Black Social Media Commentators Should Be Competent & Qualified!

The creation of the Internet and the emergence of social media platforms is a mixed blessing. On one hand we applaud how this development broke the corporate hold on news and political expression. Indeed, the vast majority of information we receive via American media (and from which we develop opinions) comes from five corporations: Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and News Corp.
By disrupting this old boy media monopoly, the Internet has undoubtedly helped common citizens to realize and broaden their free speech and free press rights. This development has facilitated worldwide unfiltered, on-the-ground news coverage to which we previously had no access. We now have undeniable proof of police misconduct; activists have a quick and reliable way to communicate, organize and mobilize; previously voiceless groups now have platforms for speaking their own special truths; small business owners can promote  their goods and services to target audiences without six-figure marketing budgets.
However, this blessing doubles as a curse. An Internet connection, webcam, and smartphone is all anyone needs to craft journalism and post clips providing commentary available for view throughout the world. This has encouraged millions of people in the U.S. to create radio shows, YouTube channels, blogs, and webinars. Some are impressively well done. Others are……not.
In the Black community, we see the meteoric growth of social media commentators providing streams of opinion, analysis and prescriptions for Black empowerment and liberation. Some of these social commentators are well-informed and experienced. This group provide us with a virtual classroom or newsroom without walls that we have access to at any time. In these times, a young (or old) Black person can receive tons of information on just about any topic, free or at nominal cost.
But there is another group of Black social commentators who provide/promote inaccurate information, flawed analysis,  reactionary and fundamentalist ideas, and half-baked theories. “What’s the big deal” you ask? At minimum, such people become yet another distraction for Black people seeking relevant and alternative information. At worst, such people mislead and misinform Black people which inevitably adds to our ignorance, disunity and suffering. In some cases the situation is so egregious that one wonders if some of these self-proclaimed gurus are actually agents for the FBI. In this context, I unashamedly demand that Black social media political commentators qualify themselves through knowledge and experience regarding the issues they address. In fact, I filmed a clip showing our people how to determine social commentators they should take seriously.
Some (usually incompetent and irresponsible social commentators) feel that my demand for Black social/political commentators to be “qualified” is elitist and condescending. I beg to differ. Simply put, would you trust or value the opinions of someone speaking on heart surgery who has little or no education and experience in this field? Or a person with no mastery of mathematics speaking on engineering? Or a person with no pilot experience flying you to another country? Or a person who hasn’t studied law representing you in court? Or someone with no background in finance, business or tax matters being your accountant? No you wouldn’t (if you have sense).
Why? Because we RESPECT heart surgeons, engineers, airplane pilots, lawyers, and accountants as serious and valuable professionals. Also, we understand that our dependence on people who are incompetent in these fields, would result in disastrous outcomes for us.
That we do not extend this wise and practical thinking to people speaking on our history, or providing political or economic analysis and action plans, sadly implies that we do not see Black leadership as a respected profession/vocation which impacts our lives significantly. Demanding that we properly prepare ourselves through education and experience before making public analysis of our condition is not being elitist or condescending, it’s being respectful of Black people and Black Liberation! Finally, I am not naive enough to believe we can mandate anyone to do anything. Some of these people are motivated by financial gain and status. They will not “stop their hustle.”What I’m really asking is for Black people to be discerning and demanding with the social media content they consume…
______________________

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. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 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 and the YouTube channel Black Liberation University.

 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 truself143@gmail.com

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Ideology and Dogmatism Vs. Black Power

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

  1. It leads to policies/practices that encourage innocent segments of our community to be discriminated against, bullied, isolated or dismissed.
  2. 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”).
  3. It suggests policies or practices based on assumptions that are false or contain logical fallacies leading to weak arguments.
  4. It suggests policies that divide our community, generate unnecessary resentment, and make us more vulnerable to the system of white supremacy.
  5. It is driven by fear, hatred and insecurity rather than an accurate analysis of historical, economic or political conditions, and love.
  6. It articulates policies, sentiments and practices identical to those endorsed by the maintainers and beneficiaries of white supremacy.
  7. It leads to policies that create an oppressive and oppressed class of people in our own community.
  8. 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.

 

dogmatism

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.”

dave  chappele compassion

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-SpanNY1 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 truself143@gmail.com.

Letter to the U.S. Government Or, “Suggestions for Ending Mass Shootings and other Domestic Horrors”)

December 3, 2015

Dear U.S. government, corporate conglomerates, and devil’s advocates:

As you well know, this nation finds itself tortured by a disturbing epidemic of domestic violence. This takes the form of gang warfare and other community predatory behavior, anti-Black police brutality, suicide, sexual assault, and mass shootings.  This tumultuous scenario has yourselves and we citizen-residents predictably alarmed.

