The Spook Who Sat by the Door is a 1973 film based on the novel of the same name by Sam Greenlee. It is both a satire of the civil rights struggle in the United States of the late 1960s and a serious attempt to focus on the issue of black militancy. Release date: September 21, 1973 (initial release) Director: Ivan Dixon Running time: 102 minutes Cast: Lawrence Cook, Paula Kelly, J.A. Preston, Jack Aaron Screenplay: Sam Greenlee, Melvin Clay
A drawing of the interior of Bethel African Methodist Church in the early 19th century. The church was founded in a former blacksmith’s shop by Richard Allen.
By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
Marches that raise the demands of Black people for full economic and social rights used to take place in a number of U.S. cities. Now, aside from a few locations, the marches have been supplanted by a volunteer “Day of Service.” While the “Service” activities (picking up trash, etc.) are certainly not useless, they tend to ignore the sharp anti-racist demands that the marchers put forward in earlier years.
At the same time, the life and legacy of Martin Luther King himself has been largely reduced to that of an optimistic “dreamer.” His contributions as a leader in the struggle against racism and war, and as a strong critic of the unequal and discriminatory economic system in the United States…
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The ideology of Touréism combines aspects of Marxist – Leninist methodology with traditional African values.
“There is no part of the peoples’ socio-cultural life that capitalism/ imperialism does not attempt to dominate, commodify and corrupt.”
Ahmed Sékou Touré (referred to in this paper as AST or Touré) was a prolific Pan African, nationalist union leader in Guinea, Conakry when Guinea was still under French Colonialism. His disciplined organizing and activism was a decisive factor in the fusion of the trade union movement with the political party, the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG). This activism also facilitated his successful campaign to become Guinea’s first president from 1958 to 1984. It was Sékou Touré who defiantly told the French President Charles de Gaulle who proposed that Guinea join the Franco-African community, that Guinea preferred to keep their dignity in freedom rather than join the neo-colonial Franco-African community. In his words “We for our part, have a first and indispensable need, that of our dignity” …” Now there is no dignity without freedom… We prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery.”[i]
Sékou Touré and the People’s Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) are known in the Pan African world for their great contributions to Revolutionary Pan Africanism in general and Guinean independence in particular. This includes but is not limited to his close friendship with the trailblazing Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah whom he made co-president of Guinea after Nkrumah’s government was overthrown by a CIA supported coup in 1966. This friendship was reciprocal since Nkrumah, President of Ghana at the time, gave Guinea a significant financial loan after its independence when it was desperately needed. Touré and the PDG’s anti-colonial Pan-African contributions further includes support for liberation movements in Southern Africa as well as support for Patrice Lumumba in his struggle against neo-colonialist forces there in the Congo.
“We prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery.”[ii]
However, arguably the greatest contribution Sekou Touré’ and the PDG made to anti-colonial Pan-Africanism was the life-line of assistance it provided to the African Party for independence of Guinea-Bissau & Cape Verde (PAIGC) and its leader Amilcar Cabral during its anti-colonial war against the Portuguese. Touré’s consistent advocacy for anti-colonial Pan-African unity was also expressed in his role in the Guinea-Ghana-Mali union. Although there are more examples of Touré’s sterling work in Revolutionary Pan-African organizational leadership, the purpose of this paper is to highlight somewhat lesser known of his contributions, namely in the realm of theory. As an outstanding revolutionary socialist thinker of Africa and the global south he properly situated revolutionary ideology in the context of culture.
Touré’s unique and brilliant philosophical synthesis of religious postulates and socialist principles, including dialectical and historical materialism and class struggle, is one such example. This synthesis qualifies him not only as revolutionary socialist Pan-Africanist but also as a theorist and practitioner of a liberation theology.
Two natures in Human kind: The People and the Anti-People
For Touré class struggle is rooted in the concept of the People vs the Anti-People which he says are two natures in human kind.
It is best expressed in the following quotation:
“Society has been marked by the existence of two natures of life, two natures transposing themselves in thought, action, behavior and in the options of men, whether political, economic, social or cultural. In other words, there are two human natures in mankind and in each people; we have the People itself and the anti-People, with a permanent struggle being waged between the two, the class struggle.” [iii]
Accordingly, the People are always waging class struggle be it consciously or unconsciously.[iv] Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) a Touré protégé, used to tell us that imperialism seeks to make us think immorally with precise logic and therefor the moral struggle to guide Africa’s reconstruction is vital. The moral struggle, the battle of values, is the first line of struggle as it is a fundamental part of the ideological struggle in any society. There is no part of the peoples’ socio-cultural life that capitalism/ imperialism does not attempt to dominate, commodify and corrupt. This dominance ensures continued economic exploitation, and our religious / spiritual institutions are no exception. Understanding the spiritual nature of our people, capitalism has focused special attention on corrupting that aspect by injecting its psychological conditioning in an attempt to achieve a cultural paralysis. Dialectically, religion, like other aspects of culture, can be used for reaction or revolution. The masses often seek religion as a moral guide to wage the spiritual battle against evil, however in order to continue to win even moral victories against our class enemy, and not be mere objects of history, this class struggle must be waged at increasingly higher and more conscious levels that combine the spiritual with the political, cultural, and economic spheres of life. Ideologically, Touré and the PDG argue unequivocally that… “the class struggle is multifaceted and global and that in all things it is the class interest that pre-dominates.” [v]
The artistic feature of this theory is that it weaves together revolutionary political, ethical and religious theory and thereby allows people to become more conscious of the permanent, internal class struggle within each of us, thereby addressing the enemy within. This struggle is expressed not only on the level of morals, ethics, values but also as Touré and the PDG would say, it necessarily includes the struggle at the spiritual level, the battle between good and evil. This comprehensive understanding of class struggle means that it is expressed in all forms of oppression and therefor allows for an intersectional analysis that includes race, gender and other forms of oppression since they all have the common denominator of the battle between good and evil.
