In all my years of study and experience with violent behaviors-be it that of my own or another’s-it would not be until I began research for this article that it became abundantly clear there exists a direct correlation between violence and oppression. When I reflect on my personal experiences coupled with the studies I have undertaken which dealt with the affects of America’s racist and class based infrastructure, not to mention the revolutions it give life to, I recognize this truth has been before me all along and is very much a fundamental aspect causing the extreme violence witnessed in the ghetto. This observation while not completely lost on my conscious obviously was not at the forethought of it either considering all the days I spent wilding-out in my youth. Here, I have nothing but my former education and the ignorance that came of it to blame. For this inattention was the expected outcome of its repressive nature to distort my conscious.
As for my newfound consciousness? I attribute it in part to my studies of revolutionary history and the revolutionary thought which gave life to them. These studies inevitably directed me to consider the social and economic precursors that, for example, gave wind to the Black Power and other radically defined political movements of the 1960s. They were militant, organized and at times lethal not to mention extremely outspoken when it came to matters of race and class oppression.
Furthermore, these political struggles rekindled a sense of racial pride and character, economic independence, and cultural education that had been phasing in-and-out of the Black community since emancipation. Notably, the invigorating cultural pride and consciousness that again served to heighten the psychological violence employed by a racist government whose manipulations plagued every aspect of Black life ranging from the degrading concepts of Eurocentric education to the fluid and corrupt preachments of English law. Needless to say, the reinvigoration of this conscious character gave voice to mantras such as “Black is Beautiful,” “Black Power,” “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and the many others which functioned to build the esteem of people of color. They were both sacred in practice and a testimonial to a liberated conscious rooted in culturally significant education and economic empowerment geared towards casting off the oppressive hands of a racist government.
Of greater importance is the fact that the violence of the time-qthat is, that commissioned by the oppressed–was not of a predominately self-destructive nature, rather one aimed at destroying the circumstances which had created their oppression. Here, my studies have informed me that the particular mindset prompting resistive and violent action to counter the oppressive nature of totalitarian governments throughout history–and not implode with self-destructive and inner-community chaos or acquiesce to this authority–was a mindset that was well disciplined in the measures and countermeasures of and to resist such circumstance. In other words, not only had these brilliant minds studied the nature of the oppressor; more importantly, they studied and developed the countermeasures that provided them defense to the physical and psychological violence of oppression. These were lessons perfected only with time as they evolved in the reflection of those like African Freedom Fighter Steve Biko, who has provided us those sacred words: The mind of the oppressed is the most potent weapon in the arsenal of the oppressor. With just these few words, he inspired countless authors, including myself, to expound upon the distorted educational processes that have been designed to further the agenda of our capitalist exploiters.
To this end, we begin to understand revolutionary thinking. It seeks out the unorthodox and innovative of disciplines not simply to defy the status quo because knowledge has enabled it to do so. Rather, to change perspectives because it knows boundaries have been set in place with this distorted education so as to hinder independence and thus allow for a violently oppressive relationship amongst the classes and other racial groups. Here, I must digress to say that those afflicted who respond violently should never be misconstrued as criminals, radicals, militants, or the lot of other heterodox labels to which the oppressor has sought to castigate upon them. For the violent undertakings of the oppressed against their oppressors is nothing other than counter offense to what by nature of oppression is an already violent relationship. For as the late Paulo Freire has informed us: “Every relationship of domination, of exploitation, of oppression, is by definition violent whether or not the violence is expressed by drastic means” because, “with the establishment of a relationship of oppression, [etc.], violence has already begun.”
Let us now turn to the question of how and why the violence of the oppressed went from counter-destructive to self-destructive as witnesses today throughout America’s ghettos. Here, it pays to revisit the topic of black-on-black-violence discussed in previous blogs. Having already concluded that the rise in gang violence during the 1970s onto the 1990s was largely attributed to the rejection of Black Nationalism, allows for further comment on the strategic undermining of the formal and informal social controls which were assailed by J. Edger Hoover’s FBI.
