Amos Wilson: What is Power?

By Amos N. Wilson

From the book, Blueprint For Black Power. Published by Afrikan World InfoSystems. 

THE DEFINITIONS OF POWER are various and conflicting. This is due mainly to the multifarious nature of power itself, rather than due to its unreality or ephemeral spirit. Few, if any of us, doubt the reality of power and the tangible effects its application engenders. Our confusion as to its exact definition more likely flows from the fact that power, depending on context and circumstance, assumes ubiquitous shapes and forms, varying degrees of transparency and visibility. Power is a chameleon: it takes on the texture of its environment.

It is not our purpose here to untangle the web of power definitions. It is not necessary for us to do so. However, a review of a number of definitions and of several forms of power will provide an intuitive understanding of its essential meaning, which is all that is necessary to our mission. 

Power comes with being; with interactive existence; with being alive. It is the essence of life and the motive force of growth and development and of the adaptability of living things to environmental changes and demands. Power refers to the ability to do, the ability to be, the ability to prevail. Beingness and aliveness originate with power. To be powerless is to be will-less, impotent and lifeless; without effect or influence; to be nothing, of no account. Thus, we concur with Rollo May when he contends that:

Power is essential for all living things. Man, in particular, cast on this barren crust of earth aeons ago with the hope and the requirement that he survive, finds he must use his powers and confront opposing forces at every point in his struggle with the earth and with his fellows. 

The unimpeded intentionality of living systems, including especially human beings, is self-realization and self-actualization, the fulfillment of genetic potential or possibilities. This intentionality must be empowered to be realized. Thus, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, "Wherever we find the will to live, there we find the will to power." Power is essential to our existence and the most influential factor in determining our quality of life. As Wartenberg contends, "Power is one of the central phenomena of human social life." And as Parenti argues, "All sorts of interpersonal [and we may add, intergroup] relationships can be seen as involving power, including between lovers or between parent and child." Power! There is no escaping its presence in some form. There is no escaping its use by others to influence in some form our person, our minds and behavior and our own use of it to influence the persons, minds and behavior of others.

We deny the ubiquity of power to our peril. It does not vanish from reality or lose its influence by our refusal to acknowledge its existence. Therefore, we are behooved to recognize its permanent reality and make the best of it, control it and use it to good purpose. Power in and of itself "can be both a detrimental and a beneficial aspect of social relationships" and can be made to play "the negative as well as the positive role... in the constitution of human social life" (Wartenberg). Power can be utilized to achieve personal, social, political and material ends if it is appropriately developed, organized and applied. The question of whether power is beneficial or harmful can only be answered in regard to the specific use to which it is put in a particular situation. 

Many in our audience will find this discussion of power disturbing or diseasing. Having been victimized by the abuse and misuse of power, often crushed by the powers-that-be, the reader who identifies himself as among the powerless or as a member of a relatively powerless group, e.g., an Afrikan American, will be the more perturbed by our discussion. The oppressed and downtrodden, having been traumatized by the abuse of power by their powerful oppressors, often come to perceive power itself as inherently evil, as by nature corrupting and therefore as something to be eschewed, denied and renounced. The pursuit of power is viewed as unworthy of virtuous persons, and the desire to possess it as sinful. Therefore, many among the powerless and poor feel compelled to find in their powerlessness and poverty the emblematic signs of their Godliness and redemptive salvation. How convenient a precept for rationalizing and maintaining the power of the haves over the have-notsl As the result of their ideological manipulation by the powerful and their own reactionary misperception of reality, the poor and powerless have been made to perceive the pursuit, possession and application of power in their own behalf as unbecoming to themselves. This is even more the case when through their naive acceptance of the self-serving deceptive propaganda perpetrated by the powers-that-be, their own reactionary self-negation, and their nursing of their internalized inferiority complexes, the poor huddled masses perceive the possession and exercise of power as the inherent and exclusive prerogative of the ruling classes or races.

There are many Blacks who have been convinced by racist propaganda that supreme power is divinely deeded to dominant Whites. They therefore suffer anxiety attacks and feel as if they are blasphemously rebelling against God, Himself, if they — even for a moment — seriously dare consider conspiring to wrest power from the hands of their oppressors. More unfortunate than this sorely mistaken theological perception is the self-abnegating perception by many Blacks that they are inherently incapable of mounting a successful campaign against oppressive White power and therefore must sulkingly seek the least onerous accommodation to it. This perception of and orientation toward power on the part of Afrikan peoples, is but a prescription for their unending subordination, exploitation, and ultimately, when it is convenient to the purposes of their oppressors, their genocidal demise. Therefore, if they are to survive and prosper in freedom then, like it or not, Afrikan peoples must come to terms with power. We must be ever conscious of the fact that "the establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us."

 The Typology of Power

In perhaps its most general sense, Rollo May defines power as "the ability to cause or prevent change." Power is fundamentally ambivalent in that it exists in both latent and manifest forms, is both stabilizing and destabilizing, both a causal factor in bringing about certain changes in social and environmental circumstances as well as in preventing them. Power may conceivably refer to the ability to achieve a desired goal, or to the ability to willfully resist or overcome certain social and environmental conditions imposed on oneself by others, or the ability to impose on others against their will or outside their awareness, certain social, environmental circumstances and behavioral demands.

