Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Founder of the nation of Haiti
With the rise of Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election, a reactionary nativism has taken hold in America. Resentment towards immigrants and Muslims has found solace in Trump’s promises to “build a wall” between Mexico and the United States, as well as deny further entry to Muslim immigrants. These themes have generated a White nationalistic fervor among Americans who believe they want to “take their country back,” and “make America great again.”
What is both ironic and comical about the pleas of these reactionary American nativists is that they are premised on some ridiculous White settler colonial myth about the founding of America. These ideas assume America was founded on notions of liberty and freedom when in reality those rights were originally only assured to land owning White males. What is more important in deflating this pedestrian narrative about American history’s “debt” to its bourgeois slave owning revolutionary origins, is that the most important person in assuring this settler colonial project called America was not aborted less than 30 years after the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, was a former Black slave who helped lead an Army fellow former African slaves against three European Empires to free his people: Jean-Jacques Dessalines, founder of the independent nation of Haiti.
“But the prejudice of race alone blinded the American people [to] the debt they owed to the desperate courage of 500,000 Haitian Negroes who would not be enslaved.” — Henry Adams, direct decedent of John Adams and America’s foremost Historian of the 18th and 19th centuries
After defeating one of the greatest military expeditions in the history of the British Empire under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, his second in command, General Jean Jacques Desssalines was charged with the task of ultimately defeating Napoleon Bonoparte’s massive army from the years of 1802-1803 when Toussaint was captured by Bonaparte’s emissaries and sent back to France to die imprisoned.
What is lost on most Americans is that Napoleon Bonaparte, renowned as one of the greatest military minds in Western history, was not merely intent on conquering the former African slaves in Haiti, but also using the opportunity to plant a military expedition in New Orleans large enough to conquer North America and then president Thomas Jefferson’s United States. Hence making the newly independent United States a subject and colony of the French Empire.
“[Napoleon] set his sights on a new goal: restoring the imperial crown’s finest jewel, the lost Saint-Domingue/Haiti. In 1801, he sent the largest invasion fleet that ever crossed the Atlantic, some 50,000 men, to the island under the leadership of his brother-in-law Charles LeClerc. Their mission was to decapitate the ex-slave leadership of Saint-Domingue/Haiti. “No more gilded Africans,” Napoleon commanded. Subdue any resistance by deception and force. Return to slavery all the Africans who survived.Napoleon had also assembled a second army, and he had given it a second assignment. In 1800, he had concluded a secret treaty that “retroceded” Louisiana to French control after 37 years in Spanish hands. This second army was to go to Louisiana and plant the French flag. And at 20,000 men strong, it was larger than the entire U.S. Army. Napoleon had already conquered one revolutionary republic [France] from within. He was sending a mighty army to take another by brute force [The United States of America].” –“The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Edward E. Baptist
“And yet, as Jefferson now instructed his envoy to Paris, Robert Livingston, “there is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans. Jefferson had to open the Mississippi one way or the other. Should a French army occupy New Orleans, wrote Jefferson, we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and Nation.”—“The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Edward E. Baptist
“By the middle of 1802, the first wave of French forces had withered away [in Saint Domingue/Haiti]. Napoleon reluctantly diverted the Louisiana Army [20,000 soldiers] to Saint Domingue/Haiti. Then this second expedition was also destroyed. So even as Toussaint L’Ouverture shivered in his cell across the ocean, the army he left behind [under Jean Jacques Dessalines] became the first to deal a decisive defeat to Napoleon’s ambitions. Damn sugar, damn coffee, damn colonies,” the first of the Whites [Napoleon] was heard to grumble into his cup at a state dinner. “–“The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,”–Edward E. Baptist.
