COONFOONERY: Black Power Atheists II

Posted by TubmanCity / on 11/10/2008 / 0 Comments


by Tyrone Powers

Buffoon - a jester: clown


    Although tom was to outdistance every other type and dominate American hearth and home, he had serious competition from a group of coons. They appeared in a series of black films presenting the negro as amusement object and black buffoon. They lacked the single-mindness of tom. 

    [The Coon] is harmless and congenial, he is a first cousin to the tom, yet he distinguishes himself by his quaint, naïve, and comic tom's contentment and the coon's antics, has always been used to indicate the black man's satisfaction with the system and his place in it. 

        • Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks


      The sins of the father have been visited upon the sons and daughters. It was Booker T. Washington and Marcus Mosiah Garvey who warned us about what Harold Cruse called noneconomic liberalism. Under this philosophy Blacks are begrudgingly allowed to make progress in all areas that were non-economic or that did not foster economic independence, which can lead to independent thinking. Those whites that are in positions of power understand that without economic independence, Blacks will remain subservient and enslaved. As Dr. Carter G. Woodson noted, "control a man's thinking and you do not have to concern yourself with his actions." As a result of economic dependence, once Blacks began to protest too much about serious issues, the purse strings around their throats could be pulled tighter. As long as Blacks stayed within the bounds of entertainment and amusement, they would be duly rewarded and encouraged. This message would be made clear and like Pavlov's dogs we have thus far responded to the stimulus.  

Looking Back

       Booker T. Washington indicated that economic independence was most important to freedom and that it was the foundation of all other freedoms. Any pseudo-freedom built upon a noneconomic foundation was fragile at best. Without economic independence Blacks would continue to be dependent upon the good graces of whites. But with economic independence, Blacks could build for self and do for self, thus allowing self-control of all organizations and social movements. In other words, with economic freedom, decisions regarding protests or boycotts for social justice would be based on conscience rather than cash. Blacks had to get to the point that they could not be bought and traded. Garvey and Washington saw economic dependence as another form of slavery. Blacks were simply indentured servants.  

A Reparations Strategy

      Garvey and Washington understood that continued economic dependence in the form of philanthropy and jobs meant giving away power to others. Washington's plan was to accept gifts from whites for the Tuskegee Institute in order to provide for the industrial and economic education of Black people. In his vision, Blacks would eventually be free of the economic lynching created and maintained by economic dependence. This economic lynching was more deadly and had a greater long-term effect than any physical lynching. Washington figured that Blacks had to crawl before they walked. He understood the mentality of white supremacy that engulfed the country, and he did not expect a divine miracle whereupon whites would suddenly come to love their former slaves or the descendants of those slaves. Fully understanding this, Washington chose strategy over rhetoric. He had read the Art of War and noted Sun Tzu admonition that one may need to appear weak when he is strong in order to gain a quiet advantage. Washington understood that his strategy required him to take heat from the more outwardly radical of his race.

      Booker T. Washington was no Clarence Thomas. Washington was an intelligent man with a conscience. (Quite the opposite of Clarence Thomas on both counts.)  His hope was to build an army by temporarily taking from the rich and developing the poor until the poor became formidable enough to sell products and services to the rich, thus turning the tables or at least equalizing them. Once this economic base was established, the power to advocate for social change could go forward without compromise. The money taken up front from the white philanthropists was sort of undeclared reparations without the accompanying noise, rhetoric and guilt.  Ironically, W.E.B. Du Bois called Booker T. Washington's method a great compromise. In our zeal to skip the strategic step that Washington put in place, our children crawl into the new millennium.  A people without a vision will perish. 

A Message to the Black Man In America

       The Honorable Elijah Muhammad brought the message of economic independence to Blacks during a time when Blacks were hell-bent on achieving freedom from social injustices, which they thought were exacerbated by legal segregation. He advised Black people that God wanted us to have reparations in the form of land and money, which would bring about economic independence and a concomitant sense of self-esteem and pride to a downtrodden people. The social inequities would dissipate or become secondary once we had our own institutions and means of economic development and support. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad indicated that those who despised us would never love us but they would respect us once we developed ourselves as an independent people. In fact, he indicated that under such conditions of self-reliance, even God himself would have more respect for what we did with the gifts and resources He provided us and would feel better about saving us from the wretchedness of slavery. God helps those who help themselves. 

