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Marcus Garvey and His Involvement in Black Nationalism

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Black Nationalism is defined as a type of ‘group of militant blacks who advocate separatism from the whites and the formation of self-governing black communities.’ In the tradition of radicalism, Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey advocates for political and social reform for descendants of the African diaspora to form an autonomous black nation separate from the white population. He promotes separatism, which advocates for a cultural and geographical separation from the Western hemisphere. On the other hand, Garvey was a supporter of the institutions of capitalism and imperialism and advocated for their formation as black institutions in Africa. Though his ability to mobilize black communities around self-preservation and autonomy presents liberal attitudes, Garvey’s vision for this separate black nation was quite a conservative one. Garvey perpetuates black separatist beliefs in his Africa for the Africans as a solution to the disparities which undermine its liberal aspects with traditional values. Although Garvey comes off as conservative and radical, he sought to promote revolutionary Black Nationalist efforts more than conservative agendas. Black Nationalist thought extended across a range of political stances. Radical leaders exhibit conventional characteristics uphold traditional separatism ideologies as it pertains to black nationalism. 

In 1918, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which spearheaded the organization’s radical goals in prioritizing achieving education, economic, and racial pride for black women and men globally. Otis Grant, a professor at Indiana University, explains Garvey’s radical ideologies in the article ‘Social Justice Versus Social Equality: The Capitalistic Jurisprudence of Marcus Garvey.’ In the essay, Grant argues that Garvey prioritized racial identity in his practices and that it was not unusual for Garvey to “exclude” white people from the UNIA. He then elaborated: “This philosophy not only was reflected in the rejection of white financial support but also was evident in the Garveyites’ commitment to the liberation of Africans and their active participation in the anti-colonial struggle.’ In his efforts to promoting race solidarity through a separatist lens, Garvey founded the UNIA Universal Negro Improvement Association to establish an organization that focused on political mobility through black solidarity. Accordingly, his exclusion of whites and the prioritization of black people was a radical act itself. Garvey dismissed the idea of integration and any sort of white welfare, considering that they did not align with the black radical tradition. White welfare came at the cost of discrimiation and violence towards black people. Thus, the exclusion of whites in the UNIA alludes to Garvey’s ideals on the separations of race as it pertains to the black social and political advancement. Since Garvey ‘rejected integration because it suppressed black business initiatives, Garveyism allowed economic nationalism for the black community.’

Consequently, white oppression could not be eradicated without spurring black economic development. Garveyites not only were self-reliant but also rejected the notion that Whites had a duty to help blacks in their struggle for equality.’ Garvey implemented the UNIA to achieve his radical goals of separatism and economic stability. Black Nationalist Garvey was radical because he took into consideration the economic injustices African-Americans encountered. Garvey understood that in a capitalist society, equality would be difficult to achieve, inevitably resulting in separation. 

In 1923, Garvey wrote Africa for the Africans in the wake of all the violence from white supremacy groups and resistance from African-Americans. Garvey’s radical thought allowed for alternatives to achieving reform, given the spread of hatred and brutality amongst African-Americans in the 1920s. The Red Summer occurred in 1919, which was a summer of widespread violence in the South, as the result of anti-black white supremacist terrorist attacks. As a form of social control, lynchings became popularized and contributed to the lack of full citizenship of black people. It became increasingly difficult for black people to participate in American democracy because of the constant fear of death and other factors.

Africa for the Africans acknowledges the violence inflicted on African Americans and is a call for action against the attacks. Through this call for action, one is better suited to understand the Garveys opposition of integration into the white capitalist society. Garvey was intentional when introducing the movement during the time in which he did because of the current political climate. Due to this, black communities were responsive to the movement as a cause to mobilize in pursuit for justice and freedom. According to John Henrik Clarke’s Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa ‘the Garvey movement began to take effective roots in America when millions of Blacks had begun to feel that they would never know full citizenship with dignity in this country where their ancestors had been brought against their will, and where they had contributed to the wealth and development of the country in spite of conditions of previous servitude’ Garvey combated this social injustice by spearheading the UNIA to improve the current conditions of black people.

Wealthy whites denied access to the opportunities and resources that grant black individuals economic prosperity. Garvey generally sought to uplift the black people of the world through economic independence. According to Garvey, whites had a monopoly on economic power that ‘through the selfishness of administration … causes the majority of the masses to exist always in want.’ It was evident to Garvey that equity for the black communities had no place in American institutions which at its core promoted white supremacy and purity. According to Grant, ‘Garvey knew that whites would never allow blacks to gain equality successfully and in fact, it was as inefficient for Blacks to seek equality as it was for Whites to give it.’ The American dream is defined as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” However, the American dream in denying equal access is racialized in terms of the economic disparities with the United States. Black individuals are not given the opportunity to achieve their full potential and Garvey combats these notions by creating initiatives such as the Black Star Line and the UNIA. 

Garveyism had a greater impact on different generations, for instance, Malcolm X parents. Malcolm X was the son of parents who considered themselves Garveyites and relocated because of the harassment from white supremacist groups due to their affiliation with the movement. There are parallels between Malcolm X radical thought and garveyism. According to Garvey black intellectuals ‘would ultimately work out his existence alongside the white man in countries founded by the latter.’ Garvey’s radical thought had influences on Malcolm X rhetoric and ideologies as Garvey, and Malcolm X both critiqued black intellectuals for conforming to the America’s capitalist society. In addition, Grant eludes on the concept as he states, ‘For a younger generation in the US, the children of Garveyites became activists in the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights and Black Power movements. An example of this is that Malcolm X’s parents were themselves active in the Garvey movement, and this was also the case with hundreds of activists in the era of Martin Luther King.’ During the 1960’s Garveyism was an extreme radical national thought because it not only provided an alternative to African Americans but also opposed integration and relieved African-Americans for the cycle of institutional oppressions. 

