From the moment the first captive Africans arrived in the American colonies in 1619 to, at least, the mid-1960s, Black people in America have been forced to grapple with the fact that they lived their lives within a society characterized by an authoritarian social order and political culture based on white supremacy. Some would argue that the rule of white supremacy continues to this very day. What is beyond dispute is the fact that for the overwhelming majority of the past four centuries, racism/white supremacy has been the American scourge. The American social order persistently encouraged state repression and exploitation of Black Americans for the benefit of the nation’s white population. It is also evident that the economic legacy and social effects of America’s chattel slavery-based and Apartheid/Jim Crow-based social structures continue to the present day.
‘The question,’ long debated among Blacks vying for leadership, continues to be as follows: “What the FUCK should we do about it?
For nearly 200 years, Black thinkers and activists have offered varying strategies for addressing their plight. History has documented these disparate responses. Here, we quickly provide a cursory review of some of the earliest efforts to address ‘the question.’ We briefly highlight the precursors to the ‘accomodationist’ approach propagated by Booker T. Washington. We review ‘accomodationism’ as practiced by Washington and finally, highlight the nascent ‘neo-accomodationist’ movement taking form among Black male millennials.
David Walker: We Need Self-Help
In September 1829, David Walker, a free Black man living in Boston issued a call for black unity and self-help in the struggle against the horrifically explorative white supremacist social order prevailing at the time. Conservative in his approach, Walker believed that the “key to the uplift of the race was a zealous commitment to the tenets of individual moral improvement: education, temperance, protestant religious practice, regular work habits, and self-regulation.” At the core of Walker’s strategy was a belief that members of racist/white supremacist ruling class would eventually acknowledge “improved” Blacks and grant the human and civil rights espoused by Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution. While he was fundamentally conservative in his self-help approach, Walker’s ideas were considered somewhat radical because he called for Blacks to take action and do more than just pray for a better life in the hereafter.
Nat Turner: Let Kill Our White Oppressors!
Two years later, in August 1831, a far different approach to dealing with the abysmal plight of Blacks emerged in Southampton County, Virginia. Nat Turner, a Black man enslaved and held captive by Benjamin Turner decided to rebel and kill the white people directly responsible for condition. Turner started his rebellion with a few trusted compatriots. All of the initial rebels were other enslaved Black men from his neighborhood. Beginning on the night of August 21, the rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing all of the white people they encountered. The rebels ultimately included more than 70 enslaved and free Black men.
Trying to maintain an element of surprise as they slaughtered white families, they initially used knives, hatchets, axes, and blunt instruments instead of firearms. Nat and his boys did not discriminate by age or sex, and members killed white men, women, and children. Turner did not focus his efforts and energy on his fellow Blacks. Turner wanted to shake the conscience of the white people who lived comfortably in a rigidly racist/white supremacist slave-based social order. He thought that revolutionary violence would wake up whites and force them to confront the reality of the inherently brutal chattel slavery-based order. Turner later acknowledged that he intended to spread “terror and alarm” among whites. He accomplished that goal in dramatic fashion.
Before whites could gather and organize a militia to respond, the Turner and the rebels killed 60 white men, women, and children. The rebellion lasted only 48 hours, but Turner remained on the run for more than 2 months in the woods. Finally on October 30, Turner was discovered hiding in a hole covered with fence rails. Two weeks later, on November 5, 1831, Turner was tried for “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection”, convicted, and sentenced to death. A week after that, Turner was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia. The whites stripped the skin off his body and beheaded him as an example for other potential rebels.
So… What the FUCK we gonna do about it?
In a 24 month period spanning 1829 to 1831, we see the emergence of 2 distinct responses to this core question. Walker calling for conservative self-improvement, wanted Blacks to improve themselves and prove themselves worthy of improved social standing. Turner, committed to rebellion, decided to kill the racist/white supremacists that enslaved him, his family and the Blacks in his immediate surroundings. These are very distinct political strategies indeed. Others would emerge over time.
Martin Delany: Let’s Roll Outta Here
Twenty-three years after Nat Turner’s rebellion another distinct strategy emerged. In August 1854, Martin Delany, a Black abolitionist, journalist, physician, soldier and writer led the National Emigration Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Delany, devising an emigrationist position, argued that Black people need to leave the United States, immediately.
