My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no facist-minded people like you will drive me away from it. Is that clear ? Paul Robeson 19
Can African People Save Themselves ?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other wayin short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its nosiest authorities insisted on being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
THE ABOVE QUOTE IS APPLICABLE to the African world of today with some slight modifications. African people can have a Golden Age or another Age of Continued Despair, depending on how they view themselves in relationship to the totality of history and its ironies. The cruelest thing slavery and colonialism did to the Africans was to destroy their memory of what they were before foreign contact. Africans have not dealt forthrightly with invaders, slave traders and colonialists, who came among African people as guests and stayed as conquerors. The strongest thing about African people is their respect for the humanity of other people and the hospitality they have shown to strangers. In most cases, Europeans and Western Asians have come into African societies as guests and stayed as conquerors. Africans have never had a strong armed force. They assumed that they did not need one because they had no intention of conquering other people.
Too many times in the past and in the present Africans have had a parochial view of Africa. There is a need now to look not only at the Africans in Africa, but also at how they relate to that vast number of Africans who live outside of Africa. Properly counted, considering the large number of Africans in the Caribbean Islands, North and South America, and the millions of people of African descent in India and in the Pacific, Africans may number at least a billion people on the face of the earth. Africa is the last mineral and geographic reserve in the world. Africa has been and still is the grand prize that non-Africans have always wanted to conquer.
Because Africa is the worlds richest continent a great deal of the economic strength of the Western world and parts of Asia is built on what is taken out of Africa. The continent has things that other people want, think they cant do without, and dont want to pay for. Africa is the pawn in a world power game that the Africans have not learned how to play. I emphasized repeatedly that Africa has been under siege for more than 3,000 years, and this condition did not change with the superficial end of colonialism and an independence explosion that had more ceremony than substance. In most African countries the condition of the average African person has not changed one iota with the coming of flag independence. All too often Africans fighting for the liberation of AfricaAfrica before they strategically planned how they were going to do it. A case in point is South Africans in the international rhetoric against apartheid. Apartheid is not the main issue in South Africa, bad as it is. If the whites in South Africa eliminated apartheid tomorrow, the Africans would still be in difficulty because they would have no economic power and their land would still be in the hands of foreigners.
Land is the basis of nation. There is no way to build a strong independent nation when most of the land is being controlled by foreigners who also determine the economic status of the nation. Africans need seriously to study their conquerors and their respective temperaments. Neither the Europeans nor the Arabs came to Africa to share power with any African. They both came as guests and stayed as conquerors.
There is a need now to study, at least briefly, the more than 3,000 years when Africa was under siege, and under pressure from foreigners who had no understanding or respect for African religions or customs. The Hebrew entry into Africa occurred in the 1700s B.C. They came into Africa escaping famine in western Asia. They were treated as guests by the Africans. In 1675 B.C. Africa was invaded from western Asia by warriors referred to as Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings. The Hebrews were acquainted with these warriors because some of them came from the area of their migration. Therefore many of the Hebrews became collaborators, clerks and administrators for these invaders, working against the interests of the Africans who had befriended them. When after nearly 200 years of this occupation the Africans organized a force large enough to drive out the invaders, they began to ask some questions about the Hebrews who had been their collaborators. The story of Hebrew slavery in Africa is just that, a story. There is no proof of this matter in Egyptian literature or in western Asian literature.
Outside of the Bible there is no proof of probably the best-known incident in human history, the Exodus. Both the slavery of the Jews in Egypt and the Exodus could be Jewish folklore and nothing more. After this period in history, Nile Valley civilization and Africa in general enjoyed almost a thousand years of peace without antagonism from foreign armies. In 666 B.C. Africa was invaded again by people then referred to as Assyrians. All these wars were assaults on African culture and the different African ways of life. In the year 550 B.C. AfricaIran. These invaders were so brutal that some Africans cried out, Oh God, if you cannot send me a liberator, send me a conqueror who will show some mercy! The next conqueror was a young Macedonian referred to in history as Alexander the Great. The year was 332 B.C.
