Black Coach Sues NFL for Racism: NuBlackNews #3

Black people make up 13% of the population of the United States, but they make up a whopping 70% of players in the NFL. Currently, only 1 out of 32 head coaches in the NFL are Black, and none of the owners of NFL clubs are Black. In 2000 the NFL actually instituted the so-called Rooney Rule which mandated that teams need to interview at least one “ethnic minority” candidate for head coach and other senior positions. But this clearly hasn’t made much difference to the numbers of Black coaches. It’s in this context that former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores has announced his intention to sue the NFL for racist hiring practices. 

So what’s going on here and what does it tell us about the position of Black people in the NFL and in American society? Let me say from the start that the idea of beseeching White owners and decision makers to be nice and start hiring more Black coaches, is an almost ludicrous idea. The lack of Black coaches, and the lack of Black owners, is not caused by flaws of individual bad apples. This isn’t a personal failings issue. Rather, it is a product of Antiblackness that his rooted deeply within American society. It’ll take something much, much more fundamental to resolve this issue.

White Supremacy and Antiblackness

From a critical perspective, the first and most obvious thing to keep in mind is that Black people were brought to the shores of what is now the United States in order to provide labour. Though slavery formally ended in the nineteenth century, labour has remained the main thing that White America has wanted from Black people. Centuries of sustained and violent efforts have ensured that Black people in America have remained in essentially the same position as they were in the 1800s in terms of their structural relationship with White people. This relationship can be likened to the relationship of an imperial power to a colony. One of the key economic features of such relationships is that the colony is made to supply unskilled labour to the imperial power, and little more. 

Sport is a wonderful demonstration of this truth. Players provide labour, basically. Physical labour. So the fact that Black men make up 70% of NFL players shouldn’t surprise anyone. Similar proportions can be found in other fields such as the NBA, where around 75% of players are Black (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1167867/nba-players-ethnicity/).


But if you look more closely, you find that even among the players, there’s a racial division in terms of playing positions. And this is where we can see the deeper reasons behind the absence of Black coaches.  The Quarterback is seen as the most prized position on the field. He is the person who is meant to use his intellect to dictate the team’s play. The quarterback is thus usually the highest paid player, and the one with the most prestige, honour and adulation. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn, then, that there haven’t been many Black quarterbacks in NFL history. The highest proportion being around 30% at any given time. 

An article in the UK Guardian gives some useful insight into this topic with the following: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/20/black-quarterbacks-history-stereotypes

“The NFL’s story began with a standout African American quarterback: Fritz Pollard, a chemistry major and All-American at Brown University, led the Akron Pros to the league’s inaugural championship in 1920.

In 1933, however, the NFL secretly decided to ban black players – reportedly at the behest of former Washington owner George Preston Marshall, a committed segregationist.

The ban mirrored the status of black Americans at the time: separate, unequal and living in a de facto apartheid state via Jim Crow in the South and a patchwork of exclusionary laws and customs everywhere else.

The ban also was rooted in the widespread, racist beliefs about black inferiority that underpinned segregation. In the early part of the 20th century…whites assumed that African-Americans lacked the physical stamina and emotional courage to excel at contact sports like boxing and football.

After Jack Johnson became the first African American heavyweight champion in 1908 – and then defeated “great white hope” James J Jeffries in a 1910 bout that triggered white race riots across the country – that assumption morphed.

“You had the Negro Leagues in baseball, and similar kinds of [segregated black] teams in football and basketball… So what happened over time is that the racial ideology changed.

“Whites accepted that blacks were physically evolved, but decided that they were intellectually un-evolved – that they were actually lower on the ladder of evolution than white people, and somehow closer to our animal ancestors. And that’s the ideology, the cultural context, that prevailed when the major sports in the US were desegregated…

>>>As we’ll see a little later, this idea of Blacks being closer to animals was far from a new one. Rather, it goes right back the foundational period of modernity in the 1700s. But returning to the article we read:

…As football and American society continued to desegregate in the 1960s and 70s, the sport was rife with what sociologists call “racial stacking” – a sorting process in which individuals are funneled into certain positions based on stereotypes.

From Pop Warner to the NFL, the down-the-middle positions of center, inside linebacker and quarterback were considered to be “thinking” spots. As such, they were seen as too cerebral for African American athletes, who additionally were thought to lack the leadership and grit to lead other players and perform under duress.”  

Language used to describe Black QBs

There have been lots of studies into the kind of language used to describe players, and how it reflects racial stereotypes. For example, a Bleacher Report article tells us that: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2766425-ditch-the-racially-coded-language-lamar-jackson-is-no-ones-wide-receiver  

“The Washington Post studied NFL draft profiles and “found substantial racial differences in the language used to describe quarterback prospects—differences that are consistent with established racial stereotypes.”

It notes how a white quarterback is more likely to be discussed by citing “intangible internal qualities for which he himself is responsible.” However, a black quarterback is more often viewed by his physical characteristics, “to be judged erratic and unpredictable, and to have his successes and failures ascribed to outside forces.”

Race Norming

While reading up for this video, I came across this idea of Race Norming which is used in the NFL. An excellent piece in the Scientific American explains that: 

“On June 2, 2021, the National Football League (NFL) announced it would discontinue the use of race norming—the practice of assuming a lower baseline of cognitive abilities in Black players—in legal settlements for concussion-related injuries… 

In 2013, the NFL settled for $765 million after more than 4,500 retired players brought concussion-related lawsuits against the league. In theory, approximately 18,000 former players were eligible to receive the settlement, which is meant to cover compensation, medical exams, further research, and legal fees for concussion-related neurological diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). While this settlement seemed like a victory to some, Black players quickly found out that it would be harder to access these funds because the NFL required that cognitive tests used be adjusted for race. With this in mind, [two former Pittsburgh stealer’s Players] filed a lawsuit against the NFL in the fall of 2020.

