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.

Extremist violence in the US: A brief discussion of its cultural bases

Some people have myopically suggested that right-wing violence extremism in the US are consequences of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. In truth, the former has been born of many cultural forces. Below I note some of these, along with some brief remarks.

White supremacist ideologies are a part of the US’s cultural heritage
It is important to recall that the United States is a settler colony that established its territorial basis via warfare and the subjugation of Native American populations. It also established its economy via the exploitation of enslaved Africans. Both of these processes necessitated the formulation of cultural instruments wherein these processes could be achieved with maximum effect. Such instruments consisted of laws, economic institutions, technologies, and processes of socialization focused on both sustaining and optimizing oppression. What is most important here is that the inception of these processes—colonization and slavery—has only been counterbalanced by their maintenance by ongoing acts of violence and oppression. Hence, as John Henrik Clarke has told us, “History is a current event.”

The normalization of violence as a political instrument
While the above entails this, it is important to remember that political violence is not alien to the United States. Not only did this country fight a Civil War that resulted in close to a million deaths, but that state and private entities have also used violence against labor activism, civil rights activism, anti-war activism, police reform activism, and so on are testament to political violence’s recurring place in American public life. Hence, violence is an indelible part of the US’s social fabric. Acts of political violence are therefore not aberrant, but germane to the expression of power in the American political system. Do recall that the US is one of the most violent countries on Earth, so much so that it exports violence abroad in the forms war, military coups, and assassinations.

The dislocations of deindustrialization and globalization
The processes of economic transformation of the late 20th Century have produced profound contradictions in American life that have contributed towards the exacerbation of pre-existing challenges. Consider that the Civil Rights Movement sought to achieve the structural assimilation of African Americans and other racialized and oppressed groups within the dominant political economy of US society. In a context of economic expansion and prosperity, such demands might appear feasible. How do such demands appear in contexts of economic contraction or dislocation, as has been the case for much of the last fifty years? Hence, the processes of deindustrialization and globalization have not only destabilized the US’s working classes, but have also contributed greatly to a cultural malaise which pervades this society best described by Jacob H. Carruthers as “fundamental alienation”. The resulting dislocations have created or expanded interstices wherein a variety of ideologies—some atomistic, some reactionary, but all based on alienation to varying degrees—might thrive and flourish.

A willingness of politicians to capitalize upon these social tensions for short-term gains
The American political system, much like its economic system, is driven by the inescapable myopia of short-term thinking. Just as corporations act on the basis of achieving profits in the short-term. American politicians strive towards the goal of electoral victories, which also are short-term aspirations. Such actions necessarily wed them to the political currents of the day. Whether these currents are corrosive to the society is secondary to their utilitarian expediency. Hence, the courting of reactionary movements and ideologies is seen as a necessary end, which also serves to facilitate the increased normalization of extremist rhetoric in American political life.

It should be noted that this “extremist rhetoric” is not anathema to the political ethos of the US, as again, we are speaking of a settler-colony born of enslavement which has institutionalized the application of coercive control as a means of sustaining its social order. Thus, we are already dealing with an extreme reality, one however that in other moments, the rhetoric of politicians might seek to conceal rather than acknowledge or champion.

The pervasive alienation of American culture
Alienation in this milieu acts as a cultural foundation of violence and is expressed in many facets of American culture. The culture of mass-consumption, which promises eternal happiness if only we would spend, tune-in, or act to satiate the insatiable stream of artificial desires constantly foisted upon us is not the source of pervasive alienation in this country, but it is an expression of it. We live within a society that works laboriously to deny people’s consciousness of who they are and of the nature of reality. We are told by entertainers to be happy while climate change imperils our survival as a species, to watch the latest sporting event while African people’s lives continue to be destroyed by the US’s criminal justice system, to binge watch our favorite television shows while women and children are sexually assaulted and families destroyed in detention centers for undocumented immigrants, and to camp out for Black Friday sales while tens of millions lack health care, millions are unemployed, and hundreds of thousands are homeless.

Further, we are told that our idiosyncratic identities are the highest expressions of ourselves and thus should form the basis of personal and political existence. Yet we live in a society wherein systems of oppression cannot be critically analyzed or dismembered on such a conceptual basis. Malcolm X was clear that his personal identity as a Muslim, though spiritually meaningful, was not sufficient to inform either African people’s struggle for sovereignty or the destruction of imperialist/white supremacist systems. He acknowledge that his spirituality provided a social ethic for the transformation of the humanity of African people, but that it was not expressive of the totality of the political and economic transformation that African people or the world needed.