Garvey believes in returning to Africa as it is the home for all black people of America, the West Indies, and Africa. Garvey has travelled and in his finding he argues racial discicrimintation is an international affair for Africa and African descendants. Black people were considered on the lower stratification of society throughout the diaspora, and as a result Garvey sought to evoke black pride and racial awareness. Garvey’s Pan-African vision was radical in a sense it offered African-Americans a sense security and opposed integration although conservative in such that negates the voices of the others such as mixed race individuals and black intellectuals. In Garvey’s Africa for the Africans he echoes these beliefs: ‘There is no difference between the native African and the American and West Indian Negro.’Also, Garvey’s critiques ‘so-called black intellectual negros’ as he believes they have been ‘bamboozling the race for over half a century’ Garvey fails to understand the nuances of black identity in the African diaspora. These belief stems from the similarities between the US and Carribean. Garvey critiques black intellectuals for assimilating into white society. Garvey rejects whiteness and the proximity to whiteness which explains his disinterest in a pan-african community. 

‘However, by the end of the century the map of the world had been redrawn, through the emergence of dozens of new independent states in Africa and the Caribbean. Through this, millions of African descendants in Latin America, the US and Europe have secured their civil liberties. This process is generally referred to as ‘political decolonisation’. Contemporary ideas about the African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism, the African Union’s initiative to foster links between Africa and the diaspora, owe much to the legacy of Marcus Garvey and the Garvey movement.’

Garvey fails to include the biracial citizens of the world in his black empire’s vision. Garvey places an emphasis on the notion of full-blooded blacks because of the lack of support in the movement from interarcial individuals. As stated in the biography ‘Garvey identified with the other man’s feelings because of his own resentment toward Jamaica’s three-level racial system that placed the mixed-blood mulattoes above pure-blooded blacks like himself.’ In addition, he draws on terms that suggest black racial purity similarly to the way white racist called for white purity. 

Garvey’s vision entailed the advancements of the black race which at times complicated the position of white or mixed individuals throughout the diaspora. Garvey recalled, ‘I had to decide whether to please my friends and be one of the ‘black-whites’ of Jamaica, and be reasonably prosperous, or come out openly, and defend and help improve and protect the integrity of the black millions, and suffer.’ Garvey confronts the eurocentric ideologies of class and assimilation into a white society. ‘Mulattoes ignored the black majority, and the ambition of most poor blacks was to marry a white or a mulatto and move up the social and economic ladders. Complicating the situation was the belief common among the poorer blacks that the colonizing nations of Europe, such as Great Britain, were superior.’Garvey excludes biracial identities and upholds traditional segregation practices which can be considered conservative. Garvey’s conservative ideology does not account for the nuances in black ontology for all black and multiracial individuals thus promoting conservatism by upholding the traditional beliefs of full-blooded black back to Africa. 

Garvey envisioned a seperate black union that encompases western ideologies of economics, military, expansion, and exploitation. In Garvey’s vision of ‘building racial empire of our own in our Motherland,’ he applies the European model of colonization to achieve his goal, thus, imagining the creation of a new empire. The capitalist social structures and the economic injustices that stemmed from this society. Garvey opposed dismantling the capitalist structures put in place to oppresses people of color and would rather build a ‘negro empire’ using the european model. Garvey states ‘Africa will be completely colonized by Negroes, as Europe is by the white race.’ Grant argues, Garvey correctly argued that law is a rational system of behavior based on the economic interest of those in positions of power. Garvey believed that those in power in the Western Hemisphere engaged in behavior they believed to be morally correct and that they designed the law to reflect what they delineated was rational behavior. Thus, demonstrating the limitations placed on black people that restrict themselves from achieving their full potential. Black individuals remained restricted to impoverished environments with a lack of investments and maintenance. 

Institutional racism reinforces the oppression of black people by placing black people in impoverished communities, restricting funding for education and disproportionality incarcerating them. Garveyism sought to address these economic oppressions. ‘Rejecting the assimilation doctrine of racial equality, asserted that Whites would continue to be prejudiced against Blacks, as follows: Because as a race, Blacks have accomplished nothing; we have built no nation, no government; because we are dependent for our economic and political existence.’

Though Garvey’s ambitions for racial purity and political autonomy presented the black radical tradition, the realities of his application was a very conservative one that aims to replicate that of a similar capitalist structure that mirrored the US. Garvey designed the UNIA and Black Star line in order to achieve the goals of an imperial free state in Africa. Looking at the present, Garvey left an impact on today’s global struggle for restorative justice within black communities. His initiatives sparked a Black Nationalist revolution inspiring prominent figures like Malcolm X. However, Garvey’s conservative ideology does not account for the nuances in black ontology for all black and multiracial individuals, thus, promoting conservative values by upholding the traditional beliefs.

Bibliography

  • Clarke, John Henrik. Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.Clarke J.H, Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa, 1974, 46
  • Grant, Otis B. “Social Justice Versus Social Equality: The Capitalistic Jurisprudence of Marcus Garvey.” Journal of Black Studies 33, no. 4 (March 2003): 493
  • Lewis, Rupert. “Marcus Garvey: The Remapping of Africa and Its Diaspora.” Critical Arts 25, no. 4 (2011): 473–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2011.639956.
  • “Marcus Garvey: Black Nationalist.” 2004. Marcus Garvey: Black Nationalist, January, 7–36. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=25969730&sit
  • McCarthy, Timothy Patrick., and John Campbell. McMillian. The Radical Reader : a Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition. New York: New Press, 2003.

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Marcus Garvey And His Involvement In Black Nationalism. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/marcus-garvey-and-his-involvement-in-black-nationalism/
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