Inoculation against mis-orientation

At the heart of the problem is our fractured sense of cultural identity. Many of us see ourselves as Black, unmoored from any kind of ancestral foundation.

Afro-Brazilians emphasize their ancestral inheritance from the Kongo, Yorùbá, and to a lesser extent Gbe-speaking peoples. Haitians note their connection to Kongo and, again, Gbe-speaking peoples. Even in this country, there were times where our connections to Kongo, Igbo, and Mande-speaking peoples were quite salient.

I think that such a sense of ancestral identity is quite valuable as a means of anchoring oneself. It enables us to see ourselves as (A) Africans/Blacks in the US, (B) whose culture and traditions rests upon the foundation of many African ethnicities, (C) which are themselves emergent from a continuum of African historicity stretching back millennia. Such a grounding should be sufficient to inoculate us against the kind of cultural and historical mis-orientaiton which is ever-fashionable amongst some of us.

Jacob H. Carruthers and the Restoration of an African Worldview: Finding Our Way through the Desert

Finding Our Way Through the Desert: Jacob H. Carruthers and the Restoration of an African Worldview offers a critical examination of the ideas and work of Carruthers, a key architect of the African-centered paradigm and a major contributor to its application to the study of Nile Valley culture and civilization. Herein, Kamau Rashid explicates some of Carruthers’s principal contributions, the theoretical and practical implications of his work, and how Carruthers’s work is situated in the stream of Black intellectual genealogy. Essential to this book are Carruthers’s concerns about the vital importance of Black intellectuals in the illumination of new visions of future possibility for African people. The centrality of African history and culture as resources in the transformation of consciousness and ultimately the revitalization of an African worldview were key elements in Carruthers’s conceptualization of two interrelated imperatives—the re-Africanization of Black consciousness and the transformation of reality. Composed of three parts, this book discusses various themes including Black education, disciplinary knowledge and knowledge construction, indigenous African cosmologies, African deep thought, institutional formation, revolutionary struggle, history and historiography to explore the implications of Carruthers’s thinking to the ongoing malaise of African people globally.

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On denialists’ folly

I recently watched an interesting video on YouTube titled, “Why flat earthers scare me,” which offered an analysis of the recent history and pervasiveness of this perspective. I agree with many points raised in this video. There are two points that are made that were valuable to me. First, the commentator cites a study that states that people who believe that the Earth is flat have a lower than average level of scientific literacy, but a higher than average degree in confidence in the veracity of their beliefs. Second, she notes that at some point in the mid-20th Century, science, reached a level of complexity beyond the comprehension of the average person—which poses important challenges in terms of scientific literacy more broadly.

This is all very consistent with my experience with individuals who claim that the transatlantic slave trade never happened. I have observed and interacted with individuals who seemed to know very little about history, cultural anthropology, or biology, whose ignorance limited both what they knew, but also what they were capable of understanding. These same individuals were also quite dogmatic in their views, insisting that those who knew far more than them were in fact ignorant of the truth.

Additionally, I see the basis of this ignorance as primarily social—that is, that it is a product of pervasive and intergenerational anti-African propaganda in the US, coupled with the suppression of information regarding African and African Diaspora history and culture in schooling system. 

Further, I think that this kind of ignorance is not only foolish, but that it has significant negative political implications for our community. Their view (that we are, in fact, native to the Americas) consigns historians, linguists, cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, and certainly geneticists to being a part of some vast conspiracy against an implausible belief. Further, they must ignore the preponderance of African cultural retentions in the Americas, accounts by African Diasporans in the 18th and 19th Centuries, as well as actual slave narratives to sustain such flawed premises. Lastly, our historical, cultural, and political connections to the rest of the African world have been and are a vital tool in our struggle for freedom. Such denialism undermines these connections and the potential that they possess.