“Black former players are automatically assumed… to have started with worse cognitive functioning than White former players. As a result, if a Black former player and a White former player receive the exact same raw scores on a battery of tests designed to measure their current cognitive functioning, the Black player is presumed to have suffered less impairment, and he is therefore less likely to qualify for compensation,” their lawsuit contended.  

The June announcement was, rightly, met with shock that the practice had even been in use. But for those of us who are attuned to the actions and strategies of the most profitable and popular professional sport league in the United States, the news wasn’t much of a surprise. It is just the latest example on the laundry list of the NFL’s anti-Black, racist and discriminatory practices over the past decades.”

In his book “Black Skin, White Masks” Franz Fanon refered to a phenomenon called epidermalisation. This is when people have negative characteristics ascribed to them because they have a particular skin colour and other physiological characteristics. In this case, the powers that be in the NFL already have the idea that Blacks are physical and unintellectual, and so they ascribe these characteristics to the Black athletes. And critically, these people have the power to literally shape the potential outcomes for these Black athletes.  

Race Science

It’s really important to set all of this in context. These anti-black ideas and practices did not drop out of the sky suddenly. These aren’t NFL-issues. Like every institution and sport, the NFL and American Football reflects the society they are part of. And one of the foundational ideas of this world is the idea that Black people are the lowest rung of humanity.

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.

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, Immanuel Kant and George Hegel waxing lyrical about the alleged inferiority of Black people. These ideas subsequently dripped into everyday tropes and beliefs about Black people. The practice of race norming in the NFL reflects this widely-held (but not so openly discussed) idea that Black people have a genetically-determined low level of intelligence, and that this helps to explain us being at the bottom of the social ladder almost everywhere in the world. I recommend a Washington Post article from 2019 called “A Brief History of the enduring phony science 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

I’ll close by going back to the lawsuit being brought against the NFL by the Black former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores. I commend him for bring the issue of racist hiring practices to the forefront of people’s minds, and I’ll be watching the progress of the lawsuit with interest. But while some incremental progress might be made, I think Black people and others should be paying more attention to the deeper factors at play, and I hope this video has been helpful in this regard. 


NuBlack News #2: Show Notes

Nu Black News Introduction

Welcome to NuBlack News – a new regular programme on the AfricansArise YouTube channel where we analyse news and events around the Black diaspora. Every week on NuBlack News, I will bring your attention to ideas, events and people around the Black world.  Make sure to subscribe to the AfricansArise channel on YouTube. And press the notification button so you always get notified of new videos and editions of NuBlack News. And please like the videos and share them with your friends and family. With that, let’s get started with NuBlack News episode 2!


NuBlack News #2:Notes 

NuBlack News episode 2 is an AFCON Special. AFCON stands for the African Cup of Nations – which is Africa’s premier national soccer tournament. It’s been held every two years since the first tournament in 1957 and the current tournament is taking place right now in Cameroon in west Africa. The semi finals take place today and tomorrow, with the final on Sunday. 

Like all other sports, football is about much more than just the sport itself. AFCON is a perfect microcosm of African politics, history, culture, technology and much more. So today we’ll be using AFCON as a springboard to discuss some hugely important issues on the continent and other parts of the Black world. 

We’ll start with a discussion of African players as resources in the business of football. Millions of African boys across the continent dream of becoming the next Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o, Mo Salah or Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, but only a tiny fraction will get to those elite levels. We’ll look at how the football machine is driving the industrial-scale trafficking of African boys into Europe to be exploited by agents and clubs. Football as we know has become a global business, a Capitalistic machine in which multiple billions of dollars are made by a massive intricate web of corporations, agents and other entities. So we’ll have a look at Africa’s place in this international flow of money. At the centre is the players As to be expected, very little of the money floating around football ever goes to Africa, despite the fact that African players make up a significant portion of the players in elite football. 

Then we’ll consider the question of nationality. Some of the teams in this year’s AFCON have featured large contingents of players who were born and raised outside the country they are represented, even outside of the continent. But this is nothing new, because African players have been playing for European countries for many decades now. We’ll discuss some of the political implications of these dynamics. 

Finally, during AFCON 2022, sadly we’ve seen wars and rumours of wars in the continent. Burkina Faso who are playing in today’s semi final against Senegal. On the same day they qualified for the quarter final, their civil government was overthrown in a military coup, one of several coups and attempted coups in the continent in recent years. We’ll discuss this apparent resurgence of coups-de-tat in Africa, focusing on a neglected aspect that connects them. We’ll then look back at some of the most infamous coups in African history, including the one that brought the much loved Thomas Sankara to power in 1983. And we’ll reflect on the tragic case of Patrice Lumumba who was deposed as Prime Minister of Congo in a US-orchestrated coup in 1960. To this day, Lumumba’s descendants have still not been able to properly bury his remains, and we’ll cover that history. 

