Since October 2019, New Black Nationalists have grappled with a theoretical model to constrain and eliminate heteropatriarchal dominance in our movement and a future majority Black-led nation.
We discarded Black Nationalist and African diaspora constructs of Black identity and nationhood that divest women, feminists, LGBTQ, trans, queer, and marginalized people of status as totalized subjects. In our view, a nation fully conceived in theory and practice bestows agency on all its people.
This letter, however, has been drafted because we have a quarrel with an influential school of Black Feminist thought on matters of Black identity and national belonging. It is our hope to initiate a conversation that narrows these differences.
We refer specifically to Black feminists who maintain that Black nationalist constructs on subject formation and nationhood— by design or default—are inherently heteropatriarchal projects.
Further, this school of thought asserts that Black nationalists enforce a mythic concept of homogeneity and are intolerant of difference. “Difference,” we are told, becomes the rationale for exterminating, oppressing, marginalizing, and ignoring groups Black Nationalists wish to exclude as subjects. Historically, those excluded have been Black women, LGBTQ, trans, queer, and other marginalized people.
In developing a conceptual model of a post-heteropatriarchal polity, our reading of Black Feminist theory focused on what was euphemistically called “The “National Question.” From the Black Power and Black Arts Movement (BAM), we gleaned the writings of Audre Lorde and Carolyn Rodgers. Their expansive notions of blackness centered Black women, lesbians, gays, and queer individuals in the contentious debates in the 1960s and 70s.
We also reviewed Michelle Wright’s book "Becoming Black," on heteropatriarchy, Black Nationalism, and intellectual counter discourses on Black identity. Wright analyzes W.E.B. Dubois, Leopold Senghor, Aime Cesaire, Franz Fanon, and Paul Gilroy’s responses to the subject formation tropes of Thomas Jefferson, Arthur de Gobineau and Friedrich Hegel—the founders of Scientific Racism.
These counterdiscourses have been foundational to Black intellectual thought on subject formation theory as well. Wright documents how these counterdiscourses accepted Western notions of nationhood as heterosexual male projects. Worse, they dismissed Black women as the “Other” or as author Michelle Wallace once put it, the “Other of the Other.”
New Black Nationalists don't contest the historical accuracy of most of these assertions. We question whether some of these notions are being advanced as absolute truths. If that were the case, our efforts to eviscerate the scourge of heteropatriarchy from our ranks is a pursuit grounded in fantasy—a noble pursuit, but a fantasy nonetheless.
We believe after giving these Black Feminist constructs a fair reading, they foreclose on the possibility of a Black nation-state dislodging itself from the tentacles of heteropatriarchy. In our view, this isn't a tenable position for Black Nationalists or Black feminists. Accordingly, we drafted this letter to identify and close these gaps.
To contextualize our positions, we briefly outlined the philosophical source codes and principles underlying New Black Nationalists thought. We begin, by outlining those areas of agreement with radical Black feminists.
New Black Nationalists Points of Agreement With Black Feminists
On the essential matters of Black identity, nationality, and subject formation we concur with the following Black Feminist positions outlined by Michelle Wright and others.
1. We believe the prevailing view of Black identity, Black subject formation, and Black nations have been heteropatriarchal in theory and practice--excluding Black women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized peoples as subjects.
2. We agree that the Western concept of the nation is inextricably linked with the concept of the subject in that both are constructed through the Hegelian self/Other dialectic. These theories uphold white men as the subject. Black men are cast as the inferior "Other." Black women are mostly ignored or dismissed as a sub-human species.
3. We agree that theories on the Black subject that fail to develop subject formation across a range of sociopolitical categories (race, nation, gender, and sexuality) will (re)produce structures of exclusions with a Black subject reliant on Black “Others” in order to come into being.
4. We agree that white Western discourses on the nation and subjectivity are the story of men rendering the nation’s birth, origins, present, and future. The Black Nationalist discourse of the 1960s and 1970s posited that: “Black men must fight for their rights and Black women should be satisfied with their subordinate roles as assistants, lovers, and mothers.
