Our petty bourgeois strivings

I know that many of us continue to celebrate African/Black people being installed as agents of the state apparatus, the same state that kept Africans in shackles during the era of chattel slavery, suppressed Black voting rights for nearly a century, sabotaged Black movements for sovereignty, assassinated Black leaders, and has consistently sought to inflict “on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

I am reminded in the midst of these celebratory moments of the wisdom of Malcolm X, who stated, “Racial unrest never occurs among the satisfied, bourgeois class of Negroes. They can easily be appeased and controlled and influenced just by continuing to drop crumbs on their table—the crumbs of tokenism. And this type of Negro that the so-called Negro leadership represents is a type that can be appeased and can be controlled with the crumbs of token integration.”

I think that Malcolm X’s criticism highlights the inadequacy of integrationism as a political strategy and ideology. In many ways one might say that he anticipated its devolution from appeals for structural integration to the present bifurcation of the African/Black community in the US, where the petty bourgeoise class continues to aspire to enjoy the bounty of capitalist exploitation, which the masses are increasingly dislocated by. 

Ultimately, the performance of representation by powerful institutions is a paean to the aspirations of the Black elite. Such strivings do not equate to the imperative of self-determination for the masses, a self-determination whose actualization dismisses the very legitimacy of the dominant system itself.

On Cruses’s Two Streams

The notion that Africans/Blacks in the US can advance by asserting their “Americanness” & denying their “Africanness” is an old idea, visible in the poetry of Phillis Wheatley in the 18th Century. Wheatley and many who would come after her reflect Cruse’s integrationist stream.

Cruse also acknowledged another stream, the Black nationalist stream, which many say begins with Martin Delany, but I think saw its inception within the traditions of insurrection, maroonage, and the earliest examples of repatriation with Paul Cuffe in the early 19th Century.

When one considers the intellectual legacies of integrationism and Black nationalism, they seem irreconcilable. Assimilation results in African people’s subordination to white domination. Whereas nationalism rejects the legitimacy of African life under alien subjugation.

The history of these streams remains unfinished, but as ever, the integrationist stream is presented as the singular expression of Black political thought, while the nationalist stream is decried as folly. However, all evidence suggests that integrationism is not possible, nor is capable of solving all of the problems of our people–problems that result from our lack of control over our lives.

Trade, solidarity, or hegemony: Africa and China

A Sudanese sister who I occasionally interact with on Twitter posted something about the problems of understanding Africa-Chinese relations through a Western lens. I offered the following as a response.

The relationship between China and Africa is complex due to its longevity. Prior to the formation of Western hegemony, and extending back to the very distant past, trade relations existed between the two.

During the decolonization movement, China became an ally of African independence struggles and, more broadly, a signifier of Black revolutionary struggle even in the US.

We can consider the so-called era of globalization as the third and most recent stage of African-Chinese relations, wherein the imperatives of global capitalism and the need to counter Western hegemony has re-patterned this relationship in exploitative ways.

There are several dimensions to be mindful of. These relations have been shaped by (1) internal developments in both African & China, (2) broader regional and global dynamics, and (3) the context of global capitalism and the context of neocolonialism.

As to the issue of Chinese anti-Black racism, it should be noted that China is a multi-ethnic society and that there is a history of discrimination against non-Han groups within China such as Hakka, Uyghurs, and Tibetans. Much of this history is quite violent. In addition to this, there is evidence of negative perceptions of Africans from over a thousand years ago. Perhaps this was derived from Chinese contacts with the Arabs or domestic and pre-existing prejudice. Furthermore, there were enslaved Africans in China, but it should be noted that this was not the chattel slavery instantiated by the West centuries later.

Below are some sources for further reading:

Africans and African-Americans in China: A Long history, a troubled present, and a promising future?

BBC Eyewitness: Racism for sale

China bashes US over racism, inequality, pandemic response

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity

Marx, Du Bois, and the Black Underclass: RAM’s World Black Revolution

Radical theologies

I was thinking about Iran’s rhetorical and military response to the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The Iranian political leadership and civilians called for vengeance. This is quite a contrast to the penchant of American Negroes to forgive, almost reflexively, those who do ill to us.

