“Food Is a Weapon”

From theologian James Cone’s The Black Church and Marxism: What Do They Have to Say to Each Other? (paper delivered in 1980):

I have been convinced that the black church cannot remain silent regarding socialism, because such silence will be interpreted by our Third World brothers and sisters as support for the capitalistic system which exploits the poor all over this earth.

For example, between 25,000 and 50,000 people die each day from starvation, a cause that is directly related to the persistence of national and international economic orders that foster distorted development. The former secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, well known for his racial slurs, said it bluntly: “Food is a weapon. It is now one of the principal tools of our negotiating kit.”

From a Rolling Stone story covering the Republican National Convention in 76, while Earl Butz was still Secretary of Agriculture (content note for racist/sexist remarks):

Pat [Boone] posed a question: “John and I were just discussing the appeal of the Republican party. It seems to me that the party of Abraham Lincoln could and should attract more black people. Why can’t that be done?” This was a fair question for the secretary, who is also a very capable politician.

“I’ll tell you why you can’t attract coloreds,” the secretary proclaimed as his mischievous smile returned. “Because colored only wants three things. You know what they want?” he asked Pat.

Pat shook his head no; so did I.

“I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. That’s all!”

Pat gulped twice.

Butz resigned a few days after calls were made for his head, but he claimed he did it on his own (that seems unlikely) and that he did nothing wrong.

A few thoughts on reading these:

  • Remember that Pat Boone was himself a nice racist, hired to whitewash the Race Music (as in, Rhythm & Blues and early Rock N Roll that sounded too black) for the innocent White Christian kids across America.
  • Butz clearly outlined his racial animosity, and did so to a reporter and a famous musician. In the open. At a national convention. In the post-Civil Rights era. Don’t think that it isn’t still happening. Paul Ryan may be more careful about his views now, but he’s still racially animositic; in large part because class warfare is his life.
  • Butz was in control of food and production as a kind of supermanager of agrarian companies. What does it mean to black and brown farmers and consumers to have a white racist in charge of food supply and farming justice in the Land of Plenty? Why did it take a directly racist comment to get him fired when he admitted elsewhere that he’d use food as a weapon?
  • Butz was hired by Nixon and stayed under Ford. Until this article spread, no one deemed it fit to question how he operated, only what he said when they were dirty jokes.
  • George W Bush, Reagan and Nixon had a lot of the same characteristics of the Illegitimate President of the United States, but with some charm and/or intelligence and, by degrees only, humility. Many of the safeguards that Trump has taken out or will take out were already proposed or committed by the earlier three. What now is different besides the degree and the speed to which he’s taking it? What sets “p*ssy grabber” apart from Reagan who defunded family planning globally and domestically? I’m convinced that language plays a big part of it. Language and bluster.
  • Like Butz, Trump has no shame. None. Don’t expect Trump to go willingly, either. And since he has no shame and is a blundering racist, sexist, classist idiot, he’s a perfect cover for Republicans who can always say that they were forced to follow Trump, even though they’re informing him and using his bluster as a cover. Expect Medicaid and Food Stamps to be cut, with or without Trump’s blessing. Because food is a weapon.
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The Threat of Melanin and Property

This morning, a Black pregnant woman walking on the sidewalk was shot to death by a white man who warned her and two brothers to get off his property. She was shot in the head and one of the brothers is paralyzed from trying to shield her. She was, because of the color of her skin, seen as a threat to the man’s property even as she was not on it. To further cement the idea that property and white people are more important than the lives of Black folk, the woman’s name isn’t even released in the initial story.

White people of all political persuasions all over the interwebz are arguing that Zimmerman had his time in front of Lady Justice, that the courts were fair and unbalanced, that the jurors objectively weighed the evidence and found Zimmerman innocent of murdering Martin. But the fact that this outcome is based on a very selective whitewashed reading of the law and evidence that the court and the judge forced upon the jurors – one that erases everything leading up to the decisive killing moment – tells those with ears to hear and experience to know that the verdict is not fair, Lady Justice is not impartial, the justice system is not just.

Trayvon Martin

If we pull back to see the prevailing trends in the US in terms of racial profiling, we see that Zimmerman was deemed – as most privileged White people are – innocent until proven guilty; but people of color are condemned guilty until proven innocent. Often, like Trayvon Martin, the innocence of people of color is taken from them by innuendo even after justice is denied. And justice denied after lives are nullified.

So we find ourselves, again, where the White man’s property – not just the rich white man’s, but the poor white man’s as well – becomes more important than the lives of black and brown people*. This we see in justification, still, for the slave-holding American South and its secession. This we see in the strange fruit of violent mob actions – Black bodies lynched for the slightest infraction. A glance, a whistle done upon the white woman, who’s “purity” is also a property of the white man and must be protected at all costs from the Black man, who has been treated and projected as a sub-human, irrational beast so much that there is no escape from that imagery in the popular White imagination. This is Emmett Till. This is Trayvon Martin. This is Texas Death Row. It matters not how one behaves or acts in US society – we are judged on the basis of our skin color. The lighter skin projects more innocence; darker skin projects evil intent.

