Kwame Ture said, “In life, everything is the same and, at the same time, not the same.” He continued by saying that “this may sound confusing if one doesn’t properly understand life’s contradictions.” For example, (as Kwame Ture noted) all of us are the same, because we’re human beings. But some of us are men, and some of us are women [and, we may add today: some are nonbinary genders]. “While we are the same, we are not the same.” Using another example, Kwame Ture said, “While every human being in the world has fingerprints, every fingerprint is different.”
Anyone who wants to learn about life and revolutionary theory and many other interesting matters can learn a great deal from Kwame Ture, but– at the same time– it’s important to recognize that he was an African speaking to Africans as an organizer in the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). This means, while Pan-African socialist theories and perspectives are generally applicable to the life of every person who wants to learn about these things, they are also unique to the African liberation struggle, which is a global struggle shared only by Africans.
In order to illustrate this contradiction we could use the example of a person who tosses a rock up into the air. Any person who does this can expect the rock to come back down, on account of the objective laws of gravity, which apply to any person any place in the world– no matter the gender, or “race,” of the one who tossed the rock up into the air. But what we can also recognize about the person in question is that they are part of a specific people with a specific history and a specific culture. They may be wealthy or poor. They may be middle-class. Yet their struggle to survive, as well as develop and grow as an individual, is related to some identity which has a past, and which is connected to a certain territory with that past.
This act of tossing a rock up into the air does not occur in a vacuum, detached from the space around it. Furthermore, such an act requires a subject. But this individual subject is also not isolated from the conditions or the people inside these conditions who gave them life and allowed them to grow. Each action, thought, and feeling experienced by the person in question– no matter how unique they believe they may be as an individual– is the product of a specific history and a specific people who are connected to a specific area of land.
Now we can talk about white people in the United States. We’re “white” because we came from Europe in order to settle on these territories outside Europe: to occupy Indigenous lands. We can call ourselves “American” all we want, but that’s our history: genocide and colonization. We can even go to Ancestry.com and find out that we are some percentage of Indigenous, and some percentage of African and yet another percentage of European– and also learn the specific area that our “ancestors” came from in North America, Africa and Europe. A Black “American” could go to Ancestry.com and do the same thing, and also find that they are “part” Indigenous, or “part” European, or have connections to areas of Asia or some other place outside Africa. And, at the end of the day, we would all still be humans, and still inhabit the same world, and our DNA would still be 99.6% the same.
Yet white people in the United States and Black people in the United States– Africans in “America”– are, at the same time, not the same. Why? Well, the white supremacists will tell you it’s on account of their belief that whites are superior and all other “races” are inferior. While this claim is not only ridiculous but is extremely dangerous, the idea of white supremacy is not limited to a small percentage of the white population in the United States– or, for that matter, worldwide– who belong to the KKK and are listed by the SPLC as a “hate group.” On the material level, this white supremacist behavior encompasses nearly all white people, regardless of our individual attitudes toward Black people and “other minorities.” If we go back to the image of the person tossing a rock up into the air, we may not know the thoughts that are in their head, or the feelings that are in their heart. We just recognize that a person– a subject– has tossed a rock up into the air, and we know that the rock must come back down, on account of the laws of gravity.
But if all humans are the same– and, specifically, our DNA is 99.6% identical– then why is it that the objective laws of nature have led to conditions in “America” where the median wealth of Black “Americans” will fall to zero by 2053, and the median wealth for Latinx “Americans” will fall to zero approximately two decades after that? If all people are the same– we’re all human– then how is it then that, just three years from now, whites in the United States “are projected to own 86 times more wealth than [B]lack households, and 68 times more wealth” than the Latinx population?
If you take the same rock and toss it into the air in the same part of the world (“America”), and you’re doing this as a European, or an African, or an Indigenous or Latinx person, then the objective laws of nature will tell you that it will fall at the same rate. Yet, under the system of capitalism, its laws do not apply the same to every person, regardless of their “race”– and this is because the laws of “America” and the “Western world” are based on the inhumane, unnatural belief in white supremacy, a belief which is limited to just a small percentage of the white population, but is perpetuated by an entire political identity, or all those who belong to the capitalist category of “whiteness.”
