Is Pan-Africanism Utopian: A Response To Yvette Carnell

pan-Africanism
Malcolm X Shabazz is shown in 1963. (AP Photo)

In this tweet, Yvette Carnell attempted to suggest that the attachment that Africans in the diaspora have to our African homeland is some sort of mythical or utopian attachment. This is not a particularly original view. In fact, a common criticism of Pan-Africanism is that it is rooted in creating a romantic view of a utopian African homeland. The reality is, however, that the Pan-African movement is one that has always been rooted in the material conditions of African people globally. One thing that I am grateful to the ADOS movement for is that it has provided a platform for myself and other committed Pan-Africanists to explain not only the roots of Pan-Africanism, but also explain why Pan-Africanism is still relevant as a political philosophy. This is precisely what I intend to do in this piece.

The first issue with Yvette’s comment is the idea that Black Americans have rendered themselves “perpetual outsiders”, as if Black Americans were responsible for Jim Crow laws or the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision. Black Americans (African people) were brought to the United States to be enslaved and for no other purposes. Africans were not brought to America to be citizens or to enjoy American democracy. Enslaved Africans were not considered to be citizens — or even human for that matter. As Malcolm X explained:

Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem. America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red, or yellow — a so-called Negro — you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you face this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

There should be no illusions about the fact that there was a deliberate policy to exclude Black Americans from equal citizenship because America has never regarded Black Americans as citizens. This was not something that Black Americans rendered on themselves, as Yvette implies. I reference Malcolm yet again because he was clear on the fact that Black people in America are not Americans, but rather stolen Africans. Was this because Malcolm was deluded?

The attachment to Africa is not one born out of notions of a utopian motherland, but rather an attachment that is rooted in the historical experiences and the material reality of Black people. Martin Delany, who is regarded as the father of Black Nationalism, explained:

We love our country, dearly love her, but she don’t love us — she despises us, and bids us begone, driving us from her embraces; but we shall not go where she desires us; but when we do go, whatever love we have for her, we shall love the country none the less that receives us as her adopted children.

Delany was confronted with the reality that Black people were non-citizens in the country of their birth. As much as Delany expressed lover for America, he came to see Black people as a separate nation within a nation, which is why he is regarded as the father of Black Nationalism:

We have native hearts and virtues, just as other nations; which in their pristine purity are noble, potent, and worthy of example. We are a nation within a nation — as the Poles in Russia, the Hungarians in Austria, the Welsh, Irish, and Scotch in the British dominions.

But we have been, by our oppressors, despoiled of our purity, and corrupted in our native characteristics, so that we have inherited their vices, and but few of their virtues, leaving us in character, really a broken people.

Delany did not render himself as an outsider. He was already an outsider, so he eventually turned to Africa, where he was embraced and treated as family. More importantly, Delany turned to Africa because he recognized that Africans too were struggling for survival as well. The slave trade had devastated the western coast of Africa for centuries. Delany explained:

Whole fleets of merchantmen, from every nation in Europe, environed Africa, to subjugate her people. Powerful naval forces were also brought against her, and national representatives, in the persons of their emissaries, prowled along and about her entire coast, sowing the seeds of discord, and a baser corruption among those of the already corrupted natives, inciting them to war, and the devastation of their homes.

Delany’s vision for Black liberation was a global one. He expressed this vision in Blake or Huts of America, which tells the story of Blake, an Afro-Cuban, who is attempting to organize a massive uprising against slavery in the Americas. Delany’s Pan-African vision was not born out of depression, but out of a recognition that he was an African and that the struggles of the Africans in the diaspora were connected to the struggles of those on the continent.

I mention Delany and Malcolm because they clearly articulated why Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism emerged among Africans in the United States. It has little to do with feeling depressed or with delusions. Rather, it was based on the specific challenges that people of African descendant confronted in America. Indeed, these challenges caused many in the diaspora to connect with Africa because certain individuals recognized that the weak position of Africans in the diaspora was related to the European exploitation of Africa. Consequently, a strong Africa meant that Africans in the diaspora would be stronger. This is the view that Kwame Ture expressed.

