Afro-complicity in the United Nations ‘They Are Not a Part of Us’

What Robert A. Wood, Ralph Bunche and Linda Thomas-Greenfield represent is known in the discourse of African ontology as Black complicity—Afro-complicity, if you please. This is a distinct kind of complicity reified when a Black person tries to dispel racist oppressive hegemonic constructs but due to his inability to be critical of the underlying subtleties of Black stereotypes, he ends up becoming the instrument for its advancement. 

From the arched table behind which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members sit, a single Black hand rises and rests on the padded surface. Some faces stare down at this hand in mild surprise, while millions more growl from thousands of miles away from the UN hall. With a closer looking, the internal distress of the Black hand becomes visible as it shivers and finds refuge on the cheeks of the envoy. The subject, of deliberation on this day, Friday 8 December 2023, is humanitarian, yet contentious. So when the (Black) hand representing America says no, it means no for everyone.  

This is a scene from a familiar play. The main star is America, and the other actors—well, if they can even be called actors—simply perform their parts. No one is oblivious to the chokehold America has had on the UN for many decades now. We understand that, in principle, America always gets what it wants from the assembly of nations and that its interests are central to each resolution. However, the trend of doing this, especially within the Joe Biden administration, consistently with Black individuals necessitates curious examination. 

Before Robert A. Wood, the alternate representative of the US to the UN whose hand is mentioned above, Ralph Bunche was the first Black face to represent the US as an emissary in the UN in the 1940s. His appointment at the time signified significant progress for the Black race globally. And domestically in America, it exemplified an illusion of Black advancement amidst the Jim Crow era. When Bunche first arrived, he worked in various advisory capacities before attaining positions that granted him some autonomy. One would expect that someone like Bunche, who intimately understood the situation of oppressed minorities in America and the rest of the Global South, would use his new position in the UN to help the marginalized. However, he did quite the opposite. Everything about his actions seemed predetermined, influenced, and in the service of his (often white) superiors. They resemble self-thought, well-intentioned acts that aimed to bring international peace, but in reality, they were disguised means to further Western imperialist ends. To put it simply, Ralph Bunche began his diplomatic career as what WEB Du Bois called a ‘white man’s nigger’ and ended as what Malcolm X called ‘an international Uncle Tom’.

This judgment on Bunche is cumulative. It emanates from the collected outcome of his initiatives in Africa, Asia, and especially in Palestine. Earlier known at Howard University for his anti-racial stance and academic expertise on African colonialism, Bunche joined what became the Central Intelligence Agency at the request of Theodore Roosevelt’s government. He functioned as a think tank for America on colonized Africa. It didn’t matter that this new job was antithetical to the quest for Africa’s complete liberation from Western imperialism; Bunche pawned his knowledge to the then Office of Strategic Services producing what the professor of modern Arabic politics at Columbia University, Joseph Mossad, calls, a ‘series of propaganda pamphlets and handbooks for American military campaigns in North and West Africa’. He also recommended strategies for subduing the native African population, suggesting that the US employ ‘carefully chosen American Negroes’ who ‘could prove more effective than whites, owing to their unique ability to gain more readily the confidence of the Native.’

What makes Bunche relevant as a springboard for discussing Black complicity in the UN, particularly since the start of the Gaza genocide, is due to his multidimensional role in the Palestinian Problem. It is also because of how he became a model that has been followed in producing more Black stooges who now rubber stamp the will of the White House master in the UN. Presenting Bunche as first in a line of complicit Black figures in the UN is not difficult to establish. But in all fairness, not all the policies he pushed for negatively targeted the suppressed and the marginalized. Not at first. Bunche might have turned out to be a true champion of global peace, equity, and fairness had he committed to the UN charter (he helped to draft) which foregrounded the need to uphold the sovereign rights of native populations against prolonged (neo)colonial impositions. Instead, in Palestine, he favoured the Zionist sentiment and unequivocally decried the sustainability of a Palestinian State after the British Palestine Mandate abdicated in 1948. This raises the question of how Bunche’s concern for oppressed Jews in the post-Nazi world clouded his natural sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian Arabs, who had suffered under British colonial rule, suffered massacres by Zionist invaders, and were made to accept the creation of an alien state on their land. Bunche, in collusion with Trygve Lie, the then Secretary General of the UN, and the UNSC’s chosen mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Folke Bernadotte, facilitated the unjust settlement of an alien European population in an inhabited territory, setting the stage for the ongoing bloodshed that has now lasted 75 years. 