“Napoleon’s minion shocked Livingston [Thomas Jefferson’s representative] almost out of his knee breeches with an astonishing offer: not just New Orleans, but all of French Louisiana–the whole west bank of the Mississippi and its tributaries. now the United States was offered–for a mere $15 million–828,000 square miles, 530 million acres at three cents per acre. This vast expanse doubled the nations size. Eventually the land form the Louisiana Purchase would become all or part of fifteen states. It still accounts for almost a quarter of the surface area of the United States. By the late twentieth century Jefferson’s windfall would be feeding much of the world. One imagines that Livingston found it hard to hold his poker face steady. He immediately agreed to the deal.”–The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Edward E. Baptist.
“to the deadly climate of Saint Domingue/Haiti and the courage and obstinate resistance made by its Black inhabitants are we indebted…[The] truth is, Bonaparte found himself absolutely compelled’–and not by Jefferson–“to relinquish his daring plan of colonizing the banks of the Mississippi.” — Alexander Hamilton. Quote from: “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Edward E. Baptist.
The Haitian Revolution saved Jefferson’s United States from eventual conquest by Napoleon who placed 20,000 soldiers (more than the entire United States Army at the time) in New Orleans to invade North America after he foolishly thought he could defeat the Haitian Revolutionary Army. Those 20,000 soldiers had to be sent to Haiti to quell the rebellion and were subsequently defeated. Napoleon then sold all the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi to Thomas Jefferson for three cents per acre. This is the real story of how America was made great. Next time some Trump supporters wish to pop off about “taking their country back,” just remind them they should thank God and the Haitian people that they even have a country.
L’Union Fait La Force
In the wake of the BREXIT vote which has the world reeling after Great Britain decided to abandon the European Union, much has been said about the historical scope, power, and influence of the British Empire throughout history. At its apex the British Empire was the most powerful geopolitical force on earth. What many neglect to realize is that one of the occurrences that helped the United Kingdom rise to such a position was The Haitian Revolution, which thoroughly defeated Britain’s only serious hegemonic competitor, Napoleonic France. Much is discussed and written about Haiti’s defeat of Napoleon and how it opened the door for the Louisiana Purchase that fostered the expansion of the United States into the nation it has since become. However, few realize how the defeat of Napoleon by the brave former African Slaves in Haiti opened the door for the dominance of the British Empire. Furthermore, as Americans always pride themselves on their Revolutionary accomplishment of defeating the great British Empire and gaining their freedom, few give full acknowledgment to the superior military feat of The Haitian Revolution in its not only vanquishing the French Napoleonic Empire, The Spanish Empire of the time, but also thoroughly defeating the mighty British Empire to the point of leading the United Kingdom to agree to cease the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and any further importation of Africans into the Western Hemisphere officially. So while Americans celebrate their independence victory in defeating the greatest of European Empires, The British, recognize that former African slaves in Haiti did the seemingly impossible and defeated all three of the major European empires of that day to obtain their freedom, including the one beaten by the Americans:
“Yet it cannot be denied that both the government and British public had
learned a lesson from [Britain’s] disastrous attempt to conquer Saint
Domingue/Haiti, restore slavery, and subdue Toussaint L’Ouverture. In 1796
nearly three years after the first British forces landed in Saint
Domingue/Haiti, the [British] administration sent off one of the greatest
expeditionary forces in British history. Before the end of the year Edmond
Burke received news that 10,000 British soldiers had died in less than two
months! It was reported in the House of Commons that almost every Briton
had a personal acquaintance that had perished in the [Haitian]
Campaigns.”–“The Impact of The Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World,”
David P. Geggus.
In the end the British lost over 50,000 soldiers in their attempt to bring slavery back to Haiti. This had a direct influence on the British decision to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Black Eugenics: How the Black Mis-leadership Class of the Early 20th Century Supported Sterilization of the Black Poor
The Black Mis-leadership Class is a term usually referring to the race management elite that developed out of the Civil Rights Movement to handle the political and social affairs of the Black masses. This group tailors its world view and policy prescriptions to the demands of America’s majority power elite to the detriment of those same Black masses. The Congressional Black Caucus, The NAACP, The National Urban League, Black petite-bourgeois membership organizations, and the Black Church all work as the ideological and organizational mechanisms of the Black Mis-Leadership Class.