Instances of defining power as the "ability to" or "power to" include the definition of power as "the ability to get what one wants" (Parenti); as "the capacity of some persons to produce intended and unforeseen effects on others" (Wrong); or as the ability a person or group has to "produce intended effects upon the world around them, to realize their purposes within it, whatever these purposes happen to be."

Power as the "power over" in contrast to power as the "power to" emphasizes the use of power by one person or group to constrain or restrict the possibilities or options of another person or group. "Power-over" refers to power that "is exercised over an agent [i.e., a person or group] when he is not able to act freely, that is, with a full set of possibilities available to him." Wartenberg explicates the concept of "power-over" more clearly in the following statements:

An agent who acts in a context in which someone else has power over her is not able to do as she wishes, but faces a situation in which the structure of her action-environment is in the control of someone else. She is therefore not in the normal circumstances of human action and, as a result, her responsibility for her actions is modified.

Instances of defining power as "power over" include the definition of power as "the possibility of imposing one's will upon the behavior of other persons" (Weber); "the ability to influence or control the actions of others, to get them to do what we want them to, and what they would otherwise not have done," and finally, as "the capacity to affect the conduct of individuals through the real or threatened use of rewards and punishments."

The person or group which possesses and applies "power-over" another person or group is thereby enabled to structure and restrict the action range of the subordinate person or group and to limit the options available to him or it. "Power over" as defined above, charac¬terizes the primary power relationship between Whites and Blacks. As such, it essentially defines the character of White supremacy relative to Black subordination.

Power, whether as "power to" or "power over," manifests itself in a variety of forms or types. We shall briefly define certain types or forms of power and their relevance to White racist domination and exploitation of Blacks and to the necessity of Blacks to develop the power to end such domination and exploitation.

Force as Power

Power as force involves the exercise of biological and physical means to prevent another person or group from doing what he or it prefers to do or "to get something to happen to the [person or group] that [he or it] would prefer it did not" (Wartenberg). The force utilized may involve "the infliction of bodily pain or injury including the destruction of life itself, and the frustration of basic biological needs."6 It may also involve the construction of human and physical obstacles to constrain or restrict the freedom and range of movement of another person or group.

 Force may be utilized instrumentally rather than directly, to achieve certain ends. The instrumental use of force may involve its use to inhibit or destroy another person's or group's ability to develop and mobilize his or its human and material resources which might be used against the interests of the powers-that-be. The strategic and tactical purpose of instrumental force is to limit or eliminate the subordinate individual's or group's capacity to act in certain ways. Instrumental force may be used to establish in the mind of the subordinate person or group the power holder's capability and willingness to use force as an instrument of punishment for non-compliant behavior on his or its part. It also may be used as a means of motivating the non-complying party to return to or to re-establish a pre-existing power relation. 

Force, per se, rather than being utilized as the primary and exclusive means of exerting power over another may serve more to reinforce or "back up" other forms of power relations (to be discussed below). That is, "force, although a reality in many social situations, achieves its full scope by undergirding other types of power" (Wartenberg). In so-called advanced societies like the United States, force is more likely to be applied as the "final persuader or arbiter" when compliance is not attained by other means.

Force as Inefficient Power — In the context of the modern nation-state, the use of force as the primary regulator of social and power relations, as the primary means of achieving the results desired by power-holders is more often than not, inefficient, counter-productive and fraught with onerous complexities and unintended outcomes. It is also often socially, economically and materially costly to exert and maintain. Wrong perceptively notes, as follows: 

Force is more effective in preventing or restricting people from acting than in causing them to act in a given way . . . Force can achieve negative effects: the destruction, prevention or limitation of the possibility of action by others. But one cannot forcibly manipulate the limbs and bodies of others in order to achieve complex positive results: the fabrication or construction of something, the operation of a machine, the performance of a physical or mental skill. 

Wartenberg further notes:

Force is uneconomic for a number of reasons. In the first place, it / requires that the dominant agent make some physical effort in order/ to keep the subordinate agent from doing what she would otherwise do ... As a result, maintaining the use of force requires a constant expenditure of energy by the dominant agent.... 