The Faithful and Class Struggle
As we know the masses of African people are a spiritual people and therefore religion and spirituality play a significant role in life. Guinea being a predominantly Muslim country (85% Muslim, 8% Christian, 7% traditional beliefs)[vi] is no exception. This background is important because it is an aspect of the ontology of Touré and the PDG which is rooted in the belief that God exists and that the universe is the work of an omniscient, omnipresent, invisible and immortal God.[vii]
In his book Revolution and Religion Tome 26, Touré explains that while the Guinean Revolution rejects philosophical materialism which denies the existence of God and the prominent role of the mind, it absolutely endorses dialectical and historical materialism as fundamental scientific methods of analysis of history and the world. Some dogmatic Marxists would see this as an unacceptable contradiction in revolutionary theory, however for Touré and the PDG it made total sense. It follows that the battle between good and evil, something all believers understand, is the spiritual expression of the class struggle.[viii]
Touré says that just as the battle between good and evil is a permanent battle in humans, so also is the class struggle a permanent battle that is multi-form and varies in intensity and expression. We can recall that Sekou Touré’s great grandfather, Almamy Samory Touré, was a legendary hero resisting French colonialism in the late nineteenth century. He used Islam as a unifying force to fight the French, marking a tradition of leadership in this regard.[ix] At the same time it is important to note that Guinea is a secular state because as Touré explained, the action by the whole population that led to the establishment of the state was a function of their political awareness not a function of religious doctrine and also because they… “wanted secularity to be the guarantee of freedom of conscience for every Guinean citizen or foreigner….”
Teach the Revolution around you, train yourself, and if you are Catholic, and stay so, you will be the best Catholics of the Revolution; if you are Muslim, and stay so, you will be the model Muslims of the Revolution; if you are Pagan, you will be the most upright Pagans of the Revolution. No matter what your spiritual choices may be, as long as it is no longer a question of the next world but of this concrete world of permanent struggle, you must know that your conduct and behavior have to be ordered by the Revolution.[x]
Class Struggle as the Driving Force
As distinct from classical Marxism, for Touré class struggle is a permanent part of human existence and therefore preceded classes and will continue even in a classless society. “Class struggle is all the more a universal and permanent phenomenon as everywhere and at all times, men act with respect to the necessities of life, with respect to their modes of production with respect to their present and future interests.”[xi]
The class struggle while permanent, changes in quantity and quality expressed in minor non-antagonistic contradictions during the communal mode of production to increasing more antagonistic levels of struggle as the stage of the formation of society into embryonic classes comes into being. The class struggle that preceded the division of society into classes was characterized by a struggle of non-antagonistic contradictions that were at a low level of ideas, morals, values and behavioral tendencies. This is consistent when we understand Touré when he says that every moral is a class moral and every ethic is a class ethic.[xii]
The traditional Marxist idea of class struggle being the motive force of history was famously critiqued by the great African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral in his famous weapon of theory speech in Havana, Cuba at the founding of the Tricontinental in 1966. Cabral essentially said that this assertion was not as precise as it needed to be because it would exclude a significant part of history of societies with long communal modes of production where the emergence of classes had not yet occurred and by extension would also exclude from history any future classless society.[xiii] Touré however qualifies his definition of class struggle to include a spiritual struggle inherent, he says, in all humans so that it is consistent when he says it is permanent and has always been the driver of social evolution.
“Every moral is a class moral and every ethic is a class ethic.”
African people have shown that when we include the spiritual dimension as part of the class struggle it can be empowering at a level consistent with our ideology and culture of resistance.
The history of the evolution of society into classes was marked by the evolution from a mere quantitative to a qualitative change in the character of the class struggle starting with the evolution of slavery from communalism. Societies evolved through stages, from the communal mode of production which preceded the formation of classes to the formation of classes. Once the evolution of classes took shape, they are characterized by the fundamental antagonistic contradiction of what Touré calls the People’s class vs. the anti-Peoples class. Within these classes there are different strata and social categories within the strata. [xiv] For example, at the stage of Guinea’s independence the People’s class consisted mostly of farmers/peasants (who are the overwhelming majority of the population). Also, workers, craftsmen and a smaller percentage of what Touré calls intellectual workers whose ideological and moral education has led them to be committed to the service of the community, constituted the People’s class.
These different strata and categories include relationships that are not totally in harmony due to intra-strata aspirations and therefore contain intra- and inter-strata contradictions of a minor type, or in other words, anti-People elements within the Peoples class. Touré explains that the PDG made a strategic decision not to declare a class struggle against the smaller class cleavages that existed in the country while the fundamental contradiction existed between the French colonial power and the anti-colonial forces. The fundamental antagonistic contradiction between the colonizer and the colonized required the mobilization of the whole population in the service of the successful resolution of the anti-colonial class struggle to the stage of independence. The anti-Peoples class included feudal and bourgeois minded individuals living on human exploitation, smugglers, neo- colonial minded intellectuals, industrialists, traders, corrupt officers and functionaries who were unwilling to convert to the new moral standards.[xv]
It is worth mentioning that Touré appears to have updated his position on the existence of antagonistic classes in Africa in pre-capitalist societies from Africa on the Move Vol. X published in the mid 1960’s to Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution vol. XXI published about a decade later. In Vol. X he says that although there were ‘social differentiations’ they were not traceable to social contradiction or classes. [xvi] Later in Vol XXI he clearly states that antagonistic classes emerged at the time of slavery and feudalism and that Guinea’s history follows the law of division of society into social classes.[xvii]
Culture, Ideology and the Revolutionary African Personality:
Touré defines Culture:
“By Culture we understand all the material and immaterial works of art and science, plus knowledge, manners, education, a mode of thought, behavior and attitudes accumulated by the people both through and by virtue of their struggle for freedom from the hold and dominion of nature; we also include the result of their efforts to destroy deviationist politics — social systems of domination and exploitation through the productive process of social life.” [xviii]
Touré’s theory of ideology and culture includes the following:
The material base of all culture is its mode of production, which characterizes the class relationships people have with one another and therefor the level of intensity of the class struggle. The class struggle is conditioned by who owns and controls what is produced, whose interests it serves, whether the majority or a minority, and the degree of exploitation of labor.
The people create culture and ideology simultaneously and that every society has its dominant culture.
