As we continue to see the rise of the ADOS movement despite detraction, I often reflect on the role of us non-ADOS black folks, particularly for those of us who claim to have something of a pro-black ethos, a global black consciousness, or even outright label ourselves Pan-Africanist. I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to support the ADOS movement, the civil rights fight of our time, if we imagine ourselves to be devoted to global black uplift.
I define allyship as “showing up for each other,” a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial. In this blog post, I’m going to point out some of the ways that Black Americans (ADOS) have historically shown up for the global black community, as a means of pricking our collective Diasporic consciences about our indebtedness. I will be using the terms Black American and ADOS interchangeably, so just be clear that in the use of both, I am referring to the American Descendants of Slavery. I will use four particular ADOS sociopolitical leaders/institutions as a framing device: W.E.B. DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP.
A Black American Pan-African consciousness predates the 20th century, but this isn’t an exhaustive research paper, so I’m going to use it as a starting point. On July 25, 1900, W.E. B. DuBois gave the closing address at the inaugural Pan-African Convention in London, England. This meeting of the minds sought to amplify a shared global African identity and coalesce around common goals. He used the opportunity to state plainly the twin ills of homegrown American racism and white supremacist colonization, linking the disparate parts of the global struggle for black liberation into an elegant plea for unified solidarity. This case is laid out clearly in his closing remarks:
Let the nations of the world respect the integrity and independence of the free Negro states of Abyssinia, Liberia, Haiti, and the rest, and let the inhabitants of these states, the independent tribes of Africa, the Negroes of the West Indies and America, and the black subjects of all nations take courage, strive ceaselessly, and fight bravely, that they may prove to the world their incontestable right to be counted among the great brotherhood of mankind. Thus we appeal with boldness and confidence to the Great Powers of the civilized world, trusting in the wide spirit of humanity, and the deep sense of justice and of our age, for a generous recognition of the righteousness of our cause.
In the above text, DuBois posits that the shared struggle for black liberation is an urgent, righteous cause. Please note that he uses the language “black subjects of all nations.” By my analysis, this shows us that DuBois had no fantastical illusions that the world was devoid of organized nation-states. Rather, he sought to invigorate those fighting in their respective corners by recognizing a common cause. I see a direct line from DuBois to the ADOS call for specificity. One does not need to pretend that national boundaries and distinct lineages have no bearing in order to feel a connection with other fights for global black liberation. DuBois does not propagate the concept of a collapsed Blackness that sees no value in distinct national and ethnic groups….so why do Pan-African detractors feel the need to chastise ADOS for doing the same? If we don’t read anything sinister in DuBois’s act of specificity by calling out various nations, why aren’t we granting the same grace to the ADOS movement?
The second Black American sociopolitical thinker we will examine is Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, who represented Harlem in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945 until 1971. He had a lengthy record of showing up for the global black community, wielding his political influence to urge U.S. politicians to support newly independent African nations. But I want to focus specifically on his advocacy on behalf of black immigrants. As a Jamaican-American woman born to Jamaican immigrants, I am indebted to Representative Powell for fighting to grant access to Caribbean immigrants. As early as 1949, Powell came out against a proposed measure that would limit immigration quotas from the British West Indies while granting further access to Asian immigrants. He states that it was a good thing to “remove an injustice to orientals,” (that term being considered proper at the time) but was not in favor of limiting access to Black Caribbeans from the British West Indies. In other words, he was not willing to expand Asian immigration at the expense of black immigrants from the Caribbean.
Fast-forward to 1961, Rep. Powell introduced a bill that called for unlimited immigration from the British West Indies. This bill did not pass, but we can view it as setting a precedent for the 1965 Immigration Act, which ended racist immigration policies based on national origin that had overwhelmingly favored White European immigrants. Indeed, many historians see a direct link between the attempted dismantling of codified American racism in the civil rights movement and the passing of this Act. It is argued that Black American (ADOS) civil rights leaders set in motion a spirit of establishing racial discrimination as unjustly anti-American, from which we can draw a direct line to the 1965 Act.
I want to be sure to point out, just in case you were wondering, that Rep. Powell did not have any Caribbean heritage, having ancestors that were considered “free people of color” for generations in the U.S. We might see Representative Powell’s advocacy as a natural outgrowth of his relationships with the West Indian community in Harlem. Regardless of his motivations, we see here another Black American leader wielding his political power on behalf of the global black community.
Much has been written on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his alliances with global black leadership, so I will be avoid being verbose here by focusing on one particular flashpoint. In 1964, Dr. King, en route to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, gave a speech in London that focused on the collective global responsibility to upend the racist system of South African apartheid.
Our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity. We can join in the one form of non-violent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa – the action which African leaders have appealed for – in a massive movement for economic sanctions.
If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil; if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.
Though we in the civil rights movement still have a long and difficult struggle in our own country, increasingly we are recognising our power as voters; already we have made our feelings clear to the President; increasingly we intend to influence American policy in the United Nations and towards South Africa.
His remarks speak for themselves, so I won’t add too much additional commentary. Dr. King, while acknowledging the continued struggle for ADOS civil rights on the American front, still felt an obligation to wield his considerable global influence on behalf of his brothers and sisters in South Africa.
The NAACP has a long history of releasing resolutions on behalf of the global black community, in order to expend its American sociopolitical capital for the betterment of black people worldwide. I will paraphrase just a few of those resolutions briefly, as I fear this piece is getting too long.
- 1977: NAACP adopted a resolution stating that African political refugees should be granted access to the U.S.
- 1977: The NAACP sought to establish a presence in South Africa in order to lend its resources to the entire continent.
- 1980: The NAACP pledged to encourage Black Americans to financially support the Caribbean via the tourism industry.
- 1980: The NAACP insists on the U.S. recognizing Haitians as refugees.
- 1996: The NAACP condemns Sudanese slavery.
- 1997: The NAACP supports the Congressional Black Caucus in their proposal to pressure the U.S. government to further aid to Africa.
In my brief bibliography, I will provide a link to a copy of an NAACP Policy Handbook, which lays out all of these official resolutions.
To conclude, non-ADOS black folks: Black Americans have been wielding political influence on our behalf in a myriad of ways. I will continue to do more research, but I am finding it difficult to document a series of reciprocal actions done by Africa and the Diaspora on behalf of ADOS. The most recent example may be in the African Union ambassador calling for greater pan-African unity in 2018. In addition, South African leader Julius Malema, as part of his Pan-African ideology, has called for his fellow Africans to see Black Americans as brothers and sisters in the struggle. I welcome your added suggestions, as I am not in the business of trying to purposefully craft a one-sided narrative. I genuinely was just not able to find a comparably lengthy historical record of advocacy in the opposite direction.
We are indebted to Black Americans for their tireless advocacy on our behalf. It is time for us to reframe this into a true allyship, one in which ADOS receives something from us in return. Black Americans (ADOS) have always showed up for us. It is time for us to show up for them.
Buff, Rachel. Immigration and the Political Economy of Home: West Indian Brooklyn and American Indian Minneapolis, 1945-1992. Univ. of California Press, 2001.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speech on South Africa.” Ripple of Hope in the Land of Apartheid , http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/speeches/africaking.php.
DuBois, W.E.B. “To the Nations of the World .” 25 July 1900, London, England .
“NAACP Policy Handbook, 1976-2006.” NAACP Field Resources and Publications , 2006, http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Policy_Handbook_5_9_07.pdf.
Reimers, David. “An Unintended Reform: The 1965 Immigration Act and Third World Immigration to the United States.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 3, no. 1, 1983, pp. 9–28., doi: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27500293.