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And They Will Moralize with More Lies: #ADOS Story Time With Jess Aiwuyor

In what is without a doubt the most reductive, strained, and flawed analogy thus far given for what it means to belong to the group whose ancestry has been made to carry and pass down the exponential cost(s) of chattel slavery and its many, many resimulations in America, Jess Aiwuyor poses this unspeakably offensive question to those very same people: “Let’s say, for example, you had a grandmother that, at one time in her life, went to prison,” Aiwuyor writes, before then asking: “Would you then proclaim yourself to be a ‘descendant of prison?'”

The sole point of this callous and dismissive little thought experiment is to try to tease out what Aiwuyor seems to feel is the absurdity of the group petitioning for legal recognition as American Descendants of Slavery, which—for the past couple of years now—is what they’ve been organizing around for the express purpose of establishing a legitimate claim to compensation from the culpable entity which sanctioned their ancestors’ bondage and also (in ways both overt and covert) the repeated applications of its basic formula over the past 150 plus years.

And but OK. Absent a willful ignorance of history and/or having lived and been educated in outer space, it is not, of course, even possible to accept the assumption on which this analogy rests: that chattel slavery and imprisonment can be neatly swapped out for one another in a discussion of what it would mean to even consider a unique genealogical experience in the U.S. having been sprung from the very group-specific cataclysm of the former. This much is obvious when one takes into account the basic fact of the latter’s not being a condition that is specific to one group.

The only way we could honestly do the comparative do-se-doe Aiwuyor wants us to do here (and I know honesty about the ADOS situation isn’t exactly a thing sought after with much fervor by opponents of the movement, since being honest about the scope and depth of the exclusion that ADOS face introduces a slew of nuance and complexity that might make us appear not so, like, y’know, not so ‘woke’ or whatever, but, maybe we can try…) is if one’s grandmother had somehow been imprisoned in the same way that an ADOS person’s grandma would have been enslaved. That is, if she was born into prison. I’m talking about if she was literally delivered inside the cell by her mother, who was herself born into prison in that exact same manner, and she the child of a woman who, in her turn, had also been brought forth by one who too had been born into the totality of that prisonlife, each of them being issued the same life sentence, and so on and so on until we get back in time enough to that one who was among the first to be dragged into that Evil and who began birthing babies which, in ways so unnatural and so hideously and infinitely tragic, became less her own babies than that Evil’s babies—systemstuff to be worked, beaten, sold and wholly absorbed into that which was utterly and uniquely devoted to siphoning away from them whatever it needed—their bodies, their labor, their personhood—in order to make wealth, yes, to be sure, but maybe above even that (no, absolutely above even that) to make and imbue meaning outside of the prison.1

Is that the context of the prison in which we find our imagined person in Aiwuyor’s hypothetical? The person whose situation she intends to use in order to trouble the belief in the legitimacy of—or the value in—a person identifying in such a way that articulates a grim, awful and all-surrounding truth about his or her life in this country as a descendant of slavery: that as such you were conceived in and delivered from two wombs—that of your mother and that of your oppression. Child of the one and subject of the other.

This is what it means to get deep-down honest about the sprawlingness of chattel slavery in America. The absolute non ‘stint’-ness of it. The way it thoroughly resists glib, facile analogies owing to the singular manner in which it was made to encase a whole succession of people with demobilizing prospects while the world around them just rushed on. And I gotta tell ya, I don’t really see why someone so ensnared in that existence wouldn’t call themselves a ‘descendant of prison’ when that prison has so obviously proven to be the most materially consequential event in that person’s life. When it has proven to be that which has completely distorted his or her basic experience of what it means to be a citizen in this country, a country which—it is always essential to point out—this person’s grandma’s (wrongful) incarceration in that prison effectively built. Because if I’m this person, and me calling myself a Descendant of Prison is how I advocate for the obviously wrongful imprisonment of my family and the specific and continuous and unrelenting harm that that institution’s legacy has wrought so heavily upon us and my entire group—the one whose bottom castedness derives from that specific experience—if that’s how I most effectively and precisely locate the cause of why my life looks the way it does, and if that’s how I take that particular claim to the offending party in order to secure redress for everything that was outright stolen, then yeah I’ll wear a t-shirt that says ‘Descendant of Prison’ every day of the fucking week while I am advocating for it to be made right, and then, once it is, I’ll wear one every day after so that you don’t ever forget.

The metaphor of national DNA here proves apt, in that it would seem you can no more realistically deny how the expression of some trait in a person corresponds with a unique sequence of information passed down and stored in the strands of DNA than you can deny these same processes being responsible for the expression of the particular features of American society. And in much the same way that geneticists isolate a specific fragment of DNA for the development and diagnostics and treatment, so too do the justice-minded turn their attention intently toward the particular mutation in the sequence of our national history that has resulted in the abnormality of ADOS life? The deformity of our apparent ideals. And what identity but ADOS speaks more clearly to the black person in America whose ancestry contains the event of chattel enslavement and who to this very day does not have the luxury of neatly relegating that experience and all of its pulverizing aftershocks to a fixed moment in the past? Who has not and cannot discover a way to escape the fact that in the body politic of the United States we have forever, since their group’s arrival here, sought to absent them from society, to absent them from all aspects of national life, to absent them in order to give ourselves presence. What else is #ADOS but a complete repudiation of that? What else is #ADOS but a way not to escape that, but to overcome it.

