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.
We are reaching the point that analyses why the African nation is in crisis. We traced the journey through 7,000 years of civilisation in pre-colonial Africa—a continent made up of 10,000 nations ranging from hunter-gatherers to empires. Europe began global invasions in the 1400s and in 500 years wiped out over 300 million people and stole trillions of dollars of wealth.
For Africans, over 20 million crossed the Middle Passage through a process called plantation slavery, meant to remove tribal destiny and remake them into slaves of the West. Africans resisted by retaining identity and humanity—and fighting back in some of the most heroic revolts and revolutions known to man.
On the African continent, Europe slaughtered until nearly the whole continent was occupied—and then they carved it up. It is the single most important piece of real estate in the world. Nearly every item in modern Western civilisation can trace some of its raw materials to Africa.
The system to hold stolen Western wealth in place was “Apartheid”—a system of white people over brown people over black people. This was officially integrated into Western legal, social, educational, religious and economic systems all over the planet since the 1500s. This system remained in place until the 1960s for most of the world until it was toppled by independence, civil rights, youth and anti-imperial movements. It persisted legally in South Africa until the 1990s.
The period 1830-1930 marked a remarkable age of African progress. Thousands of geniuses and pioneers emerged in every field to integrate the West—despite constant threats of murder and sanction. The race attempted to use education and trades to raise itself. By the 1930s, most Western institutions had been challenged by African genius.
The importance of African people is that it is they who fought and dismantled the Western machine and its ideas from inside. Jack Johnson, Dr James McCune Smith, Major Marshall Taylor, Macon Allen, Jackie Robinson, Buzz Butler, Ralph Bunche, Jesse Owens, Frederick Douglass, MZumbo Lazare, Bessie Coleman, JJ Thomas, Frank Worrell, Matthew Henson, Vivien Thomas and thousands of others were not just geniuses in their fields—they were missiles destroying cities’ worth of inhuman Western intention. They opened up the racist West to the world. The 1930s was also the period of the two World Wars and transition from British to American Empire.
The period 1930 to 1970 for Africans was the period of mass organisation and cultural revolutions which transformed and humanised the world. The 20th century was a period of African-led cultural golden ages—of jazz, pop, rock and hip-hop; of pan, mas, and calypso; of samba, mambo and Latin rhythms; of reggae and dancehall; of hi-life.
These ages completely transformed the nations they emerged from and the world. Writer Tony Hall says these were not just forms of music, but “ways of seeing”. In this way, Africa began to “reverse colonise” the West! Each movement waged social war to happen and changed social and cultural systems completely—unleashing completely new inclusive, integrative, humane modes of interaction, transforming systems that were exclusive, hierarchical and tyrannical.
They changed the possibilities of social mobility and created multi-billion-dollar human industries where none existed before. They created a new demand for humanity, peace, joy, communion, leisure, love, music and transcendence in the West that did not exist before. This is the African Revolution! Its victory is the popular cultural and social life of the planet…
Accompanying these golden ages was the creation of African mass organisations in the West not seen before—from Garvey’s global United Negro Improvement Association which had over two million members, to civil rights movements, trade unions, Pan-African movements and independence movements. They would even inspire young Gandhi in South Africa. These movements collectively inspired the fall of official global apartheid in the 1960s—from worldwide independence movements sweeping Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, to youth movements in the US liberated by the beat of African music. The democratic inclusive civil rights architecture of the world is an African-led creation.
Ironically, the 1970s marks the beginning of African decline—and this is what concerns us. How did this happen? Having taken the fight to the West for a century internally and producing legions of genius thinkers, scientists, businessmen, politicians, sportsmen, and artists that changed the course of the world, one thinks that the collapse of apartheid would result in an Age of African Advancement.
The reasons for the African decline will be explored in the next article. They include: the West’s ruthless backlash against African gains—marked by the assassination of African leadership worldwide which dismantled organisations. African people and movements also relaxed, believing the end of legal discrimination would open opportunities for them. This did not happen. Many African institutions that existed because the community was on war-footing collapsed as people abandoned them to try and enter mainstream white institutions. Also the old apartheid elites still existed—but now those elites conducted agendas undercover internationally. These and more will be explored.
