by: InPDUM San Diego
African students at San Diego State University have been organizing a conference on reparations. San Diego State University is a public university in Southern California, twenty minutes from the Mexico border. Energized by the international discussion on reparations, these students proposed a wide variety of guest speakers including Ava Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and even the popular journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic. With a clear understanding that there could be no discussion of reparations without the inclusion of the Uhuru Movement, student organizers also proposed to bring Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party – USA to the university.
Chairman Omali Yeshitela first visited San Diego in 1972 as a guest speaker at the Congress of African People. Over the past three decades, Chairman Omali Yeshitela has frequently spoken at SDSU and other colleges in the region. Most recently, the Chairman visited the San Diego area in October 2015 where he was well received, even by the local media. The organizers of the reparations summit have attended many of these events and clearly understand the vanguard position of the APSP and the Chairman in the reparations movement.
Zionists Attack African Liberation and Self-Determination
In late-December, Peter Herman, literature professor at SDSU attacked the organizers and proposed guest speakers of the summit. In a series of articles that reached as far as the nation of Israel, attacked Chairman Omali Yeshitela and Ava Muhammad for their criticism of Israel and support for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. This became evident in the frequent usage of the quote, “The Uhuru Movement supports unconditionally the struggle of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and take back all of their stolen land.”
Herman declares criticism of the nation of Israel and Zionist politics as anti-Semitism–hatred for Jewish people and other people of the Middle East.
This is a popular tactic used by faculty and students on college campuses throughout the United States. Most recently, at University of San Diego, a private college across town, Zionist students tried to prevent the creation of a pro-Palestinian student organization. In this struggle, the pro-Palestinian students won. Every year in May, pro-Palestinian college activists hold events called “Justice in Palestine Week.” Justice in Palestine Week is a part of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
Every May, in response, Zionist professors and students pen articles to sympathetic news outlets slandering pro-Palestinian actions as anti-Semitic and suggesting university support for these students are equally anti-semitic. Similarly, elected officials have called for the creation of laws that make support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement an act of terrorism. Just last May, Herman wrote an article accusing the SDSU Women’s Center and Women’s Studies Department of antisemitism and turned the university’s administration against students and faculty.
This is the context behind Herman’s attack against Chairman Omali Yeshitela, Ava Muhammad and the student organizers of the campus reparations summit. Herman has consistently attacked the self-determination and liberation of African and colonized people, making it about the historical struggles of Jewish people by using the power of the media and universities–even campus diversity officers.
The actions of college faculty such as Herman and others, throughout higher education, are part of a reactionary academic and political culture that political scientists Norman Finkelstein highlights in his book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. In this tradition, Finkelstein notes, very real material contradictions and class conflicts that underscore Black-Jewish relations in the United States. Instead, Black (and Palestinian) political dissent is called anti-Semitism.
This intentional misuse of the term anti-semitism to attack progressive causes is not overdetermined by religion but instead political power. As Finkelstein shows, Christian conservatives and even Black professors such as Henry Louis Gates have embraced these colonialistic tropes of African and Arab people. More than simple boosterism for Israel, Finkelstein notes that his agenda is generally pro-police and incarceration, anti-affirmative action, and in support of aggressive military spending.
Therefore, African Liberation Movement has historically stood in opposition to these positions, and it is for these reasons that it comes under attack.
The Historical Fight Against Censorship of African Revolutionaries at California Colleges
This week marks the 55th anniversary of the martyrdom of Malcolm X. In early 1961, students at the University of California Berkeley, in Northern California, had organized to bring Malcolm X to speak on campus. Initially approved, University of California administrators barred Malcolm from coming to the campus. Similarly, two years later, San Diego State College (as SDSU was then called) banned members of the Nation of Islam from selling their newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, on campus.
In both instances, African students organized massive and multinational solidarity from the student body and community.
In Berkeley, radical African students challenged university authorities and the accommodationist NAACP student leaders, formed the pioneering Black Nationalist organization, the Afro-American Association, and succeeded in bringing Malcolm to the University of California in May 1961 and many other subsequent times.
In those years before his death, Malcolm spoke at the University of California’s Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses multiple times. As the memoirs of African alumni have attested, these visits from Malcolm played a crucial role in spurring multiple sectors of the African Liberation Movement including Black Power and antiapartheid activism.