Force is also uneconomic because it inherently occasions resistance ... it is always perceived by those over whom it is used as a hostile presence, an alienating experience that restricts their ability to act. Because of this it engenders a dynamic of resistance in those over whom it is exercised

. . . .[Thus], force by itself is less effective as a means of power than is often assumed [Emphasis added] 

The problematics of using unadorned force as the chief instrument of power utilized by a dominant group to achieve complex social-material ends with economic efficiency and the barest minimum of social disruption, motivates that group to develop and apply more subtle forms of power. These will be discussed below. However, at this juncture we should note that current forms of domination of Continental, Caribbean, North, Central and South American Afrikans, respectively, by Europeans, is secured by more subtle and efficient means of political control than by the use of oppressive physical force. Consequently, the "independence" of Afrikan countries and former Caribbean colonies and the social "assimilation" of Afrikan Americans into the mainstream of White America by no means represent the lessening of European and Euro-American domination of or a fundamental change in the nature of European and Afrikan power relations in favor of the Afrikans, as persons so erroneously assume. Quite to the contrary, these historically apparent social/political changes instead represent the increased subtlety and efficiency of European domination of Afrikan peoples. It should be noted that the ability to use physical/militaristic force as the final arbiter of power relations still lies overwhelmingly in the hands of Europeans and EuroAmericans. It is this "force differential" that Afrikans across the Diaspora must in some way resolve, neutralize or frustrate if they are to gain true parity with Europeans and EuroAmericans and indeed gain their liberation from European domination.

Psychic Violence — The most powerful obstacle against the liberation of Afrikan peoples from White domination and exploitation is not the ability of Whites to use superior military or police firepower or their threat to use it against Afrikan insurgency, but is their ability to engage in unrelenting psychopolitical violence against the collective Afrikan psyche. It is the White monopoly on psychic violence and their devastatingly ingenious use of it against the minds of Afrikan peoples which represent the greatest threat to Afrikan survival. Wrong insightfully points out the nature of this form of violence:

[T]here is a form of conduct, often described as psychic, psychological or moral force or violence, which does not fit readily under the rubrics of any of the other forms of power. If physical violence involves inflicting damages on the body of a person, how is one to classify the deliberate effort to affect adversely a person's emotions or his feelings and ideas about himself by verbally, or in other symbolic ways, insulting or degrading him? If. . . power includes the production of purely mental or emotional effects and is not confined to the eliciting of overt acts, then the psychic assault of, say, a nagging, browbeating spouse or parent, the defamation of the character of a political foe or even of an entire group, constitute exercises of power

. .Damage to the psyche is surely as real as damage to the body . . . It is plainly not true that 'sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me'. Psychic violence, in which the intended effect of the perpetrator is to inflict mental or emotional harm, is continuous with physical violence.

The ultimate force in the world is the force of mind. When that force is defeated all is lost.

Dominant Whites have used words and symbols to violently and unrelentingly attack oppressed Blacks in a thousand and one nefarious ways, including the projection of dehumanizing stereotypes and caricatures of them; the falsification of their history and culture; the miseducation of Blacks; and the engaging in chronic derisive media attacks on their morals, behavior, intelligence, ways of life, sexuality, physical features, motives and values.

The final end of the violent White-instigated psychic assaults against the collective psyche of Blacks is to induce in them states of false consciousness, self-alienation and self-hatred so as to irreparably impair their capacity to overthrow their White oppressors through the mobilization of their human and material resources.

False consciousness, self-alienation and self-hatred are conjoining states of mind which motivate oppressed Blacks to engage in continuing self-defeating, self-destructive assaults against their own interests and against themselves. Consequently, by these means Blacks are unwittingly manipulated into forming alliances with their oppressors and exploiters in disempowering themselves and in empowering those who dominate and exploit them all the more. 

Coercion as Power

The instrumental use of force or the threatened use of force by the power holder to attain the compliance of another is often referred to as coercion. Coercion is therefore a form of power. It is of the utmost importance to note as did Wrong that "a coercer may succeed without possessing either the capability or the intention of using force, so long as the power subject believes he possesses both" [Emphasis added]. That is, the coercive power of the power holder may rest significantly less or not at all on his actual capacity to harm the subject, but may rest more or less completely on the subordinate subject's belief that the power holder can do so. This perspective, commonly referred to as "bluffing," allows us to recognize the fact that in many instances power holders exercise power over their subjects because of the subjects' misperceptions and misunderstandings, or false beliefs about the power holders' ability to restrict their options or possibilities. Wartenberg refers to this situation as the Oz Phenomenon, "for it shows that agents are able to coerce other agents by acting upon their beliefs rather than by controlling their action-environment directly." He further contends 

that coercive power relations can be brought into existence by means of the subordinate agent's false understandings about the ability of the dominant agent to harm him. This is an important source of power for a dominant agent so long as her ability to realize her threat is not questioned [and challenged].1 [Emphasis added]

While the ability of the dominant agent to coerce the subordinate subject may rest heavily on the subject's exaggerated misperception of the dominant agent's actual capacity to do him harm, equally and often of greater importance, the ability of the dominant agent to coerce the subject may rest on the subject's misperception and underestimation of his own capacity to successfully thwart the coercive or punitive actions of the dominant agent. The often anemic self-concept of subordinate persons and groups, their low self-esteem, their ignorance of their actual strengths, are more the causes of their subordination than is the actual strength of their oppressors.

