by Ajamu Baraka, published on Black Agenda Report, September 28, 2022
“End Racism: Build Peace” was the theme of the 2022 International Day of Peace. That noble sentiment can’t be realized when powerful white supremacist structures are committed to practicing hegemony.
It is not a cruel irony but imperial consistency that on September 21, 2022 the United Nations International Day of Peace, Xiomara Castro Sarmiento, the new president of Honduras addressed the 77th Session of the United Nations in New York while on that same day in a display of shameless imperial hubris and utter contempt for the idea of international peace, Volodymr Zelensky, the Ukrainian actor/president was scheduled to address a gathering of defense contractors in Houston, Texas to make the case for more war.
The contrast of President Xiomara Castro’s appearance in New York, representing a nation that in 2009 was plunged into 13 years of brutal dictatorship by the newly elected Obama administration, and Zelensky’s scheduled appearance in Houston could not be starker. President Xiomara Castro and most of the representatives from the Global South used their presentations at the United Nations to call for peace, for global cooperation and security for their people and the people of the world. The messages from the West were quite different. While decorated with allusions to liberal values that the West never really believed in, and certainly never applied to their colonial subjects, self-serving moralism and calls for more confrontation peppered the remarks from most Western leaders. None of them made a serious commitment to peace.
Zelensky’s U.S. handlers had to know that September 21 was the United Nations International Day of Peace, but providing another opportunity for one of Zelensky’s grand performances, this time before the CEOs of defense corporations with a personal stake in war and death, outweighed any considerations for being caught in a political and moral contradiction on that day.
For the Biden administration, a commitment to peace is a poor substitute for the benefits of securing another $13 billion in aid for Ukraine contained in legislation meant to fund the U.S. government. Moving money from the public coffers to the pockets of the defense companies that pay the bills for both parties is always seen as good bipartisan policy.
Zelensky did not appear before the defense industry CEOs because it appears that at the very last minute someone in the Biden administration understood that the optics of Zelensky begging defense contractors for more weapons to wage war on a day the U.N. had committed to peace would not look good. A lame excuse was given for why he could not do what he was put in place to do: play the role of a president and push Western interests. So, one of his underlings filled in for him.
However, that small bit of perception management did not, and cannot, reverse what is irreversible, namely, the precipitous decline of the moral standing of the U.S. and the West. The heavy-handed attempts to coerce nations in the Global South to align themselves with the U.S. and Europe on the Ukrainian conflict has had a disastrous result for the West. The vast majority of the peoples of the world — a world still experiencing the degradation and humiliation of ongoing parasitic U.S. and Western colonial/capitalist exploitation — decidedly turned against the “collective West.”
The Black Radical Peace Tradition Provides a Path Forward for the Anti-War and Anti-Imperialist Movement in the North
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather the achievement by popular struggle and self-defense of a world liberated from the interlocking issues of global conflict, nuclear armament and proliferation, unjust war, and subversion through the defeat of global systems of oppression that include colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.” (BAP Principles of Unity)
The fact that the theme of the International Day of Peace this year was: “End Racism: Build Peace,” and was ignored by the collective West, was no surprise to non-Westerners.
On this year’s theme, Secretary-General António Guterres said:
“Racism continues to poison institutions, social structures, and everyday life in every society. It continues to be a driver of persistent inequality. And it continues to deny people their fundamental human rights. It destabilizes societies, undermines democracies, erodes the legitimacy of governments, and… the linkages between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable.”
But Guterres’s commentary demonstrates the limitations of his understanding of race and racialism, and their connections to war and imperialism. Black peace activists, who were also anti-colonial activists, made the correct connection between white supremacy, war, and the colonial/capitalist global system more than seventy years ago in the immediate post-world-war period. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee that trained the first wave of white anti-war activists, and eventually Dr. King, also made those connections. But for liberals like Guterres and even radicals, racism, as a non-material phenomenon that exists in the consciousness of individuals, is the focus. You change minds, and like magic, fundamental human rights like housing, education, healthcare are then realizable.
But this conception is anachronistic and even reactionary. For the Black Alliance for Peace, the concept of white supremacy provides a broader and more theoretically sound framework than the focus on “racism” for understanding the structures and social relations that emerged with the invasion of the “Americas” , the establishment of the global colonial/capitalist system. BAP defines white supremacy as :
“The combined ideological and structural expression of “white power.” In its ideological expression, it posits that the descendants of people of the territory/idea referred to as Europe represent the highest examples of human development.
That their culture, social institutions, religions, and way of life are inherently and naturally superior. This position is combined with what BAP calls the global structures and institutions of white supremacy, the material means to maintain and advance global white power: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization, Global Banking system, NATO, and dollar hegemony.
For BAP, white supremacy, therefore, cannot be reduced to individualized attitudes and values just among people identified as white. Instead, it should be seen as a structure of domination that is also ideologically embedded into every aspect of U.S. and European society to the extent that it has become normalized and invisibilized as general common sense.”
Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky as the coordinators of the “white lives matter more movement” understand the connections between war, white supremacy, and imperialism. They are white supremacists, committed to European (white) global hegemony. They both understand very well that the U.S./EU/NATO Axis of Domination is dependent on its capacity to effectively project collective imperialist state violence. They also understand that this agenda requires some degree of public support, or at least public acquiesce. That is precisely why the idea of peace is seen as a threat and the repressive mechanisms of the state are deployed to foster confusion and division among the anti-war movement in the U.S.
For the peoples and nations in the global South, the Ukraine war stripped away all pretenses to any idea of Europe being committed to any idea of collective humanity. The self-interested agenda of “collective West” and the imperialist interests driving that agenda became obvious to all. Yet, among the liberal/left in the Northern nations, concerns for “authoritarianism” trumps the imperial and racialist class and national agenda of the U.S. and European bourgeoisie. Northern anti-war and anti-imperialist organizations often find themselves providing ideological cover for imperialism by projecting moral and personal explanations for war and conflict over the colonial/capitalist material determinants that are really driving imperial policy.
Anti-war and anti-imperialist solidarity requires that those movements embrace the Black radical approach to the peace issue. Connecting anti-capitalist analysis and an anti-colonial stance is essential for an Anti-war politics that will have some value for nations and peoples who find themselves in the crosshairs of Western colonial violence.
The people of Honduras understood in 2009, as people in the U.S. lionize Obama as a supposed departure from the criminality of past presidents, that this kind of confusion exacts a terrible price for the colonized that can, as in the case of Honduras, result in 13 years of right-wing dictatorship. And with the manufactured NATO proxy war with Russia, it can also lead to the possibility of global nuclear annihilation for the world today.
As BAP member and scholar Charisse Burden-Stelly who has been instrumental in explicating the Black Radical Peace tradition has written, “throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the legacy of Radical Black Peace Activists like W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, and the Sojourners for Truth and Justice lived on through organizations like the Black Panther Party, the National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union, and the Third World Women’s Alliance.”
Today that tradition is being upheld by BAP.
There is no solution but peace, but to have peace we have to fight for it. That is the commitment that must be made on the international day of peace and all other days. That means seizing power from the Euro- “American” capitalist oligarchy — the defenders of death, the plunderers, and profiteers — and building a new world where all can prosper and live in dignity and peace.
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Baraka serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Peace Council and leadership body of the U.S. based United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) and the Steering Committee of the Black is Back Coalition.