Monday, June 27, 2011

Washington D.C.: A Case Study in Domestic Neo-Colonialism

Citizens of poverty are barely out of sight
Overlords escape in the evening with people of the night…..
It’s a mass of irony for all the world to see
It’s the nation’s capital, it’s Washington D.C.

-Gil Scott Heron (R.I.P.) “Washington D.C.”

In recent weeks, several newspapers such as the Washington Afro and Washington Post have included featured stories discussing the alleged corruption in D.C. government. As the Afro reported, the so-called scandals could have a potentially negative impact upon the righteous movement for DC statehood. In addition, on the same day the Post ran a story on D.C. government’s woes, it also published a story examining the increased economic inequality in the United States. This rising inequality, i submit, is a result of the neoliberal counterrevolution beginning in the early 1970s which promoted deregulation, privatization, and cuts in social services.

African America was not immune to these structural transformations that occurred in the U.S. economy. Economist Jessica Nembhard, Steven Pitts, and Patrick Mason assert since the 1960s “within-group [B]lack family inequality is higher than that of white families.” In other words, there is more income inequality within the Black community than within the white community. Although these two stories appear unrelated, i argue that both are directly correlated to the comprador bourgeois leadership that dominates African America.

Due primarily to the insurgent politics of the 1960s and 1970s, a wave of Black elected officials, including mayors and city council people, entered office in majority Black districts. At the same time, Richard “tricky dick” Nixon was implementing a policy of ‘law and order’ and co-optation by redefining Black Power as ‘Black capitalism’ and electoral politics.

During this period, labor activist and sociologist Robert Allen asserts “the white power structure sought to maintain hegemony by replacing direct white control of the internal Black colony with indirect neo-colonial white control through Black intermediary groups” similar to what happened to successful African independence movements as explained by Kwame Nkrumah.

For example, in 1967 the Ford Foundation donated $175,000 to CORE, a supposedly militant Black organization who advocated Black capitalism, for voter registration and economic development programs. Furthermore, Nixon expanded loans for the Small Business Administration. As political scientist Daryl Harris shows the 1973 Home Rule Act, which gave DC residents the right to vote for mayor and a thirteen member city council, was a product of the insurgent politics of the period. Unfortunately, due to the retrenchment of the movement, in 1995 DC government was required to answer to a Financial Control Board that must approve its annual budget.

Although the African community assumed that the election of Black mayors would lead to the improvement of their material conditions, the results are, at best, mixed. As Robert Allen states in Black Awakening in Capitalist America “Blacks are capable of exploiting one another just as easily as whites.” The DC mayor, Vincent Gray, is currently under investigation by the FBI, U.S. attorney, a congressional committee, and the DC council for paying and giving a job to Sulaimon Brown to attack the incumbent during the 2010 election. Brown has receipts and phone records to support his claim of nepotism and corruption.

According to a preliminary report issued by a council committee, City Council Chairman Kwame Brown ordered multiple SUV’s at $ 2,000/month, although it is illegal for the government to pay for SUV’s for government employees. More recently, city councilman Harry Thomas resigned as chair of the Economic and Development committee, after the attorney general filed a $1 million lawsuit against Thomas for allegedly using grant money and donations for his personal use. No, I’m not done.

Finally, right next door in Prince Georges County, county executive, Jack Johnson pled guilty to accepting bribes for everything from building permits to legislation. How has the Black majority fared under the negro mayoralship? Negro mayors have not stopped the process of displacement (i.e. gentrification). A case in point, in 1986, 82% of Washington DC was African but, according to the 2010 census, the district is now only 50% Black. Furthermore, mass incarceration grew unabated. Michelle Alexander estimates that in the district, three out of four Black men can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their lives.

After reading the above, it is obvious there are major class contradictions within the African nation that must be overcome before our people can progress. Former Black Panther member and current political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim proposed a three phase theory of national liberation in his groundbreaking book We Are Our Own Liberators.

In the first phase, we must directly challenge the current comprador negro leadership that collaborates with the U. S. government. At the same time, we must provide basic goods and services to the Black community then demand the Black elite take political positions that serve not just their own class interests but the masses as well. This action makes a sharp distinction between the revolutionary nationalist and the liberal assimilationist program so that the people can decide who serves their interests.

Many will accuse us of having a ‘Willie Lynch syndrome’ but, point of fact, the Willie Lynch letter has been proven to be a fraud ( Muntaqim warns that the class struggle may appear divisive but, the truth is, elite Africans have an opposing set of class interests to the masses of Black folk. We are simply exposing the contradictions for the world to see…..

Allen, Robert. Black Awakening in Capitalist America. Trenton, NJ: African World Press. 1992.

___________. “Reassessing the Internal (neo) Colonialism Theory. The Black Scholar. 35:1 Spring 2005 pp. 2-11.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in Age of Colorblindess. New York: The New Press. 2010.

Butler Erica. “District Sues Councilman Thomas for $1M.” Washington Afro June 9, 2011

Craig, Tim. “Kwame Brown's SUV was illegal, Wells says” Washington Post 2/28/2011.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Steven Pitts, & Patrick L. Mason. “African American Intragroup Inequality and Corporate Globalization” African Americans in the U.S. Economy. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers INC. 2005.

Muntaqim, Jalil. We Are Our Own Liberators: Selected Prison Writings. Portland: Arissa Media Group. 2010.

Nikita Stewart, Jon Cohen, & Peyton Craighill. “D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray Popularity” Washington Post. June 19, 2011,

Pual Schwatzman and Ovetta Wiggins. “Jack B. Johnson’s Rise and Fall as Prince Georges County Executive” Washington Post June 5, 2011.

Ronald Walters & Toni-Michelle C. Travis (ed.). Democratic Destiny and The District of Columbia: Federal Politics and Public Policy. New York: Lanham Books. 2010.

Salmon, Barrington M. “D.C Council Scandals Disgust Residents” Washington Informer June 23-29.

Whoriskey, Peter. “With executive pay, rich pull away from rest of America” Washington Post June 19, 2011.