Resisting Domestication: The US-Africa Summit and Black America

African vs African-American

We are left w domestication in the double sense: #Americanization of Black struggle, taming of our political behavior

The 2014 US-Africa Summit was a significant event but left many issues crucial to the advancement of Africans untouched. Key among those unmentioned matters was the importance of continental-diasporan collaboration

By Joshua Myers

The recently passed US-Africa Summit was historic. Not only was it the first time that the majority of African leaders have together converged on the so-called ‘New World’, it provided an opportunity for Africans so forcibly remanded here to reflect anew on our relationship to home. The latter is far more important. Beyond the rhetoric of ‘Africa Rising’—which is really the branding of the often unvarnished attempt to renew a Scramble for Africa—lies the vast majority of Africans who live under siege. Whether it be the militarism on the continent or the xenophobia outside of the continent—where because of neoliberal economic policies many more are forced to reside—the utter contingency of Black life is a blaring reminder of the worse moments of European modernity.

Yet, however unintentional, the summit inadvertently provided necessary thinking spaces, ones that allowed for us Africans in the Western Hemisphere to rededicate ourselves to broader visions of our place in the world. For some time now, what Africans, in the United States in particular, have been up against is a concerted attempt by the power structure to ‘domesticate’ our understanding of ourselves. As if there was and is no international dimension to our beingness, and as if American policy—or American ideas—offers the only salve. What we are left with is in fact domestication in the double sense—the Americanization of Black struggle and the taming of our political behavior. As Gerald Horne has been consistently asserting the past few years, this kind of reduction is historically quite recent; its foundation is in the bargain for civil rights legislation in exchange for a desistance of the critique of US interests abroad. [1] Further, it is well known how cold warriors branded Diasporan organizations of the 1940s and 1950s like the Council of African Affairs and the National Negro Congress as ‘subversive’, resulting in much difficulty. And even in the post-civil rights era, as Negro leaders supposedly achieved a place at the table, what Richard Iton calls the ‘antidactylic and (Bayard) Rustinian’ Black establishment politics refused the internationalization of Black political struggle, which resulted in the isolation and alienation of the Black elite from broader concerns of the Black world.[2] As a result, organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the like have very limited international frameworks, and when they do, what often follows is a mimicry of US foreign policy—Black American leaders become ambassadors for American business interests on the continent and beyond.[3]

But underneath such official positions, Africans in America are reverting to the kinds of engagement with the African world that characterized the early half of the twentieth century (as well as continuing the kinds of engagement of the 1970s with organizations like the African Liberation Support Committee and TransAfrica of the 1980s). Against the US’ intention of both opening Africa up for business and appropriating the narrative of African progressive movements, the agenda of Pan-Africanist activists was and remains distinct. Throughout Washington, DC, there emerged a counter-narrative that did not place African nation-states, US corporations, or their representatives at the centre of the discourse. In place of these actors, activists considered the possibility of once again linking African freedom movements to the human question of Black liberation, where the idea that a rise in GDP automatically assures a better life for all was soundly rejected.

The summit beyond the summit featured figures like African Studies professor Sulayman Nyang, who called for engaging Africa at the level of the interests of common people, and longtime Pan-Africanist Horace Campbell, who placed certain programs for African development within the context of Western understandings of human nature and human liberation, which have so often reduced Africa and Africans to ‘other’. In place of the flawed premises of such ‘NGOism’, Campbell suggested that we align our visions of an African future in the liberatory framework of W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X[4] and Wangari Maathai.[5] There was also Leonard Jeffries, president of the World African Diaspora Union, who called upon Africans in the United States to understand the nature of the relationship between foreign interests on the continent and how the summit represented the continuation of views of Africa that continue to reify asymmetrical economic arrangements. These kinds of conversations, of which the preceding is only a snapshot, represented the kinds of discourse that the mere occurrence of the US-Africa Summit made possible in important ways. But in other respects, it merely continued a Pan-Africanist discourse that continues, despite the ‘official’ silences of the African Diasporan elite. The preparations for the Eighth Pan-African Congress provide Africans in the Diaspora (the oft-neglected Sixth Region of the AU), opportunities to internationalize their struggle in ways that allow our people to see the global assault on Black life.

