i 1 9 15 23 29 35 41 47 55 76 81 87 101 109 113 117 127 155
his book is many things. There are also many things this book is not, including: in‐ sightful, meaningful, intelligent, or useful. As the title of this book suggests, there is nothing here. In reality, the content that ap‐ pears in this book is the product of yet an‐ other year spent idling in college. Slavery takes a front seat on this journey, with in‐ equity and Asia bringing up the rear (with a little be of Math thrown in for fun), making for one hell of a boring, left‐wing indoctri‐ nated journey. Yes, the liberals are running the schools, and they are openly recruiting. Perhaps “A Book About Nothing” is too harsh of a title. Yes, there are tidbits of introspection in here, and most, if not all, of the topics covered have influenced and changed my perspective on life, race, nationality, and relationships. Maybe there is something to be gained from all this; and maybe you can figure it all out. As for me, I’m happy just knowing another year is behind me, and that I’m inch‐ ing towards the finish line, my limp dick pressed between my sweaty, fat thighs.
College is rough. It’s rough for an 18 year old, and it’s rough for a 33 year old. It’s even rougher when you’re trying to hold down a shitty job, pay the ever‐increasing cost of living expenses, and raise a family (i.e. a rabbit). There are times when I think, “You know, maybe this college stuff isn’t for me—maybe I should just be happy with what I have.” And then there are times when I think, “Fuck the rest of the world, I’m going to get what’s mine, and fuck over anyone who gets in my way.” And, of course, there are times when I think, “Why am I doing this? I should build a bomb or something.” Usually it’s the first. Occasionally the second.
With that said, this book is really just another collection of notes, essays, papers, and study guides from my time at CSU. As it goes, the past year has been spent acing humanities and mathemat‐ ics courses. I just didn’t have it in me for anymore science. That
ii starts next year, so be prepared to see more editions of Madman Bi‐ ology (as if you wanted them). Why am I writing this? I’m essentially talking to myself. Who the fuck is going to read this? I probably won’t even read this. Is this depressing or what? Yours forever, Thomas Trotter
For Black America & Africa, Spring 2013
ook backward to look forward,” writes Robin Kelley in Dreams of a New Land (Kelley 2002). The weight of this statement is felt in nearly every facet of his introduction, and carries with it the reverberations of past ten‐ ets, assuring history will not repeat itself and informing us that social evolution requires the edification of truth and the discovery of yesterday. As a nation, or country, or world I agree: we learn from those who came and acted before us. As an individual I hesitate: do I stop and allow the digressions of my forefathers to punctuate the narrative of my American sabbatical, or do I purposefully blind the peripheral and loiter around the horizon of tomorrow? Is it wise or even fair, to carry the sins of white America? After all, there is no hope for yesterday, but there is for tomorrow. White or black, an individual who looks for reason in the auspices of yesterday be‐ comes bound by it, like a steel cage masquerading as self‐discoveryii. Space is the place, as the infinitely kaleidoscopic Sun Ra put it, only because the ethereal pages of world history are wrought with moral depravity—an almost tangible cresting wave that washes over all people, regardless of race. Space is the place because space is the future.
Maya Angelou certainly does not share my viewpoint. Her accidental exodus from America, while empowering in consequence, seemed encumbered by the threat of pomposityiii. She begins An
Af-rican AmeAf-rican in Ghana with an impressive, if not exhaustive, tally of fellow expatriates and their condensed résumés—a list that forces the implication that education can be positively correlated with rad‐ ical introspectioniv. What does it mean to be black in America? How about Africa? Does your phenotype give allegiance to a land? Do your genetics claim citizenship? If space is the place, why the Atlan‐ tic voyage?
I understand the desire to feel ancestral connections, espe‐ cially when one’s line of ancestry is obscured by the unmitigated shit that was New World slavery. As a white man born and raised in America I can claim one of many countries as my Motherland, includ‐ ing Germany, the Netherlands, England, and Ireland. My bloodline is a homogenous mixture of white Europeans and early 20th century American immigrants. My parents and grandparents have traced my heritage along the path of least resistance, to a small village in Ire‐ land where grass‐roof cottages adorn cobblestone streets; where good, hardworking people toil in cold shafts of sunlight, filtered through the billowing ironclad batteries that so often blanket the rocky isle; and where a good few were, like those that gave meaning and life to Maya Angelou, enslaved and sent off to build an empire. The question persists: do I identify with these people? Do I look to their struggles and hope to divine, or construct the future? Do I expect others to recognize my historical revelations? Even after visiting Ireland and meeting other pallid, nearly translucent people I can firmly affix my allegiance, heritage and home to the United States of America—to Ohio, to Cleveland, to a small apartment I share with a rabbit and a wonderful woman I love. I see no value in the past; I only want to move forward in this life, preferably un‐ hitched from dead people in dead times.
But that is me.
Era Bell Thompson’s opening in An African American in Africa is, if anything, forthright. Her awareness and apprehension towards Africa is slowly altered as she becomes informed of Africa’s hidden history, eventually leading to an awakening in Nigeria. Unlike Maya Angelou, Thompson would probably agree with my sentiments to‐ wards the aggregation, or evolution of personal identity. Like Robin Kelley, Thompson must “look backward to look forward”, and does so sincerely. Her travels across Africa inform her of a world shroud‐ ed by misconception, and reveal to her a race of people that mirror not only her color, but her new found sentiments towards a black nation. And yet in the end she anchors herself to America. Either she sees that the ties are too strong to break, the similarities too few, or that discovering yesterday is not about a total metamorphosis of personal conviction but a granular addition to a constantly expand‐ ing world perspective.
Or maybe I project too much. In reality I’m just a white man trying to survive into the future. I see color and race and religion and sex all around me. I know fuck‐all about the world or the people that inhabit it. In fact, I tend to see them as obstacles. I hide my em‐ pathy with silence, and my conviction with apathy. I am a living ghost.
But enough about me.
After some thought I have realized that (perhaps) it is less about self‐discovery and more about rediscovery. Europeans robbed black people not only from their homeland, but also of their homeland. Perhaps the “awakening” associated with visiting Africa is nothing more than a persuasive, Afrocentric culture shock, admin‐ istered by beautiful people in a land steeped in lore and veiled histo‐ ries, invoking pathos and revealing a cultural identity that had been locked away for nearly 400 years. And perhaps the rediscovery of African history is the spark that ignites the fires of black power, pushing black Americans towards the horizon of tomorrow, where freedom is no longer just a joke on the inside of gum wrapper. After all, you can’t get to space without first lighting a fire.
