Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homophobia in Nigeria: Is the Government of Nigeria’s Homophobic and Anti-Human Rights Rhetoric the Real Threat to Moral Order in the Country?

According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Information, its web portal was attacked on July 4th by a “group” of gay rights activists, who were ostensibly hoping to successfully fight Nigeria’s anti homosexual rights laws by ambushing its governmental portals.  As the special assistant to the minister of Information, Joseph Mutah, puts it, the attacks were attempts to not only “promote” homosexuality in the country but also to “blackmail” Nigerians into abandoning their commitment to a “highly cultured and religious society.”  Admonishing the group to lawfully campaign for queer rights through the institutions of Nigeria’s “robust” democracy, Mutah warned the gay rights villains that Nigeria’s government would not succumb to their immoral whims since the majority of its people’s remain “overwhelmingly opposed to the imposition of gay rights and marriages as practiced in other countries.”
Now one might be tempted to laugh out loud at the preceding press release, as there are certainly reasons to find it amusing.  For instance, there is the issue of Mutah’s assertion that Nigeria is a “robust” democracy despite a deeply entrenched culture of vote rigging, grosshuman rights violations, corrupt and ineffective legislature and judiciary. One would have to suspend disbelief in order to embrace the idea that although Nigeria remains a country where most citizens lack access to electricity and the internet, gay rights activists could electronically subvert deeply entrenched homophobic attitudes to “promote” queer rights by compromising its web sites, if only for a few hours.
Yes indeed! For Mr. Mutah and his ministry there are big bad gay bandits lurking around menacingly on the Internet hoping to change Nigeria’s anti gay culture instantaneously and compromise the country’s high moral standards.
But perhaps the biggest reason why one might find all this satirical is that it signals the first time the Nigerian government appears very much committed and invested in representing the will of the people.  Yes, Mr. Mutah is right! Although the majority of Nigerians are in dire need of three square meals a day, electricity, drinking water, security from domestic terrorists and a more rigorous guarantee of their human rights, they are also “overwhelmingly” homophobic. And to this end, its ever-prudent government has chosen to disregard the people’s more urgent material needs to prioritize its human rights denying will. It has in an unprecedented display of bowing to the presumed desire of the people passed a repressive legislation that could imprison homosexuals for up to 14 years.
More scarily, they have given moral licence to the continuation of the type of jungle justice that was recently practiced in Imo state where a number of individuals accused of being gay were stripped naked, tied up with rope and paraded around the community. Indeed Mr. Mutah and like-minded officials are continuing Nigeria’s noble tradition of maintaining an exemplary commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights!
Yet this author urges all to hold their laughter.  If only because Mutah’s deployment of democratic rhetoric while simultaneously justifying the denial of democratic rights to a segment of the population is worrying and should be for every Nigerian committed to the principles of human rights.  Indeed despite signing on to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the continued violation of the human rights of homosexuals means that Nigeria’s government cannot be relied upon to protect the inalienable rights of all its citizens.
What is more, the attack on queer rights ought to be seen by Nigerians of good conscience as part and parcel of the human rights violations that characterize the daily lives of most Nigerian citizens.  The culture of impunity enjoyed by the titans at the top of the Nigerian food chain against ordinary people is the same one that legitimizes the attack on the human rights of LGBT members of the national community. My fellow–Nigerians, the oppression of queer people is bound up with your human rights and should not be seen as alien and different! Martin Luther King was right on with his bold declaration that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
But if one needs further reasons to hold their mirth, another look at Mutah’s pronouncements is also helpful. What does Mutah mean when he asserts that Nigerians will not accept the “imposition of gay rights from abroad”? Why, one may ask, is a presumably educated Nigerian official with access to boywivesenormous resources and the world wide web, reproducing the now debunked fable that homosexuality is a western and an un-African import?  Should we at best, view Mutah’s pronouncements as a commitment to ignorance; or at worst an attempt to   miseducate the people, a state of affairs already facilitated by his government’s neoliberal policy of disinvestment in public education? Whatever the case may be it behoves me at this juncture to recommend the book Boy-wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualitiesedited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, on the matter of homosexuality and Africa. It should help dispel the seemingly stubborn idea that homosexuality was brought to Africa by the Europeans much like Christianity, elaborate “white” weddings, and the white wigs worn by our esteemed judges.
And what about the oft deployed argument, explicit in Mutah’s pronouncements, that guaranteeing basic human rights to homosexuals is a threat to moral order in Nigeria?  Although, we have all come to expect irrational statements from Nigerian politicians dressed in grandiose language, one must still wonder as to the basis for such declarations? Since homosexuality has been demonstrated to be as African as Mutah himself is and has always existed in Africa, to what extent does the notion that it threatens Nigeria’s “highly cultured and religious society” rational?  One could only believe this assertion if one is partial to the false premise that homosexuality is un-African.   If one does not pander to the “out-of-Africa” thesis, how can the decriminalisation of homosexuality now threaten Africa if it has always been on the continent?  And where homosexuality has been legalised, in what ways has it threatened the society’s moral order? Perhaps Mutah, the Ministry of Information, the federal government and like-minded people in Nigeria should enlighten us as to this special rubric that they use to measure morality in which Nigeria apparently ranks higher than the rest of the world?
To conclude, the bottom line must be that Mutah’s rhetoric and the current climate of extreme homophobia in Nigeria is far from humorous.  Indeed if the federal government’s recent rejection of the United Nation’s recommendations on the human rights of LGBT people is anything to go by, the only people that might be laughing are those Nigerians that erroneously view the guarantee of basic human rights to homosexuals as distinct from their own human rights.
Congratulations to the morally upstanding and virtuous national legislature for successfully distracting the people from the manifold social, political and economic issues that undermine their quality of life and actually threaten the country’s moral order.
Ijeoma Ekoh is adoctoral student at York University (Canada) and Director at We Are From Ihe.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Message to a younger radical activist: On preparing for organizational leadership

