Anarchists and Black Struggle: Anarchists Must Know the True History of the Black Struggle

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by Ali Khalid Abdullah

In a recent article I wrote entitled "Why Aren't More People of Color in the Anarchist Movement?" I pointed out the need for anarchists (world-wide) to begin getting involved, working with, and supporting the causes of Blacks, Latinos, First Nations' people (aka Native Americans) so that the overall anarchist community will reflect its true ideals and philosophy in principles which calls for a political philosophy that embraces democracy and freedom, and seeks to destroy all forms of coercion and oppression. For a philosophy based on a collective whereby people can freely associate with equal power to determine their future, it is vital that there be a clear understanding of the Black struggles of yesterday and today. Murray Bookchin, in ''The Modern Crisis'', p79, stated ".. the making of the human being.. is a collective process, a process in which both community and the individual participate." If we understand this, and if we are sincere about the philosophies of anarchy, then we must understand why it is imperative to, not only understand the TRUE historical facts as they relate to Blacks and other peoples of colour, but also immerse ourselves into the continuing struggle they (we) face today.

The anarchist community need to know about the black women who stood up and voiced their anger against the fierce white oppression and who paved the way for the modern women's' liberation movement that are too often buried within the pages of HIStory. Take the question of the slave revolts leading to the birth of Abolitionism, which created a new chapter in American character. The very nature of anarchism is the absolute rejection of oppression and repression. The slaves in Amerika were FORCED to take names given, branded upon them by white slave owners. Therefore the simple act of choosing a name outside the slave owners' enforcement was, not only a courageous act, but also an act right out of the pages of anarchism. It may sound rather simple but let us examine this point: a Black woman (Sojourner Truth) decided she no longer wished to be branded by slave owners by carrying the name given to her. THAT is the first step of anarchist rebellion and the rejection of patriarchy, as she also rejected the name of her husband, which patriarchal society dictated a woman must take after marriage in her time. She said she "talked with God," told him she refused to bear a slave name, and asked what she should do? "He" answered her as follows: Sojourn the whole world over and tell everyone the truth about American democracy, that it doesn't exist for blacks. That is how she decided to call herself "Sojourner Truth". This historical act falls right in line with anarchist views. To quote Proudhon, "All associated and all free." Or, as Luigi Galleani puts it, anarchism is "the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of association."

In 1831 when the slave Nat Turner led a slave revolt in the State of Virginia, he acted from the very same principles that anarchy proclaims, namely; if liberty is essential for the fullest development of the individual, then equality is essential for liberty to exist. There can be no real freedom in a class-oriented hierarchical society laden with profound inequalities of power, wealth and privilege. But how many anarchists have ever viewed the black slave revolts as anarchy in nature and in motion?

Also, in the same year as Nat Turner's Slave revolt (1831), Maria Stewart spoke out in public - the first American-born woman, white or black, to speak publicly. Here is what she said: "O ye daughters of Afrika, awake! Awake! Arise! No longer sleep nor slumber but distinguish yourselves. Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties… How long shall the fair daughters of Afrika be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?… How long shall a mean set of men flatter us with their smiles and enrich themselves with our hard earnings, their wives' fingers sparkling with rings and they themselves laughing at our folly?" Again, this shows a strong anarchist line being held, being proclaimed for "anarchy" means "without rulers" or "without (hierarchical) authority." Maria Stewart was on point because anarchists are anti-authoritarians, believing that no human being should dominate another. Yet how many anarchists have ever known of this black woman's speech or her name? Or that of Sojourner Truth? This is what I mean when I said it is imperative that collectively, the anarchist community involve themselves, learn, know and embrace the struggles of people of colour so that the overall anarchist community isn't, in appearance, a majority white radical movement but a multi-cultural movement and well-versed so that anarchist literature speaks to all people.

Most, if not all, anarchist literature that I've read had figures representing ONLY white people, including cartoons. It strikes me as odd that this would be so, because the message displays a negation of non-whites, which, while it may not be the intention, send a message of exclusion. The figure or cartoon of a black-masked white-faced person doesn't really say to non-whites "we include you". Therefore, deep within the premise of anarchism exists an element of race exclusion. Of ethnic exclusion, though there may be rationalisations to the contrary. Tom Patterson, wrote in ''Inventing Western Civilisation'' (1997): "The word civilisation evokes powerful images and understandings." How much more of a powerful image can there be when we only project the figures, pictures and cartoons presenting anarchy as white, i.e. with features clearly definable as white? I have made this same claim to my Wobbly comrades in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) asking that they change the old image of a white man in overalls with his big arms folded across his chest because it reflects a symbol of white male superiority and thus alienates blacks and other peoples of colour and women. Within the anarchist collective or within the IWW, there are no images of Blackness, only of whiteness, which if truly examined, goes against the very principles anarchism proclaims. Social equality and individual liberty are inseparable. Without the collective self-management of decisions that affect a group (equality) to complement the individual self-management of decisions that affect the individual (liberty), a free society is impossible. (''Principles of Anarchism'', p8).

The recent events in Seattle's protest of the WTO saw very few black people in mass protest but it is black people the world over who suffer most form Capital's disenfranchisement and unfair labour practices. Anarchists must address this issue and ask "why? Anarchists must reach into the bowels of the black communities to find out what caused their lack of interest in the march and protest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington DC and then ponder over whether or not the black community was truly contacted and/or invited to give real input into the demonstrations and have their issues and grievances truly heard, represented and fought for. We cannot be parading around in masks and signs pretending to be against the evils and inhumanity of Capitalism while at the same time negate, in our actions, those most affected by capitalism.

Ali Khalid Abdullah #148130
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer MI 48446, USA

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Ali Khalid Abdullah