Mohamed Touré. Like father, like son?

Denise Cros-Touré and Mohamed Touré. April 24, 2018. Photo: Tarrant County Sheriff's Department
Denise Cros-Touré and Mohamed Touré. April 24, 2018. Photo: Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department

In a press release today  here in Washington, DC the Department of Justice announced that:

“Mohamed Toure, 57, and Denise Cros-Toure, 57, of Ft. Worth, Texas, appeared today in federal court in the Northern District of Texas on a criminal complaint charging them with forced labor.”

Historical and political overview

Mohamed is the only legitimate son of Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea’s first president.  Ms. Denise Cros-Touré is the daughter of the late Marcel Cros, who held high-level appointments in the administration and the government of Guinea’s first republic (1958-1984). Upon Sékou Touré’s death in Cleveland, Ohio, his all-powerful ruling Parti démocratique de Guinée (PDG) collapsed and split into  the family and companions factions. The first camp reflected family ties and kinship. The other branch adopted companionship to the late president as its cornerstone. Abandoned and reduced to hollow shells, both groups claimed the mantle of heirs to the defunct dictator. Marcel Cros —Denise’s father — headed the family-oriented bloc. Mr. Momo Bangoura still leads the cohort of “companions” of the PDG.

Artificial and divisive distinction

The above splinter of the PDG is reminiscent of the dissensions within Guinea-Bissau’s PAIGC in the early 1970. They resulted in the assassination of Amilcar Cabral. In both cases, light-skinned individuals or mulattoes were —  artificially — pit against dark skinned black leaders and members. …
In Guinea-Conakry, Marcel Cros belonged in the mulatto minority. When he died, Mohamed Touré became secretary general of the Parti démocratique de Guinea. That formation is, today, nothing but a pale, shadowy and shrunken version of the erstwhile formidable ruling machine. Mohamed won only 0.2% of the vote in the 2010 presidential election. And he did not qualify for running in the 2015 vote because he failed to meet the eligibility criteria.

Unintended consequences

Fast forward to today with the serious grievances leveled by the unnamed baby-sitter against Mohamed Touré and his wife Denise Cros. Although at a much personal level, and on a domestic scale, the scandal reads as a cruel repetition of history. It hearkens back to a sixty-year old political incident. Then, on August 25, 1958, in his capacity as president of the territorial government of French Guinea as well as secretary-general of the majority party (PDG), Sékou Touré told the visiting General Charles de Gaulle that:

« Nous préférons la liberté dans la pauvreté à l’oppulence dans l’esclavage. » (We prefer liberty in poverty to wealth in slavery”

It was a rhetorical and eloquent cliché ; it became a consequential bluster. And its  unintended and unforeseen consequences emerged soon after. Precisely, it triggered the — still unfolding and worsening — Guinean tragedy. That calamity is the mainstay of a strong and brilliant tradition of  intellectual denunciation and literary representation. An online sample of those articulate, meaningful and expressive works is accessible on webGuinée under the title Dictature et littérature. The great writer Maryse Condé is among the authors who endeavored to expose Sékou Touré’s tyranny.

Condé’s autobiography is titled La vie sans fards.

Sékou Touré’s catchy statement made him famous around the world. Especially following French Guinea’s overwhelmingly No vote whereby the territory rejected de Gaulle’s Constitution of the Fifth republic and its complementary Communauté Franco-Africaine. As a result, Guinea became a sovereign country on October 2, 1958.

L’éclatement de la Fédération du Mali (1960) : d’une Fédération rêvée au choc des réalités, mai 1960

Un combat pour l’unité de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. La Fédération du Mali (1959-1960)

However, the law of unintended consequences soon began to bear on the people of Guinea. And, faced with mounting popular dissatisfaction and growing illegitimacy, President Sékou Touré engaged in a conspiracy strategy to justify the repressive methods of his police-state.

Guinea: Estrangement Between the Leaders and the People

Sékou Touré’s rule of terror built on the so Permanent Plot… against his regime. He invented the conspiracies in order to instill fear and to mount cyclical purges.