We’re closing in on the modern era of the African nation in an effort to explain its situation in the world today. The story began in antiquity with Africa—birthplace of man—and the people who are the genetic source of all mankind. The next 7,000 years of civilisation resulted in the most culturally rich and diverse landmass on the planet with over 10,000 nations, ranging from hunter-gatherers to city states to empires, all with complex religions, governments and ways of life.
Europe arrived in the 1400s, beginning worldwide military invasions which over the next 500 years would slaughter over 500 million people, stealing resources from every inhabitable land mass. The system set up to keep the trillions of dollars in stolen wealth in the hands of the west was a global system of apartheid with legal, educational, social, religious, political, and economic laws of white privilege over brown over black.
Slavery created “the plantation”—a western institution repeated as “the reservation”, “the concentration camp”, and “the ghetto”. In the plantation hundreds of techniques of psychological manipulation were trained towards the breaking of African will by the removal of African memory, godhead, science and culture—to brainwash a new type of slave. Africans resisted: retaining culture at the threat of death; escaping to create maroon communities; and organising revolts culminating in the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint which defeated three empires—the only successful slave revolution in human history.
During this period African labour built most of the infrastructure of the New World—clearing away forests, changing the course of rivers, planting tens of thousands of miles of cotton and sugar, building harbours, roads and cities, even innovating and inventing processes in factories, docks and domestic life. An entire hemisphere was transformed by African labour and skill. This lasted for 300 years.
African resistance, ex-slave and European emancipators, and economic competition brought about slavery’s end. But the most important note is that “there were no reparations for Africans!” There was, instead, reparations for slave owners—tens of millions of dollars. This refusal of the west to compensate or recognise 300 years of unpaid labour is the central act under-developing the African diaspora. Africans remain the only wronged people not paid reparations for genocidal acts. This stance is so ingrained that Haiti, a victorious state, paid reparations to nations it defeated! The money Haiti paid France bankrupted Haiti for the next 200 years and is the main reason for its underdevelopment.
Despite this—and the injustice of releasing an unpaid, landless ex-slave population into a hostile world —the post-slavery period featured 150 years of African accomplishment. In the first age—1830-1930—Africans acquired skills at a phenomenal rate, creating working and educated classes—laying a foundation for communal wealth. The next age, from 1930-1970, was graced by a series of African-led cultural golden ages and organised mass movements which transformed the face of the world. This whole period was characterised by a series of African “firsts” and geniuses who accomplished historic feats against relentless hostility.
The period 1830-1930 saw an entire class of African artisans, traders, politicians, businessmen, lawyers, educators and scholars emerging, trying to create a new society amidst stubborn racist structures. Just out of slavery American scholars noted with shock the sheer volume of scientific patents and inventions being registered by Africans. This is the period of “Firsts”—each of these stories is an epic in itself—first African surgeon, first African cricket captain, first African heavyweight champion, first African senator… Every gain was fought. No victory was left sacred.
The backlash against black advancement happened everywhere — in the Caribbean, in Latin and in North America—where it was particularly dread. In the 1860s in ten states, coalitions of freed slaves and progressive whites formed biracial state governments. They introduced programmes and institutions including the founding of public schools and charitable institutions.
Violent opposition emerged from a vigilante organisation—the Ku Klux Klan. The very image of black legislators was a call to arms. White conservatives called “Redeemers” regained “white-only” control—state by state —using fraud and violence.
This period ended with Jim Crow laws which enshrined second-class citizenship for Africans until the 1960s Civil Rights. Another example is Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma—known as the Black Wall Street, home to prominent black businessmen including multi-millionaires. The Tulsa Race Riot occurred on June 1, 1921. All of 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were flattened by angry whites, killing men, women, and children. Over 600 successful African businesses were lost, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two cinemas, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, six private airplanes and a bus system.
The stories of these pioneers battling institutional racism could fill several national libraries—and should. Frederick Douglass, Jack Johnson, Dr James McCune Smith, Macon Allen, Mzumbo Lazare, Bessie Coleman, Fauntleroy Julian, JJ Thomas, Ralph Bunche, Frank Worrell, Jackie Robinson, Matthew Henson, Marshal Taylor, Vivien Thomas and thousands more. Each story is heartbreaking, inspirational, and necessary to understand how much the democratic life of the modern world is built on African pioneers. Stories to be found nowhere in our mainstream history, museums, media, education, and spiritual centres. Yet this is the history of the 20th century! If African descendants knew what was sacrificed in their name they would be more careful with the life in their hands.
