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Let’s Not Glorify the Law: The Slave Trade Used to Be Legal

Let’s Not Glorify the Law: The Slave Trade Used to Be Legal
Let’s Not Glorify the Law: The Slave Trade Used to Be Legal

The law is a shaky foundation to rest on, particularly for Black people and other marginalized communities.

“An assumption that the courts will deliver ‘justice” regularly ignores the fact that Black people have never known such a thing.”

Throughout the history of Black America, progress has often required breaking the law. For this reason, it’s worth questioning why, in sanitized mainstream narratives (for example, those shared in schools and government functions during Black History Month), the story of Black struggle is often divorced from incendiary, illegal acts. Most Black people in the United States are descended from enslaved Africans, and being Black in this country has never been wholly separated from that history. In fact, it still haunts us daily as we navigate its afterlife. This is a legacy that was demarcated by restrictions that continually pierced the everyday experience of living. For many Black people during the time of slavery, to be free was illegal itself — and in many ways, that reality has extended into every era following “emancipation.” Since then, the necessity of extralegal acts has continued for a people still constantly being ensnared by a society stacked against them.

“For many Black people during the time of slavery, to be free was illegal itself.”

Of course, Black people have often used U.S. law as a tool to make gains which often extended to many others. Activists have sued and otherwise challenged institutions in court throughout history, to great effect. For example, thanks to the legal battles of the N.A.A.C.P., Black people saw significant gains on this front in cases like Brown v. Board of Education  and Guinn v. United States . Landmark legislation has resulted in significant changes for Black Americans, thanks to the efforts of organizers. For instance, the victorious Brown v. Board of Education ruling laid important foundations for the civil rights movement that encouraged other organizing leading up to the passage of legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act. Yet, racism is encoded in laws that criminalize poverty and other conditions Black people disproportionately experience. In a sense, that much remains like it always has been. The law is a shaky foundation to rest on, particularly for Black people and other marginalized communities.

However, we’re now in a historical moment when the racist and anti-Black president is, understandably, condemned as an affront to legality. Donald Trump’s first term saw the most lawsuits against a presidential administration in decades . “We’ll see you in court” has become a catchy utterance for organizations challenging Trump’s egregious attacks on the environment, immigration, civil and human rights. Witnessing the mockery of an impeachment trial during this presidency has exposed yet again that the law is unevenly applied, and that those with power are often able to break the law at will with no consequences. The law bends, twists and moves itself for many reasons.

“Racism is encoded in laws that criminalize poverty.”

As such, we’ve seen victorious attacks on landmark legislation like the Voting Rights Act  and a slew of other rollbacks  over the past several years. These regressive legal developments should remind us that white supremacy is a constant within the legal institutions of the nation. That which is blatantly discriminatory has to go to court and be argued against because in the United States, it’s fair game to argue in court that those who are oppressed deserve their oppression.

The denial of pain and violence experienced by the oppressed is part of the dominant white supremacist culture. Were it not, we would never have had to go to court in the first place to plead for our human rights. The establishment has gradually eased the tensions of an ever-changing society so contentious issues didn’t turn into uncontrollable uprisings many times before. This is often the purpose of reform — to stave off revolution, to uphold the current legal system. An assumption that the courts will deliver “justice” — simply by upholding the law — regularly ignores the fact that Black people have never known such a thing, because our historic victories are perpetually under attack.

White supremacy is a constant within the legal institutions of the nation.”

In fact, consider that the Constitution of the United States, often viewed as the ultimate basis for meting out justice, is a racist document in its origins. The European Enlightenment values embedded in the Constitution did not extend to Black people at its inception and still struggle to do so completely now. The Constitution is embraced in a bipartisan fashion and used for whatever means either side hopes to gain from it. Like interpretations of a holy text in a religion, the definite meanings of these laws and prescriptions are continually up for debate based on who is interpreting them and what side they’re on. This debate goes on ad nauseum, and is increasingly disillusioning for a populace weary of slow gains via trickle-down legal changes.

As per this country’s first laws, Black people were not meant to be citizens and our continued disenfranchisement is a constant reminder. From the fugitive resistance to slavery to the civil rights sit-ins against Jim Crow and the armed self-defense of the Black Power movement, many of our causes have involved battling institutions — not uprooting illegality, but uprooting injustices embedded within the law itself. What Black people have had to do in order to confront those injustices has often been illegal, from defending against police brutality to stealing food to occupying living spaces . Many have died along the way, because the white supremacist institutions leave us with no choice but utter defiance.

