The American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement has been gaining some mainstream attention of late. Joy Reid recently caused some controversy on her show by alleging that Russian bots are behind the ADOS movement. And recently Ann Coulter has expressed her support for the ADOS movement. It is very clear that certain people in the media are beginning to pay attention to this movement. I’ve been following the ADOS movement for some time and, as a Pan-Africanist, it’s a movement that I’ve always pushed back against since I became aware of it.
At its core the ADOS movement is a movement which seeks to address the fact that African Americans have been neglected by America. The supporters of this movement are demanding redress in the form of reparations and tangible political policies which will benefit African Americans. Why the movement has garnered so much attention and has become very controversial is not because the movement seeks to address the historical injustices which have been and continue to be inflicted on African Americans. The controversy comes from the fact that the ADOS movement seeks to draw a line between ADOS and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. The term ADOS refers very specifically to the descendants of those who were enslaved in the United States, not the descendants of Caribbean slaves nor people from the African continent. This is what Antonio Moore explains in his article “African Americans Are More Than Just Africans in America.”
Part of the reason for drawing this line between ADOS and black immigrants is the perception that immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa have very negative views of African Americans. I know that there are Caribbean people who have expressed condescending views of African Americans. Chalkdust, one of my favorite artists, is a Trinidadian who recorded a song titled “That Ain’t We” in which he seeks to distinguish Caribbean immigrants from American blacks or ADOS. Needless to say, the image that Chalkdust presents of African Americans isn’t a very flattering one, although he does note that Caribbean people and African Americans can learn much from each other.
So I am not arguing that the people in the ADOS are lying when they claim that some black immigrants hold negative views of ADOS. One of my issues with the movement is that it does not seek to transcend those differences. A large reason for the division between some African Americans and Caribbean people is that we don’t really know enough about each other and our history. One Haitian friend of mine complained about how African Americans speak (referring to Ebonics). I had to remind her that African Americans speak Ebonics for the same reason that Haitians speaks Creole. She never considered that Haitians and African Americans both underwent the same process of having their languages stolen from them. Creole and Ebonics are the result of that theft.
The ADOS movement has no interest in transcending differences and building unity among people of African descent. Yvette Carnell herself has proclaimed that Pan-Africanism is dead and is an outdated concept. Obviously I would disagree with Yvette’s statements because I am a Pan-Africanist. I work with Pan-African organizations such as the Federation of Afrikan Liberation and Africans Rising, but I will get to organization in due time. I simply mention those organizations to demonstrate that Pan-Africanist isn’t just a label that I call myself, but it actually refers to being involved in something concrete. In other words, Pan-Africanism isn’t just an idea that I speak about or write about.
As I said, I do think there are legitimate grievances that need to be addressed between ADOS and Caribbean people. This is part of the larger legacy of the divide and rule tactics which our enslavers used against us. One of my books is titled One Caribbean and Other Essays. That book addresses the fact that even in the Caribbean there is an issue of division and hostility among the descendants of slavery there, so this isn’t just an ADOS versus Caribbean people issue. Caribbean people are still very much disunited among themselves. Aside from that, there are also a lot of things that I think the ADOS movement gets wrong and the purpose of this article is to address where I think the ADOS movement is wrong and how that movement can be more effective in working towards its aims.
Unlike Pan-Africanists, who have an international view of the African American struggle, the ADOS movement takes an approach which Afrikan Esq has described as “Black Isolationism.” This means that the ADOS movement disregards the struggles being waged by African people in other parts of the world and tends to maintain a narrow focus on issues that confront African Americans or ADOS.
The problem with this is that the struggle of African people has never been an isolated one. The term Pan-African was popularized by the Pan-African Conference which was hosted in 1900 by Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian. The concept of Pan-Africanism has been around much longer, however. It’s easy to proclaim that Pan-Africanism is dead as Yvette has done, but the reason why Pan-Africanism has been around as long as it has is precisely because of the fact that our struggles have always been interconnected.
