Robin D.G. Kelley presents Mike Brown’s Body: Meditations on War, Race and Democracy
The Ferguson protests provide an occasion to meditate on the relationship between war, race, freedom and democracy, especially in light of several events: the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 13th amendment; the 100th anniversary of World War I and the U.S. occupation of Haiti; the 50th anniversary of SNCC’s Freedom Summer, the March on Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the assassination of Malcolm X, and the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act; and the latest “Freedom Summer” of 2014, from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and anti-police violence protests to the war on Gaza. Taken together, these three lectures performs something of a political autopsy on Mike Brown to reveal both the history of the racial regimes that ultimately left him dead in the streets for four and a half hours, but more importantly, reveal the alternative possibilities for creating democracy rooted in freedom, justice, and decolonization.
The final lecture circles around 1965 but extends back to Bandung (1955) and decolonization and moves well into the next five decades in order to explain the consolidation of neoliberalism as not just a response to economic crisis but global and national struggles to decolonize, dismantle racism, patriarchy, the rule of capital, and an expanding national security state. Again, Kelley will discuss both the alternative futures born of this moment, and their defeat. The so-called Cold War was hardly “cold”: the deployment of U.S. combat operations, state violence, and interventions actually escalated, but the main theaters of war were the Third World and America’s ghettoes and barrios. The massive expansion of U.S. military and commercial hegemony coincides with successful multiracial struggles for democracy that ultimately achieve the universal franchise for the first time in the U.S.
Kelley makes at least three central arguments: 1) that World War I was both a war for colonies and a war on the working class, and that the U.S. opened the real “Western Front” with the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914), Haiti (1915), Dominican Republic (1916), etc. 2) that this moment marked the criminalization of Other Brown bodies--the “immigrant”--which in turn masked the war’s character. Examining the consequences of immigration policy rooted in race, empire, militarization, and class war, Kelley shows how mass immigration and immiseration are produced and reproduced, how such policies laid the basis for the national security state in the U.S., and generated massive inequality on a world scale. 3) Suggest that this modern racial regime shored up white support for U.S. imperial power and succeeded in defeating the global working-class, foreclosing (yet again) a radically different future.
This talk opens with the killing of Mike Brown and the wave of anti-police protests, and suggests that the struggle for justice for Brown and other victims is not new, nor is it merely a consequence of the militarization of police. Instead, Brown—like Tanisha Anderson and others—is a casualty of a war originating over 500 years ago, a war to colonize, dispossess, enslave, deny rights of citizenship; a war to decolonize, repossess, emancipate, democratize. What we’re witnessing, in other words, is part of a much longer struggle not just against enslavement, colonialism, and state violence, but for democracy itself—a struggle on the part of racialized subjects to end racial capitalism’s brutal war, to bring peace and a new democratic, just, order to the world.