Since its founding in 1920 as Negro History and Literature Week, Black History Month has served as an “annual celebration of achievements by ‘African Americans’ and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.” Many of us share fond (and some unpleasant) memories of the yearly church programs, school assemblies, and essay contests all organized around that shared sense of identity and history of perseverance.
But as critical and principled Africans that know what’s happenin’, the time has passed for us to engage with what this month has come to represent. We can look as recently as the liberalizing of “Black Lives Matter” to see an example of how Black political agendas can be stolen and repurposed. In less than ten years, we’ve gone from fighting white folks about the meaning of the phrase, to seeing it plastered across billboards and city streets. “Black Lives Matter” once fulfilled a specific purpose but has outlived that purpose and threatens almost to squander the radical potential that is fighting to outlive it.
What then can be said of the 101-year-old “Black History Month”? A month where we are set to be bombarded by calls for the consumption of red, black, and green Apple watches in the so called united states, while children die in the Congo mining cobalt. A month where we are primed for collages and memes of our “first Black defense secretary” superimposed on paintings next to Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey; all while AFRICOM continues to expand its grip in Africa. A month where Harriet Tubman is being celebrated as the new potential face of the $20 bill, while her descendants struggle without access to the US dollar, in the midst of a global pandemic.
The great month that Carter G. Woodson established to raise the political consciousness of his people and instill a feeling of pride has been weaponized against us. The theme for this year’s Black History Month celebration has been announced as “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” As the Black family continues to come under attack from every direction—lack of access to health care, predatory state and social services, police, lack of safe and fulfilling employment, and most of all, abysmal Black maternal mortality rates, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History will honor Black life this year by centering “representation” “identity” and “diversity”, all words we have come to understand, don’t amount to shit.
In this statement, members of the Hood Communist Collective will outline what we have identified as four key ways in which Black History Month has been commandeered to work in the interest of the ruling class and paralyze the potential for radical movement-building today. We then offer solutions to overcoming these barriers and propose a different framework, African Liberation Month.
The Disappearance of Radical African Organizations
Knowing one’s past opens the doors to one’s future. Our past knowledge, funneled to us through colonized educations, is riddled with half-truths. What does that mean for our futures? Black History Month’s hyperfocus on remembering our past through the lens of charismatic leaders is intentional and should not be taken lightly. There exists a disconnect between Black radical history and the mainstream narratives of Black history that projects progress by collapsing gains made through organized struggle as the feat of just “one man.” The illusion that nothing has historically been won through organized struggle, but instead the “hopes and dreams” of one person is dangerous propaganda.
During Black History Month, colonized schools uphold individuals apart from organizations. The people whose collective organizing was the backbone of a struggle towards liberation become background characters, if mentioned at all, to the exalting (and exploitation) of one man who then becomes a tool to assist in stitching legacies of resistance into the folds of the american Dream. For example, we know of the non-violent message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but nothing about the Deacons for Defense and Justice— the organized collective of US military veterans who protected King and others during marches and actions. These convenient retellings of our histories not only promotes individualism but passivism, too, which works in step with the rejection of organizations we see happening now. Why should we organize people when we only need a charismatic leader? That is the message that Black History Month gives us, among other fallacies.
A “first Black” solution to liberation entangled with a hierarchy and prominence of Black male leadership does not exist in a vacuum. As we see now, this constricting and revisionist retelling of Black histories invites futures where signs of progress are only disguised regress. There has never been a moment in Black History when there have not been many people organized to do many things on the ground to seek the liberation of African people. The ahistorical retelling of our history allows for isolating individuals away from the pulse of the movement and the people, and to force the assimilation of their politics into american patriotism. This advances a pathology of forgiveness and hope.
The manipulation of Black excellence by normalizing this settler-colonial nation has served as a breeding ground for manufacturing consent and how we understand Black liberation. Black History Month has remained a constant assistant in that effort. We can not afford to continue to allow the prioritization of individualism over the collective. Organizations and organized struggle create change, not individual actors.
The Exclusion of Africa and The Diaspora
Some people will respond to this section by screaming that the concept of Black History Month was designed to bring light to the specific experiences of Africans in the U.S. We believe that this micro-nationalist perspective of African people is symptomatic of the shortcomings evident within this so-called annual February commemoration.
We reject the reduction of our experiences to just those of us within the U.S., and we especially dismiss references to African people anywhere that don’t start by placing Africa in the center where she belongs. The reality for Africans everywhere within the Western Hemisphere – from Canada down to Chile – is that our existence in these colonial states is the direct result of nothing beyond how the vicious and violent slave raiders kidnapped us from Africa. Literally, if your great grandparents ran left, and the British captured them, this explains why you are in the U.S., Canada, Jamaica, Belize, etc., speaking English today. If your ancestors ran straight and the Spanish captured them, this explains why you are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, or Mexico speaking Spanish today. If your ancestors ran right and were captured by the French, this explains why you are in Haiti or Canada speaking French today. This is scientifically irrefutable and despite whatever imaginary connection to the micro-state that is cooked up by those who wish to deny Africa, the truth is objectively the truth. We will never be Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, etc. As Malcolm X told us 50+ years ago “if a cat has kittens in an oven, you don’t call the babies biscuits!”
