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Transcript: #06-98 Race and Capitalism
February 11, 1998

Program description at

Phillip Babich: Welcome to Making Contact, an international radio program seeking to create connections between people, vital ideas and important information. This week on Making Contact:-

Kiilu Nyasha: All over the world the American corporations are prospering and becoming multi-multi-billionaires behind slave wages, and slave...slavery. Neo-slavery. You know, neoliberalism.

(male voice): There’s a kind of hooded Americanism that exists, and there’s a complicity of silence. And this is when you come into white lies and white power.

Phillip Babich: African-Americans have struggled for equality and justice in the United States for centuries. Since the civil rights and black liberation movements in the ‘60s, there has been some progress, but activists argue that racism is an integral component of capitalism. I’m Phillip Babich, your host this week on Making Contact.

Three decades ago, Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton said that, "racism is an excuse for capitalism." To explore this point, I spoke with Kiilu Nyasha, a former Black Panther Party member with the New Haven, Connecticut Chapter. Producer of the radio program, "Freedom is a Constant Struggle," Nyasha now lives in San Francisco, where I interviewed her at her apartment.

Kiilu Nyasha: Racism serves capitalism in that it keeps the working class divided. White people have always outnumbered blacks in the working class. And there are more poor white people even today, as we speak, than there are poor black people. And so, if white people and black people were allied solidly, then it would be much easier for us all to come together with all the other groups- Latinos, Asians, Arabs, Palestinians, Native Americans, and Indians - to address the system that’s suppressing us all. And so it’s a very useful tool to keep us divided and attacking one another instead of attacking the system that’s got its foot on all our necks.

Phillip Babich: I guess also from a historical perspective, as well, racism was very much a justification for the first European marauders, settlers, however you want to term them... when they’re coming to the New World as far as setting the white race above what they were terming as heathens or savages that they encountered in other worlds. Do you see that this racism you’re describing is very much a part of this, I guess, conquest, really?

Kiilu Nyasha: Of course. The exploitation of black people has been clear. First with chattel slavery, and now with neo-slavery or wage slavery, especially as it’s manifested in the prison labor that we see. Sometimes people are working today and they can’t even pay rent, they’re homeless. And yet they have jobs. So that’s almost, in some ways, it’s a more insidious form of slavery.

Phillip Babich: May we go back a little bit and talk about the economic conditions that Blacks were experiencing when you were organizing in New Haven, Connecticut for the Black Panther Party. Can you describe the situation and how that correlated with the impetus to organize for change?

Kiilu Nyasha: Oh, yeah. Hunger was the main problem at that time. And what we used to describe as substandard housing, you know. But substandard housing is not even an issue any more, if you notice, because the issue has changed to homelessness, and nobody even talks about substandard housing any more. Lead paint poisoning was as issue. Education was an issue. Poor quality education plus, in the 60s, don’t forget that the Panthers were very much a part of the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement, and the movement to establish our identity, our racial, ethnic, African identity. We were addressing a lot of the issues that were just choking our communities. Our children were suffering, they were not developing properly due to lack of food and lead paint poisoning, and they were not being educated well in schools because of discrimination and the attitude, the general attitude, which I found pervasive that our children can’t learn, they’re not capable of learning. And so, with low expectations they’re not given what they need, they’re not given the tools with which to learn in school.

Phillip Babich: Maybe you can also talk about another factor that went into organizing, which was incredible amounts of police brutality in black neighborhoods directed at black people, politically active or otherwise. That is still a problem that persists within the black community and also other communities of color.

