Strategic opposition to King Alfred’s new(ish) plans: Gil Scott-Heron, Malcolm X, and animal liberation

Following the opportunistic post-9/11 power grab of the USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001 and then the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006, for example, animal activism in the United States has been ranked (and thus performatively produced) as the number one domestic terrorist threat. In this, pro-animal activists—branded as irrational, frenzied anti-progress and anti-Enlightenment crazies—are thus demonised as the domestic equivalent of the more familiar “figures of evil” such as (alleged) Muslim fundamentalists, who in turn are “animalised” by way of the concentration camps of Guantanemo Bay and the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib.

Such an imbrication of speciesism and racism is, however, long-established and at once absolutely routine. This can be seen at its most basic level when considering that within racist societies the production of people of colour as “primitive” and “sexually rapacious” (for example) requires for its efficacy the displacing and delegitimising processes of animalisation. Think too of the principal metaphors invoked in hate speech.

It is thus neither wrong nor surprising that the analogy linking together the abolitionist and black civil rights movements with contemporary pro-animal activism appears frequently in animal liberation literature (it is not wrong, that is, so long as in proposing this analogy one is careful at the same time to attend to the many specific differences as well as the broadstroke similarities). Good examples include Marjorie Spiegel’s The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, and Steve Best & Anthony Nocella’s Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals.

What specifically interests me here, however, is the question of doing violence in order to progress towards liberation. As regards the oft-cited analogy, one which implies a relation of either intimate affinity or prototypical model, my question is quite simple: in using the civil rights analogy in support of animal liberation politics, why is it nearly always the case that the argument—in contrast to the civil rights movement itself—stops with Martin Luther King, Jr.? If the analogy is solid, why do the vast majority of its proponents reduce the variety of strategies employed in the battle for civil rights to one particular, relatively early tactic? In short, why stop with Dr. King’s nonviolent protest, why not continue on to Malcolm X and to “by any means necessary”? In the essays collected in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, for example, Dr. King is quoted half a dozen times and, in the section devoted specifically to the “tactics” of animal liberation, the strategy of civil disobedience advocated by Dr. King is discussed in three of the five papers. Malcolm X, however, is neither quoted nor discussed anywhere. One question then, inevitably leads to another: if the civil rights movement constitutes a model for the animal liberation movement to emulate, is it reasonable to deny both the importance and potential efficacy of violence in furthering the aims of our struggle?

In order to offer something more to this analogy and to begin to redress this omission, it is useful to recall some of the early poems of Gil Scott-Heron, who was a supporter of both Dr. King and Malcolm X. One poem in particular — recalling again our paranoic era of the USA PATRIOT ACT, AETA, son of PATRIOT ACT, Camp X-Ray, Jean Charles de Menezes, the photographs of Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib, etc etc — springs immediately to mind:

The King Alfred Plan

Brothers and sisters, there is a place for you in America
Places are being prepared and readied night and day, night and day
The white boy’s plan is being readied night and day, night and day
Listen close to what rap say ’bout traps like Allenwood PA
Already legal in D.C. to preventatively detain you and me
How long d’you think it’s going to be before even our dreams ain’t free
You think I exaggerate, check out Allenwood PA
And night and day, night and day

The white boy’s scheming night and day, night and day
The Jews and Hitler come to mind
The thought of slavery far behind
But white paranoia is here to stay
The white boy’s scheming night and day, night and day
What do you think about the King Alfred Plan?
You ain’t heard? Where you been man?
If I may paraphrase, the government notice reads:

“Should there at any time become a clear and present danger initiated by any radical element threatening the operation of the government of the United States of America, members of this radical element shall be tranported to dentention centers until such time as their threat has been eliminated – code King Alfred [George, Tony, Obama, David]”