      The truth that Elijah Muhammad spoke was termed extremism, and the Nation of Islam (NOI) became one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) most despised and hunted groups. No money was spared to infiltrate, divide and destroy the Nation and to annihilate this concept of economic independence. J. Edgar Hoover indicated that "[T]he Nation of Islam is the largest single black extremist organization in the United States... the NOI as a group has, to date, not instigated any civil disorders: However, the followers of this semi-religious cult are extremely dedicated individuals...." The dedication to economic independence and freedom was seen as a threat to those in power. Following the teachings of the honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan took the messenger's message forward and they too were met with extreme government opposition. To stay safe and sound and popular all they had to do was dance. But as the FBI noted, no follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was to find much pleasure in dancing to the tune of others. They had been completely immunized against COONFOONERY.  

Vestiges of Independence

      According to Harold Cruse in his extraordinary book Plural but Equal, in 1970 a national committee of Black churchmen, forty-one church and community leaders, issued a "Black Declaration of Independence." The group called themselves, "Concerned Black Citizens of the United States of America in Black Churches, Schools, Homes, Community Organizations, and Institutions Assembled." Cruse indicated that:  

    This Black Declaration of Independence revealed a profound black leadership vacuum that would appear and grow in converse ratio to the deepening crisis within the NAACP and the decline in the relevancy of its program. Thus, between the upper-level dominance of the NAACP and the National Urban League and the lower levels of black community-based leadership contenders, there was an absence of leadership. Moreover, the social horizon held no indication of an organized movement out of which a new style of leadership might emerge on a national scale.1 

      The creators of the Declaration of Black Independence understood that too much of what we called independence was simply dependence dressed in the under garments of independence.  

The Choice: Economic Independence or COONFOONERY

      In a rare moment of depression, my friend and mentor, Munir Muhammad, noted, "The coons are taking over." Munir did not mean this in the sense that crackers and the cracker backers speak. But he meant that those who practice noneconomic liberalism and "indicate the black man's satisfaction with the system and his place in it" (see Bogle's definition of Coon above) seemed to be in leadership positions in the Black Community.

      Giving these pseudo-leaders the benefit of the doubt, I suggest that their vocal cords are controlled by the purse strings of those that pay them or pay for them. Their choice of issues to be protested is guided by the severity of the tension placed on the ‘purse lynching strings' around their throats. At one point - as with Booker T. Washington - we might have called this strategic, but we know that at this particular point in history it is not.

      The economic blood transfusion to dependent organizations control the body politic of the organizations and the communities they represent. Our lives and very existence have become reliant upon the economic blood of others. We failed to follow the teachings of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and thus we find ourselves penniless, bloodless, and gutless.

      We cannot infuse the borrowed blood that runs through our organizations into the veins of our children, for-like the drug-addicted mother who births a drug-addicted child- it would merely taint them. Before we can pass our blood on we must cleanse it. This is not an easy task, because over 400 years of brutal oppression and strategic division have made us distrustful of each other and some of us predatory. It is hard for us to invest together, to pool our resources and to spend our monies with us.

      So, for example, as white book publishers move to remove Black book publishers and distributors from the book publishing industry, Black book distributors must join together and order in bulk and then distribute to the distributors. The large bulk purchases will lower cost and allow a more even playing field with white publishers and distributors that seem hell-bent on bankrupting Black publishers, distributors and book stores. This same strategy can and should be used in other industries.

      If we fail to become economically self-sufficient then we will have to continue to live with COONFOONERY


"Niggers have more conferences than the President...But you never hear of a damned thing come out of them. One thing always come out of them...They always make plans for the next conference."

                                    - Ernest J. Gaines, In My Father's House 

      A few years ago I was sitting in my office at the College going over some paper work, the ring of my phone disturbed me. But the ring was far less disturbing than the ensuing conversation. A friend of mine from Palestine was in Baltimore during the week of the NAACP National Convention that was being held at the Baltimore Convention Center. He was excited to be in a city that was 65 percent African-American and headquarters to the NAACP. He had heard that the student of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Honorable Minister Farrakhan was coming to Baltimore and wanted to know what day he was speaking at the NAACP Convention. I explained that Minister Farrakhan was speaking at the Bread of Life at the Cathedral, where the pastor is Bishop Darneal F. Johnson, III, approximately 8 city blocks from the Baltimore Convention Center, but that he would not be speaking at the NAACP Convention. The rest of the conversation went something like this. 

    "Dr. Powers, how can the man who brought over one million Black men to Washington D.C. - the largest ‘March on Washington' in the history of your country not be addressing the Black people at the NAACP Convention?" 

    " Well, ah." 

    "How can the student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, a man who is recognized around the world by Blacks in the Africa Diaspora and who sits with the kings and queens of Africa not address the Black people at the NAACP Convention?"


