Experiences throughout the last 2 or three years of my life have caused me to seriously rethink my views concerning Black liberation. I owe this period of readjustment to my experiences as a doctoral student in African-American Studies and to my experiences on Facebook.
Prior to this time, I believed that our greatest challenge was to organize and re-educate the masses of our people. While this remains an inevitable step in the process of Black liberation, I’m now convinced that our largest challenge lies not with the masses of our people, but ironically, with the politically conscious element among us, those of us who presumably know what the problems are, understand how oppression works, and enjoy the privileges of education and exposure to social justice and liberation movements, political ideas and revolutionary figures. I am convinced that this community is highly conflicted, self-deluded, misdirects its energy, and has generally done a poor job of continuing the legacy of defiant ancestors and movements we claim to love and admire. And, to some extent, I include myself in this critique. Because this reality presents such a crisis and challenge for us, I devote this article to addressing it. Some will no doubt resent my opinion and me for presenting it. Allow me to assure you that if this article causes you to resent me, you join an already long and growing line. Being deemed a “:know-it-all,” touching sensitive subjects, or bruising egos, I can deal with. I cannot however deal with the lack of organizing, establishment challenging, and failure to convert theory to practice that is all-too-evident from those of us who deem ourselves “conscious.”
To make my point, all I need do is direct your attention to the vast majority of Black “political” or “conscious” discussion groups on Facebook. Most have become depositories for colorful stories, blistering arguments, and tons of video clips, songs, and banter about any number of current events or historical topics.
Naturally, some people on Facebook use the social network for entertainment . Others use it to reconnect with old friends or relatives. Some use it to stay abreast of news and others to identify and solicit lovers and sexual conquests.People have the right to determine for themselves how to use social networks.
My issue is with the politically and socially conscious members of our community. We are familiar with the problems, theories, anatomy of oppression, and historical information unknown to the masses of our people. A higher standard and level of expectation are attached to us. If most of our political/theological theories and expertise is confined within internet chat rooms, how does this benefit our suffering people in practical ways? Shouldn’t our ideas and expertise translate to organized activity that challenges racism and corporate exploitation? What purpose do we have for recitations of historical facts, video clips or penetrating analysis that is disconnected from political struggle? Has Facebook deluded us into thinking that virtual reality and reality are the same? Do our enemies oppress us and enrich themselves simply through discussion? As I once posted on Facebook,
History, politics, and theology are interesting things. They all run deep with so much information any one of them can take a lifetime to master. They all build on philosophy and theory. Given this, it’s easy for well-intentioned people to be so immersed in the philosophy and theory that they become little more than trivia experts and pundits. Perhaps rich and privileged people can afford to take such a leisurely and disconnected approach to knowledge. Oppressed people do not have the luxury of knowing for knowing’s sake. We must always approach history, politics and theology from the standpoint of uncovering information, perspectives, methodologies and inspiration to challenge our oppressors, organize, empower and liberate ourselves. Lastly, we should connect our theory to concrete action…
At another time, I posted,
To whom much is given, much shall be required.” I take this to mean that a higher standard and set of expectations is placed upon those of us with privilege. Harriet Tubman had no formal education. Neither did Frederick Douglass. Malcolm X had an 8th grade education and read voraciously while in captivity. Our ancestors did more with less resources and more obstacles than we. In this context, we have to reconsider some of the “victories” we claim and work harder…..
Education and consciousness-raising are to political struggle what rain is to crops. Yet, these are not enough. No farmer goes through the arduous tasks of preparing soil, fertilizing, picking weeds, and planting seeds without expecting a harvest! And no farmers expects a harvest without doing all of this work beforehand. Where is our harvest? Put another way, What literature, schools, banks, supermarkets, medical clinics, leadership training institutes, or movements have we harvested from our theories, philosophies, and discussions? How are we using our skills and knowledge to cure social ills, challenge corrupt societal institutions, or meet the needs of our people? Where are the Garveys, Malcolms, Dubois’, Kings, Hamers, Bakers, Robesons, Nobles, etc. of our generation? Facebook, Twitter and other social mediums seem to breed and facilitate political masturbation: We experience some degree of release and pleasure, but produce nothing! if we never read another book, view another documentary, or listen to another lecture, we have enough information and skills right now to do something to advance our interests! Reverend Al Sharpton brilliantly reminded us of our mandate to resist and organize when he spoke at Rosa Parks funeral (shown below).
Too many Black people suffer from police brutality, illness, poverty, Black-on-Black violence, and political impotence. These problems must be addressed in tangible ways. I’m tired of people who claim to admire Garvey or Malcolm, but fail to uphold and implement their ideas. Even Dr. King who was not a nationalist or revolutionary per se, took theory and fused it with organized action to challenge America’s Jim Crow practices. I’m equally tired of our tendency toward cult of personality – to follow a person rather than principles. I am beginning to conclude that too many of us have forgotten and abandoned the very principles we claim to uphold. Are we scared to actively apply our principles? Are we the niggers scared of revolution that the Last Poets referred to?
Yes, there are some people involved in the community. No, this article does not apply to all of us or to any individual in particular. And yes, there are many conscious Black folk meaningfully involved in various elements of organizing within our communities. But we need a national movement coordinating and giving meaning to various local efforts. And those of us who know better must stop worrying about our personal comfort and take our rightful role in the struggle. Internet clips and intense arguments via Facebook are no substitute for engaged grassroots action.Those of you who are about the work know who you are and should take no offense. To the others, if the shoe fits….We can take direction and inspiration from Frederick Douglass in his 1847 Farewell Address to Britain:
I do not go back to America to sit still, remain quiet, and enjoy ease and comfort. . . . I glory in the conflict, that I may hereafter exult in the victory. I know that victory is certain. I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here. . . Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for the emancipation which shall yet be achieved.
Agyei Tyehimba 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. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.