Heri za Kwanzaa Jamaa (Happy Kwanzaa family)! A long, long time ago, when I was first introduced to Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba this is how I learned Umoja: To strive for and maintain unity on seven levels: self, family, neighborhood, community, nation, race, and world.
Let’s practice Umoja in all that we do, recognizing that unity is strength, and that the various differences between us are not unbridgeable chasms. They are a ground of struggle that enables us to forge even stronger bonds that steel our resolve against our enemies, both internal and external, who would act to undermine the well-being of our people.
Originally printed in the newsletter of Indigo Homeschool Association.
Kwanzaa represents a contribution to the on-going process of re-Africanization that many Africans in the U.S have been undertaking in the wake of the maafa—the interrelated processes of enslavement, colonialism, and their aftermaths. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, sought to create a shared cultural experience among Africans in the United States that would serve to remind them of their African heritage, reinforce values which would serve to advance their struggle for liberation, and demonstrate the capacity of a self-determining people to create moments in time and space where they declare their intent to reflect upon themselves, their legacy, and their future.
The experience of Africans in the U.S. has been characterized as an incessant assault upon their minds, bodies, and institutions. Yet despite these efforts we have consistently looked back, struggling to reclaim an African heritage many thought lost to us. This is evident in the 19th Century when Martin R. Delany attempted to lay claim to ancient Egypt as a quintessentially Black civilization. In fact Delany’s 1859 visit to west Africa was an attempt to establish a settlement for African Americans desirous of leaving the U.S. Thus Delany’s efforts represent a process of looking back and forwards to Africa—looking back for the African American past, and looking forward for the African American future.
In short, Kwanzaa provides an occasion to engage in such lofty reflection. It enables us to take account of our past deeds, and to commit ourselves to a future which seeks to restore African people to their traditional greatness.
Tradition is a moving target. We seize upon one of its transitive states, claiming to have captured the essence of a thing, only to glimpse a temporally and spatially contingent phenomenon.
In ancient kmt (Kemet or Egypt) the nTr (netcher) ptH (Ptah) was shown at a potter’s wheel sculpting rmT (remetch)–humans. Ptah thus becomes symbolic of the process of crafting reality, molding remetch, and thus shaping the future. Absent an additional determinative, ptH also means create. Ptah reflects the cultural values of Kemet in this respect, that humans are the architects of possibility. Like Ptah, we are endowed with the power to create a world that reflects us. I argue that this charge is not a matter of mere preference, but in fact is vital to our very survival as a people.
In my previous post, Fight or Flight?, I discussed the importance of critically assessing the viability of continued struggle in the U.S. I suggested that, drawing from the insights of Martin R. Delany from a century and a half ago, that flight might offer a more viable solution for the malaise of African people. However I suspect that there is a middle ground between the continued oppression, which is a natural consequence of the paucity of African power, and emigration. That middle ground draws most directly from the legacy of Black Nationalism and offers a path that has been articulated by many of our forebearers.
In his famous speech The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X reaffirms his commitment to Black Nationalism. He states that while his religion is Islam, that “my religious philosophy, my political, economic, and social philosophy is Black Nationalism.” He goes on to explain what each of these commitments means, stating that in each and every sphere African people must exert direct and deliberate control over the institutions that sustain their lives. Malcolm X’s charge is one that we still struggle to actualize today, but it is imperative if we endeavor to secure ourselves and our future. In this essay I offer a brief sketch of how this idea can gain expression within and outside of the United States.
The viability of Black Nationalism as a practical philosophy focused on achieving African community empowerment must first address the question of geographic distribution and the capacity for the generation of power in each of these respective domains. By this I mean to suggest that our efforts should be focused on building zones of self-determination, or liberated zones, and building an infrastructure whereby these zones can be connected to sustain economic, political, and cultural exchanges. That stated, any program for community empowerment must examine the distribution of African communities within the U.S., expanding more broadly throughout North America and the Caribbean, and from there to the African continent in addition to other outposts of the global African community. The plan discussed herein will be centered from the locus of the African American community simply because that community is the central feature of this particular reflection. Moreover it will center on economics, politics, and culture as forms of power, and as such, bases of struggle requisite in the establishment of liberated zones.
Economics, politics, and culture as terrains of struggle
In the early and mid-20th Century African American economic enclaves were a common feature in many African American urban centers. Harlem in New York, the Black Metropolis in Chicago, Black Wall Street in Tulsa, and others were potent examples of our efforts to create economies that served the interests of the community. W.E.B. Du Bois’s essay entitled “The upbuilding of Black Durham” offers a compelling portrait of Durham, N.C. as a community striving for economic self-determination.
While integration is often faulted as contributing to the demise of these communities, integration occurred parallel to an increased engagement of African Americans in electoral politics. While many viewed the election of many Black candidates to various local, state, and federal offices as a progressive development, this alone was not constitutive of political power. If examined from the standpoint of Malcolm X, electoral politics alone was insufficient to bestow upon African Americans total control of our communities.
