Afro-America and The Fourth World

Afro-America and The Fourth World


ChickenBones: A Journal

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they often referred to themselves . . . as “colored” “negro” or as “black.” . . .  these

terms  took hold among Black people was that slavery attempted to violently

eradicate   anything that connected the Black slave with his African identity


Afro-America & The Fourth World

Identity, Status, & Political Program

By Amin Sharif 


The test case of civil liberty whereby both blacks and whites in America try to drive back racial discrimination have very little in common in their principles and objectives with the heroic fight of the Angolan people against the detestable Portuguese colonialism. The problems which keep Richard Wright and Langston Hughes on the alert are fundamentally different from those which might confront Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

The analysis presented above by Fanon, a genuine Third World revolutionary hero, has been one that seems to have been patently ignored by many Black and Left political thinkers for years. Yet, if Fanon’s analysis is correct, the question arises as how to incorporate its meaning into a new political program that will lead to the liberation of, in this case, Afro-America.

Presently, the dominant thinking among an active section of  African-American thinkers is that the political conditions of African-Americans and Africans arise from the same nexus. Pan-Africanism and, its child, Afro-centric thought—the ideological foundations of this section—has effectively turned the African-American community’s gaze toward the motherland in a quest for solutions to problems indigenous to the Black Community.

But Fanon’s analysis suggests that on the political plane, at least, Africa may have less to offer than we think. So, perhaps, the time has come to question whether this orientation towards Africa as the primary source for the solution to the problems of Black men and women in America is helpful and should continue or is a hindrance and should be discarded.

If as Fanon contends, the solution to the African-American struggle lies outside of an African context, then where can the solution be found? It is our contention that the solution to the problem of the African-American must come out of a strictly African-American (Fourth World) context. This does not preclude the importance of Africa to the African-American community. But it does mean that we must assess Africa’s importance to our community in a more realistic manner.

Efforts Shoring Up An African Identity

Anyone who has studied the history of the people of African descent in the United States understands the “psychological” and “cultural” need of the Black man and woman to reconnect themselves to Africa. The stripping away of the humanity of African people in America by a process that sought to convert them into chattel was one of the most devastating and unprecedented events in the history of the world. By seizing on a connection with Africa, the Black man and woman threw off the effects of racism and restored to themselves a “version” of the African identity that was lost through slavery.

We have used the term “version” of the African identity to underscore the impossibility of the African American regaining his or her own “original” African identity. No one seriously believes that after many hundred years in America that Black people can simply pick up their African identity where it was left off. For one thing, Africa and African cultures have not existed in a vacuum over the last four centuries. The colonial situation, independence, and internal developments in Africa have to some extent reshaped many of the cultural structures in the motherland.

So what it meant to be African four hundred years ago when Black captives left the shores of their motherland may mean something different today. Still, all things being equal, the development of a positive attitude toward Africa as a whole must be seen as beneficial on the “psychological” level to shoring up the identity to the Black man and woman in America.

Yet what is sometimes lost in the orientation of the Black man and woman toward Africa is an acceptance of their unique situation in America. If we are an African people, we are one that has been formed in the cauldron of a distinctly American form of racism. It is this American form of racism that has also contributed to the structuring of the African American identity. 

In fact, it has been our reaction to American racism that has driven the African American constantly to clarify not only his “cultural” but also his “political” status within the American political system. So, in the matter of identity and status, the African-American must answer two questions: Who am I in the context of my cultural heritage and identity? Who am I in the context of my political status within America?

Clarity on these questions is crucial to the progress of all African Americans. Answering one side of the question without answering the other serves only to gives the African-American Community one half of the solution it seeks. Without a solution to the entire problem of identity and political status in America, the African-American will always be fighting with one hand tied behind his or her back.

It is the contention of this article that this is exactly what we are doing. For, in binding ourselves to Africa, we gained something of our identity. But, at the same time, this attachment has over time eroded the development of a political program that is solely for and about African-Americans within the United States. To the consternation of those who are so attached to all things African, it must be announced here, being African is not a political program!!

