Sunday, November 22, 2015

Could You Be Loved? Beyond Emotionality Politics

"Don't let them fool ya,
Or even try to school ya! Oh, no!
We've got a mind of our own…"

~Bob Marley

One of the most inspiring events coming out of the spate of publicized killings of unarmed Black Americans in the past few years is the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is a brilliant and necessary voice speaking out and highlighting problems that should be tackled as part of criminal justice reform. It has also made some significant strides in bringing America's race issue to the table, again. Hopefully this movement will continue to inspire, ignite and organize black people in America across the country. 

A component to the BLM movement appears to be a disdain and a dismissal of a range of comments and behaviors labeled as 'respectability politics'.

The critique in a nutshell goes something like this; "even if black people dress neatly, act responsibly, speak 'properly' or respect themselves, that won't change the way black people are seen by those who are racist."
A few examples of this critique can be found here: 
Or on videos like these…
The title of this article in Salon Magazine, sums up the trend: 

 "Respectability will not save us: Black Lives Matter is right to reject the 'dignity and decorum' mandate handed down to us from slavery."

 The idea is that we should be treated equally under the law and given the same respect as white people regardless of how we behave or whether we respect ourselves. So, any comments made by black people saying that black people should pull up their pants, stop wearing hoodies, check their criminal behavior or clean up their own communities in order to get respect and move ahead will apparently no longer be tolerated or accepted. 

In another example, in a criticism by Clutch Magazine Online of CNN anchor Don Lemon's comments on violence and chaos in black areas, entitled 'Don Lemon Lists 5 Ways Black People Need To Change To Combat Racism';  the magazine sarcastically remarks, "if only we picked up the garbage in Harlem and started wearing suits and ties instead of sagging jeans, we could finally overcome and stop white people from killing us. Oh, and we need to stop littering. Because only black people litter (our melanin predisposes us to littering)."

Then they state the central issue: "His respectability politics play sends a dangerous message that the blame for oppression lies with the oppressed. He puts the onus on us to change to ‘earn’ basic rights and privileges that are extended to other races, no matter their flaws.
Changing our style of dress and speech won’t help the real-life issues black people face like voter suppression and racial profiling. And why do black people have to be perfect in order to be treated fairly?"

What you'll usually find in these comments criticizing black respectability is a throwaway line acknowledging the importance of building a strong community from within and a focus on economics, which is quickly followed by a longer, more spirited restatement on the oppressive effects of racism and discrimination and the need for the government to do more. 

This can be seen in the quote in Dissent Magazine on 'respectability politics', from Fredrick C. Harris, professor of political science and director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia University, "[e]conomic power is a needed development, of course, and one that can be used to leverage political power. But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class."
Harris also goes on to compare President Obama's approach to Booker T. Washington's accommodationist approach.

What is going on here? Why the narrow focus? Why not at least balance 'fighting racism' with focusing on our own goals for development and building better, stronger communities?

If you have a certain type of snake killing and poisoning your people, it seems to make a lot more sense to teach them how to recognize the snake, avoid being bitten by it, figure out a way to remove the affects of its poison, and heal themselves, rather than going out and yelling at the snake to stop biting people. Because it won’t understand you; it’s a snake.

"We gotta make a change

It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes.
Let's change the way we eat,
let's change the way we live
And let's change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do
What we gotta do, to survive."

~ Tupac Shakur
Hopefully, in the future the Black Lives Matter movement will expand its focus to the full and comprehensive nature of our situation here in America.
What actually is going on? 

Well let's keep in mind that the central argument the BLM movement is making is that regardless of our behavior or appearance, black people should be recognized as equal and treated the same as any other citizen under the law. Under the law, whatever white people do, we should be able to do, and the government should be held accountable to this.  These are big 'shoulds'. They are huge, because this is saying we should postpone a primary focus on our own collective development until this 300 year old racist system finally decides to treat us fairly under the law. But who wrote the law? Who was the architect behind this promise of equality? Thomas Jefferson - one of the biggest slave masters in the history of the country. So, all of our hopes and dreams are tied up in the promises of a slave master who owned not one or two, but 600 slaves?
(The calculating, trickiness of Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence were already exposed here:

