Let’s Talk Turkey: Glen Ford Carves Up the American Empire

If you know your history
Then you would know where you’re coming from
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me
Who the heck do I think I am

– Bob Marley, “Buffalo Soldier,” Confrontation (1983)

Glen Ford had grown a little bit tired of the Mighty Whitey and his imperial ways, before he died on July 21 this year, and he wasn’t all that enamored of weak-kneed Uncle Tomfoolery either.  Give me da rock, get out da way, he seemed to say, da cock’s come home to roost, mothafuckka.  Cockadoodledoo. Woke your sleepy ass up, brutha. We got some work to do.

Well, that’s how I read the energy and intention of Ford’s “No More American Thanksgivings,” the opening evisceration of the mightiest, whitiest American holiday of them all. His screed is a triumphant tonic,  a P’au Revere trumpet blast to open  Black Agenda (OR Books, 2021). Ford begins his carve-up of the butterball day traditionally associated with the beginning of the Christmas shopping period (Black Friday), with some nastiness. Smallpox blankets that would make Wuhan blush. Stolen corn from gravesites probably filled with victims of that smallpox, leaving a wide open area, reminiscent, later, of a trailer park swathe. Indian heads on totemic poles. Indians sold into slavery and sent to Caribbean. Ford sums it up with words of Governor John Winthrop, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

In 2003, Ford writes, for The Black Commentator (a forerunner to Black Agenda Report),

Thanksgiving is reserved by history and the intent of ‘the founders’ as the supremely white American holiday, the most ghoulish event on the national calendar…It is the most loathsome, humanity-insulting day of the year—a pure glorification of racist barbarity…the almost four centuries-old abomination will be deprived of its reason for being: white supremacy.

Amen. The Might Whitey can get stuffed. The reader already wants second helpings.

That’s just the opening salvo for Ford. He really lays in on the history of the event leading up to what we bizarrely associate with Christian good will and bonhomme, and heroic resilience feats to die for. Ford sticks the fork in, saying,

The Thanksgiving story 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.

Absolution.  That’s my Niagara Falls (remember The Three Stooges routine?).  For devout Catholics, absolution is the main event of the week. Think of it: You commit mayhem up the yin-yang Monday to Friday, go to confession on Saturday and tell all about the evil you did during the work week, and receive for your forthrightness absolution(usually, three Hail Marys, as I recall), then you return next day for Mass and receive  the body and blood of Christ to seal the deal, and you’re good too go for more mayhem come Monday morning. The Mafia have this racket down to a T. But the Pilgrims were no slouches either on the mayhem/absolution front, Ford avers.

Who were these Pilgrims?  Ford cites Dr. Tingba Apidta, who wrote The Hidden History of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks (a kind of Green Book guide for history Sunday drivers that vaguely reminds me of the excellent recent Lovecraft Country). In its Preface we are told the book is, like the 1619 Project, part of the larger African-American Reclamation Project. Within the history is a re-writing of the Thursday Feast, beginning with an assault on the character  of Pilgrims (derived from their governor, William Bradford):

Each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day, which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people’s ‘notorious sin,’ which included their ‘drunkenness and uncleanliness’ and rampant ‘sodomy.’

Sodomy? Sweet Cheeses! Last time I saw this kind of hypocrisy at work was at the British Club in Abu Dhabi, where I just happened upon a team of dishdashas in a private room quaffing down the suds like there was no tomorrow. And no virgins in Heaven waiting for them.

But this character attack also is alarming to me. Suddenly I recall Ed Snowden’s passage in his memoir, Permanent Record.  I remember him noting that his forebear Priscilla Mullins (eventually, upon landing at Plymouth, married to the ship’s cooper, John Alden) “had the dubious distinction of being the only single woman of marriageable age onboard, and so

the only single woman of marriageable age in the whole first generation of the Plymouth Colony.”  Ouch.  Snowden talks of how Myles Standish had the hots for Priscilla — famous enough hots for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write a long poem about.  Suddenly, I’m wondering did Alden make the beer kegs?  I’m wondering, with all those male gazes on Priscilla during swabby ride over, was Ed triggered during his delvation into sin, known as LOVEINT (also described in Permanent Record), when NSA agents sat around eavesdropping on the phone and cyber activities of their love interests? Does Ed’s wife, Lindsay, bear a resemblance to Priscilla? Ford says we must revise our understanding of the Pilgrims, and I’m conflicted now, because Snowden proudly cited his Pilgrim heritage.

Channeling Apidta further, Ford goes all Elijah Muhammad (Jump Nyabingi!) and describes two Thanksgivings — one in 1621 that we normally associate with holiday, and the one in 1634  associated with a massacre.  But it’s Ford’s summary statement that hits home:

But Thanksgiving is not just a twisted fable, and the mythology it nurtures is itself inherently evil. The real-life events—subsequently revised—were perfectly understood at the time as the first, definitive triumphs of the genocidal European project in New England. The near-erasure of Native Americans in Massachusetts and, soon thereafter, from most of the remainder of the northern colonial seaboard was the true mission of the Pilgrim enterprise—Act One of the American Dream. African Slavery commenced contemporaneously—an overlapping and ultimately inseparable Act Two. [my emphasis]

This is depressing and I fall for a moment into a funky white boy shame-blame-game with myself. If you’re white and feel like punching yourself in the face the unhandleable Truth, here’s Ford’s full piece in The Black Commentator.

