Considering that U.S. imperialism is an enthusiastic sponsor of genocide, and that the history of this country is solidly rooted in genocidal practices, it’s striking how little attention this subject receives even among those who consider themselves anti-racists and anti-imperialists. Genocide in our midst is the ultimate “dirty little secret” — the undigestible reality that threatens to destroy all our pleasant illusions about peaceful change and “multicultural” democracy.
True, it’s common to express horror about genocide in Rwanda, or Guatemala, or Bosnia. Many on the left correctly argue that the U.S. bears significant responsibility in these instances, and should be held accountable. Hitler’s Germany is studied and restudied as an object lesson, so that “it can’t happen here.” But in the back of our minds we know that it has happened here — it is happening here. The land that European Americans live on was seized through genocide. The wealth of this country is substantially based on genocide. And the current attacks on African Americans represent a dangerous intensification of genocide — a genocide that Paul Robeson and other activists raised before the UN as early as 1951.
It is convenient for white Americans to stay in denial about home-grown genocide, because confronting genocide calls into question the legitimacy of white society, white territory and white culture. It casts white people in the role of Hitler’s “good Germans,” who pretended not to know and didn’t want to know about the fate of the Roma and Jews. But it is not just white people who are in denial about genocide. A reality this brutal is hard for everyone to look at. It violates our fragile sense of normality. Jews in Germany of all political persuasions were unable to come to grips with the Holocaust until it was too late. Here in the U.S., the term “genocide” — even when utilized — can assume a rhetorical or formalistic character, unconnected to everyday politics.
The Coming of Black Genocide is a tough- minded attempt to break through the wall of denial, and to place Black genocide at the center of radical politics. Easy to read stylistically, it is actually an almost unbearable book, because it holds up a mirror to the brutal destruction of African Americans as a people, and to the complicity of so many of us in that ongoing process. But it is also a flawed book. Overly conspiratorial in its analysis and burdened at times with sectarianism, it will not appeal to casual readers.
But for radical feminists, for those who support African American independence, for anyone committed to destroying white supremacy. The Coming of Black Genocide can be literally liberating, as it strips away layers of economistic wishful thinking, exposing what the real human stakes are in the struggle for freedom. It reframes left-wing debate about national oppression in the U.S., pushing us to fully acknowledge that imperialism builds up, uses, and violently discards whole populations and peoples in its parasitic quest for profit. That millions of “ordinary” people take part in this process on various levels to further their interests. And that today, in a period of turmoil and rapid transformation, the “unthinkable” endgame may be at hand for the Black nation.
Mary Barfoot views white women as a pivotal force that could help shift the balance in the war between African Americans and imperialism. Her book does not simply describe Black genocide, therefore. but also bores in on the need for white radical feminists to know where the battle lines are drawn and to totally repudiate the goal of equality for white women with white men inside a genocidal system.
The Coming of Black Genocide is a series of essays reprinted from Bottomfish Blues, “an under- ground Amazon publication that has appeared anonymously and episodically in NYC since 1986.” The first essay, “Kill the Kids First: The Coming of Black Genocide,” takes up fully half of the book. Here is where Barfoot builds her most comprehensive case against Black genocide, describing the conditioning of white America to view Black people as criminals, the isolation and institutionalization of Black children, a historical decision for genocide reached by the ruling class during the 60’s in the wake of immense Black uprisings, the strategies and mechanics of genocide, and imperialism’s plans for Black and white women within the genocidal process. She details the use of drugs, urban redevelopment, social programs and cultural demonization to attack African American communities. Particularly important to this analysis is Barfoot’s attack on “integration” as a means of dispersing Black people into “scattered individuals and reservation inmates isolated as alien refugees in a white society.” She argues that initiatives for “housing integration” were a smokescreen for physically destroying concentrations of Black people near white power centers. (What the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, called “spatial de-concentration.”) Looking at the striking changes in Black class structure, which cause the Black working class to shrink while both the “under-class” and the middle class grow, she points to “a political-military campaign …masked as integration.”