Delany advanced his emigrationist argument in his second manifesto, “Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent”. The 1854 convention approved a resolution stating, “[A]s men and equals, we demand every political right, privilege and position to which the whites are eligible in the United States, and we will either attain to these, or accept nothing.” In May 1859, Delany sailed from New York for Liberia Liberia, to investigate the possibility of a new black nation in the region. The journey consumed nine months and Delany signed an agreement with eight indigenous chiefs in the Abeokuta region that would permit settlers to live on “unused land” in return for applying their skills for the community’s good.
As 1860 ended, Delany returned to the United States. The next year, he began planning settlement of Abeokuta, and gathered a group of potential settlers and funding. However, when Delany decided to remain in the United States to work for emancipation of slaves, the pioneer plans fell apart.
Henry McNeal Turner: Let’s Work Within the System
After slaveholding Confederacy lost the Civil War, many Black leaders sought to improve the plight of Black Americans through participation in electoral politics. Henry McNeal Turner was one of the more prominent Black politicians of the era. Turner helped found the Republican Party of Georgia. Turner ran for political office from the city of Macon and was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1868. His strategy based on electoral politics was immediately challenged. Racism/white supremacy remained a core American value despite the outcome of the war. The Democrats remained in control of state legislature and refused to seat Turner and 26 other newly elected black legislators.
The United States Congress eventually removed civilian governments in the South, and placed the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army. The army conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote, while whites who had held leading positions under the Confederacy were temporarily denied the vote and were not permitted to run for office.
Turner was dismayed after the Democrats regained power in the state and throughout the South by the late 1870s. Racism and white supremacy was ascendant once again in America. Jim Crow was running wild. There was a rapid rise in violence at the polls, which repressed black voting. In 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, forbidding racial discrimination in hotels, trains, and other public places, was unconstitutional.
Jim Crow was on its’ way toward establishment of full control of American life.
Turner, an active participant in electoral politics in the late 1860s, by the late nineteenth century had witnessed state legislatures in Georgia and across the South passing Jim Crow laws to disfranchise blacks. It was too much for McNeal to bear. He gave up on America and like Delany 40 years earlier became an emigrationist. Turner founded the International Migration Society and organized two ships with a total of 500 or more emigrants, that traveled to Liberia in 1895 and 1896.
In 1895, Turner looked around and said fuck it… I’m out!
Booker T. Washington: Let’s Accommodate Our Oppressors
Also, in 1895 Booker T Washington’s delivered his 1895 Atlanta Exposition address. Viewing the exact same social phenomena that Turner encountered Washington devised a very different strategy. In the face of Jim Crows expansion and an explosion of lynchings, Washington put for the a strategy of “accomodationism.” He stressed that Blacks should drop all demands for inclusion, civil rights and educational opportunities to avoid a harsh white backlash. In his formulation, Blacks somehow caused the maltreatment they received at the hands of American racist/white supremacists.
Washington explicitly encouraged Black in the South to accept sacrifices of potential political power, civil rights, and higher education. Washington believed that African Americans should “concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South.” He pushed Blacks to work in the fields. He thought these skills would lay the foundation for the creation of stability that the African-American community required in order to move forward. He believed that in the long term, “blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by showing themselves to be responsible, reliable American citizens”. His approach advocated for an initial step toward equal rights, rather than full equality under the law, gaining economic power to back up black demands for political equality in the future. He believed that such achievements would prove to the deeply prejudiced white America that African Americans were not “‘naturally’ stupid and incompetent”.
The Responses to American Apartheid in the 20th Century
Washington severely underestimated the intensity and depravity of racist/white supremacists controlling the reigns of power in America. The seven decades following his Atlanta speech witnessed the ascendance and dominance of American Apartheid. His accomodationist perspective fell out of favor as the political activism of W.E.B DuBois, the Black Nationalism of Garvey were the dominant ideologies of early 20th century. Toward the middle of the century, the non-violent protest of Dr. Martin L. King, the acerbic race-based critique of Malcolm X and the ‘self-defense’ posture of the Black Panther Party attracted Blacks still intent on addressing ‘the question.”
Shirley Chisholm, Maynard Jackson, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama were among the more prominent proponents of a resurgent push to affect change through participation in electoral politics. The range of Black Political Thought has been wide ranging and varied to say the least. But, it seemed that “accomodationism” was dead. It faded into the dustbin of history with the death of it’s major proponent in 1915.
