Off Principle, It’s On Sight: The Basis of Black Unity
As you read this, members of the African diaspora are subjected to the genocidal agenda of the white West. As you read this, Black people across the globe are food insecure, deprived of adequate health care, unable to defend themselves from the tyranny of corrupt government, forced to endure environmental conditions that are unfit for any human, emotionally traumatized and psychologically brutalized. And if, as you read this, you are a Black individual, collective, organization, or governing body that aligns yourself with systemic racism, sexism, capitalism, imperialism, Western militarism, or fascism, then you are complicit in the perpetuation of the state of emergency that characterizes global, Black life. You are a war criminal and a traitor.
Though the description of collective Black life as in crisis should come as no surprise to anyone with eyes, ears, and a heartbeat, let’s unpack it for those who are late to the party (read as willfully ignorant).
Continued state sanctioned violence against members of the Black community is evidenced by the forty percent Black United States prison population that stands in juxtaposition to the thirteen percent of the country’s population that same community comprises, by the three hundred Black people we know(what about the unreported?) the police killed in the United States in 2017, by the six hundred Black people we know (what about the unreported?) the police kill every year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and by the fact that twenty percent of immigrants deported on the grounds of criminal activity are Black (criminalization and deportation are acts of violence).
Capitalist fueled hunger continues to run rampant across The Diaspora. In Sub-Saharan Africa, two hundred and thirty three million of our brothers and sisters are hungry and malnourished. In Haiti, where the population is ninety five percent Black, fifty percent of the population can’t feed itself. In the United States, one in four Black children don’t have consistent access to nutritious food. Environmental racism continues to kill us, as Flint still doesn’t have access to clean water, Black families are still more likely to live near facilities that use or pump out hazardous materials, Black children are five times more likely to have lead poisoning than white children, and people of color breathe forty six percent more nitrogen dioxide than white folks.
And let us not forget that Nia Wilson is dead. Antwon Rose is dead. Stephon Clark is dead. Let us not forget Trayvon, Mike, Sandra, Eric, Korryn, Kalief, David, Larry, Stephon, Morgan, Rekia, and all of the other casualties of this war.
The use of the word war in describing White engagement of Pan-Africans is no exaggeration. If consulting the literal definition of the word as a state of armed conflict between different nations, states, or groups within a nation or state, there can be no contesting this characterization. Examining historical examples like the Vietnam War, in which two million people on both sides were killed, like the Cuban-American conflict in which the United States imposed embargo resulted in Cuban poverty, or like World War II, in which the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in increased health complications such as leukemia, cataracts, maternal mortality, and anemia as consequences of the severe effects the bombs had on the environment, can only push one further toward the conclusion that Black people are forced to contend with genocidal warfare waged against their communities without justification. The two million people killed during the Vietnam War pale in comparison to the Black death toll comprised of the two million Africans who lost their lives on slave ships that journeyed to the Americas, the two million infant slave children who died within the first year of their lives, the over three thousand Black people lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, and the twelve thousand Black people killed by police from 1980 to 2012. Pan-Africans, in general, are impoverished as a result of Western capitalism and imperialism, just as many of the nations the United States imposes economic sanctions on (an act of war) are. Many of the health outcomes of the atomic bombings, maternal mortality and cancer especially, can be found right in our communities as a result of trauma and the environmental racism referenced earlier.
This brings us back to the initial assertion of this essay. Black liberation is literally a matter of life and death, literally a matter of health and illness, literally a matter of sanity and insanity. Black individuals, collectives, and organizations who compromise the movement are actually and factually contributing to the perpetuation of Black genocide; effectively establishing themselves as war criminals.
How are war criminals generally regarded and addressed in mainstream society? History says they are villainized and, often, subsequently executed. But not in the Black community. In the Black community, Benedict Arnolds disguised as “activists”, “organizers”, “progressives”, and “leaders” are given permanent access to spaces that should exist only to plot revolutionary struggle and liberate Pan-Africans, even momentarily, from the oppressive systems they are forced to operate within. In the Black community, accessories to terrorism in our neighborhoods, cities, villages, and nations are rewarded with praise and subscription to the weak, deceitful, reformist rhetoric they espouse. In the Black community, the oppressed and marginalized are expected to ignore the betrayals of their so called leaders in the name of respect, appreciation, Black unity and social and political cohesion. This has been a primary impediment of African liberatory struggle.
