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.
If you accept the legitimacy of America, then you will argue vociferously in defense of it. If you accept that this is a settler colony that has been enriched by slavery and conquest, then you may entertain the thought that the rampant abuses of police officers, the chronic failure of schools that serve people of color, the use of African people in heinous medical experiments, or any of the other indices of despair that characterize our condition are not aberrations, but are in fact the necessary and logical outcomes of this system. Critical thinking is the most basic and fundamental right of the oppressed. It is the first act which makes all other acts aimed at ending oppression possible.
The text that Theophile Obenga calls The Lamentations of Ipuwer is a lamentation of social decline. Set during the period that the Egyptologists call the First Intermediate Period after the end of the Old Kingdom, this text depicts a society that has descended into isfet. Foreign occupiers, marauding gangs, bandits, and usurpers—Ipuwer looks out upon a world that is characteristic of maximal chaos and disorder (isfet).
In many respects, Ipuwer’s narrative captures a world much like our own, both domestically and globally. Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton described African communities as internal colonies of the United States. As such, African American communities are positioned as sites of capital accumulation for groups external to the community. The effects of this external occupation of African American financial markets is compounded by the absence, marginality, or contraction of African American owned enterprises. Additionally, African American communities are often replete with institutions that exist outside of the purview of the community. Whether the unresponsiveness of these institutions is due to their external control, or characteristic of ineptitude, they represent fetters on the structural capacity of the community to conceptualize and effect its collective will and thus represents the salience of isfet within African communities.
Furthermore, whether or not crime rates in major American cities have declined, there is for many people a palpable sense danger. In many respects this corresponds to the previous condition of internal colonialism, as communities bereft of a locus of internal control are characteristic of what the social scientists call social disorganization. This perspective was expressed most succinctly by Nana Agyei Akoto at the Sankofa Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2006 when he said that “Everything is broken.” His contention was that the social systems of Africans had been shattered by the Maafa, hence our families, economic institutions, political institutions, and so forth have been decimated by this process. Just as Ipuwer observed the dispossessed around him, we have experienced a profound and traumatic experience of dislocation.
When I see people going to creative lengths to retain their use of the n-word I am reminded of how mentally enfeebled some of us have become as a result of the cultural oppression of the Maafa–the interrelated processes of enslavement, colonialism, and their lingering effects. This has not been incidental to Europeans’ domination of Africans, it has been central to it, for it is not enough to conquer any people militarily, they must be conquered culturally as well. This conquest has taken place over the course of centuries. Cultural conquest saps the will to resist, seeks to argue that the oppressive reality is the natural state of a people, and ultimately attempts to impose the oppressor’s definitions of reality onto the oppressed. It is the centrality of this cultural domain to the political and economic forms of struggle that have so energized the work of many Africans in the U.S. over the last half century. The struggle for cultural sovereignty is not simply about wearing African clothing, adopting African names, speaking African languages, or embracing African spirituality. It certainly includes these things, but is ultimately focused on the conceptualization, actualization, and assertion of African sovereignty in the world. In this essay I will attempt to differentiate these two forms of conquest, explicating the ways in which they have adversely affected Africans in the past, in addition to their continued impacts in the present.
Military conquest occurred during the initial stage of what would be our ancestors’ ultimate enslavement in the west. The insufficiency of these campaigns necessitated further military actions by Europeans, as Africans continued to assert their right to freedom. The Stono Rebellion, the Haitian revolution, the Maroon campaigns in Jamaica and Cuba; the insurrections or planned insurrections of Denmark Vessey, Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, and others; in addition to the militarized assaults on the Republic of New Africa, the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, and other formations; to say nothing of the repression and generalized destabilization of organizations that have sought to actualize African freedom and self-determination throughout the Twentieth Century all illustrate the nature of the on-going maintenance of military conquest against our people. This continuation of war is evident from the repression of these movements to the racialized containment or urban African communities by law enforcement and the resultantly frequent murder of unarmed Africans.
While the military assault upon Africans has often manifest itself in fairly direct ways–the decimation of African lives and infrastructure at the hands of Europeans and their proxies, the cultural assault has been more insidious. Also, just as military conquest has been sustained over this period, so too has the cultural assault. The suppression of African cultural traditions in North America during the period of enslavement was not sufficient to eradicate our knowledge of who we were as Africans. From our continued use of the term African to identify ourselves well into the 19th Century, to our creation of organizations and institutions designed to sustain our struggle for liberation, to our affinity with the broader global African community as evidenced the numerous exchanges between 19th Century Africans in the U.S. and Haiti, to our support of African liberation struggles in the late 20th Century, many of us have been clear that we are an African people. However, European domination and African sovereignty are not compatible survival paradigms, thus Europeans have spared no expense to suppress us culturally. The renaming of enslaved Africans was one potent example of this initiative, for a name is tethered to history, cultural traditions, worldview constructs, and societies. In many African cultures the name is expressive of one’s destiny and one’s obligations to the community. In forcing European names upon Africans, Europeans in effect sough to de-link Africans from their histories, traditions, and worldview; instead making them beholden to European histories, traditions, and worldview constructs. Therefore if the enslaved African is ontologically constructed as being culturally, psychologically, biologically, and spiritually inferior to Europeans, the forced acceptance of this identity–via the ritual act of re-naming–seeks to internalize these deficit notions within the mind of the oppressed as a barrier to the conceptualization and realization of self-determination. Thus the imposition of European names was an initial, though not final act in the cultural dimension of this war.