And like, I’m sorry, but from what vantage do you speak, anyway, Aiwuyor? How do you possibly say, in the context of a discussion about the lived experience of what it means to shoulder the inter-generational burden of chattel slavery, something as moronic as, “Let’s say, for example, you had a grandmother that, at one time in her life, went to prison.” You should be ashamed of yourself, making an egregious, bullshit proposition like that. Who are you trying to persuade that what ADOS are doing is stupid? Them? It can’t be. Because how are you going to appeal to the phenomenon of incarceration—a feature of ADOS life that is so bundled into the cost of slavery that it is widely regarded as its most obvious reconstitution—to try and convince them that they should avoid identifying with slavery in a way that suggests it is inseparably intertwined in every aspect of their being? It is so inescapable that, even when you go out of your way to try and undermine its intensity of effect, it nonetheless manages to rear its dreadful head and assert its permanence in these people’s being.

It would almost be humorously ironic if in fact it didn’t first make you want to vomit. Which, for you, it clearly doesn’t. It just gives you an opportunity to get on your pedestal and preach hoary platitudes while all around you these mindless sycophants who are themselves equally disengaged from the total horrors of the ADOS experience applaud you. And but which is also why for all of the anxiety and nervousness and consternation that you evince about how supposedly ‘de-humanizing’ it is to foreground the deep connection between the institution of slavery and the experience of native-born blacks in every dimension of national life in America, you consistently reveal yourself incapable of grasping how the implications of it still ripple out in its highly specific and utterly humanity-negating manner. Anyone clear-eyed can see that it is precisely the recognition of the humanity of American Descendants of Slavery, and how that humanity has long been denied, that animates the #ADOS political project. Theirs is a work of affirmation and no one—absolutely no one—should take you seriously after this latest fling at trying to contradict and corrupt that fact.


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1. Of course reading Aiwuyor carefully shows that it wasn’t even a life sentence that this imagined person’s relative served. Their ancestor’s imprisonment was, according to her, only “at one time in her life.” So does that change things? Does that suddenly make the idea of identifying as an American Descendant of Slavery seem purely ridiculous? Well, let’s maybe say that, OK, so one day the door to this person’s grandma’s cell swings open and she’s quote-unquote free to go out into the world and get on with the rest of her life as a ‘free’ citizen, ostensibly leaving the dehumanizing condition of imprisonment behind her. Except that society, it turns out, is still uniquely and demonically hostile to people who were once imprisoned; to be honest they’re maybe even more so now that the formerly imprisoned people walk among them all day flaunting that badge of freedom the way they do, which is a thing that you’ve just got to imagine absolutely burns deep inside the darkness of these people’s minds who weren’t imprisoned and who basically only know themselves in relation to those other people’s condition of un-freedom (I mean no, yeah, they’re obviously completely livid and terrified; they’re so livid and terrified that they’re literally severing the genitalia off of these ‘free’ people, shoving it into their mouths, and leaving their totally mutilated corpses swaying high from a thick limb of a cottonwood where birds alight on the shoulders of the dead to peck at their scalps, their gaping eye sockets, and whatever else of their flesh that isn’t so charred that the birds don’t just lose interest and end up flying away [the whole point, obviously, is to display the corpses in such a way as to let all the other newly ‘free’, along with their children, know in the most vivid sense possible that what they behold when they look aloft at that dangling body is a vision of their own possible end; the reminder that that same thing can happen to each and any one of them, at any time, without any warning whatsoever, out of the absolute clear blue; that’s the knowledge that society needed this person’s grandma to walk around with in her head twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week from the time she got out of prison until she was buried and could finally—in the most literal sense of the phrase—rest in peace]).

And then I think one other thing to consider is that this person’s grandma’s every ancestor had also spent his or her whole life wrongfully imprisoned just like she did. So obviously those people hadn’t exactly left her much in the way of actual material goods. And so this person’s grandma, when she’s quote-unquote free, she can’t really get adequate housing, and what little work is available to her is exploitative beyond all possible imagination and has basically a nature to it that is mightily reminiscent of her time in prison. And so anyway that’s basically life in America for Grandma. I don’t think I need to spell out for you the total un-lavishness of the inheritance she then leaves her own daughter when she eventually dies. And but so the daughter (which is Aiwuyor’s imagined person’s mom), you might say, had a bit of a better go of it here in the good ole U.S. of A, because she came of age at a time when society had really begun to make ‘progress’ and become sensitive to the plight of people whose ancestors were at one point wrongfully imprisoned (even though at this time our country had begun welcoming many, many other people whose ancestors were at one point also wrongfully imprisoned, albeit imprisoned by a different country, but who bore enough of a resemblance to our prisoners here that no one in America could much tell the difference between their prisoners and our prisoners. Not that they really cared to). And then society said, it said, “We will not discriminate against anyone based on the fact that they were imprisoned. That is wrong, and we have adopted a much more tolerant and impartial means by which we will determine winners and losers, and that is one’s financial standing.” And I have to think that when they heard that, everyone who had ancestors who’d spent their lives here in America being locked up behind bars, or strung up in trees because their family’d been locked up behind bars, well, they just all sort of looked at each other like, well shit. And so maybe it’s more accurate to say that while things seemed like they might have been easier for this person’s mom, in fact they really weren’t easier at all. She was still very much being forced to deal with basically all the same problems of what it means to essentially be excluded from life outside the prison, just like her own daughter would be. The manner of how that condition continued to be manufactured all the way down to her just shifted a little each time. And I gotta say that, while this person couldn’t say for sure, it probably seemed to them that they definitely weren’t gonna be able to leverage any appreciable advantage that her mom was able to secure in her quote unquote free adult life. And so I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if I’m this person, then I’m finding it real, real hard—despite what some other people are saying to me—to not be able to draw a straight line from where I’m at right now in my life right back to—not just where my grandma was at—but where my whole damn family line has been ever since some godless monsters decided to throw us into prison. (We’re still using prison as a proxy term to have this discussion, right? That is what you wanted?)