This is especially true in the arena of mass shooting/killings. The San Bernardino shooting yesterday marked 352 mass shootings in only 336 days of 2015.

What you don’t know – or at least do not acknowledge – is the primary role you play in these debacles. Truth be told, all of the aforementioned transgressions are but symptoms of your collective mismanagement, corruption, avarice, indifference, and malfeasance.

Leaders, we are told, command respect through their own exemplary policies and practices. Suffice to say that you fail immensely in this regard. Rather than providing education and resources for your most vulnerable and dispossesed citizens/residents, you coldly castigate them for being sick, elderly, poor and ignorant.

You could admit and apologize for your past and present violations against indigenous Americans, Africans, Asians and others. You might even consider making restitution to them as well. Instead, you develop selective historical amnesia regarding your past sins against humanity and accuse those you’ve mistreated of being too “sensitive,” lazy, entitled, uncomfortably nostalgic, or unforgiving.

Then there are the blatant contradictions and hypocrisies you mouth with forked tongues and manifest with ridiculous laws, policies and priorities:

  • Reluctance to place “unfair” tax burdens on the rich.
  • Imprisoning melanated bodies in cold privatized dungeons for selling drugs that addicts willingly buy. Yet you exonerate white-collar thugs who terrorize taxpayers with ponzi schemes, serial-kill consumers with exorbitant interest rates for rapidly depreciating goods, and suffocate other countries with debilitating trade agreements.
  • Mass-producing and selling weapons of mass destruction to your imperialist allies but trying to prevent non-alligned nations from acquiring those same weapons.
  • Crying broke concerning public education, healthcare and social services, but spending lavishly on military equipment, weapons and foreign invasions.
  • Attempting to micromanage and control all areas of citizen life while allowing mega-corporations to function with minimum regulations.

You who knowingly sell “medications” that expedite death, branzenly falsify and censor news,…

…who mischaracterize and kill authentic and progressive world leaders only to replace them with wealth-hoarding, American-controlled, dictators and butchers of their own people…

…Who appoint yourselves the guardians, judges, and gatekeepers of foreign nations, while your own citizens suffer from chronic unemployment, inadequate healthcare and paltry education…

In an effort to promote lasting, peace, happiness and prosperity for all citizen-residents, I humbly suggest you implement the following policies and practices. I and many like myself believe these steps will ssignificantly decrease or possibly even eliminate the mass shootings and other national transgressions currently plaguing this nation/empire.

  1. Pay reparations to the descendants of those African people victimized by chattel enslavement.
  2. Relinquish land stolen from Native Americans and provide grants for them to develop that land.
  3. Eliminate the Federal Reserve. Place the monetary system back on the gold standard.
  4. Immediately end all military “interventions” in other countries and eliminate all U.S. military bases in other countries, except for small units to protect U.S embassies abroad.
  5. Demilitarize police departments and hold corrupt police legally responsible for their acts.
  6. Make quality education, vacation time, healthcare, employment, housing, electricity, heat, and food free and equally accessible to all citizens.
  7. Redraw political district lines to represent fair and accurate demographic political representation across the country.
  8. Dismantle the unilateral power of mega-corporations. This includes regulating their campaign contributions, protecting union rights, and prohibiting them from establishing manufacturing plants overseas.
  9. Make usury (adding interest to loans) illegal.
  10. Eliminate the practice of imprisoning nonviolent offenders.
  11. Deprivatize prisons. Pay prisoners market value for their labor. Amend the 13th Amendment and remove the clause making imprisonment a new form of slavery. Transform the penal system (all jails, prisons and correctional facilities) into a system of rehabilitation providing the educational, mental health and life management resources people need to be functional and empowered citizens.

You will likely (and unfortunately) deem these measures too radical, expensive or impractical. You may ask, “How can we afford to do these things?” We will respond, “How can you afford not to?”

In conclusion, never forget what history teaches us about the demise of “civilizations.” Their fall is sometimes facilitated by external factors, but always primarily by internal negligence and decay.  As it stands, your continued indifference, brutality and pathological behavior will continue to harvest the same from citizens.

With Humanity and Urgency,

Agyei Tyehimba

____________

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-SpanNY1 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.

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Sympathy for Lost Life, But not for France

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The November 14th bombings in Paris – leaving more than 150 people dead – generated a tsunami of reaction from people and governments throughout the world.

Much of this setiment ranges from outrage against fundamentalist Islamic group “Isis,” government air strikes against Syria (considered an Isis stronghold), and displays of sympathy and solidarity from citizens the world over.