Many of our causes have involved battling institutions — not uprooting illegality, but uprooting injustices embedded within the law itself.”

Thus, we should be warned by history not to overemphasize legality — or condemn all “lawlessness” — in our arguments for justice and our work in fighting oppression. To be clear, if a cop can kill you because they feel like it and you always “fit the description” of their target, you are not protected by the law. Why invest ourselves in protecting what does not protect us?

The history of Black resistance has always meant breaking the law, because unjust laws do not deserve our respect or obedience. Knowing that our enslavement, deprivation and segregation were all legal should inform our current choices about when and how to engage with the law. In order to achieve what’s been gained, laws have had to be broken and they will continue to need to be broken. We have had to be intolerant of the systems that oppress us and strive for a new reality — a reality in which oppressive systems are abolished.

As we reflect during this Black History Month, never forget we have always had to rebel, revolt and rise up against the law itself — not simply rely on it.


source: Let’s Not Glorify the Law: The Slave Trade Used to Be Legal

Reparations & Black Liberation

Reparations & Black Liberation

Workers World first published this article on June 6, 2002. 

Lawsuits have been filed in New York and New Jersey targeting corporations that profited from the slave trade. These class-action lawsuits name three companies: Fleet Boston Financial, Aetna and CSX.

Fleet Boston grew out of a bank established by a merchant whose ships transported African slaves.

Aetna is an insurance company that encouraged slave owners to insure human property — not to protect their slaves, but to protect their investment in case of the slaves’ deaths.

CSX emerged from another company that used slave labor to build railroad lines.

The lawsuit estimates that the wealth in the United States created by the unpaid wages of slave labor is today worth $1.5 trillion.

Deadria Farmer-Paellman is the lead plaintiff and initiator of this suit. At a recent press conference, she stated, “My grandfather always talked about the 40 acres and a mule we were never given. These companies benefited from working, stealing and breeding our ancestors, and they should not be able to benefit from these horrendous acts.”

Political activist and attorney Roger Wareham filed this lawsuit on behalf of all African Americans. According to Wareham, the lawsuit is not about demanding monetary compensation for the descendants of African slaves in the U.S. Any money won from the lawsuit would go to a collective fund to help improve the housing, health care and education of African Americans.

Wareham, in an interview on the Black-oriented WABC-TV show “Like It Is,” told host Gil Noble, “Our strength is that the reparations lawsuit is part of a movement. The stronger the movement, the greater the possibility of the success of the suit. The most important thing is the success of the movement. The suit is just another part of that river of struggle that we are involved in.”

The December 12th Movement and the National Black United Front have called a “Millions for Reparations” national rally to take place in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 17, 2002 — the 115th anniversary of Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey’s birth. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America is also building the demonstration.

Gov’t fears exposure of slavery’s legacy

The U.S. government has a despicable history of downplaying and outright dismissing the issue of reparations. To grant compensation to millions of descendants of African slaves would expose the institutionalized racism that African Americans and other people of color still suffer today.

The disproportionate number of African Americans populating U.S. prisons is just one glaring example of the legacy of slavery.

Back in 1989, Congressional Black Caucus member John Conyers from Michigan introduced bill HR 40, the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” Conyers said: “African slaves were not compensated for their labor. More unclear, however, is what the effects and remnants of this relationship have had on African Americans and our nation from the time of emancipation through today. I chose the number of the bill, 40, as a symbol of the 40 acres and a mule that the United States initially promised freed slaves.”

Conyers cited a number of objectives of the bill — including setting up a commission that “would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.”

Malcolm X also raised the question of reparations in a speech on Nov. 23, 1964, in Paris. “If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate,” he said, “you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of white Americans are in a position of economic strength . . . is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay.”

The reparations struggle intensified with the military defeat of the Confederacy at the hands of the Union Army at the end of the Civil War. The victorious Northern government promised the newly freed slaves in the South “40 acres and a mule,” in effect acknowledging that brutal slave labor had not only greatly enriched the coffers of the former slave masters but also the emerging U.S. capitalist economy.

This just compensation for the freed people never came to fruition due to the counterrevolution that destroyed Reconstruction. In the “Compromise of 1877,” the Union Army abandoned the freed slaves, who had tried to bring about real social equality in the South by establishing their own institutions for political empowerment and elevation of their living and educational standards. For 10 years, the Union Army had played the role of a buffer between this progressive, democratic process and the former Confederate forces, who regrouped during Reconstruction.

