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.

Thoughts on Black Consciousness Debates

Last year, I wrote a previous essay identifying issues the Black conscious community needs to resolve.

One of the issues I highlighted was the inappropriate way we conduct formal debates in our communities. Because this is such an important and continuing issue, I’m dedicating this entire essay to the topic. I will begin with an excerpt from that article:

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-based 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 arena of organizing for community empowerment 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, our goal is not to humiliate or intimidate an opponent, flaunt our knowledge or impress spectators. We seek to solve problems, create sound policies, 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 that were/are 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.

Additionally, 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 we refine these debates as outlined above. Also we might consider creating study groups as well. Study groups are more inclusive and participatory, and generate more focused and useful information and discussion involving the input of more than just two people.

I stand by these words. About 5 years ago, a brother whose name I do not recall, contacted me and asked if I was interested in making some money by debating. He apparently found me and my email through an Internet search or through mutual associates/friends. He mentioned that he planned to put two powerful speakers/scholars against each other at each event, and invite an audience to pay admission and watch the sparks fly.

I politely declined his offer. I was enrolled in a doctorate program that required nearly all of my time and energy. Secondly, the format sounded too much like a rap battle or verbal competition like that offered in the enormously popular “Smack” events. These events feature large cash prizes, celebrity Hip Hop personalities, and several rounds of personal attacks, where two people systematically seek to lyrically humiliate, embarrass and destroy each other.

Maybe this type of vibe is expected or acceptable in the urban entertainment industry where such behavior promotes huge followings and record sales. However in the world of serious Black political struggle, this is unacceptable and inappropriate. For example, a debate was arranged between Dr. Ray Hagins and Dr. Wesley Muhammad on the topic: “Is Islam an African Religion?” when it was Hagins’ turn to speak, he explained that he didn’t intend to insult or attack muhammad. He spoke of peace and harmony among fellow activists and the need to share knowledge without hostility. Noble and mature of him, right? But the event organizer was livid, and took to the stage to verbally attack the brother for not wanting to participate in a hostile and divisive discussion. Watch this for yourself below. Nagins begins his presentation at the 43-minute mark. The tirade comes afterwards…

These days, I see the conscious community mimicking the same hostility and gangsterism we’ve come to expect of “gangsta” Hip Hop. This must stop! These events arouse resentment, encourage cliques and facilitate actual and potential violence in the Black community.

I support serious and progressive intellectual discussion, but many of these debates I see on YouTube are promoted like prizefights, which further polarizes an already fragmented and conflicted Black community.

In conclusion, I urge us to utilize debates in an empowered and less immature fashion. We don’t need provocation to publically attack one another.. Nor can we afford time engaging in irrelevant topics or discussions that don’t lead to better analysis and progressive action plans, social justice or liberation. The existence of white supremacy mandates that we “Wake-up up clean up and stand up!” I believe:

  • We should stop promoting or attending/supporting these events altogether.
  • Those people promoting these verbal slug fests should be exposed for being the opportunists and mischief makers they are. They gain monetary benefit at our intellectual and political expense, and promote too much confusion and conflict in the process. 
  • In place of these egocentric gladiator games disguised as “debates,” we should host progressive dialogues and study groups connected to Black organizations and programs who work to address and solve our problems.
  • Such debates should either be free to the community or have nominal fees for the purpose of covering the cost of venue. Perhaps a higher prices ticket option could be made available to people, but this should come with a choice of book or DVD made by one of the speakers. True consciousness raising should not be exploitive.

As our great ancestor/historian John Henrik Clark reminded us, “Every single thing that touches your life whether it be religious, socially or politically must be an instrument for your liberation, or be thrown in the trashcan of history.”

________

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.

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.

Ideological Conflicts Within the “Conscious Community”

confusion

 

I am convinced that some of our greatest internal barriers to progress come from misguided ideologies promoted by some members of what we’ve come to know as the “Conscious community.” People that are politically or socially conscious are presumed to be in touch with the problems, resources, history and needs of the Black community. Such people and groups also develop ideologies which they believe effectively address and solve the problems we face. But ideologies are not perfect, and some  are actually overly simplified, impractical, disconnected from the political or economic realities we face, or largely ineffective.

This article will address ultra-conservative and fundamentalist folk whose ideologies need to seriously be re-examined in light of what I just expressed. People, like organizations and ideologies are work in progress. Therefore we should expect our opinions, solutions and analysis to be imperfect, and we should constantly work to rework and refine them based on the sociopolitical context in which we live.

Ultra-conservative Black Nationalists for example, naively believe that simply amassing material wealth, businesses and land (Black capitalism) will end our oppression or go unchallenged by the white corporate powers that be. It’s as if such people don’t know that Black people have established all-Black, economically vigorous communities in America before ( Greenwood Oklahoma, also known as “The Black Wall Street,”  for example) that were ultimately destroyed by jealous and racist whites.

The conservatives also fail to hold systemic forces of oppression accountable because they’re too busy blaming Black people for every ounce of their suffering and dysfunction. Advocates of these ideas subtly hate and resent the very people they claim to represent and often take positions and support policies very similar to those of our enemies, rendering them useless to us. This group will turn us into a nation of middle class apologists for oppression who accommodate to oppressive forces rather than challenging them.

The second group I will call “fundamentalist nationalists.” Such advocates have almost no gender or class analysis. The only issue they identify is race. This group has a tendency to become violent with those people who disagree, they fail to understand forms of struggle that don’t involve armed revolt, and they often adopt an oversimplified “with us or against us” type of reasoning. This group’s ideas isolates radical non-Black potential allies, fails to address the complexity of our problems, and will lead to our slaughter.