As a result, freedom and prosperity vanished from Guinea. Poverty and oppression settled in.

The livelihood and well-being of the population plummeted. The economy tanked. And millions of peasants emigrated to near and distant countries
Human rights wise, the country’s best minds (teachers, lawyers, economists, engineers, doctors), talented entrepreneurs, trained military officers, etc. disappeared in successive plots denounced out of nowhere by the regime. Families were destroyed. Tens of thousands of political prisoners —Guineans and foreign nationals —were arrested, tortured, tried and sentenced in their absence. And executions at Camp Boiro continued unabated.

Documentary movie Allah Tantou

Total impunity

Sékou Touré’s successors, including the corrupt regime of the sitting president, Alpha Condé, have worsened the distress and the plight of the people of Guinea. The country’s leaders have behave worse than the French colonial rulers. Their patriotic discourse is vocal, loud. However, their policies and actions belie their speeches. For they behave not as humble servants, but as the masters of the populations. For example, since Mr. Condé’s second inauguration in 2015, the security forces have killed more than 94 peaceful marchers in Conakry alone.
In total impunity!
In 2012, corruption-buster and then national director of the Treasury, Ms. Aissatou Boiro, was shot at point blank. Criminality is rampant and the level of gang violence has increased.  In 2015, journalist Cherif Diallo was kidnapped. He disappeared and has not to be seen again. The same year car thieves robbed and killed Thierno Alioune Diaouné, National Coordinator for the UN Peacebuilding Fund and former Minister of Youth and Sports. Another journalist, Mohamed Koula Diallo, was murdered in 2016. In almost all these and many other cases, investigations lead to dead-ends and remain cold…
Meanwhile, using delaying tactics, the authorities keep dragging their feet for the trial of the indicted perpetrators of the September 28, 2009 massacre, carried out by the military and para-military forces of the junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

Report of the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of the events of 28 September 2009 in Guinea

Criminal mindset and behavior

Apparently, Mohamed Touré and his wife espouse the deviant, merciless, nasty and — allegedly criminal —mindset and behavior that sixty years of dictatorship has instilled in Guineans. Did the couple adopt and apply Sékou Touré’s oppressive, repressive and exploitative system to a member of their family? If so, then it’s like father (Sékou), like son (Mohamed).

Had they had shown a little compassion toward their illiterate, helpless, poor and young servant from rural Guinea, they would have spared themselves and their grown-up children the scandal and shame created by this federal judicial case.

Justice will prevail

If convicted, the couple faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Meanwhile, they remain innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers.

Having caught up with Ms. and Mr. Touré, Justice will proceed in a impartial and professional way, and at a fair and steady pace. The same Justice continues to elude Guineans at home. But it will most likely prevail in court in the Northern District of Texas. Just as it did in the Southern District of New York, in the Mahmoud Thiam corruption and bribery case.

Tierno S. Bah

Afrique. Pire que la tromperie !

Lauréat du Grand Prix 2017 de la Francophonie, Tierno Monénembo était l’un des invités de marque à la cérémonie des discours, le jeudi 30 novembre, sous la coupole de l’Académie française. Après l’attribution de l’honneur en juin dernier, Tierno a cette fois-ci reçu le prix, qui s’élève à 30 000 €.

Tierno Monenembo, écrivain franco-guineen. Lauréat du Grand Prix 2017 de la Francophonie.
Tierno Monenembo, écrivain franco-guineen. Lauréat du Grand Prix 2017 de la Francophonie.

Espérons qu’avec cette somme les Diallo vont désormais épargner les troupeaux des gens. Et qu’ils ne rôderont plus la nuit autour des parcs (dingiraa) de nous autres Bah, leurs maîtres, en quête d’un boeuf ou d’un mouton pour leurs ripailles de grands gourmands !

Après la cérémonie de l’Académie Tierno Monemembo s’est entretenu avec le journal Le Point. Lire le texte de l’interview dans la section Documents.

