Building Generational Movements
The idea that the potency of white wealth and political power is a direct outcome of the exploitation of Black-indigenous/Black and indigenous peoples is not a new revelation or novel assertion. That being said, it’s easy to overlook just how significantly pre-modern European maneuvering contributes to the inequities that plague our society today. White dominance isn’t inherent. White dominance isn’t natural. White dominance was, and continues to be, built. The social, political, and economic engineers of pre-modern Europe and, eventually, of the United States did not conceptualize wealth or political capital quite as individualistically as their descendants do. They envisioned empire. And just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was the most harmful imperialism of human history.
These are facts that should deeply inform Pan-African organizing efforts. Failing to develop an understanding of the strategic nature of oppression only leads to misguided activism, symbolic action, and false prophetic rhetoric that further entangles us in the oppressive chains of capitalism, western political structure, and white cultural dominance. Instead, Pan-African organizers should focus on counterbalancing the exploitation of labor, theft of natural resources, imposition of culture, and disenfranchisement of Black and indigenous peoples that built the current economic and political system with strategic action that utilizes similar tactics, but for the purpose of Black freedom as opposed to dominance.
In 2016, research emerged from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Economic Development that concluded that if current economic trends continue, it will take 228 years for Black families to accumulate as much wealth as their white counterparts hold today. The authors of the IPS and CED study found that the average wealth of white families increased by 84 percent from 1983 to 2013, which was three times that of Black families in America. Phrased differently, over the next thirty years, white American wealth will grow by $18,000 per year on average, while Black families will see a $750 increase at the same rate. Keep in mind that those numbers only juxtapose white American wealth to Black American wealth. They do not paint the grim picture of global white economic dominance.
Globally, 1 percent of the population controls 50 percent of the world’s wealth and that 1 percent is overwhelmingly of European descent. This is not because whites simply outperform pan-Africans in the development of enterprise, entrepreneurship, or professionalism. It’s because the wealth that Europeans built over centuries with stolen, indigenous land and slave labor acts as an apparatus for channeling continued economic success from generation to generation. And while the Trans-Atlantic slave trade may have ended, the foundation of slavery remains in tact through modern capitalism. Meaning that, while we may no longer be working for free, we are providing dirt cheap labor that is damned close and building wealth for the oppressor and his descendants.
If our oppression is a result of the transatlantic slave trade and the genocide of indigenous peoples, then we must counterpoise movement work to the institution of slavery and the theft of indigenous land. Our strategy needn’t be complicated: reclaim our land and collective labor; the same collective labor that built The Americas. If laboring for our oppressors from 1556, when the first slave ship reached Brazil, to 1888 when it became the last country in the west to abolish slavery built the greatest political and economic empire to date, then what can that same labor do for ourselves, for our children and our grandchildren? Pan-African activists and organizers must set their sights on answering that question. If wealth is generational, so then is poverty. If oppression is generational, so then must be the movement to combat it. What tools and resources are we developing to bequeath upon the next generation for their leg in the race for economic freedom?
In the same vein, armed struggle must and will be a factor in Black-specific political, industrial, and cultural revolution. By the time The Continental Congress established the Continental Army, Navy and Marines in 1775, one hundred and sixty six years had elapsed since the first ship carrying would-be United States slaves reached Jamestown. The resources that colonists were willing to declare war to protect from harsh taxation by the British were accumulated through Black labor. White Americans were and, still are, willing to kill and risk death to protect the spoils of exploitation.
After gaining independence and cementing its ability to control Black bodies, indigenous land and the production associated with them domestically, the United States set out to expand white American hegemony internationally. Through military force, white Americans economically controlled and imposed U.S. cultural dynamics on Filipinos, Haitians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Chamorros/Guamanians, and the list goes on and on. And after years of profiting on war and violence, all of the white West signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a pact to defend every participating nation from threats imposed by entities external to the alliance; the most significant factor of this agreement being that any country within the organization would benefit from the might of the U.S. military. This defense conglomerate provided support to many anti-independence colonial and settler-colonial states in Africa. In fact, Kwame Nkrumah asserted that the establishment of NATO was the beginning of a collective imperialism that empowered the United States in its exploitation excursions.
Maintaining that the role of Pan-African activists and organizers who claim to seek and engage in Black revolutionary struggle is to counterbalance the white, imperialist, empire built on our backs, what does neutralizing its military might look like in modern society? Furthermore, to what lengths might Western powers, specifically the United States, go to eliminate the inevitable threat to the foundation of white capitalism that the aforedescribed Black economic movement presents? One might turn to the violence erected against successful Black communities, businesses, and politicians by white paramilitary groups during Reconstruction Era for an answer to that question. To put it plainly, Massa got the whip, the noose, and his guns when slave revolts took place in the 16th through 19th centuries. As Pan-Africans and other POC still comprise the dirt cheap, and-in the case of incarcerated individuals-free, labor force that upholds global capitalism, strong and violent opposition to the vacation of that role from those who benefit from it should be expected. We are not free to simply walk off the plantation.
With that knowledge, should not a Pan-African Treaty Organization exist? Given the genocide of Black men, women, and children that is occurring despite the absence of any current political or economic threat, should we not, immediately following our jump-start of Black, collective enterprise, arm each and every member of the African Diaspora? Isn’t it necessary to develop military strategy, training, and a plan to bequeath upon future generations with which to protect what we hope to build? The forefathers of white America, the social and economic engineers of white, western imperialism did not leave the long-term security of their descendants to chance. Will we?
While Black people outside the United States were plagued by neo-colonialist violence, Black Americans faced a violent and oppressive response to the abolition of slavery and the progressive spirit of Reconstruction. These were catalysts for concurrent movements of independence and civil rights respectively. The major accomplishments of these movements were affirmative action, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and independence for various African nations.
Unfortunately, these accomplishments did little to nothing to change the overall material condition of global Black life. Though affirmative action increased the college admission rate for Black Americans and the number of Black degree holders has more than doubled since the 60’s, Black people are still half as likely as whites to have completed college. Furthermore, graduation from college has yet to result in the ability for many Black Americans to meet their basic human needs. Though the Civil Rights Act explicitly states that discrimination by employers based on age, race, or sex is prohibited, employment inequity is evidenced by the wage gap between Black Americans and whites and the unemployment rate for Black people is still twice that of their white counterparts. These statistics aren’t drastically different from data produced during and prior to The Civil Rights Movement. The Voting Rights Act can not protect the 2.3 million Black individuals who are incarcerated and, thus, disenfranchised. Also, incrementally, the Supreme Court has chipped away at the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement with cases like Fisher v. Texas and Shelby County v. Holder; decisions that limited the power of affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act respectively. Meanwhile, in Africa, many of us still live a dollar a day existence and are unable to fight off the continued interference of the West.
It is impossible to reverse generational wealth. It is impossible to reverse the development of military might. But, as evidenced in recent years, it is not impossible to reverse policy reform or to undermine and neutralize it. Policy reform is not a component of generational movement. Our children and grandchildren can not inherit it. In fact, the complacency that characterizes Black America is arguably a direct result of said reform. Similarly, independence means nothing if it is not accompanied by overt nationalism, aggressive economic expansion, and military strategy to protect that which was stolen from Pan-Africans before. Though not all outlined here, Pan-African, pro-Black revolutionaries must embrace tactics that lead to the development of empire because Pan-African empire is the only antidote for institutional and systemic white hegemony.