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Certificate of Adoption

To take over the leadership of ADOS? Lol…no.

No one has any interest in trying to prove that you were ever imagined—even by Darity—as capable of being installed as a leader of a justice movement. Trust me. Absolutely no one besides your little coterie of egocentric windbags considers you leadership material. After all, Nyhiem, one really has to wonder: how could you ever be expected to carry a whole movement when you can’t even lift a pen? 👇

Nearly a month later, and it’s all crickets and tumbleweed over there on your Medium page.

I told you: don’t. I told you to keep my name out of your mouth, but I see you just stay talking about me on Twitter. That’s OK. I get it. I get it, Lord Blah-Blah. You can’t help but just talk way too much. But all I hear when you run your mouth like that on Twitter is really just a plea for me to make you my son, so I want you to consider this article the official Certificate of Adoption.

I went to your Medium page and read your one essay. It reads like it was originally written in crayon.

And I’ll be honest, now that I’ve actually read your stuff, I shouldn’t have said I was a better writer than you. What I should have said was that a dog pissing on a fire hydrant is a better writer than you are.

You need to stick to transmitting your thoughts orally. At least your actual voice is dynamic enough to animate and quicken whatever stunted nonsense that tiny nub sitting inside your skull manages to squeeze out. Because on paper, without any such enhancer, your voice enters the reader’s head like water dripping from a rusted old tap. I had to read your article twice because the first time I tried to read it—instead of hearing the actual words on the page—I got about a sentence in and started hearing only an eerie, echoey fairground music inside my head. That’s how barren and dull and vastly empty your prose is, Nyhiem. Lethal with a pen my ass… Your pen is about as lethal as a Nerf dart. You’re not even worth me shifting into a higher gear.

You little movement hobo. That’s all you are. You and your whole politically-dyslexic clique. Loud vagrants. You saw the #ADOS train coming ‘round the bend and you hopped to it on the double, running alongside it, tossing your little satchels of toxicity and chauvinism into an open car and then yanked yourselves aboard. No one is saying Darity “created” you for leadership. Darity looked upon you and BTP for exactly what you are: a little hype squad for his book and his H.R. 40 commission ambitions.

Let me show you what you are to him. Consider it our first and final father-son talk.

Here’s Darity in June of last year doing what he does: heaping praise on people like Nikole Hannah-Jones who—for all intents and purposes—has written about reparations as though she’s reporting on an alternate universe where #ADOS simply doesn’t exist.

Here—a few days later in response to Nikole Hannah-Jones—is Yvette doing what she does: defending the presence and the work of the ADOS movement in bringing the country to this point.

As Darity himself later admitted, Yvette’s defense of the movement (here labeled as an “attack”) from someone who is openly dismissive and contemptuous of it is what led to him distancing himself from the movement’s leadership.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the first time he *ever* starts tweeting about BTP is the day after Yvette made it clear she would never put kid gloves on when it came to defending the movement from Darity’s colleagues? Understand that you were picked by Darity to serve him in a way that Yvette and Antonio had always refused: promotionally.

You are being used. I know you don’t care that you’re being used. But I also know that—for all your alpha male this alpha male that talk—that’s a pretty beta position you so proudly inhabit. That’s what can be proven as it relates to BTP and Darity. He saw you as a submissive bunch who would not hesitate to devote their entire platform to advertising his work. He didn’t create BTP; he just made you into his free merchandisers.

You’ll probably be tempted to respond to this. You’ll probably feel like you need to respond to this. I wouldn’t. If I were you, I would honestly stop talking altogether. I’m not even saying that to be mean; I’m giving you advice. I’m saying that it’s literally in your best interest to just stop talking. You and Logic. Because—and I’ll leave you with this—there is a demonstrable negative correlation between the amount of times you open your cavernous mouth and the amount of people who, in turn, just tune you completely the fuck out. Just look at the phenomenon play out over the last month…

Keep up the great self-destructive work. Darity sure knows how to pick ‘em.

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Don’t.

Nyhiem: don’t ever think you can pick up a pen and come into this space as equals with me. You can’t. Not ever. I will body you in every single sentence. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the reason you even thought you could pull up like that in the first place is because the compression shirts you are so fond of wearing are cutting off the blood supply to your brain.

Understand that this—the last piece, this piece—this is me writing in a very low gear. Do not make me shift out of first.

You and your little boy scout troop can take your casual, giggly relationship to wishing death upon people somewhere else. Go try and build your own national movement around that sort of rhetoric and behavior. Go try and build a national movement out of your absolutely blinkered and childlike understanding of how electoral politics in the U.S. works—a deficiency of thought that was on display for everyone during last year’s Tamara Johnson-Shealey campaign and subsequent defeat. Take whatever little adolescent traumas are fueling that boisterous machismo and strongman braggadocio and just go. Go be loud and fussy and preen online and stay consumed with your petty grievances. Do whatever. But keep everything of actual substance that was painstakingly developed by Yvette and Antonio long before you arrived here out of your mouth while you go off and fail spectacularly. Take your habitual movement vandalism elsewhere.

