African Americans’ Move to Nicaragua

Given persistent economic inequality and disproportionate mass incarceration, in the twenty-first century African Americans require territory for a national homeland.  Malcolm X is the most prominent of recent embodiments of this desire conceived of by Black Americans.  He is a tireless spokesperson and advocate for a national territory, as is Martin Delany who promotes this idea developed by the Black generations of his era.  Living from 1812-1885, Delany was physician, abolitionist, writer, husband, father, and a Civil War soldier who like Malcolm X was preoccupied with Black liberation and what it would look like in his time period as one of 600,000 freedmen amongst 3.5 million enslaved African-Americans.  He expresses the popular point of view of that time that “we (Black Americans) are a nation within a nation.” [i]  His preoccupation led him to conclude that real liberation and access to progress, for the freedmen at least, would require leaving the United States where whites owned everything as a result of their dependence on black labor.  Although whites would historically make it appear that Blacks were sequestered and forced to engage in hard labor because of their inferiority, the opposite was actually true; they were seized due to their superior abilities in activities like mining and agriculture.

Another idea circulating during Delany’s lifetime was the notion of repatriation of the African-American enslaved to Africa.  Delany was critical of this project which he regarded as conceived of by white slaveholders.  Namely, the American Colonization Society proposed to send Blacks to Liberia, an African nation created by the United States.  Depending on the political climate in the U.S., Delany considered this notion to be plausible, and at other times not.  He set sail for Africa, became familiar with the terrain and environs of Liberia, and finally concluded that he had an “unqualified objection to Liberia.”[ii]  But that conclusion would not stop him from later contemplating East Africa as a potential homeland for Black Americans as well as Lagos in present-day Nigeria.

Ultimately, Delany reasoned that the optimum location for an African-American homeland would be Central America.  Given its location and terrain, Delany saw Nicaragua specifically as an excellent location for agriculture and commerce.  His perception was that there was no racism in Nicaraguan society and that colored people wielded power.  He stated, “Central and South America are evidently the ultimate destination and future home of the colored race of this continent.”[iii]  His focus on Nicaragua was in no way unusual during his time period given that there was an obsession with Nicaragua amongst the white American ruling class.  During the 1850’s, members of the U.S. government had considered annexation of Nicaragua in an attempt to distribute land and eventually enslaved Black persons to white non-slave holders.  In other words, then, as today, the notion of Jeffersonian, white-male equality depended on both the exploitation of non-whites and the acquisition of territory outside the United States.  But was this land free of racism as Delany had perceived it to be?  Not quite so.  Nicaragua was a site of “ethnic cleansing”[iv] as practiced by the Spanish on the indigenous populations.

A closer look at race in Nicaragua reveals it not to be the idyllic environment as envisioned by African-American freedom fighter and liberationist Delany.  As contemporary researcher Lancaster points out, “Nicaragua does indeed have a race problem, or perhaps more to the point, a color problem, that manifests itself in insidious ways.”[v]  The minority populations of African and Miskito (Amerindian) origin are both concentrated and isolated on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast which was colonized by the British and which shares no direct highway link to the rest of the country.  Historically, the majority mestizos (persons of mixed blood), who themselves comprise 90% of the population, have considered Afro-Nicaraguans and Miskitos as backward and inferior.  Perhaps Delany perceived of Nicaragua as being free from racism due to the more subtle manifestations of racism in Latin America where this social malady is a series of practices as distinct from racism in the U.S which is structural.[vi]  Despite racism’s subtleties in Nicaragua, the leadership positions of the country have historically been held by the white elite who are noted as being the only demographic in the country not engaged in the internal and psychological warfare resulting from performing Spanish culture in indigenous or African skin.  This colonial warfare is noted by researcher Lancaster as being reversed only once per year, during carnival, when indigenous and African cultures are celebrated.  At other times, through both language and practice, the majority of the population exhibits a pervasive desire to be white.

Nicaragua as a nation continues to be a point of contention as current President Ortega struggles to retain power.  Ortega, who participated during the 1980’s in the leftist Sandinista revolution to overthrow U.S.-friendly dictator Somoza, has shifted his beliefs from Marxist-Leninism to democratic socialism.  Ortega’s terms as President include 1985-1990 and subsequent terms following elections in 2006, 2011, and 2016.  While some U.S. democratic socialists support Ortega and many U.S. Marxists and anarchists criticize him, the disparate groups tend to agree that the U.S. government, through its financing of NGO’s and human rights organizations, is trying to destabilize the present government viewed by the U.S. as being too friendly with both China and Russia.