African Footballers as resources in the Capitalist Business that is World Football

“How the search for football’s next big thing is fuelling a modern-day slave trade” 

“FIFA: African football clubs peripheral to global transfer market” Jan 2022:


AFCON 2022 and the question of nationality
“Sierra Leone’s English core underpinning historic AFCON campaign”:

“Parallel Universe: Kylian Mbappe, Bukayo Saka among 10 Stars that could be playing at the AFCON”:

The Return of Military Coups in Africa

“Now there’s a chance of justice for Thomas Sankara, it’s useful to review what got him killed”:

“DRC: Bring Patrice Lumumba Home”:https://www.theelephant.info/op-eds/2022/01/21/drc-bring-patrice-lumumba-home/


NuBlack News #1: Show Notes

Bronx Fire, Eric Williams, Religion and African Spirituality in Nigeria + more

In this first edition of NuBlack News (live), we’ll reflect on the devastating Bronx fire in New York, USA, and take a look at some of the horrendous conditions of housing faced by Africans and others in the public housing in the UK.

We’ll discuss the long-overdue UK publication of former Trinidadian Prime Minister’s book Capitalism and Slavery. This book makes a very strong case that Europeans enslaved Africans for economic reasons, and that slavery was essential in developing the rise of Capitalism.

I’ll touch on the argument of Frank Wilderson in his book “Red, White and Black” that it would have made far more economic “sense” for Europeans to have enslaved their own rather than setting up the “triangular trade.” He argues that the main purpose of enslaving Africans centred on the libidinal economy rather than political economy.

Staying with history, we’ll look at how the idea that Africans were “illiterate” prior to colonialism is refuted by countless examples of ancient indigenous African scripts from across the continent. We’ll look at the fact that many Kenyans have been leaving the big city of Nairobi and returning to their countryside roots during the last couple of years.

And we’ll look at some recent comments from acclaimed Nigerian author Wole Soyinka on the negative impact of religion in Nigeria, and also discuss what appears to be a resurgence of African spirituality there.  

Article Links:

Bronx Fire and Housing Issues facing the African diaspora in US, UK

Blaming the Victims—Not the System—for Bronx Fire Deaths” – Jan 2022

Inside estate plagued with so many problems residents have received £1m compensation” – UK Mirror, Jan 2022

cf – Homeownership rates by ethnicity in the UK

Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery Back in print in the UK
Eighty years late: groundbreaking work on slave economy is finally published in UK” – Manchester Guardian UK, Jan 2022

Frank Wilderson’s counter-argument on the motives behind European enslavement of Africans : https://ctanarchiststudygroup.noblogs.org/files/2016/10/Wilderson-III-Red-White-Black-Cinema-and-the-Structure-of-U.S.-Antagonisms.pdf

Ancient African Writing
Dispelling the Myth of an Illiterate Pre Colonial Africa” – Mandla Blog, Dec 2021

Religion and Spirituality in Nigera
Wole Soyinka: Why Religion Is Number One Problem For Nigerians” -Dec 2021

In Nigeria, Ancestral Spirituality Resurges” – Vice, Dec 2021


Anti-Blackness is Embedded Deeply in Judeo-Christian Thought

You might be under the impression that Antiblackness was invented sometime after the start of the transatlantic slave trade in order to justify the way that White Europeans were treating Africans. If so, you’ll be wrong! 

You might be under the impression that Antiblackness was invented sometime after the start of the transatlantic slave trade in order to justify the way that White Europeans were treating Africans. If so, you’ll be wrong! 

In this paper, I’ll show that antiblackness is deeply implanted in Judaeo-Christian history and even reaches back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The Ancient Greeks and the Ethiopians

Many Panafricanists point out that ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus who wrote in the fifth century BCE, and Diodorus Siculus who wrote in the first century BCE had lots of positive things to say about black Africans or as they called them Ethiopians (those with burnt faces). This is undoubtedly true. But they also had other things to say about Africans that weren’t so rosy. According to Professor Tom Meisenhelder (2003:101-102):

By the sixth century B. C. economic and military contact between Africa and Greece was fairly common and several Greeks, most famously Herodotus, prepared “traveler’s reports” that included discussion of Africa. Herodotus’s reports, which intermingled experience and myth, are perhaps the most consequential of all the ancient writings about Africa. Herodotus reported the presence of “dog-eared men” and headless men with eyes in their chests (Miller 1985:3). Herodotus also provided both physical and cultural “descriptions” of the so-called “Ethiopians” who were fully human and whom he praised as noble and pious. He further described a variety of other African peoples, some tall, brave, and handsome and others living in caves whose language was like the squeaking of bats (Snowden, 1970:105). While other Greek authors did not even give Africans human form, Herodotus described a broad range of human beings in Africa running from the noble to the beastly, influencing much of what followed in the Ancients’ construction of the African other (see Snowden, 1970:107-109). Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe https://www.jstor.org/stable/41675090?seq=1 

In the first century BCE, Diodorus Siculus wrote his Histories (https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/3A*.html) and had a lot to say about Ethiopians. He too continued with this Janus-faced description of noble Ethiopians and Savage ones. In his Histories, chapter 3, he writes:

Now the Ethiopians, as historians relate, were the first of all men and the proofs of this statement, they say, are manifest. For that they did not come into their land as immigrants from abroad but were  natives of it and so justly bear the name of “autochthones” is, they maintain, conceded by practically all men; furthermore, that those who dwell beneath the noon-day sun were, in all likelihood, the first to be generated by the earth, is clear to all; since, inasmuch as it was the warmth of the sun which, at the generation of the universe, dried up the earth when it was still wet and impregnated it with life, it is reasonable to suppose that the region which was nearest the sun was the first to bring forth living creatures. 2 And they say that they were the first to be taught to honour the gods and to hold sacrifices and processions and festivals and the other rites by which men honour the deity; and that in consequence their piety has been published abroad among all men, and it is generally held that the sacrifices practised among the Ethiopians are those which are the most pleasing to heaven.” 

