WHEN WE ALL WORK, WE ALL MOVE: MAKING BLACK LIBERATION REAL
Rapheal Randall delivered this speech on October 23, 2016 at the “Black Liberation Strategies Then & Now” panel hosted in Philadelphia, PA by Catalyst Project, the MOVE Organization, and Youth United For Change as part of Catalyst Project’s Anne Braden Program.
Today we are talking about past and current strategies towards the achievement of Black Liberation. Many have developed political theories and thoughts about what Black Liberation could look like, and what is necessary for its implementation. Some have proposed that nationhood tied to the expropriation of land and resources for Black people is essential; others believe further integration into the current system paves the way to our freedom. There are numerous ideas about what Black Liberation will look like that have been laid out by many.
Nevertheless, as Black Maoist Bill Epton stated in his essay entitled Black Self-Determination, “…there has been no unified theory or movement among the black people in this country that commanded the respect or loyalty of the majority of the Negro people.” Because of this reality, is there a coherent strategy that can bring all of our folks into alignment and initiate collective movement towards victory? I would assert yes, but the development of that strategy has to be a collective undertaking and requires a broad and rigorous analysis of the historical forces that currently render our movement efforts, though vibrant, relatively ineffective.
So I will spend the remainder of my time talking about the historical contradictions and material realities confronting Black people and our ability to achieve liberation; how white comrades play a definitive role in its implementation; and how we at YUC are testing these ideas at the small scale, with the goal of developing young people who understand the necessity of radical experimentation in the advancement of our cause.
“What a time to be alive” is a common phrase uttered by those excited about the re-emergence of the struggle for Black Liberation nationally and globally. The streets appear to be brimming with activity, as we see veteran organizers and recently politicized folks disrupting the mundane routines of American life, shutting down everything and everybody in the way. However, the numbers of those participating has not grown to the scale necessary for deep societal transformation; in fact, I would assert we have reached saturation in terms of “low hanging fruit”.
Though many are agitated by current political turbulence, historically rooted distrust of organization, and the lasting impact of state violence and repression against the Black Left, has left us weaker than in the past; we don’t have the proper infrastructure in place to prepare the masses of Black folks for long-term resistance and eventual collective governance. The politically advanced sections of our folks far too often talk about Black Liberation in magical platitudes, without methodically grounding these concepts to make them more real, dynamic and whole. Finally, at this moment in human history, the majority of the world’s Black and Brown folks are tied to imperialist systems that force them to subordinate their own protagonism to stay alive; we operate as acquiescing consumers who can’t survive without structures we know are designed to crush us. None of us are ready for the responsibility that comes with invasive societal transformation at this moment.
I believe we have to recommence this struggle from a concrete starting point in order to plant our feet firmly in freedom. For me, Black liberation is about governance and self-determination, the ability of human beings to control their own collective destinies. But how do we get there when the majority of our folks have been intentionally underdeveloped to prevent such autonomous aspirations; when the state has viciously destroyed past organizations and murdered heroes for stirring such desires in our people; and when our advanced political actors lack the ability to move the system themselves because of their small numbers and limited training?
We have to create organizations designed to transform the masses developmentally, step-by-step. Black Liberation will only be achieved once we have Black leadership capable of intense long-term struggle with the goal of taking on governance. This means there is a crucial point of mediation – a coordinated and extensive transformative training process we currently lack – focused on radical reformation, teaching our folks how to collectively plan and construct the equitable reality we deserve; and through transformative organizing for material gains, shape their ability to destabilize power centers that unjustly control their lives. The self-identified “woke” members of our group can no longer sit back and critique proposals and practices while not working to growing our numbers. We need more people to win. We have to develop instruments that correct the deformity we embody under capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. That is the first important step towards materializing Black self-determination and creating parity between the disparate sections of the working class.