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Tales From the Grift: Jessica Aiwuyor’s Ongoing Fictionalization of #ADOS

You ever been to a dinner party and catch the host softening a stale loaf of bread by wrapping it in a damp towel and placing it in the microwave? Me neither. But I have read multiple anti-ADOS articles written by Jess Aiwuyor, which is basically the same thing.

In both scenarios, what’s put in front of a person is old and warmed over, with the only difference being that the stale bread was at one point actually good. The same cannot be said for Aiwuyor’s uniformly dull, dishonest, and lecture-like ‘critiques’ of #ADOS, which—before she’d even first put pen to paper—had long passed their expiration date and have since essentially just been laying around the Internet sprouting mold.

It’s getting harder not to feel that Aiwuyor is anything other than a hired gun for the keepers of the status quo. Or (and maybe this is more likely it) that in churning out these articles she is doing anything other than signaling to those relevant parties how keen she is to faithfully serve in whatever custodial capacity they might recommend. She is, after all, a self-identified ‘storyteller’. And if you find your eyes kind of auto-siding at that descriptor, I assure you that you’re not alone. In this space, a self-professed ‘storyteller’ who suddenly materializes with such evident zeal to discredit and police a justice movement led by this country’s bottom caste should rightly be regarded as more creature-ish than sincere.

There’s a kind of weird, horoscope-y quality to Aiwuyor’s latest anti-ADOS reheating. “The year 2020 is pivotal for the Black community,” she tells her readers. “This is a year of change but it’s also a year of deception.” Mercury retrograde in Pisces blah blah blah. This is what supposedly serious political criticism looks like when it comes from the #ADOS opposition. It is literally the equivalent of something you would find inside a fortune cookie. And while Aiwuyor desperately wants her audience to believe that #ADOS—under the subterfuge of a reparations movement—promises to yield nothing but further marginalization for black America, the most she can can offer them (all she has ever offered them) is a culling of last year’s discredited claims (e.g. the one about #ADOS being primarily “bots” and “fake [online] accounts”—a claim that even some of the most strident of anti-#ADOS figures have really backed away from, presumably because every major news outlet that has covered the movement over the past year has been repeatedly unable to produce the sort of evidence that would corroborate the allegation. Nowadays, the only people still seriously talking about bots and Russian disinformation campaigns in relation to #ADOS are doing so in what seems a kind of boozy wreckage on national television where no one can actually challenge them on how totally preposterous they sound).1

Among the other reasons that Aiwuyor offers her readers for why they should “beware #ADOS” is how the movement refuses to become an accessory to N’COBRA or NAARC, which is just like, dude, obviously #ADOS is going to unhitch its wagon from the organizations that have heretofore utterly shat the bed with respect to their delivering meaningful and transformative justice for black America. Obviously. And you can try to frame that break as like treasonous or whatever—as an act of broad sabotage by a bunch of petulant and perfidious black Americans—but the fact of the matter is that ADOS, by just about every available metric, is backsliding to where they were at before these groups were established. Think about that. The question is not how could they be doing this, it’s how could they possibly not? How could they not, in taking stock of their situation, fail to recognize the need to radically overhaul the existing approach to their repair? I mean fuck…

ADOS owe no one anything. It is in fact they who are owed everything. And, at the absolute minim, they are owed some basic deference in how they as a specific group with a specific justice claim choose to self-identify and pursue it. If you don’t like it, fine. But at least try to argue your side from a place of integrity? You don’t get to just declare that the movement is co-signing race science just because their political project challenges your assumptions about what solidarity looks like in 2020 and because it complicates a shallow, naive and entirely one-dimensional understanding of how the world actually works. You don’t get to say that they are “dehumanizing” black America by trying to gather under a coherent identity that segment of it whose ancestors were quarried in Africa like animals and who were brought here to be made to labor and live in much the same manner ever since. Aiwuyor would have us believe that #ADOS is ‘dehumanizing’ that group? Really? Are we absolutely sure it’s not the other way around? That it’s not Aiwuyor who is in fact doing so much of the very dehumanizing that she claims to abhor? Because it sure seems to me that—when it comes to ADOS’s ability to know and articulate exactly what they are owed and by whom; to describe as precisely as possible the specific contours of their oppression and then advocate for repair in like measure—Aiwuyor seems to think of them as being on about the same cognitive level of a fish. It seems to me she expects from ADOS what the farmer expects from his draft animals in the field: that they are to simply submit to the yoke; the yoke for ADOS being, of course, the contemporary ‘woke’ norms that have been so casually destructive to their group.

No, what #ADOS is in fact providing the group is the possibility by which they might actually be treated as humans in the country that their ancestors’ suffering built and which today still hums briskly along on their unique exclusion and failure. Because by all indication, to be a descendant of U.S. chattel slavery means that you are bequeathed nothing of such immediate material consequence and salience to your experience as an American as the aggregate, hundreds years’ efforts by that country to thoroughly gut your life of opportunity and access. And it is so contemptible that anyone would try to de-center that reality and harangue ADOS just because they are actually brave enough to stick their necks out for one another when basically no one else will and try to begin undoing some of that disadvantage for the ensuing generation. There is, at least from my vantage, something infinitely more human expressed in that tendency, in that willingness and resolve, than anything I have yet to read in Aiwuyor.


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1. Furthermore, what seems completely lost on Aiwuyor is that describing for your readers what “journalists and researchers have documented” as being typical features of online disinformation campaigns, but then omitting how in fact no journalist or researcher has actually been able to conclusively identify #ADOS as being even tangentially linked to any such network of disinfo, doesn’t actually make your theory true. It just makes you supremely irresponsible, and betrays a basic contempt for your readers who you apparently feel don’t really deserve anything beyond your evidence-free editorializing. For Aiwuyor, it makes her, in the most literal sense of the word, what she ultimately only is: a storyteller.

