Kwame Turé spent his lifetime fighting for the right of Africans to express dignity and self-determination by challenging the systems that perpetuate our political, cultural and economic subjugation
Kwame Turé remains a symbol of confidence, power and inspiration to generations of Africans and other peoples. The iconic image of an African man embodying the courage to speak the truth with clarity is his legacy to Pan-Africanism. By “truth with clarity” we mean using facts in a manner that consistently demystified and challenged the unjust, oppressive systems of capitalism, imperialism and Zionism. He insisted that we in the Pan-African movement struggle against mystification which he saw as our greatest enemy. He urged us to organise around the truth “irrespective of how bitter it is” (Stokely Speaks, pp. 19-20).
In order to exhibit this clarity and truth Africans must deal with what he called our “chronic ailment of inferiority” (Stokely Speaks, p. 225). A fearless advocate of black power during his Black Panther years and the unity of Africans through Pan-Africanism attributed to him being imprisoned over 30 times and banned in several countries including his native Island Trinidad. Following the two visits he made to the UK in 1967 to speak at The Dialectics of Liberation Conference and 1983 to speak at the International Black Solidarity Rally, he was banned by the Zionist Home Secretaries Roy Jenkins and Leon Brittan respectively. However, he made a great impact on the Pan-African and socialist working class movements and the formation of the Britain Chapter of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) in 1984. We would like to honour his contribution to Pan-Africanism by considering what made him such a powerful force that could at once be feared and inspiring.
The inferiority complex experienced by Africans stem from what has been called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr Joy DeGruy in her book of the same title (2005). Africans would not consider themselves “naturally inferior” to Europeans without subconsciously enduring traumas related to enslavement and attitudes of European supremacy. Disempowering patterns of behaviour and culturally alienating images of ourselves (skin bleaching being an example) have their bases in a history of slavery and the continuing experience of oppression. Kwame Turé spent his lifetime fighting for the right of Africans to express dignity and self-determination by challenging the systems that perpetuate our cultural and economic demise.
His journey to political maturity began like many of us. He was born into a working class family being inspired by an honest father and hard-working mother. Unlike most of us he not only observed and studied the world around him, noting the disparities between the rich and poor but felt compelled to openly challenge the lies espoused by white western imperialism. He recognised that those who imposed definitions on others had power over them. He knew that an honest analysis of history was necessary to rebuild cultural integrity after enduring centuries of trans-generational racism and violence.
The institutional (covert) and individual (overt) racism and violence endured by Africans have created a “psychology of oppression” in which we observe the unchanging and detrimental conditions of our people. For example, after 12 years of education Africans are disproportionately illiterate or unemployed; after 50 years of employment pensions cannot satisfy our material needs, and Africans are less likely to inherit or own properties since they generally do not have the privilege that Europeans do. The study of our history reveals that this has nothing to do with natural inferiority or laziness, but is instead linked to capitalist exploitation for which we have borne the greatest burden.
If, as Kwame Turé observed, there was a “subconscious racism” shared by Europeans, particularly the youth of his generation who believed in the historically distorted writings of Western literature, conversely there must be a “subconscious struggle” by Africans against their oppression. Lack of consciousness can lead to spontaneous “rebellions” or “uprisings,” as we saw in the UK in August 2011, where people were involved in action without properly understanding why. Transformation from “inferiority” and becoming consciously empowered begins when we are engaged in the discourse of our daily struggles and the way these are linked to the political power structures and the corporate ownership of our resources.
Africans who are not conscious of the true nature of their struggle, that it is linked to cultural and historical distortions – the perpetual lies of capitalism and imperialism – are also unaware that they can change their condition by reclaiming their cultural integrity. In order to be free of the complex of inferiority we must be conscious about what underpins it. This enables us to have a clear understanding of the enemy (that it’s not the individual racist) and in turn develop strategies of liberation to defeat that enemy. Kwame Turé developed a conscience of resistance by analysing the historical facts underpinning the suffering of his people. It is a fact that European imperialism is responsible for inflicting extreme violence against Africans and other peoples throughout its entire history. This violence has taken various forms: destruction of culture, theft of lands and resources (Congo, South Africa), invasions and bombings (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya), state sanctioned murders (by racist policemen) mass incarceration, surveillance and targeting (particularly for political activities) of Africans through instruments like the FBI and the US penal system. This accounts for the physical and psychological trauma of African peoples; facts that represent injustice and evil against humanity.
Kwame Turé developed a revolutionary consciousness through his conviction to transform this condition of indignity and inhumanity. This was crucial to the black power movement which sought to engender pride and self-determination among Africans. His confidence lay in his moral conviction to the truth, which empowered him wherever he went to challenge the lies of imperialism. The science of getting to the truth is one such method that is often denied people of colour and oppressed classes globally. His grounding in philosophy and insatiable readiness to study the primary sources of world history equipped him with power not only to question but also to challenge systems of injustice and oppression. He embodied the distinction between an individual who expresses their “instinctive love of justice” and one who commits to struggle based on knowing precisely what they are against and working to achieve the objective of their liberation. We might observe that this is an expression of “revolutionary self-consciousness” since this level of transformation is underpinned by ideological training, a deliberate strategy of planning and organisation capable of dismantling the forces of oppression. It is not enough to identify the enemy as capitalism but it is necessary to also champion any system or strategy by which it can be defeated. For Kwame Turé this was clear. If the economic system of capitalism contributed to the oppression of Africans, which meant it was unjust and evil, then it must be replaced with a just system which for him was socialism. In this, there could be no compromise.