Africans, whether found at home or abroad, both have been politically reactionary and revolutionary depending on their political program. To speak of oneself as African or African American at this juncture in our history says nothing about what one wants for our people. Our goal must be to seek answers to both the identity side and the political side of our existence in America.

The answer to the first question concerning the cultural heritage and identity of the African American may be more revealing then we realize. As the descendents of African slaves, it is often taken for granted that whatever cultural heritage and identity that the Black man or woman possesses begins in Africa. But African-American cultural heritage and identity does not rest solely upon what is inherited from Africa.

Centuries of living in America have given rise to a myriad of cultural and social forms that have altered the fundamental identity of the once Black slave. From the spiritual to the mundane, the day- to-day experiences of surviving the Middle Passage, Slavery, Jim Crow Segregation and the failed attempt at Integration has created unique responses within the African in America which many commonly refer to, in total, as the Black Experience.

Colored Accommodation & New Negro Assimilation

It is this Black Experience—a synthesis of what the Black man and woman brought with them from Africa, what they re-discovered of Africa, and what they found, used, and developed in America—that is the nexus of the African-American identity. It is only when the interplay of these fundamental aspects of the African-American identity and political status is acknowledged does the complexity of the situation of African in America become apparent.

For example, when there was little or no acknowledgement among the descendants of the America slave trade of an African component to their identity, they often referred to themselves or were referred to by others as “colored” “negro” or as “black.” There are historical, sociological, and political reasons why this was so. The foremost reason that these terms took hold among Black people was that slavery attempted to violently eradicate anything that connected the Black slave with his African identity in a positive sense.

Yet the term “colored” persisted as a designation for the African in America well into the middle decades of the 1900s when slavery had been abolished. Indeed, Booker T. Washington, once the pre-eminent leader of the African-American Community, was said to prefer the term “colored” over any other designation for Africans in America. What is important to recognize is that Washington held that the problems of race and racial identity could be solved within the restrictive confines of segregation.

It may have been that in Washington’s psyche, the term “colored” was a designation that represented the least degree of separation between the emancipated Black slave and white America. That certain Black slaves and ex-slaves, especially those who enjoyed a physical proximity to their slave masters, desired a connection to all things white can be found in E. Franklin Frazier’s groundbreaking work, The Black Bourgeoisie. Franklin cites an observation made by an ex-slave as an example of how closely some slaves associated themselves with their masters:

It was about ten o’clock when the aristocratic slaves began to assemble, dressed in the cast-off finery of their master and mistress, swelling out and putting on airs in imitation of those they were forced to obey from day to day.

House servants were, of course, “the stars” of the party; all eyes were turned to them to see how they conducted [themselves] . . . they are ever regarded as a privileged class; sometimes greatly envied, while others are bitterly hated.

Clearly, we have here an example of the successful “detribalization,” a term used by Franklin, of the Black slave. Franklin’s slave has replaced, or, perhaps a better term would be, “masked” his African persona by ritualistically acting “white.” It is this “masking” of the African persona that Washington seems to prefer when he selects the term “colored” as designation for himself and his race.

But, within the African-American community, the term “colored” was commonly associated with “mulatto,” a designation for a person who is neither wholly black nor wholly white. Though this term was a well recognized racial designation throughout the South, it also stands as metaphor for Washington’s own political philosophy of racial “accommodation” and his personal identity and status within the America of the 1900s.

For, in the decades that saw Jim Crow segregation take hold throughout America, Washington was almost never subjected to its policies. Just as the “aristocratic slaves” mentioned above took on the “airs” of “whiteness” on a psychological level, Washington took on an air of “whiteness” in the political sense when he was spared the indignities of segregation. It is precisely because the term “colored” is so closely associated with this kind of honorary “whiteness” and Washington’s own acquiescence to racism that it began to be vilified by future, more racially-conscious generations of Africans living in America.

The great African-American intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, on the other hand, was said to have preferred the term “negro” early on as a designation for Africans in America. Leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King also used “Negro.”  This racial term has always enjoyed a dubious reputation within the African-American community.