The long history of White American domination of Black Ameri­cans — which has been enforced and reinforced by the use of physical force and violence, psychic violence and coercive power — has in effect convinced the majority of Blacks that Whites are invincible. Moreover, this history has undermined the self-confidence of most Blacks, narrowed their vision of their possibilities and power, restricted their aspirations to the narrow confines of racial accommodation and assimilation, to being the paternalistic recipients of White sympathy rather than expanding their aspirations to include the overcoming of White power and achieving full, unfettered self-liberation. The unending maintenance of this self-defeating state of mind in Blacks is the fundamental objective of White power and the keystone upon which the infrastructural facade of White power rests.

We are not arguing here that White power is purely delusional or does not contain truly lethal actualities. However, we are arguing that if Black Americans and Afrikans the world-over do not permit themselves to be "psyched out" by White racist propaganda; if they both recognize and actualize their potential to neutralize White power in either its imagined or actual forms, they can by these means neutralize it.

The Productivity of Coercion — We can recall from our prior discus­sion that the use of force is essentially socially negative, expensive and prone to provoke overt resistance to its application by those subjected to it. We also intimated that force is essentially restrictive and preventative in character, more effective in obstructing people's behavior than in causing them to behave in certain productive ways (from the power holder's point of view). Coercion, in contrast to the use of raw force, permits the power holder to benefit more readily from the subordinate subject's actions and reactions. According to Wartenberg, "Unlike force, coercive power actually functions by getting an agent to do something. The logic of the threat is precisely its positing an action that an agent is able to forestall by acting in an appropriate manner." For Wartenberg, coercive power is productive in that (1) it produces action on the part of the subordinate subject, and (2) because the actions of the subordinate subject elicited by coercive threat may actually produce something of value or of benefit to the coercive power holder. The scope of coercive power, particularly in its political and institutional forms, is, as argues Wrong, "at least in the short run . . . undoubtedly the most effective form of power in extensiveness. comprehensiveness and intensity."

However, despite its efficiency and productivity relative to force, the exercise of coercive power like the exercise of force may be expensive, socially and politically costly, and provokes resistance from those subjected to its application. Because the subjects of coercive power are aware of its application against them and realize that freedom to act has been threatened or restricted, they resent such an imposition and may attempt to break or thwart the power holder's coercive power over them. The use of coercive power as its chief means of control often means that the dominant group must maintain constant surveillance and must constantly keep itself fully informed as to the thoughts, attitudes and activities of its subjects. Consequently, to the costs of acquiring and maintaining the means of production (if they are an owning class) the cost of procuring, maintaining and deploying the means of force and violence must be added the costs of information-gathering and espionage operations (Wrong). The relative inefficiency, counter-productivity and costliness of exercising force and coercive power as the primary means for dominating other groups serve to motivate powerholding groups to develop other more effective but less obvious or intrusive ways of exercising coercive force and power so as to reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the reactive resentment and resistance of their subordi­nate subjects. This end is accomplished when power holders discover and utilize ways and means of obscuring or hiding the use of coercion by inducing misperceptions and misunderstandings among their subjects about whether they are actually being coerced (Wartenberg) or are being subjected to a "power play." The other forms of power we shall discuss below have in good part been developed and are utilized to obscure the actual nature of the coercive power relationship between power holders and their subjects. However, we should note at this juncture that the ability of power holders to obscure their coercive and exploitative actions from their subjects will be critically successful to the degree that their subjects have not developed and utilized their own analytical/critical, perceptive, and creative capacities to see through and subvert the hidden coercive machina­tions and intentions of their oppressors.

Influence as Power

Influence occurs when a person acts in compliance with the wishes or directions or suggestions of another, based on his sheer positive regard for love and admiration of the other, or based on a desire to please or serve the other because of the other's personal significance to him. Influence is achieved when the subject's behavioral compliance is attained without the influential party having to possess or use force, coercion, material rewards or making appeals to authority. This is especially the case when the subject complies with the wishes, suggestions, or commands of the other while engaging in no relevant, independent or deliberate thinking, reasoning, or rational processes whatsoever; or when the subject complies out of a "conditioned habit of obedience" in regard to the other. [in photo, racist suspect, Lorne Michaels, the producer of SNL.]

Wartenberg mentions two important types of influence with which we are familiar: rational persuasion and personal persuasion. (He also mentions a third, expertise, which we discuss as "competent author­ity," presently.) In the first instance the subject retains the use of his critical or rational faculties but is led to reassess his understanding or perception of a situation or of reality, or to accept as reasonable or correct the conclusions reached and recommendations suggested by the other as the result of the other's apparently logical argumentation or reasoning. In the second instance the subject's behavioral compli­ance, the argumentation or demands of the other occur essentially because he wishes to satisfy the desires of the other as he perceives them to exist. As Wartenberg posits, "The central feature of influence via personal persuasion is that the influenced agent does not make her choices on the basis of reasons that she can present in the form of rational argument, but rather on the basis of the desires of the influencing agent." Another form of persuasion might be referred to as propagandists persuasion, wherein through various media and forms of indoctrination techniques the subject is influenced to accept certain opinions or beliefs which lead him to think that he is acting in his own interests when this really is not the case. 