But how reliable is this Apidta source? I have the book and it’s well-referenced with reliable sources, but, nevertheless, the publishers claim that Mighty Whitey won’t allow for its teaching and distribution. In the Preface to the Hidden History, we’re told,

The information in this book represents that part of the historical record purposely kept from the eyes of Black folks. It is therefore not available through the major white bookstores and most assuredly could never be found on any public school reading list…This book has been sold almost exclusively by Black people from barber shops, beauty parlors, small businesses, street vendors, churches, mosques, and temples and, most especially, by the independent Black bookstores, which specialize in Black intellectual development.

Yeah, but I downloaded it from Amazon, the mightiest whitey of them all. Just sayin’. Ford is righteous but fire sermons rankle. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with a good fire sermon, especially if it purges the effects of white devilry. Hell, we need more fire dances. (Jump Nyabingi!)

Glen Ford was a real rabble rouser. In the Introduction to Black Agenda, he relates details of  his life that eventually led him to co-founding Black Agenda Report.  He tells us, “I was born Glen Rutherford in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1949. I was a ‘red diaper baby.’” Meaning he was born to Commie parents. He tells us: “My professional career began in 1970 at James Brown’s radio station in Augusta, Georgia, WRDW-AM, where the ‘Godfather of Soul’

shortened my surname to ‘Ford.’”  He tells us, “WRDW helped empower grassroots activists to challenge the local white power structure, culminating in a Black rebellion that left six

dead but pulled the city out of the political backwaters.” From there he went to Columbus, Ohio, then “wrenched into a new era by the nation’s longest sustained urban rebellion on record.”  THen on to Baaltimore, where he created his first radio syndication, Black World Report. Then, on to DC, where residents were “struggling against creeping gentrification of Black neighborhoods.” All of which led him to the creation of, first, The Black Commentator, then Black Agenda Report.

Black Agenda is broken up into 10 parts. It starts with Thanksgiving and moves through Bush and Katrina, the Siege of Detroit, the Duopoly, the Obama Legacy, MLK versus Obama, Democrats seen as mafia, a call for the punishment of Covid-19 perps, and end with an attempt at solutions — including reparations and nationalizing banks. It’s an energetic read of pieces previously appearing in Black Agenda Report. The genocidal fervor Ford alludes to above can be seen as a mission in progress, the neo-liberal blankets of small-loans being distributed eagerly by toothy Democrats, and the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity to get ahead still disproportionately affecting Blacks.

In Part II: Bush and Katrina, after recounting the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the hue and cry that resulted from that weak response, Ford gets busy in a 2007 piece, “No Black Plan for the Cities, Despite the Lessons of Katrina.” Or, rather, there is a Plan, but it belongs to Big Capital. He writes,

It is African American leadership institutions that have failed Black New Orleans, and left inner city populations across the land defenseless in the face of Big Capital’s schemes to remake urban America in whiteface…Big Capital’s urban offensive threatens to irrevocably disperse the population base of Black political power, rendering forever moot all dreams of meaningful African American self-determination.

Ford says to imagine this formula applied to “chocolate cities” across America, and its subsequent devastation.

The theme of urban “blight” and its regentrification is continued in “The Siege of Detroit: A War of Black Urban Renewal.”  In an ostensible move to save money in a stricken budget, Detroit emergency manager, Kevyn Orr informed city retirees that they would have to see their pensions reduced, and lose cost-of-living adjustments, essentially locking them into a downward budgetary path.  Ford writes,

This was not an election, but the cruelest coercion—a rape of the elderly, who were forced not only to acquiesce to their own further impoverishment, but also to give up the right to challenge the process in court.

Such savagery is part of a greater plan, Ford believes.  He continues,

This is a war against a Black city, and a blueprint for future aggressions aimed at shrinking “chocolate cities” across the nation. What Katrina accomplished through the sudden advent of flood, the corporate strategists in Michigan intend to achieve by emergency dictatorship, privatization, and blatantly racist official barbarism.

Black Lives Matter. “I can’t breathe.”

Ford blames the duopoly that we all suffer under, with each party saturated with corporate funding and influence.  In a 2015 piece, “Both Major U.S. Parties Are Plagues on Humanity,” Ford opines. He sees each party fulfilling the mission expressed in the controversial Project for a New American Century, justified through the public through the chicanery of language manipulation:

The Bush regime is described as “unilateralist,” although it employed the same “Coalition of the Willing” approach to aggressive war as does the Obama administration. President Obama claims the right to disregard and methodically undermine international law through “humanitarian” military intervention, whereas Bush claimed to be “spreading democracy.” Same weapons systems, same mass murder, same objective: U.S. domination of the planet.

