UNDAUNTED: US Black academics say ‘Bernie’s best for Blacks and America’

But shifting voters leftwards to political revolution has lessons for Black Britain

By Thomas L Blair, chronicleworld.co.uk 15 March 2020 LONDON©

Cloistered Black public intellectuals engaging in rough and tumble national politics is not something you would ordinarily think of. Yet, in a dramatic show of unity, a vanguard of 104 prominent US Black scholars, campus race activists and friendly media elites backed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders.

All things considered, their outreach to Black communities resonates here in Britain. Regardless of diaspora-induced barriers of communication, distance and cultural diversity their experience is a valuable tool not likely to be found in our conventional political discourse. The parallels appeared sharpest with the 2019 Brexit-fuelled electoral contest that thrust the Conservative Boris Johnson into the power over Black-supported Labour’s working class stalwart Jeremy Corbyn.

US Black academics take far-left stand

Lead presenter for the Sander’s letter Professor Barbara Ransby and change-oriented academics such as Professor Abdul Alkalimat support Bernie Sanders’ call for a systemic political revolution in governance. [Endangered as Sanders fell seriously behind competitor Joe Biden in the US presidential campaign 2020.]

The signatory’s, including professors Leith Mullings, Michael Dawson and Carol Boyce Davies and others from elite state and private institutions pull no punches. They support Bernie Sanders’ proposals for prisoners’ rights and a slavery reparations commission favoured among people of colour. A view endorsed by some signed-up Black Radical Congress academics and a range of popular roots organisations for families, citizen’s action and justice.

Veering left, the academics agree Sanders’ agendas for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free public college, ending mass incarceration and deportation, confronting skyrocketing inequality, and rejecting corporate money.

The academics’ sense of Black radical history is particularly striking.

From the moment of launch, the letter signatories unflinchingly dealt with issues of transnational relevance. Rather than just standing by, the academics declare “We are Black scholars, writers and educators whose careers have been devoted to uncovering, analyzing, telling the stories, and uplifting the cultures, of African Americans and peoples of the African Diaspora”.

And they shed light on historic Black radical pathfinders. “While we are not all socialists, we will not be red baited to reject and vilify Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist views. In fact there is a long and strong tradition of Black socialists in the United States and globally that have fought for racial and economic justice. Among them the great scholar and intellectual, W.E.B. Dubois; the labor leader, A. Philip Randolph; Fanny Lou Hamer and the legendary civil rights organizer, Ella Baker”.

Therefore, the scholars, or intellectuals for the public good, conclude: “Sanders’ commitment to challenging the ravages of racial capitalism is connected to an ongoing and ideologically diverse Black Freedom Movement”.

Diverse youth groups are swelling this freedom movement, too. Dream Defenders co-executive director Jonel Edwards declared that “young people all over the country are united right now by our need to see fundamental, progressive change from our government.”

Beyond borders: Broad parallels with Black Britain

The Black British parallels bear noting. Black and African History Studies professors are going viral on social media and flexing the muscles of change-hungry students and communities.

They include Kehinde Andrews at Birmingham City University, Pan African History professor Hakim Adi at Chichester University and Gus John, a seasoned academic and equality and human rights campaigner,

The examples don’t rest there, either. Marxism once cast its spell on anti-racial and anti-colonial Black consciousness in Britain and its empire. James Desmond Buckle a political activist and journalist from the British colony of the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) is reputed to be the first African to join the British Communist Party.

Recruiting African and Caribbean seamen to the Negro Welfare Association (NWA) was a formidable task for Black comrades in the 1930s. The Barbadians  Chris Jones [Braithwaite] and Arnold Ward  and, Harry O’Connell from British Guiana played a pivotal role in these efforts, according to Professor Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism: A History,

Later, taking up the red flag, Trevor Carter conceptualized race, class, and gender within a Marxist lens. Claudia Jones was a leading theoretician on the Negro Question and the Woman Question. Contemporary pan-Africanists George Padmore and CLR James called for self-determination of oppressed peoples in African and Caribbean homelands.

Black-oriented public intellectuals and young activists are active today. The IRR anti-racist ‘think-tank’ founded by A Sivanandan tackles institutionalised racism in Britain and Europe. On the grassroots level, the London Black Revs founded by Black and Asian working class youths rally for “revolutionary socialist, anti-fascist” causes.

Cave canem

The academics letter ignited powerful previews of a strong leftward trend in Black electoral politics. But it leaves me wondering: how either US or UK  Black academics will grow their ability to win Black voters.

Let me be absolutely clear, Black academics must realize that despite their pedigrees and strategic thinking the premise that beleaguered Black people, voters and workers are inherently ready for radical change is a dangerous mistake.

Black people may not be so angry with their lack of progress, so enraged by the governments lurch to white supremacy, that they are more open to revolutionary political action – in America or Britain.

But as all the sainted pathfinders knew: putting the best minds to work agitating for, organizing with and uniting Black people in a common cause is the moral imperative of and the dues that must be paid for being a Black scholar.

Crucial questions, tough tasks

Therefore, Black scholars must birth their views not in hallowed halls but act on some essential questions in the crucible of Black reality.

First, can Black academic elites in America or in Britain shift the new century generation of voters and young activists toward left populism? Next, what are the opinions and cultural  values that limit or encourage the acceptance of a populist message?

Working together, will, or can, the academics launch young grassroots brigades to “Get Out the Vote” on the doorsteps and on the social media in community and faith centres?

Reaching out, can they forge pro-social strategic partnerships, encouraging volunteerism, getting financial contributions and stimulating public awareness?

Moreover, can privileged academics influence the influentials and harness the allegiance of their preferred electoral nominee as well as prominent politicians, public policy leaders and campaign managers?

Lessons to be learned

Without pro-social answers and vigorous attention to these questions, British as well as US Black academics and public intellectuals risk being wiped off the electoral map. Thus, losing a real chance to shift the reformist centrality of the Black vote leftwards in the 21st century.

The Letter “Scholars, Writers, & Educators Throw Support Behind Bernie 2020” February 29, 2020, was supplied by  Belén Sisa, Bernie Sanders press secretary see https://chronicleworld.co.uk/undaunted-us-bla…-and-signatories/

About the author

From the unique perspective of a Black American expatriate, Prof Blair translates research in to action for our understanding of the Peril or Progress of the Black community For relevant works for this article,  scroll to chronicleworld.co.uk to June 2, 2008 AFRO-EUROPE — LISTEN TO REBEL BLACK YOUTH, SCHOLARS TOLD

For his acclaimed eBook Pillars of change see https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Lucien-Vincent-Blair/e/B001HQ4YJO%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Provocative, intelligent and impassioned, Pillars of Change is a survival guide for Black scholars as alienated youth force the pace of urban change. Based on the Black experience in Afro-Europe, the author’s views and solutions will be welcomed in all parts of the Diaspora.

“Brother Thomas [Blair] writes in the tradition of our most important scholar-activist intellectuals. His work is full of insight and reflection, and useful for the continuing struggle to raise consciousness.” Molefi Kete Asante, professor of Africana Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA


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