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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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If African Americans truly desire full liberation they cannot be a slave to

the Democratic Party and Republican parties, or any mainstream party

 that stands pat with the status quo of racism and skin-privileging.



Books by Barack Obama

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance  / The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

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Obama and the Hunger for a Black President

By Rudolph Lewis


The hunger for a Black President is rather silly, superficial black politics. It shows our political immaturity and our desperate lack of a real black leader. It shows we prefer symbols to the real substance of black liberation. It shows that we have more faith in political operatives and political collaborators than real black leaders. It shows also the fear these operatives have of being a black leader—poverty, imprisonment, flight, assassination. That is the tragic history of real black leaders; these extreme deficiencies (penalties) of leadership are the burdens of true leaders of the oppressed.

Such black leaders must essentially threaten the "Peculiar Institution" of America, long thought of by scholars as American slavery, which Virginia now "profoundly regrets." But slavery (as hereditary bond-laborers) has been dead since 1865 and Jim Crow (racial segregation) has been essentially dead since 1965. Yet African Americans remain an oppressed people, suffering daily from racism in every aspect of American life. Bond servitude, which was visited upon European Americans as well as Native Americans, however, was not the true "Peculiar Institution."

The true "Peculiar Institution," Theodore Allen argues, was rather the official institution of the "white race" at the beginning of 18th-century America, around about 1705 in the State of Virginia and completed during the reign of Governor William Gooch.  Speaking against a genetic origin of racism, Allen explains, "The ruling class took special pains to be sure that the people they ruled were propagandized in the moral and legal ethos of white-supremacism  . . . the laws mandated that parish clerks or churchwardens, once each spring and fall at the close of Sunday service, should read ("publish") these laws in full to the congregants" (Invention of the White Race, vol. 2, 251).

These 1705 and 1723 legislative acts of Virginia were instituted to "separate dangerous free whites from dangerous slave blacks." They were a ruling class means to avoid another interracial Bacon's Rebellion against the bourgeois planters, whose primary interest was the lowering of labor costs, the engrossment of land, and the concentration of capital ownership. That is, the slave owner legislators intended to "make race, not class, the distinction in America's social life."

The Virginian ruling elites thus instituted for the first time in the history of America (and possibly in the world) preferences based on "whiteness": "no free African-American was to dare to lift his or her hand against a ‘Christian, not being a negro, mulatto or Indian'; that African-American freeholders were no longer to be allowed to vote; that the provision of a previous enactment [1691] was being reinforced against the mating of English and Negroes as producing ‘abominable mixture' and ‘spurious' issue; that, as provided in the 1723 law for preventing freedom plots by African-American bond-laborers, ‘any white person . . . found in company with any [illegally congregated] slaves' was to be fined (along with free African Americans or Indians so offending) with a fine of fifteen shillings, or to ‘receive, on his, her, or their bare backs, for every such offense, twenty lashes well laid on'" (Invention of the White Race, vol. 2, 251).

The creation of this "white" buffer between the ruling classes and African Americans (bond and free) took hold, spread from town to town, county to county, state to state. This "white race" invention by Virginia established the "contours of American history."  The racial castes of "blacks" at the bottom and "whites" above and the privileging of skin in social status, in trades, land ownership, capital accumulation, in professions remain with us today in every sector of American life. Racism is thus at "the essence of American bourgeois democracy." This "safety valve of white skin privilege," a three-century old "incubus" has thus, says Theodore Allen, "paralyzed laboring class European Americans in the defense of their class interest vis-à-vis those of the ruling class" (Invention of the White Race, vol. 2, 259).

Many of today's black leaders (businessmen, educators, politicians, and others of the professional classes) neither possess nor promote this historical deliberate view of America's institutionalizing racism and racial oppression as a corporate means of making profit and concentrating wealth. Too many have anti-working class biases and believe that rednecks founded racism and armed themselves for racial oppression on their own behest of eliminating competition. Others believe that racism is in the genes. Still others believe that liberation can come merely by a mental adjustment of attitudes. Thus, in this context, we have plenty of entertainers—black political entertainers and black political pundits—all of which have made their deals with the wealthy and the powerful and have become, as individuals, wealthy and powerful.

It is also in this context that we have an African American running to be the Democratic Party's choice for President of the United States. Mainstream electoral politics is not "the" solution, for black liberation, especially in how it is presently conceived and used.  Mainstream electoral politics cannot for us be an end in itself. We will not be a free people unless we are willing to withhold our vote from mainstream parties. Most black leaders are tied, however, inextricably to the mainstream parties, even the Nation of Islam. These ties by individual black leaders lead to political corruption, which is a serious barrier to substantive efforts toward black liberation. Those political ties only serve individual blacks, rather than the masses of blacks.

The masses of working class blacks have lost faith in this mainstream strategy, which has been in operation for more than two decades and thus they do not go to the polls. In effect, they are "boycotting" the polls. I am with them in this rejection and support their non-participation. But our leaders have not taken political advantage of this non-participation, rather they have castigated this political act (as ignorance), for it runs against their collaboration with these parties in the oppression of the general black population and it undercuts their influence with these parties and thus their payoff.

