Written by: Joshua Parks
Fists in the air, attendees smile at the Revolutionary People’s Party Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, September 1970. Photo: David Fenton via Getty Images.
Throughout the months of January and February, there were over 20 bomb threats directed towards historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Black churches, most of which were in the South. These concentrated actions over the last few months are a microcosm of the extensive history of racism and national oppression that Black people have faced within the United States, particularly its southern region.
In general, all Black communities within the United States face systemic racism. The evidence is in the economically depressed ghettos of every city (big and small), riddled with deprived schools and social organizations, and lacking any significant political power. But racism alone cannot explain the particular violence that Black people face within the United States. For this reason, we must understand this phenomenon as a form of special oppression that Black people face under capitalism called national oppression. This unique form of oppression targets a particular group for their nationality. In the case of Afro-descendants living within the borders of the United States, this is a nation within a nation.
But why has the South, in particular, faced the most extreme manifestations of the terrorism associated with racist national oppression? Because historically, the South is where Africans and their descendants are and were most densely concentrated. This, of course, is the haunting legacy of centuries of enslavement in this region, which shaped the relationship between white and Black communities and whose effects radiate throughout every societal system existing today. Of course, this relationship includes the development of a particular form of racial terrorism. This terrorism stems from the slavery era, when enslavers and those who acted in their interests, used torture, terrorism and intimidation to deter any revolutionary organizing by freedom-seeking Africans.
After the Civil War, the KKK and other white supremacist organizations waged a campaign of political violence that overthrew Radical Reconstruction. This terrorism continued throughout the Jim Crow Era as lynch law dominated the South for nearly 100 years. This specific form of violence was — and continues to be — in response to white society’s fear of a Black nation in the belly of the imperial core.
This intense display of national oppression, including subjection to extreme violence, and economic exploitation led to the Great Migration, a period between 1916 and 1970, when 6 million Black people moved out of rural areas in the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West. Despite the Great Migration, one of the largest migrations in the history of the United States, the majority of Afro-descended people still live in the South, particularly the Black Belt region, where Black people constitute a majority in several contiguous regions. In 2010, 55% of the Black population lived in the South, and 105 Southern counties had a Black population of 50% or higher. Of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million in 2010, 38.9 million people, or 13%, identified as Black alone.
Of these roughly 40 million Afro-descendants living within the borders of the United States, over half, or about 22 million, still live in the South. 22 million is a larger population than all of Scandinavia combined, and Scandinavia consists of 7 nations. It’s more than Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland, Serbia, Austria, and others. 40 million is a larger population than the majority of many nations on earth. Undoubtedly, a Black nation exists within the United States’ borders, and national oppression inflicted by the capitalist system serves to facilitate its continued underdevelopment.
This underdevelopment of a Black nation is exacerbated by extreme forms state-sanctioned violence and terrorism, which did not end after Jim Crow’s reign. In addition to organized threats against popular institutions, an even more organized system of police terror and violence is encouraged and expertly designed to brutalize Black people and hinder their national growth progress.
Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white people. And the conditions they face are even more dire. A federal judge ruled that the conditions for incarcerated persons with mental health issues in Alabama prisons is so “horrendously inadequate” that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
This is just one example of the shame of the United States. In Louisiana, 816 people were incarcerated for every 100,000 people in 2014. The increasing privatization of prisons for profit and the willingness to turn a blind eye to ongoing injustice against Black and brown people has not only widened disparities in healthcare, education, food security and housing but has also paralleled the rise of bold, extremist attacks against Black personhood, Black identity and Black power.
Extreme acts, such as the Emanuel AME Church massacre that devastated Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, illustrate the political violence still required to suppress a nation, and why bomb threats to HBCU’s and other Black institutions should not be taken lightly, or underanalyzed from the simple lens of being a one-off acts of racial violence, or hate crimes. In doing so, we miss the political nature of such attacks, and their intended function, which is political repression. We miss out on why Emanuel AME Church was targeted, and who was targeted. Of the victims, the primary target, was Black Senator Clementa Pinckney. Pinckney was the youngest Black person to be elected to the South Carolina state legislature. He proposed a bill to officially recognize the Pan African flag, held political rallies after the police murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, and had introduced several bills to protect Black people’s land in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. When we analyze acts of racial terrorism as a function of political repression that stem from national oppression, then Emmanuel AME is not simply a random anti-Black hate crime, but an assassination with the purpose of political repression.
If we fail to understand the implications of such bomb threats, the way many failed to understand the gravity of the Emmanuel AME massacre, then we will fail to understand the true intentions behind these acts of violence, and the purpose they serve in the grand scheme of things. All political acts are intentional, therefore terrorism aimed at Black communities have a political objective — to suppress the development of Black communities through violence and intimidation by targeting the productive forces — schools, churches, businesses and other social organizations — that are essential to any oppressed nation’s quest for self-determination.
Joshua Parks is a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) and co-founder of the Low Country Community Action Committee of Charleston, South Carolina, a National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression affiliated branch.