Bullshit, I bet you say, there ain’t no Allenwood P.A.
And people ain’t waiting night and day, night and day, night and day
There we’ll be, without the Motown sound and thunderbird
Wallowing in the echoes of Malcolm’s words:
“There must be black unity, there must be black unity”
For in the end unity will be thrust upon us and we upon it and each other
Locked in cages, penned, hemmed-in shoulder to shoulder

Arms outstretched for just a crust of bread

Watermelon mirages an oasis that does not exist
Conjured up by the bubbling stench of unwashed bodies and unsanitary quarters
Concrete and barbed-wire, babies screaming
Stumbling around in a mental circle because you never cared enough to be black
In the end unity will be thrust upon us – blanketed, stifled, assaulted
A salty taste in your mouth from blood oozing from cracks in woolly heads
Red pools becoming thicker than syrup slow down your face
Spurred matted from the life force sprung loose from wells
Welled deep by the enforcers of mock justice of the red, white and blue
In the end unity will be thrust upon us
Let us unite because of love and not hate
Let us unite on our own and not because of barbed-wired death
You dare not ignore the things I say
Whitey’s waiting night and day, night and day, night and day, night and day, night and day.

Scott-Heron penned a number of important civil rights’ era poems, but of course in our own era of omnipresent surveillance it would be utterly foolhardy even to imply a possible overlap between the contemporary animal liberation movement and the aspect of the civil rights struggle documented in the poem “Enough” (and so of course I wouldn’t dream of doing so, although – entirely by accident – I just happen to have appended the words below).

The problem, and the solution, as evidenced by the recent UK riots, is that the revolution will be televised, and the only question then will be: who will wield the camera, who will frame the media?

Enough by Gil Scott-Heron

It was not enough that we were bought and brought to this home of the slave,

Locked in the bowels of a floating shithouse,

Watching those we love eaten away by plague and insanity,

Flesh falling like strips of bark from a termite-infested tree,

Bones rotting turning first to brittle ivory then to resin.
That was not enough.
It was not enough that we were chained by leg irons,

Black on black in black with a piss-stained wall

Forced to heed nature’s call through and inside the tatters of rags that strained our privates.

And evidently years of slavery did not appease your need to be superior to something,

Like a crazed lion hung up on being the king of his corner of the cage.

Backs bent under the wieght of being everything and having nothing,

Minds too like boomerangs curving back into themselves,

Kicked and carved by the face-straining smiles that saved my life.
That was not enough.

Somehow I can not believe that it would be enough for me to melt with you and integrate without the thoughts of rape and murder.

I cannot conceive of peace on earth until I have given you a piece of lead or pipe to end your worthless motherfucking existence.

Imagine your nightmares of my sneaking into a veiled satin bedroom and attacking your daughter, wife, and mother at once, ripping open their bowels sexually like a wishbone.

Imagine that and magnify it a million times when you realize that the blinders have been stripped from my eyes, and I realize that slavery was no smiling happy-fizzies party.

Your ancestors raped my foremothers and I will not forget.

I will not forget at Yale or Harvard or Princeton or in hell because you are on my mind.

I see you everytime my woman walks down the street with her ass on her shoulders.

I see you everytime I look in the mirror and think of the times I used to pat myself on the back for not being too black after all.

I think of you morning, noon, and night, and I wonder just exactly what in hell is enough.

Every time I see a rope or gun I remember, and to top it all off you ain’t through yet.

Over fifty you have killed in Mississippi since 1963,

That doesn’t even begin to begin all of those you have maimed, hit and run over, blinded, poisoned, starved, or castrated.

I hope you do not think that a vote for John Kennedy took you off my shit-list, because in the street there will only be black and white

There will be no Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, or any other of the rest of that shit you have used to make me forget to hate.

There ain’t no enough. there ain’t no surrender. There is only plot and plan, move and groove, kill.

There is no promised land. There is only the promise.

The promise is my vow that until we have been nerve-gassed, shot down and murdered, or done some of the same ourselves, look over your shoulder motherfucker—

I am coming.

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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