There is a general trend that promotes voting regardless. That is, voting for the lesser of two evils. These cynics use the strangest of arguments to support this waste of energy, time, and political clout. They will use history of the struggle for voting rights and one's ancestors to demonstrate the obligation to vote. They derisively attack the "ignorance" of non-voters who refuse to support one set or other of their corporate and political oppressors. Well, such arguments do not set us on the path of liberation. It walks away from true political responsibility to our people. If we are truly a free people each has not only a right to vote, but each also has a right not to vote. Voting for the lesser of two evils forces each black person to play their oppressors' game. It is like voting whether my slaveholder is more benevolent than your slaveholder. Whatever the vote slavery remains and subjects all to an outrageous and abusive system.

That kind of political action does not lead to the parting of the sea or the crossing over to Jordan. It does not cause the walls to fall down. This philosophical view is at the heart of the criticism of black leadership. One has to commit oneself with one's feet; that is, one must be willing to walk away from the choice of two evils. None has formulated this as the essential problem of black politics today.  Rather there is a labor to keep the masses in the dark, voting blindly and mechanically. These mainstream leaders do not want to formulate non-voting into a potent political message.

If African Americans truly desire full liberation they cannot be a slave to the Democratic and Republican parties, or any mainstream party that stands pat with the status quo of racism and skin-privileging. If we wish to use the full force of the black vote, we must consider other options; that is, if we seek an end to racism and racial oppression in America's social, economic, and political life. The Democratic Party cares less whether Negroes are racially oppressed or not. What they care first and foremost about is winning. 

We as a people must be at least free in our thinking to do whatever is necessary to bring pressure to bear for our overall interests and those of the nation. If that means disrupting the normal course of electoral politics by boycotting the polls, then that is what we must do. Otherwise, the Democrats will continue to play to white middle class issues and white middle class interests which have a subtext of white-skin privileging. That's bad news for us as a people. The Democrats will play to those concerns in their competition with the Republican Right. And black people's issues will be pushed into a dark corner.

That is the essence of what has happened since Reagan came on the scene in the 1980s and our elected black leaders have played this piecemeal game, and lost. They have negotiated behind closed doors (with corporate executives and congressional politicians) for tokens of full liberation. That strategy in the last two decades of being a slave to the Democratic Party has brought us political and economic losses rather than gains.

This is a new age. We can no longer recognize political gains by the symbolic counting of "black faces in high places" or in political offices. That's simple-minded black politics, the crudest form of a political philosophy or black perspective. Obama's presidential candidacy is just another way of pulling African Americans back into voting for the Democratic Party once again. It is a sham tactic; it is a distraction. It pulls us away from our basic concerns as a people, that is, our issues of (poverty, unemployment, education, criminalization, discrimination, etc.) produced by a regime of white-skin privileging. These consequences are sometimes referred to as the "Black Agenda."

What is worse in these days is that our present mainstream leaders will not even go so far as to present a "Black Agenda" or a "Black Platform" to the Democratic or Republican parties. There is not one mainstream black insider willing to demand one. That shows us how superficial the black connection is with the Democrats. For they know, Negroes are so pleased to have the right to vote that they will vote for the Democrats, regardless; for obviously the Republicans know that they can win without the Negro vote and so they do not have to negotiate whatsoever.

Spiro Agnew asked us back in 1967, who else are you going to vote for if you don't vote for me? That's the attitude of the Democrats today. Recall what Agnew did when he became governor of Maryland. In April 1968, after the Baltimore riots, he told the mainstream black leaders that they were not responsible, that they had neglected their duty to keep the Negro masses in line, that they had allowed the "militants" to get a foothold within the communities to cause havoc and damage. He talked to them as if they were his children or personal slaves. Agnew’s reward for standing up to the Negro leadership was to be chosen as Richard Nixon’s running mate for Vice-President of the United States.

Aren't we yet tired of these kinds of political machinations? Don't our people deserve more? Doesn't America deserve more?  We must go beyond "black agendas" and demand an end to racism and racial oppression in every aspect of American life. There are indeed secondary and tertiary issues made more prominent than the primary understated class antagonisms that exist here in America, with the wealthy becoming more shamelessly wealthy and the poor becoming more desperately poor. Racism and racial oppression are the major means by which this obfuscation of class antagonisms continues its three-century reign in American history and politics. That individuals are bogged down in their individual agendas to attend to this fact is regrettable. 

As long as that remains the case, the worst will be for all of us—black and white, whatever our individual agendas may be. Our food will not taste as it should. Our class comfort will not be quite as comfortable. Our professions will not be so enjoyable. Our reflections of whatever type will not be as clear as it might. For each of us will have avoided with great energy the key issue that has colored our existence in America—racism and racial oppression, a system that has broadened the social gap between the Titans of Capital and the common people, with the masses of blacks remaining at the utter bottom of the socio-economic ladder.  

