Black Children and Special Education

Black children in the UK are labelled as having so called “special educational needs” at a much higher rate than other children. I believe that this is a manifestation of racism and anti-blackness In this video entitled Black Children and the School System, I will present clear evidence to support this conclusion in this discussion. As usual, I will bring all of my sources which will be clearly stated, they’ll also linked in the video description and in the accompanying blog article on africansarise.com. So you can follow up with your own research.   

Video Outline: 

  • First, we’ll demonstrate that Black children are disproportionately labelled as having special needs, and that this has been the case over generations now
  • We’ll then briefly discuss the negative outcomes associated with children who are deemed to have special educational needs
  • Then we’ll investigate what special educational needs actually means, showing how Black children are labelled with a specific group of these so called needs. 
  • After that we’ll consider whether socio-economic class and the specific national and cultural background makes a difference to the disproportion
  • And finally we’ll see some evidence from the US showing teacher bias against Black children 
  • My overall aim in this particular discussion is to contribute to understand the problem we face. It’s only when we understand fully, that we will be in a position to conceptualise solutions to them.

In early 2018, the BBC aired a fantastic documentary called Being Blacker in which they followed a well-known Brixton based record shop owner called Blacker Dread. One thing that stood out for me was how his youngest son who had been having some problems at school was labelled a problem child by the professionals – with an alleged condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. His mother Mary relocated him to Jamaica and by the time the documentary went to visit him there – he was regularly scoring over 90% in his exams and came across as an eloquent, charming and good-natured young boy. But if the school authorities had their way, things could’ve ended very differently for him. 

The rapper Akala who is half black and white had a somewhat similar at school which he recounts in an interview for the Independent newspaper, he said:

“I was one of the smartest kids in the class … But I was put in a special needs group because of a teacher who thought I was too bright for a working class brown boy. Fortunately, my mum was already sending me to Pan-African society on Saturdays, so I’d learned to be prepared for this kind of discrimination. I had this armoury that could pick up on it and nip it in the bud and keep me in school.”https://inews.co.uk/culture/books/akala-interview-natives-book/

In other interviews, Akala explains that it was a chance visit to the school by some folks from the Saturday school which alerted his mother to what had happened, and they managed to get him out of the special needs class. Again, this was probably a lucky escape. I know from other interviews Akala has done that during his youth he was on the peripheries of street crime and violence. But for many boys, this labelling and sorting by teachers and school authority figures would put them on a trajectory headed toward educational failure and crime. 

Statistics on the Disproportionate labelling of Black and mixed children as having special educational needs

The data show this labelling of Black and mixed children, especially boys, is very common. The Times Educational Supplement published an article in December 2017 called “A black Caribbean FSM boy with SEND is 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded than a white British girl without SEND. Why?” This article helps shed some historical and statistical light on these experiences:

It is argued that the education system tends to marginalise children who do not conform to majority norms. The growth and consolidation of special educational provision in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with the arrival of immigrants from the Caribbean and South-East Asia. Statutory categories were developed for children with “limited ability” and those who “showed evidence of emotional instability or psychological disturbance and required special treatment to effect personal, social or educational readjustment”. From the outset, these labels of “educationally subnormal” (ESN) and “maladjusted” were disproportionately applied to disadvantaged minority ethnic pupils. The Inner London Education Authority reported in 1967 that “misplacement” to educationally subnormal (ESN) schools was four times more likely for “immigrant” children and was largely due to behavioural problems. In 1968, a third of children in ESN schools were classified as “immigrants”, compared with 17 per cent of children in mainstream schools, and three-quarters of them were of Caribbean descent. For the past half-century, whenever relevant data has been broken down by ethnicity, black Caribbean students have been over-identified as having SEN, and pupils with SEN have been disproportionately excluded. (Emphasis added)

To illustrate that last point, a Telegraph article on 23rd October 2013 entitled “Boys ‘much more likely to be labelled with special needs” reported the following:
Black children were far more likely to be diagnosed with special needs, with numbers standing at 24.1 per cent. This compared with 22.3 per cent of Pakistani pupils and 20.6 per cent of white pupils, while the proportion was as low as 11.6 per cent among Chinese children and 12.3 per cent of those from Indian families;”https://web.archive.org/web/20191021134228/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10399599/Boys-much-more-likely-to-be-labelled-with-special-needs.html