I say this to establish clearly that there is a distinction between having Black people in leadership roles and using Black people in leadership positions to achieve Western imperial goals. In the case of the former, the long history of racial persecution suffered by Black bodies provides a valid moral basis for creating inclusive seats at the table for Black American representation—since that is not only necessary to correct the injustices of the past, but also essential in preventing similar tragedies in the present. What then do we do when the latter results in the selection of Black representatives who either misuse their positions to pursue non-representational and harmful policies or simply comply with their assigned roles in carrying out questionable actions? To discuss the complicity of the Black American representatives in the UN today, therefore, we must first acknowledge Bunche as their progenitor.


Robert A. Wood’s solo veto symbolizes the inhumane belligerence of the White House, their blind support and complicity, just as Israel ravages Gaza on a scale never witnessed in modern history. But Wood did other things at the 8 December 2023 UNSC meeting, or rather, something more: he showed a complete disregard for the sanctity of the innocent Gazans. The sequence of his lackadaisical actions, with clear innuendos, spelt his veiled disinterest in what happens to the women, children, and men trapped in Gaza. When the Palestinian ambassador, Riyad Mansour, was talking about the precise gore Gazans are undergoing, Wood, showing apathy, mindlessly scrolled through his phone. Mansour’s words failed to elicit any semblance of empathy from Wood. When it was his turn to speak, Wood faced the council with a presentation that was at best double-speak and at worst a reiteration of false reports. He claimed that the authors of the draft resolution ‘failed to acknowledge that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism,’ but ignored the fact that Gaza (and Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem) has been deprived of the same right to protection against (Israeli) terrorism long before October 7th. He declared that the resolution’s insistence on ‘an unconditional ceasefire’ is ‘unrealistic,’ and ‘not tenable,’ but affirmed that ‘the United States’ is working hard on diplomatic solutions ‘to increase protection of civilians, expand humanitarian aid’ and create the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the oppressive and the oppressed neighbours. He parroted debunked claims that the ‘over 1200 people’ tragically killed on the 7th were mainly ‘women, children, the elderly’ from different countries—all ‘burned alive, gunned down’ and ‘subject to obscene sexual violence’. In reality, however, 48.4 per cent of this figure has now been confirmed to be Israeli combatants, and a more disturbing round of new reports suggests that the Israeli army ‘made difficult decisions’ that resulted in the death of innocent civilians—including its citizens on the 7th. One can evidently discern the double standard of the American envoy, his concession to be the Black token to push this through the UNSC, but also the lie, the inhumanity, and the complacency of Wood as a diplomat.  

What Bunche and Wood represent is known in the discourse of African ontology as Black complicity. Afro-complicity, if you please. This is a distinct kind of complicity reified when a Black person tries to dispel racist oppressive hegemonic constructs but due to his inability to be critical of the underlying subtleties of Black stereotypes, he ends up becoming the instrument for its advancement. A Black enforcer: an inside man who uses his blackness as a medium to undermine the cause of Black and other minority groups. A token, in some sense, of what a model Black (wo)man must aspire to. That is what the African American conceptualizes as an ‘Uncle Tom Negro’. He is a Black figure who emanates from the crowd. From his mouth is a loud, heavy clamour for Black representation. In and out he goes claiming lips and fingers: Black folks! O Black souls! Until slowly his tongue begins to twist. And in a manner worse than the party against the cause of the oppressed our gentleman begins to side with the oppressor who pays him and praises him. 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield is another figure who exemplifies Afro-complicity. It is she who, serving as the Permanent Representative of America to the UN, abstained from the 22 December 2023 UNSC resolution 2720 and vetoed a third ceasefire resolution on 20 February 2024. What makes her complicity worse than Bunche and Wood, (and this is not a reprieve for both of them) as her abstention and vetoing meant more Palestinians are damned to heightened senseless death, is that as at the time of her voting, some 29,000 innocent Gazans had been killed and a staggering 69,000 wounded. This includes the 10,000 children killed, the more than 8,663 wounded, the 6,700+ missing, the 122 journalists murdered, and the 161 UN staffers killed. We can judge her complicity as egoistic, especially considering the basis for allowing her subordinates to veto past draft resolutions was trivial compared to the severity of the situation in Gaza—a place the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has called a ‘graveyard for children’. It didn’t matter to her that in Gaza are mothers, elderly, and Afro-Palestinians who are Afro-diasporans like herself. It didn’t matter that her colleagues in the schools and other UN facilities in Gaza have been targeted and killed. None of that mattered—and that makes her either a coward for bystanding, as Frantz Fanon puts it, or a conspirator as it appears. 


