What Amiri Baraka Said About Kwame Nkrumah

Wed, 29 Jan 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis


Apparently, our essay “What Amiri Baraka Said Kwame Nkrumah (2)” raised many important questions in the minds of some of our readers, questions we hope to resolve today. One of these concerned Amiri Baraka’s characterization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “brainwashed” leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Obviously, the reader in question made this comment by severing context, time, sociology of knowledge, constitutionalism, ideology, circumstance, and place from historical actualities. Amiri Baraka may have made this statement when he was squarely within the ranks of Black Nationalists. Meanwhile, he, like Malcolm X and some whites, realized King’s “non-violent” philosophy did not adequately protect African Americans from the social juggernaut of brutalities which came their way (See John H. Griffin’s “Black Lime Me”).

Possibly, this senseless brutalization against Black America may have occurred (and still continues today) against the backdrop of the Second Amendment of the US constitution. Contrary to what constitutional revisionists may say, the US constitution made African Americans “three-fifths” of a person, most likely in the personhood of whiteness. Therefore, many, if not most, whites saw African Americans essentially as “animals,” hence the word “chattel” in “chattel slavery” though “chattel” literary means “moveable property.” Legally “domestic animals” is part of the broader definition of “chattel.” That aside, Malcolm X and the leadership of the Black Panthers asked African Americans to arm themselves for self-protection in accordance with constitutional requirements (there are serious controversies surrounding constitutional interpretations of the Second Amendment) and social realities.

However, on a more general note, native Africans then in America were considerably treated better than African Americans just as non-South African blacks were considerably treated better than native Black South Africans. In 1973, for instance, Apartheid South Africa made the famed Afro-Guyanese Edward R. Braithwaite, an influential writer, diplomat, professor, and novelist, an “honorary white,” thereby lifting the ban on his books and granting him more privileges and freedoms than what the native Black South African enjoyed but still less than what the average White South African enjoyed. Let’s move on. African Americans were lynched here and there by state, federal, and white vigilantes. Coincidentally, Kwame Nkrumah’s fateful arrival in the United States from England exposed him to these brutalities.

Also, while in England Nkrumah got wind of how fascist Benito Mussolini’s had invaded Ethiopia, unprovoked, and set the country on a fiery path of war, a war in which the Italians deployed chemical warfare agents (mustard gas, for instance) against Ethiopians, burning and killing them, with the Vatican’s full support. More controversially, though, Mussolini even used the Vatican, under the leadership of Pope Pius Xl, to lobby against America’s boycotting Italy (See David Kertzer’s “The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius Xl and the Rise of Fascism in Europe”). The Italian invasion of Ethiopian may have probably driven Nkrumah to seriously consider politics as a career. In the meantime, lynching of Ethiopians became a routinized pastime for the Italian military. Alternatively, White South Africa fought the British on South African soil through two major wars, the Boar Wars, rather than through “non-violence.” Then again, rather than the Americans’ deploying “non-violence” against the Japanese who had attacked Pearl Harbor, it atomic-bombed Japan instead.

Pointedly, Amiri Baraka and several of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement may have closely followed the unprovoked brutalities consistently heaped upon Africans in continental Africa as well as in the African Diaspora. As well, prior to the activist dispensations of King and Amiri Baraka, Du Bois and the core leadership of the NAACP, technically, had interpreted widespread state- and White vigilante-sponsored brutalities meted out to African Americans, wanton White abuses of African-American human rights, and White discrimination against African Americas, as “genocide.” Clearly, the writings of Amiri Baraka clearly unearth his intimate acquaintance with these authenticated facts. In other words, these historical facts provide the required context for an effective understanding of Amiri Baraka’s appraisal of Kingian “non-violence.” Besides, Malcolm X, like Du Bois and the NAACP before him, tried dragging America before the United Nations and have it sanctioned for the wanton violation of the human rights of African Americans.

In fact, part of the reasons Malcolm X embarked on trips to Africa in the 1960s, in the first, had to do with courting Africa’s political support in making that agenda happen, that is, in bringing America before the General Assembly (See “Not Just an American Problem, But A World Problem,” published in the “National Humanities Center Resource (The Making of an African American Identity), Vol 111, 1917-1968”). This also explains why Malcolm X began to globalize the African-American struggle, thereby adopting and naming his institutional instrument, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, after Nkrumah’s Organization of African Unity. This also explains why the late Chief Moshood Abiola, African governments, scholars, researchers, social and political activists, and their African American counterparts, such as the late Johnnie Cochran and Randall Robinson, attempted to indict, though unsuccessfully, the West before the General Assembly.

