In Defense Of ADOS: A Response To Jessica Aiwuyor

In Defense Of ADOS: A Response To Jessica Aiwuyor

defense ADOS
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is an author and cultural storyteller. Learn more about her work at JAMAiwuyor.com. Photo: Twitter. Yvette Carnell, co-founder of #ADOS and host of BreakingBrown political show, speaks at the inaugural ADOS Conference at St. Stephen Church, in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 4, 2019. Photo: ADOS Philadelphia Chapter

As we enter the start of a new decade, one thing becomes abundantly clear if you have even half a toe dipped into our sociopolitical zeitgeist: the ADOS movement has caused a fundamental shift in black political discourse, and it will be sustained.

Therefore, I’d like to start out this post with a gentle note of reassurance to ADOS folks and non-ADOS individuals like myself who have decided to align ourselves with this movement—buckle up, because there are turbulent times ahead, but remember that you are prepared for this. You have hours of invested time and effort into a careful, precise political education. You are beginning to form dedicated local collectives with increasingly sophisticated efforts of political activism. You are only a few months removed from the wonderful fellowship of the inaugural conference. And you are only a tweet away from a supportive online community, should you need a pep talk. You got this. 

Now, to the business. I felt compelled to respond to this piece because I have conversations with individuals like Ms. Aiwuyor very frequently in real life. You see, I have quite a bit in common with Ms. Aiwuyor. I, too, am a black woman who identifies as a womanist/black feminist, depending on the context. I have a pro-black, pan-African vision at my core, in that I am invested in black people on every single corner of the globe achieving liberation in their distinct justice projects. So I’ll often have these moments with individuals who share some of these same identity markers where we’re finding common ground on a lot of things…..until it comes to the ADOS movement. 

Frankly, I see the attempted academic formality of Ms. Aiwuyor’s piece as indicative of the fact that those in establishment spaces (and those who don’t realize just how establishment they are when it comes to this particular justice project) are now recognizing that ADOS as a political force that is here to stay. Unresearched Russian bot accusations on cable news shows (with credibility problems of their own) aren’t going to cut it. They don’t find a slanderous tweet that starts with the annoyingly disingenuous “RIP in advance to my mentions” disclaimer sufficient anymore. They need a 26-page PDF report now. It’s been in the works, and here we are. 

So let’s address each of the 13 points that were brought up. Please forgive me if this comes across as scattered, but I wanted to address them in the same order that they were framed in the piece.