Betrayal of the Black community is never and has never been anything less than disloyalty to Black revolutionary principle. In some cases, said disloyalty occurs as a result of pure greed and self-interest, and, in others, is a consequence of Black failure to develop collective strategy and ideology based on principles rooted in mutual and overlapping interest. In other words, sometimes our own people sell us out intentionally and, sometimes, they are simply not grounded enough in collectively developed values to represent and effectively advocate on behalf of our communities. While intentions vary, the impact of Black collusion with agents of oppression is always devastating and must be met with intolerance if Pan-Africa is to get free.
In 1837, an African slave known as Daaga led a slave revolt in Trinidad. Before that; however, he was an African slave trader. Should we forget Daaga’s complicity in the transatlantic slave trade because he, eventually, attempted to escape the fate he’d forced upon his own brothers and sisters? What danger exists in failing to hold Daaga posthumously accountable for his sins against Black humanity? Does his Blackness, alone, protect his legacy from condemnation? Should it have protected him from consequences foisted upon him by slaves he may have sacrificed before being captured, himself?
If African freedom is a revolutionary principle, then Daaga violated the social contract that indexes it and the celebration of his legacy without acknowledgement of his treachery is as much a threat to Black, radical ideology as he was to Black freedom on the continent of Africa.
In 1895, Booker T. Washington announced that he, his followers, and Southern white leaders had come to an agreement that, for the most part, dictated that Black people would not seek the right to vote, would not seek retribution for racist attacks against their communities, and would accept discrimination in exchange for free, basic education limited to vocational and industrial training and freedom to cultivate Black owned land. This agreement was coined the “Atlanta Compromise” and was written, primarily, by Washington, himself.
Washington’s solution largely ignored the fact that without efforts to claim resources for itself, the Black community would be resigned to, at best, bare survival and, at worst continued impoverishment and vulnerability to the terror imposed upon them by Southern racists. Just getting by, without carving out space for true Black political and economic power would ensure that anything Black southerners built would be stamped out on the whim of white racists. Washington failed to see that whites were not simply afraid of being forced to integrate with newly freed slaves. They were afraid of Black power and wouldn’t be satisfied with allowing its potential to lie dormant. Their interest was in its evisceration.
Imagine supporting Booker T. in the name of Black unity, knowing that it meant certain poverty and death. If Black protection from and opposition to white terrorism and the political and economic advancement of the Black race were and are priorities of Black revolutionaries, then Washington’s actions were at odds with the interests of his people and should have been suppressed by the broader community.
In the early 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. developed a relationship with Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson for the purpose of enacting and solidifying Black civil rights in the United States, with specific emphasis on the Black right to vote. In 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated, necessitating Johnson’s succession to the presidency. Johnson was a known racist prior to this period in his political career and has been quoted in several historical accounts referring to the legislation he partnered with Dr. King and the broader collective of civil rights activists who worked with him to push through congress as “nigger bills.” Dr. King’s partnership with President Johnson, the racist, Dixiecrat executive power of a country that had yet to even truly criminalize lynching, in pursuit of civil rights certainly elicits discomfort but doesn’t necessarily implicate him in betrayal of the Black community. Dr. King worked vehemently and tirelessly to secure significant reforms that he believed would transform the Black material condition and his association with Johnson does not automatically invalidate that. The real tragedy is that the reforms Dr. King made significant compromises to achieve actually perpetuated the system that oppressed the people he so desperately sought to liberate, that what was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship between new, Black voters and the Democrats was actually a maintenance of status quo in terms of white privilege and hegemony.
Malcolm X said of King’s cooperation with the White House, pursuit of integration, and support of the Democratic party: “[1964 is] the year when all of the white politicians will be back in the so-called Negro community jiving you and me for some votes. The year when all of the white political crooks will be right back in your and my community with their false promises, building up our hopes for a letdown, with their trickery and their treachery, with their false promises which they don’t intend to keep…And what a good president we have. If he wasn’t good in Texas, he sure can’t be good in Washington, D.C. Because Texas is a lynch state. It is in the same breath as Mississippi, no different; only they lynch you in Texas with a Texas accent and lynch you in Mississippi with a Mississippi accent. And these Negro leaders have the audacity to go and have some coffee in the White House with a Texan, a Southern cracker — that’s all he is — and then come out and tell you and me that he’s going to be better for us because, since he’s from the South, he knows how to deal with the Southerners. What kind of logic is that? Let Eastland be president, he’s from the South too. He should be better able to deal with them than Johnson.”
