Some Africans in America identify with people like Harris because THEY see their class interests, as she does, as being intertwined with the interests of the American capitalist system.
“People like Harris, Obama, etc., do not represent the interests of the African masses worldwide.”
With the announcement that U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has selected U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate (Vice President), we are seeing that there is so much to unpack. First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that after 500+ years of systematized disrespect, many African (Black) identifying women, understandably, see any symbol of recognition as progress. For many non-men, particularly Africans, Harris in this role represents a good thing. Anyone who has even a cursory understanding of the struggles Africans face in this world today would be completely blind not to recognize that.
As a result, not only do we engage this discussion with respect to our sisters, we also point out that no matter what, African women identifying folks have a strong track record of standing up to our oppression. Consequently, we respect their perspectives on Harris, even though we disagree.
The disagreement is related to the critical need for African people to develop a much stronger class analysis of politics. For most people, our analysis is shaped by superficial factors like race or skin color. Factors that do absolutely nothing to clarify what a person’s position on issues actually is. In other words, many of us view someone who looks like us advancing within the capitalist system as progress and there are several deep-seated issues with this approach.
“Factors like race or skin color do absolutely nothing to clarify what a person’s position on issues actually is.”
First, since the masses of African people hold no collective power, the fact that individuals within us can advance in this system speaks to their connections and commitment to upholding this system, not any leverage we have to hold politicians accountable to us. That analysis explains why someone with the clearly problematic history that Harris holds – in terms of locking so many of our people up – can be viewed through a positive lens by African mothers who’s children she helped incarcerate. This contradiction occurs because for most of us, we have no tools to make a class analysis. We don’t understand the popular phrase “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk” or as Chuck D rapped in Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrodome” – “every brother ain’t a brother cuz the black hand squeezed Malcolm X the man. The shooting of Huey Newton, cuz a hand of a n - - - - r pulled the trigger!”
To illustrate the above point, no one can deny that any African anywhere who says the right things at the right time, no matter what their actual behavior, actions, and record, we accept them simply because their physical presence validates our personal desires to be respected by the very power structure that oppresses us in the first place. This is problematic because its dysfunctional. Any slave who seeks validation from the master’s system is a doomed slave. Yet, this is our reality and any African who denies that we view individual progress and attainment of positions within the capitalist system as collective forward motion for us as a people is just being dishonest. There’s no question that whether we acknowledge it or not, we view the power structure, and what it respects and recognizes, as the proper gauge for what holds actual value.
“Any slave who seeks validation from the master’s system is a doomed slave.”
So, we are not shooting down our people’s desires to feel better. We certainly deserve nothing less. We just humbly suggest that we can accomplish this with a clear class analysis that doesn’t center the individual placement of people who look like us at the master’s table as signs of progress. Especially when we have so many African women like Assata Shakur, Carmen Pierera, Ruby Doris Robinson, Elizabeth Sibeko, Teodora Gomes, Imbalia Camara, Carlota, Nanny from the Maroons, Gloria Richardson, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, etc., who embody the spirit and principles of justice that we should look up to and respect. The fact most of us cannot even identify or say anything factual about most of those sisters speaks volumes about the contradiction.
Another troubling element that Harris’s selection is exposing is our utter confusion around identity. This capitalist system has taught us to evaluate identity based on its definition that identity is where you were born geographically. This limited and ahistorical definition of identity serves the backward interests of the capitalist system because it protects the system’s abilities to hold us hostage to its interests. If we believe that we are “Americans” and that’s all we know, than we will tolerate whatever the U.S. throws at us as it relates to disrespect, oppression, etc. We will do this because in our minds, our entire struggle is one of finding acceptance here. This approach explains why so many people define identity through this extremely limited view of where we are born. For example, Kamala Harris comes from a mother who is East Indian and a father from Jamaica. This capitalist system has convinced many of us that this information for anyone with similar history, separates them from the rest of us Africans born here in the U.S. This is nothing except a classic example of us using the master’s criteria to define our people’s reality.
“If we believe that we are ‘Americans’ and that’s all we know, than we will tolerate whatever the U.S. throws at us.”
Of course, we are just using Harris as an example here (not to illustrate anything specific about her because we have already discussed the class contradictions between her and the masses of African people). We wish to use her to further discuss our people’s confusion about our identity. Since most of us understand identity through the bourgeoisie definition provided to us by our enemies, we don’t understand comprehensively that any African born in Jamaica, or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, is there because the slave ship dropped their family there. Since the colonizing slave masters didn’t kidnap us from Africa with any regard for maintaining our biological family ties, the stark reality is Africans in the Caribbean are blood relatives to many of us in the U.S. just like a large percentage of the Africans in Canada are there because their ancestors went there to escape slavery in this country (which means many of them are our blood relatives also). With this understanding, it serves nothing except the political and economic interests of our enemies to view Africans in the U.S. and Jamaica as somehow different. Clearly, we are simply displaced Africans dispersed throughout the Western Hemisphere by the colonial system that continues to subjugate us collectively today. Also, I don’t know the specifics of Harris’s mother’s background, but most dark-skinned people from India are descendants of Africa i.e. the Dalit people or what is commonly known as the “Untouchables.”
What all of this summarizes isn’t any particular point about Kamala Harris. As was previously stated, we use her simply to identify some interesting elements that define our people’s consciousness today. We strongly desire role models of progress. Unfortunately, no free-thinking people will ever effectively gain those role models from the criteria provided by the system oppressing us. That’s why a class analysis is important. With that, we come to understand (and this is going to be touchy for many) that some of us identify with people like Harris because we see our class interests, as she does, as being intertwined with the interests of the American capitalist system. Of course, there are others of us who see the U.S. as an empire built and maintained on exploiting African people, Africa, and the rest of humanity. Clearly, its this analysis that defines how people see Harris and the many more like her, despite whether people understand the analysis articulated here or not.
“We are simply displaced Africans dispersed throughout the Western Hemisphere by the colonial system that continues to subjugate us collectively today.”
And, finally, as long as we continue to let our enemies tell us how identity is formed we will remain confused. How can they tell us that identify is where you are born when the system they built to control the world today was built based on disbursing us all over the world to serve as the empire building slave labor? Clearly, any logically thinking person would have to conclude that our definition of identity would have to be different from anything they say. For us, this proper identity comes from Kwame Nkrumah when he said that identity is defined as “common history and culture.” With that definition, Africans in Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., Africa, etc., can easily (with just cursory research) find commonalities in how we view the world philosophically, through our faith, and politically, economically, etc.
If nothing else, this low level of political education around Kamala Harris reveals the amount of work necessary for us to grow to the point of being prepared to truly fight for our actual self-determination and forward progress. And, it’s important we recognize that as this happens, many of us will end up on opposite sides of the divide and that’s ok. That’s human history. And, the sooner we understand this, the sooner we can begin doing the serious work necessary. People like Harris, Obama, etc., do not represent the interests of the African masses worldwide and we strongly suggest it is this consciousness that must come to define how we view the world. Some of our skinfolk will forever roll with Harris, Obama, etc., to preserve this empire. And, some of us will decide that our focus is on dismantling the empire and building something we believe will be much better for humanity. If nothing else, the purpose of this piece is to hopefully help us along with this process.
Ahjamu Umi is a revolutionary organizer/activist, adviser, and liberation literature author.
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