  1. ADOS has no affiliation with PFIR or any other groups with similar goals. Yvette Carnell has also been clear and forthright about her own non-paid involvement with the organization in the past, noting that immigration’s impact on a Black American community that has never been afforded the full benefit of citizenship is not something that can be ignored or cast aside for fear of claims of xenophobia. This isn’t the proverbial smoking gun that you all think it is, so please, just move on. Additionally, this accusation ignores the fact that co-founder Antonio Moore wrote for the decidedly left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies for over a year. The articles and videos that he created in partnership with Inequality.org form the economic underpinning that grounds ADOS as a data-driven movement speaking to the reality of black wealth. I have to beg the question, why do so many detractors want to ignore the work of Antonio Moore, a black male attorney, with left-leaning platforms? Simple. It shatters these notions of right-wing associations to pieces. 
  2. There is no official charge from the brain trust of Yvette Carnell, Antonio Moore, or Dr. Darity to utilize ADOS on the 2020 census. There were two specific charges made at the conference, which anyone could have streamed, so I’ll share them: a) Project Down Ballot, which was a charge to ensure that ADOS eschew voting for Democratic presidential candidates who’ve failed to respond to pressure placed on them by ADOS, but remain engaged and intentional about voting for down-ballot races that have a local impact. b) Project Takeover, which was a charge for attendees to re-engage in local civic organizations who could use some of the laser-focused energy provided by those in the ADOS movement. So if Mr. Moore or Ms. Carnell intended for this census action to be a critical feature of the 2020 national agenda, why wasn’t that one of the charges? Have they made any videos alluding to this as one of their directives? No, so to pretend as though what you might be seeing as tweets from a few accounts here and there is one of the core directives of the movement for 2020 is disingenuous. Au contraire, as part of Project TakeOver, some conference attendees like myself are involved in census outreach programs through the Urban League and NAACP, as they mobilize their efforts in the black community. I’m very proud to have assisted in coordinating a census outreach brunch through my local young professional Urban League affiliate. 
  3. H.R. 40: First of all, the HR40 hearing happened this summer in large part because of the unprecedented effort made to pressure legislators ADOS, and that is not ground I will cede. Currently, ADOS chapters are making an effort to push for a mark-up session of HR40 using much-needed edits suggested by Dr. Darity, so I don’t see where this accusation has merit. Further, making the necessary distinction of ADOS rather than the unspecific term African American speaks to the core principle of the ADOS project, so why characterize that as a frivolous change? The goalpost HAS to be squarely on ADOS in order for reparations to be the moral mea culpa for the United States that it needs to be. Reparations for the system of chattel slavery here in the United States are specifically owed to ADOS and ADOS alone. 
  4. Lineage documentation: First, it’s a very odd move to link the term “slavery papers” with some sort of sinister intent or maybe shame, as though physical documentation of one’s ancestors pain is not something that one wouldn’t want to seek out. Indeed, some of my best memories as a kid who grew up on PBS were of watching Dr. Henry Louis Gates present Mae Jemison, Oprah, and others with physical records of their ancestors. My sisters and I, sometimes making more noise than our grandma liked as she watched her favorite show, would always fall silent in reverence, feeling the deep emotions through the TV screen, even as young kids. But I digress. The current conditions outlined by ADOS ask for proof of only one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States. Ms. Aiwuyor overstates the difficulty of obtaining such documentation, and perhaps misunderstands that there are meticulous records kept of enslaved people. Indeed, I have long admired the work of genealogist Antoinette Harrell and others, who have made this their life’s work. One ADOS chapter has even hosted an event equipping attendees with the tools to do so. This doesn’t feel like a fair point, and again, the use of the “slavery papers” term has an underlying tone of derision that left me unsettled and confused. Also, let’s be clear: the accrued disadvantage and stigma of being a descendant of enslaved people here in the United States is already here and part of the lived experiences of individual ADOS people, baked into the very fabric of this nation. To pretend that a widespread unearthing of the artifacts of this history would somehow add a stigma shows an ignorance of the fact that the stigma is already there. 
  5. N’COBRA: I’ll start with some personal anecdotes. I’ve attended two N’COBRA events here in Chicago recently. At the first one, a member of the panel referred to ADOS as a cult and never apologized for that. At the second one, one of the presenters mockingly pretended to be entirely unaware of the movement at all, but quickly admitted when I approached him afterwards that he was actually quite familiar with members of the ADOS chapter in his hometown. On both occasions, this kind of mockery was unprovoked, and I think it’s fair to say that this mirrors some what we see on a national scale. The core of ADOS political ideology is a grounding in American-ness, and it is clear that many N’COBRA members see this as a threat to their own approach. Ms. Aiwuyor seems to perceive this necessary distinction as a personal attack, but why would you expect two groups with opposing goals to work together? ADOS seeks justice specifically for Black Americans, while N’COBRA continues to have a global orientation to their reparations project. ADOS leaders and various individuals defending themselves against often unprovoked slander is being mischaracterized here.
  6. Defending one’s stance against frequent mischaracterizations is often necessary: Far too often, I see some public figure offer some unasked-for declaration full of misrepresentations and dishonest readings of the ADOS  movement and then throw up the “RIP my mentions” shtick at the end of their long, meandering, and scattered threads. Then, they act as though they are being “attacked” when ADOS folks and allies like myself come in and give them the attention they were begging for by posting the vitriol in the first place by correcting and defending our ideals. Frankly, this PDF came across as the more sophisticated version of the very same playbook. A more academic form of “RIP my mentions,” if you will. So is my blogpost that addresses some of this dangerous misinformation about a movement that I’ve decided to be support going to be deemed a “swarm?” 