Maulana Karenga’s contribution to the inferno of Black Na‐ tionalism was Kwanzaa, the anti‐capitalist, anti‐white, anti‐ establishment surrogate holidayv. While the origins of Kwanzaa lie with one man whose ideas about America and Black Power eventual‐ ly led to the formation of the US Organization, its sentiments and dogmas lie with the people who practice it. In particular, the seven principles of Kwanzaa speak volumes about black power and its des‐ tination. The rise of Kwanzaa as an accepted holiday is punctuated by several key moments that span the country, including experi‐ mental gatherings led by Sister Makinya in California and the EAST Organization in New York. Yet still, after nearly sixty years since the first celebration of Kwanzaa, the majority of the country is only pas‐ sively aware of its existence or purpose (BIG Research 2004).
I feel conflicted. There is an immediate assumption that Christmas and capitalism are exclusively white affairs, ignoring the fact that Christianity has proselytized people and spread its philoso‐ phy across every continent. There is no doubt that Catholicism is run by old, nearly comatose white men garbed in dresses, but the underlying message in Christian doctrine can be separated from the popes and bishops dallying through Vatican City and applied to any
person of any color, so long as they possess the ability to generate faith. The perversion of Christmas in America is a symptom of capi‐ talism—and a mild one at that. I enjoy receiving gifts just as much as the next person, but I gain more pleasure from giving. I do not hold faith anywhere on or in my body, but I can always appreciate the happiness propagated from charity, even if it is commercially driven. I realize that Karenga fought against popular white culture in a bid to push his ideals concerning black people in America, and that the creation of Kwanzaa was an embodiment of that, but it seems predicated on the total dismissal of the qualities of America that are positive and, at the very least, potentially race‐neutralvi. Further‐ more, the separatist approach taken by Kwanzaa seems counterintu‐ itive to equality; after all, how can a group be inclusive and exclusive at the same timevii. Former Black Panther member James Coleman said it best, “By only stressing the unity of black people, Kwanzaa separates black people from the rest of Americans. Americans must unify on whatever principles ensure we live in a safe, prosperous, God‐loving country, with the race and ethnicity of any American seeking to abide by those principles being of no consequence.” (Scholer 2001)
E. Frances White explores the possible reasons why capital‐ ism and Kwanzaa should be shunned by black people in America. His article, Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African-American Nationalism explores the more sordid, conspiratorial as‐ pects of racial relations in America. The white bourgeoisie, as he as‐ serts, engender racist and sexist views toward black Americans and Africans via psychological warfare—a strategy primarily enforced via the control of popular opinion (dictated by the white media) and the misuse of language. I can certainly see his point concerning the media: in today’s world interests are shaped by radio, television, in‐ ternet, and various news outlets that, quite curiously, congeal as they swarm around hot‐button issues. Often times the turn is plain to see, but I still have to wonder how often people are swayed or fooled by liberal editing, fallacious anchors, or outright lies. At some point I had to stop trusting “the news” and accept that the words and images that constantly bombard me are simply advertisements con‐ cocted by a controlling class. If this can happen with gun control, missing white children, and presidential elections, then there is no doubt that the dominant image of black culture (“a model of abnor‐
mality”, as White puts it) had been, or continues to be fabricated by elite old white men.
However, it could also be argued that the images of Africa we are being fed in this class are similar fabrications, born from Black Nationalism and the Afrocentric movement heralded by Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welshviii. In fact, the same could be true of any view held by any country/person. It is all very confusing and convo‐ luted, and getting to the truth seems insurmountable.
Does this mean that Afrocentric ideals lie polar to, or conflict with Eurocentric ones? As Asante argued in Afrocentricity, Race, and Reason, the goal of Afrocentricity is not to isolate black culture from white culture, but to coexist as best as possible. In fact, there seems to be a lot of overlap when looking at the intentions of Afrocentricity and Eurocentricity. The five characteristics of the Afrocentric idea, as outlined in Asante’s article, could theoretically be applied to any group of people. The “subject‐object” relationship, however, is what really drives Afrocentricity to the forefront of the American con‐ science.
There are so many threads to follow in these first few weeks that my head physically hurts. It’s like trying to put together a puz‐ zle while wearing oversized mittens. It may not seem obvious, but this reaction paper was written over span of two weeks, and the ini‐ tial apprehension and dissent conveyed near the start of it all is a recorded manifestation of the resistant force applied when conven‐ tional ideas are challenged. Even now, as I go back and read the first few pages, I feel the hesitance and chagrin from provoking an old mind set in old ways. If time permitted, and if I were only going after approval, I’d take a blowtorch to this paper and start it over. I tried to keep my reactions as unadulterated as possible, even at the risk of sounding ignorant and/or absurd. As is said, change does not come easy, and must be fought for. So keep fighting me; by the summer I may have a more pow‐ erful lens to focus the world through.
Please Note: these endnotes often contain reactions not pertinent to the topics at hand, reactions that were cut from the original draft, and/or passages that attempt to elabo-rate/clarify certain talking points. I understand that their use may be unconventional, but their inclusion was a natural process involved in writing this reaction paper.
I should clarify that “looking at yesterday”, in this context, involves people and mo-ments not directly connected to the present—that is, the history of those that came be-fore us. This says nothing about self-reflection, which can be a powerful tool when dealing with psychological malaise. Looking at past moments in our lives can signifi-cantly affect how we view and interpret the world. For some, I’d imagine, the act of learning history and incorporating it into their personal views has the same effect. It exists, and I’m aware of it—I’m just wondering if it improves or hastens the spread of equality.
iii This is based purely on an initial reaction to her writing. I could be totally wrong
(and likely am), but I’m leaving it as is. These are my reactions, for better or worse.
iv This is a cut reaction: “She and her American-born, American-educated friends
ro-manticize the discovery of intrinsic African virtue—accomplished via intermittent and exclusive gatherings—in a country that only now has raised its Human Development Rating to 130 (Klugman 2010).” There are several reasons why I decided to cut this reaction from the body of the paper: It sounds mean, it is mean, and it paints Africa in the same light that E. Frances White discusses in his article Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African-American Nationalism. I certainly don’t want to propa-gate that image of Africa, but I think it is important to include my initial reactions so that I know where my preconceptions lie, and were the dysfunction in them exists.
vNow, when I read that one man is responsible for the creation of a holiday I ask two
questions: who is this man, and who is following him? I’m immediately reminded of more nefarious actors such as Jim Jones, preacher to the poor, promising a new nation in space to a group of well-intentioned but uneducated astronauts, or L. Ron Hubbard, the quasi-Jesus who charged into Florida armed with new age decrees to purify and cure the mind. While Karenga’s past is certainly filled with controversy, including convictions for torture and kidnapping, the intentions of Kwanzaa, including its crea-tion and practice, appear to be genuine, and born from a polarizing movement to unify and differentiate black Americans from the white majority.
This is in specific reference to the philosophies behind Christianity and capitalism. I understand that, as practiced in America during time Kwanzaa was invented, these two philosophies were stacked in favor of white men. However, this says nothing about the moral implications behind these two philosophies, and everything about their corrup-tion.
