ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Black and Arab youth of Paris are part of a new phenomenon that has not been
given proper analysis by the Leftthe introduction of non-Western peoples into the
very heart of the post-modern West. Although these persons are Third World in origin
The Fourth World: In the Belly of the Beast
By Amin Sharif
The term Third World is a common euphuism for the people and governments of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The terms origin derives from an historical analysis of the worlds social, economic, and political development and from the Introduction of Frantz Fanons masterpiece, The Wretched of the Earth by Jean-Paul Sartre. The First World according to this analysis is composed of the countries of Old World Europethe capitalist West. The Second World was the Soviet Union and its satellitesa non-capitalist or socialistic East. The Third World was made up of the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It was in the Third World that anti-colonial and anti-imperialist national liberation struggles were waged against the First World Powers of Europe during the 1950s and 60s.
When, the Soviet Bloc began to crumble, many saw the same mechanism of national liberation at work in Poland and Czechoslovakia that had been before evidenced in the struggle of Third World countries such as Algeria to extricate itself from France or Ghanas breaking away from the British. The theory of convergence had predicted decades ago that the capitalism and socialism would begin to resemble one another in the political and economic sphere. But many Leftists refused to accept the premise of social imperialism and were sent spiraling off course when the Soviet Bloc disintegrated. As a result of the dismantling of the Soviet Republics, it may be inaccurate to even speak of a viable socialistic Second World today.
Today, the term Third World is as passé as the political vernacular that once brought it into existence. Regionalism emerging from economic cooperation has rapidly led to fragmentation in the solidarity once professed by leaders of the Third World national liberation struggles. Now, we speak not of the Third World as a whole but of fragmented Free Trade Zones, Pacific Rim alliances, and the like. There is no Mao, no Nkrumah speaking of the exploited Asian peasant or African. Castro, alone, continues to hold up the banner of international Third World solidarity. And, Castro is the last of the old style Third World revolutionaries who holds power.
Some on the Left may look upon the end of the era of national liberation struggles with nostalgia. But it is high time that progressive thinkers moved beyond the dead rhetoric of those days. This statement in no way devalues the accomplishments of the peoples and leaders who waged the anti-colonial struggle within the Third World. It acknowledges that most, if not all, of that work has been accomplished.
What is called for is a new analysis on the Left that will allow us to determine how best to advance the struggle for peace and justice in the world. Fortunately, enough time has now passed to make the advancement of a new analysis possible. The current events in Paris and New Orleans have given rise to an appropriate occasion to begin the discussion.
As this article is being written, Paris has experienced nearly twelve days of riots by an economic and cultural underclass of African and Arab youth. These youth are the sons and daughters of immigrants who have been in Europe for two, perhaps, three generations and have found it an inhospitable home. Europe is their home for it is highly unlikely that any of these Black and Arab children will ever return to their mother countriesunless of course they are expelled by their host countries. Like the African-American of the United States, most are permanently exiled in Europe for better or worse.
Today, we find that it is Paris burning. But the working class cities of England and Germany have also had problems with immigrant populations. The key question at the center of this social upheaval is can non-European populations integrate into Western European countries? Is it at all possible to accomplish this? The answer to this question is central not only to the Arab and African youth of France. It is also central to the entire European Union. For, it is estimated that the integrated economy of Europe will require millions of cheap non-European labor in order to maintain itself.
The United States has for years wrestled with how to integrate African-Americansnon whitesinto a greater white American culture. There can be little doubt that it has failed to accomplish its task. The condition of the Black working class and Black poor were revealed in graphic detail when Katrina hit New Orleans. The American Constitution means nothing if you are Black and can not purchase a bottle of water when you need it. It is my suspicion that the Black and Arab youth of Paris have found that all the rhetoric about Brotherhood espoused by French revolutionaries also means nothing when set against the virulent racism and religious bigotry of the day.