Ajamu Nangwaya

2013-06-19, Issue 635

cc B M
There are essential knowledge, skills and attitudes which are critical to one’s role as a radical organizer. Young activists need to mast

Dear Comrade Azuka,

I hope this correspondence finds you in good health and high spirits. Please forgive my delay in responding to your question about the things that I would like to share with you as a younger, emerging activist who has committed her life to the humanistic goal of engendering radical change throughout society. 

I have been thinking about your request and believe I am now in a position to share my thoughts. You are an asset to the movement and your age shouldn’t be a barrier to participation in its leadership organs as well as make a contribution as a part of the revolutionary intelligentsia. However, there are knowledge, skills and attitude, which are critical to your role as a radical organizer. There are six issues that I will be addressing in this letter.


The late Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) consistently reminded us during his North American lecture tours, “The reason your people suffer is that they lack organization, and organization is the weapon of the oppressed.” [1] It is through organizations that we are going to mount effective resistance to the different systems of oppression in Afrika and the Diaspora. A casual look at the periods of heightened struggles of our peoples will indicate that collective action was the path to our political advances or victories. The insurrections against enslavement in the Americas, Afrikan women’s fight against patriarchy at the societal level, independence struggles in Afrika and the Caribbean, and the Black Power movements in North America and the Caribbean are examples of us using organizations to break or loosen the shackles of dehumanization. In spite of the strategic and tactical brilliance of an individual Afrikan leader, for example, [url=Marcus]]MarcusGarvey[/url] of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Ella Baker of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Toussaint Louverture of the Haitian Revolution, they became marginal political actors without the support of an organization.

In spite of the centrality of organizations as the instruments for effecting collective action, it is important for you to avoid the seductive appeal of being in multiple organizations at the same time, especially those pursuing similar goals. It is not helpful to you and the people to thinly spread the little time that you have in this manner. You are likely to burnout quickly because you have overextended yourself. The work of Afrikan emancipation is a 24/7 commitment but it is a lifetime engagement so you need to pace yourself.

By committing to one movement-based organization, you are concentrating your knowledge, skills and attitude in a way that can have beneficial effects on the lives of the people. If you are a member of a multi-issue, broadly-focused social movement group and it is not working on something in which you are interested, you could get together with a few other members and place it on the agenda. Your organization could also work in a coalition, partnership or alliance with organizations in taking on the desired initiative. 

In taking this approach you would still maintain your commitment to a primary organization, while calling upon the resources of your group and expand the scope of its work without dispersing your limited time, energy and other resources across many groups. As a younger comrade, you would be demonstrating a level of political maturity and dedication in advancing the work of your organization. By resisting the alluring urge to place your organizing effort in more than one organizational basket, you would be cultivating the reputation of a young organizer who is consistently present in doing the work and does not run off chasing seemingly tantalizing political developments all over the place. 


In centring education as a critical issue for the young, radical activist, I am merely being loyal to the Afrikan revolutionary tradition and the examples of the great revolutionaries produced by our people’s struggle. One of the most important revolutionaries thrown up by the Afrikan Revolution during its anti-colonial/independence phase was Amilcar Cabral and he had this to say on the necessity for constant education in Revolution in Guinea:

“Demand from responsible Party members that they dedicate themselves seriously to study, that they interest themselves in the things and problems of our daily life and struggle in their fundamental and essential aspect, and not simply in their appearance…. Learn from life, learn from our people, learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.” [2]

We cannot exaggerate the role that transformative education plays in preparing revolutionaries for the task of organizing the people to resist oppression. As a young activist, your ideological and educational needs and development should be prioritized. People who are in information rich environment should not attribute ignorance on a subject to age or inexperience.

