Step 1: Learn its name.
With respect to the singularity of the ADOS experience in the United States, our political discourse has thus far proven itself capable of accommodating exactly one truth: the group’s ancestors were not immigrants. And however salient the caveat may be that ADOS’s ancestors were not among that category of people who voluntarily opted into America, when beyond it declarations of convergence and equivalence crowd out a space for further contrast between those legacies of the groups that arrived here as immigrants, and that of the group that was brought here as captives, what’s achieved is not so much a recovery of truth—which is what the affirmation of that initial capital-D Difference ostensibly sets out to do—but a covering up of the scope of that truth, a papering over of the sweeping implications of the dramatic and enduring Difference that was forged specifically for ADOS in the crucible of our nation’s beginning.
Indeed, there’s no real courage required to simply (though always solemnly) aver that ADOS didn’t choose this place, because the speaker seldom if ever aspires to have us behold the more appropriately panoramic view of the sprawling impact of that Difference: how that first choicelessness in matters of national life that had characterized the group as chattel property likewise came to characterize their children and their children’s children and so on, even as they exist as apparently free and autonomous men and women, invested with the full rights of citizenship. In our present political moment, courageousness would—maybe above all—be not getting squirmy and irresolute when that panoramic view reveals how the transmission of that Difference through the generations has always provided a space through which the globally disadvantaged could gain access to a piece of American possibility in a way that has never been permitted to ADOS; a space through which centuries of group-specific material theft could be sublimated into (and perversely celebrated as) an ethos of freedom and opportunity for all.
And so is it any wonder that after four-hundred years of the kind of targeted oppression that makes possible (that makes certain!) a situation in which ADOS are being socio-economically lapped by groups that have been here for a mere fraction of the time as they have—a time during which ADOS has been engaged in a tooth and nail fight for inclusion and authentic belonging—that they wouldn’t feel content with just having an asterisk next to the country’s slogan of Immigrants Built This? One which utterly fails to acknowledge how those other groups’ contributions—however valuable they might be—were ones that were made entirely possible by the wholesale extraction of agency and denial of access of their group, the ones who really did Build This. Do the critics feel that ADOS are not human enough to feel narked by that? Are they so unjustified in pointing out the specific contours of their oppression?
Because what #ADOS has always understood is that advocating for authentic repair and for what they are owed as a group necessarily requires the development of a new vocabulary of comparison, one that is actually capable of revealing how the production of their particular group’s failure has been, for the U.S., a project of some considerable upkeep since its inception.
Predictably, the response to #ADOS’s bid for recognition as a uniquely disadvantaged group in America—and the attendant demand for reparations—has been a policing of that endeavor to the extreme. And since that new vocabulary of comparison is one that unsettles otherwise fixed notions of marginalized identities—notions which ultimately hold very little promise in resolving (or even attempting to account for) the fact that while the composition of blackness in America has grown more rich than ever, ADOS alone remains its poorest expression—the movement has been labeled as ‘anti-immigrant’, ‘xenophobic’ and ‘nativist.’ Such reproach, however, signals nothing so much as a complete unwillingness to deal in good faith with the historical situation of ADOS having been made to occupy an always subordinate position in society relative to recent arrivals, and a total disinclination to honestly grapple with the matter of how or why that situation has been made to last right up into the present. It is a mentality that simply cannot allow for any significance in the group’s attitude toward immigrants as being not at all grounded in their coming to America from a different place, but rather their coming to America from an altogether different history—a history that #ADOS has, it bears mentioning, never once argued does not entail the immigrant’s own experience of marginalization and basis for pursuing justice, but which is one that is necessarily separate from, and non-contiguous with, the history of sprawling disadvantage wrought in this country specifically for ADOS by the manufacturers of white hegemony in America.
And this is the point: the charge of #ADOS being ‘xenophobic’ or ‘anti-immigrant’ seems to—in a way that is strangely at odds with its apparent intent—perpetuate some pretty foundational attitudes and assumptions of traditional American white supremacy; namely, that there is no validity to be granted the perspectives of American descendants of slavery when it comes to their oppression, and that they, as a group, shall have the terms of what is and is not systemic American racism set for—and in no way defined by—them, its principal victims.