The subjective label of Special Needs
So more black children are being labelled as having special educational needs and this has been the case for 50 years. But what exactly does special needs actually mean? From the UK Government website, we read: https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs#:~:text=Special%20educational%20needs%20and%20disabilities%20(%20SEND%20)%20can%20affect%20a%20child,example%20because%20they%20have%20dyslexia
Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can affect a child or young person’s ability to learn. They can affect their:

  • behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
  • reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
  • ability to understand things
  • concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
  • physical ability

To me, a lot of these indicators seem very subjective. I mean, if a child has difficulty making friends or socialising, why does that indicate something up with them, necessarily? What if it’s the other children and even adults who are ostracising them, bullying them, etc? As is the case with so called mental illnesses, what we could be seeing here is problems that children are having with their environment which are then assumed to have a cause that can be found within the child. 
These descriptions also muddy the waters by lumping medical issues with social issues. Professor Steve Strand is a researcher who has put out some excellent analysis of race and education system in the UK over the years. I’m going to look at his 2018 study called “Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England: Extent, causes and consequences.” This study explains that within the umbrella term of SEND, there are Needs that can be said to be physiological in origin, and those that are determined by a child’s perceived problems huge difference. The study focuses on 3 main types of needs, Moderate Learning Difficulties, Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). 

Strand points out that

“Some forms of SEN have a clear biological basis, for example sensory impairments, physical needs, or Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). These categories are often contrasted with categories like MLD and BESD which are defined in terms of the student’s actions within a context, mainly the school and classroom. These needs are socially constructed in the sense that students’ behaviour is interpreted in terms of expected patterns or norms. 

Exactly. So a child is behaving in a manner that is deemed unacceptable by someone else and is then labelled as having a special need. This is very very different from, say, a child having a specific brain lesion or a congenital condition affecting the body which then hinders their cognitive function for example. 

Referring to the non-physiological needs, Strand then tells us the following:
‘Judgemental’ categories like MLD and SEMH are not the only SEN evidencing disproportionality as we saw above, but they are those where the disproportionate identification of  Black students is greatest (Skiba et al, 2008, p269).  http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Combined-Report_2018-12-20.pdf

So it’s the subjective social needs that are applied to Black children disproportionately, much more disproportionately than the clearly medical ones. 
BESD/SEMH make up the vast majority of those who end up in Youth prisons. Going back to the “Understanding the educational background of young offenders” – 1.3.1..  

What impact does socio economic class have?

Whenever looking at these kinds of statistics, you should always try and factor in lots of different factors that might help explain a disproportionality. So in this case, we should ask whether the socio-economic status of the children makes a difference. I.e. Are Black Caribbean children disproportionately labelled as having SEND because they are more likely to be of low SES? If so, this would suggest that the issue is more of a class issue than a racial one. 

Well Strand’s study found that the disproportion for Mild Learning Difficulties does indeed disappear once socio-economic factors are taken into account. What this means is that children who can be identified are being poorer, are more likely to be labelled as having Mild Learning Difficulties. Now this still requires the follow up question, why are Black children more likely to be living in lower SES. But that’s a question for another time. 

Some caution is needed here because the socioeconomic disadvantage is referring to children being eligible for free school meals. There’s some dispute over whether this is as solid an indicator of poverty as it’s claimed to be. However, this added layer of analysis is important because it suggests that socio-economic status may be a more important factor than race in children getting labelled as having special needs – apart from when it comes to Black children. The disproportionality when it comes to so-called Social Emotional Mental Health needs does not disappear after controlling for these socio-economic factors. In other words, the disproportionately is a racial one. 