Hoover knew all too well the lessons of the great Tocqueville: “If ever America undergoes great revolutions, they will be brought about by the presence of the black race [because] they owe their origin, not to the equality, but to the inequality of condition.”” White supremacy was at stake and Hoover was compelled to take such steps to reverse the progressive culture that had grew from the Black American’s oppressive experience. This would eventually lead to a more retrogressive street gang culture. For many of the organizations Hoover targeted had captured the aggressive psychological energy pent up in the Black community and effectively channeled it into a progressive force. For example, his use of cold war tactics to infiltrate and dismantle the Black Panther Party allowed for him to plant a seed of discontent amongst the ranks of this organization’s leadership. The effect of which would eventually trickle down throughout the body of this organization and lead to inner-group and counter-group conflict. The distrust that came of this manipulation consequently induced a self-destructive violence. For this organization functioned as a constructive outlet for pent up aggressions within the Black community. Thus the solidarity and formal and informal social controls it had managed to build a benevolent and progressive community were dismantled. Needless to say, the aggressive energy of this community was thereafter easily manipulated into a community-destructive force with the coming of crack cocaine.
To accomplish this, the would be father of America’s tyranny had to be more clandestine in his efforts. This was especially so given the fact that the bloody encounters with local law enforcement and the Black Nationalist and Civil Rights organizations had painted the stripes of the American flag with enough blood to evoke even the passions of a surgeon. The effect of which was undesired because it extended to the hearts and minds of white sympathizers the world over. Nevertheless, Hoover was determined to suppress those who took a stance against their oppression and in doing so threatened the existing capitalist infrastructure.
For these reasons the American government has had a long history of duplicity and playing puppeteer to the assassination of prominent leaders (e.g., MLK, Jr., Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Saddam, Gadhafi, and many others, including failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro) who have stood in the way of elite interests to maintain the inequality and theft which fuels America’s capitalist spirit.
In the past sixty years the fate of those who stood in the way of these interests has been made to appear as if unrelated to the preserving of capitalism. In the name of freedom and democracy, the whip used to punish the slave has strategically been placed in the hands of puppet governments, anti-communist militias, and Black deflectors in the community who have turned on their own for promises of capitalist’s dreams―solely for the sake of public appearance so as America can maintain its image of a peace seeking and just government.
In respect to the puppets in the Black community, the government has much to work with considering those long existing inferior complexes which arguably plague our community to this day. Here, I find it exemplifying to revisit those damning psychological controls stemming from the history of America’s infamous slave trade.
To better explain the social engineering that has come of it, I again enlist the works of Burrell, Poussaint, Tookie, and Amos Wilson. To begin, Burrell is both instructive and informative where writing:
Slavery and the country’s addiction to race-based violence is no excuse for the murderous behavior of blacks today. However, to fix a problem you have to understand its roots. Exploring antisocial mores and values, as well as societal and legal injustices, helps us connect the dots between the deadly “code of honor” of yesteryear and the nihilistic “code of respect” defiantly practiced today.
What Burrell has touched on I must expound upon further by quoting extensively the writings of Dr. Poussaint. For his writings serve to illustrate the connection between the affects of racism and the aggressive inner-community violence caused by the antisocial mores and values and societal and legal injustices Burrell speaks of. Moreover, by simply exchanging the term “Negro” (as was appropriate at the time Poussaint wrote this article) for Asian, Latino, Native American, etc., what we shall discover is a systematic process by which the racist has continuously induced feelings of inferiority in all people of color. The consequence of which
…social scientists have come to attribute many of the Negro’s social and psychological ills to his self-hatred and resultant self-destructive impulses. Slums, high crime rates, alcoholism, drug addiction, illegitimacy, other social deviations have all attributed in part to the Negro’s acting out feelings of inferiority. Many behavioral scientists have suggested that the recent urban Negro riots [i.e., Watts, Newark, Detroit, Dayton, Cleveland and forty other cities across the nation that exploded in riots in the 1960s] are a manifestation of subconscious self-destructive forces in black people stemming from this chronic feeling of self-denigration. Noted Dr. Kenneth B. Clark has even speculated that these riots are a form of “community suicide” that expresses the ultimate in self-negation self-rejection and hopelessness….