Je partage l’essentiel des positions et opinions de Monenembo, articulées au cours des décennies, en littérature et dans la presse. Lui et moi, nous avons confimé ce front commun durant la conférence de George Washington University, Washington, DC, organisée en 2011 par les soins de Mme. Barry Binta Terrier.
Toutefois, je constante des divergences tactiques mineures. Ce qui est, bien sûr, logique et naturel. Ainsi, j’ai relevé trois de ces écarts dans l’interview du Point.

  • Le premier porte sur la tromperie de dirigeants post-coloniaux, notamment ceux de l’Algérie et la Guinée.
  • Le second a trait à la généralisation sur les jeunes.
  • Le troisième découle du rôle de la complémentarité entre expression (littéraire et artistique) et communication ( scientifique et technique) dans l’analyse de l’expérience humaine, sociale et historique.

Pire que la tromperie : la trahison

 « Je suis parti, je suis revenu, et puis j’ai traversé tellement de mémoires, de pays, différents, et douloureux, au moins aussi douloureux que la Guinée, comme l’Algérie. L’Algérie est douloureuse. J’adore ce pays, j’adore les Algériens, mais ils ont été trompés comme en Guinée. » (Tierno Monenembo)

La tromperie est l’une des armes de la dictature postcoloniale africaine, certes. Mais il y a pire. Il y a que, à l’image de la plupart des pays africains, l’Algérie et la Guinée n’ont pas été simplement trompées après l’indépendance acquise en 1962 et en 1958, respectivement. Elles ont été trahies par leurs dirigeants et leurs alliés, du dedans et dehors. En conséquence, la pauvreté s’est enracinée, avec ses causes, consésquences et corollaires : l’oppression, la corruption, le népotisme, la médiocrité, l’impunité, l’exil, etc. Ces tares et malédictions résultent de la trahison, qui est un acte plus grave que la tromperie.
Par exemple, l’Algérie —sous le régime d’Abdelaziz Bouteflika —et la Guinée, depuis Sékou Touré, sont minées par le népotisme. La famille du président algérien, notamment ses frères et fils, tiennent le haut du pavé à Alger.
En Guinée, il est devenu traditionnel d’installer et de financer la femme, la famille et les parents du chef de l’Etat aux postes juteux.  Et pourtant, Frantz Fanon, compagnon de lutte de Bouteflika au sein du Front de Libération National (FLN) durant la guerre d’indépendance, fustige et condamne sans appel le népostisme. Dans les Damnés de la terre (1961), chapitre “Mésaventures de la conscience nationale”, Fanon écrit :

« Nous assistons non plus à une dictature bourgeoise mais à une dictature tribale. Les ministres, les chefs de cabinets, les ambassadeurs, les préfets sont choisis dans l’ethnie du leader, quelquefois même directement dans sa famille. Ces régimes de type familial semblent reprendre les vieilles lois de l’endogamie et on éprouve non de la colère mais de la honte en face de cette bêtise, de cette imposture, de cette misère intellectuelle et spirituelle. Ces chefs de gouvernement sont les véritables traîtres à l’Afrique car ils la vendent au plus terrible de ses ennemis : la bêtise. »

On a ainsi enregistré l’intention et la prétention — de pères et de fils — de transformer des états républicains en dynasties familiales : Mubarak en Egypte, Gadhafi en Libye, Mugabe au Zimbabwe, et bientôt en Afrique du Sud entre les ex-époux Zuma (Jacob et Dlamini), en Ouganda (Museveni), etc. Sans oublier  le transfert effectif du pouvoir de père en fils au Togo (Nyassingbé ) et en RD Congo (Kabila). Ou la succession décalée dans le temps entre Jomo et Uhuru Kenyatta au Kenya.