This kind of clarity and conviction made him a fearless opponent of capitalism. But he equated the African struggle for self-determination with the global struggle of the oppressed. His support for the Palestinians against the well organised Zionist front was one among other reasons for the UK ban. To attain any level of solidarity with other oppressed peoples and to recognise the covert and overt strategies of oppression meant that he was well versed not only in our African history but world history. This gave him the confidence to identify the contradictions and agendas of the enemy acting against humanity and vigorously expose them.
Whilst he was considered a threat to the evil instruments of injustice, he inspired anti-capitalist and working class movements by confidently outlining the anatomy of violence perpetrated by the system and proposing solutions for self-determination and empowerment. His oratorical skills impressed ordinary people because he spoke their language, expressed their needs in a manner befitting an ambassador of the people. Icons can sometimes appear aloof and power struck, but those who knew him personally say he was approachable and down to earth. As a member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), at the height of the black power era, he emphasised the importance of political power, that with it “the masses could make or participate in making decisions which govern their destinies and thus create basic change in their day to day lives” (Stokely Speaks, p.19).
This message was significant to repairing the psychological trauma of inferiority imposed on Africans by European capitalist supremacy. He embodied the boldness and beauty of the black panther, an animal representing “strength and dignity.” This empowering symbol of the black panther is significant now as it was then – for despite centuries of enslavement and colonialism Africans are still facing starvation and the rape of our women as a consequence of neo-colonial proxy wars, overwhelming unemployment and death (both physical and psychological). In his book on Reparations, Britain’s Black Debt (2013) Dr Hillary Beckles highlights clearly the continued benefit elite forces gain from the historical impoverishment of African peoples.
Kwame Turé remained committed to achieving the Pan-African objective of unity and liberation of Africa under scientific socialism; the only political system able to once and for all transform our people’s reality. The strategies by which the African can achieve pan-Africanism involve ideological training through consistent political education which is key to developing revolutionary self-consciousness. He insisted that this education entailed the study of primary sources in order to make our own judgements, and clear in our minds any mystification and confusion. African empowerment also involves the rejecting of imposed definitions by white western imperialists and capitalists who distort history to justify their oppression. Africans must assert their identity by reclaiming their cultural integrity. Kwame Ture advocated organising around the objective of Pan-Africanism against the isolationist tendencies of un-progressive African countries that serve the interest of neo-colonialism. He encouraged Africans to regard our struggle as part of an international struggle against imperialism and capitalism, thereby building solidarity with other progressive forces. He exhibited a love of human rights, brotherly love and commitment to the principle of humanism. He rejected black and white liberalism which he considered equal to reformism against which revolutionaries must always be guarded.
Kwame Turé represents a moment of clarity, shedding light and giving confidence to masses of peoples globally. The enduring legacy of his confidence can only be achieved by attaining one’s own conviction to the truth and a lifelong pursuit for justice against injustice. His embodiment of the “Revolutionary African Personality” is symbolised by his transition from Stokely Carmichael (an Irish title) to Kwame Turé, combining the names of two formidable examples of African revolutionaries (Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea Conakry respectively). This was a conscious act of self-empowerment by which he established himself as part of our historical process of struggle.
His “grounding” with ordinary people, like that of his revolutionary brothers Walter Rodney (of Guyana) and Amilcar Cabral (of Guinea Bissau) is a testament of his humility. Kwame Turé acknowledged that the real foundation of self-consciousness lay with the organised masses. He observed that the only way political change can occur is through the actions of the masses of our peoples taking charge of and creating out of our own culture the kinds of institutions and practices that will satisfy our needs. This requires us to approach organising by combining revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice; the only way to test and evaluate our endeavours to achieve Pan-Africanism. One way Africans can overcome our “chronic ailment of inferiority” would be to reflect on the example of Kwame Turé. It is then that we might be inspired by his work and love of his people; and like him we too might acknowledge this truth: “the suffering of Africa is beyond description. Those suffering from chronic inferiority complexes observe the continent superficially and conclude that Africa is fated for eternal doom. Pan-Africanists know better, mother Africa is ours, we are proud of her, and to her glorious reconstruction we pledge our lives” as he did with revolutionary confidence (Stokely Speaks, p.225).
SOME RELEVANT SOURCES
Britain’s Black Debt, Hilary Beckles, University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, 2013
Stokely Speaks - From Black Power to Pan-Africanism, Stokely Carmichael, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2007
The Dialectics of Liberation, David Cooper, Ed. Penguin Books Ltd, Middlesex 1968
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Joy Degruy, Joy Degruy Publications, 2005
Kwame Ture for the African Revolution, No.1, Lester Lewis, London Pan-African Association, London, 1987
Black Power, The Politics of Liberation, Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton, Vintage Books, New York, 1992
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