Which way freedom?  Like African-Americans, the peoples of Nicaragua have had to struggle, engage in warfare, and face death and the death of loved ones in the quest for freedom during the eras of exploration and exploitation of the American continent, an exploitation that continues today.  Regarding economic issues in the formation of a nation, Delany often emphasizes business; yet, history shows that as businesses grow, they conglomerate and monopolize which results in a constraining of freedoms as their leaders cease to operate in the interests of working people.  Decisions about how businesses operate must be democratically shared with working people.  Regarding the freedoms of women, Delany correctly states that “no people are ever elevated above the condition of their females.”[vii]  Nicaragua today ranks twelve (after Germany) in gender equality.  Homosexuality is legal, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is illegal, but same-sex marriage is not recognized.  Unlike many other countries in the Southern hemisphere which focus on the growing of a few crops for international distribution, the country produces 80-90% of its own food.[viii]

Martin Delany, who, like Malcolm X, expresses a deep love for Black people, consistently has our freedom on his mind.  The physician Delany was one of the first three Blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1850, but they did not attend because protesting white students blocked their attendance.  Martin Delany states that if we Black Folk cannot leave the U.S. and found our own nation, we should at the least establish our own schools and colleges.  Delany proposes that African Americans leave a homeland for our children.  This same Martin Delany who was so preoccupied about a homeland died in 1885 with no tombstone marking the land holding his humble grave in Ohio until the year 2006.  Martin Delany resonates through time and beyond his grave.  His advocacy is persistent and pertinent.

[i] Howard Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 1850-1920 (New York: Routledge Press, 2017), 97

[ii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 77

[iii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 82

[iv] Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “Native Land and African Bodies, the Source of U.S. Capitalism,” Monthly Review 1 February 2015

[v] Roger N. Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua,” Ethnology Vol. 30, No. 4 (October 1991): 339-353

[vi] Lancaster, “Skin Color, Race, and Racism in Nicaragua”

[vii] Brotz, African-American Social and Political Thought, 92

[viii] Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune, “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” Monthly Review 23 July 2018

Absent African American History and a History of Frederick Douglass

On my most recent travels to Washington, D.C. I didn’t cross the Anacostia River to visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site which was the home of the former slave and iconic abolitionist, orator, and writer.  My time in the city was then little and winding down, and my frustration ran deep as the locale which loomed large on tourist maps beckoned me.  Yet the sun was setting, and I and my travelling entourage were tired, hungry, and thirsty.  Of course, I knew of Frederick Douglass, and I had read some of his texts but not in the context of other African American thinkers and African American social philosophers.  I knew of Frederick Douglass in the American context of the grand scheme of U.S History that is Founding Fathers, War of Independence, Abolition, Civil War, Civil Rights unto the present.  In that context he is undeniably a hero.  The hero.

In my current reading of the text Creative Conflict in African American Thought–a text published in 2004 and written by history professor Wilson Jeremiah Moses–I have had the opportunity to place Frederick Douglass in a historical context with other African American thinkers including Alexander Crummel, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey.  Mine is an opportunity rarely afforded African American youth given that our K-12 education system teaches of historical giants such as Douglass (when at all) within the grand scheme of U.S. history and as colonial appendages to the broader culture. During my own education before attending college, I don’t recall in depth studies of African American thinkers other than Martin Luther King.  It took my own efforts as a teen to scour then extant L.A. bookstores and find the writings of Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Malcolm X, etc. In the U.S. it isn’t until one attends college that one has access to a wide range of African American thought.  Indeed, American universities are the vanguard of research on African-American history and culture with their researchers and professors distinguished by an enthusiasm, passionate curiosity and analysis that rarely reaches secondary education.

Euro-American popular culture disparages history, and as a people living in a colonial situation in the United States, our living experiences in many cases mimic White Americans while simultaneously being antithetical to White reality.  Euro-American culture erases the blundering of Natives, forgets its own indentured servitude, and disregards the manner in which European and “white” non-European immigrants to America changed ethnic-sounding monikers to Anglo last names while, at the same time, this dominant culture professes a belief in never-ending progress based on bourgeois ideals. Given White Amnesia regarding history, it is not surprising that as Black Folk we don’t readily refer to our history in the United States within an African-American context.  Not only do we not refer to the specificities of our U.S. history, we fail to put ourselves within the larger African diaspora that includes not just primogenial Africa but Blacks living in Europe and our distant cousins through enslavement throughout the Americas.

Frederick Douglass is full of history and fuller still within an African-American context wherein one sees him not only as an abolitionist, but as an assimilationist as well.  A man of recognized mixed ancestry (born of the enslaved Harriet Bailey and a White father who would not recognize him), his predisposition was to view Whites as superior.   He was not an advocate for Black racial pride nor ethnic solidarity and saw little use for Black institutions.  He was indeed a follower of bourgeois conventions.