This period was also characteristic of a surge of interest in African culture, as well as in the politics of Pan-Africanism. The pioneering role of Maulana Karenga and the Organization Us in popularizing a paradigm of re-Africanization via the theory of Kawaida cannot be understated as it provided a cultural impetus and framework that informed the works of other formations such as the Congress of African People and the Council of Independent Black Institutions, which were instrumental in advancing discourse about the role of culture in Black Nationalist struggle.
While this period, the mid-1960s to the beginning of the 1980s was rich in animating the discourse and activism on these varied fronts, the capacity of the movement for Black Nationalism on the whole experienced a peak and decline within this same period. The federal government’s Counter Intelligence Program is in part to blame for this decline. The ultimate tragedy of this movement’s contraction is that we have been denied the opportunity to view the full potential of these initiatives, which I argue are essential to the conceptualization of a renewed path towards social power.
Revisiting (and updating) the New African National Strategy
Around the year 2000 Dr. Demetri Marshall, then president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa (PG-RNA), visited Chicago and lectured at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies. His lecture centered on his New African National Strategy (NANS), which was a platform for achieving independence and sovereignty based on the historic platform of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), which identified five states as the national territory for an independent African American or New African nation. These states are South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The NANS identified three broad types of areas, and attempted to articulate the form that organizing in each of these domains should take. These three areas were 1) rural areas inside of the national territory, 2) urban areas inside of the national territory, and 3) areas outside of the national territory. One key feature of Dr. Marshall’s strategy was the Kush District, an area comprising the western border of Mississippi, consisting of contiguous counties with over 70% African majorities in the population. It was believed that this large area, if made the epicenter of organizing activity, could become an example of the potential of national independence and serve to invigorate the movement towards a plebiscite–a national vote wherein African people in the U.S. would declare their will to remain citizens of the U.S. or to establish a sovereign nation.
Each type of area identified within the NANS offered unique challenges, opportunities, and priorities with regards to organizing, but in each area within the national territory the acquisition of economic, political, and cultural empowerment were primary concerns. I think that this model offers much insight into a potential path towards social power.
Similar to the NANS, I wish to discuss three distinct area types that currently serve as loci of habitation, or arguably communities for African Americans. I argue that the term loci of habitation is more appropriate than communities because a community is a shared space that reflects the political, economic, and ultimately the cultural interest of those who reside therein; whereas a locus of habitation is simply a place where one lives that may or may not reflect one’s interest. The colonized and compromised nature of African communities within the U.S. do not meet an optimal criteria for community. Nonetheless I will use these terms interchangeably. The three loci of habitation that I will discuss are 1) Black majority neighborhoods, 2) Black majority municipalities, and 3) Black majority regions.
Black majority neighborhoods are spaces within existing municipalities that feature a numeric majority African populations. These communities may exist within municipalities or regions wherein Africans are or are not numeric majorities. Black majority municipalities are localities such as cities or towns with African demographic majorities that are located within larger regional areas that may or may not feature corresponding African demographic majorities. Lastly African majority regions are contiguous geographic areas consisting of municipalities, counties, and states wherein Africans comprise a distinct numeric majority.
One might conceive that each level articulated offers expanding levels of possibility with respect to the imperatives of economic, political, and cultural power. To be sure, each level offers increased possibilities of development and integration within larger African networks.
A scaled and integrated approach to economic power
The examples offered earlier of economically prosperous African American communities offers a potent example of the forms of economic development that should be strove for on the level of Black majority neighborhoods. Central to this analysis is the acknowledgement that an economy is a system for the production and distribution of goods and services that are vital the well-being of a community or society. Herein I argue that a core feature of communal life at every phase of analysis is the imperative that communities both produce and consume the basic resources that they require to survive. Using the model offered by the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI), there are six basic levels of institution building. These are shelter, clothing, food production, health care, education, and defense. If one adds logistics such as transportation and communication to this, you have the seven basic levels of economic development requisite to create self-sufficient communities. I argue that these provide a framework for economic development for neighborhoods.
Succinctly stated, shelter consists of the ability to build and maintain housing requisite to meet the needs of the community. Clothing includes the totality of resources that enable communities to provide clothing for its members. This includes the production of fibers, the processing of textiles, the assembly of garments, and the distribution and recycling of these items throughout the community. Food production entails the growth or procurement of food necessary to sustain human life and well-being. This necessarily includes agriculture and food distribution systems. Health care is the institution focused on ensuring the mental and physical well-being of community members. This includes the range of social processes such as medicine production and distribution, delivery of medical care, and the application of health care knowledge in the development and design of institutions that seek to address health ills and promote optimal functioning. Education is the collective of socialization processes focused on ensuring the intergenerational survival and enhancement of African life. Education entails processes that seek to disseminate essential skills and vital knowledge, in addition to preparing members of the community for the various vocations requisite for its survival. Defense entails the capacity to secure African life, institutions, and territory; the ability to resist threats both internal and external to the community. Lastly, logistics entails the ability to move goods, information, and personnel. This capacity is essential to the functioning of any economic system, and is imperative to the horizontal integration of similar systems.