There are folks who are prone to not take seriously the views of younger activists because of their lack of experience or knowledge about issues that come up in organizational discussion. It is a fact that being younger means that you were not around thirty, forty or fifty years ago when certain events took place. But in a literate civilization, the absence of experiential knowledge is no excuse for not being robustly conversant or knowledgeable about the recent or distant past. You are not living in an oral culture where you are forced to be dependent on the elders’ decision to educate you about the history of the struggle for emancipation. Some elders may decide to use their privileged access to vital information in discriminatory ways. The guardians of the oral repository of knowledge could decide not to share it with particular youth organizers, because the latter haven’t shown the necessary level of deference or cower before the “wisdom of age.” I am in no way diminishing the “benefit of highly experienced, politically activist adult mentorship….anchored in, nurtured by, protected by, and disciplined by adult social networks….” [3] However, young people do not always have the benefit of the leadership approach of an Ella Baker who believed in the capacity of youth as autonomous contributors to the struggle. [4]

Age is a basis on which unjust or exploitative power relations may be and has been exercised in organizations and the wider society. Comrade Azuka, as a younger activist you ought to commit yourself to a consistent, rigorous and comprehensive self-study programme, which could be supplemented with study group sessions with other comrades. You would place yourself in a position to overcome the experience-cum-knowledge gap. As an organizer in your early twenties, you obviously have no lived experience of the decolonization and independence struggles in the Caribbean, Afrika and Asia, the Afrikan Liberation Struggle in North America and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s or lived during the period of the Garvey Movement. However, by creating a space in your activist life to engage in a critical, extensive and deep examination of bodies of ideas, political movements, historical events, organizations and personalities, it is quite possible for you to develop a broader knowledge and profounder understanding of these events and people than folks who experienced them. 

Armed with an advanced awareness of the past, the elders or older activists cannot easily pull the lack-of-experience card in not giving due consideration to the things that you propose. They would be more likely to interrogate your ideas based on their merit instead of extraneous or distracting things such as age. Knowledge is indeed power so you need to accumulate as much of that currency as possible to engage in organizational or social movement “transactions.” If you are a member of an organization without a political education programme, you could bring a proposal or motion to a membership meeting that calls for the creation of a study group or circle on subjects that are necessary for the intellectual, ideological, moral and political development of the membership. This project could be a way for younger members to meet their learning needs in a structured and supportive environment. 

One of two things that comrades have consistently say about reading Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth [5] or Black Skin, White Masks [6] when they were younger, “I am so glad that I had older and informed folks around me when I was introduced to Fanon” or “I had no idea what the hell Fanon was really “saying” in those books.” A study group in your organization or one open to anyone in the community is an excellent way to tackle difficult political or ideological materials and to promote collective learning and dialogue. If the study group is structured in a way that encourages different participants to take turns in preparing summaries of the selected readings and facilitating the sessions, it could help in developing your confidence as someone who is able to present ideas before your peers or the wider community. Please note that your political and ideological development in this learning space would be in addition to the self-study work that you have undertaken. Bob Marley was onto something when he declared, “Emancipate yourself from metal slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds.” [7] It can be done through a combination of self-study and group political education initiatives.


Comrade Azuka, while knowledge development is critically important, it ought to be complemented with the skills needed to execute organizational tasks. Oftentimes, our organizations do not set aside resources to train and/or develop their activists to do the required activities, which are necessary to achieve the goal and objectives of our struggle for emancipation. Organizers are left to learn through trial and error, someone informally taking them under their experienced wings as “mentees” or searching out learning opportunities outside of the organization. This approach to the important matter of developing our activists serves to empower older and/or more experienced people. Such a situation is not conducive to teenagers and other younger comrades taking on leadership roles and senior portfolios. Entrenched power has a way of perpetuating or preserving itself and we must break this unhealthy organizational syndrome. If we want to create participatory-democratic organizations, we have to be deliberate about developing or expanding the skills of our activists. 

