N is for Nation Time

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Nationalism has a long and diverse history in Black political movements. There have been calls to build an economic nation within a nation that we saw in E is for Economics by pooling our resources in whatever country we reside. Nationalism in its weakest sense means to connect to and support other Black people. This was the kind of nationalism that was mobilised to support the elevation to supreme court of the hyper-conservative and anti-Black Clarence Thomas. It is also the same urge that leads to uncritical support of ‘alleged’ and confirmed abusers like Bill Cosby and R Kelly. We are so eager to circle the wagons that we ignore the allegations against them, even though in the case of all three these include harming Black women. It is not a coincidence that these examples serve the interests of patriarchy given the history of some of the stronger forms of Black Nationalism.

The desire to build distinct Black nations can be found in a range of movements. Emancipation left millions of the formerly enslaved within the US nation and ‘progressive’ politicians like Lincoln thought the most sensible solution was to effectively deport African Americans into new colonies. This vision of nationalism was deeply embedded in the Western project and the experiments in places like Liberia essentially recreated the problematic social relations of the US. Later, the Nation of Islam wanted to separate from the US to create a nation in the South to await religious salvation. Part of this nationalism was an embrace of the patriarchal vision of the family and very fixed roles of women. As it became  clear that a new physical nation was not possible, the ideas of family and responsibility became a central part of the weaker forms of Black nationalism. As we saw in C is for Culture, those became combined with spiritual and cultural ideas about nationalism.

In the former colonies nationalism was seen as essential to the liberation process. The idea was to embrace national unity and once that freedom was won to find unity across Africa and the Diaspora. Unfortunately, once framed in the nation state the movements became trapped in them. As isolated nation state created by European colonisers they have been easy to control. Nationalism, as constrained by the nation state framework imposed on the former colonies is one of the biggest barriers to revolutionary practice.

As long as we define ourselves in the confines of the nation state we will always enforce artificial boundaries between the British, Jamaican, Brazilian, American, Ghanaian or South African struggles. This is why even the progressive calls for a Black nation made out of the US southern states advocated by figures such as Queen mother Audley Moore, are limited. The struggle is not to create Black nation states, we’ve done that and only succeeded in furthering neo-colonialism. Radical politics means uniting Africa and the Diaspora into a nation, to make Black a country. This kind of nationalism beyond the nation state is why the Universal Negro Improvement Association occupies a special place in Black radicalism. The economic analysis was not radical and they had certainly not dealt with issues of patriarchy. But the UNIA remains the best attempt to build the Global Black Nation to fight for an ‘Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad’.

Resources:

Amy Jacques Garvey Garvey and Garveyism

Kimberlé Crenshaw I Believe I Can Lie

Kwame Nkrumah Neo-Colonialism The Last Stage of Imperialism

Queen Mother Audley Moore Interview Malcolm X Not Just An American Problem, It’s a World Problem

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