I’m heading home in two days.
There is something very important happening not only in Baltimore, but across black America. As of now there have been no reported deaths at the hands of protesters in a city where 250 people are killed a year, nearly all of those homicide victims being black. In spite of the fires and the looting, the young people of Baltimore are still showing a greater restraint in their conflicts with police and store-owners than they have shown in their conflicts amongst each other. I say this because for years it has been my family too that has done some of the killing and much of the dying.
Why is it that the current uprising has, in spite of its violence, not tilted toward a shooting war between whites and blacks, cops and kids, landlords and tenants, bosses and workers, given the fact that the shooting war between young black men across the region is invariant? Because young black people still value the lives of their structural enemies more than they value their own. The engineering of what is possibly the most efficient self-cannibalizing social organism in history – the nightly shootouts, the stabbings, the overdoses – is a project that has been centuries in the making.
The black youth of Baltimore have been conditioned to view themselves as the problem. Every socio-economic issue that arises is somehow the result of their behavior. They hear this not only from the white cops, the filipina teachers, the korean liquor store owners, but also from too many of the blacks who attended Coppin or Morgan and secured decent jobs and decided that the reason the police still profile them, or their home values don’t rise, or they didn’t get that pay raise, is because “the niggas” moved out the county, or they are still robbing each other, or they make “the rest of us” look bad.
The structure of America has shifted to ensure that there is no place for these young people. The movements of today will not echo the struggles of the sixties. Today there is no protracted post-war economic boom, no high paying jobs for low skilled workers, no attempt to further integrate impoverished blacks into the productive process. Decades of deindustrialization halted the economy’s attempt to integrate low-income blacks into the workforce, and the exponential expansion of the prison system over the past four decades signals a return to the slave system as a means of managing black America. What we are witnessing in Ferguson, Baltimore, and soon in black neighborhoods across America, is a present-day slave rebellion.
Today, there is no legitimate black leadership. If anything the ascension of a handful of blacks into positions of power has demonstrated the structural impossibility of finding a place for the majority of blacks in America. A black mayor, a black police chief, a black president, and Baltimore still burns.
This is not a hopeful situation. It is fully possible that there can be no resolution to these problems. I can only hope that the people who designed this architecture of black misery, this meat-grinder of black flesh, will soon feel the weight of the teeth and nails on the backs of their own necks.