According to organizers of color in Philadelphia, Black folks weren’t particularly welcomed at that city’s “Occupy” protests. According to a post on the blog Complex Brown, racial epithets were hurled at a couple of Black women, and when they tried to address it, they were accused of dividing people and being racist.
“Saturday, two sisters were called niggers by two of the volunteers at Occupy Philadelphia at the cell phone charging stations,” read the Complex Brown post. “They were also told to go back to Africa, and that each white man should own a slave. When the sistas called security, security asked them to leave the premises because they thought they were a part of the UHURU movement. Even if they were a part of that movement, they should not have been asked to leave, especially without any mention of their verbal and spiritual abuse.”
UHURU is the movement by the African People’s Socialist Party designed to unite people of African descent all over the world for the “liberation of all African people everywhere.”
“So a small collective formed a drummer circle on Sunday and started a rally only to be met with onlookers who didn’t understand why there was a Pan-African flag at an ‘American’ event,” continued the post. “We were called racist…When we circled up to come up with a constructive way to address the people, we were constantly interrupted by white people who could not respect our safe space. These people said that it was a public space, and we couldn’t have a group that excluded them.”
This isn’t the first time since the rise of the movement that there’s been an issue between organizers of color and white progressives. In late September, members of the Bronx-based rap group Rebel Diaz took to their blog to discuss an encounter they had with Occupy Wall Street protesters when they made the trek downtown to show their solidarity.
“Besides being stared at and looked at as if we were invading their space, the predominantly young, white and liberal Occupiers sent over one of the few African-American men to talk to us,” wrote Rebel Diaz member RodStarz. “When we asked them why they didn’t approach us themselves and build with us, they replied that ‘they thought we would get mad because they were white.’
“The situation was pretty bizarre, as a woman started ranting incoherently about Nazi symbols being seen over the skies of California, and another man from the Media Team repeatedly offered us the chance to perform if we spoke to the Arts and Culture team. He didn’t seem to get that we weren’t there to perform; rather, we were there just to build. After being mean mugged for taking a free slice of pizza, we decided it was time to leave the hippie fest.”
Although the group made their way downtown with more people and eventually built a bridge with organizers, the point was made.
It was high time for a subset of people who aren’t having their voices heard to form their own group. Enter the People of Color Working Group. Having set up a page on Tumblr to voice their concerns, the group let it be known that the struggle and fight that the majority are now encountering is something that the minority has experience with.
“Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008,” read the group’s manifesto on their Tumblr page. “Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country-and since before the founding of the nation for indigenous communities. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white minority.
“Black and Brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged. Only we can speak this truth to power,” continued the statement. “We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color-upon whose backs this country was built-at the forefront of this struggle.” Attempts to contact organizers of the People of Color Working Group by press time were unsuccessful.
While some may say better late than never, comments have been made by various Black activists and commentators through social media about the attention this particular uprising has received. RodStarz articulated the consensus in his blog post. “#OccupyWallStreet seems to be a new phenomenon, in that we are witnessing a first generation in which massive numbers of young white people are no longer experiencing the economic benefits of the capitalist system,” he wrote. “Their reality has gotten closer to what Black and Brown folks have lived with for many, many years.”