Category Archives: With Malcolm

John Brown

John Brown was an anti-slavery activist born in Connecticut and who went to war with Kansas and South Carolina over slavery. His actions started the Civil War (white supremacists argue). White supremacists also argue that white people died and freed the slaves so there’s no need for reparations. I think the “lionizing” of John Brown as an “antiracist” martyr is part of white liberal racist logic of the latter, erasing the agency of blacks.  When Black and white antiracist thinkers appeal to John Brown, it  sounds good on the surface, but just how effective has it been?  Why does it take Black death for a few whites here and there to declare themselves allies and not white institutions wholesale?

 

White supremacy and antiBlackness would endure without the presence of White people, as we see with the example of the progressive society in Cuba under Fidel Castro. Black male leaders from the Black Panthers in the 1970’s wrote of the racist reasons why they were denied political asylum there.

 

“Critics of Cuba have pointed to the paradox of Cuba’s African policy: while Cuba has a progressive foreign policy on race, at home Afro-Cubans have often been at odds with the Communist party’s failure to reflect the full range of Cuba’s racial diversity in its leadership structures or to fully address race politics.

Castro’s regime did achieve more for Afro-Cubans in 50 years than previous administrations had in the last 400 years. But as the Council on Hemispheric Affairs concludes, Castro’s policies “only addressed issues of unequal access without changing structural biases underlying society”. And it added, with the new wave of economic changes affecting the country, “race and racism are once again becoming important issues in Cuba” (The Guardian.)

Racialized capitalism with its multicultural neoliberalism and diverse corporate boardrooms will not do; and neither will racialized democratic socialism with its foundation of xenophobia and its sexist understanding of the division of labor.  Blacks are not in need of  a white Suffering Servant, not John Brown, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton; all three influential allies lionized by the media for speaking out against the worst elements of blatant white supremacy. Black people need accomplices willing to follow their lead in the struggle against structural racism. Accomplices who do not want a pat on the back, facebook likes or retweets because they are just being decent human beings by opposing things like the KKK.  Accomplices who do not wish to gain votes in an already rigged, white supremacist electoral system built to protect a select class of white citizens who enslaved Black women and men. Accomplices who have no desire to create a platform off of the intellectual and physical labor of generations of Black people. Is this impossible? “Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Can anyone be saved from the sin of White supremacy and antiBlackness? “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (inspired by Luke 18:25-27)

 

(Photograph found on facebook and twitter.  It is a picture of a black, red, and green flag with the likeness of a white man with a beard raising a gun with his right hand. The banner reads in white letters, ” John Brown” with LIVES in green letters. There is then underneath those words the red A anarchy symbol with the word “Smash” in white letters,and then underneath that, White Supremacy in green letters.” Photo taken by @brdngresistance) 

 

MLK and Fanon #ReclaimMLK

If one were to say that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Frantz Fanon were two of the greatest intellectuals ever to walk among the  populace of the African diaspora, that would be an understatement. These two Black men were such a threat to White Supremacy, it was no wonder that the government conspired to have both killed. The white racist establishment desires for blacks and others among the oppressed to see the goals and aspirations of MLK Jr. and Fanon as diametrically opposed, and seeks to divide us between the “good, peaceable” (read: acceptable) Negroes and the angry, violent Black bucks prone to criminality (read: disposable).  Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, inspired the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s as well as Black Liberation theologies, and his labor in the Algerian revolution gave life to anti-colonial struggles world wide.  In the minds of mainstream academia and media, Fanon is portrayed as a dangerous revolutionary much like a Che Guevara.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is adored by people around the world (supposedly), with statues made after his likeness and streets and buildings named after him.  MLK Jr. was a prophet of love, preaching a message of nonviolence, racial equality, and economic justice.