Original draft read: Furthermore, the separatist approach taken by Kwanzaa seems counterintuitive to equality; after all, if a group of people can manufacture a nationally recognized holiday whenever they choose, the idea that black and white Americans are somehow equal, or ever will be, seems trivial. How can two groups be equal if one is given the power to reinstate, subjugate or fabricate culture? The rural plains of Ameri-ca may be overrun by conservative white men, but its cities and borders and universi-ties house its greatest secret: that every religious, political, racial and special interest group under the sun has a hand in shaping the country’s underlying moral fabric. If
every group has a voice, then Kwanzaa is a god damned power ballad, sung through a bullhorn atop a ladder made of light. This reaction was cut for obvious reasons.
I certainly enjoyed how Asante mentioned that it was Asante who first started the Afrocentric movement. My initial comments on Maya Angelou’s pomposity pale in comparison to this. While it may be true that Asante was the proverbial progenitor of Afrocentricity, self-aggrandizing the fact (when no challenge to the contrary had been issued) seems unnecessary. As is this commentary on it.
BIG Research. 2004. 2004 Holiday Spending by Region. Report, Washington DC: National Retail Federation.
Kelley, Robin. 2002. "Dreams of the New Land." In Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, by Robin Kelley, 14-35. Boston: Beacon Press.
Klugman, Jeni. 2010. Human Devleopment Report 2010. Report, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
For Black America & Africa, Spring 2013
he rich and intricate history of the black At‐ lantic is, in many ways, responsible for the American diaspora. From the buildup of port towns and urban centers in Africa, to Africa’s intercontinental slave trading, and eventually to the dispersal of Africans to various places across the Atlantic, these narratives aggregate and congeal into the modern sentiments that support and spread the foundation of the American diaspora. However, I have to question the validity of a vast, overreaching black diaspora existing in country that is, in my opinion, a machine that constantly churns out smaller and smaller diasporas.
I think it is only right to start with the definition of “diaspora”. David Northrup, in his introduction to Crosscurrents in the Black At-lantic, describes a diaspora as, “[the] people dispersed away from their homeland by force or other circumstances” (Northrup 2008). This seems like a concise definition, and one that applies not only to dispersed black people but to any group ejected from their home‐ land. However, as pointed out later in Northrup’s introduction only a small percentage of African‐Americans are in touch with their Afri‐ can roots, and many still view Africa as a continent rife with poverty and savagery, an unconscious image perpetuated by the dominance of Eurocentric ideals. This begs the question: is a diaspora a label, an emotion, an elevated sense of identity, or a movement? Are African Americans—those who do not identify with either Africa or slav‐ ery—still part of a diaspora, despite their views being predicated on subliminal misinformation? Can we refine the definition of a diaspo‐ ra and extrapolate a more broad meaning, or is it too specific? Can I experience a diaspora in my own family? In school? In my commu‐ nity? What entails being dispersed and what constitutes a home‐ land?
Stuart Hall’s rise to diasporic intellectuality was maintained and underscored by his involvement in the New Left Movement and his education in England—a place that he describes as a diaspora within a diaspora. From his interview, The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual, it can be seen how formal European education eventual‐ ly led him to a more mature and worldly view of the diasporic phe‐ nomenon. It is interesting, then, that Hall chose to stay in England rather than return to Jamaica (or set off for Africa). Most of his black colleagues/contemporaries (many from Africa) took their white Eu‐ ropean education back home in an attempt to mend whatever politi‐ cal, cultural, or economic landscape that needed repair.
Like many of us today, Hall experienced a feeling of separa‐ tion/alienation from both his home country and the country he lived in. He alludes to the idea that this is an increasingly potent part of the human condition—that as technology and human ingenuity con‐ tinue to increase, in both speed and availability, the world shrinks. Culture and customs and information bleed through satellite feeds, phone towers, and fiber optic cables, spreading across the world in‐ stantaneously. Humans move and shuffle across borders, learn new languages, share experiences, and make what is foreign known. We form our identities based on this wealth of variability. We group to‐ gether in countries, in cities, in schools, in cliques, in pairs, and even‐ tually we find ourselves alone, sitting on the precipice of self‐ awareness, wondering why we are so different from everyone else. For many, then, it seems as if such isolation outweighs the emotional thrust of being part of a focused diaspora. Hall’s situation was certainly unique, but his identity was formed, in part, by this al‐ ienation, as well as the speed of the world and its ability to pass you by—an aspect of life that affects all of us, regardless of race.
In comparison to Hall, President Obama’s diasporic arousal was more succinct. He starts off chapter 15 from Dreams of My Fa-ther by contemplating the dichotomy of Africa; how the dissemina‐ tion of the Eurocentric‐led condemnation of Africa clashes with the Afrocentric, near utopian notions of black Africa. This same dichot‐ omy carries over into his physical presence in Kenya—from his wholly unimpressive arrival at the airport, to his treatment as a tourist at the market, and eventually to his sense of belonging when reunited with his family. Still, he seems conflicted at times; he real‐ izes the world has changed and that he must adapt to survive, but
also that the changes are so damaging to the perception of Africa and black people that he must rebel. He wants to take Africa to America, but sees the futility. He wants to feel united, but isolation still haunts him. Even his sister, who spent time in Germany, still clings to an identity that is, at times, European—and one that seems incongruent with the identities forged by the people of Kenya. He sees the sin‐ ewy connections in Africa, but knows he is an American. So again I ask: what is a diaspora, and how is it bound? If we abide by the definition given by Northrup, would Obama be part of a diaspora? How can he be dispersed away from his homeland if he is an American? Was slavery even a factor? Many paths lead back to the enslavement of Africans and their displacement across the Atlan‐ tic, but in today’s world, in today’s America, in a time when we all struggle to identify who we are, what we are, and why we are, we must first recognize the emotional buffers that shine and illuminate the patina of our individual identities before we blanket ourselves with the horrors of history. Of course, that is not to say that slavery cannot, or should not fit alongside the gears that turn identity, or that slavery is not a fun‐ damental pillar of the diaspora; it is more a question of whether or not current generation African Americans attribute slavery as a root cause for their cultural/societal detachment (if any even exists). Let me try to explain. I consider myself an average human being in nearly every facet: height, weight, wealth, education, intelligence, wit, and so on. I am a shining example that the distribution of such characteristics fit nicely within a bell curve. My knowledge of Afri‐ can slavery was one of profound ignorance—that evil (and primarily white) sea pirates sailed the Atlantic, drunk on rum, high on opium, and stole their human booty from the shores of foreign lands. These sea pirates, like most pirates of fiction, would rape and loot and murder and plunder wherever they went. They were, as guilt and race would have it, my relatives. I carried their blood in my veins and their sins in the color of my skin. I would forever be branded as such, and held responsible for the consequences of their slanted mo‐ res. Being an average human I now wonder how the perception of slavery plays out in the minds of others. Are they just as erroneous? Do they exist on a spectrum of color, where white leads to guilt and black to reproach? Is the concept, not the content, of slavery used as
an excuse for such learned emotions? Or is my gap in knowledge an oddity? Furthermore, can a middle‐aged white man who never cared for history class—who much preferred the cold calculations of science and math—be qualified to comment on how slavery, race, and history factor into the densely wound tendrils of the diaspora? In short, if I am average, and if I am an idiot, then so too are the ma‐ jority of Americans. We are mostly unaware of what motivates, in‐ spires, or moves us. Our identities are a heterogeneous mixture of lies, half‐truths, and straight out delusions.
Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora works against my factually (and intellectually) deficient picture of slavery. Thus far, Smallwood’s book has accomplished two things: it has corrected and focused my inept sea pirate metaphor, bringing life to some aspects and killing others, and it has me wondering if Karenga was right about capital‐ ism. Philosophically speaking, and seeing as how the timeline of human ethics appears to be entirely relative, I am also wondering if Immanuel Kant was full of shit.
The enslavement and commodification of people, as de‐ scribed by Smallwood, certainly provokes an emotional response— primarily that humans are severely and unabashedly fucked up—but it also illustrates how a cultural (and evil, immoral, disgusting, etc.) practice of taking slaves from warfare can be corrupted into an en‐ terprise that spans the world. Humans seem to be good at manipu‐ lating and exploiting markets, and slavery was no different. Small‐ wood meticulously walks us through the struggles Europeans faced as trading in slaves became big business, as well as the cultural and societal impact it had on the enslaved. It is a surprisingly detailed account of how, in her opinion, the American diaspora was born1.
I feel a bit lost. Perhaps these events coalesce and ripple across time, like a handful of rocks being thrown into a lake that is already crowded with cresting whitecaps. Perhaps I lack the insight to see it all, or perhaps I don’t want to see it. The sea pirates found a way to turn humans into coconuts, and kinship into nihility, but how does that connect to Stuart Hall and Obama, whose own Diasporas
The fact that African and European slave traders/factors kept such detailed logs and diaries during this period further illustrates how human ethics takes a back seat to greed. I should stop being so surprised by this.
had more to do with uncovering and facing personal dilemmas than with the implications of saltwater slavery? Is there some bolded thread that I’m missing? Does history channel and direct the flow of emotion over generations?
I am not saying the connection to slavery is absent or trifling when considering the American diaspora, or that its existence hinges on understand and/or relating to the experiences discussed in Smallwood’s book, but more and more I wonder how many people actually incorporate saltwater slavery into their personal identities. The concept of a diaspora is clear in its meaning, but when its prin‐ ciple—that people can be neatly grouped together based on a second hand experience—takes precedence over the innate individuality and pervasive alienation in modern America, the diaspora trans‐ forms into a pseudo‐boundary between people of different racial backgrounds.
We are all lost. It is part of the reason people like me (those who are not in their early twenties, who are not coming into adult‐ hood, and who think a fedora should not be worn with jeans) go to college and take history classes about things they know nothing about. We don’t know what else to do, and no one is there guide us. We are all struggling to fulfill a role in a society that neither cares nor wants us. I am one of over a hundred biology majors at Cleve‐ land State University, one of thousands in Ohio, of tens of thousands in the country, and, if karma has its way with me, in several years we will all be fighting over a single, low‐wage job in a town or city or country that only exists to bleed us of our money and privacy. The thousands of dollars I owe to the government will be paid back in small increments, each check a woeful reminder of how totally bro‐ ken our higher education system is. There is no time to sit around and contemplate slavery when contending with such immediate and pressing matters. The same, I assume, applies to many in my posi‐ tion.
To put it another way: there are no slaves or slavers on a sinking ship. There are no class lines, no sexism, no racism, and no divisions among men. What you will find, however, is a bunch of brainy, fire‐wielding apes, all clinging, crawling, fighting and drown‐ ing in a deep and dark blue abyss.
Northrup, David. 2008. Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
15 For Black America & Africa, Spring 2013
s of late I have been working nearly 60 hours a week as a bookbinder in a win‐ dowless brick building, plodding along at heart‐attack‐pace to make someone in a suit another hundred thousand a year. The few moments I have at home I spend reading. I read about men and women, religion, slavery, taxes, education, racism, crime, poverty, hope, fear, heaven and hell. I read and I think, ‘what, exactly, is slavery?’ It is control or forced obedi‐ ence? Is it the denial of freedom? Is it a seizure of the psyche, or a battering of faculties? It is expressed physically or emotionally? It is all of that, or none? The more I think on this the more I come to real‐ ize: I am just an amalgamation and representation of the vastness of humanity. I own nothing. My thoughts, my genetics, my desires, my instincts are all products of the past. There is nothing original about me or any other human. I parrot talking points expressed by the culmination of human discourse, seek women, food and fighting that satiate the chemical hunger embedded in a mass a grey matter, fold‐ ed in the electric wool of neurons and synapses, and I write with the sedated aplomb of those that came before me, the Vonnegut’s and Orwell’s that I so passionately envied and mimicked. Religion still perverts my intimations of life and death, like a thin nimbus cloud inflated over a barren desert, and science casts an austere shadow over an existence that, at one point, seemed crowded with romance, mystery and creativity.
And then I think, ‘I am a slave’.
Immediately such a thought would be discarded as absurd. In fact, I would have to be drunk or high to make such a claim. How can my American life—one festooned with amenity and luxury— possibly compare to that of an African slave in the 18th or 19th centu‐ ry? I am neither beaten nor raped by captors. I am not chained. I
am not forced to work in that windowless brick building, nor am I forced to sit here and write about it. And yet I still feel throttled by this existence, as if some pair of inexorable hands were pulling me towards surrender and conformity. I feel owned; not by any one person, but by the remnants of history, by the nucleotide sequences in my genes, and by the ideas passed on via friends, family, film, and every other influential medium. To be sure, my life is neither physi‐ cally torturous nor lamentable when compared with any individual that existed during the period of African slavery, but the effects are the same. I carry with me these sentiments, and if I were selfish enough to reproduce I would pass them on to younger generations. And then I think, ‘I am a slave’. The people I read about are slaves as well. Their tales are the same. Whether originating from Meriwether’s “Proudly We Can Be Africans” or Campbell’s “Middle Passages”, these stories aggregate to form a singular narrative of misplaced obligation to Africa, no doubt spurred by common misconceptions about the continent (and its people) as well as the blindingly surreal machinations of Christiani‐ ty. William Sheppard stands as the exception to the rule; though his involvement in spreading God’s gospel remained strong until his death, the common image of Africa being populated with unenlight‐ ened savages was quelled and contorted to something more in line with the truth—that the people of Africa had their own cultures and societies, their own methods of governing, each of which was no less valid or savage than America’s, Belgium’s, or Britain’s. It is a shame that it took years of comingling with native African’s to find this uni‐ versal axiom.
