No Leaders, No Masters: We Must Liberate Ourselves
When the State, the Media, and White America saw one of our “beloved leaders” Jesse Jackson confronted and challenged by Ferguson protesters, an uneasiness was felt. What they learned was something that had been true for some time now, if anyone ever bothered to ask us, is that people like Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton, don’t speak for us. The same has become true with the NAACP, which has done little in recent years towards the advancement of colored people. With last year incidents such as a letter in support of Rachel Dolezal, or giving Donald Sterling a lifetime achievement award, it is fair to say there is quite a disconnect between the organization and the community it is supposed to represent.
As we move forward it is important that we reflect on our immediate history and whether the tactics that have been used are ones that support us towards our liberation. The roles of hierarchy in black movements often reinforce systems of oppression that many of those are fighting against. The traditional black leadership that I spoke about before has become irrelevant to this new generation of resistance, and because of this we are seeing a new generation of leadership put in place to help guide us to the promise land.
The black leadership has come to be defined as an individual or group that has been deemed a leader and voice of black people usually by white media. The current black revolt has been branded as the Black Lives Matter movement, and although the creators of the BLM movement were three black queer women, it is the men of twitter who have been placed in leadership positions. Yes, women are the creators, or in other words, mothers of our movements, giving birth to our next kings. As someone who believes in autonomy and is against hierarchical ways of organizing, since it is contrary to the path of liberation, I am not arguing that they should be our rightful leaders, instead I simply want to point out the level of patriarchy and sexism present here.
Now, the aim of this piece is to target the idea of leadership, individually and within organizations. Who gets to decide who that said leadership is? Do retweets and hashtags count as votes these days? And who really benefits from a black leadership?
It’s quite interesting when you think about it, even the simple fact that black people have a leadership but white people don’t? You’ll never hear some news anchor say “well now we’re going to listen to the white leadership give a press conference on why Timmy shot up that school today” or, “lets discuss with the white leadership as to why there is an epidemic of heroin use in their community.” No, racial leadership is something that is reserved for the black community since we’re all homogeneous and think the same, we’re simple folks like that.
For one to be given the title leader it’s important that 1. The person is a cis-male, 2. The person isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and by dirty I mean work with politicians, media heads, and the police. On the local level it’s with community leaders you never even knew you had until a riot happens and they speak in front of a press conference telling black youth to calm down and to protest peacefully, or on the national level where they are doing the same thing but on some cable news network.
The media plays the most important role when it pertains to black leadership, they are the ones who solidify and reinforce the narrative. Either by continuously asking those said individuals to speak on available platforms, or simply by labeling them as leaders when referring to them on broadcast, validating them. The same is true with organizations, as I wrote in “How to Kill A Movement” the Ferguson uprisings became the Black Lives Matter movement after one caravan ride. And although many of us thought #BlackLivesMatter was just a hashtag we soon found out that it was in fact an org. The media, academia, and the state love to label movements because it allows for both lazy journalism and the control of the national narrative, such as the Ferguson uprisings being rebranded as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, offering no complexity. But, let’s not forget the real reason why the conversation of race and police brutality has changed in this country. It’s not because of any self-proclaimed leadership, or because of any of the civil disobedience media stunts and planned arrests that have taken place. It is because black people burned some shit down, broke some windows, and when tear gas canisters were thrown at them, they threw that shit back. It’s those freedom fighters, who you won’t see on a cover of a magazine, interviewed on cable news, or give a lecture at some white Ivy League school, who made it happen.
Now, many will wonder, “so what, what’s wrong with a little leadership, what good do riots bring to our communities anyway? We need organization!” For those individuals I would suggest you read my earlier pieces, “Looting is A Political Tactic”, “Embrace The Riot: Why Liberalism Fails”, and “It’s Time For Black Liberation, Not Liberalism” where I’ve discussed more in depth why rioting is a necessary tactic. Now, in the matters of the necessity of leadership, I will discuss further.
In my piece “It’s Time For Black Liberation Not Liberalism”, I wrote:
All of the forms that we’ve been examining above are various forms of hierarchy. Hierarchy is in opposition to liberation. This is why we need to re-examine the way we understand movement building and how resistance will be envisioned. A liberated person has no leaders, and a movement aiming towards liberation must be leaderless. We should be empowering each other and ourselves, while working together horizontally in our revolt.
The idea that what this movement needs is more leadership is false. Leaders can be compromised, and can be bought. The movement needs to be like wildfire, breathing life into each flame that springs up.
We have been dictated to our whole lives, controlled, and told what to do, the idea that this same violence needs to be replicated in our practice of resistance is ridiculous.