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Shout Now Then: #ADOS and the Kitchen Sink Criticism

Still clearly reeling from the experience of having been called a “boomer” by a young #ADOS activist in Indianapolis recently, U of I professor Sundiata Cha-Jua took to the pages of the News-Gazette last weekend to whinge about the “generational conflict” he sees enervating the black freedom struggle in America. This division (which, for Cha-Jua, reveals itself principally in terms of “temperament and tactics”) first became apparent to him during the Ferguson riots in 2014. There, in the protesters’ response to the murder of Michael Brown, he saw not the primal, wordless yell of a people whose country had repeatedly demonstrated to them that their pain, however vivid and immediate it might be to them, was a thing essentially beyond recall to the rest of America; but rather, he saw only the behavior of a younger cohort of activists with a “severe lack of political education”, and who were—in comparison to his own generation—“less studied.”

Since Ferguson, Cha-Jua believes the “millennial” side of the divide has become not only increasingly myopic with respect to tactics, but altogether traitorous. He claims that black millennials (which he identifies as “largely working class”, but who’ve illogically espoused “pro-capitalist” and “nativist” attitudes) have been politicized away from a vision of collective politics and liberation as embodied in the black radical tradition of the 70s. And given the anxious and patronizing register in which Cha-Jua is writing (a register that, as of late, has really come to define the musings of an uneasy and jittery old guard confronting the prospect of its obsolescence), it should come as no surprise when he locates this generational “tendency”—as he calls it—squarely within the #ADOS movement, since that is the very thing that has undoubtedly given rise to those feelings of disquiet since its emergence into the mainstream of U.S. politics.

Indeed, such a move seems, at this point, only natural. Not because the characteristics that Cha-Jua lists actually describe #ADOS, but precisely because they don’t. After all, isn’t that loose, exaggerated and inexact relationship to actual truths about the movement the basic modus for so much of the toilet limescale that passes as criticism of #ADOS nowadays? Isn’t one, as a critic-commentator, encouraged and rewarded for indulging in that vulgar inclination to simply feed into the prevailing misperceptions about #ADOS instead of exercising some actual discipline and scrupulousness in covering their approach?

I mean, to take what is only the most obvious and conspicuous tell of bad faith, and the total absence of really giving much of a shit about the object and substance of his critique, Cha-Jua does not even seem to know what #ADOS stands for. And he—like so many before him—substitutes the noun ‘slaves’ for ‘slavery’, the acronym’s correct institutional designation, and whose unique reconstitution and felt legacy right up into the present moment the movement is meant to refer and underscore.1

And so of course one can’t realistically expect someone who evidently has no interest in even correctly naming the movement for his readers to then provide them anything in the way of accuracy regarding the thing’s actual mechanics. And on this expectation, Cha-Jua fully delivers. Nonetheless, the string of mischaracterizations prompt some interesting questions. Like, for instance, why the effort to generationalize the movement as a ‘millennial’ one? I mean, it seems to me that—while there’s obviously a contingent of black millennials involved and doing serious advocacy on behalf of the #ADOS movement—insofar as there’s a real pronounced generational aspect to it, it’s unmistakably Gen Xers. It’s also no secret that society (particularly Boomers) has certain assumptions about millennials, and harbors generally disdainful feelings for them, and so it’s not exactly difficult to imagine a situation in which Cha-Jua’s ‘millenialization’ of #ADOS is just a sort of cynical attempt to play to those presuppositions and deny the movement any maturity or the capacity for actual insight/understanding about the world in which they live and which has dealt them a uniquely shitty and essentially un-playable hand. And all #ADOS is saying to millennials (to everyone, really) is that they need to be aware of the fact that there is a ton of ideology presently at work in trying to make them feel that everyone else seated at the table nowadays is holding an identically lousy hand, and to be critical of the suggestion that swapping out the dealer for someone like Sanders (the “surging” and “most leftist” [sic] candidate whom Cha-Jua concludes his article by endorsing) is going to produce much in the way of parity for ADOS—parity, which is to say justice, which is to say disadvantage for everyone else. Sorry. That’s the pill. You can either swallow it or stay screaming and bartering for some other white America-mollifying possibility while the solution to actually heal ADOS remains firmly lodged in our national throat. But it’s not going anywhere. We swallow it, or eventually we choke.

And I guess that’s the thing. Throughout the article, it just feels like Cha-Jua is looking for a new reason to denigrate the group for not being sufficiently class conscious enough or whatever to ignore or further delay justice for them—to stay forgotten—and for not just falling in line behind the most quote unquote radical candidate in the Democratic field. ‘Millennial’ feels like just the latest log to be thrown into the dying fire that is #ADOS smear journalism, a fire that simply just will not catch the way detractors of #ADOS want it to. It’s also—given the author’s clear intention to rally support for Sanders—probably the weirdest choice yet, since black millennials is the group that already overwhelmingly backs Sanders. And insofar as Cha-Jua wants to drag a certain generation of black people over the coals for having absolute shit politics, it’s really his own generation that he ought to pillory and flay, since a full two-thirds of Boomers support fucking Biden—a candidate who, perhaps more than any other currently vying for office in the Democratic field, has ensured that #ADOS stays playing with the absolute lowest of cards.