To each culture corresponds an ideology. Culture and ideology are reciprocally reinforcing and in dialectical motion. Specifically, culture is the container and ideology its contents.[xix] Another way to understand this relationship between culture and ideology metaphorically, ideology is the blood which circulates through the organism or society’s culture. Nkrumah similarly points out that the ideology of a society is total and aims at uniting the people towards specific goals even though it can be largely implicit.[xx] By extension, the consumption of culture simultaneously involves the ingestion of ideology, since ideology is contained in culture. Ideology in turn acts upon the people and the culture. It follows that although instinctively contested and resisted by the oppressed masses, the dominant cultural consumption by the masses determines for the most part their ideological orientation and direction.
Conversely a revolutionary ideology does not only seek to abolish the existing order of the capitalist anti- Peoples’ class, it simultaneously seeks to replace it with a qualitatively new one like socialism. In order to accomplish this, using the metaphor of an organism, from a revolutionary perspective society would require a blood transfusion, getting rid of the infected blood (ideology) and replacing it with healthy revolutionary blood. This transfusion and transformation must be coordinated and constantly maintained by a Revolutionary Party that understands, develops and maintains the critical competence of producing revolutionary consciousness among the people. Touré explained the formula when he said ideological education and revolutionary practice are what produce revolutionary consciousness and without which there can be no Revolution. [xxi]
“Culture and ideology are reciprocally reinforcing and in dialectical motion.”
The culture and accompanying ideology of any society is in constant dialectical motion and struggle with competing ideologies, but at any given point even if seriously contested, it is either dominantly revolutionary/progressive or dominantly reactionary (counterrevolutionary). This is largely dictated by the society’s mode of production and also by the intensity or level of conscious organized class struggle being waged by the people. Touré was not alone in calling for the re-assertion of Africa’s cultural personality. Nkrumah, Cabral and Fanon among others understood and advocated the need for a revolutionary re-awakening of African culture which had been “mummified” as Fanon put it by colonialism. This cultural mummification and alienation leads to mummified thinking and a psychology of oppression replete with massive inferiority complexes against which our people still struggle.[xxii] Touré describes it profoundly when he said, “This science of depersonalizing the colonized people is sometimes so subtle in its methods that it progressively succeeds in falsifying our natural psychic behavior and devaluing our own original virtues and qualities with a view to our assimilation.” [xxiii]
Much like Cabral, Touré says that “Africa’s resistance to foreign rule was an act of culture for it proceeds from the acknowledgement of her personality and all of the values there attached.” [xxiv] The process of de-colonizing and rehabilitating our cultural personality, which was completely distorted under colonialism in a way that made us complicit in our own oppression, requires a mass reawakening to revolutionary consciousness. This reawakening is to be achieved by wielding the Revolutionary African Personality, which prioritizes an ideological identity over a biological one. Wielding the revolutionary African personality means waging a conscious organized class struggle in the interest of the People’s class against the anti-People’s class at the level of morals, ethics, culture, politics, and economics, internally and externally in the context of the cultural and world revolution. This is the necessary path to defeat and reversethe cultural counter-revolution and rehabilitate African people from the maldeveloped effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, which have maintained a hold on our culture. This will at the same time develop our cultural equipment to defeat the challenges of imperialism in all of its current manifestations.
Guinea, the Non-Capitalist path and Socialism
Guinea’s independence in 1958 until the 8th Congress of the PDG in 1967 marked the phase of National Democracy. This phase was characterized by the liquidation of structures of colonialism, replaced with appropriate party structures and an intensification of the class struggle against emerging bourgeoisie, smugglers and bureaucrats.[xxv] It also required at the same time successfully meeting the challenge of forging a higher level of national unity that transcended ethnic divisions. [xxvi]
Although exceedingly difficult, it was logical that the Guinean revolution, when victorious against colonialism and neo-colonialism, should merge with the struggle for socialism. In September 1967 at the 8th Congress of the PDG, Guinea officially proclaimed the socialist path of development. and less than a year later the socialist cultural revolution was launched.[xxvii] This declaration meant a radicalization of the revolution, an intensification of the class struggle within and planned economic development based on the needs of the masses. In general, it marked a higher level of organizational production and accountability. For example, it was at this time that the Central Committee decided on the creation of the PRL (Local Revolutionary Authority) as a structure to organize work and educate at the local level according to PDG ideology. This decision was however not implemented on the village level because of bourgeois anti-People elements who opposed it. In the party, counterrevolutionary elements (a fifth column) began to organize and sabotage revolutionary work apparently jointly organized and supported from abroad. It led to the arrest and liquidation of several agents of imperialism. [xxviii]
The years between 1967 and 1970 marked a period of vicious struggle involving sabotage by imperialism’s paid agents culminating in the November 22nd. 1970 attack from abroad by Portuguese colonial forces. Hundreds of faithful Guinean soldiers sacrificed their lives so that the masses of Guinea could be victorious successfully defending the Guinean homeland, including its PAIGC base, from recolonization. Similar to Cuba’s heroic defense of its territory in 1960 this was Guinea’s “Bay of Pigs” and having successfully defended themselves brought a sense of great pride and confidence.
“Hundreds of faithful Guinean soldiers sacrificed their lives defending the homeland.”
This marked the beginning of the phase of the Party State, which is the merger of the State, the structural tool of the people, with the Party, the political instrument of the People. This is a more qualified stage beyond the stage of national democracy and marked one of the victories of the Guinean revolution and the PDG. The building of socialism was a work in progress and according to Touré; “The time of triumphant socialism will come when there will be no more reality based on human exploitation. Everybody will have identified himself with it, interpreting its laws and principles, defending its objectives.”[xxix] Touré and the PDG also emphasized a non-capitalist path of development as well as the declaration of a Socialist Cultural revolution in 1968. Touré said one of the reasons he felt it necessary to declare a non-capitalist path of development is because there were some leaders in Africa, who while paying lip service to socialism, were still maintaining colonial structures and ties. He made it clear that Guinea would follow the option of scientific socialism. He also was determined that building and achieving socialism did not require first going through a full capitalist mode of production.