And for anyone who thinks that I—as a white person—am ‘out of pocket’ for addressing Nyhiem like this, the only pockets you should be concerned with are your own—the ones that will never see a single cent of reparations money go inside of them so long as Nyhiem and the rest of the self-styled ‘intellectual titans’ of BTP are allowed to take this movement and help run it aground on the barren shores of HR40 campaigns or tank it in some fatuous, imbecilic third party fantasy.

These people will tie bigotry in the public sphere and total failure in the political arena to the very heart of the movement’s identity. And white people—even those who are most sympathetic to the cause of your group’s repair—will write off Nyhiem and BTP and anything associated with them without a second’s hesitation, I promise you. Whatever value you think they might bring to this space will be forever siloed here, static and inert with all of its toxic hatred and infantile babble. It will steadily bleed out every drop of sacred possibility that now courses through this movement. Every last drop.

If your feathers are ruffled by me pointing out this obvious guarantee of what awaits these messengers in white America—how these four individuals will lead you down their road to failure—I don’t particularly care. My reasons for writing about the #ADOS movement are myriad, but being liked by anyone is decidedly not one of them. I am here because of the simple recognition that would compel any justice-hungry person to be here: the fact that four-hundred and two years is an unspeakable amount of time for a group of people to be forced to live inside an idea from another human’s mind—to live in someone else’s monstrous idea about what your life in America is supposed to look like; a seemingly never-ending idea of what your life and your children’s lives should mean or not mean in this country. The #ADOS movement is the answer to finally halt the consequences of that idea from continuing to ricochet throughout your lives—and in many ways all our lives. And there is nothing more detrimental to that end than the sort of grandiose egos and resentful intrigues of a handful of people who deep down just hate—hate—that they couldn’t come up with it first and that they couldn’t actuate its possibility in the people.

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Less is RealMoor: The #ADOS Movement Without Nyhiem Way-El & BTP

There’s this great little adage that goes: “If you meet an asshole in the morning, you probably met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

It conveys the basic truth that those people whom most frequently accuse others of being (x) are—to virtually everyone else’s recognition but their own—in fact the embodiment of (x). And I think that anyone who has ever been exposed to this stunning lack of self-awareness understands just how insufferable that sort of behavior is, and how intensely weary one grows in its presence.

Mercifully, that presence is often short-lived.

The behavior itself is so self-marginalizing that the person is forced to drift from one group to the next, always seeking out a new set of ears into which they can moan and gripe and whinge endlessly on about whomever the fuck.

And so it seems only natural that this sort of person would gravitate towards movement spaces. After all, there is certainly no shortage of available ears in movement spaces, and it’s probably pretty likely that the individual will find a good number of other people who’ve also sought out the fertile territory of movements to unleash and satisfy that particular personality disorder that needs to denounce so and so as definitely being (x).

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Nyhiem Way-El—undoubtedly the loudest lil’ yipper from Sandy Darity’s puppy mill of promoters—seems to be something of a serial movement provocateur in precisely this vein. A quintessential galley-growler. The asshole in the story who goes around telling everyone else about all of the other apparent assholes that constantly surround him.

But what Nyhiem’s incessant clamoring on about phonies and frauds aims to conceal is (of course) his own inauthenticity, his own inability. Consider just how new he is to this space of a politics anchored in lineage. Here he is in late 2018, a time when the concept of ADOS lineage as it informs one’s direct political action in America was already well-established…

Here he is the following year, after having obviously consumed the education provided by the #ADOS movement’s co-founders, Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore.

Or, this one…

And while he purports to have long been an advocate for reparations, there sure isn’t a lot of activity prior to the #ADOS movement’s emergence into the mainstream to suggest much of an interest in the topic…

That’s four (!) whole years without so much as a peep made about the long overdue repayment for his people’s contribution to this country. Then again, saying nothing at all is probably preferable to saying something as fatuous and daft and gooey as this…

But what we are witnessing now with respect to his constant disparagement of the co-founders and their followers is simply what Nyhiem does. It appears part of a pattern of him coming into movement spaces and eventually starting to yell about the teeming presence of ‘clowns’ and ‘cult leaders’…

Blah, blah, blah, “I alone recognize the true depths of this problem!” “I am the last responsible man!”

Of course, Nyhiem’s competitive righteousness is only cover for his personal ambitions to ‘lead’…

Which is how it becomes sort of apparent that a big part of his present grift is obviously to apply the whole ADOS framework developed by Yvette and Antonio to the Moorish movement and make it seem like he is contributing a set of original, powerful and reorienting ideas.