The other characters in this history are sheathed in grime. Delany, who thankfully left the dissemination of Christian idealism to others, reeked of self‐aggrandizement. His constant flip‐flopping on issues speaks to this, and shows he was more concerned with garnering recognition from those in high places than enacting actual change. That’s not to say a person cannot change his mind. Certain‐ ly I have had my fair share of flip‐flopping, but changing an opinion when convenient, or when opposition bares down on you, is more akin to modern politics. Yes, the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1850 pro‐ vided a prime opportunity to change opinions on emigration, but Delany would change again and again depending on where he was
17 and with whom he was in negotiations with. He would have made a very good senator or congressman. Henry Turner was at least consistent when it came to emigra‐ tion. I find it hard to villainize, or at least criticize those who hold faith in religion or God. I cannot cast aside statistics—that the ma‐ jority of humans gravitate towards some Godly explanation as to our existence and purpose—but I also cannot ignore my instincts. Turner certainly felt that what he was doing would benefit black people in Africa and America, but to what cost? I read of these in‐ trepid men and their exploits in Africa and only see cultural destruc‐ tion. Christianity has this curious ability to shape and mold cultures, to obliterate tradition, to convert innocence into sin, and to shame or kill those who stand in its way. Turner came into Africa bleating the tenets of the Bible and parroting the populist American opinion that Africa was a land shrouded in heathenish darkness, two powerful tools he used assail the native African cultures. He wanted to “uplift” the African peoples with stacks of Bibles, with the wise words of Christ, and with promises of redemption and permanent placement in some utopian afterlife. He was a slave to his beliefs, a carbon copy of every other American missionary, only louder.
This, of course, assumes that Christianity, or missionaries in general, had a net negative effect on African people. If this were a manifesto I would loudly proclaim that religion always has a net negative effect on people and society; but these are not the pages of my diary, and I am neither stupid nor brave enough to swing such a sword. I find myself hung up on this point because I recognize how religion plays a part in my own world view. I cannot subscribe to religion because it delays the advancement of human civilization, but I cannot subscribe to atheism either. I cannot spout atheistic rheto‐ ric without feeling dishonest, without admitting that I’m just some know‐nothing shithead living in a malaise of intellectual laziness. I don’t know if God is dead, or if life really is a divine spark. I only know what I believe, and that makes me just as suspect as Turner and Sheppard, just as much a slave to authority and influence.
Charles Joyner offers some insight into African American Christianity in “Believer I Know”. Again we find Christianity being used as a tool to subjugate and “domesticate” so‐called heathens. What astonishes me is that the slaveholder’s mission was predicated on outright lies, contradictions that can be easily traced through
Christian scripture. Follow Jesus and you’ll be a better able to serve your master. Follow Jesus and your soul, not your life, will be saved. It is amazing that black Americans were so quick to adopt and transmute Christianity, even if it contained “seeds of disorder”. The development and spread of Christianity amongst the en‐ slaved laid the groundwork for what would become a quest to save Africa from itself. If we ignore the spirit possessions, the “Plat Eyes”, and the magical shamanism (and its derivatives), we find a set of moral tenets that practically compel the most devout to lay hands of salvation on Africa. These are the sentiments that expose organized Christianity as the corrosive toxin it is. Throw some missionaries into the “heathenish darkness” and you can simultaneously save and destroy a culture. It casts aside native African society as intrinsically devoid of worth. These enslaved peoples, some of whom had been taken from Africa, quickly found faith in a religion that was able to justify the horrors of slavery, and then sought to spread it to their motherland. This truly confuses me.
So, naturally, we look to history in hopes that it will illumi‐ nate the reasons for why these people were so quick to adopt and spread their ideas of civilized culture. Some historical retellings would have me believe that slavery was abolished in this country, that the land of the free finally earned its name by putting question‐ able words into law. However, there is so much evidence that points in the opposite direction. As an institution and commerce slavery may have heard its death knell, but its recession into history only opened alternate avenues of repression, control and segregation. Even Sheppard, a man celebrated among white and black communi‐ ties, could not shake the body blow delivered by Southern life. As a man who accomplished more in life than most could ever hope for, he still felt pinned under the white finger of inequality, never ques‐ tioning the white man’s position on the Congo or its problems. I find it troubling that Turner, Sheppard and Delany were so quick to adopt a culture that, for the most part, would not accept them as equals. Inequality, as a cultural cornerstone, was carried across the Atlantic by those who had been slighted. African Ameri‐ cans came to the shores of their motherland—to Sierra Leone and Liberia—with the same mentality as their white suppressors, going so far (in some cases) as to enslave native Africans, or to take em‐ ployment amongst the slaving syndicate. These immigrants were
not Africans, they were Americans through and through. I tend to agree with Fredrick Douglass, who positioned himself against emi‐ gration, claiming the onus was on America, his home, to enact radical change. Of course, African Americans were also carving out their own culture from the subjugating fabric of American democracy. Gomez discusses this brand of cultural development in “Talking Half Africa”, shedding light on the adoption and molding of the English language amongst enslaved populations. So we see that culture is a malleable product of human evolution, able to be plied and folded into virtually any shape. And we see that enslaved blacks, who had no choice but to integrate into American culture, affixed their own poetic flair to the language. This appropriation and metamorphoses of cultural mainstays cascaded into the religious realm as well, seeing the ad‐ vent of a distinctly African American Christian sect. Still, these slight modifications do not make up for what is, at the very core, tainted.
Cultures clash and adopt various mores from one another naturally. This much I understand. I do not want to paint either American culture or African culture in any color other than clear coat. It just seems that the colonization of Africa was so violent and forceful that any cultural comingling that occurred was aberrant. I do not mean to sound opposed to interweaving cultural fabrics, but we can at least let it happen naturally via the more docile facets of culture (music, writing, photography, etc.) without the sacking of civilizations or the complete proselytization of people’s beliefs. Without turning them into slaves.
This relationship America had with Africa went further than just Liberia and missionary efforts. For some it was cerebral, with Africa representing an uncivilized expanse, replete with barbarism, cannibalism and horrid disease, often attributed to supernatural forces. Other saw Africa as the shadow of a kingdom long gone, of‐ ten claiming that their blood was that of royalty. As Campbell shows, some of that is true: the Zappo Zaps often roasted and ate human flesh, disease was one of the more deadly aspects that Westerners had to contend with, and kings certainly did rule and procreate, but by and large this image of Africa was false. Chapter four in your book explores how some African Americans confronted these no‐ tions via stage plays, and illustrates how influential arts can be when assaulting a culture’s dominant discourse. Whether the plays were
successful or not matters little; their existence stands as a testament to a changing tide in African American sentiment, one that wiped the lens clean of white bigotry.