If these two persons were indeed so radically different, it would seem quite strange that King Jr. gave Fanon a sympathetic yet critical reading of WOTE.  But this is exactly what he did in the second chapter of Where Do We Go From Here?.  MLK recognized the urgency of the moment, and the impact that Fanon’s words were having on young Black women and men in his day.  King, Jr. was a committed Christian, and dismissed WOTE‘s conclusion as being bent towards materialism and violence.  This is a rather peculiar and unfair assessment of Fanon’s own words. I think in a way, MLK, Jr. was reading WOTE’s opening chapter “On Violence,” as prescriptive rather than descriptive, and there’s a nuanced difference here. See, it was colonial domination that placed the Algerian people (and other colonized people groups) into a predicament and cycle of violence. Fanon was observing that colonized subjects, victims of violence, experienced an emotional release through revolutionary activity.

Frantz Fanon was far more graphic at depicting specific instances of structural violence: White supremacy, antiBlackness, and settler colonialism.  Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned the rise of the nonviolent person to overcome the violent history of modernity.  MLK believed that nonviolent individuals could come together to promote a nonviolent moral order.  Nonviolence, a practice out of Christ’s call to love our enemies, was a duty placed upon the marginalized.  “With every once of our energy we must continue to rid our nation of the incubus of racial injustice. But we need not in the process relinquish our privilege and obligation to love.” And yet Fanon argued in the same concluding chapter that MLK Jr. cited, “Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism, and violence. [……] Europe has denied itself not only humility and modesty but also solicitude and tenderness. […] Let us decide not to imitate Europe and let us tense our muscles and our brains in a new direction.” In Fanon’s thought, there is space for an ethic of love and tenderness, but it must be a free choice that the oppressed must make for themselves. The problem with the colonial situation is that it is dehumanizing in its limitations of choices for colonized persons (see WOTE chapter 1).  Furthermore, we see in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks that his view of freedom is far more essential to his ethics of liberation, since there is “one duty: the duty never to let my decisions renounce my freedom.”  Black people (in Fanon’s view) needed to recognize our natural capacity for self-determination over and against a White Supremacist/ antiBlack society where racial violence was the over-determining factor.

In so far as Fanon participated in the creation a nation-state, that of Algeria, Fanon’s praxis of a “new humanity” apart from Europe was merely a reflection of European, Western modern nation-state, which is built upon violence. Nation-states are formed through middle class hegemony, crony capitalism, and nationalist hymns. Liberation movements should lead us away from the war-mongering model of the nation-state, not sustain its mirror image. This is where we can look to MLK Jr.’s call to love although his message of blacks immediately integrating into a white supremacist society is somewhat questionable. MLK Jr.’s politics, much like his ethics, was built on love.

Unlike many con artists today who claim to be leading a “revolution,” Dr. King (and Fanon, for that matter), had  specific plans with details about how to go about real change. Rather than the nation-state, the U.S.A. would become part of what King called “the World-House” with a guaranteed income for every family, federal funding for local school buildings, and educational parks as well as a national affordable housing plan that consisted of low-cost rehabilitation loans and new public funded, racially integrated housing (think the inverse of gentrification).

Dr. King’s political model of Black citizens joining in loose alliances with either the Democratic Party or the GOP, along with “Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain church and middle class elements” is pretty much outdated. It was a highly optimistic approach to electoral politics that correctly diagnosed Blacks potential as a voting bloc yet it was one that ignored the history of trade unions and racial resentment, and that perhaps overemphasized national politics over local.  Fanon’s program emphasized local municipalities governing themselves all the while maintaining an eye on the lumpenproleteriat (WOTE), the jobless and criminalized of the world.  We need to re-imagine a post-colonial politics that is glocal, that is global in outlook and at the same time prioritizing local issues.   The best way forward is to practice a politics of love and freedom.   It is possible for one to affirm Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  nonviolent Christian realism as well as Frantz Fanon’s humanism simultaneously. Even with the installation of a tyrannical regime taking place later today, it’s not too late. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, the call to love and liberation is only the beginning.

 

Self-Determination.

