Africology versus Black Marxism: Asante's attack on Glen Ford and The Black Agenda Report
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Reclaiming the Black Radical Tradition or How Glen Ford Betrayed the BRT
Molefi Kete Asante
I was walking through the mornes in Martinique between Gros Morne and Saint Jospeh with Garcin Malsa erstwhile mayor of the town of St. Joseph, member of the Conseil General and leader of the Reparations Movement of Martinique during the third week of May 2014 when I first thought about the thin strip of intellectual curiosity called the Black Radical Tradition. I had received an email that confirmed that Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report had just published another attempt to smear my name and good reputation. As an Afrocentrist I have been attuned to most of the movements in the African community for many years, written about them, participated in several, and started a few myself. The concentration on keeping up with the 80-year old Malsa, a great specimen of a human being, and scores of other marchers down and up the hills of middle Martinique at the edge of the night with the drums and a full moon beckoning the marchers to higher levels of sensitivity to what our ancestors experienced sharpened my analysis of what goes for the so-called Black Radical Tradition in the United States. It became clear to me that the head of it, at least the public edge of it, was the Black Agenda Report edited by Glen Ford.
I do not know Glen Ford personally although I have occasionally recommended that someone read something or the other that he had written. Recent events have convinced me that he is neither a journalist of goodwill nor an African person of good faith. I contend after reading the Black Agenda Report that it is nothing more than an excuse for the so-called Black Radical Tradition. In effect, it is nothing more than a weak ideological propaganda gallery of Africans trying to imitate white Marxists. It is as if the aim of the Black Agenda Report is to advance an agenda contrary to the legitimate interests of African American people. In fact, I contend that the Black Agenda Report has subverted the interests of the black community in an effort to demonstrate that it can attack black people who are Afrocentric, Pan African, and self-determining. Character massacres, blatant untruths, and diatribe masquerading as serious discourse represent BAR’s attacks on Systematic Nationalism.
I have read Glen Ford’s words with an eye toward seeing what was behind his scurrilous character assassination and name-calling directed at those with whom he dislikes or disagrees. And, of course, what I have gathered is that Ford’s words say more about him than they do his targets. He is full of venom. Ford has brought this trouble upon himself. He is the one who made the exaggerated elevation of the Monteiro personnel situation BAR’s most accentuated story of the year. The designation of the Monteiro case demonstrates Ford’s personal commitment to Monteiro not to the facts in the case. Moreover, I am not sure by what criteria Ford calls Tony Monteiro a Du Boisian scholar or a tenured professor when he is neither.
What is this tradition called Black Radical Tradition that BAR appears to support? It is merely a “black” version of the white Radical Tradition that whites simply call the Radical Tradition. Any black version of anything white is problematic and those who do not know that have already betrayed the black community’s interests. The so-called Black Radical Tradition has sought to usurp the demands, concerns, and intellectual direction followed by our ancestors. Much like the extreme right-wingers, these extreme left-wingers are rooting for white theorists and philosophers, just a different group of white leaders. They are both pathetic examples of blacks seeking to find salvation from external sources. Ronald Hall and I dealt with the black conservatives in Rooming in the Master’s House and now it is time for me to look more deeply at the extreme black left. My position is that no intellectual or political group or person has immunity from debate and criticism. However, the proper response to criticism is not the infantile leftism of name-calling or malicious character assassination, but a response informed by reflection and facts. Therefore, I engage in this discourse with the idea of elevating a conversation but also in order to draw bolder distinctions between two ideological strands in the African American community.
The so-called Black Radical Tradition is neither radical nor traditional. It is black only to the degree that some black people have determined that white Marxist theorists and their black followers have the answers to the conditions of African people in the United States. I am afraid that they are wrong; we know that the white theorists do not have the answers for themselves and any group calling itself Black Radical Tradition that follows in step with such a misguided ideology are asking to be abandoned by the masses of our people. How can you have answers to African problems in America by asserting so confidently that class is more important in decision-making in this country than racial animus? Donald Sterling and his kind demonstrate each day and hundreds of thousands of times a day that race trumps class in the American mind. Also, how can you underestimate the extent of black self-hatred as a result of the doctrine of white racial domination and how can you attempt to excuse the extreme black left for its role in such confusion? Here is the thing. What is clear is that neither Glen Ford nor the Marxist left can monopolize a claim to the Black radical tradition. Nor can they define it in a limited way to exclude Garvey and Malcolm and Karenga. If someone disagrees with them on serious political matters or ethical principles or personnel decisions or practice, they are quick to strike with character assassination. Actually they are not immune from bad ideas that are definitely not in the interests of African people.
