we Went from Marcus, Malcolm, and Assata, to Cornel, Dyson, and
In 2012/13, all expert opinion and analysis
on African issues seems to have to flow through the likes of Cornell West,
Michael Eric Dyson, and Al Sharpton.
If it’s not those individuals, then it’s entertainers like Jay Z or Kanye
West who’s opinion is sought on critical issues impacting African people. This is true whether we’re talking
about the problem of violent self-hatred, Trayvon Martin, Obamazation, or the
crisis in the Congo. These folks
have become the go to people for television, radio, and written commentary for
all of these issues. It’s not
surprising that capitalist media would identify African public figures within
the system sphere as the appropriate spokespersons on African issues. What is alarming is that a simple poll
of family, friends, allies, and other everyday people on this topic will
generally illicit some of the same names when the question is posed; who are the
frontline spokespersons on the state of African
The point here isn’t to suggest that anyone
shouldn’t look to the previously mentioned individuals for inspiration and
direction. People have the right to
determine who they believe best represents the African agenda.
In fact, the issue here is precisely that.
The individuals who are presented as spokespersons to the public and
whose perspectives and visions are quickly acknowledged as having the most merit
are in those positions because having them there serves a particular political
purpose. At the core of this issue
are the concepts of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism.
These objectives represent movements and actions developing out of the
self-determination of African people.
For example, when the Universal Negro Improvement Association, under the
leadership of Marcus Garvey, declared - “Africa for the Africans!
At home and Abroad!” – this resonated strongly throughout the African
world. The attractiveness of the
message came in people’s identification with the pride that evolved out of the
assertion of an African cultural and historical experience, independent of how
that expression is perceived by White society. This undeniable desire to be
self-reliant stems from the fact that Africans have experienced uninterrupted
terror and trauma in the 500+ years of European settler colonialism and
neo-colonialism. This is true
whether we are talking about Africans in Africa, Europe, North, Central, the
Caribbean, or South America. The
concepts of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism have historically provided
solutions to White supremacy, racism, and capitalist exploitation.
When Garvey spoke of Africans being capable of rescuing Africa from
European subjugation, this served as medicine for our tortured souls. When Malcolm X talked about how being
equal to White people was no goal worthy of any merit because White people are
nothing to be equal to, this was a direct psychological and sociological assault
against the White supremacist notion that “If you’re White, you’re right.” When Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)
asserted to the world in 1967 that“Hell no, we won’t go…We won’t fight for
capitalism!” and Muhammad Ali said “No Vietcong ever called me a n - - - -
r!” these statements were fierce
blows to the face of White supremacy and capitalism.
When women like Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Erica Huggins, Ruby Doris
Robinson, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Elaine Brown, and far too many un-credited
sisters – spoke clearly and boldly, asserting that African women would develop
their own political agenda for self-determination independent of the White
women’s feminist movement, this served notice that the voices of the African
women, long taken for granted by African men as well as White society, would be
taken for granted no longer. More
important than these historical giants is the impact of the organizations that
produced them. It’s not an
overstatement to exclaim that the bold actions of nationalist organizations such
as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Nation of Islam, Moorish Science
Temple, Black Panther Party, US Organization, Revolutionary Action Movement,
Republic of New Afrika, New African People’s Organization, Malcolm X Grassroots
Organization, African People’s Socialist Party, All African People’s
Revolutionary Party, and others, have been directly responsible for instilling
pride, dignity, and hope in recent generations of African people and indirectly
responsible, just by virtue of their existence, for many of the reforms that
have been credited to other less militant organizations and individuals.
So Black nationalist/Pan-Africanist
organizations and individuals usually ignored and dismissed by the academic
world and all so-called mainstream organizations, have been at the center of the
African movement for forward progress and liberation for centuries.
Since the strength of these movements has been their uncompromising
stance against White supremacy, and their unwillingness to negotiate with the
power structure around African self-determination, the capitalist system figured
out in the 1960s that it better come up with a methodology to pull the carpet
out from under this uncompromising movement before it gained dominant influence
within the African community. Most
people know about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter Intelligence
Program (COINTELPRO) and its illegal violence and sabotage efforts against the
organizations previously mentioned, but most people don’t know about
COINTELPRO’s long range program and objectives. Between 1967 and 1971, according to the
so-called Justice Department, there were over 300 urban rebellions in the U.S.
as well as others in other countries.
Although these rebellions - as Kwame Ture was fond of saying - were
spontaneous, disorganized uprising - they still represented the potential for
the development of a longer, better organized revolt which could ultimately
become revolution. Consequently,
the power structure embarked on a campaign to confront the despair, anger, and
frustration that characterized the rebellions. Then President Richard Nixon assembled
a team of policy makers such as McGeorge Bundy - then chairmen of the Ford
Foundation and David Rockefeller – senior board member for corporations like
Chevron and Chase Bank - and other capitalist heavyweights.
Their objective was to exploit the findings from the 1967 Kerner
Commission report that indicated the masses of Africans had no hope for a better
life, thus the readiness of large numbers of people to revolt.
This group of capitalists emerged with the program Nixon referred to at
the time as “Black capitalism.”
This program today is referred to as affirmative action.
The program’s aim was to create educational and business opportunities on
a token basis to a larger, but still overall small, percentage of African people
with the intent of creating a much larger African or Black petit–bourgeoisie (or
“middle”)class that through these professional opportunities would acquire some
of the wealth trappings of the capitalist system, thus providing this class with
interests to protect while giving the masses of African people something to hope
for and believe in, even if on a token basis. As a result, programs were created to
increase college admittance for African students.
Minority contract programs through the government were created. Laws were passed.
Hiring requirements based on race were created.