    Well, um." 

    "How can the executioner, George Bush, and Vice President, Albert Gore get a special invitation and a standing ovation from Black people at the NAACP Convention and Minister Farrakhan not be allowed in the door to call for a march to save Black families?" 

    "Well, you see." 

    "Isn't this the city that ranks number two in murders in the country? Isn't Baltimore the city that has a militarized police force that see every Black man as a predator? Isn't Baltimore the city that has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and one of the highest infant mortality rates - even with John Hopkins Hospital - ranked number one in health care in the country- in its midst? Isn't Baltimore the city that has some of the lowest high school test scores and the highest dropout rates?" 

    "Well, but you see we are working on...I mean we have a Black city council... and uh ...we have some uh Black state senators and delegates we had a Black Mayor...but uh ... we have 2000 churches in the city..." 

    "Yeah, we have that in Palestine too. But we call our areas the ‘occupied territories.' Maybe you ought to change the name of Baltimore. Maybe Black people in Baltimore are just occupying territory owned and controlled by someone else." 

    "Dr. Powers...Dr. Powers are you still there?" 

    "Yeah, I'm still here. I'm sorry my friend. I will meet you at the Bread of Life at the Cathedral. I'm sorry about the COONFOONERY." 

A Moment of Reflection

      For a moment, after the call from my Palestinian friend, I couldn't move. I was convinced more so than ever that economic dependence dictated Minister Farrakhan's exclusion from the NAACP Convention. It wasn't just a matter of those at the Convention disagreeing with Minister Farrakhan, for I was sure that they had more in common with Minister Farrakhan than with George W. Bush III. The Confederate Flag issue, etc, were acceptable because all that they did was ask our declared enemies to hide their uniforms and to pretend to be for us - kind of a novel or negro approach to ridding yourself of an enemy. Such issues stay well within the confines of noneconomic liberalism. The boycott may have taken wealth from others but it did nothing to add to the economic well-being of us.

      Then NAACP President Kwesi Mfume suggested in his autobiography, that integration had been detrimental to us in both the economic and social realms. Due to economic dependency the Black community, its organizations and leaders have been undeveloped, underdeveloped and cooped. We have become a colony in a nation of plenty, and as such we rely on the good graces of the colonizer. We live in occupied territories where we neither set policy or direction.

      Those who quietly control the economics of our organizations control our lives. They buy our politicians and turn them into nothing more than what Ernest J. Gaines in his book Of Dust and Love, call "whitemouths." They can be, and are, bought and sold like slaves on the auction block. Their smiles are paid for and their campaign slogans are, as Shakespeare noted, full of sound and furry signifying nothing.  They become sellouts.

      The economic controllers set the agendas of our conferences and they tell us who we can have speak to us. We become what Tina Turner described as "Private Dancers," doing what they tell us to do. Our "Ghetto Prophets" like Ice Cube become "Ghetto Profits,"  pimping our condition and amusing those who despise us.  Our protests and energies are guided towards non-productive and non-progressive endeavors. We use the last of the people energies on futile fights - which do not change our condition or the conditions in which our children are born and must strive. We are playing "ghetto games" and the world is watching. Our ancestors bow their heads in shame as their stripes from the bullwhip days go unattended by the new Negro. Conferences, receptions, socials, boat rides, step shows, side shows, dinners with the President, grins and dry grins, wet wimpish handshakes, and the beat goes on. COONFOONERY.

      The Honorable Elijah Muhammad indicated that dissatisfaction creates change. That philosophy is diametrically opposed to the concept of COOFOONERY. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. indicated that we should never become adjusted to injustice. He indicated that it was not a compliment to be identified as a well-adjusted citizen in the midst of injustice, confusion and oppression. King noted that sometimes it is more of a compliment to be called a maladjusted citizen.

      Booker T. Washington was right - all of our freedoms stem from economic independence. We must understand that.  Our organizations must understand the law of economics: Controlling your resources will control your world. When the controller of your economics names the tune - the economically dependent must dance. Dancing, smiling, amusement... quaint, naïve, and comic tom's contentment and the coon's antics, ha[ve] always been used to indicate the black man's satisfaction with the system and his place in it. COONFOONERY. 

Dr. Tyrone Powers served as a Maryland State Trooper for 4 years and as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 10 years. He is now Director of the Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute, a College Professor and the author of the best selling book, Eyes to My Soul: The Rise Or Decline Of A Black FBI Agent. He is completing his new book, Black Ice.


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