For T. Thomas Fortune, a contemporary and friend of Washington, “negro” was a term of contempt. Malcolm X also vilified the term “negro” in his incendiary speeches of the 1960s. He often refers to African Americans as “so-called negroes.” Malcolm used the term in its most provocative sense implying that this designation for the African in America arose from racist forces outside rather then within the African-American community.

Indeed, by the time of the Harlem Renaissance, the term “negro” had come to be associated with the many racial stereotypes, especially those rooted in the rural South. In a kind of reclamation of the term, the progressive writers and artists of the Renaissance began to define themselves as “new negro [es]”—a term that emerged in part from Alain Locke’s 1925 anthology, The New Negro. The sentiment of the New Negro intellectuals and artists was summed up best by Langston Hughes:

We younger Negro artists, who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If the white people are pleased we are glad. If not their displeasure does not matter  . . .

What is interesting about the New Negro sentiment of the Harlem Renaissance is that it was not weighed in favor of an African identity—the influence of the Negritude movement not withstanding. Instead, New Negro sentiment rose from the recognition of the significance of negro “folk culture.” Du Bois eloquently refers to this folk culture as the “epic mood” of Black people. The ambivalence on the part of the New Negro intellectual toward Africa may best be seen in Countee Cullen’s famous poem “Heritage”:

What is Africa to me:

Copper sun or scarlet sea.

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprung

When the birds of Eden song?

What is Africa to me? This was not simply a question asked by a New Negro poet. It was also asked often on the streets of Harlem where New Negro identity contended with Garvey’s Pan-African identity. It is well known that many members of the New Negro movement were opposed to Garveyism. I need not recount the sometimes volatile interaction between the two movements. What needs to be emphasized is that even those who argued in favor of a strong African identity had some practical problems to contend with. 

In 1926, Waring Cuney won first prize in Opportunity magazine’s poetry contest for his work, “No Images”:

She does not know

Her beauty,

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory.


If she could dance


Under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know.


But there are no palm trees

On the streets,

And dish water gives no images.

Central to Cuney’s work are questions of personal, racial, and even gender identity. Even if his Black woman could conjure up images that speak to her positively of an Africa connection, will that connection change her life in a fundamental way? She still faces the dish water, an apt metaphor used by Cuney for her and every other Black person’s murky identity within white, racist America, and finds that the water is non-reflective. It gives up no sense of identity–“no images.”

New Negro intellectuals would argue that Cuney precisely framed the question of identity with all of its agonizing implications. In what practical sense can the recognition and identification with Africa help us? It may give us “psychological” solace and cultural orientation, the New Negro would argue, but not much more. Africa has value to the African American only when she is viewed through the prism of her own experience in America, these intellectuals would say. 

Acknowledgements of this circumstance by Cuney may be why there are no images to be found in the dish water. Any sense of identity or image must be made first from our own interaction with the world we live in, not with the one we wish to occupy. This is why the militancy of the New Negro movement was, almost entirely, rooted in solving the “race problem” within the parameter of the American system. 

Black Consciousness & The Third World

The term “negro” was a universally accepted designation for the African American until the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Just as the New Negro movement represented a break with the stereotypes associated with being a “colored” man or woman in America, especially the South. The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) rose in political and artistic opposition to being “negro” in America. For members of the BCM, even the New Negro militancy of folks like Ellison and Wright was tied to an unrealistic assessment of the depth of racism and the power of a non-violent civil rights movement to redeem America. 

Like the Harlem Renaissance, the member of the BCM produced their own intellectual thought and artistic response to the times in which they lived. If the New Negro intellectual supported everything from integration, Trotskyism, to soviet-style communism, BCM intellectuals stood in support of cultural and political black nationalism and other radical ideas. If New Negro artistic values were embodied in the works of the Harlem Renaissance, the BCM’s artistic values were embodied in the militant  Black Arts Movement  (BAM).

