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It’s Colonialism, Pure and Simple
Malcolm’s lucid analysis that Black people in the Americas are an African people, helped to crystallize the point that colonialism was the problem Black people have all over the world, not just a problem of Black folks on the African continent. Throughout February 1965, Malcolm is literally able to predict the political future of Black people and the African continent; a future based on what he accurately defined as clientelism when we ignore the fact that Black people’s oppression worldwide is due to colonialism. In a speech called “Educate our people in the science of politics”delivered on February 14, 1965 at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit, Michigan, he warns of ignoring this objective reality:
When you’re playing ball and they get you trapped, you don’t throw the ball away, you throw it to one of your teammates who’s in the clear. And this is what the European powers did. They were trapped on the African continent, they couldn’t stay there; they were looked upon as colonial, imperialist. So they had to pass the ball to someone whose image was different, and they passed the ball to Uncle Sam. And he picked it up and has been running it for a touchdown ever since. He was in the clear, he was not looked upon as one who had colonized the African continent. But at that time, the Africans couldn’t see that though the United States hadn’t colonized the African continent, he had colonized twenty-two million Blacks here on this continent. Because we are just as thoroughly colonized as anybody else. [Applause]1.
Throughout February 1965, Malcolm’s analysis about the newly independent nations of Africa and supposed gains made for African people in the United States through legislative means may appear at face value to be pessimistic, but Malcolm discerned that the imperialist system was/is willing to grant reforms or so-called “independence”, as long the system remained intact. He expounds on this point in the same speech given in Detroit when he said:
They would deal with conditions but not the cause. They only gave us tokenism. Tokenism only benefits a few. It never benefits the masses, and the masses are the ones who have the problem, not the few. That one who benefits from tokenism, he doesn’t want to be around us anyway-that’s why he picks up on the token.2
Malcolm never underestimated the enemy. Malcolm’s analysis becomes all the more prescient when we see that the United States is today re-colonizing Africa through Africom, and as Malcolm said about tokenism, this 21st century re-colonizing project has proliferated under the auspices of the first Negro President of the United States. As he always makes clear throughout the book, Mosie Tshombe was the token in the Congo; and other “responsible Negro leaders” in the United States that were given money and platforms to laud the signing of assimilation rights…oops I mean “Civil Rights” legislation… as the end of the “American Negro problem” and ignored the objective conditions of Black people in the United States, were tokens. By placing the oppression of all Black people in the world correctly into the context of colonialism, Malcolm internationalized the oppression of Black people, and thus our oppression was no longer confined to the borders of the nation state where we live. Malcolm said it best, “Don’t struggle within the ground rules that the people you’re struggling against have laid down,”3 you can only ensure yourself failure when using this tactic. As one looks at a “post-colonial” Africa, a “post-racial” America, a “racial democracy” in Brazil, or whatever pseudo-intellectual ideological terms that have been created today to deny that there has not been a retrenchment of anti-Black hostilities around the world but a conscious/unconscious fortification of anti-Black hostilities…one begins to see that all of these terms lack the conceptualization of Black oppression as a condition of being colonized as African people on our continent and where we have been dispersed. When the ontological position of Black people can be seen as a problem of colonization, the profundity of Malcolm’s statement, “No matter where the Black man is, he will never be respected until Africa is a world power,”4 becomes all the more relevant. We all know the complete decolonization of Africa has failed as a political project and lapsed into clientelism, or neocolonialism as Kwame Nkrumah called it, and that the racist knee jerk platitude of, “Hey if you niggers don’t like it here, you need to go back to Africa!”, is not a platitude of a bygone era.
- Malcolm X, February 1965: The Final Speeches (Malcolm X speeches and writings), ed. Steve Clark (New York: Pathfinder, 1992), 95. ↩
- Ibid., p. 99. ↩
- Ibid., p. 89. ↩
- Ibid., p. 177. ↩