What few realize is that even before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 there existed a Black Mis-leadership class that worked as race managers for America’s power elite. The originator of “race management” as a concept was Booker T. Washington as the tool of the White industrialist class. With the crie de guerre issued by W.E.B. DuBois published in 1903 in the “Souls of Black Folk,” the Black college educated “Talented Tenth” came together to manage the affairs of the less fortunate Black masses and weaponized the idea of “race management,” giving birth to the first generation of the Black Mis-leadership Class.
Though in Black America this first generation of Black Misleaders is much revered by many African Americans today as visionaries and vanguards, they were just as duplicitous, treacherous and damaging to the lives of the Black masses as our current version of Black Mis-leaders.
Eugenics (the theory that people with desired traits should out breed the less desirable) was normal part of American thinking in the early 20th century and was supported by both intellectuals and government institutions. Not surprisingly these theories were almost always steeped in racism and used to explain the socio-economic problems of the Black Community as genetic. What many don’t know is that DuBois’ Talented Tenth, who made up the first Black Mis-leadership class, were often Black Eugenicists who believed in selective breeding and Black population control through birth control techniques including forced and voluntary sterilization of poor Black women. These techniques would be used to purify the race of its “dysgenic” types as a means of racial uplift.
“In Search of Purity: Popular Eugenics and Racial Uplift among New Negroes 1915-1935,” by Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman illustrates the tragic history of how the early 20th Century Black Mis-leadership class fully supported eugenic theory using racial sterilization couched in language supporting birth control to limit the ability of poor Black women to have children. A veritable who’s who of early 20th century Black history from W.E.B. Dubois, Mary McCloud Bethune, Charles Drew and more were supporters of this widely supported Black Eugenics movement to basically rid America of the Black poor. One must realize, in 1966 55% of Black America lived below the poverty line. We can only imagine how high that number was in the 1920s and 30s, particularly during the Depression years. This Black Eugenics policy was not merely a plan for race purity but if implemented to the full desires of that Black Mis-leadership class, it could have meant race genocide.
As Dr. Sherman states:
“The use of sterilization as a method of birth control was a reality for thousands of New Negroes between 1915 and 1935. Calls by Negro reformers to improve the quality of the race often imbibed eugenic language. Thomas Garth, for instance, wrote in a 1930 Opportunity magazine article that Negroes could have no race pride in substandard members of the race. He posited that the race “should seek to eliminate them weed them out and thereby obtain by means of selection a better stock.” Terms like “weeding out” and “eliminating” speak directly to the identification of dysgenics members of the race, and their segregation from larger society through reformatory or prison commitments.”
These Eugenics sentiments were shared by a man who is considered one of the greatest intellectuals in Black American History. W.E.B. DuBois was fully vested in these horrid Eugenics schemes: “[Negroes] are led away by the fallacy of numbers. They want the Black race to survive. They are cheered by the Census return of increasing numbers and a high rate of increase. They must learn that among human races and groups, as among vegetables, quality and not mere quantity really counts.”–W. E. B. Du Bois”
The Black Eugenics movement worked in tandem with racist white eugenicists who had less than pleasant goals in their advocacy of population control techniques. Yet these White racists were institutionally supported and given the ability to speak at functions by organizations like the National Urban League. As Dr. Sherman explained, “Reformers, like Margaret Sanger, connected eugenic better breeding to a larger movement to regulate the poor and stop the rise in crime and illegitimacy.” Furthermore, Dr. Sherman states, “Black and white eugenicists alike linked the “Negro Problem”; however, to black female fertility, which white religious figures rarely afforded divine status”
Black children did not escape from having Black Eugenicists categorize them as “defective,” usually out of spurious reasons related to their poor economic status. The language of the Black Misleaders among that Talented Tenth cadre demonstrates the sheer hatred they had for poor Black Children.