Influence as power involves the power holder's ability to gain his subordinate subject's "voluntary" acceptance of and behavioral compliance with the power holder's interpretations of reality, value judgements, prescriptive suggestions and commands, based on the power holder's perceived status, resources, personal/social attributes, competence, expertise, or legitimate authority. When power holders as a group possess a monopoly of the positions of influence due to historical and other social factors, they may use their influence as a means to secure and obscure their possession of other types of power, and at times render unnecessary the naked use offeree and coercion.

Influence requires that the subject subordinates his judgement to that of the other, that he is guided by the judgement of the other. As such, influence is a more secure and "hidden" form of power in that the influenced subject complies with the demands of the power holder either without questioning the role or motives of the power holder or after being persuaded by the power holder's apparently logical argumentation. Consequently, influence as a type of power, as a type of rational, personal, propagandistic persuasion, may serve to render the possession and exercise of other types of power unnecessary and more secure, or to obscure them altogether. Thus, influence may itself function as an exceedingly potent or subtle form of power.

To a very significant extent White domination of Blacks, which initially and until relatively recently was expressed in terms of physical force coercion, the threatened use of force along with its occasional use, now expresses itself as influence. By means of the various forms of influence we have discussed, Whites dominate Blacks without appearing to deliberately do so and without having to revert to the sheer use of force and coercion. Consequently, they convince or persuade many Blacks to behave in ways compatible with maintaining White power, and incompatible with generating Black Power, while Blacks self-deceptively think that such behavior on their part is purely "voluntary," reasonable, or obligatory. This situation devolves from Blacks having accepted Eurocentric frames of reference and perceptions of reality. Only by choosing to accept and live by an Afrocentric frame of reference will Blacks escape the dispowering White influence and, correspondingly, enhance their own power. 

Competent and Legitimate Authority as Power

Competent authority involves the achievement and exercise of social power derived from knowledge and skill and where behavioral compliance is obtained from the subject in return for his receipt of some benefit or service awarded by the authority. 

Wrong defines competent authority as "authority that rests solely on the subject's belief in the superior knowledge or skill of the exerciser rather than on formal position in a recognized hierarchy of authority."11 He further contends that "competent authority is a power relation in which the subject obeys the directives of the authority out of belief in the authority's superior competence or expertise to decide which actions will best serve the subject's interests and goals." 

Competent authority or expertise may crucially be used as a mask far social privilege and power exercised by one group over another. It hides social privilege and power because it appears to merely exist to advance the public interest. Moreover, competent authority or expertise, particularly if it is held in high social esteem and is well organized, may use its claims to superior knowledge and skill, and to operating in the public interest, to legitimate the rule of the powers-that-be. The legitimacy of their rule under other circumstances may be questionable or denied. Hence, competent authority, if monopolized by one social group, may serve to facilitate that group's social power over a dependent, less competent, subordinate group. In such an instance, the latter group may be relatively unaware of the extent and the degree to which it is dominated by the former. Even if it is aware it remains relatively powerless to the degree to which it lacks or does not exercise expert knowledge.

European Americans monopolize the positions of competent authority in addition to monopolizing the means of certifying (legiti¬mating) and delegating such authority. They, through racial discrimination against Blacks, monopolize the means of gaining access to competent authority. They make use of these monopolies not only to command the obedience of subordinate Afrikan Americans, but to justify the "legitimacy" of their preponderant power over them. Moreover, they utilize their monopoly and competent authority to both obscure from and legitimate their social power, its exploitative, oppressive nature and intent, upon Black Americans. 

The legitimacy of competent and other forms of White authority to which Afrikan Americans "voluntarily" submit or "freely give their consent," are but special cases of the overall "legitimacy" of White power they have been conditioned, seduced and otherwise compelled to accept and believe as morally justified.

Legitimate authority refers to a power relation in which the power holder possesses an acknowledged right to command and the subject an acknowledged obligation to obey. "The source rather than the content of any particular command endows it with legitimacy and induces willing compliance on the part of the person to whom it is addressed" (Wrong, 1988). Authority can be said to be legitimate to the extent that it conforms to established rules; to the extent to which the rates used to justify it are based on shared beliefs or norms and are based on the expressed consent of the subject, i.e., on the extent to which the subject consents to the particular relations of power which the exercise of such authority requires (Beetham, 1991).

The norms which constitute a legitimate authority relationship are generally shared within a larger group or community to which both the person exercising that authority and the person subject to it belongs. Interestingly, as Wrong notes, submission to legit authority is widely regarded as "voluntary" and based on "cons rather than on coercion and yet at the same time is felt to "mandatory" or "obligatory." We must keep in mind that legitimate authority and the power relations it entails are based on the acceptance by those who submit to it of certain beliefs, values, rules modes of giving consent (e.g., voting). The functional superiority legitimate authority as a form of power is delineated by Wrong thus

Legitimate authority creates far greater reliability of anticipated reactions than the other forms of authority, just as internalized so norms ensure more reliable conformity than norms the observance! which is more dependent on situational sanctions or ad hoc negotiation over their meaning and applicability. Legitimate authority more efficient than coercive or induced authority in that it minimizes the need for maintaining means of coercion in constant readiness continual surveillance of the power subjects and regular supplies of economic or non-economic rewards. For these reasons, naked (that is, I coercive) power always seeks to clothe itself in the garments o legitimacy. Or, as Franz Neumann puts it even more strongly: 'Those who wield political power are compelled to create emotional and rational responses in those whom they rule, inducing them to accept, implicitly or explicitly, the commands of the rulers.'

