As you know by now (if you follow my blog), I totally oppose white supremacy and have done so using every skill set and bit of knowledge I have for the past 29-30 years. I’ve studied the Black experience in Africa, America, and throughout the diaspora via higher education and self-education. My self-education involved decades of focused reading, reviewing documentaries and movies, and receiving the tutelage and mentorship of wise and experienced Black elders who were/are experienced scholar-activists. Among other things, these individuals taught me to be humble, critical, balanced, competent, and committed to the people.
However I didn’t spend all of this time with my nose buried in books. Over the years I’ve been blessed to meet and work with dedicated Black college students, grade-school parents, educators, and various community folk throughout the United States. Despite some inevitable mistakes and errors in judgement along the way, we/I created a middle school, successfully challenged racist policies and practices, and organized our community to “Wake up, Clean up and Stand up!”
It is not my intent to engage in braggadocio, but to make it clear that:
- I am no “johnny-come-lately” activist or intellectual.
- I have no illusions that I or my opinions are divine or infallible, but they are backed by and fused with serious study and effective and successful community activism, which are verifiable.
- Therefore while everyone has the right and responsibility to disagree with my conclusions, these conclusions are informed and should at least be seriously considered by reasonable people.
These are important considerations when you consider that everyone has opinions, but not all opinions are valid and informed. Now on to the blog topic…..
Anytime an entity makes a decision to subjugate another, that entity must use two primary means to accomplish the task: coercion and deception. Coercive methods involve military or paramilitary forces, restrictive laws and law enforcement, and anything using intimidation and punitive measures. Coercion operates by creating fear among people and encouraging their cooperation. Deception involves using distorted history, mythology, religious concepts, negative propaganda, etc. The goal of deception is to mislead people in various ways so that they accept their subordinate place in the social order, accommodate to their oppression, and become parties of their own victimization. Those among the subordinated group who claim to fight for their liberation, must eliminate all confusion and illusion from their people.
In this spirit, I’d like to humbly remind us that:
1. We have the right to determine for ourselves what strategies or tactics to use, who are leaders are, and what our collective priorities and values are. We refer to this as self-determination.
2. Our fight for liberation must be TOTAL. To say we are for Black liberation and to exclude those in our community that are women or members of the LGBTQ community is contradictory, divisive and backwards. Black people must come together, organize around our common interests, and allow for valid critique and disagreement with each other while doing so. We refer to this as Black solidarity.
3. Others can assist our causes and in some cases, join our organizations (honestly, that is not my preference). That is OUR call to make. However, WE must lead our movements, and protect and advance OUR interests first and foremost. History provides ample proof that other people sympathize with us, join our movements, and begin to dictate policy and strategy. We cannot continue to allow this to occur. As Frederick Douglass said, “Let he who is wounded, cry out!”
We cannot choose allies emotionally. We must do so strategically. The criteria for identifying and determining outside allies should include: those willing to accept our leadership and who respect our right to self-determination; those who have important resources that can benefit us (money, specialized skill, property, information, etc.); those with a demonstrated and credible record of supporting our causes and who share our consciousness. And if we choose an outside person as an ally, we should immediately disconnect from them if they compromise any of the above things. As you will note from World history, nations and people are allies one moment, and enemies another moment. Alliances are usually NOT permanent. We form them for accomplish specific objectives.
4. Related to the previous point, we must be clear on who are enemies are. We must stop thinking that just whites or ALL whites comprise our enemies. The designation of “enemy” is not static, but dynamic and based on context. Collectively speaking, our “enemies” constitute organizations, institutions, and individuals whose policies and actions compromise our safety, intelligence, health, freedom, happiness, and prosperity. In this context, our enemies may (based on the context) include certain universities, school systems, corporations, fellow Black people, certain Latinos, Asians, etc. and their respective organizations or institutions.
5. The strategies and tactics we employ must effectively address/resolve the issue/problem we confront. Again, we must think strategically. We do ourselves a disservice if we use a tactic just because it worked in the past, or simply because it is popular. We don’t use a tank to kill a roach; Boycotts, rallies, protests, demonstrations, candle-light vigils and marches have become our traditional means of addressing injustice. But we cannot always rely on these methods, because they are not always effective or relevant. Tactics do not come one-size-fits-all. When we identify the issue, our resources, how we’re affected, and the major players involved (the context) then and only then are we poised to determine effective tactics. Also, it pays to be knowledgeable about effective protest strategy.
6. We waste precious time debating issues that have already been resolved, or once resolved, push us no closer to meeting an important objective. Unless we’re trying to challenge patriarchy, what is the sense of debating if the Black woman is God? Unless we’re challenging homophobia or sexuality oppression, what’s the sense of debating if homosexuality existed in ancient Africa? Debating as a form of intellectual exercise or refinement is an excellent tool in academic or scholarly institutions. In my opinion, all Black folk should learn the proper way to structure, support or attack an argument and to detect logical flaws.
