Malcolm X and United States policies towards Africa: a qualitative analysis of his black nationalism and peace through power and coercion paradigms.

Author:Bangura, Abdul Karim


It is quite unfortunate that when United Nations diplomat Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote his famous book, To Katanga and Back (published in 1962), (1) he did not even mention African Americans, much less their role in dealing with the Congolese crisis. Also unfortunate is that revered African scholar Ali Al'amin Mazrui in the chapter entitled "Africa & the USA" in his equally famous book, Africa=s International Relations (published in 1977), (2) committed the same omission. Yet, a careful examination of a number of government and non-government sources, as shown in the works of Herschelle Challenor (3) and Baba Zak Kondo, (4) reveals that African Americans, and particularly Malcolm X, were quite active in dealing with the United Nations and United States' handling of the Congo crisis of the 1960s.

Another important work is Adam Hochschild's book, King Leopold's Ghost (1998), (5) which highlights the fact that African Americans' efforts in trying to influence United States foreign policy in the Congo date back to the late 1800s. It is highlighted in the book that George Washington Williams, an African American lawyer, journalist, minister and historian, wrote the first full expose of Leopold's reign of terror in the Congo. Also noted is the Rev. William Sheppard, an African American missionary who sent letters to the United States and led the Congolese resistance movement to Leopold's terror.

Indeed, as a number of scholars (6) have pointed out, African Americans are Africa's most important external human resource, precisely because they constitute a large concentration of people of African ancestry lodged in the most powerful nation in the world, and certainly a nation with immense capacity to do Africa harm or good. Yet, even though there are twice as many African Americans as there are Jewish Americans, the African American impact on United States foreign policy towards Africa is still only a tiny fraction of the Jewish American impact on United States foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Like other minorities in the United States, African Americans have indicated special interest in some foreign policy issues. For more than a century, prominent African American activists and scholars emphasized the important linkage between American foreign policy towards Africa and their struggle for equal rights. As economic activities have become overwhelmingly global in nature, African Americans are increasingly stressing the importance of international affairs for their own economic advancement.

Nonetheless, it is true that overall, African Americans have not been very influential in shaping United States foreign policy towards Africa. The following three reasons, following Allan Goodman (7) and Mazrui, (8) explain this lack of influence: (1) the deliberate effort of the foreign policy elite to thwart the influence of African Americans on United States foreign policy, (2) entrenched patterns of recruitment and policy making roles that keep African Americans out of the foreign service, and (3) the limited political clout of African Americans in making the political system respond to their foreign policy interests.

Still, given the work of African American organizations like TransAfrica, coupled with the changing international scene, there are small signs that are indicative of increasing influence by African Americans in shaping United States foreign policy towards Africa. Although it would not be easy, African Americans must become more involved in the full range of the implementation of American foreign policy towards Africa in the future. This calls for educating the African American population about the importance of foreign affairs, for better communication among those African Americans within the foreign policy establishment, and for greater efforts by African Americans to achieve a greater voice in shaping United States foreign policy towards Africa.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that Malcolm X was quite effective in influencing, directly and indirectly, United States Africa policies. The paper therefore seeks to answer two major, albeit simple, questions: (1) What did Malcolm X do? (2) How and why did he do it? Using a qualitative explanatory case study methodology (which emphasizes words, as opposed to numerical values, to answer the questions how and why), the paper shows that it was Malcolm X's Black Nationalism and peace through power and coercion paradigms that underlay his actions to push American policymakers to rethink their policies towards Africa, and African leaders to take appropriate positions toward the United States' agenda at the United Nations and in the continent. Before doing all this, however, it makes sense to begin with a brief discussion of the lessons that shaped Malcolm X's perspective and actions on Africa.

Lessons that Shaped Malcolm X's Actions on Africa

That Malcolm X was bothered by the history of distortion, misrepresentation, subjugation and exploitation of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora through the transatlantic slave trade, European colonialism and neocolonialism, and United States imperialism is hardly a matter of dispute. As he recounted in his book titled On Afro-American History, for 300 years, the slave maker knew that he could not make African people slaves until he first made them dumb, and one of the best ways to make an enslaved African dumb is to take away his/her language. Once his/her language is gone, s/he cannot communicate with people who are his/her relatives, s/he can never have access to information from his/her family. (9)

Malcolm X added that if one will notice, the natural tongue that one speaks is referred to as one's mother tongue, not father tongue, and the natural intelligence that a person has before s/he goes to school is called mother wit, not father wit, because everything a child knows before s/he gets to school s/he learns from his/her mother, not his/her father. And if the child never goes to school, whatever native intelligence s/he has is from the mother, not the father. And the mother is also the one who teaches the child how to speak his/her language, so that the natural tongue is called the mother tongue. Thus, whenever you find as many people as African Americans who are unable to speak any mother tongue, it is because something was done to their mothers. Slavers had laws that made it mandatory for a Black child to be taken from his/her mother as fast as that child was born. The mother never had a chance to rear him/her. The child would be brought up somewhere else away from the mother, so that the mother could not teach the child what she knew--about self, about her past, about the child's heritage. S/he would have to grow up in complete darkness, knowing nothing about the land or people from where s/he came, not even his/her own mother. There was no relationship between the Black child and his/her mother, as it was against the law. And if the master would ever find any child who had any knowledge of his/her mother tongue, that child was put to death. The masters had to stamp out that language; they did it scientifically. If they found any one of the children who could speak the language, off went his/her head in front of the mother. The slave masters knew that they had to take away the enslaved African's language in order to make him/her dumb. (10)

Malcom X recalled from reading a book in which it is stated that some of the enslaved mothers would try to get tricky. In order to teach their children, who would be off in another field somewhere else, the mothers would pray in a loud voice in their own languages. The children in the distant field would hear the mothers' voices, and the children would learn how to pray and pick up some of the language. As soon as the master found out that this was being done, he would immediately step up his effort to kill all the small children that were benefitting from this. So it became against the law for the enslaved African to even pray in his/her tongue, if s/he knew it. Some people even say they had to pray with their heads in a bucket. Blacks were not praying to Jesus as they are today. The White man will let them call on that Jesus all day long; in fact, he will make it possible for them to call on him. It is when they are calling on another deity that they had more fear of that deity. The calling of that deity in their African language is what causes fear among Whites. (11)

Enslaved Africans, Malcom X further pointed out, used to steal away and pray. All those songs that the enslaved Africans talked or sang and called spirituals had wrapped up in them some of what was happening to them. And when the child realized that s/he could not hear his/her mother pray anymore, the enslaved Africans would come up with a song, "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," or the song, "Motherless Child": "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Father gone, mother gone, motherless child sees a hard time." All of these songs were describing what was happening to enslaved Africans in the only way they knew how to communicate--in song. They did not say it outright, so they put it in song. They pretended that they were singing about Moses in "Go Down, Moses." They were not talking about Moses and telling "old Pharaoh to let my people go." They were trying to communicate to one another over the slave master's head. Everything they sang was designed toward freedom, designed toward going back home, or designed toward getting Whites off their backs. (12)

Meanwhile, according to Malcom X, as the White man was working on enslaved Africans in America, his brothers in England, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany were busy working on the Africans in the continent. They were stomping out all signs that ever there was of civilization in Africa, making slaves of Africans over there too. And by working together as partners, the White man on the European continent, in cahoots...

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