By 2044, whites will be a “racial” minority in the United States. Yet whites are projected to control the overwhelming majority of this nation’s wealth. If you listen to the white supremacists, including the racist President, you may be led to believe that “America” is being taken over by Mexican “rapists,” Black “thugs,” Muslim “terrorists” and other assorted villains– and that “America” needs to be made “great again.” And it’s no accident that Trump and his white supremacist supporters are trying to place the focus on an “American” identity whose default is whiteness. Where they are confused– or where they’re trying to confuse you– is by arguing that a white minority in the United States won’t enjoy the same benefits as when we were the majority. In fact, we’ll enjoy more benefits. Meanwhile, the typical reaction on “the left” to this white supremacist violence is to argue that Black people are “Americans” too, and so are Muslims of color (many of whom are Black as well), and so are Latinxs and Indigenous peoples. “We’re all just Americans”– right?
Not so fast. Although it’s hard to use the word “fast” when we’re talking about a process that has been going for the last five hundred years are so, ever since Europe began its attack on Africa, the “Americas” and, eventually, the rest of the world. If we take in the entire scope or range of this history of European imperialism, and consider all the territories involved, we might hope that, after so many centuries, there would be greater equality among the so-called races. And yet, we could ask these questions: why is it, when Africans have lived on this territory longer than most whites (most of us having not descended from the original colonial population who formed the United States) that even the most basic human rights of “Black Americans” aren’t recognized or enforced? Why is the wealth gap between the “races” actually increasing? Why did “America” just elect a blatantly racist President? Why is it that, after “America” elected the “first” Black President, so many whites believed he still wasn’t an “American”? Why is it that, when whites borrow (or steal) so much Black culture in the United States– as the basis for our favorite music, language, clothing, and so forth– we continue to treat Black people with such hatred, even whites of younger generations?
It’s 2017, and Black people in the United States– whatever they may believe about themselves, or want to call themselves– are still treated like foreigners, like the despised Other, by the white population. And, even if we don’t feel this way, whites and Black people/Africans, in spite of the fact we are all human beings living under the same power of the same economic system, nevertheless, enjoy extremely different levels of material benefits from capitalism. While 99% of the population is exploited by the capitalist system, it’s still the case that the same rock, having been tossed up in the air, seems to be coming down at different rates for whites in the U.S. than for Black people (Africans). Why?
You may call yourself an “American,” or anything else you like, but the historical reality is that Europeans (whites) and Africans/Black people in the United States have totally different identities because we have totally different histories. The space we are sharing on Indigenous lands is the same– while still largely segregated– and the objective laws of nature within our shared space are still the same (what goes up must come down). And we are all people. We’re all the same because– as Kwame Ture said– we’re human beings. Yet, after hundreds of years on this shared space, Europeans and Africans, as well as Indigenous peoples and the global majority (“people of color”), are not the same.
The job of the enemy– capitalism– is to confuse you, not only about the economic and political oppression around you, but also to confuse you in your thought processes regarding how to deal with such an oppressive history (to echo again the words of Kwame Ture). If we look at the way Africans in America are organizing their people to be free (which can only come about as soon as a people have gained power), we can see that they are not confused about who they are: they are Africans. However, whites are confused about who we are, and what we believe Africans to be as well, because capitalism has successfully misled us about who we are.
In order for this system of imperialist exploitation to function, it needs the loyalty of Europeans. In fact, we don’t even identify as “Europeans” at this point. We say we are “Americans.” We identify with the enemy of humanity: a backward system that requires the few to grow wealthier and wealthier at the expense of the many. Capitalism is a global arrangement of power where the resources, labor, land, and culture of the world go in one direction, toward the European population, who can then enjoy these material benefits at unequal levels. But, for us to tolerate our own exploitation, and to support the systemic oppression and genocidal violence against the majority of the global population, Europeans must now identify with each imperialist nation-state, and (in this occupied territory) the United States, and its “American” flag. Now we are “Americans.” And then we argue that Africans (Black people) must bow down to this flag, or stand up for it, and give their loyalty to “America” too, because they are also “Americans”– and should be grateful for all these “freedoms.” The problem is, when capitalism is going out and robbing the world, and is destroying communities, this system and this imperialist nation-state– and its racist President– don’t treat Africans like “Americans.” The entire capitalist system of power– and not just Donald Trump or his white supremacist friends– treats Africans the way “America” has always treated anyone it doesn’t identify as “white”: like colonized subjects, as Europeans continue to engage in an imperialist war against peoples and lands outside Europe.
