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Letter to Black Feminists on Identity, Nationalism, and Gender

August 8, 2020

In Conjunction with the Black Feminist--Black Nationalist Exchange

Since October 2019, New Black Nationalists have been developing a theoretical model to eliminate heteropatriarchal dominance in our movement and a future majority Black-led nation. 

We’ve discarded Black nationalist constructions and African diaspora theories of Black identity and nationhood that refuse to contemplate investing women, LGBTTQ, trans, queer, and all marginalized people with the status of totalized subjects. In our view, a nation fully conceived in theory and practice must bestow agency on all its people.

This letter, however, has been drafted because we have a difference of opinion with an influential school of Black Feminist thought on matters of Black identity and national belonging. It’s our hope to open a dialogue that narrows our differences if possible, on these matters.

We refer specifically to Black feminists who maintain that Black nationalist constructs on subject formation and nation-states— by design or default—are inherently heteropatriarchal projects. 

Further, this school of thought has asserted for decades that Black nationalists enforce a mythic concept of homogeneity and are intolerant of difference. “Difference,” then 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 nation-state, our reading of Black Feminist theory focused on what has euphemistically been called “The “National Question.” From the Black Power and Black Arts Movement (BAM), we gleaned the writings of Audre Lorde and Carolyn Rodgers and their expansive notions of blackness centering Black women, lesbians, gays, and queer individuals in the heated BAM debates of the 1960s and 70s. 

We also reviewed Michelle Wright’s brilliant work on heteropatriarchy, Black Nationalism, and intellectual counter discourses on Black identity in “Becoming Black.” 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. In every instance, as Wright documents, these counterdiscourses accepted white Western notions of nationhood as masculine, 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. Rather, we’re questioning whether these notions are being advanced as absolute truths. Should that be the case, our efforts to rectify our practice and liberate our ranks from the scourge of heteropatriarchy is a pursuit grounded in fantasy—a noble pursuit, but a fantasy, nonetheless.  

We believe after giving the aforementioned Black Feminist constructs a fair reading, they foreclose on the possibility of an existing or future Black nation-state dislodging itself from the tentacles of heteropatriarchy. It would appear that's not a tenable position for Black Nationalists or Black feminists, unless we've missed something here. That being said, we believe some qualifying remarks are in order to clarify our disagreements with certain elements of Black Feminist thinking. 

To insure there is no confusion regarding the source codes delineating our strand of Black Nationalism, we will also briefly restate our guiding principles and areas of agreement with contemporary Black Feminism.

What New Black Nationalists Believe

As New Black Nationalists, we are not ideologically speaking, Afrocentrists, Pan-Africanists, Afropessimists, or Black Atlanticists. We are not racial separatists. Nor do we subscribe to any ideology of racial superiority. We condemn them all.

We interpret Blackness in-part as a proxy for race. We define Blackness both physically in terms of phenotype, and behaviorally as expressed in Black culture passed down through the generations, reflecting the uniqueness in which we vibrate to the cosmos. Blackness also operates as a construct phenomenologically, as imagined through individual and collective perceptions. These collective perceptions are fluid, and ever changing in the realm of time, space, and circumstance. 

We are an integral part of the African diaspora sharing ancestral blood, soil, and culture. We envision the traditional Black Atlantic-based diaspora expanding its writ to champion the "Black Pacific" independence movements of the First Nation Aboriginals in Australia and the West Papua liberation struggle in 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 an emerging aesthetic and cultural systems fusing technology and science fiction to probe the diasporic Black imagination with infinite possibilities. Combatting cultural imperialism that conflates the future of Blackness with catastrophe is a critical front in the intensifying global cultural wars.  

We hold that Blacks in America’s settler state have been an oppressed nation within American Empire since the mid-1800’s. We affirm that Black people possess a distinct organically evolved culture. We uphold 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. 

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 in “Becoming Black.”  

1. We believe that the prevailing view of Black identity, Black subject formation, and Black nations has been heteropatriarchal in theory and practice--excluding Black women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized peoples as subjects.

2. We agree that the white Western concept of the nation is inextricably intertwined with the concepts of the subject in that both are constructed through the self/Other dialectic. These theories uphold white men as being the subject. Black men are cast as the inferior "Other," while 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 the subject are the story of men, rendering the nation’s birth, its origins, its present and its future wholly in the hands of men. In the Black Nationalist discourse of the 1960s and 1970s, the dominant philosophy 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 Feminist thought 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 move then to the contested issues we wish to raise. 

Issues for Clarification and Discussion 

Concerning nationality, while the white 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 European culture was ironically predicated on his agreement with De Gobineau on the singular issue of culture. W.E.B DuBois’s trope of the veil and Black double-consciousness was promulgated as a traditional “progress narrative” in the language of a Black Enlightenment 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. 

It was Franz Fanon, the Martinican psychiatrist turned revolutionary, that 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. But, similar to his other intellectual compatriots, Fanon espoused a view that passivity by women was the best method to support the national revolutionary struggles.  

As New Black Nationalists, we feel no compulsion to justify our call for a Black Nation based on racial difference with others to define Black subjectivity. As with most contemporary nations, including those yet to achieve self-determination like the Middle East Kurds, Blacks in West Papua or the First Nation Aboriginals of Australia, our claim is based on longstanding historical 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.  

The constitutive elements of our national being resides in our common ancestral origins in West Africa, our collective enslavement and the Middle Passage to Western Hemisphere, our ascendance as the majority population of a common geographical space in the Black Belt South, the eventual adoption of a common language, and the development of a distinct common culture. 

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. 

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. 

​Concluding Thoughts

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.  

​Illustration from the Generation Adefra of Germany Website:  adefra.com