EU Referendum: Will We Stay or Will We Go? Can modern Pan Africanism help us to visualise a future of justice and equity post Referendum? 22.6.16

Here is my piece from the PAC45 blogsite

EU Referendum: Will We Stay or Will We Go?

Can modern Pan Africanism help us to visualise a future of justice and equity post Referendum?

By Dr Ornette D Clennon, Manchester Metropolitan University

Will we stay or will we go? At the time of writing this piece, this is perhaps the most pressing question we in the UK (and in Europe) are facing in our generation. Before we make up our minds, we need to think carefully about what will happen to our rights as citizens of colour if we do in fact decide to leave Europe? Will we be able to trust our government to uphold our rights post Brexit? When I observe how far right ideologies are now being embraced by mainstream political thinking, the result of which is marked by members of the Labour Party sharing a political platform with those from the Conservative Party and UKIP,[1] we are entering very dark times, indeed. When I also see that this constellation of far right political ideas is Europe wide, I feel that this is no time to have a false sense of security about staying in Europe, either.[2]

So, is there a sense that modern Pan Africanism can help to stem the tide of such racist ideologies?

Hang on, before we can even contemplate that: we should ask what Pan Africanism is, anyway? I will leave this as an open-ended question for now before sketching my ideas for what it needs to be, today.

Let me continue to contextualise the dire ideological circumstances in which we find ourselves today. Our EU referendum debate has been so toxic that it has now normalised the politics of hate,[3] which can be argued to have led to the horrific terrorist atrocity[4] witnessed in Yorkshire against a Member of Parliament. However, we could also argue that such sentiment has always been bubbling under the surface of the British psyche[5] and has been exacerbated by the ideological choice to pursue Austerity. If we briefly look across the pond to the politics of hate being preached by a certain celebrity businessman turned politician, whose divisive rhetoric is creating  fertile ground for the obscenely high and rising, US levels of mass shootings; [6] we have to ask, where is our hope? So how did we get ourselves into such a miserable state? How did this ideology or politics of hate come about? And how has Pan Africanism acted as an ideology to counterbalance this move towards far right ideologies?

Pan Africanism and Education v Ideological State control

In order to begin to even consider these huge questions I first have to ponder what my role as a black academic living in the UK actually is. Let me first unpack the term “black academic”. Here, I am going to describe the context of the secret war of academia (education) that is being waged against our minds in open view. Education is the invisible but foundational battle for the hearts and the minds of any population. How you see yourself, how you see others, how you see yourself fitting in with others amongst many other factors, are all governed by how our society educates us. Education is the tool used by the state to produce its citizens.[7] So, the question becomes what sort of citizens does the state want? Well, that depends on the goals of the state. Does the state want security and prosperity for its citizens? Most states would say that they do. But how do they achieve that?[8] Do they achieve it by having total control over their citizens, so that there is no freedom or do they allow their citizens the freedom of choice to make their own paths towards security or prosperity? Well, in Western democracies, of course the goal of our states is the latter, isn’t it?

OK, let’s see if we can break this down a little more. In order for a state to give freedom to its citizens, it needs to set up controls (through its laws) that limit the freedoms that individuals can actually have, so that the freedoms granted to us are ordered and unchaotic. This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? But let’s consider how those limits are communicated to us. Apart from the obvious laws we have in place,[9] society has expectations that comprise an unspoken set of rules[10] that we all abide by so that we don’t break the law. How are these expectations communicated to us? Mainly through the shaping of the minds of our young people in the mainstream education[11] system. Then in order to make sure that these expectations stick, these values are then reinforced by the media[12] and other cultural providers; all subtly saying the same things and feeding off one another. Then our institutions that are set up to help govern us in such a way to openly preserve our freedoms, also collude with mainstream education, the media and the cultural providers to communicate these ‘unspoken’ values and expectations of repression. So, we find ourselves in actual fact, with very little real freedoms outside of the will of the state.[13] It is at this point that I would suggest that a re-imagined Pan Africanism needs to be integrated into our education system at the grass roots but we need to think very carefully about how its intellectual core can truly enable it to become a viable ideological alternative to what we are currently fighting against.[14] Notice, I am not proposing any firm ideas but merely pointing to the screaming absence of a competing ideology capable of liberating us from our present ideological oppressions.

Here, I mean, oppressions where these unspoken values are a set of controls designed for us, to keep each other in check by some of us exercising power over others. [15] When these relationships are backed up and normalised by every conceivable mechanism of the state and are sold to us as the way things need to be in order to achieve real freedom to get our security and prosperity, we really then have problems.[16] And if in order for this to work, the state needs to indoctrinate certain groups into believing that their purpose is to be dominated by certain other groups and that they have to keep the peace by willingly forgetting their histories, (and are unaware of their complicity in the matter) [17] you might begin to see a familiar picture emerging. So imagine, all of this being condensed, super-concentrated and planted as tiny innocuous seeds into the hearts and minds of our young ones in our mainstream education system.