Though I fundamentally believe in the necessity of multiracial working class alliances towards winning our fight for a just society, it is not in the strategic interests of Black people to organize white people at this time. As the brilliant Black Marxist C.L.R. James stated, “we challenge directly any attempt to subordinate or to push to the rear the social and political significance of the independent Negro struggle for democratic rights.” I am not interested in upholding “whiteness” as a benign thing, spending needless hours talking about how white people should relate to People of Color fighting for power, because whiteness is an inherently violent political and historical construct. In fact, I find centralizing the experience of whiteness as being key to victory both dangerous and politically stifling. I think the only way to optimally challenge and eventually abolish white supremacy is to have white comrades work under the leadership of Black people. I have comrades in this room who have shown the revolutionary potential of this practice over and over again.
We need to embody the understanding that materializing Black Liberation means situating our focus on institutionalizing the right of Black people to control their own destiny, to govern. Power is necessary for bringing this to fruition. However, power is always relational. You don’t have power simply because you say you do. Other forces have to relent, or be overcome, for your power to be realized. Black people have to develop power in relation to the institutions of white supremacy; which means 1) White people will have to give up decision-making power in organizing spaces, and work to conscientiously develop the leadership capacities of their Black comrades, and 2) support Black Power through actively undermining white supremacist institutions Black and Brown folks themselves can’t bring down, whether through joining Black-led organizations, mobilizing resources towards Black mass organizing efforts, or abandoning careerist pursuits that diminish the ability of Black people to be self-sustaining.
YUC is not and cannot be a revolutionary organization. Nevertheless, it can be used as a “crawlspace” dedicated to instilling practices of dialectical experimentation within Black and Brown communities craving an infusion of hope. Since our work centers Black Liberation as fundamental to any struggle for societal reconfiguration, human development and power are always components of our campaigns to improve education in the city of Philadelphia. Right now, we are calling for Community Control of schools. We want the school district to imbue its School Advisory Councils with real decision-making power. Yet, in a city wrecked by the desolating impacts of deindustrialization, redlining, and educational austerity, with only 57% of high school students graduating in four years, what is the necessary approach to ensure community members, many systematically underdeveloped, have the capacity to govern spaces that are both community development institutions designated to meet their needs, and workplaces for teachers who are mostly white?
It will require coordinated inside and outside efforts. On the outside, mass organizations like YUC will have to train young people and their families to take on more decision-making power and responsibility, and provide spaces where these folks can be protagonistic – guiding and bolstering their desire to create new approaches and spaces based on their organic understanding of what needs to happen. Inside, teachers and administrators who understand the centrality of Black Liberation to their own struggles against class oppression and alienation, will have to support the leadership of the community, by training our folks to understand curriculum and pedagogical principles; by siding with community members against attempts to standardize approaches to instruction, budgetary prioritization, and school climate that strip Black people of collective agency; and by showing up for Black Lives outside of school and the parochial interests of union leadership. This will be difficult and will cause discomfort; both Black and White folks will see clearly how colonized our concept of freedom is. That pain signals how deeply capitalism and white supremacy are embedded in each of us. To end the system means ripping those logics from our innards, and challenging everything we think about ourselves, and the permanence of the system displayed in our daily activities.
In closing, history is something we make everyday. It is also something that happens to us. The thing we are creating shapes us. Too often, Black folks are not recognized as makers of history; often simply seen as objects shaped by it. If this continues, none of us will ever be free. However, just recognizing the subjectivity of Black people isn’t enough; bringing white privilege to the surface is cool, but as white people you are still holding the power and knowledge we need to expand our governing abilities. We don’t need any more allies; we need race and class traitors. We need white folks willing to get into “the shit” with us, and figure out how to build mass organizations and movements powerful enough to end our oppression without wanting to be in the lead. We need white people who are willing to cast aside “whiteness” for human emancipation. Quiet as it’s kept, the biggest contradiction wrapped up in Black Liberation is that once it is established, “Blackness” as a political and historical construct will no longer be relevant, as white supremacy and anti-blackness will be eliminated. Black people will finally be recognized for their humanity in practice. Only then will be free in totality. That is why I go so hard. That is why I do what I do. Hopefully, serious white folks will follow our lead.
 Bill Epton. Black Self-determination. Progressive Labor Vol. 4, No. 3, March 1965.
 C.L.R. James. The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in US. Fourth International, Vol. 9 No. 8, December 1948.
 Youth United for Change. Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia. February 2011. pp. 3
Salute, brother Rapheal. Great piece!