Episode 12: University in Diversity? (Part 3)


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Unity In Diversity? (Part 3) — Introduction:

In this episode,Unity In Diversity? We look at the various often conflicting elements of Black Nationalism in the struggle for Black liberation and self-determination, and specifically at Maulana Karenga and his notion of cultural nationalism within the US organization. Is conflict inevitable between Black Nationalist organizations such as US and other civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which operate outside the black nationalist framework? What about the various Black Nationalist organizations themselves? Can they work together in light of their sometimes opposing views on how to put the philosophy and goals of black nationalism to practice? How might it be possible for different organizations to form a united front while holding a variety of views on exercising Black Nationalism? Can there be unity in diversity?


Hello and welcome again to African Elements. In this episode, Unity In Diversity? We look at the various often conflicting elements of Black Nationalism in the struggle for black liberation and self-determination, and specifically at Maulana Karenga and his notion of cultural nationalism within the US organization. Is conflict inevitable between Black Nationalist organizations such as US and other civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which operate outside the Black Nationalist framework? What about the various Black Nationalist organizations themselves? Can they work together in light of their sometimes opposing views on how to put the philosophy and goals of Black Nationalism to practice? How might it be possible for different organizations to form a united front while holding a variety of views on exercising Black Nationalism? Can there be unity in diversity? All that coming up next.

Of the six overlapping characteristics of Black Nationalism: cultural nationalism, religious nationalism, economic nationalism, political nationalism, and pan-Africanism, Maulana Karenga and the US organization, which will be the focus of this program emphasized cultural nationalism. Founded by Maulana Karenga in 1965, the US organization and cultural nationalism emphasizes that black people have a culture, style of life, and approach to the problems of existence that is distinct from white Americans in particular and westerners in general. As such black cultural nationalists tend to place a heavy emphasis on African-centered education religion and culture.

This collective identity informs–from a cultural nationalist perspective– African-Americans historical and prospective mission and unique contributions to humanity. The definition of culture as US organization saw it, is a complete value system as well as a means of maintaining that value system. Cultural nationalists tend to look at adoption of European culture– everything from European languages, religious practices, holidays, customs, traditions, and even political and economic structure– as counterproductive for persons of African descent. That view is justified when we look at the problems of the African continent that are largely rooted in colonialism and the radical transformation of the African continent as a legacy of European colonization.

Cultural nationalist further believe that the problems visible on the African continent as a result of cultural imperialism are shared by persons of African descent throughout the world. It is for that reason that black cultural nationalist such as Maulana Karenga promote an African-centered world view as a remedy to the European centered way of being, which Karenga and other black nationalists see as a root cause for African and African American self-hatred and self-destructive behavior.

Because as persons of African descent worldwide the very language we use to express ourselves is often the very language of a colonial oppressors, each cultural nationalists have sought to replace that language with one that is African-centered It is for that reason that Kiswahili, or Swahili has special appeal to African American cultural nationalists. Swahili is a pan-African language spoken by a broad range of ethnicities and regions throughout eastern and Central Africa and parts of Southern Africa. As Karenga stated 1966, “We don’t know what tribe we came from, so we chose an African language that is non-tribal which is widely spoken in Africa. “At the second Congress of African writers, held in Rome in 1966, Kiswahili came to be seen as the optimum choice for a continent-wide adoption of a single African language.

As an alternative to European notions of blackness, Karenga articulated his own principles of blackness, or “Nguzo Saba.” Those principles–“Umoja” (unity), “Kujichagulia” (self-determination), “Ujima” (collective work and responsibility), “Ujamaa” (cooperative economics), “Nia” (purpose), “Kuumba” (creativity), and “Imani” (faith)–are each celebrated over the seven days of Kwanzaa. Organization US founder Maulana Karenga explains:

. . . and so I created Kwanzaa for three basic reasons. First, to reaffirm our rootedness in African culture. Because even though we are African people, due to the holocaust of enslavement, we were lifted out of our own history, and made a footnote and forgotten casualty in European history. And so the struggle we were waging, as Kabron said, is to return to our history, and to use it to enrich and expand our lives.

Secondly, I created Kwanzaa in order to give us a time when we as African people all over the world could come together, reaffirm the bonds between us, and meditate on the meaning and awesome responsibility of being African in a world. And certainly it has flowered because of that. Because if you look at how it has grown, over 28,000,000 people celebrate this holiday on every continent in the world throughout the world African community.

And the third reason I created Kwanzaa was to introduce and reinforce the importance of African culture and African communitarian values. And by communitarian values, I mean values that stress and strengthen family, community, and culture. These are our strengths.