I spoke briefly of emigration in class, and my thoughts on it are as muddled as ever. Cugoano certainly saw the predicament black people were being swayed into when the first ships sailed for Sierra Leone, and the American Colonization Society is the antithesis of a morally pristine charity, further cementing Cugoano’s fears. There was nothing graceful or humble about the intentions of those who advocated for freed blacks to emigrate from the United States, and there was nothing punctual or organized about the logistics of transportation or colonization. For all intents and purposes, emigra‐ tion and colonization were synonyms for the plunder of Africa, and both represent breeding grounds for corruption and mismanage‐ ment. As for the people that partook in emigrating, I feel as if they left one country that did not want them and found another that did not need them. It is hard for me to sit here and question their mo‐ tives for leaving America, for in the face of racism, inequality, lynch‐ ing and political marginalization I cannot fault a man or woman for seeking asylum elsewhere. In reality, I’m surprised that violent up‐ heaval was not more commonplace in the South. It would have been bloody and unnecessary, but justified. Emigration presents an interesting argument: does a margin‐ alized person flee from the land that marginalizes them, or does he or she fight to change the cultural and societal landscape, hit the problem head on, and assault those who stand opposed? It is a ques‐ tion that I am not equipped to tackle. To run, whether from defeat or in search of respite, corrodes social progress. To stay and fight strengthens the resolve of the enemy, confirms their suspicions, and forces tumult. Douglas argued that freed blacks should stay in Amer‐ ica and fight, a position that I find to be more manageable, if not more righteous, than emigrating. Sheppard and Delany (occasional‐ ly) argued the opposite. I have to reiterate: the end of reconstruc‐ tion saw the South return to slavery, if only by another name, and had those in power actively working to disenfranchise, if not eradi‐ cate, free black Americans. How do you fight that? And how can you run from it when such sentiments are firmly engrained in the Ameri‐ can psyche?
In the end I see no clear answer. In the mind’s eye emigration is painted with wide, disingenuous strokes, and highlighted with far‐ cical tones. It seems as if it were nothing more than a ploy to get rid of freed black people. However, proponents like Alexander Crum‐ mell and William Sheppard describe Africa as a land steeped in beau‐ ty and riches, a place ripe for cultivating a black Christian nation that could rival America. How could one deny this possibility? How could one balk at such an idealized future? In the end, however, Africa would not be transformed into some Afro‐Christian superpower; ra‐ ther, it would be divided and sectioned off, like a golden pie, and served to European countries whose sole intention was to gorge on it. It would be given to people like King Leopold and others of simi‐ lar ilk. This can be quick and dirty: King Leopold was a prick. He rep‐ resents all that is wrong with government leadership. How do such men rise to power? Why is necessary that those who lead countries be sociopathic assholes, devoid of humanity, hell bent on power and greed? What creates these men, and what festers in their soul? Honestly, he reads like some James Bond villain, or Orwell’s Big Brother, or Koestler’s No. 1. I have to constantly remind myself that I am reading historical accounts and not some political thriller. There was a lot of talk about social Darwinism during this time, and I can think of no greater antagonist to this already feeble hypothesis than King Leopold. He demonstrates that power and prestige are not won with merit, but with nepotism, deceit and murder, qualities that make him more a savage than the people he bled in the Congo.
I am finding it hard to put a wrapper on this reaction paper. I have ignored large topics, including: the conditions immigrants met in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Paul Cuffe and his involvement during the infancy of the emigration movement, Thomas Jefferson and his absurdly malignant plan to “eliminate future breeders”, and I cer‐ tainly missed a prime opportunity to further explore the cartoonish‐ ly immoral American Colonization Society. On top of that I cut about a thousand words that drunkenly wobbled into the realm of philo‐ sophical bullshit, paragraphs that attempted to explore the origins of evil and the ethical principles of utilitarianism and egoism. Again, I found myself emulating others, spouting ideas that were never my own.
I suppose there is no logical end for this paper. The ideas that exist here will bleed into the next reaction, and I have no doubt that in a couple of weeks you’ll be reading another collection of words that attempt to cobble together this historical narrative. I apologize for the length and promise to be more active in culling the more su‐ perfluous tangents.
23 For Black America & Africa, Spring 2013
am still not sure what to make of Marcus Garvey. Is he a prophet, as the Rastafarians claim, or is he a dedicated grifter, setting up pyramid schemes like the Black Star Line only to extract money from the poor? It is hard to classify a man who is so revered yet stumbled so many times. His United Negro Improvement Association certainly had de‐ signs on uplifting poor black African Ameri‐ cans, and he did firmly fix his eyes towards the Western shores of Africa, where Liberia stood on the precipice of Black Nationalism, but the methods he em‐ ployed to convey these designs were often times marred by poor leadership. However, does this detract from the message he propa‐ gated through books and newspaper articles? Are his shortcomings the epitaph for the movement, or can Garveyism transcend these faults and rally on into new generations? Garvey’s message of “Africa for the Africans” appealed to all permutations of African Americans, but his following mainly consist‐ ed of the under‐privileged. This makes his appeal for money (in the form of stocks) a bit suspect. I understand that his jail sentence and deportation was largely political, but the single instance of defraud‐ ing a man for 25 dollars seems indicative of a larger problem—that he would ask for and misspend money from people who had little to offer other than hope. The Black Star Line is one example of how Garvey was able to defraud his followers in the name of sensational‐ ism and spectacle. Garvey seems to exude this palpable bravado, never deviating from the pomp and circumstance of public demon‐ stration or from the trivial titular endowments he was so fond of (Provisional President of Africa?). His conquest for racial unity and “Africa for the Africans” seems steeped in naiveté, probably a conse‐ quence of him never visiting Africa (or from misinformation on the topic). Furthermore, his personal views concerning black people
seem to contradict his message; if the majority of “his” people “are in darkness and are really unfit for good society” how can they rule Af‐ rica for themselves? If his intentions were to uplift them (which, I suppose, they were), you only need to look at Liberia as an example of what black immigrants “uplifted” in a Western culture will do when tasked with colonizing their Motherland. To make matters worse, Liberia, the one foothold America had in Africa, did not want Garvey or his ideology to penetrate its borders.
Garvey’s faults become even more apparent when examining his personal life, particularly his romantic endeavors. By all ac‐ counts Garvey had great taste in women: strong, independent, intel‐ ligent, motivated, and free from the mold of subservience. And by all accounts Garvey had great trouble with women: the qualities that initially sparked his attraction were moot when marriage entered the equation. Amy Ashwood, his first wife, found this out the hard way. He abandoned his second wife, Amy Jacques, when he traveled to Britain. Both women embodied the feminist movement of the late 19th to early 20th century, when cultural and social inequalities ap‐ plied to both white and black women. Ashwood’s involvement in creating and organizing the UNIA illustrates the influence feminism had over Garvey during his early years, and her intimate involve‐ ment in the organization, even after (supposedly) divorcing Garvey stands as a testament to her dedication to the cause.