Herein, we confront the inevitable finitude or limitations of personal identity and the politicization of such identities in a world where systems of power have been forged on the basis of capitalism and white supremacy. In such a context, the fetishization of personal identities, the obsessive and incessant mining of signifiers of idiosyncratic novelty are too bases of alienation, as they cannot “cure what ails us,” which in this case are the bases of fundamental alienation.

In closing, though the current American president has been seen as the epicenter of America’s extremism of late, we would do well to remember that he has merely re-articulated and re-presented such tendencies. He has been an important signifier of our times and the more pervasive social unraveling characteristic of it. The cultural vectors of such disintegration will not dissipate with a change in the presidency, nor will the alienation that is at the heart of US society be undone by any actions of the electorate. These challenges, along with their specific manifestations born of capitalism and white supremacy, will not be satisfied by a retreat into ideologies that enshrine the idiosyncratic or the ever-fashionable politics of atomization which seek to divide African people against themselves on the flimsy bases of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or social class. A more expansive vision is needed accompanied by a set of commitments to the transformation of reality, but most importantly, one must apprehend as clearly as possible the present reality and its inescapable moorings to the past.

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

More subversive than physical fetters: W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson on the subjugation of African minds (an excerpt)

Central to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson was an on-going investigation of the context of terror visited upon Black bodies (Du Bos 2007a; Woodson 1990). For these scholars the assault upon African humanity was not merely a localized dilemma isolated to a marginal epoch of American history, rather it was a central process in the creation of America’s racialized social order, and beyond this, a key component in the modern global system wherein the humanity of African people was a secondary consideration to their utility as vehicles of or impediments to the acquisition of capital (Du Bois 2007b; Woodson 1990, 2004). Both Du Bois’s and Woodson’s work compels for us to look at the context of enslavement as a foundational moment in the erection of the contemporary power of the west. This process propelled the expansion and entrenchment of a domestic colonial project, in addition to fueling subsequent processes of conquest abroad. Within the domestic milieu, the political-economy of Black subordination via the system of state-sponsored racial subordination necessitated the implementation of an epistemic regime of terror (Du Bois 1978a, 1978b). This process has maintained a dual focus consisting of the oppression of Black bodies via instruments of coercive control, and the subjugation of Black minds via processes of mis-education (Du Bois 2002, Woodson 1990).

What must be asked is not whether this campaign has abated (it has not), but rather how a liberatory form of Black education might more effectively resist this assault? Du Bois and Woodson recognized that Black people, as ever, stand at the precipice, facing on one side a familiar tyranny and on the other a new world that exists just beyond the bounds of our knowing and the fruits of our unfettered social agency. As Du Bois queried in 1960, we must ask again, whither now and why (Du Bois 1973b)? Ultimately we must ponder to what extent has realization of liberation been obscured via the highly efficacious management of Black bodies and minds in the schools of America (Du Bois 1973a; Woodson 1933)?

What is America’s promise to Black people?

It is strange to gaze upon America’s pathological racism from Ghana. It is no less disturbing to behold, but it also makes me feel that we, Africans in America suffer a profound disadvantage in that, unlike our counterparts here or in other majority Black countries, we do not have our own society free from the idiocy and machinations of others who historically and presently have succeeded in maximizing our subordination. I am not suggesting that these ostensibly Black countries are panaceas, but they are places where in many respects we are (or believe ourselves to be) the stewards of our local destinies, which is different from the malaise of African Americans and other Diasporan Africans who are the subjects of often indifferent and frequently hostile states and institutions.

The hyper exploitation of enslavement was compounded by the evisceration of African humanity, and as such, provided a pretext for the legal mandates which enshrined Black oppression for the next century. And while that legal mandate was revised, wherein explicit acknowledgement of racial subordination as a state mandate was omitted, the damage had been done. The racialization of poverty and opportunity, the social psychology of white supremacy, the massive cultural apparatus designed to achieve what Carter G. Woodson called mis-education and Jacob H. Carruthers called de-education were sufficient to ensure that Blacks in the U.S. would remain on the margins of society–their hopes buoyed by the select few whose success became the stuff of “pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps” legends–an implicit condemnation of all those unable to overcome the weight of history and the burden of structural racism. Those others who refused to dream, the denizens of America’s declining urban centers in the late 20th Century, were ushered into the burgeoning prison industry, itself the heir to the fallen legacy of America’s great industrial economy. This was America’s assurance that it had a special place for Black people, the same place that it held in reserve for us in 1619: the dungeons of captivity, the expanding frontier of an ever-evolving hyper-exploitation, and life behind the veil of racialized contempt.

