Black nationalism (BN) advocates a racial definition (or redefinition) of black national identity, as opposed to multiculturalism. There are different black nationalist philosophies but the principles of all black nationalist ideologies are 1) black pride, and 2) black economic, political, social and/or cultural independence from white society. Marcus Garvey is considered to be the grandfather of black nationalism.
The origins of black nationalism lie in the 19th century with people like Henry McNeal Turner, Martin Delany, Henry Highland Garnet, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Paul Cuffe, etc. The repatriation of black American slaves to Liberia or Sierra Leone was a common black nationalist theme in the 19th century. Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association of the 1910s and 1920s was the most powerful black nationalist movement to date, claiming 11 million members. Although the future of Africa is seen as being central to black nationalist ambitions, some adherents to black nationalism are intent on the eventual creation of a separate black American nation in the U.S. or Western hemisphere.
According to Wilson Jeremiah Moses in his famous work Classical Black Nationalism, black nationalism as a philosophy can be examined from three different periods giving rise to various ideological perspectives for what we can today consider what black nationalism really is.
The first being pre-Classical black nationalism beginning from the time the Africans were brought ashore in the Americas to the Revolutionary period. After the Revolutionary War, a sizable number of Africans in the colonies, particularly in New England and Pennsylvania, were literate and had become disgusted with their social conditions that had spawned from Enlightenment ideas. We find in such historical personalities as Prince Hall, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones a need to found certain organizations as the Free African Society, African Masonic lodges and Church Institutions. These institutions would serve as early foundations to developing independent and separate organizations. By the time of Post-Reconstruction Era a new form of black nationalism was emerging among various African-American clergy circles. Separate circles had already been established and were accepted by African-Americans because of the overt oppression that had been in existence since the inception of the United States. This phenomenon led to the birth of modern black nationalism which stressed the need to separate and build separate communities that promote strong racial pride and also to collectivize resources. This ideology had became the philosophy of groups like the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam and the latter Nation of Gods and Earths. Although, the Sixties brought on a heightened period of religious, cultural and political nationalism, black nationalism would later influence afrocentricity .
The principles of Garveyism are race first, self-reliance and nationhood. Race first is the idea that black people should support other black people first and foremost, self-reliance is the idea that black people should be politically and economically self-reliant (it was important to Garvey that black people develop businesses owned and operated by black people and that they patronize these businesses) and nationhood is the idea that black people should create a United States of Africa which would safeguard the interests of black people worldwide.
To disseminate the UNIA's program, Garvey founded the Negro World newspaper and to encourage black economic independence, he founded the Black Star Line in 1919 as well as the Negro Factories Corporation. The UNIA also initiated the Universal African Legion, a paramilitary group, the Black Cross Nurses, the African Black Cross Society and the Black Cross Trading and Navigation Corporation. Garvey attracted millions of supporters and claimed eleven million members for the UNIA. Marcus Garvey, however, did not advocate that all black people should leave the United States to emigrate to Africa (a strong United States of Africa would protect the interests of all black people everywhere in the world so a physical migration of all black people in the West was unnecessary and, in some cases, undesirable).
Although Marcus Garvey was an ardent supporter of racial separatism (he encouraged black people to separate themselves from whites residentially, develop their own all black businesses and schools, and preached against inter-racial marriage as 'race suicide'), he made it clear that he held no hostility towards whites and believed in the equality of all human beings. Garvey set the precedent for subsequent black nationalist and pan-Africanist thought including that of Kwame Nkrumah (and several other African leaders) the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and most notably, Carlos Cooks (who is considered the ideological son of Marcus Garvey) and his African Nationalist Pioneer Movement.
Marcus Garvey's beliefs are articulated in The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey as well as Message To The People: The Course of African Philosophy.
Between 1953 and 1965, while most black leaders worked in the civil rights movement to integrate black people into mainstream American life, Malcolm X preached independence. He maintained that Western culture, and the Judeo-Christian religious traditions on which it is based, was inherently racist. Constantly ridiculing mainstream civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the "philosophy of the fool". In response to Reverend King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Malcolm X quipped, "While King was having a dream, the rest of us Negroes are having a nightmare."
Malcolm X believed that black people must develop their own society and ethical values, including the self-help, community-based enterprises that the black Muslims supported. He also thought that African Americans should reject integration or cooperation with European Americans. Malcolm was increasingly moving towards a political response to racism, he called for a "black revolution," which he declared would be "bloody" and would renounce any sort of "compromise" with whites. After taking part in a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), he recanted such extremist opinions in favor of mainstream Islam and socialism, and was soon after assassinated during a speech held at The Audubon Ballroom, NYC.