The state, like the media, seek out their go-to person(s), this person will be called whenever black unrest happens and will be invited to private meetings. In Los Angeles before the Darren Wilson verdict was released it was assumed that there would be a response by both the black and non-black political community. The police met with their go-to community leaders and org heads to discuss both what the allowed response would be and to snitch out what troublemakers or radical elements the police should look out for. Recently BLM has been in the news because of their closed meetings with Democratic Presidential candidates, because these candidates can’t be bothered to pander to black votes, they need black faces to do that for them. In either case it’s good to be careful of those whom the state feels comfortable meeting with. The interest of the state is to maintain order, whether it’s through the promise of reform or the inflation of individuals’ egos – suppression of resistance will be attempted.
There is an inherent lack of accountability when leadership is concerned. Whether it’s addressing concerns about private meetings with the State or allegations of abuse, the social capital and unchecked authority creates an environment for abusive and treacherous behavior. It is for this reason and many others that tactically hierarchical organizing not only does not work but is dangerous to the resistance. Individual and collective autonomy with both individual and collective accountability is crucial towards our working together towards liberation. As we reject the hierarchical concepts of race, economical structures, gender, abilities, body types, and species we must also look inward in how we reflect those hierarchies amongst each other, our organizing, and in our resistance as we strive to change and build a better world.
Since our capture and placement into this country we black people have been fighting for our liberation. When we talk about liberation we must understand what that word means, and what it’s going to take to truly achieve it. Hierarchy is another form of enslavement; it is someone having power over, instead of power with. For me liberation means no masters, none of any kind. For that to take place it will mean for the destruction of white human supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, capitalism, and the hierarchical authoritative structure. It is important both tactically and spiritually that this movement is not owned by one individual or organization.
To many you are just the masses they’ve been waiting for, wanting to take your vengeful energy and usurp it under their rightful control. They don’t care who the latest murder victim is, they’re just hashtags, your failure to disperse is just a wonderful example of how great they are at movement building. Even well intended people can lose their way, which is exactly why leadership and hierarchical tactics fail.
I reject the labels of activist and organizer, these titles create an inherent hierarchy and perpetuate the idea that you need to be directed. This doesn’t mean a movement can’t be organized. We can organize with each other or autonomously and horizontally without inflicting power structures against each other. I choose to participate in the resistance with those who I am in affinity with, loosely and freely under no name other than the banner of resistance. For this reason I have no blue print to offer, and you should be weary of me if I did. What I do however have is advice for those with whom I struggle with. As we fight for our liberation, our freedom, we must empower each other, speak for only ourselves, deconstruct the oppressive logic that we have internalized while living under white supremacy, and understand and embrace the fact that you do not need to be lead.
No leaders, No masters.
If you enjoyed this writing and other pieces by Bobby London, please consider being a patron and contributing to a monthly or one time donation here.
You should play takes from the borderlands. It’s a good game.
While I do agree with you on most of the points you made, I will say that it is very important for oppressed people to have people who advocate for them. The effect that White supremacy has had on Black people is to the extent that we can’t come together on a collective basis w/o organization.
The problem is that the current organizations are mostly hierarchical, bureaucratic, and are dominated by the treacherous Black bourgeoisie class and liberals; they are tools of the state and White supremacy, instead of fighting against it. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with organization, it just needs to be done democratically at the grassroots level, non-hierarchical, and, of course, radical.
Organization must also be done outside of liberal politics.
Glad to read your latest post! I’m very much with it. I just have one question: though I understand that you can’t offer a blueprint, are there any examples of leaderless or non-hierarchical organizing that particularly inspire you? Whether they’re from black movements or other moments around the world, it would be nice to hear what else you find inspiring on this front, even if it’s not perfect.
Whenever there is an uprising or riot I feel inspired. The first night of a response before the orgs can co-opt, when it’s just people in the streets using whatever means they can to fight back, whether it’s looting, property distruction, marching, throwing stones, whatever. It’s that energy I wish we could extend. I think if we look back at the arab spring and countries like Bahrain who defied curfew and risked their lives and who were tortured without any global support, but kept going out in the streets anyway, that was very inspiring to me. Participating in occupy before the raid and participating in the general assemblies with all the problematic and racist and sexist behavior was still a really inspiring thing. And of course all the other stories we never get to hear about, the riots in prisons, camps. Whether these acts of revolts are intentionally horizontal or not, they are in a sense through their autonomous individual will to continue.
Pingback: THE ANTI-BLUEPRINT |