The Empire Strikes Back (or Fear of a Black Planet)

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Jumbo Lobby Card
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Jumbo Lobby Card

"Excuse us for the news/ I question those accused/ Why is this fear of black from white influence who you choose?" - Public Enemy, "Fear of a Black Planet," 1990.

As a child, my all time favorite movie was Return of the Jedi. I still remember the Star Wars themed curtains that hung proudly in my bedroom and my battery powered lightsaber which glowed green in the dark. As a teenager, I was still enamored with the film, so much so that one Christmas I received a VHS box set of the original trilogy as a gift.

That Christmas, I immediately began my own Star Wars marathon. Despite my love for Return of the Jedi, I had never watched the first two films. I thoroughly enjoyed the first movie, but I found the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back, a dark film. It did not leave me with the same triumphant feeling as the first where Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, nor of Return of the Jedi, which ends in Rebel victory.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke endures both psychological and physiological harm. Darth Vadar is revealed as his father, and his father cuts off his hand in battle. The film clearly depicts the vicious nature of empire.

Whenever empire responds to radical change, the response is always brutal. As our nation continues to bear witness to gross atrocities committed against Black bodies and Black minds, it is clear that our nation is witnessing the brutalities that accompany the striking back of an empire.

Historically, empire defines nations that hold extensive territory throughout the world, territories often claimed by brutal force. As it relates to our nation, empire must be lifted beyond the mere notion of sovereign and expanding borders, but instead understood as a system that controls psychologies and influences people's actions. In his book Christ and Empire, Dr. Joreg Rieger defines empire as "the massive concentrations of power that permeate all aspects of life and that cannot be controlled by any one actor alone...Empire seeks to extend its control as far as possible; not only geographically, politically, and economically, but also intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, culturally, and religiously."

Considering our nation's history of brutality, the most impactful and destructive system known upon these shores has been empire as white supremacy. Disturbingly, in the face of progress, there are signs that the empire is striking back.

Whether it be the vitriol of presidential candidates with their calls to take our nation back, or a Black motorist gunned down on the highway by a plain clothes officer who did not bother to identify himself, or a young girl hurled across the classroom in her desk, it all speaks to empire as white supremacy striking back to reclaim the territory it believes it has lost. Every time another racist themed fraternity party is planned, or we witness another miscarriage of justice against Black life in the courts, these are signs of empire striking back.

The nature of empire as white supremacy is such that fictional worlds have not been spared from its wrath. Some fans of Star Wars began an unconscionable protest against the forthcoming Star Wars film The Force Awakens because it features a Black man - John Boyega - as the lead actor. This is unconscionable in that Black men such as James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams held roles in the original Star Wars releases. However, when empire strikes back, it strikes back at everything, real or fictitious!

Such nonsensical conclusions birthing brutal actions are the fruits of empire as white supremacy. This empire has robbed continents of its humanity, forced conversion, and raped and pillaged in the name of God. This empire has used Black bodies as lab rats for medical research, military and civilian, alike. This empire refuses to maintain levee walls but runs to build border walls.

Empire strikes with impunity.

Empire as white supremacy sees progress as decline and diversity as weakness. Therefore, empire projects fear for who we are becoming as a nation, which is a more diverse nation, and it promotes a return to segregation as the solution. At its root, empire is fear, the fear of a Black planet wherein Blacks, and other historically oppressed and marginalized communities, are given seats at the table of power, a planet where all are equal and all are treated equally.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. devoted two entire chapters to empire as it strikes back in his first book, Stride toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story . In his chapter "Methods of the Opposition," King writes in vivid detail about the various struggles that the people of Montgomery faced from the empire as they sought to gain equality under the law. This opposition included everything from espionage to "a series of arrests for minor and often imaginary traffic violations."

Again, for empire, fact and fiction are perceived the same.

The chapter is followed by "The Violence of Desperate Men." In this chapter, King recalls the bombing of his home and the bombing of other homes during the boycott. With the fear of change, empire can strike with deadly force.

Today, what continues to draw me to Return of the Jedi is its message of hope. This hope is the hope of a people - a diverse people - standing shoulder to shoulder to fight back against all threats of an empire. As we continue to see evidence of an empire striking back, let us awaken the force within and embrace our collective power to work together for progress and to bring about the changes so desperately needed in our society.

Even when facing empire, the force has always been strong with people committed to working together for justice.