The Romans invaded North Africa and destroyed the city of Carthage from 264-146 B.C. The greater portion of the Roman Empire rose in Africa and fell in Africa. If African people are to save themselves, they must first see themselves in relationship to the total history of mankind. They must also understand the insecurity of their invaders that caused them to downgrade the importance of African people in history in order to aggrandize themselves at Africas expense.
This subject is monumental; it is not parochial, not local at all. It breaks out of accustomed mold. We have not asked and answered the question of where we African people are within the context of world history. We see history unfolding around us, and many times we develop a complex, assuming that we are not the makers of history. Something has divided us between the period when we made history and the period when history was made at our expense.
We were once not only the makers of history but we were the makers of the world of our day, and this lasted for thousands of years. One must be reminded that over half of human history was over before anyone else knew that a European was in the world. African people were in the world and had been there for thousands of years. We were not sitting around idly, either. Let me put a timeline on it so you can understand this statement.
As I have noted elsewhere, Africa had existed over 3000 years intact before the first invaders (1675 B.C.); the first European invaders came in 332 B.C. The first trouble came from western Asia. That trouble was persistent and set Africa up for the European invasion under Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. Then he, like all Europeans (although he was more merciful than most and showed more understanding than most), began to misinterpret African people and their place in the history of the world.
We cannot save ourselves and decide where we are going until we understand where we have been and where we are. With history unfolding before us, weve got to become astute in asking and answering the question: Where are we in relationship to what we are seeing right now?
Lets look at some current events and analyze them to see how the Africans living outside of Africa relate to these current events. Where are we in relationship to Panama? How do we relate to it at all? The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the supreme commander of the United States Forces during the invasion was superficially a person of African descent. I mean this both figuratively and literally. He participated with glee in the military encounter. He did not understand nor was it called to his attention that he is a Jamaican and his people died in the thousands while digging that canal. See, when you dont know your own history look at the traps you fall into. You become so patriotic. It was Jamaicans more than anyone else because they had unemployed people, so they sent more labor. They labored on that canal for years, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians, but mainly Jamaicans. When they demanded a raise to ten cents an hour, they were lynched.
But we act as though we have no vested interest in the canal, that its somebody elses show.
Lets play the historical record back 500 years. Lets go back to the opening up of the Americas, back to the 1400s, back to Balboa, the Spanish conquistadors, to the discovery of that area when it was called the Isthmus of Darien. African road builders built a road in what was going to become Panama. They could handle so-called Indian labor, indigenous Americans, without the lash. How could Africans recruit the indigenous population referred to as Indian without the lash, get them to work without mutilating them and humiliating them and whites could not? The African humanity in the recruitment of labor was different. All of this is forgotten history.
The minute we heard about Panama we should have asked, Well, what role did we play? How do we relate to all of this? Look at the contradiction of a Jamaican being Chief of Staff. Im not worrying about whether hes entitled to be it; hes probably more than entitled; thats not the issue. But look at the contradiction. His people dug the ditch and died in the thousands. One of the main reasons his people dug the ditch while whites died of yellow fever in the thousands was because something the Africans believe proved to be true: The mosquito has a taste for white meat.
Let me digress with a relevant personal anecdote. While traveling from Ghana to Togo the bus broke down at the border checkpoint. I didnt know till later that the bus driver gets paid according to the length of time it takes to make the trip; so it conveniently broke down at the border checkpoint. Then we had to spend the night there with no hotels, no rest houses, nothing. So, we slept on the beach. A fellow said, Mr. Clarke, if you sleep near fresh water with your head lying in the direction of the wind, the mosquito is not going to touch you because the wind will take your scent away. Not only do Europeans lie the wrong way, they smell the wrong way, and attract the mosquitoes.
So, no matter what you think of your smell, its in your favor in relationship to the mosquito. Therefore, while some blacks did die of yellow fever, most of them survived to dig that ditch. Now you can see how we relate to everything. Nothing happened in Panama that we dont relate to in some way. We cant save ourselves until we become astute at identifying our relationship to everything in the world, because we do relate to everything in the world.