Indeed, some conspiratorialists have already attributed the strange circumstances surrounding Abiola’s and Cochran’s deaths to Western insidious calculus to frustrate the efforts of the united front, represented by Africa and Black America, to hold the West accountable for historical crimes perpetrated against the global black community. Ironically, the African-American delegation was bold, insistent, and uncompromising in their demands for restitution, but the African delegation peeled off the united front because the West threatened to cease giving Africa loans, grants, and other forms of foreign assistance. Again, to appreciate some of these issues we are dealing with here, we stress that context, time, sociology of knowledge, circumstance, place, ideology, and constitutionalism represent important gateways to Diopian, Cartesian, or phenomenological evaluation of human experience. However, is Amiri Baraka’s denunciation of Kingian “non-violence” the only exemplar of moral disagreement between two respected leaders in the entire history of man?

Let’s try to look at the question this way: How is Amiri Baraka’s public critique of King different from JB Danquah’s (a CIA agent) active collaboration with the American government to destabilize Ghana or from Kofi Abrefa Busia’s shameful appearance before the American government to undermine Nkrumah and his progressive government? The moral difference, to say the least, is galaxies apart! Having said that, how do we evaluate the palpable disagreements that transpired between America and the rest of the world in the lead-up to the toppling of Saddam Hussein? How many whites insulted George W. Bush as a result of the unjustifiable overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a war eloquently criticized by Hans Blix and millions around the world? Was it not the West which built Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and bunkers (See Frederick Forsyth’s novel “The Fist of God,” which, though, is a fictionalized account of the 1991 Gulf War, led by America, it still does provide some useful factual and historical information on which Western countries gave Saddam Hussein what)?

Did the West provide Saddam Hussein those weapons of mass destruction (sarin/mustard gas, etc) to feed the hungry citizens of Iraq or to treat sick Iraqis with them? Didn’t a British parliamentarian once say the dyslexic George W. Bush was no different from Saddam Hussein in many ways because, among other things, Bush could not speak English very well even if written for him and because Saddam Hussein could neither speak nor read English even if written for him, this, when Saddam Hussein had openly challenged George W. Bush to a public debate? Didn’t John Waters, a white man, say of Bush: “I imagine Johnny Mathis hates Bin Laden as much as I do, but could Johnny agree Bin Laden had a better speechwriter than Bush’? Why did the Bush administration make it difficult for Whoopi Goldberg to get a job in four years after she had joked about President George W. Bush? How about the shameful predicaments of Dan Rather and Bill Maher, situations which many knowledgeable commentators attribute to the Bush administration, after they had publicly criticized George W. Bush?

Didn’t the author of “God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion,” Christopher Hitchens, another white man,” say of Bush: “He’s a man who is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is a man who is incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things”? Did Chris Mathews, Keith Olbermann, and Ron Reagan, Jr. not refer to George W. Bush as “fascist, murderous and war criminal”? (See Geoffrey Dickens’ “Flashback: MSNBC Hosts Called Bush Fascist, Murderous and War Criminal, Never Faced Suspensions”). Finally, didn’t Chelsea Handler, a white woman, also say of Bush: “I was in tailspin of confusion I hadn’t experienced since the first time I heard George W. Bush speak”?

What about Dinesh D’Souza’s characterization of President Obama as a leader who rules America “according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s” (The Indian Dinesh D’Souza is a naturalized American citizen)? Didn’t Thomas Sowell, African-American conservative economist and social commentator, liken President Obama to Adolf Hitler? Didn’t many white commentators describe Tony Blair’s as George W. Bush’s “slave”? What do we say about the public tension between Mr. Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama’s former pastor? How about the public tensions that arose between Desmond Tutu and Robert Mugabe? How about the public tensions that arose between Stanley Crouch on the one hand and Rev. Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, Tupac Shakur, Cornel West, and Amiri Baraka on the other hand? Finally, what about Spike Lee and the crushing influence of his movie “Malcolm X” on the American public conscience?

Yes, of course, there were also some readers of our essay, Part ll of the Amiri Baraka and Kwame Nkrumah series, who stood outside the intellectual margins of mainstream American contemporary history and, therefore, failed to see the social, cultural, educational, and political impact of “Malcolm X” on the world. Consequently, we are compelled to look for answers elsewhere. Jaycee Culhane writes in “Education: The Significance in Bringing Malcolm Back from the Dead”: “Malcolm X was praised by the mainstream media for the way in which Malcolm was brought to life on the bid screen…One of the inflammatory remarks that Lee made before the film’s release was that young people should take the day off from school in order to see the film as soon as it opens. How does this statement mesh with Lee’s views on education? The youth of today, both black and white, identify with people like Spike Lee, the rebel, the underdog, part of the counterculture. And Malcolm has become a symbol of Black pride and manhood to countless young African Americans.”