What about African children? 
Another important factor to consider is whether black African children face the same disparities. Black African children are actually much less likely to be excluded than black Caribbean children. Where 4.4% of black African children were temporarily excluded in 2015-16, a whopping 10% of black Caribbean children were. There’s a bigger disparity when it comes to permanent exclusions. And in both cases, while the black Caribbean rate is higher than that for white children, the black African rate is lower the white children’s rate.https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/absence-and-exclusions/pupil-exclusions/latest

Going back to the special educational needs issue, there seems to be a similar pattern. A paper entitled “Special Educational Needs and Immigration/Ethnicity: The English experience” gives the following information:

Once the influence of socioeconomic disadvantage, gender and age had been taken into account, the likelihood of pupils from different minority ethnic groups having SEN showed interesting patterns. This can be demonstrated (Table 6) by the use of odds ratios. Compared with the likelihood of White British pupils having SEN, the percentage of Black children was not substantially different. Indeed, there was a lower likelihood (odds Ratio) of Black Caribbean pupils (0.85:1) and Black African pupils (0.47:1) having Moderate Learning Difficulties than White British pupils. However, Black Caribbean pupils were still 1 times more likely to be considered to have Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties.

How can we make sense of the differences between Caribbean and African children? Well, part of it is probably down to the fact that Africans are generally fairly recent immigrants to the UK and thus benefit from the so called migrant bonus. This is the well-observed pattern of migrants being highly motivated to succeed in their new countries.

On the Caribbean side, I think it’s likely that their experiences are partly a legacy of the racism that was experienced by many of their parents and grandparents which damaged the socio-economic life chances. What I’d expect to see is that future generations of Black African children born to parents who were born and raised here would experience similar treatment to their Caribbean peers as the immigrant factor fades. 

Comment on the Caribbean root of the Black community in Britain. What they went through to pave the way for the rest of us that followed. They are carrying battle scars of decades of struggle, and they deserve our respect and defference, not our denigration. 

Genuine behavioural problems do exist but teacher bias is key
So why the disparities? You have to suspect that the it is the teachers biases and prejudices that leads them to label and stigmatise black children int his way.
I think a lot of teachers simply don’t know how to relate to black children, especially boys. But I also think that often, they have pre-judged black boys as being trouble and interpret their behaviour using that prism, regardless of whether the behaviour is genuinely disruptive or not. In 2016, a study at Yale University gave a potential insight into this practice at work:

“Researchers led by Yale professor Walter Gilliam showed 135 educators videos of children in a classroom setting. Each video had a black boy and girl, and a white boy and girl. The teachers were told the following: ‘We are interested in learning about how teachers detect challenging behavior in the classroom. Sometimes this involves seeing behavior before it becomes problematic. The video segments you are about to view are of preschoolers engaging in various activities. Some clips may or may not contain challenging behaviors. Your job is to press the enter key on the external keypad every time you see a behavior that could become a potential challenge.’While the teachers were asked to detect “challenging behavior”, no such behavior existed in any of the videos. Yet when asked which children required the most attention, 42% of the teachers identified the black boy.The participants’ conscious appraisal of whom they believed required the most attention closely mirrored the independent results of an eye-tracking technology used by the research team, which noted that preschool teachers “show a tendency to more closely observe black students, and especially boys, when challenging behaviors are expected”. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/04/black-students-teachers-implicit-racial-bias-preschool-study

When I posted this in a community posts few weeks ago, some guy was adamant that this must mean that Black children are indeed more disruptive. Why else would teachers of all races label them. They’re obviously just mining their experience. This is a similar point to the one made about the Police targeting Black people with their stop and search. “Black people are more likely to be up to no good n the experience of the Police, so of course they’ll target Black people” we’re told. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The targeting of Black people is said to be justified by their disruptive behaviour. But when they are targeted even where there is no disruptive behaviour on show, this is justified because Black people are allegedly more disruptive. 

Disruptive behaviour as a perfectly rational response to destructive environments
But even where children’s behaviour is genuinely disruptive and troubling, we should always ask whether they are really the ones to focus on. Such behaviour could be perfectly rational and normal responses to their environment. To go back to Blacker Dread, areas like Brixton have huge interrelated social problems with crime, gangs, unemployment, drug use, inter-generational poverty, high concentrations of single parent households, etc. It’s obvious that schools in these areas will reflect these problems and that many children will have trouble. If you change the environment or put the children into better environments more conducive to pro social behaviour, you improve children’s behaviour and performance. All of this nuance gets lost if you simply label children as having a SEND.