The counterrevolution then evolved into a bloody terrorist campaign that drove the freed slaves to accept semi-slavery conditions. Under sharecropping, which still exists today, the former slaves went back to tilling the land of their former owners. They weren’t owned outright anymore, but had to work on the plantations for slave wages.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court legally sanctioned segregation as “separate but equal.”

Reparations struggle has taken many forms

In his 1903 masterpiece, “The Souls of Black Folks,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The problem of the 20th century is the color line.” Many Black activists and writers have looked to Du Bois’s words for inspiration in the continuing fight for Black liberation. Reparations became a very important focus in the Black struggle for the right to self-determination.

The Back to Africa mass movement in the 1920s and 1930s, led by the charismatic Marcus Garvey, was in its own way a demand for reparations. When the Black Panther Party created free breakfast programs and free access to clinics in the inner cities during the 1960s, this was another unique call for reparations. Affirmative action programs are also a form of reparations.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the traditional Civil Rights Movement, made a plea for reparations in his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait.” He wrote, “No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America (or the Caribbean or Brazil) down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent [U.S.] society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed upon unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of one human being by another. The law should be made to apply for American (Caribbean and Brazilian) Negroes.

“The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures, which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law. Such measures would certainly be less expensive than any computation based on two centuries of unpaid wages and accumulated interest. I am proposing, therefore, that just as we granted a G.I. Bill of Rights to war veterans, [the U.S.] launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial.”

The struggle for reparations received a tremendous boost at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa [in 2001]. The call for reparations, along with equating Zionism with racism, compelled the U.S. and Israeli governments to withdraw their high-level delegations from the conference. The Durban conference helped to provide worldwide exposure about the long-term, devastating impact of Western imperialism and colonialism on nationally oppressed people everywhere.

(WW graphic)


What an Audit of the British Empire’s Deadly Toll in Southern Afrika Would Reveal

What an Audit of the British Empire's Deadly Toll in Southern Africa Would Reveal
What an Audit of the British Empire’s Deadly Toll in Southern Africa Would Reveal
What an Audit of the British Empire's Deadly Toll in Southern Africa Would Reveal
What an Audit of the British Empire’s Deadly Toll in Southern Africa Would Reveal

The colonial powers have never been called to account for the human cost of their centuries of global rampage.

“It’s high time to examine the empire’s deadly toll.”

In its 2019 election manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to conduct an “audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy,” with the goal of understanding “our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule.”

Such a move would be welcome. A narrowly focused school history curriculum means that most Britons grow up with a limited knowledge of the history of the British empire and about the consequences for indigenous peoples in foreign lands. A view of the empire as essentially benign easily feeds into the sensibilities of a nation that believes itself to be bound by the rules of “fair play.”

Especially lacking is an understanding of how the British empire might appear from the perspective of the people who were conquered. The British empire is often seen as a force for good, as one that put an end to slavery and the slave trade, liberated foreign peoples from the tyranny of their rulers, replaced despotism with the rule of law and introduced millions to literacy, western medicine, commerce and Christianity. There are those in Britain today who greatly admire empire-builders such as Cecil Rhodes for their “sheer ambition, work ethic and self-belief.”

But the reality of empire was rather more complex and substantially less benign. The legacy of the British empire is more than a balance sheet of debits and credits.

“There are those in Britain today who greatly admire empire-builders such as Cecil Rhodes.”

My own research has focused on southern Africa, where Britain first showed a significant interest in the region as Dutch rule drew to a close at the end of the 18th century. The association of the ideology and practice of apartheid with Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa, and the catastrophic rule of the ZANU-PF government in present-day Zimbabwe has allowed modern Britain to successfully distance itself from its role in colonial conquest, the making of white minority rule, and the ensuing poverty of Africans in the region.

Yet it was Britain that ensured that South Africa and Zimbabwe entered the 20th century as countries rigidly stratified and segregated along racial lines in which white minorities held political power at the expense of a disenfranchised African majority. Here the rule of law meant rule by white settlers in the interests of white settlers.

Violent from the Start

In the first instance, the British empire grew out of military conquest, a bloody business by its very nature. In southern Africa, as elsewhere, it was accompanied by substantial violence, frequent starvation, much misery, an untold number of deaths, and the mutilation of African bodies by British soldiers for the purpose of taking souvenirs.

