A protestor holds a sign that says "say not to xenophobia"

Xenophobia, Narrow Nationalism, & Capitalism

There is a devastating and unfortunate manifestation to the ruthless oppression African people have faced for over 500 years that we must discuss. Capitalism, built and maintained through its barbaric and horrific exploitation of cheap African human and material resources, has always utilized systemic white supremacy as its chief weapon to perpetuate its dominance. What this looks like in real time is a remote controlled misinformation campaign that paints Africa and the African masses (approximately two million of us scattered and suffering in almost 120 countries worldwide) as lazy, shiftless, dishonest, violence prone, and irresponsible. The reality is that those terrible attributes describe the capitalist/imperialist system, not Africa or the African masses. But the masses of people do not write history, the people in power do. So, the dominant and consistent narrative is that every problem Africa and African people have is 100% due to our incompetence and lack of moral fortitude. As a result of these lies, everyone, including other colonized people, learn quickly— whether in Africa, Australia, Europe, or any part of the Americas, that one of the qualifications to advance within the capitalist system is to do what white supremacy requires – disrespect, look down upon, and perpetuate the unjust oppression of the African masses.

Sekou Ture was correct when he said that oppression breeds resistance. Unfortunately, that resistance is dialectical, meaning it comes out in positive ways and in not so positive ways. One of the not so positive ways is that many African people, reacting to the systemic disrespect we experience every-day, have adopted a perspective that absolutely no one on earth sees our oppression besides us and that as a result, we must dismiss every form of exploitation and oppression that doesn’t involve African people. Some of this reactionary thinking has devolved to even lower forms of consciousness i.e. only focus on the oppression of Africans in a specific country, region, etc., even seeing other Africans outside of that geographical area as part of the problem.

Examples are during the escalation of anti-Chinese/Asian propaganda regarding the coronavirus, many Africans bought into the Asian blame game, reciting the justification that “they never did anything for us.”  The same ignorance on behalf of the African masses can be found whenever the Palestinian struggle is mentioned, and certainly, around the question of the Americas belonging to the Indigenous people (American Indian and their descendants, period). These narrow nationalist views are always justified under the pretext that those people don’t respect us and that many of them “are racist.”

Of course, there is no argument against the fact that many other colonized people do indeed adopt the consciousness of white supremacy in perpetuating oppression against African people. As was previously alluded to, this attitude is necessary in order to ensure the stability of the capitalist system. This system’s ability to thrive relies on continuing to exploit Africa’s cheap human and material resources so the best way to protect that reality is obviously to keep your feet on the necks of the African masses. So, this reaction from African people is perfectly understandable, but that doesn’t make it correct or even productive for our own liberation.

The problem with this thinking is its not scientific because its based upon xenophobia and ignorance about these other struggles we dismiss. And this ignorance usually means there isn’t much of a clear understanding about what’s truly needed for our own struggle. We call this xenophobia and say its unscientific because this backward scarcity (a capitalist component) based argument negates the reality that white supremacy is systemic, meaning many African people participate in perpetuating our own oppression just like everyone else. Many of our people use stepping on the backs of other African people as their gateway to personal advancement just like everyone else. From Mobutu in the Congo in the 60s to Kamala Harris in the U.S. in the present day, Africans, like everyone else, have figured out that a fast pathway to comfort and stability within the capitalist system is doing the bidding of that system. It’s far past time that we step up our class analysis in this regard and stop having tunnel vision.

An even larger and more critical portion of this discussion is that in no way does us adopting xenophobia and other narrow nationalist perspectives on our struggle help our own liberation struggle. The Irish Republican socialist struggle is a fight against British imperialism. The very same British imperialism that colonized Africa like it did Ireland. The very same British imperialism that is the sole reason you can read this in English while Britain continues to rob Africa blind. If we understand this, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to comprehend that a victory for Ireland is a weakening of the very same enemy we struggle against. The Palestinian people fight for the return of their homeland – Palestine (often referred to as Israel). The maintenance of Israel, just like the neo-colonial maintenance of Africa, requires that the imperialist world (the U.S., Britain, France, etc.) prop up Israel. In turn, Israel relies on exploiting African diamonds and geographical spaces (to prohibit Palestinian groups from staging struggle against them) which further subjugates Africa and African people. With this understanding, it’s difficult to comprehend why people wouldn’t be able to see how a victory for the Palestinians is a victory for us. The struggle of the Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere is specifically based on maintaining this empire which ensures the continued subjugation of the Indigenous people. Clearly, their victory and the return of these lands to them would have to automatically mean a severe weakening of international imperialism which is exactly what we want and need. And, the fact that so many Africans live on Indigenous lands isn’t an issue because once this liberation happens, most of the Africans clinging to Western imperialism will instantly lose their loyalty to that once this system is no longer holding the keys to worldwide wealth. 

Finally, it’s important that we address head-on the class struggle component of this argument. There are Africans who have decided to walk in the pathway of the petit-bourgeoisie, meaning they are on the side of the capitalist system and international imperialism. Some of them, like Mobutu, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama, do so because they see that they can elevate to spokespersons for imperialism. Others of us are simply satisfied to serve as capitalism’s middle managers— a house, two cars, and a vacation is all we require to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the majority of the planet. And, since we are so ruthlessly oppressed, the bar is so low that many of us actually believe that the symbolism of having someone who looks like us being a spokesperson for imperialism is more important than the damage these people do against our people (and that damage is overwhelming). You can detect these arguments from Africans who dismiss Obama’s disastrous international policies against Africa and even his domestic policies as well.

At the end of the day, the question comes down to this simple equation: you either see international capitalism and imperialism as an evil empire or you see it as a prosperous system that you somehow want to figure out how to tap into, even at the expense of the masses of people worldwide. Revolutionary international solidarity with people, regardless of their nationality, is a strategy to strengthen anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements. We know that other colonized people have racists within their communities, just as we know we have many reactionary Africans within our communities. Our comrades in those other liberation movements are the first to tell us of their traitors within their communities and they are actively at work to combat those forces just as we are at work exposing the reactionary petit-bourgeoisie scum among our people. Revolutionary struggle requires this work at all times in uncompromising fashion.

We are not confused about the class nature of this struggle. We do not confuse petit-bourgeois nationalism for revolutionary Pan-Africanism. They are two completely different things on every level. So, the next time you hear an African talking about how we don’t need to be concerned about anyone else’s struggle except our own think about how impractical that approach is for even our own liberation and if don’t want to see it that way, then think about how you probably aren’t really that interested in our liberation at all.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.