Ideology and Dogmatism Vs. Black Power

Anytime you read or hear an organizer, leader or spokesperson discuss their ideas, policies, concerns, solutions or projects, you are observing elements of his/her ideology.

When these ideas come across as contradictory, confusing, ridiculous or scattered, we are witnessing either their  inability to communicate effectively, or evidence of weak ideology.

Ideology is no light or trivial matter.  We can define it as an ethos or set of principles that guide and direct a person or organization’s worldview, policies and practices. All institutions and organizations operate from an ideology, including the military, schools, places of worship, fraternal organizations, community organizations, police, the medical establishment, etc. One’s ethos or ideology shapes how they think, their values/priorities, what they do, and how they do it. You can clearly see how important ideology is to say, a community organization.

Sound ideology develops in response to real circumstances (i.e. concerns for safety, law and order, miseducation or political empowerment) sound analysis of these circumstances and their causes, and a good understanding of community culture, history and sensibilities.

Ideology should respond accurately and effectively to a group’s actual circumstances/reality. When our ideology conflicts with or proves ineffective to address the realities we confront, we are compelled to seriously reconsider, adjust or dismiss our ideology altogether. If we continue believing, promoting or operating on inaccurate or irrelevant ideas, we compromise our organizing and put ourselves in danger of becoming reactionary (pro status quo, politically backwards or ultra conservative).

Instead, we must be disciplined and mature enough to acknowledge when our conceptual frameworks are inadequate/inaccurate and do what is necessary to rectify our thinking. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible…

Signs that our ideology needs reshaping

  1. It leads to policies/practices that encourage innocent segments of our community to be discriminated against, bullied, isolated or dismissed.
  2. It paints large segments of our community with a broad brush without allowing for difference and nuance (i.e “Black Christians are sell-outs,” Black single-parent mothers are the primary cause of delinquent Black children,” “Black gays and feminists are the reason we are no longer unified or strong as a people”).
  3. It suggests policies or practices based on assumptions that are false or contain logical fallacies leading to weak arguments.
  4. It suggests policies that divide our community, generate unnecessary resentment, and make us more vulnerable to the system of white supremacy.
  5. It is driven by fear, hatred and insecurity rather than an accurate analysis of historical, economic or political conditions, and love.
  6. It articulates policies, sentiments and practices identical to those endorsed by the maintainers and beneficiaries of white supremacy.
  7. It leads to policies that create an oppressive and oppressed class of people in our own community.
  8. It is too rigid and dogmatic, leading to a feeling among some that their perspective is the ONLY valid one, or that those who disagree with it are government agents worthy of persecution and attack.

 

dogmatism

Let us underscore that last point. When we become dogmatic, we make our opinions or ideas more important than people and the quality of their lives. The irony is obvious; Community leaders and organizers are (or at least should be) concerned with people, the quality of their lives, and their happiness.

This group – by virtue of their mission – should be the least dogmatic, and yet when it comes to some elements of the Black “Conscious Community,” be they Socialist, Nationalist, Pan-African, Religious, Atheist, Feminist, etc., we find large pockets of highly dogmatic people.

I regularly read social media posts, watch YouTube clips, and observe community discussions that are disturbingly narrow, prejudiced and inhumane toward other brothers and sisters.

I’ve literally heard Black people angrily suggest that members of the Black Gay community should be killed, along with our petty criminal element and those with an appetite for non-white dating partners. I’ve heard/read others label all Black Christians as “ignorant tools of the white man,” or openly advocate removing Black churches in our community (One of the the institutions in our history that most advanced literacy, civil rights and community organizing). And each one of these individuals considers him or herself an activist, leader or community organizer for Black people.

Such words and ideas often get packaged as “Keeping it real,” but make no mistake – history reveals such to be the thinking of dictators and tyrants. They begin by fighting for the people and eliminating an oppressive regime.

Once in power, they claim absolute authority and power over the very people they set out to “liberate.” Next they choose what books people can read, what things people can say, and what affiliations people can have. These people become leaders for life, hold corrupt elections or ban them altogether, and live in luxury as the people starve and endure lives of squalor. Check the history of revolutionary leaders and you’ll find that more than a few commmitted horrific acts of torture and genocide against their countrymen whose only “crime” was difference of opinion.

Some embrace brother Malcolm but forget his political transformation and evolution. Take the statement he made at the March 1964 press conference announcing his departure from the Nation of Islam:

“Now that I have more independence of action, I intend to use a more flexible approach toward working with others to get a solution to this problem….

As of this minute, I’ve forgotten everything bad that the other leaders have said about me, and I pray they can also forget the many bad things I’ve said about them.”

