American race relations, specifically black-white relations, are at a low ebb, despite (or because of) the election of Obama. There has always been a debate in the African-American community, accommodation vs separatism. The Establishment, which needs multiculturalism for America’s ‘world role,’ naturally is pushing accommodation. But the most vital forces in the Black community are going in the other direction.
The division in American society was highlighted by the Grammy Awards of two years ago. The split was so bad that ROLLING STONE quoted Rod Stewart’s manager as advocating two separate Grammy Awards shows, one for Rock and one for Hip Hop. That’s a Politically Correct way of saying one for whites and one for blacks.
Taking a leaf from a pithy saying of the New Black Panther Party–“The same rabid dog that bit you, bit us too.”–here’s my humble 2 cents for Black History Month.
It’s time to look afresh at Cyril Briggs (1888-1966) and his African Blood Brotherhood, which existed from 1919-1925. Briggs was an immigrant to the USA from the West Indies. He was of mixed parentage, his father being a white overseer on a plantation in Nevis.
His first shock was that ‘light skin’ counted for little in America, whereas in the Caribbean, it afforded one a privileged status. In the USA, the ‘one drop rule’ prevailed. (See the STRANGE HISTORY OF JIM CROW by C. Vann Woodward.) Segregation prevailed in the North as well as the South.
The second big shock for Briggs came after the First World War. He served in the US Army during the war and found his service counted for little. Moreover, he found no relief in the political system. Even the Socialist Party had segregated locals in the South.
WWI war industries in the North provided a lure drawing many Blacks from the South. But after the war, beginning in 1919, there were a series of race riots across the North. This is what caused Briggs to get his dander up and go his own way.
In 1919, Cyril Briggs founded the African Blood Brotherhood. The name had no racist connotations, referring instead to traditional African ceremonies. In fact, whites were free to join though none ever did. Though basically a propaganda organization, it was built on the model of a secret fraternity. While never large–the paper membership never exceeded 3,000 with probably only a few dozen activists–its impact is felt today, albeit below the surface.
The immediate goal of Briggs was to stop lynchings and racial discrimination. He came to believe this could be done only in the context of black self-determination.This, in turn, led him to become a leading exponent of racial separatism, some times called Black Nationalism.
Seeing American White-Black racism as a form of “hatred of the unlike.” Briggs put it this way: “(Hatred of the unlike) draws its virulence from the firm conviction in the white man’s mind of the inequality of races–the belief that there are superior and inferior races and that the former are marked with a white skin and the latter with dark skin and only the former are capable and virtuous and therefore alone fit to vote, rule and inherit the earth.”
In the pages of his magazine, THE CRUSADER, Briggs reminded his readers that racial antipathy is a two-way street. “The Negro dislikes the white man almost as much as the latter dislikes the Negro.”
From his analysis, came Briggs’s solution. Editorials in THE CRUSADER endorsed a separatist African-American state. In line with Woodrow Wilson’s FOURTEEN POINTS of self-determination, Briggs demanded African-American independence from the United States.
The African Blood Brotherhood viewed independence of the African-American community as a prerequisite for equality. Only genuine political power coupled with control of the means of production and the land would enable genuine equality.
In the words of Cyril Briggs at the time:
“A new solution. Nothing more or less than independent, separate existence. Government of the Negro people, for the Negro people and by the Negro people.”
The NATIONALIST-NATURALIST Agenda of Cyril Briggs and the African Blood Brotherhood live on today. Most recently they were expressed in the Million Woman March and its call for independent black schools.