Anytime you read or hear an organizer, leader or spokesperson discuss their ideas, policies, concerns, solutions or projects, you are observing elements of his/her ideology.
When these ideas come across as contradictory, confusing, ridiculous or scattered, we are witnessing either their inability to communicate effectively, or evidence of weak ideology.
Ideology is no light or trivial matter. We can define it as an ethos or set of principles that guide and direct a person or organization’s worldview, policies and practices. All institutions and organizations operate from an ideology, including the military, schools, places of worship, fraternal organizations, community organizations, police, the medical establishment, etc. One’s ethos or ideology shapes how they think, their values/priorities, what they do, and how they do it. You can clearly see how important ideology is to say, a community organization.
Sound ideology develops in response to real circumstances (i.e. concerns for safety, law and order, miseducation or political empowerment) sound analysis of these circumstances and their causes, and a good understanding of community culture, history and sensibilities.
Ideology should respond accurately and effectively to a group’s actual circumstances/reality. When our ideology conflicts with or proves ineffective to address the realities we confront, we are compelled to seriously reconsider, adjust or dismiss our ideology altogether. If we continue believing, promoting or operating on inaccurate or irrelevant ideas, we compromise our organizing and put ourselves in danger of becoming reactionary (pro status quo, politically backwards or ultra conservative).
Instead, we must be disciplined and mature enough to acknowledge when our conceptual frameworks are inadequate/inaccurate and do what is necessary to rectify our thinking. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible…
Signs that our ideology needs reshaping
- It leads to policies/practices that encourage innocent segments of our community to be discriminated against, bullied, isolated or dismissed.
- It paints large segments of our community with a broad brush without allowing for difference and nuance (i.e “Black Christians are sell-outs,” Black single-parent mothers are the primary cause of delinquent Black children,” “Black gays and feminists are the reason we are no longer unified or strong as a people”).
- It suggests policies or practices based on assumptions that are false or contain logical fallacies leading to weak arguments.
- It suggests policies that divide our community, generate unnecessary resentment, and make us more vulnerable to the system of white supremacy.
- It is driven by fear, hatred and insecurity rather than an accurate analysis of historical, economic or political conditions, and love.
- It articulates policies, sentiments and practices identical to those endorsed by the maintainers and beneficiaries of white supremacy.
- It leads to policies that create an oppressive and oppressed class of people in our own community.
- It is too rigid and dogmatic, leading to a feeling among some that their perspective is the ONLY valid one, or that those who disagree with it are government agents worthy of persecution and attack.
Let us underscore that last point. When we become dogmatic, we make our opinions or ideas more important than people and the quality of their lives. The irony is obvious; Community leaders and organizers are (or at least should be) concerned with people, the quality of their lives, and their happiness.
This group – by virtue of their mission – should be the least dogmatic, and yet when it comes to some elements of the Black “Conscious Community,” be they Socialist, Nationalist, Pan-African, Religious, Atheist, Feminist, etc., we find large pockets of highly dogmatic people.
I regularly read social media posts, watch YouTube clips, and observe community discussions that are disturbingly narrow, prejudiced and inhumane toward other brothers and sisters.
I’ve literally heard Black people angrily suggest that members of the Black Gay community should be killed, along with our petty criminal element and those with an appetite for non-white dating partners. I’ve heard/read others label all Black Christians as “ignorant tools of the white man,” or openly advocate removing Black churches in our community (One of the the institutions in our history that most advanced literacy, civil rights and community organizing). And each one of these individuals considers him or herself an activist, leader or community organizer for Black people.
Such words and ideas often get packaged as “Keeping it real,” but make no mistake – history reveals such to be the thinking of dictators and tyrants. They begin by fighting for the people and eliminating an oppressive regime.
Once in power, they claim absolute authority and power over the very people they set out to “liberate.” Next they choose what books people can read, what things people can say, and what affiliations people can have. These people become leaders for life, hold corrupt elections or ban them altogether, and live in luxury as the people starve and endure lives of squalor. Check the history of revolutionary leaders and you’ll find that more than a few commmitted horrific acts of torture and genocide against their countrymen whose only “crime” was difference of opinion.
Some embrace brother Malcolm but forget his political transformation and evolution. Take the statement he made at the March 1964 press conference announcing his departure from the Nation of Islam:
“Now that I have more independence of action, I intend to use a more flexible approach toward working with others to get a solution to this problem….
As of this minute, I’ve forgotten everything bad that the other leaders have said about me, and I pray they can also forget the many bad things I’ve said about them.”
…The problem facing our people here in America is bigger than all other personal or organizational differences. Therefore, as leaders, we must stop worrying about the threat that we seem to think we pose to each other’s personal prestige, and concentrate our united efforts toward solving the unending hurt that is being done daily to our people here in America.”
In the same year, in his presentation at the Oxford debate, he said:
I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
Malcolm clearly came to realize the need for Black solidarity. He recognized his attacks of people he disagreed with as a mistake. He acknowledged that he had to work with various segments of the Black community and even some of those outside of our community who were sincere. In other words, he developed compassion and adjusted his beliefs and methods to address the realities he observed. If he was willing to work with serious and sincere whites, can we conclude that he might also work with Black feminists, Christians and members of the LGBT community? One’s gender, sexuality and spirituality don’t dictate their politics necessarily…
Today, we have more knowledge of ancient African societies, more understanding of economics and sociopolitical struggles, more knowledge of how to create alternative schoo than did Malcolm -and yet, we have lost compassion for members of our extended family whose spirituality, sexuality, and other beliefs/practices are different.
To be clear, I am not Christian (nor any other religion), atheist, gay, or feminist, nor does this matter. My position stems from being clear on one point: Black people – our lives, health, liberty happiness and concerns – are more important than my opinions or those of anyone else. I believe in “unity without uniformity.” I also agree with comedian Dave Chappelle: We don’t have to hate or fear those whose lifestyles we do not understand or condone. Nor do we have to agree with everything someone we love says or does. “We don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Some of you reading this article will disagree. That is your right. I just hope you truly UNDERSTAND. When we lose compassion for our people, and allow our opinions to become more important than their lives and right to choose, then we become part of the problem. Where is the love, Black Conscious Community?
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.