The criticisms of #ADOS are so tiresome. They have been from the very beginning, because they’re all just so bad. It’s now just becoming kitchen sink criticism—say literally anything. Anything at all. Make something up. Does it make sense? I dunno, not really. But who fucking cares, right? Whatever you do, just do not take sincerely their situation. Do not treat them with honest intentions. That’s the basic axiom of #ADOS crit. Instead, argue that they are working class and that their politics ought to reflect exclusively those concerns. That’s it. End of discussion. Case closed on what to do about centuries of racism in America. And if they say anything to dispute that, literally shout into their faces that they are fascists, capitalists, bigots, whatever. Berate them until their false consciousness bleeds out of their ears. If they bring up the fact that America made them a uniquely wealthless segment of the working class—if they say something about how that particular dimension of their experience within the general American proletariat is one so indescribably oppressive and burdensome that if their politics don’t absolutely start there, then, just forget it, it’s game over for them—just shout louder. Yell at them the exact same despicably cheap and hollow things you’ve been shouting all along, just more emphatically. But shout them now, because sooner or later, inevitable as the setting sun, history or the hand of God or whatever force you think eventually comes around and sets the scales at balance in the universe is going to sew righteousness throughout this land and it is going to strike you dumb and mute in the process, leaving you to do nothing but stare impassively. So shout now then.


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1. Indeed, so routine is this ‘error’ among the #ADOS commentariat, that it’s difficult not to recognize it as a deliberate misnomer, one that’s intended to evade the extremely important matter of specificity when it comes to slavery in the American context (and its awful scope), and to fix the event that animates the #ADOS justice claim within a group of people who’ve long been dead, and with whom the institution ostensibly died as well. Which, well, obviously it didn’t. Today every cent from chattel slavery is still coursing throughout the system, predominantly within the same group of people, and still determining outcomes that—on a basic level—sure look an awful lot like those observed in plantation life. And until that is meaningfully changed, it’s extremely hard to see how slavery can be neatly relegated in any sense to a past occurrence in the country).I

 

 

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Knowing the Voltron

The Voltron roves across Twitter, a crude accretion of grift, bruised egos and begrudgery. It’s a doddering thing, infant-like in its tendencies and possessing the sort of mega arrogance that naturally attends a coming together of con-artists who’ve all somehow managed to never really get caught at their game. Now it wears a clergy collar, but don’t mistake it as worshipping anything other than its own reputation, its own renown. It never has and it never will.

See it go off ravenously in search of more timelines. That’s all it wants—more timelines, more things on which to make its horrible, hateful noise. And that is, in essence, all the Voltron really is: just noise. It’s a kind of squawking. Block it. Don’t block it. Report it. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. It won’t ever go away. But the fact that it won’t go away also doesn’t really matter, because the Voltron operates under the grand delusion that a growing chorus of voices all chanting “Trash!” at an idea can actually result in that idea’s death.

Think about that for just a second. Imagine what you must indulge in yourself in order to think that you can kill an idea on Twitter. We live in a world that saw fascism—another idea—survive a war that wiped out three per cent of the global population, but these people think they’re going to kill an idea that actually seeks to heal a people by blue checking it to death? By RTing each other?

See the witless vultures circling the Voltron’s head. See around its feet a pack of simpering imbeciles. See it dragging behind it a limp, barely alive thing, an absolutely miserable record of real world accomplishments. It trails the Voltron as it roams Twitter like a tantrum-prone child possessively clutching its blanket. It loves its blanket. See the prelate, the Voltron’s latest component, hold it up by its tatters and shake it angrily when someone from #ADOS challenges him. ‘Look! We sued Alabama last year!’ ‘We sued Myrtle Beach last year!’ ‘We sued Prince George’s County last year!’ What—he asks with absolutely dripping contempt—has #ADOS accomplished? In fact, last month, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals “agreed with the State of Alabama that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue the Attorney General over their complaints about Alabama’s minimum wage law.” Last week it was reported that the Prince George’s case awaits hearing in another appellate court with what seems equally dim prospects for success. The Myrtle Beach thing is the third iteration of a case that has languished in defeat since 2018. These are less ‘wins’ than windows into what awaits black America without—as Yvette Carnell has said—“chang[ing] the discourse that’s going to be in court,” and the economic power to actually back and protect the group’s ostensible rights. And that’s the thing that #ADOS has, over the past three years, done more to meaningfully advance than the Voltron has done in several decades.

What’s blindingly apparent is that the Voltron has nothing whatsoever to offer in the way of a better alternative as a response to the very real crisis that confronts ADOS in 2020. It offers them nothing unique. Nothing that actually penetrates. Nothing true. Only an insistence upon the old, ossified forms that no longer fit in the world, at least not right now. And right now is all that can possibly matter to ADOS. It insists on selling them a soil that is incapable of supporting new growth. And when you dare to point that out to the Voltron, its face floods a kind of indignant crimson and its mouth starts to froth. It fumes bitterly and eventually it calls you trash. There. That’s your alternative.

The Voltron is what manifests when those old forms are under threat. It’s what emerges in response to a situation where people actually start to notice their abandonment. And the Voltron mobilizes so swiftly and manically because the questions that start being asked when a whole group begins perceiving the fact of their abandonment are ones that necessarily contain the possibility of exposing the whole lot of these hucksters as being totally complicit in that group’s miserable condition. That threat is always there for these people, always latent. That threat animates the Voltron, and it rages at the sight of #ADOS doing the slow, hard work of pulling people into the orbit of its idea. It rages hardest at how the #ADOS movement proceeds with the very conviction that the Voltron is right now in the process of losing, or rather, having it ripped away; namely, that there is no doubt on its claim to the future. #ADOS is reclaiming the group’s singular struggle against their immiseration and despair, and all the Voltron can do is choke on its own rage at how it can’t annihilate that idea, how the movement remains visceral and alive in a way they have never know, no matter how desperately they all try to render it insignificant or banal.