Time after time – from the onset of British rule at the end of the 18th century through to the 20th century when political power was formally handed to white settlers – British armies and British arms came down on the side of white settlers. Colonial conquest involved the burning down of homesteads, humiliating and incarcerating African chiefs, dismembering once-powerful kingdoms, all the while making Africans bear the cost of colonial rule through an elaborate system of taxation.

Though the Zulu kingdom scored a decisive victory against Britain at the Battle of Isandhlwana in 1879, the “peace” of subsequent years witnessed the breaking up of the kingdom into several chiefdoms and the forced exile of the Zulu monarch. The kingdom’s material independence was eroded while its members were absorbed into the colonial economy as cheap laborers.

In another example, the Ndebele of Zimbabwe lost somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 head of cattle in the three years following the defeat of their kingdom in 1893, while settlers and police from the British South Africa Company armed with Maxim guns roamed the countryside helping themselves to whatever they could. Throughout the region, appropriated land was made available to white settlers, including thousands from Britain, while Africans were crowded into impoverished “reserves”.

Methods of Barbarism

The South Africa War or Second Boer War between 1899-1902, a bitterly fought conflict between Britain and the Afrikaner republics, marked the high point of British imperialism in southern Africa. At the heart of this war was Britain’s desire to control the region’s mineral riches, especially the vast deposits of gold that were to be found in the South African interior and on which rested the value of the pound sterling.

Britain promised a speedy end to the war. Sure enough, the capital cities fell quickly to the British army, but the war entered a new phase when Afrikaner commandos turned to guerrilla methods of warfare, catching British units and columns off guard. Britain responded with “methods of barbarism,” a description that was used at the time by politicians and social campaigners in Britain.

Tens of thousands of Boer homesteads were torched and, as has been well documented by historians, thousands of women and children were forced into concentration camps. Towards the end of 1901 the mortality rate peaked at 344 per 1,000 people. An estimated 28,000 white people perished in the “death camps”, as they became known both locally and back in Britain.

Betrayal of Black South Africans

Less well known is the fact that at least 10,000, but possibly as many as 30,000, black South Africans fought on the side on the British army while tens of thousands served in non-combatant roles. The fact that more than 100,000 black people were also interned was for a long time excised from the historical record. But recent research has shown that the concentration camps claimed at least 14,000 black lives – though there may have been as many as 20,000 black fatalities in the camps.

It was the manner in which peace was concluded that is most instructive. Those black people who served the British army during the war did so on the promise that a British victory would result in their equal participation in the political life of the country.

In the course of the war, Africans enjoyed great success in returning to ancestral land and so rolling back earlier decades of conquest. It was but a small step to expect Britain to honor these reclamations from Afrikaner landlords. But Africans were mistaken – once military victory was concluded, Britain moved quickly to disarm its black allies. Officials toured the countryside and put white landlords back in control of the land.

The political rights for which Africans had fought and died were not to materialize under British rule. Rather than honor the wartime promises made to their black allies, Britain chose to do business with the vanquished enemy. Foremost was Jan Christiaan Smuts, former Boer general and a man who so impressed members of the British establishment that he went on to become prime minister of South Africa and was named chancellor of the University of Cambridge in later life. To allow the “coloured races” the “casting vote,” Smuts believed, “would cause South Africa to relapse into barbarism.”

It is high time, then, that the history curriculum in British schools is expanded to examine the British empire in much greater depth and raise awareness of the empire’s deadly toll.


Black Feminism and Black Moses, Part I

W. E. B. Du Bois’s poignant words in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,” is scripture for Black folk in America. Citizenry after three centuries-plus of bondage ain’t been no crystal staircase. Black folks have navigated feral and diabolical racialized hostility since European contact, invasion, occupation, conquest, and colonization. To be clear, the systemic violence of theft of bodies, culture, identities, and histories; foreign rule; forced African dispersal; the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and the European scramble for African territory, caused not only alienation between people, land, and culture, but laid claim to the spirit of African diasporic being, identity, independence, and thriving.

