kwame ture speaks
Disclaimer: I’m not Black. Because of that, my perspective on this book is clearly one of an outsider—Ture actually talks about this kind of stuff in the book and we’ll get into that later. If that’s not cool, leave. My goal is not to be a representative for Black people but to spread this important message further as Ture suggests. I’m just a person who cares about this subject and wants to do my part in sharing it with my community. Without further ado, let’s go.

The United States of America was founded as a White Supremacist Slave State. Through discriminatory laws, exclusionary policy, and pseudoscience—The United States invented modern racism. A form of racism that attempts to be cunning and at times even inviting. Racism in America has not disappeared but shifted into a different form than before.

Historical figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both wrote about the deceitfulness of the “White Liberal” who through feigning concern over “tactics” decided the liberation movement was not a worthy cause. The book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Kwame Ture & Charles V. Hamilton, takes this idea of the ‘White Liberal’ much further, it’s also the origin of the term “Institutional Racism”, it’ll probably never be read in an American classroom and because of that, it’s essential you read it—or at least know what it is, and why it matters. This is not a Marxist text, but it is most certainly a valuable one written by one of the most important modern Marxists in history.

What’s the Point of this Book?

So first just a little bit of background, in 1978, Stokeley Carmichael legally changed his name to “Kwame Ture” in honor of his two political mentors, Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah and Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré—according to his friends, Ture didn’t care which name you called him and went by both, I’m just gonna go with Kwame.

Now over a decade before that change, in 1967, Kwame Ture, Civil Rights Leader and Revolutionary Socialist—alongside Charles V. Hamilton, a Civil Rights Leader and a Columbia University Political Scientist combined their extensive knowledge on Political organization and wrote this book. The definitive guide to the Black Power movement and an utter beatdown of the “White Liberal”. These two writers take their experience organizing political movements and studying history to put forth a serious plan for revolutionary activism and political strategizing. The data in this book is out of date—Obviously, it was written in the ’60s—but the message and the ideas are still just as relevant, if not more relevant than ever.

“White Liberalism”?

I should address a term that’s already come up a couple of times, “White Liberalism”. This book is going to describe this in many ways but right now it’s most important to know that “white liberal & white American” is a mentality that can infiltrate any group. The critique of tactics instead of substantive additions to the movement. It’s also not literally just liberals, in reality, this term encompasses modern “rational” centrists, not openly racist conservatives, and the “apolitical”.

On top of that “White Liberal” also doesn’t literally mean only White people—Non-white Non-Black people can also be White Liberals or at least express their ideas. A common issue I’ve heard from Black people from the modern black liberation movement is that Black and brown people have in recent years been lumped together in the name of “POC” or “BIPOC” despite historical Anti-Blackness in almost all minority groups—As a Hispanic person, I wish this wasn’t true—But it is and it must be acknowledged and part of that problem is this mentality that feeds into white supremacy.

What Is “Black Power”?

“When Black people lack a majority, Black Power means representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases, of strength, from which black people can press to change local or nationwide patterns of oppression—instead of from weakness. It does not mean merely putting Black faces into office. Black visibility is not Black Power. Most of the Black politicians around the country today are not examples of Black Power. [p.46]”

Ture and Hamilton make it very clear that the emancipation of Black people is not the same as Black faces in office. Getting to vote for the “lesser of two evils” every few years is not true freedom or equality or even valuable. Representation is nice, it feels nice to see someone on TV who looks like you, and it feels nice to have a politician look like you. But what is that worth if their policies are the same as their white counterparts? Is the goal of these Black politicians to advocate for solutions to Black issues, or to get Black people to capitulate to White solutions (i.e. nothing)?

In the book, Ture makes it clear that organizations for the Black Power movement should be made up of exclusively Black people. This is because Ture and Hamilton agree that the Black experience, while not monolithic, is emblematic and necessary to fully comprehend the importance and urgency of liberation. Don’t worry though, there are things you can do if you are not Black, according to this book, that we’ll get into later.

Now, when people say things like this there’s inevitably someone who replies with some variation of the same tired idea, “Reverse Racism!”, “Black Supremacy!”, “Segregation!” Ture and Hamilton directly call this out for the lie that it is:

“This is a deliberate and absurd lie. There is no analogy—by any stretch of definition or imagination—between the advocates of Black Power and white racists. Racism is not merely exclusion on the basis of race but exclusion for the purpose of subjugating or maintaining subjugation. The goal of the racists is to keep Black people on the bottom, arbitrarily and dictatorially, as they have done in this country for over three hundred years. The goal of Black self-determination and Black self-identity—Black Power—is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of Black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as Black people. The Black people of this country have not lynched whites, bombed their churches, murdered their children and manipulated laws and institutions to maintain oppression. White racists have. Congressional laws, one after the other, have not been necessary to stop Black people from oppressing others and denying others the full enjoyment of their rights. White racists have made such laws necessary. The goal of Black Power is positive and functional to a free and viable society. No white racist can make this claim. ”

Kwame Ture in “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation” [p.47]

It’s so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said. Black people in this country have the right to demand their freedom and equality, there is no other side to this argument. There is a clear right and a wrong answer here and make no mistake the correct side is for the Black Power movement.