But if what it means to be white in America is simply the absence of what it has meant in a material sense to be ADOS—if that is Normal—then immigrants who merge into America from a position outside of that history enjoy a very straightforward advantage in becoming Normal. Certainly the well-documented disparity in outcomes between the native-born black community and the foreign-born attests to that proposition. And maybe in rushing to rescue the immigrant from his or her customary fate as scapegoat for misplaced anxieties and grievances—the victim of a reactionary lashing out that is exactly the sort of thing that critics of #ADOS feel white supremacy in America needs in order to fracture solidarity and sustain itself—those individuals are overlooking the ways in which they might be providing in fact more of the only thing that white supremacy in America actually does need to survive, some more of that thing that the immigrant has him or herself probably always recognized and has presumably by sheer natural instinct for survival as an individual competing for position in a society with limited resources sought to leverage; that thing, namely, is for the Difference and absolute abnormality of the blackness that was chattel slaveried into the ADOS lineage to endure in meaning, a Difference to which they and only they were subjected.
You can read all the hatred and irrationality that you want into a stance that rejects the continuity of that scenario. But shouting at them that they are ‘xenophobic’ and ‘anti-immigrant’ won’t change the fact that much of what animates and impels ADOS’s present uncompromising assertion of their Difference is exactly that same aforementioned sheer natural instinct for survival that has, heretofore, led immigrants to exploit it. Because even in our most generous conception of what’s possible in America today, the disease of Difference which the country developed for and infected ADOS with in order to inoculate its white population from capitalism’s indiscriminate and ruthless need for failure somewhere in the system, has in turn produced an obviously terminal state of affairs for the group. We live in what is now effectively the United States of Wealth Transfers. And for all the promise of racial justice that supposedly inheres in the universal policies being put forward on the presidential candidates’ campaign trails (policies for which ADOS—in not receiving them with rapturous delight—are being chided by their supposed comrades and shown the most extreme demonstrations of contempt), the fact is that we have so completely and uniquely gutted possibility for ADOS in this country that anything less than reparations at this point will essentially function as a mere restructuring of the tremendous debt we owe them for our, at bare minimum, being able to participate in American life in a recognizably Normal way. And one of the absolute biggest fallacies being sold to the national audience from up on those debate stages is the idea that by not paying reparations to ADOS while we pursue a suite of class-based redistributive policies, we will not, in turn, be restoring some liquidity into a white supremacy that then could (and absolutely will) claw its way back from a place of lesser influence to continue its normal operation of producing evermore ADOS failure. It is a belief that history tells us is wildly and frighteningly out-of-touch with what actually happens when whatever universal or quasi-socialist initiative reshuffles the cards of opportunity and access in this country: ADOS is still dealt a losing hand. The house—which is to say whiteness—always wins.
Doubtless #ADOS will continue to be lazily and erroneously portrayed as an intolerant mob that is pushing a white supremacist agenda—a group that is ensuring the house continues to win. But for a movement that has worked so tirelessly to in fact promote an understanding of whiteness in America as being an expression of the cumulative debt owed specifically to ADOS—and through those very efforts having made it so much more knowable and assailable as such—that certainly seems like a real curious accusation; particularly since reparations, which would function to liquidate that debt, would (by ADOS’s own definition!) also function to liquidate whiteness. One is left wondering how it is, then, that the supposed agents of white supremacy are out here committing their whole beings to getting a critical mass to rally around the fact that their identity is the most damning and actionable indictment against it?
Not to be too cynical or whatever, but when she wasn’t otherwise occupied with satiating the hunger for performative reflection on matters of historic racial injustice last week in Ghana, Nancy Pelosi’s itinerary suggested a rather portentous truth; namely, that the only thing foreseeably “Pan-” about Africa is U.S. military hegemony on the continent.
It is, of course, worth mentioning that the primary political objective of #ADOS, if attained, would dramatically and materially impinge on the wherewithal needed to see that fortress-building enterprise through, and would not be insignificant in helping de-realize the continent’s becoming one big assembly plant of global destruction, sorrow, and death.
In late May it was revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies had acquired confidential documents circulated among well-known Kremlin operative Yevgeny Prigozhin and his associates, the content of which primarily dealt with possible Russian influence operations to be conducted within America. Of special interest to Prigozhin and his co-conspirators—one of whom managed the Internet Research Agency (the St. Petersburg-based ‘troll farm’ that was responsible for the propagation of social media misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election)—was how race in America could be maximally exploited to further the interests of Russia. And contrary to what certain intelligence ‘experts’ and ‘leading’ cyber analysts have been insisting in the mainstream media over the past six months—that it is the #ADOS movement which is the obvious ideological vehicle to help Russia engender the kind of discord it needs to advance its geopolitical agenda—the Prigozhin papers in fact argue that Russia’s best hope for expanding its influence lies in the promoting and fostering of an explicitly Pan-Africanist mentality among black Americans.
Titled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory,” Russia’s disruption playbook recommends seeking out impressionable African Americans who would reportedly be transported to facilities in Africa “for combat prep and training in sabotage.” Thereafter they would be sent back to the U.S. south to foment strife and champion the cause of establishing a Pan-African state in what is now the nation’s Black Belt region. As reported last month in The Guardian, Russia has recently evinced renewed interest and zeal in expanding its clout on the African continent. And so such a cynical course of action being pursued by Russia toward black people here in the U.S. would indeed seem to conform to a larger political objective.
The point in noting this is obviously not merely to indict or vilify Pan-Africanism, or to even suggest that Russian interest in Africa is a novel development. Rather, the insight this information provides into the nature of U.S. race-focused Kremlin machinations during our present moment just really begs some basic questions, particularly as these revelations manifest in relation to the ‘official’ narrative being cast wherein #ADOS is aiding and abetting (unwittingly or not) Russian motives. Why, for example, would Russia prop up a movement like #ADOS, which has—for years—been extremely critical if not expressly opposed to black Americans adopting a political approach that is grounded in Pan-African thought? Why, when our intelligence agencies now have evidence that identifies Pan-Africanism as a basis of action that Russia might utilize for its own ends, are apparent ‘spokespeople’ for those same agencies going to such observably deceptive lengths to try and implicate a political movement that explicitly rejects Pan-African precepts? A movement that, furthermore, encourages the embrace of a politically-actionable identity that understands itself as wholly distinct and separate from one derived from the African continent? A movement that clearly states its aim in promoting a closer identification of black America with America. Has anyone who has appeared on national television to authoritatively declare that #ADOS is essentially a threat to national security offered anything like a persuasive account of why there is this obvious and glaring inconsistency between that which they purport to know and what the actual intelligence is telling us?
Probably not. In fact, one of the most troubling aspects concerning that groundless narrative of #ADOS being a front movement made up primarily of Russian bots is that—as baseless as that allegation always was—it was never a fringe idea, at least not in the minds of those people for whom it absolutely should be regarded as such absent any definitive proof; people whose supposed professional integrity by definition ought to entail a great deal of circumspection about exactly the sort of spurious and defamatory claims that have been levied at the movement from its very first appearance in the U.S. media landscape.
Those false assertions have, if anything, been amplified.
Indeed, despite there being something unspeakably abusive about the sort of breezy deployment of the term ‘bot’ when discussing the #ADOS movement—being so totally ignorant of and oblivious to the sheer loadedness of that particular characterization of the group in the context of their advocating for justice due precisely because of the history of the basic denial of their humanity and what that has meant for their experience in America—those same accusations of foreign-puppeteering are now finding expression in the public communications of our elected officials. The irony, however—the sheer madness of how one of the most salient dimensions of the movement somehow seems to escape the awareness of these people—is that #ADOS sets out to instill the exact opposite attitude toward citizenship and one’s relation to his or her country that a Kremlin plot would hope to inspire in black America. While the latter would naturally want to do everything in its power to undermine and contribute to the rot of confidence in American democracy, #ADOS by all indication aims to fundamentally cultivate that ideal, to legitimize it by forcing the country to repair the damages stemming from the legacy of injustice and exclusion that, taken together, have engineered into black life in America a gruesome immobility. And in making the group whole, it ought to be apparent that there would thus result a more just and inclusive participation in the exchange of national politics, moving us closer to a more authentic democratic process. It seems that, far from precipitating the collapse of American democracy, #ADOS is in fact an integral part of its salvation.
Contrary to what Russia’s flirtation with Pan-Africanism actually reveals about its preference for movements—that those which are inherently separatist are far more suitable to their supranational aspirations—#ADOS wants in, not out of America. And they want in because they, more than any other group, are owed in. To not meet with and engage that basic fact of American history in good faith when discussing the #ADOS movement, and to instead reactionarily brand it with Russian intrigue, or label it as some kind of conduit of electoral sabotage—is to all but lay completely bare the sort of private biases that for so long now have tacitly and shamefully opposed the action required to make meaningful restitution for the group’s victimhood. And in advocating for a black agenda that intends to remedy that, the only thing that #ADOS could be accused of trying to suppress with respect to the black vote is the potential for further self-harm and the continuation of that tragic and obscene situation, one in which the group whose ancestors built this country have been de facto omitted from having any sort of meaningful say in their outcome in it.
1.) That conversation actually seems like quite an important one to have, given the marked disparity in outcomes in America among those two groups. And to the extent that anti-black U.S. public policy has played a pronounced, multi-generational role in shaping ADOS outcomes—whereas the other group, whose family members’ arrivals in this country post-date the origins of American black castehood, and who thus necessarily stand outside of that particular history and its radiating disadvantage—then the implications for due justice and specific repair should be obvious enough.
2.) ADOS really do a perfectly fine job themselves in emphasizing their political movement’s non-affiliation with N’COBRA, whose sclerotic campaign for reparations over the past several decades has been met with about as much enthusiasm as a ladle of grey slop tossed down on one’s dinner plate. Contrast this to #ADOS, which, in relation to N’COBRA and in a mere fraction of the time, has been able to take the issue of reparations for American Descendants of Slavery into the HOV lane of movement politics and has since basically not looked back.
3.) I guess one person’s ‘controversy’ is simply another person’s awareness. Because that’s all that #ADOS—from the absolute, very beginning of the political project, long before it even referred to itself as #ADOS—has ever attempted to create. What they are doing is, moreover, an extremely admirable and courageous thing to undertake in a moment where the impetus in left politics is to essentially collapse all distinctions that exist between dark-skinned people and to studiously avoid addressing some uncomfortable realities about who within that coalition has in fact benefitted from structural ADOS lockout. It’s courageous because confronting those truths as that which necessarily make reparative justice in America the exclusive province of ADOS is—as we are seeing—such an obviously solitary endeavor. The liberal establishment, particularly its media apparatus, is notoriously committed to doing the custodial work of maintaining the status quo and defending by whatever means those political candidates who signal to the relevant interests that their presidency will function reassuringly as a total non-interruption of business as usual, the organizing principle of which has always demanded ADOS at the very bottom. The more urgent connection to be made, seems to me to be, to individuals who see advocating for the type of justice that ADOS is owed as something that is controversial and who then go to these media outlets and label it as an ‘issue.’ Because Carr is right—we have indeed seen this show before. And the more relevant question, for those of us on this side of things, is: for whom are people like Carr working?
4.) Lastly, what should be glaringly obvious to anyone who is paying even minimal attention to the #ADOS movement—and not just jumping in to opine for plaudits from a cohort of similarly ill-informed or willfully deceptive people—is that it is not about asserting ‘pride of privilege in oppression,’ but rather pride in being the group who built the richest nation in the world. And it’s just so hard not to hear, in the calumny that is so often directed at #ADOS, overtones of indignation at the indisputable and rightful claim that animates their movement toward freedom: that the justice for that is theirs.
Malcolm Nance has again taken to Twitter, insisting that “for 5 months…a bunch of black Trumpers using #ADOS” have been at the “leading edge of a racist Russian cyber attack” against Kamala Harris.
Because my articles are often shared on Twitter, usually by accounts that have #ADOS in their bios, or by accounts that routinely deploy the hashtag, it seems reasonable to suspect that some of them might be part of the supposed vast Russian cyber army to which Nance refers. About five months ago, when the claim was first put forward that #ADOS was a Russian plot of anti-Kamala subversion, I had thought it would be interesting to take a look at some analytics just to test that hypothesis. The results to support that particular narrative were not exactly persuasive.
Well, in light of Nance’s new assertion, I thought I’d take another look and see what, if anything, the past five months have produced.
That grey color where Russia is indicates zero web traffic. I can’t even take a screen shot of how many possible #ADOS Russian IP addresses have viewed and shared my stuff on Twitter because there literally are none. And contrary to what—at least in Nance’s telling—sounds like a real surge in cyber activity emanating from Russia over the past five months, there has been (at least in my little #ADOS nook of the web) a decline in the percentage of Russian web traffic, from .008% at the end of February, to now 0.0%.
I would, again, invite you to extrapolate from this. Or to, at the very least, pressure ‘experts’ like Nance to proffer actual evidence to corroborate their allegations.
Of course the first and most obvious thing to say about The Angela Project 2019 is that, 700 miles away from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where sit the duo responsible for propelling the discussion of reparations to an unprecedented level of visibility in the mainstream of U.S. politics in recent memory, a patchwork of black celebrities, writers and academics are all gathered on Capitol Hill to give testimony during a congressional hearing for whether or not we ought to convene a committee to study that same issue.
And while the presence of American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) both in the hallways and the hearing room itself inside the Rayburn Building cannot but buoy the spirits of anyone who may be justifiably concerned that missing from the proceedings would be those who constitute the victim group such measures intend to heal, it is indeed a strange thing to be sitting here in this church in Birmingham, looking directly at the backs of the heads of Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore, and knowing that two of the most critical figures in elucidating the very much extant legacy of slavery in America—and who have really shaped the necessary framework and language for justice-focused, meaningful reparative initiatives that aim to redress that legacy—are conspicuously absent from the hearing today.
Which is not to say that right now they are not exactly where they’re supposed to be. Birmingham has in many ways been the seat of the civil rights movement in this country’s history. The very church in which we are all gathered is the site of a 1963 act of domestic terrorism that saw the lives of four young black girls snatched by the murderous intolerance of white society, an instinct that has not just occasionally accompanied American racism, but which still today remains its most basic expression. The girls, Denise McNair (age 11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), were all preparing to leave Sunday school, and were so being instructed in the precepts of a Christianity which, for the most part throughout the U.S., has historically asked the black community to lift up their suffering to the Lord and understand such hideous and barbaric deeds as burdens for Christ to carry. But when so-called Christianity limits itself to seeing only such depravities as violations of the very essence of its doctrine, and does not recognize as being every bit a form of participation in that same violation of holy decree the church’s absence in advocating for justice for the oppressed, demanding on their behalf restitution—not only for one incident but for the whole continuum of atrocities to which the black community has been made subject—then the fact is that it simply ceases to be a Christianity that can claim any kind of actual authority in matters of God’s intention for mankind. In such reticence and inaction, only sin and complicity in Satan’s will.
The heinousness of the act so nakedly expressed in the bombing of the 16th Street Church was one in a constellation of similar obscenities in the South that helped make apparent to the broader population the profound vulnerability of black America and the need for targeted legislation to shore up protections and to compel the curtailment of discriminatory behavior that further precluded the group’s normal development in a society entirely given over to preserving the template of race relations established by slavery. And so it is fitting that, at a moment in America where our preference is either to be indifferent to the abject failure of those efforts, or to indulge in a fantasy of progress, of expanded consciousness, refined moral sensibilities, and civic growth and inclusivity with respect to black America, we find those leading the charge in the repudiation of that flagrant lie right here with the community, among the still burning embers of injustice of which Birmingham is but one of myriad examples. From here they exclaim to America at large the glaring omission in that account of U.S. life; namely, that despite whatever perception is cultivated and silaged in the media, and which then goes unchecked in our segregated day-to-day experiences, Descendants of American Slavery—particularly the younger cohort—exist today by a few remaining threads of stability, be it the former generation’s modest and isolated gains in wealth, or the federal programs of assistance that both liberal and conservative administrations alike have been chomping at the bit to attenuate and eventually denude the landscape of entirely. Moreover they aver that absent a transformational politics that reallocates an appropriately vast sum of the country’s available resources directly into the hands of that group, and accompanies that with a suite of specific policies and initiatives to ensure that infusion of money does not simply get siphoned back out of the community and its institutions, the long, slow withering of black America will simply reach its inevitable and tragic conclusion.
Because The Angela Project is taking place during a time when we see ascendant on the Left a politics in which there figures at least a dimension of racial justice, one might argue that the deep anxieties surrounding the black community’s imminent collapse are somewhat misplaced, or that the apocalyptic overtones in which is cast this depiction of contemporary black life are perhaps overwrought. One might argue that there is, in the present moment, reason for optimism.
Professor Sandy Darity of Duke University—who, in what had felt like a kind of divinely ordained playlist coincidence, entered the room earlier while Angela Project staff was setting up and taping down sound cables to Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”—uses part of his time to issue a rather sobering warning concerning some of the more ostensibly bold policy proposals put forward by these candidates on the Left. Policies which, in at least the candidates’ own understandings of them, aspire to reparative justice.
One of these—Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Small Business Equity Fund—professes to triage and structurally amend one of the many pernicious consequences of the racial wealth gap; that is, the dearth of startup capital available to black entrepreneurs. It claims to achieve this via a disbursal of 7 billion dollars in federal grants which are to be administered at the local level. Taking this as emblematic of the paltry and tepid approach to the abyss of injustice which is his object of scholarship, Dr. Darity says, “Now let me make the point here. There are already two point five million black businesses with one-hundred and fifty billion dollars in total sales,” he says. “That is minuscule. Wal-Mart alone has five-hundred billion dollars in annual revenue. Wal-Mart alone. A seven-billion-dollar intervention patently can do very little to change this huge imbalance. What we have to recognize is the imbalance is so enormous that incremental social programs—or social programs that are designed to help all Americans, however desirable—will not close the racial wealth gap.”
The point, obviously, is not necessarily to discourage the audience from getting behind Senator Warren as a candidate. Rather, the point is to demonstrate how thoroughly and utterly warped our understanding is of the sheer magnitude of what we are up against. And that such declarations of apparent commitment to tackling the problem of the racial wealth gap—which is indeed perhaps the most vivid expression of the summation of centuries of unchecked American antiblackness—either deliberately avoid the reality of what is required to fix it, or would rather pander to the desire among a portion of the electorate who wants to feel like they are engaged in justice work for black America, but who may not be fully aware of the degree and scope of the problem.
There is, though, to be sure, a giant surge of material injustice that has long been issuing from the seismic center of our nation’s racist history, the institution of chattel slavery. This is the point that Antonio Moore makes repeatedly: that what we observe now with respect to hardship in the ADOS community—while no doubt grievous— is by comparison a run-up flood that precedes the actual colossal swell of calcified wealth that is threatening to crash down onto that group and annihilate them with a swift and nameless shock. Politicians who proceed as if the backs of ADOS are turned to this existential danger, and who opt to do a little song and soft-shoe performance of racial justice to try and hold their attention, do so in a moment whereby they effectively absent themselves from serious consideration among an exceedingly conscious and self-interested voting bloc.
Contrary to what was discussed on Capitol Hill this weekend, the Angela Project begins from the premise that we can ill afford to squander any more time disputing the matter of whether or not a debt is owed to American Descendants of Slaves. Where else do we encounter the language and exploits of sober debate when it comes to the matter of an obvious debt? There is no uncertainty here. And so what the Angela Project rightfully asks instead is, insofar as there are people who identify as Christian in this nation, and who submit before and resolve to carry out the edicts of that biblical doctrine—of which justice is chief amongst those inviolable laws—then how do they not accept the task of repair put before them? Indeed, as Yvette Carnell reminds all of us as she closes out her speech in Birmingham, “When there is no confusion, it’s time for conviction.”