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Understanding Aiwuyor: Laziness, Lies, and the Clout Bait of Clouding #ADOS

About midway through Understanding ADOS: The Movement to Hijack Black Identity and Weaken Black Unity (the first of what I’m sure will amount to a small volume of anti-#ADOS literature by Jess Aiwuyor, since this one was met with such raptures from those who are seated at the popular table she so nakedly longs to join), the author asks ten questions that she seems to feel will problematize the #ADOS initiative and highlight its supposedly crude, narrow and ultimately bogus criteria for determining eligibility for reparations. They range from issues of the identificatory (e.g. how would lineage be proven in African Americans with “no trace of documentation beyond grandparents or great-grandparents”?) to issues of the administrative (e.g. who is going to manage this “fact-finding/witch hunt expedition”?).

Of course, she doesn’t actually want to know these things. And it’s worth noting, before going any further, that while there’s a quality of sheer laziness apparent throughout Aiwuyor’s entire ‘report’, nothing in its 27 pages quite so captures that intellectual lethargy like leaving these questions (and the other totally legitimate ones that she raises) unanswered for her readers. Moreover, it’s next to impossible not to feel that by presenting these questions in a way that suggests to her readers that there are in fact no answers to them (or that the mere fact of asking them somehow serves to implicitly confirm the supposed deficiencies of #ADOS), that what animates this supposedly sedulous dive into the politics of #ADOS is less a desire to seek out actual information about that project and more a determination to obfuscate and further muddle its message.

As a piece of quote-unquote scholarly writing, there is nothing even remotely rigorous about what Aiwuyor has produced. There is nothing actually meaningfully informative or communicative about it, which (it seems to me anyway) is maybe what writing should at least aim for in the grown-up world in which we live and on which stuff like Aiwuyor’s intends to comment. Understanding ADOS is purely an expressive act of writing that strives (and certainly succeeds) only to validate Aiwuyor’s own template of assumptions and preconceptions that she brings to it. And in doing that, she violates just about the most elementary and basic axiom of argumentative and critical writing: namely, try not to assume that your reader automatically shares your opinion of yourself as being the smartest person in the room. It is, in fact, your obligation to other adults (who in reading your ‘report’ are taking time out of what is probably their extremely busy day) to respect the idea that if you assert a proposition, that reader is then realistically going to expect some proof of its accuracy. Unless of course your only intent as a writer is to encourage your reader not to look too closely at—or to think more deeply about—something that might be worth their attention.

So anyway, I guess that’s my preamble-y bone to pick. And I say it only because it took me all of about three minutes to type up those aforementioned questions into an email to send to Dr. Sandy Darity, the individual who—as even Aiwuyor herself acknowledges in her article—has contributed a great deal to the understanding of what reparative policy conceived within an #ADOS framework might look like in the U.S., and who is thus exactly the person to whom a responsible writer would try to reach out in order to address and perhaps help clarify any questions that arise when thinking about certain less-than-straight-forward circumstances.1

Anyway. Within a few hours of my having sent that email, I had in my inbox a characteristically thorough response from Dr. Darity delineating each one of Aiwuyor’s hypotheticals, the answers to which I won’t include here because I’m not gonna do Aiwuyor’s own work for her. This article is intended less as a rebuttal to her mischaracterizations of #ADOS (there’s a fine one of those already out there) and more as a rebuke of her obviously self-serving and totally dishonest motivations for even writing about #ADOS in the first place. The terrain of actual ideas is clearly not at all where Aiwuyor intends to meet and wage a contest. Hers is a work of propaganda. And because propaganda doesn’t aim for the minds of its audience, there’s really no point in trying to intercept it on that level by earnestly addressing the ‘substance’ of what’s being said. The point, rather, is to simply reveal to that audience the ways in which the propagandist proceeds from a position of total contempt for them—how the propagandist starts from the premise that her audience in fact has no free thinking minds to begin with. And if the idea is that, because I’m white, I’m necessarily to be checked from speaking on issues like this, or in this manner, then that’s fine, because libelous crud like Understanding ADOS can’t help but eventually meet its comeuppance, and at some point someone somewhere who is the permissible color or gender to point out its many, many flaws in both conception and execution will happen upon it and do exactly that. Until then, consider this a placeholder.

And also until then, consider this: what seems to, above all, cause Aiwuyor the most worry and anxiety about the #ADOS model of repair is the matter of documentation—‘slave papers’ as she tellingly and disparagingly terms it. This is, of course, what would give legal validity to an individual’s justice claim against the country that enslaved his or her ancestors and which has since been in the highly profitable business of essentially caste tending his or her group for the last century and a half. The cynical intent behind her deployment of ‘papers’—a charged word if ever there was one in our present political moment—is glaringly obvious. And one should have little difficulty understanding exactly what kind of menacing specter she is trying to raise in borrowing the parlance of immigration enforcement and putting it in the mouth of the #ADOS movement. For her, ADOS asserting its particularity is something that she needs to portray as promising, at best, excessive bureaucracy, and at worst, the monstrous barbarism of the state. It must promise these things, but never, ever that which is in fact its very seed: justice.

Yet, for such an avowed pan-Africanist, Aiwuyor seems quite ignorant on what actually happens out there in the real world, in the 21st century, when you begin abstracting out from the specific cultural identity/historical experience/victimhood of an oppressed group, particularly as that identity/experience/victimhood relates to a justice claim held against the group’s national transgressor.

Indeed, one need only consider the quilombo movement in Brazil, a reparations initiative that has sought to have permanent land titles issued to the descendants of slaves whose ancestors had escaped the plantation and subsequently established autonomous, free settlements throughout the country’s hinterland (i.e. quilombos).