Now lets deal with the so-called dictator, Noriega. He went to American military school. He is a light-skinned one of us. That didnt make it any better for him; they called him a nigger. He didnt associate with the whites for a while. When they found out that they could use him, they let him pass for white. Then they let him engage in skullduggery until he engaged enough to have as much on them as they had on him. They dont want to try him; they want to kill him before he can talk.
Now we can understand that one of us who is a fraction will suffer the same as the blackest of the blacks once we fail to play a power game. My point is that to understand our history (past, present and probably what it will be in the future) we need to know more than our history. We need to look holistically at the world. This is what we have not been doing. Right now we should be getting ready to debunk all of the celebration around the 500 year anniversary of the alleged discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. We should be getting ready now to prove (and we can prove it) that he discovered absolutely nothing. He never set foot on North America or South America. He stumbled up on some islands, and he depopulated every one of them. Everywhere he went he destroyed the people.
We should have conferences, entire conferences, devoted to one item: revelations of Father Bartholomew de Las Casas, the first historian of the New World. We need to read his work and talk about it for three days, and not mix it with a thousand other things. It was Father de Las Casas whom Christopher Columbus went to (when he saw the so-called Indians dying wholesale) in order to get an increase in the African slave trade to save the so-called soul of the Indians. When the Pope sent commissioners to look into the disappearance of the Indians, many islands didnt even have one left. They were dying wholesale of malaria and mutilation, of brooding themselves to death.
Now you have to look at the culture of a one-dimensional people. Im not dealing with good or bad; Im dealing with culture and how sometimes such people can get into a culture trap of their own design. We are in such a trap because we believe that the white man was telling the truth when he gave us Christianity. We didnt go beyond what he was saying and look at the spirituality we produced and gave the world before Christianity. We dare not read about it; we dare not think about it. We dare not examine the Conference at Nicaea (325 A.D.) where the fakery that is now Christianity was foisted upon the world, and the reality and spirituality which we gave the world got lost.
Im not saying anybody should walk the world godless or spiritless. Im not saying leave any church; stay in them. Make them infuse spirituality in religion. We have a revolutionary dynamic. but without spirituality we are wasting our time. This is why Im against all the millionaire phonies, imitating black Baptist preachers, like Jimmy Swaggart and others who have the spirit of a dog. Theyve taken something from us and they are disgracing it. If you understand what is happening before you, you will understand what youve got to do.
Now lets look at what is happening in Europe. It is not an argument between communism and capitalism; it is a difference of opinion on the methodology of European control of the world. Europeans have decided that they would control the world, be it communist, capitalist, socialist or fascist.
There are certain Oriental races who have decided that they will help them, but we think that once we deal with our white enemy we have no other enemy. We are dead wrong. People want power by any means necessary, and they will take it from any person on this earth who has not learned how to use it properly. And we African people have not learned to use it properly, not even how to protect our own community.
If were going to save ourselves, there is something which I have called the essential selfishness of survival which we are going to have to start practicing. There are some blacks who will say this is black racism. I say it is not. It is survival, but if someone wants to classify it as black racism, so be it.
I think we should own every single house in the famous ethnic community called Harlem, control every single house in this community; control every single store in this community; employ people in the community running these things properly; have our own social agencies; eliminate homelessness and put people to work renovating houses in this community. If we did this and walked upright, began to fix our own shoes, had small factories, independent schools, good day nurseries, good child care, a national theater with its headquarters in this communityif we did all of that, we would be practicing nation building. We will have at last understood what Booker T. Washington was saying, what W.E.B. DUBOiS was saying, what Marcus Garvey was saying, and what Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X were saying. I dont separate one from the others.
