Smears & Fears

The Brainfart Trust: Jess Aiwuyor and her Ad Hoc Cadre of Dysinfo-ists

You don’t have to do all that much to be enlisted as part of the advisory board for the National Black Cultural Information Trust (NBCIT). That’s just a fact. The 7-member team of supposed experts in the field of cultural criticism boasts a combined online following of just over 6,000 individuals. One board member, Halycon Westmaas, has just 17 Twitter followers, all of whom, it seems, can count on her timeline to deliver a lot of U.S. tennis content. There is literally no online record of her ‘activism’ or scholarship, though she does seem to have attended the same grad program as the NBCIT founder, Jess Aiwuyor (Go Orange!). Westmaas’s bio notes that her interests include interior decorating. And if you’re wondering what the fuck that has to do with anything relevant to serious cultural criticism, then welcome to the club. Another member, Michael K. Fischer, just met Jess Aiwuyor online last month. 22 people in total look to him for guidance on how to navigate the terrible culture of misinformation that apparently plagues and threatens to preclude global black unity. And, rounding out the least visible people who comprise the NBCIT advisory board, there’s Ari Merretazon, the Northeast Regional Representative for N’COBRA who once tweeted out to his 135 followers a statement that ironically promotes the very essence of #ADOS political thought that the NBCIT claims to have been founded in order to correct and oppose:

The mouthful of above acronyms stand for “Descendants of Africans Enslaved (in) x”

That is literally—from day one—all that #ADOS has ever said: that they must first and foremost address themselves to the problem of white supremacy here in their home, where indeed for generations they as ADOS have felt the weight of its injustices press singularly upon them so immediately, so vividly, and so unrelentingly that it is a true wonder why anyone who claims to stand for righteousness would now commit themselves to sabotaging and thwarting what in many ways portends to be their group’s very last hope to realize a life of unsubjugation. The question that everyone should ask of the NBCIT is how this organization expects to be taken even remotely seriously when its own advisory board explicitly supports the chief argument that #ADOS puts forward for the movement’s entire existence.

Make no mistake, the NBCIT is purely a narrative machine that is masquerading as a kind of sage council of ‘thinkers’ whose sole aim is to deliberately misrepresent a grassroots movement that is made up of a people whom the entire world has essentially orphaned. ADOS have only themselves now. Theirs is a wolflike independence so uncommon to the received wisdom of how they’re supposed to act politically when they’ve been bottomcasted in America for four-hundred years that all the Pan Africanists can do in response is gather up some obscenely educated people and try to figure out how they can tell lies about them. What a pathetic, ignoble response from supposed radicals, from supposed ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.

You just have no idea, do you? You have absolutely no idea what they’re even doing. You simply can’t see it because you refuse to. Because you just can’t possibly imagine that the very inverse of everything you’ve ever known or thought about ADOS could be true; that is, that the fierce conviction in the rightness and rectitude of their actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with theirs. It is long past time that we stop demanding that their interests take a permanent backseat to ours, and seriously consider what their interests would mean for us.


The Pan-Grifterism of Tariq Nasheed

It’s certainly rich for Tariq Nasheed—someone who has made a living as both architect and purveyor of some of the most extractive runs on the black community in America—to now cry “Grift!” on Yvette Carnell for advocating a down ballot voting strategy ahead of November’s election. After all, here’s Tariq (eventually) recommending the very same approach during the last election cycle…

Evidently, to vote down ballot four years ago was a perfectly appropriate and sound use of one’s elective franchise. Now however, Nasheed promotes total abstention and claims that voting down ballot is merely a pretext for one individual to exploit the black community for personal gain. There’s no explanation for this theory. But with Nasheed there is never explanation, just further convolution, just an ongoing attempt to gussy up sheer vacuousness as significance and then sell it to people. No, he’s never been one for actual analysis. In Nasheed’s world, analysis doesn’t get it popping, ya dig? He has in fact only ever been a yapping thing, full of idiocy and spleen; a ridiculous Humpty Dumpty figure who peddles his gibberish with a shit-eating smirk and pushes one failed project after another all while being propped up by a devoted, frothing hype squad. He is someone who most recently was selling nonrefundable tickets (tiered $50-$500) during a pandemic, and who eventually convened hundreds of members of the community that is most vulnerable to the virus from around the country to one of the highest threat level states for a 3-hour conference that was held inside a building with an actual pop-up COVID-19 hospital onsite.

