Livelihoods of Black Americans Looted for Generations
Updated: Jun 5, 2020
by Bridget Kronqvist
This isn’t a current picture of Minneapolis – though it easily could be with the ongoing rebellion the city is experiencing as a result of white police publicly and extrajudicially executing George Floyd. The familiar call of respectability politics dismisses the destruction of property in Minneapolis as being irrational, as though the destruction of property is somehow being perpetrated by a community against itself. This could not be further from the truth, and this criticism is made in bad faith to dismiss and divert discourse from what is actually happening.
The above photo is of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Massacre took place almost a century ago to the day. And yet, America remains a place of violent oppression. On May 31st in 1921, the white police and white civilians went further than lynching black Americans individually, whites violently rampaged through the black neighborhood of Greenwood. May bled into June as they shot black men, women and children dead in the streets and firebombed the prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa a century ago.
Redlining* was a common practice across America for the better part of the last century. This practice demarcated and limited where black people could own property. As a result, neighborhoods in major cities carved out ghettos for minorities. Despite this marginalization, these quarters became places of high culture where blackness was not criminalized. One such example was Tulsa’s neighborhood of Greenwood, a place built by and for black Americans, where they somehow managed to flourish for a time, even under an American system built to exploit its residents.
But, the community was still not able to adequately protect itself from white supremacy. The entire community was targeted by white hate, after a white woman accused a black man of assault. The Greenwood community attempted to fight back against the lynching of an untried black man and outside the Tulsa courthouse shots were fired taking the lives of 10 white men and 2 black men. Retribution was taken by destroying the entire black community, by the next day 10,000 black Greenwood residents would be homeless because the society at large was - and is - dependent on their oppression, and they had attempted to resist.
Plundering the black community of Tulsa of everything it had worked to build up for it’s residents and destroying families, added to the generational trauma carried by a population still reeling from the living memory of slavery. The scars of such generational trauma and the consequences of the material deprivation of black Americans since the country’s foundation to the present day are still being felt.
The Greenwood community was at least a black community, by and for the enclave of black Americans living and thriving there. Minneapolis is no such place. America is no such place. No such place exists where a black person is free of white supremacy. Minneapolis isn’t being burned by her community. It is being burned down by people that do their best to live there – despite the material conditions of living in a hyper-capitalist white supremacist state.
As in so many things, the current administration shouts loudly the bits that other administrations knew to whisper only in backrooms. The President has since walked back the tweet in which he threatened that the military was authorized to shoot Minneapolis civilians. But the short text nevertheless exposed his true priority: protecting the power structures that benefit him, and people like him, by any means necessary – even if it’s as petty as protecting a Target.
So, who’s mad about Target** being looted? Or a police station being burned down? Liberal centrists and conservatives alike have eagerly criticized the protests turned rebellion that rose in Minneapolis and then swiftly across most major cities in the US. The criticism aims to undermine the protesters, calling them irrational and opportunistic. There is no civility in the protection and reproduction of white power inherent in the US police state. There is no civility in end-stage capitalism that pretends a lack of personal merit could be the only cause for the futility so many Americans face – especially black Americans. They have never seen reparations for slavery, and to this day have not had the benefit of educational, residential or health parity in the US.
In the US, there have been no reparations for slavery, for Tulsa. There have been no reparations for the lynching of so many other black Americans from Emmett Till, to Trayvon Martin, Akiel Denkins, Gregory Gunn, Samuel DeBose, Frendon Glenn, Freddie Gray, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Christian Taylor, Michael Brown Jr., Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Yvette Smith, Jamar Clark, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Ramarley Graham, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, and Eric Garner – the last of whom was probably not the first to die choking out “I can’t breathe” - due to America’s state violence. But Eric Garner was the first to have his dying pleas go viral; and to have them voiced again, years later, by George Floyd in the more recent but tragically familiar – to the point of repetitive – scene.***
More than material reparations are needed. The depth of abuse and deprivation America has afflicted upon black Americans, needs to be acknowledged by the white population at large. The nation was built on the backs of generations of stolen black labour, and there’s not a brick in that Target or in America that doesn’t belong to the people – especially the black hands - that built the house in which white supremacists sat in safely as George Floyd fought for his final breaths on that Minneapolis pavement. Fires are now burning across America's major cities, including DC where a White House - built by slaves - hides a white supremacist demagogue in a bunker.
All power to all the people.
Bridget Kronqvist is a socialist from Chicago currently living in Berlin. This article was written for the leftberlin.com
* Redlining runs in a connecting thread between many aspects of systemic injustices black Americans have experienced for generations in America – a 'red thread' as the Germans would say. You can learn more about redlining practices in Minneapolis from the University of Minnesota project, Mapping Prejudice.
** To translate for Berliners, Target is basically a Karstadt – but with an interesting history with the people and police of Minneapolis specifically. You can read more about how they expropriated wealth and contributed to white supremacist power structures here.