Our true black leaders must be willing to take a new path, create a new rhetoric, support more radical politics—withdraw from mainstream electoral parties, boycott the presidential elections, etc.—until our liberation is achieved. If that means we must leave some of our black brothers behind in the Democratic and Republican parties, then let it be. We will join hands with others—European Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans—to make a new America that is not dependent on racism and racial oppression as a means of  lowering labor costs, seizing control of land, and concentrating capital as a means of producing the highest rate of profit.

First published in Black Agenda Report

posted 3 September 2007

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The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) Part 2

Why Steve Biko Wouldn't Vote

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America.

Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.Publishers Weekly

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Afro- Pessimism

By Frank B. Wilderson

“Afro-Pessimists are framed as such . . . because they theorize an antagonism, rather than a conflict—i.e., they perform a kind of ‘work of understanding’ rather than that of liberation, refusing to posit seemingly untenable solutions to the problems they raise.”

“[The Afro-Pessimists argue] that violence toward the black person happens gratuitously, hence without former transgression, and the even if the means of repression change (plantation was replaced by prison, etc.), that doesn’t change the structure of the repression itself. Finally (and this is important in terms of the self-definition of the white person), a lot of repression happens on the level of representation, which then infiltrates the unconscious of both the black and the white person . . . Since these structures are ontological, they cannot be resolved (there is no way of changing this unless the world as we know it comes an end. . . .); this is why the [Afro-Pessimist relational-schema] would be seen as the only true antagonism (while other repressive relations like class and gender would take place on the level of conflict—they can be resolved, hence they are not ontological).”

“[The Afro-Pessimists] work toward delineating a relation rather than focus on a cultural object.”

“Something that all the Afro-Pessimists seem to agree upon regarding social death are notions of kinship (or lack there of), the absence of time and space to describe blackness. . . . There is no grammar of suffering to describe their loss because the loss cannot be named.”

“[The Afro-Pessimists] theorize the workings of civil society as contiguous with slavery, and discuss the following as bearing witness to this contiguity: the inability of the slave (or the being-for-the-captor) to translate space into place and time into event; the fact that the slave remains subject to gratuitous violence (rather than violence contingent on transgression); the natal alienation and social death of the slave.”

“[T]he Afro-Pessimists all seek to . . . stage a metacritique of the current discourse identified as “critical theory” by excavating an antagonism that exceeds it; to recognize this antagonism forces a mode of death that expels subjecthood and forces objecthood [upon Blacks].”

“For Fanon, the solution to the black presence in the white world is not to retrieve and celebrate our African heritage, as was one of the goals of the Negritude project. For Fanon, a revolution that would destroy civil society, as we know it would be a more adequate response. I think the Afro-Pessimist such as Hartman, Spillers, and Marriott would argue there is no place for the black, only prosthetics, techniques which give the  illusion of a relationality in the world.”

Like the work of Jared Sexton, Saidiya Hartman, David Marriott, Hortense Spillers, Frantz Fanon, Lewis Gordon, Joy James, and others, Wilderson’s poetry, creative prose, scholarly work, and film production are predicated on the notion that slavery did not end in 1865; the United States simply made adjustments to the force of Black resistance without diminishing the centrality of Black captivity to the stability and coherence of civil society.Incognegro

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Privatizing Education: The Neoliberal Project

Black Education and Afro-Pessimism / The Collapse of Urban Public Schooling  / The Myth of Charter Schools

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Existentia Africana

Understanding Africana Existential Thought

By Lewis Ricardo Gordon

The intellectual history of the last quarter of this century has been marked by the growing influence of Africana thought—an area of philosophy that focuses on issues raised by the struggle over ideas in African cultures and their hybrid forms in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Existentia Africana is an engaging and highly readable introduction to the field of Africana philosophy and will help to define this rapidly growing field. Lewis R. Gordon clearly explains Africana existential thought to a general audience, covering a wide range of both classic and contemporary thinkers—from Douglass and Du Bois to Fanon.

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Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism

By Lewis R. Gordon

Lewis Gordon presents the first detailed existential phenomenological investigation of anti-black racism as a form of Sartrean bad faith. Bad faith, the attitude in which human beings attempt to evade freedom and responsibility, is treated as a constant possibility of human existence. Anti-black racism, the attitude and practice that involve the construction of black people as fundamentally inferior and subhuman, is examined as an effort to evade the responsibilities of a human and humane world. Gordon argues that the concept of bad faith militates against any human science that is built upon a theory of human nature and as such offers an analysis of anti-black racism that stands as a challenge to our ordinary assumptions of what it means to be human.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 8 April 2012




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Related files:  Biko Biosketch   Biko Speaks on Africans  Introduction I Write What I Like   Black Education and Afro-Pessimism  Gramsci's Black Marx   Why Steve Biko Wouldn't Vote 

Biko and the Problematic of Presence  Straying from official orthodoxy