Internal colonialism

I have always been puzzled about the debate as to whether the Black/African community in the US constitutes an internal colony. To me it was always obvious that we are an internal colony due to the form and degree of exploitation that we are subject to. Our community is subject to racialized containment, state surveillance, resource extraction, labor exploitation and suppression, systemic violence, ineffective/extractive institutions, cultural suppression and malformation, and co-opted leadership.

Racialized containment are the measures employed to restrict our movement within various areas within the US, such as restricting us to certain neighborhoods of the city or certain towns within a region. One one level we are surveilled as a consequence of hyper-policing and the carceral state. On another level our social movements have historically been subject to surveillance, infiltration, and disruption by the US government as in the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program. One of the principle resources extracted from our community is our culture. It is, for instance, commodified by the entertainment industry. Additionally, our community is mined for intellects capable of servicing the dominant system. Further, we are variously displaced from our communities on the basis of racist hostility (via massacres) or capitalist accumulation (i.e., gentrification). Black labor is either eschewed (resulting in high levels of unemployment) or undervalued (resulting in high levels of under-employment) in the broader labor market. Institutions which are located within the community often are ineffective or facilitate the extractive ends of the state or corporate interests. Our culture is either suppressed in practice (consider the suppression of African culture during the era of enslavement) or policy (consider the restrictions on hairstyles or the regulation of Black speech in schools). Further, via the entertainment industry, cultural forms which originated with Black/African people are reconstituted into mediums that fetishize sex, violence, substance abuse, and materialism. Finally, those who are elevated as Black leaders, generally serve the interest of the state or capital.

This is internal colonialism.

On Pan-African Languages

In this discussion, Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne advocates for multiple Pan-African languages. While he includes the colonial languages along with Swahili in his formulation, he also suggests Manding and Fula.

His recommendation of Manding, which I would broaden to include the Mandé languages generally, is a logical one. These languages possess a high degree of mutual intelligibility.

His recommendation of Fula surprised me, though perhaps it should not have. When I was in grad school, a colleague of mine, Rama who was from Senegal, told me that she considered Fula to be an ideal candidate as a Pan-African language. Consider that it is enjoys a wide geographic dispersion (see the map below).


I consider Dr. Diagne’s suggestion that the colonial languages are acceptable vehicles of Pan-Africanism problematic for reasons that may be obvious. If they are not, you can read my thoughts on this here: I do accept that such languages are a part of our social milieu, however I also recognize that the impacts of languages extend beyond their utility and includes the political, economic, and conceptual. I contend that we leave the fetters of colonialism on our social systems and our minds by remaining wedded to these languages.

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is a worthwhile dialog.

Pan-African Forums – The Question of Language (23 Feb 2021)

Reconstituting ourselves

I would assert that the cultural crisis that we face as a people is born of our subordinate political, economic, and cultural power.

Political power is the instrument via which a group’s will is affected upon society. It is manifest in a people’s capacity to establish rules and protocols, that all members of a given society are answerable to.

Economic power is the system that a group utilizes to propagate, sustain, and refine their worldview via the material and non-material expressions thereof. Systems of resource exchange, extraction, processing, and distribution, in addition to the provisioning of vital services fall under this domain.

Cultural power is the tool which a group utilizes to institutionalize its ethos, demarcate its bodies of practices, conceptions of historical knowledge, and worldview from competing forces, and the intergenerational transmission of such to subsequent generations.

The superordinate position of Europe and America vis-a-vis the African world community not only accounts for our subordinate state in the present, but our difficulty to reconstitute ourselves culturally in the wake of the withering legacies of slavery and colonialism. Thus, while culture is the domain that should inform a protracted struggle for self-determination informed by a “grand theory of the future” (to quote Dr. Anderson Thompson), we are largely bereft of economic and political power, thus making such a cultural vision fragile due to its lack of a powerful institutional basis to support and sustain it over time. Thus those few individuals, who due to their own constitutions, some inexplicable serendipity, or the circumstance of living in such a situation as this take up such work we are often limited in our output, to say nothing of our capacity to scale up such work. Even for those that do take on this struggle, sustainability, vision, and conceptual clarity remain as daunting challenges.

Illuminating the form and character of a better world

I just watched film Whale Rider for maybe the 10th time. I watch it from time-to-time it to remind myself of certain ideals that I have committed myself to, and how these are expressed in the stories of other people who are seeking to heal themselves in the wake of the tragedy of conquest and oppression that has established the “modern era”.

Two things that stood out to me this time was that the character Koro, though perceived as harsh and stubborn, did not see himself as acting in his own self-interest. He saw himself as one who labored for his people’s survival. This was especially evident in his interaction with his oldest son, where when asked how he was doing, he responded that “We are alright”, not referring to himself singly, but to the whole community. He saw no separation in his welfare and theirs, and as a result was under immense pressure to find a new leader, which he believed was the solution to his people’s troubles.

The other thing that stood out to me was that there was no emphasis on the context of colonialism in the film. One can interpret this many ways, but I think that this was done to emphasize that their identity as a people was not based on the arrival of the British Navy. Their history as Maori people did not begin with colonization. It began in time immemorial. Unlike many African Americans, they did not begin their history at their nadir. For us this is symbolically represented as the year 1619, and next month we will witness an abundance of presentations about our past that begin in this unhappy year. As an aide, I’ll also be doing some lecturing next month, and I assure you that I won’t be starting with Africans on a slave ship. It is true that we have to tell and re-tell our history, especially the story of the Maafa, but our history cannot start there. We cannot know who we are as a people if our history begins at the point where our capacity to control our destiny was at its weakest.

I always enjoy the end of this film because it emphasizes that the path of a people into the future will necessarily be a synthesis of their traditions and their dynamic responses to the present. I paid particular attention to the last line in the movie: “I’m not a prophet but I know that our people will keep going forward all together, with all of our strength.” I hope that this is true for the many peoples of Earth, those whose past and ancestral wisdom may yet illuminate the form and character of a better world.