For the BCM intellectual being “black” meant self-definition through self-awareness. In a sense, the BCM effectively resolved the dilemma of double consciousness introduced by Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The question was not how to exist both as a “negro” and an “American” in their eyes. The question for the BCM was how to tap into the “epic mood” of Black people and use the energy found within it to liberate themselves. The question for the BCM was how to translate Du Bois’ “epic mood” into Black Power—culturally and politically.

That the BCM considered the matter of racial identity as being closely tied to radical political action is evident form their literature and political program. There is nothing new in this since there has always been some connection between racial identity and political struggle among African Americans. When the African in America considered himself to be “colored,” the prevailing political program was accommodation with segregation. 

When the African considered himself to be a “New Negro,” the political program was militant “integration.” When the Black Consciousness Movement emerged and the Black man and woman revived their version of an African identity, a program of radicalism based on Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism was in play.


By the time the Black Power Movement of the 1970s emerged, the forces of racial identity and political program were so thoroughly fused that to speak of one was to speak of the other. Fragmentation occurred within the black community based upon which racial and political camp one supported. Those who considered themselves African American looked upon the old “negro” leadership as Uncle Toms. The “negro” leadership, in turn, considered youthful African-American radicals as upstarts who lacked patience. In the end, both sides lost out. 

And today neither the inheritors of the Integrationist (negro) movement or Black Power Movement (of the African American) enjoy much stature within the African-American community. By the time, Carmichael and Hamilton published their groundbreaking book, Black Power; the African-American community was steeped in charged rhetoric on both sides. It was perhaps to clarify their position to the “negro” leadership, the greater African-American community and even to some extent white America that Kwame Toure aka Stokley Carmichael—a leading spokesman for the  Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as a new generation of radical African Americans—collaborated with Charles V. Hamilton, a young  brilliant college professor, to produce their insightful work.

Black Power, a term coined by the New Negro intellectual and social realist Richard Wright, was the political embodiment of the Black Consciousness Movement. It came to fruition after the deaths of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X when the smoldering fires of urban black unrest had not been fully extinguished. Black Power sought to translate Black Consciousness into political action. 

Although the rhetoric of Black Power advocates was sometimes incendiary and revolutionary, as in the case of Rap Brown and Huey P. Newton, the authors of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, did not present it as a revolutionary solution to the problems confronted by Black America. Black Power did not even offer “formulas . . . for ending racism” in the United States.  But what Black Power did do was connect “the black liberation struggle to the rest of the world,” especially to Africa. For as Carmichael and Hamilton stated in their book:

Black power means that black people see themselves as a part of a new force, sometimes called the Third World; that we see our struggle closely related to liberation struggles around the world.

This statement is as profound as it is problematic. Its profundity resides in the recognition of Carmichael and Hamilton of an international anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle being waged in Africa, Latin America, and Asia in late 1960s. What is problematic about the statement is that neither author seemed aware that Fanon had already posited that the struggles in the Africa or the greater Third World had little or nothing to do with the problems of Black people in America. This is even more baffling because in the very next paragraph the authors quote extensively from Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, the book in which this assertion is made.

Novel Conceptions: Garvey, Elijah & Malcolm

But, in defense of Black Power, it must be recognized that Carmichael and Hamilton were following a line of thought already espoused by two great Black Nationalist thinkers—Garvey and Malcolm X. Both Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X interlaced the problems of Africans in America with those in the motherland. For Garvey, America was seen as only a staging ground for the real struggle between Black Africa and her white European colonial rulers. 

The African American, as other African people throughout the Diaspora, would eventually have to participate in the liberation of their African homeland. Garvey put it these terms, “Four hundred million Negroes will redeem Africa or answer to God the reason why.” Logistically, how this was to be done was never quite clear. But Garvey’s appeal lay not in the execution of his political program. The strength of  Garveyism lay in the psychological and cultural connection he makes between two disconnected people—the Africa abroad in the United States and the African at home.