Equal opportunity programs were instituted in corporations, and the
verbiage of token African inclusion by inserting words like “multi-cultural”and
“diversity” to replace more genuine words like liberation and revolution
signaled a shift from self-determination to assimilation.
All of this created an African class of people who began to visibly
assert that the so-called American dream was now assessable for African
people. In the 1980s, the
popularity of “the Cosby Show” signaled that the transformation was
complete. African people had
arrived! Your ability to
“make it” in capitalism is now based solely on your individual drive, desire,
ingenuity, and the “correct” choices you make. Surely this is true because there are
now examples to illustrate this like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Magic
Johnson, Denzel Washington, Jay Z, and of course, Barack Obama.
Welcome to the post-race era.
With this new non-racial picture of America being painted, there is
suddenly no place for prideful uncompromising African self-determination that
still recognizes that our primary problem isn’t a poor attitude or work ethic;
it’s White supremacy and capitalism.
A clear example of this shift is the recently released 600 page Malcolm X
biography written by the late Manning Marable. Incredibly enough, the thesis of
Marable’s book is that despite what we know to be true about Malcolm – that he
employed hard work, discipline, and principled behavior to become one of the
most courageous voices for African self-determination, Black nationalism, and
Pan-Africanism that we have ever seen – we are led by Marable to believe
Malcolm was a dishonest huckster to the end who’s only objective was to see
Barack Obama elected as president.
There are similar efforts to undermine the messages of other independent
African voices like Huey P. Newton, Kwame Nkrumah, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur,
and others. All of those Africans
have autobiographies and countless published speeches that clearly outline in
great detail their many contributions.
Shame on you if you haven’t read them, but the point here is to highlight
the effort to soften the message of those nationalist thinkers and
The ideals of Black
nationalism/Pan-Africanism has to be softened to pave the way for the social
democratic (and republican), pro-capitalist ideology that was envisioned by
Richard Nixon back in the 1960s.
So the stage is set for people like West and Dyson to become the “new”
voices for African people. Instead
of the message of self-determination and independent progress that was the
foundation of Marcus, Malcolm, Assata, and the others, West, Sharpton and the
like present an agenda of capitalism and more capitalism as if this is the only
option for African people. Our
only chance is Obama and the agenda of the Democratic Party.
The focus of our fight must be to push Obama farther to the left within
the capitalist power structure and our God must always be the U.S. electoral
process and the Democratic Party.
Any effort to throw in any semblance of African self-determination,
unless it’s in the context of capitalism, is met with swift and complete
contempt. This is true for
anything West, Tavis Smiley, Warren Ballantine, or any of the others, are
presenting. In fact, even in this
area of post-Occupy, where everyone around the world is openly questioning the
validity of capitalism and it’s clear decline and inability to provide a viable
system for the masses of people on the planet, these token African “voices” are
defending capitalism and pushing people to pursue the same tired “Black
capitalist”schemes and cons that have drained the African community for
Not everyone is fooled.
Immediately after his release from prison after serving an immoral and
unjust 27 year sentence based on COINTELPRO trumped up charges, the late
Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) made the statement that “there are a lot of Black power
pimps out here now…Using our people’s struggle to line their pockets!” It’s more profitable than ever to
package African suffering into a business proposition to capitalism.
This has become such a norm that many people believe this analysis is the
only analysis that exists. We have
entire generations of young African people, and other concerned and supportive
youth, whose only knowledge of Malcolm X comes from Spike Lee’s movie and
Marable’s book. We have scores of
African youth coming to the U.S. from other countries believing that the image
of Obama, not Malcolm, is the true portrait of African life in this
country. This is sad and
unacceptable. We have to make
concerted efforts to resurrect the ideals of Black nationalism and
Pan-Africanism! We have to write
about these ideals and the people who have struggled, and often lost their
lives, fighting to push these concepts along. We have to stop the personal assaults
being waged against our heroes and heroines like Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and
Assata Shakur. We have to weigh
their contributions against the critiques being leveled against them. We have to tell the truth about the
shortcomings of our movements – e.g. it’s rampant sexism and homophobia - but
(for example) clearly the story of Huey – and the major contribution he made to
our psyche by courageously confronting police and creating an organization that
stood boldly against oppression – cannot be overshadowed by his sad decline
(especially since much of that decline was directly fueled by pressure generated
by COINTELPRO). Not only do we
need to write about Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, we of course need to
continue to organize around these concepts so that we can make them real for our
Finally, it should be stated that it’s ok
for people to seek out or even prefer the analysis of the Cornell West’s and
Michael Dyson’s, but we have to make sure that those people know of the
contributions and ideas of Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur, Imari Obadele,
Chokwe Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Sekou Ture, Marcus Garvey,
Maulana Karenga, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, and others.
We have to defend Black nationalism because Black nationalism has
protected us for hundreds of years!
We have to aspire for and fight for Pan-Africanism (one unified Africa
under scientific socialism) because the objective of uniting African people
worldwide makes sense and provides a practical solution to the problems
impacting us wherever we reside.
Along with that, we have to recognize that not only will we never be
Americans, but we shouldn’t even want that designation.
The moral imperative that we have historically provided to this country
has always been based in us challenging the injustices of this system. Well, the system hasn’t changed so how
can we ever evolve from that principled position to trying to become active
participants, and even leaders, of this vicious country?
No! We are Africans in America (or Blacks, Nubians,
Asiatics – we can continue to have that debate), but we can’t be Americans
because it’s imperative for us to understand and accept that the core of our
struggle for 500 years has been our survival, development, and forward progress,
in spite of what America is doing to us.
This is the strength of Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism and this is
the reason the capitalist power structure will do everything within its means to
keep us from realizing that.