The Real Reason Blacks "Can't Breathe" -- We Finance Our Own Oppression

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El-Ouli Mustafa Sayed died in combat during liberation war -- he founded Polisario when he was 23

Observations From The Streets Of America To The Sahara Desert

By the 8th century, Arab Muslims had penetrated several regions in Africa.  Discernibly, with the Arab slave trade, they cosigned a strong Islamic imprint along with an Arabic colonial mindset in various regions in Africa with Morocco serving as a major slave trading port.

In spite of this enduring cultural imprint and protracted colonial mindset, the Saharawis of Western Sahara are crystal clear that they are first and foremost Africans before identifying with being Arabs, Muslims, Spaniards and any other socio-cultural description.  

During my recent visit to the parts of Western Sahara that's controlled by Polisario Front, the liberation movement, and the refugee camps in Algeria operated by their government-in-exile, the Saharawis indefatigably defended their Africanness and Blackness along with their quest for sovereignty and decoloniality.

Unfortunately, in the United States,  slavery still exists psychologically as African-Americans tend to identify first and foremost not with race, but with gender, sexual preference, religious affiliation, and so forth.

Five decades ago, in “The Ballot or The Bullet,” Malcolm X declared, “They don't hang you because you're a Baptist; they hang you cause you're black.” In our alleged “post racial society,” some African-Americans have yet to understand this powerful concept of “Race First”; nor do they fully understand that the United States is still a major depository for the financial, political, and cultural enslavement of Black folks.

As a result, in our alleged “post racial” society, African-Americans are still being killed in the United States because of their Africanness and Blackness; and the response to such brutality has been to simply march.

For the most part, Black America “think” that by marching with Whites while wearing T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe”, and holding their hands up, while their pants are down, will prevent the impending murder of peaceful, unarmed African-Americans.

And that such symbolism will somehow magically solve their  economic and socio-political problems; just as the marches supposedly did in 1964. African-Americans might as well sing, “We Shall Overcome” in 2015 given the fact that they tend to prefer symbolism over substance and in many ways, slavery over sovereignty.

In regards to marching, Malcolm X in his “Autobiography” observed that “the marchers had been instructed to bring no signs - signs were provided. They had been told to sing one song: We Shall Overcome. They had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, the route to march.”

In the case of the current marches taking place throughout the United States for the unnecessary and senseless murders of Eric Gardner and Michael Brown, some marchers and protesters were provided with “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts without understanding that the T-shirts were manufactured by a Canadian apparel company called Gildan which exploits the labor of Haitian workers by only paying them $6 per day.

As of 2014, Gildan Activewear Inc.'s (TSX:GIL) revenues reached nearly $2.2 billion with a second quarter net earnings of $79.2 million; which is a jump from the net profits of  $72.3 million in 2013.

So it's not only about derailing and manipulating the potential for a powerful movement away from slavery and towards sovereignty, but it's also about a moment to make money off of the suffering of African-Americans; using Haitians and other people of color as slaves in White-owned sweatshops.

According to a 2013 Nielsen Report, the buying power of African-Americans is “$1 trillion and it is forecasted to reach $1.3 trillion by the year 2017.”  Moreover, the Nielsen Report indicates the following: “Currently 43 million strong, African-American consumers have unique behaviors from the total market. For example, they’re more aggressive consumers of media and they shop more frequently. Blacks watch more television (37%), make more shopping trips (eight), purchase more ethnic beauty and grooming products (nine times more), read more financial magazines (28%) and spend more than twice the time at personal hosted websites than any other group.”

Therefore, it would be in the best interest of African-Americans if they use their capital along with their reading of financial magazines to create a decolonial system and institutions that can empower them, while preventing them from being murdered at a supernumerary rate by the hands of whites and other enslaved Blacks. Unfortunately, symbols trump the African-American cause for sovereignty over slavery.

Interestingly, in his classic “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” Pan-African scholar Walter Rodney illustrates the life of an African named Estaban Montejo who escaped a slave plantation in Cuba during the nineteenth century. Montejo indicated that Africans were enticed into chattel slavery by the color red by recalling the following:

“It was the scarlet which did for the Africans; both the kings and the rest surrendered without a struggle.  When the kings saw that the whites were taking out these scarlet handkerchiefs as if they were waving, they told the blacks, 'Go on then, go and get a scarlet handkerchief' and the blacks were so excited by the scarlet they ran down to the ships like sheep and there they were captured”.

As part of the first African-American media-and-scholars delegation headed by Don Rojas --the former Minister of Information for the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada-- to the Western Sahara refugee camps in December, I quickly observed that the Saharawis are not easily enticed by Western ornaments as they value substance not symbolism and sovereignty over slavery.

For the Saharawis it is not about hand gestures or fashionable trends; it is about reclaiming their sovereign rights and territories “by any means necessary.” 

They routed the Spaniards who had colonized them and drove them back to Europe. They are determined to gain their independence from new occupier Morocco.

Moreover, for the Saharawis, it is a movement about sovereignty and decoloniality not a moment to make tons of money off of the pain and suffering of those who are victims of slavery and colonialism.

Thus, for the Saharawis, it is not simply about marching only; it is about reclaiming their land and establishing their own economic and socio-political system without being dependent on their oppressors.

And this is what the Polisario Front, the Saharawi's national liberation movement, achieved in governing their refugee camps in Algeria as they work tirelessly towards sovereignty and decoloniality; while their African-American brothers and sisters finance their own oppression and enslavement in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” 


Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of “The Digital Economy” in the Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College.He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University. Prof. Delices can be contacted at [email protected]  

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