For example, as Dr. Sherman illustrates:
“Even among respected Black reformers and educators, eugenics factored into how they classified Black students’ mental aptitude, behavior, and character. Ione Peak, a black public health and hygiene teacher, made such links between eugenic defects and learning abilities, writing for the NAACP Crisis magazine. Having observed Negro School children, she noted that classroom performance problems grew out of childhood accidents, disease or malnutrition. Yet, Peak used eugenic language and terminology in describing these children as “mental defectives” and determined that they fell “into groups ranging from idiocy to high type morons.”
There are many in the Black community who argue even today that class is not relevant to issues of Black folk, and all the problems stem from racism. Racism is a serious problem without a doubt But, these statements are often made by college educated Blacks themselves to mask their role in the carnage. The farcical thinking that “it’s all us Black folk against the evil White man,” is merely a con game the Black Mis-leadership Class has used to hide their duplicity and complicity with the White power structure to ensure their ascendance while working to ground the Black poor and working class to dust. Though they may not use eugenics language publically today, the Black middle class and Black elite often hate the Black poor more that many Whites. They hate the stigma of being associated of those “dysgenic” types that make up the Black poor.
Class is a major issue in the Black community as this history illustrates. Only those who still want to play the “blame the White man game,” are unwilling to expose the Black elite complicity in the destruction of the Black masses. The history of Black Eugenics should serve as just one of the myriad of examples of how the Black Mis-leadership Class has worked to subjugate the Black poor. When seeing this history we realize that perhaps we should be extolling “Black Lives Matter,” to those Black Mis-Leaders and Black Elites who have been a cancer to Black America for over a century.
One of the most insidious ways the ruling class fosters unending loyalty to their “power elite” enterprise of global management is through veneration of their dead. The media and the chattering class will wax rhapsodic about the generosity and greatness of these towering figures who wielded their power to further the enterprise of American empire in a way that seemed so humane. This process is ultimately a trap for the millions of poor and working class folk scrambling to function in this society. It deludes them from a clear understanding that the American project is premised on protecting capital and the interests of capital. As former president Calvin Coolidge himself admitted, “The business of America is business.”
The latest example of this postmortem lionization started on January 1, 2015 when New York’s well regarded Governor, Mario Cuomo died at the age of 82. As one born and raised in New York City, Mario Cuomo’s administration ruled from my youth to adulthood. He projected the image of the good hearted liberal Democratic patriarch who gave speeches about the duty to the poor while brandishing his “working class immigrant roots.” This type of Horatio Alger mythology is a common trope used to create even more fidelity in the hearts of the urban underclass as if to say, “I’m one you guys, the little people.”
The ultimate hypocrisy of the Cuomo brand as some great champion of the working class is that Cuomo’s administration built more prisons in New York State than all prior Governors combined, at a time when prison construction was quite unpopular with both the citizenry and the state legislature. In the twelve years of his administration Cuomo added more prison beds than all the prior Governors who held his office. One could argue that crime was on the rise, prisons were overcrowded, and the Governor was responding to a reality. What is naive about this interpretation is that it fails to realize that crime is as much a function of policy as the prisons built to house those offenders As this revealing article in “The Atlantic,” entitled “The Prison Industrial Complex,” illustrates:
“Senator Barry Goldwater had used the fear of crime to attract white middle-class voters a decade earlier, and Richard Nixon had revived the theme during the 1968 presidential campaign, but little that was concrete emerged from their demands for law and order. On the contrary, Congress voted decisively in 1970 to eliminate almost all federal mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenders. Leading members of both political parties applauded the move. Mainstream opinion considered drug addiction to be largely a public-health problem, not an issue for the criminal courts. The Federal Bureau of Prisons was preparing to close large penitentiaries in Georgia, Kansas, and Washington. From 1963 to 1972 the number of inmates in California had declined by more than a fourth, despite the state’s growing population. The number of inmates in New York had fallen to its lowest level since at least 1950. Prisons were widely viewed as a barbaric and ineffective means of controlling deviant behavior. Then, on January 3, 1973, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, gave a State of the State address demanding that every illegal-drug dealer be punished with a mandatory prison sentence of life without parole.”