It is this last dynamic, the display of sympathy and solidarity – in particular that from American Blacks – upon which this essay will focus.

For the record, I am and have been an unashamed advocate and organizer for Black people my entire adult life. My preoccupation and vocation is and continues to be the total empowerment and liberation of Black folk in America and across the Diaspora.

This does not preclude me however from being compassionate and humane toward non-African people. As a general rule, I do not celebrate or trivialize those victimized by bombings, shootings or other acts of violence, political or otherwise.

Therefore when I learned of the recent politically-motivated acts of violence in Paris I like many was disturbed and alarmed. Many of those victims had no involvement in the political affairs which arouse the resentment of Isis.

And yet, as a political Black man concerned with world events, I also agree with brother Malcolm’s indictment of “Chickens coming home to roost.” Malcolm issued this controversial statement in response to a question concerning the assassination of president John Kennedy. His statement earned him the continued scorn of white America and led Elijah Muhammad to suspend him as National spokesperson and minister in the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm’s statement -while venemous and indifferent to some – was actually spot on. He simply reminded us that a nation bent on violence and destruction will inevitably confront these twin tragedies itself. The Bible words it this way: “What a man soweth, so also shall he reap.” Our contemporary culture adds, “What comes around, goes around.”

We Black folk living in the belly of the (imperialist American) beast, are always faced with the tensions of expressing what we authentically feel, saying what we believe the empire expects us to say out of patriotism or fear of reprisal, and knowing the difference. We want to seem like dutiful Americans in moments like this. We want others to validate our humanity. In short, we want to be perceived and accepted as “good Americans” (a term that honesty seems contradictory sometimes).

To achieve this, we support the empire and its interests/values even when doing so contradicts with our own.

All over Facebook, Black folk are using a special filter that colors their profile picture with colors of the French flag, in a symbolic display of sympathy and solidarity for their recent tragedy.

I am no gatekeeper or dictator of people’s emotions or displays of sentiment. As far as I’m concerned, Black folk have the right to their feelings, including those with which I disagree. At the same time, I have the right and responsibility to offer my critical perspective to broaden and (in some cases) refine our sentiments.

With this in mind, I offer the following: We can show symathy for innocent victims of bombings in Paris without showing sympathy for France the nation/empire. In fact, I strongly encourage Black folk to adopt this position.

Lest we forget:

  • France was one of the European powers that divided Africa at the Berlin Conference of the 19th century. In fact it was the second largest colonial empire in the world at one time. It used military might and deception to colonize Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Togo, Benin, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Sierra-Leone, to name a few.
  • Beginning in the late 17th century, France also colonized a portion of the island Hispaniola, (which in imperialist fashion, it renamed “Saint Dominique.”) The almost 800,000 Africans that France brought to the country accounted for nearly one-third of the entire TransAtlantic slave trade. At one point, much of the world’s sugar and most of its coffee came from the exploited labor of Africans in Haiti.

France like the rest of those nations involved in colonizing, enslaving and brutalizing Black bodies and minds, is and will remain accountable for these prolonged crimes against humanity that remain unresolved. I therefore sympathize with the innocent victims of violence in Paris, but vehemently refuse to recognize or parade the French flag in show of solidarity.

I take this position with full knowledge of the important role France played as a refuge for Black writers, intellectuals and entertainers during the 20th century.  This relatively short display of humanity in the nation’s history doesn’t begin to compensate for or negate its far longer and more lasting imperialist and racist legacy. One might argue that providing a safe place to earn a living for a handful of Black musicians and intellectuals, was literally the least France could do for Black people. And for those who view France as a citadel of progressive thought or practice concerning Black folk, think again.

Besides, who cries for or makes restitution for the millions of Black folk whose blood and labor made French, European and U.S. wealth possible? For the Black folk assaulted or killed by racist police every 28 hours in the United States? Or the millions of indigent, unemployed, incarcerated, Black folk in the U.S. living without adequate medical care who suffer slow agonizing deaths every day?

Given the unparalleled tragedies visited upon my people for centuries, which continue to this day, perhaps people all over the world should make their Facebook profile pictures RED, BLACK and GREEN! Afterwards, those same people can follow up by supporting a global movement for reparations from every nation involved in exploiting Black labor and ingenuity.