It’s not that Nasheed thinks voting down ballot is actually flawed as a tactic. At least, that’s not the sense that I get. Arguably, we can’t ever know what Nasheed sincerely thinks about anything at all, because I don’t know if he actually thinks…

These are the utterances of a man who has never had an original thought. I think whatever slithering activity happens in Nasheed’s skull is essentially infantile; the primitive thinking of a thing that is exclusively engrossed in itself and its own needs and interests. I think the sole criterion for his doing anything whatsoever is his perceived ability to profit off of someone else’s work. He has no core beliefs. He just goes along, listing from this viewpoint to that viewpoint, bringing along nothing but bluster and narcissism. One moment, this:

…another moment, that:

While Tariq Nasheed may momentarily inhabit and champion one specific cultural conviction, his only real, enduring belief system is a kind of Pan-Grifterism—an outlook in which anything and everything in the black diaspora is suitable for his cashing in on. That’s all. The advocacy stuff is just an add-on and none of it is real. And when one endeavor is over, all that’s left behind is his little slug’s trail of shysterism that he excretes before he moves onto the next thing. Is it any wonder why he has such animosity towards #ADOS? The genuinely transformative social movement that handily vanquished him before he could get his leech mouth around it? Now what’s left for him to do? What do the players say? Whatever it is, I’m sure someone else will have come up with it.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Imagine Thinking: (More) Nikole Hannah-Jones and #ADOS

Or first imagine completely belittling the fact that someone who three years ago opposed reparations has since been responsible for leading the most significant nat’l movement in support of that issue that we’ve seen in our lifetime. In the blink-like span of three years.

Imagine the ego that it takes to consistently minimize that accomplishment—for someone to simply shift intellectual gears on an issue and to give it such profound resonance and vitality that it rapidly activates people everywhere across the country to go do the very same.

Imagine having a Goliathan institution like the New York Times to swiftly catapult you into this space and the very first thing you do when you suddenly materialize into it is pretend like all these people have been here for the past 30 years talking this intensely and organizing this seriously around the issue of reparations.

Imagine being made so uneasy by that person’s obvious ability to effectively lead and motivate—feeling it such a direct threat to your own slimy and insignificant career ambitions—that you feign like her supporters are arguing that she was the genesis of certain thought and not, as they are in fact saying, that she is rightly to be acknowledged as being at the genesis of this generation’s transformational push to actually make those thoughts really matter for the lives of ADOS.

Imagine how insecure and like deep-down, little-kid-level scared you have to be to put so much effort into trying to make people look stupid for what they know in their hearts to be absolutely true.

Imagine thinking you could possibly lead. Imagine thinking you could do anything whatsoever except angrily shake your 1619 curriculum at an establishment that—before you even arrived—had already absorbed and neutralized you with ease.

Imagine thinking that you will be remembered as anything but the person who—after #ADOS filled the room up with gas—hurried over and stood there thumbing the wheel of a lighter that just wouldn’t ignite, so pathetically and dreadfully desperate to be the public face of something that you didn’t create.


Ready-made Distortions: Matthew Chapman, #ADOS, and the Fear of a Fair Hearing

The #ADOS critique of Kamala Harris receives a treatment not unlike that of ultra-processed foods. And in much the same way that a microwaveable dinner is meant to minimize the consumer’s culinary labor, the prepackaged description of #ADOS’s position on Harris’s background seems crafted solely to discourage a reader from devoting any time and mental effort to researching and taking seriously what the #ADOS political project actually sets out to do. The most recent example of these freezer section-style ‘analyses’ of #ADOS comes courtesy of Matthew Chapman, a reporter at Raw Story who yesterday tweeted, “FYI, to all my white followers who may or may not know what I’m talking about: ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves [sic]) is a movement that basically seeks to exclude the ‘wrong’ Black people from civil rights spaces—ie anyone who can’t trace their lineage directly to a Southern plantation.”