Malcolm was right. Neither The Civil Rights Act of 1964 or The Voting Rights Act of 1965 counteracted the ills of racism. The Democrats that most of the Black community would go on to throw its support behind did not go on to represent Black interest. Instead, racial oppression was further institutionalized and engrained in the United States political and economic system because it now existed under the protection of the law implicitly instead of explicitly. Dr. King did, indeed, integrate his people into a burning house; with the children and grandchildren of the generation that saw his work firsthand, struggling to benefit tangibly from the policy achievements of the 1960’s and being forced to contend with the persistence of racism that is protected by a post-racial facade validated by the “successes” of his civil rights movement.
It is important to base tactical and strategic planning on revolutionary principle. Assimilation as a tactic and strategy in the pursuit of Black civil rights did not and will not result in the generational wealth and political power that Black autonomy, agency, and freedom demand. While Dr. King’s principles are widely accepted as radical and revolutionary, it is clear that the approach he led the entire civil rights movement in taking was counter to both of those things. Leadership that misleads is dangerous and must always be neutralized or redirected.
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first Black president of the United States of America. Millions of Black people voted for him on the basis of identity politic. Unfortunately, Barack Obama’s physical Blackness did not translate politically during his time in the White House. Obama developed a reputation as “Deporter-In-Chief”, perpetuating United States imperialism, militarism and fascism in a way that directly opposed the interest of the Black community. While in office, Obama was reluctant to engage issues of police brutality and excessive force, head on. In fact, he issued statements in support of law enforcement after retaliation incidents began erupting in the country against their racist policies, procedures, and behaviors.
While Obama’s betrayal of the revolutionary agenda is not surprising given his choice to engage, and thus, perpetuate the dominant political and economic system, it is important that we deny him the space to engage in thought leadership of Black political struggle so as not to propagandize his endorsement. The emotional nature of his campaign and tenure as president for a community starved of representation created space for the Black community’s misplaced hope and investment in a system designed to tyrannize. He was, and still is, essentially a spokesperson for perpetrators of Black pain. Thus, support of Barack Obama on the basis of his Blackness is unacceptable.
Reiterations of Daaga, Washington, King, and Obama exist in and do disservice to our communities everyday. In Austin, in 2018, so-called pro-Black activists engage in sexual relationships with agents of oppression that they allow to negatively influence their advocacy for the community they claim to serve. In Austin, in 2018, so-called pro-Black organizations accept money from Austin Police Department, build platforms for, and give voice to police officers in the name of big data. In Austin, in 2018, so-called reformist allies maintain personal communication with the Assistant Police Chief and illegally exchange information about the Black activists they claim to support. In Austin, in 2018, “the face” of the local Black activist community testifies neutral on issues that come before city council and negatively impact the Black community to maintain personally beneficial relationships with local politicians. In Austin, in 2018, activists exploit victims of police brutality to build their own platforms and reputations; discarding the individuals and families that are relying on them to help navigate life after brutal beatings, fatal shootings, and unjust arrests. In Austin, in 2018, people who claim to care make a mockery of Black revolutionary struggle without consequence.
To accept these transgressions on the basis of Black unity for the sake of Black unity is to betray our communities and betray ourselves. Pan-African collaboration should consist of cohesion in both impetus and ideology; making mass mobilization, real political power, and economic development that empowers marginalized communities to dismantle and build alternatives to systems of oppression not only possible, but likely. Coalition work should be predicated on values and principles that result in universal freedom. Compromises on those values must be met with severe scrutiny and appropriate measures of accountability. To make nice and play family with individuals, collectives, and organizations that sell us out, mislead us, and contribute to our continued oppression, is to be complicit in our own genocide.
Just as Daaga’s greed fueled treachery, Washington’s complacent compromise, King’s mistaken pursuit of integration and policy reform as ultimate goals of movement work, and Obama’s investment in and defense of capitalism, representative democracy, and American imperialism were devastating to the progress of liberatory movement, so is the treachery of every day activists and organizers. It is our responsibility to remove said individuals from positions of leadership and impose upon them consequences that ensure compliance with community developed policy.
These are matters of life and death. We must treat them as such.