This shameful and unequal display of global empathy or outrage for some victims of violence over others, points to the insidious manner in which race literally colors our global sense of empathy, outage and indignation. When Kenyans were murdered, celebrities didn’t interrupt their concerts to discuss it; talk-show hosts didn’t pay tribute during the taping of their shows; No one wore Kenyan flags or modified their social media in symbolic solidarity…

I conclude with a powerful testimony from my friend and University of Tennessee professor Bertin Louis (Author of “My Soul is in Haiti“):

Moments such as these reveal the invisible architecture of global white domination with different institutions that structure the domination. It reveals hierarchies of privilege and the countries of the West benefit from this (global empathy when tragedy occurs in France) and people of African descent are squarely at the bottom of these hierarchies. We can also see how their power distorts our realities. It makes the mass deaths of people in France seem more important than the mass deaths of people in Kenya, Lebanon, and other parts of the world that go underreported. This is why there is outrage when killings happen in France but little outrage when it happens somewhere else that was dominated by a European colonial power. Their power renders other deaths irrelevant, even in the minds of people of color. The fact that there is not equal outrage for the deaths for people in Kenya, Lebanon, Haiti and elsewhere is a reflection of these power relations that keeps people who look like me in oppressive contexts. The mass killings and other forms of violence against other people of color around the world continues to be normal. It is a Monday. It is a Tuesday. It is a “Oh there’s another genocide in Africa. That’s messed up. What’s for dinner?” It is a “Cholera has killed over 9,000 people in Haiti and the UN is responsible. I have to go pick up my dry cleaning.” No outrage. There’s no outrage because our lives have little meaning to those who profit from your oppression and subjugation. And one last thing. As a proud son of Haiti you will never see me fly a French flag. I cannot be in solidarity with the French state until they treat Haitians as their equals. The French cannot teach me, or the rest of the world, a thing about human rights. Haitians and black people are the ones who can teach them about what it means to be fully human. You are in no position whatsoever to dictate to me what human rights are. You cannot teach me about human rights while you have your foot on my neck. Pay Haiti overdue reparations and treat Haiti as an equal. That will show me that you respect Haiti. You can be empathetic with victims of mass violence and be against the myriad forms of violence (debt, airstrikes, laws, policies) that the French state perpetrates against its former colonies. You should not be sympathetic to empire. At all.

____________

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-SpanNY1 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.

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 truself143@gmail.com.

Ideological Flaws Within the “Conscious Community”

total liberation

I am convinced that some of our greatest internal barriers to progress come from misguided ideologies promoted by some members of what we’ve come to know as the “Conscious Community.”

People that are politically or socially conscious are presumed to be in touch with the problems, resources, history and needs of the Black community. Such people and groups also develop ideologies which they believe effectively address and solve the problems we face. But ideologies are not perfect, and some are actually overly simplified, impractical, disconnected from the political or economic realities we face, or largely ineffective.

This article will address ultra-conservative and fundamentalist folk whose ideologies need to seriously be re-examined in light of what I just expressed.

People, like organizations and ideologies are works in progress. Therefore we should expect our opinions, solutions and analysis to be imperfect, and we should constantly work to rework and refine them based on the sociopolitical context in which we live.

Conservative Black Nationalists for example, naively think that simply amassing material wealth, businesses and land (Black capitalism) will end our oppression or go unchallenged by the white corporate powers that be. It’s as if such people don’t know that Black people have established all-Black, economically vigorous communities in America before that were ultimately destroyed by jealous and racist whites. Between 1863 to 1919 for example, 8 successful Black communities in the United States were ultimately destroyed by violent white mobs. These communities existed in New York City, Atlanta, Tulsa, Chicago, Rosewood, St. Louis, Knoxville, and Washington, D.C.

Conservative types of Nationalists also fail to hold systemic forces of oppression accountable because they’re too busy blaming Black people for every ounce of their suffering and dysfunction. Advocates of these ideas subtly hate and resent the very people they claim to represent and often take positions and support policies very similar to those of our enemies, rendering them useless to us. This group will turn us into a nation of middle class apologists for oppression who accommodate to oppressive forces rather than challenging them.

The second group I will call “fundamentalist nationalists.” Such advocates have almost no gender or class analysis. The only issue they identify is race. This group has a tendency to become violent with those people who disagree, they fail to understand forms of struggle that don’t involve armed revolt, and they often adopt an oversimplified “with us or against us” type of reasoning. This group isolates and attacks Black members of the LGBT community, women, and members of the Black religious community. In addition, they often fail to address the complexity of our problems by focusing solely on armed revolution and separation without considering practical short-range reforms and programs.

Clearly, differing beliefs and methods exist within the conscious community.

