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Interview :: Human Rights
The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
21 Feb 2006
The following interview of Professor Tony Van Der Meer was conducted by Bryan G. Pfeifer over the course of December 2005 and January 2006.

In April 2003 Mr. Tony Van Der Meer, a Black adjunct professor of Africana studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston was assaulted and arrested by campus police after challenging an Army National Guard recruiter who threatened a student distributing leaflets for an anti-war commemoration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Van Der Meer objected to the recruiter’s remark that the student should be shot like Dr. King.

[Photo by Lolita Parker, Jr.]
Van Der Meer tried to mediate the tense situation, but five officers physically assaulted him and arrested him for “disorderly conduct” and other trumped-up charges. After an eight-month community support campaign, all charges against Van Der Meer were dropped in December 2003. Presently litigation against the parties guilty of assaulting and violating Van Der Meer’s civil and human rights are pending.

Black liberation fighter, Assata Shakur, wrote the foreward to “State of the Race,” an anthology on the Afro-Cuba diaspora that Van Der Meer and Professor Jemadari Kamara co-authored. Shakur has been exiled in Cuba for over two decades after being incarcerated in New Jersey as a political prisoner.

Van Der Meer is co-chair of the Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee in Boston which sponsored a major anti-war, anti-racist march and rally on Dec. 1 marking the 50th anniversary of Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks’ action launched a 380 day bus boycott of 40,000 mainly Black people on Dec. 5, 1955 which ended this Jim Crow practice. The RPHRDC is now mobilizing for a “Bring the Troops Home Now!” protest in Boston for March 18, the third anniversary of the Iraq war.

Van Der Meer is also co-founder and program director of Cultural Cafe, an independent alternative cultural venue of art and politics in Boston and an adjunct professor within the Social Science Department at Roxbury Community College.

This interview was conducted by Mr. Pfeifer over the course of December 2005 and January 2006.


BGP: What is the role and importance of Black history?

Van Der Meer: The role and importance of Black History is to set the record straight. To differentiate between Black History that was created by white supremacist institutions and Black History created by Black (African) people, especially in the diaspora, who resisted racial and class domination and oppression and struggled to live and create their lives on their own terms. It is to clarify the contra dictions of the enslavement of African people and a reminder of our continuing struggle to control the cultural, political and economic realities of our lives as human beings, instead of being viewed as Budweiser’s great kings and queens of Africa, and having bling bling and a swimming pool in our living room.

BGP: Mr. Harry Belafonte, while in Venezuela Jan. 8, said, “No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush, says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution.”

Van Der Meer: God bless Harry Belafonte, may he live a long life for telling the truth. Essentially Belafonte is saying what Martin Luther King Jr. said about the U.S. government being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and you can modernize that and place a cap on top of “W’s” head as the greatest leader of tyranny and terrorism of the world. The American people aren’t as dumb as Bush and his corporate/media backers want us to believe. When ordinary American workers get their paychecks (those who still get them), they know they have been had. They know this when they get sick; they know this when their kids go to poor schools. Many of them can see that the revolution occurring in Venezuela is in the greatest interest of ordinary working people.

BGP: You often talk about the contributions of women in the civil rights and Black liberation movements.

Van Der Meer: That’s simple. It’s not a question of what came first, it’s a question of what exists. Black women in the civil rights and Black liberation movements are a very important and significant component of those struggles. Living in a racist and sexist society, it is ever more important to be conscious and keep in the forefront of our work the triple oppression of Black women via race, class and gender. Otherwise, as men we are prone to internalize the “inferiority” of women instead of seeing and working with them as equal partners in our struggle. It is the revolutionary duty of men (and women as well) to struggle against the internalized racist, sexist and class “inferiorities” we have developed living in a male-dominated, white-supremacist capitalist world.

BGP: What does Ms. Rosa Parks have to do with the war in Iraq and the other wars that the United States is waging?

Van Der Meer: The connection is a moral question, a resource question. Martin Luther King said that a country that spends billions on war and undermines social programs is approaching spiritual suicide. We have a $600 billion military budget; have billions more spent on the war [in Iraq]. We have public schools that are transporting children that don’t have monitors and don’t have the resources children need to get a quality education. The state can’t give money because it’s being cut by the federal government because it’s spending money on war. So it has everything to do with the war in terms of the level of resources we have to have decent health care, housing, and have safety in our communities. And to have the money to pay decent wages to people so that they won’t be fighting over these types of things.