Upon his return from Mecca, Malcolm X abandoned his commitment to racial separatism; however, he was still in favour of black nationalism and advocated that black people in the U.S. be self-reliant. The beliefs of post-Mecca Malcolm X are articulated in the charter of his Organization of Afro-American Unity (a black nationalist group patterned after the Organization of African Unity).
While in France Frantz Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Mask, an analysis of the impact of colonial subjugation on the black psyche. This book was a very personal account of Fanon’s experience being black: as a man, an intellectual, and a party to a French education. Although Fanon wrote the book while still in France, most of his other work was written while in North Africa (in particular Algeria). It was during this time that he produced his greatest works, A Dying Colonialism and perhaps the most important work on decolonization yet written, The Wretched of the Earth.. In it, Fanon lucidly analyzes the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. In this seminal work Fanon expounded his views on the liberating role of violence for the colonized, as well as the general necessity of violence in the anti-colonial struggle. Both books firmly established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century. In 1959 he compiled his essays on Algeria in a book called L'An Cinq: De la Révolution Algérienne.
Black Power was a political movement expressing a new racial consciousness among black people in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Black Power represented both a conclusion to the decade's civil rights movement and an alternative means of combatting the racism that persisted despite the efforts of black activists during the early 1960s. The meaning of Black Power was debated vigorously while the movement was in progress. To some it represented African-Americans' insistence on racial dignity and self-reliance, which was usually interpreted as economic and political independence, as well as freedom from European American authority. These themes had been advanced most forcefully in the early 1960s by Malcolm X. He argued that black people should focus on improving their own communities, rather than striving for complete integration, and that black people had a duty to retaliate against violent assaults. The publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) created further support for the idea of African-American self-determination and had a strong influence on the emerging leaders of the Black Power movement. Other interpreters of Black Power emphasized the cultural heritage of black people, especially the African roots of their identity. This view encouraged study and celebration of black history and culture. In the late 1960s black college students requested curricula in African-American studies that explored their distinctive culture and history. Still another view of black Power called for a revolutionary political struggle to reject racism and economic exploitation in the United States and abroad, as well as colonialism. This interpretation encouraged the alliance of non-whites, including Hispanics and Asians, to improve the quality of their lives.
The Uhuru Movement is the largest contemporary black movement advocating black nationalism. It was founded in the 1980s in St. Petersburg, Florida. Composed mainly of the African People's Socialist Party, the Uhuru Movement also includes other organizations based in both Africa and the United States. These organizations are in the process of establishing a broader organization called the African Socialist International.
Norm R. Allen, Jr., executive director of Council for Secular Humanism, calls black nationalism a "strange mixture of profound thought and patent nonsense".
On the one hand, Reactionary Black Nationalists (RBNs) advocate self-love, self-respect, self-acceptance, self-help, pride, unity, and so forth - much like the right-wingers who promote "traditional family values." But - also like the holier-than-thou right-wingers - RBNs promote bigotry, intolerance, hatred, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, pseudo-science, irrationality, dogmatic historical revisionism, violence, and so forth.
Allen further criticizes black nationalists strong "attraction for hardened prisoners and ex-cons", their encouragement of black-on-black violence when black individuals or groups are branded as "Uncle Tom" , traitors, or "sellouts", the blatantly sexist stance and the similarities to white supremacist ideologies:
Many RBNs routinely preach hate. Just as white supremacists have referred to blacks as "devils," so have many RBNs referred to whites. White supremacists have verbally attacked gays, as have RBNs. White supremacists embrace paranoid conspiracy theories, as do their black counterparts. Many white supremacists and RBNs consistently deny that they are preaching hate and blame the mainstream media for misrepresenting them. (A striking exception is the NOI's Khallid Muhammad, who, according to Gates, admitted in a taped speech titled "No Love for the Other Side," "Never will I say I am not anti-Semitic. I pray that God will kill my enemy and take him off the face of the planet.") Rather, they claim they are teaching "truth" and advocating the love of their own people, as though love of self and hatred of others are mutually exclusive positions. On the contrary, RBNs preach love of self and hatred of their enemies. (Indeed, it often seems that these groups are motivated more by hatred of their enemies than love of their people.)
Nigerian-born professor of History and Director of the African American Studies program at the University of Montana, Tunde Adeleke, argues in his book "UnAfrican Americans: Nineteenth- Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Mission" that 19th-century black American nationalism embodied the racist and paternalistic values of Euro-American culture and that black nationalist plans were not designed for the immediate benefit of Africans but to enhance their own fortunes. Adeleke further criticizes the imperial motives and the concept of a "civilizing mission" operating within the black nationalist thought which aided in "shaping and legitimizing European imperialism of Africa".