This puts before us a troubling malaise, one whose analysis is easier by far than its resolution. Some have argued that we should abscond to distant shores, that a more fulfilling life awaits us in Ghana or elsewhere on the African continent. I do not doubt that this may be true for a small minority, but this is not scalable as a solution to the structural racism faced by the masses of Africans in the U.S., to say nothing of the impact of global capitalism on the Black masses the world over, where the avarice of a few is afforded by the marginalization of the many. Thus one arrives on that distant shore beyond the horizon, only to find the flag of greed and corruption waving resplendent.

Others have advocated that our redemption lies in the voting booth, that a new era of Black electoral participation will lead the path to our redemption. This may be an efficacious strategy in some respects, but it ignores the lingering challenges that we face in cities and states where we are a numeric minority, and it does not capture the reality that the effectiveness of any form of governance in communities that have been wracked by economic decline will require degrees of remediation beyond simply electing a preferred candidate. As we are finding with the election of left-leaning candidates in countries in the throws of neoliberalism, governing in the midst of economic crisis can easily result in a political establishment which both teeters on the brink of illegitimacy and whose policy prescriptions reifies that which we see in many global cities—that local economic development is reliant on capital flows from international banks and multinational corporations–thus even progressive, grassroots leadership will remain tethered and thus constrained by the global economy, likely resulting in diminished hopes for the masses and the inverse—profitability–for the centers of economic power.

I think that the solution to these challenges begins with us working backwards from the present reality in all of its starkness and devising paths which are logical based on these undeniable features.

  1. The United States is a society where racial inequality is a historic reality. There is no evidence which refutes Derrick Bell’s thesis that “racism is permanent and indestructible”, therefor any vision of the future of Africans in America must take into account the ever-present specter of racism and its irrepressible need to visit misery upon our lives. This means that racism is not within the exclusive purview of some historic white community, an inheritance which will be shed by some new generation. Rather that American racism is inextricable, echoing KRS One’s contention that “You can’t have justice on stolen land.”, a truth that has not and will not be invalidated via the passage of time.
  2. The United States is a society whose processes of governance reveal one of the fatal imperfections of modern democracy. In the balance of power between the will of its citizens and the desires of its major economic institutions, capital rules. This is why many years ago W.E.B. Du Bois called for Industrial Democracy, that in a truly democratic society no process should exist beyond the assent of the people, that the rule of the people should be absolute both with regards to policy and the economy. In the U.S. we have seen the reduction of the power of the people and the enlargement of the force of capital on the political apparatus. This trend has only intensified rather than lessened with time.
  3. The economic system of the U.S., the vaunted prosperity that became the beacon of hope for people around the world is hobbled by its basic unsustainability—that is, America’s economy is based on a level of resource consumption that is both unsustainable and dangerous with regards to its impact on global warming, its despoiling of ecosystems, its depletion of water resources, and its energy consumption. The America that Black people and others have been clamoring to be included in is a ghost, a promise that can never be kept due to the finitude the Earth’s resources.

These three issues create a fundamentally different starting point for us to imagine our collective future as African people in the U.S. Moreover, they engender a conversation that requires that we fundamentally rethink our notions of economic development, our faith in certain institutions, or our belief in a redemptive future for the U.S. that finally and utterly eschews the transgressions of its past and present. This starting point compels us to ask a number of questions. What are we prepared to do for ourselves to insure our collective survival and success wherever we find ourselves? What form of economic development will offer, as Dr. Anderson Thompson says, the greatest good for the greatest number” of our people? Where should we cast our lot and how will we forge community there? What are we willing to do to mitigate the corrosive impact that many of America’s dominant institutions has had on our lives—the criminal justice system, mass-media, schools which excel at mis-education and de-education, the profit-driven health care industry, and so forth? What does our history in the U.S. reveal to us about the breadth of possibility when faced with a recalcitrant and violent system? How, for instance, did Africans in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries respond to the malaise before them? How might we learn from their successes and ameliorate their shortcomings? Ultimately, what do we want for the future of Black people, and what are we willing to do to achieve it?

If we fail to grapple with these questions, we consign ourselves to America’s designs for us, which is far far less than what we deserve.