It was also made clear that the role of the West in colonizing not only the land, but also the minds and agenda of the member states of African Union, must also be condemned. The AU, as it has often given lip service to, must be more than the errand runner for American—and increasingly Chinese—empire. As Horace Campbell points out, one of the first things it might consider is the condemnation of the US’ role in destabilizing Libya (and as a result Mali and northern Nigeria), which could reasonably be seen as an attack on Muammar Gaddafi’s program to strengthen the autonomy of the AU itself.[6] The geopolitical situation that Africa finds herself in is undoubtedly the result of colonial and neo-colonial pasts (indeed, the appellation ‘post-colonial’ seems inappropriate). But the complicity of the United States in the destabilization of the African continent was unsurprisingly hardly uttered at any official summit events. It is clear that in order for us to have a clear grasp of the context for US engagement, these understandings are paramount. For instance, we might continue the practice of exposing the contradictions inherent in the US touting an ideal of democracy (which does not yet exist for most people, especially Africans in America[7]) but also supporting in its ‘Africa policy’ such strongmen as Paul Kagame, Joseph Kabila and others. Indeed, it must be asserted as Glen Ford has perceptively argued, that the criteria for invitations to the summit had very little to do with the human rights records of these leaders and everything to do with American military and political interests. In Africa, the two are inextricably linked and when it comes to the Diaspora, the convergence of our plights becomes quite clear. The destabilization, gentrification and militarization of Black communities in the US, for example, certainly parallels the land grabs, the emergence of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the increase of exclusionary identity-based violence on the continent.

The international scope of anti-Black violence, buttressed by a globalization that supports capital and not the commons, renders domesticated Black politics almost wholly irrelevant and implacably naïve. That the Black elite would participate in calls upon the US to militarily intervene in ‘bringing back our girls’ in Nigeria shows the extent to which they lack understanding or dismiss the worldwide anti-human impact of US foreign policy and militarism. And by the same token, Roland Martin’s call for the National Guard to intervene in stemming the violence in Chicago (also an (in)direct result of US support of global neoliberal economic environment and historical Black inequality) shows the extent to which domesticated Black thought even fails on its own terms.[8] In an honest and informed continental-diasporan collaboration, the American-born African would help all Africans to see the fallacies in calling for US intervention anywhere. After all, who has a better vantage point on American style militarism than its ‘domestic enemy’?[9]

Ayi Kwei Armah’s latest novel, The Resolutionaries, is a challenge to move beyond the banality of the received narratives of development and the culture of ‘the summit’. His portrayal of the latter is both humorous and incisive. Against the ideas of the ‘development conference’ and the interests of the (neo)colonial states, Armah helps us to see that true models of development create better worlds for people, not for profit, and that the work involved requires us to place emphasis on the ways in which our earliest ancestors understood the world and created mechanisms for dealing with ‘times of trouble’, as the ancient Egyptians would put it. As we prepare for a future, free of the undue influence of those responsible for our current conditions, we would do well to listen. For an alternative to the current system, there must remain a goal. In the words of Benga, the wise elder in The Resolutionaries:

‘If you have the easy temperament of a conformist, afraid to be condemned as crazy for doing what you know is the intelligent thing to do, if your whole ambition in life is to flow complacently with the present current even though you have no idea where it’s taking you, then of course you’ll listen to the devotees of death and turn away from the voice speaking of connections that can bring your murdered soul back to life. But supposing you’re a thinker, ready, in spite of fear, to walk into spaces where intelligence beckons you, then ignore the priests of lethal forgetfulness. Let them enjoy the applause of sleepwalking audiences. Let them absorb into their bloodstream the sweetness of donor funding. Remember, all they’re doing is their assigned work. The anomaly is not that they are doing their work. It’s that we aren’t doing ours’. (pp. 400-01)
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NOTES

[1] See also his recent, Black Revolutionary: William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013).
[2] In other words, a politics that “excluded all but elected officials and those interest groups primarily concerned with, and licensed by, the state.” For an explanation, see Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic, 13; 81-82.
[3] For instance the Congressional Black Caucus’ Africa Task Force seems to parrot the “Africa as emerging market trope”…but for African Americans. http://cbc.fudge.house.gov/africa-taskforce
[4] The resistance to the domestication of African American intellectual traditions, requires us to understand that these three figures in fact internationalized their understandings of Black freedom.
[5] Nyang, Campbell and others such as Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo, spoke at Empowered Africa: A Dialogue. http://usafricanetwork.org/empowered-africa-agenda/
[6] See Horace Campbell, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
[7] This is one of the areas where domesticated Blacks exert considerable energy, often desiring to be included in but inattentive to the anti-democratic nature of the US political system itself. See http://tinyurl.com/pxnydln
[8] The recent issues in Chicago beg for a consistent examination of the roots of violence in Black Chicago that takes into account the impact of trans-national corporations and job loss and the international weapons and drug trade.
[9] Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press 2000), 187. See also Gerald Horne, The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States (New York: NYU Press, 2014), for an understanding of its historical roots. Witness the military-style invasion of Ferguson, MO in the wake of the killing of Black American Michael Brown! http://tinyurl.com/m6k59rh

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