To a significant degree Afrikan Americans accept and obey predominant White American power and its authorities (at least from a social-psychological standpoint) because they agree with the rules of their establishment and expression as defined by White Americans: share with White Americans the moral, legal, and other values and perspectives which justify them; and to some extent (limited and of recent origin) because they, i.e., Blacks, have been permitted by White Americans to participate in political and social processes by which White power is given legitimacy. To a limited degree, Afrikan Americans have been permitted access to certain positions of competent and legitimate authority. These factors contribute mightily to their acceptance of White American power (domination) and the White American monopoly of positions of authority as legitimate. These forms of giving consent to the social power status quo on the part of Blacks help to obscure as well as deny the fact that they are in fact a dominated and severely exploited group (regardless of class); and helps to obscure the fact that their uncritical acceptance of the "rules," noral beliefs, perspectives, and their customary-traditional participa¬tion in the "American" (White) political-economic process and system ^s tantamount to the legitimation of their own oppression and to the consensual ensurance of their own powerlessness.

Rules, beliefs and consent are manufactured by those in power to justify, legitimate and serve their interests. In its origins White American power was not legitimated (i.e., voluntarily or contractually consented to, morally justified or politically-socially ratified) by Afrikan Americans who at the time of its origination were held in captivity (slavery) and to this point in time have been largely excluded from significantly participating in American legitimation processes.

From the historical point of view of Native and Afrikan Americans, White power, in whatever form, is illegitimate. This is because such power rests essentially on the near physical and genocidal decimation of Native Americans, the theft of their properties, on the exploitation or the forced labor (enslavement) of Afrikans, and on the systematic exclusion by Whites of both Black and Native Americans from the influential exercise of practically all forms of "legitimate" power and authority in the United States. The rules and beliefs which provide the means for legitimating White power were in fact pre-established, pre-ordained and imposed on Blacks against their will by Whites from the beginning. The illegitimacy of White American power is founded on the illegitimacy of its original sins — genocide, theft of property, and enslavement. It is apropos to note here a very telling statement made by Beetham in regard to power and legitimacy: 

the occupancy of property, the development of a hierarchal division of labour, or the establishment of a command structure [authority structure] can occur, and historically frequently has occurred, through acts of forcible appropriation, exclusion or subjection which take place in violation of existing rules or outside of them [even those promul¬gated by the usurpers themselves]. Such usurpations cannot be legitimate. However, the resulting power relations typically become consolidated and perpetuated through the establishment of rules which underpin and give legal form to the original usurpation. From that time on, subsequent positions of power come to be derived from the rules, in the same way those whose rules originate through custom or agreement. Although the memory of the original usurpation may be kept alive, with the passage of time the issue of the rules' legitimacy becomes less a question of their origin than one of the ongoing character of the relationships they embody, and the nature of the requirements they impose. 

Here lies the . . . reason why power is not necessarily legitimate, even when it is legally valid, . . . that legality constitutes only one dimension of legitimacy; it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for it. [Emphasis added]

Our questioning of the legitimacy of White power, particularly White American power, does not amount to a call for the overthrow of the American government. However, it does amount to a call for Afrikan Americans to critically examine the origins and functions of the rules, morals, values, customary attitudes and behavior, common perspectives and folkways they have been convinced to accept as the result of White American physical and coercive impositions, ideological propaganda and conditioning procedures. Uncritical acceptance of Eurocentric rules, morals, customs and so on by Afrikan Americans hides from them the fact that despite the norms and values they share with White Americans and which serve to legitimate the American social-political-economic system, White Americans possess a preponderant and dangerous power advantage over them. The power advantages of Whites place them in positions to deny Blacks political and economic freedom and survival at will and enables them to engage in an almost unimpeded genocidal attack against Blacks whenever it may suit their power needs to do so. 

The establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us. 

Therefore, the very vulnerability of Afrikan Americans to the arbitrary and injurious application of physical force and coercive power, legitimate and competent authority, and other forms of power now possessed by White America should in and of itself motivate them to as rapidly and judiciously as possible neutralize such power. This is necessary to Black political-economic well-being, let alone Black biological survival.

