People are working overtime to make sure that Black people are the face of empire. After a while, some will realize how myopic a pursuit “representation” is in contrast to institutional capacity (i.e., power). However, given the current and salient neoliberal logics regarding what passes for “activism”, this may be a long-time in coming and will likely result from the continued delegitimization of the Black elite. I do question whether the same mental energies that went into rationalizing acquisitiveness and (gaudy) representation as a pathway towards group power will be easily redirected towards more productive paths.
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.
The third option
Conservatives have thrown themselves headlong into nationalist designs, on the assumption that such a basis will provide for greater hegemony for domestic elites. They have been quite effective in mobilizing millions of Whites through appeals to fear and loathing, as well as the assurance that a better tomorrow, one resembling a halcyon past lay just beyond the horizon.
Liberals, by contrast, have demonstrated their commitment to global, neoliberal capitalism, and are increasingly mining the symbolic worth of individuals from racialized and oppressed groups, who become redemptive icons of a moribund social order.
The discerning, rather than aligning themselves with one or the other, should instead seek a third path. This path, clearly articulated by thinkers such as Malcolm X, would dismiss the two aforementioned possibilities. Instead, he would insist on the creation of an entirely different system, one wherein Africans were neither bogeymen or tokens, but one where we control our destiny.