Educated Black people are encouraged to distance themselves from the Black grassroots as much as possible, while the Black underclass is being encouraged to die as much as possible.
Barfoot maintains that white women “live the contradiction of having white privileges without white power.” Noting the impetus given to women’s liberation by the Black movement in the 60’s, she castigates both mainstream and radical white feminists for abandoning their historical responsibilities.
If the just-starting women’s liberation movement had survived it would have divided white society, and would have seriously endangered the plans for Black Genocide. Born out of the sparks from Black Liberation, with its own revolutionary pulse, women’s liberation might have sabotaged the machinery of genocide
Instead, she says, the power structure “neutralized women’s liberation by smothering it under the nutrasweet women’s movement for white equality.”
Radical feminists believed in the unity of white women just as much as their liberal sisters did. While sisterhood demands the disunity of white women.
Women’s liberation was lost because feminists wanted to separate somewhat from white men while still dining at the same long table. Jane didn’t want to share Dick’s bed (and certainly didn’t want to pick up after him), but she was hooked on the goodies in Dick’s house. Jane wanted to be Dick’s favorite sister, with a little room other own in his big white house.
But, as Barfoot puts it, “with Dick’s goodies comes Dick.” White women who struggle only for equality with white men leave patriarchy firmly in control, complete with violence against women.
Like Black Genocide, male violence against women can only be stopped with a 9mm, with political-military methods. …But the women’s movement for white equality can’t lift a finger to stop male violence, because it wants to join the patriarchy as junior partners, not abolish it. There is no way to have “career advancement” while risking your life to end oppression.
Other essays in the book flesh out Barfoot’s description of black Genocide: “Bit of History,” which draws parallels with genocide against Native Americans; “The Martinique is Koch’s Genocide,” which discusses the destruction of housing in the Black communities of New York and the creation of’Afrikan-american reservations” in welfare hotels and projects; “AIDS and Black Genocide.” Other essays keep genocide in mind while discussing violence against women and the need for armed self-defense as a response. (“War Against Women,” “U.S. Certified Violence,” “Lou Lou and the Cops.”) One particularly fascinating article is a report on “Rote Zora,” an underground women’s army in Germany which has targeted traders who “import” Third World women for the sexual use of German men, as well as fascists and tormentors of immigrants. This piece reveals a great deal about what kind of armed movement Barfoot would like to see in the U.S. The essay “Integration” revisits the theme of integration as a mechanism of Black genocide, concentrating on relations between white and Third World women.
In the middle of Black Genocide is a short, brilliant essay that is worth the price of the book all by itself. “Lords and Warlords (and us)” takes off from the highly publicized “wildings” rapes in Central Park in 1989, launching into a breathtaking depletion of “warlordism” as the dominant new social form in much of the world and the U.S.
Warlordism is a society without any real civil government, a chaos where gangs and armies of armed men not only have a free run but are the only true authority. It’s what you see in much of the Third World, say in Beirut or Colombia — or, increasingly, in New Afrika. Warlordism is created in the social vacuum when an op pressed people have thrown off colonialism or made direct colonial rule impossible, but do not yet have national liberation and effective self- rule. It is a natural form for neo- colonialism.
White settler amerikka can no longer patrol and control the daily activity of millions of New Afrikans. It gets harder and harder for them to police the giant New Afrikan cities (can you see a few dozen klanners or skinheads trying to intimidate folks—would they last five minutes?). Posses and drug gangs are our backyard equivalents of Jonas Savimbi and UNITA.
For Barfoot, the Central Park rapes were
where one blind group crashed into the other at our unfenced but very real inner border. Our sis ter of patriarchy, working off her nervous high from wall street deals, her walkman turned up, didn’t see she was in any trouble. She ran into some junior warlords in basic training, who also didn’t see that they were in trouble.
Barfoot characterizes the rapes as an intersection where “the chaotic warlord culture that the captive New Afrikan nation has been plunged into” impinged on the consciousness of those living in the white bubble. The biggest victims of this culture overall are not white women, but African American women and children.
Black Genocide is hard to critique, because it comes at you from all different directions at once. History, theory, polemics, current events, poignant stories, rants, ironic asides, withering sarcasm — all converge to construct an overall framework, a political gestalt. It can seem churlish to pick on the subsidiary points — especially when the main message needs to be heard so badly.
For instance, Barfoot’s contention that a ruling class decision was made to promote Black genocide for counter-insurgency reasons in 1968 is not well supported. She relies mostly on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence plus a keen appreciation of the importance of the Black movement in the 60’s. Dramatizing the ruling class and its machinations, Barfoot sometimes turns imperial parasitism into a big plot. Yet her description of how genocide works on the ground is so clear, and rings so true, that one is tempted to let the issue slide. Who cares how genocide started, it’s here, isn’t it?
It does matter, though, if we hope to gain a clear view of the enemy. Black insurrection has always struck fear into settler society. Genocide has always been a strong aspect of white America’s relationship to Black people — right from day one. (Robeson and other Black radicals pointed those facts out forty-five years ago.) It is crucial to understand why genocide appears to have now become the dominant aspect — now, when the Black movement poses less of a direct threat to the imperialists than during previous generations.
Since Barfoot’s counter-insurgency explanation is so one-sided. Black Genocide is occasionally forced to allude to other time lines and other causes for genocide — the desire to profit from urban redevelopment, for instance, or imperialism’s decreased reliance on Black labor and white settlers. Barfoot touches on the latter when she speaks of Black people “who can’t be trusted as servants and who are no longer needed in factories. Afrikan-american labor is being replaced by even cheaper labor from Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti and many other countries.” Yet this key observation remains peripheral to her theory, which heavily stresses political-military factors.
Another weakness of the book is how it relates Black genocide to other forms of national oppression within the U.S. Early in Black Genocide, Barfoot talks about Black and Puerto Rican children warehoused in New York welfare hotels, but as she explains the connection between this atrocity and Black genocide, the Puerto Rican kids tend to drop out of the picture. Native American genocide is treated too much as a lesson from the past and not enough as a current reality (a reality important for its strategic, as well as historical, relationship to the Black movement). Similarly, the book doesn’t examine the extent to which Puerto Ricans, Mexicanos/Chicanos, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders and other oppressed nationalities face the same attacks as African Americans — warlordism, criminalization, urban removal, institutionalization, homelessness, destruction of social ser- vices, new class divisions, etc. If all these nationalities are subject to accelerated genocide, Barfoot’s political framework seemingly needs modification. If not, the uniqueness of the Black crisis needs to be brought forward more explicitly.
Black Genocide situates itself squarely within the “Thanks, I needed that” school of political discourse. It falls into what Mao Tse-tung used to call the “ruthless blows and merciless struggle” style of ideological debate, above all in its criticisms of white feminists. This sometimes-sectarian approach is more suited to firming up the ranks of the already-convinced than to taking advantage of contradictions in white society. Barfoot makes a strong case that Black genocide is the central fact of U.S. politics today. In that case, the job of white activists is to mobilize every possible positive factor among white people to help stop the process. Reductively flattening out the political landscape into a choice between being a guerrilla or being a parasitic tool of the patriarchy is unlikely to accomplish that.
None of which should discourage readers serious about understanding and fighting genocide. Beneath the occasional harshness of Black Genocide is a righteous anger at the white power structure, coupled with a determination not to allow radical feminism, one of the brightest hopes for white anti-imperialism, to be quietly undermined by white supremacy. Few white readers, female or male, will be able to claim that Barfoot’s acerbic criticisms are irrelevant to their own lives. Our egos aren’t the issue here, the issue is Black genocide. And Barfoot’s book is an original and potent weapon against it.