in and is working to keep them in. No answer but bringing down the hammer--kicking down doors, ramming down homes, shooting down youths, trampling down rights.

What else could you expect from a system that has never done anything but oppress Black people in one form or another? A system that has always found it profitable to carry out this oppression. A system that has white supremacy and racism built into it, in its foundation and on every level. A system that could not do away with this white supremacy and racism. For to do away with this oppression means to tear this whole system apart and throw it on the garbage dump. Unless you are ready to do that--unless you are working for a revolution that will bring down this system and bring about a whole different world--you have no answer to that 16-year-old youth and the millions like him.

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