Kiilu Nyasha: Absolutely. And of course police brutality in the 60s was rampant, and the police, much as you see today, were able to brutalize black people with impunity. And of course, the Panthers stood up against that. In fact, that was the original reason the Panthers became the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. That was the original title, when it was formed in 1966 in Oakland. And that same problem was prevalent all over the country in all the big urban areas especially. And black people...I mean, police used to drive through neighborhoods in Harlem and just shoot into apartment building windows, and kill people, and wound people. It was just outrageous, the kind of brutality that was allowed to go down at that time. The racism was extremely wicked, at the time. And it’s getting that way again, if you’ll notice, in the 90s. And you see...I’m on the Net now, so I can keep up with police brutality nationwide, not just in our own community here, where we’ve seen a number of killings in recent years. Police brutality is still very much alive and kickin’, throughout this country. But we should be clear that this is the front line of the fascist system. The police are the front line, and they are not there for our protection. They are there to protect the property and the interests of the ruling class. And that’s exactly what they do. And they are also protecting white supremacy, if you will.

Phillip Babich: Your statement that you just made, it’s a very strong statement, that it’s the front lines of the fascist system, if I got that correctly. Could you talk a little more about that?

Kiilu Nyasha: Yes, I mean any time that there’s resistance, and there’s been resistance throughout history, the Panthers didn’t, weren’t the first black folks to stand up and be counted and resist fascism, and white supremacy, and repression and oppression and all that. We have a long history of struggle. And the police have always been that thin blue line that keeps up from really attacking this system. And now, we have hundreds of political prisoners in these jails serving monster sentences, lifetime sentences, for basically trying to serve the best interests of the people.

Phillip Babich: Maybe you can pick up on that point, because you are helping to organize a major event to help the cause for political prisoners, and that’s Jericho ‘98.

Kiilu Nyasha: Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. Now some people think of those wall symbolically, and a wall of silence, for example, that this government has erected to keep people from thinking for a minute that there are political prisoners in the United States. They completely deny that there are any political prisoners in these United States, and hypocritically point their fingers at political prisoners in practically every country in the world.

Phillip Babich: I’ve been speaking with Kiilu Nyasha, the producer of "Freedom is a Constant Struggle," on Free Radio Berkeley and San Francisco Liberation Radio, and a former Black Panther. Kiilu, that you so much for joining us on Making Contact.

Kiilu Nyasha: Thank you very much, Phillip. It’s been a pleasure.

Phillip Babich: You are listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. For background or contact information on any of the organizations you hear about on this program, please give us a call, toll-free, at 800-529-5736.

Much of the history of black militancy in the United States has been skewed in the mass media, or omitted entirely. Lee Lew Lee, a filmmaker and former Black Panther Party member, recently released an award-winning documentary entitled, "All Power to the People, the Blank Panther Party and Beyond." The film explores how and why Federal Government Intelligence Agencies sought to eliminate some civil rights and activist groups in the 1960s and ‘70s. Sue Supriano reports.

Sue Supriano: One of Lee Lew Lee’s goals in making "All Power to the People, the Blank Panther Party and Beyond," was to clarify important pieces of Black History.

Lee Lew Lee: This is Black History Month. We shouldn’t even have to have a Black History Month. It’s because the history of Black people was destroyed. Slavery took away the cultural identity, the language, the religion. It even took mother from father and threw the baby in the ocean. So I mean we have to look back and really be honest with ourselves. This is a country of the people, by the people, for the people, run by a few for a few. When we talk about Black History month, we have to really open up the history books to see what happened to the 10,000 African Americans who were lynched between 1890 and 1950. We have to look and see how these things could happen in this country and why nobody is willing to talk about them. They are afraid of a dialogue on race. The president can’t apologize for slavery.

Sue Supriano: Lee said that an apology from the government for slavery would be considered by many African Americans as an important gesture toward healing, especially since so many Blacks in recent decades have fallen victim to government-sponsored violence. The December 1969 murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton is a glaring example. Drugged the night before by an FBI informant, Hampton was sleeping in his bed when he was shot twice in the head during a police raid.

