Is Black Nationalism Relevant in the Age of Obama?
As stated by well known scholar Harold Cruse is his seminal work, “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” African American political philosophy historically has been divided into two camps: The Assimilationist Camp and the Black Nationalist camp. Perfect examples of the Assimiliationist philosophy range from the work of Dr. WEB DuBois through his attempts at obtaining political and social liberty for Blacks with the Niagara Movement and the founding of the N.A.A.C.P., to the legal challenges started by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1930’s with its desegregation cases. Moreover, the traditional Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and assisted by James Farmer and Roy Wilkins further illustrates assimilationist activity. The main purpose of all these movements was to gain full inclusion into American society for Black citizens regardless of their color and ensure their ability to participate in the democratic process while fully integrating themselves into the fabric of American life. However, that form of integration would still require Blacks to depend on the mechanisms of White society to create all the institutions needed for survival such as educational, political, economic and otherwise.
Black Nationalism argues that the tools for African American liberation lie in the hands of the Black Community. Its basis stems from the importance of cultural and economic self-sufficiency espoused by Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington, later heightened by the activity of Malcolm X, then illustrated in some elements of the Black Panther Party. The constant goal of Black Nationalism is to get Blacks to work on a level of collective consciousness that allows them to build social, economic, and educational institutions for their edification exclusive, and regardless, of the dominant White society. Black nationalism assumes the participation in liberal society which assimilationists seek to obtain is bankrupt because the foundation and key tools needed to function in society will always be in the hands of Whites unless African Americans work together to amass power in an effort to ensure their communities’ collective well being in spite of the over arching White power structure.
Furthermore, Black Nationalism argues for a political agenda where candidates are chosen from within the community who have a vested interest in assuring the well being of their African American constituents above all else. Allegiance to the communities’ concerns are primary and the goal of that politician would be to serve his position with fairness overall, but with special attention to his Black supporters. Politicians who have done this effectively in the past have been former Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta and former Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago. These men were politically savvy enough to not deem their political agenda as “Black Nationalist” politics. Instead they functioned in a way that was fair to all their constituents, while making sure the Black community, which traditionally recieved the short end of the stick, and was often left out to pasture now had an important seat at the bargaining table. In every major city in America White ethnic groups have wielded political power with municipal leaders in ways that ensured benefits to those ethnic communities while working to the disadvantage of communities of color. The goals of Black Nationalist politics in the context of municipal and national elections would never seek to mimic that paradigm, but instead to ensure that the Black electorates hopes and aspirations would never be disregarded.
The Current State of Affairs
In America the sense of cohesion once shared by the African American community has been lost in part because in many ways the Assimilationist philosophy gained ascendancy over the last 45 years. Integration is the law of the land and the ability to galvanize the Black community into collective consciousness is difficult when we even have some renowned Black journalists arguing that ” there really is no more singular Black community.”
In spite of such rumblings, African Americans still participate in mutually beneficial professional and cultural associations out of a desire to address issues particular to their community. Many of these organizations are named in a way to ensure that their cultural emphasis on the Black community still remains.
Furthermore, though Black Nationalism may not have gained currency as the main vehicle for Black liberation over the last 45 years, we cannot assess whether the Black community is better off as a result. One of the many consequences of integration has been the demise of several institutions in the Black community that severed it well prior to integration. This is due to many Blacks abandoning such institutions for their White counterparts. This has led to a great loss in the amount of wealth that is generated and stays within the Black community.
Today we have America’s first Black President who stated while still a Senate Candidate at the 2004 Democratic Convention that “there is no Black America and no White America….there is a United States of America.” Such lofty rhetoric may do well to assuage White fear of angry recriminations for past suffering of the Black community, but it does nothing to ensure the cultural integrity of a people who for almost 400 years tried to maintain some level of self determination in a society which for the majority of that time has shown them nothing but scorn and abuse. Furthermore, Mr. Obama chose to make “transcending race” and becoming “post racial” his mantra while failing to realize how that discounted the history of oppression African Americans experienced in this country, simultaneously dismissing the powerful institutions Blacks created in spite of that oppression.
So it is in that light we must ask: Is Black Nationalism Relevant in the Age of Obama? Or is it still relevant at all?
What are your thoughts?