Horizontal integration refers a process of combining comparable economic systems within a cooperative, and thus mutually beneficial network. While each of the above forms of institutions are necessary on any communal level, they most clearly demarcate the thrust of economic development within any neighborhood. As multiple neighborhoods engage in processes of horizontal integration, these communal clusters are able to establish interdependent economies with implications for scales of production, markets of consumption, and levels of autonomy. Thus even on the first level, consisting of African majority neighborhoods, a modicum of self-sufficiency is possible that is only augmented as multiple communities coalesce. Thus the secondary level is essentially the replication of this level of development across neighborhoods within a municipality.
This principle of horizontal integration applies to the third level—African majority regions—as municipalities and communities across a broad geographic area seek to combine their economic structures. This principle of regional integration can operate on the scale of local regions, as in a collection of contiguous areas, or more dispersed regions which are non-contiguous but where integration becomes a feasible and beneficial endeavor.
In short, economic development is, just as it has always been, absolutely vital to our survival as a people. Our failure to move forthrightly to build and horizontally integrate our economic systems imperils our collective capacity, and with it, our ability to bring a desired future into being.
Governance and the restoration of communal authority
One of the failings of the last several decades has been the over-emphasis of electoral politics. While effecting our will through the political apparatus is necessary and beneficial, this period has also been characterized by an alarming degree of social disorganization in African communities. By social disorganization I am referring to the loss of collective capacity in the community via the erosion of social structures which serve to transmit and reinforce social norms. Traditional structures such as the extended family, African American education personnel, the clergy, and a broad array of community members were empowered to act collectively as stewards of the community via the assent of the community. This mechanism of internal regulation has largely eroded as African American family units have become less stable, as the African American teaching force declines and are replaced by outsiders, as Black religious institutions have turned from issues of social justice to material aggrandizement, and as concerned community members have secluded themselves behind closed doors having been driven away out of fears for their safety.
The point here is that political power is essentially the ability of a community to exert its will over the processes of governance that shape society. With respect to communities, political power occurs on multiple levels, in forms which are both vertical and horizontal.
Vertical forms of political power are best reflected in hierarchical institutional contexts where there is a governing body and a mass that is essentially governed. Vertical forms are the normal forms of political relations within the U.S., and the forms that naturally occur within a representative political system. While these systems are touted for their supposed efficiency (i.e., the ability for the interests of hundreds or thousands to be represented by a single individual) these systems are prone to corruption. Horizontal forms of political power relate to the processes of governance wherein the subjects of governance are simultaneously the source of governance, that is, these are collective systems that require the active engagement of every member to participate in determining the will of the collective, and then to carryout and enforce that will in social intercourse.
Key to the viability of horizontal systems of governance is scale. With respect to the three area types discussed in this work, the first level, neighborhoods, provide an ideal context for the implementation and practice of this form of governance. On the scale of level two, municipalities, horizontal governance becomes increasingly difficult across very large populations. This is a point where vertical forms of governance become a matter of practicality, particularly if sufficient safeguards are established to ensure alignment between the actions of political representatives and their communities. It should be noted that the role of community members acting in a representative capacity diverges markedly from them viewing themselves as political leaders, which suggests a hierarchy of power which is antithetical to the liberatory paradigm of governance described herein. Finally, on the level of regions, the third level, representative forms of governance are a necessity, particularly across far-flung regional contexts. However, regional governing bodies should utilize collective forms of decision making as a way of ensuring fairness.
Such a paradigm of governance as discussed here is inextricably linked to the development of a comprehensive economic system, as the work of managing the economy will in part fall under the purview of the institution of governance. Additionally, the conceptualization and implementation of such a form of governance will absolutely necessitate a cultural system which enshrines the requisite unity, cooperation, and trust that will sustain such an endeavor.
Re-Africanization, culture, and engine of liberatory of struggle
Culture is always linked to social power, as culture provides the ideational frameworks wherein power is acknowledged as a vital necessity for life. All economic activity is in fact cultural activity, as culture entails the totality of material and non-material objects that exist within any society, this includes the goods, information, or skills that become vital in any economic system. Similarly, political activity is also fundamentally cultural, as culture determines forms of governance, levels of participation, and articulates the ends of such endeavors. Thus governance by Africans in the interest of Africans, or as Dr. Anderson Thompson says of the African Principle, governance that seeks to establish “the greatest good for the greatest number” is a function of culture. Thus, with respect to both the conceptualization and actualization of a bases for African liberation we are dealing with culture and its role in shaping our notions of reality.