New Black Nationalists believe these positions we share with Black Feminists form the basis of developing a productive relationship. But the unity and strength of our alliance will depend more on how we process difference than agreement.
Let us begin with the concept of a "nation" as an inherently heteropatriarchal project. New Black Nationalists argue this viewpoint emanates from accepting the "Scientific Racism" frame of reference articulated principally by Fredrich Hegel defining the white "subject" as superior and the object or "Other" as inferior. Hegel's dialectical framework and concept of a nation posited that the Africans "Other" (men) stood outside the realm of history, bound by law, science, reason, and God.
DuBois, Cesaire, Senghor, and Gilroy accepted the legitimacy of
Only through the institution of slavery and Africans close proximity to whites could these cretins acquire civilizational tenants to become a self-directed people capable of nation.
racist conclusions of white superiority In passionate appeals they proclaimed Blacks possessed all the requisite attributes of intelligence, cultural production, ethics, and sentience to worship an omnipresent deity. In short they argued Black capacity for self-government based on reason. Their version of a Black Enlightenment progress narrative sought entry into the estate of Western Civilization's national project as fully invested citizens.
It was Hegel's argument that
New Black Nationalists concept of a nation has little to do identity predicated on Hegelian dialectical approaches of self versus "Other" or master versus slave definitions. Our starting point of defining nationhood emanates from our historical development as a people and the constitutive elements that engender our sense of national being.
When NBN speak of Black historical development within America's settler state and the constitutive elements defining us as a nation we are referring to the following;
--common ancestral origins in West Africa
--the Middle Passage to the Western Hemisphere and subsequent collective enslavement
--ascendance as the majority population on a common geographical space in the Black Belt South --the eventual adoption of a common language
--the development of a distinct common culture and psychological makeup.
Irrespective of our path to national development as a transplanted polyglot of enslaved ethnic West Africans forged into a new oppressed nation, we are entitled to self-determination like most modern nations. Because New Black Nationalist seek its own independent nation, the Black Enlightenment progress of DuBois, Gates, and Gilroy have no purchase with us.
We seek exit not entry.
New Black Nationalists are attempting to lead a Black majority-led nation in which there are no racial, ethnic or religious exclusions. We seek to create a voluntary union in which all women, LGTBQ, trans, queer, and traditionally marginalized peoples are full subjects. To this end, we don’t consider ourselves exclusionists or practitioners of “difference” to subjugate others. To us, the concept of nation implies diversity, not its opposite as some Black feminists argue.
What New Black Nationalists Believe
As New Black Nationalists, we are not ideologically speaking, Afrocentrists, Pan-Africanists, Afropessimists, Cultural Nationalists or Black Atlanticists. We are not racial separatists nor do we subscribe to any ideology of racial superiority. We seek truth. We learn from and attempt to incorporate the best thinking percolating in the universe of radical theory.
Frantz Fanon's corpus of theories on race, racism, nationalism, capitalism, decolonial theory, Marxism, violence, phenomenology, ontology, culture, violence, and women, constitute the nexus of our core principles and a comprehensive, unified ideological system. Accordingly, we are a self-identified Fanonist formation.
New Black Nationalists interpret Blackness in-part as a proxy for race. We recognize Blackness phenotypically and behaviorally as expressed in culture passed down through the generations. This cultural continuum vibrates to the cosmos in a uniquely discernible way in any given geographic space Black people inhabit in mass.
We believe Blackness operates as a construct phenomenologically, as perceived through individual and collective lived experiences. These perceptions are transitory, fluid, and ever changing in the realm of time, space, and circumstance. Notions of Blackness are not restricted to Western linear progress narratives.
We regard Blacks in America's settler state as an integral part of the African diaspora sharing ancestry, blood, soil, and elements of culture. We envision expanding the traditional writ of the Black Atlantic-based diaspora to champion the "Black Pacific" independence movements of First Nation Aboriginals in Australia and the West Papua liberation struggle against Indonesia. With respect to the role of violence as a means of the oppressed securing national liberation, New Black Nationalists skew Fanonist.
New Black Nationalists privilege Africanfuturism and Afrofuturism as emerging aesthetic and cultural systems fusing technology and science fiction to probe the diasporic Black imagination with new possibilities.
New Black Nationalists are also pro-feminist--a position that may seem antithetical to Fanon's feminist detractors and some honest critics. Fanon's writings on women in the Lesser Antilles, France, and Algeria remain controversial, particularly among "Euro-American Lit-Crit feminists, Algerian Nationalist feminists, and Radical Black feminists in America's settler state.
While it can be argued Fanon works displayed certain masculinist tendencies, we do not believe he was a misogynists nor was he anti-women's liberation. Fanon believed in women's emancipation, gender equity, their material well being, and cultural freedom based on his lived experience and "new humanist" vision of a post-Western society. To fully explore Fanon's views on women and feminism our website host an ongoing Fanon Forum on these issues.
Finally, we hold that Blacks in America’s settler state have been an oppressed nation within American Empire since the mid-1800’s. We uphold and fight for Black peoples’ historical right to exercise self-determination. Our goal is to create a new Black nation-state consonant with the collapse of American Empire in the 2020’s.
Issues for Clarification and Discussion
Concerning nationality, while the Western concept of identity is intertwined with the concept of nation, we don’t define the Black nation from the dialectical standpoint of “self-versus Other.” This construct characterized the scientific racist theories of Hegel, de Gobineau, and Jefferson. Black counterdiscourses accepted the "self versus Other" construct as a frame of reference and responded based on the specific conditions of the author’s native country or region.
To that end, Aime Cesaire’s developed a theory of “creole identity” that blended French metropolitan culture with the indigenous culture in Martinique. Leopold Senghor’s theory that pre-colonial Africa possessed its own culture prior to the development of Western civilization was ironically predicated on his agreement with De Gobineau, principally on the singular issue of culture. W.E.B DuBois’s concept of "the veil" and Black "double-consciousness" was promulgated as a Black Enlightenment “progress narrative” to prove Blacks were not a threat to white people or American Empire, as Thomas Jefferson insisted.
These Black intellectuals, including Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlanticist school, all formulated different oppositional responses to the 18th Century scientific racist tropes of a nascent Euro-American imperial condominium seeking to justify the slave trade and colonial plunder.
Franz Fanon, argued Black subjectivity could only be reached by essentially overthrowing colonial rule as did the Algerian people with his support as a member of the FLN. Fanon also posited that revolutionary violence in the liberation movements was an intrinsic part of the process of overcoming the psychological terror and feelings of inferiority instilled by colonial powers, starting with language dominance.
international practices of recognizing nations--the same standards that Martin Delaney argued in his call for exodus and the formation of a Black nation in 1852. like the Kurds, West Papuans or First Nation Aboriginals in Australia,
New Black Nationalists harbor no allegiance to the United States. We are not Americans or hyphenated African Americans: we are stateless maroons. Nor do we consider whites to be our superiors. Therefore, we have no need to prove our fitness to be afforded the accoutrements, protections, and freedoms of so-called American citizenship and “the American dream.” We don’t want it.
We want exit. We aspire to create a far more democratic, innovative, and culturally dynamic society than America’s morally degenerate empire that is riven by greed, exploitation, and comprehensive corruption could ever offer.
Intellectually, we dissent from the Black orthodoxy of W.E.B Dubois’s theories of Black double-consciousness and “the veil” that are still in vogue among Black scholars, Black feminists, Black Atlanticists, Afrofuturists, millennial Black Lives Matter radicals, and continental African intellectuals.
DuBois’s quote, “One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled stirrings: two warring ideals in one dark body,” has no purchase with us. DuBois’s theory of double-consciousness was progressive in the 20th Century, but we are on the approaches of a new frontier that will require different thinking for the days of travail ahead.
