Neither the pandemic nor the outgoing presidency represent a decisive break with or a radical deviation from past history, policies and conditions of capitalism and neocolonialism.
“There is hope and strength to be gained in the continuous history of pan-African organizing against and Black resistance to capitalism and imperialism.”
The year 2020 will be remembered by many as extraordinary and exceptional. The dispiriting ravages of COVID-19 and the lethal incompetence and chicanery of the US government, as embodied by clown-prince and imperial hustler Donald Trump, appear to have come as a surreal and freakish rupture from previous eras. Yet it is worth remembering that neither the pandemic nor the presidency represent a decisive break with or a radical deviation from past history and policy. Instead, both are the unfortunate extension and exacerbation of many of the preexisting conditions of capitalism and neocolonialism on a global level. The white supremacist state violence and repression, the unequal health care and morbidity, the economic dispossession and disparity, the political repression and disenfranchisement – none of this is abnormal. These tendencies predate the outgoing political regime in the US and will unfortunately persist long after COVID is contained. Especially in the Black World. However, if this makes for a depressing introduction to the new year, we must also recognize that there is hope and strength to be gained in the continuous history of pan-African organizing against and Black resistance to capitalism and imperialism. With this dialectic of critical despair and radical hope in mind, and following the principles outlined in The Black Agenda Review’s Manifesto, the books listed below–some old, some new–offer insight into the past year, and guidance for the year to come.
Editors, The Black Agenda Review:
Peter James Hudson
Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers, and the African Elite (Random House, 1975)
Back in the 1970s when the great Toni Morrison was an editor at Random House, one of her projects was the publication of a SUNY Buffalo doctoral dissertation, written by a Nigerian scholar by the name of Chinweizu Ibekwu—better known as Chinweizu. Chinweizu’s dissertation was initially rejected by his committee. But the monograph Morrison shepherded into print, titled The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers, and the African Elite, was quickly recognized as among the most devastating accounts of capitalism and colonialism in Africa ever written. At more than five-hundred pages, Chinweizu details the destruction wrought by the slave trade and colonization, and charts the cynical rise of a postcolonial African middle class and with it, the co-option and demise of militant anti-colonial movements. Linking neocolonial dispossession in Africa to capitalist ideas of development–what he calls “maldevelopment”–Chinweizu is unsparing in his attacks on the liberal project of African growth, reform, and renewal, and on the Black bourgeoisie’s role in instituting and managing this project. Although long out of print, The West and the Rest of Us should be seen as a touchstone for our understanding of racial capitalism in Africa and the Black World today.
Maboula Soumahoro, Le Triangle et l'Hexagone: Réflexions sur une identité noire (La Découverte, 2020)
Maboula Soumahoro’s Le Triangle et l'Hexagone: Réflexions sur une identité noire is a luminous, razor-sharp autobiographical exploration of the meanings of Black citizenship and identity, and the banality of anti-Black racism, in contemporary France. Born in Paris, with familial roots in the Ivory Coast and cultural and political affiliations with Black America, Soumahoro writes movingly of her physical travels and intellectual journeys between two overlapping geographies: that of the “hexagon,” representing France, but also of the Black Atlantic “triangle” of Europe, the Americas, and Africa. Soumahoro has given us a path-breaking and genre-busting text about citizenship, nationalism, diaspora, and the self, that offers profound political lessons for both sides of the Atlantic. Look out for an English translation as Black is the Journey, Africana is the Name.
Jennifer C. Nash, Black Feminism Re-Imagined: After Intersectionality (Duke University, 2019).
Throughout Black Feminism Re-Imagined: After Intersectionality, Jennifer Nash labors to disentangle Black Feminism from intersectionality in order to illuminate the broader political project and social aims of the former. Nash, a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies, argues that the proprietary claim Black Feminists seek over the term “intersectionality” in the wake of its permeation of women’s studies, the academy, and society more broadly, moves them into a protective and defensive posture that hampers Black Feminism’s “world-making capacity.” Ultimately, Nash calls for the rejection of a Black Feminist affect of death and loss undergirded by anxieties about the erosion of Black Feminism as an intellectual and political tradition. Instead, she advocates for a more capacious politics rooted in societal transformation and love–a desire that has particular resonance in our current moment of profound death and grieving because it reminds us that even in the most difficult times, agency, relationality, and possibility persist.
Jared Ball, The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
During the 2020 US election year, “Black capitalism” re-entered the public discourse as a strategy for Black Power, manifested in, for example, Ice Cube’s “A Contract with Black America.” Communications and Africana Studies scholar Jared A. Ball penned a short but powerful text that demystifies this misconception by dispelling the adjacent myth of “Black buying power.” Ball historicizes the rise of the false claim that Black Americans have $1 trillion in buying power; explicates the latter as a marketing tool perpetuated by corporations and the commercial Black press alike for the purposes of consumerism; challenges the worn idea that Black folks’ spending habits are the source of our economic condition; and, most importantly, reveals how this propaganda obfuscates the forms of structural inequality, oppression, and exploitation that are at the root of Black impoverishment. The Myth of Black Buying Power thus goes a long way in illuminating Black Americans’ dire economic conditions that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and their government’s abysmal response to it.