The failure of Black Americans to gain access to and fill significant numbers of positions of power and influence in America is not the result of a large number of Black individuals who lack initiative, drive, etc., but is ultimately the result of the nature of the power relations which inhere between White and Black Americans. White Americans, in hypocritically projecting the American political-economic system and opportunity structure as egalitarian, i.e., as "color blind" and race neutral, justify their monopoly of positions of influence and power in terms of their superior individual characteristics, training, experiences and much else. In other words, according to dominant Whites there is nothing wrong with or racially discriminatory about the White-dominated social system, only something wrong with individuals; the largest percentage of those who happen to have something wrong with them just "happen to be Black." Many Black Americans give consent to this line of reasoning. Notwithstanding, Beetham's observations in this regard are well worth noting:

However, it is a notable feature of power relations that they are themselves capable of generating the evidence needed for their own legitimation. Thus the evidence of superiority and inferiority which justifies the inequality of condition between dominant and subordinate is itself largely the product of that condition. Those who are excluded from key positions, activities or resources are thereby denied the opportunity to acquire or demonstrate the capacities and characteristics appropriate to their occupation or exercise, so justifying their subordinate position. This is true even where relatively open processes of selection are at work, once the selection is performed by an education system which is given the task of preparing children differentially for their respective future roles. Evidence about the fitness or appropriate¬ness of people to exercise power thus tends to be structured by the relations of power themselves, and therefore to have a self-fulfilling quality about it.

If we look, finally, at consent, then we find that it is precisely the lack of some key resource or skill deriving from the rules of power themselves that leads the subordinate to voluntary acceptance of their dependency upon the powerful... [to their conformity to established rules and to giving their consent to the particular power relation]. 

The conditioned consent to ideological acceptance and behavioral conformity of Black Americans to White American political and economic domination as legitimate, are designed to blind them to the fact that they can only gain access to and occupy a very significant number of positions of influence and power by creating, developing and applying ideological-action perspectives which go beyond, and stand outside, the existing relations of power, their supporting social customs, traditions, and arrangements. If Blacks are to empower themselves, they must question White-originated and self-serving rules and ideological justifications for establishing and maintaining White domination as a legitimate expression of power consented to by Blacks themselves. These rules and ideological justifications must be directly challenged or subverted by Blacks in order to enhance and exercise a Black power counter to White power. Even if the American political-economic system is now "colorblind" or race-neutral, which most assuredly it is not, this counter-factual situation occurred after almost three and a half centuries of White racial prejudice toward and oppression of Blacks. It was during this long period that Whites developed and accumulated the collective cultural, social, political, familial and individual capital that their domination of Blacks afforded. These accumulated advantages are used by Whites, even in a race-neutral egalitarian society, to provide themselves with further huge advantages compared to Blacks who have suffered three and a half centuries of accumulated disadvantages. A contemporary race-neutral society, in terms of its neutrality alone, would in no way resolve the problem of gross inequalities between Whites and Blacks. In fact, such a society would function only to maintain, if not in actuality enhance them. Blacks must develop means of overcoming White sociopolitical and socioeconomic advantages regardless of the racial status quo.

Manipulation as Power 

"Manipulation involves the attempt by the manipulator to elicit certain desired responses from his subject while concealing his efforts to do so. In this way the manipulator seeks to constrain, restrict, or prevent certain undesirable actions on the part of his subject and/or j to subtly direct his subject to behave in certain desired ways outside his subject's knowledge and awareness. 

Manipulation, involves a more "efficient" exercise of power than force, coercion and influence because it is less likely to evoke resis­tance since the subject is unaware of the effort to influence him or- may think that the manipulator is exercising his influence to achieve an end desired by both the manipulator and the subject himself, when in actuality the subject is being influenced toward an end which may be detrimental to himself and beneficial only to his manipulator. Thus, the manipulated subject may be led to perceive his own re­sponses and behavior as expressions of his own free will and choice. Commonly, manipulation is achieved by skillfully presenting informa­tion, rewards and deprivations in ways which shape the consciousness and behavior of the subject and motivates him to freely '"choose" to act in ways compatible with the concealed intentions of his manipulator.

Wrong notes two important general forms where manipulation may occur:

First, the power holder may exercise concealed control over the power subject through symbolic communications designed to make veiled suggestions, to limit or determine selectively the power subjects' information supply, or to inculcate without appearing to do so certain positive or negative attitudes...

But an equally widespread kind of manipulation occurs where A alters B's environment in such a way as to evoke a desired response from B without interacting directly with B at all.

Wrong further notes that manipulation may involve the most dehumanized, and as far as we are concerned, perhaps the most dehumanizing exercise of power of all because, unlike the exercise of obstructive physical force, visible coercive and authoritarian power where the intent of his adversaries and the sources of assault and frustration are known to the subject, manipulation "is a form of power that cannot be openly resisted by the power subject since he is unaware of the power holder's intent or even sometimes of his existence. There is no visible command for him to disobey, no identifiable adversary against whom to assert his freedom."

The manipulation of Afrikan American political and economic attitudes by the White ruling elite is designed to effectively secure, enhance and exercise power while not appearing to do so; while appearing to provide Blacks with power or options equal to that or those of Whites. The point of this type of manipulation is to win the acceptance by Blacks of the legitimacy of White power, its moral Integrity, its legitimating ideology, and the acceptance by Blacks of their obligation to obey the directive of White power while believing their obedience to be expressive of their own free and moral will. Only by basing their behavioral orientation on their own Afrikan history, culture, values, interests, consciousness and identity can Blacks prevent their behavioral manipulation by self-serving Whites and act under the influence, of their own self-generated enhanced power.

