An American Nightmare
Black Labor and Liberation
A TV and Internet Project by
Deep Dish TV and Cooperation Jackson’s Nubia Lumumba Arts and Culture Cooperative
Orientation and Draft Program Outline
An American Nightmare engages one of the most pressing social issues of our time: the disposability of Black people in the United States. For centuries enslaved or cheap Black labor created vast wealth for the United Stats. To ensure these profits an arsenal of judicial, social and physical tools were created to control and contain the Black population. A vicious system of racism reinforced and justified their dehumanization. It locked the vast majority of Black people into unskilled labor pools and maintained barriers to mobility. The 1950s and 60s witnessed a massive Black rebellion against the structural racism woven into the DNA of the country’s economic system and reinforced by a white supremacy that infects the society. At the same time U.S. capital, cognizant of the potential disruptive upheavals of the Black revolt against racism, intensified its drive for cheaper and more compliant sources of labor. Globalization and automation represent a dramatic change that has made Black labor increasingly unnecessary. The Black working class continues to be socially and politically demonized by the media as a burdensome surplus population. The mass incarceration of millions of Black and Brown people, the occupation of Black communities by militarized police and the daily extrajudicial killings by agents of the state must be seen as means to control a an economically irrelevant demographic with a long history of resistance.
An American Nightmare, a seven-part series, will illustrate why and how these social transformations developed and what Black people are doing throughout the US to defend themselves and win their liberation.
The first episode, I Can’t Breathe presents the key assertion of the series: the systematic crisis of American capitalism that began in the late 1960’s, reduced the systems dependence on Black labor. The accelerated reliance on new mechanized, computerized and globalized form of wealth production has made Black labor and life increasingly redundant and disposable.
Despite the mass incarceration of Black men and women and the intensity of police occupation of Black communities, with “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” tactics and the frequent killing of Black people by agents of the state, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 seemed to lend credibility to the argument that the United States is moving inexorably, if slowly and in fits and starts towards a colorblind society that affords equal opportunity to all. As one young woman put it: “Up until the election of Barack Obama we thought that if we could just get someone who could see things through our eyes in a position of power, then we’d win, right?” A myth contradicted by reality.
The second program in the series, “Foundation Myths: The Land of the Thief, Home of the Enslaved”, will explore how the “Foundation Myths” of the United States, those documents that proclaimed the equality of “all men”, but strictly limited the definition of “men” to mean only men of western European descent and phenotype. The founders of the American Republic vehemently denied the humanity of enslaved Africans, who were responsible for most of the wealth produced in the colonies. The founders claim that all men have the self-evident “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” clearly did not apply to Blacks, slave or free. And when these “enlightened minds” asserted in their Declaration of Independence a “right and duty to throw off the established government and provide new guards for their future security” when “a long train of abuses and usurpations” has become insufferable, they could hardly recognize the humanity of their slaves or cede them the same right to rebel against the tyranny. The denial of the humanity of enslaved Africans and the total negation of their human rights was a necessary requirement of the exploitative and extractive system of wealth generation being employed by the settlers of the American colonial project. The second episode will demonstrate that this negation remains a cornerstone of the society and will transform only when the economic system and its power relations are transformed.
The third episode, America I Do Mind Dying, examines more closely exactly how people of African descent have been incorporated into the capitalist economy in the territories that have historically defined the United States the past 400 + years. Despite the shift from enslaved labor to wage labor, and agricultural production to industrial production, the essential position and role of Black labor did not fundamentally shifted – until the late 20th century, when Black labor became largely surplus as the U.S. economy shifted to a new finance driven, service oriented, computer automated and globalized production. This program will explore the necessity and irreversibility of this shift and how it relates to the disposability of Black lives in the United States today.
However, this globalized, increasingly automated phase of capitalist production and the intensified economic disenfranchisement of Black people in the U.S. has posed serious problems for these “masters of the universe.” What do they do with 45 million African-Americans who have a diminishing economic role, but who have a long history of resistance?
The fourth program in the series, the Prison House of Nations, describes specific measures employed by a meaner, leaner, more repressive state to control and contain the Black population. It will focus on the role and impact institutions of the state play in Black communities and how this targeting and the policies that legitimize it limit the “right to life” of Black communities.
The United States has always been a segregated country. In the last thirty years demographic engineering increasingly involves gentrification and the forced displacement of Black communities through a variety of urban renewal strategies.
The fifth episode in the series, No There There will highlight how various political forces and policy regimes economically and politically contain Black urban communities, including the usage of emergency management powers in cities like New Orleans and Detroit and Benton Harbor in Michigan. It will also focus on why Black people are increasingly being pushed into isolated and under resourced suburbs and ex-urbs and how this development is helping to facilitate the increasing social death and disposability of Black people.
But the battle has been joined. From Ferguson to Baltimore, thousands of Black youth and allies in almost every major city in the U.S. have risen up against police brutality, murder and mass incarceration. This resistance has been accompanied by the quest of a new generation to understand the source of Black oppression and to find alternatives.
The sixth episode, We are the Small Axe will focus on the various forms of resistance to social death and ethnocide being developed by a variety community groups and political organizations. This includes efforts to build autonomous communities and cooperatives and other instruments of the solidarity or “people’s economy” to avert and overcome a disposable future.
The final program, Which Way Forward will focus on the political and ideological debates about the way forward for Black people in the United States. It raises the question, what future do Black people have in the United States? Can and will Black people survive if the capitalist socio-economic system that operates as its foundation doesn’t change? And how should Black people resist? Should they seek to reform the system? Break from the system? Or turn it over altogether? These are the critical questions we will leave our audience to consider going forward.