Jay Z and the Rise of Neo-Accomodationism
That is until it was resurrected by an unlikely spokesman. Shawn Carter known professionally as Jay-Z is an American rapper, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, and record executive. He recently teamed up with the National Football League (NFL) to provide entertainment during games and implement ‘social change initiatives.’ The NFL has been in the midst of controversies stemming from the refusal of several prominent athletes, most notably former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick to stand during the playing of the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s activism was in direct response to what he perceived as racial injustice. ”I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Kaepernick was calling out African-American deaths caused by law enforcement that led to the Black Lives Matters movement.
Knowingly or unknowingly Carter has established a nascent ‘neo-accomodationist’ movement among many of his ardent fans and supporters. Whereas, Kaep focused his protest activities on oppression of Blacks and people of color and police “murder,” Carter has deftly created the intellectual space within the Black community for arguments that identify the “family structure” of unarmed Black young men that end up in caskets as the “CAUSE” of them losing their precious lives. Over century later, Blacks are somehow once again causing the maltreatment they receive at the hands of American racist/white supremacists.
Neo-accommodationism is a thing… SMH!
According to Carter, the cause is NOT police misconduct. The cause in NOT poor police training. The cause is NOT scared cops fearing for their lives. Instead, Black boys end up dead after encountering police because they grow up in a single parent (fatherless) homes. This causes these Black boys to have an “adverse feeling toward authority” which causes them to tell police “fuck you” resulting in interactions that “causes people to lose lives.”
In this neo-accomodationist framing of causality, agency is NOT present in the trained, paid, experienced adult government representative. Because fatherless Black boys commit what are usually considered misdemeanor or summary ‘disorderly conduct’ or ‘disturbing the peace’ violations, the police are instantly placed in the positions of prosecutors, judge, jury and executioner in a split second.
After saying people are killed during police interactions, Carter continues to express his concern for the safety of the police, “we don’t want those in charge of the police areas to be in danger either. We want to be very clear. If someone commits a crime they should go to jail.”
Very similiar to Washington 125 years ago, Carter argues that Blacks need to cease protesting, agitating and calling attention of what Kaepernick identifies as police “murder.” Blacks need to work on themselves. By improving themselves, Blacks will somehow demonstrate to the racist/white supremacist police shooting unarmed Black boys that they deserve to live.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Booker T. Washington associated with the richest and most powerful white businessmen and politicians of the era. His contacts included such diverse and well-known entrepreneurs and philanthropists as Andrew Carnegie, William Howard Taft, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman and Julius Rosenwald. Carter has likewise entered into a formal arrangement with 32 white billionaire owners of NFL teams. He counts Robert Kraft, Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones and the rest of the NFL Billionaire Boys Club among his colleagues. Washington was seen as a spokesperson for Blacks and became a conduit for funding educational programs. Carter has emerged as a counter for Kaepernick and the Black Live Matters movement and a conduit for funding for neo-accommodationist programs.
When directly asked if he would kneel or stand, Jay-Z said: “I think we’ve moved past kneeling and I think it’s time to go into actionable items.”
Among the very first ‘actionable items’ on the agenda was the donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to The Crushers Club which has cut the hair of black children “for a better life” and tweeted “All Lives Matter.”
More than a century ago, Booker T. Washington expressed a deeply held belief that “blacks would eventually gain full participation in society by showing themselves to be responsible, reliable American citizens.” Washington, the ‘accomodationist,’ believed that such achievements would prove to the deeply prejudiced white America that African Americans were not “‘naturally’ stupid and incompetent”.
The ‘neo-accomodationist’ position staked out by Carter and his acolytes holds that cleanly shaved Black boys, with closely cropped coifs and fathers in the home will prove to deeply racist white police officers that Black men are not worthy of apprehension, arrest, trial, guilty verdict and execution in the blinking of an eye.
It’s not clear that the throngs of Black male millennials co-signing Carter’s recent pronouncements and actionable items understand just how much his behavior eerily harkens back to the days of Washington’s discredited ‘accomodationism.’
Someone needs to sneak DuBois’ critiques of Washington into rap lyrics or an updated version of the fortnite video game. As long as it remains solely in books I fear it’s inaccessible to many Black male millennials.
“It’s Da Roc!”