Finally, these denialists demonstrate a political myopia—that is, not only is their idea historically and scientifically fallacious, it is also politically impotent. They have exchanged our actual ancestral legacy for one whose veracity is non-existent and whose legitimacy will always be contested. They reflect the Yoruba proverb that states, “Ibi tí a ti ńpìtàn ká tó jogún, ká mọ̀ pé ogún ibẹ̀ ò kanni,” which translates as “Where one must recite genealogies in order to establish one’s claim to inheritance, one should know that one really has no claim to patrimony there.” This means that  legitimate claims seldom require such elaborate performance. They do not require the suppression of evidence or its fabrication. They stand on their own merits.

The lamp of ignorance misleads in the night

Too many African/Black people have a love affair with pseudo-consciousness. Perhaps false ideas and contrived identities have an emotional resonance that more valid and historically grounded notions lack. Perhaps the false ideas are more immediately intelligible, requiring no real work to understand and internalize. Or could it be that such ideas make little demand of their adherents, enabling them to continue in the world as they always have? Perhaps reality is too complex, too complicated, and nonsense becomes a filtration device, rejecting information that is incongruent with one’s preferred mythology. After all, one of the advantages of ideology is that it provides a system of thinking, a way of seeing the world. Whether such a system is grounded in logic and facts is inconsequential to its functioning.

Whatever it is, whatever its causes, I am reminded of three African proverbs. A Yorùbá proverb states, “Ọgbọ́n ní ńpẹ́ kó tó ran ẹni; wèrè kì í gbèé ran èèyàn; wèrè Ìbàdàn ló ran ará Ògbómọ̀ṣọ́,” which translates as, “Only wisdom takes a long time to rub off on others; imbecility does not take long to affect others; it is the imbecility plaguing Ibadan people that rubbed off on the people of Ògbómọ̀ṣọ́.” This means that folly is a contagion, easily transmitted. Enlightenment, by contrast, is much more difficult to establish among the people.

I am also reminded of a Swahili proverb which states, “Jinga likikwerevuka akili hakuna tena,” which translates as, “When a fool is believed to be intelligent then there is no more intelligence.” Consider the unfortunate lack of discernment among those taken in by false ideas. For them, the intelligence of someone who has a great deal of valuable expertise and knowledge and someone who is ignorant (or deceptive) are equal.

I close with an Ewe proverb which, like these others, reflects the times in which we live. It states, “Nu manyamanya fe akadi tra ame za,” which translates as, “The lamp of ignorance misleads in the night.” While some of us are making deep investments in falsehood, we will find that misinformation is insufficient to both transform our lives individually or our condition collectively. In fact, such ignorance, as misinformation induces, makes us more useful subjects of misdirection, division, and control by powerful interests. As Thomas Sankara said, “The enemies of a people are those who keep them in ignorance.”

On the African origins of African Diasporans (including Africans/Blacks in the United States)

To whom it may concern (including those who are in denial of this): Our food, language, music, dance, historical narratives from the antebellum period, combat arts, spiritual traditions, healing modalities, DNA, and so on are clearly African derived. These are not matters of opinion, but reflect the empirical reality.

African spirituality eschews abstraction

I came across a post on a social media site which featured a video of what appeared to be an African American woman thanking God for slavery, which supposedly saved her from being somewhere in Africa worshiping a tree. A commentator who re-shared this post indicated that he would rather worship a tree since trees are, after all, real.

His was a good commentary on the logic of African spirituality, that is that it eschews abstraction and elevates that which gives life to the status of the divine. After all, why shouldn’t humans worship the trees, the sun, the earth, and those other things upon which life depends?

Below I list a few examples of how Africans recognized nature as divine from the Akan, Igbo, and Yorùbá traditions.

DivinityAspect of natureCulture/tradition
Asase YaaEarthAkan
Ṣàngó (Changó, Shango, Xangô)LighteningYorùbá
AmadiohaLightening and thunderIgbo
Nana Adade KofiLightening and ironAkan
Ògún (Ogun, Ogum)IronYorùbá
Ọ̀ṣun (Oshun, Ochún, Oxúm)River, fertilityYorùbá

Spirituality and revolution

There is an imperative for social change that is articulated in the spiritual systems of many African cultures. The demands for honesty, righteous character, service to one’s community, frugality and restraint, reciprocity, discernment, and sacrifice are not merely matters of personal, spiritual cultivation. Nor are they born of a lack of concern for the physical world that we inhabit. These are commitments that require a parallel commitment to self-transformation and the revisioning of the world.

