A Black Lives Matter protestor in Portland. June 4, 2020. Photo: Matthew Roth / Flickr

“Claim no easy victories”: reexamining Black rebellion

  • June 11, 2020

Race & Resistance

We stand at the precipice of radical change, but this violent system will not go without a fight. This moment will determine where do we go from here.

The actual beginnings of our expression are post Western (just as they certainly are pre-western). It is only necessary that we arm ourselves with complete self knowledge[;] the whole technology (which is after all just expression of whoever) will change to reflect the essence of a freed people. Freed of an oppressor, but also as [Askia] Touré has reminded we must be “free from the oppressor’s spirit,” as well. It is this spirit as emotional construct that can manifest as expression as art or technology or any form.

 Amiri Baraka, “Technology & Ethos” (1971)

We are witnessing a period that is trending towards unprecedented, but the violence displayed by the militarized police is not without historical genealogy or philosophical tradition. People around the world are engaged in public rebellion and protests as a direct response and in solidarity with communities of African descent in the US. But the work — the spiritual, intellectual and physical work, has not yet begun.

In this regard, postmodernist positions distort the ability to understand and map this historical genealogy, as its philosophical tradition is rooted in a Western liberalism that centers the individual as being the ultimate unit of measure. As a worldview, postmodernism roughly suggests that within the conditions the individual finds themselves there is a search for identity.

However, this identity is rooted in an individualist ethos that attempts to understand the world. In short, and not to belabor the point, postmodernist positions fragment time, divorcing phenomena from longer trajectories that it is wedded to when the individual discovers themselves as a product of their worldview. And worldviews are guided by a constellation of values, ideas and concepts that lend themselves as filters to understanding this world. Therefore, if these values, ideas and concepts are mobilized in the continuities of what Achille Mbembe highlights as the processes of the fabrication of racial subjects, then our ability to form collective responses to global problems is distorted.

Being so, those who seek to counter this current iteration of Black rebellion promote distortions through media, i.e. the focus on looting instead of the demands of protestors. And these counter forces with increased use of violence by the police try to narrow the righteous rage to suggest that folk are responding to one instance of police use of force. This individualizes this rebellious moment. More clearly, they think that folk are rebelling against the video of George Floyd. They think folk are just frustrated. They think that folks are responding to a quote bad apple unquote. They think folks must protest peacefully.

The “they” are those in positions of perceived power where thought and action are built upon racial capitalist logics that maintain and reinforce systems of dehumanization. There is an underlying reality here, though, they do not truly think this. Quote they unquote want you to think this.

The Africana world is not simply frustrated, “little children” who have all the opportunity in world, yet ungrateful. Despite living in nation states that are designed against their very being. Africana folk are not merely responding to an instance of violence. In fact, people are instinctively responding to the structural and historical realities of violence that has in this moment articulated itself in disproportionate deaths from the current COVID-19 pandemic, massive unemployment, threats from fascists leaning political officials and overtly racist groups that rival slave patrols and Jim Crow lynch mobs; all while African descendant men and women are still being murdered by state sanctioned use of force by a highly militarized police — on camera, across the world. Least we do not forget that indigenous women are still disappearing, found murdered and sexually assaulted.

It is essential in this moment where European modernity is fracturing, for every critical thinking African and person of African descendant, globally, to grab hold of the fracture and pull with all your might.

Even more important, it is essential to gain clarity of objective and practice a sharpness of means.

George Jackson wrote: “We find ourselves today forced into a reexamination of the whole nature of Black revolutionary consciousness and its relative standing within a class society…”

Indeed, the reexamination of the whole nature of Black radical and revolutionary thought is critical in this moment. In fact, the answers that one will find are rooted in an expanded idea of humanity. Critiques of narrow notions of justice. Answers that one will find lay at the very heart of a true practice of the very thing European modernity claims to have been built upon. It is also here the problem with Black radical and revolutionary consciousness comes to fore, it also exposes the contradictions of these foundations, thereby rendering those who are wedded to these principles to expose their own contradictions.

All is not lost; political education then becomes the call of the day.

In this regard Fred Hampton provides a textured and sharp analysis of the role of political education in this reexamination. Fred Hampton argues the importance of revolutionary political education here.

Education — more clearly, a political education, must be evident. Note that to be educated is to read. The revolutionary importance of reading is key. Reading according to Paulo Freire: “is not exhausted merely by decoding the written word or written language, but rather anticipated by and extending into knowledge of the world. Reading the world precedes reading the word, and the subsequent reading of the word cannot dispense with continually reading the world. Language and reality are dynamically intertwined. The understanding attained by critical reading of a text implies perceiving the relationship between text and context.”

Therefore, our rebellious, ungovernable discourse must be rooted in a critical human rights consciousness, specifically a critical Africana human rights consciousness (CAHRC).

It is here, the platform that guides the question, what next? can be built. From this CAHRC, we must engage in five activities:

  1. Seek to institutional this moment, interrogating and building upon models and the legacy of the Council on African Affairs; Organization of African American Unity; a black radical tradition trending TransAfrica; inject our energies into the vision as articulated by Vincent Harding in the Institute of the Black World;
  2. Develop ideological refinement for clarity towards objective;
  3. Link all organizing efforts with international connections — Pan African being organizational goals;
  4. Consolidate written and nonwritten projects of Black critique into a sustained counter discourse, that provides a textured response to injustice and self-critique; and
  5. This, all, must consistently be rooted in a critical Africana human rights consciousness, which is, in fact, a critique and expansion of human rights theory and practice, as currently organized in the human rights industry.

As we begin to move further into next phases of rebellion, there must be movement, in the words of Kwame Ture, from an unconscious to conscious organized response.

Above all, there are two necessary tactics offered by Amilcar Cabral to implement: 1) those engaged in struggle, should unflinchingly practice the notion of class suicide; and 2) above all that is fought for and gained: “Every responsible member of a movement must have the courage of his/her responsibilities, exacting from others a proper respect for his/her work and properly respecting the work of others. Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.”

It is in this historical genealogy that Africana peoples walk. It is in this ancestral tradition Africana peoples live. It is here, George Jackson provides more clarity: “We must prove our predictions about the future with action.” And I will add within all expediency of black critique, as the future of our humanity rests on getting this right.


For a full articulation of “postmodernist diversion of Black rebellion” you can listen to an interview with james pope here.

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james pope

james pope is currently an Associate Professor & Program Coordinator, Africana Studies at Winston Salem State University (North Carolina, USA).  He explores Africana radical thought and cultural resistance as it relates to the interaction between human rights, social movements, race/racism, and critical consciousness formation.

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Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/claim-no-easy-victories-reexamining-black-rebellion/

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