Agents

I watched and participated in a Zoom discussion of Judas and the Black Messiah tonight. One of the points that I raised is that William O’Neal exemplifies the betrayer archetype. Men/women such as he have been an ever-present menace for African people. They are a recurring response of Europeans to the struggle for African freedom.

We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that agents and traitors will disappear or cease to be consequential at any point in our movement. Quite often, much like O’Neal himself, such persons will rise to prominence within the organizations and movements that they have been set against. We should even consider that such individuals will fabricate movements so as to sow seeds of confusion, discord, and facilitate misdirection.

At best, we can carry out our work in a such a manner that limits the destructive capacity of traitors. One partial solution to this is to engage in struggle in a manner that is highly decentralized, characterized by independent yet ideologically aligned collectives, groups working towards a common aim, yet who maintain localized organizational structures characterized by collective forms of governance.

This is perhaps easier said than done. Dynamic work often coheres around a visionary mind. Their genius is an asset to our struggle, yet in our adversary’s aim to maintain our oppression, they are often targeted and imprisoned or killed in the hopes that their deaths will destroy the movement. There will always be people like Chairman Fred Hampton who animate the imaginations of the people and who articulate a vision of a future free from the fetters of oppression. Such individuals will also be targeted by the state. The key, the principle challenge is to ensure the survival and expansion of the movement beyond the deaths of inspiring leaders, beyond the acts of sabotage by traitors, and beyond the machinations of our enemies. To demonstrate through work and determination that “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”

Treachery

Treachery has long been a nemesis of African movements for self-determination. Traitors have often aligned themselves with the revolutionary struggles only as a means to pursue counterrevolutionary ends. These traitors have, invariably, placed their own self-aggrandizement over the interests of the masses. Their actions have also reinforced European dominance.

Such patterns persist in the present day. In fact, the politics of tepid multiculturalism and the ethos of atomistic individualism provides a convenient ideological cover for such acts today. Individuals who become exponents of such positions are often celebrated. Their visibility is often strategically useful in the propagation of a debilitating confusion and alienation, which negates a consciousness of who we are–Africans–and a commitment to what we should be doing– reclaiming our culture and  restoring our sovereignty.

No praxis more revolutionary

I consider no praxis more revolutionary than the model provided by the African maroons throughout the Americas who left for us an audacious legacy of struggle for us to study and learn from today.

Enìyàn

Good morning everyone. Rapacious capitalism’s endgame is still mass extinction. Racism has invigorated America’s latent authoritarian tendencies eroding the vaunted strength of democracy.

I am reminded of the Yorùbá wisdom that tells us to “struggle to increase good in the world and not to let any good be lost.” Such an audacity to struggle is a key part of what it means to be Enìyàn (human) in the Yorùbá worldview. It is by confronting such challenges that our humanity gains its full expression. As Segun Gbadegesin writes, “This is the normative dimension of the concept of Enìyàn. The crown of personal life is to be useful to one’s community. The meaning of one’s life is therefore measured by one’s commitment to social ideals and communal existence.”

Welcome to a new day and a new opportunity to be one’s best self.

Sovereignty is the goal

Many enjoy appropriating the symbolism of the UNIA flag without having any corresponding commitment to the goal to which Marcus Garvey aspired. The goal was not reform, but sovereignty; not an appeal to European morality, but to African agency.

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Our political identity

As long as we view our political identity only in terms of our forced relationship with the European settler colony called the “United States”, we will fail to recognize or pursue our right to self-determination as an African people.

The myopia of absolutist pragmatism

Commitment to an absolutist pragmatism can impoverish our imaginations and diminish our determination to strive for and create another world. Zumbi, Dandara, Dessalines, Sanité Bélair, Denmark Vesey, Marcus Garvey, and Amy Jacques Garvey rejected the myopia of absolute pragmatism in their striving to create a new reality for our people. Similarly, we too are capable of such audacious thought and action.

Why I am not a “person or color”

I used to think that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s name was anachronistic, but now since so many willingly refer to Black people as “colored people” or “people of color” clearly it is reflective of current sensibilities. I do find this quite interesting.