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The timing of Nyhiem’s (and BTP’s) voluntary expulsion from what is being built is so interesting. Because for the second year in a row, the movement has undergone an extremely healthy cleanse. And January again finds the useless excess just sort of shedding itself from the solid mass of the movement.

Remember 2020? Whoosh there went FBA. There went the doxx-happy hundreds who sink all of their debased energies into that troglodyte leader of theirs. A man who has no actual program for his people. No actual politics. A man who just sort of meanders on Twitter. A purveyor of bigotry who tried to repurpose #ADOS into serving as his personal automated-teller movement, and then—when that failed—opted to go into the keychain and miniature flag-making business.

BTP’s self-purge from the movement should inspire a sigh of relief in anyone who is actually serious about advancing the #ADOS political project. Because there is virtually no light whatsoever between the reprehensible and movement-sinking attitudes that seem to proliferate among Tariq Nasheed’s followers and the hateful, homophobic and misogynistic perspectives of BTP.

A strong and growing movement like #ADOS is absolutely right to reject the childish intrigues of a smattering of egoists who themselves have built nothing. These people are like tiny whitecaps cresting on the ocean’s surface, scornful and in total denial of the deep, churning swell in the waters below, something that long preceded them and which gave them their meagre rise and form.

It is quite a thing to watch them mistake this moment absolutely. To go on and on about how they’re ‘exposing’ the movement and—in their myopic haste—misconstrue as some kind of triumph that which is pure transience, the beginning of the end of their fleeting and toxic presence in this space.

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This is how you lose: thoughts on the Biden win.

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Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. And dance like you’ve just exhausted your absolute last weapon against neoliberal reign.

The above should be mandatory décor in every U.S. democratic socialist’s kitchen. And each morning they should look at it while they sip their espressos as the permanent rearguards of society, dreaming about how they will one day be the first to glory in the revolution that they have in fact done their utmost to retard.

The most reactionary administration that we have seen in our lifetime did not, it turns out, create the conditions favorable for socialism. It did not discredit gradualism. It created the conditions for Joe Biden, the standard-bearer for incrementalism if ever there was such a figure in American politics and someone who you’ve just gotta imagine is very eager to sit down with McConnell & co. and do some tough-minded budget math to bludgeon those entitlements in the name of ‘efficiency’.

The left will get nothing. What was presented to them as concessions were in fact the Articles of Surrender. Here, you cretins. Here is your slop.

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2020 is a sort of hideous non-response to the past four years in the United States in general and to one particular group’s last four-hundred years. But at least that group—American Descendants of Slavery—can proceed upright, knowing that they said no; that they said, “We’re not doing the thing we’ve historically done, which is the quadrennial plank walk where we get shoved inside the voting booth and told to rubberstamp one party into the presidency because they show us the kindness of bleeding us out slower than the other one does.”

Alternatively, the left as it is currently constituted ceded all credibility as a legitimate threat to the status quo and then did like a fucking celebratory pub crawl once the election was called. There can be no doubt that their coalition and their politics are both now merely a new branding strategy for the center-left establishment.

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I don’t know. In a certain way it’s so interesting. Biden’s victory seems to mark the divergence of two political forces in America; the American left, which is absolutely in decline, and #ADOS, which is in ascension.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the left will repudiate the suggestion that they gave #ADOS no genuinely hopeful place to go, but that is simply a fact of their program over the last four years. The left has instead just bullied the group about how socialist policies are good for them and that they should shut up, which is about the dumbest and most offensive strategy I can think of, and was one which they advanced with mouthbreathing ignorance right up until the day of the election. Forget the left’s answer to the question of what’s possible when it comes to ADOS; they have in fact consistently sought to diminish—rather than work to raise—both their own and ADOS’s expectations about what’s even right.

But the left can be assured that ADOS being able to secure what is right for them absolutely has implications for the left’s own goals. And it is at their own peril that they continue to pretend that rectifying ADOS’s specific oppression is not every single bit if not more of a public responsibility as are the fights for whatever other freedoms can be accorded to us as citizens under big, expensive government programs. It will be a lesson that the left will learn to their sorrow: they cannot—they simply cannot—reshape the economy in a democratic, egalitarian way if they do not prioritize reparations for ADOS. This is an insight that has somehow been so thoroughly forgotten—so banished from memory—that if the left would only allow itself to really think about it, it would undoubtedly feel like a revelation. It would lead to a victory genuinely worth dancing in the streets over.

