Identity Without Responsibility

It’s very difficult to really get to the bottom of an issue with a celebrity at the center. On Hood Communist, we have written and talked a lot about the issues created by celebrity-centered analysis. Once the concept of celebrity enters a room, it stands in the middle of the floor and expands outward in every direction, making it impossible for other issues, like class, to get a word in. The conversation can no longer be about the issue itself, only the spectacle of the celebrity and what we project on our relationship with that person. 

This is proven true in the most recent events surrounding Kyrie Irving. All sides of the issue have chosen to flatten the contradiction, a tried and true manipulation tactic that involves twisting the starting point of a conversation so much that until eventually, the root issue is no longer recognizable. And so in this case, Africans that want to discuss the evils of Zionism and the ridiculousness of any African being summoned to apologize before the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are flattened into the same camp as the confused forces in the African community who seek to distance themselves from Africa. And at the same time, anyone coming out to proudly denounce the ahistoric nonsense peddled in documentaries like “Hebrews to Negroes” in the midst of the ongoing public lashing of Kyrie Irving is also flattened into being against ‘truth’ and Black people ‘learning their history’. It’s a mess that could easily be resolved if the celebrity is quietly escorted out of the room, and so that is what I attempt to do here. 

I have grown a lot of empathy for Africans living in the US who are confused about identity and run around trying on different hats like ‘We are the REAL native ’amerikkkans’’ or ‘We are the REAL jews’. The truth is that US public schools are propaganda factories that don’t just sanitize things like slavery but also totally bypass life for anybody that isn’t European pre-Western colonization. US history textbooks are full of convenient bullshit that doesn’t contain any real answers for African people living here.

Kids leave school and become adults who don’t know everything but know for a fact that what they learned in school was not it. Where else then, do you go after formal schooling to read Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?’ Who is helping our people to read ‘The World and Africa’ by W.E.B DuBois in between 14-18 hour workdays?

So we make things up. We are already taught to be embarrassed by Africa. We are already conditioned to lay the blame for our circumstances on ourselves anyway. And to top it all off, we live in the largest anti-intellectual society on the face of the Earth. People in the US lie to themselves about everything. We lie to ourselves about the role of the US military in destabilizing the rest of the world and then pretend it’s a force for good in the world. We lie so much that we have convinced ourselves that a country built on stolen land and forced labor should even be allowed to exist. Africans in the US lie to themselves so much that we even call ourselves ‘Americans’. In all honesty, this is equally as ridiculous as the whole ‘Real Jew’ thing, and that’s word to Malcolm X.

This is why we have to unflatten the discourse about Judaism, Africans, and Zionism. Africans in the US just this week expended major energy into a failed re-election campaign for Stacy Abrams, a politician that has clearly stated her allegiance to the apartheid state of Israel. Let’s just pretend that we are to believe ourselves the ‘true’ inheritors of the occupied land now called Israel. What is the strategy to reclaim it? To stand with the Zionists? Africans in the US are still stricken with delusion about the US empire’s first Black President, a politician who was devoted to the destruction of land, clean drinking water, and brutality against the Native forces who opposed him. Let’s just pretend that we are to believe ourselves the ‘true’ Natives’. We would then stand in support of the forces destroying ‘our’ native lands? The contradictions here run amok because of the flattening of the line. 

Africans in the US who call themselves ‘Black Americans’ are committed to things like the unfruitful cycle of elections, and representation in media, corporations, and the military. Never mind the fact that it is our likeness being used to build weapons and manufacture consent for war against all of humanity, at least it is finally us. All these exercises in pseudo patriotism (the ‘Black’ in ‘Black American’ supposedly representing something other than the Red, White, and Blue) continue to earn us nothing but higher incarceration rates, rapidly increasing homelessness, and being killed with impunity. It’s a non-stop love affair with identities that don’t fit. But when we tune out the noise, we can easily think ourselves in the right direction. We can also start to be honest about the fact that it’s not just the Hebrew-Israelites on the corner that are confused about what’s going on here. 

None of the confusion created by living in the core of the US empire is ever going to change the fact that Africa is our homeland. No lies are going to change the fact that we come from people who were stolen, and desperately wanted to go home. And when they couldn’t go home, they made the best of the circumstances around them. Once you start to understand that you are an African, you don’t need to reinvent history to feel powerful. Instead, I hope that the realization will orient you toward your responsibility to Africa and all African people today. A proper understanding of who we are points us toward a few essential truths: 

You are an African. 

The basis of your power is bound to the survival of Africa. 

African people are not the face of antisemitism and must be relentless in our struggle against Zionism, as it is Zionist forces that benefit from our oppression. 

You do not need in-group acceptance or a claim to anyone else’s ancestral lands, but as an African, you must recognize that the subjugation of the rest of the colonized world is your subjugation. Zionists never planned to stop at the borders of Palestine. 

These truths also require a follow-up. All African people who recognize these truths must recognize the responsibility to organize our people toward the destruction of the Euro-American colonial order. That responsibility means political unification on a national basis. African identity is more than cultural, it is political! It means rejecting candidates, ideologies, and policies that seek to harm Africa. It means organizing systems of community defense so that African people affected by capitalism live through another winter. It means being willing to confront negative social relations among African people, and struggling to build new community dynamics that allow all among us to thrive— men, women, children, and gender non-conforming Africans. And for those who are committed to disunity and confusion, we must say that whatever it is that you are out here calling yourself, just know that identity without responsibility is meaningless. It is just a costume.

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Salifu Mack is a Pan-Africanist and organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the Lowcountry Action Committee in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.