What inspired Chapman to achieve new heights of numbskullery with that total mischaracterization of #ADOS was—in his words—their “posting anti-Harris content questioning her ethnicity and heritage,” and the group’s “nonsense claims…that [she] ‘isn’t Black'”. This activated something of the helicopter mom in Chapman, who evidently feared that his white followers might be rendered dumbstruck when confronted with a particular group of black people making the argument that descriptors such as ‘Black’ or ‘African-American’ have become woefully insufficient in their ability to meaningfully capture their specific, centuries-long experience of targeted exclusion in the United States. “While black activists are used to this,” Chapman informs us, “a lot of white voters might have never seen it before and not know how to respond to it.” And so he sought—as so many before him have also sought—to tube feed his white readers a stunningly reductive and deliberately misleading rendering of #ADOS.

Perhaps what Chapman really feared, though, was not the possibility that his white followers wouldn’t join him in denouncing #ADOS, but that those white people might actually begin considering what it would mean to belong to a group for whom the ability to partake in the bounty of opportunities throughout America’s history had been chattel slaveried and Jim Crowed out of their lineage by reason of their ancestors’ Blackness. That these white people might begin to consider Blackness not as a skin color that occasions identical discrimination in America, but as the heritable mechanism of that total exclusion, a thing that is suffered by one specific community of black people and that is naturally circumvented entirely by all others who arrive from elsewhere. Maybe the fear was that if they gave ADOS a fair hearing they might begin considering the injustice of the bagginess of a term like ‘Black’ in 2020. How while Blackness is nowadays conceived as a shared burden among melanated individuals, it is in fact ADOS alone who know and live the full cost of Blackness in America; how it is still being absorbed into their bloodstream even now, centuries since its vicious invention, because Blackness in America was indeed designed to have that delayed, transmissible property, like a slow-release capsule of crushing disadvantage.

Maybe, above all, these white followers might consider how unspeakably offensive it would be to ADOS to watch someone such as Harris—someone who ascended to high office while shamelessly inhabiting the profundity of a centuries-long struggle that was never hers to claim—publicly repudiate the idea of ever doing a single thing to benefit that particular community. Maybe white people wouldn’t wonder why ADOS label her a squatter in their community; maybe then it’s like way less that ADOS is quote-unquote purity umpiring and more that they’re just pointing out the fucking obscenity of someone who is happy to cash in on the accolades and distinctions that attend barrier-breaking Blackness while being equally content to ensure that the real and enduring consequences of Blackness in America persist without interruption among the great assemblage of those whose ancestors’ experience in this country is apparently just a mere political expedient.

Ask yourself: how would you respond? Tell me you would not be enraged. Take a second and posit yourself and your parents and your kids in that place of utter neglect and indignity, and seriously ask yourself: how else could you possibly respond when you are being told to shut up and celebrate a(nother!) useless substitute for what seems your family’s permanent brokenness?


Cost, not Costume: A Review of Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

How else in the midst of a pandemic to think about a sequence of like phenomena other than with an eye toward its etiology? It’s only natural. A pathogen taking a kind of deadly lark around the species for months on end inevitably puts a person in a particular cast of mind; one that is far less inclined to think of things as being merely discrete events, or idiopathic in nature, and instead as indicative of some definite systemic cause.

Suddenly there’s the felt anxiety, the inescapable haunting suspicion of not just the possibility but the likelihood that it is from more profound depths that our present maladies have sprung, and that those maladies will—if not properly diagnosed and addressed at their root—be our end.