Today, when we think of the slave trade in America, many think of a system long gone that ended over a century and half ago. We think of [often a watered-down version of] what was, not what yet still is. We think of the magical Civil War that ended slavery and gave everyone shared access to the American Dream, not the reality that the same demonic colonial tools, political structure, and economic system that captured, enslaved, and traded an estimated 12 million Africans from Central and West Africa between the 15th and 19th centuries to be “slaves for life,” along with any offspring, still exists. Many of us are the offspring of Africans interpreted not as humans, but legal property aka cargo aka merchandise and sold to people who owned cocoa, cotton, coffee, tobacco, and sugar plantations. We are the descendants of domestics and field hands whose bylines, last names, diaries, testimonies, secrets, and seared flesh serve as reminders of our unique connection – to each other, land, experience, and the color-line. As Aimé Césaire reminds us in Discourse on Colonialism (1950), the dehumanizing, poisonous, and barbaric nature of coloniality, was distilled into the veins of our society. While we no longer live in a colonial context and “the official apparatus may have been removed…the political, economic, and cultural links established by colonial domination still remain.”

America is replete with colonial artifacts. Policing, mass incarceration, Black death, immigration laws, the juridical system, and the maintenance of socioeconomic class lines tell us this much. Neocoloniality is evidenced in and through a number of social hierarchies and forms of power and control intended to strip the Black diaspora of any semblance of freedom, justice, humanity, equity, or citizenship. And it means to stifle not only our liberation but our image. The collective battle for political freedom and from representational fabrication as darkness, evil, monsters, criminal, immoral, lazy, hyper-sexual, and so on, is real. The quest to be seen as ends rather than exploitable means to an end is real. And in the unyielding face of forced labor, joblessness, intimidation, police brutality, taxation, racial terror, theft, rape, incarceration, and murder, the 1960s signage and what came to represent the collective call of the social movement for humanity, “I Am A Man,” still rings true. In many ways, “I Am A Man” became a sublimation and lynchpin for naming Black oppression beneath the veil of the color-line.

The problem of the color-line impacts the African diaspora everywhere, forging a sense of collective fugitivity, multi-consciousness, and Black protectionism. Black folks are forever faced with questions and anxieties around belonging, place, personhood, and community. It’s only normal, and particularly in America, to protect the race for dear life. In many instances, “we’re all we got.” Simultaneously, it’s these realities and entanglements that shape Black desire for Black Moses – that magical genius warrior who will eventually and heroically save the Black diaspora in America: men, women, and children, and in that order. Antebellum Black radical resistance, the Black Reconstruction, and the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movement taught us that Black radical power, opposition, genius, and creativity came through many identities, persons, expressions, and cultural forms, with each revealing a range of collective needs and responses to interlocking oppressions. However, it seems the Jim Crow era ushered in a particular love affair with Black Moses, the revolutionary Black male figure and leader of the race making real political moves via speeches, marches, organizing, and direct attacks on American politics.

Such a figure stands for Black manhood without apology and subsequently represents Black power, citizenry, humanity, and liberation. The merging between the quest for Black manhood and Black power, citizenship, humanity, and liberation is more than I can get into here. The short of it is, heteropatriarchy is a pillar of American empire, which equates manhood to the state, state power, and “natural rights,” and naturalizes the quest for male domination as a natural moral order (within the nation-state, institutions, local communities, and interpersonally) and the dominion of male needs as symbolic of power, liberation, and the well-being of the collective. True enough, Harriet Tubman was also referred to as Black Moses. Race, sex, and gender politics were more fluid during slavery. Post-slavery demanded a special place and role for an appropriation of Black patriarchy in Black families, communities, and institutions. Black Moses became symbolic for a particular kind of Black male leadership and such leadership became emblematic of Black power, progress, liberation, and thus what it meant to be free, powerful, human, and whole.

Black Moses, the liberator and exemplar of Blackness, fights on our behalf against the color-line and stubborn colonial artifacts such as the remains of Dixie, unregulated violence, white power structures, second-class citizenship, et al. And because of this he exists in somewhat of a protected Black class. Because he’s working on our behalfBecause he does good in the communityBecause he’s fighting for social structures and programs needed for Black liberationBecause he understands not only the color-line but the transnational plight of the Black diaspora to be linked. Because as the saying goes, none of us are free until we are all free. However, given the history and context of race and racial oppression, many of us refuse to see or challenge the blind spots. We give in to racial solidarity and Black protectionism due to our shared place and history, and many of us do so at our own expense.