Socialism presupposes the appropriation of the means of production by the masses of people and in their interests, and this cannot be sustained without a socialist consciousness among a dominant sector of the masses, socialist organization, labor and culture. While it is not the focus of this paper to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Guinean economy, it suffices to say that the socialist project remained a work in process. Reportedly there were indications that socialist production improved agricultural production, but Guinea still fell short in its ability to satisfy its needs without having to import food.[xxx] Touré argued that economic needs should always be a function of political objectives and not vice versa. This position is difficult if not impossible to maintain when the majority stake holders in the major means of production (the Bauxite industry) is an American company as was the case in Guinea.[xxxi]
Women in Guinea:
Touré, like other African Revolutionaries, understood the critical role and importance of women’s emancipation and that they were an oppressed sector of society. If Guinea were to be liberated women had to be empowered. Like many countries in Africa the oppression and discrimination of women was obvious especially at the level of marriage. Young girls are valued as commodities when they are forced into arranged marriages at an early age. Early marriage prevents girls from reaching their full potential on several levels but especially because it virtually prohibits their opportunity to be educated. Touré immediately abolished oppressive practices after independence such as forced marriage, polygamy and huge dowries.[xxxii] He understood that re-educating the people to “wield the revolutionary African personality” also included changing the thinking, attitudes and treatment of women. This thinking was characterized by Touré in his booklet Women in Society when he stated:
“The emancipation of women denotes the emancipation of man; it is the emancipation of a whole people. … Hence, our assertion that man’s emancipation is subordinate to that of women, with both of them linked dialectically”[xxxiii]
Touré was determined to have women make their contribution to society in all career areas as well as non-traditional ones. This would take some time since women started from a deficit in education after independence. Women did become successful in many career areas however in political representation there remained some deficits. Research shows that although women were appropriately represented on local levels where there were a number of positions reserved for women they have not fared as well on the national level. During the first 15 years after independence women only held two cabinet level positions, and there were no women on the national political bureau. There were a few elected as deputies and one, Mde. Jean Martin Cisse, served as vice president of the national assembly and subsequently became the Guinean ambassador to the UN in 1972.[xxxiv]
It is apparent that because of the educational deficits faced by women before independence, more should have been done to ensure women’s representation on higher political governing bodies.
The Masses as the Makers of History:
AST/PDG ideology is rooted in the concept that the people, the masses, are the makers of history, but they can be subjects of history or mere objects of history.[xxxv] This distinction depends on the degree of resistance to their oppression. The People, (both the People and the Anti-People) are constantly contributing to culture and ideology which is mostly dictated by the dominant mode of production in society. Every society has both reactionary and progressive tendencies, these are in constant dialectical motion and constantly engaging in class struggle at every level including the spiritual, the moral, political etc. this happens consciously and unconsciously. When the colonized or neo-colonized are resisting the dominant oppressive culture, they are making contribution to their history of resistance and become subjects or agents of their history. When this is not the case, they are contributing to the culture of the status quo, the oppressor capitalist culture and for the time being they remain objects of history.
When the People are organized in a Revolutionary Party which is the “brain” to any liberation movement or government, they are consciously engaged in organized cultural and ideological production and consumption on many levels, this means that they are appropriately waging conscious organized class struggle on a daily basis.
In the case of Guinea, the party of the masses the PDG were wielding the Revolutionary African personality to rehabilitate African culture in an effort to make it a modern scientific socialist country.
Sékou Touré and the PDG have made an original and valuable contribution to revolutionary theory of the African and world revolutions. The ideology of Touréism combines aspects of Marxist – Leninist methodology with traditional African values and its cultural personality which he said was inherently collectivist or communocratic.[xxxvi]
Touré’s contributions to theory described in this paper are:
First of all, his synthesis of religious philosophy with socialist principles. The value of this contribution is that it can be adapted to other religious beliefs which can be similarly merged with socialist principles. Secondly, his unique definition of class struggle which he shows exists permanently in humans and begins as an internal spiritual struggle between good and evil, even in a classless society. This concept should be expanded to include an intersectional analysis that is inclusive of not only class, race and gender oppressions but also LGBTQ, caste and other oppressions, for example the oppression of albino people which still persists in Africa. Thirdly, his analysis of the relationship between culture and ideology including the revolutionary African personality as an ideological weapon to defeat and reverse the Euro-centric capitalist cultural counter-revolution. This ideological weapon can be adapted to any culture in any society including the intersectional analysis described. Touré’s position that people are always contributing to culture and ideology should be carefully analyzed in order to customize and weaponize any progressive cultural and ideological products by oppressed people of the world.
While Touré and the PDG made valuable contributions to theory, they necessarily also made errors which should be studied. It was always predicted by the West that Guinea could not survive without French support and massive technical assistance. The fact that this was disproved was in a sense a victory in itself. However, building a socialist society is a process with many obstacles and if we define socialism as the masses of people owning and controlling the major means of production, research shows that Guinea fell short in this area.[xxxvii]
This article is an effort to open a window into some aspects of the ideology and philosophy of Sékou Touré and the PDG during the early years of Guinea’s independence and its subsequent struggle to consolidate and institutionalize socialism.
This article previously appeared on Internationalist 360 .
Djibo Sobukwe is a former Central Committee member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party who worked with Kwame Ture on the political Education Committee he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Panaf Great Lives, Sékou Touré. London: Panaf Books, 1978, 11
[ii] Panaf Great Lives, Sékou Touré. London: Panaf Books, 1978, 11
[iii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Women in Society, trans. All African Women’s Revolutionary Union, 26
[iv] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Technique De La Révolution TOME XVIII, 1971, 404
[v] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Technique De La Révolution TOME XVIII, 1971, p. 404
[vii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Revolution and Religion Tome 26, p 39
[viii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Women in Society, trans. All African Women’s Revolutionary Union, 22
[ix] Panaf Great Lives, Sékou Touré. London: Panaf Books, 1978, p. 23
[x] Imre Marton. The Political Thought of President Ahmed Sékou Touré. (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1977) p. 96, 97
[xi] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978) 202.
[xii] Ibid., p. 300.
[xiii] Amilcar Cabral, Unity and Struggle Speeches and Writings, Text selected by the PAIGC, trans. Michael Wolfers
(New York & London: Monthly Review Press, 1979) 124, 125
[xiv] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978) 190.
[xv] Ibid, 186 – 190
[xvi] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Africa on the Move, Tome X, Conakry, Patrice Lumumba, 1977, 212
[xvii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978), 188, 192, 200
[xviii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, “A Dialectical Approach to Culture” (in The Black Scholar Journal, November 1969) 3 – 18
[xix] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Revolution Culture Pan-Africanism (African Democratic Revolution No. 88 English First Edition) no place or date, 70,71.