In fact this very term “Conscious Community” needs some clarification. It is quite popular these days. I use it myself. Generally speaking, it refers to those brothers and sisters with some useful degree of sociopolitical awareness, African-centered knowledge of Black history or the Black experience, and an understanding of white supremacy. In an ideal world, this term also describes people who fuse their knowledge and understanding of such things with programs, institutions, activism, and things designed to help Black people Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!

However as we all probably agree, this is not an ideal world, but a REAL world, and definitions of “conscious community” are as confused and varied as members of this community itself. Nevertheless, I will go with this term for now, as it is an all-embracing term that provides general understanding.

I encourage us to spend some time being critical of this community which includes Black artists, writers, intellectuals, activists, organizers, students, workers, and national organization leaders and their members. The simple yet uncomfortable truth is that some members of this community – a community I claim for myself as well – are becoming a large part of our collective problem rather than a reassuring a liberating part of the solution for Black folk seeking empowerment and liberation.

Why is a serious critique of the Black conscious community warranted? Note the following compelling reasons:

  • They/we sometimes attract huge followings and exert some degree of influence on their followers particularly understanding of key concepts like identity, oppression, solidarity, and resistance.
  • In some cases, they/we are responsible for monies and other resources solicited and collected from our community, for the purpose of starting programs, institutions, and political movements
  • Because they/we tend to be more articulate, fearless, and knowledgeable than most, the masses of our community tend to see us as trustworthy leaders and molders of community consensus and empowerment
  • They/we play a major role in our people’s capacity to Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up!

Our people deserve the most sincere and committed brothers and sisters advocating on their behalf, raising consciousness, and cultivating Black resistance to oppression. While some clearly have an over-inflated sense of importance, members of this community are important for the reasons stated above, and then some. And because our integrity and the success of our efforts are so largely influenced by the conscious community, it is our duty to support those who speak, educate, organize and fight with us effectively.

However when such people are inaccurate, self-serving, or leading us in counterproductive directions or toward disastrous outcomes, we also have the duty to be critical. Neglecting to do so just because some individuals or organizations are popular, or even well-intentioned, is not patriotic or righteous – It is cowardly, foolish and counter-revolutionary, period. As Dr. King reminded us,

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.

With this guiding principle in mind, I offer the following ideas and practices that some members of the conscious community champion but are (in my opinion) fundamentally flawed and destined to set our movement backwards.