Du Bois was right. The problem of the 20th– and 21st– century is the color-line. But as Black feminists have been saying forever, it’s the intersections where race, class, sex, gender, and sexuality meet, too. Contrary to popular belief, Black feminism isn’t the enemy of collective Black liberation or Black men, families, and communities. Black feminism is an inclusive critical system of beliefs, politics, discourse, and social movement aimed at saving our collective Black lives and ending racist, sexist, heterosexist, trans-antagonistic, classist, imperialist, and capitalist exploitation and oppression. Black women and girls take up special space as both Black and women, and for some of us, as both advocates of Black life and women’s rights, we carry the burden of both the color-line and the gender-line on our shoulders. And we are more often than not pressured to choose one over the other; to note one as more oppressive than the other; to claim one as more or less significant; to prove our racial allegiance – through our lives, activism, servitude, third-classness, and too often our silence. But some of us carry signs fighting white supremacy, damning the history of slavery, collective racial oppression, rape, and breeding while concealing and swallowing down both interracial intracommunal violences. We are not supposed to talk about the latter…because the color-line is the Black problem…because white supremacy…because whatever our intracommunal experiences white men did it first and worse. And we surely aren’t supposed to say anything bad about Black Moses or his kinfolk in our communities.

Unchecked racial allegiance ain’t never liberated nobody. Black feminists understand the history of Black diasporic theft and oppression and how it’s operating in the contemporary moment as much as anyone. We understand neocoloniality got us collectively $%^&#@ up. We are not unaware. And we certainly aren’t working on behalf of white supremacy, as some like to argue – because in the words of Patricia Hill Collins, some see gender equality with Black women as defeat, disempowerment, and lack of entitlement. But some of us are of the Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Michele Wallace, Combahee River Collective ilk. Black women’s critiques of the Black Moses model pivotal to the Black nuclear family/political project and paradigmatic for Black communal, social, political, and religious leadership ain’t nothin new. Believe it or not, there’s a way to hold our collective history, good works, and bad ideology and deeds in tension. That is, we can critique white supremacy, show racial unity, appreciate Black radical efforts towards progress, and hold our folks accountable at the same time. More, there’s simply no way to talk about ancient civilization, colonization, North American enslavement, and 20th and 21st century oppression and social movements without also talking about the experiences, roles, and histories of Black diasporic women – good and bad. Simultaneously, we cannot ignore how our quest for humanity and ultimately Black Moses, led and continues to lead to intracommunal heteropatriarchal sexism, homophobia, and trans-antagonism.

The color-line is real but Black Moses and Black protectionism won’t save us. Truth, Cooper, and Baker been told us this model won’t liberate us. Check out the speeches “Woman’s Rights” and “When Woman Gets Her Rights Man Will Be Right”), the essay, “The Status of Woman in America,” and the documentary Fundi: The Ella Baker Story (1981). Sometimes Black Moses righteously and powerfully advocates for Black pride, power, independence, and socio-political-economic unionizing while partaking in intracommunal oppression. This can’t go unchecked. The idea that intracommunal criticism halts Black liberative efforts is a lieWe have to start critiquing problematic ideals, models, paradigms, and folk in our communities, even when they’ve done a lot of good (or made good music…like R. Kelly or made us shout and raise our hands…like James Cleveland). Criticism is not only an act of love but self-care and intracommunal preservation. And if we can be honest, the demand for intracommunal silence around sex, gender, and sexual oppression in the name of racial solidarity is really for Black cisgender heterosexual men – because Black folk have no problem critiquing Black women and Black lgbtqia people. Because if Tubman were alive today, we’d be hearing all kinds of criticisms about her politics, her leadership style, her gender identity and performance, her looks, how she talks to Black men, her sex life, her multiple husbands, her single motherhood, and so on.

Somebody send this article to Tamika Mallory, leader of the Women’s March currently facing harsh criticism for refusing to distance herself from Minister Louis Farrakhan. Sis is out here carrying the burden of the color-line and its centrality in Black struggle and the Black liberation tradition, neocoloniality, Black Moses, the quest for Black identity and it’s coiling with aspirational patriarchal Black manhood, and Black feminism along with it’s fundamental intersections between race, class, sex, and gender all on her shoulders. Yet while fighting for women’s rights and against white racism, including liberal white women’s racial allegiances, racial exclusions, and antiblackness in social movements, which Black feminists have been calling out since forever (see Sojourner Truth and here and here and here and here or just google “black feminist syllabi”), she’s seesawing her way between her allegiances to Black feminist politics and Black Moses. And she is neither the first nor the last to find themselves between the hard rock of Black feminism and the hard place of Black protectionism. It’s hard out here for Black feminists. Our racial history sometimes demands allegiances to people who’ve said or done harmful things. Thus some of us practice feminist politics while protecting our heteropatriarchal friends. Truth is, they are often people we love and are in community with. Sometimes we look up to them. And if we can keep it all the way real, sometimes we appreciate and find value in them — in Black Moses, Black male power, and yes, even Black male domination for some. Sometimes we actually do think that when Black men get their rights everything else will be alright.