Aside from these criticisms, Garvey’s message to African Americans was one of profound truth. He, like other prominent black figures of the time, rightfully advocated for all forms of equali‐ ty, and his U.N.I.A. justly argued for rise of a black nation (even if Garvey’s own designs for said nation were “vague”, as Sundiata put it). Furthermore, as Vinson points out in his chapter “The Rise of Marcus Garvey and His Gospel of Garveyism in Southern Africa”, Garvey also “demanded freedom for the people of India and Ireland and all other colonized lands”. He was not afraid to rattle the cage, so to speak, which is probably why he drew so much attention from Hoover and the F.B.I.
I think it is apparent that Garveyism was able to transcend the failings of Garvey. I suppose all movements are shaped in a simi‐ lar manner: via the distillation of basic principles. I am reminded of Occupy Wall Street, which despite being a failure on the frontline planted its seed in the American psyche, assuring that its sentiments
25 would live on. Garvey assured his gospel would rise above his per‐ sonal defects by basing his assertions in clear truth. His anticolonial ideologies would live on in the early Rastafarian movement, where he would be described as a prophet, his divinity second only to Se‐ lassie. Like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois is a hard man to catego‐ rize. Early on in life he viewed Africa in burnished shades of racial divergence, advocating for “self‐segregation” and “separate but equal” treatment of blacks. To Du Bois, black Africans were crea‐ tures driven by emotion rather than logic, a quality that lent beauty and romanticism to native Africans, and one that stood out as sepa‐ rate from white men. It also reinforced the idea that skin color is correlated with expectations of cognizance, an argument that, in my opinion, only pushes the racist conceit of human speciation further into the collective white mindset. Even when working and living in Liberia, Du Bois directed most of his attention to the controlling set‐ tler class, further illustrating, if not accepting, the cavernous divide between the indigenous population and those in power. Liberia held promise for both W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Gar‐ vey. It served as a staging ground for the whole of Africa, and if suc‐ cessful would bolster their impassioned ideas of a successfully run black government. Early on Du Bois used religious mysticism to pos‐ it black solidarity, relying on specific scriptures and divine authority to rally supporters. It was not until later in his life when the common threads of oppression and global enslavement wound around the diaspora. This, perhaps, allowed Du Bois to see Liberia in terms of social and political terraforming—as a piece of the Motherland that, with his ingenuity and support, could be sculpted into the penulti‐ mate black nation, the last stop on the road to a unified Africa. Never mind the corruption, stemming from both the colonial government Liberia adopted and the divide between Western immigrants and native Africans. Never mind the greed, the missing funds from loans, or the complete mismanagement of assets. Let us just forget about the Firestone Rubber Company steamrolling through, effectively en‐ slaving a nation founded by the enslaved, a deal Du Bois helped to fruition. If we could only see around these innately human forms of exploitation and demoralization, we could position Liberia as the centerpiece of global black power.
Du Bois knew of the corruption taking place in Liberia and remained silent, evidence that he was either party to it, or indiffer‐ ent. Liberia was rife with forced slavery, rape, and open rebellion. The conditions were so amiss that American officials attempted to paint the Firestone Rubber Company as a victim of Liberia’s social decay, unable to conduct legitimate business in a country ravished by corruption. Du Bois even blamed Africans for the inception of the transatlantic slave trade, the point in time that he knew to be the framework for the African diaspora. Thankfully, George Shuyler was around to contend with Du Bois’ combative conjecture. He lifted pockets of truth from Liberia and exposed them to his readers, al‐ lowing a more transparent discussion to take place. His advocacy of colonial over indigenous rule in Liberia, while controversial in its own right, spoke to the corruption that permeated every nook of the government.
In many ways DuBois and Garvey were similar. They both sought freedom from, if not the abolition of white supremacy the world over. They both conceived of a solidified black nation existing in Africa—a nation capable of self‐preservation without the support of Europe or America. They both inspired masses of African Ameri‐ cans to reinterpret their conceptions of Africa and its native people (DuBois more so). And both made considerable missteps along the way. Yet they hated each other, squabbling over ego, jabbing each other with childish insults and public mockery. The foundation of black solidarity, built and supported by both men, seems to crumble under such behavior. Here we have two giants working towards similar goals, yet unable to collaborate or even discuss their differ‐ ences in a civilized manner. It all seems silly and pointless.
Du Bois describes Africa and its native people as beautiful. The popular movement to “uplift” Africa from heathenish darkness was lost on Du Bois, who viewed Africans through a lens of pride. Ethiopia’s triumph over Italy in 1896 had a similar effect on African Americans, who were able to look across the sea with contented eyes as members of their race defeated an invading white army, illustrat‐ ing how war has the ability to inspire solidarity. Similarly, when Mussolini came looking for retribution in the early 1930’s African Americans were again able to rally around Ethiopia as a beacon of racial pride.
27 James Meriwether’s “Proudly We Can Be Africans” throws so much history at you in the first two chapters that I have to wonder if each paragraph could be extrapolated into its own book. There are certainly some odd bits thrown in there: white people claiming Ethi‐ opians as members of their own race, the protracted pleas from Afri‐ can Americans as they petitioned the impotent American govern‐ ment to show support for Ethiopia, and the role of communism in reshaping the struggle for black solidarity. African Americans, it seems, met with opposition every time they moved to support Ethi‐ opia, culminating in a level of frustration I cannot even imagine. They wanted to volunteer their service to the Ethiopian army but were blocked and threatened with denaturalization or jail time. They wanted to send aid and supplies, but only a few charities were legitimate, the others existing to con people of their money (none of which were charged!?). Competing newspapers argued about the level of involvement African Americans should take in the war (if any), at least one of which doubled back on their position and then conveniently forgot the path they tread. The general lack of re‐ sponse from the American government prompted many African Americans to question Washington’s political motivations, some claiming America wanted Italy to win, effectively forging an alliance against Hitler.
As Meriwether points out, the turn‐of‐the‐century idea that Africa needed European colonialism to uplift its people began to dis‐ sipate as African Americans investigated and read more about the continent. The fact that Ethiopia was able to stand united against a foe was, according to The Courier, enough to inspire African Ameri‐ cans to unite. I still do not fully understand Mussolini’s reasoning for invading Ethiopia, other than retaliatory. Was it that easy to sell war to the Italians: revenge for a battle lost nearly 40 years ago? Where was their outcry? Where was their opposition? Then the Nazis come swooping in with their notions of racial superiority. For all of America’s faults—their history of slavery, the American Colonization Society and emigration, Jim Crowism, segre‐ gation, lynching, and so on—I am honestly surprised that America did not carry Hitler’s torch as he cut swaths through Europe and Russia. I suppose it speaks to the changing mentality in the States, especially concerning racial superiority and communism, the emerg‐ ing menace to freedom.