It is the heights of political irresponsibility to expect our organizers to educate, mobilize and organize the working-class and/or peasantry and the progressive or revolutionary petty bourgeois elements without the essential organizing and organizational skills. According to the Charles L. James, who served in the UNIA, Garvey was committed to the systematic teaching of our people and “He sincerely felt that no one should be held responsible for his action unless he or she is educated or trained to perform those responsibilities.” [8] In August 1937, Garvey delivered a systematic educational programme, The Course of African Philosophy, in Toronto, Canada that covered forty-two subjects; twenty-two of these lessons were preserved in writing [9] and now accessible in book form as Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy. This leadership development programme came after the peak of the UNIA’s activism, but it is a lesson to us about the need for a methodical approach to skill development within our organizations.

Training and education can be difference-makers in our struggle for self-determination as well as for the effectiveness of the work that we do among the people. The armed national liberation struggle that was led by African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) proved the importance of equipping the organizers with the knowledge, skills and attitude to work among the people. The relevant section of Patrick Chabal’s Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War is a worthwhile read on Cabral’s pedagogical and philosophical method and practice in preparing the militants/organizers to educate and mobilize the peasantry in the countryside.[10] The level of preparation of the PAIGC’s militants was definitely a factor in the success of its mobilization of the people as well as the armed struggle. Comrade Azuka, if you are in an organization without a skill and cadre development programme, you ought to take it as a challenge to see that such an initiative is established.


Comrade, I am going to share an observation with you about the way that many radicals respond to my economics- and labour self-management-related posts on Facebook or shared through my e-mail distribution list. There is a noticeable lack of engagement with subjects that deal with building an alternative to capitalism through labour self-management or producer cooperation and other collectivistic economic intervention. If we measure engagement by the number of “likes” and comments, alternative economics resonates the least with my Facebook friends. I have gathered articles on democratic workplaces and cooperative economics and sent them out on my email “listserv.” They also garner few responses from comrades. I have reached the conclusion that in spite of the commitment of my activists to fighting capitalism, many of us are not comfortable discussing economics-related issues or do not that have definite ideas on the development of a anti-capitalist transitional economic alternative. The Great Recession of 2007/2008 revealed to me the extent to which quite a few activists had a low level of economic literacy. We have to create an economic development strategy for the here-and-now while organizing the people for the good and just society of the future.

Cabral reminded us of this obvious but much neglected consideration, “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children….” [11] Cabral was not asserting that people are uninterested in ideas or ideological questions. He was merely indicating to us that there are existing practical issues facing the people and they have material expectations of their engagement in political struggles. It ought to be noted that the public display of guns by the members of the BPP was not as threatening to the ruling-class as their Breakfast for Children Program (BCP). 

According to the arch-reactionary and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the BCP “promotes at least tacit support for the BPP (Black Panther Party) among naive individuals... And, what is more distressing, provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths.... Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for." [12]

Organizing around the immediate needs of the people is always an excellent way to turn the oppressed on to radical possibilities. But economic resources are needed to lubricate the machinery of popular mobilization and organizing. Irrespective of where activists are at on the life cycle, they are morally obligated to support or develop an economic programme that addresses the needs of the people. It goes without saying that if capitalism is not working, we ought to organize the people behind a collectivistic or cooperative economic agenda. Militant organizations also need to develop an independent financial base as exemplified by the UNIA and the United States-based Nation of Islam. The forces opposed to genuine emancipation of the people will pull the financial plug when our actions threaten their privileges and power. [13]

Comrade Azuka, I am encouraging you to undertake a study of micro and macro economics topics. It could be done through your self-study programme, in study groups and/or by way of courses in a college, university or continuing education programme. I am recommending a good text on the subject of capitalist economics, Economics for Everyone. [14] We need a precise knowledge and understanding of capitalism and its weaknesses to educate and organize the people against it. 

However, we should not only be experts in what we are against. We need to be just as proficient in articulating what we support. My advice to you is to immediately start reading in the area of labour self-management or producer cooperation. Labour self-management is the idea and practice of workers’ ownership, control and management of their workplace. It is the workers who make the shop-floor and strategic decisions, share in the fruit of collective labour (profit or surplus) and enlist capital as the servant of labour in the labour-controlled work environment. Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, some workers have been striving to free themselves from wage-slavery. An excellent introductory book on an existing labour self-management experiment is Making Mondragon. [15] A good manual for someone interested in starting a worker-owned and -managed business is Putting Democracy to Work. [16] I am also recommending Blueprint for Black Power. [17] It is not promoting a non-capitalist approach to economic development, but it has useful ideas that can be used for our programme of labour self-management and cooperative economics.


I have encouraged you to push a number of propositions onto the agenda of your organization. But it is not always easy for a younger comrade or someone new to a group to take such a course of action. It is just not enough to go to a general membership meeting or an annual general meeting and suggests that the group ought to be doing to this or that project. You and the champions of your idea are going to be taken more seriously if you come to the gathering with an action plan or a proposal that systematically lay out how you intend to get the job done. Anticipate questions or concerns and deal with them if they are raised during your presentation. Of equal important is a strong understanding of the decision-making process inside the organization. You have to do your homework as well as line up support within the organization. 