The problem is that these extreme Marxists ideologues by whatever nomenclature they care to use from time to time have lost all organic relationship with the black community. They are mostly academic and ivory tower prognosticators whose intellectual patriarchy is Karl Marx. So what they must do to suggest a nominal link to the black community is to announce that Pan Africanists and Afrocentrists concentrate too much on culture, history, and identity; this nominal link does not work because the people know that their condition in this country is related to white privilege, racist ideology, behavioral racism, and economic deprivation in all sectors of the society. Since the Black Agenda Report represents the leading edge of the so-called Black Radical Tradition and Glen Ford, as editor, is its best-known commentator it is necessary to isolate its real agenda. The best way to examine any one’s agenda is to see what work they have done. I am always willing to advance my work as a way that you might know me in my various capacities. My work speaks for me and I believe that the Black Agenda Report’s works speak for it. Articles on immigration, healthcare, police brutality, and Mumia Abu Jamal have attracted progressives and non-progressives alike. Some of these reports demonstrate real clear vision about what ought to be reported. But unfortunately, many of the articles have been in poor taste, abusive, disrespectful of black people. Why can’t you question arguments and policies without name-calling?
This speaks clearly to a character issue with BAR. It has lost and will continue to lose with conscious African Americans unless it changes, and I do not see it changing so long as Glen Ford is editor. I say this because I wrote a thoughtful letter to Glen Ford when he first reported on the Monteiro Affair at Temple. He had willfully attacked me for no apparent reason except that I refused to intervene in a personnel case where the person had neither legal nor ethical grounds upon which to stand. Malcolm X said it best, “Never try to defend the indefensible.” Glen Ford never responded to that letter. Nevertheless, he continued to write the most outlandish things about me, calling me names that my right wing critics, white or black, had never called me. What was wrong with my narrative that he could attack? Nothing. He did not read my memoir, he did not know my work in Zimbabwe, he did not know my creation of programs for educating our people, and he was totally unfamiliar with the way universities operate; it was obvious to me that his agenda was not an African agenda. If anything, it was a subversive attempt on the part of blacks to sell out the true agenda of liberation for something handed down from white Marxists. Glen Ford saw an opportunity, as Marxists like to do, to use an incident as a propaganda tool. What is revealed, or unveiled in BAR’s petty name-calling in my case, is a “black” Marxist propagandistic instrument that is both anemic and corrupt. Without any original thought and any knowledge or ability to assess my work, the BAR has promoted a distorted and warped portrayal of me, further undermining the so-called Black Radical Tradition. There is something wrong when you cannot address my arguments, but you can call me an “Afrocentric Nigger” or you speak of my “dashiki” as a negative or you call me a “rat” or a “red-baiter.” These statements are nonsensical and comical and BAR saying them does not make them true; however, the ineptitude of the editor of BAR is clearly seen in the fact that he cannot demonstrate any of these derogatory notions as arguments of fact. Ford accused me of red-baiting because I criticized what I see as an overdependence on white Marxists by Monteiro’s campaign against me. So was it red-baiting when Malcolm X said some black communist intellectuals permitted themselves to be used “in a way that wasn’t really beneficial to the overall Afro-American struggle (Malcolm, By Any Means Necessary, 1970:180)? But it is not red-baiting to call a leftist a leftist, a Marxist a Marxist, and a communist a communist, especially when they themselves self-identify as such. Furthermore, Ford’s use of the word “McCarthyism” in reference to my identifying the white leftists at the Monteiro rally is diversionary and dishonest. If there is anything negatively “red” in the conversation, it is the “red herring” of “McCarthyism” and the use of the term “red-baiting” Ford flashed to divert attention from the weakness of his arguments. I have come to expect such attacks by those who have no reasons for their assaults; they go for the smear and name-calling and character massacres.
However, the BAR’s ad hominem attacks on me have not fed my ego to the point that I think that the obscene and vile things that are said are about me alone. They are an affront to the only real and historical radical tradition in the African American community. It is a deliberate attack on the Systematic Nationalist tradition. Afrocentricity is a direct continuation of the systematic nationalism often labeled Black Nationalism. What Glen Ford and his disoriented supporters believe is that Karl Marx, a German Jew, had the answers for African people. Many westerners have abandoned these ideas and yet the so-called Black Radical Tradition is wedded to them. I do not believe that Marx, Lenin, or Trotsky has the answers for African Americans. If BAR believes that the answers will come from the Marxists then they must demonstrate this in action. So what can one say about the anemic Black Agenda Report? I think that we can say it is aimless. Yet when it comes to name-calling, shouting, and reporting gross inaccuracies on various incidents and people it seems that BAR has some lungs, otherwise it is out of breath. As we rounded what I thought was the last hill on the 10k march in the hills of Martinique I refocused on how BAR sounded the death knell for the so-called Black Radical Tradition.