No one denies that many Negroes have feelings of self-hatred. But the limitations of the thesis became apparent when one realizes that a Negro with all the self-love and self-confidence in the world could not express it in a system that is so brutally and unstintingly suppressive of self-assertion. Through systematic oppression aimed at extinguishing his aggressive drive, the black American has been effectively castrated and rendered abjectly complaint by white America. Since appropriate rage at such emasculation could be expressed directly only at great risk, the Negro repressed and suppressed it, but only at great cost to his psychic development. Today this “aggressive-rage” constellation, rather than self-hatred, appears to be at the core of the Negro’s social and psychological difficulties….
Let us briefly look at the genesis and initial consequences of this oppressive behavior and the Negroes’ responses to it. The castration of Negroes, and the resulting problems of self-image and inner rage, started more than 300 years ago when black men, women, and children were wrenched from their native Africa, stripped bare both psychologically and physically, and placed in an alien white land. They thus came to occupy the most degraded of human conditions: that of a slave, a piece of property, a non-person. Families were broken up, the Negro male was completely emasculated, and the Negro woman was systematically sexually exploited and vilely degraded.
Whites, to escape the resultant retaliatory rage of black men and women, acted to block its expression. The plantation system implanted a subservience and dependency in the psyche of the Negro that made him dependant upon the goodwill and paternalism of the white man. The more acquiescent he was, the more he was rewarded within the plantation culture. Those who bowed and scraped for the white boss and denied their aggressive feelings were promoted to “house nigger” and “good nigger.”
It became a virtue within this system for the black man to be docile and non-assertive. “Uncle Toms” are exemplars of these conditioned virtues. If black people wanted to keep some semblance of a job and a full stomach to survive, they quickly learned “Yassuh, Massa.” Passivity for Negroes became necessary for survival both during and after slavery, and holds true even today.
For reinforcement, as if any was needed, white supremacists constructed an entire “racial etiquette” to remind Negroes constantly that they are only castrated humans…. If the Negro…rejected these social mores he would probably be harassed, punished or in some way “disciplined.” White racists through the centuries have perpetuated violence on Negroes who demonstrate aggressiveness. To be an “uppity nigger” was considered by white supremacists one of the gravest violations of racial etiquette.
Nonetheless, the passivity to which the black community has been so well conditioned is frequently called apathy and self-hate by those who would lay the burden of white racism on the black man’s shoulders. The more reasonable explanation is that Negroes had little choice but to bear the severe psychological burden of suppressing and repressing their rage and aggression.
NONASSERTIVENESS WAS A LEARNED ADAPTION TO INSURE SURVIVAL….
Of course, this also is conveniently protective for white racist, because Negroes who are nonassertive will be afraid to compete with him for education, jobs and status….
Many psychiatrists feel that self-denigration is secondary to the more general castration of the black man by white society. Some believe that the self-hatred should be viewed as a rage turned inward rather than as a shame in being black and a desire to be white… [C]entral to whatever specific emotional problems their Negro patients exhibits is how they deal with their feelings of hostility and rage….
Of course, Negroes react and adapt to the stresses of white racism in a myriad of ways depending upon socioeconomic level, family life, geographical location, etc. Yet the fact remains that Negroes as individuals must deal with the general effects of racism….
What happens then to the accumulated rage in the depths of each Negro psyche? What does the black man do with his aggression?
The simplest method for dealing with rage is to suppress it and substitute an opposing emotional attitude-compliance, docility or a “loving attitude….”
Sometimes rage can be denied completely and replaced by a compensatory happy-go-lucky attitude, flippancy or-a mechanism extremely popular among Negroes-“being cool.”
Or the aggression may be channeled into competitive sports, music, dance. Witness the numbers of Negroes who flock to these activities, among the few traditionally open to them by white society….
Another legitimate means of channeling rage is to identify with the oppressor and put all ones energy into striving to be like him…. Such blacks usually harbor strong, angry anti-Negro feelings similar to those of the white racist. They may project their own self-hatred onto other Negroes. This is indicated in the high incidence of impulsive violence of Negroes toward each other: assaults and homicides by Negroes are more often against Negroes than against whites…
It is also legitimate and safe for the oppressed to identify with someone like himself who for one reason or another is free to express rage directly at the oppressor. This phenomenon would account for the immense popularity among Negroes of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell and Malcolm X….
