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The Field Negroes’ Agenda: Reclamation, Reparations and Repatriation
by Mark P. Fancher
The author believes African liberation and the fall of U.S. imperialism can be achieved by triumph of the “Three R’s”: Reclamation, Reparations and Repatriation. In terms of day to day struggle, that translates as “pressuring the U.S. military out of Africa, assisting on the return of Africa’s land and mineral wealth to Africans, and supporting the unity of a truly independent African continent.”
The Field Negroes’ Agenda: Reclamation, Reparations and Repatriation
by Mark P. Fancher
“Malcolm X’s beloved Field Negroes know that the U.S. carries a fatal cancer that, if not carved from its torso threatens the survival of oppressed humanity.”
Injustice is difficult to disguise, and oppressed people will instinctively struggle against it. But the oppressed are sometimes duped by the oppressor into allowing their resistance to be channeled into a “safe” political arena where it can be monitored, manipulated and ultimately exhausted.
Malcolm X questioned the logic of submitting petitions for justice to the oppressor’s institutions. He said: “We need to expand the civil rights struggle to a higher level – to the level of human rights. Whenever you are in a civil rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam… When you take your case to Washington, D.C., you’re taking it to the criminal who’s responsible; it’s like running from the wolf to the fox. They’re all in cahoots together.”
Some have been so persuaded that their only avenue for resistance is electoral politics that they have come to believe that electing a socialist to office is “radical.” However, in any other context, the term “radical” has a very different meaning. For example, radical surgery may mean the complete removal of a malignancy. So while the U.S. may appear to be healthy, Malcolm X’s beloved Field Negroes know that the U.S. carries a fatal cancer that, if not carved from its torso threatens the survival of oppressed humanity.
Regardless of the many political agendas of the modern era that are designed to fit the oppressor’s political paradigm, many Field Negroes and First Nations warriors remain aloof from bourgeois politics and refuse to forget the U.S. Empire’s original and fatal sins of genocide, territorial theft and slavery. In these strugglers’ quest for genuine justice, they consciously or intuitively make a continuing stubborn demand for a full and complete restoration of the status quo ante. In other words, they know their genuine liberation requires the “Three R’s” – Reclamation by indigenous peoples of their stolen territories; Reparations for the ordeal experienced by those kidnapped and held in bondage and their descendants; and Repatriation, or a social, political and economic (if not physical) return to Africa.
In the age of Obama, among those who both love and despise this President, the Field Negroes who continue to speak of reparations and repatriation are marginalized even more than ever. Their agenda is dismissed as “impossible,” “impractical,” or “still-born.” Nevertheless, the logic of the Three R’s is undeniable. When posed as an academic question, the unavoidable response to a query about the appropriate remedy for a people who have had their land stolen is simply for the thieves to return it. If people have been forced to labor without pay and have been otherwise abused for generations thereafter, then it is only just that they be paid. If a population has been forced to relocate, then the suggestion that they be allowed to return to their homeland is obvious.
“The unavoidable response to a query about the appropriate remedy for a people who have had their land stolen is simply for the thieves to return it.”
The Three R’s are characterized as “impractical” by the oppressor because granting any of the three remedies to the extent necessary to fully compensate for historical crimes will cause the collapse of the U.S. Empire. For the capitalists, it is simply unthinkable for descendants of illegal European settlers to, among other things, return all U.S. territories to indigenous populations. Yet, during the 1830s, the sudden, forced mass relocation to Oklahoma of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminoles and Chickasaw from their generations-old homes in the southeastern U.S. was never regarded by the oppressor as “impractical.” It is all a matter of perspective, and it is clearly reflected in laws, customs and practices that manifest white supremacy, capitalist power and arrogance.
The diversion of resistance away from the Three R’s has always been a product of a calculated legal and political framework that tilts always in the direction of the oppressor. As far back as 1532, Spain’s lawyer, Franciscus de Victoria counseled that America’s indigenous peoples “were true owners [of American territories] before the Spaniards came among them, both from the public and private point of view.” Consequently, Spain could not claim that it had title to the land by virtue of “discovery” or divine right. However, ownership could be secured by conquest resulting from a “just war,” or by treaties. This is remarkable because notwithstanding the high level of civilization in the Americas before Europe even knew there was a western hemisphere, there was an implicit presumption that not only did the First Nations lack customs and/or laws governing the use and occupation of land, but also that they were unworthy even of consultation. After the legal stage was set for European settlers to “lawfully” seize American territory, there was no turning back.
Likewise with respect to reparations, some institutions flirted with the idea in decades past and designed affirmative action programs with the objective of compensating to some extent for past discrimination suffered by descendants of enslaved Africans. However when Allan Bakke, a white male medical school applicant, challenged such notions in a 1978 case against the University of California-Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court used its power and authority to derail the reparations train. The court’s opinion said:
“…[T]he purpose of helping certain groups whom the faculty of the Davis Medical School perceived as victims of ‘societal discrimination’ does not justify a classification that imposes disadvantages upon persons like [Allan Bakke], who bear no responsibility for whatever harm the beneficiaries of the special admissions program are thought to have suffered. To hold otherwise would be to convert a remedy heretofore reserved for violations of legal rights into a privilege that all institutions throughout the Nation could grant at their pleasure to whatever groups are perceived as victims of societal discrimination. That is a step we have never approved.”
The court went on to hold that affirmative action in universities can be constitutional, but only if it is used for the purpose of achieving “diversity.”
“The diversion of resistance away from the Three R’s has always been a product of a calculated legal and political framework that tilts always in the direction of the oppressor.”
Finally, the oppressor has long known that repatriation to Africa has long held appeal for the followers of Paul Cuffee, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Kwame Ture, Bob Marley and many others. Consequently, the imperialists publicly dismiss Africa as a wasteland, and many in the diaspora believe these lies and want nothing to do with their ancestral homeland. At the same time, the oppressor has quietly made its own way to Africa where its bloody hands are firmly locked on Africa’s abundant natural resources, and deadly military force is used to kill anyone who dares to try to put the continent’s wealth under African control.
The empire is nevertheless vulnerable in Africa because its very survival depends on its control of the continent’s oil, land and valuable minerals. This fact has great significance for America’s oppressed communities because oppressed populations are more likely to reclaim stolen territories or receive reparations if they first win a victory over the oppressor, reverse the power relationship and force the desired remedy. It is in Africa where a critical victory can be won and the stage set for achieving justice in America.
Repatriation can be the most vital of the “Three R’s” if conceptually it is neither limited to physical relocation nor pursued as a means of romantic escapism. It must instead involve the construction of powerful trans-Atlantic social, political and economic relationships between parties both in the U.S. and in Africa who recognize: the implications of Zimbabwe’s land reclamation efforts; the significance of a recent call by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa for socialism; the threat posed by the ever-unfolding militarization of Africa through U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM); and that a union of African states is meaningless if member countries function as neo-colonial puppets of imperialism.
If Field Negroes want real liberation and justice, they must avoid “running from the wolf to the fox.” By pressuring the U.S. military out of Africa; assisting on the return of Africa’s land and mineral wealth to Africans; and supporting the unity of a truly independent African continent, America’s African population will do much to diminish imperialist dominance globally, and also increase the leverage, if not power of America’s oppressed populations as they assert claims for land, money and resources owed by the U.S. Empire.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney and frequent contributor to Black Agenda Report. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.