The African Community Defends Free Speech and Self-Determination
On Wednesday February 19th, the local branch of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) organized a press conference at the Free Speech Steps on San Diego State University’s campus. Just as in the 1960s, the Africans organized massive and multinational support for African self-determination and against censorship and the slanderous, manipulative and misleading journalism. Speakers defended Chairman Omali Yeshitela, Ava Muhammad, and student organizers.
Upon speakers InPDUM organizers Muambi Tangu and Xavier McGregor, Undersecretary Benjamin Prado of Union Del Barrio, Wendy Craig and Terri Best of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, and Carl Muhammad of the Committee Against Police Brutality–San Diego spoke out against the attempts to censor and sanitize the reparations summit to the liking of Herman, the Hillel Center, and other people on campus.
In their statements, speakers underscored the absurdity of the opposition to the Chairman speaking at SDSU, as just last year, he had been invited to speak at Oxford University, the leading university in the world. The speakers denounced the ridiculousness of white professors and organizations dictating to African and Mexican people what they could and could not say, who they could and could not invite, on a college campus that stands on land stolen from the indigenous people of the region.
White speakers expressed their solidarity with African liberation and support for reparations to all African people. Their statement that all white people owed reparations to African people was met with applause by a multinational group of students. Of the most excited was a group of Filipino students.
The crowd of over 100 listeners were in overwhelming support for the press conference. Dozens of students stayed well-beyond the end of the press conference to ask questions and meet the speakers. There was no dissent. No students or faculty disrupted the press conference.
More Distortions from the Bourgeois Media
The crowd also heard from African Studies Professor Adisa Alkebulan. Professor Alkebulan was not in the position to speak for his department. Yet, he made it clear that he stood in support of the Chairman speaking at SDSU and in opposition to claims of antisemitism being leveled against the movement. Noting that Palestinians were in fact Semitic people as well, the concern he noted was a political question. Criticism of the crimes of the Israeli State is not antisemitic, Professor Alkebulan underscored.
None of the speakers spoke in a disparaging manner to Jewish people. All, only ever spoke in opposition to Zionism, a well-understood academic and political term; a term that the now-disgraced Benjamin Netanyahu uses regularly.
None of this was covered by KUSI Channel 10, the local station that was present, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Neither news outlet interviewed any of the scores of African, Mexican, Asian and white students in support of their hearing what they heard. Instead, the news outlets interviewed two white people, one student and one faculty member, that they seemingly planted in the audience.
While admiting she only caught the end of the press conference, Professor Risa Levitt, Director of Jewish Studies, said she heard anti-Jewish tropes. The other person quoted is a student-journalist who maintains a foreign-policy blog in which he attacks Palestinian people in defense of Israel.
Colonialism Versus Racism
It is very likely that none of the people who have taken reactionary positions against African liberation and self-determination would describe themselves as conservatives. In fact, their writings continuously propose their support for diversity, civility, and respectful dialogue. These are the talking points of the Democratic Party and not the Republican Party.
On college campuses, this ideology is best represented in the wide-spread embrace of the teachings of Tim Wise. Wise traverses college campuses, making tens of thousands of dollars as a guest speaker and diversity trainer, teaching people the solution to the conditions Africans face are nicer and more enlightened people. Exemplified in his support for internal colonial program Teach for America, Wise trains people in power how to be nicer and more compassionate rulers. He successfully points the fingers at bigoted whites but does not call upon progressive whites to commit themselves to revolutionary change under the leadership of African people. For this reason, USM has declared him and his followers, opportunists.
Campus diversity initiatives have proposed themselves in opposition to racism but rarely, if ever speak of colonialism as a force of white power. To do so would be to implicate itself in the great heist.
Chairman Omali teaches: “The struggle against ‘racism’ is the struggle of the petty bourgeoisie fighting to integrate into the white capitalist world, to board the sinking ship of white power. It is a diversionary struggle reliant on failed philosophical assumptions that must be cast aside as a precondition for moving forward…This is not an innocent issue of semantics. The way this is understood informs our practice. The struggle against ‘racism’ presupposes one approach and the struggle against imperialist colonialism, another.”
Just as those students who united behind Malcolm X, InPDUM calls upon students to rally behind Chairman Omali Yeshitela and African Internationalism. As it did for students in the 1960s, this will advance your struggles for power on campus and off campus. It will ensure your great leap towards freedom.