To be sure, I do not use these terms to refer to us (Africans/Black people). Identifiers are, as is all else, political. They can anchor one in a consciousness that is dynamic and compelling with respect to a grander vision of social possibility or they can moor one to visionlessness. I see no grand conception of our peoplehood in terms like “people of color” or “colored people”. They seem both generic and impotent to my thinking.

My rejection of this term is based on the following criticisms:

  1. Many so-called people of color are defined as such within the borders of the US, but may be a part of dominant racial, ethnic, or caste groupings in their home countries. Therein, given the global prevalence of anti-Blackness these groups may be actors in the on-going subjugation of Black people in their homelands. Does one, by simply crossing the US border become filled with an overwhelming sense of solidarity with Black people and their on-going struggle for freedom while regarding the Blacks of one’s homeland with loathing and derision?
  2. The term, by virtue of its generic nature, posits a shared reality among so-called POC, but we know that many groups position themselves in various ways in relation to the hegemony of Whites in US society. Some may identity themselves as White due to the material advantages afforded Whites. Others may attempt to assimilate themselves into Whiteness via the acts of marriage and procreation. Still others may participate in or sanction the subordination and exploitation of other racialized and oppressed groups, such as Africans/Blacks for their own advantage as in the case of many non-Black merchants who operate commercial businesses in Black communities.
  3. The term is used increasingly in contexts where clearly Black/African people are the subject of discussion. It is as if by generalizing the discourse to an amorphous body of racialized and oppressed people (i.e., “POC”), that one’s language may prove more satisfactory or less disconcerting. It does beg the question as to who such sterile language is intended to assuage in the first place. One must also ask whose experience is being erased in the process of such speech acts.
  4. I am reminded that during the Black Power era there was no revolutionary politics that argued vociferously on the basis of such an ambiguous identity. Formations and theories of liberatory struggle drew substantively upon notions of Blackness or Africanness. There was a reason for this, and this is at the heart of my thinking.

For me, much of the problem with terms such as POC is based on the fact that they do not arrive at what one actually is—an African whose ancestors were kidnapped, tortured, and assaulted in an attempt to both forge America and to neutralize one’s determination to resist domination. This question of resistance is ultimately, I believe, at the heart of why an African identity is so powerful in contrast to a more generic one. We find that much of the resistance to enslavement was driven by a very clear consciousness among the enslaved of who they were. This is especially so among the maroons whose very actions rejected the logic of White domination, the structural arrangements of that domination, and posed another paradigm reflective of core elements of an African worldview. This means that the maroons did not only resist enslavement, they sought to establish an African way of life on alien soil and to make their reclaimed sovereignty the basis of their resistance to those forces opposed to African freedom. Herein we find the conjoined components of sovereignty and culture as key bases of African life reasserted in a contested milieu. Hence the maroon struggle was indelibly an act of African resistance.

Some will insist that the conception of Africanness is not by default one of resistance, however given the significance of African culture and the imperative of sovereignty as a necessary condition for the full expression of one’s culture, Africanness becomes, in the milieu of European terror, a site of resistance out of necessity. In fact, Dr. Marimba Ani has declared that “To be Afrikan is the revolutionary act of our times.” The key element of this statement is the use of the verb be. As to be Afrikan—in Dr. Ani’s conception and in the conception of those many ancestors who struggled, fought, and died for African freedom and self-determination—is to be engaged in the work of the restoration of African sovereignty and the reclamation of African culture. To be African is to understand both of these processes as necessarily requiring the elimination of all forces opposed to that sovereignty and the cessation of cultural mis-orientation as an inescapable barrier to the full expression of the African ethos. Thus, to be African on this basis is to embrace the politics of revolutionary struggle and to recognize the distinctiveness and specificity of Black struggle. It is not to be some amorphous “person of color” or a “colored person”. It is not a politics based on an erasure of one’s distinctiveness as an African.

I am an African. I am not a “person of color”.