Tony Monteiro invited BAR into his personnel fight at Temple University where I am serving as chair of the department of Africology. BAR interviewed no faculty member at Temple and could find no Union official who would support Monteiro’s position and yet with a one-sided argument Glen Ford pursued a series of lies. Here are the simple facts. Temple University has two tracks for professors, one track is tenure-track and the other track is called non-tenure track. Departments have the right to select non-tenure track teachers to assist in teaching classes. Departmental academic interests and directions change at the will of the faculty and in that case some non-tenure track faculty are released from their one-year contracts in order to accommodate changes. No department hires non-tenure track teachers with the idea that the non-tenure track professor will remain indefinitely. Tony Monteiro received a letter in December 2013 that his temporary contract would not be renewed. Monteiro was not supported by the Temple Faculty Union. The faculty of the Department of Africology did not support him. The graduate students in the department did not support him. The reason for the lack of support was that everyone understood the terms of his contract.
Monteiro initially said that the nonrenewal of his contract was because of racial discrimination and he attacked the Dean of the College calling for her dismissal. I know something about racial discrimination and wrote Erasing Racism as a demonstration of how racist the America society is and has been, but Monteiro had no grounds for shouting racism. If he had those grounds, everyone knows that I would have stood with him and so would the other members of the department. But no one believed that this was the case and it was ultimately shown that he had not been discriminated against. He asked a few community people who did not understand university rules to come to a rally. When they understood that they were being manipulated many of them backed away from the last protest. Monteiro changed his tune and gave interviews on the radio and for newspapers that said I should have spoken out in support of his renewal. There were numerous reasons why this was not feasible and I am not at liberty to reveal any personnel or human resource issues; however, let it be known once and for all that nothing owed to Tony Monteiro was taken away from him and that he had no legitimate grounds for grievance. That is why his support group changed almost overnight from twenty to thirty black community people to more white “radical” students than black people in general. The white students used their propaganda talents to attach Monteiro’s fight to numerous other grievances, gentrification, police brutality, Mumia, poor housing, and corporate power. Few black students joined this movement. When Cornel West and Marc Lamont Hill were called in to speak at a rally on May 9, 2014, most of the African American students had left the campus because classes were over. West and Hill appeared to misunderstand the entire issue but yet felt the urge to leap into the fray. Monteiro’s role had been reduced by its many chameleonic transformations to a small note in the large catalog of grievances against the establishment. He had started out grieving his nonrenewal as racism and when this was denied by the Affirmative Action investigators he turned, with the aid and assistance of BAR, to an attack on me as a Systematic Nationalist and Afrocentrist.
Universities reserve the right to choose their faculties; Temple never gave up that right to the community and was not expected to do so by anyone except those who did not understand the rules. The University can be fought but you must have legal grounds and standing. Several of our faculty members have grieved, sued, and fought the university but they had to refer to some actual grievance. Monteiro had no grievance. BAR said that he was not being renewed because he supported me for the chairpersonship at Temple. This is the most odd of all arguments. My record of 75 books and 500 articles are near the top in the African American academy; I did not need anyone to vouch for me. The faculty voted for me and as one of the faculty members, who also ran for the position, Monteiro had no real choice. The University never gave him a thought about being the chair of the department because he was not on a tenure-track. All of this information BAR could have discovered from talking with Professor Ama Mazama, chairperson of the Search Committee.
Nevertheless, Black Agenda Report published lies without any journalistic checking of facts or sources. BAR called me a “betrayer” without knowing anything except that I was not a part of the so-called Black Radical Tradition. I was responsible for the training of the first set of journalists after the Second Chimurenga in Zimbabwe and I know a little something about journalism. Whenever it is one-sided you know it is hollow ideology. The fact that Glen Ford rushed out every time with his lies is quite disturbing for the so-called Black Radical Tradition. I finished the Martinican Reparations March energized by the thought that our ancestors had to walk even longer roads. My senses were sharp and my determination stronger than ever to record and respond to the challenge of inaccurate information.