Today marks the second day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a seven day holiday celebrated around the world by people from the African diaspora. Ever since I was a fifth grader, I have been aware of this holiday. At that time, my family and I were attending a predominantly Black Baptist megachurch which celebrated both Christmas and Kwanzaa. As a family, we didn’t really celebrate the holiday but I grew to respect people who chose to. One of the laziest criticisms of Kwanzaa is that it is a “made-up” “fake” holiday. If we are gonna be honest, all of our holy days are socially constructed, or “made up” as they say. I would argue what matters not is the origin stories of holidays, but ultimately the values that they teach.

In his significant work, Black Theology & Black Power, James Cone quotes Kwanzaa founder Maulana Ron Karenga and his criticism of Christianity, and the need to “concern ourselves more with this life which has its own problems. For the next life across Jordan is much further away from the growl of dogs and policemen and the pains of hunger and disease” (page 33). In the era of Black Lives Matter, I find Karenga’s words timely. U.S. Christianity, specifically White evangelicalism, has sneered at visions of black liberation for decades. Rather than join the struggle versus mass incarceration and the pre-school to prison pipeline that subjugates an overwhelming number of young black boys, White Christians would prefer to continue to perpetuate antiBlack narratives and politics for the sake of maintaining their power.

White Supremacist myths that continue to oppress Black people include the slaveability and dependent nature of Black souls. In this mythology, Blacks do not like freedom, Black people are servile, they play the entertainer, the really good athlete, the nice Black soldier, the “welfare queen,” or the uncritical “uninformed” Democratic party voter all at the same time. We see these images in the white supremacist media from good liberals at ESPN to the nice establishment conservatives at the Wall Street Journal. Black intellectuals are never seen as unique thinkers, only the black versions of European greats, like Frantz Fanon as the Black Jean-Paul Satre, for example.

These racist myths exist only to justify the current status quo, and to justify the four hundred year legacy of Black enslavement without any means of reparations, justice, or reconciliation. And yet, today is what celebrants of Kwanzaa call Kujichagulia Day, a day to reflect on SELF-INITIATIVE, SELF-RESPECT, AND SELF-DETERMINATION. If our notions of the human involve racist ideas, then I suggest that unfreedom, oppression would be part of our understanding of personhood. This would explain the preferred viciously antiBlack racist anthropological gaze of the majority population here in the United States. However, if one’s understanding of our humanity is that freedom is an inextricable part of our being, then the desire for self-determination shouldn’t be considered anything to be but natural. Over the years in my experience as an educator in a special education program, I have had to re-learn and learn with teenagers with disabilities about the value of self-determination. When working with various students with disabilities, I have learned that autonomy is going to look a whole lot different from one student to the next. For example, for one student who may be higher functioning with a slight learning disability, independence could look like moving away from study helps like dictionaries to newer reading strategies. Or, for another student who may have a significant intellectual disability and motor impairment, self-initiative could look like learning how to crawl and then walk for the very first time with the help of leg braces and a gait trainer. Self-determination isn’t going to look the same for everyone.

This essay is not only a push for the Black community to being more inclusive of people with disabilities in the practice and idea of Kujichagulia, but also to make it (self-determination), the strive towards freedom more contextual and less hegemonic. Such a move would allow us to also make a break away from essentialism that we sometimes see from defenders of Black culture. What if all Black college football players decided to boycott the NCAA until they, and all other student-athletes were paid? Or imagine a world where Black writers didn’t have to be the only ones left to navel-gaze of the history of white supremacy? Hear me out, but maybe what if Black scholars started doing work independent of White theorists and started appreciating the intellectual history and labor of Black people? What if Black self-initiative looks like not needing the approval of Whites, whether they be conservative or liberal or Marxist? We cannot have any form of racial reconciliation or racial justice without first developing a self-respect for our own work in a world where there exists a preferred hierarchy of values.

 

Photo Description:  Photo is a drawing of the 7 Kwanzaa candles, from left to right, 3 green candles, 1 yellow candle, then 3 burgundy candles.  Photo was taken by Katallna-Marie Kruszewskl. found on flickr.