The immaterial consequence of these entities’ complicity is thus evident. There is a growing wave of Black-washing—the deliberate use of Black faces to promote agendas that are consistent with whiteness— employed to sanitize Israel’s genocide in Gaza and its atrocities in other Palestinian territories and that is sanctioned in the UN by America’s willing Black stooges. Our historical struggle against oppression is being manipulated for the propaganda of Israel’s oppressive regime. Israel openly threatens to ethnically cleanse Gaza, Palestine, of its oppressed indigenous population, but somehow tries to rewrite its crimes in the language of our liberation struggle. Already, with the White House’s help, it is doing this. The inclusion of the Ethiopian Jews in its military is a thinly veiled attempt to create the illusion of diversity. Israel also employs Black individuals in its traditional and social media to further its narrative. Perhaps you know of Israel’s Kan News presenter, Rotem Achihun. Or maybe you saw her viral video where she visited the Israeli soldiers at an outpost on the border of Gaza, autographed exhibited shell tanks, and cheered the soldiers on to ‘send them tank shells’ and ‘blow them up now’. If not, maybe you’ve seen, in America, that one of the several voices that hold press conferences for the current administration comes from a Black face, Karin Jean-Pierre. And like her colleagues, her tone-deaf press briefings leave one wondering if indeed these people live on the same planet as we do.  

The world must come to understand that the acts of these Black stooges, apparently undermining, do not constitute a significant representation of the Black populace. We should look, for instance, at the material gains they acquire at the expense of the vast majority they seem to represent, and beyond churlish simplification that they are just doing their jobs, hold them accountable. Ralph Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his successful mediation of the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. He was labelled the first Black person to receive the award. What is not mentioned, however, is that the award served as compensation for the sacrifice of his blackness becoming, infamously, the Black man who relieved the Europeans from their Holocaust and their guilt for antisemitism. What is also not often said is that while Bunche was doing the white bidding of the imperialists, segregation pinned Black people in America to the ground. Of course, Bunche is no Black Moses and America is no promised land for Black people, yet one must wonder how much of his influence he exerted on the situation of the Black collective. I am urging us to recognize that the Black individuals representing America in the UN at the moment are compromised. Their blackness is bleached, in that their principle for life is individualism, something quite contrary to our Black tradition. They claim to be from us but they do not work for us. In this regard, Robert A. Wood should be seen as an American diplomat. He is not a Black American diplomat.  

When Linda Thomas-Greenfield sides against freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Palestinians by not criticizing Israel for its atrocities, it’s important to recognize that she too is compromised. It is not complicated. The point is not that she works with the White House (who put her in that position) but that she knows she has the free will to be the American ambassador who upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that stipulates all humans’ right to a dignified life. Yet she chooses not to although she could. Perhaps Malcolm X’s ‘Negro celebrity’ is no longer just a white power puppet but a complicit puppet who uses subterfuge to encase its inhumanity. As we’ve seen with Thomas-Greenfield, Rotem Achihun, more complicit as a propagandist, is also a compromised Black celebrity. In the video, she is seen at the makeshift Israeli outpost wearing a shirt with Tupac Shakur’s face plastered on it. This raises the sarcastic question of why she would choose to wear Tupac’s face on that day, considering Shakur’s strong opposition to oppressive governments. In truth, none of these matter to propagandists like her and compromised figures like Thomas-Greenfield. We must be aware, to wrap this up, that the use of blackness and our history to sanitize the situation in Gaza (and other Palestinian territories) goes beyond the past one-hundred-and-something days. In the 1990s, there was a wave of sponsored revisionist histories, and propaganda aimed at changing the Black community’s aversion towards what Israel stood for. Today, they are trying to pay social media influencers to help them water down the growing global criticism they are facing. Beyond these, they are doing more. 

Let it be known that in the light of these people’s complicity, we have notable Black figures to be proud of. Blackness, our struggle, our history, is only available to be used to uplift the oppressed, not the oppressor—wherever they may be. When Nelson Mandela was released, after 27 years in prison, his inclination was not to support the government of Israel. He advocated, unambiguously, against the injustices Palestinians face(d). Wole Soyinka, after he visited Palestine in 2002, did not return home but with the strong conviction that the government of Israel is the modern-day Polyphemus. These individuals are our talking points as Black people. In modern times, they also include Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Teju Cole. Alongside them, Benjamin Zephaniah (who declined the honor of the Order of the British Empire, OBE, due to his anti-imperialist principles) and Marc Lamont Hill, (who was dismissed by CNN for expressing solidarity with Palestine at a UN meeting organized in support of Palestine) and others like them are the real Black voices for truth and justice. Collectively, they embody the Ubuntu philosophy. This is what we should strive for—a world of justice, peace, and progress for everyone. Not just a select few

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