Summary: White Domination-Black Subordination

Ail of the forms of power we have discussed as well as those not discussed here when used by Whites to maintain their power over Blacks, add up to one overarching social power relation between Whites and Blacks — White domination, Black subordination.

Social domination occurs when the power of one person or group over another is exercised in a systematic manner at the expense of the dominated person or group. Wartenburg uses the term "domination'' to refer to:

the power that one social agent has over another in situations in which that power is exercised by the dominating social agent repeatedly, systematically, and to the detriment of the dominated agent. The concept of domination therefore refers to a specific manner of exercising power. Such an exercise of power must be one that conditions; the relationship between two agents in a longstanding manner. "Domination" refers not to a single exercise of power but to a relationship between two social agents that is constituted by the existence of a power differential between them.

Our characterization of the White American-Black American power relationship as one of White domination of Blacks is based on the fact that in large part the White American power structure possesses and uses its ability to adversely affect the welfare of Blacks to further its own interests and to the detriment of those of Blacks.

The subordination of people of color is functional to the operation of American society as we know it and the color of one's skin is a primary determinant of people's position in the social [power] structure. Racism is a structural relationship based on the subordination of one racial group by another. Given this perspective, the determining feature, of race relations is not prejudice toward blacks, but rather the superior position of whites and the institutions — ideological as well as structural — which maintain it.

The power relationship between Blacks and Whites is an interactive one — where While power, to a significant extent, arises out of certain types of social interactions between Whites and Blacks where Blacks unwittingly play a very important role in constituting | and sustaining their powerlessness relative to Whites. White domination of Blacks in our current social context is primarily facilitated by the fact that Blacks think of themselves and of reality in terms created by the self-serving interests and perspectives imposed on them by Whites, and act on the basis of biased and false information provided them by Whites without realizing it. They therefore contribute to their powerlessness and domination by Whites simply by thinking about themselves and reality in a manner thai! allows them to be subjugated. Thus, White domination of Blacks is, to a significant degree, covered-over by ideology, beliefs which Blacks have been conditioned by Whites to unwittingly accept. To this degree, their domination and powerlessness is self-imposed. Blacks obscure their unnecessary domination by Whites and contribute to that domination by their own gullibility and too-ready acceptance of Eurocentric ideology and their obsequious willingness to think and act only within the confines of White-generated ideas, social definitions, relations and ethics (not often honored by Whites themselves). Hence, the minds of Blacks are Used to forge the links of their own mental chains. 

When Afrikans in the Americas and the world-over choose to critically examine the "received" ideas and biased perceptions of "reality" imposed on them by Europeans and choose to know reality for what it is - to create themselves through gaining a thorough knowledge of self, knowledge of the world, and through studying and acquiring power — they will then have attained the keys to their own liberation. 

Even a cursory review of the relations of the social domination of Blacks by Whites demonstrates its repeated, systematic and detri­mental nature. All of the types and forms of power we have so far discussed, as well as others not discussed, have been and are currently used by hegemonic Whites to maintain a system of social domination immensely beneficial to them as it is devastatingly" detrimental to Blacks.

The use of sheer, unadorned physical force as a means of dominat­ing Blacks has been used by Whites from the 18th century to the present moment. It has assumed many forms, from war, captivity, lynching, beating, torture, mob violence, police brutality and repres­sion, to martial law and the like. The threatened use of physical (police and military) force stands behind White power in all its deceptive metamorphoses. But more effective and deeply enduring than the use of physical force or the coercive threat to use it in maintaining the domination of White over Black, is the long-term use by Whites of harshly unrelenting psychic violence against the collective Black persona .For this violence more effectively neutralizes Black opposition to and possible overthrow of White domination than the preponderance of White military might. Psychic violence hobbles the most powerful of human weapons — the human mind and its productive creativity, ingenuity, innovativeness and vision. Moreover, it hobbies the human capacity to develop and press into service the social identity, social consciousness, unity and solidarity, and the cooperative social spirit which combined empower a race to overcome impossible odds posed by other hostile and apparently more powerful races of men.

Psychic violence makes the victimized individual or group vulnerable to the '"soft", yet ultimately more treacherous and effective forms of social domination — social coercion, influence, manipulation, allegedly legitimate and competent authority, and ideological hypnosis. Nothing less than the healing of the wounds occasioned by White-instigated psychic assaults against the collective Afrikan mind, body and spirit can enable Afrikan peoples to regain their liberation. A deep and fundamental transformation of the subordinated Afrikan psyche via the steadfast acquisition of an Afrikan-centered conscious­ness and identity will provide the social-psychological, and if need be, military power tools for breaking through the imprisoning wails of White supremacy.

However, in this liberating Afrikan centered consciousness and identity must be included an indomitable will to Afrikan Power! This will must be informed by a profound knowledge of the means of acquiring and of the exercising of power as well as a strategic and tactical knowledge of the enemy's power. To an examination of these factors we will now turn. [MORE]