Malcolm X  amplified and refined Garvey’s message on many levels. As a student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad while in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm severed the psychological connection between, the African in America and white American political and cultural power. Elijah Muhammad, much like Garvey, offered a new worldview that placed “blackness” at the center of his universe. By discarding their family names and replacing them with a generic “X,” Malcolm and other members of the Nation of Islam were emptying themselves of all association with a greater white world. In doing so, they were making themselves ready to undergo a transformation similar to the one experienced by the native intellectual under colonialism. 

Fanon described this transformation in The Wretched of the Earth:

It is true that the attitude of the native intellectual sometimes takes on the aspect of a cult or a religion . . . In order to assure his salvation and to escape the white man’s culture the native feels the need to turn backwards toward his unknown roots . . .

It was precisely because Malcolm had been fortified against white racism by Elijah Muhammad’s teachings that he was made ready to accept new social and political ideas. Malcolm, like all converts to the Nation of Islam, was steeped in Elijah Muhammad’s mythology that elevated the Black man to a position of superiority over of the white. The Black man was, according to this mythology, the “original” man, vice-ruler of the universe. 

The white man was, on the other hand, the result of a perverse experiment, a being whose physical parts were taken from lower life forms and stitched together like Shelly’s monster. For the Negro of the middle decades of the 1900s, these revelations must have been as startling as the discovery for the Church that the sun and not the earth was the center of our solar system. Although, Elijah Muhammad referred to the Black man incorrectly as “Asiatic,” the inference was still the same—the divinity of the (Black) non-white man and the lower status of the white.

As Malcolm progressed in political understanding and eventually left the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism and Africa became more and more the centerpiece of his political philosophy. By the time Malcolm gave his famous speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet” in 1964, he had fully appropriated an African-American identity for himself and was encouraging other “negroes” to adopt this identity:

Right now, in this country, you and I, 22 million African Americans—that’s what we are—Africans who are in America. You’re nothing but Africans.  Nothing but Africans. In fact, you’d get further calling yourself African instead of Negro.  

When Malcolm gives his speech on “The Black Revolution on April 8, 1964 at a meeting sponsored by the socialist Militant Labor Forum, he does not only continue to  speak of himself as  an African-American.  But, he has also begun to frame the Black struggle and the tactics used to suppress it in anti-colonial terms:

So America’s strategy is the same strategy as that which was used in the past by colonial powers: divide and conquer. She plays one Negro leader against the other. She plays one Negro organization against the other.

In July of 1964, Malcolm X found himself making an historic address to the Organization of African Unity on behalf of his newly established Organization of Afro-American Unity. This address given before the “African heads of states” is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it marked a successful effort by Malcolm to internationalize the plight of Black Americans. Secondly, it showed that Malcolm had turned to Africa and her leaders—not the white American power structure—to assist in the amelioration of racism in America. 

Even the choice of a name for his organization was no more than an attempt to build a political apparatus that paralleled the one built the by African leaders in their fight against a newly emerging neo-colonialism. And, he says as much in his speech:

Your excellencies:

      The Organization of Afro-American Unity has sent me to attend this historic African summit conference as an observer to represent the interest of 22 million African Americans whose human rights are being violated daily by the racism of American imperialists.

     The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OOAAU) has been formed by a cross section of America’s African-American community, and is patterned after the letter and spirit of the Organization of African Unity. 

Malcolm continued in making the case that a link existed between the African and the African-American on this occasion:

Since the 22 million of us were originally Africans, who are now in America not by choice but only by a cruel accident in our history, we strongly believe that African problems are our problems and our problems are African problems.

There is nothing in the history of Black struggle that can compare with Malcolm’s “An Appeal to African Heads of State.” While it may lack the emotional impact of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”  speech, it is, in every other respect, more far reaching and politically sophisticated. Indeed, the two speeches stand as wonderful counterpoint to each other. Each man is at his best and fully in his element when the speeches are given. 

Martin is a commanding presence as he stands at the head of hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the great mall that stretches magnificently before the Washington Monument. Malcolm has gone literally back to the origin of the Black man—Africa—and stands before heads of state that represent the aspirations of  millions upon millions of Africans. Each man makes his appeal for a solution to the exact same problem—the oppression of 22 million African—Americans. 