In just about every way, the quilombos embody a kind of pan-African ideal, not only in their initial resistance to the dehumanizing condition of bondage, but also in their societal organization, which—as Aviva Chomsky points out in her article, Why Black Panther is Revolutionary, Even Though It Isn’t—was committed to “reviving or recreating neo-African forms of government and culture.” Nonetheless, while it worked to preserve these modes and customs particular to the continent from which they’d been taken, the emancipatory politics espoused by the quilombo people on Brazilian soil were ones that initially rejected any theoretical system that sought to erase the distinction between their specific plight and those of other oppressed peoples. Addressing the Second Congress of Black Culture in the Americas in 1980, noted pan-Africanist and Brazilian scholar Abdias do Nascimento said in his essay, Quilombismo: An Afro-Brazilian Political Alternative, “Quilombismo, as a nationalist movement, teaches us that every people’s struggle for liberation must be rooted in their own cultural identity and historical experience.” How is this assertion any different from what #ADOS has been saying all along? Why does it seem that Pan Africanism has so radically curtailed its tolerance for one group to articulate the importance of acting in self-interest? For cautioning the limitations of a political-social struggle that tries to encompass a plurality of oppressed at the expense of one group’s singularity? Is that not precisely what Nascimento speaks in defense of when he says something like, “Unanimity is impossible in the social and political field. We must not waste our time and energy with criticisms that will come from outside the Quilombist movement. We need to develop constructive self-criticism, within our own organizations, in the sense of widening our Black and Quilombist consciousness toward the final objective—ascension of the Afro-Brazilian masses to the levels of power.” And finally, does not Nascimento, in declaring, “Nationalism here must not be translated as xenophobia,” make the very same plea for respectfulness and an understanding of intention that today redounds from within the ADOS group as they pursue their particular justice claim here in the U.S.?

If Quilombismo was able to be accepted on those terms, then what is it about the #ADOS movement that makes such agreement with its approach impossible to find? Is it the fact that #ADOS refuses to pretend that these internationalist alternatives for popular black political organization have not unequivocally failed and that the world has not changed in such a way that the terms of engagement must necessarily be re-evaluated in light of those changes? Because they read the actual political landscape and not just old texts and politics tracts? Because they have the sense that the once trickle of possibility for an international uprising has not been handily stanched by just tightening the tourniquet of capital? What does it mean today in 2020 to seriously commit to trying to slacken that tourniquet?

Because if the idea is that the solution resides in there being less distinctions among black people throughout the globe, or in a country, then the present state of Brazil’s quilombo movement may prove instructive.

Having initially required claimants who sought recognition as quilombos to be able to trace their lineage to a runaway slave settlement, a 2003 decree issued by then-president Lula Da Silva expanded the legal definition of quilombo and allowed essentially any Afro-Brazilian community to apply for certification so long as a majority of its residents agreed. In other words, in Brazil, you can essentially opt into the ethnicity of a quilombo. At the time of Lula’s decree, the number of certified quilombo communities was at 29. In just ten years, that number swelled by 8,000 per cent. And while this extremely inclusive collective of poor black Brazilians no doubt elates the pan-Africanists who locate a radical potential in such a oneness of black people, the capacity of it to actually deliver justice leaves a lot to be desired.

In a 2014 article entitled “10 Reasons Brazil’s Quilombo Reparations Program is Failing Afro-Brazilians,” Dr. Jan Hoffman French, a professor of anthropology at the University of Richmond and author of Legalizing Identities: Becoming Black or Indian in Brazil’s Northeast, cites the fact of there being no official definition of quilombo—of the definition of quilombo for purposes of recognition “remaining permanently in flux”—as something that seriously complicates and hampers the group’s ability to make effective land rights claims. In addition, a report on Afro-Brazilian property rights released by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice highlights how—even though the group may rightfully be entitled to land claims—the quilombos are too economically dislocated to meaningfully oppose wealthier interests who have competing land claims and (naturally) a far great amount of political influence. The report also identifies how, in the absence of “meaningful government intervention”, the quilombos are simply too vulnerable to monied interests and the country’s vivid legacy of racism to stave off further marginalization.

In other words, the lack of a specific legal identity for a group and a lack of government intervention/protection specific to that identity have served to consistently undermine that group’s efforts at securing reparative justice. Are these not the two very things that #ADOS foregrounds in the reparations component of their national black agenda (an agenda which—it bears repeating—would in fact prove advantageous to all black Americans)? What does it mean that, while so many rural Afro-Brazilians could align with one another against the state in a bid for land claims, it simply did not seem to matter precisely because they all have been made to be so poor? So uniformly politically weak? Is the solution to incorporate yet more poor blacks? Or does a more viable approach for consolidating power consist in developing a more exacting definition of who is owed what compensation for particular state-enacted harms, and for that group to then mobilize and advocate for government policy in order to insulate and develop that compensatory wealth? Does not the #ADOS national black agenda speak to the group’s ultimate aim of using that compensatory capital and government protection to secure political influence in order to then work towards enacting broader change and protections for all black Americans? Thinking more broadly, what are the implications for efforts at international support across diasporic black communities when the respective groups actually begin gaining some influence from the compensation to which their specific cases against state oppression entitle them?

It just seems strange that Aiwuyor doesn’t even attempt to ask these kinds of questions when thinking about #ADOS. From start to finish, it’s reflexiveness, rather than inquisitiveness, that appears to govern her examination of the movement. And it’s difficult on some level not to wonder what a Pan Africanist like Nascimento would have made of Aiwuyor’s conclusion, which is, in effect, to issue a rallying call for a coordinated takedown of it. After all, doesn’t Aiwuyor—by encouraging her readers to reject out of hand the particularity of the ADOS experience—fit exactly Nascimento’s description of what he felt was the most repugnant of adversaries? A person who, he says, in doing what she is doing, “merely display[s] a form of contempt for us, since they do not respect our identity nor the specificity of our history and problems as victims of racism, nor our struggle to overcome that specific oppression.” Isn’t that Understanding ADOS in a nutshell?


