A sustained anti-Black propaganda program, a legacy of murder/brutality, 4 centuries of chattel enslavement and another 100 years of state-sanctioned apartheid has Black folk seriously confused in America. This confusion or ignorance (take your pick of terms) is not accidental, but deliberate. For a people confused about their identity, direction, sociopolitical reality and forces of opposition are doomed to remain enslaved and exploited.
This issue is compounded by the realization that some members of the politically conscious community as well suffer from arrogance, rigid dogma, deep disillusionment and confusion. Hence, we have the proverbial situation of the “blind leading the blind.”
This brief article will identify and address key points of confusion I frequently observe within our community. My hope is that this discussion will provoke serious thought and free us to effective in our liberation efforts.
- The fight for Black liberation has two basic dimensions which must be addressed simultaneously. On one hand, we suffer from insidious forms of poverty, brutality, labor exploitation and civic exclusion. These conditions are external realities cause by people and institutions external to ourselves. Whether we identify this external villain as white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, or patriarchy the fact remains that part of our movement must identify, expose, confront, and defeat these forces. On the other hand, we have internalized our oppression and have become parties of our own victimization. In various ways and to various extents, we have embodied the “niggers,” “bitches,” predators and fools our enemies needed us to be in order to continually subjugate us. Evidence of this exists in the form of Black fratricide, obsessive consumerism and materialism, opportunistic cult formation, dysfunctional families, a questionable set of priorities, and other self-defeating and predatory behavior. So any valid fight for our liberation must confront both our external and internal enemies (ourselves). One half of our fight then calls for challenging external causes of our oppression while the other calls for challenging our own ignorance. The fight to raise consciousness among our people is just as important as the fight to challenge our external enemies. If we successfully challenge racism, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy, only to be assaulted/killed, robbed, or sabotaged by one of our own, where is the victory? Likewise, if we manage to create a nation of secure, intelligent, peaceful and empowered Black people, these people will still exist in a world that despises, exploits and oppresses their empowered and evolved selves.
- Our struggle has room for reformers and revolutionaries, activists, artists, workers and intellectuals. When we become so ideologically rigid and dogmatic that we can only work with or appreciate those who share our beliefs/methods, we exacerbate the self-defeating rivalry and disunity already sabotaging our movements and organizations. Black people in America are not monolithic; we come carrying different religious, political and class banners. It is impractical and foolish to believe we are going to mount any serious movement by demoralizing and disregarding the great majority of our people. Brother Malcolm showed us the way when he apologized to his civil rights peers for degrading them and attempted to work with them in the movement for Black liberation. Our movement should be sophisticated and strategic enough to have roles for entertainers, elected officials, revolutionaries, the religious community, young people, elders, writers, activists and intellectuals to play. Even a quick survey of our history will demonstrate that Black people of all stripes contributed to our liberation struggle. The only group we have no use for are those Black people who unapologetically and knowingly work with the enemy to keep us subjugated. And I have news for you: the vast majority of Black people are not sell outs or Uncle Toms! They are simply afraid to get involved and step out of their comfort zone, or ignorant to the issues we raise.
- I cannot say this enough: except for the case of religious ideology (which I also object to) no messiah or lone leader/organization will save Black people! We have 237 years in this country and no one person including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, DuBois, Garvey, Ella Baker or Malcolm X managed to free us. What they did do is create and expand a foundation of ideas and practice to push our liberation movement forward. But even these great individuals and so many unnamed others were imperfect. Our job is to pull from these greats and others, the ideas and actions helpful to our situation today. We must always remember that hero-worship, cults and messianic thinking have no place in a liberation movement, period. Each individual is free to like whatever leader, organization or ideology they choose. But we’re not here to be anyone’s cheerleader nor do we help the situation by uncritically supporting anyone.
- No matter how “conscious” or “revolutionary” we are or claim to be, no matter what ideology or organization we subscribe to, the majority of our people lack adequate employment, education/training, healthcare, food/nutrition, and autonomy. Any Black person/organization that sincerely fights to secure these things is helping, not hurting our movement, but assisting it. It is our right to believe that reforms are not enough. Yet we must concede that we cannot fight a movement to dismantle power structures that does not address people’s basic needs. Revolutionaries must learn to appreciate the work of reformists, even if we believe their work and focus to be incomplete. Otherwise, we are just being dogmatic and impractical.
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-Span, NY1 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.