This brings me to the real point of this essay. The only black radical tradition has always been Systematic Nationalism in the vein of Prosser, Turner, Vesey, Sengbe, Delany, Garnet, Tubman, Crummel, Garvey, Booker T. Washington some of the time, and the later Du Bois, Muhammad, Robeson, Hare, Harding, Malcolm and Karenga. All researchers into the political dimensions of the black community have claimed that Black Nationalism or Systematic Nationalism based on black self-definition and self-determination has been the constant ideology of progress among black people. In fact, even Black Studies itself was the outgrowth of Black Nationalism, not of Marxist or right-wing expressions, though Marxists have certainly benefited from the Black Nationalist impetus for the field. You could add a hundred names of resilient black men and women to the Systematic Nationalist’s list as academic warriors such as Charshee McIntyre, Barbara Wheeler, Barbara Sizemore, Asa Hilliard, Ronald Walters, James Turner, Wade Nobles, Leonard Jeffries, Vivian Gordon, Sonja Stone, and others. Afrocentricity and Pan Africanism are in this same line alongside Kawaida and Quilombismo, but if one were studying only white Marxist theorists he or she would be totally lost here. I claim the Systematic Nationalist tradition. There are some very clear differences between the radical tradition of the African American community and the so-called Black Radical Tradition.
In my book, Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait, I have dealt with the constituents of the African American radical tradition by pointing out Karenga’s pioneering place in our history. Among the points to be made is that there are distinct differences between the inclusive radical tradition of the African American community and the exclusive Marxist left radical tradition that seeks to occupy all of the radical ground. The Marxist left cannot appropriate our radical tradition as its own. History has shown that Systematic Nationalists have a stronger level of commitment to black self-definition and self-determination. Our djed, stand, is that we reject imitation, dependency, and junior-ness that undermines African agency. By now it is an accepted fact that we differ with the so-called Black Radical Tradition the appreciation of our history, identity, and culture. Our contention is that by studying our history we learn lessons, discover behaviors, and implement paradigms of best political and social practices. Furthermore, we do not subsume race under class or think that history offers evidence of a class unity devoid of continuing dominance by whites rather than equality in leadership and results. I think it should be clear to anyone who wishes to defend the so-called Black Radical Tradition, the black Marxist left, is that the Systematic Nationalists insist racial justice must be at the core of any practice of social justice. Consequently, it matters to us that our coalition partners or potential allies understand that our liberation is our business. As leading Afrocentrists and Systematic Nationalists have said, “We are our own liberators!”
Afrocentrists reflect on African theorists because we believe that the weapons of our liberation are within our own power. The so-called BRT reflects almost exclusively on European theorists or their black students. Marcus Garvey is the model intellectual of the systematic nationalists. Karl Marx is the model for the so-called BRT. The principal aim of Afrocentricity is to establish African agency in all sectors of society because Afrocentrists find problems in Capitalism and Marxism. Afrocentrists enshrine Africa and African ancestors in an attempt to right the wrongs of the world based on African ideals. The so-called BRT enshrines Europe, the central core engine of African suffering over the past 500 years, as its idealized culture, society, and intellectual heritage.
On the other hand, Afrocentricity seeks the agency of Africans in economics, religion, institutions, history, culture, and communication. The so-called BRT seeks the imitation of whiteness, a narrow concentration on “Afro-American” issues, and the bringing into existence of a Marxist-oriented solution to the world’s problems. Black people know what the problems are and they know how the solutions must come. Thus, the Afrocentrists stand with the people for the rhetoric of African agency, the establishment of African institutions, critical attacks on all forms of oppression, Pan Africanism, and the bringing into existence an African diasporic vision that includes South America and the Caribbean.
There is a true choice for the African community in the United States, as there is for Africans on the continent, and throughout the diaspora; either we become people who seek self-determination or we become brown and black imitators of Europeans. We have the choice to interrogate African cultures here and everywhere, transgenerationally, but we cannot and must not be led down the BRT’s path of endless propaganda. Doing is a much better way to humanize the world. Afrocentricity has been attacked from the right and from the left mainly because it is an ideology that positions African people in the center of their own history. For the so-called Black Radical Tradition this attack emerges in a European theory that argues for the relevance of subsuming race and the resistance to racism under class; consequently it becomes necessary to crush any evidence of African self-determination because it exposes the inadequacy of Marxist’s analysis. For its propaganda success, the so-called Black Radical Tradition needed a trained cadre of black imitators of white theorists, who, with a little reading of Marx, Lenin or Trotsky, could be prepared, after mastering the European critical tradition, to attempt to stamp out Systematic, that is, Black Nationalist Thought. These same readers of Europe tend to avoid any deep interrogation or location of African culture. That is the real story of Black Agenda Report’s involvement in the Monteiro Affair. What is exposed, at this important juncture in our history, is the disdain and utter dislike these people have for the black masses. They are a sorry bunch of individuals with complicated identities, not wanting to be Africans but wanting to speak in our names, and not knowing precisely where they fit in the European world. Their interests are selfish and self-serving and they will do anything even drum up ancient lies to try to smear my good name, but alas, they have failed and will fail because of the interconnectedness of the African world and the powerful and insistent way that my works and those of other Afrocentrists speak to the interests of African people.