1. Not to mention the fact that Professor Darity tends to exhibit a preternatural patience and be maximally respectful when discussing with his interlocutors some of the more ambiguous aspects of the mechanics of this thing.

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CONTEST WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT!

📣THIS JUST IN! 📣 THIS JUST IN!📣

After six long days, the much-anticipated results of the “🔍Mr. GoFundMe’s GoFindHim Contest🔎” are in, and the winner is… 🥁

👏👏👏🎉Mr. GoFundMe himself, Tariq Nasheed! 🎉👏👏👏

And so, in typical Tariq Nasheed fashion, this means that—in the end—he gets to keep the prize bag all for himself. Tickets for the Meet & Greet are still valued at 30% of the net worth of the median black family in America.

Thanks to all who participated! #ADOS will now continue doing the work to change that last point.

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Reading Jessica Aiwuyor’s “Understanding ADOS” and Failing to Understand

Because you know what irks me the most about it? Not that they’re lying; lying can always be forgiven; lying is a fine thing, because it leads to the truth. No, what irks me is that they lie and then worship their own lies.

— F. Dostoevsky

ξ.

Regarding Jess Aiwuyor’s latest piece, Understanding ADOS: The Movement to Hijack Black Identity and Weaken Black Unity in America, I think the first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve read instruction manuals whose authors seemed to’ve had more interest in holding a reader’s attention than she does in this essay. And while it aspires to a kind of monograph on the American Descendants of Slavery movement, Understanding ADOS ultimately amounts to nothing more than a drowsy 27-pg. read in which the prevailing (and, honestly, at this point tiresome) misrenderings and baseless claims about #ADOS are tidily brought together into one undergrad-like capstone project.

In those twenty-seven pages, Aiwuyor manages to offer literally nothing new in terms of information about the movement, or actual evidence that would serve to substantiate the familiar allegations and assumptions that she is obviously eager to recapitulate to her audience of like-minded opponents of #ADOS. She just adds a scholarly sheen to them.

Topmost among these is, of course, the so-called ‘anti’-immigrant position of the group (the word ‘immigrant’ appears a total of 47 times throughout the report). According to Aiwuyor, ADOS was “created in 2016 to describe and distinctly separate Black Americans/African Americans from Black immigrant communities.” This is—for most commentators on #ADOS—proving to be the rhetorical pocket into which they most like to settle when lobbing invectives at the movement. And for obvious reasons. It’s somewhere between not being completely dishonest with their readers (indeed, ADOS was formed for purposes of distinguishing their group from black immigrants), but also not being anywhere near entirely truthful with them, either.

Because to be truthful with a reader would be to describe the reality that nearly half of black immigrants in the U.S. arrived here in 2000 or later (45%). More than half of those came after 2006. Almost 1/3 of black immigrants in the U.S. say they came here before 1990, while the rest say that they arrived in the ‘90s. And so when we talk about black immigrants, we are talking essentially about a group comprised of first and second generation families. And I think to the extent that we can all agree that—yes, absolutely—to be a black person in America is to obviously experience anti-black discrimination, we maybe need to ask ourselves if it’s really so unreasonable that ADOS feels that when it comes time for the government to settle up its debts for the country’s profiting off the institutionalization of antiblackness, there’s a very real difference between the amount owed for the material harms that have encompassed twelve generations of one people, and those that are largely confined to recent arrivals (and who, it should be added, elected to come here.)

Enter ADOS.

And one sort of just has to wonder about a mind like Aiwuyor’s which seems to so object to the idea of fairness that inheres in making these kinds of distinctions. Her eagerness to make that idea seem so hateful… All I know is that if I’m out to eat with a group of people and I order a few drinks and an expensive main course while my dinnermates opt for salad and lemon water, I absolutely want Aiwuyor at the table when the bill arrives and for her to be bringing that same energy, passion and conviction about making distinctions being a misguided and hateful thing to do. I mean, we all sat at the same table, right? Had basically the same experience? Sure. And if you say the analogy doesn’t work, then I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that special sort of resentment towards a person who—after such observably dissimilar and unequal experiences—has the temerity to suggest everyone go even. Now imagine just how pitched that resentment would be in the context of recompense for the oppression of American Descendants of Slavery when someone suggests—no, when someone demands—essentially that after centuries.

And but this is sort of precisely the thing, isn’t it? When you read these denunciations of #ADOS, you get the sense that it’s as if the last century and a half has not even happened. That the post-emancipation period in America did not constitute decades upon decades upon decades of public policy that essentially set up a pick and roll for white capital to power drive to the basket while leaving black people laid out on their backs on the court they built. And the fact is that when you compare the data on socioeconomic positioning upon arrival—and how, when adjusted for age, second generation black immigrants are upwardly mobile in terms of income and education—it is apparent that the difference in history and experience allows families of foreign-born blacks to curl that screen in ways that the native population simply cannot.

Including a works cited page on your anti-#ADOS screed isn’t going to change this. But reparations for ADOS will. And for all of Understanding ADOS’s pretense to moral authority and empiricism, it is, in sum, a thinly researched, blatantly deceptive and bloated opinion piece by a writer whose ahistorical sensibilities are symptomatic of a growing anxiety among an elite class of academics and beltway careerists whose entire fancy intellectual pedigree threatens to be exploded by the success of #ADOS. I guess I’d be freaking out, too.

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