…The problem facing our people here in America is bigger than all other personal or organizational differences. Therefore, as leaders, we must stop worrying about the threat that we seem to think we pose to each other’s personal prestige, and concentrate our united efforts toward solving the unending hurt that is being done daily to our people here in America.”

In the same year, in his presentation at the Oxford debate, he said:

I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

Malcolm clearly came to realize the need for Black solidarity. He recognized his attacks of people he disagreed with as a mistake. He acknowledged that he had to work with various segments of the Black community and even some of those outside of our community who were sincere. In other words, he developed compassion and  adjusted his beliefs and methods to address the realities he observed. If he was willing to work with serious and sincere whites, can we conclude that he might also work with Black feminists, Christians and members of the LGBT community? One’s gender, sexuality and spirituality don’t dictate their politics necessarily…

Today, we have more knowledge of ancient African societies, more understanding of economics and sociopolitical struggles, more knowledge of how to create alternative schoo than did Malcolm -and yet, we have lost compassion for members of our extended family whose spirituality, sexuality, and other beliefs/practices are different.

To be clear, I am not Christian (nor any other religion), atheist, gay, or feminist, nor does this matter. My position stems from being clear on one point: Black people – our lives, health, liberty happiness and concerns – are more important than my opinions or those of anyone else. I believe in “unity without uniformity.” I also agree with comedian Dave Chappelle: We don’t have to hate or fear those whose lifestyles we do not understand or condone. Nor do we have to agree with everything someone we love says or does. “We don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

dave  chappele compassion

Some of you reading this article will disagree. That is your right. I just hope you truly UNDERSTAND. When we lose compassion for our people, and allow our opinions to become more important than their lives and right to choose, then we become part of the problem. Where is the love, Black Conscious Community?

_________________________

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 lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Calling the Black Church: Take a Stand Against Police Brutality!

churches protest

My appreciation for the Black church is well-documented, as are my critiques. Among other things, sound scholarship requires a balanced and nuanced approach, the ability and willingness to appreciate one side of a debate even while taking a valid opposing position.

Discussing the Black church adequately requires this nuanced thinking, particularly when political activism and social justice frame the discussion. On one hand, we can argue that as an institution, the Black church (especially its Protestant branches) has advocated for its congregants and extended congregants in the larger Black community. It created some of our first places of literacy and learning in the United States. It provided safe places for us to meet, renew our spirits, reinterpret Biblical passages and white theology into a Social Gospel to make sure God’s “Will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”The Abolition Movement, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights Movement could not be sustained without the Black church. Whether through protest music, projects of benevolence, education, or organizing the community to politically agitate, the Black church played a pivotal and indispensable variety of roles in the struggle for Black liberation and empowerment.

And yet, our church is not above critique. After centuries of white cultural imperialism, and the deliberate erasure of our role in world civilization and U.S. history, too many of our churches insist that “God has no color,” but continue to depict Jesus Christ as a white man on their stained-glass windows, and refuse to teach congregants about their cultural, aesthetic, and historical beauty and greatness; The church – like every other institution – suffers from patriarchy and gender bias. While Black women continue to comprise the overwhelming majority of Black church congregants, financial supporters, and volunteer workers/leaders, relatively few lead a church in the role of minister; The church dragged its feet and took an infamously conservative position on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in years past, presumably because it was uncomfortable having conversations about then-taboo subjects of fornication and homosexuality.

The Black church (representing as it does a people who are still stereotyped, criminalized, killed by police, underrepresented in sites of power and over-represented with respect to incarceration, deprivation, drugs and fratricide) must have a theology that connects spiritual edification to earthly empowerment. This becomes crystal clear with the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Police officers attack or kill Black and Brown people with disturbing frequency and are predictably exonerated.

The Black church cannot isolate itself to the pulpit or the pew, locking itself in a spiritual castle surrounded by a moat of dead Black bodies mangled by police bullets, white hatred, or Black apathy. Black Ministers and congregations throughout the United States must uphold the value of Black life and find ways to engage local communities in discussion, prayer and activism around the issue of police brutality.

This society has attempted criminalize an entire race of people. Your spiritual beliefs, church affiliation, or denomination offer you no protection from police brutality. Stand up, Black church, like you did in the era of enslavement. Be the radical moral conscience of this country like you did during the Civil Rights Movement. T.D. Jakes and churches in Los Angeles, and in other cities throughout this nation. Some ministers and churches are doing fine work, but the pressure has decreased since last month largely because two NYPD officers were murdered.  We applaud and support those churches taking a stand on the issue of police brutality and incorporating this into their sermons and activism. But far too many are preaching the same ole’ “God will make a way out of no way” or “Put on the whole armor of God” sermons devoid of any political education, organizing or activism.

