In Race Against Empire, Penny M. Von Eschen’s chapter, “No Exit: From Bandung to Ghana,” discusses the role of a prominent Black politician in the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. She outlines that a defiant New York Congressman, and former member of the CAA, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. refused all tactics of the State Department to dissuade him from attending the conference. He noted that it would be outlandish for a congressman to be refused a passport. Von Eschen purports that there were “vigorous efforts … to stop the trip, including an invitation to tour Africa and Asia after the conference.” Despite this, “a recalcitrant Powell left for Indonesia”(170).
In Powell’s eyes, his contribution to the conference could not be overstated. With Dubois and Roebenson, who were banned from traveling at that time, absent from the event, he and he alone had “rescued the image of the United States at Bandung” (171). Despite his perceived heroics, upon his return, he was faced with the double-bind that most Black people in the United States must face at one time in their lives. This double-bind forces a choice to be made: you are either loyal to your people, or you are loyal to the oppressors, the man, white people, the establishment. This double-bind can be seen from the time of plantations in the ante-bellum south, to the spectacle of Omarosa, and contentions concerning whether or not she was physically escorted out of the White House.
In Black culture, the worst thing you can be named is an Uncle-tom, or in more modern terms, a sell-out. This is a person who would rather pander to whites, rather than represent, or speak up for their own people. From plantations, to protest novels, to politics, this double-bind always comes in to play. It is a question that shines a light on every consequential action taken, and asks the perpetual question: where do your loyalties lie? Powell could no more escape this double-bind than any prominent Black figure of that time. Back in the United States, Powell’s actions won him praise from both sides of the aisle, as well as from the press. In the African American press, however, his performance received polarizing reviews. The Defender contrasted him with the “ill-advised Paul Robeson” and praised Powell for “upset [ ting] the Communist strategy with a brilliant exhibition of loyalty to and love for his country … Yet the Courier, though “glad to see this new Congressman Powell in the role of defender of God’s country” wondered about the “complete somersault” of the “fire-eater of the extreme left of the Democratic party who could find little to praise in America”(171).
Black people have always held a contentious position in the United States. Who can forget accusations against President Barack Obama for not being “Black enough” to satisfy some in the Black community. We are not allowed to simply have a political position, write a novel, or speak at a conference. Our actions are always help up to a distinct light that seeks to expose us as traitors or loyalists to the cause. In this way, the double-bind will forever seek to constrict the movements and decisions of Blacks in this United States.