[xx] Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: philosophy and ideology for de- colonization (New York & London: Modern Reader paperback edition, 1970), 58
[xxi] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978), 9.
[xxii] Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution, trans. Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1969), 34.
[xxiii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, The Political Leader Considered as The Representative of a Culture (Jihad productions,),3
[xxiv] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Revolution Culture Pan-Africanism (African Democratic Revolution No. 88 English First Edition) no place or date, 73
[xxv] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978), 155.
[xxvi] Ibid., 67
[xxvii] Ibid., 463,464
[xxviii] Ibid., 156,157,158
[xxix] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution English Edition vol. XXI, trans. Chérif Diallo & Oumar Barry (Conakry: Patrice Lumumba press, 1978), 170
[xxx] Panaf Great Lives, Sékou Touré. London: Panaf Books, 1978, p.184
[xxxi] K. Swindell, Industrialization in Guinea, Geographical Association, Geography, vol. 54 No 4 (November 1969), 456
[xxxii] Graldyne Pemberton Diallo Ph.D., The philosophy of Ahmed Sékou Touré and its impact on the development of the Republic of Guinea: 1958 – 1971, Doctoral Dissertation, City University of New York, 1990,138 -143
[xxxiii] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Women in Society, trans. All African Women’s Revolutionary Union,33
[xxxiv] Graldyne Pemberton Diallo Ph.D., The philosophy of Ahmed Sékou Touré and its impact on the development of the Republic of Guinea: 1958 – 1971, Doctoral Dissertation, City University of New York, 1990,142,143
[xxxv] Ahmed Sékou Touré, La Révolution Culturelle Tome XVII (Genève, Kundig 1972), 154; and Ahmed Sékou Touré, Technique De La Révolution TOME XVIII, no place or date, 404.
[xxxvi] Ahmed Sékou Touré, Africa on the Move, Tome X, Conakry, Patrice Lumumba, 1977, 53
[xxxvii] Samir Amin, Neo-Colonialism in West Africa, Trans. Francis McDonagh, New York & London, Monthly Review Press 1973, 86, 94
By Victor Omondi
Black queens now have something to hold on to as the largest black-owned bank pays homage to black women all over the country who exemplify and exude all things #BlackGirlMagic. OneUnited Bank launched a Queen Visa Debit Card under its Royalty Campaign to recognize these women in style.
“Rise up new Kings and Queens with power and conviction!” a promo for the bank’s Royalty Campaign read. “It’s time to unleash the King and Queen in you. Show the world that royalty is in our DNA! Show the world that #BlackMoneyMatters.”
OneUnited bank said its goal is to support the community by promoting financial literacy providing affordable financial services, emphasizing that it intends to recognize black women whose impact is felt far and beyond their communities.
The bank introduced the card in March last year during the Women’s History Month under the Royalty #WearYourCrown Campaign to boost awareness of the #BankBlack and #BuyBlack Movement across the nation. This came a month after the bank introduced its King Visa Debit card for Black History Month.
“We agree with Maya Angelou,” President and COO of OneUnited Bank, Teri Williams, said in a statement. “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be. We encourage the Black community to celebrate the amazing past, present and future Queens in our community.”
According to a press release, the launching of the #WearYourCrown Campaign was a way of recognizing and celebrating a new generation of Queens in America who are taking up their thrones. It recognizes women from different career fields, including scientists, educators, entertainers, and activists, whose presence has been felt across the world.
Some of the black women figures worth noting, including Aretha Franklin, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Queen Latifah, Beyoncé, Harriet Tubman, and Shirley Chisholm. All these women made an impact on the world, and, therefore, they deserve recognition and honor for defining their positions and roles boldly in society.
It’s worth noting that black women have been making big strides in the business world. A source reveals that the total of black women-owned businesses grew by at least 164% between 2007 and 2018. According to Forbes, more than 2.4 million black women-owned businesses across the nation in 2018. The numbers are expected to up in the coming years, as black women continue to reign in almost every sector.
This war put an end to the Indian Wars and is marked as the last official defeat of the Native Americans…
by Molly Carter via Ammo
The Battle at Wounded Knee is a significant battle in American history, as it put an end to the Indian Wars and is marked as the last official defeat of the Native Americans. But what’s not taught in history lessons is that Wounded Knee was one of the first federally backed gun confiscations in the history of the United States, and it ended in the massacre of nearly 300 unarmed people.
During the late 19th century, American Indians were allowed to purchase and carry firearms, just as white men were. The colonial gun laws did not bar Native Americans from possessing firearms, yet that natural right was violated by government forces at Wounded Knee. And once the guns were confiscated, the battle ensued.
When we look at the issues surrounding gun confiscation, Wounded Knee gives us an example of the devastation that an unarmed people can experience at the hands of their own government. This battle serves as a reminder to fight against gun confiscation and the gun control legislation that can lead to it.
Leading Up to Wounded Knee
At the beginning of the 19th century, it’s estimated that 600,000 American Indians lived on the land that is now the United States. By the end of the century, the people diminished to less than 150,000.
Throughout the 1800s, these nomadic tribes were pushed from the open plains and forests into “Indian Territories,” places determined by the U.S. government. It started during the Creek Indian War (1813-1815), when American soldiers, led by Andrew Jackson, won nearly 20 million acres of land from the defeated Creek Indians.
Unlike George Washington, who believed in “civilizing” the Native Americans, Jackson favored an “Indian Removal,” and when president in 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which was the first of many U.S. legislations that did not grant the Native Americans the same rights as colonial European-Americans. Davy Crockett was the only delegate from Tennessee to vote against the act.
The Plains Indians, who lived in the plains between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, weren’t as impacted by the U.S. government until later in the century, as U.S. expansion pushed into the “Wild West.” As people moved passed the Mississippi and into the Frontier, conflicts again arose between the Indians and Americans.
In an attempt at peace in 1851, the first Fort Laramie Treaty was signed, which granted the Plain Indians about 150 million acres of land for their own use as the Great Sioux Reservation. Then, 13 years later, the size was greatly reduced to about 60 million acres in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which recreated the Great Sioux Reservation boundaries and proclaimed all of South Dakota west of the Missouri river, including the Black Hills, solely for the Sioux Nation.