Another technique for dealing with rage is replace it with a type of chronic resentment and stubbornness toward white people-a chip on the shoulder. Trying to control deep anger in this way frequently shows itself in a general irritability and it always has the potential of becoming explosive. Thus the spreading wave of riots in the Negro ghetto may be seen as outbursts of rage. Although these riots are contained in the ghetto, the hatred is usually directed at those whom the rioter sees as controlling and oppressing him emotionally, psychologically and physically-store owners and policemen.
The same hostility which is expressed in a disorganized way by a collection of people in a riot can be expressed in AN ORGANIZED WAY IN A POLITICAL MOVEMENT. IN THIS CONNECTION THE BLACK POWER MOVEMENT IS RELEVANT.
In [the] South I observed many civil-rights workers struggling with suppressed rage toward whites until it culminated in the angry, assertive cry of “Black Power!” I remember treating Negro workers after they had been beaten viciously by white toughs or policemen while conducting civil-rights demonstrations. I would frequently comment, “You must feel pretty angry getting beaten up like that by those bigots.” Often I received a reply such as: “No, I don’t hate those white men, I love them because they must really be suffering with all that hatred in their souls. Dr. King says the only way we can win our freedom is through love. Anger and hatred have never solved anything.”
I used to sit there and wonder, “Now, what do they really do with their rage?”
Well, after a period of time it became apparent that they were directing it mostly at each other and the white civil-rights workers. Violent verbal and sometimes physical fights often occurred among the workers on the civil-rights projects throughout the South. While they were talking about being nonviolent and “loving” the sheriff that just hit them over the head, they rampaged around the project houses beating up each other….
As the months progressed and Negro workers became more conscious of their anger, it was more systematically directed toward white Southern racist, the lax Federal Government, token integration and finally the hypocrisy of many white liberals and white civil-rights workers. This rage was at a fever pitch for many months before it became crystallized in the “Black Power” slogan. The workers who shouted it the loudest were those with the oldest battle scars from the terror, demoralization and castration which they experienced through continual direct confrontation with Southern white racism. Furthermore, some of the most bellicose chanters of the slogan had been, just a few years before, exemplars of nonviolent, loving passive resistance in their struggle against white supremacy. These workers appeared to be seeking a sense of inner psychological emancipation from racism through self-assertion and release of aggressive, angry feelings….
Rage is also directed inward in such deviations as alcoholism, drug addiction and excessive gambling. These escapist expressions are very prevalent among poorer Negroes and often represent an attempt to shut out a hostile world. In psychiatric practice it is generally accepted that a chronic repressed rage will eventually lead to a low self-esteem, depression, emotional dullness and apathy.
It appears that more and more Negroes are freeing themselves of suppressed rage through greater outspoken release of pent-up emotions… A report this June  by the Brandeis University Center for the Study of Violence said: “Although most Negroes disliked violence and had mixed feelings about its effect, even moderates were shifting to the opinion that only intense forms of social protest would bring relief from social injustice.”
The old passivity is fading and being replaced by a drive to undo centuries of powerlessness, helplessness and dependency under American racism. It is not uncommon now to hear Negro civil-rights leaders as well as the teen-ager in the ghetto say such things as, “White America will have to give us our rights or exterminate us.” James Meredith echoed the sentiments of many Negroes after his “march against fear” in Mississippi when he said, “If Negroes ever do overcome fear, the white man has only two choices: to kill them or let them be free.”
The implication of all this seems to be that black people can obtain dignity only through continued assertive social and political action against racism until all of their just demands are met. It also appears that old-style attempts to destroy the natural aggression of the black man and to fail to give him his full rights can only provoke further outbreaks of violence and inspire a revolutionary zeal among Negro Americans.
The behavior of young Negroes today implies their recognition that racial pride and self-love alone do not fill the bellies of starving black children… Nor does being proud of one’s African heritage alone bring jobs, decent housing or quality education. Perhaps the emphasis by social scientists on self-hatred problems among blacks is just another thesis that is guilt-relieving for whites and misguides the Negro. It’s as if many white Americans are saying, “From now on when we oppress you, we don’t want you to hate being black, we want you to have racial pride and love each other.”