Considering the type of violence that’s happening in Black, Latin@ and the Cape Verdean communities as youth are shooting each other, Dr. King said it is very difficult for us to chastise our children with what George Bush is doing in terms of his war in Iraq and his refusal to end the war.

BGP: Mr. Chuck Turner [African American Boston City Councilor and member of the RPHRDC] has confronted some in the anti-war movement that claim racism is not an anti-war issue. He demands they must be connected.

Van Der Meer: Absolutely. Who is the one who fights the war? Not just the working class but they need to have a lot of people of color who, while white workers are oppressed as well, but in terms of skin color, Black workers are at the bottom of that. And so they’re exposed to a lot more and a lot less in terms of what resources they should have.

So racism is definitely an anti-war platform because if you’re not trying to deal with what we should be doing for people who don’t have anything here and knowing who they look like, like those who were choked out in Katrina, we can begin to understand this relationship to war and how those resources are redistributed or put in areas to keep war going or take it from those who need it the most. So we have to make that connection around the question of race and class in this society.

BGP: Would you like to expand on your connections you’ve made previously at RPHRDC organizing meetings regarding the connections between Dec. 1 and Hurricane Katrina?

Van Der Meer: When Katrina went into a pitch, it was the twenty-eighth of August, which is the day Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi [in 1955]. It was Emmett Till’s death and his mother insisting that his body be exposed and open so people could see what they did to her child that spurred Rosa Parks into action.

And there was anger throughout this country especially in the Black community that really had people like Rosa Parks and others ready to do something about it. Emmett Till was the real spark and Rosa Parks did her job by saying we’re not going to take this anymore.

So when Katrina hits-that ugly face of American racism Emmett Till’s murder represented-what it did, not just to Black people but to the world, was really destroy any type of belief that the government was going to come and really help us out. People felt very much on their own and people were very angry and very frustrated.

So there’s a big importance on the question of the dignity of Rosa Parks and dignity as well as justice for Katrina survivors and what they’re going through. We have to insist that they have justice and that they’re also involved in their reconstruction and not have some bureaucrats do that and have some of their rich friends get contracts. The people themselves need to be involved in that process and we can never forget that.

BGP: Will the RPHRDC continue after Dec. 1?

Van Der Meer: Yes. We will continue to raise the issues put forth in terms of justice for Katrina survivors, jobs, a living wage and money for healthcare and education, to cut the military budget and bring the troops home. As long as those issues exist the coalition should exist.

BGP: Would you comment on the connection in 1955 and that period generally between the African anti-colonial liberation movements and others in Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and elsewhere, but specifically the effect of the African anti-colonial struggles on the civil rights movement and Black liberation movements in the U.S.?

Van Der Meer: When you look at the struggles here in relationship to anti-colonial struggles in Africa there was a kind of reciprocal relationship. It created a sense of internationalism that has been undermined by others in terms of the Black liberation movement.

The Black liberation movement has been looked upon as being some form of narrow nationalism. More particularly some white left forces haven’t seen the broadness in what the Black liberation movement had done in terms of having an internationalist perspective in that regard. When I think of that period I think of people like Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, organizations like Revolutionary Action Movement and the relations they had with Cuba, Africa and China. Williams was basically an ambassador for us to Cuba. There’s a film in which there are pictures of Williams going throughout China, Africa, Cuba and Vietnam. So there was this broad internationalist view of oppression around the globe.

Trying to broaden respect for peoples’ right to self-determination within the world and trying to deal with oppression is something that is starting to happen now. The emergence of the realignment of the Black liberation movement is very important and it has the experiences and the lessons that the broader movement can learn from within an internationalist context.
We’re in a new period where we have to begin to frame this in a theoretical form but within the context of struggle and practice. This is what’s important because the regular people are workers and even those advanced sector of workers can develop theories from their own practice.

