Kanye West, Ta-Nehisi Coates, & the State of Black Freedom
Kanye West's influence makes the African-American establishment a bit nervous sometimes. His run for the 2020 US presidency is only his latest 'life experiment' that has ruffled feathers. West is known for saying and doing outrageous and nutty things, but one week in the Spring of 2018 will always stand out in my mind.
This week began in late April with Kanye tweeting his love for President Trump's 'dragon energy' and making public appearances in his newly signed MAGA hat. It ended in early May with a controversial appearance on TMZ to address West's 'MAGA-love', which culminated in a few surprising remarks about American slavery:
“We don't know how to think for ourselves. We don't know how to feel for ourselves. People say feel free, but they don't really want us to feel free... When you hear about slavery for 400 years. 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like you were there for 400 years. And it's all of y'all?”
Kanye was of course annihilated by the African-American press. But one response stood out to me, because I think it really did get to the root of the problem, and that was Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'I'm Not Black, I'm Kanye: Kanye West Wants Freedom, White Freedom'.
What Coates argues is that Kanye is championing a kind of freedom that exclusively belongs to white Americans, what Coates calls 'white freedom'. According to Coates, 'white freedom' is freedom without consequence. It's the freedom of the licentious individual. In contrast, 'black freedom', 'the freedom of Harriet Tubman', requires a collective black we. And that Kanye is trying to liberate himself from that collective we, trying to liberate himself from 'blackness'. Consequently, West 'wants to be white'.
Coates article is not only a good example of what I like to call 'black identity propaganda' at its finest, but it really does get to the issue at hand: the vast gulf between the African-American & the Anglo-American conception of freedom. And more precisely, the concept of freedom promoted by today's African-American spokespeople, like Coates, and the traditional Anglo-American conceptions of freedom, particularly political freedom or liberty.
Some Problems with 'Black Freedom' as Presented by 'Black Spokespeople'
Like many African-American spokespersons, Ta-Nehisi Coates is unable to speak about 'black freedom' without reference to white people. They can only think of 'black freedom' in terms of liberation from 'white oppression' or 'white racism'. This is not an accident. And it's not determined by historical necessity. It's a choice that African-American political and intellectual leaders have made. The black freedom struggle in the 21st century has been strictly defined as a question of 'freedom from white racism'. More generally, the African-American leadership defines their role as one of protecting their constituency from 'white violence', broadly defined.
But what if you identify as black, and the problem of violence in your life is not a result of 'white racism', but instead this violence is coming primarily from other black people? Who protects you then? This is a serious issue, because it is in fact the empirical reality for most black people. A governmental study shows that of all reported cases of violence against African-American victims between the years 2012-2015, less than 11% of the perpetrators were white, and nearly two-thirds were African-American. When the question turns to murder, the numbers are even starker. Between 1976 and 2005, 94% of black murder victims were killed by other blacks, and the black murder victim rate itself was more than 6x higher than the white. Yet, the only murders that black spokespeople concern themselves with are those committed by whites against blacks, particularly law enforcement officers.
So if you are like me and have black males in your family who were murdered senselessly by other black males, and that's usually how it happens, you are left wondering: 'Who is protecting the African-American members of my family? Because there were no protesters when they were unjustly murdered by other blacks, and black leaders did not lift a finger to help. And none of their rhetoric nor policies address this very serious problem, which could easily happen again.”
The spin we see from the black establishment over black victims of white police violence, like George Floyd, has a lot in common with how Willie Horton was used in the 1988 Presidential campaign between George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis, which I remember as a boy. Horton was a black convicted murderer in the state of Massachusetts, while Dukakis was its Governor. During this time, Horton received a weekend furlough from prison, from which he never returned. Eventually, he was caught by police, but only after kidnapping a white couple, and holding them at knife point, while he repeatedly raped the white woman. Horton was a kind of real-life African-American version of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. And one night, exploring his newly found freedom, he went out for little bit of 'ultra-violence', before getting in a little 'Hobbes of the road'. Just to 'sharpen the senses'.
Like the George Floyd killing, this thing with Willie Horton should never have been allowed to happen. There is no excuse, and people were correct to be outraged, and to take action to prevent such things from happening again. Of course, the chances are probably more likely that a white person in the suburbs would be struck by lightning than be attacked by a black man on a prison furlough, but the image of Willie Horton was very powerful, and resonated strongly with many white Americans. Consequently, the Bush campaign was able to use Willie Horton to depict Dukakis with contempt, & won easily, just like in the Stanley Kubrick film.
Likewise, the chances of a black person being killed by a white police officer is miniscule. White police are not the origin of violence in today's black America, but this 'white cop' thing resonates with African-Americans, and so black spokespeople use it. Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who killed Floyd, is in a sense the 'white version of Willie Horton'. Like Horton, Chauvin taps into deep ancestral racial animosities and fears, the 'evil white overseer of the plantation', so his image is politically useful for the black establishment.
