Frederick Douglass’ admonition stands the test of time: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” Attempting to negotiate with nothing more than a handout is foolish and only gives the powerful a welcome opportunity to manipulate with palliatives and control. That kind of so-called negotiation always elicits vacuity for “the powerless.”
Lest we forget, there was a period during the human rights movement — reduced via concession to the civil rights movement — especially from the late 1950s through the ’60s, in which African anti-colonialism and so-called liberation was taking place in many parts of Africa. So engaged in integration and struggling to maintain the slave name “Negro,” civil rights leaders assiduously avoided any and all Diaspora hookups.
That left Malcolm X, the non-civil-rights leader, as the American black man working directly with African leaders to build an economic bridge between Africans and their globally needed natural resources and black American know-how and potential, and, by doing so, re-unite the Diaspora spiritually and culturally — all the Americas, Africa, Australia and the South Pacific Islands.
By the time Malcolm X sojourned in Africa and the Middle East, the late New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. had become so powerful that whites soon schemed to shut him down on Capitol Hill. Adam and Malcolm in Harlem together were a bit too much and had to be dealt with. Adam had been involved with Africa and its emerging black leaders for years. He and Malcolm were on point about that and they both had challenges with civil rights leaders.
On the issue of black economic development, Africa and the Diaspora, Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t stubborn, although he had a reputation for exuding that quality. He simply had little knowledge of Africa, of economics and business and the full impact of national and international politics involved. But he could no longer be silent on the war in Vietnam and South African apartheid. After that, it was Memphis and his assassination.
Civil rights leaders have to be credited with understanding people power and for developing some methods of organizing that power. However, through combinations of fear, ignorance, inertia and a psychology of dependency, coupled with stress, the movement shied away from openly coupling politics and economics as two sides of the same oppressive system.
In the intervening years since “the movement,” the American class and caste system (apartheid) has become very pronounced and sophisticated, while the politics of containment rule black leaders. Here’s a partial update on school integration that was supposed to happen “with all deliberate speed,” according to the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court:
Today, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles public schools have 2.5 million students combined. Minorities make up 88 percent of all the students, of whom 77 percent are poor. It took some time and some doing for this to happen. Where were the black leaders? Where were the Latino leaders?
The politics of containment is workable only if and when a constituency is so politically inert that the people allow leaders to be unaccountable. Even when leaders have made deals with “downtown interests” as payback for campaign funds or other reasons, a sophisticated constituency will nip that in the bud.
The politics of containment is dangerous because it undermines the supposed democratic process that becomes reality only through mass participation of the people. Elected, appointed or anointed officials must not be allowed to vote for what they want, as opposed to what constituents want. They are responsible for ensuring that the people have the necessary information in order to make an informed decision. That’s the democratic way.
If they can’t do that, throw the bums out.
Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@verizon.net