The advantage of coming up with a plan of action in writing is the greater likelihood of establishing the parameter of the dialogue. The plan’s contents will become the focus of the group deliberation. Members will be placed in the position of trying to make it better, if they have concerns about elements of your proposal. Furthermore, when something is methodically outlined in writing, some people who speak off-the-cuff are usually unable to put forward coherent and well-argued oppositional opinions. Yet if your plan is rejected or radically altered, you should not walk away from the organization or reject involvement in the altered plan. During the stage of fleshing out the implementation plan and the actual execution of the project, you and your allies still have the opportunity to help shape the outcome. By participating in the plan approved by the membership, you are highlighting the fact that you are a team player and not a sore loser.


As a younger activist and someone who would like to take on senior leadership responsibilities in the movement, you should not position yourself as a mere consumer of knowledge. You ought to use all available communication outlets to develop yourself into an ideational leader and give permanency or a leave “paper trail” of your ideas. Given the explosion of online publications and social media platforms, you have more opportunities to put your ideas before into the public square. Women, youth and racialized peoples are not seen as people with anything of intellectual and operational substance to contribute to societal discourse on the creation of the just society. You must strive to disabuse people of this silencing notion. As you develop yourself as a thought leader and revolutionary intellectual, you will start getting invitations to speak at public meetings and in other spaces. 


Comrade Azuka, the above comments are all I have to say at this moment and I look forward to your response, comments and interrogative questions. Angela Davis made the following comment, “It's true that it's within the realm of cultural politics that young people tend to work through political issues, which I think is good, although it's not going to solve the problems.” [18] Based on my observation it is an accurate statement. But your engagement with issues that are relevant to the material reality of the people is helping to push youth activism beyond cultural preoccupation and toward political resistance.

In solidarity,

Ajamu Nangwaya, 

* Ajamu Nangwaya, PhD, is an academic worker in Toronto, Canada, and an organizer with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity. Ajamu is an advocate for the use of labour self-management and cooperatives to create an alternative economic programme in the movement for emancipation.


[1] Kwame Ture, via Disciples of Malcolm,

[2] Amilcar Cabral, “Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts,” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 88.

[3] Stokely Carmichael [kwame Ture] with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, “Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture],” (New York: Scribner, 2003), 663.

[4] Barbara Ransby, “Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision,” (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

[5] Frantz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth”, (New York: Grove Press, 1968).

[6] Frantz Fanon, “Black Skin, White Masks”, (New York: Grove Press, 1967).

[7] Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Redemption Song,” in Uprising, Tuff Gong/Island, 1980.

[8] Charles L. James, “Foreword” to Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy, ed. by Tony Martin (Dover, Massachusetts: The Majority Press, 1986), ix.

[9] Ibid, xvi.

[10] Patrick Chabal, “Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People War,” (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2003), 60-67.

[11] Cabral, Revolution in Guinea, 86.

[12] Marc Mascarenhas-Swan, “Honoring the 44th Anniversary of the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program,” Organizing Upgrade: Engaging Left Organizers in Strategic Dialogue, January 18, 2013,; J. Edgar Hoover, “Federal Bureau of Investigation – J. Edgar Hoover Memo on Black Panthers’ Breakfast for Children Program,” Rapgenius,

[13] Oba T’Shaka, “The Art of Leadership: The Art of Organizing, Volume 1,” (Richmond, California: Pan Afrikan Publsihers, 1990), 88-89.

[14] Jim Standford, “Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism,” (Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, 2008).

[15] William Foote Whyte & Kathleen King Whyte, “Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex”, Second Edition Revised, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[16] Frank T. Adams & Gary B. Hansen, “Putting Democracy to Work: A Practical Guide for Starting and Managing Work-owned Businesses”, Revised Edition, (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1993).

[17] Amos N. Wilson, “Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-first Century,” (New York: Afrikan World Infosystem, 1998).

[18] Angela Davis, “Interview with Angela Davis,” Interviewed by Frontline, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service),

Reject Obama's Personal Responsibility Snake-Oil

Tue, 05/28/2013 - 15:12 — Ajamu Nangwaya

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by Ajamu Nangwaya
In The Mind of Obama, white supremacy, sexism and capitalist exploitation are nonexistent or merely minor hurdles that can be overcome through personal responsibility and discipline. The First Black U.S. Presidentis under the illusion that his occupation of the White House is an indication of a new and better day across America.”

