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

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.”

Cool Black Friend

“Cool Black Friend”

By Audrey Shipp

 

“Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’

You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me”

 (“Nothing from Nothing,” Billy Preston)

 

“You ain’t got to be rich to talk to Gucci, but you got to be part of something

 Ain’t nobody play no pro ball or nothing? Ain’t nobody got nothing?”

(“At Least a M,” Gucci Mane, Mike Will Made It, Zaytoven)

 

At nine-percent of the city’s population and falling, living in multifarious communities throughout the City and County, Blacks in L.A. have numerous opportunities to be the “Cool Black Friend.”  Opportunities abound on city streets, on school and college campuses, in the workplace, on Hollywood screens, in the music industry, and at the club.  Possibilities are plentiful amongst a myriad of ethnic groups but especially amongst the power majority – White/Euro-Americans, whom as Michael Eric Dyson correctly notes, Blacks have been “reading” for centuries for our own survival–and amongst Latino communities of Mexican and Central American heritage who are the majority culture in once overwhelmingly-African-American South L.A.  Having created the philosophy of cool on U.S. terrain, and having created that framework despite the nothingness of their former condition as chattel property, there is little wonder that Blacks are selected as the Cool Black Friend.  An anomaly, perhaps, given that the deculturalization process for the enslaved involved the “uprooting from land” and targeted the elimination of language, cultural practices, and family ties.  Yet Black history in America is a history of resistance and the creating of something out of nothing.  Railroads invisible to the eye.  Churches in a land that denied them literacy and the bible.  Schools and universities before their freedom was even granted.  Resistance to empire — an acumen for the precise where and when in political movements — that white Liberals cling to today.

In the nation at large, and following the era in which African Americans were forced to take up European musical instruments and play for their enslavers, the Cool Black Friend has existed in music since the era when Whites visited segregated black clubs in locations such as Harlem or Chicago’s South Side.  For the visitor, these excursions were undoubtedly a positive if one had a black connection who could facilitate entrance to a musical venue.  And today, if a non-black musician or singer performs a type of music with African rhythm or African-American intonations, it is advantageous to be chums with a black performer who can give you credence.

Sports abound with Cool Black Friends.  We see this especially on university campuses with huge endowments and top tier sports programs where the student body may be comprised of few African Americans, but the sports team has a large number of Cool Black Friends leading the university to NCAA victory and its resultant monetary gains for coaches, administrators, and the like while excluding the players themselves.  High five to the Cool Black Friend when he or she scores.  Professional athletics are more of a mixed bag, depending on the sport.  Cool Black Friends generate billions of dollars in stadium expansions, advertising, broadcasting, and ticket sales, especially during finals when corporations and the wealthy might buy out front row seats at market price for five thousand dollars (or resale $50K) to watch Black athletes take the spectators’ team to a win.  High five on that.  Yet some sports, such as football with its 70% black players, 25% black quarterbacks, or tennis which has consistently and sporadically (to use an oxymoron) had a lump in its throat regarding the assertive, pro-black, female athleticism of Venus and Serena Williams, or golf which tried to play the token card with Tiger Woods but had to do so only half-heartedly given that athlete’s ambivalence about his own political power, show no interest in white liberal chumminess.

In some cases, having sex with a Cool Black Friend can result in the creation of the longest-running reality show to date in the U.S.  And even though the relationship that spurred that sex tape may sputter and fizzle, the Cool Black Friendship may be seen as a winning formula if the celebrity and her insecure entourage have no marketable talents of their own.  Thus, the formula must be repeated and replicated because, of course, Black Americans have a history of creating something out of nothing.  Aren’t these the people who following Nixon’s questioning their ability to survive another 500 years in the U.S., who after that same President’s statement in the 1970’s that they would only survive if the best ones were inbred, and amidst allegations in the 1980’s of CIA support for Central American counter-revolutionaries that led to dumping cocaine into the hood to fund the Contras and further destroy the black family while fueling the street-to-prison pipeline, turned the dregs of that historical experience into a musical genre?  Trap Music aside, some black friends are simply an insinuation.  By getting butt implants or pumping up one’s lips, it’s possible to allude to a Cool Black Friend 24/7, even when he/she may not be in one’s presence.

In the United States, which has raced with Russia in building approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, the detonation of 100 of which would block the earth’s sunlight.  The U.S. with the world’s largest number of incarcerated people, 40% of whom are Black, although Blacks are only 13% of the population.  The U.S. which is 5% of the world’s population, yet uses 24% of its energy and is ranked the second largest carbon dioxide producer. A country comfortable with the notion that white wealth is 13 times that of Blacks and Latinos. Yet, living in the Empire, and aware of the disproportionate distortions of day to day life, when Blacks shout, “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter” is, at times, the rejoinder of Euro-Americans.  With the latter, in this instance, showing scant knowledge of how call and response functions, the question to be pondered is where in the makeup of the Empire is the message “All Lives Matter” being communicated.  Whites live in the Nation.  Blacks, overwhelmingly, live in the Empire.  Even though news networks, public relations firms, and advertisers have recently put their own spin on the word “matter,” so that mileage, insurance, and happiness “matter,” the original proclamation endures.

In these circumstances and during his two terms in office, perhaps President Obama was the ultimate Cool Black Friend.  His presence allowed the United States to look progressive, as if it had overcome its racial differences, as if tolerance were the norm.  He brought Black cool to the nation and the imperial Oval Office. In a geographical world region founded on settler colonialism, Obama inherited the continental — North, Central, and South American — desire of political leaders to have it both ways – to pillage while appearing benign.  In the U.S., the liberal establishment clung to its belief in a palatable nation in which we could maintain our wasteful, consumerist lifestyle, hopefully come together as one, bridge the inherent conflict in maintaining a huge military budget, while supposedly being a beacon to the world of harmonious progress.  In his role as President, Obama had to set the course for both the nation and the empire, but like many imperial leaders, he overlooked the plight of some of his colonial subjects – amongst others, Blacks themselves, who, as inhabitants of the Empire, were seeking a liberator and have scant need for Cool Black Friends because we are our own Cool Black Friends.