I am not endorsing Islam. (I think religion without spirituality is a waste of time, anyway. Nor am I looking for a new one.) I would not even name Elijah Muhammad except for the fact that he did make a contribution toward nation-consciousness. In nation-consciousness you can make your own religion. You can go to his or you can make another one or choose another one. The laws of nation-consciousness are the laws of responsibility, and we are not going to save ourselves until we are conscious of nation-responsibility and nation-building. We are not going to save ourselves as individuals; were going to do it as a collective. To do it as a collective, were going to have to be bold enough (even if we have to break our own hearts) to find out where we went wrong.
Throughout history we have been politically a naive people. We have trusted the wrong people; we have bought false goods from fake salesmen. We have bought things of a synthetic nature, not knowing that we had real things at home all the time. We have forgotten the facts because we have not studied our history seriously and recognized that before there was a Europe we built enduring civilizations that lasted thousands of years without a jail system. We had family structures that were so tight, and the family was structured in such a way, that crime and punishment were taken care of within the family and jails were not needed.
There was no word in the Africans languages that meant divorce. Because each party had a support system, the uncles, the fathers, the mothers, all there together. Then foreigners declared war on this support system. Throughout our history we have always been (and still are, in spite of the contradictions) the worlds richest people: rich in culture, rich in minerals, rich in ideas, rich in imagination. We have not used these great riches to save ourselves.
White musicians can do a good imitation of our music, but they could not do an exact imitation if their life depended on it. Benny Goodman played one imitation of our music over and over and over, but he didnt innovate because he didnt know how. He learned a form and played the form over and over. I remembered Charlie Parker playing Aint She Sweet. I listened to him three nights straight, and he played the song a different way each night and yet he still was playing Aint She Sweet. He played it according to his mood; he wasnt in the same mood each night, so he didnt play the same way each night. Some nights it sounded better than others, but he didnt kill the tune of the song.
Figuratively speaking we Africans have been put on the world stage without a script, and the audience has said to us, Act or well kill you. And we have acted; thats the nature of our survival. We have learned something about survival that has eluded other people. We have not used what we have learned to continue to survive. We have become prisoners to forms other people have created without using our imagination to survive. If we had used our imagination, we could have rebuilt every boarded-up house in every metropolitan community where we live in the United States. Were good carpenters, imaginative planners, and great decorators, because we use color in situations so well. The question is, why havent we used our cultural gift to save ourselves?
Lets look beyond the United States. Lets look at the Caribbean Federation (a great heartbreak to me). Lets look at the Civil Rights movement (another heartbreak), and lets look at the failure of the African Independence Explosionthe greatest of all the heartbreaks because that could have saved the two of us. All three of them failed because instead of using our imagination, we were using forms developed by someone else, not knowing that the slave master and the colonial master created nothing that we can use to save ourselves because his form was to keep him in control of us. When we use this form to control our own people, our situation is merely changing faces. We change our condition without changing our position. We have to understand the nature of the position in relationship to the condition.
There is a need now to examine the Caribbean concept of union and federation. The idea of Pan-Africanism was formulated by the Caribbean mind. How is it that the three great Pan-Africanists came from Trinidad: H. Sylvester Williams, George Padmore and C.L.R. James? They could never unify Trinidad. The great federalists mostly came from Jamaica. The great internationalists came mostly from the Virgin Islands, men like Edward Wilmot Blyden and Hubert Harrison, but mainly Blyden, who tried to build a three-way bridge between African-Americans, the Caribbeans and Africa. Today, in no part of the Caribbean Islands, does one find any nationalism of consequence.
Even the Rastas are confused. Many of them are actually rascals. Some are beachcombers, roaming the beaches of the Caribbean, serving the unfulfilled physical needs of female tourists. Is this on their road to Africa? It is at best a side road. Thus, theres some confusion, even by those who claim Africa in purity. And anybody who claims Haile Selassie as the incarnation of God on this earth is confused about the history of Haile Selassie.