Walter Rodney, a Guyanese Pan-Africanist, pointed out that the interest in Africa on the part of those in the diaspora was based on the reality that confronted Africans in the diaspora. Rodney explained:

Today, it is usual for the Pan-Africanist in the New World to be into a heavy culture thing. This is condemned by certain philistines (white and black) as being romantic racism, since African culture is supposedly alien to the Americas. What the critics fail to realize is that there are fundamental political realities which draw the conscious Black man in the New World towards the African continent. These realities operate equally whether the individual has arrived at a stage of heightened consciousness via cultural nationalism or through a more conventional approach to the struggle against exploitation and oppression.

In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney explained:

Having realised that their inferior status in the societies of America was conditioned by the fact of being black and the weakness of Africa, the Pan-Africanists were forced to deal with the central problem of Europe’s exploitation and oppression of the African continent.

Pan-Africanists recognize that there is a direct connection between the Western exploitation of Africa and America’s exploitation of Africans in the United States. This is not to say that Pan-Africanists are not also motivated by the desire to reconnect to our African homeland and our African roots, and the racial pride that comes with that. Part of what drew Delany to Africa was the pride he felt over the culture and civilization that he found in Africa, as well as the fact that he was treated like family and bestowed with special honors while he was in Africa. Delany returned to America and went on a tour to give lectures about his experiences in Africa. More so racial pride, Pan-Africanism is also has a political basis. It is not enough for us to merely feel pride in being Africa and coming from Africa, but he also have to recognize that our bond with Africa is a political bond. Those who fail to realize this fail to understand the nature of the Black struggle in the United States.

Dr. Amos Wilson cautioned Black Americans against thinking that a nation which oppresses people of African descent around the world will not do the same thing to Black Americans. In a previous article I pointed out that the 1985 MOVE bombing happened only two years after the United States invaded Grenada and dropped bombs there, killing some Grenadians there. Part of what motivated the invasion of Grenada was a fear that the revolution in Grenada would encourage Black Americans. There is a direct connection between America’s racist domestic policy and America’s racist foreign policy, but many who support the ADOS movement act as if this connection does not exist or that it is somehow irrelevant.

Yvette Carnell and others have suggested that Pan-Africanism is an outdated or dead concept which is not relevant to Black Americans today, despite the fact that the material conditions which gave raise to the international Pan-African movement still exist. In Faure Must Go I explained that the struggles of the people of Togo and Black Americans are connected in the sense that both struggles are rooted in the historical assault against African people on the part of Western nations, but the struggles are also linked in other ways as well. In my book I mention the fact that Black Americans are trapped in neglected and underdeveloped communities. Rather than investing money in failing Black communities, the United States gives millions of dollars of “foreign aid” to assist the dictatorial regime in Togo which oppresses the Togolese people.

America’s military expansion in Africa helps to entrench American imperialism on the African continent, while also diverting resources towards imperialism rather than using those resources to assist Black Americans. It is actually somewhat surprising to me that the ADOS movement, which Yvette Carnell is a co-founder of, cannot see that one of the reasons why the racial wealth gap (or “lineage wealth gap” as Antonio Moore calls it) exists in America is because billions of dollars are spent on maintaining the global American empire’s oppression of other Black people. Black children in Baltimore attend schools with poor heating, while the American government continues to use its resources to conduct drone strikes in Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world. One does not have to be a Pan-Africanist to recognize that both of those things are wrong and both of these things are rooted in America’s racism against African people.

When I quote past Pan-African leaders it is not because I am trapped in the 1960s, but because what those leaders said in the past is relevant for today. Therefore, I reference Malcolm X, who explained that it was “dumb” for Black Americans to fight for a country that continued to oppress them. This is why Muhammad Ali refused to go to Vietnam.

The same condition exists today. Despite the fact that Black Americans still endure racism in America, many have enlisted in the military and have sacrificed their lives to advance the cause of American imperialism. Recall that David Johnson was killed last year in Niger. How did Johnson’s service in Niger benefit Black Americans? How did it benefit the people of Niger for that matter? So what Malcolm said in the past is still very much true today. Black Americans who do not recognize this will find themselves helping to assist American imperialism in Africa and elsewhere.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through AmazonYou can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.