And so when we saw how those three yokels in Brunswick quarried Ahmaud Arbery and all but trophied his dead body onto the hood of their truck; when we saw how the Taylor residence in which Breonna lay sleeping was repurposed by LMPD SWAT into a makeshift tactical shooting range; when we saw how the pulse of George Floyd was throttled to a faint, shallow tremor and finally winked out forever by a man who, in carrying out that execution, just stared ahead intractably, placidly, the dead-eyed blank expression of a cow looking out over a wooden fencepost; when we saw these things, we could not but perceive the feverish quality to them. They felt like a kind of rapid onset of symptoms; the alarming manifestations of some end-stage societal sepsis of which we were suddenly and terribly cognizant.


White Americans did what anyone ill at ease about their well being would do. We began, in a way, compulsively WebMDing ourselves. We ran out and bought White Fragility, feeling around for the apparent lumps in our own psyches and—with each turn of the page—learning that we are in fact walking supercontaminations. Tumor-ridden things. If we didn’t recognize the malignancies inside us, White Fragility assured us it only meant we were that much more of an inoperable, hopeless case. We filled the cube shelving in our children’s nurseries with board books containing messages of tolerance and acceptance; we began, with a solemn resolve, to apply ourselves to the task which it seems our parents had utterly shirked: to mold these blobs of dreadful privilege that we produced into good little empaths.

We needed answers to ourselves, and so we read—devoured—with that special sort of voracity of the newly afflicted, so desperate and anxious to have explained to us what this is that surrounds us.


Enter Oprah, whose appearance during a time of social upheaval is like low circling buzzards materializing over a dry, sunbaked valley; the presence of each can only mean that something, somewhere, is dying. In this case, the decay is one of possibility—of precisely knowing, of acting, of repairing. In her hands she holds Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which would seem like the ideal book for our present moment of anxious, binge-y social science consumption. After all, Wilkerson has described her book as “an invitation to understanding; an invitation to seeing ourselves differently than we have before, and the idea that we can have new language to help us see ourselves differently.” Oprah, in her endorsement of the book, affirms these qualities of Caste and promises that it “show[s] us how to rebuild a world in which we all are truly equal and free.”

But Oprah has always been a kind of real life Flannery O’Connor invention, hasn’t she? And it seems that she now sees in a collective desire for racial justice what a character like Hoover Shoats in Wise Blood saw in a people’s authentic religious desire: a new and profitable business venture; a people whose despair and uncertainty is, in essence, the stuff of profit. And in this way, Caste—which ultimately posits a kind of ‘make compassionate decisions’ approach to undoing caste (at one point seriously suggesting that such a thing can be achieved by “search[ing] for that key that opens the door to whatever we may have in common, whether cosplay or Star Trek or the loss of a parent”)—is a book that neatly complements Oprah’s thoroughly apolitical (and always profitable) brand of personally manifesting capital-c Change.


At its absolute weakest, all Caste is really doing is recounting episodes of discrimination (whether the national or the personal) and swapping out the race-specific terminology of the individuals (“white”, “black”) for Wilkerson’s preferred choice of descriptors (“dominant caste”, “lowest caste”). It is as if, by the mere substitution of these words, the abstractions that have so tightly organized American society over the last 400 years are supposed to be suddenly made known to us in more cogent, actionable terms. Oftentimes, though, the effect is one of bewilderment, a kind of misfire.

It’s not that ‘caste’ as a descriptor, or conceptual framework, doesn’t have the potential to vastly improve upon the very real limitations of a discourse grounded in race. There can be no question as to the inadequacy of the increasingly diluted social construct that has heretofore governed our understanding of how America has long (mis)allocated access to opportunity. We very much need an alternative and more tailored vocabulary to better assess and remedy that injustice, and ‘caste’ really does appear to best capture the unique, multi-generational exclusion that has so brutally defined the experience of a people in the U.S. But it is precisely the author’s inability (or unwillingness) to imbue caste with a necessary specificity—to identify the nature of our bottom caste as the accrued and heritable cost of one particular group’s lineage through chattel slavery onward—that contributes to her project’s abortive attempt to truly alter our understanding of what conditions our “discontents” and to help us, as she says, “reach that place of healing.”