I have wondered about the conceptual underpinnings of these differences. Many say that Christianity is at fault here. That Black people have been sedated by a very powerful opiate–a religion that compels fixation on the hereafter rather than the present world. Often we know better than this, that is that African Americans’ relationship with Christianity has been more complex than this, but nonetheless, such rhetoric persists–especially in the context of asymmetrical and racialized violence in America.

Then I was in a bookstore tonight and saw a book titled, “Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans” by Gayraud S. Wilmore. I glanced over it, didn’t buy it, but it stimulated a necessary reevaluation of some of these premises.

I recalled Nat Turner and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who though Christian, were advocates of armed insurrection or armed self-defense. Turner, for his part, reportedly said that his rebellion began with a sign for God. Bishop McNeal Turner famously declared that “God is a Negro”. He would go on to argue in favor of armed self-defense. He stated: “We have had it in our mind to say this for over seven years, but on account of our Episcopal status we hesitated to express ourselves thus, fearing it would meet the disapproval of the House of Bishops. But their approval or disapproval has done nothing to stop the fiendish murderers who stalk abroad and are exterminating my race, so we have now said it, and hereafter we shall speak it, preach it, tell it, and write it. Again we say, Get guns, negroes! get guns, and may God give you good aim when you shoot.” Turner’s instruction is a historical echo of the 20th Century group, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, whose commitment to armed self-defense, reminds us that Christianity has also been an idiom of armed struggle or armed self-defense.

At a certain level I think that this suggests that African people have been sufficiently ingenious so as marshal a range of conceptual vehicles as mediums of radical thought. Hence we find that the idiom of revolutionary or insurrectionary struggle has variously been that of “New World” African spiritualities (as in the case of Haiti), Christianity (as in the case of Nat Turner), Islam (as in the case of Malcolm X), to say nothing of non-religious voices. The imperative for resistance has, at times, been of greater import than the medium of its articulation, which has variously become malleable in the hands and minds of those who see its utility for radical ends.

Cultural logics and the “universal”

I could be mistaken, but it seems that the Western appeals to the universal, while relevant in informing a discourse on equality within the civic arena, have also served as a medium for the colonization of the ontologies and epistemologies of racialized and oppressed peoples. In this way, one might argue (and indeed, Imari Obadele did) that appeals to reform of the existing state apparatus and its default posture of coercive control towards African people, is also a ceding to that state a degree of unwarranted legitimacy.

The alternative to reform, sovereignty, that is Black nationalism, is generally regarded as both illegitimate and unrealistic. However notions of its legitimacy reside with one’s view on the basic question of whether African Americans have a right to self-determination. And history has demonstrated up until this point, and without a shadow of a doubt, that reforming America in such a way as to eradicate the vestiges of anti-Black racism within the society, its vast institutions, and its practices and beliefs continues to be an unrealistic end.

Therefore I maintain that the appeal to the universal obfuscates more than it clarifies. African people have a unique quandary, requiring a unique set of solutions. Solutions that are predicated upon cultural logics issuing forth from an African-centered orientation to reality.

“Black Nationalism is a self-help philosophy”

“Black Nationalism is a self-help philosophy. What’s so good about it? You can stay right in the church where you are and still take Black Nationalism as your philosophy. You can stay in any kind of civic organization that you belong to and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can be an atheist and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. This is a philosophy that eliminates the necessity for division and argument. ‘Cause if you’re black you should be thinking black, and if you are black and you not thinking black at this late date, well I’m sorry for you.”
-Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet

Revisiting the Nationalist Vision of Emigration

Being in Ghana has given me a good opportunity to reflect on the proposal advanced by Africans as early as the late 18th Century as a solution to our American problem. This solution was the central focus of the African Civilization Society and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, as well as great African thinkers such as Martin R. Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey. That solution was emigration. Though there were variations in their individual and organizational proposals, collectively they posited the following premises:

1) African people would never achieve their full potential in the United States and other contexts of internal colonialism that so characterizes our condition in the Western hemisphere,

2) Africa was the rightful home of its descendants wrongfully displaced by the savage plunder of racism and the exploitations of enslavement, and

3) The creation and defense of a united and sovereign Africa should be the aim of all African people.

These proposals stirred the Black imagination in the Americas throughout the 19th Century and into the 20th. It was only with the decline of the UNIA that the thought of returning home was momentarily quieted.

