"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Friday, January 27, 2006,8:51 AM
Dark Child of the Fourth World
By Amin Sharif

What do we want? That is always the first and most pertinent question for the oppressed. During those long hot summers of the 1960s, almost every Black person was asking themselves that question. Then the simmering resentment of an entire race was beginning to be translated itself into a “cause”—into a movement. By the middle of the1960s, thousands of young voices were echoing the answer to that question throughout the southland. What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!

By defining what they wanted—African-American youth, then the vanguard and most stout defenders of the African-American community—were able to launch a program of radical activism that led to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. African-American youth were ready to face dangers that many African-American men had previously cowered before in the South.

In the early 1960s, the segregated South was hundreds of times more dangerous than any drug infested urban centers of America today. Any Black man or woman who went against the forces of segregation faced the Ku Klux Klan-an invisible organization of racists whose brutality toward Black people make today’s Bloods and Cripps look like amateurs. And, the Klan was just the public face (mask) of white racism. There were many more thousands of unofficial (maskless) racists throughout Dixie—hell bent on enforcing the idea of white supremacy at any cost.

Despite all this, the Freedom Riders-African—American youth organized by Dr. King and SNCC—went into South armed, not with guns as so many of the youth are today, but with courage. This courage rose from a basic understanding of what it meant to be Black in a white nation. These young people understood that apathy about their future in America was dangerous as a Klansman’s rope—and still is for that matter.

The Freedom Riders rode buses throughout the Southland stopping at cities and towns to desegregate lunch counters and other public facilities. There are compelling black and white images of that time, if you wish to see them. They are most often shown to the public on Dr. King’s birthday. The images show powerful water hoses washing young Black men and women down streets, dogs tearing at their clothes, and redneck policemen beating them down.

Still, in the face of all that brutality, even as these young people were placed in police vans, their voices are never stifled. One could hear them singing as the jail cell door shut behind them about how each and everyone one had “got [their] mind of freedom.” More than the March on Washington, more than King’s eloquent speech of dreams, more than the burning cities of America after King’s death, it is the image of those courageous Black youth that define that time and that moment.

Today, we see youth in France on the rise. They have set a nation ablaze for the same reason that Black youth went to desegregate the American Southland decades ago. Like their Fourth World brothers and sisters in America, the Black and Arab youth of Europe have recognized that if they are apathetic about their future that they too will have none. They are not as prone toward patience with white European racism as the Freedom Riders were with the American version.

They are on a faster learning curve than the children of the American Civil Rights Movement. Yet what is shared by the black youth of the Alabama decades ago and the Arab and African youth of France today is that they have both come to see the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of Western democracy.

They each have presented checks to their respective western societies. They each have had those checks returned to them marked “insufficient funds.” Here, we would like to make an appeal to Europe on the matter of race. If you wish to avoid the amity that exists between the white and African American in the United States today, do not balk at paying the check. Do not procrastinate! Pay up now and the price will be cheap! The dark children of Europe like the Freedom Riders of America will not to be put off.

The old tactic of stalling might have been an acceptable option when the West was dealing with the first generation of emancipated Black slaves or the first generation of African and Arab immigrants. But today things are different. Such tactics have been rendered obsolete by the facts on the ground and your continued pronouncements of the glories of Western democracy.

How can you pay your white European citizens in the currency of freedom and equality and not spend as much as a franc on my freedom and equality, the African and Arab child of the West asks? What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now! How can you spend on wars to defend democracy everywhere else in the world and spend not a single pound to make democracy a reality for me?

Rather than speak to these dark children of Europe in platitudes, it would be better to admit your moral and political bankruptcy and be done with it. Admit that there is and will never be a place for the nigger in America or the Black African or the Muslim Arab in the Europe. We—niggers (Arabs, and Africans)—are willing to admit that this is the present state of affairs, even if you will not. What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!

The rebellion of Fourth World youth in Europe is part and parcel of the rebellion started by Fourth World youth in America decades ago. They each have as their enemy a system of xenophobia and economic exploitation fostered by a so-called Western democracy. Just as the Black child in America became conscious long ago of the fact that George Washington, the father of American civilization, was a white man. So the African and Arab child in Europe is now aware that the fathers of their countries are also white men.