Not that Mallory believes any of this. Admittedly, we’ve never met or spoken. But there is an especially nuanced and complex road that she’s traveling as a Black woman activist being called to stand against white racism and sexism, on one hand, and against a powerful Black Moses by white media, on the other. It’s easy to do the former. It’s easy to forcefully and unambiguously name white supremacy and to call out white, white passing, and non-Black women. It’s easy to denounce the color-line and neocoloniality that shapes our lives. The hard part is standing with and for Black men (and women) while also just as explicitly holding them accountable. And I don’t think Mallory does this with regard to Farrakhan. While she is expressly clear that she doesn’t agree with Farrakhan(and here) on all things, Black feminism calls for a more layered and nuanced response, not a rhetorical tap dance. We know she disagrees with his statements on anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia. However, the repetitive and rehearsed response, “I don’t agree with these statements,” is not enough. “I don’t agree” or “I critique systems and structures, not people” is a cheap way of refusing to offer a necessary critique, which Mallory is most certainly capable of doing when it comes to white supremacy. But again this is tricky terrain.

Before I’m accused of working for white supremacy let me say this: I applaud Mallory for refusing to dispose of Farrakhan.

She’s not the first to be asked. White Americans have been demanding Black activists to dispose of him in order to access allying and resources and to perform proper and acceptable Blackness for decades. And Farrakhan is not the first. Divide and conquer is an age old tool. That said, while Black folks love our Black Moses’s, the media and political powers that be hates them. Thus, after reading about the DNC’s move to distance itself from the Women’s March and watching Mallory on The View, I wrote the following,

While I get the critical space black women activists take up as both black and women, and more, as both advocates of black life and women’s rights, I feel like Mallory should own her loyalty to Farrakhan. She doesn’t need to disown him (dis/owning is a white supremacist antiblack project – I prefer critique and accountability). But she does need to be more forthright about why she’s not. And more, about why she sees him as the GOAT. She should own that race may possibly trump all else in her radical politics. And she should own that she wasn’t likely thinking about his other harmful positions, including those on Mike Tyson, R. Kelly, and rape culture, when uplifting his racial politics. However, as a black feminist, I’m troubled that he’s even in the middle of this, getting all of this airtime, and that she’s yet holding onto him with the whole “I go wherever my people are…including prisons.” That analogy was interesting, to say the least. But also, it felt grossly disingenuous. It would be great if she worked through these nuances and perhaps excused herself from the march while doing so (so that she doesn’t cause further harm). She can always come back and/or work behind the scenes. In the meantime, I continue to side-eye **any** black feminist refusing to call Farrakhan out on, at minimum, his sex and gender politics. I recently re/listened to the recording of him included in NO! The Rape Documentary, by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, where he talks about Mike Tyson’s rape charge, and I was sickened to my stomach.

I went on to comment,

I really want her to critique Farrakhan AND white media for requesting that she and black folk in general dis/own radical black voices. I find their outrage disingenuous as well.

I applaud Mallory for her refusal to dis/own, not for her refusal to offer radical critique on a mass-mediated platform. I applaud her for naming white supremacy and white privilege and for making lucidly clear the systemic, structural, institutional, and interpersonal violences of the color-line. I applaud her for balancing the history of womanhood and contact, conquest, and colonization. And I even applaud her for wanting to protect Black Moses, given all he represents to Black communities both figuratively and realistically. Such protectionism feels like protecting the race and standing boldly and in solidarity in the face of racist politics and media. It feels like a win for Black humanity and liberation and especially for Black men – and particularly as Black manhood and Black Moses have come to equate to each. And while I understand what reads as contradictions between Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism and Mallory’s radical vision of freedom for all people from all oppressions, I won’t get into that here. There is a complex relationship between Jewish people, whiteness, white passing folks, and Black folks. Let’s just say, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, diasporic dispersal, the scramble for Africa, antiblackness throughout the Americas, and the quest for whiteness didn’t yield us any friends. The Portuguese, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Caribbean, and those others occupying the western empire were all happy to engage in New World trading and the oppression of humans. And those groups later given access to whiteness in the New World, despite their own oppressions, have been equally happy to partake in the structures and fruits of antiblackness. That said, it’s a tangled web that needs more space and time.