Can a Pan African inspired education system in the twenty first century really help us to retain the knowledge of our historical identities outside of a Eurocentric view?[18]

This is an urgent question because as a black academic who is deeply conscious of this deception, I need a Pan Africanism that can truly help me to break this cult of societal brainwashing. I find myself struggling daily with these near invisible forces (values)[19] in the heart of the beast (of mainstream education). A profound struggle for my/our ideological soul: a war against mind control, pure and simple.[20] Those of us on the inside whose job it is to “emancipate our (other’s) minds from mental slavery”[21] find ourselves fighting Herculean battles with the foundational levers of Power.

But it is a good fight!

A colleague of mine once said, during a presentation that “our role is to hold the line”. As soldiers of knowledge (and justice), we must not only hold the line, we have to fight with all our resolve to transform the knowledge that our institutions produce. We have to fight to challenge and destabilise the processes of indoctrination and mind control that we are supposed to administer as state functionaries. We have to adopt a variety of camouflages in our institutions to enable us to remain in the heart of the beast grappling, transforming and subverting these mind (and soul) bending values of domination. We have to use all our guile to train up future soldiers of knowledge to whom we can hand over the baton to continue the struggle for justice.[22] As we continue to wake up to our huge responsibilities as soldiers of knowledge, we have to begin to build alliances with other “woke” soldiers[23] battling from other societal battlegrounds. When we eventually become Generals of our own knowledge battalions, we have to strategically plan our resistance and offensive against the beast. To do this we have to use our knowledge of the beast to support the fights and struggles that our local communities face daily. From a black academic perspective, we have to come to realise that if we embed ourselves in our local communities and really see that their cause is our cause, we will find comradeship and profound support in this war over our minds (hearts and souls).

So, what is my role as a black academic? In these turbulent times, where the politics of hate are increasingly being seen as normal, my role is to contribute to perhaps, the thirteenth labour of re-imagining what we need from a Pan Africanist ideology. We desperately need to have an alternative and effective intellectual movement that is able to bolster our battles against the beast. But we must not merely recreate the old beast in our image! We need an entirely new system and ideology, where justice is finally dispensed. A system that enables us to live in equity with our neighbours. Perhaps and only when we have a clearer idea of where we are going, we might just be able to think about an economic alternative to make justice and equity everyday material realities for everyone.


[1] UKIP (UK Independence Party) are deliberately mobilising BNP (British National Party) supporters towards a vote for Brexit. The BNP has always campaigned for a fundamentalist view of British (White) nationalism, so are happy to use the referendum to promote their political beliefs and influence mainstream opinion. So if we leave, what will happen to this unholy alliance? What influences will they then have on UK mainstream politics?

[2] Although on balance as a person of colour, I would prefer to be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (please read) rather than a fuzzy bill of British rights that are as yet undefined like their counterparts, British values.

[3] The symbol of the politics of hate in the UK is Nigel Farage (UKIP leader) posing in front of a poster that evokes Enoch Powell’s now infamous 1968 Rivers of Blood Speech.

[4] A murder committed by a member of Britain First, a fundamentalist far-right nationalist group.

[5] In my book International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, I argue that the British amnesia of their brutal and horrific Colonial past is preventing them from dealing with their damaged cultural legacy, where lessons from the past go unlearned. See notes 3 and 8.

[6] This time ending in the largest mass shooting massacre in US history of Black and Latinx LGBTQ club goers although we must not forget the previous far right terrorist mass shooting in a black church in Charleston for its racial significance, either.

[7] I write at great length about this in my book International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges. You can download it from here.

[8] You can read about how capitalism (neoliberalism) controls the cultures of our institutions in one of my other books, Urban Dialectics, The Market and Youth Engagement: The “Black” Face of Eurocentrism. You can download it from here. I also write about the insidious impact of neoliberalism on our inner worlds and identities in Chapter 4 of my book International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges. You can download it from here.

[9] How these laws came into being is inextricably linked to how our colonial institutions were set up, of course.

[10] The French philosopher Michel Foucault in his book Discipline and Punish traces how the prison conditions the inmate to such an extent with its values and ways of thinking that brings the inmate to accept his captivity that even when he is set free he still behaves as though he were incarcerated.