In some respects, this thought has returned, and with some vigor. The confluence of America’s ever-virulent racism, the mobility and social capital of the Black petty bourgeoisie, the economic growth of various African countries, and the absence of viable counter-proposals that center upon the question of territoriality and African diasporan humanity has once again situated emigration as an attractive solution to our American problem.

I do not disagree, at least in principle. Emigration is a path that we should consider among others. However I think that the viability of emigration is predicated upon several factors which I never hear addressed in the often romantic appeals for emigration to Africa in general and Ghana in particular. Each of these factors are inextricably linked. These are land ownership, citizenship/residency status, and continuity within the broader global struggle for African liberation.

The first factor, land ownership, is relevant in that land is, as Malcolm X stated, “the basis of all independence.” This is not simply an appeal to agrarian ideals of self-sufficient communities built upon the mutual cooperation of collectives of families, but rather an acknowledgement of the imperative components that enables our struggle to progress, that is its intergenerational survival via our ability to create, sustain, and expand our institutional capacity. When I refer to institutions I am referring to the six levels of institution building articulated by the Council of Independent Black Institutions which are education, food, clothing, housing, health care, and defense. The ability to own land is a central element in the process institutional development. Indeed the paucity of Black institutions in the United States is in part linked to the destabilization of Black communities, that is the denial of autonomous territory wherein our cultural expressions might be effectively directed towards the recreation of a political-economy that (1) rests upon the needs of the community, (2) is sustained via the will of the community, and (3) seeks to project our community into a self-determined future. Absent the legal ability to own land, to acquire land that we might set about developing as the spatial locus of our own grand vision of the future—a necessarily intergenerational vision—we are doomed to the myopia of today, for our inability to truly concretize our vision will constrain our capacity to build a bridge to our desired tomorrow.

The second factor, citizenship status or resident status rests upon the myriad dimensions via which one exists within any social environment. In African societies one could argue that social inclusion exists at each of the following levels: clan, ethnicity, and nationality. Emigrants from the diaspora would generally fall outside of the bounds of clan (save for those who gain some connection via marriage to nationals of that country) or ethnicity. Citizenship or resident status is critically important to the process of creating home, of shaping the political context in which one might propose to forge the future. The American experience illustrates how our physical presence alone is insufficient to contribute appreciably to shaping the social environment in which we exist in ways consequential to our cultural visions of the future. There we are denied a destiny of our own design. In any prospective and adopted home it would be inadvisable to content ourselves with something beneath second class citizenship—non-citizenship or impermanent residency. This is an insufficient basis upon which to position ourselves, as it makes us the hapless spectators of others’ designs for the future, merely the viewing audience to a political process that decides our future while we sit as muted observers.

The third factor, the connection to the broader struggle is perhaps the most important. The problems faced by Africans in the diaspora are both deep and debilitating. These are problems that cannot be solved by simplistic proposals, but only by solutions that seek to satisfy the crises born of a paucity of political, economic, and cultural power. Absent our ability to exercise power consistent with our own vision of the future, create and distribute the goods and services that provides the basis for our material well-being, and demarcate and refine our productive and creative capacities we are minions of other peoples and their designs for us. Desired departure from the embattled shores of the lands where our ancestors were made to suffer and where we are daily subjected to the evisceration of our humanity is wholly understandable. However such a departure is largely irrelevant if it does not contribute towards the formulation of structural solutions for the malaise of African people. How would the settlement of diasporan Africans in any given African country enable them to create institutions that seek to address the myriad problems that we face in the Americas? How might the works of diasporan communities on the African continent be synergistically linked to those corresponding efforts in the Americas for community transformation and empowerment? In short, how might processes of emigration contribute to the reclamation of African culture and the restoration of African sovereignty in the world?

The purpose of this essay is not to answer such weighty queries, but rather to pose them as being inescapable imperatives whose resolution underscores the relevance or irrelevance of emigration as a solution for our people. It should be noted here that the emigration envisioned by Delany or Garvey and the UNIA was not one of the absconding of individuals and their families, or the forging of islands of individualistic capitalist accumulation, but rather the movement of masses of like-minded Africans, resolved to forge a new society, one that would be a gleaming exemplar of African redemption in the world. I think that those who propose emigration as the answer to our American problem should revisit these proposals, as they can serve to enrich our vision.

