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January 12, 2004

The Struggle: Liberation vs Social Power

This past week I got into a spat with some black bloggers. I didn't think much of it, or maybe I did but didn't want to say much about it. That was until I got a personal apology and an explanation.

As soon as I got this, it made me think about why I got my own self into a spot about the madness. You see, while I was running the blog as normal, the fact of the matter was that a particular line of arguments was really getting under my skin - upsetting me more that I think I should have been. It wasn't enough to make me lose any sleep or anything like that, but I did start down a path of thinking that makes me uncomfortable. Let me explain where I ended up.

There are only a couple dozen good reasons, I mean really good reasons to be on the internet at all. One of them is to find people with ease that cannot be easily found in close physical proximity. Online relationships and communities are a very big deal, and when African Americans began they did so for these reasons. As any internet historian can tell you there was a lot of confusion about the black presence online. Many folks were hoping that race didn't matter. It turned out to matter a great deal, part of that reason was because blackfolks were looking to hookup to other blackfolks. The Hook Up was a killer app from day one. I knew it. Lot's of folks knew it. It was an extension of what blackfolks do in real life. They seek each other out for love, respect and support.

There's a political angle to this as well. If you've ever been in a Hatian barbershop you know what I mean. But if you haven't, then understand that a certain segment of blackfolks cannot get enough argument and discussion about politics and culture. We're caught up in the Struggle. There is also a group of uppity blackfolks formerly known as the Talented Tenth who make the state of the people their business. They take it upon themselves for any number of reasons most of which are inculcated from a tender age, to champion and defend the people. In my generation this compulsion reveals itself in classic forms which I don't have time to go into. Simply understand that P6 and I are coming from the same place and heading towards the same promised land. Primary difference is that he spends a lot of energy dissing Bush from across the river, whereas I'm whispering into the ears of the guests at his garden party barbecue. The first thing he'll tell you is that his reasoning is different. That's all good.

Politics is essentially a clashy affair and black politics is no exception to the rule. In fact, black politics is more emotionally clashy. I see two reasons for this. The first is that black politics has essentially been a politics of liberation. It's one thing to be an activist for a lower marginal tax rate and something other to agitate for the release of political prisoners. The issues that black politics deals with are essenetially emotional weighty. Thomas Paine got nothing on us. Secondly black politics have also been the politics of loyalty to the people, not to the party. Our loyalties have moved from Republican to Democrat based on the issues of the people. One who defies a party line will be cut out of course, but one who is found guilty of treason to the people is a horrible pariah.

What African Americans must deal with sooner or later is that black politics is changing. It is no longer exclusively about human rights or civil rights, but about social power and influence. This is inevitable given the educational and economic advances made by blackfolks. We are moving from 'Let my people go' to 'Let my business grow'. Since there are some 36 million of us, there are going to be blackfolks throughout that spectrum, but the motion is towards the politics of social power. 'The People' not under the oppressive thumb of Jim Crow are spreading out and becoming many people, and many people have many politics.

To my way of thinking there is no question about whether blackfolks should have a politics of liberation. They should. But there is also no question that blackfolks should also have a politics of social power. From my perspective, the latter is a minority politics within African America (or you can think of it as an elite politics). Representing the Old School, which spans both politics but tending towards the conservative, there are elements of both which I support. No matter. These politics will clash, it is inevitable.

Love and Respect are a big deal, and I'd go further to say that one of the huge problems with this nation is that we Americans find it difficult to say that we love and respect blackfolks without qualification. But I don't feel particularly compelled to make political peace with blackfolks on an alternate political track. I make the clash of priorities as plainly as possible without mincing words. That is because I also acknowledge the emotional committment that individual politically active blackfolks have towards African Americans. I have it. I've called them 'my people' all of my life. That wasn't a mistake and even if it was I'm not about to throw away all that history for the sake of a political point, or even a philosophical one. Tangentially, this is why black neocons are so controversial; theres a thin line between tough love and disrespect.

So I understand and recognize that as blackfolks, we are involved in the Struggle, but the Struggle is not simply and exclusively about liberation and the least of our brothers. It is about moving African America forward with love and respect. If you are going to use the phrase, 'by any means necessary' then understand that people who still love and respect blackfolks are achieving political goals by different means. Sometimes that means the Republican Party.

Posted by mbowen at January 12, 2004 08:40 AM

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Points To Ponder from American Black
Black Cheap Labor Conservative Michael Bowen wrote an interesting "Why can't we all get along" post concerning those Blacks who are focused on the 'politics of liberation' and those like himself who think we can achieve those political goals by... [Read More]

Tracked on January 12, 2004 06:56 PM


Good piece, Michael. I strongly aggree with the concept of the Hook Up: this medium obviously offers some powerful opportunities to build based on the Hook Up or social networking.

(Look at what the Dean Presidential campaign has done with the medium; we need to learn from that.)

Once we start to make the connections with like-minded people (and even with those who do not share are particular views), it is important that we focus our interactions and build our knowledge bases.

One of the "problem" with your blog is that because your interests are eclectic, the blog is eclectic. So is this a political space or is it just the journal of an eclectic person? I'd like to see it (or some spin-off) focus just on politics -- with more interaction to go along with the reflection.

BTW, one of my earliest reflections on black politics was that blackfolks had some difficulty accepting the "horse-trading" that goes on in the real political arena. They seemed not to understand how on a local level, for example, their elected representative had to cast their vote on issues that seem marginally not in the best interests of the black community in order to get support for other issues.

In a city Council such as the one we have here, there are 13 representatives -- two of which are black. The effective black politician has to build coalitions and carefully choose his/her position when issues are closely divided. This is where horsetrading comes in: "I'll support your effort if you support mine."

It has been my experience that the electorate does not always understand this sort of move and the "traitor" label gets slapped on.

I see using the Internet and these forums as a way of exposing the electorate to the issues and the practices so that it better understands what politics is all about.

Same is obviously true for your points about joining the elephants.

Posted by: Ward Bell at January 12, 2004 09:43 AM

I agree that Cobb should stay this way and that Vision Circle be more of the political blog. However right now I'n not sure that there is a critical mass of blackfolks who are willing to get online and gripe and generate policy, but I haven't been looking. This is a surpise to me and I think something ought to be done about it, but Lester and I are thinking about how to expand and improve Vision Circle.

Right now, Negrophile is the closest thing to a black group blog and its done by bloggers remotely. I've hung out (and am still a member) of the Afrofuturists, but they are sporadic and have been opposed to blogging for various reasons.

More later...

Posted by: Cobb at January 12, 2004 07:12 PM

Actually, blogs are probably not the right format for political discussion. Even those that allow multiple contributors, blogs remain more of a journal or set of personal reflections rather than an effective medium for exploring policies to get behind on the political front (or any other front).

Clearly, we really need something like the system you've proposed over the years and then need to expand the audience to achieve the critical mass needed.

Posted by: Ward Bell at January 12, 2004 08:45 PM