Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared Ball

What kind of nation finds “renewal” in targeted assassination, reaffirmation of its destiny in the ritualized killing of the ultimate “Other”? Must the U.S. national mission consist of paying $2 billion a week to blow up the poorest people in the world? How about simply changing the country’s public policy so as to make sure that Obama is actually responsible for less death and destruction than the so-called leading terrorist now recently and apparently deceased.

 

Osama bin Laden, Marshall “Eddie” Conway and the National Identity

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared Ball

Killing bid Laden and incarcerating Conway all work to reaffirm our freedom and national identity.”

One sure way to not be moved by such anti-climatic events as the assassination of Osama bin Laden is to first speak with one of the dozens upon dozens of political prisoners held in this country. Talking with them is the surest barometer for measuring the absence of change. This week we spoke with Marshall “Eddie” Conway, former head of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party, who has recently co-authored a new book about his life and the more than 40 years he has spent behind bars for having dared to organize his community out of the mess in which it still remains. Conway and his co-author Dominque Stevenson discussed with us their new book Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther only a few short hours before the presidential announcement that our national reunion and healing could now recommence after the targeted, and therefore illegal, assassination.

The announcement sparked the latest of what is certainly a national pastime, the making of media spectacle. That spectacle and our conversation with Conway reminded me of the work of Orlando Patterson, who once described freedom and slavery as more on a “continuum” than mutually exclusive. One is based on the other. So as I heard Obama proclaim a collective reformation that is inevitable and “ours” I immediately returned to this idea; Patterson was right. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson could only achieve a sense of freedom and humanity by denying it to the enslaved. And while this may have been an embarrassment it would not demand repentance and certainly no change. Killing bid Laden and incarcerating Conway all work to reaffirm our freedom and national identity. Enslavement and colonization are as required today as ever.

To now claim to have struck a blow for freedom by killing bin-Laden, not to mention the countless thousands of others in the process, is only understood, is only given meaning, by the now invisible enslavement of women and men like Conway. It is an American freedom itself only understood by and interpretable in relationship to the enslavement of the tens of millions of Africans historically and the more than 2 million held today in the bondage of the nation’s penal system. This is how a freedom that the rest of us are conditioned to accept and appreciate is established and how the president can say in addressing the country about the killing of bin-Laden, “Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.”

Today we don’t call mass incarceration and political imprisonment ‘peculiar,’ we just ignore it.”

This, as I understand it, is Patterson’s point made long-ago; the “achievement” of this national “greatness” and the extension of freedom to the world brought by the killing of terrorist number one is a concept born out of its distinction from the enslavement of others, and in this case of Conway. Certainly Conway and Stevenson make this point. Each describe the nature of our penal system and its origins in slavery. Each describe the relative conditions of enslavement, the look of the prison as a “slave ship” carrying the modern-day descended cargo of the cargo previously delivered. And it is as Patterson pointed out that the need to obscure what is happening here provided the impetus to initially refer to slavery as a “peculiar institution,” when as he points out, there was nothing at all peculiar about slavery in the world or its application here. Today we don’t call mass incarceration and political imprisonment “peculiar,” we just ignore it. And just as then we can now today believe Obama when he refers to the 10 year-later killing of bin-Laden as proof “that America can do whatever it is we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.”

Sure, we can do whatever we “set our mind to” which is precisely why the most powerful system of propaganda was developed to make sure that our minds are never collectively set to, for instance, freeing all political prisoners and ending the exploitative conditions that caused them to struggle in the first place. Instead of spending $2 billion a week fighting overseas, how about redistributing those funds here so as to make the world’s shining light of freedom and equality somewhat less than twice the average of the so-called First World in income inequality. Or how about simply changing the country’s public policy so as to make sure that Obama is actually responsible for less death and destruction than the so-called leading terrorist now recently and apparently deceased.

Obama was clear that bin Laden’s death will do nothing to stop the forward march of American imperialism. But one reason many of us were not moved by the killing is that we knew this to be true by simply looking here at home and specifically right at those still imprisoned despite an absence of proof but due to an abundance of a will to be free. What’s the call? Free’em all. Then maybe we can wave a flag.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. On the web visit us at BlackAgendaReport.com.

Dr. Jared A. Ball is author of I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto and can be found atIMixWhatILike.com.

Direct download: 20110504_jb_USIdentity.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:54am EDT