Disunity: The Destruction of Black Civilization


As a bibliophile, I eagerly read new books covering contemporary topics; We must be informed about current events and trends in order to affect change and speak intelligently about the present. Yet my father and countless other mentors I’ve been blessed to have, helped me develop a healthy appreciation for classic books that addressed historical themes. Such books they suggested, provide the framework for understanding how we arrived at present circumstances. So according to my mentors, it was completely inexcusable to call oneself well-read if one did not ingest The Miseducation of the Negro, The Souls of Black Folk, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, From Superman to Man, Wretched of the Earth, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, They Came Before Columbus, Capitalism and Slavery, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, and so many other works. both non-fiction and fiction.

One such work I often don’t hear people talking about is Chancellor Williams‘ The Destruction of Black CivilizationThe late historian and sociologist was an unapologetic “race man,” concerned with addressing and solving problems pertaining to Black people. This classic does just that, using clear language and ample evidence to explain how Europeans and Arabs conquered our people historically until the present today.

Williams lists several factors in our demise including natural (Africa’s unfortunate transformation of fertile areas to desert, cultural (the European’s hegemonic use of religion and dishonest scholarship), and economic ( land, labor and wealth theft via colonialism, enslavement and imperialism). In addition, he cites racial amalgamation (interbreeding and racial reclassification), as a key factor to disrupting our cultural integrity and identity.

Of course, the foregoing represent external contributors to Africa’s decline. What I find most relevant however is Williams’ premise that internal factors  (African fragmentation and disunity) played an equal role in African conquest!  In fact, he suggests that this unfortunate dynamic still exists:

Just as it is in the case of Africa and Black people everywhere, the central problem of over 30 million Blacks in America is unity…The picture of several thousand Black organizations, each independent and vying for leadership, is substantially the same picture of fragmentation and disunity in Africa that led to the downfall of the entire race. We have often seen that even in earlier times very often all that was involved was that somebody wanted to be the “head,” was not getting there fast enough, and therefore, organized his own little state. Most of them perished, picked off one by one. The same thing will happen to any Black organizations, standing alone, that disturb the white mind. (341)

As disturbing as this is, Williams was not lying. How many times have you witnessed someone initiate a project for Black advancement only to have it undermined by another person who started their own identical or similar project soon afterwards, causing two people to compete for scarce funding and support? How many times has a Black organization started only to be shortchanged by rival elements who’ve gone on to start another organization not due to serious ideological disagreement, but to jealousy and a selfish desire be in charge? Both Marcus Garvey’s UNIA, and Elijah Muhammad’s NOI suffered from this dynamic.

On a much smaller scale,  a good friend shared with me how he started a Facebook discussion group with a large membership. Just months later, three members left to begin three separate discussion groups of their own not radically different ( only in name) from the group he originally started! I have witnessed this firsthand, as I wonder why 10 different groups can’t work together on one common project and see it through to completion.

Those that know me will bear witness that I’m one of the first people to decry white supremacy and external challenges to Black liberation. However, I’m equally critical of our internal challenges as well. We cannot scatter our scarce energy, resources and support in a thousand different directions and be effective  Hopefully, we’ll conquer these demons and learn to work together in meaningful ways. At this point, we’ve sadly proven Chancellor Williams’ 1977 prophesy true:

The main obstacles which confronted us in the past and are with us today will still be with us in the year 2000 and after….and for the rest of this century it is very likely that Blacks will still be meeting, listening to and applauding fiery speeches, protesting and denouncing injustices, or happily relying on politics as the ultimate solution of our problems. The frustrations, confusions of goals, and a sense of helplessness are likely to continue into the next century.”


Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “Disunity: The Destruction of Black Civilization

  1. I hear, Agyei. But my only problem with this premise about Black fragmentation is that parallels similar developments within many cultures and communities historically, without the same catastrophic results or perceptions. Why is that? There is one dark thought or conclusion that I come to. I’m not offering it as a solution, at all. But it gets me thinking about this issue differently.

    One way to deal with this kind of fragmentation, I’ve seen, is a ruthless will to power by one person or group. How many other empires or civilizations dealt with dissension and fragmentation was by forcibly bringing some foes to their knees while making unlikely alliances. This is what I’ve seen repeatedly. For instance, I’m reading a biography of Muhammad (pbuh) and even he went through this at one point with his message, though he did attempt to avoid it. Again, I’m not offering this as a solution, but it does bring up a set of questions and thoughts.

    Why do we expect cooperation? Why do we expect cooperation will happen rationally? Is there a similar history of advanced political machinations among Africans? Or was that stage of empire and civilization development arrested by colonialism, especially in W. Africa? With this interruption, how do we construct models of cooperation that don’t entail historical coercion? Can we do that, as there are fewer historical models? (On this point, I’m clear: just because history doesn’t show it, doesn’t mean we can’t aspire for more non-zero sum models creating cohesion. Notice I didn’t say unity. We don’t need unity. We need organizations that are effective enough to dull the effect of ego-driven splinters that will not interrupt cohesion.)

    So this question of unity seems to plague us, especially Black nationalists. And we seem to berate ourselves as if others have it. They don’t. It just seems like they’re more willing to do whatever to have more cohesion. We’re challenged by our historical oppression not to do so. So we either embrace bolder dimensions of game theory (zero-sum/non-zero sum games) or we realize that we may have to serve our people with a firmer hand. I’m for the former, but I’ve only seen the latter…historically. Just some thoughts.

    1. You raise excellent and provocative questions. I am still searching for answers. I do believe in Dr. Karenga’s concept of unity without uniformity though, and in Malcolm’s concept of a united front. Think of what we were able to achieve as college student leaders though the Student African American Society. We organized and mobilized a wide range of professors, community leaders, students, and one key Black administrator around the issue of rebuilding the African American Studies Department.

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