  • Failing to emphasize and promote universally empowering qualities/virtues of personal development. The conscious community famously emphasizes our need to be culturally and historically connected, appreciative of Africa’s contributions to world civilization, and vigorous in exposing and challenging white supremacy. These are in my estimation, absolutely mandatory and pivotal to our collective development. However, we cannot forget the equally important role of personal development. We compromise all efforts at collective empowerment if we fail to promote and model the qualities and virtues of being organized in thought and practice, embodying a strong work-ethic, striving for academic and general excellence in all we do, developing good character and exercising self-discipline. These tools helped our ancestors to advance/develop themselves despite seemingly overwhelming societal oppression and persecution, and we do ourselves well to remember and emulate this. DuBois, Malcolm, and Ella Baker weren’t just dedicated opponents to white supremacy, they were also devout practitioners of personal empowerment, starting with themselves. Do the research and observe their meticulous time management, tireless work-ethic, and self-discipline. Do not allow ignorant people to deem these qualities “white” or counter-revolutionary. Realizing the importance of this point, I wrote a book entitled, Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. This book teaches our youth how to manage time, make solid decisions, avoid societal traps develop self-love and confidence, and the importance of education and excellence. It is a must read for teens and their families.
  • The belief that knocking on doors, and/or holding rallies, marches and protests are the only legitimate forms of protest. We are now over a decade into the 21st Century. This is an exciting time when internet technology, smartphones and social media make the world smaller, more manageable, and this scenario radically improves our ability to conduct research and communicate. We simply cannot afford to stay in the Fred Flintstone era of activism. It’s time to leave “Bedrock” behind and explore the world that confronts us TODAY and in the future. We must continue the best practices of traditional activism while effectively utilizing the new tools at our disposal so that we can reach more people, and better expose, challenge, and defeat our enemies while empowering and liberating ourselves. Another fact that bears repeating: We must also realize that our enemies attack and oppress us in almost every major area of human activity and that they use multiple means to do so. We cannot successfully counter such a sophisticated multi-level attack by using one mode or weapon. If we members of the conscious community are serious about removing the shackles of ignorance and oppression, we need to recognize, support and participate in varied forms of consciousness-raising and resistance including but not limited to: blogging, social media, internet conferences, building alternative and African-centered institutions, in addition to using traditional forms of activism and education. White supremacy is a twenty-headed and twenty-hearted beast with body parts that regenerate themselves when damaged. We cannot defeat that beast with one sword or one tactic.
  • Degrading, insulting, and using unnecessarily crass and vulgar language, against fellow members of the conscious community with whom we disagree. I don’t know when it became acceptable to demoralize and belittle other activists, intellectuals, leaders and community organizers simply because we disagree with their tactics or strategy. Elements of fundamentalist Nationalism exist among some members of the conscious community. This narrow-minded, dogmatic, intolerant, and simplistic mode of leadership/activism is dangerous and threatens to create violent and unproductive tribalism in our community. Fascism is NEVER fashionable. I find that many “conscious” people who claim to follow and respect brother Malcolm, tend to behave this way. Malcolm himself behaved this way, insulting Dr. King and other Black leaders with whom he had ideological and tactical disagreements. He later recognized his mistake, and attempted to correct himself by apologizing publicly to those he insulted, and by attempting to work with civil rights leaders he believed were sincere. We cannot on one hand proclaim to our community that we need “all hands on deck,” then on the other hand, insult and question the authenticity of those who have differing opinions or who participate in varied forms of activism. This of course, does not suggest we should allow opportunistic, self-serving Black collaborators of oppression to exist without challenge. To the contrary, we must challenge them vigorously. There is room in the struggle for several organizations, perspectives and approaches. The only thing we absolutely cannot tolerate in any circumstance, are insincere and opportunistic types whose lust for fame, money or recognition compromise our forward movement, and government informants. We must learn to disagree with fellow conscious folk in a mature and responsible fashion, that allows us to still work together and share resources and networks down the road. We can all agree that life for those of us in the Black liberation struggle is often uncomfortable, lonely, and highly-pressurized. We need support! Therefore, we should work on heightening movement morale, giving credit where due, promoting/supporting other people’s activities, and building sustained and productive relationships with fellow activists, rather than insulting them.
  • Creating or promoting a climate of anti-intellectualism. Brother Malcolm wrote, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” If education (research, reading, studying, analyzing) give us the power and mobility to move forward and explore possibilities, then ignorance is our prison sentence of long-term solitary confinement allowing for isolation, deprivation, and the inability to exercise mobility and self-reliance. If you did not obtain a college education, you can still read, study and be analytical. If you are college-educated, realize your education did not start nor will it end with earning a degree. But however you acquire education, formally or informally, ACQUIRE IT! , Misinformed or dogmatic people who are heavy on opinion and light on study do us little good. We need people who can not only consume, understand and explain information, but who can also create, publish and put information into practical use. Not everyone will be an intellectual or scholar. Nor will everyone be a hardcore “boots-on-the-ground” activist. Our ancestors revered and respected knowledge and those who possessed it. Somehow, we’ve gone backwards on this issue. People can’t do the right things unless they know the right things.We will also have to agree that the purpose of research and study is not simply to accumulate a bunch of facts or trivia, but to gain information and the ability to use that information to understand the world, past and current events, and to positively impact present and future circumstances. I’m personally not impressed with people who can regurgitate tons of trivia. I’m more concerned with uncovering meaning and analysis, and discovering ways to use that information meaningfully.
    We should support our radical intellectuals and activists. Instead of arguing over who is most important, we should encourage mutual respect and cooperation. Activists should read the work of radical intellectuals (alive and deceased) to better refine their analysis of the sociopolitical terrain. End this nonsensical hatred of scholars. If you’ve read or quoted Chancellor Williams, DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Amos Wilson, Kwame Nkrumah, Huey P. Newton, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Khalid Muhammad, Sister Souljah, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, or Cheikh Anta Diop, you actively respect and utilize the work of college-educated Black folk and are hard-pressed to question their revolutionary credibility; Likewise, If you admire Frederick Douglass, J.A. Rogers, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Maya Angelou, or George Jackson, you appreciate self-taught organic Black intellectuals whose revolutionary credibility is also above reproach.
  • Patriarchy and Homophobia. Most conscious brothers and sisters speak out against racism, police brutality, miseducation, poverty, war, and a list of other social ills. And yet some of these same people attack, insult, and exclude Black women and Black members of the LGBT community. We cannot continue to have organizations, movements or programs that exclude large portions of our community, and yet call ourselves “conscious.” This is both hypocritical and contradictory. The majority of our population is composed of women. They must be empowered just like men. A growing number of our community members are gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. As Black people, they need protection and empowerment too. Further dividing an already divided Black community only renders us more powerless, which serves the agenda of our enemies, who hate Black people regardless of our gender or sexuality. Furthermore, we need to realize that all types of Black people (including feminists and members of the LGBT community) fought and struggled to liberate us. Who are we to now exclude them from our family? This doesn’t mean we need to march in gay parades, join a Black feminist organization, or embrace lifestyles or ideologies we disagree with. It does mean that we should not ban them from our organizations, insult them or act as if they don’t exist.