So many of us cannot deal with history. We are frightened to stare down the naked horror that went into the creation of this modern world. It is simple. 500 years ago Western military conquest began a process that decimated hundreds of millions of people and created unprecedented wealth for itself. This wealth was predicated on a global apartheid caste system of white over brown over black. This passed through periods of Native American and South Pacific genocide, African slavery and holocausts, and Asian occupation and indentureship. This caste apartheid was practised in legislature, education, religion, and in distribution of resources like housing and employment. The only reason it is not as brutal as before is because people fought to reform it.
We find it hard to reconcile a world of shiny iPhones, new cars, Disney World and Cable TV with systems that also delivered genocide and calculated Western advantage. We are afraid to connect the dots. So many are quick to scream ‘conspiracy theory’ when the face in the bed next to them is really called ‘historical fact’. They are only now seeing its ‘wake-up face’ without make-up. These people can accept there was something called ‘Apartheid’ with a policy of white over brown over black in South Africa. But refuse to admit that this was the same system the entire Westernised world lived under until the 1960s. Both my grandfather and father lived that reality in Trinidad. Unable to vote. And confined in terms of housing, employment, healthcare, leisure and access to civic amenities. They fought to change that and better their condition. Probably only 15 per cent of their community escaped the clutches of poverty…
What clueless commentators do not understand is that the things we called Independence movements in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and in Latin America — and what Africans in America called the fight for Civil Rights — were in fact phases of anti-Apartheid struggles we have been fighting for 500 years… These global systems which took so long to go away have not disappeared overnight. Vested interests continue to battle for the status quo…
For some of us living middle class lives in oil rich T&T it is easy to gloss over the last 500 years and their legacy. By the accident of some dinosaurs dying under our soil we have oil- which this world deems valuable. We were fortunate that the process of its extraction from our soil has been peaceful. And so some of us have enough money to run from the worst scars of a bloody legacy. But for many others the last 500 years has had no coffee break. Speak to the over 50 million dispossessed Native Americans whose hemisphere has been stolen. Speak to the Sioux, Aztec, Comanche, Navajo, and Taino tribes and ask them why they just don’t ‘suck it up’ and ‘move on’ after having their populations decimated and ways of life destroyed. Speak to countries where resources have been extracted at the barrel of a gun.
As difficult as it may seem, there are shell-shocked communities right among us, communities that have not been insulated from the worst of history’s lashes. They live lives far removed from the ones some of us take for granted, lives closer to the one my grandfather lived. There are those who haven’t escaped the programmed tightening cycles of poverty. Many of these are the same communities seeded by the escape from the plantation…
It is a hard task emotionally to face down the last 500 years of European imperial expansion and its fruits. But stare it down we must — because its cycle may be coming to an end. We must also understand that all the madness we are witnessing in the world today is the result of the flaws within and backlash against that system. Climate change is a direct result of the West’s flawed philosophy of disrespect and over-exploitation of Nature. The Arab Revolts and the Latin American Socialist governments that have taken over in the last decade are the backlash for decades of foisting dictators on people. The right-wing Nazi movements rising in Europe are due to constituencies internalising the stereotypes and messages of Apartheid. The collapse of the Western banking and financial system is due to flawed ideas of materialism and concentration of wealth…
And the imperilled state of the African nation worldwide is the result of a legacy of plunder of a motherland, and the uncompensated enslavement and cultural disenfranchisement of a people. It is the result of the establishment of a global caste system based on colour, and a system that continually mobilises to negate African progress at the centre — with repercussions at the periphery. All these are fruits of the same tree.