As I understand Christian theology, Jesus healed the sick, cured the blind, made the lame walk, fed the hungry, educated the ignorant, and resurrected the dead. Whether you interpret these miracles to be actual or symbolic, the point is that the Christ was not only concerned about earthly issues affecting common people, but meaningfully involved in addressing them.

_______________________

 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 April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

Thoughts About The Black Church

black church

In an earlier article, I discussed how I grew up in the Baptist church, was actively involved in its several programs, and how I benefited immensely from my involvement. I insisted that I supported the Black church despite my critiques of the institution. I stand by my claim, namely because of all our traditional institutions, the church is one of our most powerful, organized and wealthy. What other independent Black institutions feature almost all Black leadership and staff, own property, make autonomous decisions, and impact youth and community development?

Yet with all its strengths, the church – like any institution – is imperfect and has much room to improve. This article will outline some of these areas.

  • Some people attending church live in very real poverty. For these brothers and sisters, getting “dressed up” is difficult if not impossible and creates great conflict and discomfort in the home. Churches can show sensitivity on this issue by relaxing the dress code and welcoming visitors as they are. Far too often I get the sense that worship wardrobe reflects our own vanity and pretentiousness more so than respect for God or spiritual growth. Putting less emphasis on clothing would keep our priorities right and possibly help us avoid the disturbing pattern of financial mismanagement in our community
  • Some of my brothers and sisters suffer from farsightedness when it comes to truth, spiritual or otherwise. It is foolish and naive of us to think that only the preacher is qualified to teach us spiritually. Some of us ignore and pay lip service to empowering and life-changing messages from relatives and friends we see every day; then when we hear the same messages from the preacher, there we are nodding our heads in agreement, and bearing witness to the preacher. Truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. If we only accept truth and wise counsel from religious leaders, we are certain to forfeit many blessings and opportunities for growth. Church leadership should try to reinforce the concept that “saints,” mentors, and positive spiritual influences exist both within and outside of the church, in the form of relatives, mates, children, neighbors and co-workers
  • While I understand the need for mythology and symbolism in our religious traditions, I also know that our people are the continued victims of societal tricknology and deception; Instead of increasing the mysticism and coding, the church must play a  primary role in de-coding and de-mystifying the world so that Black people can walk upright and understand/be empowered in the Earthly world we live in. The Biblical stories, parables and teachings of ancient figures MUST be made relevant to contemporary times and circumstances.
  • Despite real progress in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, personal wealth, and political empowerment, Black people by and large still suffer in various ways. The Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase, “Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.” So the church has to have a theology that helps Black people to make our Earthly existence empowered and fulfilling. This implies that the Black church must address contemporary issues confronting us and provides ministries that equip and inspire us to confront poverty, physical and mental health, racism, sexism and class issues. Some pioneering churches for example hold conflict mediation, parenting, financial management, literacy and fitness classes. Others operate schools and have ministries that target prisoners, (wasn’t Jesus a political prisoner?) and drug addicts
  • My understanding of Jesus the Christ, based on my former church training and independent study, is that he was not a conformist, but a social critic who challenged both arrogant and corrupt church officials, improper priorities, and negative practices. The Black church, which looks to Jesus as its example, should emulate not only his critical nature, but his distaste for vanity, narcissism, injustice and elitism. This means that by definition, the church MUST be politically conscious and involved in the critical issues of our day. The church must take a stand against police brutality, failing schools, unjust incarceration/political prisoners, etc. In fact, the Black church should take the lead in exposing and challenging American imperialism and warmongering. In other words, the church must embody and implement the social gospel of Jesus Christ: heal the sick, clothe the naked, give “vision” to the blind, “resurrect” the dead, and so on.

In conclusion, I must stress that while I don’t subscribe to any religion now, I was raised in the church and was quite active. My perspective therefore is not that of an uninformed outsider. I personally bear witness to the tremendous power and impact the church can have on the community. I simply want the church to remain true to its moral and spiritual mandates. I also recognize that many churches are quite progressive and involved in the community. My critiques only apply to those churches that are elitist, isolated from the larger community, uninterested in Earthly affairs, and that teach outdated and sterile theology that fails to inspire and organize Black people in contemporary times.

The following sermon by Dr. Charles G. Adams represents in my opinion, the spirit and tone of a relevant and inspiring church message that blends spiritual edification, historical understanding, political consciousness (He begins 15 minutes into the video):

_________________

Agyei Tyehimba 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. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.