I like the idea of the Rastas. I wish some Rastas werent rascals. I wish there were something in the Caribbean Islands of pure Black Nationalism, because theyve got something we dont have here theyve got a majority. Theyve got something else we dont have, a special kind of revolutionary heritage based on being a majority. Their slave revolts were the most successful of the slave revolts outside of Africa. They have forgotten their revolutionary heritage and become too dependent. Their slave revolts were successful because they had an African culture continuity. Our cultural continuity in this country was broken, almost destroyed, and yet we maintained a large degree of that cultural continuity. Come to Jamaica! Everybody in Jamaica wants to be something except an African person. Theyre willing to tell you about their Dutch uncles, Scottish grandfathers, etc. I have not found one who will say boldly, I am an African person.
At a conference on Marcus Garvey in Jamaica in 1987, I raised a question: Where would Marcus Garvey be safe in the Caribbean Islands? Where would he be safe in the world if, indeed, he were alive walking around? Where would he be safer If he were in Jamaica, I believe some politically deranged person would stone him to death; he failed twice in Jamaica. Hes dead now; theyll make him a hero, bury him at Kings Park. Everybody says, Marcus Garveys buried out there. They emphasize that hes buried there. When youre dead, you cant hurt anybody. Anybody who would elect Edward Seaga (a Lebanese con man from Boston) as their Prime Minister has placed their African loyalty into question.
There may be some hope. I havent found it. Yet, if the Caribbean Islands are ever to be the seats of the rallying cry for the return to Africa, it will begin in Jamaica. It has the resource; it has the intellectual personnel; it has the technical personnel. Just as, if Nigeria becomes a truly African nation (and not a den of thieves), it can change all of Africa. Half of the lawyers, technicians, the African-trained engineers, school teachers and qualified professors in Africa are Nigerians. Nigeria could turn Africa around, if it would, but it would have to work as a collective and not as individuals.
Lets look at what we call the Civil Rights movement in the United States and why this failed to be a vehicle that we could use to save ourselves. Lets see if we can show you that when you do not understand the nature of the history behind an event, youre going to misinterpret the event, misuse the event and misuse yourself in relation to the event. These young people, brilliant, beautiful, and brave, got the illusion that they were making a revolution such as had never appeared before among their own people. They were totally ignorant of the early nineteenth century black revolution of the black freedmen in New England under Frederick Douglass; of the newspapers published by that group (The Anglo-American, Douglass North Star, Freedoms Journal). They were ignorant to the relation of the brilliant Caribbean minds to that movement, ignorant of the great contribution of the Barbadian, Prince Hall, who founded our Masons (and didnt call it Masons; Black Masons or anything like that). He called it the African Lodge.
Why were we closer to Africa then than we are now? Why did we have a romance with the word Africa then and were avoiding it now? Why do we want to be something else now, when we were comfortable being African then? When we lose our African connection, we lose our world connection. When we disconnect ourselves from Africa, we cease to be a world people. It is the African connection that makes us an important people of the world. Without the African connection, we are a disjointed people (just hung out), begging for entry into somebody elses house.
As an African people, weve got a big house12,000,000 square miles, full of riches. And people are begging to enter our house to enjoy its riches. We are on the outside, not developing the talent to master those riches and exploit them for the benefit of all African people of the world, or anybody other than European investors. If we stop talking about apartheid long enough, we would realize that the real issue in South Africa is not apartheid. It is European control over the mineral wealth of the world, with the headquarters of that control being in South Africa. Most of the countries that control the mineral wealth of the world are in support of South Africa.
In Cheikh Anta Diops little book on Africa (written over ten years ago), Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, he outlined exactly how the mineral wealth of Africa was taken. He tells us exactly what were going to have to do to take it back and to preserve it for African generations still unborn.
Cheikh Anta Diops work, Civilization or Barbarism, his fifth and last book, has not been published in English. I have not met ten people who have seriously read his work. In this book, written before his untimely death (when a man is great, any death is untimely, even if he dies at 102), he takes off the gloves. He doesnt say maybe anymore; he doesnt hedge anymore; he doesnt say the information points or it indicates. This is his final confirmation of the truth of African history and how African history relates to world history. We know for the first time our place in the history of the world.