The Western Empire is at a moment of crisis — its implications are being visited upon us all. This is not Mayan Prophecy. This is not conspiracy theory cum racial propaganda. It is simple historical fact. We have to find ways to solve the problems that have been created by this history together. With clarity. Without running from the truths of this history. And to the naysayers, these words from the Mahatma: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
This series began establishing the context for the formation of the modern-world European military conquest 500 years ago which established worldwide apartheid caste systems of white over brown over black. The last article looked at Africa from antiquity—birthplace of mankind—which, by the 1400s, had over 10,000 nations ranging from complex kingdoms to hunter-gatherers, with an array of agricultural, scientific, governance and religious systems. Into this stepped European invaders, who began systematic and clandestine hostile acts to kidnap people for slavery and destabilise regions on the West Coast by exciting warfare and using prisoners of war as fodder for plantation slavery half a world away… Ten major kingdoms are the ancestors of African descendants in the New World.
Africans from the ten kingdoms that survived the treacherous crossing of the Atlantic Middle Passage had to face a new horror—the Plantation. I am not going to belabor the physical horror of European plantation slavery. There are many accounts of that grim picture (death rates outstripping birth rates because of overwork and punishments; regular mass beheadings and public guttings to break morale; regular rapes; regular beatings to death; and horrific practices like the use of African babies as bait for crocodiles in front of mothers in Florida in croc-hunting season).
What I want us to understand is what the institution of the plantation means as an invention. We need to understand the plantation because its ghosts and its children institutions are still with us.
The plantation, the concentration camp, the reservation, the ghetto, and the jail are the same Western institution! They are the preferred way of the white West in dealing with “the ethnic Other”. We need to understand this and the aims of this institution.
The aim of these “plantation” institutions is to confine a captive population in one area, and control everything going into it (the input) and thus control the output- the people and products coming out. In these institutions, the system controls the inputs of: food, housing, clothing, information, lifestyle, “culture”, financial resources, access to and quality of water, health, electricity… All these elements are precisely controlled so that the Western power can fashion the exact type of individual, community and products it wants on the other side. Other than being a factory for products—the plantation, aka the ghetto, is a factory of human beings! Or an attempt to create non-human beings! A new type of slave never before seen in human history was the aim of the European plantation.
This Western institution began with Jews in the 1400s. Jews were confined to sections of cities called ghettoes—but Jews had discrimination and privilege. Money was thought to be dirty—Jews were the tribe assigned to handle it. Jews were seen as dirty—but essential, and controlled… This template for the ghetto was radically redefined on Africans on plantations—and later Native American reservations. Those “innovations” would come back to haunt Jews with World War II concentration camps.
In the 20th century, America created hundreds of new ghettoes based on these principles to “herd” emancipated Africans. These ghettoes are used to transfer Africans to jails where their labour again becomes free and their rights stripped back to plantation levels (the loss of the right to vote or own property)… In a real sense, Africans in America are treated systematically as dangerous, recalcitrant prisoners of war who escaped legal confinement at Emancipation but need to be retransferred to their former status by other means. If you change your lenses of looking at the relationship of the white West with Africans in those terms, then the treatment begins to make sense…
That format of ‘”ghetto” and its culture has been transferred and sold worldwide- through Hollywood and white-controlled black popular music—and through structural adjustment policies. That “ghetto” has been the conduit for criminalising working-class African communities worldwide with waves of shipments of drugs and guns since the ’60s…
During slavery, every Western institution was reconfigured into the creed of white supremacy to absolve Europe from sin, and justify genocide. In science emerged theories of racial inferiority on sliding scales—all since disproved. Christianity transformed doctrine and practice to justify and bless the acts. The legal system created worldwide apartheid laws. The modern global and industrial system was formed by these psychotic processes.
Fifteen generations of Africans were born into plantation slavery. Despite all attempts to destroy their humanity, Africans resisted. Over 250 slave uprisings, the creation of maroon nations of escaped slaves, joining with Native American tribes… There were heroes like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Zumbi and Nanny Buku… This culminated with the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint: the only successful slave revolution in human history! African slaves defeated the four greatest warmongering nations on earth—including Napoleon, the world’s greatest general.
The plantation’s most important war was psychological. The attempt to break African will—and thus, control mind and body. The purpose was to remove will! It did this by destroying: kinship systems and community; the ancestral face of God; ancestral knowledge, language, cultural practice, institutions and allegiances. The overturning of the “plantation”, therefore, begins with reclaiming and reconstituting those very things that were taken away! The challenge to modern Africans is reversing and destroying the institution called the “ghetto”.