In another essay I’ll examine a parallel proposal, one that poses an altogether different answer to this question of territoriality.

“A lonely truth can be brought down by a pack of lies”: PBS’s Black Pharaohs, concessions, and the on-going Battle for Kemet


The Black Pharaohs is merely the latest reflection of the on-going intellectual assault being waged against African culture, African history, and African people. We are besieged on all sides, surrounded by an implacable foe bent on our annihilation.

For some the connection between this seemingly informative film and the Intellectual War that Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers wrote of may not be obvious. Some may see this film as a valuable acknowledgement of the role of Africans in the ancient Nile Valley. Others may see it as setting the record straight as it relates to the history of Kush (Nubia). Yet, this film represents the traditional forms of duplicity characteristic of European’s historiography of African people. This perpetration of falsehood is not simply about sowing seeds of confusion, rather it is about posing our ancestors as the villains in a complex political drama, continuing on the narrative of African mental enfeeblement, and perpetuating the myth that Europeans are central or even relevant to the reconstruction of Africa’s ancient past.

Years ago during a presentation on Kush, Dr. Anderson Thompson stated that while the white intellectual world was unwilling to loose their hold on Kemet and its history and embrace the obvious notion that it was an African (Black) civilization, that they were willing to acknowledge the obvious blackness of Kush—offering a concession of sorts to African-Centered scholars. In this paper I examine The Rise of the Black Pharaohs as a multi-layered message. I argue that this film simultaneously concedes to African-Centered scholars a share of Kemet’s legacy, while also derisively characterizing that legacy.

Representation as reality reconstruction

Cultural Studies scholar Stuart Hall discusses the role representation. Representation has a dualistic nature. It is the re-presentation of reality. It is also the process of constructing a form that stands in for reality. Herein representation is afforded immense power in the constitution of reality. Thus media representations of us and our ancestors are not a casual affair, but are a means to construct reality in a manner often detrimental to our interest.

Truth and falsehood

There’s an African proverb from present-day Mali that states “A lonely truth can be brought down by a pack of lies.” This proverb offers the image of truth as a lone traveler on the road who finds themselves unwittingly surrounded by a gang of fiendish bandits appearing out of nowhere. Truth fights courageously, but in the end is subdued by the thieves. This proverb suggests that truth, though righteous and just, can be overwhelmed by falsehood. This relationship is at the core of The Black Pharaohs. The lonely truth of the African presence in the Nile Valley is enveloped within a web falsehoods that ultimately contribute to its undoing.

The film offers an overview of the relationship between Kemet and Kush. It discusses the Kemetic occupation and annexation of Kushite land at various junctures. It also discusses the eventual ascendance of Kush and its conquest of Kemet with the establishment of the 25th Dynasty. Finally, it discusses the eventual fall of the 25th Dynasty, the decline of Kush, and the efforts of modern archaeologists to reconstruct this history. However throughout the film were a number of dubious claims. I will discuss each of these in turn.

The first problematic claim was the idea of enmity was the normalized state of foreign relations between these two societies. The featured experts on Kush assure us that Kush was a site of continuous subjugation by Kemet, that the Kushites were so loathed that the Kemites practiced form of “…racial profiling”, as they, among other things, portrayed the Kushites as “…more tribal, more savage…”. Thus it is Kemet, not modern Europeans, who are the architects of race and racism. It is the Kemites who constructed the iconography of tribalism and savagery, not 19th and 20th Century Europeans. And it is Kemet that is credited with initiating the campaign against African culture and humanity, and not modern Europe.

Elsewhere I have written that “…the enterprise of history itself is not simply a matter of methods of inquiry, or the application of tools of investigation, but rather it is a process that is directed or informed by the ideational imperatives of the period of its conceptualization” (Rashid 2014, 32). Thus history, as with all human enterprise, is a function of culture. It is not simply a matter of the technical application of methods, but reflects the ideational imperatives of the society, most notably its worldview constructs.

