Friday, June 16, 2017

Gatekeeping and Permitted Discourse Productions The Perils of Philanthropy


CounterPunch |  Much has been said and written over the years about early elite philanthropic interventions into the civil rights movement, but the first book to treat this topic seriously was Robert Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History (Doubleday, 1969). As Allen noted in the introduction to his timeless treaty on power and resistance:
“In the United States today a program of domestic neo-colonialism is rapidly advancing. It was designed to counter the potentially revolutionary thrust of the recent black rebellions in major cities across the country. This program was formulated by America’s corporate elite – the major owners, managers, and directors of the giant corporations, banks, and foundations which increasingly dominate the economy and society as a whole – because they believe that the urban revolts pose a serious threat to economic and social stability. Led by organizations as the Ford Foundation, the Urban Coalition, and the National Alliance of Businessmen, the corporatists are attempting with considerable success to co-opt the black power movement. Their strategy is to equate black power with black capitalism.” (pp.17-8)
Allen defined his use of the word co-opt in this way: “to assimilate militant leaders and militant rhetoric while subtly transforming the militants’ program for social change into a program which in essence buttresses the status quo.” (p.17) This co-optive function of philanthropic largesse applied across the board to all manner of progressive movements, as illustrated by Professor Joan Roelofs in her important book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (2003).

We should recall that in February 1965 Malcolm X had been gunned-down in a “factional dispute” which the FBI took credit for having “developed” within the Nation of Islam — a conspiracy elaborated upon within the book The Assassination of Malcolm X. Moreover it turned out that at the time of his murder one of Malcolm’s personal bodyguards, Eugene Roberts, had actually been working for the New York Police Department’s “subversives” unit which itself worked closely with COINTELPRO operatives; while in later years Roberts went on to serve as a infiltrating “charter member” of the New York Chapter of the Black Panther Party.

As an insightful and charismatic leader, Malcolm X was killed precisely because of his rising influence among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Speaking in November 1963, shortly before his break with the National of Islam, he accused white liberals of dressing up the anointed leaders of the civil rights movement to use them as house Negroes. He drew particular attention to the manner why which millionaire elites like Stephen Currier – who before his own early death helped set up the Urban Coalition — has acted to take control of the March on Washington which had taken place in the summer. After outlining these co-optive actions Malcolm famously surmised:
It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What you do? You integrate it with cream; you make it weak. If you pour too much cream in, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it’ll put you to sleep. This is what they did with the march on Washington. They joined it. They didn’t integrate it; they infiltrated it. They joined it, became a part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. They ceased to be angry. They ceased to be hot. They ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all.”
After splitting from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm spent the last year of his life planning and strategizing about how to end injustice in ways that departed from his earlier commitment to Black Nationalism.