So, because we are confused about who we are, whites in “America” try to confuse Africans and Indigenous communities, and all colonized peoples, about who they are. Either way, they will end up with zero wealth in less than fifty years, even as whites will no longer be the majority (which Europeans have never been on a global scale).
As these contradictions in “American” society are exposed to a greater and greater extent, whites– no longer the majority– will be required to defend more and more aggressively the basis for our material inequity (in a country that promotes the ideals of equality and democracy). And thus we will have to turn to the ideological basis of the “American” identity– which is white supremacy– or risk giving up our superior comforts and superior security as part of the white colonizing identity.
Since all people are the same, and since “America” promotes equality and democracy, why is it that the white minority is projected to gain an even larger share of capitalism’s wealth in the coming decades, even as many of us will likely experience more exploitation and discrimination by a system built for our benefit? At some point, whites may be forced to wake up, and face the reality of this situation which we all share, as we discover that “America”– on account of its fundamental contradictions– is indefensible.
Rather than reacting to the racist reality of “America” and the white identity in a manner which is defensive– including reactions of guilt and anger– what can we do to address our own history as colonizers? How can we overcome our confusion about who we are the way Pan-African organizers have moved against the same capitalist forces which seek to confuse Africans? Europeans can do this by following the same scientific methods as African revolutionaries, except– at the same time– a very different method, because it would have to match our own history and identity.
The theories for African liberation– while they are universally socialist and feminist– are not applicable to white people or Europeans, because Pan-African socialism and Black feminism (or intersectional feminism) do not reflect our culture and our political identity, an identity which is based on our history as a people. And part of the difficulty for Europeans in the United States (whites) who wish to be progressive or revolutionary is that, historically, we have not identified with anything other than the “American” identity.
White colonizers are so thoroughly confused about who we are that we identify with the enemy of human progress: “America.” And then we turn to Africans and “people of color” and tell them to show us what humanity means– we say, teach us (without pay) what it means to be a decent human being, even as we are benefiting from the capitalist theft of their land, resources, labor, culture and lives.
But you can’t teach or show Europeans how to be decent human beings, although we are people just like everyone else … at least, not while we still benefit from colonial genocide against Africans and “people of color” (the global majority). We may believe we understand progressive politics and revolutionary theories, but the “house” that we are constructing out of these ideas has a foundation that is rotten. If we still identify as “Americans,” then the very basis of our identity will be the ideology of capitalism and white supremacy (which are inseparable). And so, no matter how hard we struggle to “smash the patriarchy” or to “dismantle white supremacy,” whites who engage in this revolutionary process as “Americans” will still lack any positive basis for our struggle.
Many white people on the “left” call ourselves “allies,” and carry signs that say “Black Lives Matter,” and contribute to anti-racist organizations, and study political theory– and that’s all well and good. But deep down it seems that we still believe this isn’t our fight, that our own lives– and the basis for our own wealth and power– don’t depend on the total transformation of systems: on revolution. And why should we believe otherwise when the actual basis for who we are, and what we want (our class interests), is the “American” identity and the interests of racist, imperialist capitalism?
Even as socialists, whites tend to uphold the white identity– often as “Americans”– and also the interests of capitalist empire, in relation to the rest of the people on the planet. And this is because we are completely detached– at the level of our class or political (un)consciousness– from any history that is not part of the white supremacist, bourgeois “American” identity, and its history.
How do we overcome this obstacle to revolutionary consciousness? Black people or Africans in “America” have looked to Africa, and have organized around their positive identity of Africa and Blackness, based on their culture and history (as opposed to the bourgeois and colonialist belief that the history of Black people began with slavery). But whites in “America” really cannot look to Europe as a source for a positive basis to our identity, because even the European identity is, in many ways, a product of capitalism and imperialism. In fact, this is why you see white supremacists– in Europe and in the United States– focused on the European identity: it’s because “Europe” upholds many of the same values as “America,” or any other white nationalist culture and history.