Let us understand that Mass Incarceration of particularly poor Black and Brown communities was a strategic tactic used after the urban rebellions and Black Power era when Black people were prepared to force America to come to terms with the sheer brutality they were experiencing at the hands of the police. Moreover, the Black Power movement created an awareness of the horrible inner city conditions Black people who had been left out of the New Deal, were experiencing. Mass Incarceration was not merely a tool of community control, it was a strategy of political neutralization.
In her great book, “The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America,” Naomi Murakawa does an excellent job of illustrating how warehousing poor Black and Brown communities in prison was not simply an agenda of the evil Republicans, but also the imperative of bleeding heart liberals like Mario Cuomo, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden.
What is more vile than Cuomo simply building more prisons is how he actually financed his endeavor. Cuomo used an initiative to create housing for the poor as a method to gain financing for prisons. The initiative was actually put in place the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was buried as stated in the “The Atlantic,” article referenced above:
“In 1981 New York’s voters had defeated a $500 million bond issue for new prison construction. Cuomo searched for an alternate source of financing, and decided to use the state’s Urban Development Corporation to build prisons. The corporation was a public agency that had been created in 1968 to build housing for the poor. Despite strong opposition from upstate Republicans, among others, it had been legislated into existence on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, to honor his legacy. The corporation was an attractive means of financing prison construction for one simple reason: it had the authority to issue state bonds without gaining approval from the voters.
Over the next twelve years Mario Cuomo added more prison beds in New York than all the previous governors in the state’s history combined. Their total cost, including interest, would eventually reach about $7 billion. Cuomo’s use of the Urban Development Corporation drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Robert Gangi, the head of the Correctional Association of New York, argued that Cuomo was building altogether the wrong sort of housing for the poor. The state comptroller, Edward V. Regan, a Republican, said that Cuomo was defying the wishes of the electorate, which had voted not to spend money on prisons, and that his financing scheme was costly and improper. Bonds issued by the Urban Development Corporation carried a higher rate of interest than the state’s general-issue bonds.”
This is the legacy of Mario Cuomo you won’t see on MSNBC or CNN, as they ramble on about how he stood up to the onslaught of the Reagan revolution with nothing but a speech at the Democratic convention in 1984.
To digress, another reason Cuomo should never be forgotten is that we can thank him for the advent of Rudolph Giuliani as Mayor of New York City. Giuliani governed over the city when the police used “Giuliani Time” as a refrain to crack even more skulls. Remember Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo? Most people outside New York City would not remember that Mayor David Dinkins, the cities first and only Black mayor, was running for re-election against Rudy Giuliani in the 1993 Mayor’s race. Democrat Mario Cuomo stabbed fellow Democrat David Dinkins in the back by signing a law in 1989, the year Dinkins was elected, to allow Staten Island to secede from New York City. The issue would be raised in the election in 1993 by Staten Island Referendum. This is the most conservative borough in New York City and is filled with Italian Americans who supported the referendum. Their increased number created the slim margin that gave Giuliani the election, as even stated in the New York Post. So one of the most noxious political figures that plagues Black America to this day is a direct product of the kind hearted liberal Mario Cuomo. Giuliani was supposedly requested to support Cuomo in his fourth term re-election bid in exchange for all of Cuomo’s good will.
Crime is a function of poverty, lack of community capital, and a need to create underground illegal economies where traditional employment avenues become scarce. This is especially the case when urban centers de-industrialize by shipping good union and factory jobs to other locations. The American project has long since abandoned notions of a “Marshall Plan for the ghettoes,” or a New Deal 2.0 to finally do justice to those people left out of the first New Deal. The bleeding heart liberal claptrap of the Cuomos, Clintons, Bidens and Obamas is merely a smokescreen to keep those on the margins believing something will be done. We are now in the age of Neoliberal Capitalism. This is merely a fancy way of saying the government is giving up all its functions and obligations over to private corporations. Government is completely abandoning the project of building human skills among those not previously positioned to acquire them because they’re born on the low rung of the economic ladder. We are moving to the age of American feudalism.
