On January 18th 2016, the QM Pan-African Society hosted a collaborative debate, “Integration or Separation: which philosophy is in the better interests of the black community?“, alongside the QM African-Caribbean Society. Aisha and Ayana from the QM Pan-African Society debated in favour of the notion of Separation, earning the majority of votes from the audience. The following is the case for economic and political separation as put forward by Aisha on the day.
For the purpose of this debate, “Separation” will be defined as the indisputable need for Black people to control the politics and economics of their own community. Like South Asian and Jewish communities, both of whom have done well to build “a nation within a nation”, so too must diasporic African people begin to control what economically and politically happens within their own communities.
Now I’m sure that you all know and admire the great Dr. Martin Luther King. Today he stands in all history books as a great icon of integration: a proponent of solidarity between all peoples, irrespective of colour, class, gender, and so forth. But what they exclude from the history books is that like all philosophers and political thinkers, Dr. King’s ideologies changed and evolved according to the social and political climate of his time. Towards the end of Dr. King’s life, particularly as he became more intimately associated with some of the other Black Consciousness Movements of his time, Dr. King vehemently advocated for political and economic separation.
In his Birmingham Jail Letter, Dr. King speaks against the White liberals of his time, who he believed slowed down the process of political and social liberation for black people, and who, to quote Dr. King,
‘paternalistically felt that they could set the timetable for another man’s freedom’.
Make no mistake, Dr. King was a proud black man: a man whose love and dedication was rooted first and foremost in the condition of his own people.
I’m sure that you all will look at me with disbelief when I tell you that towards the very end of his life, Dr, King said,
“I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house”.
Yes, shocking. But unfortunately, the reality is that most philosophers and dreamers must, at some point, come to terms with some of the painful truths about life and human existence. Not even Dr. King could ignore the harsh reality that integration did not resolve some of the fundamental political and economic issues that faced his people.
Wherever we look in history, Black people have always been strongest and have always made great progress where there has been unity and solidarity between them. Marcus Garvey, one of the leading pioneers of Pan-Africanism, believed in political, social and economic separation. His “do for self” philosophy taught Black people that they did not need other people and other communities to resolve issues that they were intellectually and resourcefully capable of solving themselves. Garvey singlehandedly managed to united Black people under the banner of self-love and self-dignity: at its height, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (the political organisation founded by Garvey) had over six million members, without, as our brother Akala once said, any Facebook or Twitter.
Now I’m not simply trying to regurgitate historical facts, but history will always be our greatest indicator of where we ought to go for the future. Without Marcus Garvey and Pan-Africanism, there would be no Martin Luther King, no Malcolm X, no Black Panthers, no Rastafari, no Hip-Hop, and all the other platforms and peoples that we now respect as the voice for Black empowerment and liberation.
A few decades later, and the saddest thing of all is that Black people are still in the same condition as before. Yes, there is Integration, and yes I, as a Black woman, can sit anywhere I want in a public place, but can we really say that this is the greatest measure of our progress? Statistically speaking, Black people are the poorest community of all: we are less likely to go into higher education and succeed, we remain amongst the most incarcerated people of all, and unemployment remains a pressing issue.
Despite modern civil rights campaigns, including Black Lives Matter, more and more young black men and women are dying at the hands of white supremacy. Now, the Black Lives Matter Campaign is truly important, and there has been great social media awareness, but what happens when we, as Black people, lose the fundamental solidarity of our own campaign? Hashtag “Black Lives Matter” becomes hashtag “All Lives Matter”: our struggle is ignored, our struggle is negated, our struggle always remains a struggle.
Integration has not given us the tools that we need to survive, and more importantly, thrive as a community. As it currently stands, there is no promise that my children, or your children, will be significantly better off than those who have gone before us.
Yes, on face value, Separation sounds like a step back from progress. But we must begin to ask ourselves a step back from whose progress?
Though Separation was historically handed to us as a mark of our inferiority, there is no reason why it cannot now be a mark of our self-love, dignity and strength. It can, and should be, our way of telling the world that we take full responsibility for ourselves as a community.
Until there is unity and love between our own people, we can never truly achieve the liberation and empowerment that we so deserve.
By Aisha Morgan