African Americans have benefited greatly from this Pan-African support. In the 1800s, Haiti became a safe haven for African Americans who were seeking to escape from America’s racism. Haiti’s constitution included a provision in which all people of African descent were considered citizens, so an African American could go to Haiti and be awarded the full rights of a Haitian citizen. Rev. James Theodore Holly is perhaps the best known example of an African American who settled in Haiti, but there were many others. Caribbean immigrants and their descendants have also contributed to the African American struggle. This has included people such as Denmark Vesey, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture, Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, Hubert Henry Harrison, Arthur Schomburg, and others. In fact, the United States government has historically been concerned about the possibility of Caribbean blacks and American blacks uniting for a common cause. That’s why Marcus Garvey was deported. The FBI wanted to deport Kwame Ture as well and Makandal Daaga was banned from entering the United States for his role in the 1970 Black Power uprising in Trinidad. Daaga had been in the United States prior to the 1970 uprising and met with members of the Black Panther Party.
Antonio Moore has attempted to argue that only “singular individuals” from the Caribbean supported the ADOS struggle. I am from Guyana and in Guyana we had an organization known as the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA). The leaders of ASCRIA stood in solidarity with ADOS and worked to expose the abuse of ADOS which was taking place in America. ASCRIA also had a working relationship with ADOS activists. This was a Pan-African organization, not a mere individual. I point this out because I don’t think people in the ADOS movement realize just how much international support the ADOS struggle was receiving from the Caribbean. In Guyana we had a major Pan-African organization which was supporting ADOS. There was also a Black Power conference in Bermuda in which ADOS activists such as Queen Mother Moore were invited. This is history that few ADOS and Caribbean people know about. I will also add that in 1985, the Black Stalin won the calypso monarch competition in Trinidad with a song title “Wait Dorothy Wait.” The premise of the song is that Black Stalin explains that there are too many serious issues going on in the world to make songs about smut. Among the issues of concern that Black Stalin lists is racial violence in America, so even many of our renowned artists used their music to support the ADOS struggle.
One thing that bothers me about the ADOS movement is the lack of recognition for the support that ADOS have received from the Caribbean. As I mentioned before, Haiti took in ADOS who were fleeing from racism in America. That is why it bothered me to see Tariq mention Roland Martin’s Haitian grandparents in the manner that he did, as if to insinuate that having Haitian ancestry somehow makes Martin hostile towards ADOS. Keep in mind that Tariq is a filmmaker who released a documentary on Haiti’s revolution called 1804:The Hidden History of Haiti. Tariq can use Haiti’s history to make money for himself, but he doesn’t have the decency to repay Haiti’s kindness towards ADOS by being more welcoming of Haitian immigrants. It’s fine if Tariq disagrees with Roland Martin, but there is no need to bring Roland’s Haitian grandparents into the argument.
There has also been a historical bond between ADOS and Africans. Martin Delany, for example, advocated that African Americans should consider moving back to Africa. Delany had gone there himself along with a Jamaican man named Robert Campbell. The two men explained that throughout their journey they were treated as family by the Africans that they met. King Shita of Ilorin even allowed the two men to see his face. This was a privilege that was not awarded to foreign white men, but Shita considered Delany and Campbell to be his people. Another example was Malcolm X’s travels in Africa. Not only did Malcolm find a great deal of support from African leaders that he spoke with regarding the plight of African Americans, but Malcolm also noted: “Never have even American Negro audiences accepted me as I have been accepted time and again by the less inhibited, more down-to-earth Africans.” W.E.B. Du Bois (who was of Haitian ancestry) spent the final years of his life in Ghana because the United States refused to renew Du Bois’ passport. In Ghana, Du Bois was treated as a honored guest by Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah. The noted African American scholar William Leo Hansberry was honored by the government of Nigeria, which opened a college that was named after Hansberry. I could list more examples, but the point is that Africa has historically embraced ADOS leaders and scholars in ways that America has not done.
One of the big issues that I have with Yvette’s narrative is that it’s misinformed. For example, Yvette cites Henry Louis Gates’ New York Times article on the slave trade. I understand that Yvette is not very versed in African history and this is why she did not realize that Gates’ article is very misleading. I won’t go into the details here, but for those who are interested I suggest you read my response to Gates’ article in Muhammad Ali, The Confederate Flag, and Other Essays for a more complete understanding of the role that African rulers played in the slave trade. Yvette is not qualified to speak on the topic of Pan-Africanism or African history because she has not done the proper research, so much of her arguments have little merit.
