Afro-Idealism in Black History Month and January 6
On January 6, 2021, President Biden stood below the rotunda of the Capitol dome to explain that "the truth will set us free," on the one-year anniversary of violent protests at the Capitol.
Jesus was right when he proclaimed this teaching as recorded in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. We do well to pursue the full truth left out in the president's remarks. The discovery of the truth can accomplish great things toward the renaissance of an afro-idealist perspective in this Black History Month of 2022.
An important detail in President Biden's speech was a reference to the killing of Officer Evans at the Capitol on April 2, 2021. That is a highly important truth in an era of record police killings in the United States. Consequent to highly volatile partisan campaigns of afro-pessimism in the summers of 2016 and 2020, the killing of police officers is at record levels. It is important to understand that though U.S. historical movements of afro-idealism have succeeded where the pessimists have failed, our intellectual culture reifies these unsuccessful leaders. An important victim of afro-pessmist radicalism, Billy Evans was an 18-year veteran of the Capitol police force and a father of two. His killer, Noah Green, was rhetorically energized by the Nation of Islam movement — one of the most dangerous afro-pessimist movements in the United States. In one of his final social media posts, Noah Green identified himself as Noah X — an allusion to Malcolm X, a former leader within the Nation of Islam. Biden's deliberate rhetorical conflation of Noah X with violence on January 6 is an effort to consolidate all threats of terrorism and violence as being on the right and having no root in any notion of a radical left.
The false hagiography of Malcolm X — imagining him as the afro-pessimist ideal — committed to a violent confrontation with America continues to be promoted by our intellectual culture. ABC News is running a documentary, Xonerated: The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice, designed to encourage viewers to see Malcolm X as a martyred afro-pessimist. This vision is historically inaccurate and betrays the reality that by 1964, Malcolm X had left the Nation of Islam because he was aware of its corrupt underpinnings and violent pathologies. In February of 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by NOI sympathizer and supporter Thomas Hagan because of anger regarding his departure from the NOI. Malcolm X confided to his friend James Farmer, Jr. that he left the group but was afraid of violent threats against him from the NOI. He emphasized this again in his last public speech on Valentine's Day 1965 in Detroit.
This false hagiography played an important role in the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. An important voice and advocate for that violence was an activist named Jaden X, AKA John Sullivan. He also took on the X alias as a way of publicizing his radical goals and Jacobin ambitions of revolutionary destruction.
Jaden X filmed the killing of Ashli Babbitt and was paid ninety thousand dollars for the video by news organizations. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jaden clarified that he was a radical-left activist infiltrating Trump supporters on January 6 and urging them to destroy the Capitol. He expressed worry that those protesters would discover his true cynical intentions. Rolling Stone reports his pessimist perspective at the Capitol that day: "he can be heard yelling, 'It's a motherf------ revolution, let's take this s---.'"
Jaden X worked diligently to encourage violence at the Capitol on January 6. In the video, Jaden X can be heard saying, "'There are so many people. Let's go. This s--- is ours! F--- yeah,' 'We accomplished this s---. We did this together. F--- yeah! We are all a part of this history,' and 'Let's burn this s--- down.'" One year later Jaden X says, "that's what I did and I stood by that."
Contrary to the arguments of afro-pessimist advocates such as Louis Farrakhan, Stokely Carmichael, Jeremiah Wright, Micah Johnson, Noah Green, and Jaden X, America has been greatly helped by afro-idealist advocates who foreswore violence. Afro-idealist Martin Luther King said in his conclusion to "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" that someday the South will remember its "real heroes" like James Meredith.
Though Meredith is one of the most important afro-idealists still alive today, his memory is largely shunned and ignored because of his less than reactionary view of American politics. Meredith remains an exceptionally patriotic thinker and believer in the U.S. Constitution, but he worried that social movements could be hijacked by radicals.
Men like James Farmer, Jr. are also ignored despite their foundational role in promoting activity like nonviolent direct action that abolished large swaths of racial segregation across the United States between 1942 and 1967. Many more afro-idealist advocates are ignored in history.
The killing of police officers in large numbers in the United States is a direct result of false teaching and education about African-American history in the United States. Black History Month must become a renaissance of black voices that honestly and boldly represent the best hopes of the nation. In failing to tend to and recover this more accurate and humane history, we will continue on a path of dangerous partisan violence. This fuller truth including afro-idealism will set us free.
Dr. Ben Voth is a professor of rhetoric and director of debate at Southern Methodist Unviersity in Dallas, Texas. Voth's 2017 book — James Farmer Jr.: The Great Debater — documents the close relationship between civil rights leader James Farmer, Jr. and Malcolm X. His most recent book, Rwanda Rising, documents the importance of debate to prevent unjust violence. The book highlights the role debate played in helping afro-idealists build effective advocacy.