Why is this important?

This book starts by plainly stating that Black people in America need to unite and demand huge structural change in society, without fear of being called divisive. They write,

“Black people in America have no time to play nice, polite parlor games—especially when the lives of their children are at stake. Some white Americans can afford to speak softly, tread lightly, employ the soft-cell and put-off (or is it put-down?). They own society. For Black people to adopt their methods of relieving our oppression is ludicrous. We Black people must respond in our own way, on our own terms, in a manner which fits our temperaments. The definitions of ourselves, the roles we pursue, the goals we seek are our responsibility. ”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.xvii]

Ture & Hamilton believe that White Liberals are incapable of criticizing themselves and the systems they’ve created and that, because of that, it’s Black people’s responsibility to make white people aware of these problems and force a change to happen. The authors denounce the common platitudes of White Liberalism: saying,

  • “Granted, things were and are bad, but we are making progress”
  • “Granted, your demands are legitimate, but we cannot move hastily. Stable societies are best built slowly”
  • “Be careful that you do not anger or alienate your white allies; remember, after all, you are only ten percent of the population.”

“We reject this language and these views, whether expressed by Black or white; we leave them to others to mouth, because we do not feel that this rhetoric is either relevant or useful. ”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.xvii]

Now, WOAH, What? These are all quotes, not my invention, these are the exact same arguments we hear today. Conservatives and Liberals can’t wait to go on TV and condemn people for protesting the government’s consistent and unceasing attempt to destroy Black people. Even more so than ever, the time between 1967 and 2021 has not led to any new arguments– How’s that for innovation under Capitalism?…

Institutional Racism

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon, see there is one thing that was invented under Capitalism and it was first named in this book—Institutional Racism. Yes, that well-documented, studied, and accepted (by non-idiot racists) existence of past and present systemic bias against Black people, was coined in this book!

“When a Black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn—at least in words. But it is institutional racism that keeps Black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.4]

This isn’t to say that because society ignores making meaningful change it isn’t responding to the calls for change, the response is just wrong. Charles Silberman wrote in “Crisis in Black and White”,

“The tragedy of race relations in the United States is that there is no American Dilemma. White Americans are not torn and tortured by the conflict between their devotion to the American creed and their actual behavior. They are upset by the current state of race relations, to be sure. But what troubles them is not that justice is being denied but that their peace is being shattered and their business interrupted.”

From Crisis in Black and White by Charles Silberman [pp. 9–10]

Isn’t this exactly what we see today? The condemnation of riots as “counterproductive” and the wish to “go back to normal”, the problem is that what is normal is what got us here, and what is normal, is wrong. This inevitably leads us to a discussion of the Democratic Party.

Democrats and Infinite Capitulation

Here the authors bring up the biggest divide between those advocating for Black liberation and the Democrats—Capitulation to White America and “Saving Face”. White people are too interested in their current state of being, and even when they claim to support your movement, they’ll side with the opposition if you don’t follow all their demands. Unfortunately, the reality of liberation politics is not so simple. In this book, it’s made clear:

“Jobs will have to be sacrificed, positions of prestige and status given up, favors forfeited. It may well be—and we think it is—that leadership and security are basically incompatible. When one forcefully challenges the racist system, one cannot, at the same time, expect that system to reward him or even treat him comfortably. Political leadership which pacifies and stifles its voice and then rationalizes this on grounds of gaining “something for my people” is, at bottom, gaining only meaningless, token rewards that an affluent society is perfectly willing to give.”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.15]

That last line really digs into the idea of the “Black leader”, those who have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X will be familiar with this idea, it’s the name for empty vessels for white politics. Revolutionary leaders of the time knew that the Democratic Party did not have their best interest at hand. And that the Democratic Party would use the Black community to get votes and then ignore them using so-called “Black leaders” who would be allowed into government only to capitulate to and “compromise” with White people and their politics.

“Those hand-picked ‘leaders’ have no viable constituency for which they can speak and act. All this is a classic formula of colonial co-optation. ”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.31]

Ture and Hamilton are very clear that Black people’s support for the Democratic party should be strategic and never unwavering. The authors go on to describe the history of Black people in America in the framework of Colonialism and Alienation. They talk about how the economic situation of Black people in America is similar to that of a Colonial relationship. Black people are subordinate to power structures founded, led, and controlled by white people. White people that did in the past, and the present continue to, deny Black people truly equal treatment in society.

