| To get
to Rivers' "Beyond the Nationalism of Fools," click here.
To the Editors:
Both instinct and insight, experience and logic tell me that the most important undertaking called for in Rivers' essay is "to reconstruct the institutions of Black civil society." Ignoring the many strong temptations for diversionary debate offered in his article, I believe that this central task best reflects the combination of relevant means and ends required to improve substantially the circumstances of the "black underclass in America."
To accomplish this task would mean pursuing the demanding ends of a self-respecting and self-rewarding solidarity by black people at the bottom of American society. And it would focus the effort on the means of achieving organized, effective action.
Even with what I hope are more than mere intellectual pretensions, I have learned to value work over words, and to be wary of pontification more easily disguised as philosophy because it may invoke grandiose themes. Yet, concerned as much about fundamentals as praxis, I draw on my thirty years of activist oriented scholarship and study about achieving development in the poorest regions of both the United States and Africa to argue that the aim must be to unite people in self respecting and self rewarding productive action, on a scale ever more grand.
Both settings provide both positive points and warnings. In a culture that always connected the living person with the dead and the yet unborn, the great empires of Africa were distinguished among those in the world for their capacity to achieve harmony, stability and peace among diverse peoples over vast regions. And having just returned from Africa, I believe no place offers a more stellar example of humane, creative, smart, courageous and effective leadership than Mandela's South Africa.
Yet, Rwanda and Somalia, Zaire and Liberia, do sap our optimism. All else was NOT added thereunto, once the political kingdom was achieved in Africa. Despite many evident failures of leadership, however, we must keep in mind that the fundamental problems Africans have confronted have derived more from a lack of rather than an abuse of power, from a global economic system stacked against them, and from superpower conduct in a Cold War that wreaked havoc, killed millions, devastated whole regions, robbed resources, and then disclaimed any responsibility. And, over the decades, Africa Americans have provided most of the creativity in American culture, and most of the moral commitment, organizing energy, and political impetus for social progress, economic justice, and humane public purpose. Some solid foundations were laid in the 1960s for community economic and political development. Yet, on a vast scale and among our own as well as among our enemies, we have also seen crass and corrupt manipulation of the symbols of solidarity, the promise of progress, the instincts of improvement. Certainly, the black world as a whole is now worse off than when this post-World War II era of liberation started, but the real opposition to these aims came more from without than within. The black community is the victim, not the perpetrator of the drug market.
It may seem that discussions of black nationalism are sideshow diversions in the context of a world-wide situation of general crisis. All around the world people sense the need for new or renewed grounding, a "new paradigm" offering a vision large enough to change the future. The Cold War destroyed something essential in both the East and West, and even more, the South. To invoke the idea of nationalism in this context may seem retrogressive. Indeed it is, if it is not part of a more far-reaching vision of social justice. The ravages of nationalism in the former Yugoslavia reveal all the dangers. That kind of tribalism defines the bottom of the social order.
Equally, it would be a digression to fixate on the mythical qualities of the American credo. As a myth, the professed American goal of achieving "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all" is still the best we can hope for. But, for those living in today's urban ghetto, fearful of even themselves, and certainly of virtually everyone around them, with no sense of security, or of society at any level, even black nationalism would extend the boundaries of attachment and solidarity far beyond their present reach. Any social movement, narrow or broad, has to solve a similar problem -- how to create a sustainable sense of self while connecting people to each other. Solidarity is not a luxury -- it is the essence of humanity, and our principal task. The heart of the matter is for us to create the framework of understanding and conditions in which black people can respect themselves, work together, produce, and claim the benefits