Lee Lew Lee: Fred Hampton said, "racism is an excuse for capitalism." And as you know, Fred Hampton was assassinated. He was the founder of the Rainbow Coalition and he was in the NAACP Youth League, and later he was deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party. And he had a very precise definition of racism in this system. He said, "Look, I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown or red. You know if you don’t fight this oppression, then you are the enemy."

Sue Supriano: Now de-classified documents reveal that the FBI and CIA were directly involved with counter-intelligence operations aimed at the Blank Panther Party, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lee Lew Lee-

Lee Lew Lee: If you go back to the CIA documents, you’re going to see that in 1965 the security research section of the CIA, in March of 1965, they were talking about what would happen if Dr. King were assassinated. There was a mole inside his inner circle. There was a secretive plot going on to see if they could remove Martin Luther King from power. And it’s a very interesting reality. It says: "In summarizing, the problem appears to be that the Communist left is making an all out drive to get into the Negro movement. Martin Luther King must be removed from the leadership of the Negro movement and his removal must come from within and not without. There must be a Negro leader who could step into the vacuum and chaos if Martin Luther King were either exposed or assassinated. Unless the Negro movement leaders, other than King, are informed and capable of intelligent maneuvering, the Communists may be in a position to take over the Negro movement and hence cause extremely critical problems for the government of the U.S." And you can look it up. It’s security research document 353-062, that’s Dr. King’s file number, 11th of May, 1965. Now if I can find it, and other researchers can find it, why can’t the U.S. government find it? Why can’t they reopen the King case? What do they have to hide? Maybe we need to have a truth and reconciliation commission here in the U.S. They’re having one in South Africa.

Sue Supriano: The following clips have been excerpted from the film, "All Power to the People." Wes Sweringen was an FBI special agent from 1950 to 1977.

Wes Sweringen: COINTELPRO was the code word for counterintelligence program, and it was the program the FBI created in 1956 to go after the Communist Party with the intentions of trying to neutralize the Party, put it out of business.

Mumia Abu-Jamal: We can say that the COINTELPRO was a kind of convocation for white supremacy in America.

Sue Supriano: Journalist and former Black Panther Party member, Mumia Abu Jamal, has been on Pennsylvania’s death row since 1982.

Mumia Abu Jamal: Because the function of the FBI was to preserve white, political, social, economic supremacy in America.

Sue Supriano: Cofounder of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale.

Bobby Seale: In the year ‘69, every branch and office of the Black Panther Party in one way, shape, fashion, form or another, was attacked by the power structure of the law enforcement agency, and so on.

Sue Supriano: Former Black Panther Party member, Daruba Bin Wahad.

Daruba Bin Wahad: There are people walking around out there that are like walking wounded. It’s just like they’ve been in Vietnam. Victims of gun battles, and sieges, and isolation, and torture, destroyed families, and dead parents. And nobody knows about them, and nobody really cares. And that story is one that hasn’t been told yet.

Sue Supriano: Filmmaker Lee Lew Lee.

Lee Lew Lee: I really hope that in this country we can have a consensus of a non nonviolent change and forgiveness before it’s too late. Dr. King said that those people who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable. And that is a warning. They don’t play that on TV. They play the other stuff. They play that "I Have a Dream." They don’t play that... Dr. King said that. People should really look around. When you see a poor person who’s homeless, can you help that person? When you see a person who is illiterate, can you help that person? I don’t think people, poor people, are asking for very much. I think that we have a status quo that’s afraid of the underclass, that’s afraid of this dialogue. And this is something that we’re going to have to do if we’re going to get into the 21st century as one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

Sue Supriano: So far, "All Power to the People" has played in 14 countries and on eight major networks, but it has not been aired on television in the United States. To hear how you can get a copy of the film for yourself, or to show in your community, call 800-824-3130, extension 824. That’s 800-824-3130, extension 824. For Making Contact, I’m Sue Supriano.

Phillip Babich: As part of a move to raise consciousness and understanding about racism and possibilities for a multi-cultural society, some businesses and institutions are establishing diversity workshops. For a perspective on this trend, we present a commentary from Kevin Henry, a diversity trainer and journalist based in Seattle.