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Smears & Fears

The Brainfart Trust: Jess Aiwuyor and her Ad Hoc Cadre of Dysinfo-ists

You don’t have to do all that much to be enlisted as part of the advisory board for the National Black Cultural Information Trust (NBCIT). That’s just a fact. The 7-member team of supposed experts in the field of cultural criticism boasts a combined online following of just over 6,000 individuals. One board member, Halycon Westmaas, has just 17 Twitter followers, all of whom, it seems, can count on her timeline to deliver a lot of U.S. tennis content. There is literally no online record of her ‘activism’ or scholarship, though she does seem to have attended the same grad program as the NBCIT founder, Jess Aiwuyor (Go Orange!). Westmaas’s bio notes that her interests include interior decorating. And if you’re wondering what the fuck that has to do with anything relevant to serious cultural criticism, then welcome to the club. Another member, Michael K. Fischer, just met Jess Aiwuyor online last month. 22 people in total look to him for guidance on how to navigate the terrible culture of misinformation that apparently plagues and threatens to preclude global black unity. And, rounding out the least visible people who comprise the NBCIT advisory board, there’s Ari Merretazon, the Northeast Regional Representative for N’COBRA who once tweeted out to his 135 followers a statement that ironically promotes the very essence of #ADOS political thought that the NBCIT claims to have been founded in order to correct and oppose:

The mouthful of above acronyms stand for “Descendants of Africans Enslaved (in) x”

That is literally—from day one—all that #ADOS has ever said: that they must first and foremost address themselves to the problem of white supremacy here in their home, where indeed for generations they as ADOS have felt the weight of its injustices press singularly upon them so immediately, so vividly, and so unrelentingly that it is a true wonder why anyone who claims to stand for righteousness would now commit themselves to sabotaging and thwarting what in many ways portends to be their group’s very last hope to realize a life of unsubjugation. The question that everyone should ask of the NBCIT is how this organization expects to be taken even remotely seriously when its own advisory board explicitly supports the chief argument that #ADOS puts forward for the movement’s entire existence.

Make no mistake, the NBCIT is purely a narrative machine that is masquerading as a kind of sage council of ‘thinkers’ whose sole aim is to deliberately misrepresent a grassroots movement that is made up of a people whom the entire world has essentially orphaned. ADOS have only themselves now. Theirs is a wolflike independence so uncommon to the received wisdom of how they’re supposed to act politically when they’ve been bottomcasted in America for four-hundred years that all the Pan Africanists can do in response is gather up some obscenely educated people and try to figure out how they can tell lies about them. What a pathetic, ignoble response from supposed radicals, from supposed ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.

You just have no idea, do you? You have absolutely no idea what they’re even doing. You simply can’t see it because you refuse to. Because you just can’t possibly imagine that the very inverse of everything you’ve ever known or thought about ADOS could be true; that is, that the fierce conviction in the rightness and rectitude of their actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with theirs. It is long past time that we stop demanding that their interests take a permanent backseat to ours, and seriously consider what their interests would mean for us.

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The Pan-Grifterism of Tariq Nasheed

It’s certainly rich for Tariq Nasheed—someone who has made a living as both architect and purveyor of some of the most extractive runs on the black community in America—to now cry “Grift!” on Yvette Carnell for advocating a down ballot voting strategy ahead of November’s election. After all, here’s Tariq (eventually) recommending the very same approach during the last election cycle…

Evidently, to vote down ballot four years ago was a perfectly appropriate and sound use of one’s elective franchise. Now however, Nasheed promotes total abstention and claims that voting down ballot is merely a pretext for one individual to exploit the black community for personal gain. There’s no explanation for this theory. But with Nasheed there is never explanation, just further convolution, just an ongoing attempt to gussy up sheer vacuousness as significance and then sell it to people. No, he’s never been one for actual analysis. In Nasheed’s world, analysis doesn’t get it popping, ya dig? He has in fact only ever been a yapping thing, full of idiocy and spleen; a ridiculous Humpty Dumpty figure who peddles his gibberish with a shit-eating smirk and pushes one failed project after another all while being propped up by a devoted, frothing hype squad. He is someone who most recently was selling nonrefundable tickets (tiered $50-$500) during a pandemic, and who eventually convened hundreds of members of the community that is most vulnerable to the virus from around the country to one of the highest threat level states for a 3-hour conference that was held inside a building with an actual pop-up COVID-19 hospital onsite.

It’s not that Nasheed thinks voting down ballot is actually flawed as a tactic. At least, that’s not the sense that I get. Arguably, we can’t ever know what Nasheed sincerely thinks about anything at all, because I don’t know if he actually thinks…

These are the utterances of a man who has never had an original thought. I think whatever slithering activity happens in Nasheed’s skull is essentially infantile; the primitive thinking of a thing that is exclusively engrossed in itself and its own needs and interests. I think the sole criterion for his doing anything whatsoever is his perceived ability to profit off of someone else’s work. He has no core beliefs. He just goes along, listing from this viewpoint to that viewpoint, bringing along nothing but bluster and narcissism. One moment, this:

…another moment, that:

While Tariq Nasheed may momentarily inhabit and champion one specific cultural conviction, his only real, enduring belief system is a kind of Pan-Grifterism—an outlook in which anything and everything in the black diaspora is suitable for his cashing in on. That’s all. The advocacy stuff is just an add-on and none of it is real. And when one endeavor is over, all that’s left behind is his little slug’s trail of shysterism that he excretes before he moves onto the next thing. Is it any wonder why he has such animosity towards #ADOS? The genuinely transformative social movement that handily vanquished him before he could get his leech mouth around it? Now what’s left for him to do? What do the players say? Whatever it is, I’m sure someone else will have come up with it.