For instance, to be mAa xrw (true of voice) in a world awash in the currency of lies can be costly. But this is a necessary disposition if isft (wrong-doing) is to be appropriately understood and corrected. To strive towards the practice of mdw nTr (divine speech) is not only a matter of seeking to build bridges between the kmtwy (African/Black people) of the present world and the deep thought of their ancestors. mdw nTr, as a body of living practice, requires that the world be refashioned wherein alienation is not an inevitable outcome of the human condition.

There are other, innumerable examples, but I submit to you that only WE can save us, and that our culture is one of the most underutilized assets in this struggle.

Nature, humanity, and the divine

A few days ago I posted something about the implications of the desacralization of nature and the erosion of humans’ relationship with it. I was happy to see that this topic was recently addressed on the Medicine Shell. The reality is that not only was Africa historically wealthy in terms of our ancestors’ knowledge of nature, but also their ability to apply such wisdom in ways which were sustainable. The loss or suppression of this knowledge vis-á-vis enslavement, colonization, globalization, and modernization–all processes of westernization–have not only attenuated our connection to the natural world as a people, but have limited our consciousness to a paradigm of life where nature is seen only for its extractive, instrumental value–a form of relation that has and will continue to be disastrous for humanity.

To be African is the revolutionary act of our time

One sees movements of re-indigenization occurring all over the world. Herein groups seek to reclaim cultural and historical knowledge lost as a consequence of colonization. These movements rest upon a foundation of clarity about who they are and who their ancestors were. In fact the effectiveness of such movements rely upon both the coherence of their cultural orientations and the institutional capacity (i.e., power) that they can effect to sustain and expand this endeavor.

Due to a variety of factors, internal and external, some of us (African/Black people) are often bereft of such clarity. The resulting cultural mis-orientation does not simply produce a multiplicity of perspectives, but ultimately results in confusion, which denies us the necessary unity that can be marshaled into augmenting our structural capacity (i.e., power).

The historical subjugation of our ancestors and the resulting cultural suppression which was employed as an instrument control has left lasting fissures in our identity. Further, the imposition of an alien worldview, whether through language, religion, social organization, and so forth effectively orients many of us to seek our identity within the strictures of the Eurasian paradigms that surround us, rather than outside of them. Herein, our African ancestry is regarded with shame, ambivalence, and for the truly lost, denial and rejection. As such there are those who would contrive all manner of fantastic tales that would make us everything and anything but African. The denialist propensity for myth-making is reflected in the Swahili proverb which states “Habari ya uwongo ina ncha saba.” This is translated as “A false story has seven endings.” This means that a lie, because of its avoidance of the true, must endlessly morph to sustain itself in the face of the truth. The beauty of historical truth is that it requires no such fabrication. An Akan proverb states “Nokware mu nni abra,” which translates as “There is no fraud in truth.” This is because it rests upon a foundation of surety.

There is little power that can be derived from our forays along contrived paths. These may have an ephemeral effect for some, but the falsehoods and mis-orientation that undergirds them undermines the necessary unity needed for us to transform our condition the world over. To be African is not only an acknowledgement of our ancestral identity, it is also a political assertion of connection to our ancestors and our resolve to restore that which has been taken from us. The embrace re-Africanization enables us to draw upon the vast wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, wherein their strengths become our own, and become instruments that we can use to heal and empower ourselves in the present.

Mama Marimba Ani says that “To be African is the revolutionary act of our time.” She maintains that such an identity tells us not only who we are, but how we must exist, and what we must do. She recognizes that the foundational clarity of our ancestral identity necessarily orients us towards certain political objectives including the transformation of our minds, our communities, our societies, and–ultimately–the world, because to truly be African in the most expansive sense of social possibility requires the nullification of those forces inimical to Africa and African people. There is no other identity that orients our people, both towards such an expansive vision as well as to our peoplehood as its highest form of expression.