You can make a similar argument about any one of the supposed deficiencies of Black people that are used to excuse our mistreatment, whether they are cultural, biological, mental, etc. I’ll repeat a quote from Dr Amos Wilson’s Blueprint for Black Power which we should always keep in mind when having these discussions: (page 128) Conclusion

  • First, we’ll demonstrate that Black children are disproportionately labelled as having special needs, and that this has been the case over generations now
  • We’ll then briefly discuss the negative outcomes associated with children who are deemed to have special educational needs
  • Then we’ll investigate what special educational needs actually means, showing how Black children are labelled with a specific group of these so called needs. 
  • After that we’ll consider whether socio-economic class and the specific national and cultural background makes a difference to the disproportion
  • And finally we’ll see some evidence from the US showing teacher bias against Black children


The Purpose of Black Crime (Afropessimism)

What about black on black crime? we often hear. Well-meaning folks argue that Black on black crime is a myth. Black on black crime is not a myth, but actually serves the socio-economic, political and psychic interests of non-Black people. An Afropessimist analysis would argue that Black on Black Crime and especially Black on Black violence is is actually a form of Anti-Black violence. In this view, the purpose of Black Crime is to create and maintain a divide between Humans and Black people. This gives a framework with which to understand why there are so many White fans of Gangster Rap, Drill Music, etc – why black youth violence so enticing to non-Black people. Again, the truth about black crime is that it is a form of Antiblackness. 

Black on Black violence in the service of non-Blacks
Let’s talk about the Black on Black violence card. I played that card many many times myself during my Black Conservative, or pseudo-libertarian phase in 2016-17. With this experience in mind, I now call Black on Black violence is the Great White Hope of Black Conservative talking points. Larry Elder, Candice Williams, Jesse Lee Peterson and company think that Black on Black violence is the big problem for Black people, not anti-Black violence. But here’s the thing, what if Black on Black violence IS anti Black violence? 

As I mentioned in the last video, Amos Wilson was very clear in his view that Africans in the United States are not living their own lives, but are actually being used by others. Their consciousness is still a slave consciousness, their languages, social relations, food, clothing, religion, places they live, the totality of their existence is firmly rooted in the crucible of enslavement. Nothing has substantively changed since 1863 with formal abolition. 

In the Lecture Blueprint for Black Power, he goes on to talk about how this manifests in so-called Black on Black violence in the U.S. and how this is beneficial for White people, when he says (46:59 to 48:17): https://youtu.be/VBryieHyFeI?t=2818

every maladapted characteristic in the black psyche is there for white folk. It’s not purely there because they hate you, or they misunderstand you, or they don’t know who you are; it has nothing to do with all of that. When you analyze the so-called aberrations in the black personality, you must always ask the questions: What are their social functions and roles? Who benefits from this aberration in the black man’s mind? What are the social, political and economic benefits, and for whom? Who gains from this particular orientation in our minds? Then you begin to see why it’s there and what its function is. Thus every complaint we have about ourselves has a political, economic and social intent beneficial to white folk and detrimental to ourselves.” https://revolutionarystrategicstudies.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/blueprint-for-black-power/

Dr Wilson focused here on what you might call the exoteric benefits of Black on Black Crime for White people. You can think here of the Prison Industrial Complex, school to prison pipeline, the NeoColonial condition of African nation states and so on. All of these have very clear economic and political benefits for non-Black people. 

Afropessimists add to this by proposing another, deeper or esoteric benefit that non-Black people derive from Black violence and death. They do this by using a Psychoanalytic perspective, following the lead of one of their biggest influences, Frantz Fanon. 

The Collective Unconscious 
Afropessimists talk a lot about the collective unconscious of non-Black people. The following video gives a good succinct explanation of the collective unconscious: https://youtu.be/k28Bfw29a4s (00:00 to 01:55).  

One of these archetypes would be that of Human. As we saw in part one, Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside or at least on the very edge of the category of human. They also argue that this demarcation between Human and the Black is created and maintained by violence. 

Anti-Black violence is a term used to describe the multifaceted aggression that has been aimed at Black people over the centuries. By violence is meant not just the direct acts of physical aggression, but also the wider structural forms. The following snippet from a video from Harvard University gives a good overview of different understandings of violence: (00:00:23 to 00:01:26):https://youtu.be/LW_rTeawAi0?t=23

Frank Wilderson says that anti-Black violence “produces.. the antithesis of the Human and, in so doing, also secures the coherence of what it means to be Human. It reproduces the knowledge that Humans have.” https://mg.co.za/article/2020-06-24-frank-b-wilderson-afropessimism-memoir-structural-violence/

So, in this analysis, Black people do not really face this violence due to anything we did and do, but rather than because the violence is required to continually keep us in the place of the slave in order to give coherence to the concept of human being.