And, if white men are, so to speak, the fathers of all of Western civilization, then the darkness of their skin already makes each dark child an outcast. It is only the investment of the labor of their fathers . . . the very flesh and blood of their fathers that makes them American, French, or Belgium.

The West, of course, will answer that flesh and blood are not sufficient payment for citizenship in the West. You must speak perfect English or French. You must dress as men and women do in the West. And then there is the whole history of Western civilization to consider—a history of a time when there were no noisy, pushy Africans or Arabs among Europeans.

The answer of the dark child is always the same when these things are suggested: Our fathers tried to do all those things and what good did it do them? Could they drink from the same water fountain as the children of George Washington? Or get a decent job or find a place to stay as could the children of de Gaulle’s Grand Design? What do we want? Freedom! Could they even speak the name of the God they worshipped out loud? When do we want it? Now! And, as for your history, the dark child laughs, we hear you boast about it all too much!

Already Europe has started taking up tactics learned from the racist American south. It (France) has begun filling its prisons with Black and Arab youth just as was done with the Freedom Riders. Persecution . . . then prosecution—that is always the way of the oppressor. You will soon find that you may snuff out a fire here and there but the flame will remain. What flame do we speak of? Not the one by which the Molotov cocktail is lit by the Arab child on Parisian streets; you have nothing to fear from that flame.

That is simply the flame of spontaneity. You can always put that flame out with a club or a bullet. The flame of which we speak is the one that your very fathers and grandfathers once held high when the darkness of tyranny spread across your land. We speak of the flame of your own democratic revolution. The flame that burned into your fathers’ hearts the words: Brotherhood! Equality . . . Do you remember that flame? Or has Algeria and Vietnam clouded your memory?

No, we are passed all that, the European replies. These dark vagabond children have nothing to do with the Kasbah or the hut. If what you say is true, why have you banished them to the far borders of your city? Is it because out there you can not hear them shout: Freedom! When do we want it? Now! Do you remember Fanon? Do you remember what he said about these places of exile for the nigger and the Arab?

They are places “starved of bread, of meat, of clothes, of shoes . . . of light.” Yet you claim that the dark children among you have nothing to do with Algeria or Vietnam. In the mind of the dark child, the difference between the native town and the outskirts of Paris is unappreciable.

“Once you came to our country to rape us,” the dark child claims. “Now, we have come to your country to be raped. There is no difference between us and the niggers of America, now. That is why we scream as they once did—We want freedom!”

Let us be reasonable, Europe says. Do you expect us to give up our culture and our history just to appease these others? Even now the dark child looks at Europe and laughs when he hears this. Then he reaches for the gas can, the bottle, and the match. “Do they expect us to give up our history, our culture, our religion, and our very souls just to pick up their trash,” he asks a friend. “Better to rot away in a French prison than to give up what we are.” Be careful, Europe.

It was you who first spoke of your superiority over the native and then you not only lost a war, but your way. Now, you speak of your superiority over the son and the grandchild of the native. Is that Sartre in the corner smiling, clapping, and holding the dark child’s hand when you spout such nonsense? What is it that Jean-Paul is whispering into the child’s ear? Something about Jefferson and Chirac being the same white man who is wont to give up his slaves.

“Yes, they talk a good game,” Sartre says, “but in the end. The devil is the devil.”

The dark child of the Fourth World is most attentive when white men speak of being reasonable. What white men mean when they talk of what is reasonable in these situations is what is reasonable for them. If the white man’s reasonability means that the dark child must wait hat in hand for Europe to embrace him, his sisters and brothers, then we have the beginning of a nasty problem.

“You must have forgotten already what happens when you make dark children wait,” he explains. “Lumumba was a dark child who waited in ambush for your fathers. Mao, Che, Castro, Nkrumah, and Malcolm X—all were dark children. No Europe, your call for reasonableness will never do. The jig is up. You must put up or shut up! When you speak of the Rights of Man, you must let me know now if these words apply to me.”