There is one big difference between the politics surrounding Willie Horton in 1988 and the politics surrounding Derek Chauvin today: white Americans had a choice between two candidates who represented very different philosophies and policies of government. The majority of whites voted for Bush, but a very large minority of white Americans (40+%) chose to ignore the Willie Horton propaganda and cast their ballot for Dukakis anyway. Either way, they had a choice in which general political direction they wished 'white America' to go in, and this political choice represents an important element in the traditional Anglo-American concept of political freedom. Today, black Americans don't have this kind of freedom with respect to choosing a political direction for black America & black identity, and people like Ta-Nehisi Coates want to make sure that they never have it.
The Black Revolution, The One-Party Black Nation, & The New Mandarins
Booker T. Washington called black America a 'nation within a nation', and if that is true then this 'black nation' is a one-party state. This was not always the case. Before the black Revolution of the 1960s, black America also had a kind of de facto two-party system, two basic models of black bourgeois leadership.
Of course, these 'black parties' were not official, black people did not vote in a polling station for one or the other, but they could choose to follow one or the other based on their actions. Moreover, the existence of this de facto 'black two-party system' was reflected in the fact that large black demographics voted for both the Democratic and Republican parties during the 1950s. By 1960, both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were both trying to outdo each other in their show of support for Martin Luther King, but King never openly endorsed either candidate. Of course, by 1964 this had all changed, when MLK hitched his wagon to LBJ for obvious reasons.
Both these de facto 'black parties' opposed legally enforced racial segregation and de facto black disenfranchisement in the Jim Crow South, and they joined forces to support the MLK led black Southern movement, but their philosophy, focus, approach, and overall vision for black America was very different. Speaking loosely, one 'black party' traced its roots to Booker T. Washington and his 'Tuskegee entourage', while the other traced its roots to W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP crowd.
This so-called 'Du Bois party' took control of the Black Revolution by the late 1960s, just as Fidel Castro's, Mao Zedong's, or Ho Chi Minh's Party took control of their respective nation's 'liberation movement' from their 'white colonial oppressors'. Like in Cuba, China, & Vietnam, these black Revolutionaries set up a one-party political system after the Revolution, in which they became the new black Mandarins. And just like these former European colonies, this same 'Black Revolutionary Party' still rules today, more than a half-a-century later.
This comparison to Castro, Mao, & Minh's regimes might sound extreme, but it is in fact a comparison that the black Revolutionaries themselves made at that time. The Black Panthers used to carry around and distribute Mao's books and quote him regularly: “Power originates in the barrel of a gun”. They openly allied themselves with the Communist Parties of Cuba, China, & Vietnam, even during the Vietnam War, & interpreted the black Revolution as being in some sense an extension of the Chinese, Cuban, & Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist Revolutions. In time, these same black Revolutionaries came to control the politics and intellectual life of black America. Its institutions. Their interpretation of the black Revolution reigns today. They are the new black Mandarins. People like Ta-Nehisi Coates, the child of two Black Panthers, set the 'racial agenda'. Just ask Vanity Fair.
Coates' collective black we reveals itself not as the we of Harriet Tubman, but instead the we of Chairman Mao, the same mass-murderer whose book his parents used to carry around in their pockets and distribute on the street corner. Whose sayings they used to recite at Black Panther meetings. This is the we that commands obedience, or else doles out swift & violent retribution. It views 'black freedom' as only possible through the political medium of the 'Black Revolutionary Party'. Anyone who opposes this 'Black Revolutionary Party' is a reactionary or counter-revolutionary, who seeks to align themselves with the 'white imperialist oppressor', and return blacks to slavery, and so on. This is how people like Ta-Nehisi Coates think.
The African-American two-party system must be restored in order to ensure some semblance of political liberty in black America. Today, the 'party of Du Bois' holds a one-party political dictatorship, that they established after the black Revolution of the 1960s. This 'Black Revolutionary Party' controls its institutions. Black education. Black media. Booker T. Washington's name has been run through the mud.
Whatever remains of the old 'Booker T. party' must be re-established. Booker T. Washington was the greatest African-American leader who ever lived, and one of this country's greatest Americans. He literally laid the foundation that made the Civil Rights Movement possible. His leadership triggered arguably the greatest Renaissance in Afro-American history. Many of the foundational black institutions of bourgeois leadership that still exist today, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the black fraternities, were all founded during his leadership reign of 20 years (1895-1915).
His vision can address many of the problems that today's black establishment are not able to effectively manage. And it only makes sense that this 'Booker T.' party would reside in the GOP, where Booker himself resided.
Whatever happens in November 2020, the Republican Party will likely need to do some reorganization after the Trump Presidency, whenever it ends. And the movement to re-establish the 'Booker T.' party in the GOP would be a good place to start.
Il Trovatore (Aristarchus Patrinos); August 15, 2020; 2000 words