The two seemingly contradictory developments are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.
During the 1950s and ’60s, the massive proletarian movement for Black rights smashed Jim Crow segregation.
In the 1960s and ’70s, urban rebellions shook the cities of the North, big and small, and Black nationalist consciousness spread widely. The rulers were forced to concede not just formal equality, but also what became known as affirmative action—enforced by quotas—to break down barriers that had long blocked African-Americans from segregated industries, skilled jobs, promotions, protection from last-hired first-fired and the opportunity to break into higher education.
These victories, led by Black workers, permanently strengthened the entire working class in the United States.
It also opened the door for many Blacks to attend college and for a growing minority to leave the proletariat, transforming their class position and outlook in society.
More than 9 percent of Black families have annual incomes over $100,000 a year.
A layer of newly well-off Blacks, like Barack Obama, have come to identify not with the vast majority of African-Americans, who represent an oppressed and combative section of the working class, but as part of an emerging privileged social layer that is increasingly diverse in background.
“The Obama administration is a product of the explosive growth in recent decades of a new stratum of bourgeois-minded professionals and middle-class individuals—of all hues of skin—in cities, suburbs, and university towns across the country,” Jack Barnes wrote in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, published in 2009.
“This is a self-designated ‘enlightened meritocracy,’ determined to con the world into accepting the myth that the economic and social advancement of its members is just reward for their individual intelligence, education and ‘service,’” Barnes wrote.
This meritocracy is convinced they got their special niche on the power of their “brights,” coupled with their desire to help manage society’s lower classes.
They oppose affirmative action quotas, especially where they favor Black workers, instead favoring a focus on “diversity.” This misnomer has more and more come to mean the possibility for the “chosen few” to advance into the meritocracy—to the degree the bourgeoisie deems it necessary to the maintenance and reproduction of stable bourgeois social relations.
For instance, when the Supreme Court took up a challenge to the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program in 2003, 30 U.S. military generals and admirals, including Norman Schwarzkopf, filed a friend-of-the court brief arguing that such steps were needed to make the rulers’ officer corps more reflective of the ranks of the troops—the better to serve ruling class interests.
These meritocrats are mortified to be identified with working people, fearful that their newfound class status might crumble or be threatened by the toiling and producing majority.
For the working class, the 150-year legacy of resistance to oppression by the Black nationality bodes well for the coming revolutionary struggles. For the propertied rulers and their allies—whether they be Caucasian, Black, Latino or Asian—if you are Black and don’t “make it” out of the working class you are dangerous.
As the capitalist economic crisis deepens, these meritocrats fear you will play a vanguard role in leading the working class as a whole in growing resistance.
For these reasons, the necessary concomitant of bourgeois diversity for a tiny minority is the stepped-up “policing” and incarceration of working people, especially targeting Black workers.
2.5 million imprisoned in U.S.“By age 23, almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime,” the New York Times reported Dec. 19.
Just shy of two and a half million people are in federal, state and municipal prisons and jails. Another 93,000 are held in juvenile detention. More than 4 million are on probation, 840,000 on parole. That’s a total of some 7.4 million people.
Over 90 percent of those sent to prison result from plea bargains, rather than go to court. Workers are bullied by prosecution threats of long sentences, regardless of whether they are guilty, and cop lesser terms.
“The spectacular growth in the American penal system over the last three decades was concentrated in a small segment of the population, among young minority men,” concluded a study published in Daedalus in 2010.
Congress, the cops and courts have dramatically expanded the number and use of drug laws, with severe mandatory sentences. Over two-thirds of drug arrests result in criminal convictions.
African-Americans make up 87 percent of youth who are charged under these laws. In 2009, 10 percent of Black males 20-24 years old were in prison.
Nearly one in three Black men aged 20-29 is under “criminal justice supervision”—prison, probation or parole.
At the same time, while the cops focus “policing” on young Blacks—using aggressive “stop and frisk” tactics or traffic stops where Blacks are three times more likely to have their car searched—they rarely respond to calls for help inside the Black community.
“Blacks still constitute the core of America’s crime problem,” James Wilson wrote in the Wall Street Journal this year.
Today, the U.S. rulers suppress the “dangerous classes” to protect their rule by incorporating more “diverse” and bourgeois-minded Black army officers, judges, prison psychiatrists—and presidents like Obama—to target you.
Phila. DA drops death penalty against Mumia Abu-Jamal
Martina Davis-Correia: fighter against death sentence
Greetings to workers behind bars
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