Whether or not African Americans are a colonized people was a debate that Amilcar Cabral had with Eldrigde Cleaver. Cabral argued that he African American situation “was not really a colonial condition.” Cleaver and others in the Black Panther Party held the view that the situation that African Americans are confronted with is analogous to the colonial situation in Africa. This is the position that We Charge Colonialism (W.C.C.) holds.
One example to demonstrate the colonial situation that African Americans are facing is the fact that the colonizing power imposed its culture on the colonized population. Enslaved Africans were stripped of their language, religion, and culture. There is a very well-known scene in Roots in which Kunta Kinte is beaten until he accepts his new European name. This sort of thing actually happened to those who refused to embrace the cultural impositions that were placed on enslaved Africans. Slavery attempted to steal the very identity of the enslaved population, which is what colonialism did in Africa.
The example given above is but one example, but there are many other examples that could be given to demonstrate that the same methods which were used to oppress and exploit African people in the United States were also used to oppress and exploit people in Africa, so the internal colony position is one which views the oppression of Africans in the Americas and those in Africa were extensions of each other.
Martin Delany is regarded as the Father of Black Nationalism because he proposed that Africans in the United States were a nation within a nation. Rather than viewing Africans as Americans, he saw enslaved Africans as a people who were distinct from their oppressors. In 1934, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote an article titled “A Negro Nation Within a Nation,” in which he wrote about Africans in America developing an economic nation within a nation. The notion of a nation within a nation was adopted by the Nation of Islam, which argued that African Americans would build a separate nation of their own within the United States. The Republic of New Afrika also held a similar view.
Black Power by Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton explained very clearly that African American communities reflected a “colonial status.” Just as Africans in the European colonies were exploited for the benefit for Europeans, Ture and Hamilton explain that ghettoes in the United States are also exploited for the benefit of the exploiters: “Exploiters come into the ghetto from the outside, bleed it dry, and leave it economically dependent on the larger society.”
The nationalist position of Delany and others argues that the struggle of African people in America is not a struggle to integrate into America, but to develop a strong, independent black nation. The challenge to this has always been the fact that American society has been hostile to the advancement of African people. In fact, African people have never truly been regarded as citizens in the first place.
When the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, slavery and the slave trade were still legal. Both institutions were protected by the American Constitution. The Constitution included a Fugitive Slave Clause to deal with runaways and prevented Congress from passing any act to prohibit the slave trade prior to 1808. Therefore, from the very beginning of America’s foundation there was
In the Dredd Scott case in 1857 the Supreme Court held that African people were not even citizens. In making this determination, the Supreme Court relied on the two previously mentioned clauses to support this decision. The Supreme Court also looked at the fact that African people did not voluntarily migrate to America, but were brought to America as “articles of merchandise.” Merchandise could not be considered to be humans, let alone citizens.
It was only after the Civil War, as well as the 13th and 14th amendment that African people became citizens, legally. In practice, however, African people continue to be marginalized. This is why in Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court upheld racial segregation. As Malcolm explained, no amount of legislation as ever been able to truly correct the problem. As Malcolm correctly recognized, if African people were truly Americans there would never have been a problem to correct in the first place.
This racial oppression has helped to strengthen the nationalist position by demonstrating that the capitalist system of the United States is itself built upon the continued exploitation and oppression of African Americans, which is akin to the manner in which Western colonial powers were sustained through the exploitation of their colonies. It is a parasitic relationship and the struggle has always been a struggle to put an end to this parasitic relationship.
In an article for the Black Agenda Report, Bruce Dixon posed the question of whether or not Africans in the United States are in fact an internal colony. Dixon argues:
Since 1968 or 69, almost 50 years now I’ve been hearing the descendants of Africans in the US described as an “internal colony.” Back in the day it seemed perfectly applicable. Africa, Asia and the Americans had been colonized by Europeans who ruled over the natives, just as white Americans ruled over us. The internal colony thesis tied us to anticolonial struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America, explaining some of what we had in common.
Dixon explained that he eventually grew uncomfortable with the internal colony concept and ceased using it. Dixon explains:
The situation of the descendants of Africans in the US today looks a lot less like an internal colony than it might have 50 years ago. Today there are thousands of actual black people in the actual US ruling class and an entire layer of thousands more aiming, training and competing for spots on the escalator. There are black lobbyists and corporate functionaries like the black Jones Day partner who oversaw the gutting of city pensions and fire sale of Detroit’s assets, the two dozen or so black admirals and generals who surrounded Barack Obama onstage at the 2008 Democratic convention. There are black media figures and celebrity charter school crooks like Magic Johnson and Iyanla Vanzant, and black near billionaires like Junior Bridgmon whose success stories are built on low wage viciously exploited black labor.
What Dixon is describing mirrors the neo-colonial situation in Africa, where, after the end of colonial rule, Africans took over positions of influence, but with no real power. Very often those Africans continued to the serve the interests of the former colonial masters. Just like in Africa, the colonial situation in the United States was transformed to give a certain number of individual Africans positions of greater influence and greater visibility, but no real power.
Patrick D. Anderson, also writing for the Black Agenda Report, held a different view. Anderson wrote:
Fifty years later, the internal colonialism thesis has largely fallen out of favor, and its critics insist that this is for the best. Cedric Johnson, an Associate Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has taken the lead in such criticism. In essays for Catalyst and Jacobin , Johnson warns readers that the internal colonialism thesis is merely an analogy, practically useless for explaining the facts of contemporary Black political life. In Johnson’s view, the most serious shortcoming of the internal colonialism thesis is that it fails to account for class divisions within the Black community.
On the contrary, the internal colonialism thesis not only accounts for class distinctions among Black Americans but also provides an historical answer to the why and how of Black class antagonism. It illuminates the process of differential segregation under a neocolonial regime of simultaneous middle class integration and working class repression. Johnson insists that class should be the primary category of political analysis and action, but his approach obfuscates the colonial logic driving the expressions of race and class oppression in the United States.
W.C.C. holds the view that self-determination is the only solution to this colonial situation. Moreover, the liberation of Africans in the United States is linked to the liberation of Africans around the world because we are still collectively a colonized people in need of self-determination.
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.