Sunday, December 4, 2011


For months I’ve been following the “Occupy” mobilizations and pondering what –- quite frankly –- felt “wrong” about something that -– on the face of it -– seems oh, so right.

Then I read an article by journalist Stacey Patton ("Occupy isn't black America's fight", The Washington Post Outlook section, 11.27.2011), who oh-so-brilliantly provides the context and sheds light on what seems to be Black America’s relationship with this overwhelmingly white mobilization.

In her article, “Occupy isn’t Black America’s Fight”, Ms. Patton serves up an October 2011 Fast Company survey finding that African Descendants, who are 12.6% of the population in America, make up only 1.6% (!!!!!!!!) of the Occupy Wall Street mobilizations. As New York WBAI radio host and producer Nathalie Thandiwe summed up in the Patton interview: “Occupy Wall Street was started by whites and is about their concern with their plight. Now that capitalism isn’t working for ‘everybody’ some are protesting.”

Talk about speaking Truth!

There has not been a time in this country’s history when income inequality, unemployment, disparate economic opportunity, and America’s capitalist system have not been racialized. Yet –- all of a sudden -– these things are JUST NOW coming into the public consciousness of “everybody” else –- enough for them to start mobilizations? Although few say this publicly, there is much chatter and questioning regarding where “they” have been for all the years that communities of color have been organizing around these very same issues. And it is not going un-noticed how -- instead of joining mobilizations of color that have structure, clear messages, actual strategies, and organizing experience -- “Occupy” mobilizers are instead perpetuating historical plantation dynamics when they insist that people of color join THEM in agendas developed according to THEIR racialized interests, experiences, and goals.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems as though the offer being made to people of color by Occupiers is the offer of cleaving to an agenda of THEIR making, choosing, experiences and suffering, while being allocated segregated “safe spaces” to discuss their own concerns in return.

And they are expressing surprise that many activists of color are declining their urgent invitations.

In Patton’s article, a New Jersey comedian says “high joblessness and social disenfranchisement is new to most of the Wall Street protesters. It has been a fact of life for African Americans since the beginning.”

And he is not joking.

“Black America’s fight for income inequality is not on Wall Street, but is a matter of day-to-day survival. The more pressing battles are against tenant evictions, police brutality and street crime. This group doesn’t see a reason to join the amorphous Occupiers,” Stacey Patton affirms.

And it is that crucial difference in focus, history, and “lived experience” –- along with the (I’m sure) unconscious but palatable plantation dynamics –- which is keeping the “Occupy” mobilizations majority white.

Patton states “Beyond a lack of leaders to inspire them to join the Occupy fold,
[B]lacks are not seeing anything new for themselves in the movement. Why should they ally with whites who are just now experiencing the hardships that [B]lacks have known for generations? Perhaps white Americans are now paying the psychic price for not answering the basic questions that [B]lacks have long raised about income inequality.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps “Occupy” mobilizers will stay in the game as long as it takes for THEIR interests to be met. And organizers and communities of color will once again be left in the dust of their “safe spaces.”

Moving Forward,