Depressing stuff. Excuse me while I light my spliff.

Indeed, Ford puts the Democrats on the same trajectory as the RICO lads. In a January 2020 piece, “Trump Is a Criminal but the Democrats Belong to the Same Mafia,” written during the silly first impeachment of the president, Ford describes habits that should shock.  While Trump has been with high-horse righteousness condemned for being a boffo don, with advising morons around him spouting lines (not even the good ones) from Godfather movies, and the president ordering an illegal Flying Ginsu missile “hit” on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, prompting The Intercept’s star reporter (and Pulitzer Prize winner) James Risen to call a spade a blade: “Donald Trump Murdered Qassim Suleimani.” Ginsu? What’s next? The Pocket Fisherman cruise missile?

Bad as this is, and it baaaad, Ford reckons da Dems are equal to the task of murder and mayhem. Not just Hillary’s jocular description of the Gaddafi killing (“We came, we saw, he died.”), but games like Double Hegemony, where the US provides Answers and the “client” state provides Questions: How high? Ford gets worked up with the phoney Dems:

As the party of Barack Obama, the previous Super-Sanctioner of rebellious nations, the Democrats are vicious in maligning Venezuela. And as the party of Hillary Clinton the Democrats have killed hundreds of thousands in U.S.-directed and financed jihadist wars in Libya and Syria. They are the puppeteers and paymasters of terror on a scale that Donald Trump has yet to match, an orgy of sectarian beheadings, torture, rape, and mass murder that Trump’s assassination of General Suleimani may inadvertently bring to a close with U.S. ouster from the region

They’re jihad, we’re all Eeeha! It’s another race to the bottom.

Ford saves his deepest screedic wrath for Barack Obama. A total disappointment. In his March 2012 piece, “Why Barack Obama Is the More Effective Evil,” he demonstrates how Obama was groomed by the Corporatists even beforehe was in the Illinois Senate. Ford writes,

They invested in Obama to protect them from harm, as a hedge against the risk of systemic disaster caused by their own predations. And, it was a good bet, a good deal. It paid out in the tens of trillions of dollars…He protected their interests there, helping shield corporations from class action suits, and voting against caps on credit card interest. He was their guy back then—and some of us were saying so, back then.

And some are aware that since leaving office, Obama has been cashing in on his support of the Wall Street regime, earning up to $250,000 a pop for “speeches” delivered to those he bailed out in 2008.

But Ford has another piece on Obama, written a year into his presidency, that is more reflective of their conflict and his slow strangulation of hope among Black Americans, “First Black Presidency Has Driven Many African Americans Insane.”  Ford saw Blacks, so exuberant about the ascendancy of a Black man to the White House, incapable of critical thinking. He cites Pew polling data and writes that

Nearly a third of Blacks say they are in better shape than before the recession began, a figure with no basis whatsoever in real life, and a perception that is at total war with reality. Everything is worse for every major Black demographic since December 2007.

Ford shakes his head in befuddlement, and adds,

They have been singing zip-a-deedoo-dah while all around them Black America is in economic free-fall. These deluded Black folks have been rendered incompetent and politically useless to themselves and their families by the mere existence of a Black president.Obama’s election was, besides the Great Recession itself, the worst thing that has happened to Black people in a long time.

Even his speech at the recently concluded COP-26 was a disappointing ‘business as usual’ kow-tow to the corporate wallets who feed him greenbacks.

Ford wanted to indict those responsible for the fact that Black are 3.5 times more likely to die from Covid-19 (Yale study) than whites. They don’t get the same access to care, nor the same quality when they do get access. Ford writes,

What will be the Black political response to such gruesome numbers? Who will be made accountable for a slaughter that was pre-programmed by the very nature of a society birthed in genocide, slavery, and the glorification of conquest and plunder?

Just one more thing that shows not much has changed since the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago.

Alright, did he have solutions?  Sure. Reparations and nationalize the banks, for started. It’s a lively book, full of thought-inspiring data and polemic.  And it’s sure to goad intellectually broadminded readers into adding Black Agenda Report to their regular political parsings.

In Black Agenda, Ford carves up the American turkey culture, making no political preference of dark meat over white.  It’s a turkey stuffed with white bread, placed at a table with token Negroes, served up by Black waiters reminiscent of would-be castrater Stephen (Samuel Jackson), appeasers and pleasers, who Ford detested. He has a special place in his fired-up heart for the Obama Fraud. Black Agenda is kind of like Dante’s Inferno, where there are mostly evil whiteys in the circled hellfires, but a goodly number of Black cultural traitors as well, with the reader an idealist being guided along by Ford’s Virgil, and that with a good old purging of false consciousness and corrupt desires, we may reach out again, one day, and touch Lady Liberty’s hem, with just desserts for all.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.