During the weekend of June 7-9 2013 I had the honor to participate on a panel at the Left Forurm 2013: The largest annual intellectual conference of leftists in the United States. The forum was on economic and ecological transformation for Jamaica and Haiti. In the videos below you will view the full panel made up of myself, Haitian Labor Activist Kiki Makandal, Teamsters Union 808 leader Christophe Silvera, speaking on the situation in Jamaica, and Colia LaFayette Clark, of HUERA: Humanism Economy Rights Art. The moderator and facilitator is Cecile Lawrence, leading member and former candidate from the Green Party of New York.
The conversation ranges from subjects I’ve touched on in some of my writing such as Haiti For Sale and The Importance of Haiti. Historical Imperialism, U.S. destabilization, the role of NGOs, neoliberalism, global austerity, and the role of international labor are just a few of the many topics discussed on this great panel. I hope you enjoy and receive some benefit from the discussion.
Ecological/Economic Transformation for Jamaica & Haiti: Part1
Ecological/Economic Transformation for Jamaica & Haiti? Part 2
Ecological/Economic Transformation for Jamaica & Haiti? Part 3
In 1619, the first 19 Africans brought to the shores of the United States landed in Jamestown, Virginia starting the tortured history of what would be the centuries long relationship between Black people and the United States. The nature of the relationship was innately economic and political from the start. Sadly, the organizing mechanisms of the Black American social enterprise since that time have been poorly grounded in sound application of either economics or politics, barring rare exceptions.
Contrary to the inclinations of racists and many self hating Blacks to deem this failure as some innate shortcoming in the Black American psyche, the social and political condition of Black America is a direct consequence of the level of political sophistication and sheer brutality of the tactics that have been used to deny them clarity of vision and planning as a means of rectifying this pervasive cavern they have found themselves in for generations.
This stems from a failure to understand basic key aspects of the relationship of Blacks to America and racism, mostly because the sheer terror used under the guise of racism to maintain the prevailing order has been so atrocious that the political focus by Blacks has been to concentrate on that terror and attempts to neutralize it without truly addressing its root cause.
From the beginning, Europeans did not bring Africans to the Americas because they were racist. They brought Africans to the Americas to expropriate labor from them as workers in an economic system that denied compensation for that labor to maximize return on investment for the presence of those Africans. The function of Black people in America was an innately economic one from the start rooted in a politics that was based on protecting the sanctity of that economic relationship. All the terror and brutality used to maintain that system was purely ancillary to the goal of protecting that economic system of exploiting free Black labor. Yet many Blacks, even educated ones, will say that Europeans brought Africans to the Americas because of racism and White Supremacy. Racism is merely the rationale and tactic used to justify that exploitative economic relationship, and White Supremacy is the subsequent accrued benefit of the successful maintenance of that relationship–in varying degrees–over time.
A perfect example of how these realities are confused can easily be shown by attempting to ascertain from most people what the actual purpose and function of Jim Crow Segregation, which started with the consummation of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, and lasted to the end of the Civil Rights Era in 1968, actually was. Many would say things like: keeping Blacks subjugated, or denying blacks the ability to compete with Whites, or racism/White Supremacy, or fear of Black male sexual potency via White women. In reality, Jim Crow was a purely intentional reaction by White Southern agricultural interests meshed with Northern industrialists to combat the rising political and economic militancy and mutual co-operation of Blacks and poor Whites during the progressive era of the 1890’s with the combined efforts of the Farmer’s Alliance and the Colored Farmers Alliance in order to maintain economic hegemony and cheap exploited labor for capitalist interests in the South, primarily Agricultural but also industrial, with the slow but new development of Southern industrialization. Jim Crow was rooted in economic control, not simply racism and brutality. Those were the tools used to keep the system intact.