The Black and Arab youth of Paris are part of a new phenomenon that has not been given proper analysis by the Leftthe introduction of non-Western peoples into the very heart of the post-modern West. Although these persons are Third World in origin, they constitute an entirely new species of mankind within the European countries they reside. They constitute a Fourth Worldthe second and third generation of Africans and Arabs who know well what Western democracy and modernity is and is not. They are not wholly of their Mother Country nor are they full citizens of the post-modern West.
Their struggle is not anti-colonial or anti-imperialistic. It is far more fundamental than that. It is a struggle to maintain cultural and economic equilibrium within a society that devalues their very culture and yet hold dear their cheap labor. Their struggle, and that of all Fourth World peoples, is to obtain full citizenship while maintaining their cultural and racial identity within the West.
The question for the Arab and the African in Europe, as it has been for Blacks in America, is whether their integration into the West means abandoning their identity. Can I live in Europe as a full citizen and still be Asian, Arab, or African, they ask?
There, is of course, a glaring reason why the Left has not turned an eye on the plight of the Fourth World. First, the suffering still endured in the Third World characterized by famine and disease is much easier to mobilize against. The bloated belly of a Somalian child will always evoke more sympathy than the Arab who takes away your trash. Restoration of a village a thousand miles away in Sri Lanka is much easier to cope with than extending a good job and a living wage to a black-skinned Nigerian. Yes, it is always easier to recognize the devil at work in our neighbors house than our own.
The source of the oppression of Fourth World peoples is, for the most part, plain and simple racism. It is a racism that screams in the most sophisticated languages of Europe or the drawl of an Alabama bigot, You are not worthy to be among us. Your touch contaminates all that is pure in our world. This racism also insists, Some of you can become worthy if you will dress, speak, and think like us.
But what is silent on the tongue of racism is that whatever concessions are made by the American nigger or the swarthy Arab or the black-skinned African, the great majoritynigger, Arab or Africanwill never be allowed to integrate fully into American or Europeandare I saywhite society. The contamination rate is too high a price to pay for every Asian, Arab, or African to become a full citizen of the post-modern West.
The Left of Europe and America who are drawn from white society have never been able to cope with racism. Racism is a cancer drawn from their existence. The bourgeois principles of American and European democracies were built on the back of colonialism. An inverse relationship exists between the white European and American and their non-white counterparts. The constitutions that promise so much for them are the very barriers that deny dignity to other men.
But for whites to give up all that is bourgeois is to give themselves up to an existence without references. Whiteness, an entirely article construct, exists in opposition to Blackness. If the European and American cease to be white then what will he become? The greatest test of the coming century will be whether the whites of America and Europe can meet the challenge of their own racism and transform that racism into a front for tolerance. Understand one thing clearly, if they fail to confront their own bigotry, it will not be the Kasbah of Algeria or the Ho Chi Min Trail set ablaze this time, it will be their own house.
What is more pertinent to this discussion in not simply that there is a Fourth World that exists within the belly of the beastAmerica and Europe. The question is how the Fourth World transforms its rage into meaningful political action and ultimately into liberation. In America, this has been a question that has been at the center of Black progressive and radical activism since the days of Jim Crow. How do we become free? What does freedom mean?
The method and the means have always been in dispute among Black Americans. One of the reasons for this diilemma in America has been the political bias of the political players in the African-American dispute. Some were true integrationists. Some were communists. Some were cultural or revolutionary nationalists. And what they had in common was that none were ever able to think out of their ideological boxes. Political and ideological purity trumped political reality on too many occasions.
Rather than consider the situation in America as unique, the Marxists defined the African-American struggle as just another part of struggle of the worker against capitalism. The Pan-Africanist advocated that the African-American struggle was solely an extension of the anti-colonial struggle of the Third World. The black nationalists saw the plight of an internal colony in search of self-determination. Time has proven the efficacy of these ideologies to be wholly or partly erroneous.
Most important thing here is that these ideologies masked the true condition of the African-American. It has been the pursuit of these ideologies that has led to the political stagnation of our people in the face of unprecedented exploitation and oppression. Why?
