I start by taking you back to April, 1983, when I and several members of the Pan-African Student Union at California State University, Sacramento, made the decision to shut down the Student Services building on campus that day to protest institutional racism on campus and in society. Our tactic to achieve this objective was to engage in a 1960s style sit-in in front of the door of the tuition payment office. There were approximately eight of us, dressed in black from head to toe. We had the benefit of a handful of European (white) student supporters who agreed to talk to onlookers about the reasons for our actions. The event took the otherwise conservative (reactionary) campus and city of Sacramento by storm, hitting the evening news that day and the front page of the Sacramento Bee the following day. Although there was a heavy police presence called onto the scene that day, we were not arrested and subsequent efforts to expel each of us were unsuccessful. My belief thirty two years later as to why we escaped that day without consequence was the 400 students who refused to leave the outside of the Student Services Office that day and the subsequent support we received from a wide cross section of students – ranging from the “Divine Nine” African Greek letter organizations to European progressive student groups on campus, as well as several community groups. What I learned from that action, the first major action of that sort that I was involved in (with countless others to follow in the years to come) was the eight of us who participated in the action was not nearly as significant as the hundreds who came to support us. That fact was my awakening to the value of mass movement as a vessel for creating pressure for change.
Fast forward to present times. There is much debate about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and it’s tactics. As a fifty-three year old organizer/activist who’s politics are actually much more radical than that being pursued by BLM, I find myself in a rather unique position today in providing assessment of this movement. As articulated before, I have the experience of participating in many direct actions, but I’ve also benefitted from different types of organizing experience and the development of revolutionary ideology to guide my political work. So, let me say up front that I couldn’t care less if anyone’s feelings were hurt by not being able to hear Bernie Sanders speak, by being called racist, etc. My response to those people is I’m thinking about you about as much as you think about us when we experience our daily encounters with this racist system. The same encounters that fuels the rage and frustration that pushes our younger activists today. There is absolutely no question that this entire system is driven by an ideology of white supremacy as the basis for justifying the daily exploitation that characterizes the capitalist system. So, you are racist. You don’t have a choice. Get over it and get over the fact we are no longer willing to experience our trauma and terror in a way that doesn’t interrupt your comfort within the capitalist system.
The masses of Europeans in this society and around the world are not even close to being at a point where they are ready to separate themselves from the capitalist system. In fact, the system has done an outstanding job of convincing them that their interests, and the interests of capitalism, are one and the same. So, until Europeans are ready to embrace the fact that you cannot ally yourself with capitalism and then claim to be against white supremacy, you are nothing more than the fox Malcolm X warned us about 50 years ago. You are the fox who pretends to be our friend while your more aggressive counterparts portray the wolf who doesn’t try to hide their overt racism. As Malcolm put it “both dogs…Both part of the canine family!”
That piece is widely stated, but the piece that isn’t as widely discussed is the fact many of us in the African communities also refuse to distance ourselves from the capitalist system. In fact, we buy into capitalist ideological tenets such as individualism and impatience (think about it – impatience is nothing more than the belief that you understand something someone else doesn’t understand. Why are they so dumb and slow that they can’t know what you know. This is a clear example of elitism). Truthfully, the one critique I will wage against BLM is they seem to want to advance this mobilizing concept that a few people can carry out actions when history has proven that the most effective mass movements must involve work to include the masses of people. To get the masses requires the type of tireless day to day work that many of these younger activists don’t seem interested in participating in, at least on any type of consistent basis. I make this critique carefully. Not as an outsider, but as someone who has supported and participated in BLM actions, putting my body on the line to serve as security for these activists during their actions. Also, because I work with younger African activists on a daily basis, I can also speak to the problem of a dominantly idealistic perspective of the world where the individual perspective seems to always outrace the collective in the minds of many of these young folks. Plus, there is definitely seems to be a lack of personal accountability in many instances and this is borne out by the fact many of us are primed to run away at the slightest sign of internal conflict and disagreement. And, follow through? It appears to be a disease to many of my younger comrades.
Nonetheless, these are all problems that can and will be overcome. They will be overcome by hard work and determination to help us develop more of a cohesive movement that recognizes the value of collective and mass participation. Then, hopefully, we can begin to infuse much more revolutionary analysis into this work that helps clarify that our true work shouldn’t be just reforming the capitalist system (e.g. police accountability, ballot box reform), but transforming this corrupt system into socialist construction. The fact this last part hasn’t happened speaks to the weakness of the African liberation movement, of which BLM should be a part of (this part of the critique is for us African revolutionaries). It’s a call-out for more established radical African groups to begin and/or upgrade our work within our communities. That means get much more serious about this work e.g. lose the egos and pre-ordained belief that because we have been working longer, we are the (only) legitimate leaders. This is also an overall call for us to develop more patience and understanding of one another so that we can create space for people to heal from the 500 year dysfunction that has defined our experience (so that we can stop acting in activist circles like this dysfunction isn’t an issue impacting our political work).
These are all things that have to happen. So, no criticism of BLM here for disrupting Bernie Sanders. Great job sisters! The points I’m raising here are related to what should be happening before, during, and after the actions. How do we figure out how to connect the ideological head (us older radical activists) with the energetic body (the new BLM and other activists). And, how do we do that in a way that is healthy, non-competitive, and productive for the forward emancipation of our people. As for you who are not African. My question for you is how is that you find so much time to critique and analyze our movements? It’s as if you don’t have work to do in your own communities? If your response is the work taking place in African communities is on the cutting edge, that’s a problem that you need to be working to correct among your own people. European people need organization – badly, as do other communities. Why are you not working with your people? Developing their capacity to seek out justice? Maybe if you were doing that, instead of playing armchair quarterback to the African revolution, you would be making inroads towards uprising the consciousness of European and other folks. And, then we wouldn’t have the type of silly reactions that we are hearing in the aftermath of a single white man being interrupted in the name of justice.