04 December 2011

Decolonizing the Occupations

In line with our previous report on "Decolonize Wall Street," from an American Indian perspective, we present the following commentary, from an African-American perspective:

White privilege, the legacy of 500 years of European military and economic suppression of the rest of the planet, is manifest even in movements that purport to be transformational, like Occupy Wall Street. Beneath the politics of economic reordering lie notions that the “new” and overwhelmingly white movement somehow supersedes the centuries-old aspirations of Europe’s primary victims.
Decolonizing Our Occupations A Black Agenda Radio commentary by editor and columnist Jared Ball 
“Radical voices from the world’s majority are simply not welcomed even in spaces that each previously occupied.” 
In two different settings and for two different reasons both the All Peoples Revolutionary Front and The Cornel West Theory made similar statements in response to this international moment of occupations. The APRF, from their perspective in San Diego and CWT from theirs, this week in Amsterdam, both spoke to still powerful blind spots which often prevent real coalition building. In each instance Black and Brown voices pierced a few White bubbles to at least momentarily address an important reality – the experiences and history of the world’s majority is often suppressed beneath the organized whims of a much smaller and Whiter minority. 

As their show this week in Amsterdam was wrapping up Cornel West Theory front man Tim Hicks took a minute to vibe directly with the crowd. He wanted an audience new to his band’s music to know just how hard it is for such an unorthodox hip-hop group to be heard. Their beats are dope concoctions of traditional Black-laced samples and bass lines with White drumming and guitar riffs. Their fiercesome foursome of Black female and male lead vocalists deliver powerfully out-of-the-ordinary political lyrics whose content speaks as often and more easily to Frantz Fanon or Assata Shakur than the band’s actual namesake. And all of this creates a delightfully complicated problem for genre-based thinkers and corporate playlist arrangers. So Hicks took to the mic and thanked the crowd at the Live On The Low weekly hip-hop spotlight at the Winston Hotel and then let them know that despite endorsements from leading intellectuals like Cornel West, rap legends like Chuck D, and world renown soul sisters like Erykah Badu, groups like his still have to struggle to reach an audience. 
“They speak to longer struggles still incomplete that cannot be forgotten or marginalized by these more recent and mostly White uprisings.” 
And from San Diego All Peoples Revolutionary Front representatives had taken to the mic more than a week ago to remind the current and mostly White occupiers that theirs is late and not necessarily conscious of its own complicity in the previous occupation of the world’s majority. "Our minds have been occupied by colonialism," said one speaker. And the group’s previously published open letter to the occupation calls attention to the very “colonizing language” of these occupations, with calls like “taking back our country,” with which many First Nations people simply cannot unify. Other speakers reminded of the imperial process that decimated existing communities, nations, identities and created new ones in permanent and hostile distinction from the West, from the White. Their calls for self-determination and an appropriate concept of "occupation" differ importantly from but remain in basic solidarity with those of the mainstream occupations. But they speak to longer struggles still incomplete that cannot be forgotten or marginalized by these more recent and mostly White uprisings. The differences are important and, as Greg Tate wrote recently, speak to the fact that this country remains more segregated by race than class. 

And what each speak to in their own space and way is that radical voices from the world’s majority are simply not welcomed even in spaces that each previously occupied. White corporate dominance over hip-hop has largely wiped out space for group’s like the Cornel West Theory, just as now White liberal dominance over social unrest continues to limit space for other world majority radical voices from being heard. And if you continue to doubt that this latter point is an issue, just look at last week’s aired panel from The Nation magazine in all its Whiteness and ask if those in the occupy movement who are worried about corporate co-optation need to look more carefully at the liberal takeover currently being carried out. 

We all have indeed been occupied by colonialism and hip-hop and the occupation movement are no different. I am glad though that in their own ways each occupation suffered these small interventions. May many more soon come. 

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. 

On the web visit us at BlackAgendaReport.com

Dr. Jared A. Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. He is also the author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto (AK Press, 2011)
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