So, somehow, Trayvon posthumously becomes a thug, a thief, a criminal, a drug-selling and -abusing threat to society.

And Zimmerman, according to the Black Threat narrative, had the foresight to see him as the thug he was.

In other words, George Zimmerman had the foresight, in his delusional visions of White culture vengeance, to see Trayvon Martin, in his hoodie and black skin, to be a potential threat to White male property rights. The capitalists and their lapdogs see these threats and try to neutralize them through closing down schools, through apartheid and gentrification, through disinvestment, through psychological warfare portraying Black people as criminals, buffoons, or entertainers – but rarely as fully-realized, embodied, intellectual human beings. Poor white people see these threats and justify direct or indirect, physical or economical, solitary or social violence – and sometimes commit it. Sometimes fatally.

We expand the circle and we see this violence enacted upon not just the African American man, but upon the Black woman, upon the indigenous, upon the Latina, the Chicano, anyone who appears Muslim or Arab. Upon all those with a deeper shade of melanin.

From the moment the first colonist Europeans jumped off the Santa Maria, the indigenous was seen merely as a means to or a hindrance to property – whether as a route to gold for the Spaniards, trade for the French, or land for the English settlers and the official US policy. The First Nation woman was such a threat that she was wiped out, lied to on paper after paper after war after war. Dislocated and then disempowered. Even now, she is blamed for her high poverty state when she is seen at all – except as a cartoonish sports mascot or through colonial gazing movies that center on White protaganists, her people are not recognized. They are depoliticized, for though they are promised autonomy, they are denied the ability to self-rule by a White Supremacist US government threatened by their presence and political voice, by ghosts and ever-present evil. For even when she complains about how she is denied agency to seek justice for the unfathomably high occurrences of rape (most by White men), she is ignored or pushed aside. She is seen as a threat to the very property she was large-scale murdered and vanquished for.

The Muslim is seen as a natural terrorist, prone to violence by nature of his culture, nationality, place, skin color. He is deemed suspect and a threat to US property not due to his or his family’s actions, but by the thinnest connection to a small subset of a fraction of a percentage of a population by the fact that his skin color is roughly the same shade  or who carries a vaguely similar name as a handful of men that blew some shit up. And by extension – because White Supremacy does not deal with precision of any sort – any person who appears to look Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian is suspect. No one suspects that all White Christians are Klansmen or Inquisitors. We blow up entire countries. And yet, the price of being the Orientalized Other remains and one-fifth of the entire human race is deemed too dangerous to be allowed on public transport vehicles without intense scrutiny.

Shocks of Recognition

The Latin American migrant is deemed a threat to US property and is denied access, though her property and work has been stolen by that same nation. She is deemed dangerous and interrogated at every turn, always under watch, always terrified of being detained. She has fears that the European immigrant does not need concern himself with. But again, the fears of her are not merely placed on her, for the animosity given to her is spread to all Spanish-speaking, Brown folk. Whether their families have been in the current United States since before the borders passed over and incorporated them or they are born US citizens by Constitutional right (a Constitutional right so-called Constitutionalists are consistently trying to repeal), or whether they have risked all for the treacherous, lethal pathway to the United States proper, they are deemed a threat in need of detainment, in need of lock-down, in need of fear, in need of separation from family, in need of depoliticization, in need of removal. Always a suspicious eye upon them. Always seen as a threat.

Stand your ground

The person inhabiting the dark skin is perceived a threat. Her experience negated by popular opinion, reviled as a Welfare Queen, despised as a negligent mother, rumored to be on crack, thrown to the nether regions by socio-economic practices. Depoliticized by courts and legislators afraid of her anger and ballot, disinvested by banks and financial institutions afraid of her gaining control of property. Underemployed for her worth is undervalued, underpaid for her work is devalued, bodily imprisoned for her skin is a threat to property.

Families of people of color have been and are being ripped from each other due to violence rained down upon the people of color. Because they are seen as a threat.

These are the sad realities of a nation of people raised to believe that property defines us, rather than character or humanity or justice or love or mercy. And when black and brown lives are perceived as less important than mere property, what makes white people with little property believe that their lives will be sacrosanct by those with much property – who through land and economic use “own” most of the property we inhabit? When will we all be shot for trespassing on their land?

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*This post was completely influenced by/cribbed by a twelve year old bell hooks’ quote you may have seen spread on the internet this week. An interview with Jet just happened, so you should also read that.