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The Dying Revolution Will Be Zoomed: Pan Africanism, Jess Aiwuyor, and #ADOS

Let’s just be very honest about something: when you make a whole PowerPoint presentation about your adversary, they’ve already won. All that’s left afterwards is you coming to terms with that fact.

Nonetheless, this is what the opposition to the #ADOS movement now believes is their most lethal and effective tack. They’re hosting webinars. And so the chief strategy to take down #ADOS as of September 2020 seems to be one of simply boring people into sympathizing with their position: “Jesus, OK. Yes, I’ll agree with you, just please no more fucking dreadful PowerPoint slides…”

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For what was once such a revolutionary project, the stateside Pan Africanists of today sure do seem like an unbearably dull bunch, don’t they? And it is Jess Aiwuyor, out of all of them, who really best exemplifies the sterile now of the elitist-minded Pan Africanists. The webinar that she hosted the other night felt, in the end, merely like a kind of gurgle, a spurt issuing from the sloshy mixture of irrelevance into which Pan Africanism has inexorably sunk deeper and deeper over the last several decades. That, ultimately, is all that she is peddling: the sputum from a different time of actual possibility. The efforts of Aiwuyor et al. to discredit #ADOS feel like nothing so much as the last fluttering breaths of the old as it watches in moribund rage the birth of something new and altogether more virile. Her brand of ‘activism’ is sponsored performance art, the only real function of which is to give a patina of intellectualism and faux moral urgency to what is really the private, visceral despair that the old guard feels at the passage of time. The march of years has not deepened their concepts, just their vanities.

I’d only ever read “JAM”, whose prose is so uniformly juvenile and affectless that she manages to somehow render the black experience in print about as compelling as televised fishing. Actually watching her, however, I was genuinely stunned to see that her handlers have entrusted her with the task of delegitimizing the most formidable justice movement to emerge in the U.S. in the last half century; someone whose delivery is so synthetic and uninspiring that she gives off the impression that Pan Africanism has reached a stage where it is essentially just bored with itself; a limp, tired thing just poking around for ways to take itself seriously when no one else will. A revolution that in the end devours its own.

To the extent that Aiwuyor summons any passion at all, it seems rooted in a kind of felt loss; a grief-rage at Pan Africanism watching itself fade into a phantom.

In listening to Aiwuyor, one doesn’t gain the sense that Pan Africanism is on a path to a deeper, more authentic engagement with the material realities of ADOS; there is nothing in what she proposes to suggest that it will lead to a more profound relation to those people whom they claim as kin. Oppositely, it sees that path as too strenuous, too weighted with nuance. And as such, they just can’t be bothered. All they want to do is pull ADOS into the Pan African orbit of the pending global restructure, of the always undone, and have them join the choir in yelling out old exhortations at the vastness before them.

But they can’t. Not now. And Aiwuyor’s webinar was the sublimation of Pan Africanism’s actively seeping ego wound, one that is owed directly to the fact that ADOS have hereby denied people like herself any further purchase in the future management of their group’s economic and political relations between them and their principal debtor, the U.S. government.

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I have exactly zero interest in going through and enumerating the myriad inventions about #ADOS that Aiwuyor has yet again taken out, warmed over, and served up for her audience. There are people way smarter than I am, and who do a way better job with that than I ever could. And the contrast between their genuine efforts to engender understanding and Aiwuyor’s bad faith bullshit (something that is baked into her every dispatch) could not be more stark.

There’s little use in getting too worked up about the sheer dishonesty of her deranged campaign to seek out the ugliest possible interpretation of ADOS’s response to the truths of their experience. Lying, after all, as Dostoevsky reminds us, can be forgiven; for lying always leads to the truth. What is decidedly less forgivable, though, is just how painfully boring she is at her chosen craft of weaving deceit.