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US organization, in further defining blackness, articulated the Kanuni–21 rules and behavioral characteristics differentiating their adherents from the general populace. Among them: Advocates shall refrain from unnecessary or loud talking or screaming, smoking, drinking, profanity, and horseplay. Refrain from disrespecting each other in terms of their roles as men and women, advocates, and officers. Refrain from playboyism and playgirlism, and refrain from using physical force against each other in settlement of disputes. So here we see a few examples of how cultural black nationalists focus on redefining what culture is for persons of African descent.

It’s important to understand that this redefinition of culture is an effort to shape the way black people view themselves on the most fundamental way. As Karenga states everything that we do, think, or learn is somehow interpreted as a cultural expression. That includes not only customs and behaviors, but as we’ve seen, it also includes language religion politics and economics and the reshaping of all those elements into an African- centered world view.

Black Nationalist philosophy was not the only ideology in use in the black liberation struggle. The ideology of non-violent passive resistance as practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and groups like the Congress on Racial Equality or CORE, represented a fundamentally different approach to the black liberation struggle, that was often in conflict with that of US and other black nationalist organizations such as a Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party.

Likewise socialist oriented groups as well as the Communist Party offered alternative approaches to black liberation that often clashed with Black Nationalist organizations. While certain aspects of socialism would seem to be complementary to what was organization defined as “The Seven Principles of Blackness,” particularly the notion of Ujamaa–a Kiswahili word that means literally “familyhood”–on the surface it would appear that the two ideologies could operate in tandem. In fact, the first Tanzanian head of state, Julius Nyerere, attempted to operationalize the idea of African socialism as state policy by naming his government’s African socialist program “Ujamaa.” Socialism, or Ujamaa, is needed to ensure that the people care for each other’s welfare, which is a core tenant of African-centered frame of thought.

The problem however is that both socialism and communism are associated with the very European dogmas African-centeredness sought to distance itself from. Thus a distinction had to be made between collectivism or communism which represented the European model whereas “communalism” was the term Karenga used for the African- centered model. To be communalistic, Karenga stated, is to share willingly, but to be collectivistic is to force to share which is a European concept.

Historically, the goals of the communist party and the socialists were inherently in conflict with those of black nationalists like Marcus Garvey. Garvey rejected class unity in favor of racial unity. Class unity between blacks and poor whites would never work, in Garvey’s view, because he viewed racial prejudice as congenital and that it can never be purged from whites. So the central inherent conflict between the two ideologies–communism and Black Nationalism–was one of class unity vs. racial unity. While Marcus Garvey sought a pan-African approach, a viewpoint which placed blacks in the United States in common cause with blacks throughout the world and on the continent of Africa, the Communists sought brought our international coalition not confined by race or pan-Africanism.

Between Black Nationalism and civil rights there’s also a fundamental difference and worldview that’s going to frame the ideological divide between folks like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as other black nationalist organizations. The integrationist goals of the civil rights movement and the goals of separatism and self-determination forwarded by black nationalists mix together about as well as oil and water. The civil rights agenda that sought reform, social justice, political rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were considered by Black Nationalist to be counterproductive in that the nation’s governing principles were simply the instruments of government oppression of African Americans and other people of color.

The different approaches between the various organizations often brought about open hostilities between sometimes manifesting in the groups ruthlessly undermining one another. The NAACP, for example, cooperated with the FBI in the prosecution of Marcus Garvey that led to his exile from United States. Thurgood Marshall would later cooperate with the FBI and undermining the Nation of Islam. Alex Haley, the author of Roots, was actually hired by the FBI and when he was working as a journalist to help develop negative articles on the Nation of Islam.

As we see in the following clip, even when groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee coalesced around the same issue such as the March against Fear– a 220 mile solidarity march from Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi to protest racism often their different ideologies prevented them from working together effectively.

FLOYD MCKISSICK. . . I think it was more of a youth movement in all of the organizations asserting themselves far more than it was competition among leaders themselves. It was a clash of ideas–no question about a clash of ideas.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: If We Are Going to Be Free We Will Have To Suffer for That Freedom. We will have to sacrifice for it.

STOKLEY CHARMICHAEL. . . I’m not going to beg the white man for anything I deserve. I’m going to take it! I’m going to take it!

KING. . . Let me say first that this march is nonviolent. It is a nonviolent expression of our determination to be free. This is the principle of the March, and certainly we intend to keep this march nonviolent.

REPORTER: Mr. Carmichael, are you as committed to the nonviolent approach as Dr. King is?

CHARMICHAEL: No, I am not.

REPORTER: Why Aren’t You?

CHARMICHAEL: Well, I just don’t see it as a way of life, I never have. And I also realize that no one in this country is asking the white community in the south of the nonviolent, and that, in a sense, is giving them a free license to go ahead and shoot us at will.

