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#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?

Over the last two years, Black Lives Matter has gained international recognition as the largest Black liberation movement of our time. In fact, supporters and media news outlets have referred to it as the “Civil Rights Movement of our era.” Undoubtedly, Black Lives Matter has drawn attention to state violence inflicted on Black bodies. These efforts have led to opportunities for BLM founders and activist to conduct interviews on mainstream media, lecture at Ivy League Universities, and meet privately with presidential candidates and elected officials. Despite the traction BLM is gaining, only few sources have offered salient critiques of their strategies (or lack thereof), proclaimed mandate and objectives (which remain unclear), and their vague demands (e.g. destroy anti-Blackness).

BLM centralizes the experience of the Black petit bourgeoisie in the West. The Somali community, working class Black people, Black [trans] women, and Black youth are deliberately excluded from BLM’s organizing and messaging. BLM’s denunciation of the rebellion led by the youth of Ferguson in late 2014 exacerbated class antagonisms within the Black community and reflected a tendency towards respectability politics. BLM does not condemn intimidation tactics employed by Western colonial governments against the Somali community, such as intrusive visits to our homes from CSIS agents; our young men and vocal dissenters are especially targeted.

In fact, thirty Somali men have been found dead in Fort McMurray, Alberta since 2005. One of the most tragic cases is that of Abdinasir Ali, 19, who moved out West from Toronto for work. His lifeless body was found in his apartment in December 2014, and his case, while treated as a homicide, remains unsolved. This is not limited to Canada. There have been numerous unsolved homicides involving young Somali men in the Cedar-Riverside section of Minneapolis in recent years. These murders have been attributed to police violence, hate crimes, and gang violence, but BLM has not mobilized the masses to protest the bloodbath.

BLM emphasizes liberal reformation of the policing model as a means of resisting police brutality rather than calling for abolition and a complete overhaul of the repressive capitalist structure. This past summer, they introduced Campaign Zero in response to Clinton’s request for demands for policy reforms. The campaign intends to reduce police violence against Black people without acknowledging that the police force’s original and current role is to terrorize Black and Indigenous people on behalf of the colonizer capitalist class. By calling for reforms BLM legitimizes the systemization of state violence against vulnerable targets of police brutality. Such reforms are the antithesis to Black liberation from occupation by militarized police, state sanctioned genocide, and White vigilantism.

The Black underclass in Canada is predominately comprised of Somalis. We must vehemently question BLM’s reluctance to deconstruct how the Black middle class acts as agents and beneficiaries of White supremacist capitalism. Their failure to apply a class analysis or adopt an international perspective when narrating the Black experience limits their ability to protect and liberate Black people impacted by state violence. We cannot wait for middle class liberals to implicate their own  liberal (and at times, nearly reactionary) politics in a class critique. In the interest of self-preservation, Black Lives Matter will continue to neglect the crucial aspect of class as it relates to Black liberation and dodge accountability for their manipulation and deception.

I had the chance to speak with the co-founder of BLM, Alicia Garza. She was the keynote speaker for an event hosted by Black Brown Red Lives Matter (BBRLM) at McMaster University on September 24th, 2015 ironically titled “Black Lives Matter: The Rallying Cry of the New Movement Against Racist Police Violence.” As a volunteer for BBRLM steering committee, I helped organize the event. However, male members of the group continuously subjected the women to patriarchal violence, abuse, manipulation, and exploitation of labor. As a result, I left the group two weeks before the event. Instead, I and two of my other women comrades created a new group, Project Black to disrupt the Black Lives Matter event, draw attention to the global crisis of Black women, and expose the violence inflicted on us by men in BBRLM.

On the evening of September 24th, with only an hour left of the panel discussion we walked in with posters stating “END MISOGYNOIR IN THE BLACK LIBERATION MOVEMENT,” “BLACK WOMEN WERE USED, PATRONIZED, AND SILENCED IN THE MAKING OF THIS EVENT,” and “END THE SILENCING AND ERASURE OF BLACK WOMEN.”. When Alicia Garza approached us we explained our mission, and she let us read our position statement. The statement outlined demands relating to institutional, community, and movement accountability we had for OPIRG McMaster, the City of Hamilton, and Black Lives Matter. We received a standing ovation, though the disingenuous male host treated our action as if it was a scripted segment by proceeding with the program and not allowing our demands to be discussed.

However, Alicia stopped the host and took it upon herself to acknowledge our statement. Although BLM’s leadership is purportedly decentralized she vaguely committed to fulfilling our demands on behalf of BLM by stating that “they will work on improving their class critique,” and that “we can help them with that.” She also stated that they had a day of action for trans women at the beginning of the month; apparently for Garza this suffices as a response to the genocide of the most marginalized, silenced, brutalized, and disenfranchised group of people in the Black community. However, this response did not alter the tone of the event or generate a conversation about the urgency of our crisis as Black women. Alicia did not offer any more input or support beyond asking us if we would start a Black Lives Matter chapter in Hamilton.

Following the event, we spoke with Garza privately. Like many US-ians who are unaware of the history of Canada, she inaccurately claims that anti-Blackness and slavery form the foundation of colonialism, diminishing the extensive history of Indigenous resistance to multiple forms of White Supremacist colonial violence such as genocide, annexation, resource exploitation, residential schools, and displacement. When we discussed the fact that Black people, especially in Canada, benefit from settler privilege over their Indigenous counterparts, and actively uphold European colonial rule over Indigenous peoples, Garza simply replied, without qualification “so do Indigenous elites.” Invoking instances of anti-Blackness within Indigenous communities simply masks the Black middle class’s historic and present function as willful participants in White Supremacist settler-colonialist projects, and undermines solidarity efforts.

We should begin to rigorously question the motives of Black Lives Matter. Is BLM really the answer to neutralizing and eliminating the source of Black people’s oppression, or is it nothing more than a petit bourgeoisie liberal distraction from revolutionary change? Joel Northam stated very eloquently in his critique The Black Lives Matter Schism: Towards a Vision for Black Autonomy that ‘we should begin to relinquish dependency on the economic system that exploits us.” This cannot be done by appealing to our oppressor’s compassion, pleading for acceptance, pushing for a reformation of an inherently oppressive and violent system, ignoring our complicity in this system, or refusing to build solidarity with other oppressed groups. What we need is a complete overhaul of the system that commodifies our existence and measures our worth based on our capacity for production.

We have to examine how class intersects with race and gender in order to build a truly revolutionary and autonomous movement for Black liberation. We should begin forming groups in our own communities that are informed by revolutionary politics and continue to disrupt bourgeois liberal events. We must dismantle liberal groups and raze their platforms so we can effectively neutralize and disempower Black liberals. Presently, we are urging OPIRG McMaster to shift their resources away from oppressive and counter-revolutionary groups like BBRLM to strip them of the power to inflict violence and abuse. I expect that we will be successful in this pursuit, and I encourage other community groups to form counter protests and present radical demands.

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