Forgive Us Your Sewage: Pan-Africanism’s Radical Program of Forgiveness for ADOS

Just a theory: the Pan-Africanists who hate #ADOS don’t hate #ADOS because of the latter people’s actual politics. Pan-Africanists hate #ADOS because the people who are involved in that movement are pointing out something that no one else will: that Pan-Africanism in 2021 feels like a response to a question that basically no one really even asks anymore. That for all of their grand pronouncements—the epic and almost mythic sense of their project’s historical certainty—it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore how Pan-Africanism today just sort of feels in a lot of ways like the soggy nub of a joint being passed around at a dwindling party.

Think about it. Does the strangely visceral opinion about #ADOS held and oft expressed by Pan-Africanists really spring from the former’s politics? Yeah? Really? Well, what is it about the #ADOS political agenda specifically that they so hate? Is it that they would like the U.S. government to continue holding onto the trillions of dollars that it owes these people? Is it that they approve of chemical plants and refineries and waste dumps being strewn throughout black American communities in such a way that basically ensures those residents—simply by going outside and inhaling oxygen—contract what are 100% lethal diseases?

Or is it more likely that these people feel somewhere deep down that ADOS are like some kind of apparently lower form of oppressed subjects? And that, as such, they simply aren’t entitled to (or even capable of?) determining their own fate. Is it that they feel ADOS are being insubordinate and unmanageable and refractory and childish? Is it that in their assertion of agency and in their unsparing critique of the international movement that has patently failed them ADOS are hurting the feelings of many people who are—let’s be honest—way too emotionally overinvested in what’s mostly become just a quaint area of scholarship in our universities’ Africana Studies departments?

Just a theory! But doesn’t that seem like maybe a more honest answer?

Maybe those Pan-Africanists just hate that #ADOS has been quite successful in its reparations advocacy despite the movement’s refusal to conform to Pan-Africanist orthodoxy. And maybe it’s that these Pan Africanists have a faint notion that wounded pride isn’t exactly a sophisticated reason to critique #ADOS, so they instead invent some bullshit political pretext about how #ADOS’s advocacy is ‘ahistorical’ or totally reactionary or that those in the movement are corrupted by a strain of American exceptionalism or whatever.

That, anyway, is the basic defensive crouch position from which Broderick Dunlap writes his recent article, “A Dose of Reality for the ADOS Movement”. Adhering tightly to what is now the standard formula for a Pan-Africanist-Critique-of-the-#ADOS-Movement think piece, Dunlap’s essay is deeply fucking boring, stiff, and backward-gazing. It is obsessed with identifying earlier modalities and pointing out the completely obvious fact that #ADOS’s approach does not correspond with them (which, given the failure of those forms of identity and resistance to offer a bulwark against something as basic as inadequate sewage treatment, let alone unify an entire continent, well, duh!). But mostly Dunlap’s essay just aims to persuade the reader that reparations isn’t about money; that the real and most vital question that black people in America need to consider (black people who are forced to live under regularly occurring boil water advisories, mind you!)—is: “what will it take for Black folks to forgive the United States?”

It is true that, in the #ADOS political literature, this inquiry into the capacity of black people to forgive their victimizer is never raised. It also seems true that it is difficult to imagine a less radical and more insulting position than that, but, anyway, I digress. Thirdly, the suggestion that the only thing that #ADOS is concerned about is a simple transaction of overdue funds—after which they just sort of dust off their hands and raise a glass to victory while beginning to contemplate their new investment portfolios—is totally absurd, very easily disproven, and yet another example of the strong tendency among Pan-Africanists to feel that it is their right to define the #ADOS movement however they like.

But if the demand for monetary compensation to be paid to their group is what makes #ADOS a supposedly purely avaricious movement—if that is why they must be vilified and opposed and viewed as a blasphemous and debauched form of a black liberation movement—then what is one to make of similar demands for material redress made throughout the diaspora directly to that nation’s former colonizer? Here’s one such example involving Barbados’s demand for the United Kingdom to pay it reparations. Or when Hilary Beckles, chairman of CARICOM’s reparations commission explains that the organization of Caribbean member states is “focusing [our reparations claim] on Britain because Britain…made the most money out of slavery and the slave trade – they got the lion’s share,” where is the prolonged outrage from the Pan-Africanists who would otherwise decry the omission of other diasporic groups from this one-nation-in-the-crosshairs look at who owes who what? Why don’t the people making the argument for those reparations get accused of merely wanting “crumbs” from the old imperialistic British pie or whatever? Again, we are asked to believe that the Pan-Africanist antipathy toward #ADOS is rooted in a fundamental political disagreement, or like some inviolable set of internationalistic beliefs. But when demands that are analogous to those of #ADOS receive effectively none of the hostility and outright disdain that the #ADOS’s demand for reparations appears to singularly attract from the rest of the diaspora, it sure becomes hard not to see a more cynical motivation at the core of the their ‘critique’ of the movement’s political aims.

Here’s what I think: I think that the refrain of reparations not being about money is a slogan that is 100% designed to sheepdog would-be serious reparations advocates into supporting business as usual forever here in America. I think once you say something like that you have been brought right into the Democratic Party’s orbit and the DNC will make short work of turning your little proclamation of righteousness and purity or whatever the fuck it is into a feel-good campaign of money-free ‘justice.’ I think the accusation that monetary reparations for ADOS are viewed by that group not as the seeds to self-determination but rather as the harvest itself is a lie concieved in malice and spite—that it is a mischaracterization that strives to bastardize a project that has only ever argued the need for a significant restructuring of the (highly group-specific!) maldistribution of wealth in America before their group could ever meaningfully participate in any kind of internationalism. But what I really can’t account for though is why ADOS saying that activates some serious lizard brain shit in a whole lot of people. Or why those people apparently feel the need to gussy up that brute emotional response in some bogus political principle that they can’t really criticize without hypocrisy: it is OK for CARICOM to explicitly exclude ADOS from their reparations claim against imperial powers (and merely refer them to another organization trying to make additional pecuniary arrangements for Caribbeans), but it is a cause for moral outrage when #ADOS tries to take their group’s case to the U.S. government? I don’t know. That sort of unevenness of application strikes me as people who are motivated way less by actual ideas and more by the people themselves who are doing what they’re doing. And what are ADOS even doing that’s so totally unconscionable anyway? Turning to one another and becoming passionately invested in their shared experience instead of performing a committment to something that is no longer really a relevant force in the world but which will get them meaningless approval by lots of strangers? Again, I don’t know. It just seems like a lot of the time that what governs opinion about #ADOS involves a lot more high school lunchroom behavior than what those people would like us to believe.