[11] My work with supplementary schools very much addresses how mainstream education acts to indoctrinate the minds of our young people with the values of the dominant system. The Brazilian educational philosopher, Paulo Freire developed what he calls a “critical pedagogy” which aims to re-educate children to know their heritage and to be able identify the power structures that seek to dehumanise and oppress them. His famous book Pedagogy of the Oppressed outlines this process and is considered to be the foundation of the critical pedagogy movement. Kehinde Andrews writes at great length about UK Black Supplementary Schools and how their movement was established to bring a critical pedagogy to black communities, where education was re-shaped into a force for political transformation. In her chapter, “Education and Social Change: A Theoretical Approach”, from one of my books, Alternative Education and Community Engagement: Making Education a Priority, Cassie Earl also writes at length about the radical nature of education  and how it can be used as a form of political protest. Interestingly my interdisciplinary research with community activists within the field of law has also been coming to similar conclusions.

[12] Louis Althusser, a French Marxist philosopher, in his 1970 essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses talks about the media being a mouth piece for transmitting the values of the state, which he believes is fundamentally repressive.

[13] See note 8. Our present terror laws are being used as excuses to increasingly curb our civil liberties. In my book International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, I argue how the system has used the fear of terror to engender a politics of fear and paranoia, in turn normalising a national Islamophobia that finds certain communities under constant surveillance and considered a constant threat.

[14] The Trinidadian writer and activist C.L.R James really struggled with this question as he pondered Marx and Lenin and their proposed alternatives to our current system. You can read his 1947 essay, Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity to get an idea of what he was grappling with.

[15] Franz Fanon, the Martinique-born philosopher, in his book Black Skins, White Masks describes how the black body is reduced to an object of fear and is dehumanised to become just a site of fear (not a human being) whose identity is derived entirely from white fear.

[16] The French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu in his essay on Symbolic Violence from the 1992 book An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, says that we become complicit in our own oppression when we wilfully ignore the social inequalities that enable the system to survive. In my book International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, I argue that the market sells us the dream of market freedom and “individuality” as a means of keeping us trapped in its captivity.

[17] Spanish philosopher, Ignacio Martí­n-Baró in his book, Writings for a Liberation Psychology advocates the educating of our young people in a critical pedagogy that teaches them to recover their historical memories, where they are taught to de-couple their understanding of their histories from the official mainstream narrative. For more details, read my piece “What’s Education for; Privilege or Meritocracy?”

[18] This is a more difficult question to answer than at first glance because we need a Pan Africanism that recognises the role of Africa in creating Western ideologies. The ‘modern’ West and its accompanying tool of domination that is capitalism was only formed on the backs of an African Diaspora (and native indigenous peoples of the Americas) who had to morph into cultural bridges (in the sense of dynamic knowledge exchange) between Africa and Europe (I am thinking especially of the Caribbean diaspora from a UK perspective). So, without having an integrative approach to the development of “modernity”, by which we mean the modern world system in which we live, we run the risk of an “essentialist” Pan Africanism just being another form of (Western-inspired) capitalism but with a Black face (the core of my argument about the “Black face of Eurocentrism”). No progress made ultimately. Here you can read an Open Letter to “African Intellectuals”, which eloquently outlines this dilemma from an African perspective. I share this letter with you because it also outlines the key challenges we have in forming an intellectual centre for a Pan Africanism that meaningfully encompasses both Africa and its Diasporas.

[19] bell hooks and Cornel West seminal African American thinkers, articulate this daily struggle well in their Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life

[20] Mind control that tells us, Children of Legba as Robbie Shilliam calls us, that neoliberalism is king and we must attain personal wealth at any cost which means turning on each other and even killing each other just for personal gain but crucially never being able to work together and build each other up. A mind set which keeps us stuck in material and ideological poverty never being able to achieve our full liberation (potential) from our new masters (our past colonial masters, now dressed up as masters of advanced capitalism aka masters of the universe). In short, trapped in our Foucauldian plantation!

[21] Of course, taken from Marcus Garvey’s 1937 Nova Scotia speech.

[22] The new Black Studies BA Honours degree at Birmingham City University is a major development in this war against oppressive ideologies (politics of hate).

[23] Far too many to mention but obviously organisations that come to mind are: PAC 45, Black British Academics, Media Diversified, BARAC (Black Activist Rising Against Cuts), OBV (Operation Black Vote), UK Black Pride, Runnymede Trust, ROTA (Race on the Agenda), Race Equality Foundation and many many more from different intersectional battlegrounds! In my book, Urban Dialectics, The Market and Youth Engagement: The “Black” Face of Eurocentrism, I argue that neoliberalism’s goal is to keep us atomised and separate as units of labour that can be more easily exploited. In our case as soldiers of knowledge, it is important that we constantly work to link and combine our knowledge and to collectively boost our intellectual networks as we form strong communities of practice.


Related Post

Why we were so easily fooled: The UK’s Brexit Vote, Immigrants and BMEs, 28.6.16


Please visit my page

2 thoughts on “EU Referendum: Will We Stay or Will We Go? Can modern Pan Africanism help us to visualise a future of justice and equity post Referendum? 22.6.16”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s