Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1999 02:25:19 -0700 (PDT)
From: Art McGee <email@example.com>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Historical Document: The Basis of Black Power
The myth that the Negro is somehow incapable of liberating himself, is
lazy, etc., came out of the American experience. In the books that
children read, whites are always
good (good symbols are white),
evil or seen as savages in movies, their language is
referred to as a
dialect, and black people in this country are
supposedly descended from savages.
Any white person who comes into the movement has the concepts in his mind about black people, if only subconsciously. He cannot escape them because the whole society has geared his subconscious in that direction.
Miss America coming from Mississippi has a chance to represent all of
America, but a black person from either Mississippi or New York will
never represent America. Thus the white people coming into the
movement cannot relate to the black experience, cannot relate to the
black, cannot relate to the
nitty gritty, cannot
relate to the experience that brought such a word into existence,
cannot relate to chitterlings, hog's head cheese, pig feet, ham hocks,
and cannot relate to slavery, because these things are not a part of
their experience. They also cannot relate to the black religious
experience, nor to the black church, unless, of course, this church
has taken on white manifestations.
Negroes in this country have never been allowed to organize themselves
because of white interference. As a result of this, the stereotype has
been reinforced that blacks cannot organize themselves. The white
psychology that blacks have to be watched, also reinforces this
stereotype. Blacks, in fact, feel intimidated by the presence of
whites, because of their knowledge of the power that whites have over
their lives. One white person can come into a meeting of black people
and change the complexion of that meeting, where a meeting unless he
was an obvious Uncle Tom. People would immediately start talking about
love, etc.; race would not be discussed.
If people must express themselves freely, there has to be a climate in which they can do this. If blacks feel intimidated by whites, then they are not liable to vent the rage that they feel about whites in the presence of whites—especially not the black people whom we are trying to organize, i.e., the broad masses of black people. A climate has to be created whereby blacks can express themselves. The reasons that whites must be excluded is not that one is anti-white, but because the effects that one is trying to achieve cannot succeed because whites have an intimidating effect. Ofttimes, the intimidating effect is in direct proportion to the amount of degradation that black people have suffered at the hands of white people.
It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest. The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and saying that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.
People now have the right to picket, the right to give out leaflets, the right to vote, the right to demonstrate, the right to print.
These things which revolve around the right to organize have been
accomplished mainly because of the entrance of white people into
Mississippi, in the summer of 1964. Since these goals have now been
accomplished, whites' role in the movement has now ended. What does it
mean if black people, once having the right to organize, are not
allowed to organize themselves? It means that blacks' ideas about
inferiority are being reinforced. Shouldn't people be able to organize
themselves? Blacks should be given this right. Further, white
participation means in the eyes of the black community that whites are
brains behind the movement, and that blacks cannot function
without whites. This only serves to perpetuate existing attitudes
within the existing society, i.e., blacks are
to take care of business, etc. Whites are
brains behind the whole thing.
How do blacks relate to other blacks as such? How do we react to Willie Mays as against Mickey Mantle? What is our response to Mays hitting a home run against Mantel performing the same deed? One has to come to the conclusion that it is because of black participation in baseball. Negroes still identify with the Dodgers because of Jackie Robinson's efforts with the Dodgers. Negroes would instinctively champion all-black teams if they opposed all white or predominantly white teams. The same principle operates for the movement as it does for baseball: a mystique must be created whereby Negroes can identify with the movement.
Thus an all-black project is needed in order for the people to free
themselves. This has to exist from the beginning. This relates to what
can be called
coalition politics. There is no doubt in our
minds that some whites are just as disgusted with this system as we
are. But it is meaningless to talk about coalition if there is no one
to align ourselves with, because of the lack of organization in the
white communities. There can be no talk of
hooking up unless
black people organize blacks and white people organize whites. If
these conditions are met, then perhaps at some later date—and if we
are going in the same direction—talks about exchange of personnel,
coalition, and other meaningful alliances can be discussed.
In the beginning of the movement, we had fallen into a trap whereby we
thought that our problems revolved around the right to eat at certain
lunch counters or the right to vote, or to organize our
communities. We have seen, however, that the problem is much
deeper. The problem of this country, as we had seen it, concerned all
blacks and all whites and therefore if decisions were left to the
young people, then solutions would be arrived at. But this negates the
history of black people and whites. We have dealt stringently with the
Uncle Tom, but we have not yet gotten around to
Simon Legree. We must ask ourselves, who is the real villain—Uncle
Tom or Simon Legree? Everybody knows Uncle Tom, but who knows Simon
Legree? So what we have now in SNCC is a closed society, a
clique. Black people cannot relate to SNCC because of its unrealistic,
nonracial atmosphere; denying their experience of America as a racist
society. In contrast, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of
Martin Luther King, Jr., has a staff that at least maintains a black
facade. The front office is virtually all black, but nobody accuses
SCLC of being racist.
If we are to proceed toward true liberation, we must cut ourselves off from white people. We must form our own institutions, credit unions, co-ops, political parties, write our own histories.
To proceed further, let us make some comparisons between the Black Movement of the early 1900s and the movement of the 1960s—i.e., compare the National Association for the advancement of Colored People with SNCC. Whites subverted the Niagara movement (the forerunner of the NAACP) which, at the outset, was an all-black movement. The name of the new organization was also very revealing, in that it presupposed blacks have to advanced to the level of whites. We are now aware that the NAACP has grown reactionary, is controlled by the black power structure itself, and stands as one of the main roadblocks to black freedom. SNCC, by allowing the whites to remain in the organization, can have its efforts subverted in much the same manner, i.e., through having them play important roles such as community organizers, etc. Indigenous leadership cannot be built with whites in the positions they now hold.