Yvette contends that Pan-Africanism is an outdated idea, but this is not true. We can look at the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in the United States, spread to Brazil because the Africans there see a commonality between their struggles against police violence and the struggles that African Americans endure. The Black Lives Matter slogan inspired the Barbuda Land Act Matters slogan in Barbuda, where African people have been fighting to retain the communal ownership of their land. The Black Lives Matter movement was also one of Meguella Simon’s inspirations for her 2017 song “Still Colonial,” which addresses the colonial mindset of some Trinidadians. African Americans continue to inspire others in the diaspora who have expressed their solidarity with the African American struggle. ADOS are not isolated in their struggles, although the apparent intention of the ADOS movement is to isolate ADOS or to give the impression that ADOS are isolated.
When I speak of Pan-Africanism, I am not speaking of a mere sentimental type of unity. The Pan-African movement has not persisted as long as it has based on sentiment alone. We can look at South Africa’s struggle against apartheid as an example. The leaders who fought against the apartheid regime benefited from the support that they received from other African countries, as well as the support they received from the diaspora. The Pan-African movement has always been a movement based on political alliances and political solidarity. This is why the point that I raised earlier about organization is important.
The spokespersons for the ADOS movement like Yvette, Antonio Moore, and Tariq Nasheed have a social media platform, but they do not have real political organization nor has the ADOS movement produced the same type of tangible gains that the Pan-African movement has produced. I can demonstrate the tangible political gains that were made as a result of the Pan-African struggle and I can point to Pan-African organizations, both in the diaspora and on the continent. The ADOS movement cannot do so. At the moment the ADOS movement is merely an idea, but there is no real organization or political force behind it.
South Africa’s struggle against apartheid is one example of a tangible gain that came from Pan-Africanism. Another is the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King was inspired by Ghana’s independence and in his very last speech he spoke of the connection between the struggles of African Americans and the struggles of people on the African continent. In his debate at Berkeley, Malcolm X credited Africa’s independence as being one of the reasons why the Nation of Islam’s membership was increasing so rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s. Rosa Parks, another iconic figure of this era, grew up in a family that was supportive of Marcus Garvey’s movement. The civil rights movement benefited from the influence of Pan-Africanism. It was not an isolated ADOS struggle.
Malcolm X felt so strongly about the connection with Africa that he proclaimed that Africans in America weren’t even Americans at all, but were kidnapped Africans. Obviously this viewpoint differs with Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell, who prefer to emphasize the Americanness of ADOS and downplay that connection with Africa. But in the 1960s, ADOS (although Malcolm’s mother was from Grenada so he probably does not qualify as an ADOS) were beginning to reassess their identities and the conclusion that many came to was that ADOS are Africans. Malcolm X and others argued that ADOS were a colonized people, which was analogous to colonialism in Africa.
The mentality of the leaders of the 1960s and 1970s was one which embraced Africa and rejected America (or at the very least challenged America, as Martin Luther King did when he criticized America’s imperialistic foreign policy and capitalistic economy). I write this to point out that the movement of the 1960s and 1970s had a different vision and a different mentality than what we are seeing from the ADOS movement now. Yvette Carnell was upset that Kalama Harris would announce her presidential bid on Martin Luther King day. Yvette was upset with Harris for trying to co-opt King’s legacy, but the reality is that Yvette herself isn’t even interested in King’s legacy. She uses King as a talking point in her videos, but Yvette isn’t carrying out King’s legacy. No one in the ADOS movement is.
I do agree that ADOS are due reparations and all of the other things that the ADOS movement is calling for, but where I disagree is on methods and tactics. We know from history that African people have only made progress and gains through organized struggle. I don’t really see that happening within the ADOS movement currently. The ADOS movement is essentially asking for reparations and for other “tangibles,” but are not willing to take the necessary steps to ensure that such demands are listened to. It’s really no different from CARICOM governments which are demanding reparations for slavery, but also continue to perpetuate the very policies which have led to Caribbean countries being impoverished and underdeveloped. In recent years we have seen mass protests in Caribbean countries such as Haiti and Barbados because the people there fed up. Reparations are not going to magically fix all of our issues, especially if we are not working to independently empower ourselves.
In order for the ADOS movement to be successful it has to be organized and not just a collection of people who share ideas over social media. More importantly, it has to have some sort of political force or power behind it. The reason why the Pan-African movement has accomplished as much as it has is because of the power in its organization.
