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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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