Which is to say that while Wilkerson tries to outfit the most basic and efficient sorting mechanism of American society with a kind of new, bespoke language, there’s nonetheless still a loose, baggy quality to the finished product.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the book’s insistence upon the Barack Obama presidency having been the “greatest departure from the script of the American caste system.” On one hand, Wilkerson argues that Obama’s political ascension was so remarkable because he belongs to the “lowest caste”, and—as an African-American—is someone “against whom the caste system had directed its full powers of dehumanization”. On the other hand, though, she also notes how his “unusual upbringing” (his father being an immigrant from Kenya and his mother a white woman from Kansas) had spared him from “the heaviness of slavery and Jim Crow and the hard histories of regular African-Americans.” It’s difficult, in reading Wilkerson’s words, to not hear ‘heaviness’ functioning almost euphemistically for the very group-specific material cost of those ‘hard histories’, which, as she points out, include the New Deal reforms that “excluded the vast majority of black workers” and the FHA practices that “encourag[ed] or even requir[ed] restrictive covenants that barred black citizens from buying homes in white neighborhoods.”

And so there is, in other words, by Wilkerson’s own admission, a long, well-defined continuum of targeted exclusion—a kind of survey line of one group’s generational lockout from wealth in America—that has, from the beginning, uniquely and distinctly bound the experience of its lowest caste: the American Descendants of Slavery, the ‘regular African Americans’.

So how, then, can we realistically ascribe to someone like Obama the same basic station in national life when his ancestors did not bear that profound cost of what it really means to belong to that bottom caste in America? We can’t. But arguably Wilkerson sees no inconsistency in doing so because Caste is one-hundred percent uninterested in the sort of transformative redistribution of all the stolen wealth that would be required to actually begin undoing the foundation of our caste system.

Indeed, for all of its appeals to Germany as a kind of star by which to steer in terms of how we can begin to dismantle caste (Wilkerson notes how “restitution has rightly been paid, and continues to be paid, to survivors of the Holocaust”), there is strangely no push whatsoever in Caste for the U.S. government to pay reparations to the descendants of American slavery and Jim Crow. Rather, the reader is encouraged to do things like “educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective”, to “value their shared commonality”, and to try to see that the caste positions we inhabit are merely the “costumes of [our] predecessors” and that—in continuing the theatre analogy—we are “performing based on our place in the production, not necessarily on who we are inside.”


There is exactly one way to read a book like Caste, because there is exactly one way to write a book like Caste without going wide of the mark, and that is through the lens of the American Descendants of Slavery experience. And to the extent that a person is able to control their emotions long enough to recognize the obvious fact that that group’s political advocacy is meant solely to defend the singularity of that experience—to not allow the ‘full dehumanization’ of it to be folded into a dilutive framework of sameness that absolves the U.S. government from paying the invoice for the economic violence it used to create and sustain its caste system—then it is simply impossible to read a book like Wilkerson’s and not come away with a sense of the sheer inadequacy of her analysis. It is impossible, in the end, not to feel like it is a four-hundred plus page argument that goes directly against the grain of justice. And the biggest achievement of Caste is that it confirms what many have already known, and what many more will no doubt come to learn: that ADOS has already developed the necessary language for a proper diagnosis of—and antidote to—our symptoms of societal instability. All we need to do is follow their lead.


I Put My Grift Down Flip it and Reverse it: Nikole Hannah-Jones & the #ADOS Movement

[N.B.: credit @ninjaamajo for the inspo for the article’s title]

Since we now have a writer who is positioning herself (or perhaps more precisely, who is being positioned) to lead a national discussion about reparations, it seems worth looking into how that person has historically framed that issue and how she has previously used her platform to help inform her fellow Americans about it. After all, this particular individual claims to have been reading about and researching the topic of reparations for the past twenty years, so one may reasonably assume there’d be a long trail of intellectual breadcrumbs that she has left along the way.