What’s important to note here is that Diodorus says he was recounting what his own people’s historians held with regard to the Ethiopians. So these were widely held beliefs among the Greeks – that these Ethiopians were the original humans, pioneers of spirituality and religion and indeed were the most pleasing people in the eyes of the divine.

Diodorus and the “Savage” Ethiopians

But later on, like Herodotus, Diodorus speaks in much less flattering terms about other Ethiopians. 

“8 1 But there are also a great many other tribes of the Ethiopians, some of them dwelling in the land lying on both banks of the Nile and on the islands in the river, others inhabiting the neighbouring country of Arabia, and still others residing in the interior of Libya. 2 The majority of them, and especially those who dwell along the river, are black in colour and have flat noses and woolly hair. As for their spirit they are entirely savage and display the nature of a wild beast, not so much, however, in their temper as in their ways of living; for they are squalid all over their bodies, they keep their nails very long like the wild beasts, and are as far removed as possible from human kindness to one another; 3 and speaking as they do with a shrill voice and cultivating none of the practices of civilized life as these are found among the rest of mankind, they present a striking contrast when considered in the light of our own customs.”

According to Meisenhelder again (2003:101-102) “Pliny led Roman writers to make a similar distinction between the human (speechless cave dwellers without dreams, clothes, or social institutions such as marriage and religion or noble warriors) and “radically nonhuman humans” native to Africa (Miller, 1985:26-27). Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe https://www.jstor.org/stable/416

Early Christian Anti Blackness 

By the time we get to the early Christian era, it appears that the positive depictions of Black Africans had faded away. The Christians continued the negative associations of Blackness, and they begin to associate African people (Ethiopians) with metaphysical evil, or sin.  

According to New Testament scholar Claire K Rotchschild (2019) the Epistle of Barnabus which was written between 70-132 CE is the first example of Satan being called Black. Rothschild (2019: 223) states that:

reference by Christians to the counter-divine with the colour epithet ὁ μέλας is new with the Epistle of Barnabas. Black is applied as an honorific to certain Egyptian deities, but it is never used in Egyptian religion with reference to the counter-divine. Furthermore, black demons proliferate in late third- and fourth-century Egyptian monastic texts, but these witnesses postdate Barnabas. The first explicit reference to the devil as black after Barnabas is in Didymus the Blind, who interprets the reference as ‘Ethiopian’. Source: Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688518000395.

Some of the most influential so-called early church fathers associated blackness with sin and vice, and explicitly associated blackness with black skinned people, Ethiopians.

Origen was a Church Father based in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the 200s AD. According to Rothschild (2019:235-6):

“Although he traces all creation to God and considers all humanity ‘equal and alike’ (Princ.), demographic groups have distinguishing characteristics: Ethiopians are cannibalistic, Scythians legally sanction parricide, and so forth. Origen associates the black skin colour of sub-Saharan people with sin and vice. Therefore, he demonstrates real concern in Comm. Cant. over the text’s qualification of black skin as beautiful… Christians, he argues, can view blackness as a recoverable condition: ‘If you have repented, however, your soul will indeed be black because of your old sins, but your penitence will give it something of what I may call an Ethiopian beauty.’ But from the length at which he discusses blackness in this commentary – even acknowledging that his argument is slightly obsessive – we infer that Origen was aware of the threat posed by blackness even as he understands it as an impermanent state for those who repent.” Source: Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688518000395. 

Historian Frank Snowden gives the following quote from the heavyweight Christian Theologian of the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo (1960:33):

“How do I understand ‘Ethiopian peoples’? How else than by them, all nations? And properly by black men (for Ethiopians are black). Those called to the faith who were before black, just they, so that it may be said to them ‘ye were sometimes darkness but now are ye light in the Lord’ |Eph. 5.8]. They are indeed called black but let them not remain black, for out of these is made the Church, to whom it is said: ‘ Who is she that cometh up having been made white?’ [Cant. 8.5| For what has been made out of the black maiden but what is said in am black and comely’? [Cant. 1.4]75 Source: Snowdon, 1960: Some Greek and Roman Observations on the Ethiopian http://www.jstor.org/stable/27830403 

The Curse of Ham

Around the same time, the Rabbis of the third century CE onwards provided a biblical hermeneutic of anti blackness. It all centres on the infamous so-called Curse of Ham. In the Torah, the story goes that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth. Noah falls alseep with wine, and Ham sees him naked and tells his brothers. When Noah awakes he is livid with Ham, and places a curse on his son Canaan, saying: 

Genesis 9:25 Cursed be Canaan;A servant of servantsHe shall be to his brethren.”26 And he said:“Blessed be the Lord,The God of Shem,And may Canaan be his servant.27 May God enlarge Japheth,And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;And may Canaan be his servant.”

The Talmud is a compendium of the oral traditions of rabbis in Babylonia. In Talmud: Sanhedrin 70a (Mishnah, c.200  CE): https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.70a.18?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en we read various opinions on what Ham’s actually did, including the following:

18. “Having cited the passage discussing Noah, the Gemara enters into a discussion about what was actually done to him by his younger son, Ham. Rav and Shmuel disagreed: One says that Ham castrated Noah and one says that Ham sodomized him…

In another tractate in the same section, we read the rabbis ideas on what happened to Ham as a result of this curse: Tractate 108b: 14-15: https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.108b.14?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

15: The Sages taught: Three violated that directive (to not have sexual intercourse while in the Ark) and engaged in intercourse while in the ark, and all of them were punished for doing so. They are: The dog, and the raven, and Ham, son of Noah. The dog was punished in that it is bound; the raven was punished in that it spits, and Ham was afflicted in that his skin turned black.