But I will say this: that insofar as white Americans are supportive of the ADOS movement, it is less an expression of what NAARC and N’COBRA so desperately want everyone to believe it is—white supremacy, or the latest iteration of John Tanton’s legacy—and rather a thing that is fundamentally grounded in a recognition that ADOS are in fact kin to us, too; that they are perhaps in a most unique and profound way closer to us as brethren than would appear possible. And as such, how can those of us who are so inclined not but look upon the tragedy of their history, that which is so violently and anciently interwoven with ours, and not be moved to action? To be moved not out of empathy, or guilt, but obligation, a motive which is no doubt the most selectively celebrated and likewise suppressed among the white population in America. But that is what our allyship is and must always be: an expression of the awareness that the fullness of citizenship we are taught to believe we have possessed and enjoyed by natural right is in fact predicated on and sustained by four-hundred years of assigning the cruel, inhumane, absolute negation of that experience to one particular group, the American Descendants of Slavery. And to the extent that any project like Aiwuyor’s seeks to deny them their singularity in that personhood and that experience—that strives to make them feel alienated or somehow undignified for how they choose to fight for their due in a home whose great halls they made and in whose dungeons they and their generations have since in turn been held to rot—then mine will be a constant voice in their defense.

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Imagine Thinking: (More) Nikole Hannah-Jones and #ADOS

Or first imagine completely belittling the fact that someone who three years ago opposed reparations has since been responsible for leading the most significant nat’l movement in support of that issue that we’ve seen in our lifetime. In the blink-like span of three years.

Imagine the ego that it takes to consistently minimize that accomplishment—for someone to simply shift intellectual gears on an issue and to give it such profound resonance and vitality that it rapidly activates people everywhere across the country to go do the very same.

Imagine having a Goliathan institution like the New York Times to swiftly catapult you into this space and the very first thing you do when you suddenly materialize into it is pretend like all these people have been here for the past 30 years talking this intensely and organizing this seriously around the issue of reparations.

Imagine being made so uneasy by that person’s obvious ability to effectively lead and motivate—feeling it such a direct threat to your own slimy and insignificant career ambitions—that you feign like her supporters are arguing that she was the genesis of certain thought and not, as they are in fact saying, that she is rightly to be acknowledged as being at the genesis of this generation’s transformational push to actually make those thoughts really matter for the lives of ADOS.

Imagine how insecure and like deep-down, little-kid-level scared you have to be to put so much effort into trying to make people look stupid for what they know in their hearts to be absolutely true.

Imagine thinking you could possibly lead. Imagine thinking you could do anything whatsoever except angrily shake your 1619 curriculum at an establishment that—before you even arrived—had already absorbed and neutralized you with ease.

Imagine thinking that you will be remembered as anything but the person who—after #ADOS filled the room up with gas—hurried over and stood there thumbing the wheel of a lighter that just wouldn’t ignite, so pathetically and dreadfully desperate to be the public face of something that you didn’t create.

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Ready-made Distortions: Matthew Chapman, #ADOS, and the Fear of a Fair Hearing

The #ADOS critique of Kamala Harris receives a treatment not unlike that of ultra-processed foods. And in much the same way that a microwaveable dinner is meant to minimize the consumer’s culinary labor, the prepackaged description of #ADOS’s position on Harris’s background seems crafted solely to discourage a reader from devoting any time and mental effort to researching and taking seriously what the #ADOS political project actually sets out to do. The most recent example of these freezer section-style ‘analyses’ of #ADOS comes courtesy of Matthew Chapman, a reporter at Raw Story who yesterday tweeted, “FYI, to all my white followers who may or may not know what I’m talking about: ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves [sic]) is a movement that basically seeks to exclude the ‘wrong’ Black people from civil rights spaces—ie anyone who can’t trace their lineage directly to a Southern plantation.”

What inspired Chapman to achieve new heights of numbskullery with that total mischaracterization of #ADOS was—in his words—their “posting anti-Harris content questioning her ethnicity and heritage,” and the group’s “nonsense claims…that [she] ‘isn’t Black'”. This activated something of the helicopter mom in Chapman, who evidently feared that his white followers might be rendered dumbstruck when confronted with a particular group of black people making the argument that descriptors such as ‘Black’ or ‘African-American’ have become woefully insufficient in their ability to meaningfully capture their specific, centuries-long experience of targeted exclusion in the United States. “While black activists are used to this,” Chapman informs us, “a lot of white voters might have never seen it before and not know how to respond to it.” And so he sought—as so many before him have also sought—to tube feed his white readers a stunningly reductive and deliberately misleading rendering of #ADOS.

Perhaps what Chapman really feared, though, was not the possibility that his white followers wouldn’t join him in denouncing #ADOS, but that those white people might actually begin considering what it would mean to belong to a group for whom the ability to partake in the bounty of opportunities throughout America’s history had been chattel slaveried and Jim Crowed out of their lineage by reason of their ancestors’ Blackness. That these white people might begin to consider Blackness not as a skin color that occasions identical discrimination in America, but as the heritable mechanism of that total exclusion, a thing that is suffered by one specific community of black people and that is naturally circumvented entirely by all others who arrive from elsewhere. Maybe the fear was that if they gave ADOS a fair hearing they might begin considering the injustice of the bagginess of a term like ‘Black’ in 2020. How while Blackness is nowadays conceived as a shared burden among melanated individuals, it is in fact ADOS alone who know and live the full cost of Blackness in America; how it is still being absorbed into their bloodstream even now, centuries since its vicious invention, because Blackness in America was indeed designed to have that delayed, transmissible property, like a slow-release capsule of crushing disadvantage.

