News Clips: Now as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, so are the parallels being drawn between it and another deadly virus that struck the globe more than a century ago, We’re talking about the Spanish flu.
Guys we’ve been taking a look at some of the video from 1968. There’s a lot of pieces of video that look very similar to what we’re seeing today.
For many, the images and emotions coming out of Minneapolis are too familiar to what happened right here in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
George Floyd’s arrest on a Minneapolis street corner and his frantic pleas for help have given rise to one of the most turbulent periods in recent American history.
Jordan: The question that I can’t stop asking myself is how does this all end? You may have heard at various points this year that we are living history right now. The truth is, we’re always living history. It’s just that some of us can afford to ignore it until it boils over. But when racism and police brutality and the rage that comes in response to that, are laid bare for the world to see in the middle of a pandemic, and Marshall law is threatened, nobody gets to look away.
Everyone wants to know what happens next. Do we even have a historical precedent for what’s happening in America and around the world right now? What is the larger context of how we arrived at this moment? What are we missing when we watch people discuss it on cable news? And what needs to happen now?
What does each of us need to do for this to be a moment that changes the world for the better? Is that still possible?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings and this is The Big Story. Andray Domise is a writer and journalist, a contributing editor at Maclean’s and a Nathanson fellow in history at York University. He is one of the smartest guests we ever have on this podcast. Hi, Andray.
Andray: How’s it going, Jordan?
Jordan: It’s going about as well as it can, more importantly, how are you?
Andray: Doing my best. I’m trying to reduce stress as much as I can by hanging out with my children and occasionally seeing my partner, but we’re both in school. We’ve both got tons of homework. We’re both busy plus jobs and everything else. So yeah, we’re even busier than before the whole lockdown happened. Go figure that.
Jordan: And now you’re spending this week with white people like me asking you to please explain the historical context of this.
Andray: Well, I mean, yeah I am spending a lot of time explaining shit to white people.
Jordan: All I can say is I sincerely thank you for it. You know, I just I find you incredibly smart and able to help me learn some stuff from this. So thanks for taking the time.
Andray: Oh stop your flattery. I’m about to lay into you in a second. No I’m playing, I’m playing.
Jordan: Why don’t you just start by telling me, while you watch everything that’s been happening this past week, what’s going through your head?
Andray: People say things like we’ve been through worse or we’ve been here before. And I have to ask the question, when? When have we been here before? We’ve been here before quote unquote in 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic we’ve been here 1919 during the may day riots. And during red summer. We’ve been here before in 1968. But my question is when has all of this happened at the same time?
This is unprecedented. Then my next question is what is this supposed to look like when it’s all over, when the dust settles? Because at some point there’s going to be a change of some kind. Throughout history what happens in the course of a popular uprising that moves to straight up revolt?
There’s two methods that the ruling class can use to try and tamp it down. One is use of force. This is where the hegemony breaks down. This is where the state has to reveal its naked violence and come out against the people with arms, or you can try placating the people. It can try for example, the civil rights act.
It can try the declaration of the rights of man. It can try any number of mechanisms to make sure that the populace still has some faith in the state. But whatever this looks like, I don’t know that there’s anything to placate. I don’t know that there’s any mechanism the state can try, to convince people that the social contract is worth upholding.
Jordan: That’s the thing that keeps going through my head is, what kind of concession can be made universally across the entire United States that would actually mollify the anger.
Andray: I do know some of the answers to those questions. I do know, and this is something that I’ve been talking about over the last few years, that capitalism depends on racism to be able to reproduce and propagate itself.
I think it’s just a plain fact. If you read Donald Harris, who is a former economist at Stanford, also happens to be the father of Kamala Harris, the former presidential candidate, but apparently they didn’t really have much of a relationship, but throughout American history, the use of racist promises. The promising of white rage is what’s been described as racial republicanism by scholars like David Roediger. What that does is incentivize the white working class against their black peers. It incentivizes the white working class, essentially to think of itself as sui generis.
Like we are the only people that deserve to have rights. Everybody else is on a cast below us. And until that cycle is abolished, until we move away from a system of capital that accumulates the value of people’s labor and accrues it to a few select people and then spreads out the rewards among certain other people, and then makes promises to certain other people, until that cycle is broken, I’m afraid we’re going to be seeing this for the rest of our lives.