Oliver Cromwell Cox, Capitalism As a System (Monthly Review, 1964)
Capitalism As a System is the final installment of historical sociologist Oliver C. Cox’s legendary trilogy on capitalism, following after Foundations of Capitalism (1956) and Capitalism and American Leadership (1962). Though Immanuel Wallerstein is often considered the progenitor of world-systems analysis, it is in fact Cox who offers one of the earliest and most comprehensive theories of capitalism as a global phenomenon encompassing a peculiar political economy, culture, and set of social relations. In Capitalism As a System, Cox also convincingly explicates the early and endemic role of imperialism and the exploitation of “backward peoples” to capitalism’s formation. His analysis leads him to anti-imperialism and socialism as the resolutions to global antagonisms–between “developed” and “underdeveloped” nations, capitalist and socialist countries, laborers and exploiters–and toward a future predicated on mutual cooperation and common development. His conclusions remain deeply illuminating and instructive as the United States wreaks political and economic havoc on the rest of the world while its global imperial power rapidly reaches its asymptote.
W. Alphaeus Hunton, Decision in Africa: Sources of Current Conflict (International Publishers, 1957)
In Decision in Africa: Sources of Current Conflict, W. Alphaeus Hunton offers a searing indictment of Euro-American looting, exploitation, and plunder of the African continent from the late nineteenth-century onward. Hunton was an African American educator, Pan-Africanist, and activist with the National Negro Congres and Council on African Affairs who had his career ruined by anti-Communist witch-hunts, and went into exile in Guinea and then Ghana. Decision in Africa traces the development and evolution of capitalist imposition through peonage in farming, deplorable working conditions and paltry wages in shanty towns, exorbitant looting in mining schemes, the entrenchment of dollar imperialism through private enterprise, and African dispossession resulting from European land grabs. Hunton also traces the long-term effects of these colonial patterns of production on the form and content of ongoing anticolonial protest and struggle saturating the continent. The wealth of empirical data rivals any study of the time and offers key insight into the conditions leading to the neocolonial realities that persist today.
Aaron Kamugisha, Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition (Indiana, 2019)
Political theorist Aaron Kamugisha’s Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition is one of the most important and audacious accounts of the political and economic geography of the post-independence Anglophone Caribbean. Kamugisha argues that the region must be understood through the idea of a persistent “coloniality.” By coloniality, Kamugisha refers toboth the dynamics of race, class, caste, color, and gender that have been inherited from the Caribbean’s colonial era, but also by the new forms of domination and exploitation characterizing the region’s neoliberal economic and political regimes. Buttressed by a critical reading of the Caribbean’s leftist intellectual traditions that is jaw-dropping for its range and depth, Kamugisha’s Beyond Colonialityprovides a devastating critique of the Caribbean present. Yet he also finds hope, and the possibility of a Caribbean freedom “beyond coloniality,” in the radical critiques of two of the region’s most original thinkers: C.L.R. James and Sylvia Wynter.
Andaiye, The Point is to Change the World: Selected Writings of Andaiye, Alissa Trotz, Editor (Pluto, 2020)
Andaiye was a radical Guyanese educator, care work advocate, and social, political, and gender rights activist. She was an early member of the executive committee of the Working People’s Alliance, a founding member of the women’s development organization Red Thread, and an executive member of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action–to name just a few of her many affiliations and engagements. She was also a writer, one who turned her pen to the cause of social justice and freedom. In The Point is to Change the World, deftly edited by Caribbean and gender studies scholar Alissa Trotz, some fifty years of Andaiye’s writing have been collected. With essays on race and class in Guyana, on feminism and Left organizing, on the politics of waged and unwaged labor, and on domestic violence and caring work, The Point is to Change the World demonstrates the breadth of Andaiye’s political engagements, and the depth of her compassion and ethics.
Margaret Kimberley, Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents (Penguin Random House, 2020)
In a 2018 article for Black Agenda Report, Margaret Kimberley writes: “The casual, endemic and racist violence that characterizes American behavior at home and abroad cannot be laid at the doorstep of the current buffoon in the White House.” Kimberley should know. Her Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents presents a sweeping, but brief and incisive study of the U.S. presidency that demonstrates the centrality of the Black experience to defining that office. To the extent that U.S. presidents embody the nation, their shameful treatment of Black people is an important window into understanding the white supremacist underpinnings of this country. Every single man who has become U.S. president has upheld white supremacy, swearing allegiance to “American” ideals built on conquest and enslavement. Prejudential takes on the presumed sanctity of the office, clearly showing it to be a mere manufactured façade that covers up a brutal, racist, and genocidal state. At a moment when it is easy to exceptionalize the outgoing U.S. president, Kimberley’s masterful book jolts us to the fact that the presidency’s very existence depends on theft, misery, and death. As we prepare to contend with the next white supremacist in the White House, Prejudential is a must read.
Stella Dadzie, A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery, and Resistance (Verso, 2020).
Kerri K. Greenridge, Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (Liveright, 2019).
Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918–1927 (Columbia, 2020).
Khary Polk, Contagions of Empire: Scientific Racism, Sexuality, and Black Military Workers Abroad, 1898–1948 (University of North Carolina, 2020).
Jean Price-Mars, Ainsi parla l’Oncle (Memoire d’encrier, 2020).
Reiland Rabaka, Ed. Routledge Handbook of Pan-Africanism (Routledge, 2020).
Noliwe Rooks, Cutting School: The Segrenomics of American Education (The New Press, 2020).
Amandla Thomas-Johnson, Becoming Kwame Toure (Chimurenga, 2020).
The Black Agenda Review will function as a weekly supplement to the regular editorial content of the Black Agenda Report.
Dec 2, 2020: Black Agenda Review Editors’ Manifesto of First Principles
Dec 16, 2020: Racial Capitalism, Black Liberation, and South Africa
Dec 9, 2020: Notes Toward a National Defense Organization Against Racism and Political Repression, 1973
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