In the sociopolitical arena however, we don’t debate just to display our intelligence or scholarship. We engage real problems affecting real people who demand real solutions. In this context, debates should become less about rhetoric and logic. Our goal is not to vanquish an opponent, flaunt our knowledge or vocabulary, or impress spectators. We seek to solve problems, create sound public policy and clarify objectives, and refine and develop strategy and tactics.
As I see it, the most effective and relevant debates will occur within an organization. Once the debate concludes (depending on which side prevailed) the organization then creates policy, refines its objectives or priorities, or adopts strategy or tactics accordingly. In this manner, a debate leads to something relevant and functional. In my hometown (NYC) and many others across the country, people host widely promoted debates between individuals in the conscious community for a fee. Some useful information comes out in these events. But many times they disintegrate into hostile shouting matches where profanity and insults dominate and spectators cheer wildly for the person in their particular camp. It also appears that the two people insulting and attacking one another are in fact “debating” issues far better addressed by powerful Afrocentric intellectuals like Ben Yosef-Jochannon, John H. Clarke, Ivan Van Sertima, Chancellor Williams, Tony Browder, Ashra Kwesi, Phil Valentine, and brother Kaba Kamene. Most of these individuals have books, YouTube clips, and dvds available which explain the subject matter in greater detail and with more competence than do today’s debaters. Many of these contemporary debates provide good sums of money for the promoters and participants, but little new or relevant information for the spectators, let alone any organized and consistent way to implement and utilize this information for community empowerment. I humbly suggest that what we need is far less of this, and far more serious study groups. Study groups are more inclusive and participatory, and generate more focused and useful information and discussion.
7. A major difference I noticed in the past as opposed to now, is that in the past we had several organizations and brilliant individuals represented them. Marcus Garvey headed the Universal Negro Improvement Association; Elijah Muhammad led the Nation of Islam; Malcolm X was its spokesperson and national representative who later founded the Muslim Mosque Incorporated and Organization of Afro-American Unity; Ella Baker was a member of several organizations throughout her life including the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1960, she also organized student activists around the country to form the the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Dr. King led the Montgomery Improvement Association and later (along with Ella Baker and others) started and led SCLC; Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense; Maulana Karenga formed the “US” organization and promoted cultural Nationalism through his “Kawaida Theory”; Amiri Baraka headed the Congress of African People; Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) was a member/leader of SNCC and later founded the All African People’s Revolutionary Party; All of theme were charismatic people who spoke well but did so with a specific organizational program and platform. These individuals did not speak or organize by or for themselves.
We still have several organizations in existence today (most notably, the Nation of Islam, the New Black Panther Party and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement). Unlike times of the past however, we now see a new phenomenon: individuals doing public speaking all over the country who are not connected to or representing a specific organization (including myself). This is not necessarily a problem if those individuals are competent, conscious and committed. Organizations have the added advantages of budgets, mass membership, communications networks, offices, official platforms/programs, and a number of other resources, making them far more powerful and effective than any individual. Organizations also have the ability to outlive individuals. If we fight for liberation, and want to do so with maximum support and impact, we must either join already existing organizations, or create new ones. Pooling collective resources, ideas, and skills with like-minded people will inevitably prove more stable and effective than the efforts of scattered individuals. I myself realized this some time ago. For all the above reasons, I attempted to resuscitate brother Malcolm’s OAAU a few years ago (Until I discovered a distinguished elder had already done so) and I’m working now with other people to start a new organization focused on inclusive leadership, people’s survival programs, grassroots activism, political education, community economics, self-defense, leadership development and of course Black Power! I’ll discuss that in detail at another time once we finalize our planning and begin recruitment.”
8. Last but not least, the project of liberating ourselves is difficult, but not impossible. However, we cannot be fooled into thinking that applying one magic solution, approach, esoteric knowledge, or political/religious affiliation will end our collective problems. Regardless of our location and labels we are still restricted, attacked and exploited by those who oppose us. If liberation were simply a matter of adopting African or Islamic names, studying lessons, doing secret hand shakes/gestures, revoking our citizenship, owning a special document, reciting positive affirmations, speaking other languages, praying, having a Black president or speaking and wearing our clothes a certain way, we’d all be free by year’s end. As sentient people, we have a right to our preferences and political choices. But never think for a minute that your particular belief or practice has “saved” you from the horrors of white supremacy. People that do all the things I just described STILL have financial and family challenges, are harassed, mischaracterized, and victimized by white supremacy like anyone else.
The only true differences between the conscious and unconscious, is that conscious folk are aware of who we are and why we’re oppressed, we reject societal propaganda, we identify and deliberately challenge those people and things oppressing us, we create things to protect and advance our interests, and we educate ourselves and organize others to do something about it.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.