Jordan: I mean, you’re a fellow in history. What have we seen that’s even close to like this in the past that ended with concessions?
Andray: You don’t actually have to go back very far. You can look at, for example, now Bolivia has been taken over in a fascist coup, but if you look at Bolivia, for example, the presidency of Eva Morales and the MAS, the movement for socialism in Bolivia lifted thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people out of poverty, it increased literacy rates, it incorporated indigeneity into the broader society. You had the coca farmers, the Cocaleros, their practices and their agricultural methods were incorporated into the broader nation so that you didn’t have agents of the United States raiding farms and burning crops.
You had it that this is a plant, but this is also a way of life that is valid. And the fact that it’s been twisted into a narco trade has nothing to do with the people that originated the practice. So if you look at Bolivia, for example, that was up until very recently, an experiment in creating a broader, I would say a social democracy, that was more inclusive and helped marginalized people. So you don’t actually have to look back that far. The thing is we don’t want to consider alternatives. We don’t want to consider indigeneity as part of the quote unquote Canadian fabric. We don’t want to honour practices. We don’t want to honour self determination. What we want to do is simply exploit natural resources and just basically tell them how things are going to go. In the United States, they don’t want to honour Black and African ancestry. What they want to do is incorporate African ancestry into the American body politic, and essentially assimilate black people almost out of cultural existence. This is the co-opting of the culture, elimination of the history, taking it out of textbooks, remixing it so that, for example, I remember in one Texas board, they called people that were brought over in the Maafa, the transatlantic slave trade, they call them labourers, immigrant labourers. So the softening of the words, the revision, if not outright erasure of the history, the co-opting of the culture, that is capital’s answer for everything.
So I know that sometimes people get tired of me talking about the links between capitalism and racism, but really what can you possibly look at to explain any of this? There is an economic, a financial and a social incentive for things to remain the way they are. How is it that the arrest of three police officers who according to video evidence, I mean, according to just looking at it with your own eyes, appear to be complicit in the execution of a man in the middle of the street, why is it more important to quell these protests than just to arrest those three men? And the answer is because they have to uphold the system the way it is. By arresting them there is an admission, there’s a tacit admission that there is something wrong with the way the state conducts itself in relation to its citizens. And if you admit that, then the whole house of cards begins to fall apart. So you have to keep things the way they are. You have riot officers that are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets directly into people’s faces. You have reporters that are losing eyes, protesters that are losing eyes and having their faces maimed. Because they don’t want to consider alternatives. So I’m looking at this and I think to myself, I’ve got two young daughters. Do I want to send them out into a world like this, where it is so important to uphold the status quo, so important to uphold the system, to continue to oppress people to devalue their lives?
So I don’t know. I don’t even know what to tell you. What are the solutions to this? Considering alternatives, but the people in power won’t.
Jordan: So what happens historically when the people in power won’t consider alternatives?
Andray: Well, you don’t have to look much farther than the Haitian revolution. And that is the slaves in Haiti rose up against the people who believe that there were the colonial masters. There was a multiyear war of attrition, and the enslaved people eventually overcame. Now the interesting thing about that is that the America in a way owes itself to the Haitian revolution because the seizing of the most lucrative colony that France had, in the quote unquote ‘new world’, well that put a huge dent in their pockets. They eventually had to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States and with the purchase of the Louisiana territory, if you don’t have that, then you don’t have manifest destiny. But at the same time, the Americans feared a similar insurrection of their slaves in what was then the 13 colonies, the United States of America. Out of that fear, they passed an act to mollify and to placate slave owners and slave owning states, that any such insurrection would be met by brute military force.
And that is the act that Donald Trump is invoking to essentially threaten martial law across the 50 States. So, where does it lead? It’s really one or the other, it’s the uprising or it’s the barbarism, or at this point, it’s the uprising or it’s death. And I don’t have to think about that very much because I don’t want to be too alarmist here, but I mean, people are going to continue to die.
You know, who’s been dying in the course of the protest? Who’s been dying? It’ss the protesters. Who’s been getting injured? It’s the protestors. You know the state can unleash whatever force at once. And when the news reports it, they say that the protests erupted in violence.