Keep in mind as a general matter, law has its limits, inherently. Look at any study in the philosophy of positive law and you'll see it's acknowledged that what is written on paper depends on imperfect human activity in terms of application and execution. And then we have to keep in mind that while Democracy is about equality and fairness under the law, capitalism is about (fierce) competition, gaining advantages and exploitation. Between the two (democracy and capitalism), capitalism is the driver. That's where all the juice is; the government only tries to regulate it as best as possible. As Calvin Coolidge stated, 'the real business of America is business'. It doesn't take an extremely sharp eye to see that the government is controlled and influenced by corporations, big business and run by men of enterprise.
So again, why are we putting all of our eggs (and our lives) in this single basket of civil rights?
This is an extension of a carefully planned and crafted effort to corral black thinking into the area of protesting for civil rights as the exclusive road to 'freedom'; now called 'liberation' (because it sounds a little more militant - but it's the same word with the same meaning. 'Liberation' is just French). This maneuvering goes back to the Reconstruction period when whites north and south were frightful that angry black people would rise up against them, or even worse - leave the plantations, go for themselves and work for their own benefit. 
So instead of making amends and in some way compensating her slaves who had been faithful to her for so long, America promised to 'one day' make her slaves 'American', with all the rights and privileges that white Americans have. This was the origin of the Civil Rights journey for black people in America.

Not all former slaves agreed with this, however, and wanted economic reparations, land and true independence. But their voices were ignored. Only those voices that sought Civil Rights were acknowledged.  That is why we know about Frederick Douglas and not Martin R. Delany or Tunis G. Campbell. Liberal Abolitionist groups made sure this viewpoint continued after slavery through their philanthropic manipulations and control.
The book 'Inner Civilization' outlined this years ago:

"Since the end of slavery, various philanthropic groups sought to develop black higher education through private liberal arts colleges. For example, the American Missionary Association (AMA) established colleges such as Fisk University and Dillard University. The Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Bennet College, Clark University, Morgan College and Clafin College. The American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) controlled Morehouse College, Spellman Seminary, Shaw University and Virginia Union.        
The missionary philanthropists encouraged their colleagues to support classical education for black Americans as a way to achieve racial equality in civil and political life.  Education for them was a way of furthering their "civilizing mission." Their goal was to prepare a college-bred black leadership to uplift the black masses from slavery and the restraints of the America's caste system.  The missionaries defined equality carefully as political and legal equality. They consented, however, to inequality in the economic structure and were probably convinced that blacks' cultural and religious values were inferior to those of middle class whites. Thus, they were liberal in political and civil matters but on cultural, religious and economic matters they were conservative, and in all matters they were paternalistic. The missionaries argued, it was essential for education to introduce the ex-slaves to the values and rules of modern society. Without education, they felt black people would rapidly degenerate and become a national menace to America.

Eventually, under these influences, the liberal wing of the black intelligentsia became the dominant voices in the black community. " 

This same tactic was used in colonial Africa in the 1950's and '60's, by the way, where Europeans agreed among themselves to grant political 'independence' to former African colonies, but retain control of the natural resources and the economic systems of the future states. 
So Civil Rights was the only game in town until Marcus Garvey came along and black people responded to his program of economic self-development and self determination overwhelmingly. 
White America felt they had to respond again; and they did it through the colleges:

"The black leaders of the post-war era began to reflect the self-determinist and "militant" character of the larger African American society. Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association represented some of the core values and fundamental political thought of the black community at that time. By 1922, he led the largest mass movement among African Americans before the civil rights movement of the 1960's. This period also saw the emergence of a more liberal black press and the growth of the literary Black Renaissance movement.

In response to these developments, the industrial philanthropists strengthened their campaign to tighten their grip on black higher education and to influence, more directly, the training of black leaders. They launched national endowment campaigns to enforce the Hampton - Tuskegee idea by increasing its educational standards and at the same time developing one or two black private colleges that would set the standard for black higher education and thus stigmatize as inferior the less endowed black schools they did not directly shape and influence. They intended to harmonize the industrial and liberal colleges into one model, possessing higher educational standards coupled with a devotion to developing black accomodationist leadership. In 1923, the General Education Board generated a memorandum on the Fisk endowment campaign which urged the need to train "the right type of colored leaders" who would make the Negro a capable workman and a good citizen."  The industrial philanthropists, as the memo stated, aimed primarily at "helping the Negro to sane and responsible leadership that the South wants him to have". In this case, sane, to the South, meant those Negroes who encouraged blacks to "stay in their place." 

James D Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South 1860-1935, p. 276, The University of North Carolina Press, (1988).

Even today those of us who were educated in Colleges and Universities aren't given a full picture of what Garvey and his movement were all about. We're told simply that he headed a 'back to Africa movement'. More accurately, Garvey was about business development. His organization generated income and provided jobs through its numerous enterprises including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, a steam laundry, tailor shop, dressmaking shop, clothing store, a publishing house, real estate, a fleet of commercial trucks and a doll factory. Marcus Garvey's ideology directly influenced Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and the father of Pan Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah. All of whom strongly believed in and worked for black economic, cultural and educational improvement and we know they did not do this out of a need to please the white power structure or play so-called 'respectability politics'. They built their respective organizations out of a love for their people and a respect for what they intuited was most important to them. So in case, for whatever reason, their voices haven't been heard clearly enough, let's listen to the words of those figures the mainstream has tried to drown out for the past 100 years.