Kevin Henry: Recently an editorial was written by a columnist up here in the Seattle area about how an experienced diversity training company spent several hours verbally beating up on a group of white workers from the city of Seattle. These workers, many of whom were required to go to this training, were accused of being inherently racist, and the root cause of all of the injustices that have ever happened to minorities in this county. Furthermore, they were accused of being perpetrators of a racist system that strives to keep minorities subordinate. After this bone-rattling experience, this group was definitely not ready to celebrate differences.

Granted we live in a system where racism exists. A system that has kept minorities, women, gays, lesbians, and people with disabilities from frequently reaching their goals or fullest potential. It is a system that keeps the drugs flowing through the urban ghettos of America, and a system that keeps minorities and women in the corporate world often peering up at a seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling. To state, however, that all whites are intrinsically racist, is ludicrous. We are all in some way victims of a system. We can all be given to knee-jerk reaction, to stereotypes that are imbedded in our consciousness. At times the media helps shape our perceptions. We see minorities as poor, struggling, and often violent. We see women as sex objects. Young girls are often given the impression that attractiveness and sex appeal equals success. Most sexual deviants are gay. It goes on and on and on. A group of minority youths, standing on a corner, is going to elicit a different psychological and physiological reaction than a group of well-dressed white businessmen. That is wrong. That is the same attitude that prompts security guards to follow minority customers around shopping malls across the country. Thankfully the result can sometimes mean a huge media fallout, lawsuits, and lots of dollars. Just ask Eddie Bauer, who recently shelled out over a million dollars to two African American youths who were unfairly accosted by an overzealous security guard at a store on the east coast.

Racism is like a disease. It does not discriminate. There are white racists, brown racists, and black racists. None of us is immune to it. You would think that as an African American, I would be especially sensitive to any form of racism and be prepared to stamp it out. You would think that I would immediately recognize it in myself. But I fall victim to my own stereotypes, one of which is that white people living in rural communities are a lot more likely to be racist than the ones who live in the city. During my move to Seattle in the summer of 1988, I came face to face with an Oregon State Trooper. Traveling in my then shiny new Nissan Sentra, I began speeding through Coos Bay, Oregon, to make up for the time I had spent relishing the splendid view provided by the Oregon Coast along Highway 101. It was 6 a.m. and I thought, "Who’s around?"

So I punched my car up to about 70 in a 35-mile speed zone. Blissfully snapping my fingers to some music I had on the radio, several minutes later I happened to notice flashing red lights in my rear view mirror. Suddenly several films came to mind. "In the Heat of the Night," in which Rod Steiger played a redneck southern sheriff, and finally the film, "Smoky and the Bandit," which starred the late Jackie Gleason as redneck sheriff Buford T. Justis. After all, here I was, a black man in a new car, packed with clothes, radio, and a television. I was speeding, and to top it off, I had California plates. I even thought he would be more incensed because chasing me had made him spill his coffee and drop his donut. I just knew this racist redneck small town trooper would spew out the familiar racist jargon, beginning, of course, with: "You’re in a heap-a trouble, boy." I braced myself for impact, incoming, I thought. To my surprise, this older, soft-spoken white man apologized for having to stop me and give me a ticket. He had hoped that I would slow down, but after trailing me for 15 minutes, it didn’t appear that I would. He said that he’d give me a break and only write down that I was doing 50 in a 35-mile zone, instead of 75. -This ticket would only be about $60.00 instead of $400.00. We wound up casually talking for 10 minute before I was on my way. So much for stereotypes.

My point is that we live in a society where we are inundated with stereotypes. I can’t even remember the amount of basketball games I’ve been asked to join because I’m black and tall. For the record, I am a rotten basketball player. People are individuals and it is dangerous for anyone to think otherwise. If anything, the white people in that diversity training session can at least walk away knowing what the penetrating pain of racism feels like, no matter what its natural origin.