Well, who’s conducting the violence and whose bodies are on the line? Who’s being injured and who’s being killed? It’s the protestors. But we have this view out of nowhere that we’re witnessing the realization of American fascism, and we can’t even call it for what it is. It’s like, we talk about it in hushed whispers.
Deep down, people know that when you have fascism arrive on your own shores, there’s only one answer to that. And that’s mass uprising. I think that’s why people don’t want to talk about it. You know, if you read, Amy Cesaire’s discourse on colonialism. He speaks very stridently about the link between the way that quote unquote, ‘Christian nations’ or ‘Western nations’ or whatever you want to call it, treat the colonized. That the brutality that they unleash on colonized peoples, when you turn that inwards on the Imperial state, that is what you call fascism. So the question he asks is how can you sit around and be in such abject fear of a Hitler in Europe?
When at the same time you’ve been Hitlers to the rest of us. So then the question then becomes, how can you be so afraid of speaking of fascism in America when America has been nothing but a fascist state to black people? I don’t know how you’re able to square that circle without considering the way that America has historically treated black people.
Black people are living in a post apocalyptic fascist state. Whether you want to talk about how much better things have gotten, whether you want to talk about the accomplishments and gains that have been made. What you’re witnessing right now is the artifice being torn away, and witnessing the relationship between the state and black people for what it is.
Jordan: Why isn’t it covered like that on the news when I’m glued to CNN all weekend?
Andray: You can’t hear that context and not even from the black employees and the anchors. You’re not going to hear that from the guests. You’re not going to hear it because it is in their interest to not talk about it. The thing is, if you start to get into class ratifications and speak of class politics at the same time that you’re talking about race, then you indict yourself, then you understand there’s a difference between the class of people that you’re examining when you turn the cameras on them and watch them protest, and the class that you yourself occupy. The person who’s talking about it. When we can point to the history of anti-black racism, we know exactly where it comes from. We understand that in 12th century Europe, you have the burgeoning of market commerce and the urbanization.
You can point to a very specific date, 1441. When Nuno Tristao takes a voyage to the West Africa and returns to Portugal with captive slaves, you can point to that. You can point to Jim Crow. You can point to blackface. You can point to the end of slavery. You can point to any number of indicators that this follows a process, and that racism itself follows the birth of commerce. The treating of human bodies as chattel, the exploitation of the labor and the linkage of human skin to a cast system that tells you what class they belong to just by looking at them. I’ll put it this way, remember when, Henry Louis Gates, Skip Gates, remember when he was arrested by a police officer for apparently breaking into his own home?
Andray: The police officer didn’t take a look at him and say, ‘oh, this is a broke boy, I’m gonna march him out of his house because he doesn’t look like he belongs in his neighbourhood because he looks broke’. He marched him out of his own neighbourhood because he looked black, but the blackness of his skin is a class indicator.
I watched a video yesterday where somebody had tried to break into a liquor store and the owners were defending it. And some black people from around the neighbourhood tried to defend the store.
Jordan: Yeah, I saw that.
Andray: Police officers showed up, and the very people that were defending the store one moment, were being thrown up against the wall and handcuffed the next. And this hysterical white woman, this reporter she’s trying to explain, ‘no, no, no, no, no, they were defending this store’. She’s trying to explain this, but because she’s witnessing this happen right in front of her face, she’s having a hard time explaining it because I think she can’t even believe what she’s witnessing. So the police officers turn to somebody who cannot explain what is happening in front of her face to ask her, ‘okay, who are the looters?’
Do they ask the black people that they’re throwing up against the wall? Who are the looters? No, they took one look at them and they determined what class of people they belong to. The underclass that is forever trying to grasp at things that it does not deserve to have. The useless eaters that are looting and pillaging and ruining the country.
They took one look at them and make that determination. This is what the vicissitudes of class warfare looks like, when you combine it with racism and racial logics. This is exactly what’s happening, but you won’t see anybody in the news describing it that way because it’s not in their interests to do so.
Jordan: I want to try to ask you a question that I’m not even really sure how to phrase, which is always a bad sign for me. When you watch this stuff happen and you watch the news coverage of it as a black person and a scholar, does the fact that all of this is coming to a head right now give you hope? Does it scare the shit out of you? Both?