Plans dynastiques avortés (ou en cours) en Guinée

PrésidentSuccesseur putatif 
Sékou TouréMohamed Touré
Lansana ContéOusmane Conté
Alpha CondéMohamed Condé

Jeunes-adultes-vieux : une trichotomie floue

« Et puis les jeunes ont des idées tout à fait nouvelles. Je ressens une forme de connivence avec eux dans ce pays. Ils se posent des questions.» (Tierno Monenembo)

On présente fréquemment la jeunesse comme porteuse de changement et d’avenir. Cet espoir doublé d’un voeu est légitime. Et l’évolution et les boulevesements historiques le confirment souvent. Toutefois, la jeunesse n’existe pas en dehors de la société. Elle ne vit pas en vase clos. Elle n’est pas non plus monolithique. Au contraire, elle est le produit des structures familiales et socioéconomiques en place, qui l’accueillent et l’accompagnent, du berceau au tombeau. Et dès le jeune âge, les jeunes subissent l’influence et la pression de l’environnement (aînés, éducateurs, institutions, moeurs et des traditions). Dès lors, ils  intériorisent, reflètent et reproduisent les mêmes contradictions, divisions, stratifications, et antagonismes, qui caractérisent les composantes adultes et âgées de la population. Ainsi, il existe aujourd’hui des jeunes, des adultes et des vieux qui se  rangent soit dans le camp des supporters, soit dans celui des opposants de la dictature en Guinée : de Sékou Touré à Alpha Condé, en passant par Lansana Conté, Moussa Dadis Camara et Sékouba Konaté. Le même constat est valable pour le nazisme en Allemagne, le fascisme en Italie, les racistes aux USA, etc.
Il faudrait alors éviter les “généralisations abusives” concernant les jeunes. Car ils appartiennent effectivement à des catégories et couches sociales différentes. Voici certaines des barrières ou compartiments qui distinguent et/ou séparent les jeunes en Guinée :

  • alphabètes ou analphabètes
  • ruraux ou urbains
  • pauvres ou aisés
  • francophones ou non-francophones
  • musulmans ou chrétiens
  • fonctionnaires ou entrepreneurs,
  • technocrates ou militants, etc.

Expression et communication

« La Guinée est très intéressante actuellement sur le plan littéraire. Après tant de décompositions sociales, de tragédies politiques, de mémoire enfouie, il est temps d’en parler. Non pas avec des slogans, mais avec des romans, de la poésie, du théâtre. C’est ce qui exprime le mieux les peuples. Les discours politiques peuvent être mobilisateurs, mais ce n’est pas très riche. » (Tierno Monenembo)

Tierno Monenembo a raison. Il n’y a pas d’art plus expressif que la littérature dans la peinture des crises et des succès humains. Ainsi, par exemple, la plume naturaliste Emile Zola en France, la critique sociale de Charles Dickens en Grande Bretagne, ont produit des chefs-d’oeuvre universels. Et l’oeuvre de Monenembo lui-même, celle de Maryse Condé (son aînée en âge et son prédécesseur dans l’obtention du Prix de l’Académie) jettent une lumière enrichissante sur les sujets de leurs romans.

Lire Crapauds-brousse, Peuls et Une saison à Rihata, Ségou

Mais le langage articulé a deux fonctions fondamentales : la communication (pratique, technique, scientifique) et l’expression (prose, poésie, théâtre). Ce sont-là les faces de la même médaille. L’une, la communication, est le canal de des échanges dans l’administration, les professions, la recherche en sciences (fondamentales, expériementales, et sociales). L’autre, l’expression, transmet les sentiments, l’intuition, l’opinion, la subjectivité. Les deux activités sont également nécessaires et indispensables à la créativité, à la culture et à la civilisation humaines. Cette dualité est familère à Tierno Monenembo. Elle participe de son expérience personnelle en tant que professeur de bio-chimie et écrivain de renommée mondiale.