Twitter proves quite useful in this respect; that is, for collecting information about a person’s involvement in/contributions to a particular discourse over the years. So here, in chronological order, is the history of Nikole Hannah-Jones (a self-professed disciple of reparations studies) talking about that issue on Twitter.

NHJ joined Twitter in March of 2009. The very first mention of reparations from her occurs six years later, in 2015, a full fifteen years into her apparent research on the subject.

Like much of what follows, NHJ’s earliest engagement with reparations on Twitter is largely just a reference/paean to the Coates article on reparations that ran in The Atlantic the previous year. The last tweet simply shares an article by Zach Stafford in The Nation. She then doesn’t mention reparations again for four months, but, when she finally does, it’s (not surprisingly) to shout out the Coates Article.

A full year passes until reparations resurfaces on NHJ’s timeline. And while it no doubt constitutes the most original intellectual engagement with the topic we’ve seen thus far, there’s a pretty weird suggestion that reparations for the government-sanctioned, centuries-long horror of targeted exclusion of ADOS is…financial aid?

Anyway. Another month goes by and she mentions reparations again because of something that someone said to Coates when he was still on Twitter. She then abstains from any further remarks on the topic until February of the following year when she tweets about reparations twice in one day (an all-time high!) and then tells someone to not talk to her about it anymore (a curt dismissal which—as we are all now very familiar with—is signature NHJ).

Silence then ensues on reparations for eight full months. She (again) disdainfully scoffs at someone and tells them to go read a book (as, of course, any respectable public intellectual should naturally do when confronted with an opinion that is at variance with their own). She then shouts out Coates. Again.

Four months elapse, and NHJ reprises her previous year’s tweet about reparations being part of the Republican platform during the late 19th century. The next day she clarifies a point about reparations, and then shelves the issue for another three months, at which point she shouts out the Coates article (which I’m honestly beginning to think she may actually have constructed a shrine to in her house).

June of 2018 constituted the most pronounced level of discussion about reparations, with a total of three (3) tweets. Though it seems this blitzkrieg may have in fact resulted in some serious reparations fatigue for NHJ, because it’s then another three months of reparations-free tweeting.

Picking up the baton again in October, NHJ then rounds out 2018 by tweeting about reparations twice in three months.

What’s also interesting about 12/3/18 is that is the same day when NHJ announces to all of her followers that she’s going to be (re)focusing her attention on a book that she’d been working on about the re-segregation of U.S. public schools.

And it did indeed seem that way. At least for a little while.

Nearly three months pass without any mention of reparations. Not uncommon. Curiously, when she does start talking about reparations again, it is at the exact moment that the #ADOS movement is beginning to attract significant attention from national media. With the #ADOS-led critique of then-Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris gaining traction (a critique that effectively halted her campaign’s momentum with black voters and triggered a much larger discussion about who carries the true cost of being black in America) Joy Reid, Shireen Mitchell, Angela Rye and a host of others all began peddling a demonstrably false accusation that the grassroots movement was a “Russian bot” operation. The Intercept then ran an article about #ADOS, highlighting how the “Russian Bot” dysinfo campaign started by Reid et al conformed with a pattern of behavior by the establishment Left media to neutralize and delegitimize any dissent against the Party’s preferred candidates. NHJ then weighed in on the matter of Harris, distorting the #ADOS critique of her and thus prompting responses from Yvette Carnell, Antonio Moore and the rest of the #ADOS movement. NHJ claims this was the very first time Yvette and Antonio entered into her sphere. Up until this point, she maintains, she never heard of either of them.

But see it’s odd. Because the frequency with which NHJ from this point forward then begins to talk about reparations is so much noticeably greater than it had been for the previous four years. More importantly, the kind of language she begins to deploy in these conversations bears an unmistakable resemblance to the specific framing that the #ADOS movement has developed and refined since 2016.