I became diversity coordinator for the city of Bellevue almost four years ago. Ten years ago, Bellevue was a middle class suburban community that was 95% white. Today the minority population is nearly 20%. People are being forced out of their comfort zones. But diversity is inclusive of everyone. It’s about the special qualities that we all have, and what we as unique individuals have to offer to each other. In the diversity trainings that I conduct, people are sometimes reluctant to talk. But once they hear that I had wrestled with my own stereotypes, the ice is broken. Understanding and healing begins with communication and trust.

Phillip Babich: Commentary from Kevin Henry, a Seattle-based radio talk show host and diversity trainer.

Angela Davis: A radical political culture today has to be anti-capitalist.

Phillip Babich: Professor Angela Davis. She spoke recently on the topic of creating a new revolutionary culture. She was joined by writer Amiri Baraka.

Angela Davis: It has to be feminist, anti-homophobic, transnational, and -- but I guess I would also say that it’s important to look very closely at what young people are doing today. Because the building of a political culture in the latter 1990s is not the same project as it may have been in the 1960s. And sometimes those of us who look with eyes that were educated by the political process of those years don’t know where to look, and oftentimes fail to see really important things, and I guess I’ll end with that right now. For the moment. Do you understand what I’m saying now?

Amiri Baraka: Let me try to lay it out exactly. I think that first of all, the principal enemy is not capitalism, it’s imperialism. And I think until we understand the difference between the two, and if we’re dealing with a nation which is an imperialist nation, that contains all the contradictions that imperialism has, that is, it oppresses the great many people who are ... come from oppressed... Let’s say this… Imperialism around the world divides the world into a handful of little super-industrial oppressor nations, and the great majority of peoples in the world into oppressed nations. I’m saying we have to deal with the question of imperialism because if we start talking about capitalism, even though we ultimately, say, anti-capitalist, we have to see that capitalism, within these national liberation struggles, still has a progressive aspect to it that we cannot dismiss. It’s the difference between capitalism, the last vestiges of competitive capitalism, which in the U.S. now has wiped out the 19th century, except now, the United States is an imperialist nation. Even its national bourgeoisie doesn’t have anything to say. That’s why old Peero, what’s his name, Peerott, that’s why Mr. Perot could not even debate, you know what I’m saying.? (laughter) I’m saying if a million...if a billionaire can’t get a chance to debate, then what right do you think you’re going to get it.

Phillip Babich: Writer Amiri Baraka.

Martin Luther King, Jr: I don’t believe in guerilla warfare. I think it would be both impractical, ineffective, and immoral. So I can’t believe in this at all. But I think we must see, on the other hand, however, that the young militants are in the revolutionary spirit, and they are concerned about revolutionizing certain values that have been existing in our society that need to be revolutionized, and I think the other thing that we must see is, as President Kennedy said, those who make peaceful revolution impossible, only make violent revolution inevitable.

Phillip Babich: Martin Luther King, Jr.

That’s it for this edition of Making Contact, a look at Black Liberation movements, racism, and capitalism. Thanks for listening. And special thanks this week to Lee Lew Lee and La Pena Cultural Center for recorded portions. Sue Supriano provided editorial assistance. We had production help this week from Rebecca Armstrong. I’m Phillip Babich.

Samantha Hamovitch: If you want more information about the subject of this week’s program, call the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736. Call that same phone number for tapes and transcripts, or if you’d like to make a comment about what you’ve just heard. That’s 800-529-5736. Making Contact is an independent production funded by individual contributors. We’re committed to providing a forum for voices and opinions not often heard in the mass media. Our producers are David Barsamian, Phillip Babich, and Denise Graab. Our senior advisor is Norman Solomon, and our executive director is Peggy Law. Our theme music is by the Charlie Hunter Trio. For everyone at Making Contact, thanks for listening.