Recently, there have been murmurings among activists about establishing a Black united front (BUF) in solidarity with “the struggle” in Jackson, Mississippi amidst the turmoil of the water crisis facing the city’s residents. A BUF can be an organization, an idea promoting Black unity, or a movement coalition. It is not clear what those calling for a BUF around the Jackson city government wish to establish. Nobody has proposed gathering Black toilers from across the country to help fix the water and sewage system to express solidarity. Instead, a BUF is being organized to express solidarity with the Jackson city police state that has killed at least 9 Black people.
Hierarchical Government and the Black Multitudes Do Not Have a Common Interest
Hierarchical government does not represent the self-directed liberating activity of the Black multitudes. What is incandescently clear is that a BUF is usually called for when it is perceived that all Black people have a common enemy, and common interests in a particular outcome. This is never true.
If the historical enemy of Black people have been, reductively speaking, white racists, there have been other forces of hierarchy and domination that have both oppressed Black people, and that many talking “black-black-black” wish to cooperate for personal advancement most often dressed up as a communal and collective goal.
What Self-Determination Really Means
In this instance, the common enemy is being presented as the state government of Mississippi led by a white Republican governor. The common interest propagated by those in the BUF is “self-determination.” Self-determination has never meant “do what you like, do how you like.” It has never meant radical autonomy rupturing with aspiring rulers. It has been an open defense of these rulers as the embodiment of the mass democratic aspirations of ordinary Black people. Nothing could be further from the truth in post-civil rights, post-black power America.
While many will disagree, self-determination, is a euphemism for Black rulers securing a block of capital in the name of the masses of Black people, they wish to subordinate and exploit. Self-determination is peddled as a group or collective concept, but in actuality it has absolutely nothing to do with Black commoners arriving on their own authority. It is the Black toiler (with a job, unemployed or among the street force) that will be exploited and degraded in the interests of “the Black nation.” And a nation, the rulers who speak in the masses’ name, always have diplomatic relations with the wealthy and rulers of other nations, even perceived and stridently labeled “enemies.” In fact, just as imperial nations who restrict our travel and tell us who to fear, the BUF is always restricting how Black people think and act, while collaborating with the forces they otherwise denounce.
The Make-up of the Black United Front Historically and Today
Historically, the BUF has been made up of individuals and small groups (self-proclaimed radicals, activists, aspiring politicians, Black capitalists, people who think they are the provisional government of Black people) and also various people from among the grassroots. These forces usually come together for the purposes of catapulting some Black politician into office in the name of Black power. They might even call for an independent Black political party. Such parties are never autonomous of the state and capital. This is because the BUF see themselves as establishing their claim to ethnic patronage from a bloc of capital and a faction of imperial party politics. This is difficult to discern for in the great “black” hype against what white people have historically said and done, their racism, their privilege, who would think that the BUF would prefer the white wealthy as their preferred white friends of choice?
Today, the Black united front is made up of similar forces with similar intentions. However, because many Black politicians have risen to power in cities throughout the empire of capital, the Black united front also includes the Black-led police state. One of the main objectives of the BUF is to get out the vote for the Democratic Party. Those who do not support the Democratic Party reconcile themselves (we are not talking about misguided Republican voters) with the reality that this is one of the primary and really ultimate objectives of the BUF.
The BUF may discuss their disagreement in private, but never publicly. This is what is meant by “unity-struggle-unity.” Their goal is to never have discord. They never wish to lay out the issues in a public forum so people can hear “all sides” and make a decision on where they wish to stand. Never are proposals placed forward by a BUF that takes seriously that everyday Black people can directly govern their workplaces and neighborhoods without aspiring rulers above them.
The Problem with Black Unity
The problem with the type of Black unity called for by the BUF is that there is no principled basis to hold the diametrically opposed interests together. Can there be a basis for unity with a Black-led police state, presided over by a Black mayor, that conquers and kills Black commoners? Can both the Black landlord that relegates the working-class Black family to slum-like conditions be in harmony? How can the Black politician that upholds capital and the state be in unity with the Black multitudes that wish to arrive on their own authority and establish their own self-government? This is preposterous. This is why a Black united front is impossible to justify on a politically principled basis.
An Alternative to False Black Unity
Black people forming our own organizations and working together to come up with solutions to the problems our communities face, also working in multi-racial organizations and coalitions as equals, for action against the common oppressor is what we should want. What we don’t need is in the name of “unity” and “consciousness raising” disciplining ourselves for loyalty to new millennium minstrel shows. And what do these look like? In a post-civil rights and post black power world this must include flying the red, black, and green to justify the Black led police state, and dysfunction and lack of accountability in maintaining public infrastructure.
Ironically, those who are a part of the Black united front claim to be fighting a white racial state that was defeated over 30–50 years ago in most places where Black people are the majority in cities or districts, or are in significant numbers where these votes are decisive in choosing those who come to power above society. There are still white supremacists and imperialists to be fought. But we don’t fight by dividing them in half and taking their money.
The BUF’s Collaboration with Black Rulers and the White Rich
The BUF has no problem taking money from the Bloombergs, Rockefellers, Goldman Sachs, the Disneys, and Johnson & Johnsons of the world. It is publicly documented that Lumumba’s city administration and some of its closest “activist” allies have taken money from these foundations. They have the audacity to call this “reparations” as a justification. At the same time, radicals, regardless of race, are eschewed and held in contempt, who wish to bring the new society closer and upend the dominant social order.
I know some will say that I am being divisive and sowing discord among the Black movement. Is “the Black movement” a trope for sycophancy and defense of satraps?
Discord is sown by those who collaborate with police state enemies, setting the Black movement back decades. And once you have an administration like Mayor Lumumba’s that openly advanced police state surveillance working with the state and federal government, can a BUF really defend him by talking about his critics are the forces of COINTELPRO? Are spies needed to subvert the Black movement when we administer and report to the many levels of the police state in the name of establishing the most radical city on the planet?
The movement is divided by those who think that Black rulers and their henchmen in the police department are a part of a social motion for liberation and represent Black power for the Black multitudes and those who find this a farce. That is a good division to have. It shows an intelligence in our community; it reveals an independence in political thought not just a big show of posturing and hustling.
The Real Origin of Discord in the Black Movement
Discord is sown when the BUF pretends to be a force for Black liberation when its proponents are nothing more than overseers on the Democratic Party plantation seeking crumbs from their white benefactors. Such an approach is compensated to undermine insurgency in Black autonomous and multi-racial forms. And understand the BUF actually has white friends — the wrong ones.
Still, it is possible that an independent Black movement could be organized where the grassroots can initiate self-directed politics around common interests in pursuit of a particular outcomes. Such a freedom movement can fight fascism, police, patriarchy, ecological destruction, and the empire of capital (not just ONLY one of the two parties that uphold exploitation).
The Meaning of Being Self-Organized and Self-Directed
However, to be self-organized, is not a “nationalist” or “black” slogan. It is neither especially a slogan associated with women of color or LGBTQ folks. It is not a proposition about separation from others. We cannot shout all about being independent and still have a lot of doubt — and fear — about the strength and power of ordinary people. We are self-directed when we are not coalition partners with the state and capital — all else is nonsense.
Unity can be built on the basis of cheering on the gathering of forces that wish to chop down the forces of hierarchy and domination not prop them up. We can disagree on the forms of direct action and disobedience we take so long as we arrive on our own authority. If we have in reality, in the name of “Black unity,” two sets of political principles, one that we use to denounce whites as racist, and one where we affirm Blacks for doing the same things as our “enemies,” that is not a basis of unity but an occasion for scrutiny.