A revolutionary perspective

By Pat Chin, Workers World, 29 January 2006

[ Pat Chin ] Pat Chin, a Workers World Party leader, passed away from cancer on May 16, 2005. Jamaican-born, Chin traveled numerous times to Haiti in solidarity with the people's struggle for liberation there. As a contributing editor for Workers World, Chin wrote many times on Haitian and other Caribbean developments. In tribute to her memory, the WW editorial staff is reprinting excerpts from remarks made by Chin at a WWP Black History Month forum held on Feb. 14, 2002.

As we commemorate Black History Month, historian Carter G. Woodson, born in Buckingham County, Va., in 1875 ushered in this celebration. The son of former slaves, Woodson had spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines.

In 1915, after completing college, Woodson took on the task of documenting the accomplishments of Black people in the U.S. On Feb. 19, 1926, he launched “Negro History Week.” It was celebrated during the second week of February to correspond to the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Woodson did much of his work against the backdrop of racist attacks and Klan lynchings. Before then, the history of African people in the U.S. had been barely studied. Black people were mentioned only to reinforce the racist, less-than-human myth of inferiority. This central aspect of racist ideology had been invented, in fact, to justify the trans-Atlantic slave trade—the 400-year holocaust against African people that took an estimated 70 million lives.

Moreover, the selling of Black slaves, coupled with the additional riches wrung from their forced labor, helped to make the U.S. rich and powerful. The stock market was in fact invented in England so that the fabulous riches being sucked from the slave trade could be reinvested.

Capitalism continues to suppress or distort history—particularly of the people it oppresses and exploits. The profit system, then as now, must—of necessity for its continued existence—destroy our sense of self and that entails erasing our histories.

In 1976 Black History Week was expanded into “Black History Month” as part of the country's bicentennial celebration—a country that, to this day, refuses to pay reparations for the tremendous damage caused by the slave trade, and that has sought to turn back the limited remedies of affirmative action under the guise of the absurd notion of “reverse racism.”

Black History Month has remained tremendously popular in the Black community. Each February there are thousands of programs nationwide that commemorate the gains, however limited, that the struggle has won.

But celebrating the history and struggle of Black people also exposes a painful reality. How much can we celebrate, for example, when we're faced with an “endless war” that first targeted Afghanistan and now threatens to consume other oppres sed people of color? How many of our own Black and Latin@ youths will die in these wars as cannon fodder for the rich, sent to fight people who look more like them?

How much can we celebrate when there's a thousand percent increase in racial profiling, when unemployment is skyrocketing, when thousands kicked off welfare now face the blank wall of unbridled poverty with no social benefits? When millions remain without health insurance, decent shelter, education and food? When a disproportionate share of the effects of poverty fall on our communities?

Then there's the attempt by big business to manipulate Black History Month, ever since it was introduced in conjunction with the bicentennial celebration. So now you see multinational giants like Coca-Cola, Mobile Oil and Exxon—who exploit us at home and super-exploit our sisters and brothers abroad—coming out in support of Black History Month.

Over the years we've seen hypocrites like Clinton, Bush and Giuliani issuing proclamations in support of the month—this, after they'sve slashed programs that has the effect of putting Black women and children out on the streets, and after they pave the way for the expansion of the prison industrial complex which has a disproportionate share of Black people behind bars and on death row.

If we revolutionaries could adjust things, we would change the focus of February to Black History Month of struggle. Now it goes without saying that it's good to study, reflect on and celebrate history. This is especially important to us who have faced the systematic, centuries-long attempt to destroy our history and culture.

But if we simply study without struggling to change the world, our history will be obliterated. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” in the words of Frederick Douglass. “Without struggle there can be no change,” he so rightly said. This is most true at this particular time with imperialist wars raging abroad and the domestic assault on our civil rights to destroy our movement for social and economic justice.

If the ruling class truly wants to honor Black History Month why don't they pass a bill in support of reparations; why don't they free Mumia? In fact, why don't they give all Black political prisoners amnesty—it's not too late.