In severing the ideological umbilical cord with DuBois, New Black Nationalists are reaffirming our opposition to American patriotism and social democratic reformism. We are also arguing that there is a distinction between Black consciousness or subjectivity and Black Nationalist consciousness. Black Nationalists consciousness is not acquired simply by recognition of phenotypical and race difference, discrimination or even oppression. Nationalist consciousness is learned and actively pursued.
With some justification, Black Nationalism in the U.S. has largely been dismissed as a spent force since the 1960s Black Power era. We are the first to admit that Black Nationalists' intellectual and theoretical production has collapsed into a diseased state of affairs.
Black Nationalists never escaped the revolutionary romanticism of the 60s, refused to develop a serious critique of the shortcomings of the Black Power era, and rejected Black feminists on the "narrowest" of terms as a threat to Black manhood. So too, Black Nationalism 1.0 condemned itself to parochial thinking that there are authentic “Black issues" like police brutality, reparations, the carceral state, institutionalized racism, and supporting Black liberation movements.
In the 21st Century, Hurricane Katrina washed away 1,500 Black lives in New Orleans, and COVID-19 has already claimed more than 30,000 Black lives in four months, but climate change and pandemic threats somehow still remain issues for the “white left, just as feminism was in the 60s.” New Black Nationalists' primary industry is to politically and theoretically retool and upgrade Black Nationalism with new 2.0 political software.
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, we urge Black Feminists and others to reject absolutist thinking and continuing to perpetuate the narrative that Black Nationalism is a narrow, anti-inclusionary, retrograde trend. Without question, separatists, anti-LGBTQ, and race antagonistic forces not only remain under the umbrella of self-identified Black Nationalists forces, they are still the dominant trend.
New Black Nationalists aren’t critical of Black radicals and the Black-left relegating Black Nationalism to the political margins. Nor do we harbor any reservations regarding Black-leftist and Black Feminist migration to the shores of African Diaspora Black identity constructs. But pillorying Black Nationalism as a springboard or rationale to make landfall on these new ideological grounds is not an imperative.
As a brief aside, we are also keenly aware that New Black Nationalists advocating the creation of an independent nation-state is not taken seriously in most politically active quarters. That's okay, We can always debate that issue. We only ask doubters to consider one incontrovertible fact: There has never been an empire in human history that has not collapsed or been overthrown!
Just as the Roman, Persian, Ottoman, and Egyptian empires fell, so too will American Empire, unless Black Feminists want to proffer an argument for "American Exceptionalism." It's just a question of when. Unlike most, we believe all the signals are leading to an existential crisis and collapse of American Empire in the 2020's. It's a debate for another day, but one way or another Black people are going to get their shot at nationhood.
Rarely do New Black Nationalists question the political motivations of any groups or individuals. On balance, we accept criticisms of Black Nationalism as legitimate and constructive. That being said, the criticisms listed below represent a broad cross section of critiques that generally brand Black Nationalism as a relic of the past or invoke the euphemism of “narrow nationalism.” We've included these excepts because they're instructive in their specific points of emphasis and underscore common themes of disagreement regarding subject formation and nationality among Black feminists and the expanding Black-left.
Paul Gilroy – The Black Atlantic
“Essentialist and anti-essentialist theories of black identity has become unhelpful. Regardless of their affiliation to the right, left, or center, groups have fallen back on cultural nationalism. Different nationalist paradigms for thinking about cultural history fail when confronted by the intercultural and transnational formation that I call the black Atlantic. The Black Atlantic world challenges the coherence of all narrow nationalist perspectives and points to the spurious invocation of ethnic particularity to enforce them. I should add this impulse comes from the oppressors or the oppressed. In opposition to these nationalist or ethnically absolute approaches, I want to develop the suggestion that cultural historians could take the Atlantic as one single, complex unit of analysis in their discussions of the modern world and use it to produce an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective."