One of the key challenges of Africans who have sought to throw off the fetters of the Maafa–the interrelated processes of slavery, colonialism, and their legacies—has been the difficulty of concretizing an African worldview and seamlessly transmitting and sustaining this worldview for subsequent generations. The difficulty of this process derives essentially from the inability of African people to effectively control the socialization process of African people, which in this case requires the capacity to neutralize alien cultural influences. This inability is merely a reflection of the captive state of African communities in the west, most notably our weak economic and political structures. Thus any liberatory effort that does not conceive of culture’s centrality as an impetus of revolutionary transformation is insufficient. Therefore I maintain that culture, as a terrain of struggle, is characterized by a process of re-Africanization, wherein African people engage in a deliberate process of creating a culture that justifies and sustains revolutionary struggle, as well as offering, as Dr. Anderson Thompson states, “a grand vision for the future”.
On the level of neighborhoods, this culture work is absolutely vital to inculcating the value systems needed to effect other transformations in the domain of economics and politics. This work, by necessity, gives rise to the communal structures that makes work in these other domains possible. It also provides a medium of healing, transforming the lingering manifestations of isft, chaos and disorder, through the restoration of mAat, a transcendent and just social order.
On the municipal level this culture work takes on possibilities that are particularly compelling, as local institutions can then be aligned to these paradigms. Whether we are referring to systems of governance, public health, education, or environmental stewardship, African cultures offer rich and varied models that can appreciably enhance human life. Moreover the increased resource capacity present on a municipal level can both aid and augment the efforts of those in communities directed towards re-Africanization.
On the regional level, emancipatory culture work has the potential to catalyze greater changes, both with respect to the scale of resources, but also in terms of shared cultural knowledge. The regional level offers the greatest potential for building and sustaining systems whose alignment with the loftiest ideas and values of African culture offers a range of dynamic possibilities in terms of media production and dissemination, energy production, resource management, logistics, and defense.
A pause, not a conclusion
Each of these three levels expresses the bounds of possibility. From the communal to the regional scales there is an increased capacity that argues quite vociferously for the potentiality inherent in the regional scale. Moreover, the prospect of inter-regional networks has the capacity to include African majority regions within the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Africa in coherent economic, political, and cultural networks. This greatly augmented capacity lays the basis for social power on a scale far greater than that presently exercised by these entities in a non-integrated fashion. Thus here I am advocating not simply for the primary three levels: neighborhood/communal, municipal, and regional; but also inter-regional, which is ultimately continental, hemispheric, and global.
If we remind ourselves, that we are engaged in a struggle for survival, and we are collectively engaged in attempting to ensure victory in that struggle, then we must assiduously search for ways to effect that end. This essay has been a contribution to that endeavor. Herein I have attempted to briefly sketch how this process can play out within the geographic confines of the United States while drawing on the insight of my Black Nationalist forebears. This is not an attempt to negate either the viability of exit (i.e. emigration and repatriation) or territorial sovereignty as envisioned by the RNA, but rather to offer a framework that occupies a more liminal space, one that both leads to territorial sovereignty and possibly creates systems which aids the efforts of African American repatriates, as well as African states and societies on the continent and in the diaspora. Ultimately this document is submitted not merely for reflection, but to inform intelligent action towards the achievement of two vital ends: the reclamation of African culture and the restoration of African sovereignty in the world.
Anx wAs snb (Ankh Was Seneb) – Life Power Health
Sometimes when I flow into the energy of the moment, when I do what feels natural–that which organically arises in that confluence of time and space–style disappears, systems blur, art is born.
Darren Wilson was held to account today to the same degree that he would have been in 1914 for the murder of an unarmed Black person. The passage of a century does not signify any humane valuation of Black life. Quite the contrary, Black folks are viewed as a social malignancy, subject to arbitrary violence, harassment, and neglect. There is nothing new here. White supremacy continues to dominant America.
Much of the work that we have engaged in since the 19th Century has been based on the idea that we can win in this country. The exodusters of the 19th Century migrated and built independent communities because they believed that we could create viable spaces for our selves in the midst of our enemies. The northern migrations of the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries were also based on the idea that the grip of White Supremacy would be a bit less constricting in the north and west. Even groups like the the Black Panthers, Us, the Congress of African People, and the Council of Independent Black Institutions engaged in their work with the idea that we could position ourselves to effect our will over our collective lives here.
While I find all of these examples and the many others not mentioned inspiring, I think that we need to consider the possibility that winning here may not be possible, or may not be worth the potential cost. What if Martin Delany was correct when he stated “Because even were it possible, with the present hate and jealousy that the whites have towards us in this country, for us to gain equality of rights with them; we never could have an equality of the exercise and enjoyment of those rights—because, the great odds of numbers are against us.”? Delany also queried when discussing the Fugitive Slave Law, “What can we do? What shall we do? This is the great and important question:—Shall we submit to be dragged like brutes before heartless men, and sent into degradation and bondage?—Shall we fly, or shall we resist? Ponder well and reflect.”
