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.
N O T E S
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