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Apartheid By Apathy

Soundtrack: The Temptations “Ball of Confusion”


Apartheid: a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. From the Afrikaans word meaning “separateness”, usually used to refer to the (former) social system in South Africa.

Apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern

I have returned home to St. Louis, Missouri…North County to be exact, which contains Ferguson, where the eyes of the world are focused. The home that I grew up in is about a 9 minute drive from where Mike Brown was killed. As I sit down to write this, social media reports that there was just another shooting of an unarmed black man by St. Louis city police. (Editor’s Note: Apparently, this most recent shooting victim was holding a knife).

As we have all heard by now, the municipality of Ferguson is about 70% black. 1 of the 6 city council members are black. 3 of the 53 police officers are black. 7 school board members, six white, one black. The mayor is white. And this pattern is typical of the small municipalities that make up the northern part of St. Louis County.

My family moved to North County in 1985. There was a veritable flood of black people moving from the inner city into this area around that time. And, of course, the white residents began to move out in droves. Those whites who didn’t leave are now elders, by and large. The black community is largely young, poor, and constantly moving from apartment to apartment. It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that these conditions are going to lead to more white people choosing to vote in electoral politics than black people. Older people of all races can be counted on to vote no matter their race.

The end result of this is a situation where a minority white population rules over a majority black population that is generally too busy surviving from day to day to be worried about who is running for political office or what the issues are. And because these white people are typical white Americans, many of them really don’t like blacks very much. And it shows in the way they treat the black people who they rule over. The aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting shows us the ultimate result of all of this.

Apartheid by Apathy.

The failure of Black people to get collectively involved in political and civic affairs leaves someone else to do the troublesome job of actually running the local governments and institutions.

Apartheid by Apathy.

This situation is one of the troublesome legacies of U.S. slavery. The democratic political process is a cultural habit acquired by people over the course of time. When the first Europeans arrived in the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, when they lived in British colonies, they didn’t have the cultural habits necessary to politically control their communities. The only reality they knew was being ruled by the British powers-that-be. Those people learned how to govern themselves through trial and error. They didn’t automatically have the process figured out in 1776. It took them 13 years after making their Declaration of Independence to come up with a Constitution. Initially the two dominant political parties in this country were called the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republican party. Those two parties fell apart around the 1820s. There was a second set of parties that dominated politics from 1828 to 1854, including the Anti-Masonic Party. And there were more distinct periods in America’s political development after that. 100 years ago it was common knowledge that much of this country’s political machinery was heavily influenced by organized crime, street gangsters. The current way that things look in this country is very, very new.

The Africans in the United States were released from physical slavery in the 1860s. After less than 15 years of Reconstruction it was decided that we would be excluded from the political process by the Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. We were just officially let back into the political arena in the late 1960s. Less than 50 years ago. We have not had the time to develop healthy cultural habits surrounding politics that other communities have had. To expect us to compete equally on this political playing field is to deny our history in this country.

Now, it is only our responsibility to get us up to speed. No one is going to do it for us and no one should be expected to do it for us. However, it should not be surprising that we don’t have it all figured out yet. Especially when the current Establishment has been using tactics like the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program and Reagan’s War On Drugs (which is really a war on Black people) to keep us from being able to develop politically for the whole past 50 years. That masterful behind-the-scenes repression of our political aspirations has resulted in many of our people giving up on the political process because it hasn’t garnered results for us. This is the background that has led to us now living under Apartheid by Apathy.

Our community is mainly divided between those who choose not to engage in politics at all and those who have been absorbed into the Democratic Party. The elements among our people who have attempted to develop organized groups to exclusively pursue our political interests have been nullified. I won’t take this time to get fully into our relationship with the Democratic Party, other than to say that that is not in our best collective interest.

Ultimately, we have to learn from the example of other groups who have political effectiveness. The National Rifle Association, the homosexual community, the Jewish community, and others have laid a blueprint for how to do group politics well. The foundation of it is learning how to use lobbying groups, political action committees, and fundraising effectively. Detailing how that process works would have to be the subject of a separate writing. For now, I would like to reiterate these three points:

1) Black people in the United States are living under apartheid conditions. Being dominated over by people who don’t look like us, don’t identify with us, and don’t love us. And that condition is starting to boil over into rebellions as we see in St. Louis surrounding the killing of Mike Brown.

2) This Apartheid by Apathy is the natural result of our history in this country. Having been only recently allowed to enter the political process and never having been allowed to enter the political process free of interference, it would be silly to expect us to be able to compete equally with other communities politically. That is not how reality works.

3) Our situation is an unpleasant one. We don’t have the power to control our own lives and our own communities. No one outside of our communities is going to give us any assistance in gaining power for ourselves. It is up to us to take our dissatisfaction and channel it into some serious organizing work. We have to study the example of other communities and learn how to apply those principles to our own community. We must develop a Black America lobbying group and political action committee. We must free ourselves from the clutches of the Democratic Party. If they want our votes then they will have to earn them.

Let us love ourselves and stop being so hard on ourselves for not having it all together just yet. Let history soothe our minds and allow us to be kind to ourselves and to one another. And let us charge forward as a unit, determined to claim the Power over own communities that we should have.




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