Can We All Get Along?
August 20, in conjunction with the commemoration of the birthday of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the Pan African Unity Dialogue (PAUD) of greater New York will present a document entitled – A Call for Action on Immigration Reform: Advancing the Interests of People of African Descent. Anyone who is familiar with the issues and concerns of Black America is aware that immigration reform is a controversial and hotly debated issue. Because of the focus on nationalities from Central and South America, large numbers of Blacks view immigration as a “Hispanic issue.” And, because of the huge influx of undocumented persons from these regions, many people of African descent see immigration reform as a direct threat to the interests of Black people. This feeling is particularly pronounced among “African Americans.” Therefore, the purpose for the PAUD document is not to oppose immigration but to ensure that there is reform which incorporates and protects the interests of people of African descent. Ultimately the goal is to overcome resistance in the Black community by assuring people of African descent that any proposed legislation will be equitable and inclusive. This will enable people of African descent to become active partners and advocates for immigration reform. The presentation of the immigration reform document is a significant achievement.
PAUD is a gathering of Caribbean American, Continental African, Afro-Latino and African American leaders who meet quarterly under the auspices of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century to exchange information about the work of their respective organizations, promote operational unity and joint work. Because of the intense emotions and animosity immigration reform provoked, it became clear that it was an issue the group should tackle. An interesting thing happened as the document was being finalized. PAUD participants began to discuss some of the tensions and conflicts among people of African descent. Haitians told of being ridiculed by African Americans (Kango Kid and Wyclef Jean recount being viciously teased as kids). Continental Africans related experiences of being the butt of jokes because of their traditional African attire. Caribbean Americans cited instances of being the object of insults because of their accent and ancestry. Afro-Latinos complained of being ignored as people of African origin by simply being lumped in with “Hispanics “in general. Some “African Americans” bristled at the fact that many Africans from the continent, the Caribbean, Central and South America do not want to be called “African Americans.” These testimonials were extremely moving. They cried out for serious work to bridge the divides and overcome the tensions among people of African descent.
PAUD discussions on immigration reform revealed that while people of African descent were focusing on what was perceived by some as an “external threat,” there is an “internal threat” that poses a danger to the prospects for Black unity and Black power to advance the collective interests of African people in the U.S. and abroad. This danger is not only manifest in tensions with newly arrived African immigrants, it is reflected in old divisions along class and color lines in the Black community, lack of positive racial self-esteem in terms of denial of Blackness/African ancestry and the embrace by some of the myth of a post racial society. All this leads me to pose the question that Rodney King made famous: “Can we all get along?” Or it recalls the exhortations of the 19th century Black abolitionist David Nickens: “Let us cherish a friendly union with ourselves.” This is the challenge PAUD and other organizations, institutions and agencies in Black America must confront if we are to maximize Pan Africanism and Black power in the 21st Century.
To meet this challenge, Africans in America of whatever origin must face the reality that we have a “new African community in the U.S.” which is comprised of millions of relatively recent arrivals from the African continent, the Caribbean (including Haiti), Central and South America. New African immigrants are no longer miniscule minorities in major northeastern cities like New York and Washington, D.C. New York has distinct “little Africa” communities populated by Senegalese, Malians, Ghanaians, Guineans …… Washington, D.C.’s Black population includes increasing numbers of Ethiopians, Somalis and Nigerians. By some estimates there are 50,000 Nigerians in Houston. These days you can purchase Jerk Chicken or a Roti in Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta as well as in traditional Caribbean strongholds in Brooklyn.
The issue is that we have people of African descent, brothers and sisters with Black faces occupying the same spaces/places without necessarily relating to each other in an intentional and constructive manner. There is a lack of concerted “internal integration” which limits our capacity to exercise collective economic and political power or, in the worst case, contributes to counterproductive tensions and conflicts. As our late beloved sister Charshee McIntyre used to teach, ethnicity and culture are stronger agents of unity than skin color alone. It is not by accident that we have little Mali and little Senegal in the little Africa sections of Harlem and the Bronx in New York. Our goal should not be to create a homogenized Black community, but one in which various people of African descent can preserve their ethnic/national identity while recognizing the bonds that bind all African people in terms of overarching cultural similarities and the commonality of our oppression because of racism/white supremacy. The cops that brutalized Abner Louima did not single him out because he was Haitian, nor did the police kill Amadou Diallo because he was from Guinea. In the eyes of the police they were members of a despised race and/or were seen as dangerous Black men–period!