We’re going to a new phase and if we can excite these young people out here we can engage in a protracted struggle. It’s about power and to be able to determine what kind of society that we want and not expect the answer is to get Black people or Cape Verdean people or Haitian people or Spanish-speaking or Afro-Latin@ into positions that white people running society are doing. It’s about trying to change the structure of the society. This is what Dr. King said, that there had to be economic and political structural changes in the society.

-- 30 --

Independent journalist Bryan G. Pfeifer is an organizer with the Troops Out Now coalition ( /, an SEIU 509 ( steward and member of the Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee (


RPHRDC M18 planning meetings take place every Wednesday evening beginning at 6 p.m. at the Cultural Café, 76 Atherton Street, Jamaica Plain, MA (Stony Brook stop, Orange line). For more information call 617.524.3507 (RPHRDC), 617.373.3910 (Cultural Café), 617.522.6626 (Troops Out Now-Boston) or email rosaparksday (at)

Downloadable flyers:

-- 30 –

Union labor donated
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Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
21 Feb 2006
Tony Van der meer is one of Boston's finest and so is Chuck Turner.We need more Black radicals not more uncle toms.Thanks for all you do.The struggle continues! Black people shouldn't fight in the white mans wars.
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
23 Feb 2006
[Quote]five officers physically assaulted him and arrested him for “disorderly conduct” and other trumped-up charges. After an eight-month community support campaign, all charges against Van Der Meer were dropped in December 2003 [END QUOTE]

Correction, Tony Van Der Meer was charged with disorderly conducted ( he failed to do what the cops told him to do), Assault and Battery on a police officer (when resisting arresst Van Der Meer flaied and swung his arms accidentally hitting the officers), Resisting arrest (when told by a duly authorized person under state law Vander Meer failed to comply with the officers request and commands)

Mr. Van Der Meer admitted to sufficient facts on the charges on him in the massachusetts district court. Van der Meer was on probation for said charges.

The officers involved did not Assault VanderMeer because they did not go beyond the scope of the policies, procedures or training which govern there action in the course of there duty.

I will admit however that the situation could have been handled better by the officers.

Bob Gorman
UMASS boston
Retired Cop
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
23 Feb 2006
great interview... just had a chance to go thru it.
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
26 Feb 2006
Mr. Van Der Meer admitted to sufficient facts on the charges on him in the massachusetts district court. Van der Meer was on probation for said charges.

- If you look at the court record you will see the above assertion is untrue- nuff said

- Bob the cop, way to maintain your impeciable record of being a stupid piggly wiggly.
Racism Must Stop NOW!
26 Feb 2006
Comments from ill taught police and others show their true IQ. To them a book is a coffee table. And a newspaper without pictures isn't worth looking at.
Mirror, Mirrror on the Wall
26 Feb 2006
Having attending UMAss for a semester, I feel they should make about 82% of the people there be made to join the military, professors included. Most people there lack self-dicipline and motivation, plus the money to live in the real world. (Oh, by the way, I don't exist in the real world either. I haunt the Copley Library.)
Koodos to those who get arrested, I think if I ever do I should take the 5th when questioned. Peace to all the muthafuckas in uniform!
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
28 Feb 2006
I'm sick of the racist cops at UMass.Tony you"re the man and no cop should ever mess with you.Hope to see you all at the 3/18 protest.Those racist cops better stay away from me.I'm tired of being pulled over by cops for no reason other than the color of my skin.Black Power!!
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
28 Feb 2006
Quote TONY Naro: (Dec2003) IMC "A judge ratified an agreement (for “pretrial probation”) under which all the charges against Tony Van Der Meer were essentially dropped," (Tony naro) End Quote.

Prof. Van Der Meer is still held responsible for his criminal conduct that went beyond that of a Professor or US Citizen. Pretrial Probation is not essentially dropping charges by any definition (notice the word probation). It simply means responsibility is accepted and the matter is resolve and justice is done.
Re: The 'Ugly Face of American Racism'
28 Feb 2006
As usual bobthecop doesn't know what the hell he is talking about.

bobthecop will have you think pretrial probation is probation but pretrial probation really is a backdoor for a DA to drop a case which he cannot win in court, BUT if dropped will lose politically. Don't forget the DA is elected and would zit faced crackers like bobthecop vote for a DA who drops charges?

bobthecop- Stay White You Stupid Pig
04 Jun 2006
Excellent site, added to favorites!!