Then again, Culhane describes the success of the biopic in stark terms: “Many whites sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement chose to associate themselves with Dr. King because they felt undeserving of Malcolm’s ire and sweeping indictments. This uneasiness the status quo feels towards Malcolm is what keeps him in the margins of history. ‘Malcolm X,’ by focusing less on his grievances towards Whites and more on him lifting his people from the dregs of society, while less controversial and incomplete, effectively works to bring Malcolm from the margins in a way that a book or documentary could never do…This film is important because it introduces Malcolm to the public as he was, a man. ‘Malcolm X’ doesn’t introduce a one-dimensional figure to the public as some might say. Rather, the film focuses on one dimension of a complex man while presenting his life as flowed and complicated. This allows the audience to identify with the faults of character.”

And here is probably the interesting part: “But, more importantly, people focus on the one dimension of the film and the one man that is stressed: The power that one has within one’s self to change and to grow. This power, we find, results in a greater sense of self-respect, and that is the true path to freedom.” Still, a movie, any movie, for that matter, cannot satisfy everybody. Allegedly, there were African American historians who pulled out of a research assignment for “Amistad,” a historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, because, apparently, he had decided to imbue the film with some ahistorical elements to appeal to the sensibilities of the viewing public, especially of Americans. Further, in America, conservatives and liberals interpreted a television film, “The Reagans,” a televised series based on ex-US President Ronald Reagan and his family, through the interpretive lens of partisan ideologies.

But, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), set to show the miniseries, yet later agreed to show it on cable channel “Showtime” instead, because, as it turned out, conservatives claimed it did not truly reflect a critical balance of Reagan’s life. Again, there are some critics who think Nelson Mandela’s biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is not inclusive enough (See Abayomi Azikiwe’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Further Popularizes Legacy of South African Leader”). He writes: “Future feature films could very well take up the role of the South African Communist Party, the organized African working class, the Indian Congress, mixed-race communities, the Frontline States, the Organization of African Unity, socialist countries such as the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Cuba as well as the International Solidarity Movement in Europe and North America in the overall anti-apartheid movement.”

Therefore, why does Lee’s classic and influential “Malcolm X” bother some readers? Isn’t “Malcolm X” used as a teaching tool in American classrooms? Is that all? Well, let’s shift our analytic focus to another immediate idea with which some of our readers grappled, that of Leopold Senghor and Negritude. That is, Negritude may not be a perfect philosophical system, but, obviously, it went far beyond the combined intellectual ideas of Kofi Abrefa Busia and JB Danquah, both of whom are hardly known outside Ghana inasmuch as Africa’s major intellectual contributions to knowledge production on the global stage. Again, unlike Danquah and Busia, Senghor and his academic work, generally, have assumed and still does assume a fixture of global intellectuality in the immediate consciousness of students, lay readers, and academic researchers the world over. Namely, Negritude is still studied in the West, Africa, and the Americas. That said, Negritude put Africa and the humanity of Africa on the map.

Once again, we may have to acknowledge Senghor’s role in the fight against Apartheid, given that, as we alluded elsewhere, he gave passports and sanctuary to Apartheid activists. Conversely, what long-standing contributions, if any, did Kofi Busia, JB Danquah, or Edward Akufo-Addo, William Ofori-Atta, combined, make towards the liquidation of Apartheid? Finally, neither Danquah nor Busia produced any enduring thought, like Nkrumah’s “consciencism,” Black self-empowerment, African unity, industrialization, Black Power, economic and social self-autonomy, Black Nationalism, and psychological decolonization, which are objects of intense study and rigorous research in many respected universities around the world. However, we may also have to agree Senghor was more intellectually and philosophically like Valentin-Yves Mudimbe and Paulin Hountondji, but still unlike Theophile Obenga, Ama Mazama, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Adame Ba Konaré, and Cheikh Anta Diop, if we may add, all of whom come from strong Frenchified backgrounds. We have read and studied them all.