Each man is assassinated long before the liberation of the African American can ever be accomplished.

Black Power: Afro-America as Colony

The authors of Black Power were, of course, master students of Malcolm X and Dr. King. They had absorbed each man’s teaching and if Black Power is anything it is a synthesis of their political philosophies. But anyone who reads Black Power today can readily see that it is tilted in favor of Malcolm X’s pro-Africa, anti-colonial leanings. 

So enraptured were Carmichael and Hamilton with Malcolm’s anti-colonial ideology that they openly defined Afro-America as a colony of a greater white America within the pages of their book. Carmichael and Hamilton insisted that because Afro-America was a colony, its struggle had no American context. Or as they put it:

. . . there is no “American dilemma” [concerning race in America] because black people in this country form a colony, and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them.

Carmichael and Hamilton then go on to say:

Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to the white society. Thus institutional racism has another name: colonialism.

This is quite a feat. In the space of a few sentences, Carmichael and Hamilton have transformed the entire history of Black struggle from one that is based on obtaining democratic rights for African Americans within America to one which stands entirely outside of an American context. But almost as soon as they make their assertion concerning colonialism, they begin to backtrack from it. They begin by declaring that their “analogy is not perfect,” because as they point out themselves:

One normally associates a colony with land and people subjected to, and physically separated from the “Mother Country.”

Then, they cite the following as justification for their faulty analogy:

. . . in South Africa and Rhodesia, black and white inhabit the same land—with blacks subordinated to the whites just as in the English, French . . . colonies. It is the objective relationship which counts, not rhetoric (such as constitutions articulating constitutional rights) or geography.

What is fascinating about Carmichael and Hamilton’s argument is that they are making their case for Black people being a colony based almost entirely on exceptions to what most political theorists would consider the classical colonial situation. This political analysis is not due to any lack of understanding of what “classic colonialism” is on their part. As they point out:

Under classic colonialism, the colony is a source of cheaply produced raw material . . . which the “Mother Country” then processes into finished goods.

But after acknowledging this classical and universally accepted definition of colonialism, Carmichael and Hamilton state that: 

The black communities of the United States do not export anything [to the Mother Country] except human labor. 

One must ask at this point if Carmichael and Hamilton really believed that Black people constitute a colony at all. Perhaps fearing that their readers may be asking the same question, they glibly declare that the exceptions they cite to colonialism do not matter in the case of Black America. In the end, Carmichael and Hamilton insist the “differentiations” made in their definition to classical colonialism are nothing more than technicalities. But what we have here is more than just a series of technical violations of the classical definition of colonialism. That is, if classic colonialism is characterized as an:

  1. Association with land and people subjected to, and physically separated from the Mother Country.

  2. Cheaply produced raw material that is then processed into raw goods.

Solving the Colonial Question

What is apparent is that in making their case Carmichael and Hamilton have trimmed the foot to fit the shoe, as it were. It is evident that they are suffering from an over identification with the Third World colonial situation in the writing of Black Power.  This Third World over identification is born of an emphasis on Africa as espoused by Garvey, Malcolm X, and the Pan-Africanist movement that grew up around Malcolm after his death.

The result of this over-identification with Africa, in the case of Black Power, is the misreading of the political situation of the African American within America. Carmichael and Hamilton’s mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony is based on a simplistic formula: Africans in Africa are being colonized. We are Africans. Therefore, we too are colonized. The flaw in this formula can be immediately and easily recognized. It simply does not take into account that we are talking about Africans who exist under two different political circumstances:

The first set of Africans exists on their own land, possesses their own language, history, and culture. Their fight is to end the physical occupation of their land. They are subjected to all the conditions of colonialism without ambiguity. If they are successful, they will throw the occupiers out and have their land back once again.

The second set of Africans also exists within a political system of exploitation. They have never possessed the land that they occupy.  If they are successful in their struggle, they will be considered full citizens of the country that has historically exploited  and rejected them. In other words, the first set of Africans are fighting to rid their country of an occupying force. While the second set of Africans are fighting to extend the right of citizenship to themselves and their prosperity. 

