John Boyega responded to all the naked racism kicked up because of his appearance as a Black Stormtrooper in the new Star Wars Episode VII trailer with four words: “Get used to it.” And, I’ve got four in response: “We definitely should not.”
I love Boyega. His acting was outstanding in “Attack The Block” and I’m sure what he will deliver on screen in the new Star Wars will be unforgettable. But, the burning question for me is why on Earth should we want to see a Black Stormtrooper? Stormtroopers are the “elite shock troops fanatically loyal to the Empire and impossible to sway from the Imperial cause.” And, just in case you never got the memo reminding you that Empires are always dominating forces wielding military power abroad while subjugating undesirables at home, the Empire Boyega’s character holds unflinching fealty towards has “ruled for years through fear, intimidation, and tyranny… with a mighty military force including Stormtroppers [and] spy technology”. Sounds oddly familiar, huh? So, let us ask the question again: Why on Earth should we want to see a Black Stormtrooper? See, what bothers me in “this age of post-racism” is how these issues are automatically framed for us. Because racists post verbal diarrhea all over social media, gasping at the sight of Black skin behind their beloved Imperial armor, we — self-respecting Blacks and decent “post-racialists” of all other backgrounds — are instinctively supposed to defend this “modern interpretation” as a much welcomed example of “inclusion.” Well, to that we should look towards our good old friend Martin King who presciently warned “I’ve come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house.”
What King was getting at was that the project of merging the excluded Negro and the larger American society did not take into account the fundamental nature of that larger society. What can be gained from assimilating into a society that is willing to spend $400 billion dollars on a fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters rather than on housing the poor or providing free university education for all? What can be gained from assimilating into a society that doesn’t bat an eyelash at the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan simply because someone who attacked them lived there? From a society that then invades and kills upwards of one million in Iraq — who had nothing to do with 9/11 — all under bogus pretenses?
Nothing can be gained from assimilation, unless you have the power to make fundamental changes within the larger society. Yet, as each day passes the essence of American society reveals itself more clearly — wanton greed, individualism above the wellbeing of the collective, virulent militarism fueled by a potent strain of blind Western hubris — while our power to fundamentally change it remains fleeting. And despite all this, we rejoice in small tokens of “progress”: Black business owners, Black millionaires, Black presidents, Black Stormtroopers. When we cast our gaze on a Black body inside a Stormtrooper’s armor, a Black body underneath police tactical gear, or a Black body donning the military attire of the American Empire we should remind ourselves that racial equality does not mean gaining the right to oppress others as equally as the previous authoritarians. True equality is about everyone existing within a system that honors Compassion, Humanity, Love and Humility. True equality is everyone having an equal role in collectively creating that Just society for everyone. If we discover the only “equality” the current system can afford us is the right to equally oppress others, destroy the environment, value our subjective experience above the collective’s wellbeing, we should enthusiastically cast that system aside.
So when you see images of a Black NYPD cop grabbing the breast of a woman at a peaceful protest, or a Black man being harassed by two Black cops in Washington DC, or a Black cop beating a Black man sitting in a train station in New York remind yourself these are images of Blacks integrated into a burning house. Then, when you are told “one way to fix the out of control militarized police is to increase diversity” you can confidently respond “that is absurd!” Because, more Black Stormtoopers don’t make the elite shock troops any less fanatically loyal to the Empire and don’t sway the other Stormtroopers from the Imperial cause. What more Black Stormtroopers do is add more manpower to the Galactic Empire and assist it to rule through fear, intimidation, and tyranny. Analogously, more Black cops give police departments more bodies they can train to brutalize and murder, generate revenue through ticketing and seizure, defend private property (especially that of the rich), and uphold the existing oppressive structures.
Fortunately, the #BlackLivesMatter movement that is gestating is very cognizant of this fact. Whether in New York, Miami, Ohio, Ferguson, Oakland, Berkeley, Seattle or Los Angeles, we aren’t interested in gimmicks like body cameras, or a few days of retraining for police. We look at the video of Eric Garner’s murder by the NYPD, remember how Tamir Rice, John Crawford, James Boyd, Kelly Thomas, Anastacio Hernández Rojas, and Oscar Grant’s murders were all captured on film, and understand that cameras on police will do nothing to stop the murder. We are well versed in the interconnectedness of white supremacy and patriarchy in capitalism, and are conscious of the intersectional nature of oppression in general. We are carefully utilizing tactics like boycotts, occupations, shutdowns, walkouts and die-ins to force a fundamental restructuring of the police and, more broadly, a fundamental restructuring of society. And, with the right mixture of Prowess and Fortune our movement will reactivate the myriad arms of the Left: Occupy, the Anti-war, Feminist, environmental and LGBT movements. Together, under the banner of System Change, we can coordinate a broad based attack against the corporate-capitalist order. With an understanding that we must honor the humanity of the most traditionally oppressed sections of American society.
Now, as the release date for Star Wars Episode VII approaches let us attain clarity through bluntness: In Star Wars Black people shouldn’t be Stormtroopers. We should be fighting in the Resistance with Luke Skywalker, Mace Windu, Yoda and the rest of the freedom fighters. And, back in real life, Black people shouldn’t be fighting for the American Empire. We shouldn’t be dying in its countless wars against other oppressed people or maintaining it in its more than 700 military bases across the globe. And most of all we shouldn’t be upholding systems of oppression via the ever-militarizing forces of the police.
Before I leave you, I want to stress that Blackness needs to be about more than just race — it needs to be about identity. I’ll go back to my roots to clarify what that means. The year is 1805, one year after Haiti has gained independence from France becoming the first Black nation. Jean Jacques Dessalines, after becoming Haiti’s emperor declares all of Haiti’s citizens to be Black, regardless of their skin color. At the same time, he grants honorary citizenship to Polish troops who had defected from Napoleon’s army in order to fight with the slaves. With this gesture Dessalines effectively extended the category of Black beyond race to anyone willing to fight against imperialism, against colonialism and in the service of Justice and Equality. Let’s redefine what Black means today and fight in the service of Justice and Equality with freedom fighters like Assata Shakur, Bell Hooks, Cornell West, Angela Davis, Grace Lee Boggs and the countless heroes currently fighting on the ground.
See you in the streets.