France continues one of its biggest protests ever, which is remarkable for two reasons. First, everyone seems to have forgotten about France, lost in the slew of uprisings all over the world, some of which are being assisted by the United States and others which have occurred more organically as a result of the general restlessness building around the world. Secondly, France is a European nation presumed to be an example of Western “civilization” and “culture”; the nation’s being shut down proves that even in places with such long-established wealth, the masses are becoming increasingly disgusted with the ruling order. In light of this, the big question among people in the United States is, why are the masses still refusing to rise up against the elite in this country? One answer is social inertia.
The theory of physical inertia states that an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an equal and opposite force. With social inertia, systems that are functioning will continue to exist as long as there is no counterforce to stop them. In the United States, though not exclusively, there is an unbroken lineage stretching back to the original genocide, and deeply embedded exploitation, the compulsion to extract value from something or someone else, whether by will or by force. Insidiously, we have trained ourselves to believe that this is the only way to exist, and we have steadily created new ways to exploit, regardless of the consequences.
Most of the exploitation in the United States has been centered around race, with Black and Indigenous people bearing the brunt of exploitation, and Hispanic workers more recently forming an underclass of exploited labor. African slaves were brought to this continent because the Indigenous populations here were more familiar with the lands and terrain and more able to resist or evade; plus, European colonizers needed to exploit Indigenous people’s skills and knowledge before killing them for their lands. African slaves had no roots in the land, and to disempower further, were deliberately mingled with others who did not share a common language or culture. Even at the beginning of the United States, such bloody and blatant exploitation was not called what it was, but instead was already being masked by feel-good euphemisms, such as “opportunity,” “success,” and “exploration.” These are the same terms that people use to exploit both resources and people today, and “equality of opportunity” has come to mean some perverse opportunities to exploit both.
Because of their lack of roots in the United States, Black people have long been burdened with the assumption that we should be delighted to be exploited, a lingering belief that it is the fantasy of Black people to be of use, that Black people have no reason for existing except to ease the worry of anyone who needs easing. Others have caught on to this useful pattern, which is why China, for example, is repeating the exploitation patterns of their European counterparts by continuing its plunder of Africa. The hidden logic of the myth of Black consent to their own exploitation is that if Black people are of no use, then they have no reason to exist. Consequently, anti-Black violence has increased not just in the United States but around the world, and the result of that hidden logic is a common response: Black people “had it coming.”
December 4, 2019 marked the fifty-year anniversary of the murder of Fred Hampton, who was remarkable not only because of his activism, but because of his sincere ability to build a coalition based on mutual benefit for all members that was multiracial, including White people. Free food was given and people lived together working to improve the quality of life for everyone, and because of that, the FBI and Chicago Police Department infiltrated his living space and killed him. A world without exploitation that works towards the mutual benefit of all involved is a truly radical idea. The social inertia of the United States persists because too many people believe that exploitation is just a part of life: after all, it is written into the Constitution, it is integral to the founding myth, and it animates the trigger fingers of law enforcement, the FBI, and Fred Hampton’s extrajudicial executioners who continue to keep those who would challenge exploitation dead. That such a world could have been led by a Black man is more than the dominant narrative could handle, which is why Fred Hampton had to die, just like Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, and why Shirley Chisholm could not have been the first Black president. Anyone seeking real justice in a deeply unjust place is fit for execution.
In a world of social inertia nurtured by a deep faith in exploitation, how then do we move forward? To disrupt inertia—physical and social—requires an equal and opposite force, and if strong relationships are not achieved by coasting, neither will justice. In a true justice paradigm, none of the current structures or systems will continue uninterrupted as they are. Everything will be dismantled and everyone will look closely at the structures and systems and determine whether they will be continued or discarded, which leads us back to France. A predominantly White country, despite the influx of immigration, France and its people have reached a breaking point beyond what could be contained. Why has the United States failed to take to the streets? Because our social inertia is White exploitation of people of color, and we will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from that paradigm for this country to change.