What we have here, of course, is a case of unintended consequences regarding the racial and political policy of the West. What we mean by this is that it was never the intention or policy of the West to have the African or the Arab hear such slogans as "All men are created equal" or "Liberty, Fraternity," and the like. These words were given by God to white men. For centuries, it was believed that the African and the Arab—who said to possess no God or Logos—was incapable of pondering the complexities of such slogans.

But then, things changed. Like a parrot mimicking its owner, the Black African spoke the words of his master, “Liberty. Fraternity, Equality.” Then the Arab miraculously followed the Black man’s lead. For awhile there was hope that this mimicry could be turned into real social progress for the Black African and the Arab, at least in the eyes of Europe. In the United States, no such hope was held out for their niggers.

The nigger would always remain more ape than human down in Dixie. Those were the heady days for both native and master. “We can teach them to worship our whiteness,” Europe, the master, cried. “If that does not work, we can teach them to fear our power.” On native side, there were more than enough Blacks and Arabs ready to serve whiteness and fear power. So you can see it was the beginning of an equitable arrangement: One man readily giving whiteness and the other readily receiving it.

So it was for a time. In France, Portugal, and Belgium, the policy was to have the African and the Arab brought to Europe and learn to mimic all things European. Then return these human parrots to their native lands. But when the African parrot spoke to Africans and the Arab parrot spoke to Arabs suspicion among the natives grew. There was talk in the village of white Black men possessed by evil spirits and strange Arabs possessed by the jinn.

These human parrots came to be known among the natives as “enemy brothers.” What grew up in the hearts of the black Black man and the true Arab was resistance against the entire arrangement. For what the African and Arab feared most was the power of whiteness to turn them into unnatural beings—zombies and demons and enemy brothers.

When the native African and Arab refuse to become Europe’s parrots, worship whiteness and fear power, fearful words appeared in their mouths: Revolution! Self-determination! Independence! Things had, as they often do between the oppressor and the oppressed, gone strangely wrong.

Do you remember any of this, great Europe? Do you remember the cost in flesh and blood? If you failed with the father what makes you think that you will fare any better with the son or grandson. Do not be fooled by those among you who say that it is possible to make the children dance to music where their fathers’ would not. Can’t you see that your cry for secularism is just another attempt to have white Black men and strange Arabs produce enemy brothers within your midst?

Secularism is what you cry. But worship whiteness and fear power is all that your words convey to the dark children of Europe. You may beat, imprison, and make these children outcasts in your land. But, in the end, their mouths will be filled with words as fearful as those uttered by their fathers at Dien Bien Phu and Algiers: Democracy! Equality! Freedom! When do we want it? Now!

Here is the crux of the matter. If the West was what it claimed to be, it would never have gotten itself into this situation. For, if the greatness of Western democracy has to be defended with clubs, bullets, police dogs and other such weapons against the dark children of the world, then all that it has already said about itself is nothing more than “false advertisement.”

What the dark children of America call “hype.” It is not enough in the post-modern age to talk of democratic rights for white men or the rich and the powerful in Europe or America. The democratic slogans of the West must now be translated into rights for all persons who live and work on her soil. If the West fails to recognize this responsibility then those who are denied their democratic rights have a revolutionary responsibility to acquire them through any and every means.

We know that the West will say that this is not how things are done in a democracy. There is the rule of law, etc. To this, we answer that the King of England spoke of the rule of law to the colonies. The King of France spoke of the rule of law to the peasant. The rule of law then was based upon the false divinity of the king. Today, the rule of law in regard to the Black African and the Arab in Europe is based upon the false divinity of “whiteness.”

It is precisely the latter rule of law that the Black African, the Arab, and the Asian—the entire Fourth World oppressed in the West—wishes to dispense with today. Whenever the Rights of Men are abridged or abrogated, the rule of law is evoked by the ruling class or the oppressor. When Dred Scott, a runaway slave in America, appealed to the very system that was charged with protecting the rule of law, he was told that the Black man has no rights that white men need respect.