Reject Obama's Personal Responsibility Snake-Oil
by Ajamu Nangwaya
There are entrenched racist, gendered and class-related employment barriers that are resistant to personal effort and responsibility on the part of these prospective racialized, despised and stereotyped jobseekers.”
President Barack Obama appears to never pass up an opportunity when addressing Afrikan Americans to shift the responsibility for their success to personal effort and not the removal of structural barriers that are connected to white supremacy, sexism and capitalist exploitation. The American Commander-in-Chief tried to pass off a personal responsibility bill of goods to his most loyal demographic group: “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.” Obama made that declaration in his May 19, 2013 commencement address before a graduating class of 500 men at the all-male, predominantly African American Morehouse College.
Obama, like other members of the African American petty bourgeoisie or national political class, is under the illusion that his occupation of the White House is an indication of a new and better day across America. However, the reality paints a much more sobering picture of the depressing indicators of social and economic well being for African Americans. A recently published report revealed that African American male college graduates have an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, while the joblessness figure for the their white male counterparts stood at 3.8 percent.
2008 study on the race of the managers and their racial hiring patterns reveals that white, Asian and Hispanic hiring agents tend to select less African Americans, while African American supervisors hire more of their racial compatriots. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported on its website that in 2003 African men in the United States with a bachelor’s degree earned only 82 percent ($41,916) of the median income ($51,138) of their white counterparts.
Do not hold your breath in anticipation of Obama critiquing racism (capitalism and sexism) as an explanatory factor behind the oppression of African Americans.”
Yet Obama had the gall to attempt selling these Morehouse men the following economic snake-oil. “You’re graduating into an improving job market,” he claimed. “You’re living in a time when advances in technology and communication put the world at your fingertips. Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it.” Many of these African men do not have control over events within the labor market. There are entrenched racist, gendered and class-related employment barriers that are resistant to personal effort and responsibility on the part of these prospective racialized, despised and stereotyped jobseekers.
I look forward to the day when Obama will tell it like it is to ruling-class white men, that there’s no longer time for excuses for their promotion of institutional white supremacy (and other forms of oppression). Furthermore, I would like to see the display of intestinal fortitude on the part of the president in declaring to largely white graduating classes that they should not blame immigrants for taking away “their” jobs, social assistance or welfare recipients as the reason for high taxes or the capital gains tax as an impediment to job creation.
We are more likely to see Obama insulting and race-baiting African Americans so as to demonstrate to whites that he can be tough on a constituency that gave him 93 percent of its vote in the 2012 presidential election in spite of experiencing an unemployment rate of 13.7 percent in September 2012 (almost double the national joblessness figure). Therefore, please do not hold your breath in anticipation of Obama critiquing racism (capitalism and sexism) as an explanatory factor behind the oppression of African Americans, especially those from the working-class.
Obama could not help administering his personal responsibility snake-oil solution without visiting the conservative realm of family values. This smooth-talking 21st century Piped Piper advises, “Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important…. I was raised by a heroic [white] single mom…. But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.” This first “black President” must not have received the memo from Africa that “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
Mr. President, social and economic justice action speaks louder than your eloquent words!”
There are policy options that could facilitate the development of a mature and generous social welfare infrastructure in the United States. Mr. President, social and economic justice action speaks louder than your eloquent words! If Obama would like to make it easier for parents to have the ability to raise children as well as to give force to his claim, “My job, as President, is to advocate for policies that generate more opportunity for everybody,” he would give prompt and immediate attention to the questions below:
What about providing a national childcare program that would allow parents to pursue education or employment opportunities?
What about instituting a livable minimum wage that would allow parents to better care for their children?
What about a national guaranteed minimum income that would allow mothers and fathers to provide for the material well being of their children?
What about providing 90% of one’s recent income as unemployment income or benefits so that jobless parents are to provide for their children?
How about a livable social assistance (welfare) income that would allow working-class parents to better attend to the needs of their children?
What about a single-payer national heath system that is paid for out of general revenue so as to allow families to better attend to their healthcare needs?
How about going after racist and sexist employment barriers that contribute to the lower earnings of African Americans and other racialized workers as well as women?
Obama should take personal responsibility for his failure to champion social and income-security programs that would help working-class African Americans, other racialized peoples and women in the United States. Personal responsibility is a two-way thoroughfare, Mr. President!
Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an academic worker and Membership Development Coordinator with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity in Canada.