But what of Farrakhan’s previous statements about rape? What of how he claims to hate rape and rapists, on one hand, while calling survivors liars and dabbling in rape culture and rape jokes, on the other? What of how he explicitly stands against rape, and especially white male rapists, the raping of young boys in the Catholic Church, and the rape of Black women by white enslavers but when he discusses Black men like Mike Tyson and R. Kelly he moves towards discourses on forgiveness, genius, the divinity within, and how all have sinned (grace clearly reserved for Black men)? What of how he exclaims women are sacred and to be honored and jezebels who lie in the same breath? In a 1992 speech on Tyson he said the following:

You bring a hawk into the chicken yard and wonder why the chicken got eaten up. You bring Mike to a beauty contest and all these fine foxes just parading in front of Mike. Mike’s eyes begin to dance like a hungry man looking at a Wendy’s beef burger or something. She said “no Mike no.” I mean how many times, sisters, have you said “No” and you mean “Yes” all of the time. Wait, wait, I’m talking to the women. We’re going to talk now. You see, the days of the bs (bull shit) is all over. You’re not dealing with a man that don’t know you and the damn deceitful games that you play” (Transcript of NO! by Aishah Shahidah Simmons) (You can listen to the rest of the speech here: 1:47:00-2:14:06)

Does this not require precise Black feminist righteous rage? I encourage readers to listen to the video and sit with the male approval and laughter in the audience. We can’t be out here calling Black Moses the GOAT and not naming this – not as Black feminists. Our politics necessitate at least a nuanced word or two. Rape apology, especially when it comes to Black women, is anti-Black-feminist.

This is the game of double-dutch Black feminists are forced to play and have long played. We understand the force of neocoloniality and systemic and structural racism. We know the impact it’s had on Black communities and Black men. But we also know the inter- and intracommunal effects on our lives as well. Here’s the thing: It’s okay to appreciate and stand up for racial contributions while offering a critique of harm. This is not about telling Mallory what to say, a critique she’s made when pushed to offer a more unambiguous critique of Farrakhan – a critique that means to absolve her of providing said criticism. This is about the reality that patriarchy, sex, gender, and sexual oppression and violences are colonial artifacts, too, and how Black feminist politics and leadership demands we foreground not only the history and operation of the color-line but also how sex, sexual, gender, and class oppressions systematically shapes, limits, and denies our existence and thriving – regardless of the source, including our very own Black Moses. Especially, Black Moses.

As I watched Mallory forcefully and dynamically grace the airwaves last week, I grew frustrated where it seemed everyone else was applauding. I understood her unapologetic Blackness, Black feminism, and Black protectionism, well. I understood her love for the NOI and Black Moses. More, I understood our collective applause and how our systemic oppression and desires for not only racial unity and power but a Black Moses shaped it. At the same time, I recalled all the times that racial unity, while necessary and potentially liberating, called for our silence and third-classness, how resisting colonial artifacts meant protecting Black Moses at all cost, and how such protectionism meant also excusing intracommunal trauma. Black feminists can’t stand for Black life and Black inflicted trauma. Despite all of his good in Black communities, Farrakhan is on record supporting Black sexual and gender terrorists, rape culture, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, and trans-antagonism. And no, it’s not enough to simply say we don’t agree with everything Farrakhan says. We can unequivocally note white terror and Black intracommunal oppression at the same time. Concomitantly, we can aspire to radical racial solidarity and accountability concurrently.

But be clear: this is bigger than Farrakhan. Farrakhan is a Black Moses figure, not the Black Moses figurehead. There have been many. The bottom line is this: the problem of the 21st century is still the color-line. However, the color-line is irreducible to equal access to cisgender heteropatriarchal Black manhood, ideas, needs, and accomplishments, and Black oppression can’t be totalized by the color-line. More, Black Moses devoid of Black radical inclusive politics, love, and a vision of intersectional Black diasporic liberative ethics, is ineffectual. And finally, Black Moses must be called out on his ish. Ultimately, we don’t need a cisgender heterosexual or singular Black Moses paradigm. Ella Baker explicitly warned against this. We need collective leadership inclusive of those from the furthest edges of the social margins who are willing to fight against the force of entwining Black oppressions. This doesn’t mean we don’t love and value cisgender heterosexual Black male leaders. Absolutely, we do. It means Black leadership must always be accountable to ALL Black people and as inclusive as our Black lives.

The problem of the 21st century are our interlocking Black oppressions.