Why should Africa matter today to ADOS who have their own struggles in America? I present Togo as an example. Togo is a country in West Africa that has been ruled by a family dynasty over the last five decades. Togo currently has the oldest military regime in Africa. Why does that matter to ADOS? As I argue in my book Faure Must Go, resources that could be spent on improving neglected ADOS communities are instead being spent supporting military dictatorships such as the one in Togo. This doesn’t help ADOS, and it obviously doesn’t help the people of Togo who are being brutalized and killed by the regime there. So we have to understand that the same system which oppresses and neglects ADOS is the same one which oppresses and neglects Africans. As I said, Pan-Africanism isn’t a sentimental movement, but one rooted in shared political struggle.
The other thing that the ADOS movement and African immigrants must understand is that it was ADOS that made it possible for African immigrants to come to America in the first place. This is a point that was raised by my good friend and fellow Pan-African activist, Farida Bemba Nabourema. In Faure Must Go I included an interview with Farida in which she stated:
I have always felt like we Africans who have voluntarily migrated to the United States were able to do so because those who were forced to settle there as slaves fought for their liberation to ensure that we too can make the United States our home if we so wish. It was African Americans who fought hard for Africans to be included into the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program which is how the majority of Africans were able to migrate to the US during the past two decades. I felt and still feel like we need to reciprocate by fixing Africa and welcoming them home someday. Those of us who got a chance to benefit from the “American Dream” to some extent need to make Africa safe and habitable to all African descents who stood for us even when they didn’t have to.
Farida’s vision isn’t just to liberate Togo and Africa for the benefit of the people who live there, but also for the benefit of ADOS and others whose ancestors were stolen from Africa and enslaved. In fostering an isolationist mentality the ADOS movement is isolating itself from allies on the continent who are willing to support ADOS causes. In doing so, the ADOS movement weakens its own potential power. Black Lives Matter understands the power of global black solidarity, which is why some of their members went to Brazil in 2016 to link up with the Africans in Brazil. BLM has managed to become a globally recognized and supported movement, whereas ADOS seeks to box itself in and alienate even potential international supporters.
It’s easy to proclaim that Pan-Africanism is dead, but what is the ADOS movement going to offer in Pan-Africanism’s place? And that is really my main issue with the DOS movement. I know people will argue that I oppose the ADOS movement because I am an immigrant myself, but I am immigrant who has been actively engaged in the struggles of ADOS since I was a teenager. Florida recently passed legislation which restored the voting rights of non-violent felons. This is a cause that I have been working on for several years. That’s why the ADOS movement doesn’t impress me because the African Americans who are really out here struggling don’t care about the rhetoric of the ADOS movement. They are frustrated, angry, fed up, and they want results. Marcus Garvey understood this, which is why he was able to come from Jamaica and do more for ADOS than the native American black leaders who offered rhetoric and little else. I am not trying to compare myself to Marcus Garvey, but my point is that there are immigrants such as myself who are fighting for causes that people in the ADOS movement are not fighting for because they are too busy being distracted by irrelevant issues like a Nigerian actress playing Harriet Tubman. I am sure the ADOS who don’t have access to clean drinking water in Flint or the ADOS in Orlando who don’t have clean air aren’t too concerned about who is playing Harriet Tubman in a fictional movie.
Most African Americans who are struggling to survive don’t care about who is an ADOS or who is an immigrant. The Nation of Islam is currently ran by Louis Farrakhan, someone who is not of ADOS ancestry, but that doesn’t matter to most of the ADOS who benefit from some of the Nation of Islam’s programs. Is the ADOS movement going into prisons to help reform ADOS who have been incarcerated? Does the ADOS movement provide security in crime ridden neighborhoods like the Nation of Islam does? The whole ADOS conversation just becomes unnecessary when you consider the reality that there are some immigrants who are doing more to work to benefit ADOS people than the actual ADOS movement has done up until now. And the discussion becomes even more unnecessary when you consider that black immigrants endure the same racial oppression that ADOS do. Just ask Mario Abraham, Michael Griffin, Abner Louima, Ousmane Zongo and Amadou Bailo Diallo. As I said, ADOS and Caribbean people can benefit from learning more about each other, but I honestly don’t think that our differences are so vast to warrant the necessity of an entirely separate ADOS movement. I think the things that the ADOS movement is asking for are legitimate, but until the ADOS movement adopts a different approach it may fizzle out and ADOS will have to turn to Pan-Africanism once more.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.