“When some people compare the Black American to “other immigrant” groups in this country, they overlook the fact that slavery was peculiar to the Blacks. No other minority group in this country was ever treated as legal property.”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation

This is where I repeat myself for emphasis—Black Liberation is exclusive to Black people. It is a movement that should be supported by all, but led by Black people. While Indigenous history is vast and horrific, White Supremacy, while applied to all groups in the country, was primarily centered around the subjugation and ownership of specifically Black peoples. It’s very important that we understand this so as to not co-opt this language in an attempt to push other unrelated ideas.

Liberation as a concept is necessary for a huge amount of subjects and people, but Black Liberation is something that we should be aware of and respectful of—and to co-opt a movement that attempts to end Colonialism would be terribly ironic.

Hating White People as a Political Position

Hearing this, some people in the USA take these words as “hate” for white people. It’s not uncommon for revolutionaries to be disparaged as criminals to discredit their cause. How many of you learned that Malcolm X simply hated white people and was like Evil Martin Luther King?

Well, that’s not the case, Ture and Hamilton don’t hate white people. They hate racism and the racist systems that white people have created and profit from to this day. Their words are forceful and militant, because they need to be if they want their message to be heard. Ture doesn’t want white people to apologize or feel guilty for being white—the authors don’t say anything like that. What they do suggest is that integration is a two-way street and that up until now, White Americans have refused to do their part to allow for true “integration”.

“…for a lasting solution, the meaning of “American” must lose its implicit racial modifier, ‘white.’ Even without biological amalgamation, integration requires a sincere acceptance by all Americans that it is just as good to be a Black American as to be a white American. ”

From the book, Racial Crisis in America [p.108-109]

Now, while the authors make it clear they don’t hate white people, they do lay out some history that makes you think it would make sense if they did. White people and more specifically, white Americans, have historically dehumanized and caricatured groups they deemed inferior. The Indigenous are called ‘Savages’, the Semitic are “Shifty”, and Black people are “lazy”—These are all lies created by people who wanted to justify their crimes. These are not invading forces, foreign species, or existential threats to society—They are people who want to be free.

The United States primes its citizens to accept these lies. From public education to public transport, white supremacy runs deep. Ture mentions that people don’t grow up questioning the phrase, “Home of the free, land of the brave” so there’s no question who’s right when the US says it’s “fighting Communist aggression” or that it really is a “Great Society”. This country has done everything it can to hide the truth of its intent: to profit, to exploit, to see genocide not as an atrocity but a tool that ought to be used and it’s your job to identify these lies and not fall for the trick.

What Can We Do?

During the 1960s, Kwame Ture led the SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Dedicating to organizing student sit-ins during the civil rights movement, was one of the pivotal ways in which young Black youth and children participated in the civil rights movement just as their older counterparts did. In the book, Ture describes his experience working with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).

Here are some of the many challenges that he faced spreading the message of liberation: getting poor people who depend on rich white bosses to openly support politics against them, building a real coalition, and most importantly—putting in the work. When talking about people who at first wanted to be political organizers for the Civil Rights movement he says,

“In fact, many people who would aspire to the role of an organizer drop off simply because they do not have the energy, the stamina, to knock on doors day after day. That is why one finds many such people sitting in coffee shops talking and theorizing instead of organizing.”

So, what now? A question many interested in “radical” politics eventually find themselves asking. To Ture and Hamilton? The answer is complicated but also in a way quite simple, it’s organizing. Creating parallel structures to the government in which Black people are able to gain real power in society and liberate themselves.

This could be something like the MFDP, a political party with clear political demands, or the SNCC leading peaceful organized protests with young people. For an outside comparison, look at how the Black Panthers legally carried weapons and overlooked public police activity in California. Political organizations should be led not only by Black people but liberators, unafraid of change.

Of course, not everyone can start a political party so what can you individually do? One thing is mutual aid in your community, providing people with low-income basic household goods, food drives, and educating people about this. Outside of mutual aid, you should be critical of yourself and those around you. Remember that it’s your job to fight white supremacy, to ensure that those around you do too—These things may cost you time and even money. You won’t get paid and you might get backlash for spreading these ideas. People might think of you negatively for telling them they’re behaving in an anti-Black manner. If you sincerely hold these beliefs and stand up for them, you may even be in danger.

“It may well be—and we think it is—that leadership and security are basically incompatible.”

Kwame Ture in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation [p.15]

I repeat that sentence because it’s one of the most important themes in this book. Liberation Politics is not for those who want comfortable conversation. The authors avoid talking about Socialism and Communism purposely to exemplify how important Black liberation is to this moment in time—but be clear, Kwame Ture was a Marxist-Leninist and a Revolutionary Socialist. This book is not very long, and extremely important, it’s an awesome read and it should be required for all people, if not read fully, to understand and appreciate.

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