The imposition of European cultural traditions upon Africans are further evidence of this assault. Christianity was used as a tool to dissuade resistance to European dominance, in addition to imposing the European worldview on Africans as a means of displacing their indigenous notions. Thus the deficit conceptualization of the human soul within Christianity was deeply antithetical to indigenous African philosophies about the nature and purpose of the human being. However these European paradigms were useful in creating the enfeebling belief that absent Europeans’ imposition of Christianity upon them, Africans would be damned to some imagined hell. The effect of this process was the de-linking of Africans from their traditions and the delegitimization of African culture vis-a-vis the super-ordination of European culture. I use the cultural dislocations of Christianity as one form of cultural assault, that while having occurred over a century in the past, continues to reverberate today among Africans in the U.S. One of the interesting benefits that this ontology has afforded Europeans is that many Africans who are adherents of Christianity, eschew the need for liberatory struggle, resigning themselves to wait for the return of the Christian messiah in moment of sweeping change called the rapture. The prospect of a rapture notwithstanding, we are forced to face the existential nature of European oppression, for which no immediate avenue of escape (on either the metaphysical or Earthly planes) has revealed itself. Additionally, I am not denying that many Africans in the U.S. have used Christianity as a framework for liberatory struggle from the 19th Century to the present. These expressions of African agency run counter to the intended impact of Christianity upon the African psyche. Thus they reflect the retention of a cultural drive for self-determination among Africans. As such these efforts must be lauded, supported, and expanded.
Presently, we face an educational system which indoctrinates many African children into a belief that they are objects to be contained and controlled, wherein they learn nothing of their ancestors, thus reinforcing the false belief that our dominance by Europeans is the natural order of things. We face a global media industry that champions images of Africans as agents of community destabilization in the form of criminals and wayward stewards of community development. We are witnessing the latest phase in displacement of Africans from urban communities, a destabilizing process which confounds efforts to restore the bonds of community so fragile in the wake of economic collapse, family disruption, and mass-incarceration. These are not isolated or disconnected acts. These are tactics in the on-going cultural war against African agency.
Finally, the on-going cultural assault on Africans are challenges that must be answered lest we perish. Victory in this stage of war requires that we do as Baba Jedi Shemsu Jehewty instructed. He states that “African champions must break the chain that links African ideas to European ideas and listen to the voice of the ancestors without European interpreters.” This requires us to de-link ourselves from the legacies of oppression as we commit to the reclamation of African culture and the restoration of African sovereignty in the world. Much of the socialization that we have been subject to has ill-prepared us for this challenge, for such an endeavor will require us to divest ourselves of longing to redeem those practices which are harbingers of oppression. One example would be the n-word, replacing it with a term that articulates our shared history before the maafa, and the collective destiny that we share. Compare this to a term from the ancient Nile Valley such as kmtyw (pronounced Kem-et-ee-oo), which means Black people, or simply kmty (pronounced Kem-et-ee), which means Black person. This term was the indigenous word for the populace of ancient kmt (Kemet) or ancient Egypt. Our embrace of this term would reinforce the identification of Africans in the U.S. with kmt that began in the 19th Century, in addition to the ancestral connection to the Nile Vally shared by many of the West African groups (i.e., the Akan, Yoruba, etc.) from which many Africans in the U.S. are descended. To be sure, there are other viable candidates for a dignity-affirming referent for African people. Whatever we embrace, it should be intelligently connected to our drive for cultural sovereignty, not something that reinforces the dehumanization of the Maafa.
Black folks have historically been objects of coercive control in the U.S. Our utility as a source of labor and a market for consumption is only exceeded by the fear and loathing that many White people have for us. In schools, arbitrary disciplinary policies become a veneer via which this history of repression is acted out. Under the guise of maintaining order, Black children are treated as a social malignancy. They are tolerated while silent, scolded when vocal, and expunged when assertive. Assertiveness is, after all, not within the purview of oppressed people. Thus I believe that this process of social control is designed to condition African youth early on to the notion that being self-determining and advocating for themselves are not rights that they are entitled to. Moreover they are taught that deference to White authorities is not only expected, but mandated, beginning with White teachers and extending to White police officers. Carter G. Woodson was right–schools are bastions of mis-education for our youth.