As part of the treaty, no unauthorized non-Indian was to come into the reservation and the Sioux were allowed to hunt in unceded Indian territory beyond the reservation that stretched into North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado. If any non-Indian wanted to settle on this unceded land, they could only do it with the permission of the Sioux.
That was until 1874, when gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The treaties that were signed between the Native Americans and the U.S. government were ignored as gold rushers invaded Indian Territory and issues arose, such as the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
As time went on, the American Indians continued to be pushed into smaller territories and their lives began to diminish. In 1889, the U.S. government issued the Dawes Act, which took the Black Hills from the Indians, broke up the Great Sioux Reservation into five separate reservations, and took nine million acres and opened it up for public purchase by non-Indians for homesteading and settlements.
The Native Americans were squeezed into these smaller territories and didn’t have enough game to support them. The bison that had been a staple to their way of life were gone. Their ancestral lands that sustained them were no longer theirs. The resistance was over. They were no longer free people, living amongst themselves, but “Redskins” confined by the “white man” in reservations they had been forced to, many against their will.
With all of the Sioux Nation inhabiting less than nine million acres, divided up throughout South Dakota, the Indians were encouraged by the U.S. government to develop small farms. But they were faced with poor, arid soil and a bad growing season, which led to a severely limited food supply in the year following the Dawes Act. A miscalculation in the census complicated matters even more when the population on the reservation was undercounted, leading to less supplies sent from the U.S. government.
The situation was beyond bleak and the Sioux people were starving. That winter, an influenza epidemic broke out and caused a disproportionate number of Sioux children to die. And then in the summer of 1890, a drought hit, destroying yet another season of crops and the people of Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were in dire condition.
The Ghost Dance
Perhaps it was these desolate circumstances that led to the spread of what is known as the Ghost Dance. Based on a vision experienced by a Sioux religious leader, the Ghost Dance was a spiritual ritual that was supposed to call the coming messiah, who would be an American Indian. This messiah would force the white man off of Indian lands, return the bison to the plains, and resurrect both their deceased and the life the Native Americans had once enjoyed.
Although this was not a war dance, it was feared by those who believed the Indians were savages. One such man was Daniel Royer, who arrived as the new agent on the Pine Ridge Reservation in October of 1890. He believed it to be a war dance and requested troops from President Benjamin Harrison on November 15th of that same year. His telegram read: “Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy. We need protection and we need it now.”
Harrison granted the request and part of the 7th Cavalry arrived on November 20th, with orders to arrest several Sioux leaders. Commander James Forsyth led the troops.
On December 15th, the 7th Cavalry attempted to arrest Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief who annihilated Commander George Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn (he also toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and was a dear friend to Annie Oakley), because he didn’t attempt to stop the Ghost Dance amongst his people. During the incident, Sitting Bull was shot and killed.
The Lakota at Pine Ridge began to get nervous and the tribe’s leader, Big Foot, practiced the Ghost Dance and had caught the attention of the federal agents. After hearing of Sitting Bull’s death, he and his tribe fled to the Badlands.
They were pursued by the 7th Cavalry for five days. But Big Foot had come down with pneumonia and they were peacefully intercepted at Wounded Knee Creek on December 28th.
December 29, 1890: The Wounded Knee Massacre
The next morning, Col. Forsyth demanded that the tribe surrender their firearms. Rifles were being turned over without issue until some of the Sioux men started a Ghost Dance and began throwing dirt into the air, as was customary to the dance.
Tensions among the soldiers increased.
A few moments later, a Sioux man named Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle. It’s been reported that the Indian was deaf, had recently purchased the rifle, and was most likely unaware of why the soldier was demanding it. Regardless, the two began to skuffle and the gun discharged.
The 7th Cavalry, who was the reconstructed regiment of Custer, opened fire on the Lakota. Along with their own weapons, they used four Hotchkiss guns, a revolving barrel machine gun that could fire 68 rounds per minute, devastating the entire tribe, which had just peacefully handed over their weapons.
The Sioux men, women, and children scattered, and the Cavalry pursued them. Dead bodies were later found three miles from camp.
Once the firing ended, some two hours later, an estimated 300 Native Americans lay dead in the snow, at least half of them women and children. Those that didn’t die immediately froze to death during the oncoming blizzard.
Nearly a week later, on January 3, 1891, the Cavalry escorted a burial party to the banks of the Wounded Knee River and they buried 146 Lakota Indians in a single mass grave. Other bodies were found in the surrounding areas, and the estimated body count is between 250 and 300 Sioux.
The 7th Cavalry lost 25 men.
After the Massacre
The Massacre at Wounded Knee brought an end to the Indian Wars. There was no more resistance. The Ghost Dancing stopped.
The Native Americans had been beaten. But the Cavalry’s attack was recognized as butchery, with Forsyth’s commanding officer, General Nelson Miles, calling it a “criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children.”
However, President Harrison had an election around the corner and wasn’t in a position to look bad. Miles’ report was dismissed. Instead, the Cavalry men were made out as heroes against the Indian “savages.” And in the Spring of 1891, the president awarded the first of 20 Medals of Honor to the soldiers who disarmed then slaughtered the Sioux at Wounded Knee.
It’s been speculated that the 7th Cavalry, which again was regrouped after it was destroyed by Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn, was looking for a fight and deliberately sought revenge on the Native Americans.
Black Elk, one of the few Lakota survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre, recalled in 1931: “I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there.”
J. Edgar Hoover in 1940. He directed the FBI and its predecessor down some dark paths for 48 years.
As a target of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (CoIntelPro), I think the bureau would have been wiser to keep its Twitter trap shut on this day set aside to remember the wisdom, courage, and relentless intersectional activism of Martin Luther King Jr.
Perhaps if that quotation at Quantico included a line or three about the FBI’s despicable police-state behavior regarding King and other civil rights activists in the 1950s and ‘60s, this tweeted honoring might not leave such a sour taste. One quick-read at what the bureau was up to with King and other black people who dared to stand up for themselves and others can be found here.
