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The Dying Revolution Will Be Zoomed: Pan Africanism, Jess Aiwuyor, and #ADOS

Let’s just be very honest about something: when you make a whole PowerPoint presentation about your adversary, they’ve already won. All that’s left afterwards is you coming to terms with that fact.

Nonetheless, this is what the opposition to the #ADOS movement now believes is their most lethal and effective tack. They’re hosting webinars. And so the chief strategy to take down #ADOS as of September 2020 seems to be one of simply boring people into sympathizing with their position: “Jesus, OK. Yes, I’ll agree with you, just please no more fucking dreadful PowerPoint slides…”

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For what was once such a revolutionary project, the stateside Pan Africanists of today sure do seem like an unbearably dull bunch, don’t they? And it is Jess Aiwuyor, out of all of them, who really best exemplifies the sterile now of the elitist-minded Pan Africanists. The webinar that she hosted the other night felt, in the end, merely like a kind of gurgle, a spurt issuing from the sloshy mixture of irrelevance into which Pan Africanism has inexorably sunk deeper and deeper over the last several decades. That, ultimately, is all that she is peddling: the sputum from a different time of actual possibility. The efforts of Aiwuyor et al. to discredit #ADOS feel like nothing so much as the last fluttering breaths of the old as it watches in moribund rage the birth of something new and altogether more virile. Her brand of ‘activism’ is sponsored performance art, the only real function of which is to give a patina of intellectualism and faux moral urgency to what is really the private, visceral despair that the old guard feels at the passage of time. The march of years has not deepened their concepts, just their vanities.

I’d only ever read “JAM”, whose prose is so uniformly juvenile and affectless that she manages to somehow render the black experience in print about as compelling as televised fishing. Actually watching her, however, I was genuinely stunned to see that her handlers have entrusted her with the task of delegitimizing the most formidable justice movement to emerge in the U.S. in the last half century; someone whose delivery is so synthetic and uninspiring that she gives off the impression that Pan Africanism has reached a stage where it is essentially just bored with itself; a limp, tired thing just poking around for ways to take itself seriously when no one else will. A revolution that in the end devours its own.

To the extent that Aiwuyor summons any passion at all, it seems rooted in a kind of felt loss; a grief-rage at Pan Africanism watching itself fade into a phantom.

In listening to Aiwuyor, one doesn’t gain the sense that Pan Africanism is on a path to a deeper, more authentic engagement with the material realities of ADOS; there is nothing in what she proposes to suggest that it will lead to a more profound relation to those people whom they claim as kin. Oppositely, it sees that path as too strenuous, too weighted with nuance. And as such, they just can’t be bothered. All they want to do is pull ADOS into the Pan African orbit of the pending global restructure, of the always undone, and have them join the choir in yelling out old exhortations at the vastness before them.

But they can’t. Not now. And Aiwuyor’s webinar was the sublimation of Pan Africanism’s actively seeping ego wound, one that is owed directly to the fact that ADOS have hereby denied people like herself any further purchase in the future management of their group’s economic and political relations between them and their principal debtor, the U.S. government.

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I have exactly zero interest in going through and enumerating the myriad inventions about #ADOS that Aiwuyor has yet again taken out, warmed over, and served up for her audience. There are people way smarter than I am, and who do a way better job with that than I ever could. And the contrast between their genuine efforts to engender understanding and Aiwuyor’s bad faith bullshit (something that is baked into her every dispatch) could not be more stark.

There’s little use in getting too worked up about the sheer dishonesty of her deranged campaign to seek out the ugliest possible interpretation of ADOS’s response to the truths of their experience. Lying, after all, as Dostoevsky reminds us, can be forgiven; for lying always leads to the truth. What is decidedly less forgivable, though, is just how painfully boring she is at her chosen craft of weaving deceit.

But I will say this: that insofar as white Americans are supportive of the ADOS movement, it is less an expression of what NAARC and N’COBRA so desperately want everyone to believe it is—white supremacy, or the latest iteration of John Tanton’s legacy—and rather a thing that is fundamentally grounded in a recognition that ADOS are in fact kin to us, too; that they are perhaps in a most unique and profound way closer to us as brethren than would appear possible. And as such, how can those of us who are so inclined not but look upon the tragedy of their history, that which is so violently and anciently interwoven with ours, and not be moved to action? To be moved not out of empathy, or guilt, but obligation, a motive which is no doubt the most selectively celebrated and likewise suppressed among the white population in America. But that is what our allyship is and must always be: an expression of the awareness that the fullness of citizenship we are taught to believe we have possessed and enjoyed by natural right is in fact predicated on and sustained by four-hundred years of assigning the cruel, inhumane, absolute negation of that experience to one particular group, the American Descendants of Slavery. And to the extent that any project like Aiwuyor’s seeks to deny them their singularity in that personhood and that experience—that strives to make them feel alienated or somehow undignified for how they choose to fight for their due in a home whose great halls they made and in whose dungeons they and their generations have since in turn been held to rot—then mine will be a constant voice in their defense.

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