Anti-Black violence as rituals of pleasure for non-Blacks
But it goes further than just the violence itself. It also applies to the depiction, photographing, filming and dissemination of this violence.
The murder of George Floyd earlier this year was but the latest example of a Black person’s murder being captured on cell phone video and going viral. When the wave of cell phone footage of Black men being abused and killed started taking off around 2013-14. I remember how these videos went viral. At the time it felt weird but I couldn’t at the time understand why. I couldn’t really understand why such violence was being shared so wantonly bearing in mind the huge psychological damage that is done to us when we see it. Afropessimism helps to explain what was, and still is, going on here. Returning to the Mail and Guardian interview, Wilderson explains: 
“It is as though the visual distribution of these images accompanies an increase in their occurrences, not vice-versa. We need to understand that anti-Black violence is not like anything else: these are rituals of pleasure and psychic renewal for the Human race.

“As David Marriott would say, these are rituals of self-fashioning; these are repetitions of death in real life and repetitions of death on the screen. They secure subjectivity for non-Blacks, because non-Blacks can look at them and say (albeit if only unconsciously) “aha”, if that were to happen to me, that would be because I committed a transgression; there would be something justifying that treatment. It would not be gratuitous, it would be contingent violence.
“Afropessimism helps us to understand that anti-Black violence is not a form of discrimination; anti-Black violence is a health tonic for global civil society. Anti-Black violence is an ensemble of necessary rituals that are performed so that the human race can know itself as Human and not as a slave, meaning not as Black.” https://mg.co.za/article/2020-06-24-frank-b-wilderson-afropessimism-memoir-structural-violence/

I see a lot of non-Black left wingers and progressives commenting on these videos, expressing their disgust and outrage about the senseless nature of the killings. “Why are these Blacks being targeted and killed like this?” they ask in passionate expressions of concern. Wilderson would say that while their concern may be sincere, on an unconscious level – these non-Black progressives are strengthening their sense of themselves as not Black, as not slaves.

I’m sure this analysis causes offence to many non-Black progressives, revolutionaries, allies. They are not used to the spotlight being put on them rather than on those evil right wingers. The key to remember is that this is referring to the collective unconscious. So it’s the shared sets of motifs, symbols, images that are inherited, as opposed to being based on direct experience. And also it’s unconscious. It’s below the level of conscious, deliberate attention. But it has very real material consequences. The idea is That Black people occupy a position of non-humans in order that the position of human makes sense. And violence is the way in which Black people are positioned as such.  

White Society and Violent Black Music
I’d like to bring this all together by discussing UK Drill music. UK Drill music started to get really popular and notorious. For those who don’t know, drill music is basically the latest incarnation of gangster rap. It is so nakedly violent it’s almost unreal. The rappers are usually also engaged or affiliated with actual street violence and they use their songs to openly threaten to stab and shoot each other, reminding their rivals of their body counts, all accompanied by videos where they swish and jab their hands in stabbing motions in a kind of weird death dance. As with previous incarnations of this kind of rap, these kids are overwhelmingly Black boys from various parts of inner city London and other cities. But it’s the reaction to drill by White society that I’m interested in. 

Just the as happened with UK Garage 20 years ago, the drill scene became the biggest existential threat to the security of the nation. There was “conversation” between White people about how best to tackle the scourge of drill-induced knife crime that was sweeping the city of London in particular. The Metropolitan Police went as far as removing a bunch of drill music videos from YouTube, and also banning one prominent group from performing a particular song live in a particular area of London. They did it anyway and were subsequently hit with an injunction. 
 The Left opined that it was unfair to target the music for the social problems that cause the crime. The Right blamed bemoaned that London has been taken over the Blacks, and railed against so called political correctness for preventing the Police from going in all guns blazing to deal with the rampant Black criminality. National newspapers fell over themselves to publish exposes detailing the depravity of these inner city demons. 

At the same time, just like with gangsta rap predecessors, if you look at the audiences at any drill music concerts, you’ll find lots and lots of white faces, and especially when the artist has “crossed over” from the underground into the mainstream such Headie One. These white folks seem to really enjoy Black violence and death. Going so far as joining in and singing along to these macabre murder hymns. What is going here? 

Afropessimists like Frank Wilderson argue that in the collective unconscious of non Black people, Blackness is considered something like a plaything. They pour in their psychic energies into Blackness to satiate or satisfy their anger, rage, disgust, curiosity, fear, loathing, terror, desire, lust, etc. In short, Black people are objects to be used by others to fulfill their psychic needs.

The key is to understand that what drill music is depicting sonically and visually is actually Anti-Black violence being carried out by Black people.  And according to Afropessimists, Anti-Black violence establishes the demarcation between human and Black/Slave in the collective unconscious of non-Black people. All of these players, the media, the Police, the politicians, the White drill concert goers are engaging in time honoured rituals that reaffirm what it means to be a human versus a slave, Afropessimists argue. 

As Frank Wilderson put it when commenting on Black on Black violence says in the Mail and Guardian interview: “It is Black people killing Black people, at the level of performance; but structurally, that is to say, at a paradigmatic level, it is really anti-Black violence being deployed, not by subjects (non-Black people) but through their speaking implements.” https://mg.co.za/article/2020-06-24-frank-b-wilderson-afropessimism-memoir-structural-violence/

So in summary, Afropessimism employs a psychoanalytic approach and argues that in the collective unconscious of non-Black people, Blackness is an object for their pyschic pleasure. This helps to understand Anti-Black violence. Anti-Black violence establishes the division between the Human and the Black in the collective unconsicous of the non-Black. And Black on Black violence is just another form of Anti Black violence, carried out by Black people.

Black People are not considered Human. Afropessimism Series Part one

This is the first of a short series of videos giving an introduction to an idea called Afropessimism. If you are not a subscriber to this channel AfricansArise, please hit the subscribe button and make sure to click the bell so you are notified of future videos, including the next few videos in this series on Afropessimism. 

This theory has apparently been all the rage for a few years now in academic circles. But I only heard about it earlier this year from my friend Kevin, who I did the Black Buying Power Myth or Reality video with a few years back. I recommend you watch video if you haven’t already, by the way! 

I have mainly engaged with the Afropessimism through its most famous or infamous advocate, a writer called Frank B Wilderson III. He’s written a memoir called Afropessimism, and has also been hitting the podcast and interview circuit heavily this year, 2020. In my series, I’ll be making lots of references to these, as well as other articles. I’ll always give references with hyperlinks in the description and blog posts to allow you to follow up. 

Willderson uses a lot of dense philosophical, academic terms and concepts which are not easy to get, for me at least. But what I’ll do is pull out some of the things that have jumped out at me about Afropessimism. I’ll say now that while not all of the ideas make sense to me or fully resonate, I think Afropessimism is a very important body of ideas for Black radicals, Panafricanists, etc. I hope that these videos will help to introduce Afropessimism to Black folks outside of academia. Ultimately, I want these videos to be a resource for Black people to apply in our own lives with the aim of furthering the quest for genuine Black liberation.

So, what is Afropessimism in a nutshell
I see Afropessimism as an effort to understand why other people treat Black people the way they do. It looks at the Arab and European enslavement of Africans and the gratuitous violence this involved. It looks at how this slavery and violence has morphed into a relentless, deep-seated Anti-Blackness which has psychic and political dimensions. They do all of this and much more and come to some conclusions that in my opinion are militantly Black-centred and revolutionary. I hope to bring this out in my video series. 

Black people versus Humans
At the heart of Afropessimism is the claim that, unconsciously and consciously – non-Black people do not consider us to be human. This will not be news to anyone who has studied the rise of the European project of modernity. One of the originators of the very idea of distinct human races was a Swedish intellectual called Carl Linneas who is referred to as the father of taxonomy – the classification of things in nature. A website called Linnean.org has a very good discussion called “Linneas and Race” which outlines how he classified humans. As the article explains:

“Linnaeus’ work on the classification of man forms one of the 18th-century roots of modern scientific racism.” He groups men into four kinds,  AsiaticusEuropaeus, Americanus and Africanus. Though the order changed over the various updates to his schema, “Africanus consistently remained at the bottom of the list. Moreover, in all editions, Linnaeus’ description of Africanus was the longest, most detailed and physical, and also the most negative.” He refers to them, as lazy, Sly, sluggish, neglectful and capricious. https://www.linnean.org/learning/who-was-linnaeus/linnaeus-and-race#:~:text=Linnaeus%20was%20the%20first%20naturalist,later%20on%20in%20his%20career.

This helped set the trend for European race science, with revered intellectuals and academics such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant waxing lyrical about the inferiority of Black people. I’ll just mention one other notable figure – the nineteenth century German philosopher Hegel. Here are some nuggets taken from an essay entitled “Critical Notes on Hegel’s Treatment of Africa” by Omotade Adegbindin:

Hegel refers to “Africa Proper” as “the lad of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantel of Night.”5 He also holds that “in Negro life the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence.” Therefore, the African has not reached the level of realizing his own being; he has not yet realized his person. In Hegel’s words, the African is “natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.”7 From the Hegelian perspective, the African is still under the influence of nature. Hence Africa proper has no role in the world history. Until it attains the level where it can transcend the influence of the environment, at the minimal level of consciousness, Africa proper is unable to fit within Hegel’s philosophical scheme.”  

Even if you’ve never heard these actual words, the message will be familiar to you. It has echoed throughout Western modern history.  Today for example, there is a thriving online scene of so-called race realists who propagate the idea that Black people have a genetically determined low level of intelligence, and that this explains us being at the bottom of the social ladder almost everywhere in the world. You can bring up the monkey chants that Black footballers have faced from crowds at football stadiums across the World, for decades. Witness the infamous cartoon comparing Barack Obama to King Kong. There is a widespread and deep-rooted notion in European modernity that Black people are not human, or at least are right on edges of what can be considered human. I recommend a Washington Post article from 2019 called “A Brief History of the enduring phony sconce that perpetuates white supremacy” for a good overview of this rich tradition. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-brief-history-of-the-enduring-phony-science-that-perpetuates-white-supremacy/2019/04/29/20e6aef0-5aeb-11e9-a00e-050dc7b82693_story.html

Slavery and humanness 
Linneas, Kant, Hume, Hegel and others were writing during the height of the European enslavement of Africans. It’s commonly said that this race science or scientific racism was designed to provide intellectual and scientific rationalisation for this enslavement. Africans were not human, so enslaving them was not an affront to humanism. 
This may well be true, but Afropessimists would argue that it’s deeper than that. They’d argue that it was (and still is) necessary to have slaves in order for the category of human to make sense. Without slaves, they’d argue, humanity would cease to be a meaningful concept. To quote from Saidiya Hartman, a major influence on Afropessimism in her book Scenes of Subjection:

The slave is the object or the ground that makes possible the existence of the bourgeois subject and, by negation or contradistinction, defines liberty, citizenship, and the enclosures of the social body. 

An analogy to this might be the necessity for foreigners to exist in order for nationals to make sense. Any group of people needs to be able to define itself against another group. If no other groups existed, then the concept of being, say, German would be nonsensical. So the concept of human needs slaves to define itself against. 

But if this is the case, what happened once slavery ended? Well, Afropessimists argue that although slavery was formally anbolished.   didn’t really end for Africans in the diaspora. This is a common theme in 20th and 21st century Black radical traditions. Many Black thinkers, writers, activists have emphasised the continuing nature of the slave condition for Africans. The For example, Dr Amos Wilson in his seminal lecture Blueprint for Black Power said this:

“We are still of the same consciousness; we are still in the same position because we are still servants of the white man. Our reason for being in America is to serve white folk and to generate wealth for them. There has been no change at all in terms of our relationship to these people. The values that we pursue are slave values —and the values of servants. The social relations that we create and interact with were built and developed during the periods of slavery. We have not escaped it at all. https://revolutionarystrategicstudies.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/blueprint-for-black-power/ 

And Saidiya Hartman coined the term the afterlife life of slavery when she writes in her book  Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route:
If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery–skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. 

Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside of humanness because, again, humanness requires a fall guy. The World as we know it needs a foil. This will not change until the World as we know it us destroyed. 
In Part Two, we will look at Afropessimist analyses of Anti-Black violence which they argue is essential for the maintenance of this division between humans and Black people. 

Our Own Traditions: anti-authoritarianism in our histories of struggle (by Roger White)

Taken from http://www.coloursofresistance.org/568/our-own-traditions-anti-authoritarianism-in-our-histories-of-struggle/

This essay appears in Post Colonial Anarchism: Essays on race, repression and culture in communities of color 1999-2004. Access the complete book here

Although many non-white anti-authoritarian traditions never self-identified as anarchist (many were in existence before the word was invented), their social practices and formations demonstrate to us the rich history out of which our own movement comes. There’s no need to impose the term anarchist on descriptions of the history of non-white societies and their struggles against authority and capital to validate our own identification with the term. The history of resistance against illegitimate authority by people of color speaks for itself.

But the problem of tracing and remembering the whole anti-authoritarian tradition does turn on the axis of language and the power to name and exclude through naming. If the substance of anarchism is communal economics, mutual aid, local autonomy and the free federation of communities, then the obvious first place to look at is the continent of Africa. Long before the Paris commune or the Spanish Civil War, African tribes and clans were practicing self-sustaining modes of living that did not require political authority or static structures of social hierarchy.

The Igbo tribe, which settled in the Awka and Orlu areas of West/ Central Africa in what is now Nigeria arranged “‘village’ political units without kings or chiefs ruling over them or administering their affairs.” (Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, African Anarchism: The History of a Movement See Sharp Press Az. 1997 P.35) The fact that Igboland was a large scale society (at one point over 4 million organized into 2000 separate villages) demonstrates the capacity of whole societies to organize themselves along autonomous and communal principals successfully. (John Gunther, Inside Africa Harper and Brothers NY. 1953 P. 760.) “Igbo enwegh eze” “we have no kings” is a central creed of the Igbo. Other African tribes with anti-authoritarian traditions include the Shona of modern day Zimbabwe, the Mano of modern day Ivory Coast and the Kusaasi of Ghana. These tribes and clans along with numerous indigenous tribes in the Americas including the Hopi, Adena, and the Zuni, constitute real examples of stateless social formations that existed long before European political theorists discovered the horrors of the nation-state and labeled the resistance to them anarchist.

In the history of anarchism the above tribes and clans are not mentioned much. Instead we’re invited to study the intellectual progression of the social ideal from William Godwin’s Political Justice to Murry Bookchin’s Post Scarcity Anarchism and a handful of losing confrontations between the forces of state hegemony and anti- authoritarians. People of color who self-identify as anarchist are caught in strange place. How do we reconcile with the term anarchist when its history excludes the explicitly anti-authoritarian struggles of Kikuyus in Kenya against the English Empire’s unsuccessful attempts to impose centralized government structures on a stateless people, or the anti-emperor traditions in various Asian societies that challenged modern 20th century political structures that sought to impose central rule on villages that had been self governing for thousands of years.

An obvious place to begin the reconciliation is with writing the history and doing the public education. Frank Fernandez’s Cuban Anarchism: the History of a Movement published in 2001 traces the resistance to both the U.S. puppet regimes of the first part of the 20th century and the Castro dictatorship up to the present. Black Rose Books has published Land and Liberty: Anarchist Influences in the Mexican Revolution by the late Ricardo Flores Magon. In it the author details the struggles of Emiliano Zapata and the development of the “village anarchist” movement within the context of the Mexican civil war of the 1910’s. Y. Mihara’s 1993 piece “On the Present Situation of Anarchism in Japan” in Anarchist Studies is a great review of modern anarchism in a country that has been a hub of anti-authoritarian activity and thinking in East Asia. Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism: The History of a Movement concisely lays out the real roots of stateless society without all the romantic nonsense that comes out of primitivist anthropology these days.

A large part of building the movement against authority and capital in communities of color will be reconstructing and popularizing our history so young people can see the tradition and relate it to their everyday lives. If this is the only thing that the current generation of colored anarchists accomplished it would be an important achievement in the struggle for liberation.