Born out of intellectual stagnation and boredom, the recent crisis in the so-called Black Radical Tradition demonstrates that since the death of Manning Marable there is no Black Marxist who could explain Glen Ford’s embarrassingly bitter attack on me to the black community. So the crisis is good; it is useful because it has exposed a weakness that will only grow worse as the Black Agenda Report tries vainly to convince us that its attraction to a European white ideology is better than our Afrocentric call for our children to embrace their African ancestors, interrogate ancient and current African traditions, find solace and comfort in walking the many miles that our ancestors walked in the mines, cotton fields, and sugarcane fields of the Americas and see the interdependence that comes with a re-invigorated call to culture. I embrace the definition of our history and culture as central to all analysis and I do not equate radicalism with Marxism. The real African American radical tradition is one of struggle grounded in the fertile soil of ethics as it seeks to transform the system of racist oppression that deadens our people. Thus, I renounce the so-called Black Radical Tradition with its lack of transforming ideas and its sorry commitment to lead us down the dead-ends of depending on our oppressors to bring us to freedom. I declare the exposure of the so-called Black Radical Tradition of the Marxist left and I am ready to reclaim and defend Afrocentricity, Systematic Nationalism, Pan Africanism, at any time and anywhere as the inclusive radical tradition.
Molefi Kete Asante is the leading proponent of Afrocentricity; President of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies; International Organizer for Afrocentricity International; Professor and Chair, Africology, Temple University; director of more than 100 dissertations; author of 75 books and nearly 500 articles; and visiting professor at UNISA in Tshwane, South Africa and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Asante created the first PhD program in African American Studies at Temple University. Asante is Nana Okru Asante Peasah, Kyidomhene of Tafo in Ghana; Wanadu Bongkana of the Songhoy Kingdom, Gao, Mali; and Adewali Adewali of the Yoruba Nation. He was born in Valdosta, Georgia of Nubian and Yoruba ancestry. He trained the first class of independent journalists in Zimbabwe and was the first permanent director of the UCLA Center for African American Studies.
“Where once Black culture could be evoked for its oppositional relationship to the capitalist market, on one hand, and the racial state, on the other, now it has been defanged, denuded of dissident valence, and repurposed for the expansion of markets and the neutralization of progressive Black politics. The noble plea for the incorporation of difference has become the celebratory promotion of Difference, Incorporated while the improved conditions of Black representation (at least in certain visible areas) have had little effect on improving the actual conditions of Black life.
Given these contemporary conditions, we would do well to ask if recourse to culture still provides the necessary critical apparatus for thinking about the paradoxes and “predicaments” of Blackness and of the African Diaspora? Culture, of course, will always be with us in one form or another – it is precisely its malleability and openness that makes it so attractive and analytically productive. Yet if all is culture, is culture all? And can what is arguably the hegemony of culture in African Diaspora studies be displaced in favor of other analytics and approaches?
One way around the apparent hegemony of culture is through the development of what I’m calling a “corporate turn” in African Diaspora studies. The corporate turn could mark a renewed attention to the institutions, individuals, and entities of exchange and exploitation that have forged the structural contexts in which black identity, the conditions of black life and, ultimately, Black culture, have emerged. The corporate turn calls for the reincorporation of political economy and business and economic history with African Diaspora studies and it demands that we take seriously the institutional history of what Cedric Robinson has termed “racial capitalism”: the simultaneous, and intertwined emergence of white supremacy and capitalism in the modern world.”—Dr. Peter James Hudson, “African Diaspora Studies and the Corporate Turn” (via hagereseb)
It’s painfully ironic that the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora is holding their conference on Black Diaspora studies this weekend in the Dominican Republic, just a few weeks after the country ruled nearly 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless.
“Love itself, the subversive gift, is an important public good, and loving is a significant political act, particularly among those stigmatized and marked as unworthy of live and incapable o deep commitment.”—Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic (2008)