Similarly, later, in the Bereshit Rabbah (probably written between 300 and 500 CE (36:7) https://www.sefaria.org/Bereishit_Rabbah.36.7?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

“Rabbi Huna said in Rabbi Yosef’s name: [Noah declared], ‘You have prevented me from begetting a fourth son, therefore I curse your fourth son,’ Rabbi Huna also said in Rabbi Yosef’s name: You have prevented me from doing something that is done in the dark, therefore your seed will be ugly and dark-skinned. Rabbi Hiya said: Ham and the dog copulated in the ark, therefore Ham came forth black-skinned while the dog publicly exposes its copulation.”

EDIT: Notice the ranking of Blackened people with animals. This is a hugely important element of the othering of Blackness.

According to Professor of Religious Studies Joseph R Washington, “the Jewish rabbinic tradition took on the Hellenistic worldview regarding antiblackness (hatred of blackness as evil). Although this worldview may not have been dominant or particularly developed in Greco-Roman culture, Jewish thought expanded it and gave it a religious hermeneutic (e.g. in the Hamitic Myth in Gen. 9:18-28).” Thus the hatred of blackness as evil was sacralized to the hatred of people with black skins (anti-Blackness, or black racism). Washington writes, “if not the first or the only great religion to infer categorically that black people are eternally damned, Judaism’s oral tradition continued to pass on from generation to generation the story that black people are doubly damned: damned in the blackness of their skin and damned to perpetual slavery.” (Lewis, 2014:30) Source: Lewis, 2014; “To Wash a Blackamoor White:” (Doctoral Thesis) https://ir.vanderbilt.edu/handle/1803/11224 

Rabbinic Curse of Ham Reverberates down through Christian history

Tamara Elisabeth Lewis gives several examples of this Curse of Ham reverberating down through Christian thought:

[S]everal Syriac texts associate the biblical curse of Canaan with blackness. For example, “Mar Ephrem the Syrian said: ‘When Noah awoke and was told what Canaan did…Noah said, ‘Cursed be Canaan and may God make his face black,’ and immediately the face of Canaan changed; so did of his father Ham, and their white faces became black and dark and their color changed….”

Ishodad of Merv (Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha, ninth century): When Noah cursed Canaan, “instantly, by the force of the curse…his face and entire body became black [ukmotha]. This is the black color which has persisted in his descendents.”
Ibn al-Tayyib (Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, d. 1043) writes: “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan’s body became black and the blackness spread out among them…”

Also in the thirteenth-century mystical text The Zohar, Ham represents the refuse and dross of the gold, the stirring and rousing of the unclean spirit of the ancient serpent. Ham, the father of Canaan, is also known as “the notorious world darkener…The descendants of Ham through Canaan therefore have red eyes, because Ham looked upon the nakedness of his father; they have miss-shapen lips, because Ham spoke with his lips about the unseemly condition of his father; they have twisted curly hair, because Ham turned and twisted his head around to see the nakedness of his father; and they go about naked, because Ham did not cover the nakedness of his father…” (Lewis, 2014:29). Source: Lewis, 2014; “To Wash a Blackamoor White:” (Doctoral Thesis) https://ir.vanderbilt.edu/handle/1803/11224

In a future presentation, I will look at how the Curse of Ham also permeated Arab thinking in the Islamic era.

What’s particularly key about this Curse of Ham hermeneutic is that it associated Blackness of skin with sexual depravity. The early-modern Europeans picked up these elements and ran with them, as outlined in the following from Lewis. 

Early Modern England

Winthrop Jordan’s landmark study White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro holds that blackness as a concept is already firmly embedded in medieval English epistemology and associated with dirt, evil, sin, and the devil. 

[Footnote.22: “For example, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: “Black is deeply stained with dirt; soiled, dirty, foul…Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant, pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister…Foul, iniquitous, atrocious, horrible, wicked……Indicating disgrace, censure, liability to punishment, etc.” [Quoted in Jordon, 6]. “In each [European] language the word for “black” carried a host for disparaging connotations. In Spanish, for example, “negro” also meant gloomy, dismal, unfit, and wretched; in French, “noir” also connoted foul, dirty, base, and wicked; in Dutch, certain compounds of “zwart” conveyed notions of anger, irascibility, and necromancy; and “black” had comparable pejorative implications in Elizabethan and Stuart England”] 

This definition was widened to include persons with black skins in the early modern period… Thus when the English first began directly confronting Africans on a large scale in the sixteenth century, they built associations between their understandings of the concept of blackness and dark-skinned people.” (Lewis, 2014:13-14)

This… understanding of the African other became very influential through the work of Sixteenth Century writers such as George Best (see, Jordan, 1974:22-25). `The blackness of the African, as Best saw it, was a result of Ham’s disobedience when he looked at his father’s nakedness. In fact Best further interpreted the story as meaning that Ham had disobeyed Noah by copulating on the Ark. As a result, God punished Ham by making his son “so black and loathsome” that he and all his progeny would symbolize disobedience to “all the world” (quoted in Jordan, 1974:23). Thus, Best wrote that the black African represented sinfulness, disorder, and lust. Best’s interpretation combined the characteristics repeatedly central to European constructions of the African other, color and nakedness, with sexuality. The African’s black skin came to stand for a presumed “blackness within” (Jordan, 1974:22). The black color of the African body, underscored by the image of nakedness, became the most noticed and profound element in the precolonial social construction of the African other. It stood as a symbolic trope for the African other’s moral inferiority to white Europeans.”