Here’s one of the key examples. In 1964, the following letter was fabricated by FBI agents and sent to King. He told aides at the time he knew it was from the bureau. It was later discovered he was quite right. The bureau sent a letter urging King to kill himself. For years, only heavily redacted versions of this letter made it into the media. Then, five years ago, Beverly Gage, a professor of history and American studies at Yale, found a complete copy of the original:
Gage concludes her 2014 essay:
The current F.B.I. director, James Comey, keeps a copy of the King wiretap request on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong. But elsewhere in Washington, the debate over how much the government should know about our private lives has never been more heated: Should intelligence agencies be able to sweep our email, read our texts, track our phone calls, locate us by GPS? Much of the conversation swirls around the possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the hard facts of history.
He wrangled thousands of criminals, and left a silver dollar as his calling card. Yet despite being one of the most impressive Wild West figures, Bass Reeves was all but forgotten.
“This is a black man in America’s legendary Western history who has been totally overlooked.” — Morgan Freeman
Contrary to what classic westerns might have us believe, one in four American cowboys was actually African-American. We don’t necessarily get that reality when the only image we have in our minds is John Wayne or The Lone Ranger.
But, in fact, the true inspiration behind The Lone Ranger (and possibly Django from Django Unchained) was real life US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, an African-American who fled the Civil War, befriended the Seminole and Creek Indians, and eventually became one of the greatest lawmen of the Wild West.
From Slave To Black Confederate Soldier
Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Reeves served Arkansas state legislator William S. Reeves, first as a water boy, then as a field hand. When William S. Reeves passed away, his son, George, made Bass Reeves his personal companion and servant. Then, when the Civil War broke out, Reeves went into battle with his master and fought for the Confederacy.
Bass Reeves Flees The War
It was during the Civil War that Reeves made his great escape. Some say he left because of a dispute over a card game, wherein Reeves beat up his master and fled to avoid punishment. Others say he had heard that slaves were being freed and simply ran in pursuit of his own freedom.
Whatever the case, Reeves took refuge with the Creek and Seminole Indians in what is now Oklahoma. He learned their languages and customs, and sharpened his skills as an ambidextrous marksman.
When all slaves were freed in 1865, Reeves was no longer a fugitive. He then left Indian Territory to farm his own land near Van Buren, Arkansas. A year later he married Nellie Jennie of Texas, with whom he raised five girls and five boys. While a successful farmer, rancher, and father, Reeves occasionally worked as a scout and used his tracking skills to help lawmen find criminals — but his true second act had yet to begin…
From Slave To U.S. Deputy Marshal
In 1875, Isaac C. Parker was appointed federal judge of Indian Territory. During the chaos of the Civil War, Indian Territory — where federal and state governments had had virtually no jurisdiction — became the hiding grounds for outlaws.
Parker hired U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan to lead 200 deputies in the pursuit of these outlaws. The stories of Reeves’ familiarity with the land and his own fugitive past got around to Fagan, and Reeves was soon hired on as a U.S. deputy marshal. Reeves, along with the other deputies, was ordered to bring the outlaws back to Parker — dead or alive.
Bass Reeves, The Indomitable Marshal
Reeves took his job as a marshal very seriously. Six feet, two inches tall, the slender Reeves rode a large white stallion as he patrolled all 75,000 square miles of Indian Territory. The rough and tough lawman, with his intimidating black hat, two colt .45 Peacemakers strapped at his sides, slick suits, and polished shoes, brought over 3,000 felons to justice.
In the course of doing so, Reeves was involved in his fair share of shootouts. Despite being shot at on multiple occasions, he managed to dodge every bullet, earning him the moniker “The Indomitable Marshal.”
Dodging bullets was by no means his only skill. Reeves used the fact that he’d never learned how to read or write to his advantage in an inventive and effective way: Before pursuit, he would have someone read him the warrants so he could memorize which was which. Often, he would distract outlaws with this gimmick, asking them to read a piece of the warrant or some other letter for him. In the few moments of their confusion, Reeves would draw his gun.
By all accounts, Reeves was also a master of disguise. He would appear to felons as a cowboy, farmer, or even an outlaw. And when he wasn’t in disguise, he was easily recognized by the silver dollars he left as his calling card.
A Man Of Integrity
However, despite disguises and calling cards, Reeves treated his position with great respect. Even in the face of morally conflicting circumstances, Reeves held the law above all.
In 1902, Bass Reeves’ son, Benny, was charged with the murder of his wife. Reeves, though reluctant to take on the difficult task, took the job when no other deputy dared to. Though shaken by the thought of it, Reeves soon arrested his own son. Benny Reeves served 22 years at Leavenworth prison.
Finally, in 1907, law enforcement was put in the hands of state agencies and Reeves, now nearly 70, joined the Muskogee Oklahoma Police Department as a patrolman. However, shortly after, on January 12, 1910, Bass Reeves passed away due to Bright’s disease.
The Lone Ranger Lost To History
Although Reeves’ accomplishments as a lawman greatly overshadow those of many of his more famous white contemporaries, the legend of Bass Reeves was, for the most part, lost to history.
The Lone Ranger, the iconic character virtually synonymous with the myth of the American west, was played by a white man, even though his character and story were very similar to those of Reeves.
Even now, as movie award show after award show has come under fire for relegating African-Americans, the still whitewashed portrayal of the American west is yet another indicator of the institutional racism at work in both Hollywood and the country as a whole.
we can learn how growing up in the inner-city housing projects can teach you to be a better person.
The author in front of mural in the Ramona Gardens housing project. Photo by Pablo Aguilar, 2005.
Nietzsche warned me about gazing too long into the abyss, but I didn’t listen. It gazed back into me. After spending my early years with extended family in Tijuana (Baja California) and Hollywood (Alta California), I spent my formative years with my immediate family in East Los Angeles’ notorious Ramona Gardens public housing project—better known as the Big Hazard projects, named after the dominant gang.
During the ten-year period that we lived there, it was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. From gangs to drugs; from police abuse to housing authority harassment; from drive-by shootings to death; from high school drop-outs (or push-outs) to chronic unemployment; from abject poverty to welfare. If you weren’t raised in the projects and lived through its darkness, just “sit down”—to quote the street philosopher and rapper, Kendrick Lamar—and listen
If you’re white and move into the lily-white suburbs, you’ll be cordially greeted with a “hello neighbor” and given a beautiful basket of fresh fruits, gourmet cheeses, and crackers. In the case of my brother Salomón and I, when moving into the projects, we were “warmly” greeted by a bunch of Chicano kids, seeking to officially induct us into the neighborhood with arranged fights.