For the fundamental survival problems of black Americans to be dealt with, a variety of social, economic and political forces controlled primarily by whites must be challenged…..
Again, I have quoted extensively Dr. Poussaint’s work for it is telling of the various effects of racism and the suppressed rage that comes of it. Moreover, these are the reflections of an era of thought aimed desperately to maintain our focus on the deceptions-that is, racist white America having promoted and projected upon the Black American conscious its distorted theories and practices to develop self-hatred, self-denigration, and other psychological psychosis which create extremely violent behaviors-which have caused the oppressed to now turn on themselves. Sadly, there has been, and continues to be, a long existing nefarious intent to sow corrosive elements within the Black community. This, needless to say, has continued to shadow our conscious since the days of chattel-slavery. Undoubtedly, the angry and aggressive feelings caused by racism are the proximate result of our relationship with a hate-filled white society. The consequence of which is best articulated in the hindsight of Tookie Williams where he writes:
…My rage was nourished by the hate I saw and felt from mainstream society and white people, a hate based on my black skin and my historical place at the nadir of America’s social caste. I was filled with hate for injustice. Yet my reaction to the hate was violence directed only towards blacks.
Unlike those ashamed to admit their motivation or too blind to recognize it, I forged through much of my life locked into a hostile intimacy with America’s wrongness. Conditioned and brainwashed to hate myself, and my own race, other black people became my prey and the Crips my sword. Though I cannot condone it, much of the violence I inflicted on my gang rivals and other blacks was an unconscious display of my frustration with poverty, racism, police brutality, and other systematic injustices routinely visited upon residents of urban black colonies such as South Central, Los Angeles. I was frustrated because I felt trapped. I internalized the defeatist rhetoric propagated as street wisdom in my ‘hood, that there were only three ways out of South Central: migration, death, or incarceration. I located a fourth option… incarcerated death…
Game on! The manipulators of oppression had reverted to an old campaign of subterfuge aimed to displace the aggression that came of their oppression, which served as impetus to the oppressed to at one time “fight the power.” Because the causes of oppression had been directly associated with the activities of a racist government, it was only obvious as to why it and racist white America were the sole object of the people’s aggression. Thus the first step was to remove all physical signs of oppression (e.g., Jim Crow). Now the oppressor was no longer distinguished and the people were made to bare the blame for their own shortcomings. Yet, as these writings have thus indicated, the strings are still being pulled by an objective that remains all the same to create oppressive conditions which support America’s capitalist infrastructure. As the adage applies: “The Game remains the same only the players change.” In this particular situation, it’s the tactics.
Having arrived at the conclusion that violent behavior often derives from an oppressive relationship or conditions that are bound to manifest from such relations, seemingly is a truth that would not escape one’s conscious. As it is unquestionably the most obvious of consequences to occur, especially where there exists a nefarious intent to manipulate the livelihood of one class or group of people for and to the advantage of another. Thus enter into the equation the conclusions to which Dr. Poussaint’s work has provided. Here I must emphasize the fact that people of color and the poor have long since been held in a forced state of ignorance, helplessness, dependence and other psychological traumas induced by their exploiters so as to prevent them from attaining a level of consciousness to organize resistance and economic independence enough to forestall their exploitation. This unquestionably frustrates them so as witnessed in the uproars of the 1960s and even more recently the LA riot and the Occupy protests. Furthermore, having been sold on the concept they bare the blame of their predicament does not make it any better because now they neither recognize nor understand the nature of the forces that operate to oppress them. Thus they are blinded by an ignorance that causes them to be distracted with feelings of anger and aggression to which they have not been provided constructive means of organization to vent. Needless to say, the emotional distress that eventually comes of this transforms itself into a violent outburst stemming from their Afflicted Deliberations. Here, it pays to visit the work of Amos Wilson. He is informative where writing:
The violently oppressed react violently to their oppression. When their reactionary violence, their retaliatory or destructive violence, cannot be effectively directed at their oppressors or effectively applied to their self-liberation, it then will be directed at and applied destructively to themselves. This is the essence of Black-on-Black violence. Oppressive violence is both pro-active, direct and misdirect. Black men kill each other because they have not yet choosen to challenge and neutralize [as the Black Nationalist Movement sought to disrupt] on every front the widespread power of White men to rule over their lives.
