Marcus Garvey on Black Intellectuals

“The present day Negro or ‘colored’ intellectual is no less a liar and a cunning thief than his illustrious teacher. His occidental collegiate training only fits him to be a rogue and vagabond, and a seeker after the easiest and best by following the line of least resistance. ”
–Marcus Garvey, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

The abyss of madness

Like a body that rejects a transplanted organ, so too has America continuously repulsed any effort to reconcile the contradictions inherent in its inception—its allegiance to white supremacy in the face of its vaunted democratic ideals. The hard-fought independence won at the end of the 18th Century, the attempt to erect a legal framework ensuring a limited racial equity after the Civil War, and the Civil Rights victories of the mid-20th Century all reveal themselves to have been illusory in so far as the status of African Americans is concerned.

The backlash against these progressive gains and the general institutionalization of a truly multi-racial democracy are not just the features of a bygone era. They live in the dogged pursuit of alleged voter fraud that results in recurring challenges to African American voters, the provision of insufficient polling places that serves to discourage Black voters during major elections, partisan redistricting that reduces African American voting power, the invocation of racist hostility in the form of xenophobia and recalcitrant opposition to the generally moderate presidency of a man of African descent, the antipathy towards the mild suggestion that Black life has some value necessitating reform of policing practices, the transformation of the Black community into an open air prison via processes of mass-incarceration and policing practices that amount to racialized containment, the dismantling of the state apparatus which disproportionally affects African American lower and working class citizens, the denial of capital to African American communities, the targeting of Black borrowers for high-interest home loans, the pervasive underemployment and unemployment of African Americans, the generalized and institutionalized failure of schools serving Black communities, and on, and on, and on.

The American body has rejected a retrofitted “racial tolerance” and the call to move beyond pretense to actual democracy. The vitriolic rhetoric of politicians about Muslims, Mexicans, and African American activists are not novel occurrences in and of themselves. They are an echo of another time, a time that, far from resembling the horror that was the lived experience of many people of color in general and Black people in particular, is reconfigured as a halcyon mirage of idyllic tranquility, where naked racialized terror was but one instrument of White dominion. The appeals to that past are also an invitation for its return. After all, it was never truly rejected, simply asked to stand aside while the sham of a multi-racial democracy was momentarily instantiated, undermined, and then summarily dismissed as untenable due to the incompatibility of the American body with the incessant demands for an honest redress of its past and present misdeed

But like any body that rejects a transplant, the American body does so at its own peril. The fervor to embrace a virulent, racist past encoded as a restoration of greatness and order, is also an appeal to a profound simplicity, the notion that reactionary ideology is sufficient to solve the deep structural problems born of decades of deindustrialization, disinvestment in the public sector, privatization of state assets, the slow erosion of civil liberties, resource scarcity, militarism, and climate change is beyond foolhardy—it is madness. But America, in the abyss of madness masked as courageous defiance, may mistake lunacy for reason, after all the howling mob is invariably convinced of the rightness of its actions. To this, many a decimated Black soul can attest.

Sunset of the academy

I agree that getting your doctorate can be a worthwhile endeavor, but for reasons that extend beyond those discussed by Jacques Berlinerblau in the article “You probably won’t get tenure. Get your Ph.D. anyway“. Get your doctorate if you find the process intellectually rewarding, are acquiring skills that you can leverage in the marketplace beyond the disappearing tenure-track (say in publishing, consulting, entrepreneurship, etc.), want to develop a body of specialized expertise in a field that you can then teach in various settings (secondary schools, community colleges, etc.), are open to teaching abroad (there are some great opportunities internationally and this problem isn’t necessarily universal), and can do so without going tens of thousands of dollars in debt. If none of these apply, it probably isn’t worth the time and stress to get the degree, as that will only compound the stress which accrues after being on the tepid job market for a few years.

We are living in the sunset of the academy that most of us wanted to work in. Yes, its sad, but the only thing to do is to accept the passing of this thing and adapt. I don’t want to overstate this, but there is a great opportunity here to reinvent the models of knowledge dissemination that have been variously supported and now aborted by the academy (think about what has been done to Africana studies or other fields focused on critical social discourse). Personally, I would love to work with others who are interested in forging ahead into this new frontier. There is much to be done.

Desolation

I believe that there is a great desolation in our souls that results from our failure to create a sovereign expression of our peoplehood. Absent territorial sovereignty, we are and will remain subject to the caprice of more powerful groups. Nationhood is no guarantee of happiness or security, but it reflects a more determined pursuit of these things.