Why did you write What Next?
‘I saw the events of 11 September out of my window. I talk to a lot of people. Black people in America were horrified but they weren’t surprised. I decided I should write a book that anyone can read, but addressed to black America to say we see the world differently, and possibly a little more clearly. The fact we weren’t surprised says, ‘Hey, we knew what was going on.’
‘We knew what the forces in the world felt about America. We knew that because of our own experiences of America. Most white people, not all, in America will tell you that the first act of internal terrorism against our country was the World Trade Centre. We don’t think that there has never been terrorism in the US before.
‘In 1921 the Ku Klux Klan got army planes, tanks and machine guns, attacked a black neighbourhood, burned it to the ground and ran all the black people it didn’t kill out. That’s an act of terrorism.
‘Lynching is an act of terrorism. The police departments’ attempts in every city try to control our political movements smacks of terrorism. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and many others are terrorist acts. If you look at the history of America we have been involved in bullying and frightening people since the end of World War Two.
‘One of the problems Americans have is that because of the Cold War fighting Communism we began to see democracy and capitalism as being the same thing. It’s not true. You can’t have anything more anti-democratic than capitalism. We spent a lot of time supporting capitalism in its insatiable search for profits, cheap labour and resources.
!In doing that we’ve killed a lot of Muslims, Vietnamese, Cambodians. We have to see what we’re doing in the name of our economic process, as well as being against Osama Bin Laden.’
In the book you talk about a black movement coming together with the peace movement, about building a movement of opposition.
‘I think we need a peace movement and that black people should lead it. I know that we’re not ready to do it emotionally. We’re not quite ready to go beyond the limits and the chains put on us by our history in America.
‘If you’re Islamic in the US anything you do is going to get you thrown into jail. Because of this most everyday Muslims stayed away from the peace movement. Most black Christians stayed away too, mostly because the propaganda vilified the Arabic world. It’s also partially because we’re really tired of fighting and want things to be better.
‘One of the things I’m saying in this book is that things aren’t going to be better unless we make them better. America is a deeply racist country. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell don’t represent black Americans. They represent Bush. Most black Americans wouldn’t even vote for them.
‘There is a need for new voices and a deep education of people. That’s one of the reasons I wrote What Next?
‘If someone is looking for new ideas or new social theory you wouldn’t come to this book. It’s a book addressed to day labourers, plumbers, chefs. The dialogue I want to have is with everyday people. I’m into us being together, saying this is not right-killing people in Iraq.’
In the book you talk about the ‘enemy’. Who do you see as the enemy?
‘If you have an embargo against Cuba, that’s terrorism. It doesn’t matter what you think about Cuba or Castro. What matters is the actions you took. If the CIA is plotting with guerrillas for assassinations in South America then you and the people doing it are terrorists and have to be held accountable. When Ronald Reagan was president he said, ‘Why aren’t things the way they used to be? We didn’t used to have these problems.’
‘Of course he was wrong, because he was saying everything was OK with black people because they didn’t make noise, women stayed at home. There was a grain of truth in what he said. There was a time when one salary could buy you a car, a house, pay for you eating and, if your kid was smart enough, send him to college.
‘Now we have two salaries and we can’t afford that. They have slowly taken away the value of our labour. We’ve completely isolated the poor. There is a war on the labour force in America, and the rest of the world. Because the people who own and run the media are part of the rich they don’t talk to us about it.
What kind of political action do you think people need to take?
‘We have the power to change the world today. All we have to do is go out there and get everybody to agree that we’re not going to let them do this any more. Voting, writing to politicians, starting to make connections with people in other parts of the world and discussing with them how they see the world-that’s what we need to do.
‘If we can do it we can really start to change things. You could have done it in Britain. You could have stopped Blair going into the war. It was possible to do it. There are a lot of young white people with black heroes spouting political beliefs. That is very positive.
‘There is a very strong movement amongst young people in the US, people before college age, who are thinking the world needs to be different. I’m hoping they’re going to do something.’
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