Moreover, few people will admit that the main reason for the collapse of Jim Crow starting in the 1930’s, and expanding rapidly into the post World War II era, had more to do with three key factors as opposed to the romanticized notions of how the valiant fight of the ancestors during the Civil Rights Movement brought us freedom: First, the new methods of mechanized agricultural farming technology started to make the need for Black farm labor in the South obsolete, hence the need for the disenfranchisement and related oppression became more about form rather than substance; Second, the rise of Hitler and Nazism made the notion of race based exclusion in the United Stated unpalatable, particularly in the face of Hitler’s ant-semitism; Thirdly, the Cold War era and the fear of American racism being an obstacle to competitive advantage over the Soviet Union in winning the hearts and minds of the newly independent Black, Brown, and Yellow third world would rapidly assure desegregation and ending Jim Crow being an American primary domestic agenda.
As African American political science professor Adolph Reed, Jr. states in his essay “The Color Line Then and Now” found in the anthology, “Renewing Black Intellectual History,” when discussing some of the egalitarian social science and legal strategies to end Jim crow:
“This intellectual enterprise was no more responsible for defeating early-twentieth-century race theory than Charles Hamilton Houston’s and Thurgood Marshall’s legal arguments were for defeating codified racial segregation, probably much less so. Factors like the leftward shift in the domestic political climate in the 1930s and 1940s, the embarrassment that Nazi extremism presented for racialist ideology, and cold war concerns with the United States’ international image were undoubtedly more important.”
An excellent treatise that explains the relationship between the Cold War and the Civil Rights victories we often wrongly think were a result of these romanticized protest activities is, “Cold Civil Rights: Race and the Imagery of American Democracy,” by professor of law and political science, Mary L. Dudziak, in which she states about Brown v. Board of Education: “According to the Justice Department, the interest of the United States in school segregation was that race discrimination harmed American foreign relations.”
This is not to diminish the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who waged moral protest to the brutal and racist treatment of our nations Black citizens. To diminish in such a fashion could have the effect of discouraging the belief in the human capacity to make social or political change. The point is to show that our desires to romanticize certain periods of history, especially dealing with African Americans, lead to a limited and pedestrian understanding of the factors that truly shape events.
The ultimate sign of that demobilization is the over 97% support of Black America for a president whose agenda is to introduce neoliberal privatization of government resources at rates never seen before that will ultimately demolish those same communities that supported him. i.e. Barack Obama.
This is why Black America is in a crisis, because Black politics is in a crisis. That crisis is a product of the place from which Black politics was born and grew. We now need a new politics, if we shall even call it Black politics, that is not rooted in reactionary response to racism, but seeks to foster cross racial coalitions with those similarly situated to crush the barriers to economic equality while allowing Blacks to maintain social autonomy and ideological integrity in recognition of the need for nuance in neutralizing the tool of racism that has been used to distract them from the ultimate problem of economic injustice. This is the work that must be done, but the question is: Who is up to the task?
“Ethiopia will soon stretch forth her hands onto God, that Africa’s redemption shall soon be accomplished…”—a common quote of 19th Century Black Nationalists found in The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, by Wilson Jeremiah Moses.
A major aspect of Black political history stems from a concept that has maintained a profound and lasting position in the discourse of Black leadership, as well as racial diversity discourse relative to Black politicians. The concept is called “The Politics of Redemption.” The politics of redemption is a direct consequence of the perverse relationship Blacks had to White slave owners in the United States upon their arrival after the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Because the African was denied any vestiges of his identity and culture, he was given a new identity by his White masters. His station was defined by his master, as well as his purpose in the context of plantation society. The consequence of this horrid reality created a need for validation from his White master and at times a desire for approval. Hence, the politics of redemption is premised on the need for Blacks to constantly seek the validation and approval of Whites.
