Lately, there’s been much discussion about U.S. racism in the mainstream media, as the Rachel Dolezal scandal, that preoccupied so many cable news hours, gave way to the disgusting news about the white supremacist terrorist, Dylann Roof, who killed nine Black congregation members in a legendary Charleston, South Carolina church. What to do? Activist and novelist Ahjamu R. Umi has been resisting the tide of candle-holding and hand-wringing in the face of white supremacist murder through a plot of his own design that is thoroughly responsive to this society's racist past and present and the living principle of self-defense popularized in the Black Power era. A consideration of social media posts following the Charleston terrorist attack reveals many people are exhausted by the same old means (protests, vigils, petitions, and more legislative efforts) to address rampant state-sponsored racist violence. What would self-defense look like today? How do we even begin to imagine it?
All-African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) member, Umi, has a gift for imagining it. His prescient plotline predicts recent racist violence, as his novels -- Find the Flower that Blossoms (2010) and The Courage Equation(2014) -- are generally set in the Obama years and address just this desire for dignified self-defense. Providing a racially diverse crew of characters, from Adisa Omawale, an Oakland trained African guerilla soldier, to Ashley Summers (later Boahinmaa Omawale) a white woman from Oregon who becomes Adisa's wife, and many other dynamic friends and comrades, Umi communicates a straightforward political message. People have the right, even the duty, to defend themselves and their communities against racist terrorist violence. And white people should not sit by idly, but instead, join this struggle.
While many have relegated U.S. based self-defense struggles to the dustbin of history, Umi keeps the fighting dream alive in his literary trilogy (the trilogy's last novel is in progress). Sure this is fiction, but the principles and tactics exhibited throughout the novels are far from mere products of the imagination. With no spoiler alert needed, the major plotline is that Adisa leads a housing diversification project, relocating 800 Black residents from Los Angeles to central Oregon, that spawns a new racist organization -- the Patriotic Front (PF). The PF has skinheads working with local cops to terrorize the town's new Black residents. While one PF member and one cop get some prison time for the murder of Ashley's best friend, the antagonism between the anti-racist and neo-Nazi forces continues almost unabated throughout the novels' all too familiar race war climate.
There are many page-turning twists and turns that lead Adisa and Ashley/Boahinmaa Omawale from Oregon, after confronting skinhead violence that leaves Ashley's best friend dead, to the Bay Area, where Ashley attempts to recover from post traumatic stress induced alcohol and sex addictions. After they settle in Ghana, where the couple opens a school/ community center for village residents, events back in the U.S. force a full-blown confrontation with racists relocated in the American South. Book one,Find the Flower that Blossoms, provides a rather harrowing, bottoming out ride through Ashley's addictions, and she thankfully comes out on top; the Omawales make serious cash (which funds the Ghana school and other ventures) by penning a best-selling, celebrity-inducing memoir about Ashley’s Oregon experiences and her California-based recovery process. Find the Flower that Blossoms is a solid read that introduces our main power couple and their struggles for intimacy and social acceptance as an (always controversial) inter-racial couple, and it raises numerous issues related to handling racist violence in the context of multi-racial organizing in a "colorblind" society.
The 537-page book two, The Courage Equation, is a must read tour de forcefor anyone seeking a literary treatment of internal gender-based power struggles in a present day context of guerilla struggle against neo-Nazi racism. (Book two can stand on its own, but I recommend reading book one first because it introduces the main characters and offers some critical insights.) One of Umi's goals is to show how the group gets stronger as its female members seek equal participation in decision-making and fighting. He tackles gender dynamics and rape culture quite thoroughly, without sacrificing the group's big picture mission to eradicate the Patriotic Front, once and for all, and establish and evolve healthy counter-institutional alternatives to the empty decadence of the U.S. status quo.
In addition to this pro-woman perspective that centralizes inter-racial friendships/love relationships and transnational anti-racist organizing, Umi paints quite an utopian picture of life at the Ghana compound; everything at the Omawales' school is run democratically, modeling the socialist economic values advanced by the A-APRP. Umi introduces readers to the organization's principles in a less than heavy-handed way, as political positions and analyses are laced into a larger and quite captivating epic struggle-style tale about the battle between the PF's terrorist forces of evil and the A-APRP's socialist forces of good. This may be the old "Good vs. Evil" story structure, but it's interpreted through a radical political lens with an unusual narrative strategy.
This whole project is refreshing, as Umi, an African male author, takes up the first person narrative voice of a simple country girl turned resilient freedom fighter. How experimental is that? And Umi's experiment pays off as he carries this narrative perspective with few glitches in book one. While exhibiting determination and strength of character in the first book, you can look forward to how Boahinmaa really comes alive in the second book. Again, without giving anything away, I'll just say Boahinmaa proves herself a great lover and fighter alongside her diverse crew of comrades in struggle -- including a few rehabilitated young female PF members. (One distinctive place where Umi’s compassionate vision is found is in the support shown these ex- PF characters as they seek to transform their views and lives.) Also, Adisa, and a few of his fellow Oakland soldiers, models quality personal and political skills as he fights his own ingrained sexist urges for control over his wife's and other women's behavior. This isn’t so easy to do, as Adisa also serves as one of the lead guerilla tactics trainers for the entire group. But he manages to adjust because he’s a true revolutionary, and you know what Che Guevara said: “The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
When book three is completed, we can expect more engrossing character depictions, plot twists, and humor (such as Umi's city manager/white supremacist murderer -- Lou Rallig -- who brings Spam on a picnic date with an undercover Boahinmaa), while being prodded to imagine a (Spam-free) world where transnational organizations create counter-institutions that nurture revolutionary aspirations and revolutionaries' dreams.
If all these murders by cop and racist terrorist acts have got you down, I highly recommend Umi's freedom fighter novels (both are available through Amazon.) They'll make you feel the popular conviction that not only is another world possible, it is, in fact, necessary. Umi's novels remind us we are surely damned if we don't fight back against this racist violence. If you agree, you are damned if you don't seek some inspiration from Ahjamu R. Umi’s liberation literature.
Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. can be reached at email@example.com.