It seems apparent that early precolonial European travellers’ reports from Africa were framed by this Biblical discourse. It was these reports, as in the writing of Leo Africanus in 1525, that brought the African other to the popular consciousness of those that never left Europe.”  Source: Meisenhelder:  African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europehttps://www.jstor.org/stable/41675090?seq=1

From Lewis “[Africanus’ writing] which served as the European geographical and topographical resource for Africa until the eighteenth century [and] purportedly describes sub-Saharan black African culture in rich, accurate, detail. The author… writes:

[L]et us consider, whether the vices of the Africans do surpass their virtues and good parts…Their wits are but mean; and they are so credulous, that they will believe matters impossible, which are told them. So ignorant are they of natural philosophy that they imagine all the effects and operations of nature to be extraordinary and divine. They observe no certain order of living nor of laws…By nature they are a vile and base people, being no better accounted of by their governors than if they were dogs…the greater part of these people are neither Mahumetans, Jews, nor Christians; and hardly shall you find so much as a spark of piety in any of them. They have no churches at all…they lead a savage and beastly life…They spend all their days either in most lewd practices…neither wear they any shoes nor garments. The Negroes likewise lead a beastly kind of life, being utterly destitute of the use of reason, of dexterity and wit, and of all arts.

Throughout the sixteenth century Europeans traveled to African, most often in search of trade and perhaps riches.1 Travelers’ descriptions of the African continued to be framed and molded by the impact of earlier accounts and Biblical stories. The reports of travelers often intertwined fact and fiction but consistently the most significant things reported about Africans was that their skin was black and that their bodies were “naked.” (Walvin, 1973; Jordan, 1974) Africans were understood as libidinous and dark bodies. As Jordan (1974:4-7) notes, emphasizing these two characteristics resulted in a greatly simplified notion of the African other, underscoring the difference from “white” Europeans. It is obvious, for instance, that to state that Africans are black, in contrast to the whiteness of Europeans, is to reduce a whole range of existing colors and hues to just two. It is also of course not true that Africans were naked. As Jordan (1974:9-10) also notes, this reduction was not harmless or innocent since already the color “black” possessed negative connotation as being soiled or dirty and many European Christians associated nakedness with sinfulness.” 

Conclusion: Primordial Anti-Blackness, endemic to Western Culture
I’ll conclude with the following comments from Tamara Lewis which I find very interesting and generative:

In black religious historiography, the dominant position is that antecedent views of blackness as negative influenced the European consciousness prior to the development of slavery. This view holds that rather than racism arising out of a utilitarian function (such as the justification of slavery) during colonialism, hatred of blackness and black people is endemic to the culture of the West, having its basis in the ancient Greco-Roman tradition. Robert Hood argues that primal myths, representing a kind of subconscious, subliminal way of seeing, “buried deep within our Western psyche and culture,” instinctively associate darkness and blackness with fear, negativity, and evil. An offshoot of this mode of consciousness is that negative perceptions are transferred to people with dark or black skins, as reflected in stories, proverbs, and iconic cultural images. This legacy of myths and inherent modes of perceiving blackness, as part of the universal human psyche, is firmly implanted within the historical Christian tradition, particularly in the West. Moreover, the Christian tradition has been instrumental in propagating this notion of black inferiority…Hood’s returning concern is that the embedded psychic, cultural, and historical values of blackness are so firmly entrenched, reflexive, and unconscious in the communal spirit of Western society that they are too fixed to be effectively dislodged in the quest for racial equality and diversity…The problem with this position is that if blackness as evil is programmed within the human psyche, how can racism, which Hood argues is associated with this primordial consciousness, ultimately be avoided or transcended? Instead, this position implies that society, the outgrowth of human consciousness, is forever doomed to racism.” (Lewis, 2014:23-24)

Lewis here unwittingly summarised the afropessimists’ position that “the world” is always, by its nature, anti-black and if anti-blackness is ever going to end, if we are ever going to liberate ourselves, the world has to end!


Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 70a

Bereshit Rabbah

Diodorus Siculus: Histories https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/3A*.html

Lewis, 2014: To Wash a Blackamoor White

Meisenhelder, 2003: African Bodies: “Othering” the African in Precolonial Europe https://www.jstor.org/stable/41675090?seq=1

Rotchschild, 2019: Ethiopianising the Devil: ὁ μέλας in Barnabas 4: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688518000395

Snowdon, 1960: Some Greek and Roman Observations on the Ethiopian http://www.jstor.org/stable/27830403 


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.

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)

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.

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.

Celebrating our Anarchist African Heritage!

We were not all Kings and Queens, and that’s great!

We need a different view of African history

As Marcus Garvey said – a people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots. 

When we think of African history, we usually think of kingdoms and Empires. In one sense, this has been a necessary response to lies that we have been told by non-Africans. They have told us that we did not have any so-called civilisation. This is of course false, and it has been important to debunk this myth. Many of our fine scholars such as the Senegalese Cheikh Anta Diop have done amazing work in this area. Please, if you haven’t already read any of his books, do so. One example is “The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality?” The fact is that existence of kingdoms goes back several thousands of years in Africa and some of the very earliest recorded states on Earth were in Africa, specifically in the Nile Valley.