When looking for examples to further illustrate how this oppressive design operates to induce the violence witnessed throughout America’s ghettos, I struggle not to cite more of that which has already been written by others. For what more could I possibly add that they have not covered. I guess if anything it would be to make the subject a bit simpler to understand and identify. Here my prison experience has served me well given the repressive nature of its administration.
Often, I have considered the social engineering that goes into creating my surroundings (i.e., prison). Among the things I have managed to deduce or answer the question of without referencing some source is the question of why it is that violence is of such a frequent occurrence in prison. I’m sure the first assumption my reader will make is something along the lines of the obvious–prison yards are a cluster of some of the most violent elements within society. But are they considering what I have thus written? In light of the fact that prisons are said to be microcosms of the greater world we live in, we cannot simply accept the obvious in this explanation. Why? Because, in knowing what I have come to learn about violence having resided at one of the nations most violent prisons, has forced me to realize that such an explanation fails to account for the oppressive circumstances which operate like a trigger-wire attached to a landmine that’s been activated where and when we explode.
Every day at some prison in America, if not here at New Folsom, someone is getting physically and mentally assaulted, raped, stabbed and at times shot or worse-killed! Behind these walls it seems as if I have been exposed to more death and violence than I have ever witnessed on the streets as a free man. As with the majority of people, I used to simply accept that these frequent occurrences were merely the consequence of so many violent people being confined to one place. But then I got to thinking and seeing for first hand what was making prisoners explode.
My observations here I credit to the unfortunate, yet insightful, experience of doing time in two different states–Oklahoma and California–on different security levels. These experiences have allowed for me to put in perspective the administrative vices and rigid conditions of confinement that operate to cause the extreme violence witnessed at say a maximum, opposed to a medium or lower security prison. Notably, the security level-that is, a prison’s restrictive nature which allows or prevents the prisoner to move about freely and partake in approved recreational or rehabilitative activities-makes for one prison setting that is more oppressive thus more violent in nature than others. This is so because the higher the security level (n.b., the more restrictive and thus oppressive) the lesser the opportunity for the prisoner to partake in constructive outlets which channel his aggressive feelings that come of the oppressive circumstance.
This is irrespective of what sort of crime (i.e., violent or nonviolent) or amount of time he may be serving-be it a life sentence or simply a few years. For I have come to recognize that there is no set profile of offender that is more likely to commit a violent opposed to a nonviolent crime as the medical community, prison and justice officials have purportedly claimed. What it all boils down to is the violently oppressive circumstances he has been subject to-be they early on in his life or simply as a consequence of confinement. Therefore, once he has been thrown into such an oppressive setting, such as a maximum-security prison, because of the stress associated with the environment and an overly oppressive prison administration, he’s going to get-off-where-he-mad-at. Welcome to Prison Psychology 101.
The foregoing attempt to draw on my prison experience has again been made in an effort to heighten the likeness in affect of oppression from Projects-2-Prison. Whereupon, the ill management of community policing has created oppressive circumstances (e.g., poor education, structured unemployment, lack of opportunity, police harassment, etc.), that serve to communicate the point in context–the cause of violence is often a soci-political product of manipulation. As I have repeatedly stressed, the affect poverty has in the ghetto serves as a precursor to a lot of what we witness here by way of violent behavior. This, again, is a truth that has been circulated in academic circles for decades. Yet it is one seldom, if ever, articulated in a context that allows for the observation that extreme acts of violence can be traced to socio-political and economic oppression. That said, when we look to the fact that the nature of many, if not most, social and economic policies functioning within the ghetto are oppressive and thus violent as Freire has provided, what we have then is a community of people who by design are reacting violently to the violence that has been forced upon them by a politic that has predetermined every aspect (e.g., the quality of their education, employment opportunities, etc,) of their conditioning.
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