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Just as there are major ideological divides between black nationalists and advocates of civil rights or communist schools of thought, there are also major differences between the various Black Nationalist organizations that sometimes resulted in conflict. Militant black nationalists such as the Black Panther Party and the cultural nationalist organization, Organization US, were the subject of intense rivalry. In his book, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the1960s, Clayborne Carson identified the major ideological divide as, “. . . between cultural nationalists who urged blacks to unite around various conceptions of black cultural ideal, and the self-proclaimed political revolutionaries who were more likely than cultural nationalists to advocate armed struggle to achieve political or economic goals. Again, what made it appear to be relatively minor differences proved to be a major barrier towards unity as will see the following clip…

CLE SLOAN: … In ’65 at most, most of the games segued into political parties, like I mentioned, the Slaussens went into the Black Panther Party but then the other gangs, they kind of identified more with the cultural nationalist group called the US Organization. . .

MAULANA KARENGA: “We have gotten our manhood back by the acts of violence. When a brother throws of brick, or snipes from a building . . . ”

SLOAN: These guys had different philosophies. They didn’t really get along with each other’s philosophy. They didn’t believe in what each other were doing. The Panthers were more about confrontation, you know, confronting “the man. ” The US Organization, to my understanding, was a little more abstract about their rage.

MAN 1: Well, I’m a little more aggressive. I can fight a little better. I’m a little stronger, so I’ll go with Bunchy, and them. And the guys who couldn’t fight so well– the guys who wanted to be more “jazzy jazzy, ” went with Karenga.

MAN 2: The kinds of things that Maulana Karenga was saying in the first speech I heard, clicked with me in terms of black people seizing their own destiny and to express that through political power. To seize political power through a self-affirmation of who black people were. Given that both organizations had been recruiting strongly from gang structures, you can see the beginnings of some confrontations.

MAN 3: Karenga and all of those people from US Organization were “armchair revolutionaries,” as far as Bunchy was concerned.

MAN 4: Bunchy was a Slaussen. A lot of that, again, was being acted out at that point through a politicized environment.

Although there were significant differences of opinion the framework for unity did exist and was being forwarded under the banner of pan-Africanism. Pan Africanism– one of the six elements of black nationalism–is the notion that people of color worldwide shared a common anticolonial and anti-imperialist agenda.

As we’ve seen in Episode 2: The Significance of Black Studies, often times the experiences of other oppressed groups and the instructive and offers much toward our own understanding of our struggle. In the case of Black Nationalism the anticolonial movement in Indonesia served as a valuable lesson. The first president of the independent country of Indonesia, President Sukarno, played a key role in bringing together delegations from 29 African and Asian nations in the 1955 Bandung Conference.

The conference inspired African nations in their quest for independence from colonial rule. The effort in Asia was duplicated on the African continent by Ghana, which was the first African country to gain independence from European colonization under its first present Kwame Nkrumah in 1957. Ghana became a charter member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963, which sought unity amongst African nations and the anticolonial movement. Malcolm X in his historic 1963 speech, “Message to the Grassroots, “lauded the Bandung Conference as instructive for African Americans in pursuit of building unity stating, “Once you study what happened at the Bandung Conference and the results of the Bandung Conference, it actually serves as a model for the same procedure you and I can use to get our problems solved.”

Inspired by both the Bandung Conference and anticolonial struggles on the African continent, Malcolm X founded the organization of Afro-American Unity as a coalition of organizations modeled after the Organization of African Unity. In a statement Malcolm X proclaimed, “We Afro-American people will launch a cultural revolution which will provide the means for restoring our identity that we might rejoin our brothers and sisters on the African continent culturally, psychologically, economically, and share with them the sweet fruits of freedom from oppression and independence from racist governments.

Further and another historic speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet, ” on April 3, 1964, Malcolm X established a framework for intergroup cooperation and collaboration that did not demand that organizations become subordinate or merge with one particular group but only required them to adhere to the broad principles of black nationalism and simultaneously remain independent and autonomous. He proclaimed, “If the NAACP is preaching and practicing the gospel of Black Nationalism, join the NAACP. Join any organization that has a gospel as for the uplift of the black man.”

Maulana Karenga was also inspired by Bandung. He used the Indonesian motto, “Unity in Diversity, “to describe his own formula for African American solidarity which he termed, “Operational Unity. “Using the operational unity approach, Karenga formulated a theory that allowed for cooperation between several umbrella organizations and coalitions that he worked to build. So, we can see a theoretical framework for unity was in place but putting it into practice remains a challenge even in the 21st century.

That’s all for this program please join us on our web site or join the discussion in our Facebook group, African Elements. This is Darius Spearman. Thank you for watching.

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