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.

Healing as a community vocation

There are some deeply troubled people in our midst who have unfortunately sought healing in the toxic recesses of social media. Healing is a community vocation, Fu-Kiau reminds us of this. However our communities cannot fulfill this role if they are echo chambers that merely reinforces our isolation and deepens our alienation.

Functional communities are those that affirm the dignity of our humanity while acknowledging the reality of our suffering. These communities remind us that healing can be achieved and encourage us not to desperately cling to pain as some sort of anchor. It is true that pain can shape us, but when held too longingly, it can hurt us. It can warp our humanity. In his novel, The Healers, Ayi Kwei Armah writes, “Pain too long absorbed dulls intelligence. Pain endured, channeled for energy, used for conscious work aimed at ending the source of pain, sharpens intelligence.” When we affirm the possibility of healing and loosen our grasp on pain, we open the door to healing’s actualization.

Healing then becomes our embracing the possibility of transcendence, and communities can support this work in numerous and constructive ways. Functional communities can remind us of, again, the dignity of our humanity, and that of those around us. Functional communities can remind us that our historical experience as Africans in America has been one of surviving unrelenting oppression. Healing communities can remind us that such oppression, does, as it is intended to do, warps humanity and engenders dysfunction. Communities remind us that healing is not merely a matter of healing the individual African person, but that it is, again, a community vocation. Critically conscious healing communities remind us that we must heal ourselves by eradicating the basis of our suffering–oppression.

What is meant here by critical consciousness is a degree of discernment which enables one to understand the social and historical factors which have been consequential in shaping the present. Critical consciousness demands that we consider the role of power in shaping society. The power dynamics that have animated our lives and the lives of everyone that we have ever known were firmly established during various stages of conquest and enslavement over the last five centuries. These were historical circumstances that reduced African people to objects of capital, charged with laboring to produce capital. And when that era came to an end, Africans continued to be objects of coercive control subject to debt peonage, voter suppression, containment, rape, and execution in varied forms including lynchings. This era transitioned into one where Africans exist, still as objects of coercive control and racialized containment, and who are socially constructed as a social malignancy–a violent disease, a plague for society, or in the view of some a source of terror within our own communities.

Critical consciousness demands that our analysis always consider the broader constructions of power, and central to this, the production of ideas which seeks to mask its operation in our lives. Thus, a critically conscious person must ask and seek to answer the question of whose interest are served by obscuring the source and causes of dysfunction as it exists in our community? When these sources are masked, we attack one another, rather than the real enemy. A critically conscious must ask how we might effectively address these problems in a manner that eradicates dysfunction by eliminating its structural causes–the system of oppression in which we live, the evolutionary descendant of the system of chattel slavery and colonialism that so malformed our ancestor’s humanity. A critically conscious would recognize that, among other things, we must create the social systems that enables us to be self-determining. That creating the institutions that enable us to feed, clothe, heal, house, educate, and defend ourselves are the most direct and logical response to our continued dependency upon an oppressive system. In fact, the very work of building these systems is the work of restoring community. Ultimately, we must remind ourselves that for all of the dysfunction of our communities, we are ultimately dealing with communities that are the legacy of terror, a legacy that is ever-present. Thus we are not dealing with or residing within self-determining communities, but communities that are, in many respects, the residue of colonialism.

In closing, healing is possible. It begins with us, is augmented by community, and must lead inexorably to reality transformation. For those wishing to journey further down this path Fu-Kiau’s Self-Healing, Power, and Therapy, Armah’s The Healers, and Ani’s Let the Circle Be Unbroken are good resources to consult. Each argues vociferously for the role of African culture and social structures as tools of healing, and within this, for the role of paradigmatic knowledge in healing’s conceptualization and actualization. Angel Kyodo Williams’s Being Black is also beneficial. So too is Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. These two texts discuss the mind as a site of healing, arguing that our perceptions of reality often exacerbates our suffering. That our own personal quest for greater clarity and awareness, is one that, in fact, augments everything that we do. I would also strongly recommend the deeply insightful Essential Warrior by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi as a potent discourse on healing. He argues that warriorhood and healing are entangled states of being, and that “The purpose of warriorship is to develop an enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy, having attained the core of perfect harmony”. He adds that to become a “true warrior one must become ‘nkwa ki moyo’ a vitalist, one who heals the ills of the people.”

Re-Africanization: Two perspectives

Re-Africanization can be thought of as a process of decolonization, wherein people of African descent seek to reconstruct their cultural practice in ways that augments the core elements of traditional culture, deconstructs the vestiges of cultural disruption, and adapts these reconceptualized cultural forms to the modern exigencies of the African world. Discourses of Re-Africanization, whether from continental Africans as Amilcar Cabral, or from diasporan thinkers such as Dr. Maulana Karenga, are focused on the conceptualization of culture as an engine of social transformation. Herein culture is understood as a deterministic structure instrumental in shaping human cognition, actions, and modes of organization. Culture then is conceived as a terrain of struggle, wherein the capacity of the people to extricate themselves from systems of oppression is not only contingent upon victory over structural forms of oppression, but also relies upon the dismantling of those cultural patterns that have been derived from processes of foreign domination, and thus focused on reinforcing the domination of the oppressor. There are generally two perspectives on the process of Re-Africanization: one approach which emphasizes the importance of cultural specificity, and another that advocates the utility of devising a cultural composite.

Advocates of cultural specificity emphasize the importance of our immersing ourselves in the culture of a specific ethnic group (often Ashanti or Yoruba). Emphasis is typically placed on the value of adopting the cultural practices of extant ethnic groups given the relative accessibility of living practitioners. Other advocates of cultural specificity also include Kemet (the ancient Egyptian civilization) as a viable cultural model. Contrary to the notion that Kemet is a dead civilization, proponents for the reconstruction of Kemetic culture argue that the abundance of textual, iconographic, architectural, and other data make Kemet highly accessible for those seeking to fully understand its culture. Moreover, many argue that Kemet’s culture legacy is evident in the language, cosmologies, and other practices of modern African ethnic groups.

Generally, advocates of cultural specificity will adopt the names, spiritual practices, language, dress, family/social structure and other elements of this particular culture. Baba Agyei and Mama Akua Nson Akoto discuss this approach extensively in Sankofa Movement: ReAfrkanization and the Reality of War.

The cultural composite approach emphasizes the importance of us developing a new African culture (though some might say a Pan-culture) that embraces the best elements of traditional and classical African culture, in both its continental and diasporic forms. Thus it advocates that we seek to be critically engaged with African cultural production in its totality, and from this seek to analyze, critique, interpret, and adopt those elements that best informs our attempts to liberate ourselves and to transform the world.

Generally, advocates of the cultural composite approach will draw from a variety of traditions for names, spiritual practices, languages, dress, family/social structure, and other elements. Dr. Maulana Karenga elaborates on this philosophy in his writings on Kawaida Theory, the most comprehensive treatment being his 1980 outline from the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies.

Though these paradigms are presented as binaries, much of the actualization of processes of Re-Africanization reflect varying degrees of both. It should be noted that no culture can be adopted by any group without some degree of transformation and adaption from its original to its new form. Therefore even in contexts of cultural specificity there are composite elements that are inextricable. Furthermore, many proponents of a cultural composite may draw more heavily from one particular cultural context than others, this may even be more salient in specific domains of cultural knowledge and practice, thus producing areas of specificity within a larger composite framework.