Renaldo Anderson – The Afrofuturism 2.0 Manifesto
“The notion of Astro-Blackness suggests a shift from the modern era or nation-state bound analog notion of blackness transitioning through a digitized era toward and in tension with post-digital perspectives as a global response to the planetary and new planetary challenges facing black life in the early-first century. "Afrofuturism 2.0 is the early 21st century techno-genesis of Black Identity reflecting counter histories, hacking, and or appropriating network software, database logic, cultural analytics, deep re-mixability, neurosciences, enhancement and augmentation, gender, fluidity, posthuman possibility, the speculative sphere, with transdisciplinary applications, and has grown into an important diasporic Pan-African movement.
Black Lives Matter – “Who We Are” – BLM Website
“We are a collective of liberators who believe in an inclusive and spacious movement. We also believe that in order to win and bring as many people with us along the way, we must move beyond the narrow nationalism that is all too prevalent in Black communities. We must ensure we are building a movement that brings all of us to the front. We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.
Michelle Wright – “On Becoming Black”
Here we return to the ugly exclusion on which nationalist discourse—Black or white—must necessarily rely. With the resurgence of academic interest in the concept of an African diaspora, theorists of the Black subject have an alternative to the nation as the signifier for the collective subject.
Audre Lorde - Showing Our Colors
In the face of new international alignments, vital connections and differences exist that need to be examined between African-European, African-Asian, and African American women, as well as between us and our African sisters. The first steps in examining these connections are to identify ourselves, to recognize each other, and to listen carefully to each other’s stories.
It’s appropriate that we concluded our excerpts with the words of Audre Lorde, who along with several other women in the Black Arts Movement formed a core of activists and supporters that rebelled against the sexism and rampant patriarchy of the BAM. Since then, the Black Feminist movement in America’s settler state has waged and won battle after battle to build a powerful movement over the past five decades.
In doing so, Black feminists broke all the rules: simultaneously fighting and winning a two-front theoretical war against Black Nationalists and white Feminists in the 1960s and 1970s. From there they traded blows with Black intellectuals and academics in the Literary Criticism and Post-Structuralist Wars that ebbed and flowed throughout the eighties. Through it all Black feminists envisioned broader horizons of gender and LGBTQ expression.
By the 1990s, Black feminists were breaking new ground as Intersectionality Theory began gathering converts in route to invading the halls of academia. About the same time, Afrofuturists Black speculative thought and its attendant cultural movement began to take flight. Visionary women and Black feminists were present at the creation as both architects and contributors to the movement that’s metastasized across the African diaspora.
After decades of struggle in the trenches, Black feminists, and LGBTQ inspired activists emerged as the leadership converting an internet hashtag network into Black Lives Matter’s global offensive against state sanctioned violence. From Ferguson, to Toronto, to South Africa, the millennial-based second generation of the Black Feminist movement’s successors are continuing to make their mark on BLM's 2.0 counter-carceral movement following the tragic death of George Floyd.
Since the New Black Nationalist movement began 2018, we have emphasized the dramatic impact the self-empowerment of Black women, Black feminists, and LGBTQ activists have made across America's settler state. Black attitudes and practices have changed on a range of issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, women’s and LGBTQ rights, sexuality, leadership styles, political participation, police brutality, restorative justice and more. Black women have not been on the frontlines pushing the boundaries of culture, theory, and literary criticism.
The efforts of Black feminists, LGBTQ activists, radical and progressive Black women, have resulted in a dramatic cultural and power shift since the 60s. We’ve referred to this shift as “The Feminization of the New Black Liberation Movement.” The “feminization” we speak of has already began the transformation of Black culture at its root. It is a profound contribution to our movement. To support and expand our cooperation with Black Feminists and LGBTTQ communities across the globe we launched a Black Feminist--Black Nationalist Exchange on our website as an ongoing forum.
We trust this letter helps clarify some of our positions and thinking on the issues of Black identity, gender, and nationhood. New Black Nationalists are committed to working with Black feminists, and all progressive-minded people until as Professor Wright says, “all Black people regardless of their marginalized status, can find representation within a theory of the subject.”
As African descendants of many bloodlines, shaped by a historical confluence of events into a nation without its own self-directing government, the "stateless maroons" of the New Black Nationalist movement convey our warmest regards to the global Black Feminist Movement.