Tierno S. Bah

Slavery: Carson, Trump, and the Misuse of American History

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development

I am re-posting here Jelani Cobb’s article (The New Yorker) written around the blunder of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, whereby he compared African slaves to immigrants. This is the same person who, out of the blue, claimed in 2013 that: “Obamacare is really … the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” The +20 million people who got insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would beg to differ.
Anyhow, Dr. Carson will, most likely, not become president of the United States. The world will thus be probably a better place. Because despite his  acknowledged skills as a neurosurgeon, Carson is a mediocre student of history. Should he want to remedy that self-inflicted intellectual handicap, he would have to rethink slavery. And first of all, he must admit that the Slave Trade is “America’s Original Sin.” Consequently, it was not some migratory itch or urge that uprooted millions of Africans and dumped them on the shores of the “New World.” On the contrary, they were taken out and across the Atlantic Ocean in chains. Upon landing, and as Edward E. Baptist put it best, they toiled, from dawn to dusk and in sweat, tears and blood, for the “Making of American Capitalism.”

Tierno S. Bah

In referring to slaves as “immigrants,” Ben Carson followed a long-standing American tradition of eliding the ugliness that is part of the country’s history.

Earlier this week, Ben Carson, the somnolent surgeon dispatched to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Trump Administration, created a stir when he referred to enslaved black people—stolen, trafficked, and sold into that status—as “immigrants” and spoke of their dreams for their children and grandchildren. In the ensuing hail of criticism, Carson doubled down, saying that it was possible for someone to be an involuntary immigrant. Carson’s defenses centered upon strict adherence to the definition of the word “immigrant” as a person who leaves one country to take up residence in another. This is roughly akin to arguing that it is technically possible to refer to a kidnapping victim as a “house guest,” presuming the latter term refers to a temporary visitor to one’s home. Carson had already displayed a propensity for gaffes during his maladroit Presidential candidacy, and it might be easy to dismiss his latest one as the least concerning element of having a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience in charge of housing policy were it not a stand-in for a broader set of concerns about the Trump Administration.

A week earlier, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, had described historically black colleges and universities as pioneers in school choice—a view that can only co-exist with reality if we airbrush segregation into a kind of level playing field in which ex-slaves opted to attend all-black institutions rather than being driven to them as a result of efforts to preserve the supposed sanctity of white ones. The Trump Administration is not alone in proffering this rosy view of American racial history. Last week, in a story about changes being made at Thomas Jefferson‘s estate, Monticello, the Washington Post referred to Sally Hemings, the enslaved black woman who bore several of Jefferson’s children, as his “mistress”—a term that implies far more autonomy and consent than is possible when a woman is a man’s legal property. Last fall, the textbook publisher McGraw-Hill faced criticism for a section of a history book that stated, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The word “worker” typically carries the connotation of remuneration rather than lifelong forced labor and chattel slavery.

One part of the issue here is the eliding of the ugliness of the slave past in this country. This phenomenon is neither novel nor particularly surprising. The unwillingness to confront this narrative is tied not simply to the miasma of race but to something more subtle and, in the current atmosphere, more potentially treacherous: the reluctance to countenance anything that runs contrary to the habitual optimism and self-anointed sense of the exceptionalism of American life. It is this state-sanctioned sunniness from which the view of the present as a middle ground between an admirable past and a halcyon future springs. But the only way to sustain that sort of optimism is by not looking too closely at the past. And thus the past can serve only as an imperfect guide to the troubles of the present.

In his 1948 essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” Robert Warshow wrote about the mid-century efforts to pressure studios to stop producing their profitable gangster movies. The concerns focussed partly upon the violence of the films but more directly upon the fear that these films offered a fundamentally pessimistic view of life and were therefore un-American. There is a neat through-line from those critics to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” idealism to the shopworn rhetoric of nearly every aspirant to even local public office that the nation’s “best days are ahead of us.” We are largely adherents of the state religion of optimism—and not of a particularly mature version of it, either. This was part of the reason Donald Trump’s sermons of doom were seen as so discordant throughout last year’s campaign. He offered followers a diet of catastrophe, all of it looming immediately if not already under way. He told an entire nation, in the most transparently demagogic of his statements, that he was the only one who could save it from imminent peril. And he was nonetheless elected President of the United States.