The struggle for European colonizers who wish to be progressive is to transcend these negative identities– these reactions to our violent past, and the violent present which grew out of that past– yet create an identity that is not disconnected from our history and culture. Basically (very basically), Europe and whiteness are inseparable from systemic violence: imperialism and genocidal erasure, including the “Christian” religion in its imperialist context. White culture is violence. Even the act of attaching Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latinx creations to our isolated selves is part of this cultural violence which has become who we are, and is what we want. The basic drive of the European identity is to acquire, and then to acquire more, through unequal power.
Therefore, in order to transcend these cultural and historical aspects of the European (and then white) identity, it seems that we have to struggle even harder to overcome our reactionary behavior. This violence is so deeply ingrained into who we are that Europeans barely recognize it, much less move against it. And, the sad thing is, we often treat people who have developed a higher sense of who they are– their culture, their community– as if they are at our level of development, and as if being the “first” white anything is such an outstanding accomplishment, or being in one of our spaces (which we probably stole) is the ultimate measure of success. Meanwhile, capitalism is right there to promote this white supremacist behavior, by telling people to chase money, to buy their way into a higher level of humanity, and to make the white standard of goodness or beauty their main goal. And then they may believe (like us) that just being able to enjoy a higher level of wealth is enough to escape capitalist exploitation. But it’s only enough if you are willing to sell out to this evil and inhumane system, and totally identify your self-empowerment with its oppressive power– with “America.”
Wealth without power is worthless. And that’s what white people have: power. We may not have money, but that’s why white people (including 53% of white women) voted for the white supremacist Donald Trump. We actually do know what’s in our interests, rich or poor, just as long as we identify with the power of a white supremacist system and “America.”
Africans and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were wealthy too before Europeans showed up, with our greater capacity for violence and our greater willingness to commit this violence. And then we constructed the white “American” identity on this foundation of imperialist genocide against Africa and the Indigenous peoples of North America and Hawaii. So, even if we’re progressive today, and we want to move against the ideological constructs of “racism” and misogyny and other forms of systemic oppression, white people (on the “left,” the “right” or anywhere else) rarely move to exert a greater force of violence against the foundation of these oppressive ideologies than the system itself is exerting. We just pick away at the edges of a racist, misogynistic, transphobic “American” society, rather than getting to its rotten foundation, which is imperialist violence.
We could argue that these contradictions of whiteness and the “American” identity require that Europeans in the U.S. (or whites) use violence– which is basic to who we are– to dismantle a capitalist system which has shaped the basis for our identity, and thereby quantitatively change not only system but subject. But the very thing which ought to compel us to move in such a direction against the status quo– that being a desire to attain an equal level of humanity as the people whom we attempt to dehumanize for the purpose of greater profit– is the thing which is holding us back: a lack of humanity on our part. This is not to argue we are something other than human. We’re human beings, as Kwame Ture said.
But if we think about what Kwame Ture told a room of African people– not whites– when he said all humans are the same but are not the same, then we could ask ourselves: what would we do in a similar situation that they are in? That is, if we– as white people, as Europeans– were stolen from our land, enslaved, colonized, and subjected to every atrocity imaginable for hundreds of years, what might we do to our oppressors? And this, again, is where Europeans and Africans are not the same, even as we attempt to whitewash our identities and our differences by lumping us all together as “Americans.” We would rise up and kill our oppressors, there is no doubt about it. Well, there is some doubt: because of the difference between Europeans and Africans, we may not rise up unless it turned out to be profitable, or unless we could gain greater wealth on an individual level from this uprising. Nevertheless, white people must have something in our identity where we hardly need the slightest excuse and we go on a killing spree. Like it or not, it’s part of our identity. All we needed was the incentive of capitalist exploitation, and it was off to the races. Otherwise, Europeans had already been engaged in white-on-white crime for hundreds of years, destroying each other. Whites just found it was more profitable to control and kill people outside Europe, and occupy their lands, and then send in the military and the police to keep them from doing to us what we have been doing to them– even if their attitude toward us has been far more generous and forgiving.
Of course, any peace-leaving progressive white person in “America” is going to say they oppose such violence and they just want people to coexist in all our wonderful diversity. However, what they (or we) may not recognize is the way this racist, misogynistic, transphobic and capitalist ideology– this “American” ideology– has so thoroughly penetrated our thought processes and our patterns of behavior that it allows us to say we’re against such violence while, at the same time, we’re for it.
