James Wormley Jones in 1919 became the first African-American agent signed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and his first assignment was to infiltrate so-called “radical” Black organizations.
In 1921, Jones accessed the African Blood Brotherhood, a secret armed Black liberation group based in New York City led by Cyril Briggs, according to Black Past.
That same year, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover assigned Jones to infiltrate Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. The information Jones gathered would help lead to the arrest of Garvey on mail fraud charges in January 1922.
Jones’ entry into the FBI was notorious. But despite efforts to increase Black agents in its ranks, the FBI has failed to this day to lure in large numbers of Black recruits. Over the past decade, the number of Black FBI agents has remained virtually unchanged.
Observers list the FBI’s history as a majority white male organization as one reason it has struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. The application process and job demands also don’t help, Government Executive reported.
The bureau’s history of infiltrating Black organizations and its covert COINTELPRO program — meant to discredit and disrupt the Black empowerment movement — have negatively affected its reputation in the Black community.
There have been several initiatives and commitment to bringing in a broader mix of workers for its staff, which includes 37,000 employees at 56 field offices nationwide.
“Law enforcement is an area where there is a critical need for civil servants who look like the people and communities they serve,” the Justice Department inspector general reported in October.
Data from the FBI’s Office of Personnel Management from March 2019 found that the agency’s overall workforce was 55.6 percent male and 44.4 percent female. Its workforce was 75 percent white in 2009 and 74.4 percent white in 2019. Whites held 79.5 percent of the top GS grade positions in 2009 and 77.6 percent in 2019, Government Executive reported.
The FBI, which has failed to attract Black recruits in significant numbers, has latched itself onto a new Black History Month trend — the celebration of Black Joy.
The concept of “Black joy” as a movement has become more and more popular in the last year with an increased awareness of systemic racism through the Black Lives Matter protests. “Black joy is an act of resistance. The whole idea of oppression is to keep people down. So when people continue to shine and live fully, it is resistance in the context of our white supremacist world,” said African American studies Prof. Mei-Ling Malone of California State University, Fullerton in a Voice of Orange County report.
Despite racism, trauma, oppression and hardships, Black people have continued to celebrate their Blackness. This is Black joy.
“Like other communities, Black folks, of course, feel tremendous pain, outrage, sorrow, and depression, and we struggle with our mental health. But there is also a necessary longing and practice of joy,” Malone said. “As long as there has been racial oppression, there has also been resistance and Black joy.”
So when the FBI decided to jump on the Black joy bandwagon to try and recruit Black agents, the backlash was swift.
The FBI tweeted, “Black Joy: Black History Month Celebration. We belong everywhere: Celebrating those living their dream. Join us for a conversation with Black & Brown FBI agents to discuss their journey, challenges, and reasoning for becoming an FBI agent.” It goes on further to point out that there are job opportunities in the FBI.
An outraged Twitter user responded: “They think that we’d feel “black joy”—during BH month of all times—in celebrating agents from a state-sanctioned gang that continues to use COINTELPRO tactics, with no acknowledgement to their crimes of violence? How insulting that they dare recruit us in the same breath.”
Another tweeted, “And the Urban League put their logo on this? Need to run outta town. Ridiculous!!!! The FBI is directly responsible for some of the worst atrocities to the Black collective.”
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One person pointed out that the FBI tweet trivialized the concept of Black Joy.
“I was just thinking today about how Black Joy has turned into a type of Hallmark-card bs but when I looked at the short history of BJ, I decided to be quiet. But this confirms that BJ has become yet another corporate/imperialist ploy,” the tweet read.