Strangely enough, many of us opted to respond to Trump’s weapons-grade pessimism in the most optimistic way possible, conjuring best-case scenarios in which he would simply be a modern version of Richard Nixon, or perhaps of Andrew Jackson. But he is neither of these. Last summer, as his rallies tipped toward violence and the rhetoric seemed increasingly jarring, it was common to hear alarmed commentators speak of us all being in “uncharted waters.” This was naïve, and, often enough, self-serving. For many of us, particularly those who reckon with the history of race, the true fear was not that we were on some unmapped terrain but that we were passing landmarks that were disconcertingly familiar. In response to the increasingly authoritarian tones of the executive branch, we plumbed the history of Europe in the twentieth century for clues and turned to the writings of Czeslaw Milosz and George Orwell. We might well have turned to the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin for the more direct, domestic version of this question but looked abroad, at least in part, as a result of our tacit consensus that tragedy is a foreign locale. It has been selectively forgotten that traits of authoritarianism neatly overlap with traits of racism visible in the recent American past.

The habitual tendency to excise the most tragic elements of history creates a void in our collective understanding of what has happened in the past and, therefore, our understanding of the potential for tragedy in the present. In 1935, when Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” it already was happening here, and had been since the end of Reconstruction. In 1942, the N.A.A.C.P. declared a “Double V” campaign—an attempt to defeat Fascism abroad and its domestic corollary of American racism.

Similarly, it was common in the days immediately following September 11th to hear it referred to as the nation’s first large-scale experience with terrorism—or at least the worst since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, staged by Timothy McVeigh. But the nation’s first anti-terrorism law was the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, designed to stall the attempts to terrorize emancipated slaves out of political participation. McVeigh’s bombing, which claimed the lives of a hundred and sixty-eight people, was not the worst act of terrorism in the United States at that point—it was not even the worst act of terrorism in the history of Oklahoma. Seventy-four years earlier, in what became known as the Tulsa Race Riot, the city’s black population was attacked and aerially bombed; at least three hundred people were killed. Such myopia thrives in the present and confounds the reasoning of the director of the FBI, James Comey, who refused to declare Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black congregants in a South Carolina church, done in hopes of sparking a race war, as an act of terrorism—a designation he did not withhold from Omar Mateen’s murderous actions in the Pulse night club, in Orlando.

The American capacity for tragedy is much broader and far more robust than Americans—most of us, anyway—recognize. Our sense of ourselves as exceptional, of our country as a place where we habitually avert the worst-case scenario, is therefore a profound liability in times like the present. The result is a failure to recognize the parameters of human behavior and, consequently, the signs of danger as they become apparent to others who are not crippled by such optimism. A belief that we are exempt from the true horrors of human behavior and the accompanying false sense of security have led to nearly risible responses to Trumpism.

It has become a cliché of each February to present the argument that “black history is American history,” yet that shopworn ideal has new relevance. A society with a fuller sense of history and its own capacity for tragedy would have spotted Trump’s zero-sum hustle from many miles in the distance. Without it, though, it’s easy to mistake the overblown tribulations he sold his followers for candor, not a con. The sense of history as a chart of increasing bounties enabled tremendous progress but has left Americans—most of us, anyway—uniquely unsuited to look at ourselves as we truly are and at history for what it is. Our failure to reckon with this past and the centrality of race within it has led us to broadly mistake the clichés of history for novelties of current events.

Jelani Cobb
The New Yorker

webAfriqa Portal back online!

The web server running the webAfriqa Internet Portal is back online after 63 days off-net.

Tierno S. Bah, Nuseum, Washington, DC. Dec. 13, 2016
Tierno S. Bah, Nuseum, Washington, DC. Dec. 13, 2016

All sites are now accessible. They include:

Please note that changes (configuration, design, an —obviously— content)  are under way.
Most notably, BlogGuinée is no longer embedded in webGuinée. It now has its own publishing resources:  IP Address, domain name, etc.

Also, we have not reached the goal for the migration to Drupal/WordPress and related costs. Therefore, the fundraising campaign goes on.