However, by focusing so much on kingdoms – I think that we have swallowed another, more subtle kind of lie. This is the idea that societies with centralised and hierarchical political power structures – such as monarchies – are more advanced and noble than those with decentralised, horizontal power structures.

What is a State?

To explain what I mean, we have to first recognise that a kingdom or monarchy is a form of a state. A state can be defined as an organised group of people who have power over the rest of the people in a given geographic area, and who can use violence to enforce that power. States are by their nature hierarchical, with power over many people concentrated in the hands of a few people. Monarchies, Liberal Democracies, Dictatorships are all forms of states – the main difference between them is that different elites hold the power over the many. In all cases, you have a permanent, centralised and top-down power structure which can inflict violence over its subjects. So when we’re talking about a kingdom, we’re talking about a state.

In the dominant European mindset, societies which have a state are more advanced than those that do not. I think this is because that mindset worships power and domination. It believes that humans should exploit one another, as well as other beings and natural phenomena that we share this planet with. When people with this mindset look at so-called stateless people, they see backwardness.

Evolutionary View of Human History

Behind this notion is a evolutionary view of human history, whereby all human societies go through the same series of stages, with each successive stage becoming more advanced than the previous one, allegedly. The existence of a state is seen as a marker of progress along this alleged upward path. You can see how this idea lends itself perfectly as a justification for some nations to dominate others. This view takes the experience of European peoples and assumes it to be the universal norm, and then judges other peoples according to this supposed universal. In other words, it says, “well, this is what happened in Europe, so it must be the norm for all societies everywhere.”

Focussing on the economic aspect of this evolutionary view, Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Undeveloped Africa notes that “the sequence of modes of production noted in Europe were not reproduced in Africa. In Africa, after the communal stage and there was no epoch of slavery arising out of internal evolution. Nor was there a mode of production which was the replica of European feudalism.” In other words, the European experience does not apply to Africa.

At the dawn of European colonisation, many African nations had states. But as Rodney illustrates, a large number of African nations (perhaps the majority) did not have states. If we have the Eurocentric mindset, we might be embarrassed about this. But I think we should be very proud of this. Next I’ll sketch some of the common features of these decentralised African societies. 

African Communalism

Sam Bah and I.E. Igariwey in their book African Anarchism: The History of a Movement tell us that these societies were and are based on communalism, and they outline what they believe are the core elements of African Communalism, namely;

“different communities are almost completely independent, and are self-governing and every individual without exception takes part, either directly or indirectly, in the running of community affairs at all levels... the absence of classes, that is, social stratification; the absence of exploitative or antagonistic social relations; the existence of equal access to land and other elements of production; equality at the level of distribution of social produce; and the fact that strong family and kinship ties form(ed) the basis of social life in African communal societies.

Classless societies

The absence of social stratification on class lines is vital to stress. Walter Rodney states that “Those peoples … had no machinery of government coercion and no concept of a political unit wider than the family or the village. After all, if there is no class stratification in a society, it follows that there is no state because the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests.” I’m just going to repeat that last point there: ” if there is no class stratification in a society, it follows that there is no state because the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests.” As impressive as kingdoms like Kemet and Kush, Axum and Ghana, Kongo and Borno may have been, they existed because of the need for one group of people, or class, to control the rest of the people.  

Horizontal Power

Bah and Igariwey write that “Political organization under communalism was horizontal in structure, characterized by a high level of diffusion of functions and power. Political leadership, not authority, prevailed, and leadership was not founded on imposition, coercion, or centralization; it arose out of a common consensus or a mutually felt need.

Leadership developed on the basis of family and kinship ties woven around the elders… Elders presided at meetings and at the settlement of disputes, but hardly in the sense of superiors; their position did not confer the far-reaching sociopolitical authority associated with the modern state system, or with feudal states.

There was a pronounced sense of equality among all members of the community. Leadership focused on the interests of the group rather than [the] authority over its members. Invariably, the elders shared work with the rest of the community and received more or less the same share or value of total social produce as everyone else, often through tribute and redistributive mechanisms

Economic egalitarianism

I’m sure you’ll agree that these are some impressive sounding characteristics. But, obviously this isn’t to argue that such societies are, or were, idyllic. In any society there will be cleavages and discord sometimes. For example, I know that many people will point to male-female relations and argue that women in most if not all of these societies were and are oppressed. Suffice to say, I am not trying to argue that communalistic societies are perfect.

I also think that it’s important to not have a dichotomous view of things. I’m sure that many of the features we have outlined have been prevalent in African societies which did form states. I am not suggesting that any and all states in Africa were horrendous. The key point in sharing these descriptions is to alert us to the need to pay closer attention to those many African nations who did not have states. This is important both in the interests of having a fuller understanding of our African heritage, and also because we might be able to learn some things that we can put into practice in our lives today. I’ll speak more on that latter point toward the end of this talk.

Stateless doesn’t mean primitive

Now, some of you will be thinking that this all sounds nice and lovely. But surely these stateless peoples must have been less “developed” in the material things? Walter Rodney discusses this and states that “In some ways, too much importance is attached to the growth of political states. It was in Europe that the nation state reached an advanced stage, and Europeans tended to use the presence or absence of well-organised polities as a measure of ‘civilisation’. That is not entirely justified, because in Africa there were small political units which had relatively advanced material and non-material cultures. For instance, neither the Ibo people of Nigeria or the Kikuyu of Kenya ever produced large centralised governments in their traditional setting. But both had sophisticated systems of political rule based on clans and (in the case of the Ibo) on religious oracles and ‘Secret Societies’. Both of them were efficient agriculturalists and iron workers, and the Ibo were manufacturing brass and bronze items ever since the 9th century A.D., if not earlier.”

