With Allies Like These: #ADOS and the Hegemony of Liberation Dogma

With the creation of #ADOS, Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore have thrown the railroad switch on the black agenda train in American politics. Predictably, the conductors and passengers aboard the People of Color Express—who’ve long promoted the idea of a shared destination regardless of one’s station of origin—are venting their spleens online, responding with the usual mixture of supercilious disdain and petulant mewling at the group’s insistence that, as a matter of basic preservation for the black community, a program of self-interested political action that actually corresponds to its particular oppression is imperative.

That strident outcry against #ADOS—that it is divisive; that it is ego-driven; that it is insufficiently committed to overhauling deeper structural phenomena—recalls nothing so much as the song of a bird who has come to love its cage. And while the contemporary radical or revolutionary ‘movements’ pronounce upon the apparently unprincipled nature of the #ADOS project—regarding as naïve and frivolous its advocacy for reparations from the U.S. Government, and chastising it for not joining in swearing fealty to some ostensibly unifying ideal of Pan-Africanism that is today arguably more sentimental and nostalgic than it is emancipatory—it’s tough to discern what they actually find more upsetting: the movement’s actual politics, or the movement’s actual movement.

Relevance is an enviable quality, and #ADOS’s ascendancy in our national politics is maybe nowhere more apparent than in the swift and coordinated efforts by Democratic establishment interests to neutralize it and seal off any space beyond the margins where its agenda could be more broadly expressed and advanced. And insofar as these total smear campaigns are being mounted against a movement that represents nothing so much as an emerging awareness that the language of shared struggle is the graveyard of justice for black America, it ought to raise some legitimate questions about who that rhetoric actually belongs to in the first place. After all, if the real threat to power is in a federation of undifferentiated black and brown people, it would seem like a lot of unnecessary trouble to marshal the black loyalists in the party to help promulgate the idea of the #ADOS movement as running 2020 election interference for the Russians, when—according to the ‘solidarity across group boundaries’ assumption at the core of most oppositional politics—the group’s self-isolation from the unified front should render it basically ineffectual anyway.

One wonders if it’s possible, then, that the idea of a shared fate of all marginalized people maybe proves more advantageous to a political class that has demonstrated that language to be far more effective as a means of social control for black America than it has been in actually producing some actionable revolutionary consciousness. Moreover, what does it mean to have a major political party be observably on the defensive, deploying the Afro-functionaries in its ranks to try and discredit the movement, all because a group is shifting the usual terms of engagement away from a global framework and instead situating its specific justice claim squarely within the arena of the national?

Whatever the answer to these questions, the #ADOS movement is proceeding from a position that says black America simply no longer has the luxury of an engagement with power that is essentially emotional, and that its survival as a group with a specific justice claim for the accrued disadvantages tied to America’s well-preserved racial caste system depends on drawing a very clear distinction between the performative and that which is actually political. As for the various diasporic elements whose reaction is to sneer and deride them in that mission, their position is little except vanity. At minimum, they ought to drop the arrogant pretense that their opposition to the movement is rooted in some high principle of revolutionary ideology and just admit that they simply have no respect for them or what they are trying to accomplish. Admit that the specific oppression that American Descendants of Slavery have endured as a group matters to them only insofar as they would homogenize it, genuflect and acquiesce to co-sign the big, fat conceit at the center of a politics of sameness: that is, that there exists some world state—one in higher authority to the sovereign nations themselves that have carried out and perpetuated the various injustices—that these oppressed groups can stand before as one and argue their case.

Alas, the reality that there exists no such entity is, though, always a matter to be postponed for the revolutionary diaspora. In the interim, those who—like #ADOS—are seen as breaking rank with the broader marginalized to mobilize in self-interest, bringing their history of particular discrimination before a government with the actual authority to make laws and allocate resources, are denigrated and ridiculed as being hopelessly deluded and solipsistic. One thing here bears mentioning: while the #ADOS movement is being reproached and spoken of derisively as a disunifying force in emancipatory politics, the group itself has never once promoted or engaged in this seemingly paradoxical and definitely antagonistic relationship to another oppressed group’s condition. While #ADOS may object on the level of strategy, or point out what it sees as the glaring problem of a lack of reciprocity in support for its struggle, it has never—not once—blatantly disrespected or belittled the fact of the enormous historical importance of a particular group’s oppression and what they may be owed as a result.

And this is why it’s hard not to hear in the denunciation from all sides of #ADOS a tacit, resentful endorsement of the structural subjugation that has so particularized their experience as a group. And it’s so odd how those detractors of the movement—who no doubt would profess to espouse a style of radical thought that is foundationally committed to rejecting all manifestations of hegemonies—are either unaware or just totally indifferent to the fact that they are subjecting American Descendants of Slavery to yet another form of hegemony, that of today’s social-critical thought favored by the Left. In so doing, they more resemble the oppressors whose attitudes of tyranny and intolerance and coercive obedience they claim to denounce than the apparent champions of personal liberty of black and brown people across the globe.