Thanks to all who have contributed so far. They are:

  • Pottal fii Ɓantal, USA
  • The Kouyaté Family (sisters and brothers, children of Capitaine Sangban Kouyaté)
  • Elhadj Baldé
  • Mamadou Barry
  • Ibrahima Bah
  • Alpha Bah
  • Abdoulaye Bah
  • Thierno Bah, “Jr.”
  • Thierno Bah, “Sr.”
  • Ibrahima Ɓouriya Diallo
  • Akanimo Uwan
  • An Anonymous donor

Previous campaigns were generously  funded by:

  • Amadou Baldé, Boston
  • Abdoulaye Souley Diallo, New York
  • Andrée Wynkoop, Ph.D. Washinton, D.C.
  • Lamine Baldé, Canada

Tierno S. Bah

White Nationalism: Conversation, No Dialog

John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss Jr. From Slavery to Freedom A History of African Americans
John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss Jr. From Slavery to Freedom A History of African Americans. McGraw-Hill; 9th edition, 2010. 736 pages
President Barack Obama and Pr. John Hope Franklin
President Barack Obama and Pr. John Hope Franklin

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans stands as the magisterial study of the American black experience by the late Pr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) and Pr. Alfred A. Moss Jr. It was a revelation when it appeared in 1947. He followed up with several and many articles on Reconstruction, the martial culture of the antebellum South, runaway slaves and other subjects. Each one is a model of graceful prose, meticulously documented and free of bias or cant. The quality of Mr. Franklin’s writings made him the first black chairman of a history department at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College, in 1956. Later came appointments at the University of Chicago and Duke, and teaching assignments at Howard and Cambridge universities and elsewhere. Along the way he assisted Thurgood Marshall’s legal team in Brown v. Board of Education, served in government and accumulated more academic honors than we have space to mention. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 I am reacting here briefly to the transcript of the interview called “A Frank Conversation with a White Nationalist.” Although not not an empty talk the exchange reads like a polite but vague conversation. It fails to turn into an articulate and meaningful dialog. Its flaw lays in its weakness and even lack of historical perspective.

It is true that the journalist, Al Letson, and his interlocutor, Richard Spencer, met the day after the Republican candidate’s shocking Electoral College victory that made Donald Trump president-elect of the USA.
However, the atmosphere of the electoral upset, it was incumbent on them to acknowledge and explore better the complexities of such loaded topics as identity, race, ethnicity, nationalism, etc. Instead, they went for clichés, wrong assumptions, and somewhat shallow personal stories.

For instance, the two interlocutors agree —not surprisingly— on the contribution of Blacks in the making of American culture. Unfortunately, and due to its entertainment undertones —not to forget the association with sports—, this recognition is nothing but a stereotype. Because we know that real power is not in music and athletic achievement; it is in economics, finances, banking, science, and technology.
So what do I see as hits and misses by Al Letson and Richard Spencer respectively?

Capturing Fugitive Slaves in California, ca. 1856
Capturing Fugitive Slaves in California, ca. 1856

Al Letson

As an investigative journalist, Mr. Letson did not bring up the stronger arguments. Instead, he limited himself in reminding Richard Spencer of the Ku Klux-Klan and its terrorist lynching raids. Oddly, a word search of the interview show that Al fails to mention Slavery altogether. Yet, African bondage has been often and appropriately called America’s original sin, by President Obama. Is it merely coincidental that it was during his stewardship that such movies as 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Selma, etc., were produced and realized? Probably not. And it was obviously not serendipity but rather a fitting reunion when former President G.W. Bush joined Obama in the inauguration of the African-American Museum of History and Culture back in September The latter finished the project that the former had started.
Therefore, African-American media professionals like Al Letson ought to study as hard as they can African-American history, sociology, economy, political science, linguistics, etc. Such an activity nurtures the mind and helps—among other things—to debunk the myths of white supremacy. They  prepare and empower African-American scholars, journalists and artists as they seek to engage and refute the views of the likes of Richard Spencer.

