Reviewed by Roger D. Harris
The Black Agenda by Glen Ford. (OR Books, 2002; 344 pp.)
Of the traditional US holidays, Thanksgiving was by far my favorite. I can do without the excessive commercialization of Christmas with its cheesy music that broadcasts for weeks on end. Cancel the forced festiveness of New Year’s and the sloppy drunks it generates; ditto for the militarism of July 4th. So, what’s not good about coming together with friends and family and sharing a home cooked feast?
I don’t want to ruin the party, but before you carve up the turkey, read the opening essay in Glen Ford’s The Black Agenda. His critique of the holiday is that the mythology surrounding Thanksgiving serves as a justification for our nation’s founding genocide of its native peoples and a validation of white supremacy.
“The Thanksgiving story,” Ford explains, “is an absolution of the Pilgrims, whose brutal quest for absolute power in the New World is made to seem both religiously motivated and eminently human.” According to the mythos, the Pilgrims are depicted as victims of harsh weather and naïveté rather than the Christian fascists that they were.
Glen Ford and the making of a black-oriented journalism
The Black Agenda book was published posthumously after Ford died on July 28, 2021, at age 71. The New York Times described Ford as a “constant scourge of the liberal establishment.”
African American theologian Cornell West elaborated: “Glen Ford was the most brilliant, courageous, and consistent writer and journalist in the black radical and independent tradition of his generation.”
A “red diaper baby,” Ford’s career traced back to reading the news live on the radio at the age of eleven. His surname was shortened from Rutherford to Ford at the insistence of the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown when Ford took a job as a reporter at his radio station in 1970. Later, Ford created the Black World Report, a nationally syndicated weekly news magazine on radio.
Ford went on to television, print, and online media. He reported for the Communist Party USA’s national newspaper and collaborated with the Black Panther Party in Jersey City. In 1977, he launched, produced, and hosted the first nationally syndicated black news interview program on commercial television called America’s Black Forum.
After the Black Commentator, which he co-founded in 2002, Ford founded the website Black Agenda Report in 2006 with current editor Margaret Kimberley and the late Bruce Dixon. The book, The Black Agenda, is a collection of Ford’s essays, published by OR Books, which describes itself as “the go-to source for titles that challenge the status quo.”
In a talk at the People’s Forum in 2019, Ford explained the role of a left, black-oriented journalism and its relationship to the mass movement: “Although political journals can’t jump start political movements on their own, they can tie the residue of previous mass movements like our own of the ‘60s and ‘70s together with people who never experienced a mass movement.”
Engaged journalists like Ford, according to Margaret Kimberley in the forward to the book, “speak for the marginalized, who can’t speak for themselves, and they expose the privileged.”
Black misleadership class
Glen Ford was one of the foremost critics of “black faces in high places,” who sell out the interests of their constituents for petty fame and privileges. These are the folks who have “historically been far more ashamed over mass black incarceration than outraged.” A case in point is US Senator Corey Booker, whose career has been dogged by Ford from Booker’s first run for mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Ford called such individuals “the black misleadership class.”
Ford does not pull any punches in his criticism. He described the time of the Obama presidency as the “lonely days.” When much of liberal America was all gaga about a black man in the White House, Ford was a courageous voice asking us to look beyond skin color to politics. Given the current cheerlessness of the national mood after the Trump and now the Biden presidencies, it is hard to envision a period when excessive hope was a problem. Ford, however, was the anecdote to the hope-maniacs back in those heady days after Mr. Obama moved into the White House.
Essays in the book include “First black presidency has driven many African Americans insane” and “To hell with Obama and his Van Joneses.” In “Why Barack Obama is the more effective evil,” Ford explains that Obama “has been more effective in evil-doing than Bush in terms of protecting the citadels of corporate power and advancing the imperial agenda. He has put both Wall Street and US imperial power on new and more aggressive tracks – just as he hired himself out to do.”
“The bulk of black voters,” Ford lamented, “have aligned themselves with the right wing of the Democratic Party,” which he accuses of being the “road to black ruin.” Moreover, “both major US parties are plagues on humanity.”
In a what would have been an apt description of the recent 2022 US midterm elections, Ford commented: “Election seasons are reality-creation festivals, during which the two corporate parties pretend to put forward different visions of the national and global destiny. When, in fact, they answer to the same master and must pursue the same general strategy.”
Although it did not get into the book, Ford wrote a prescient article on Ukraine in 2014, after the US-engineered coup there. His perceptive essay on the geopolitics of the Ukraine War was titled “US prepares to gas Russia into submission.”
Ford exposed the core imperial issues animating the conflict: US energy interests and economic power. He wrote: “Washington’s strategy is to permanently ratchet up tensions to ‘new cold war’ levels to justify sanctions against Russian energy exports while exploiting America’s own natural gas ‘surplus’ as an enhanced weapon of global hegemony.”
Ford foresaw the imposition of a proxy war in Ukraine, designed to sever Europe from the Russian supply of cheap natural gas in favor of a more costly US product from across the Atlantic. But even Ford did not anticipate the ever more aggressive nature of US imperialism, which some analysts believe literally blew up the main gas lines from Russia to western Europe.
The US intent in provoking this “new cold war,” Ford explained, is “to crush, or at least seriously disrupt, Russia.” Over eight years later, US Secretary of “Defense” Lloyd Austin said “we want to see Russia weakened.”
Anticipating the movement for multilateralism and international independence from Washington, Ford described an emerging geopolitical dynamic with “an assertive Russia, increasingly coordinated with China.”
The current US-dominated world order is predicated on military super spending and economic and financial control. In the same article, Ford predicted that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc “is the most likely venue for hatching alternatives to dollar hegemony.” Fast forward to 2022 and Lula da Silva is on the campaign trail in his ultimately successful bid to become the next president of Brazil and proposes the SUR, a new Latin American currency to end US dollar dependency.
May Glen Ford rest in power
“Glen Ford is irreplaceable,” his fellow journalist and comrade Margaret Kimberley eulogized in the book’s forward, “not just because his writing was so sharp and so clear, but also because his politics were so clearly of the left…He was a Marxist, and he brought that ideology to all that he did.”
-Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas, founded in 1985.