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Veteran activist and film producer Kali Akuno discusses his forthcoming project An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. We are joined again by Kali Akuno, veteran activist of many formations, but who joins us today to talk about a new film he’s working on, An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation. As it is described, this is a documentary series exploring the roots of anti-black racism in the United States and asks the key questions: how can black communities defend themselves against deeply ingrained structures of racism? And how can they build collective resistance and unite with people of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities to root out racism, white supremacy, and dismantle the structures that make them necessary? Kali Akuno, welcome back to the Real News. KALI AKUNO: Pleasure to be here. BALL: So in the trailer for your documentary you start with this juxtaposition of sorts between Malcolm X and Barack Obama. And I’m wondering how this in fact sets up the rest of the film. AKUNO: That’s a good question. Just to give a little background, when we first started conceptualizing this project and started working on it, it was originally entitled The Myth of a Post-Racial America. And it was really focusing on trying to kind of teach a younger generation about how race is being constructed and what role it plays within the United States, within this empire. After Mike Brown, and the movement that has emerged to kind of confront different aspects of white supremacy, namely police terror and police violence being committed against black people and the extrajudicial killings being committed against black people, we started shifting up. Because that quickly exploded that myth, and even the state and the different forces of mainstream capitalist media had to expose the racism still very much alive and well in this society. So we said we needed to go a little bit deeper and get at the different, the underlying structures, that shape white supremacy and this society. And so what we’re really trying to do with this juxtaposition of Malcolm and Obama, there it’s really followup on that clip by [sister Molina] who’s saying that many people thought in 2008 that a particular historic kind of turnabout had occurred, and that black people had arrived at some kind of new pinnacle with Obama’s election. And what she’s really breaking down, I think quite excellently, is that even if Malcolm X had been elected, the U.S. presidency and the U.S. empire is what it is. And there’s not much agency that exists within that office except to kind of do the tactical and some of the strategic operations of managing the empire. And so what we really want to set up is that we have to look at the United States on a much deeper level to understand what this project is about, where it’s going, and where African people in particular fit into it. BALL: Could you give us a little bit of a preview of sorts of the kinds of histories or examples from history that you all are covering in this documentary? And maybe say a word or two about why this documentary should even still be necessary. I mean, even given your, your sort of–the context you just described for us. There’s a lot of media being produced in the world today, a lot of people with a lot of access to a lot of different kinds of media, a lot of documentaries being made, a lot of pundits out there speaking, and so on. So if you could talk a little bit about the gaps that this documentary is intending to fill. AKUNO: There’s two gaps I would say that we’re really trying to address. Number one, we’re trying to put this in its kind of, what we call the proper context. Which is a global context. And that the enslavement of African people and their capture in, in being brought to the United States, that was always a global project. And that we exist within a kind of a global, international context. And we have to look at our situation relative to that global context. Now, what does that mean. That we have to look at–what we’re arguing for is we have to look at kind of a world in crisis. Not just a society in crisis, but a world in crisis, wherein the system has reached a point where there are millions of folks that it’s trying to dispose of and having a very hard time doing that. So we’re facing crisis after crisis, or seeing crisis after crisis. You know, the refugee crisis, the migrant crisis. The crisis of chronic unemployment on a global scale, and then trying to situate where black people in the United States fit into that picture. And we have to try to draw some elements of that picture out so you see where you fit into kind of this global piece. So you understand that the system does not have the capacity right now to offer a great big number of jobs and distribute wealth in a particular manner, and that most of our demands, particularly those of the 20th century, have always kind of been about how do we distribute the wealth and how do we kind of take more of it from, recover the surplus the capitalists stole, and how the state distributes that. And then we’re saying that we have to make a new focus to understand where we are at in this kind of global moment, and why we’re seeing millions of people being, migrating from Central America and South America and Africa and Asia, and all these people on the move and how the whole world is kind of in a state of upheaval and it’s been majorly disrupted. And we have to look at the extrajudicial killings and the things that the people in the street are focusing on within that context. So one, kind of really drawing the global picture is a key piece. The other piece that we really want to try to expose and get at is a shift away from the kind of historic emphasis that you see in a lot of documentaries and a lot of academic works about the black liberation movement in this country, which is focused on the attainment of equal rights within the system. And there’s often kind of an ignoring, if you will, of what is the material foundation that is structured [on the] U.S. as a colonial project, but where African people fit into that. And you understand how our labor has continually been expropriated, stolen, and how it’s deemed and how our lives have been deemed valuable based upon the profit motive, basically, and where we kind of fit into that structure. So we’re trying to expose those two things to really educate a younger generation and get folks to kind of think, you know, from the local to the global and back. And how we form our strategies, and how we execute and build a plan for liberation. BALL: Tell us real quick if you would how people can, where people can go and how people can support the completion of the film, and support it of course when it finally does come out. AKUNO: Well, where you can go to get some of the basic clips and some of the work that we’ve already done, you want to go to Most of the footage that’s up there now is there, the campaign to get the project funding is really housed there and on Kickstarter. And you can also check out the Cooperation Jackson website, and The American Nightmare Facebook page has a lot of information on it. And also just follow the different things from Cooperation Jackson, because this is a joint project between the, excuse me, between Deep Dish TV and Cooperation Jackson. We’re working on this together and trying to produce a dynamic documentary that we hope can be an organizing tool. Not just informative, but an organizing tool for younger generations. BALL: Kali Akuno, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News and telling us a little bit more about the forthcoming An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation. AKUNO: Thank you. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. Again, I’m Jared Ball from Baltimore, saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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Kali Akuno was the Coordinator of Special Projects and External Funding for the late mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, MS. He is the author of the organizing handbook Let Your Motto Be Resistance and wrote the preface to the report Operation Ghetto Storm. He is an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) (, former co-director of the US Human Rights Network, and served as executive director of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund based in New Orleans, LA. Kali currently resides in Jackson, MS.