It's More Than a Class Thing When We Deal with Class Struggle

Ajamu Nangwaya
Dear UTA, 
There are a number of points raised in “Revolutionary Ambition in an Age of Austerity: An Interview with Neil Smith” that I agree with. I will briefly engage with some issues around the class struggle before speaking to the manner in which race is missing or, at best, implicitly present in the discussion of class and capitalism by Neil Smith (and other white progressives). We are currently living through one of capitalism’s periodic crises and it is critically important for radicals and revolutionaries to include all relevant forces in their assessment of the forces of exploitation and social domination.
By being aware of the full range of experiences in our social environment, those of us who are working for fundamental social change will be better able to develop a political analysis and program of action that facilitates effective engagement and movement building among the oppressed. If we ignore race, gender, and other relevant forms of exploitation, we cannot help but have a partial and thus inadequate understanding of what must be done to challenge capitalism.
I love the fact that Smith speaks plainly about class struggle being relevant to today’s fight against the neoliberal phase of capitalism in North America and elsewhere. Too often, progressive voices converse euphemistically about the struggle to contain or defeat the economic and social policies of neoliberalism, but they tend to divorce that critique from the actual system (capitalism) that is generating economic and social inequalities and exploitation. If we are afraid of naming this particular infrastructure of oppression, how are we going to educate, mobilize, and organize people to challenge capitalism?
Some of us are quite willing to name racism or white supremacy as a structure that alienates racialized people in society. Are we afraid of coming across as too ideological by using the term “capitalism” and risking the possibility of being ignored by members of the working class and other oppressed groups? If the radical or revolutionary forces are actually doing organizing work among Fanon’s “wretched of the earth” in response to their expressed needs, the latter will not be scared of certain terms that we use to name objective reality. We need to be mindful of the fact that the Black Panther Party (BPP) was explicit in its critique of capitalism, white supremacy, and imperialism and were advocates of armed self defense. Yet the members of the Afrikan working class in the urban areas of the United States still used the BPP’s survival programmes that addressed their basic material needs. 
We are not simply dealing in semantics when we call for an explicit and informed critique of capitalism. The recent Occupy movement that emerged as a response to white North Americans feeling the economic and social fallout from the Great Recession of 2007/2008 is an example of a protest movement that was too timid in training its sights on capitalism (as well as on sexism and white supremacy). Racialized people were already experiencing depression-like conditions in the barrios, reservations, rural communities, and ghettos of the United States without any substantive attention from officialdom or white-controlled and directed social movement organizations. In my judgment, the mainstream of the Occupy movement was pro-capitalist. When that movement gave privileged attention to “corporate greed” or the “financial excesses” of the captains of industry and commerce instead of capitalist exploitation, it was implicitly suggesting that capitalism was not the problem. All we needed to do was merely restore the regulation of the economy that existed before the fall of Keynesian economics during the stagflation of the mid-1970s and the emergence of the neoliberal phase of capitalism. Such a line of thinking is aimed at reforming capitalism and not mortally wounding it.
Smith approvingly commented on the Occupy movement as being “emblematic of the kind of political mobilization that has to happen in response to the economic crisis and the broader predations of capitalist austerity.” But it is not enough to mobilize bodies. The people ought to be guided by ideas that are directed at the core features of the system and not ones that reinforce the major ideological edifices of a white supremacist, patriarchal, and capitalist society. By articulating the slogan “We are the 99%,” the Occupy movement made it clear that class struggle was not its goal (despite the ruling class’ war against the working class and other oppressed groups). This slogan affirmed the ruling class’ propaganda that North America is predominantly middle-class. It also included members of the dominant class in the ranks of those who materially suffer from class, gender, and race oppression under capitalism (the so-called 99 percent). Class struggle demands a class analysis and identification of class interests among the oppressed. It does not bode well for our struggle when we pander to populist inclinations based on a false sense of or desire for unity.
We do need unity of purpose among the oppressed in North America and other political spaces. However, when commentators like Smith critique capitalism and its impact on the working class and do not explicitly address white supremacy or racism as a system that impacts the lives of racialized members of the working class, they are actually supporting the erroneous outlook that a “one size fits all” approach based on the lived reality of white workers will benefit all workers. Even during the “Golden Age” of the social welfare state, racialized people in North America and Europe were not equal beneficiaries of that class compromise between organized labour, the state, and capital. White supremacy in the workplace confined many racialized workers to the secondary labour market or to the lower rungs of the job classifications system. Social policies in the areas of policing, education, social welfare, and housing made their living conditions much worse than those experienced by members of the white working class.
Smith seemed more comfortable addressing race in passing around consumptive questions such as housing, medical care, unemployment benefits, and the general welfare state. Race ought to be addressed centrally in our analysis and prescriptions on fighting capitalism. If we do not give the struggle against white supremacy and patriarchy a prominent role in our resistance to capital, we are likely to breed cynicism and detachment from movements such as Occupy – which largely did not resonate with racialized people in the US and Canada. Many racialized workers and communities saw the Occupy movement as being about the business of white people. Racialized workers experienced the devastation of the sub-prime housing catastrophe, unemployment rates that are usually twice that of whites, massive deindustrialization in the central cities, mass incarceration of racialized men and women, limited investment in urban physical and social infrastructure, and other social ills without an outcry from white so-called progressive social movements. If we are interested in real class struggle, we cannot ignore the impact of white supremacist and patriarchal ideas and policies in society and in the lives of the racialized members of the working class.
In solidarity,
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto, ON

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; Action speaks louder than words!