The answer is simple. The movement that brought us so much progress was the Civil Rights Movement. It was middle class in leadership and agenda but poor and working class in body. It was almost entirely successful in achieving the middle-class dream of opening the doors of American society for those equipped to go through them. But, for the working class and Black poor, the Civil Rights Revolution was a dismal failure. What the Civil Rights Movement failed to do was to extend the social and economic benefits of the middle class to the Black working and poor classes.
Today, we have the curious phenomenon within our community of a flourishing Black middle class, an impoverished working class, and almost entirely powerless underclass. But, if we are to move forward, we can not attempt to build a new Civil Rights Movementthough we may find some of the Civil Rights Movement tactics useful. What we need is to build something newa Fourth World Revolution. The Fourth World in America came into existence the minute the second generation of slaves realized that there would be no returning to Africa. And since, the Fourth World emerged in America earliest; it must be Fourth World African-Americans who must take the lead in developing the tactics and strategy that will end their oppression in both Europe and United States.
The first thing that a Fourth World people must understand is the role of its middle class. The middle class has little or no capacity to lead the majority of its Fourth World brothers and sisters in the struggle for economic, cultural, or political progress. It will be the Fourth World middle class who will be the first to compromise, to integrate, and assimilate. They will rally the working masses to a false flag of racial and class solidarity and leave them standing beneath that banner when their goals are accomplished.
Thus, the Fourth World is not only in contradiction with the power structure of the country in which it resides but with its own middle class. Just as at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the poor and Black working masses stood with the middle class to end segregation. Today, the test will be whether the middle classes will stand with its own working class and poor to end their oppression. The Fourth World would like to stand with its brothers in every class. But it has no fear of standing alone and making its own way in the world. Thus, acting alone or in concert with other forces, Fourth World people must seek and direct their own liberation.
The second thing the Fourth World must have is its own fighting organization that will carry out its agenda. We want nothing less than the restructuring of the entire relationship between Fourth World peoples and Western democracies and capitalismbe it in America or Europe. Here, our message to the West is clear: You must let us be men and women paid in the currency of dignity and decency before you can have our labor. We want nothing less than full citizenship within the Western countries in which we reside. At the leadership of the Fourth World must be men and women from the oppressed classes who are dedicated to the goal of full citizenship within the West.
But it is already conceded that the Fourth World Revolution will not be based on solely working class values. Since many of our problems are rooted in religious and cultural bigotry, we must work to make freedom of religion, the celebration of Third World culture and identity as well as the cultural forms developed from our experience within the West a central goal of the Fourth World Revolution. Here, we depart from the Marxists who would have a Fourth World devoid of its indigenous character. We want whole men and women within our ranks that act as their conscious guides steeped in their own history.
The third thing that the Fourth World must understand is that racismour primary enemyis both a political policy and a set of personal behaviors. Neither of these will disappear overnight. Thus, the Fourth World Revolution is on-going until the day that both the political policy of racism and the personal behavior of the racist come to an end. The Fourth World will no longer sanction the Wests incursions into Africa, Asia, and Latin America for economic gains.
We will not allow you to fatten yourselves on the exploitation of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We will no longer fill the ranks of your armed forces or your jails. We will no longer starve while you eat nor cry while you laugh. We declare ourselves free to be fully Asian, Arab, and African within your midst, to be less would make us subhuman in our own eyes. We will no longer watch as our children are raised without dignity or hope. We will no longer give you our labor without a fair wage. We will no longer give you our allegiance without full citizenship.
We stand ready to throw all your platitudes about democracy, freedom, and brotherhood back in your face whether you rule in America or Europe. We will hound you until you allow us to fulfill our dreams of being fully human as you are fully human. We, the people of the Fourth World, have come of age. And, we want from you only that which you have promised to yourselves. That is the right to live without fear and want in the world. Give us this and you need not fear us. Deny us this and we have no other alternative but to realize our humanity at your expense.
posted 10 November 2005
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Fourth World Essays
Other Fourth World Essays
(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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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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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 3 November 2007