Indeed, there has never been a single significant right taken from the oppressor by the oppressed by rule of law! The rule of law is fashioned by men and it is men who make it an equalitarian tool or a ruse for oppression.

If all that has been stated above is the crux of the matter, the only question that remains to be answered is what will the West do about Fourth World people within its midst. In the United States which has had the longest experience with dealing with African Americans, the first Fourth World people of the Western Hemisphere, the prospects for the resolution of the problem of race are grim.

America is in the grip of a wave of conservatism that is, if not covertly racist, at least overtly indifferent to all matters of race. What is worst is that the forces of opposition to American conservatism—the Democratic Party and other such liberals, both Black and white—have become spineless imitations of the very forces that would render the problem of racism invisible within America. Until Hurricane Katrina, these combined forces gave the world no reason to think that, other than in the vaguest of terms, American racism was nothing more than a vestige of the past.

But Katrina exposed America’s ugly under belly—those people who live “beneath the underdog” in the most economically advanced sector of the West—and the world was shocked. The fault line between whiteness, wealth, and power and blackness, poverty, and powerlessness was fully exposed. Once again, questions of race and poverty became credible issues for discussion in the political arena—at least for the moment.

Europe has a long standing history of racism that it would also like to render invisible. Anti-Semitism is but another form of racism. The Jews of Europe can recount their own history of oppression better than anyone else. But, even before Hitler spoke of a “final solution, there were a thousand pogroms carried out all over Europe against them. The world has not forgotten from where the term “wandering Jew” originated. When Europe was not demonizing the Jew, it was speaking of the “enemy” Moor from whose hands the Holy Land must be liberated. Shortly, after the Muslims were purged from Europe, there began the conquest of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Fanon points out that nearly “four-fifths” of the dark people of the world were under some form of colonialism during Europe’s imperialist period.

We can easily see that the legacy of racism in the West is both deep and abiding. Yet the West has failed to successfully face and resolve its racist tendencies. This is not to say that it has not attempted to wrestle with these problems. In America, Slavery, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movements were all periods when she attempted to tackle her greatest internal problem in the United States. But America grew weary of the race problem. She will undoubtedly pay for her neglect of the race issue sooner or later. America should not be fooled by the current lack of activism among the African American. The racial front has been quiet before and then suddenly America has been rocked by some form of Black militancy.

Now, in France, the internal problem of race and economic oppression has made itself evident in form of urban riots. Already she is responding with a knee jerk reaction to the problem. France has already made the mistake of demonizing the rioters—Black and Arab. They are “thugs” on our streets the French Minister of Interior claims. They are “looters” on our streets the American media says of the Black and poor victims of New Orleans.

Has racism no other strategy at its disposal? The cry of barbarians at the gate is always thrown up in these situations as fodder for the white masses. It is only when the fodder of prejudice has been thoroughly digested, passed through the intestines, and out through their bowels that the white masses are made ready for the truth. It is only then that France or America is ready to admit that it has a “race problem.”

But, the Black American, the Afro-European, and the Arab-European know this. “What do you intend to do about it?” is what they want to know. There is always a rush of wind and then silence when this question is asked in Washington or Paris. For the oppressed of the Fourth World, the rushing wind is no more than the collective passing of gas from the white masses and the silence is their complicity with institutional racism.

In the end, it may not matter what the West intends to do about the problem of Fourth World people within her midst. It may be that the resolution of this internal problem is wholly in the hands of Fourth World people in the West—just as the resolution of the external problem of colonialism rested solely in the hands of Third World people.

Still, whenever the oppressed confront their oppressor, there exists for some reason a psychological necessity to lay their compliant at their feet—to give fair warning as Eldridge Cleaver proclaimed of the shit storm on the horizon. That is all that the riots in France signify at this time. “Do something about our problems,” that is always the first cry of the oppressed masses to the oppressor.

But almost always their appeals go unheard and a period of intense activism follows. It is then that the complaints are converted in to shouts for action. “What do we want! Freedom! When do we want it! Now! All this, history informs us, is prelude to revolutionary action. Perhaps that is what is needed in the West—revolutionary action to shake it to its foundations.
posted by R J Noriega
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