'Every people should be the originators of their own schemes, and creators of the events that lead to their destiny.’ ~ Martin R. Delany (1847).

"The only protection against injustice in man is power... physical, financial and scientific." ~ Marcus Garvey.

“A race without power is a race without respect.” ~ Garvey.

"To see your enemy and know him is a part of the complete education of man." ~ Garvey.

"A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence, sooner or later, dies." ~ Garvey.

"When we examine the economic condition of Africans in America, and throughout the world, we find one glaring problem—African people do not control our economic resources at the level we should. This is primarily due to our mis-education as a people. In a disproportionate manner, African people depend on the European and Asian world for food, clothing, and shelter. More often than not, the European and Asian worlds are the producers, processors, distributors, and wholesalers. African people are the consumers." ~ Marcus Garvey

"We should and must, as other people, want for ourselves what other civilized nations have! Let us do for ourselves that which we are begging the slave-master to do for us. Do not be fooled by the false promise of civil rights and the softening of their language. They want us to be helpless so they can mistreat us as always. We must come together and unite." ~ Elijah Muhammad.

"As a people, we must become producers and not remain consumers and employees. We must be able to extract raw materials from the earth and manufacture them into something useful for ourselves. This would create jobs in production. We must remember that without land there is no production." ~ Elijah Muhammad.

"The economic philosophy of Black Nationalism only means that we should own and operate and control the economy of our community. You would never find - you can’t open up a black store in a white community. The White man won’t even patronize you. And he’s not wrong. He’s got sense enough to look out for himself. You the one who don’t have sense enough to look out for yourself.
The white man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community. But you will let anyone come in and take control of the economy of your community, control the housing, control the education, control the jobs, control the businesses, under the pre-text that you want to integrate. No, you're outta your mind." 
~ Malcolm X.

"So our people not only have to be re-educated to the importance of supporting black business, but the black man himself has to be made aware of the importance of going into business. And once you and I go into business, we own and operate at least the businesses in our community. What we will be doing is developing a situation wherein we will actually be able to create employment for the people in the community. And once you can create some employment in the community where you live, it will eliminate the necessity of you and me having to act ignorantly and disgracefully, boycotting and picketing some cracker some place else trying to beg him for a job. Anytime you have to rely upon your enemy for a job - you’re in bad shape. When you have - he is your enemy. Let me tell you, you wouldn’t be in this country if some enemy hadn’t kidnapped you and brought you here." ~ Malcom X

"This government has failed us; the government itself has failed us, and the white liberals who have been posing as our friends have failed us. And once we see that all these other sources to which we’ve turned have failed, we stop turning to them and turn to ourselves. We need a self-help program, a do-it-your- self philosophy, a do-it-right-now philosophy, a it’s-already-too-late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with, and the only way we are going to solve our problem is with a self- help program. Before we can get a self-help program started we have to have a self-help philosophy. "
 ~ Malcolm X.

And if it's not convincing as to the amount of power and influence we've given up by not following the self evident common sense provided by these guiding voices, consider the fact that it's 2015, black people have been in this country for 400 years, and we do not have the controlling ownership of a single Fortune 500 company. Not one. 

So if this is so clear, why does the Black Lives Matter movement try to suppress any voices advocating a stepped up program of economic development, self help and self respect? Part of the reason is because the BLM rightly feels that talk of what we need to do in our own community clouds the issues in the conversation on race. And this is the core of the problem. We are identifying as a race. However, 'race' is not real.  As we are told it is a simply a social construct (constructed by racists - not for our benefit.) 
Once you only see yourselves as a race, you get caught up in endless racial issues, which largely have little biological, historical, linguistic or cultural context. And if a group sees themselves as a race, well the only thing they can get together on are racial issues. That's exactly why the primary thing that unifies black people are racial incidents. Think about it. And it's exactly why when the emotions around those issues subside, the drive and willingness to meet and unify dwindles. Basing a whole movement upon reacting and responding to what others do is essentially called emotionality politics. Fueling your agenda by responding to the actions of another people, places all the power in their hands, perpetually. 