Of course, we can see all this now with twenty-twenty hindsight. Fortunately for Carmichael and Hamilton, this mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony does not, otherwise, damage the thrust of their book. Indeed, Black Power still stands today as one of the masterpieces of political literature produced at the end of a turbulent period in American history. But having said this, we must admit that the mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony was a glaring mistake that had many unintended consequences.

Defining the The Fourth World

But, if African-Americans are not a colony within America, what are they? What is their political status in America? 

It is our contention that not only Africans, Latinos, Hispanics and Asians in America but millions upon millions of second and third generation Africans, Arabs, and Asians throughout Europe constitute the Fourth World. But to answer what the Fourth World is one must understand what constitutes the other  three (3) worlds:

The First World has been defined as the economically advanced countries of Europe (and their stepchild America.) The First World is commonly called the West so that it will never be confused with the old socialist countries of the Soviet Union.

The Second World was Soviet Union and her satellites before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, Russia has been stripped of her socialistic character and is struggling to hold on to her political and territorial integrity. Many believe that the Second World is a thing of the past having been crushed in the struggle with First World forces.

The Third World is the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These countries have and continue to be locked in a fight with First World forces over the allocation of their resources. Some are reactionary. Others are progressive. Some, as in the case of Cuba and Venezuela, are even revolutionary.

The Fourth World in made up of those descendants of Third World people who were brought to the First World—America or Europe—as a source of cheap labor. Whether their appearance within the West was forced as in the case of the African slave or a result fleeing the poor economic conditions in their own countries, the Fourth World is locked in a struggle within the First World for democratic rights.

The Fourth World constitutes the elements within the West that have gone, if we may use a physiological metaphor, undigested by the political system. Integration, as in the case of America, or assimilation, as in the case of Europe have dismally failed to bring Fourth World people the equality that the West extends to all its (white) American and European citizens. The plight of thousands of abandoned Blacks in New Orleans gives lie to the idea that racism is dead in America. Just as the riots by courageous Fourth World youth—Africans and Arabs—in the ghettoes surrounding the urban areas of France give lie to the ideas of assimilation within Europe.

The Fourth World people are not the colonial subjects of the First World!

As in the case of the descents of African slaves in America, they, in many circumstances, have been born, raised, and are citizens of the First World, at least in theory. The bar to real citizenship for Fourth World people within the First World is primarily an abiding racism that forces racial, cultural, political and economic oppression on them.

These circumstances make it clear that Fourth World people can only resolve the matter of their citizenship within the First World by ending First World racism and economic exploitation. And this can only be accomplished by a struggle for democratic rights conducted within the First World! This process is fundamentally the same for the Arab in Paris as it is for the African American in New Orleans. We are all in the belly of the beast. We all share the same enemy.

By the end of the 1980’s, the power of the Black Consciousness Movement was waning. Radical and revolutionary organizations such as SNCC and the Black Panther Party had been successfully crushed by American fascist tactics. There was considerable white backlash against any further Black political progress. It was at this time that the radical political agenda of the sixties and seventies was severed from the Black Consciousness Movement. 

The result was that African-American identity which was the psychological sanctuary of African-American radicalism was appropriated by politically conservative forces. Thus, being African American no longer meant opposition to oppression. To be African American under these conservative conditions meant quite the opposite; it meant finding the best way to serve one’s personal interest rather than the collective interests of the race.

What we have today in the United States is a kind of cottage industry of Africanism crafted by the conservative African-American forces that are mainly lodged within the middle class. Radical African-American professors on college campuses have been replaced by apolitical teachers and department heads such as Skip Gates. 

These professors and Department heads have no compassion for the Black poor or the Black working class and more importantly see no need to oppose the American power structure. They, and many members of the current political leadership of Afro-America, are what Fanon refers to as the “class of affranchised slaves” of the American political system. As such, they stand unqualified to lead the masses of African-American Fourth World people within the borders of the United States.

