War footing: State of the African nation, Part 7
Up until the 1960s African life in the New World was marked by an ambition for education and upward mobility. There was an extraordinary amount of genius in all fields of science, business, the arts — in the face of extraordinary racism. However, since victories won by civil rights and independence struggles — along with African-inspired cultural movements —African life has been marked by decline in many areas. Here is why.
Just like at Emancipation the backlash to African advancement was savage. It began with the assassination of leaders: Medgar Evers; Martin Luther King Jr.; Malcolm X; Patrice Lumumba; Steve Biko; Black Panther leaders; Walter Rodney in 1980… Others were jailed — like Angela Davis and Geronimo Pratt (Marcus Garvey 1920s, Butler 1940s, our Black Power leaders 1970s) or sent into exile like Assata Shakur.
These were attempts to discredit and dismantle growing African-based institutions. A major crisis in African leadership followed the murders in the 70s. It has taken almost two generations to fill. Many next generation candidates were wary of making themselves targets. This destruction of African genius leadership, movements, and institutions has been systematic, sabotaged the tribe, and influenced much of what happened next.
Africans then began putting faith in political leaders to provide leadership and redress that continued to be denied. In very few cases has this been successful — due to the psyche of politicians and to the now hidden influence of the real powerbrokers. The election of President Barack Obama to the highest office in America shows the limitations of political leadership in the fight against historical oppressors. Obama’s election represents the culmination of this Age of Africans yearning for political saviours. It should inspire a turning point realisation that political leadership cannot work without economic power and identity-based mobilisation and institutions on the ground — especially against the forces that historically control the world.
Some say the very success of the civil rights movement was the undoing of the African. “We won what we wanted — but lost what we had…” Africans actually were more successful under legal global apartheid in the West pre-1960. During open oppression, Africans created separate institutions and managed them without interference, building technical capacity and economic independence.
More importantly Africans knew the system was rigged against them. This gave them an identity and organising principle — which operated as a type of replacement for ancestral African belief systems stolen during slavery. The tribe was always on war footing. Without this identity, what now did they have? Civil rights, the vote and flag independence brought the new myth of “equality”, “integration” and “assimilation”. A number of things then happened. Many African institutions collapsed — like the Negro baseball leagues and the chitlin cultural circuit in the America. The best black minds, labour and consumers migrated to white institutions in search for betterment and inclusion. Black businesses left behind could not compete. Successive generations lost the identity and ambition of “struggle”.
However, structural and individual discrimination still existed and was sanctioned by complicit approval of mainstream society — in housing, health, leisure, infrastructure, education, allocation of state resources… On global and national levels there continued to be three different economic tramlines — for whites, browns and blacks… Discrimination against Africans in banking for instance has been a major factor in stalling African growth — especially with the disappearance of communal systems in the 70.
This structural racism and classism is continually upgraded. During the 1980s then US president Ronald Reagan and then prime minister of Britain Margaret Thatcher co-ordinated major disenfranchisements globally through the IMF, World Bank and policy. They and the elites they represented attempted to reconsolidate the Western Empire and dismantle every gain made by civil rights and anti-colonial struggles in the 60s. They withdrew progressive policies of affirmative action (quotas for worthy candidates of colour in employment and education), funding for public school systems, and social programmes. They destroyed the social fabric of countries and increased inequalities of wealth globally. The worse hit was African urban poor communities.
Recently America’s biggest banks were caught pushing minority borrowers into subprime loans leading to our present financial crisis. A bank executive revealed blacks and Latinos ended up paying higher rates so they were more likely to lose their homes! Thousands of African families have plunged into poverty. These are policies routinely practised in this “era of equality”.
Post-1970 gains emancipated large educated and trained African elites — but masses remained behind in poverty. It is this vulnerable majority that makes headlines the world over. When we speak of Africans we tend to act as if the entire race exists in a ghetto. There are large classes of resourced Africans and super achievers in all fields. The problem is the distance between this “talented tenth” and the rest.
The real questions are then — what are the states of the African elite, the middle class, the working class, and the disenfranchised poor? And the solution to arresting the decline of all may be to understand that apartheid still exists — and to return to the psychological and institutional mode of war footing.