The argument that antagonism was the driving force in Kemet-Kush relations is in part based on the European worldview, wherein the political relations of Kemet and Kush can only be viewed in militaristic terms, terms of dominion and subordination (Carruthers 1997). What is most notable here is that this oppositional dichotomy does not consider the possibility of ancestral, cultural or political affinity between these two societies. The very designation of Kush as the source of the Black pharaohs, suggest that Kemet is the source of pharaohs that are non-black. Thus while the blackness of Kush serves to moor it to the African world, one can only presume that Kemet’s mooring is to western Asia by implication. Therefore at the center of the presumption of natural and deep hostility between Kemet and Kush is the implied racial difference, and with it the racialization of the Kushites as inferiors. This assertion seeks to drive a wedge between the affinity of these societies, and link Kemet to the historical arc of the modern European world and its loathing of Africans.

This argument most aptly captures the degree to which a cultural worldview effectively shapes what is known. I call this phenomenon the epistemic horizon and describe it as a dynamic perimeter of knowledge or awareness. It proscribes the bounds of what is known and knowable. If culture, or more specifically worldview is a mediator of what is known and knowable then the capacity of European scholars, socialized within an ontological tradition of whiteness and the political-economy of white supremacy must, by necessity, enter into the study of African history and culture fettered by these conceptual frames. This poses a number of quandaries with respect to modern Europeans and their ability to forthrightly deal with Africans and their history.

The second problematic claim was that Kush lacked a cultural center, instead adopting the culture of their Kemetic conquerors. Thus Kemet is now also guilty of cultural imperialism, and the Kushites the victims of cultural suppression.

There are a number of puzzling things about this claim. One is that it ignores archaeological evidence from early Kush (such as the incense burner from Qustul) that displays iconography associated with Kemet. The anteriority of these images predates any Kemetic military incursion into Kush, thus refuting the thesis that military conquest was the principal means of any Kemet-Kush knowledge transfer. Another plausible, but absent idea from the film was that Kemet and Kush shared a common culture, one that although variegated, shared a common basis and origin.

The cultural imperialism argument fails to capture the synergistic relations of the various societies that emerged along the Hapi Iteru (Nile River). Furthermore, What this argument does succeed at reinforcing are white supremacist claims of African intellectual inferiority. Thus while the film’s commentators critiqued the archaeologists of the colonial period (most notably George Reisner) for their anti-Black racism, they reify these claims in their wholesale dismissal of Kushite cultural agency.

The third false claim is that the geographical orientation of Kemet was towards Western Eurasia, not Africa south of the first cataract. This is evident when the film’s narrator states that the Kemites, during one of their many campaigns against Kush, sees Jebel Barkal for the first time. The obvious implication here is that Kemet’s origins lie, not to the South, deeper in Africa’s interior, but to the North in Eurasia. Thus Kemet’s ancestral and cultural moorings in Africa have been severed, and it has instead been made a child of Eurasia, and Africa south of the first cataract is presented as a land of mystery (or plunder) for the ancient Kemites.

This film and its numerous deficits are not aberrations. These are not careless mistakes, or hapless errors. This is an assault on African history. Worse still, it is an attempt to undermine the efforts of Africans working towards historical reclamation by disparaging the achievements of our ancestors, and by extension, seeking to diminish the importance of our work as scholars to explicate their history. This assault however is not isolated. It is merely a repetition of earlier strikes against, and rather than incapacitating us, it reminds us to rally our forces, maintain vigilance, and to strike back knowing that this is intellectual warfare.

ASCAC and the defense of truth

The work of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization provides an essential vehicle to facilitate both the reconstruction and dissemination of African history. It provides a mechanism via which we can augment our capacity to defend the historical legacy of African civilization, in addition to sustaining our efforts to reconstruct and restore it. Central to this work is the importance of ASCAC and affiliated groups expanding our outreach capacity so as to maximize our capacity to shape the consciousness of our people. This work should utilize every available means: study groups, publications, conferences, streaming media, and so forth.

Undefended, truth will fall prey to marauders. The defense of truth is our collective charge. We must stand vigilant.


Carruthers, Jacob H. 1997. “A Memorandum on an African World History Project.” In The Preliminary Challenge, edited by Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 356-361. Los Angeles: Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.

Rashid, Kamau. 2014. “Thoughts on Returning Home and Healing the Casualties of Intellectual War.” Kemetic Voice no. 1 (1):31-35.