These facts do not mean that whites cannot help. They can participate on a voluntary basis. We can contract work out to them, but in no way can they participate on a policy-making level.
The charge may be made that we are
racists, but whites who are
sensitive to our problems will realize that we must determine our own
In an attempt to find a solution to our dilemma, we propose that our organization (SNCC) should be black-staffed, black-controlled, and black-financed. We do not want to fall into a similar dilemma that other civil rights organizations have fallen into. If we continue to rely upon white financial support we will find ourselves entwined in the tentacles of the white power complex that controls this country. It is also important that a black organization (devoid of cultism) be projected to our people so that it can be demonstrated that such organizations are viable.
More and more we see black people in this country being used as a tool
of the white liberal establishment. Liberal whites have not begun to
address themselves to the real problem of black people in this
country—witness their bewilderment, fear, and anxiety when
nationalism is mentioned concerning black people. An analysis of the
white liberal's reaction to the word
nationalism alone reveals
a very meaningful attitude of whites of an ideological persuasion
toward blacks in this country. It means previous solutions to black
problems in this country have been made in the interests of those
whites dealing with these problems and not in the best interests of
black people in the country. Whites can only subvert our true search
and struggles for self-determination, self-identification, and
liberation in this country. Reevaluation of the white and black roles
must now take place so that white no longer designate roles that black
people play but rather black people define white people's roles.
Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and
meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them
to tell us what was good about our Afro-American music, art, and
literature. How many black critics do we have on the
scene? How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche
(except in the oppressor's role) interpret the meaning of the blues to
us who are manifestations of the song themselves?
It must be pointed out that on whatever level of contact blacks and whites come together, that meeting or confrontation is not on the level of the blacks but always on the level of the whites. This only means that our everyday contact with whites is a reinforcement of the myth of white supremacy. Whites are the ones who must try to raise themselves to our humanistic level. We are not, after all, the ones who are responsible for a genocidal war in Vietnam; we are not the ones who are responsible for neocolonialism in Africa and Latin America; we are not the ones who held a people in animalistic bondage over 400 years. We reject the American dream as defined by white people and must work to construct an American reality defined by Afro-Americans.
One of the criticisms of white militants and radicals is that when we view the masses of white people we view the overall reality of America, we view the racism, the bigotry, and the distortion of personality, we view man's inhumanity to man; we view in reality 180 million racists. The sensitive white intellectual and radical who is fighting to bring about change is conscious of this fact, but does not have the courage to admit this. When he admits this reality, then he must also admit his involvement because he is a part of the collective white America. It is only to the extent that he recognizes this that he will be able to change this reality.
Another common concern is, how does the white radical view the black community, and how does he view the poor white community, in terms of organizing? So far, we have found that most white radicals have sought to escape the horrible reality of America by going into the black community and attempting to organize black people while neglecting the organization of their own people's racist communities. How can one clean up someone else's yard when one's own yard is untidy? Again we feel that SNCC and the civil rights movement in general is in many aspects similar to the anticolonial situations in the African and Asian countries. We have the whites in the movement corresponding to the white civil servants and missionaries in the colonial countries who have worked with the colonial people for a long period of time and have developed a paternalistic attitude toward them. The reality of the colonial people taking over their own lives and controlling their own destiny must be faced. Having to move aside and letting the natural process of growth and development take place must be faced.
These views should not be equated with outside influence or outside agitation but should be viewed as the natural process of growth and development within a movement; so that the move by the black militants and SNCC in this direction should be viewed as a turn toward self-determination.
It is very ironic and curious that aware whites in the country can champion anticolonialism in other countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but when black people move toward similar goals of self-determination in this country they are viewed as racists and anti-white by these same progressive whites. In proceeding further, it can be said that this attitude derives from the overall point of view of the white psyche as it concerns the black people. This attitude stems from the era of the slave revolts when every white man was a potential deputy or sheriff or guardian of the state. Because when black people get together among themselves to workout their problems, it becomes a threat to white people, because such meetings were potential slave revolts.
It can be maintained that this attitude or way of thinking has perpetuated itself to this current period and that it is part of the psyche of white people in this country whatever their political persuasion might be. It is part of the white fear-guilt complex resulting from the slave revolts. There have been examples of whites who stated that they can deal with black fellows on an individual basis but become threatened or menaced by the presence of groups of blacks. It can be maintained that this attitude is held by the majority of progressive whites in this country.
A thorough re-examination must be made by black people concerning the contributions that we have made in shaping this country. If this re-examination and re-evaluation is not made, and black people are not given their proper due and respect, then the antagonisms and contradictions are going to become more and more glaring, more and more intense, until a national explosion may result.
When people attempt to move from these conclusions it would be faulty reasoning to say they are ordered by racism, because, in this country and in the West, racism has functioned as a type of white nationalism when dealing with black people. We all know the habit that this has created throughout the world and particularly among nonwhite people in this country.
Therefore any re-evaluation that we must make will, for the most part, deal with identification. Who are black people, what are black people, what is their relationship to America and the world?
It must be repeated that the whole myth of
perpetuated by the white elite, has confused the thinking of radical
and progressive blacks and whites in this country. The broad masses of
black people react to American society in the same manner as colonial
peoples react to the West in Africa and Latin America, and had the
same relationship—that of the colonized toward the colonizer.