I think that many of us have taken the path of resistance. Fewer have chosen flight. What would a rigorous exploration of the present and potential efficacy of these paths reveal? If the intelligence of resistance is most reflected in the prospects for victory, does that remain possible here in the U.S.? Victory herein is not simply a matter of overcoming external oppositions, what Delany refers to as the forces allied against us, but also the psychologically debilitating malaise of oppression.
A child born under oppression, has all the elements of servility in its constitution; who when born under favorable circumstances, has to the contrary, all the elements of freedom and independence of feeling. Our children then, may not be expected, to maintain that position and manly bearing; born under the unfavorable circumstances with which we are surrounded in this country; that we so much desire. To use the language of the talented Mr. Whipper, “they cannot be raised in this country, without being stoop shouldered.”
Stated another way by Jacob H. Carruthers, “Our people are subjected to an educational process and content that, either by design or as an unavoidable byproduct, deforms most African minds”. This suggests that our present situatedness, even where it is characterized by resistance to oppression, occurs in an environment where the conditions which would enable victory are under constant assault.
This is not to suggest that flight, or emigration alone offers a panacea, rather to pose the need for a critical deliberation upon the problems and prospects associated with departure, not simply on the scale of individuals and families, but on the scale of a mass of people similar to the late 19th Century emigrationists. Herein a number of pertinent questions loom, many of the questions were anticipated by Delany over one hundred and fifty years ago.
Delany states “We love our country, dearly love her, but she don’t love us—she despises us, and bids us begone, driving us from her embraces; but we shall not go where she desires us; but when we do go, whatever love we have for her, we shall love the country none the less that receives us as her adopted children.” Thus we must ask the following queries: What destination offers optimal conditions for both the holistic development of African American emigrants, in addition to providing viable paths for them to contribute to the development of their new home?
In recognizing the seeming novelty of emigration as a political solution, Delany states
This may be acknowledged; but to advocate the emigration of the colored people of the United States from their native homes, is a new feature in our history, and at first view, may be considered objectionable, as pernicious to our interests. This objection is at once removed, when reflecting on our condition as incontrovertibly shown in a foregoing part of this work. And we shall proceed at once to give the advantages to be derived from emigration, to us as a people, in preference to any other policy that we may adopt.
Does the prospect of emigration contribute to enriching the discourse of African American empowerment, a discourse that is frequently impoverished by a lack of imagination and a failure to consider our embeddedness within a global African community?
Finally, to what may be the most pressing query–tutakwendapi?–where will we go? Reflecting on this, and prior to offering his own analysis of Africa, Canada, and the Americas south of the U.S. respectively Delany states, “This granted, the question will then be, Where shall we go? This we conceive to be all important—of paramount consideration, and shall endeavor to show the most advantageous locality; and premise the recommendation, with the strictest advice against any countenance whatever, to the emigration scheme of the so called Republic of Liberia.” The resolution of this query must be satisfied via rigorous assessment that is constrained within an overarching timeframe focused on achieving action, not incessant deliberation. To this end, the engagement of a community will be necessary who are capable of considering the myriad factors at play in such an endeavor.
In closing, I am not arguing that emigration is the singular path available to us. To the contrary, there may yet be domestic prospects available to us which I hope to outline in a future essay. Nonetheless, this is a path that is often not considered as a viable political strategy, an insufficiency that may constrain the totality of our vision.
The Black Pharaohs is merely the latest reflection of the on-going intellectual assault being waged against African culture, African history, and African people. We are besieged on all sides, surrounded by an implacable foe bent on our annihilation.
For some the connection between this seemingly informative film and the Intellectual War that Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers wrote of may not be obvious. Some may see this film as a valuable acknowledgement of the role of Africans in the ancient Nile Valley. Others may see it as setting the record straight as it relates to the history of Kush (Nubia). Yet, this film represents the traditional forms of duplicity characteristic of European’s historiography of African people. This perpetration of falsehood is not simply about sowing seeds of confusion, rather it is about posing our ancestors as the villains in a complex political drama, continuing on the narrative of African mental enfeeblement, and perpetuating the myth that Europeans are central or even relevant to the reconstruction of Africa’s ancient past.
Years ago during a presentation on Kush, Dr. Anderson Thompson stated that while the white intellectual world was unwilling to loose their hold on Kemet and its history and embrace the obvious notion that it was an African (Black) civilization, that they were willing to acknowledge the obvious blackness of Kush—offering a concession of sorts to African-Centered scholars. In this paper I examine The Rise of the Black Pharaohs as a multi-layered message. I argue that this film simultaneously concedes to African-Centered scholars a share of Kemet’s legacy, while also derisively characterizing that legacy.