Andray: I don’t like calling myself a scholar by any stretch. I’m just a dude who reads things.
Jordan: Fair enough. But do you know what I’m trying to get at? Like on the one hand yeah, this is an incredibly dangerous moment. On the other hand, if it’s not going to change any other way.
Andray: I… Have you seen the videos of people asking police officers to kneel with them?
Andray: Have you noticed how much that’s been propagating over the last couple of days? Like this is just showing up everywhere. These are the means by which the ruling class attempts to save itself, to show, okay, underneath all of this, we just want to get along, don’t we? I mean, we all want the same things.
And right after the officers get up from taking a knee, they go right back to firing tear gas canisters into the faces and bodies of civilians, they go right back to firing rubber bullets at them. They go back to forming a shield wall and marching down the street and beating people out of their way.
That happens. Right after the kneeling happens. Now, there were some cases where like there hugs and maybe there’s peaceful protest, but what we’re seeing also is just a hell of a lot of like kettling people on bridges and rushing out to grab people that were not acting in any sort of threatening means whatsoever, hog tying and arresting them, tasing them often, wailing on them, shoving them to the ground. We see a lot of that and it really just depends on what do people believe is the nature of the relationship between the state and black people and even more broadly the state and people that don’t have power. That’s black people, but that’s also the white working class. That’s indigenous people. That’s people of Latino background like there are many groups in the United States that do not form part of that ruling class. It becomes incumbent on people to understand what is the nature of this relationship? What will be the future of this relationship? We already went through this from 2014, through 2017 and it quieted down a bit.
Not because anything changed, there have been hundreds of people. I believe it was over 700 odd people that between the killing of Mike Brown and last month, were killed by police. So nothing changed there. It’s just the focus shifted away from it. To try and blame the current state of America on the Trump presidency as if none of these things that we’re witnessing now had ever happened before Donald Trump took office. The difference is we understand the futility of trying to sue for our own humanity. We tried that one time, and here we are right now in the middle of a freaking pandemic. The state and their armed agents, can’t take a day off. Can’t stop doing the same thing to people over and over and over and over. It doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t matter how much you comply. It doesn’t matter how much you claim to love America. None of that makes any difference whatsoever because they see you as a class that doesn’t belong. So what do you do now?
I really don’t have a single answer to that question, but I will say that history points us to several ways by which that question has been answered. So I guess it’s up to people to choose one.
Jordan: What should I do as somebody with an admittedly small platform, but you know, who would like to be an ally?
Andray: I don’t believe in allies, my friend.
Jordan: Tell me about that.
Andray: No, I don’t. I don’t believe in allyship. Allyship is something that is contingent upon permission. That is the moment that you feel that circumstances have changed and you don’t want to ally yourself to a certain thing. You can withdraw that, which is entirely your right,
But I’ve also heard people say things like, well, we need accomplices, not allies. I don’t like that either. Cause that implies some degree of criminality in what’s happening. It is not criminal for oppressed people to assert their rights as human beings. It’s not criminal. It’s just. Any oppressed people has a right to fight in their own self defence.
So for people who want to align themselves as comrades, as people in a shared struggle, and what you can do are things like find out where people can get bail funds from, there are relief and bail funds in almost every state that I’m aware of. And I, myself am trying to point people to some of the lesser known ones or for some of the smaller States.
For example, there is the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, but I mean, that’s where a whole heap of donations is going right now. So I’m looking at places like Atlanta. I’m looking at places like LA, looking at New York. Are their bail funds getting the help that they need right now? But also are there mutual aid organizations getting the help they need? You know, beyond all of this, there’s still a need for personal protective equipment for people that want to go out and March, there’s still the need for funds because people are just broke right now.
A lot of the jobs that disappeared are never going to come back. People need food, they need clothing, they need housing, they need shelter. People just need help right now. So if you’re asking, what is it you can do? I mean, use your platform to find who needs, help and throw it in their direction. You know, I don’t care about feelings. I don’t care about guilt. I don’t care about none of that stuff. I don’t care about people who realize that they have a privilege because I hate the privilege conversation. I don’t want to talk about privilege anymore. I don’t care about none of that. What I care is, in terms of donations, in terms of support, what actual, tangible things are you doing right now to help the movement?
