This piece was initially written as an email to two Elders who have often bemoaned the lack of unity that we as African people have demonstrated over these many generations since the Ma’afa (a Twi word meaning “great disaster”, used by Pan-Afrikan historians and activists to describe the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Arab Slave Trade, the Scramble for Africa and the suffering African people have endured as a result). I meant it as a helpful response to their question (which was probably rhetorical anyway) about why our people continue to act in such a self-destructive manner, refusing to hear the words of our knowledgeable Elders and instead preferring the siren song of the corporate interests who wish to keep us subjugated as compliant consumers and labor lackeys to keep the wheels of their industry moving. When my email was returned to me with the message “the recipient is only accepting mail from specific email addresses”, it became clear to me that, while the message was meant to be distributed broadly so that all could hear the wisdom of their words, they did not themselves wish to hear the words of the rest of us. In other words, this was to be a one-way discussion. And, apparently (and unfortunately), the only answer they wished to see or hear was the rest of us unifying under their leadership.
I’ve encountered a number of wise and well-meaning activists and organizers, such as these respected Elders, who have taken this view, that they are the ones with the answers and all others should simply follow their banner. The organization I belong to, the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC), is a coalition-based organization that realizes that such an approach will often fail to attract allies who already have ideas and organizations of their own. SRDC has attempted to form cooperative partnerships with other organizations whose response was simply “join under us and then we will work together.” These partnerships failed to materialize because we could not subordinate our mission to someone else’s, but we were willing to work side-by-side with other organizations in areas of shared interest, an offer which has often been refused. Our various organizations’ utter failure to work together in such a unified and cooperative manner (despite our avowed reverence for the principles of Kwanzaa, specifically Unity–Umoja–and Collective Work and Responsibility–Ujima) actually underlines the primary reason why the words of our enemies carry so much more weight than do our own with our own people.
I’m not saying that the Elder’s complaint was without merit; quite the contrary. He is absolutely right: our grassroots communities easily and readily swallow the brainwashing and propaganda that is fed to them by the powers that be. Where I differ with the Elder is in his seeming surprise and bewilderment as to the reason why this is happening. It is not because of some magic spell that has been cast over our people. It is not because of some myth of intellectual or moral inferiority that right-wingers try to sell us. It is not even so much because of Western “tricknology”, though it is a tool that is used to deliver the poisonous messages our enemies feed us. It is because, as much as anything else, of our own inability, or refusal, as self-styled “leaders”, to actively model the unity and cooperation we want the masses to practice to lift our communities up.
The messages with which our communities are bombarded–Look out for Number One, Individual Freedom, Personal Responsibility, I Gotta Get Mine–have profoundly influenced us, and not for the better. While it took military coups d’état and the imposition of military dictatorships to turn communities in Latin American countries and even villages against each other, the unraveling of the fabric of our Village was accomplished more through a coup d’esprit–the conquest of our spirit through a combination of drugs, deprivation, fear and propaganda. The major entertainment media (which often masquerade as news) and the corporate interests that control them were able to pull off this stunt in a way that was well-coordinated and affected our collective psyche across the board. This is largely because of the fact that they are well organized in spite of belonging to different organizations and corporations. While they all have their specific organizational interests (mainly profit), they all agree on the basic narrative to feed to our people, and thus their message is well crafted, organized and unified. They often sit on each others’ Boards of Directors and, though they may be competitors in many ways, they have learned to support each other in a variety of projects. Even going back in history, we see this level of cooperation. At the Berlin Conference, supposedly-competing countries “cooperated” to divide Mother Africa up so that each of them was given control of specific, resource-rich sectors of our ancestral home, knowing that they would all benefit at our collective expense. This spirit of cooperation would ultimately serve them well in the two World Wars, when first Otto Von Bismarck, then Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers, decided to attempt to conquer all of Europe for themselves. The countries of Europe, including the United States and Russia in World War II, not only cooperated militarily, they also worked together to develop and implement the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. Thus, our historical oppressors from the United States and Europe have been practicing “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility) and “Umoja” (Unity) for hundreds of years before we even mouthed the words.
We as African people do no such thing. With the exception of the occasional slave revolt, civil-rights march or presidential election, we seem unable to truly come together and cooperate on anything without our own self-interested aims derailing our efforts. (The African Union is trying to provide an example of cooperation among member states, but that project, much like the Organization of African Unity which it replaced, is being challenged as well, from inside and from outside the organization.) Our different organizations are still involved in the “me-first” game and no other strategy is acceptable. To us, unity seems possible only through conquest and the absorption of other groups’ members. If people do not join our organization and follow our specific organizational agenda, we assume that they do not wish to work with us and that they are against Pan-African Unity.
This, our refusal to even work in cooperation with each other while our enemies have been doing so for generations, is the main reason why our message goes unheeded by the masses of our people. We are so busy competing with, contradicting and fighting ourselves that our messages of liberation and uplift sound jumbled and self-contradictory; why should anyone listen to us talking about unity when we all fight amongst ourselves? The corporations, while they do compete with each other for the biggest share of the profits, are at least selling us, by and large, the same thing, and have agreed to use their common media outlets
to send us the same basic message of what we should call ourselves and what dreams we should seek to attain. Our ironically self-described Pan-Afrikan organizations, however, disagree on what we should call ourselves, what our relationship should be to Africa and what is best for us as a people, and they all seem to insist that they alone are the path to our psychological, economic and political freedom and that all others must join them and them alone.
The fact is that our different organizations are not going to join each other. You may have no interest in “joining” my organization, the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus or SRDC (not that I’m insisting that you do) because you want to continue to build your organization, and I don’t have the time or energy to join other organizations because I’m quite busy with more than enough unpaid work helping to build SRDC.
However, this need not be a major problem or an impediment to our organizing efforts. While we in SRDC are still focused on building our organization and establishing a means to bring the voice of the Grassroots Communities of the African Diaspora to the World Stage (be that through the African Union, World Social Forum or other vehicles), we also recognize that, while our different organizations are not ready to join each other, they can, and must, find a way to work together cooperatively for the education, mobilization and general uplift of African people, as the corporations of our adversaries do in their effort to strengthen their control over us.
I have been reaching out, on behalf of SRDC, to other organizations that have shown an interest in working cooperatively. I’ve concentrated my efforts in the area near where I live, and as a result I’ve gotten a few interested responses from some of the Continental African organizations in the Washington DC area, even though many of them would tell you that their perspective on who the African Diaspora is (that the Diaspora is primarily Continental Africans who emigrated from the Mother Continent to the West) are often quite different from that of SRDC and of African Descendants in general (that the Diaspora includes all people of African descent who live outside the African Continent). Still, if there is a way for Continental Africans and African Descendants to engage in constructive planning so that we can eventually develop a narrative of Diaspora Unity instead of the individualistic disunity and thoughtless consumerism that our adversaries teach us, I hope to be a part of that planning process. I don’t expect these organizations to join SRDC, but my hope is that they will agree to work alongside us to reach out to, organize and galvanize the African Diaspora so that the aims of all our organizations can be attained.
If this sounds like an acceptable arrangement, I am prepared to hear from you so that we can make plans to move all of our people forward. Just leave a comment here, or send an email to email@example.com.
Peace and Power,