As African-Americans we act out our foremothers and forefathers frequently and regularly.  The dominant culture would have us be only Frederick Douglass.  Yet without acknowledgment we have our rebellious Angela Davis cerebrations, our unrelenting Malcolm or high-road Martin agitation, our Booker T. desires to start a Black Business, and our Du Bois integration frustrations that lead to yearnings of donning Ankara African fabric and returning for good to the African continent.  Yet rarely are we put into that cultural context.  As high school students we aren’t consistently afforded this mirror to look at ourselves.  As writers we often fail to put Black Americans within the context of Black thought and its developments.  And we most certainly cannot expect White America to do this for us.  The result is a lack of recognition and awareness about how African American thought develops, how it turns on itself, and how it regresses.  History is alive.  It is under the surface of everything we do.  It urges to manifest itself.  As writers and educators, it is our duty to hear its call and reclaim African American history from under the mantle of alienation.

 

Blatant Brazil

“Blatant Brazil”

Esteemed Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

There were less blatant ways to kill Marielle Franco.

 

Foremost being before her African ancestors made their captured voyage to shore,

they could have simply jumped ship into the depths of the Atlantic as seaweed carcasses,

and her seed would have never settled in your soil.

 

Or her forebears could have been the first to rebel like Haiti and world capital and

empire could have slowly sanctioned her off, starved her and blamed her for her own

hunger.

 

In our times you might have choked her father for trespassing on any public street and

left her whirling to organize protest against his murder only to die breathless with no

beating heart.

 

You might have given her child a plastic gun to play with in a park and rushed in

annihilating both her and her offspring.

 

Finally, you could have stopped her car for a traffic violation, hauled her to jail to accuse

the accused of hanging herself.

 

Instead Marielle Franco was shot while driving Black, assassinated along with her driver

Anderson Pedro Gomes.

 

Her only defense the votes that made her a Council Member.  Her voice that rallied

against racism, oppression, and injustice. Her mind that analyzed and made

connections.

 

Brazen Brazil:

(Police, Army, Militias)

Our Loss.

Your kill.

 

 

Black Women Won’t Save the World

“Black Women Won’t Save the World”

For: Erica Garner

 

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, Black Women won’t save the world.  Notwithstanding the circumference of the Cradle of Civilization in South Africa nestled in a locale from which all human beings originate; regardless of the excavations in Ethiopia of both Lucy and Ardi marking the evolution of homo erectus and what that signifies to the world in the evolutionary flowering of life, the act of waiting 27 years in a Mandela-like manner is far beyond the dexterity of even the most steadfast amongst us.  So, please do not expect it, since what a girl really wants is to be a first in Africa as President of the former American Colonization Society (aka, Liberia) to show the world how it’s really done following the commendable lead of Brooklyn-and the-Caribbean’s Chisholm who made her bid as leader of the entire Empire after the sea having been parted by that group of women who were so good at either whispering or shouting:

“Come along with me.”

(You know the ones.)

Those who say: “Come on now.”

“Don’t give up.”

Those that question: “Why can’t you do that, too?”

Harriet Tubman.

Sojourner Truth.

Rosa Parks.

But they can’t do it all.  They can’t continue to clean up the mess of Western Civilization epitomized in the world’s largest economy that works overtime like an oversized fan both amassing resources and throwing out products.  They can’t continue to wipe the mouths of temperamental children.  Black women will not save the world with a sweeping lift of the train of their gowns as they walk on stage and, with a Hattie McDaniel smile, accept their award.  Even though the world expects that they listen Oprah-style to its dilemmas and then offer pats on the back; even though society would have them sweeten reality like Aunt Jemima; even though segments of American politics cross their fingers waiting for Black Women to show up at the polls to circumvent the country’s tendency to worship totalitarian totems, it goes against the grain.  When all a girl wants is fresh food that can’t be bought at a liquor mart, healthcare that can’t be provided at a storefront, dignified employment that can’t be applied for amidst corporate outsourcing, ownership that can’t be acquired in economic inequality, safety that can’t be granted by the 2nd Amendment, and for her sons and daughters to live a freedom that can’t exist in a society of colored-only mass incarceration.  So, no, Black Women (who have been my sustenance) will not save a world that reduced Lucy to an objectified Sara Baartman, Hottentot Venus to be paraded around European freak shows to exhibit her large buttocks.  Regardless of their self-imposed exile to Paris and refashioning themselves to seduce á la Josephine Baker or using the both life-saving and self-effacing tools of Madame C. J. Walker to accommodate white middle-class patriarchy, they may still face a court case named the “The United States of America vs. Billie Holiday” in which their Blues cannot even be contained in a volume by Toni Morrison.  If indeed “la vida es un carnaval,” I want Black Women to formulate it, but we can’t save a world that is not of our making, a world in which mothers were historically assigned double duty and fathers were denied last names.  Fathers were depleted of even air to breathe.  Fathers had to plead, “I can’t breathe.”