Africa and the rest of the African world is deleted from every context of life within the U.S. in a concerted effort by the capitalist system to convince Africans within the U.S. that we have U.S. exceptionalism and absolutely nothing else. The framing of Black History Month honors this misinformation because the continued advancement of this vision is essential to maintaining the international capitalist world order. Capitalism was built and is maintained upon exploiting Africa. The moment Africans within the U.S. wake up and realize this (the capitalists recognize this, even if we don’t) that their days are numbered. This is the reason even racist right-wing sources like the anti-immigrant Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) enthusiastically and financially support efforts to turn Africans within the U.S. against Africans born outside of the U.S. This is also the reason there are over 50 million Africans within the U.S., yet overwhelming communities of these Africans can tell you absolutely nothing comprehensive about Africa beyond the racist stereotypes that pass as objective history.
Whatever problems Africans experience in the Western Hemisphere, those problems didn’t originate there. The seeds for the problems we face in 2021 and beyond were planted when our ancestors were captured in Africa. Any serious effort to reclaim our history must start by respecting that reality.
The Erasure of Non-Cis Male African Revolutionaries
When we see the Black History Month erasure of figures like Assata Shakur, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marsha P. Johnson, Ella Baker, Claudia Jones, Queen Nanny, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Amy Jacques Garvey, Bibi Titi Mohammed, Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, King Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, Queen Nzingha Mbande and so many more, we see the connection to the erasure of non-cishet revolutionaries today. Black History Month has become a colonial co-opted operation, therefore it can not and will not be a safe space for queer, poor and working-class revolutionaries.
We want to be clear this is not an attack on the African masses. We are a good people and our only problem is that we are colonized. We know we’ve been brainwashed to accept and promote all forms of division; to keep the African Nation divided so that the white supremacy can continue conquering us undisturbed. So we criticize the white power structure that controls us like puppets and not people. What this exclusion does is keep us all from getting free. Only through unity can we ever be free, our people.
Erasure and slander towards trans revolutionaries, woman identifying revolutionaries, and queer revolutionaries will NOT succeed! Their co-opting and mutilation of Black History Month, turning it into a celebration of Africans who have sold us out will NOT succeed! Their attacks on poor and working class African leadership will NOT succeed! The agenda to sabotage African liberation theories like feminism, Pan-Africanism, intersectionality and socialism will NOT succeed!
The Promotion of Neo-colonial Propaganda
Despite the many lies told about poor, hapless Africa’s unending dependency upon the charity of the Western world, the reality of the situation is that the entirety of the global economic system of capitalism rests on a foundation of stolen African land, labor, and resources. Africa has been trapped in a parasitic relationship with the West that is reinforced by structures of massive violence against the continent and it’s children for centuries, allying with a menagerie of traitorous neo-colonial leaders in order to steal African wealth and lives.
But here in the Snakes, the most visible boosters of the richness of African history and culture tend to ignore this reality in favor of a singular focus on a particular kind of narrative and aesthetic, rooted in a celebration of an apolitical spirituality, material wealth, and royal status. A recent example of this was the cinematic celebration of a fantasy African nation untouched by colonialism, Wakanda, as depicted in the Disney, Marvel, and US Department of Defense’s film, Black Panther.
Black Panther was a wild cultural success, popular in the mainstream but also particularly loved by Africans living in the US. It was a rare celebration of dignified, un-dominated African people – agents of their own history and living self-determined. It was an emotional sight in the media for our people living in the belly. It was also a brightly colored big budget heroic rebrand of some of the worst ongoing perpetrators of crimes against Africa.
The reason why works like Black Panther, Beyonce’s Black is King, Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America or any number of cultural productions that engage Africa in fantasy but never in reality, are able to get away with spreading capitalist-imperialist propaganda in an Afrocentric vehicle is because our people living in the US simply do not know enough about Africa’s present reality to recognize the harm that’s being done. We are, after all, the same people who voted en masse for the first African US president, Barack Obama, only to sit in unconditional love and silence as his administration quickly expanded AFRICOM. The consequence of our action and then inaction has been a US-led dominance of Africa’s lands and peoples by foreign militaries and mercenaries.
We have to learn and fight to defend Africa from the evil we pay our taxes to. We must reject any kind of Afrocentrism that does not engage with Africa’s modern day struggle to be free from exploitation. It’s not enough to take on the look and feel of Africa in order to claim African identity and culture, while hyper fixating on our lives here in the states. We must learn about the real Africa, about the destruction and devastation that capitalism and imperialism are spreading on the continent, and about how we can organize as one people around the world to stop it.
As Jamil Al-Amin (fka H. Rap Brown) warned us in 1969, “white folks will co-opt dog shit if it’s to their advantage.” Hood Communist rejects any framework in which anyone gets to dictate the terms or themes of a month geared toward African people, that is not from the African masses themselves. We reject a month that suppresses the memory of non cis-male African revolutionaries. We reject a month that embraces american exceptionalism and functions to separate the struggle of Africans living in america from that of Africans around the world. We reject a month that deprioritizes the history of radical African organizations and movement building in exchange for Hollywood hero narratives. We reject a month that allows america to make the history of Africa its own.
This month we encourage all Africans to center Africa in your politics and organizing! Join an organization fighting for the liberation of Africa and her people! Let us move forward and celebrate African Liberation Month in total unity, love, and appreciation of ALL Africans who have chosen the side of the people against white colonial capitalism. Forward to freedom we march together!