Stateless cities

And with regard to cities, we should pay attention to the ancient city of Djenne-Djeno in what is now Mali. The existence of this ancient city had previously been dismissed by both Arab and Europeans explorers, probably because it debunked their view of Black Africans as being savage people lacking the accoutrements of so-called “civilisation,” such as cities. Archaeological work has established that the Djenne-Djeno settlement began about 250 B.C.E. Its herding and fishing inhabitants were already using iron implements, and the village grew to urban size by 400 C.E., reaching its peak of settlement by about 900 C.E. I will quote from an archaeologist called Roderick Mackintosh who has been closely involved in excavations of the area over the past 35 years:

we have no hard evidence of a state-like, top-down, elite-driven political engine powering this kind of urbanism through time. We find no indications of kings, citadels, palaces, or, indeed, any obvious elites. The political and economic organization… seems heterarchical. That is, one identifies separate, if sometimes overlapping, domains of authority, all functioning in an interactive field, not a vertical hierarchy of kings and subjects and unidirectional flows of information.”

Why are some societies stateless

An important question to ask ourselves is why do some peoples not develop states? As mentioned, the traditional Eurocentric answer would be that these peoples are somehow deficient compared to other peoples who did develop states. But I would like to suggest that perhaps we need to give these “stateless” people more credit. In many cases, I think that a bit of investigation would show that many of these people would have had direct contact and experience in states and that they subsequently developed ways of making sure that prevent the rise of centralised, top-down power structures developing among them.

Among the decentralised African are the Nuer in Southern Sudan and the Luo of Kenya and Tanzania and Uganda. These groups are called Nilotic people. And they most likely migrated south into their present-day areas from areas covered by Kushite and post-Kushite kingdoms such as Axum, Markuria, Nobatia and Alodia. The Ewe people currently in Ghana and Togo are another decentralised people. They have a tradition that they ended up where they are now because they were fleeing from a tyrannical ruler, sometime in the 1600s CE. I think there is a good chance that many of these decentralised, stateless societies are stateless by design. They were not ignorant of what a state was because they’d experienced them first hand. But they deliberately eschewed state formation.

At this point I’d like to quote a passage from book called Worshipping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by an American writer called Peter Gerderloos. This passage helps to challenge us to re-think our view of the development of states in human societies. He writes:

The question of how and why states were formed is the keystone of Western civilization’s creation mythology. Most readers will share my experience of having been brought up in a society where history begins with the appearance of the State. Anything outside its domain is a Dark Age, terra incognita, a savage and barbarian land. We are taught that communities created the hierarchical structures of territorial governance that would eventually solidify as states out of a need to organize more efficiently, to respond to natural disasters or population growth, to administer large-scale infrastructure, to defend against hostile outsiders, to protect individual rights through a social contract, or to regulate economic production and surplus value. All of these hypotheses are demonstrably false, yet we are continually indoctrinated to accept them, to keep us from grasping the predatory, parasitic, elitist, and completely unnecessary nature of the State..

The available data demonstrate the universality of resistance to state formation, the predominance of failed states over successful states, the parasitical and coercive nature of states, and the existence of stateless societies with high population densities, a capacity for defensive warfare, complex infrastructure, and other presumed instigators or products of state formation.

Why this matters

I think this is a crucial subject for us to consider as Pabafrucabusts particularly when we are thinking about what a united Africa could look like. Do we simply want an African version of the European Union? Do we want 50+ individual states all controlling their respective peoples, and then the elites of these states coming together to work out how best to serve their common statist interests? Or do we want to create a system whereby power remains firmly located with the masses of the people?

Secondly and perhaps more directly relevantly – I think that an appreciation of these decentralised African societies can be useful for us in planning our liberation today wherever we are. A big problem with our liberation movements is that we are too focused on leaders. In politics, we valorise the likes of Marcus Garvey, Queen Nzingha, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, because they were great leaders. But here’s the thing, any movements which depend so heavily on certain remarkable individuals is doomed to fail. All an enemy needs to do is cut off the head and the body will run around aimlessly like a slaughtered fowl.

Hierarchical structures are much easier to co-opt and control. All you need to do is corrupt the leader(s) and the group will be yours. This is why the colonialists would often install chiefs or elevate people to become chiefs. One of their main jobs was to administer forced labour for colonial projects. We need to develop organisations which spread power and decision making as widely as possible. This will make it much harder for our movements to be cooped. 

I think that focusing on special leaders all the time has the effect of dulling the people’s political maturity. We need to organise on the basis that everyone is expected to take part, to have their say and to engage in political discussions. Everyone needs to take responsibility for making decisions. We can no longer afford to delegate our Liberation to profession and experts.

Future Directions 

In conclusion, let me say this has very much been an introductory conversation. As you can see, there are so many avenues for further research that we can go down. In future, I want to do more in-depth study into these so called stateless societies. I want to learn more about how they are structured, how they organised to defend themselves, how some of them developed sophisticated art and culture in a par with societies with states. And I want to look at organisations and movements in Africa and around the world which have used decentralised structures.

To keep up to date on my research into these areas make sure that you subscribe to the AfricansArise YouTube channel. And also if you’d like to help to bring these kinds of in-depth conversations and studies to the web, then please consider becoming a patron of AfricansArise just to patreon.com/africansarise. Any support that you give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for watching and I’ll see you next time.

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)

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.

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.