Maybe, above all, these white followers might consider how unspeakably offensive it would be to ADOS to watch someone such as Harris—someone who ascended to high office while shamelessly inhabiting the profundity of a centuries-long struggle that was never hers to claim—publicly repudiate the idea of ever doing a single thing to benefit that particular community. Maybe white people wouldn’t wonder why ADOS label her a squatter in their community; maybe then it’s like way less that ADOS is quote-unquote purity umpiring and more that they’re just pointing out the fucking obscenity of someone who is happy to cash in on the accolades and distinctions that attend barrier-breaking Blackness while being equally content to ensure that the real and enduring consequences of Blackness in America persist without interruption among the great assemblage of those whose ancestors’ experience in this country is apparently just a mere political expedient.

Ask yourself: how would you respond? Tell me you would not be enraged. Take a second and posit yourself and your parents and your kids in that place of utter neglect and indignity, and seriously ask yourself: how else could you possibly respond when you are being told to shut up and celebrate a(nother!) useless substitute for what seems your family’s permanent brokenness?

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Cost, not Costume: A Review of Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

How else in the midst of a pandemic to think about a sequence of like phenomena other than with an eye toward its etiology? It’s only natural. A pathogen taking a kind of deadly lark around the species for months on end inevitably puts a person in a particular cast of mind; one that is far less inclined to think of things as being merely discrete events, or idiopathic in nature, and instead as indicative of some definite systemic cause.

Suddenly there’s the felt anxiety, the inescapable haunting suspicion of not just the possibility but the likelihood that it is from more profound depths that our present maladies have sprung, and that those maladies will—if not properly diagnosed and addressed at their root—be our end.

And so when we saw how those three yokels in Brunswick quarried Ahmaud Arbery and all but trophied his dead body onto the hood of their truck; when we saw how the Taylor residence in which Breonna lay sleeping was repurposed by LMPD SWAT into a makeshift tactical shooting range; when we saw how the pulse of George Floyd was throttled to a faint, shallow tremor and finally winked out forever by a man who, in carrying out that execution, just stared ahead intractably, placidly, the dead-eyed blank expression of a cow looking out over a wooden fencepost; when we saw these things, we could not but perceive the feverish quality to them. They felt like a kind of rapid onset of symptoms; the alarming manifestations of some end-stage societal sepsis of which we were suddenly and terribly cognizant.

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White Americans did what anyone ill at ease about their well being would do. We began, in a way, compulsively WebMDing ourselves. We ran out and bought White Fragility, feeling around for the apparent lumps in our own psyches and—with each turn of the page—learning that we are in fact walking supercontaminations. Tumor-ridden things. If we didn’t recognize the malignancies inside us, White Fragility assured us it only meant we were that much more of an inoperable, hopeless case. We filled the cube shelving in our children’s nurseries with board books containing messages of tolerance and acceptance; we began, with a solemn resolve, to apply ourselves to the task which it seems our parents had utterly shirked: to mold these blobs of dreadful privilege that we produced into good little empaths.

We needed answers to ourselves, and so we read—devoured—with that special sort of voracity of the newly afflicted, so desperate and anxious to have explained to us what this is that surrounds us.

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Enter Oprah, whose appearance during a time of social upheaval is like low circling buzzards materializing over a dry, sunbaked valley; the presence of each can only mean that something, somewhere, is dying. In this case, the decay is one of possibility—of precisely knowing, of acting, of repairing. In her hands she holds Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which would seem like the ideal book for our present moment of anxious, binge-y social science consumption. After all, Wilkerson has described her book as “an invitation to understanding; an invitation to seeing ourselves differently than we have before, and the idea that we can have new language to help us see ourselves differently.” Oprah, in her endorsement of the book, affirms these qualities of Caste and promises that it “show[s] us how to rebuild a world in which we all are truly equal and free.”

But Oprah has always been a kind of real life Flannery O’Connor invention, hasn’t she? And it seems that she now sees in a collective desire for racial justice what a character like Hoover Shoats in Wise Blood saw in a people’s authentic religious desire: a new and profitable business venture; a people whose despair and uncertainty is, in essence, the stuff of profit. And in this way, Caste—which ultimately posits a kind of ‘make compassionate decisions’ approach to undoing caste (at one point seriously suggesting that such a thing can be achieved by “search[ing] for that key that opens the door to whatever we may have in common, whether cosplay or Star Trek or the loss of a parent”)—is a book that neatly complements Oprah’s thoroughly apolitical (and always profitable) brand of personally manifesting capital-c Change.