From about this point on on her timeline, I don’t think a month goes by where NHJ doesn’t post multiple tweets about reparations. And the thing that seems essential to consider as she now persists in repudiating the #ADOS movement when they question her motivation for suddenly stepping into this space without acknowledging the significance of their advocacy, is the specific convergence of the energy around reparations that the movement itself inspired and NHJ’s sudden ‘commitment’ to the issue. Was it simply the right time to get on her grind about economic justice after what we are told was decades of research? Or—one has to wonder—was it simply time to get on her grift when she saw an opportunity to begin siphoning off some energy from #ADOS in late Feb? I think the tweets above provide some insight into that question, and I think they ultimately cast serious doubt on the integrity of NHJ, journalistic or otherwise.


Is This Your Queen?

The only thing I will say about Nikole Hannah-Jones is this: I met her in early October of 2018 when we were walking past each other on Throop Avenue in Bed-Stuy by St. Philip’s Church. I stopped to tell her that I seriously admired the work that she had done (and was doing) on school segregation. I told her I was looking forward to attending the talk that she was going to be giving on exactly that subject the following week at Boys & Girls High School here in the neighborhood. Before parting ways I mentioned that I, too, wrote and that I wrote about #ADOS. I asked her if she had heard of Yvette Carnell and BreakingBrown (I didn’t ask if she had heard about #ADOS because, at that time, the movement hadn’t really broken through yet like it would just a few months later in early 2019). Nikole answered that she had indeed heard of Yvette Carnell and that she liked the work that she was doing. So when, today, in 2020, she says something like this…

…it indicates that she was either lying then or she’s lying now. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why she’d have felt the need to lie to some no-name writer two years ago. Now, however, the moment seems ripe for such dissimulation.


#ADOS and the End of the Remix Business

Why do we do this? Why? Why do we pat ourselves and others on the back for our weird, Tiësto-like treatment of the ‘meaning’ of the African American struggle for freedom and equality?

Truly, at this point in our discourse(s) of the African American freedom struggle there ought to be an actual DJ air horn that blares right before any non-ADOS person starts talking publicly about what it ‘means.’ The African American freedom struggle has become the remix album of movement politics. There is the “African American Freedom Struggle” (LGBTQ REMIX); the “African American Freedom Struggle” (DACA Edit); the “African American Freedom Struggle” (Democratic Socialist Dub Mix), and on and on. Every group, it seems, gets a shot at reworking it. And so if you want to know why ADOS are so ‘divisive’, or why they get so fractious when confronted with our coalition hokum, you should just ask yourself how the hell you think you’d feel if for the past half-century you were made to sit and watch everyone else remix the meaning of your group’s historic struggle while you and your family stay not collecting a single cent in royalties. Not only that, but you all never even got paid in the first place.

It must be said again and again: the “ever present possibility of universality” is something that has been crudely retrofitted onto the African American freedom struggle by the Left, and it has done this in spite of all kinds of evidence that such a thing is pure fiction. There is nothing universal about the core material demand of ADOS. It’s a debt. That’s it. And whether or not poor whites ‘get free’ too or whatever is utterly impertinent. Sorry. I know we want to put like a campfire-y spin on America paying a specific debt, but I think we need to seriously consider the fact that when we ask ADOS to join hands with us and sing our song of freedom and justice, the hands we’re expecting to receive are ones that—for the past 400 years, at every possible turn—have been denied the chance of actually holding any real economic power whatsoever. And I implore you to think about how enthusiastic you’d be to have people ‘recasting’ the meaning of your group’s struggle—which has been a struggle to wrest the economic power you are owed—if it meant that your child’s hands, too, would be denied possession of that same power.