So let me get this straight: America fought against fascism and communism, and today we fight against socialism. Is there any –ism we won’t fight? Moreover, in fighting against communism America decided it was better to allow European countries to keep their col‐ onies in Africa rather than let newly independent nations develop their own forms of government, some of which may have been com‐ munist. That rationale seems broken. Why would America fear the development of communism in Africa? As Meriwether points out, Washington had little interest in Africa South of the Sahara, so why the concern?
For me, a lot of this information is lost in translation. I can see why Russia was a threat to our survival, just as any nuclear pow‐ er is, but communism seemed to have a place in American politics during the 30’s and 40’s, when many black activists supported Marx‐ ist interpretations. Furthermore, the fact that Washington began to question Jim Crowism only when segregation was used as anti‐ American propaganda shows how reputation took precedence over equality. Both of these chapters weave a story of African American pleas falling on deaf ears, and that the speed and moral “uplifting” of Washington was motivated solely by the machinations of politics, war, and imagined “red” threats in Africa.
29 For Black America & Africa, Spring 2013
n 1948, we find the notions of white su‐ premacy transfigured into government pol‐ icy. How Malan was able to sell apartheid to anyone is disconcerting in itself; however, the fact that he nearly doubled his majority in Parliament in 1953 indicates that white South Africans were supportive of apart‐ heid’s inherent racial bias. In general, this seems like a fundamental problem arising from the construct of race. More specifical‐ ly, the (mostly) nonviolent opposition aris‐ ing from the Defiance Campaign worked against the fight for racial equality; the government was able to portray opposition to apart‐ heid as savage pro‐communism. Furthermore, America made it clear to the world that communism in any form was the real enemy to freedom and democracy, therefore providing justification for color‐ ing anyone who opposed Malan and apartheid in the most fervently anti‐democratic shade of red.
America’s indifference to apartheid went beyond cold war anti‐communist rhetoric and supplanted the fundamental ideals of democracy with the need for strategic material goods. America needed uranium, and South America had plenty of it. This seems to be a problem birthed by global markets, and one no longer unique to America. America needed uranium to build nuclear weapons during the cold war, so it ignored racial inequality in South Africa as a means to obtain it. Today, America needs a variety of transitional and rare metals to produce iPhones, computers, weapons and so on, so we ignore the racial inequality, human rights violations, and vio‐ lent conflict arising from their acquisition. The convenience and im‐ mediacy afforded by these products far outweighs the destruction left in their wake. Capitalism wins again.
As well, the marginalization and denial of civil rights to Afri‐ can Americans at home severely limited Washington’s willingness or
ability to criticize South Africa’s raced‐based legislation. America’s lack of criticism provided the Soviets with even more propaganda. African Americans were quick to respond: they argued that apart‐ heid contributed to the rise of communism in South America, and that American intervention could subdue or eliminate communist tendencies amongst the non‐white races. Still, America walked the middle ground, ignoring South Africa’s perversions of democracy in order to maintain a profitable and strategic relationship. The irony is clear: America allowed the degradation of democracy to proliferate through its African ally while at the same time presenting it to the world as only viable vessel for freedom. With this understanding, Soviet propaganda transforms into factual statements.
The tragic events of Sharpeville set apartheid on a global stage, and forced America to make a public statement concerning South Africa’s treatment of Africans. Yet even in the wake of this massacre, Eisenhower reaffirmed his lackadaisical attitude towards apartheid and assured South Africa that America would continue to support white rule. This illustrates two things: that America needed colonial power in South Africa to continue unabated, and that the U.N. was/is entirely ineffectual in promoting its own mission state‐ ment. African Americans convened in several congresses to pressure Washington and the U.N. to condemn racial discrimination in South Africa. Nothing occurred. Again, the threat of communism took prec‐ edence over the freedom, welfare, and now lives of black Africans. The U.N. was complicit with this course, showing that American con‐ cern far outweighed peace and human rights in South Africa.
Despite these mixed messages from Washington, and despite Sharpeville putting apartheid and white supremacy on a global stage, many African Americans still viewed Africa as a dark continent in need of uplifting. The fact that the black press continued to per‐ petuate this viewpoint during the Defiance Campaign stands as a tes‐ tament to the persuasive power of American propaganda. Thankful‐ ly, the Mau Mau and Nkrumah stood poised to challenge the status quo, forcing America’s reconceptualization of Africa, its native peo‐ ple, and her colonial interlopers.
The British, in an apparent conquest to colonize the entire globe, went to Kenya and did what they do best: plant flags in foreign soil and pillage what is ripe and fruitful. As to be expected, the native inhabitants, united under the Mau Mau movement, fought back, jus‐
tifiably invoking violence in place of the (mostly ineffectual) civil disobedience displayed by the Defiance Campaign. Like apartheid, African Americans framed the Mau Mau movement as an anti‐ colonial fight against white supremacy. Unlike apartheid, it adopted a militant comportment, and chose blood as its fuel.
Unsurprisingly, America was hesitant to challenge colonial powers at a time when support against communism was valued more than upholding democratic principles, and chose to remain in‐ different to or supportive of Britain’s actions in Kenya. Essentially, ending white rule was deemed harmful to the fight against those commies. Furthermore, the notion that native Africans had only just come down from the trees permeated the government’s psyche, af‐ firming their belief that a colonial‐ruled Africa was far better than a native‐ruled Africa. African Americans had a different perspective, viewing the Mau Mau’s struggle for land and freedom as an anti‐ colonial endeavor, and perhaps for some, a violent parallel to their own struggle for equality. Since many African Americans saw com‐ munism as supporting racial equality, they argued that colonial rule and white supremacy in Africa necessitated the adoption of com‐ munist ideals. America, not wanting to make waves in their democ‐ racy‐for‐all kiddie pool, chose to walk the middle ground (just as they did with South Africa). Again, African American outcry went vir‐ tually unnoticed by Washington.
The violence of the Mau Mau movement stands as the most glaring point of contention; after all, the violence affected more na‐ tive Africans than it did white invaders. The civil disobedience exhib‐ ited by the Defiance Campaign hindered their cause when Malan painted their opposition as evidence that South Africa needed even more race‐based legislation. The Mau Mau movement had a similar response from America; it reaffirmed stereotypical beliefs that na‐ tive Africans were barbaric heathens. Of course, America was quick to forget their own violent struggle for land and freedom from a co‐ lonial power. Still, statistics show that the Mau Mau directed most of their violence towards complicit natives rather than colonial settlers. This, perhaps, is one reason why African Americans would not open‐ ly support the Mau Mau’s militant tactics; after all, black America’s guiding imperative to end the colonization of Africa and white su‐ premacy the world over could never be measured with piles of black corpses.