We support capitalist violence– as white colonizers in the United States– because we do nothing, or very little, to change the accumulated basis for our power. After hundreds of years of colonial genocide, we look at the thin layer of “racial tension” at the top of this accumulation of violence and say, “Well, I don’t like that– I’m against that,” but then we ignore the massive amount of systemic oppression below it, all of which, when taken together, has created the “American” identity whose default is whiteness. In fact, we barely look beyond our own neighborhood, at the systemic factors– the forces of extreme violence and colonial exploitation– which allow us to enjoy not only the liberal values of “inclusiveness” and individual goodness, but the material benefits which support our ability to develop and grow according to these ideals.
And so, by 2053– when the median wealth of Africans in “America” will be zero– whites may have a very “tolerant” attitude toward our Black and Brown neighbors, at least those who are left in “our” neighborhoods. And we will probably be especially welcoming to the “respectable” Black or Latinx couple down the street who have worked so hard to survive in this system, and– at the same time– haven’t shown too many signs of disrupting its basic structure, which creates greater profits for the (already rich) white ruling class, no matter who is working hard to create these profits. That is, capitalism won’t care very much who benefits on an individual level in the United States– they can always be used to point out that racism is no longer a problem– just as long as the overall arrangement can remain intact, one in which Black wealth is projected to be zero by 2053. Why? Because Black people– no matter how successful they may be on an individual level– will still lack power, as long as their survival and wealth is pursued in the context of the “American” (or white supremacist) identity. By 2053, whites may be the minority in “America,” but the “American” identity will still mean what it has always meant: white nationalist, or white supremacist, power.
In 2053 “America” will mean what it meant in 1776: white power. And that’s how an imperialist nation-state whose majority population is Black and Brown can still be forcing them to work hard in order to create wealth for the enjoyment of the white minority, even as the former are experiencing increasing levels of capitalist exploitation.
Right now, it’s exceedingly crucial– if we are white people who consider ourselves to be progressive– that we put our heads together and organize for … for what? That’s what we need to figure out on a collective level. But it’s the collective itself– the identity– that creates the basis for political leverage against the racist, misogynistic and capitalist state. Essentially, we must organize for power, but not white power, and not “American” power. How we go about this can only be determined inside an organization through the process of revolutionary struggle. We cannot say what we are organizing for, until we– as a community– find out what that is, and who we are.
Kwame Ture taught that “while we are the same, we are not the same.” All people are the same, but history, culture, identity and material factors of colonialism and capitalist oppression have also caused Europeans and Africans to be very different. And since the United States and its class-based system of power have already imposed these divisions that exist between the colonizer and the colonized, we know that all white people are the same in the sense that we are all under the same system. And yet we are not the same either. Europeans are not the same as Africans, but Europeans– or whites– are not all alike either. And that’s why we can use these differences as leverage points to organize against capitalism and the imperialist state.
While all whites are alike– we’re all racist, as the main benefactors of white supremacist and capitalist exploitation– we are different too. Our skin color may be the same, and the colonial privileges– that we are granted by a backward system of power on account of this political categorization of “race”– may be the same. But our identities– which are essentially political as well– contain ideological forces which, as soon as we discover their contradictory power, can then be used to move against the power of capitalism and the United States.
Instead of allowing this racist state– this imperialist power– to unite us as “Americans,” we (the revolutionary European colonizer) can beat the enemy to the punch, and say that, while we are not the same (as “Americans”), we are unified around some other organization of thought and matter, some critical difference, and we are the same as part of this new antagonistic identity. Then we can say that we want “America” to be in crisis, splitting apart, because we are now something else altogether, moving against “America” too. We may look alike, and often behave in the same racist, inhumane manner, but some white people (not those whites over there, those “Americans,” those counterrevolutionaries) are redirecting the elements of our identity and are coalescing around … what? That’s what we need to figure out.
What is it about us that can make us different– from whiteness and from “America”– even as we remain white, objectively so? And then– once we take this difference and organize it– what will allow us to create some new, transformed sameness (mass power), to be leveraged as part of a revolutionary process– stage by stage– against whiteness and against U.S. capitalism?