The other Achille’s heel  in Al Letson argumentation is that he does not draw Richard Spencer’s attention that oppression engenders  resistance and rebellion. And that African-Americans stood up against slavery. They fought heroically to end it during the Civil War. They challenged Jim Crow. Under the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and others, they defeated legal segregation in 1964 (Civil Rights Act) and in 1965 (Voting Rights Act). Incidentally, Richard Spencer refers to the 1964 legislation as Immigration. That’s a mistake.
The bottom line is that, through and through, Blacks were neither submissive nor passive. Strong personalities and fearless leaders emerged and blazed the trail of no-surrender, insurrection and entrepreneurship right in Antebellum America. Among them Toussaint-Louverture (Haiti), Abdul-Rahman (from my native Fuuta-Jalon), Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and so many others.Their successors fought for the end of the abomination of slavery and to assert their humanity. And Whites and Jews showed solidarity all along. Quakers, intellectuals, politicians joined the anti-slavery movement, which peaked with John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.…

Richard Spencer

��Mr. Spencer’s intellectual handicap and judgemental predicaments are many. I list here some of them.

First, he suffers from the delusion that Whites, Blacks, Asians, etc. constitute separate races. Never mind that such a prejudice is deep-seated. Genomics has dispelled it  thoroughly. There is only one species, and that’s Humans, aka Homo sapiens? Even it still applies in culture, politics and in administration, it does not hold water in nature and in biological sciences.

Second, Richard has the illusion that Whites are homogeneous. But history belies that wrong premise. The elites, rulers and states of Germanic, Latin and Slavs peoples and countries have fought many a battle for political and   economic power, as well as for cultural dominance. Three examples:

  • Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812
  • His battle against Wellington in Waterloo (1815)
  • Hiter’s occupation of Poland, France, and Nazi partition of the latter in two territories during World War II
  • …………………………………………………

Richard Spencer does not seem to know that without African —slave and colonial—labor, neither Europe nor America would have gained such prosperity. He ought to read Edward Baptiste’s The Half Has Never Been Told. Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. And  Thomas Piketty. Capital in the 21st Century.

Third, Richard Spencer idealizes and idolizes the history of Europe. He is entitled to his opinion, but not to the facts. Before it spread its tentacles on the Southern Hemisphere of the Globe, capitalism began to wreak havoc at home. Again Richard should read the masterpieces of Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and other works that depict the miseries brought upon Europe by the rise of capitalism. Writing in the 20th century, historian Eric Hobsbawn has laid bare the lows and highs of the Industrial Revolution.

Fourth, for all its scientific and cultural achievements Europe was the matrix of the first (1914-1918) and the second (1939-1945) World Wars. The horrors of WWI led European artists, writers and poets to express their rejection of Western civilization and to seek inspiration elsewhere. Their quest was fulfilled by the so-called primitive arts of Africa and Oceania. Thus was born surrealism, dadaism. Then the Harlem Renaissance flourished. It carried on and elevated centuries of blacks’ struggled against racism and exclusion in the United States of America. Young African and Caribbean scholars in Paris followed suit with the Négritude movement, a trailblazer of the emancipation of Africa from colonial rule.… In essence, the Surrealism—Harlem Renaissance—Négritude chain underscores how  societies and people  are interrelated and interdependent, irrespective of skin color or “racial” background… And, in particular, it illustrates the ties that bind the intelligentsia, as well as literary, artistic and scientific trends and currents, in time and space.
That said, on January 20, 2017 Mr. Trump will have executive control of the world’s largest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Should that lethal armory be—accidentally or willfully—unleashed and retaliated against, it will wipe human life off the planet, sparing no one, including the advocates of racial supremacy or ethnic superiority.

In the end, Al Letson does not introduce Richard Spencer adequately to the audience of his podcast. We are only told that he was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Texas, and that he likes mountain biking! That’s not enough to profile the carrier of a hostile ideology. The interview could have disclosed further information about the white nationalist’s education, profession, intellectual background and political connections.

But since Al Leston and Richard Spencer remain in touch, let’s hope to learn more about this supporter of president-elect Donald Trump .

Tierno S. Bah