  7. Immigration: ADOS leaders’ focus on immigration policy is not borne out of a desire to “keep America white,” but I think this is a disingenuous charge anyways, as a reparations claim strikes a death blow to white supremacy as it has manifested through US chattel slavery and all ensuing mechanisms to keep ADOS in the bottom caste. Rather, ADOS folks and allies like myself see the way that the Left has embraced a new justice project of securing the benefits of citizenship for undocumented individuals without finishing the business of redress, repair, and reparations for ADOS as a deeply hypocritical, moral failure. As an educator, I’ve started to form this analogy in my head of it being akin to a student ignoring a 12-page research paper in favor of starting a new assignment. You never finished that research paper, America, and lobbing accusations of xenophobia as cover doesn’t erase the homework that you need to do. Do your homework. 
  8. ADOS leaders see an anchoring in Americanness as a necessary part of starting lineage therapy, an assertion that one’s identity as ADOS is whole and complete. No more of the “lost tribe” rhetoric that has long been one of the more psychologically damaging aspects of Pan-African ideology, and those of us who still consider ourselves to be Pan-African need to acknowledge that this kind of romanticized distortion can indeed be detrimental to the psyche. Framing this strengthening of one’s distinct lineage as a nefarious attempt of separation from the continent is a mischaracterization. As the child of Jamaican immigrants, nobody would ever chastise my decision to anchor myself in learning about the history of my ancestors in Jamaica or wrapping myself in the Jamaican flag. Nobody would tell me that I needed to instead expend more energy seeking out my West African roots, though I’ve chosen to do that already. So why can’t the detractors afford ADOS identity the same respect?
  9. Pan-Africanism and Genetics: Does Pan-Africanism, as a serious political movement, have momentum in the U.S.? Does it address the material concerns of ADOS people in a specific way? No. To the other point, Ms. Carnell frequently repeats that “we come from slaves and slave owners,” and that is a fact. That is a part of the lineage of ADOS people, and pointing that out isn’t villainous or even unprecedented. As far as cultural grounding goes, Baldwin always pointed out the fundamental Americanness of the “American Negro,” particularly in his writings from Paris, but people only seem to deem this problematic when it comes from  ADOS asserting the same thing in our present moment. 
  10. Stay on code and Immigration Part 2: First, the reference to “stay on code” is a phrase should be attributed to a different group of people led by a leader who now disavows any association with ADOS, so let’s not link that rhetoric to this movement. Moving on. Please be clear about what ADOS is doing in discussions of black immigrants: they are problematizing a long-held narrative of black immigrant rags-to-riches stories that are frequently used to berate ADOS communities for government-enacted socioeconomic collapse. They are pointing out that a good number of black immigrants who come to the U.S. are educated and solidly middle class, with at least enough wealth and access to resources to get here, and so any comparisons to the fortunes of a bottom-caste group are unfounded. I can make this abundantly clear with a simple comparison of my grandfather with my husband’s: my husband’s grandfather moved from the rural south to Chicago, and was only two generations removed from slavery. His lifelong occupation was that of a janitor, and my husband, educated and accomplished, is very proud of the life his grandfather built despite all of the odds. My grandfather was an architect and landowner with some measure of political clout in Kingston, Jamaica. This contrast isn’t uncommon, according to the data, and it isn’t a provocation for ADOS to point these facts out as a way to problematize conceptions of flat blackness. 
  11. Why can’t y’all let the bot narrative go? There’s been scarce evidence of bots or trolls found to be using the ADOS hashtag. Produce an IT forensic data report prepared by a respected digital sleuth to substantiate your claim or stop making it. You don’t get to dismiss people as paid trolls just because you don’t agree with the agenda or goals of the movement. 
  12. Dr. King and Mother Moore: I want to address specifically the screenshot of the tweets by Dr. Darity that were posted. I see his response as a way to take the steam out of these disingenuous exchanges. Do the pan-African leanings of these leaders somehow diminish the fact that they were clear about the specificity of the ADOS justice claim as it regards reparations? What is the point being made here, that some of us (myself) can hold two truths at once, having a sense of global black solidarity and even an affinity for reclaiming African heritage WITH the clear knowledge that there is the need for a distinct ADOS justice claim? Again, this isn’t the smoking gun that you think it is. It’s also laughable to say that Dr. King is being taken out of context, when Yvette Carnell very recently led a book club utilizing Dr. King’s work. Interesting that you think a group of people who’ve immersed themselves in this work are “cherry-picking.” 
  13. Put some respect on the ADOS movement: I don’t have much to say about the last point, because you’re absolutely right that the ADOS movement has engendered a willingness to bring reparations into the national discourse, and credit should be given where it is due. This point in particular had a ring of “who do these Negroes think they are?” I find that to be disrespectful, especially for someone who alludes in some places to the Black Lives Matter movement, and who’d likely react (and rightfully so) to attempts to diminish how that movement changed public discourse in horror. 

I have one final charge for others in the black empowerment space whose fingers are also itching to write a treatise on ADOS. I challenge you to research and write a passionate, solemn tome about a problem facing Black Americans in your hometown instead. As Yvette and Tone frequently point out, you will likely find ADOS situated at the bottom of every socioeconomic indicator in your area, should you take some time to dig into the data. Write some legislation to tackle an ADOS-specific problem that corresponds to your area of expertise and get a legislator to sponsor it in your state legislature. Find a local ADOS chapter and partner with the energies of the people in the chapter to craft a Black Agenda specific to your town, city, or state. Re-direct your energy away from detracting from ADOS and pivot to the problem that should be at the forefront of your mind: the prospect that the median wealth of Black Americans could reach $0 by 2053. I plan to take my own advice and use this blog on a more regular basis to illuminate policy decisions that adversely impact ADOS in my hometown, and engage with my elected officials to chart a new path forward. 

Best regards,


This article was originally posted on AfroBookworm. It is reposted here with permission. Read the original.