U.S. Politics and the Economy

Why Black Self-Determination Matters

By Glen Ford

Back in February 2016, Bill Clinton hosted Turkish-born billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, the Chobani Yogurt mogul, at a gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative, in New York City. Clinton gushingly endorsed Ulukaya’s importation of thousands of immigrants to staff his factories:

“Detroit has 10,000 empty, structurally sound houses—10,000!—and a lot of jobs to be had repairing those houses. But Detroit just came out of bankruptcy and the mayor is trying to do an innovative sort of urban homesteading program there. I think it just gives you an example of what could be done. Any of us who have ever had any personal experience with either Syrian Americans or Syrian refugees thinks it’s a pretty good deal.”

The former president was echoing a scheme proposed by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Synder, back in 2014, to bring in 50,000 immigrants on EB-2 visas to “revitalize” Detroit. Snyder backed off the plan, a year later, but Bill Clinton remains enthusiastic about “Afro-Dilution” of the cities through immigrant importation. In a matter of months, Slick Willie will likely be in a position to put his scheme into practice. “My husband...I’m going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy because you know, he knows how to do it,” said Hillary Clinton, in a campaign swing through Kentucky, in May. “And especially in places like coal country and inner cities and other parts of the country that have been really left out.”

It is immaterial that the YouTube of Slick Willie’s performance at the Clinton Global Initiative was circulated on the Internet, this week, by the racists at Breitbart News, who hate people of color, worldwide. Breitbart has done Black folks in the U.S. a back-handed service by reminding us that Republicans and Democrats view the very presence of Black people as the root of urban decline. Both the “conservative” Synder and the supposedly “liberal” Clinton are determined to disperse Black urban populations and prevent them from ever again becoming concentrated on valuable and strategic real estate. Black people’s right to self-determination, and the practical capacity to exercise those rights through development of their own communities, is anathema at both poles of the corporate duopoly.

From the perspective of Black self-determination, Bill Clinton and Rick Synder are the same people. That also goes for Barack Obama, whose administration was a full partner in the corporate deal that bankrupted Detroit and left it naked to the color-coded depredations of Big Capital. Black people in Detroit have been systematically driven out of the city through denial of basic necessities of life such as water, while the mostly Black city of Flint’s water supply was poisoned with lead and an array of other contaminants. Fully half of Michigan’s Black population was disenfranchised through imposition of emergency manager dictatorships in every heavily Black city in the state—a regime quite similar to those that have for many years denied Black people in jurisdictions across the country any real voice in the operations of their public schools. The national Black incarceration regime, now more than two generations old, has stripped Black people of every human right associated with civilization: the right to walk, talk, drive or breathe while Black—the right to life, itself.

When Malcolm X spoke of self-determination, he correctly anticipated that the narrow electoral privileges already available to Blacks in the North, and which were being heroically pursued in the South, could ultimately be curtailed and were insufficient to protect Blacks’ human rights and allow their full development as a people. Malcolm urged Blacks to fight for the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and refined in the 1960 UN General Assembly resolution that so eloquently states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Self-determination as an
organizing principle

The emerging new Black movement is reawakening to self-determination as an organizing principle. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) platform, unveiled at the beginning of August, employs a self-determinationist approach to a number of issues facing Black America. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement made a valiant effort to put self-determination into practice in Jackson, Mississippi, and has continued the project after the untimely death of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. Projects animated by the pursuit of Black self-determination abound in localities around the nation.

The Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations has taken the next, logical step, assembling a comprehensive document that applies the principle of self-determination to 19 arenas of struggle, from Black Women and Families; to Black Community Control of Police and an End to Mass Black Incarceration; to Reparations and Full Employment; to U.S. Out of Africa, Asia and Latin America; to Climate Change. This National Black Political Agenda for Self-Determination, approved by the Coalition’s member organizations at a national conference in Philadelphia, in August, will be submitted to state conventions over the next two months, culminating in a national convention on November 6, following the Coalition’s annual rally and march on the White House, in Washington.

The Coalition’s newly created agenda is unique, in that it insists that the principle of self-determination must be central to all arenas of Black struggle. For example, regarding Black Community Control of the Police (Point #1), the document demands “the immediate withdrawal of all domestic military occupation forces from Black communities. This democratic demand assumes the ability of Black people to mobilize for our own security and to redefine the role of the police so that it no longer functions as an agency imposed on us from the outside.”

Thus, self-determination is understood as a responsibility, as well as a right.

The document demands a Halt to Gentrification (Point #10) “through the empowerment, stabilization and restoration of traditional Black neighborhoods. Black people have the right to develop, plan and preserve our own communities. No project shall be considered ‘development’ that does not serve the interests of the impacted population, nor should any people-displacing or otherwise disruptive project be allowed to proceed without the permission of that population. Peoples that have been displaced from their communities by public or private development schemes have the Right to Return to our communities, from New Orleans to Harlem.”

This position delegitimizes the demands of capital, and gives primacy to Black people’s right to pursue, as the UN resolution states, “their economic, social and cultural development.”

None of which can be achieved without resources. Point #7 calls for the nationalization of the banks and an “end forever to the rule of capital, “which has been central to the enslavement, extermination, colonization and denial of self-determination to peoples, worldwide. The process must begin with creation of a National Development Bank as the primary engine of commerce and development, and a Black-directed public bank to finance developmental paths chosen by Black communities.”

None of the above three points or the 16 others in the document is a “pie in the sky” position; they are principled, self-determinist goals that should guide actions in the present day. The struggle of Black people in “the belly of the beast” is, indeed, complex, but the path becomes clearer when one’s eyes are on the prize: self-determination.

Black Agenda Report, August 31, 2016