These positive and negative premises should comprise the basis for Pan African unity in the U.S. and abroad. That is to say, we must see it in our mutual best interest to overcome the bridges that divide us to form bonds that enable people of African descent to utilize our collective human material resources to meet the needs of our people. This must be done first and foremost by using our own resources for internal/private self-development. Africa is the richest continent on the face of the earth. There is no reason that through our combined efforts the resources of Africa should not be used to nourish the development of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora. This requires a consciousness and commitment to work together as African people and a philosophy of development which prioritizes human needs over greed, profit and individual fulfillment. There is no excuse for millions of Africans living in poverty and misery in the midst of incredible natural resources. People of African descent must also use the billions of dollars we have at our disposal as an enormous resource for internal development. Equally important, Africans in America in particular must unite to use our combined power to advance our interests in terms of the allocation of government resources to aid distressed Black communities in this country and to lobby for foreign assistance to aid African nations based on the priorities and strategies they identify as most useful.
Building this kind of Pan African unity will not necessarily be easy. Nonetheless, we have no alternative but to make the effort. We simply must find a way to “get along,” and as David Nickens suggested, it must begin by “cherishing a friendly union with ourselves.” Dr. Maulana Karenga has argued for years that “the key crisis in Black life is the cultural crisis,” the lack of sufficient positive self-identification/esteem to the point of “self-hatred” in some instances. It is painful to observe that despite the progress of civil rights and Black Power/Consciousness movements in getting more Blacks in positions with the media, despite all the success in electing Blacks to public office, Black heads of corporations and Black athletes in abundance, according to some studies, we still have a troubling number of children who show a distinct preference for white dolls and images over black dolls and images. This is due in part to the consistent, negative portrayal of Blacks in the media as ganstas, criminals, drug addicts and the like. It appears that the positive images/symbols are being overshadowed by the negative. It is also a shame that some Blacks still play the skin color divide game in our community by propagating the idea of light skin preference. Of course this is a kind of “internalized racism” that embraces the white supremacist notion that “if you’re white you’re alright, yellow mellow, brown stick around, but black get back!” The implication of Karenga’s contention is that we will forever find or create our own obstacles to principled unity and progress as long as we believe “the White man’s ice is always colder.”
Cherishing a friendly union with ourselves as African people means that we must utilize the history and culture of our people as the foundation for positive self-affirmation. We must be audacious enough to believe that out of the multitude of ethnicities that comprise the African family, we can utilize the communal, collective and familial values of the traditional way of life of African people and our common experience of enslavement, colonial and neo-colonial oppression, segregation and discrimination as the basis for forging bonds of principled unity, cooperation and action. There can be no barrier too high for us to overcome in the quest for Black power for Black people and the oppressed of all races, ethnicities and nationalities. Blacks or African Americans who trace their ancestry back to enslaved Africans brought to these shores, must welcome newly arrived Africans from the continent, the Caribbean, Central and South America as potential allies in the struggle to achieve full freedom. Similarly, new African immigrants must recognize that it was the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters, the heroic Black Freedom Struggle, which paved the way for them come to the U.S. without having to face the most blatant aspects of de jure and de facto segregation. With this mutual respect, we can face the task of joining hands to fight for a more perfect union in the U.S. with equity, freedom and justice for all.
Building Pan African unity in the U.S. and abroad in the interest of promoting and protecting the interests of African people is a charge which the New York PAUD has accepted. Accordingly, in memory of Marcus Garvey, on August 20th, there will also be a Forum with speakers and a panel to discuss the bridges that divide us and strategies for “cherishing a friendly union with ourselves.” The program will also include African cultural expressions. If we are all to get along, these kinds of forums and discussions must take place all across Black America. Principled unity and action must be the order of the day in the new African community in the U.S. In the words of Marcus Garvey: “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will.”
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW websitewww.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.