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At its absolute weakest, all Caste is really doing is recounting episodes of discrimination (whether the national or the personal) and swapping out the race-specific terminology of the individuals (“white”, “black”) for Wilkerson’s preferred choice of descriptors (“dominant caste”, “lowest caste”). It is as if, by the mere substitution of these words, the abstractions that have so tightly organized American society over the last 400 years are supposed to be suddenly made known to us in more cogent, actionable terms. Oftentimes, though, the effect is one of bewilderment, a kind of misfire.

It’s not that ‘caste’ as a descriptor, or conceptual framework, doesn’t have the potential to vastly improve upon the very real limitations of a discourse grounded in race. There can be no question as to the inadequacy of the increasingly diluted social construct that has heretofore governed our understanding of how America has long (mis)allocated access to opportunity. We very much need an alternative and more tailored vocabulary to better assess and remedy that injustice, and ‘caste’ really does appear to best capture the unique, multi-generational exclusion that has so brutally defined the experience of a people in the U.S. But it is precisely the author’s inability (or unwillingness) to imbue caste with a necessary specificity—to identify the nature of our bottom caste as the accrued and heritable cost of one particular group’s lineage through chattel slavery onward—that contributes to her project’s abortive attempt to truly alter our understanding of what conditions our “discontents” and to help us, as she says, “reach that place of healing.”

Which is to say that while Wilkerson tries to outfit the most basic and efficient sorting mechanism of American society with a kind of new, bespoke language, there’s nonetheless still a loose, baggy quality to the finished product.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the book’s insistence upon the Barack Obama presidency having been the “greatest departure from the script of the American caste system.” On one hand, Wilkerson argues that Obama’s political ascension was so remarkable because he belongs to the “lowest caste”, and—as an African-American—is someone “against whom the caste system had directed its full powers of dehumanization”. On the other hand, though, she also notes how his “unusual upbringing” (his father being an immigrant from Kenya and his mother a white woman from Kansas) had spared him from “the heaviness of slavery and Jim Crow and the hard histories of regular African-Americans.” It’s difficult, in reading Wilkerson’s words, to not hear ‘heaviness’ functioning almost euphemistically for the very group-specific material cost of those ‘hard histories’, which, as she points out, include the New Deal reforms that “excluded the vast majority of black workers” and the FHA practices that “encourag[ed] or even requir[ed] restrictive covenants that barred black citizens from buying homes in white neighborhoods.”

And so there is, in other words, by Wilkerson’s own admission, a long, well-defined continuum of targeted exclusion—a kind of survey line of one group’s generational lockout from wealth in America—that has, from the beginning, uniquely and distinctly bound the experience of its lowest caste: the American Descendants of Slavery, the ‘regular African Americans’.

So how, then, can we realistically ascribe to someone like Obama the same basic station in national life when his ancestors did not bear that profound cost of what it really means to belong to that bottom caste in America? We can’t. But arguably Wilkerson sees no inconsistency in doing so because Caste is one-hundred percent uninterested in the sort of transformative redistribution of all the stolen wealth that would be required to actually begin undoing the foundation of our caste system.

Indeed, for all of its appeals to Germany as a kind of star by which to steer in terms of how we can begin to dismantle caste (Wilkerson notes how “restitution has rightly been paid, and continues to be paid, to survivors of the Holocaust”), there is strangely no push whatsoever in Caste for the U.S. government to pay reparations to the descendants of American slavery and Jim Crow. Rather, the reader is encouraged to do things like “educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective”, to “value their shared commonality”, and to try to see that the caste positions we inhabit are merely the “costumes of [our] predecessors” and that—in continuing the theatre analogy—we are “performing based on our place in the production, not necessarily on who we are inside.”

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There is exactly one way to read a book like Caste, because there is exactly one way to write a book like Caste without going wide of the mark, and that is through the lens of the American Descendants of Slavery experience. And to the extent that a person is able to control their emotions long enough to recognize the obvious fact that that group’s political advocacy is meant solely to defend the singularity of that experience—to not allow the ‘full dehumanization’ of it to be folded into a dilutive framework of sameness that absolves the U.S. government from paying the invoice for the economic violence it used to create and sustain its caste system—then it is simply impossible to read a book like Wilkerson’s and not come away with a sense of the sheer inadequacy of her analysis. It is impossible, in the end, not to feel like it is a four-hundred plus page argument that goes directly against the grain of justice. And the biggest achievement of Caste is that it confirms what many have already known, and what many more will no doubt come to learn: that ADOS has already developed the necessary language for a proper diagnosis of—and antidote to—our symptoms of societal instability. All we need to do is follow their lead.

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