_________________

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 protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”  Agyei is part of the Black Power Cypher, 5 Black Nationalist men across the country who are all educators and organizers. They host a live monthly internet show discussing issues of importance to Black people. He is also the Director of Education for a national Black Nationalist organization called “Souljahs of the People.”

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.

We Have a Right and Responsibility to Critique Dr. Umar Johnson

malcolm critics

Not long ago, I wrote an article in support of Umar Johnson’s mission to create an academy for boys, followed by a June 19th open letter asking him to respond to legitimate community questions.

I knew that Dr. Umar’s response would be revealing. If he chose not to respond, it would display his disregard for the Black community he presumes to lead; If he responded by respectfully answering the questions posed, he would reveal himself as a sincere man of the people with a humble spirit and nothing to hide.

Umar, I thought, could also take a third approach and respond with bitterness, accusation, and bravado, without adequately addressing the questions raised to him. Umar chose the third approach. Johnson posted the following indirectly direct response on his Facebook page:

“I’ve been made aware of all the hate that has been directed towards me via social media during the past 48 hours, but please keep in mind that it is nothing compared to all the love that I receive. The hate filled articles, youtube cameos, so-called open letters, interviews, & upcoming events that seek to approximate, directly or indirectly, either the drama, my political platform, or both, have done nothing to derail me from my goals. When shit gets spilled the maggots cannot help but to play in it, so let’s let them have their 5 minutes of fame. My attorney has been apprised of the situation and paperwork for the major players in the “Umar Must Go” campaign will be served accordingly. On the other hand, I’ve been receiving nothing but positive letters of support from around the world. FDMG fundraiser donations have seen an increase, and requests to travel the world to address the plight of our people has skyrocketed as of late. In a very ironic manner, these recent attacks have served to strengthen the support for Dr.Umar & FDMG, not weaken it. As for these opportunistic haters in the conscious community, less fortunate “scholars” and con-artists, I see everything, and when the smoke clears your asses will be as irrelevant as before. Throwing rocks at the throne is a waste of time; if you want the crown you gotta come and take it…..”

His response was accusatory, bitter, arrogant, and most importantly, did not address any of the legitimate questions posed (in my open letter). In response, I wrote the following on Facebook:

My two blog articles regarding brother Umar Johnson and his mission to educate our youth have attracted thousands of views and mixed responses from others including one from Umar himself (though not directed specifically to me). This is my response to those who’ve turned an opportunity for mature dialogue into an opportunity to be ugly, competitive and accusatory:

“I wrote this open letter and a previous article regarding brother Umar’s mission to educate our youth. I believe both writings are self-explanatory, but some have attempted to misrepresent my words. I am not accountable for others’ comments. My own words speak for me. I don’t know how anyone could read those articles and suggest that I’m a sellout, or that I’m “hating” on Umar. If the Conscious Community cannot tolerate legitimate critique and cannot recognize when they/we are wrong or inappropriate, then we must reconsider if we have a viable Conscious Community at all. Only cult leaders, their followers, or narcissists behave or think in this manner.”

Curiously, Umar Johnson answered none of the questions raised, but instead referred to those questioning him as “maggots,” and “opportunistic haters;”  He refused to explain or apologize for his demeaning and insulting behavior; He even promised  legal action against some of his critics; Lastly, he insinuated that he was the “king” (of what  exactly will have to be determined) and tauntingly suggested that “throwing rocks” (criticizing his words and leadership) was not sufficient; If we want the “throne” (that he possesses or occupies) we must “come and take it.”

It appears that Umar Johnson and many of his supporters/followers have an over-inflated sense of importance and do not appreciate critique, even in its legitimate forms. He characterizes ALL critics or detractors (whether their critiques/questions are valid or not) as “agents,” “maggots,” and “haters.” Yet any of us who are community activists, intellectuals, organizers, students, workers, athletes or business owners know that as brother Malcolm stated, “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.”

I write this article to argue for our right to be critical or question anything and anyone. Contrary to what others may say or believe, being critical is our right and responsibility. This especially applies  to prominent individuals who come to us asking for large sums of money, and who promote themselves as leaders and reincarnated leaders.

All we need do is read Chester Himes’ 1965 novel, “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (later

Reverend Deke O'Malley in

Reverend Deke O’Malley in “Cotton Comes To Harlem.” O’Malley hustled the Black community with false promises of relocating back to Africa.

done as a movie) to understand our need to be critically supportive of Black leaders/spokespersons or their empowerment initiatives.