Fortunately, as an eight-year-old, Salomón mimicked the best Bruce Lee kung fu moves he would see in films, and his opponent quit without throwing a punch. When it was my turn, as a six-year-old, I followed in his footsteps and raised my arms in victory. As we were welcomed into the neighborhood, we learned a hard lesson with this rite of passage: To survive in the projects, you must be able to defend yourself. While I don’t expect outsiders to understand, I’m also indifferent to individuals who don’t want to learn about the norms and traditions of the mean streets of East Los Angeles
We are not brown savages and don’t need you to save us
I will never forget the summer when the white, born-again Christians arrived in their white buses into the projects to “save” us—poor, Catholic Chicana and Chicano kids. To lure the neighborhood kids, they enticed us with free field trips, money, and food. These invaders didn’t ask permission from our parents; they just took us. As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t resist all of the goodies. Once on the bus, I recall singing Christian songs, where the white escorts tossed dollar bills to the best singers, like brown monkeys doing tricks for treats.
One hour later, we arrived at a large auditorium with an all-you-can-eat buffet. I loved the desserts, especially the chocolate cake with white frosting. After lunch, the blond, blue-eyed preacher delivered a sermon, which I didn’t understand one word, where I kept thinking: “Where’s the Virgin de Guadalupe?” He then instructed us—between 50 to 75 brown kids—to go into a room in small groups. Once there, they told us to take off all our clothes and put on blue plastic gowns, similar to hospital patient gowns. They then led us inside a large pool, where, one-by-one we were fully dunked into the water and baptized by the preacher. I didn’t feel born again. Looking back, I wonder what the white savior preacher was thinking: “Let’s go to the jungle of East Los Angeles and save these brown savages!”
You don’t have to breathe it in
While former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama inhaled marijuana during their youth, when I was first offered to smoke at 11 years old, I didn’t. On a hot summer night, I was playing basketball at the gym, when one of my childhood friends asked me (more like told me) to follow him outside to meet up with his older brother.
I originally thought I was going to get jumped since his brother was in the gang. While I didn’t show any fear, adhering to the rules of the projects, I was happily surprised that they actually invited me to smoke. Offering sage advice, my friend said, “When you inhale, hold your breath so it gets into your lungs!” I quickly recalled a movie from Murchison Elementary School, where smoking cigarettes caused black lungs. While pretending to smoke, as they passed the joint, they got high. Ten minutes later, I returned to the gym to shoot hoops. Given the prison-like conditions we lived under, being treated like wards of the state, as rational actors, temporarily escaping from a harsh reality makes life bearable.
Protectors or Oppressors?
In the lily-white suburbs, the police officers (or cops) live up to their motto of “To protect and to serve.” In the projects, they behave like an occupation force in a foreign country. As poor, brown kids from the projects, when approached by the cops, we knew the drills. When walking, stop immediately, get on knees and put hands behind your head. When standing near a wall or building, turn around spread legs and put hands against the wall. When driving, turn off the engine, put hands on the steering wheel and don’t talk back.
Like “good” Mexicans, be obedient! “Yes, officer. No, officer.” While driving my navy blue ’67 Mustang (a gift from my sister Catalina) as a 16-year-old, I was pulled over by the cops. The driver got out of his car, yelled expletives, walked towards me and pointed his gun ten-feet away from me. My crime: making a rolling stop! One wrong move on my part, like demanding my civil rights, and I could’ve been killed.
Using the shame of poverty to fuel yourself
There’s nothing romantic about being poor, despite what Gandhi preached and practiced in India. When my mother Carmen—a domestic worker for our 40 years—sent me to La Paloma Market, I was always embarrassed to use food stamps. Back then, they came in a booklet with Monopoly-looking money to purchase groceries. (Now, the government issues EBT cards.) In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been embarrassed since all of my childhood friends were also on food stamps and welfare. Speaking of being ashamed, when my best friend and I visited the amusement park Six Flags Magic Mountain in our teens, we agreed to say that we lived next to General Hospital, if we met anyone. It was like the scene in La Bamba (1984) when the popular Chicano singer Ritchie Valens was ashamed to tell his white girlfriend Donna where he lived—a barrio in Pacoima. Now that I’m older and wiser, when conservatives try to make me feel ashamed of growing up poor and on welfare, I always ask them, “What about welfare in the egregious forms of tax breaks and subsidies for elites, agribusinesses, and corporations?”
Your roots are your strength
Since abandoning my family and homeboys to pursue a degree in mathematics at UCLA as a 17-year-old freshman, over the years, I grew to appreciate and defend where I came from without apologies. Whenever I mention that I was raised in the projects in East Los Angeles, people usually ask, “How come you never joined a gang?”
With a straight face, I quickly reply: “Actually, I submitted my gang application, but it was rejected because I was too thin to defend the neighborhood!” Jokes aside, if I had the fearless mentality and physical attributes of many of my childhood friends, where they joined the gang, instead of spending many years in higher education, I would’ve been doing time at Folsom and San Quentin.
While I don’t romanticize gangs, I also don’t cast judgment on my childhood homeboys, where the odds were against us from the start. For me, it helped that I excelled in mathematics, where, like my brother Salomón who studied (and mastered) art at Art Center College of Design (B.F.A.) and UCLA (M.F.A), my special skill was my ticket out of the projects. I only wish that everyone else from the projects had (and has) the same opportunities to pursue higher education to succeed.
Don’t blame the victims, blame the systemic conditions
When we analyze and try to understand the bleak plight of residents in public housing projects throughout the country, let’s not blame the victims. Instead, let’s put the blame of their harsh conditions on a capitalist society that houses mostly brown and black bodies in oppressive environments with hopeless and traumatic outcomes.
American society—past and present—has neither been fair nor just to brown and black people. Structural racism. Racial segregation. Divide and conquer. Police abuse. Concentrated poverty. State surveillance. !Ya basta!
If we, as a nation, invest in these communities—our communities!—like “we” do to maintain the military-industrial complex, which profits from endless wars, like in the most recent case of Iran, we would immediately end the despair of los de abajo in America’s barrios and ghettos.