Thinking with Audre Lorde and Walter Rodney

The rain started before dawn today, soft patters, punctuated by the casual birdsong that reminds us that spring is emerging. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder. The emotions of the day linger in the air. Imperialism, the relations of exploitation and accumulation vouchsafed by the largest military in human history, continues to thrive. People will its reality out of mind, their eyes start to dart and glance away under the weight Trayvon’s destruction. The pandemic has made them comfortable with magical thinking, returning to burned earth.

I turn to Walter Rodney and Audre Lorde for insight and inspiration. Not really an unlikely pair. Her poem, Equal Opportunity knits the impending elimination of affirmative action with compulsory flag waving, with inclusion into empire:

The american deputy assistant secretary of defense
for Equal Opportunity
and safety
is a home girl.
Blindness slashes our tapestry to shreds.

The moss-green military tailoring sets off her color
she says "when I stand up to speak in uniform
you can believe everyone takes notice!"
Superimposed skull-like across her trim square shoulders
the stench of napalm upon growing cabbage
the chug and thud of Corsairs in the foreground
advance like a blush across her cheeks
up the unpaved road outside Grenville, Granada

Did Audre Lorde foresee Powell or Obama or Harris or Lloyd Austin as she wrote these words? Through the uncounted battles with cancer? What has she told us that we’ve yet to note?

What does it mean to be “included” in death? Why do we get to be included in the “defense” department but not Harvard, of the elite schools of the east and San Francisco? Are the only valid passports for Black folk in Poland those with a united states emblem destined for “black” sites or Rzeszow military base? Do Black american soldiers turn away Nigerians evacuating Ukraine? Do they care? Are there nuclear weapons in Rzeszow? When the us president committed the $600 million to “defense” did someone bother to tell them — the states and people of eastern europe — that the us debt is always paid by them? Their tribute for our opportunity.

Walter Rodney is still grounding us on imperialism. In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa he writes:

Before the war of 1914, the Pan-Africanists Dusé Muhammad Ali and W.E.B. Du Bois recognized that monopoly capital was the leading element in imperialist expansion. The most thorough and the best-known analysis of this phenomenon was made by the Russian revolutionary leader, Lenin. Lenin was virtually prophetic, because as the colonial age advanced, it became more and more obvious that those who stood to benefit most were the monopoly concerns, and especially those involved in finance.

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

I suppose he was talking about this passage

The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agrarian territories, but even most highly industrialised regions (German appetite for Belgium; French appetite for Lorraine), because (1) the fact that the world is already partitioned obliges those contemplating a redivision to reach out for every kind of territory, and (2) an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony. (Belgium is particularly important for Germany as a base for operations against Britain; Britain needs Baghdad as a base for operations against Germany, etc.)

Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism

The united states has that base in Belgium, 6500 soldiers still in Iraq, the owners change put the game stays the same.

Rodney writes in The Russian Revolution

The constitution of Tsarist Russia explicitly based discriminatory measures on the racial or national origin or religion of those affected. It was in some ways like the distinctions made under Portuguese and Belgian colonialism, and under South African and Rhodesian apartheid. In other words, Russian colonial rule hardly differed from that of the Western European powers. The British sent warships; the Russians sent the Cossacks.

Walter Rodney, The Russian Revolution, A View from the Third World

The habits of imperialism and empire are hard to break. It’s the habit of neo-colonialism to be “inclusive” in empire, “inclusive” in terror, “inclusive” in the bordering and exclusion of Blackness, “inclusive” in the dirty violent work of racial capital. Boundaries.

The rain halts. Chill sets in. I conclude with Audre Lorde’s Diaspora offering prayers to the African students across Ukraine trying to cross the excluding borders to safety, offering duas to the African distant kin trapped in Libya, hymns for all of the souls held in the in-between places excluded by those “inclusive” encampments.

Afraid is a country with no exit visas
a wire of ants walking the horizon
embroiders our passports at birth
Johannesburg Alabama
a dark girl flees the cattle prods
skin hanging from her shredded nails
escapes into my nightmare
half an hour before the Shatila dawn
wakes in the well of a borrowed Volkswagen
or a rickety midnight sleeper out White River Junction
Washington bound    again
gulps carbon monoxide in a false-bottomed truck
fording the Braceras Grande
or an up-country river
grenades held dry in a calabash

My quotations from Audre Lorde were taken from The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited by Roxane Gay.

I bid you peace and freedom. I wish you an end to the borders which separate you from kin, I wish you a world without police.

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