Lara Coiro / Contributing Writer
FIU’s Black Student Union and Young Democratic Socialists of America commemorated the Black liberation movement during an online event this last Friday, Feb. 27, in honor of Black History Month.
The two organizations decided to work together to commemorate Black History Month after YDSA submitted a proposal to BSU to collaborate on the topic of Black liberation.
“The fact that I’m the treasurer and I’m Black– I thought it would be amazing to work together.” Japheth Kariuki, YDSA board member, told PantherNOW. “Collaboration is one of the most effective ways to attract new members and organize for future events.”
Japheth Kariuki on Zoom.
The event featured an hour-long presentation by Kariuki, a junior majoring in finance. The presentation covered the history of slavery in the U.S., the Jim Crow era, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and how these events shaped the current Black Lives Matter movement. Kariuki also discussed the connections between the Black liberation movement and leftist ideology in the U.S.
“The quest for Black liberation is one, really, of economic injustice,” said Kariuki. “It is in our best interest to recognize that we just want to achieve equity. We have a lot of oppression and injustice that we’ve faced in our history, and we just want to make sure everyone’s eating. That’s all really.”
He defined Black liberation as “a rich tradition of struggle in the United States seeking democracy, freedom from white supremacy, and self-determination of Black people.”
The U.S. has had a long and tumultuous history with institutionalized racism.
In 1619, the first reported kidnapped Africans were brought to the U.S. This set off what Kariuki called “America’s first big business”, the insidious institution of slavery.
Until 1808, of the 12.5 million Africans kidnapped from Africa, 472,000 were routed to the United States. The horrible conditions of the slave ships meant that about 18% of captive Africans died during the voyage, according to the presentation.
In the U.S., struggles against slavery caused white America to fear mass rebellion. Kariuki spoke of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of Southeastern Nigeria, who committed mass suicide off the shore of Georgia in 1803, rather than be enslaved in the U.S. In Haiti, the first successful slave rebellion which ousted the French colonizers inflicted a fear of revolution in the U.S.
From Japheth Karuiki’s presentation, illustrations by Donovan Nelson of Igbo people in 1803 mass suicide.
The U.S.’ exploitation of Black people allowed the country to transform from an agrarian to a powerful industrial society. Propped up by the cheap, hand-picked cotton coming from the South, the U.S. thrived in the global market.
Today, this is one of the fundamental arguments for the necessity of a conversation on reparations.
This conversation isn’t new. During Abraham Lincoln’s administration, a prominent Union general called for the acquisition of a large piece of land running through the coastal South, which was to be federally redistributed to newly freed Blacks.
However, when President Andrew Johnson was sworn in after Lincoln’s assassination, many reparations efforts to creating Black equity, were swept away.
Starting in the 1800s, the Black struggle in the United States rose to the forefront as abolitionist raised the concerns on how much longer slavery could prevail. The U.S. was challenged at its very core as the movement to abolish slavery gained popular support, which soon led to the Civil War.
“The American Civil War was not started to free the slaves, but really to keep the country together.” Kariuki said. “It didn’t become apparent until later in the war that one of the tactics to beat the Confederacy, which was fighting to keep slavery as an instituion in this country, was to free the slaves themselves. So that is what the Union did.”
This also resulted in a massive refugee crisis, as Blacks fled the South in droves looking for freedom and opportunities in the North.
From Japheth Karuiki’s presentation, refugee camps in Washington DC following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the oppression of Black people took on new forms.
The Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865, which transformed slavery into what would now be a more legal method of oppression. This ushered in the era of Jim Crow laws, which segregated and criminalized the everyday actions of Black people such as drinking from a water fountain or congregating in a public place. As a result, Black people were arrested and jailed en masse for minor offenses. Now detained, the state could have Blacks work for free once more.
During this period, the majority of Blacks were gravely impoverished, without access to jobs, education, or housing. Suffering under these conditions eventually led to the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s, as Blacks pushed for equal opportunities and protection under the law.
Kariuki also said the actions of organizations such as the Black Panther Party, and civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, were all driven by socialist ideals such as jobs, housing, and education for all.
King was quoted in 1965 saying, “Call it democracy or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”
Some Black leaders, such as Angela Davis and Harry Haywood, identified strongly as communists. In 1972, Davis said, “I am a communist and I consider it to be one of the greatest honors, because we are struggling for total liberation of the human race.”
The many leaders of the Black Liberation movement sometimes heavily differed in their ideological convictions. Yet, despite violent repression from the police and military, these numerous factions of the Black liberation movement, as well as the civilian population, only heightened their protests, demands, and overall unity. This resulted in the passage of major legislation which protected the citizenship and voting rights of Blacks.
Despite the successes of the 1960s, many Black leaders were murdered, and today the U.S. is still struggling to reconcile with its everlasting racial injustice. This is exemplified by the death of George Floyd and the ensuing mass demonstrations just this last summer.
The Black Lives Matter movement, operating under a decentralized and often spontaneous protest model, has utilized social media to organize people into the streets. Their call to action has been to defund and, eventually, abolish the police, advocating for alternative methods of community protection.
Fundamentally, however, the movement calls on providing funds and resources to Black communities so that the U.S. can begin to address their concerning racial wealth and opportunity gap.
On June 6 of 2020, news organizations reported that half a million people in over 550 locations around the U.S. were protesting. Kairuki paid tribute to FIU students, who organized a June 6 protest as well.
Dakota Ambrose, a criminal justice major and general board member on the traditions committee of FIU’s Black Student Union, also attended the presentation.
Later in an interview with PantherNOW, Ambrose and Kariuki both shared how FIU could do a better job at empowering Black students and recognizing Black History Month.
“I think it’s very important for FIU to take these matters seriously and to act on them so that we feel, just as much as anyone else that goes to FIU, that we are valued. If we feel strongly about something, we want to know that our school is going to make sure that we are comfortable where we live and study at.” Ambose said.
Ambrose cited a video that circulated in October of 2020, when an FIU nursing student was recorded saying the n-word in a video. Despite condemnation from FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg, many felt that not much was done, and that instances like this are common and often swept under the rug.
“FIU would support Black students here on campus by recognizing that we do have systems of oppression that we ourselves face.” Kariuki said. “Black people are trying to get ahead. We’re just trying to make our lives a better place. We have an obligation to recognize our achievements and our mission to uplift all of each other, as one society.”