Because if you’re not about that, if it’s just a hashtag. This shit is completely ridiculous. I’m trying not to swear on your program, but I can’t even tell you how much this disgusted me. This whole blackout Tuesday thing where everyone made their Instagram profile black.
But then what I ended up doing was on the black lives matter hashtag when people are trying to scroll through it, to find information on where protests are happening, where people are mobilizing, what sort of help that they can get. Maybe if they’ve been arrested that they can get access to legal help.
Well, they scroll through the hashtag and all they see is a wall of black, which to me is just like wow, that’s a fantastic fed operation. That worked beautifully, but it also is a contribution of nothing. Changing your social media profile and your picture does nothing for anybody.
What people need to do is show up, show up at the protests. And if you can’t show up at the protest, open up your wallet. And if I’m not seeing that, then I just don’t care. I do not care.
Jordan: Are you saying that me and my friends shouldn’t make a YouTube video of us renouncing our white privilege?
Andray: Did you see the…?
Andray: I don’t know whether this is actually true. That that’s what they were doing, because I just saw a bunch of white people kneeling with their hands in the air. They could have been in a prayer chant, maybe they were evangelicals. I don’t know. There was a tweet about people that were kneeling on the ground and renouncing their white privilege, which okay, no, absolutely don’t do that. And it’s actually kind of funny. Like, I don’t know if you’ve seen companies and celebrities have been posting about why it is that black lives matter to them? And then everyone’s just been dunking on them with ‘this you’? Brock University did the Blackout Tuesday thing and talked about how much black lives are valued.
And then somebody quote tweeted them and said ‘this you?’ I guess like some fraternity at Brock U had held a Halloween contest and some dudes in black face won the contest, and Brock was like, well, ‘we can’t do anything about that’. And an election is not going to fix any of this just being serious for a second an election is not going to fix this.
And people are trying to direct the energy in towards, ‘well, this shows you the importance of voting’. Go to hell. Just like pack your bags and go to hell. This is the importance of voting. Are you kidding me? Joe Biden got in front of a congregation the other day and said that he would want to train officers to shoot people in the legs instead of the heart, which… has this man never heard of a femoral artery? Sorry. I’m really trying hard not to swear on your program.
Jordan: You’re doing a great job for the record.
Andray: I’m trying really hard, but has this man never heard of a femoral artery? Get out of here? Anyway, yeah these ridiculous, like, this redirection of the energy into these cul-de-sacs. Whether it’s electoralism, whether it’s trying to get corporations to treat people better, whether they’re trying to get celebrities to say nice things, whether it’s trying to connect this to some, like, described as a mind virus. Trying to just end racism in people’s minds. And when we fix that, then we can finally… no. None of that means anything. It is two things. It is the overturning and elimination of capitalism and it is the elimination of anti black racism. If you can’t tackle those two things, if you can’t talk about what the system actually is, and the system itself is capitalist imperialism.
If you cannot talk about the system, you are not talking about racism and white supremacy. If you’re not talking about white supremacy, you’re not talking about racism. It’s just as simple as that. America is a white supremacist Imperial state. If you cannot overturn that, then you will not overturn any system without overturning the system.
You’re going to have the same conversations a year from now. A decade from now. I will be long gone and my children will be having this conversation with somebody else on whatever the future version of a podcast looks like. That’s what it’s going to be.
Jordan: That was going to be my last question for you anyway, is, do you believe that’ll happen? Do you believe three years from now, the same way 2017 passed and we’re back here in 2020, is that what’s going to happen, or does something change?
Andray: Well, I think people are wise to the game now, so I hope so, but you know, I’m not going to make any predictions. I have no idea.
Jordan: Fair enough, man. Thank you so much for talking to us today.
Andray: Yeah, well, thanks for having me on, and don’t forget to look up some bail funds. Don’t forget to look up mutual aid organizations, wherever you can find them. And donate. Offer material support because your thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough.
Jordan: Andray Domise is a contributing editor at Maclean’s and a Nathanson fellow in history at York university. That was The Big Story. If you’d like more, including our coverage on this past week, you can find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can also find us on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn. You can write to us if you’d like to comment.
Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find this podcast anywhere podcasts are offered, whether it’s Apple or Stitcher or Google or Spotify, you can choose. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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