It is a doctrine held by many good men, in Europe as well as in America, that every oppressed people will gain their rights just as soon as they prove themselves worthy of them; and although we may justly object to the extent to which this doctrine is carried, especially in reference to ourselves as a people, it must still be evident to all that there is a great truth in it.–Frederick Douglass, 1848 from a speech, “What Are the Colored People Doing for Themselves?
Upon emancipation, this tragic dynamic manifested itself in Blacks often feeling the need to prove their humanity to Whites, to give evidence of their capacity, and show clear signs of Black value. This is the basis of the politics of redemption. It is premised on the notion that Blacks must always work to show Whites that they are worthy and can redeem themselves from their “wretched African backwardness.” The concept has a more damaging assumption that Blacks must illustrate they can be trusted to govern their own affairs, perform fundamental tasks, and engage like any other citizens.
Besides being terribly humiliating as a construct, the politics of redemption is a bankrupt world view, and an even more repellent political strategy for several reasons. First, the concept is innately defeatist, demobilizing, and counter-intuitive to progress towards human liberation. As long as the oppressed group views its oppressor as the fountain from which all approval and validation comes, there can never be any true achievement of justice based on eliminating the authority of the oppressor in that power relationship. More bluntly, as long you accept as Black people that we need to first “prove” our worth and capacity to white people before they inure us with rights as equal citizens you officially give credence to Whites being the barometer by which your freedom is measured, and furthermore, in what increments your freedom is doled out. Moreover, the politics of redemption is void as a political construct because it causes the type of empty feel good politics that leads to elections of “symbols” of achievement that end up being “examples” of status quo oppression. The presidency of Barack Obama is a perfect example of this. So much aspirational tripe was spewed about how his presidency would not only show America what Blacks could achieve, but serve the other purpose of “redeeming” America from its legacy of racism and slavery. After Obama’s 2008 election victory a most interesting statement was made by a renowned Black Harvard University professor:
Henry Louis Gates Jr. appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s celebratory post-election special. After learning the news, Gates says, “we jumped up, we wept, we hooped and hollered.” It is hard to overestimate the historical significance of the election of the first black U.S. President. For many blacks, and certainly for much of the country and world, Obama’s victory is an extraordinary step toward the redemption of America’s original 400-year-old sin.
This thinking, which is still common among some of America’s thought leaders, enables insipid aspirational wish fulfillment and feel good politics while obscuring the noxious bone crushing status quo agenda Obama has administered and continues to deliver.
The third and perhaps most damaging aspect of the politics of redemption is that it never ends!! Status quo forces of oppression do not concede rights and political viability to those they oppress because token symbols of achievement and demonstrative humanity have been shown by those on the margins. The oppressor simply keeps dangling the carrot, moving it farther and farther down the road, as you continue to do every seemingly morally upright thing he demands to achieve that coveted “equality.” Such politics are rancid, and the fact that after 150 years of emancipation, Black folks have encapsulated all that is repugnant and wicked about this politics of redemption into the symbolically aspirational yet pragmatically crippling presidency of Barack Obama is proof positive of collective Black political demobilization and actual regression. The Black community must wake up out of the “hope and change” induced stupor in order to mobilize effective oppositional politics that challenge the planned global order of neoliberal privatization, corporate finance hoarding of wealth, and deadening global austerity under the guise of things like the current sequester. We have no choice, and the future will not wait.
“The majority of Negro political leaders do not
ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support.
Although genuinely popular leaders are now
emerging, most are still selected by white leadership,
elevated to position, supplied with resources and
inevitably subjected to white control. The mass of Negroes
nurtures a healthy suspicion toward this manufactured
leader, who spends little time in persuading them
that he embodies personal integrity, commitment and
ability and offers few programs and less service.
Tragically, he is in too many respects not a fighter for a new
life but a figurehead of the old one. “
Martin Luther King, Jr.