#ADOS and Africa as the Mother Gothel Land

For those of you who’ve not been sheltering-in-place with a two year-old who is on a media diet high in Disney animated feature films, here’s a quick character sketch of Mother Gothel, the villainess from 2010’s Tangled, a movie that I have now seen like at least one-hundred times over the past three months…

Having kidnapped the infant princess Rapunzel from the king and queen, Mother Gothel has kept her locked away in a remote, secluded tower in the woods. There, she uses Rapunzel’s magical hair in order to preserve her (Mother Gothel’s) youth. Her ‘parenting’ style could best be described as psychologically abusive to the absolute extreme, manipulating Rapunzel with a false origin story while casually belittling her at every available opportunity. The effect is basic Psych101 stuff: essentially saddle Rapunzel with a dependency complex that exalts Mother Gothel in the eyes of Rapunzel while, at the same time, dramatically subduing her will to discover her true identity and place in the world.

Eventually, Rapunzel’s conviction that the world outside the tower contains profound truths about her authentic self is something that overrides her damaged psyche and one day she decides to make a break for it. Upon learning of Rapunzel’s escape and the journey that she plans to undertake, Mother Gothel becomes truly unhinged, spiraling into a hysterical state in which the prevention of Rapunzel’s self-discovery (which necessarily entails a loss of the illusory sway that Mother Gothel holds in Rapunzel’s imagination) becomes paramount. The objective is to find Rapunzel and basically berate her back into being her acquiescent, Tower-imprisoned self and completely subjugate any future assertion of agency. In short, to make Rapunzel feel dumb and ridiculous and totally ashamed for ever thinking that she might amount to something other than a, well, slave.

I bring this up only because yesterday found a great number of Africans on Twitter in the throes of what can really only be described as a Mother Gothel-esque meltdown. And while the catalyst for the outpouring of anti-ADOS vitriol was ostensibly a joke that someone made about the continent’s dodgy WiFi reception, it is very difficult not to understand the astoundingly hateful responses the joke occasioned as rooted in (and conditioned by) something so much deeper and so much more intensely personal—something that is, in essence, akin to Mother Gothel’s felt loss of control when Rapunzel defies her by throwing off the yoke of her supposed authority and declaring her intent to forge her own emancipatory path.

At minimum, what happened yesterday raises a number of interesting questions. I guess the first would be: do Africans simply have uniquely tender feelings about their wireless internet connectivity? Is this actually something about which they are extremely touchy and sensitive? Or was yesterday merely the latest confirmation in a growing pile of evidence that they harbor a real animus and serious contempt for American Descendants of Slavery?

While it might complicate the notion of Pan-African solidarity, we should admit that we really already know the answer. We’ve known it for quite some time—it’s the latter, and yesterday was just a remarkably candid and widespread display of it. Arguably, what we witnessed unfold yesterday was a good thing; it provided an unprecedented glimpse at the giant iceberg of anti-ADOS bigotry that floats beneath surface of African culture, a deep-seated antipathy toward ADOS that we are apparently very keen to import into the country, and something of which a show like CBS’s Bob Hearts Abishola represents only the very tip.

But it’s safe to say that as ADOS continues to stake out its own identity—one singularly tied to the group’s wholly distinct experience of injustice in the U.S.—the more that these underlying attitudes of genuine disdain will reveal themselves; attitudes that have quietly informed (or, more accurately, deformed) modern ‘solidarity’ with ADOS. I would really encourage white people in particular to pay very close attention to this stuff. Because while I know we tend to get a little anxious and uneasy when it comes to seeing certain distinctions between black people, I think you’ll find that a lot of the people whom you just might otherwise assume are down with the cause (particularly the cause of justice in this ADOS-specific, post-Floyd moment) because of their skin color or whatever, are actually way, way closer in temperament and belief to the white supremacists whom you stridently claim to define yourself and your politics in opposition to. To riff on something that Yvette Carnell said recently, what will yield the necessary harvest of racial justice in America is ensuring that we cast our seeds in a soil of nuance and specificity. We absolutely cannot be inhibited in our identification and denouncement of every single dimension of ADOS’s oppression, regardless of whomever promotes it.