Arguably, on the intellectual spectrum, Senghor, Mudimbe, and Hountondji assume the analytic place of Eurocentrism. On the country, Mazama, Diop, and Obenga find themselves on the analytic bar of Afrocentricity. The rest assume a middle position though they lean closer to Afrocentricity. Ba Konaré, for instance, rallied scholars and researchers from around the world to write a history of Africa challenging Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech, delivered in Senegal, in which he, like Friedrich Hegel, made Africa a creeping intellectual and historical bambino of Europe. Having said all that, Senghor, Mudimbe, and Hountondji are an intellectual force to reckon with in the world of knowledge production. We cannot claim the same intellectual globality for the scholarly works of Kofi Busia, JB Danquah, and Edward Akufo-Addo! In fact, the claustrophobic narrowness of their ethnic, intellectual, and ideological politics is partly to blame for their ghettoized sociality, literarized insularity, and intellectual unpopularity in African, if not world, scholarship.

Finally, Mudimbe and Hountondji are not mediocre scholars who go idly about insulting or inciting one African ethnic group against the other as some of our unrecognized, failed, shallow, and ignorant scholars do on daily basis, yakking and barking like rabid dogs for undeserved attention. We may not eloquently agree with every aspect of the scholarship of Senghor, Hountondji, and Mudimbe, yet their academic work speak for themselves. And the world knows this. In truth, with some measure of respectability, they, that is, Senghor, Mudimbe, and Hountondji, operate intellectually outside the immediate social strictures of shallow thinking, outside the thick walls of ethnocentrism! In the main, the global appeal of Nkrumah, of his progressive ideas, and of his unquestionable love for the African world, the world, for that matter, broke out of the sweltry bottleneck of ideological provincialism, similar to an avalanche, thereby taking their noble place in the conscious articulation of human wisdom.

Yet, those who are deeply troubled and explicably disheartened by the striking Senghorian maxim on the relationship among biology, human emotion, and human rationality may have to go further, to do additional serious reading, concentrating primarily on Dr. Antonio Damasio’s “Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain,” “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” and “The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness’ for latest neuroscience data linking biology, human rationality, and human emotions. Dr. Damasio is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists. Besides, Negritude does not preach ethnic hatred, bigotry, racism, or ethnocentrism as some of our Ghanaian politicians and intellectuals preach daily! This is where the intellectual globality of Senghor supplants the intellectual anorexia of Busia’s and Danquah’s.

What are we driving at? We are simply inferring that the concept of “creative disagreement” or “constructive engagement” is a natural ingredient in the political recipe from which the savory bouillabaisse of human socialization derives, this, if either shows any promising signs of transforming society for the better. That is, we argue that the ideological strain between Amiri Baraka and Martin Luther King, Jr. may have derived primarily from moral differences in social and political strategies for effectively addressing racial injustice in the American body politic. In the end, King adopted “non-violence” and Malcolm X militant Black Nationalism, yet neither approach seemed to have appeased the conscience of White America. White America assassinated both. We could say the same of Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel Castro, Julius Malema, Dedan Kimathi, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Steve Biko, Nat Turner, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Assata Shakur, Amilcar Cabral, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, etc.

However, there were several others who also disagreed with Kingian “non-violence.” Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and the general leadership of the Black Panthers come to mind. That notwithstanding, the moral manliness, verdant intelligence, and frigid honesty of Malcolm X endeared him to Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, and the world at large. We now know why Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka, WEB Du Bois, Cheikh Anta Diop, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Sisulu, Marcus Garvey, Oliver Tambo, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Paul Bogle, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Steve Biko, and JE Casely Hayford are such great men. In other words, we argue that the African world, particularly, and the world at large, for that matter, should celebrate these men and all the great women who fought to make us free.

One more point: What was the nature of the relationship between Amiri Baraka and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Stuart Mitchner writes in “Looking for Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones on Martin Luther King’s Birthday”: “The warmest part of Baraka’s 2011 tribute comes in the context of King’s visit to Newark to lead ‘the poor people’s march’ in late March 1968. Baraka describes looking from his front window at the crowds coming down the street, the sound of helicopters overheard (“I thought we were about to get busted”): ‘The door rang. I opened the door. There’s Dr. King standing on the doorstep. A photographer took a picture of me with my mouth hung open…Dr. King came in my house, he says, ‘Hello, Leroy.’ You don’t look like such a bad person.’ Here’s King came with stubble on his face, open shirt, poor people’s march, the next week he was dead.” LeRoi was Amiri Baraka.

Elsewhere Mitchner writes: “Of all the tributes and remembrances on Martin Luther King Day 2014, you’re unlikely to find any to equal Baraka’s from January 28, 2011.” Why then will some of our readers present Amiri Baraka and Dr. King as mortal enemies?

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis