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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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Mr. GoFundMe’s GoFindHim Contest!

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Tariq Nasheed has just announced the prize bag for any FBA who can find out who Paul Sowers is.

Prizes include: Free lifetime shipments of “Hidden Colors” DVDs; a discount timeshare in Haiti; a month of free ad space for your business on the MoorUs app (currently back in beta-testing); and 10% off the purchase of the “Meet & Greet Pass” for the 2020 FBA Conference in Atlanta, GA (venue TBA).*

* If contestant is able to verify that Mr. Sowers is in fact a fed and/or financier, discount offer for this item will be increased to 15%!

Total prize package value N/A. Prizes and Terms of Giveaway are subject to change without notice or liability.

###

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Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot: #ADOS and Tariq Nasheed at the Turn of the Decade

If only in our private lives could the close of a year bring with it such clarifying moments as 2019’s end appears to have presented to #ADOS…

Of course there’s always the idea of entering into the New Year free of the exceedingly toxic elements in one’s personal life. Or, if not an idea of, then at least a longing for. But rarely is the stroke of midnight on January 1 accompanied by such an explicit purge of the repugnant, an expulsion of the totally narcissistic, and the ridding of the grifters who all somehow managed to slip in past the gates earlier in the year.

Yet a glimpse of this phenomenon is precisely what the past week or so has offered anyone with an eye toward the #ADOS movement and #FBA (which, if the latter doesn’t want to refer to itself as a movement, then it can maybe be more appropriately described as the culture-identity racket being run by Tariq Nasheed; a hashtag which—now that #ADOS has scraped it off its hull—has resumed its barnacle-like existence adrift in the waters of black American empowerment, merely waiting to latch onto the next viable vessel).

There’s no need to recapitulate the intellectually numbing and adolescent-level pablum that Nasheed and many of his followers evidently cannot help but resort to when they are challenged inside a serious political space. The untroubled relationship to manufacturing and disseminating libel. There’s no need to point at the giant neon warning sign of having someone with such megalo-hustler instincts like Nasheed anywhere near an initiative that would involve massive resource redistribution within the nation. Or to spell out the larger implications for the reparations movement being in the hands of not only an unserious and puerile provocateur, but someone who has routinely proven himself to be fully incapable of speaking cogently to the issues most effecting the group that he claims he wants to uplift.

This is after all the same person who, when the native-born black community needed a clear and informed voice to properly articulate to Tucker Carlson and his audience of millions how the logic of American white supremacy is in fact nakedly on display in the project of importing foreign-born blacks into this country, could only respond by arching his eyebrow in a studied manner and asking the host: “So we don’t live in a system of white supremacy? Everybody’s lying, Tucker?”

That’s not missing your shot. That’s taking the ball, bouncing it off your face, and then placing it in the opponent’s basket for them, twice.

Because at that point you’ve not only freely given Tucker Carlson—one of the most execrable commentators to’ve ever been plopped down onto the American media landscape—the opportunity to easily tease out your lack of knowledge, but you’ve further allowed him to humiliate your group by getting away with asking a question calculated to disparage the very fact of their ongoing and unique oppression. How could white supremacy possibly be said to be alive and well in such a diverse America, asks an incredulous Carlson. To which Nasheed’s most astute rejoinder on national television is essentially “What? It’s not?”

How could Nasheed possibly allow Carlson the satisfaction of so relishing that moment—where the host just so clearly knows he has an intellectual plaything before him on the studio teleprompter—that he lets out a scoff which in it seems to in fact contain the entire arrogant, murderous and genocidal history of the very white supremacy that Nasheed just let him pretend no longer exists.

To do that is to completely excuse oneself from making any further contribution to the discourse. It is the type of thing that gives lie to the whole ‘FBA doesn’t do politics,’ which is said as if he imagines himself to even have any real choice in the matter. What the Tucker Carlson fiasco demonstrated is that he has no choice but to not do politics because he simply can’t move nimbly enough in that space to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. He might be able to tap into the emotion coursing through this thing and really slickly market the idea of what needs to be accomplished, but the revolution will not be merchandised. And if your response is “But, but #ADOS has t-shirts!” Yeah, and the people buying them and wearing them are doing so while attending local chapter meetings across the country, encouraging others to call their representatives about the most salient issues for their group, showing up at the Supreme Court, and just in general being extremely and obsessively politically active.

To this last point (which at least from my perspective is the most germane), the #ADOS movement offers something critical that #FBA simply does not: the opportunity for a unique form of allyship that—in terms of working towards realizing justice for the group—portends to be as instructive as it will be productive as it will be transformative.

Does #FBA have allies? Do they even want allies? Need them? What would these allies be allying together in the name of, anyway? Can #FBA do what it wants to do without allies? Can what it wants to do result in a marked shift in that group’s material condition? And, if #FBA is intent on remaining siloed off from the political, how would allyship actually function in effecting a kind of transformation? From which site of actual possibility? Or does a deliberate withdrawal from the political allow for merely something like this: a chest-beating assertion of foundational blackness while leaving untouched the very institutions that have always worked (and will absolutely continue to work) to deny that group its Americanness?

In looking at #ADOS there is no such uncertainty. It’s why the group puts the “A” in the acronym first. Because theirs is a political project of undoing that denial and asserting that it is they who made Americanness possible; that it is their exclusion from the idea of Americanness that sustains it, and it is their exclusion which has provided a way of being American in this country that we, in particular, as white people, have literally never not known and enjoyed. And to the extent that we have pursued a course of action that seeks to help radically alter that situation, our efforts have more entailed holding on way too tightly to that whiteness instead of a willingness to learn how to give it up; we’ve long avoided coming to terms with the fact that actual justice for anti-#ADOS discrimination necessarily means a rotation in the seat of power and a transference of advantage to where it has never gone but always should have been.

It’s very much an American project. Which means that we have to be a part of it, but also that our allyship is necessarily either a put up or shut up kind. And putting up means giving up whiteness. There can be no more equivocating on the matter of what it means to heal their group as we move on into 2020. And on now what will be the 401st year of white supremacy in America, let us recognize that, insofar as we profess to completely despise that miserable reign, then our fight is alongside #ADOS.

To a prosperous New Year.

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For fans of the literature of defeat, Cyrus Garrett’s forthcoming political memoir, The Lack of Profile Pics and Other Bot-Like Activity in My Mentions: Or, How I Shit the Bed with Getting Out the Black Vote, will be available for pre-order on Amazon in early 2021.

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A Hard Slap in the Face from Captain Outreach

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Anatomy of a Smear: Annotating Darren Sands’s Creative Non-Fiction About #ADOS

WASHINGTON — Democrats are getting increasingly worried that black Americans with an uneven voting history may tune out Democratic candidates in 2020, as fringe messaging campaigns and disinformation breed cynicism over what the party has done for black Americans.

Not until a full five paragraphs later does Sands more specifically describe what “black Americans with a uneven voting history” means. There, he refers to them as “marginal” and “sporadic” voters who are characterized by their non-participation during midterm elections and/or their not being unwaveringly partisan. What’s curious though is that—by these very criteria—black Americans with an uneven voting history seem to in fact be a shrinking presence within the overall black electorate. In the 2018 midterms, black voter turnout actually rose from where it had been in 2014 by 11 percentage points (51.4%), clearly indicating new and heightened political engagement within the group. Moreover, these voters overwhelmingly went for the democratic candidate (90%).

One can’t help but think, then, that what Democrats are actually “increasingly worried” about is a black voter turnout scenario akin to (or worse than) what the party witnessed in the 2016 presidential election, which—for the first time in 20 years—had declined to 59.6%.1 And while the DNC officials to whom Sands spoke are eager to blame “fringe messaging campaigns” for the possibility of such apathy resurfacing in 2020, it seems worth pointing out a very obvious fact that seems to be completely lost on them: the show of black voter indifference toward the Democratic Party in 2016 pre-dated the founding of literally every single one of the movements they cite in this article. This intro paragraph should probably read: Democrats are getting increasingly worried that 2020 candidates will be forced to actually deal with the natural outcome of the party’s decades-long tuning out of the community and its totally thankless attitude over what black Americans have done for it.

Democratic National Committee sources told BuzzFeed News the party is tracking a new set of loosely organized online movements that officials believe are trying to steer black voters away from the party or from voting altogether. The groups are varied in their approach, but share a common thread of deep suspicion of the Democratic Party and an apparent determination to seize upon the hypersensitive political moment in a country with a deeply troubled racial past.

If Sands is going to include this indirect quotation that he received from his sources at the DNC, then he should at least respect his readers enough to clarify the ways in which those sources are in fact openly lying to them here. It would require a minimum of effort on his part to look at these “loosely organized online movements” and see that—more than being “varied in approach”—the groups’ respective aims and strategies are honestly not even really comparable. From here, Sands could then transition into a much more detailed and honest (if that’s his thing, which it does not seem to be) assessment of what each of these movements actually stand for. And so instead of writing this…

“The party is paying particular attention to the American Descendants of Slavery, or ADOS, a group that believes reparations should be paid solely to Americans who can trace their lineage back to people who were themselves enslaved (the group had previously been under suspicion being made up of bots); Blexit, a new outfit led by young black conservatives arguing a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against widespread immigration and abortion standing in the way of black middle class family values; and Foundational Black Americans, an ADOS rival founded by independent filmmaker Tariq Nasheed.

…he could actually report this: That the DNC sources with whom I spoke identified “Foundational Black Americans” (FBA) as a movement is rather peculiar, since FBA seems to not only reject that label, but routinely emphasizes its deliberate lack of organizational infrastructure. Tariq Nasheed, an independent filmmaker affiliated with FBA, has stated multiple times that undertaking work in the political arena is very much extraneous to its main concerns, which hew exclusively toward the cultural aspects of native-born black life in the U.S. In contrast, “Blexit”—a new outfit led by young black conservatives—does have an explicit political agenda, but it is one that is so nakedly self-serving and contemptuous of black voters that Democrats should probably make reparations a centerpiece of the Party’s 2020 platform just for letting such a vulturous thing like “Blexit” materialize on the scene in the first place. The third movement (and the one to whom the party is paying particular attention) is American Descendants of Slavery, or #ADOS. Since its emergence into the mainstream of U.S. politics, #ADOS has faced allegations that it is made up of bots. These claims have thus far proven baseless, and—as the group has begun holding national conferences, showing up on the steps of the Supreme Court, gathering at town hall meetings, and establishing local chapters all across the country—to the extent one persists in promulgating this bot theory, one assumes the risk of publicly appearing mentally unwell. The movement’s demands include proposals that would greatly benefit all black Americans, but, at the core of their agenda is a call for the U.S. government to make restitution to the specific victims of the institution of chattel slavery and its unique and enduring legacy in America; namely, to those individuals who can trace their lineage back to their enslaved ancestors, and who as a group have been made to bear the particular burden of multigenerational material disadvantage that has been both covertly and overtly made to plague them for centuries.

Laying it out like this (which is to say, again, honestly), would have allowed Sands to circle back to the bit where he erroneously said these groups “share a common thread”, and re-word that part to more appropriately convey the truth that the only common thread they share is that they all involve black people in a country with a deeply troubled racial past. And one again can’t help but feel a deep suspicion that the Democratic establishment, in witnessing black Americans begin to think critically about its not-exactly-trivial-role in helping perpetuate those past injustices, is deliberately conflating and misrepresenting these movements in the public sphere in an apparent attempt to seize on the hypersensitive political moment and to get on with the business of exacting the expected performance of fealty from black voters at the polls while reminding them how grateful they should be for its efforts at symbolic progress.

“Democrats often repeat the refrain that the party would never take black voters for granted. Inside the party, though, political advisers think it’s likelier than not that most marginal voters (Obama voters who skipped the midterms) and sporadic voters (those who are harder to persuade) have had at least some exposure to an anti–Democratic Party message. In some cases, party officials said, black Americans’ dim view of the job Democrats have done governing in recent decades is colored by a grim economic outlook and uncertainty about the future.”

Democrats often repeat the refrain that the party would never take black voters for granted. But if current trends continue, Black America’s wealth is expected to completely bottom out in the next two decades. And because Democrats have had an obvious and influential hand in shaping the sorts of policies and circumstances that will have precipitated this extinction event, it seems virtually unthinkable that black voters would not take a dim view of the job that Democrats have done governing in recent decades. Maybe political advisers inside the party—rather than focusing so much on whether or not marginal and sporadic voters have been exposed to an anti-Democratic Party message—should instead seriously reflect on the ways in which the party has exposed the entire community to the anti-black messages it has been sending out now for decades.

“The new anti-Democratic groups want to appeal to black Americans with a populist message rooted in ethnic, cultural, and economic identity they say is untethered to the ‘Democratic plantation’ mentality, a political trope first used by black Republicans in the 1960s.”

And now, like then, it is still only the black Republicans whose messaging actually includes the phrase “Democratic plantation.” For Sands to lazily lump #ADOS in with such a glaringly dissimilar rightwing crusade is for him to now be directly insulting his own readers and surrendering any right to be regarded as anything even close to a serious journalist who might hold himself to even the most minimal of standards and ethics of the trade. It is motive-exposing to the maximum. While Blexit and FBA may want to appeal to black Americans with a populist message rooted in ethnic, cultural, and economic identity they say is untethered to the “Democratic plantation” mentality, Sands might want to at least hint at the fact that it’s very unclear how Blexit‘s out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire approach will translate into any significant improvement in the group’s material condition. The same can, in a certain way, be said for a movement that supposedly abstains from staking out any territory in the political sphere. #ADOS differs from these in its determination to build group empowerment from within a site of possibility; a place where the group has actual political purchase. In this way, #ADOS is not ‘anti-Democratic’ so much as it is pro-reciprocity, pro-cooperation between a political party and its lifeblood.

“In interviews, black Democrats said the party itself is partly to blame: Party leaders had failed to further understand the voters who had boosted them at the polls.”

Perhaps, though, the more precise wording is ‘failed to respect’; Party leaders had failed to respect the voters who had boosted them at the polls. This, again, speaks to one of #ADOS’s most powerful assertions: Politics is an exchange. And so when DNC operatives who so clearly have misdiagnosed the root malaise of black voters, but who claim to be taking the challenge seriously and saying that they are now working on several black outreach efforts, then those efforts should absolutely be understood as the Democratic Party planning to reach out for the collars of the black community.

“National Democrats say they want to equip voters with a clear sense of what Democrats have delivered for black people, especially under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said Cyrus Garrett, the DNC’s African American political director.

Six out of every ten black people in the U.S. have an immediate family member who was or is now incarcerated. Six out of every ten, in large part thanks to Clinton’s crime bill. And that giant wealth-erasing asteroid that is headed directly at black households in 2053 indisputably bears Obama’s signature. In other words, there arguably could not be two worse legacies to trot out in front of already disaffected black voters for a rose-colored glasses trip down memory lane, and one just sort of stares at their phone in bafflement at how Sands manages to let this fact slide without mention. Or, rather, one perhaps begins to understand something about Sands and his function.

‘We already know that [our] platform is aligned with what they need, but we need a way to communicate that more so that when people ask them what the Democrats have done, they can easily talk about it,’ Garrett said. ‘But we haven’t yet found the right language that makes the community feel as if we understand where they’re coming from and what’s actually happening to them. A lot of it is just listening to how they say it.’”

Or policy. Or you haven’t found the right policy. Except, of course, the right policy is directly in front of you, exactly where it has been now for almost a year, on ados101.com. All the “language” you will need is right there. “Where they’re coming from” and “what’s happening to them” is literally all right there. Stop making the needs of the community out to be some fucking great enigma, or like you need Rosetta Stone to be able to understand what black people are saying to you. It’s not language to make the community feel that The Democratic Party needs, it’s the courage to make it heal.

“The rapper and activist Talib Kweli, who has been an ardent critic of ADOS and Blexit and clashed at times with their leaders over the course of the past year, said he applauded the DNC’s recognition of their threat.”

Y’know, it’s funny. At some point during the writing of this article, Sands must have revisited some of his notes from his days as an undergrad journo student and found this rare gem buried somewhere in there: talk to sources and gather quotes. Although isn’t it strange how he somehow only managed to connect with Talib Kweli and two other individuals (one of whom has also ‘clashed’ with #ADOS, but who more specifically was one of the chief promoters of the ‘ADOS are bots’ theory), and yet he somehow could not find a single person from #ADOS with whom to speak? A single person who might have been able to turn his article into an actual act of reporting instead of an exercise in creative writing.


. N O T E S .

1. When they rammed a candidate through who embodied arguably all of the party’s most overt and covert anti-black tendencies and instincts.

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Make It Make Sense: Yvette Carnell, #ADOS & the Tanton AstroTurf Narrative

In one version of things, Yvette Carnell has for the last three and a half years been at the helm of a conservative-sponsored initiative passing itself off as a reparations movement, the actual intent of which is to manipulate the dependably Democratic black voter bloc and thus grease the skids for Republican electoral victories in 2020 and beyond. In another version, Yvette Carnell is just (and I’ll quote here) “a bitter old woman” who is “living in her parents [sic] basement.”1

Given the seemingly contradictory nature of these accounts, you might suspect that whichever version you get depends on who you ask. After all, the first invites us to behold a kind of mastermind-Svengali who’s been handpicked by a group of highly influential figures and lobbyists in the extreme political Right and who (on their dime!) has been tasked with carrying out a massive, nationwide plot of black voter suppression. The second, on the other hand, invites us to essentially dismiss that same person as being nothing but an apparent deadbeat worthy of our ridicule.

These two portrayals, however, are both frequently spoken together in the same breath, by the same crowd of people, all of whom seem oddly untroubled by the obvious inconsistencies that surface. Who is Yvette Carnell? A key resource on the payroll of a shadowy cadre of rightwing donors? Duper of hundreds of thousands of people and orchestrator of a movement that serves to exclusively carry out the will of that rightwing cabal? Embittered former Democratic congressional aide? A perpetually down-and-out basement dweller? All of these things? Really?

This is how it tends to go with the allegations leveled at Yvette Carnell (and #ADOS more generally). They often, in the end, beg way, way more questions than they actually answer, and they routinely run aground some rather incongruous realities that cast serious doubt not only on the claims against #ADOS themselves, but also—and perhaps more importantly—the motives and integrity of the individuals making them.

The idea that, since 2016, Yvette Carnell has enjoyed access to the deep coffers of John Tanton’s network of white supremacist organizations (most directly via the group Progressives for Immigration Reform [PFIR], on whose board of directors she openly admits to having served beginning that same year) is one such claim that is having more and more difficulty making its way across this ever-widening credibility gap. And despite her insistence that she has never taken money from PFIR, critics of #ADOS claim that Carnell is concealing the true nature of the movement’s financing and have routinely sought to tie it to Tanton et al. in order to expose what they believe to be its rightwing, xenophobic and nativist seeding. And, as pictured below, documentation such as the Colcom Foundation’s contribution of $350,000 to PFIR back in 2016 for ‘unrestricted purposes’ serves for these opponents of #ADOS as irrefutable ‘proof’ that the movement’s co-founder is (and has been for some time) in the pocket of white supremacist ideologues and is merely a stooge for helping advance their pro-Republican agenda vis-à-vis the #ADOS movement.

ξ

2016-17 was, to be sure, a pivotal time in BreakingBrown’s history. The channel’s subscriber count—which up to that point had experienced modest upticks slowly over the course of years—really seemed to then begin gathering some serious momentum and growing at an observably brisker pace. And, as available analytics detailing the show’s subscriber count can attest, that number has since continued to climb steadily upwards right up to today.

What’s worth paying attention to, though, is the only instance on this graph at which the subscriber count appears to stall out for some time; namely, between late September and December of 2017. That period of course—as longtime fans of the show will no doubt recall—was particularly significant in relation to BreakingBrown. Those two and a half months constituted its only extended programming hiatus, one which followed a rather abrupt departure by then-co-host Irami Osei-Frimpong and which left Yvette Carnell’s increasingly popular political education channel without any of the necessary production equipment (and an intern) required to air its twice-weekly broadcasts. And so, just like that, at what seemed a critical juncture in the show’s run during the fall of 2017, BreakingBrown simply went away.

Somewhat bewildered, fans of the show took to forums to speculate on what may have happened, and also to keep each other abreast of any potential developments regarding the show’s return. For months there was nothing to signal the possibility of that happening anytime soon. Then, around early December, a Lipstick Alley user uploaded a video that Yvette Carnell had streamed live on her YouTube channel.

Thumbnail from Yvette Carnell’s “Audio Test” video, cir. December 2017

The video has since been deleted, presumably because its only content is literally Yvette in a room by herself, evidently frustrated and clearly struggling with trying to iron out the technical side of things in advance of the show’s apparently-not-too-far-off return.

This is, of course, not exactly anything too far out of the ordinary for a person who, in the absence of sufficient resources, is forced to wear a few different hats, solicit some help from whomever might be willing to lend a hand, and just make do. What is unusual, however, is that—according to those who now in 2019 are busy promulgating the narrative that Yvette Carnell has long been in receipt of secret payments from a right-wing propaganda machine (and #ADOS its puppet movement)—2017 ought to have found the co-founder of the #ADOS movement in no kind of financial straits whatsoever.

After all, if for the year and a half leading up to this, Yvette Carnell had been sitting on an apparent reserve of discretionary Tanton capital, then what the hell is she doing spending her day troubleshooting audio? Couldn’t she have easily availed herself to whatever resources PFIR had supposedly earmarked for #ADOS back in 2016 and just hired someone to take care of that for her?2 Wouldn’t her white handlers enthusiastically front her the money for something like that? Furthermore, why would BreakingBrown even have been allowed to experience such a prolonged interruption in the first place? Especially in late 2017, when the #ADOS political project was so clearly picking up steam, and when it would obviously be in the Tanton web’s best interest to ensure that their up-and-coming mouthpiece has a platform from which to trumpet their propaganda. How would this apparently quite practiced and adept group of astroturfers fail to recognize the absolute necessity of sustaining a smooth-running media component in order to churn out and disseminate those archconservative values?

Although, maybe when we consider to which arm of the #ADOS movement the ‘alt-Right’ has been funneling its resources we unduly focus on Yvette Carnell. Perhaps over the years these figures have been investing in the building up of a robust field of political candidates, all of whom were recruited and trained to foreground the #ADOS agenda in order to assist in their ultimate aim of driving voters away from the Democratic Party. Obviously having that sort of political infrastructure in place would be essential to achieving exactly the kind of disruption one would expect from a cynical organization committed to Republican dominance.

However, a cursory survey of candidates whose platforms speak explicitly to the ADOS electorate, and who are presently vying for office, reveals literally two such persons: Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a Democrat who is running for a congressional seat in Georgia’s 40th district, and Stevevonna Evans, who, out in San Bernadino, California, is running for county supervisor. In the former’s last bid for Congress in 2018, her opponent raked in over a quarter-million dollars in contributions while she herself pulled in $15,836.90

The point is obviously not to diminish what candidates like Johnson-Shealey and Evans are doing. Quite oppositely, what they are doing is all the more commendable, all the more admirable, precisely because they are starting at such a deficit—of interest, resources, whatever. The point, rather, is to try and take an honest look at what is (and has been) actually happening out there and note the glaring disconnect between that and the ongoing depiction of #ADOS as a political movement that is under the financial auspices of major players in the Right.

To be perfectly frank, those individuals who are routinely making that claim are people who have in fact proven themselves to be comically and pathetically inept when it comes to their ability to discover the absolute most basic and obvious of truths. These people are the Inspector Clouseaus of Twitter. And the affectation of righteousness and self-assuredness they assume while they bumble maladroitly through their own mess of misinformation, loudly proclaiming to be fact that which is either completely groundless or easily refutable, is genuinely embarrassing and contemptible. The ring leader of these anti-#ADOS carnival barkers could not perform a simple Twitter search of my name in order to disprove her own patently moronic theory that I was Yvette Carnell, a theory which—to this day—somehow amazingly still has legs.

‘Receipts’ will not kill #ADOS. You can’t ‘mute’ it. Calling it ‘trash’ over and over and over again every single day will not stop it. It is here now, and its presence has nothing at all to do with its being ‘rightwing-funded.’ It has always been here. It has survived four-hundred years of murderous, unrelenting violence, and you think you’re going to stop it by calling them bots and Republicans? Bots and Republicans? That’s your play? Do you not see yourselves? You are howling idiotically at the centuries-undead idea of justice, a thing that will surely—as it always has—march on single-mindedly in search of itself inside this offending land long after you and everyone else who would deny it realization have become ash and dust; after all your halfbaked theories and consternation about why it’s here (or why it’s here in the particular way that it now is) run toward exhaustion; after all your trying desperately to erase its being here reveals—in the end—only the undeniable permanence of it, a permanence that is tied indissolubly to America’s continued and dogged unwillingness to ever deal honestly with it.

#ADOS is here, plain and simple. And the bolt on the door behind which we have tried to keep it shut away is now shaking more violently than ever before. The only thing that might be worth investigating is the question of why that so deeply upsets you.


. N O T E S .

1. This is, of course, consistently said in a way that is meant to encourage all the most unsympathetic of assumptions that most Americans will make when they hear an individual is living at the home of their parents (e.g. some assortment of personal deficiencies is at play). At least to my knowledge, no consideration has ever been given to the possibility of her being a caretaker for a sick or infirm family member, nor to the basic fact that the current economy is dictating all sorts of alternate living arrangements across demographic groups. Whatever the case may be, Yvette’s home life is (obviously) absolutely no one else’s business but hers. But these people bringing it up in such a clearly judgmental way reveals nothing so much as a total disconnect from the difficult realities faced by everyday people in the U.S., and—perhaps more germane to this essay—a penchant for loudly repeating hearsay in the absence of any proof.

2. 2016 was also the year, according to one individual with apparent insider ‘intel’, that Russia “copped” (sic?) the #ADOS movement. Again, one can do nothing but just sort stare and blink at such an absurd and idiotic claim.

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Warp Speed: #ADOS and the New Genre of ‘Criticism’ as Careerism

Of all the many, many mischaracterizations of the #ADOS movement that Hubert Adjei-Kontoh indiscriminately fires off in his recent article, this one really explores new heights of stupidity…

#ADOS has managed to synthesize the black left-wing critique of America’s origins with a right-wing belief in the inherent superiority of those who were born in America. What the movement draws from the former is a simplified argument that black people and only black people were exploited to produce the wealth of the United States, and what they draw from the latter is that this makes them and other descendants of slaves the true inheritors of American wealth.

One almost doesn’t even know where to begin. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever once heard anyone in the #ADOS movement refer to themselves so highfalutinly as the “true inheritors of American wealth.” And using that language to misrepresent them as fanatical and money-grubbing says way more about the writer’s own agenda than it does theirs.

In fact, all that they have ever actually been saying is that—as ADOS—they identify as a specific group that is owed restitution commensurate with the specific exploitation they’ve long suffered in order for the nation to build so much of that wealth, and, also, for the many injustices that have guaranteed basically none of it find its way back into their community. More importantly, that position is clearly not one based on them feeling “inherently superior” because they were “born in America.” That has got to be, bar none, the absolute most imbecilic take on ADOS to date. So, congratulations Hubert. Had you actually one ounce of integrity as a writer, you would, at the very least, represent their position faithfully, even if you ultimately disagreed with it.

#ADOS, of course, is not driven in any sense whatsoever by a belief in the group’s own ‘inherent superiority’ stemming from their being ‘born in America’, but rather by how America itself was born by the unconscionable belief of their group’s inherent inferiority. What the movement “draws from” is how even today (centuries later!) to be born as ADOS is, for all intents and purposes, to be born in America and experience citizenship only in the most nominal of ways. It is to be born into and belong to the group in whom the economic expression of that belief of inherent inferiority is still very much alive and still very much uniquely fixing the limits of what is possible for them in the U.S.

It is actually risible how many people like Hubert will completely torpedo their own reputation as measured and responsible journalists in order to produce pieces whose sole intention is to shit on ADOS and fulfill their author’s hopes of his or her comrades or whatever singing their praises. It is, at this point, becoming its own sad genre of criticism as careerism; that is, completely warp the positions of #ADOS in order to fashion a step ladder for your own professional betterment. There’s no point in telling these people that they ought to be ashamed, because shame is so obviously the very first thing they enthusiastically traded in for a shot at being in The Club. It will be, however, a real thrill to watch the rungs of fallacies by which they’ve cheaply ascended to their little perch of ‘influence’ all eventually give way.

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