In addition to the growing conservatism among African-American leadership in the United States, Africa no longer provides African-American radicalism with the inspiration that it did when Malcolm X was alive. Anti-colonial struggles produced many revolutionary nationalist and socialist leaders who became heads of nation. These leaders, in turn, inspired young African Americans to examine these revolutionary examples in light of the American situation. 

Today, many African nations are awash in tribal disputes—many are the consequences of neo-colonialism—which have stifled Africa’s development. But corrupt political leadership, military coups have also given rise to the idea that the African abroad is not component to manage his own affairs of state. The bottom line is that the African American is more likely to receive more bad news about Africa than good. And, under these conditions, it is baffling why anyone would turn to the motherland for solutions to problems of the African American in the United States when she cannot now solve many of her own problems.   

If Afro-America is to survive then African-American identity must be again tied to a program of radical action. It is only when being African American means being in opposition to racism and economic exploitation that the frontier of progress can be pushed forward. But to tie the African-American identity to a radical platform, we must be ready to confront both white racism and African-American conservatism. There can be no united front with our enemies whether they reside inside or outside of Afro-America.

As Fourth World consciousness within the African-American community takes hold, we will find that the forces most interested in advancing a radical political program will be the African-American working class and her allies among the underclass—those suffering from long-term unemployment. Conversely, we will find our enemies as those political forces who either actively support our oppression or turn a blind eye to it. While it may take years to fully develop a The Fourth World political program, there are some fundamental tenets that must be established in any progressive program:

  1. Work for all Fourth World people in the United States and a living wage for that work.

  2. An end to institutional racism that bars Fourth World people from living lives of dignity.

  3. Education for our children. This means an end to the under-funding of pre-dominantly Fourth World school systems and colleges.

  4. An end to sexism that keeps Fourth World women locked into poverty. We want a universal child care system for all Fourth World children that include free childcare, pre-school, healthcare, and nutrition programs.

  5. An end to “the cradle to prison” policies of the United States government that condemn Fourth World men to a future of incarceration. We want rehabilitation for addictions, for training and work programs for all of those held within the local, state, and federal penal systems. We want an end to the indiscriminate use of the death penalty against men of color.

  6. The right of U. S. citizenship extended to every Fourth World child born in America whether his or her parents are illegal or legal aliens.

  7. An end to the wars and the machinations of the United States against Third World countries. We want reparations paid to all Third World countries by the West for centuries of economic rape as well as immediate debt-forgiveness.

  8.  Full and unconditional citizenship granted to all Fourth World people in the United States, Canada, and Europe if they so desire it—without restrictions on their culture, religion or political status.   

These are only starting points for a political program for African-American members of the Fourth World in the United States. But with them, we can move forward to form Fourth World organizations and eventually a The Fourth World party. But we can not even form a Fourth World organization within the African-American community if we can not tie our African-American identity to a program of radical change. Our cause is just but even just causes perish if they can not find fertile ground. 

The fertile ground of our cause is the African-American working class—the most exploited section of the American working class. If a Fourth World organizations can take root among the African-American working class then our cause will have a chance. Power to the The Fourth World!!

Amin Sharif Nov. 29, 2005

posted  4 January 2006

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Fourth World Essays

Afro-America & The Fourth World 

The Black Middle Class & a Political Party of the Poor  (essay)

Dark Child of the Fourth World  

The Fourth World and the Marxists

The Fourth World: In the Belly of the Beast

New Orleans: The American Nightmare

On the Fourth World: Black Power, Black Panthers, and White Allies

Why I Support the Latino Demonstrators


Other Fourth World Essays

African America – A Fourth World 

(Waldron H. Giles)

Dark Child of the Fourth World Reaches Out   (Dennis Leroy Moore)

Fourth World Introduction (M.P. Parameswaran)

 Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist  (M.P. Parameswaran)

The Fourth World Multiculturalism (Rose Ure Mezu)

Fourth World Programme M.P. Parameswaran)

Neo-Liberalism Dictatorship of the Market  M.P. Parameswaran)

The Rise and Fall of the Socialist World  M.P. Parameswaran)

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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