Representation as reality reconstruction
Cultural Studies scholar Stuart Hall discusses the role representation. Representation has a dualistic nature. It is the re-presentation of reality. It is also the process of constructing a form that stands in for reality. Herein representation is afforded immense power in the constitution of reality. Thus media representations of us and our ancestors are not a casual affair, but are a means to construct reality in a manner often detrimental to our interest.
Truth and falsehood
There’s an African proverb from present-day Mali that states “A lonely truth can be brought down by a pack of lies.” This proverb offers the image of truth as a lone traveler on the road who finds themselves unwittingly surrounded by a gang of fiendish bandits appearing out of nowhere. Truth fights courageously, but in the end is subdued by the thieves. This proverb suggests that truth, though righteous and just, can be overwhelmed by falsehood. This relationship is at the core of The Black Pharaohs. The lonely truth of the African presence in the Nile Valley is enveloped within a web falsehoods that ultimately contribute to its undoing.
The film offers an overview of the relationship between Kemet and Kush. It discusses the Kemetic occupation and annexation of Kushite land at various junctures. It also discusses the eventual ascendance of Kush and its conquest of Kemet with the establishment of the 25th Dynasty. Finally, it discusses the eventual fall of the 25th Dynasty, the decline of Kush, and the efforts of modern archaeologists to reconstruct this history. However throughout the film were a number of dubious claims. I will discuss each of these in turn.
The first problematic claim was the idea of enmity was the normalized state of foreign relations between these two societies. The featured experts on Kush assure us that Kush was a site of continuous subjugation by Kemet, that the Kushites were so loathed that the Kemites practiced form of “…racial profiling”, as they, among other things, portrayed the Kushites as “…more tribal, more savage…”. Thus it is Kemet, not modern Europeans, who are the architects of race and racism. It is the Kemites who constructed the iconography of tribalism and savagery, not 19th and 20th Century Europeans. And it is Kemet that is credited with initiating the campaign against African culture and humanity, and not modern Europe.
Elsewhere I have written that “…the enterprise of history itself is not simply a matter of methods of inquiry, or the application of tools of investigation, but rather it is a process that is directed or informed by the ideational imperatives of the period of its conceptualization” (Rashid 2014, 32). Thus history, as with all human enterprise, is a function of culture. It is not simply a matter of the technical application of methods, but reflects the ideational imperatives of the society, most notably its worldview constructs.
The argument that antagonism was the driving force in Kemet-Kush relations is in part based on the European worldview, wherein the political relations of Kemet and Kush can only be viewed in militaristic terms, terms of dominion and subordination (Carruthers 1997). What is most notable here is that this oppositional dichotomy does not consider the possibility of ancestral, cultural or political affinity between these two societies. The very designation of Kush as the source of the Black pharaohs, suggest that Kemet is the source of pharaohs that are non-black. Thus while the blackness of Kush serves to moor it to the African world, one can only presume that Kemet’s mooring is to western Asia by implication. Therefore at the center of the presumption of natural and deep hostility between Kemet and Kush is the implied racial difference, and with it the racialization of the Kushites as inferiors. This assertion seeks to drive a wedge between the affinity of these societies, and link Kemet to the historical arc of the modern European world and its loathing of Africans.
This argument most aptly captures the degree to which a cultural worldview effectively shapes what is known. I call this phenomenon the epistemic horizon and describe it as a dynamic perimeter of knowledge or awareness. It proscribes the bounds of what is known and knowable. If culture, or more specifically worldview is a mediator of what is known and knowable then the capacity of European scholars, socialized within an ontological tradition of whiteness and the political-economy of white supremacy must, by necessity, enter into the study of African history and culture fettered by these conceptual frames. This poses a number of quandaries with respect to modern Europeans and their ability to forthrightly deal with Africans and their history.
The second problematic claim was that Kush lacked a cultural center, instead adopting the culture of their Kemetic conquerors. Thus Kemet is now also guilty of cultural imperialism, and the Kushites the victims of cultural suppression.
There are a number of puzzling things about this claim. One is that it ignores archaeological evidence from early Kush (such as the incense burner from Qustul) that displays iconography associated with Kemet. The anteriority of these images predates any Kemetic military incursion into Kush, thus refuting the thesis that military conquest was the principal means of any Kemet-Kush knowledge transfer. Another plausible, but absent idea from the film was that Kemet and Kush shared a common culture, one that although variegated, shared a common basis and origin.
The cultural imperialism argument fails to capture the synergistic relations of the various societies that emerged along the Hapi Iteru (Nile River). Furthermore, What this argument does succeed at reinforcing are white supremacist claims of African intellectual inferiority. Thus while the film’s commentators critiqued the archaeologists of the colonial period (most notably George Reisner) for their anti-Black racism, they reify these claims in their wholesale dismissal of Kushite cultural agency.
The third false claim is that the geographical orientation of Kemet was towards Western Eurasia, not Africa south of the first cataract. This is evident when the film’s narrator states that the Kemites, during one of their many campaigns against Kush, sees Jebel Barkal for the first time. The obvious implication here is that Kemet’s origins lie, not to the South, deeper in Africa’s interior, but to the North in Eurasia. Thus Kemet’s ancestral and cultural moorings in Africa have been severed, and it has instead been made a child of Eurasia, and Africa south of the first cataract is presented as a land of mystery (or plunder) for the ancient Kemites.
This film and its numerous deficits are not aberrations. These are not careless mistakes, or hapless errors. This is an assault on African history. Worse still, it is an attempt to undermine the efforts of Africans working towards historical reclamation by disparaging the achievements of our ancestors, and by extension, seeking to diminish the importance of our work as scholars to explicate their history. This assault however is not isolated. It is merely a repetition of earlier strikes against, and rather than incapacitating us, it reminds us to rally our forces, maintain vigilance, and to strike back knowing that this is intellectual warfare.
ASCAC and the defense of truth
The work of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization provides an essential vehicle to facilitate both the reconstruction and dissemination of African history. It provides a mechanism via which we can augment our capacity to defend the historical legacy of African civilization, in addition to sustaining our efforts to reconstruct and restore it. Central to this work is the importance of ASCAC and affiliated groups expanding our outreach capacity so as to maximize our capacity to shape the consciousness of our people. This work should utilize every available means: study groups, publications, conferences, streaming media, and so forth.
Undefended, truth will fall prey to marauders. The defense of truth is our collective charge. We must stand vigilant.
Carruthers, Jacob H. 1997. “A Memorandum on an African World History Project.” In The Preliminary Challenge, edited by Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 356-361. Los Angeles: Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.
Rashid, Kamau. 2014. “Thoughts on Returning Home and Healing the Casualties of Intellectual War.” Kemetic Voice no. 1 (1):31-35.
My visit to (and eventual exit from) the site of a renown DNA testing company was borne of an on-going quest. I have been engaged in genealogical research off and on since the mid-2000s. The first phase of this was inspired by my reading of The Sankofa Movement: ReAfrikanization and the Reality of War, which encouraged Africans to 1) study their familial histories to note critical themes evident throughout one’s clan line, 2) to identify one’s ancestral ethnicity/nation in Africa, and 3) to adopt the cultural practice of that group (or another group) as a pathway toward re-Africanization. In this initial research phase I was able to trace my paternal line back to the end of the legalized enslavement (the 1860s), and my maternal line to the late 19th Century and a pair of emigrants from the Virgin Islands. These insights were not due to any particularly masterful investigative research on my part, but to two uncles who have captured and preserved these histories.
A year ago I decided to to make genealogical research focus of my children’s homeschool work. Via this project we would address history, geography, narrative analysis, biology, language, and so forth. Regrettably I was unable to sustain the momentum that this work required. The project was to have four phases. Phase one was to collect oral narratives from family members. Phase two was engage in archival research to extend this historical journey further back in time. Phase three was to use DNA testing to further extend our understanding of our familial journey by identifying regions or ethnic groups in Africa from which we descend. Phase four was to consult with a traditional teacher/priest regarding this familial journey, since in the traditional cosmologies of many west African groups (i.e., the Akan, Yoruba, etc.) it is believed that the individual descends from a specific group. This is especially so among groups that believe in what is called “reincarnation” in English. Armed with this knowledge, we would dedicate ourselves to the study of the histories, languages, and cultures of the identified groups—a process that would augment our existing work and practice related to African culture.
One of the things that drove this project was a desire to have a complete view of our familial history, an understanding of the path that our families have traversed over the centuries, if not the last millennia. That stated, I recognized the issues associated with phases three and four. For one, DNA testing is expensive, and its limited accuracy may not provide a satisfactory resolution to these queries. Secondly, even if we were able to identify a one or more particular cultural groups, there is no guarantee that we will be able to meaningfully act upon this information. There is an abundance of information about the very large groups (such as the Igbo for example) or groups that have imperial histories (such as the Yoruba, Ashanti). Learning the histories, languages, cosmologies of these groups would not be insurmountable tasks. However I have wondered how I would go about learning about much smaller, more seemingly “obscure” groups, groups that are not the common referents when Africans in the U.S. talk about, study, and practice traditional African culture.
In addition to these issues, I have begun to fear that these latter two phases, that while offering information that may provide a degree of gratification, are also moored to a desire to have what some might describe as a “tangible connection” to one’s ancestors. For me these feelings were present. I also feared that I might look at my desire to acquire some affinity with the cultural practices of this ancestral ethnic group as a quest for some form of “African authenticity”. Like Chimamanda Adichie said in her wonderful TED Talk on the “Dangers of the single story” I don’t know what “African authenticity” is, nor how it could be achieved. And while I was unsure about this latter issue, I was certain of the former. As the seconds, minutes, and days passed after having closed that tab I resolved to get underneath these feeling and to conceptualize a possible alternative approach to these quandaries.