We would have much more clarity in terms of our identity and purpose if we see ourselves as a people, or even a 'nation'.
I'm aware that word nation has a lot of cultural baggage and we don't even have to neccesarily label ourselves a nation but let's look closely at its meaning for guidance if nothing else.  A nation is a form of self-defined cultural and social community. Members of a "nation" share a common identity, and usually a common origin, in the sense of history, ancestry, parentage or descent. Nations are also assumed to include future generations. A nation is not identical to a state, as many believe. A state is a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory.

'Race' binds us to endless confusion, conflict and the need for a conversation with people who don't have our best interests in mind (at best). 'Nation', however, binds us to each other, our homeland and a sense of purpose.

If we saw ourselves as a people, we wouldn't have to worry about whether the media or other people are watching, or dictating how we should or should not be behaving; it would be built into our identity already. We would know that self-respect, dignity and the drive to elevate ourselves is not 'respectability politics', it's our birthright. 
It's in our DNA. 

We have so much to draw from, let's look at some concepts on how we viewed the importance of our behavior and mental outlook long before our unfortunate entanglement with our non-black friends in the media, politics and society. From these concepts we can also gain some guidance.


Ma'at is the great creation of the thinkers of Kemet’s Old Kingdom. The concept of Ma’at refers to the natural order of the universe. It means, essentially, “the way things ought to be.” Ma’at corresponds to several modern concepts, and can be translated into abstract English nouns: “right”; “correct behavior,” “order,” “justice”; and “truth.” The opposite of Ma’at was jzft (Isfet): “wrong”; incorrect or antisocial behavior,” “disorder,” “injustice”; and falsehood.”


“wisdom knot”
symbol of wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience;

an especially revered symbol of the Akan, this symbol conveys the idea that “a wise person has the capacity to choose the best means to attain a goal. Being wise implies broad knowledge, learning and experience, and the ability to apply such faculties to practical ends.”

Nkyinkyim -


symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility.

“Obra kwan ye nkyinkyim”

Life's road is full of twists and turns. We must learn to adapt.

Codes of the Fulani - 

or the Fulbe people who flourished all throughout Western and Central Africa.
Based on their prudence, the Fulbe have their own word for their behaviour and code of living: Pulaaku.

Pulaaku is a central element of the Fulbe culture. Pulaaku is taught by the parents to the children and by the clan leaders. Overall, Pulaaku means to live in accordance with the traditional merits of the Fulbe (Fulani) culture.

Pulaaku is expressed by a polite and reserved behavior, keeping distance especially to outsiders. The Fulbe people don't show their emotions and maintain respect to each other including to enemies.

There are 4 pillars of Pulaaku:

* Munyal- patience, self control, discipline ; also written munal
* Semteende - modesty, respect for others (including foes).
* Hakkille = wisdom, forethought, managing one's own ; hakkile is translated with "brain, sense, mind"
* Sagate/ Tiinaade: Courage, hard work

Also the addendum to the codex -- 
* 'Be kersata = do not make shame
* 'Be kulata = do no have fear
* 'Be penata = do not lie

In the Pulaar-English dictionary the term is written "Pulaagu" and translated with "Fulani pride". 

 These are just a few examples; we have so much to draw from. We are part of a 6,000 year old cultural continuum. Actually, if you think about it, the key to true 'liberation'  is what comes from within ourselves - not completely outside of ourselves. Imagine if these words accurately and honestly described black people; imagine if we collectively possessed true self love, self respect, self determination and self worth. What if we were indeed self-defining, self-regulating, self-organizing, self-supportive, self-correcting, self sufficient, self sustaining, and possessed true self knowledge? This approach taps into the Source Within -called the god force, the infinite realm of divine strength and possibility. This is liberation, literally. This does not mean an introverted, reclusive, imaginary state of affairs - these qualities would be what we project out onto the real world. It would describe the way we walk in the world and how the world is impacted by us, and not always the other way around. 

With all this said, what's going to stop our young men and women from being shot down in the streets?
The truth is, there are always going to be casualties in a war. And we are in a war. It may not necessarily be an all out military war; it may not even be a war of open hostilities, like the 'Cold War'.  Actually, this is the 'Old War'. The war that goes all the way back to the time Europe began its assault on the people and the health of the planet. Its the war that began when they decided to try to build their own world -on top of ours, submerging the truth of our civilization with lies, suppression, omission, force, bribery and deceit. Such a world does not and cannot last for long. Our role is not to buy into it. Our job is to work to restore the balance of order, co-existence and peace. 


* A note: "To change is to risk something, making us feel insecure. Not to change is a bigger risk, though we seldom feel that way. There is no choice but to change. People, however, cannot be motivated to change from the outside. All of our motivation comes from within." Dr. Li


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