Dear Premier Wynne:

The Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity (NPAS) agrees with your assertion quoted in Share newspaper from your speech at the Liberal Caucus’ Afrikan Liberation Month (aka Black History Month) annual event: “I want Ontario to be a place where everyone has the same opportunities and I want people to have the support they need. That’s what equity means. It means we have to create the conditions that will allow everybody to have that level playing field. Where it’s not level, we need to raise the floor up a bit.”

Premier Wynne, it is our position that action speaks louder than words when it comes to addressing issues of social oppression. If it is your intention to tackle systemic forms of oppression such as White supremacy (racism), patriarchy and/or class exploitation, it will have to be by way of relevant legislation and the accompanying transformative policies and programs.

NPAS is putting forward five propositions that would give concrete form to your claim that “government exists to make people’s lives better, to support people in realizing their dreams and to create the conditions for people to be great and to be able to achieve.”

Firstly, your government needs to draft and present an employment equity bill before the legislature to undermine the systemic racist, sexist and ableist employment barriers that oppress Afrikans, other racialized peoples, and indigenous peoples in the workplaces of this province.

We need a provincial employment equity law that supersedes that passed by the Ontario New Democrats in 1994 as well as the current Employment Equity Act of the federal government on the establishment of strong accountability measures, strict timelines, and measurable targets. In spite of an employment equity law governing the federal public sector, racialized workers are the only protected group that is under-represented in the core civil service.

Secondly, if the Ontario Liberals would like to “raise the floor up a bit” for Afrikans and other racialized peoples, we are demanding an increase in the minimum wage from $10.25 per hour to $15.00 per hour. Many racialized people are forced to seek employment in the secondary labour market with its low wage rates, minimal or no benefits, and limited or non-existent promotional prospects that feed into the soul-crushing racialization and feminization of poverty with which many of us must contend.

Thirdly, you should work to change the provincial labour law to make it easier for racialized workers and other members of the working class to form or join a union. By instituting automatic certification of a union where a majority of the relevant workers in a workplace have signed a union card would be a clear indication that your government cares about Ontario’s working class majority.

Tied to this, the Ontario Liberals need to significantly increase the fines imposed on employers for breaking the law that protects the workers’ right to freely join or form a union. The current low fines provide an incentive for employers to contravene and view that illegal action as the cost of doing business.

How is unionization linked to the fight against White supremacy (and sexism) in the labour market? According to Canadian Labour Congress’s economist Andrew Jackson in the research paper Is Work Working for Workers of Colour?, “workers of colour who were unionized earned an average of $33,525 in 1999. This was 29.9% or $7,724 more in 1999 than workers of colour who were not unionized.” Racialized workers are under-represented in workplaces covered by collective agreements.

Fourthly, the rates of incarceration of Afrikan and Indigenous people in this province are astronomically and oppressively high. In a March 2, 2013 expose on the subject of mass incarceration of Afrikan men, the Toronto Star states “Young black men face racism, poverty, lack of opportunity, social isolation, violence in their neighbourhoods, family challenges and unemployment.”

Your government needs to address the race, gender and class oppression that fuels the disproportionate jailing of Afrikan men and women. Tackling the systemic problem of over-policing of Afrikan peoples is absolutely necessary. Your governments should also increase educational opportunities by providing affordable, accessible and quality education for all. Free post-secondary education would be a significant anti-racist contribution that you could make to the cause of social justice in Ontario.

Lastly, the Toronto police’s racial profiling and containment of the Afrikan community through the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) and the use of the “208 card” demand your intervention as an equity advocate. Afrikan people are stopped, questioned and carded at excessively higher rates in all of the 72 policing districts in Toronto than their White counterparts. However, in the predominantly White areas of Toronto, Afrikans are racially profiled and carded at levels way above those obtained in highly racialized areas of the city. Our people should not be subjected to over-policing, apartheid policing and the trampling of our rights.

We look forward to concrete steps from you and the Ontario Liberals in advancing an actively anti-racist agenda.


Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, Membership Development Coordinator
Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity