Category Archives: neo-colonialism

On Mysterious Niggers

“Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were gone too.” – Marlow, in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

To follow up on the conversation begun in the “Furtive Movements” post about the fear of black men in North American society, I wanted to bring in some literary critique and historical review to expand the thought across borders and into the Pan-African realm.

Joseph Conrad spoke of “mysterious niggers” in Heart of Darkness when describing the instrument of ultra-violence and extreme terror that was the Force Publique, the army of the Congo Free State under Leopold II, wretched king of the Belgians. In the name of maximizing rubber-tapping output by the enslaved population of Leopold’s now private property – a territory the size of the United States east of the Mississippi or almost as large as India – these minions worked hard at decimating villages, cutting off hands, raping women, children and men, and torturing, mutilating and murdering without rest. These ruthless rubber enforcers were instrumental in exterminating some 10 million Congolese between roughly 1890 and 1910, when the Belgian state took over the Congo following the exposure of Leopold’s genocidal crimes in Central Africa in the name of profit. But the Force Publique, still in existence today as the Congo National Army, was recruited from amongst the indigenes of the Congo, young African men convinced and/or coerced by the virtues of raping their own country, taking the most meager cut of the pillage and giving the lion’s share to the colonial masters. In the past fifteen years or so, the latest genocide in Congo, played out mostly in the country’s east, has ended the lives of some 7 million Congolese. The same old coercive and violent structures remain in place, with proxy armies of the states of Uganda and Rwanda, simply called rebels in the shallow Western media, helping to enforce slave labor in the mining of precious minerals that are whisked away to the West and to East Asia by small planes in unmarked airstrips in the jungle. The Congolese Army likewise imposes this same regime and rapes and enslaves the Congo and its people for riches, leaving the most well-endowed land on the planet in a state that is extremely inhospitable to human life. And it is young African men, just like me, taking marching orders from utterly morally bankrupt and corrupt governments, or from greed and lust themselves, who are the in situ instruments of this mayhem.

But no one gets left off the hook by getting put in the category of mysterious niggers. And Joseph Conrad will not get a pass for coining that denigrating phrase either. Because these men are not niggers, they are African human beings. And they are not mysterious. They’re purpose is very well understood, obvious, one-dimensional and brutally frank. The minions of the Force Publique, the Congolese Army, and most other private and state-controlled armies and police forces across Africa which typically enforce exploitation and oppression in pursuit of a neocolonial agenda – their work is blatantly political, studied, coherent. So we will neither call the Force Publiques of the black world mysterious (what’s so mysterious about a violent enforcer of hegemony, no matter his/her tactics?), nor will we call them niggers, since they are part of our family, and they are fully human (if dehumanized by their deeds).

Not all Africans are good guys. We have to confront the internal sources of oppression and failure within our family and correct them by any means necessary. That is indeed the biggest obstacle to Uhuru – not the external and foreign forces we often get carried away with placing blame on, but the internal forces that prevent forward motion, the ones who look like us but that work in cahoots with the neo-colonial tendency and outside exploiters, that are preoccupied with satisfying their own boundless greed and need for instant gratification, and that possess unquestioned inferiority complexes about our capacity and potential as a people and a civilization, as Africans. Black inferiority complexes within us are ten trillion times worse than white supremacy is. For when we have full belief in our own full humanity, our unimaginable human potential, our beauty, our importance and our place in history, whatever we think exists of global white supremacy will suddenly have magnitudes less power to actually keep us from achieving what we wish, except perhaps by brute force (i.e. Leopold II), which is unlikely in this era.

Having rejected and denounced the concept of mysterious niggers, I acknowledge that we’ve all internalized it to some extent, all over the world. As for me, I love the man in the mirror. I like seeing other brothers, particularly those doing positive things in the world. But I know that my own starting point when strangers see me walking around North America as I do, the blank canvas I should be before I am judged by a new encounter – that eye draws me first and immediately as a mysterious nigger. In other words, I always begin in society as a mysterious nigger, at a minimum. And sometimes this holds true even in the eyes of other black people. Until I prove otherwise by my character, in some cases how I dress and carry myself, and even by my “well-spokenness,” I’m a mysterious nigger, I’m a dark suspect of unknown intentions. If I were of European descent with milk-toned skin, I would perhaps present to others as familiar and unthreatening, especially given how I already tend to dress and move through the world, which is to say unassumingly and business-casual with a sporty twist. But I’m just about as black as we come, West African through and through from the Niger Delta.

Back home, it would be different only in the sense that I won’t be such a threat to anyone, and there’s no racial, cultural and historical ice of ignominy to bust through, at least in getting to know someone who looks like family already and comes from the same universe. But colonialism has left so many vestiges of its culture of violence between Africans, played out by young African men as cheap pawns, that in many cases we are still mysterious niggers to one another.

I remember back in 2003 when I was 19 and really started to take a deep interest in African affairs. Back in that summer the civil war in Liberia was really heating up before it’s end very shortly thereafter. On the cover of the New York Times, some time in June or so, don’t remember, there was a picture of a young combatant in Monrovia roaring with the look of venom in his face, standing in the rain with a rocket launcher over his shoulder. That was one of the first times I really saw myself in another African man like that. I could have been that unnamed guy somehow, if circumstances were different. I mean I looked like that fellow, very likely an age-mate. And the New York Times, in not naming him, in showing this random African with a machine gun destroying things and killing his brothers, was depicting a textbook example of a mysterious nigger.

I want to humanize the black man. And in doing so I will never absolve African men of any crimes they’ve done, including against African women and children, and other African men, and anybody else for that matter. I will never absolve us from complicity in our own oppression, or unwillingness to challenge it. But I’m done thinking in the context of mysterious niggers.

How can you honestly prosecute a mysterious nigger? How can you judge a mysterious nigger who is in the wrong? By initiating a thought about that person wherein he is already in the “mysterious nigger” category from the start, one already has a negative and dehumanizing image and concept of this man.

I think it is almost revolutionary to start to think about young black men, even those who do wrong, as first fully human. Contemporary societies, whether in North America, the Caribbean, or Africa seem resistant to this. If I want to know the story of a young soldier who is now on trial for the crimes he committed in the early 2000s in Sierra Leone, I want to know him as the flawed, sick human being he is, and his history. I want no less knowledge about his victims. But when we pursue justice acknowledging one another’s humanity, including the potential psychoses, passions and prerogatives of all parties, I think we arrive inevitably at more fair results, and we do so in the light of better understanding.

Let us understand one another. No more mysterious niggers. Those gangbangers on the corner are not mysterious niggers – their sons, grandsons, cousins, fathers. Those rebels in the Congo, those Force Publique of old, those Tonton Macoute in Haiti, they are not black monsters. And black men individually are not monsters before we know who they are.

If we stop thinking numbly and dumbly about mysterious niggers with no known cause or cure, and start thinking about why violence happens, who funds it, who profits from it, and why men participate in it, we will go a lot further in preventing violence amongst young black men. We need the courage and the boldness to understand and humanize ourselves, and look one another in the eyes as humans, without prejudicial fear and loathing. We need to see one another, as young black men, with the eyes of understanding, at the very least. Our conditioning to hate one another is very difficult to act upon when we choose to understand each other, hear each other and listen carefully.

Let’s study ourselves, study the human mind, study these stereotypes that trap us, and break the chains of slavery and dehumanization, starting with the man (or woman) in the mirror. To defeat self-hate, revolutionary an act as it is, it starts with simply listening, understanding, and being patient enough to allow the sea of negativity within us to calm itself so we can see the beautiful, undeniable humanity that was within our black selves all along. Then we can share that insight and live that understanding. And ain’t understanding the kernel of love?

Gender Equality, Ubuntu, and Critical Thinking

March is women’s history month. But women make history all year, year after year. Women’s history is no joke. Women are no joke. Women are the harder-working half of humanity, hands down. They do the reproductive labor of our species, as well as productive labor. And because of patriarchal accounting systems, economies and cultures the world over, a woman’s reproductive labor is not fully accounted for; sometimes it is called leisure. But the very reproduction of the species is a far more significant task than leisure. We cannot monetize it. We cannot, or refuse to, dignify it the way our acquisitive culture dignifies the whole predominantly white male lot of Wall Street bankers who helped dramatically deepen the long crisis that capitalism is. The World Bank and IMF will not categorize and catalogue the full worth of women’s labor. But our patriarchal, consumer society has been far more successful at monetizing women’s bodies, at the gross objectification of sisters, daughters, and mothers for their body parts. In this way women are reduced to mannequins and sex dolls, display pieces in downtown boutiques, or rated, graded, and sold as if on the meat market of human flesh, as when dowries are paid. So any thoughtful vegan should be quick to recognize that the liberation of women furthers the cause. More monumental is the task of having men recognize that when women are liberated from gendercide, subordination, and second-class status as humans and as male property, we men will be liberated to become more fully human ourselves. Women’s liberation is its own worthy and urgent cause, but it is also to our own immediate advantage to participate in and share solidarity with full gender equality in our planetary civilization. For us to become more prosperous, more intelligent, and wiser, uniting with feminism is in the selfish interest of men – keeping it real. Reject male privilege. For women are no joke.

This is because an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals suggests the basic logic of the African philosophy of Ubuntu – that “I am because we are,” that we are fundamentally and immutably interdependent beings. It is informed by a basic ecological principle that whatever our material embodiment consists of, it automatically invokes and forms from the contributions of our parents, their parents, the food they ate, the sunshine that shone on it, the minerals/stardust that fed it, and ultimately, the entire universe itself. By this understanding, the American notion of “rugged individualism” is illogical and misleading, perhaps deliberately so as it aims to divide us, isolate us and atomize us. All of us constitute the community, and the full participation of each of us, realizing our full potential, permits collective prosperity. If women are denied an education, the community suffers the loss of her more fully realized participation and contribution to the intellectual and material well-being of the group. The direct consequence of the unjust enforcement of ignorance upon females is collective poverty. This can be proven by looking at any society that has strong evidence of ongoing work toward equalizing the statuses, opportunities and life chances of men and women, and then looking at a society that treats women like livestock, like household appliances. The more just society is always more prosperous, healthy, educated, safe, clean, and so on, by many multiples across any human development measure.

Active critical thinking informs an honest assessment, for men, of the problem with oppressing women, or even passively acquiescing to their oppression. Think, for example, about how women in urban communities around the United States (really worldwide) must deal with street harassment, with the catcalling and worse, which exacerbate the oppression of black women. The street harassment paradigm posits the threat of violence over all of us. Street harassment is motivated by false and problematic beliefs in males of inherent domination, unearned privilege, the machismo quest for superficial and immediate validation, and the pursuit of easy sexual gratification. These are among the same exact prerequisites for deadly beefs on the street between us black men, the same ingredients for the horizontal violence perpetrated between us. While it is objectively true that the external factors of poverty and social debasement have often left us little option but to get over at the expense of one another, we destroy ourselves when we conform to the external anti-black expectation of our manifest, mass failure to thrive in any sustainable way. The motives of street harassment are one and the same as the motives for fatal internecine hostility. This in turn helps, in part, to enable mass incarceration of black men. Thus, the macho atmosphere of street harassment, which makes the lives of our sisters, mothers and daughters unbearable and dangerous, also makes our lives as men perilous. Street harassment is emblematic of a violent community towards all of its members. The streets with the most street harassment are also the streets where the most black brothers die at one another’s hands. Street harassment, rape and bloodshed all live on the same block.

Critical thinking, aggressively centered on a defense of the dignity and full value of human beings, should also inform how we draw conclusions about how we relate to one another and whether or not what we call “tradition” is worth any respect by any intelligent person in this day and age. If you value your own humanity, we can safely and logically assume that other humans value their own essence and identity as well, and consider themselves worth a fair chance in society. Grounded in this logic, a logic that is more immediate to us as humans than almost any other, we should be able to safely regard any tradition, religion, book, philosophy, politic, ethic, or other source of culture and thought that denies the humanity and dignity of people who are different from the majority, or from those with power, as highly suspect, at best. Thus, those who see difference in others and thus deny that others’ humanity, are behaving illogically, and hatefully besides.

The debate around homosexuality in Africa is centered, for the homophobes, in strange defenses of “tradition” or “religion” that claim the alienness of homosexuality to Africa, the “unnaturalness” of gay sex, and so on. These conclusions are fundamentally antihuman, and thus are to be fundamentally rejected; they are unscientific, dishonest and illogical besides. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is no joke. They are human beings. They are part of the community. They are worthy of respect and of every opportunity to fully contribute to and participate in the growth and empowerment in community; this is no less true in Africa or in black communities anywhere than it is in the West or any other part of the planet. The homophobes in power in Nigeria, in Uganda and elsewhere are using politics to disenfranchise, terrorize, scapegoat and dehumanize a part of the community that should be given every right to enjoy their human lives and be the sisters and brothers to our family that they truly are. By thinking critically and imagining ourselves the target of these laws and antihuman paradigms, we cannot but help draw conclusions that lead us to recognize the inhumanity and fundamental stupidity of homophobia and patriarchy. In this vein, heterosexual people should stand in full solidarity and advocate for the full inclusion and enfranchisement of our homosexual kin. This is the mature stance which will allow all of us to contribute our utmost to grow as a collective. Reject your heterosexual privilege and arrogance. Lives are at stake – and by the logic, critical thinking and Ubuntu understanding we have applied here thus far, it is unacceptable to deny the humanity of anyone in our community, no matter what gender or sexual identities they are born with or adopt. When we begin to take what private parts people have, or what they do with them in private, as justification for branding certain people unworthy of human dignity, we are being utterly childish, and any religion, tradition, or person that has that tendency is also ignorant, childish, dangerous and stuck in the stone-ages.

As a heterosexual male, I hope I have made a reasonable case that we, over-privileged straight men, will be far better off when we reject the convenient privileges of our status which permit us to dominate women and dehumanize gays. Equality of opportunity, for women to be born, to be educated, to enjoy equal participation in the maintenance of a family and household, and to be able to contribute their fullest potential to our collective excellence, will always lead to a superior quality of life for our community. The same equality of opportunity and recognition of humanity for non-heterosexual members of our community will also enable everyone to contribute fully and without fear of denigration.

Machismo is deadly to women and to men. Patriarchy and male supremacy are harming the planet and keeping millions of women from even being born, let alone contributing their full worth to the excellence of humanity. Only equality – an equality that enables us, especially as men, to see women as at our level in all productive, cognitive and creative capacities – can move us forward.

Gender inequality is a hallmark of underdevelopment, a cornerstone of neocolonialism and a function of ignorance. All sorts of indicators of social well-being in different societies show this. And when men, straight men at that, reject the insults of patriarchy, chauvinism, and homophobia, we truly begin to become revolutionary. For we begin to honor the basic nature of human beings that the Ubuntu principle reminds us of – that I am because we are, that all of us deserve to participate to the fullest might we can muster as free people towards our collective greatness.

The Beauty of African Resistance

I have been admiring the actions in this video since I first saw it six weeks ago when Mr. Omoyele Sowore, founder of Sahara Reporters, and his comrades pulled this off. This event, where Nigerian Minister of State Viola Onwuliri was supposed to explain the “virtues” of the radical removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria effective January 1, was essentially prevented from happening by the revolutionaries in the room, after the “honorable” minister was shamelessly late to her own event, dishonoring everyone present on that front alone. Brother Sowore has been upstaging Nigerian politicians in their NY diplomatic theater events for some time now, operating with the “this is not Nigeria” philosophy that if there’s any place we can call these people out for the thieves and liars they are, it is here in New York. Most politicians in New York City and in America are also disgusting thieves and scoundrels of the lowest order, but for the purposes of this post I will discuss the international, particularly African thieves of state who visit for “diplomatic” reasons. Wherever and whenever they try to make noises about how some new policy that’s supposed to slaughter and consume the poor is actually good for them somehow, and try to convince a misinformed or bourgeois crowd that black is white, people like Omoyele Sowore, people like us, should do our utmost to make them uncomfortable, and make business as usual impossible. Revolution depends on us exposing the absurdity and inhumanity of the status quo, and it also depends on us creating and living, right now, the new norms by which we would prefer the world would operate – the Chomsky approach.

Comrade Sowore and his heroic brothers in this scenario provide an excellent and proper example for how to push forward the African revolution today. The crimes of the political class in the nation-states across Africa must be exposed everywhere. They must be explained to African people clearly, fully, and passionately. More of us, myself included, must become passionate about the African revolution. In this instance, even if ever so briefly, the good guys won the day, and they could make clear to anybody that such was the case. The greedy and wasteful political masters could not withstand the passion and the power of truth that brother Sowore and his colleagues threw at them.

Personas like Minister of State Viola Onwuliri are in fact the enemy. Anyone who defends the status quo, a status quo which is tailor made to destroy life for poor everyday Africans, is an enemy. Anyone who benefits from the status quo, who dines and lives large at the expense of the masses of suffering people, is an enemy. There is no future for them, no future for their politics, no future for their ideology, no future for their misleadership.

We are our own leaders, our own heroes, our own hope. It is we working-class hardscrabble Africans who, armed with knowledge, passion, and fearlessness, will revolutionize Africa until it is a land that provides all its citizens with a chance to thrive, create, innovate, and win. We are the majority, and those of us still blinded by the strange floodlights of heads of state, ministers and governors are dwindling among us, the truth of suffering making them question the fundamental construct of their reality.

A liberated Nigeria belonging to and run by the people of Nigeria would be a land of immense prosperity and productivity. A liberated Congo belonging to and run by the people of Congo would be a land of incredible bounty to Africa and the world. A liberated Senegal, a liberated Ghana, a liberated Liberia, a liberated Uganda likewise.

A united Africa, a union of the subaltern, of the oppressed throwing off the mindset of misery and building the will to win with the power of knowledge, would accomplish untold greatness.

But it starts with the boldness of men and women like Omoyele Sowore and men and women like you, transforming your individual lives, your families, and your communities with the passion and vision of what a liberated Africa would mean.

This boldness is a template for the revolutionary African in the 21st century, upstaging the thieves and cowards wherever they are and building the revolution right in the place where they stand.

I leave it to the Nigerian funk-masters the Action 13 who in the 1970s said what needs to be done today – GET… MORE… BREAD…. TO THE PEOPLE!

African “Causes” and the Tragic White Liberal

Today’s broadcast of Al Jazeera’s The Stream was pretty insightful on a number of fronts. The Congolese journalist and analyst Mvemba Dizolele was brilliantly on point each time he spoke – his point being that a law against conflict minerals passed in Washington won’t do jack for the Congo and its ongoing conflict, rooted in vicious neocolonialism which impact the whole of the Congo (and all of Africa), and not just Eastern Congo and its militia-controlled mines and mass rapes. The broad and insidious roots must be addressed primarily, he asserted. He kept it so real and talked about actual Congolese, the actual experience around the Congo, and the kind of ironic attention and money a Western-led cause brings to certain of these conflicts of Africa. But I really love how he remarks repeatedly that you can’t pretend to solve the problems of all of Congo, or of even Eastern Congo, by having Western activists press for narrowly defined laws and responsibility among Western corporations as if that will save the Congo. But so much of this goes without considering the input, experiences, priorities and insights of the people of the Congo. This Western liberal style wants to deal with gory or salacious particulars and symptoms of the problem upon which to build glamorous and grossly simplified campaigns, such as around the widely known war on women and blood mining in the Kivus. This shows that many of these Western activists are not listening, are paternalistic, and are too timid to address systemic issues which are the cause of much ongoing conflict, exploitation and progresslessness in Africa.

Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project insists that to go into the broader reasons for the conflict won’t work. Won’t work for whom? For the mostly privileged white activists in Manhattan or on K Street who need to dumb down their agenda as much as possible so the mindless, wholly bought politicians in Congress or at the UN can understand them? Neither DC nor the UN can legislate any viable solutions for Africa. Africa and Africans are the only people who can push the African revolution forward and save and develop Africa. Africans have fates bound to what actually happens in Africa, in conflict areas or elsewhere. Africans are the ones to be heard for and to enact solutions. We Africans definitely know what’s going on and have thought about and struggled around these contradictions for a long-ass time.

It seems throughout this debate that Mr. Lezhnev is barely listening to Mr. Dizolele and his impassioned articulations of how a conflict minerals embargo is both ultimately useless and reflective of somewhat misplaced energies. What makes this clear is that Mr. Lezhnev frequently refers to vague statements from UN reports about some sort of progress for the new legislation that have moved former miners to other economic sectors. A lot of this evidence seems weak and contrived given the realities Mr. Dizolele refers to about what’s going on at the ground level with people he is connected to as a Congolese.

It is the system that is not working! The system of global parasitic capitalism, neocolonialism, patriarchy, and vicious historical exploitation which have built mayhem and corruption into the DNA of post-colonial societies the world over! The system of deep regional disintegration and woeful underdevelopment toward the benefit of multinational access to cheap minerals, timber, and even arable land that should benefit the Congolese but does not! So-called legit minerals, with the current system left in tact, would hardly lead to much better outcomes for Congolese than whatever prevails today.

It’s not about a single issue! To focus on it as a single issue, I feel, and seems to be true for Mr. Lezhnev and a lot of people like him, is to both attempt at very simplistic, aloof feel-good do-gooding, and to also be engaging in an ignorance of the fundamental histories and challenges of peoples of the third world and people of color while trying to solve their problems as a white liberal. I think this is symptomatic of the tragic white liberal syndrome. Not listening, not having genuine relationships, assuming leadership when it wasn’t asked and isn’t effective, assuming strange powers to solve fundamental problems without even questioning the fundaments of a problem. Especially when you yourself are part of the fundaments of a problem.

It makes no sense to me to assert that it’s more effective to address one single symptom of a failed system (i.e. conflict minerals, blood diamonds, etc.), than to address the political root causes of the system and its failings. It seems to be that you are a much more effective critical thinker when you are able to interrogate and articulate the roots of a systemic problem that manifests in various bloody ways. The disintegration of Congolese society is rooted most deeply in Leopold’s brutal occupation of the country, followed by formal Belgian colonization, the defeat of African liberation represented by the assassination of Lumumba, and war after war in which the West by their African proxies in Rwanda and Uganda greatly benefitted from access to minerals and other commodities amidst the mayhem, not to mention countless oppressive and greedy Africans. Congolese know this. It’s not very different in Nigeria or Haiti. You have to be cognizant of the legacies of domination and their justifications to contemplate why and how they cause symptoms of chaos.

It can only be dishonest to do otherwise, to focus on a single issue. Of course we might struggle in particular against something, but we must acknowledge as dishonest and ignorant any attempt to assert that to struggle against the systemic historical and socio-political roots of the problem is too difficult or counterproductive. In fact, to dismiss the primacy of struggling against whole systems of oppression is downright counterrevolutionary. Hanging on to symptoms only is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy and even collusion with the corrupt system.

I detest conflict minerals and the war on women in the Congo. But the answer to those things is not a law in DC or white liberals campaigning about one single issue as if in a vacuum. That’s the problem – posing the entire challenge as “rape in the Congo” or “conflict minerals in the Congo.” It causes some to ignore the roots and broader manifestations of the crisis. People are dying in the Congo, across the whole of the territory, and while it is crucial to highlight some of these glaring symptoms, ignoring the neocolonial system and its super-exploitation and underdevelopment is ridiculous. A Western law against conflict minerals, as Mr. Dizolele notes, only leads to more smuggling, different but equally brutal manifestations of exploitation and war, and so on.

It’s better to study the ideas and examples of, and participate directly in the struggles of, the revolutionaries and activists in Congo and from Congo, who understand things systemically and whose fate depends directly on deeply understanding the problems rather than only attacking symptoms. Take the lead of Congolese and African strugglers. Listen to them and share their fate. This is more effective than peripheral laws somewhere far away that sidestep the issue and demonstrate paternalistic, ineffective and willful ignorance of failed social systems that some of these white liberals seem content only finding politically-palatable bandaids for.

Shout out to the awesome sista Latoya Peterson for helping host the show – excellent work!

Updates on the Day of the Great Naija Shift-Change

On October 1, 1960, British despots handed over rule to African despots in the territory called Nigeria. It was a change-over of work-shifts, not a liberation. Yeah, yeah, the elders say sorta nice things about the very first post-independence leaders – all males anyway – but I don’t buy it. Fifty years of hysteria, emergency, regression, blood, dictatorship, false democracy, division, death and  devolution have now passed. And today, bombs explode in the capital, in part because of grievances and legacies of injustice in my own native Niger Delta. Enough of it.

We must urgently usher in the African Revolution! People’s democracy! Human rights! Self-determination! Justice! Universal Education and Healthcare! Socialism! Ubuntu! I’m tired of the imposed ignorance, the exploitation, the knee-jerk corruption habit, the patriarchy, the inertia, all of it. And the African Revolution begins with you and me, wherever we find ourselves as black people.

With that off my chest, I’d like to mention that some stuff is written and pictured about me over here at the Raw Mocha Angel’s “Have You Ever Seen a Healthy Vegan?” series. Check it out.

Another thing you must check out and tell your friends about is the Africana Institute at Essex County College in Newark, NJ. That’s where I work, and we aim to be the baddest Africana/ African-American/ Black Studies department on the planet. We’re all about activism, community, and education of our people about past, present and futures strides and struggles, and how to be victorious as a people.

The url is easy: eccafricana.com. If you have or know of a black-owned business in the Newark/ NYC area, let us know at africanatv [at] gmail [dot] com (or just hit me up) and I will list you on our African Business page right away. We are populating our blog with all relevant and uplifting pro-African content, and we will be letting you know of all activities and events we want to invite you to participate in.

And lastly, “Letter to a Brotha” is reposted at Racialicious, where an interesting and lively debate is going on.

Keeping it short today. Coming soon: (1) Thoughts on Straight Edge and Struggle, and (2) Thoughts on American Apartheid and Food Injustice.

Uhuru!

Veganism and the Class War

What follows is a thought exercise.

My own definition of a vegan is a human who eats fruits and vegetables [as well as whatever nuts, seeds or legumes he or she may desire], and never eats or uses animal products. For starts. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, this vegan is not so heavily involved in extremely elaborate recipes, in highly-processed ingredients and additives, in soy and grains, etc. That can come later. I’m simplifying and scaling down for the purpose of understanding what this post wants to address, which is the skeletal basics (though in full disclosure I’m pretty much a fruitarian). A vegan, firstly, is someone anywhere in the world where fruits and vegetables are affordable and accessible who eats those items, eats produce. That sort of vegan, who isn’t strictly dependent on special products, mock meats, packaged goods, and so on, who could be just at home eating the fruits and veggies available in Kinshasa or Kisangani as are available in Karachi or Kansas City, might be said, for the purposes of this thought experiment, to be a universal vegan, or even a vehicular vegan, and I will use either term interchangebly going forward.

As for the class war, I define it as the conflict between workers and bosses, between capitalists and proletariats, between landlords and tenants, between elites and all us riff-raff, even between humans and animals, over access and claims of ownership over land, infrastructure, the means of production, the structure of our economy, the production of culture, and so on. It is the imperative of oppressors to oppress, to exploit, to profit, maintain ignorance, maintain illiteracy and food scarcity, maintain the divisions amongst working people, maintain ideological, religious, and political zeitgeists of constant histeria, and yet eat well and live comfortably all the while. It is the imperative of workers, of women, of ethnic or sexual minorities, of those rendered landless, to maintain unity in struggle, to vie for and claim power, land and freedom, to achieve self-determination and societies of fairness and justice, to collectivize resources, to build and practice pro-human cultures, and to, at a spiritual maximum as it were, prefer death to slavery. The class war is very real and it is everywhere and, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all class warriors of some stripe, all over the world. If we find ourselves hating our banks and landlords and tiring of our bosses, that much makes us class warriors, just as a Naxalite Adivasi struggling against planned and perpetrated genocides and land thefts and who actually engages in armed struggle is a class warrior. The bosses that like exploiting and polluting and dominating – whether at Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Tyson Chicken or General Motors or Lockheed Martin or Uncle Sam himself – they’re all class warriors for their side.

So how can we mix veganism – as practiced by the universal vegan – with the class war? We start with the manner in which prestige is applied to certain objects to make them desirable, even when they aren’t healthy or necessary. Possession or consumption of these articles of prestige are then used to define who is of what class, or at least who aspires to more elevated social rankings. Yes, commodity fetishism includes propagating the meat prestige – look at the most extreme sorts of hamburgers the fast-food industry invents, or at the Heart Attack Grill.

So, all over the third world, even where meat is scarce or pastoralism is irrevocably destroying land, meat is a prestige. Automobile usage is another. The wealthiest eat the most meat and drive the most, and are often the most gorged and overweight, hence the typical gut of rich and powerful elites in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. (And thanks to the zombifying power of marketing and mass media, a million other useless, wasteful and dangerous products are rendered prestigious, and we must use our own voices and propaganda to fight this, but that is another topic.)

But if a society hedges closer to veganism, that means more calories will generally be available to its individual constituents, since growing plants is far more sustainable and efficient than growing animals which eat plants. So that society would naturally enable an environment of greater equity and less classism. On the other hand, if a society hankers hard after meat, that means fewer people will eat of the greater resultant scarcity in overall available calories. The meat-centric society will inevitably breed the conditions for less equality and for harsher stratification, just because of how much meat production usurps of limited environmental resources.

That’s macro-level. What about individual vehicular vegan class warriors?

Conscious vegan workers remove themselves partly from an equation of exploitation by striking animals from a hierarchy of exploitation and brutality from their own lives. They help keep the class war between humans and from involving non-humans, who have enough of their own struggles and class wars in the wild without having to worry about human consumption.

Conscientious vegan workers keep from supporting aspects of the elite apparatus and cash machine by non-participation in the meat-industrial complex and, should veganism keep them healthy, the medical-industrial complex. The industries of violence and slavery are among the largest which support class and caste structures worldwide. Not endorsing the meat prestige and engaging in veganism means one is using one’s own labor and consumer powers to directly disempower the most odious aspects of the system.

It could be observed that much of veganism, as it is known particularly in North America, is associated with upper classes and privileged populations, but veganism at the grassroots is actually potentially most revolutionary. In the US, poor communities of color are often bereft of access to fresh healthy foods, and disproportionately find themselves afflicted with the diseases of Western diets and lifestyles. This is part of class war, as I see it, keeping the most chronically impoverished from being able to be healthy, long-lived and highly functioning, and from excelling as human beings. The elites don’t really care to ameliorate this problem.

Thus it is up to grassroots universal vegan workers of color, aware that existence in a human society configured such as ours means lifelong class war, to promote healthy lifestyles, to strive and struggle to increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in our communities, and to speak loudly and widely on the benefits of non-meat consumption and the fallacies of the meat prestige and meat addiction.

Thoughtful vegans should make natural class warriors. Their veganism empowers them to escape relationships of oppression and violence with both humans and non-humans, while granting them the vitality and awareness to struggle for just power and representation for as long as necessary. The vehicular vegan revolutionary can be a revolutionary of stamina and substance, of vision and actualization, actually practicing diplomacy (with non-humans) and militancy (against industries and economies of subjugation).

And that is how, and why, veganism can relate to the class war, and why vegans, especially working-class vegans of color, should consider themselves class warriors. But it’s just one small open-source theory that still needs help (or refutation) from y’all.

Veganism can indeed be revolutionary, and we must make it so if we are serious about social change, food sovereignty, Earth and non-human justice, and human freedom and equity.

Poverty Contests

An article published in today’s New York Times reports on efforts in India to enshrine access to food as a constitutionally protected right, a law its proponents expect could enable the food-insecure to make their own market choices to purchase food with food coupons or cash, instead of waiting for monthly 77 pound bags of grain, sugar and kerosene under the current regime. The article also goes on to highlight statistics about how India’s poverty is more widespread and intense than Africa’s, despite the “Tiger” rebranding and annual economic growth rate. A report compiled in India Current Affairs in July also highlights these poverty rankings, comparing the one Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the country’s center with the entire Democratic Republic of Congo, both of similar population (though the Congo’s size is more comparable to India in its entirety), and finding the same levels of deprivation, even with DRC’s wars (though Madhya Pradesh is not without Naxalites and other struggles for land and resources between communities and multi-national mining and other interests, not unlike DRC).

On the one hand, the expectation around the world seems to be of Africa as the world’s eternal poverty yardstick. This in spite of similar levels of conventionally measured economic growth in a number of Sub-Saharan countries that approach such activity as seen in India in recent years. By comparing favorably to Africa, a government should have license to claim progress in the war on poverty – that’s the ridiculous, racist assumption, an assumption of development stasis.

On the other more important hand, these rankings and contests, especially as presented in the links mentioned above, are patently absurd in themselves, ignoring the basic fact that most of the annual GDP growth measures the rise in income of mostly exclusive urban, male, elite high-end sectors which determine and direct mining, cash-crop, real estate (land displacement), and [cheapest] labor configurations which exclude vast rural populations, whether in India, Congo, or Colombia. Human beings are impoverishing other human beings – not continental geographies. And the story is similar in most geographies including those concerned in this essay – Adivasis in rural Chhattisgarh struggle to hold on to their land in the face of “Memoranda of Understanding” signed by illegitimate politicians to mining interests to violently displace the people from their land, similarly to how Niger Delta militants attack oil infrastructure and kidnap oil workers in response to land displacement and ecosystem destruction by a half century of oil exploitation by foreign corporations in happy concert with local state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Once you understand neo-colonialism and neoliberal market economics, these patterns can be easily understood as to how they determine poverty and struggle around the third world. Malnutrition and poverty propagate fastest and most consistently wherever governments fail to prioritize enabling peripheral population groups to exact their own capacity to cultivate, live and eat of the land. Changes in the environment, and dietary demands which may place undue stress on the ecosystem and reduce its carrying capacity, may further impede nutrition and food security, as predominates in Sahelian countries that currently suffer serious drought. But policy-makers in much of the third world more often than not do not care, since they do not share the same fate as those far beyond the capitals, the urban and privileged spaces where they bury their heads, forgetting what rural populations go through, forgetting they exist.

I think that in itself, that food security should become a constitutional and human right anywhere is excellent. But a shifting in societal priorities would be a more lasting solution, towards actually considering the plights of women, of agriculturalists, and enabling their self-determination while the wealth of the nation focuses first on human and ecological needs rather than profit for exploitative corporations and salaries for ministers and bureaucracies.

Why focus on these poverty contests, with Africa at level zero? These statistics only measure those who, already in positions of control over powerful economic interests, are getting richer as they exploit more underpaid, vulnerable workers, and the land those workers may have been displaced or evicted from. These statistics don’t measure women’s reproductive work, don’t measure broader levels of quality of life that get inflated by those at the very top, even while the masses at the bottom suffer more dispossession and malnutrition year after year.

Human solidarity is to be encouraged instead. The same problems in Nigeria or Congo are found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Peru, the same exact identical types of fierce corruption, the same exact types of high-official sellouts, the same exact identical types of Western aspirationalism and mimicry, the same exact types of ideological and religious extremisms and hysterias which cripple the masses from thinking critically and boldly enough to challenge the regimes that cause their suffering, the same exact multinationals praying on their resources, human and natural, to be exploited to the lowest common denominator. The same exact types of ignorance forced upon the masses with the absence of schools and the tolerance of illiteracy, despite official claims to the contrary. The exact same types of oppression of labor activists and human-rights campaigners and journalists. The exact same types of classisms and casteisms that compel generations to accept their designated desperation. The same exact types of false democracies in which the people do not have choice or voice in the structural economic questions of society, only at best over the latest personality who says the prettiest things or just looks pretty, but in power does little to nothing of the good he or she promised.

Thus I reject poverty contests. Instead, I move towards human collaboration and solidarity in the third world in pursuit of revolution! Towards the African revolution, the South Asian revolution, the Latin American revolution, the world revolution! Towards human-based economics! Towards the end of rapacious capitalism, the end of the rush to privatize water, seeds and land! Towards human and community-level self-governance and self-determination! Towards the humanization of labor such that people are not reduced to pack mules to produce Wal-Mart products at competitively lower and lower wages in ever more dangerous workplaces!

Towards human development work which is interested in human development, not numbers nudging and statistics masturbating.