On a certain level, these challenges suggest a need for a different way of conceptualizing identity. I do not mean “identity” in the individual sense, but rather identity as it relates to a sense of “peoplehood”, one that emanates from a shared history and tradition. Here I’m suggesting that a Pan-African identity is essentially inclusive of a diversity of expressions of African cultures and tradition, ancient and modern, continental and diasporic. A Pan-African identity does not necessarily rely on cultural specificity as a basis of determining authenticity. I’m reminded of two points that are discussed within Kawaida Theory. First is the contention that our job should be to reconstruct our culture, in the wake of the Maafa (the interrelated processes of enslavement, colonialism, and their legacies), using the best of African and human culture. The second point is that our process of cultural engagement should be informed by a synthesis of tradition and reason, that is a critical process of evaluation based on our need for a culture that not only affirms our humanity, but the necessity of our victory in struggle. I think that these have implications for not only how we engage in culture work, but also for how we think about ourselves, our own identities as African people, and how and what we teach our children and community.
A month ago I was the keynote speaker at a gala for Phi Rho Eta Fraternity Incorporated (I’ve been a member since 1999). One of the points that I made in my talk was the importance of establishing brotherhoods of affinity, that is groupings that are based on shared values and commitments. I was speaking in the context of ΦPE, so obviously brotherhood was the appropriate descriptor, however more generally I maintain that we should strive to build collectives centered on various bases of affinity. I think that affinity is also a criteria to evaluate our own constructive cultural practice. There are at least two meanings that are important here.
First, if I am thinking about ways to engage in conflict resolution, I would seek cultural values and practices that align with this paradigm. While such paradigms may be ubiquitous in Africa, I am most familiar with how this has been framed in ancient Kemet and Oyo. The Instructions of Ptah Hotep are highly instructive of ways to avoid and address conflict. Additionally, the Yoruba concept of iwa pele (or gentle character) offers a mode of social praxis that seeks to minimize the difficulties that arise when we fail to be appropriately sensitive to the feelings of those around us. This is an example of affinity in cultural practice–seeking to inform one’s cultural practice by the traditional African knowledges, paradigms, and rituals that can potentially guide this work. Thus this approach, though informed by seemingly distinct cultures, provides a thematic core which is integrative of this diversity.
Second, I think that affinity has implications for how we address issues of identity in the sense of traditional African cultures. I think that African Brazilian culture offers some notable examples. What we see in Brazil is a cultural composite which includes Candomble, a derivative of Yoruba culture; Capoeira, a derivative of Kunene and related Bantu-groups’ martial culture; in addition to other traditional and local innovations. There are similar structural features in other African diasporic communities such as Trinidad, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, and so forth. Focusing on the context of Brazil, what we see is an African-Brazilian cultural complex that shows and African identity that exists comfortably within the context of traditional continental and diasporic cultural forms. I think that this is instructive for how these questions of culture and identity can be addressed with respect African communities in the U.S. I raise this because often the discussion of African identity in the U.S. centers on U.S. Africans adopting the cultural identities of particular continental groups. While this may be beneficial, I question its necessity given that we do not see the same emphasis on cultural specificity elsewhere in the diaspora. Many of these groups exist within their own respective complex of traditional African and diasporic practices. I maintain that there are lessons in this yet to be gleaned.
One example of how a similar complex of practices, say an African American cultural composite, has taken form is the prevalence of African musical forms from Senegal and the Gambia; the frequent use of Swahili (a language prominently spoken in East Africa), Twi (the Akan language), and Medew Netcher (the ancient Egyptian or Kemetic language) in many settings; the practice of traditional and non-traditional African martial cultures such as Capoeria, and others in various communities; the formations committed to the traditional cultural/spiritual practices of groups such as the Yoruba, Akan, Ewe, Fon, as well as their diasporic counterparts in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica, and Haiti, to say nothing of the practitioners of the culture of ancient Kemet; and a host of other local and traditional practices that evidence a wide range of African cultural retentions (i.e., spiritual orientations, familial structures, language, and so on) and innovations (i.e., music, dance, aesthetics, and so forth). The point is that distinct modalities of African cultural praxis have always existed among Africans in the U.S., and others are newly (re)emerged. These are practices that I maintain represent a highly unique and valuable contribution to the historical legacy of African history and culture. Thus one might argue that African Americans have laid the basis for a unique African identity, one that is, as are all identities, in a state of constant unfolding.
From time to time, my mind returns to phases three and four of my genealogy project. Will I abandon them? I am unsure. What I am sure of is that this information is not determinative of my existing path, nor has it ever been. As Baba Hannibal Afrik would say as he would begin his libation ritual, “We are an African people.” For now, this is sufficient, a continent and its myriad peoples, a global community and its collective cultural genius. They belong to us, and we to them. Joined in a struggle to right ourselves in the wake of our enemies’ onslaught.