In this book/movie, a con man disguised as “Reverend Deke O’Malley,” masterfully uses Black Nationalist rhetoric and bogus references to Marcus Garvey to scam Black Harlemites into paying him $100 each for shares to purchase a ship called “Black Beauty.” This ship, according to the con artist preacher, will take them back to Africa. Eventually O’Malley seduces $87,000 from the Harlem community and they eventually realize his fraudulent intentions…too late.

In a capitalist framework, nearly everything and everyone gets reduced to an object of value, or labor to develop wealth, while material wealth and those with it become false gods. Add to this false consciousness, an oppressed people desperate for relief from poverty, despair, and exploitation, and compromised leadership in addition to a socially inflicted sense of nobodiness.

When we witness a Black man or woman who seems to embody elements of courage, intelligence and vision, one who unapologetically articulates our pain and desires, and who inspires us to think big and be self-sufficient, we  want to support them. This is fine, but our support must be critical. I argue that valid criticism or critique are both preventative and corrective.

This oppressive and devaluing sociopolitical environment makes Black people prime targets for being misled, hoodwinked, and bamboozled. This helps to explain why our people have long been victimized by scams, half-baked ideas, poorly organized initiatives, false prophets and “righteous hustlers” in white and Black skins, peddling all manners of magic elixirs to line their pockets under the guise of “solving our problems” or liberating us.

Given these realities, we employ legitimate and principled criticism in a preventative manner: It helps us to identify and guard againstmalcolm critique1 fraud, opportunism and disingenuous personalities. For example, good critique, which often involves research and investigation, can prevent people from investing hard-earned money in scams or scam artists.

Criticism is not simply reserved for shady characters or ventures. There are times when sincere people with authentic motivations make errors in judgement or handle a situation inappropriately.

Corrective critique helps us to improve or enhance our plans or ideas and make us more effective. Empowered people strive for excellence. Legitimate corrective critique empowers us to develop more accurate analysis, more effective strategies, and more relevant or useful objectives. We can learn and grow even from the opinions of foes or outsiders. But we have a special mandate to welcome and respond to valid critique from those we serve, who we ask to support us, and who make it possible for us to earn a living.

Perhaps being uncomfortable with criticism is somehow coded into our DNA. We like to feel confident and secure. Outside criticism might make call our skills or ideas into question. We might worry that people will question our competence or knowledge. It’s fair to say that we all can remember times when we didn’t handle criticism well.

However, it’s also fair to say that we harm ourselves when we shun legitimate critique. We can also concede that a well-meaning individual with nothing to hide, does not attempt to silence valid critics with legal or physical threats, or immature name-calling.

As I mentioned in my Facebook post, “If the Conscious Community cannot tolerate legitimate critique and cannot recognize when they/we are wrong or inappropriate, then we must reconsider if we have a viable Conscious Community at all. Only cult leaders, their followers, or narcissists behave or think in this manner.”

cult

At this point, I think it’s premature to characterize Dr.Umar as a cult leader or a narcissist. However, some of his actions and words are leading many to view him as such and to question his intentions. As more people come to this conclusion, his fundraising drives, career goals and personal credibility as a Pan-African Nationalist man and leader will likely suffer greatly.

Fortunately, Dr. Johnson can avoid that fate. He might find it fitting to apologize for his arrogant, insensitive and evasive Facebook response. He can also demonstrate great maturity, integrity and respect by respectfully answering the questions posed to him from members of the Black community he works to educate and empower:

Question 1: Do you have a transparent system of financial records or accounting that allows supporters to know exactly how much money you’ve accumulated without having to depend simply on what you say? 1a.How much as of this date have you raised via check, cash and Gofundme, and how much additional money do you need? 1b. Why did you cut the sister off from her legitimate line of questioning and refer to her in such a derogatory manner? 1c. If for any reason, you are unable to secure the properties you mentioned, how will you use all the monies you’ve accumulated in your fundraising campaigns?

Question 2: Can you respond to the above criticisms/observations of your words/behavior in this clip? 2a. Is there anything for which you’d like to apologize?

Question 3: Do you have a video clip or document that explains a comprehensive and strategic plan regarding the academy? 3a. If so, can you provide that link or document? 3b. Creating a school requires a collaborative team effort. No one individual can effectively raise money, plan curriculum, coordinate hiring, educational materials/supplies and other concerns alone. Do you have such a team or board in place? If so, who is on this board and what are their qualifications?

____________________________

 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 protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

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 truself143@gmail.com.