My main point is that we have not heard our greatest messengers, and we interpreted as a fight a lot of things in our life which were not fights. Booker T. Washingtons message was one of self-reliance, and we condemn him as being an Uncle Tom because he did not take public stands on many things. Yet, Booker T. Washington could have scratched his head when it wasnt itching, could have shuffled when there was nothing funny; he did achieve something we need to respect him for. He did keep Tuskegee open; he did train a generation of people; he did develop an education system that was good then and is good now.
Had we followed that system and paid respect to him, you would never see a white plumber working in a black neighborhood, because we would have our own. If you live in a brick house, you should have a brickyard; if you wear leather shoes, tan your own leather and make them. Kids used to walk to Tuskegee through three states; they didnt have any money. They would walk their way to school barefoot. Booker T. Washington used this as an opportunity to start a shoe repair shop and later developed courses for designing shoes. For years most of the blacks trained in design of orthopedic shoeswere trained at Tuskegee. Its all gone now; its a liberal arts school (as though we dont have enough of those). We need more good technical training schools, schools where a man or woman will be trained to be a plumber, trained to lay tiles.
A good plumber makes more money than a good college professor. If you can lay tile in a bathroom properly, you make more than a college president. Theres nothing wrong with using your hands and your brain at the same time. If you put those two things together with skill, you go home with nice money. We have forgotten this in the smugness of looking at Hollywood and at the soap operas (the most unreal thing in existence, even unreal to the people who created them).
My point is that when we look at the Independence Explosion that began in Africa in 1957 (with the independence of Ghana), the real genesis of the explosion was a hundred years before. Throughout the whole of the nineteenth century most Africans did not negotiate anything with the Europeans. They did not go to Whitehall; they did not go to Europe and be dazzled with the chandeliers; the smiling ladies and the champagne. They picked up their spears and their shields and went to the battlefield. And they out-generaled some of the finest soldiers of Europe.
There is a good record of it in Edward Rouxs book, Time Longer Than Rope. There is also a record left by the young Winston Churchill, one of the greatest war reporters since Caesar came home from Gaul, about the Sudan, The River War. The people that the Africans opposed and defeated wrote it down. We should read the record of the last of the Ashanti wars led by a woman, Yaa Asantewa, ably supported by men. This was the time of the siege of Kumasi, the great drama of Kumasi. Any history of Ghana includes the story of that war and this brilliant woman.
We keep comparing ourselves with Europeans, but we are not Europeans in temperament. No European would have followed a woman into a war for nine months, giving no quarter and asking none. She had that war won until a great contradiction in history appeared: the famous West Indian Regiment, that she thought was friendly.
She told her men, in effect: Lay down your guns and go out and greet our brothers; theyve come to help us at last. Those brothers were in the pay of the British and had come to do them inand they did.
We should celebrate Yaa Asantewas war. It shows that we have not looked at women in the same way as the European. Even in courtship, when we take the same approach as the European, we are dead wrong. When we take the same general attitude toward women as the European, we are dead wrong.
The European fears women; if he enslaves ours, he enslaves his, too. The only difference, many times, is that the European womans auction block, figuratively, is air-conditioned; but shes on the auction block, too.
When we look at this African Independence Explosion, we must take into consideration that not one African nation came to power using a conventional African structure of government. Every one used an imitation of parliamentary procedure taken from Europe. Its like wearing a coat that wasnt designed for your body and will never fit. The tailor has never seen your body, and, therefore, cannot cut a coat to suit it. This is something you have to do yourself, because you cant wear a tight-fitting coat. You need another kind of coat, politically and figuratively speaking. Africa will never succeed using European parliamentary techniques.
It will never succeed using Christianity or democracy as designed by the European, because the Europeans theorized these concepts, while, in most cases, the Africans lived out these concepts without dogma or without making them into rationales for the conquest of other peoples. The African never used the word democracy.
He never used the word, yet he had more democracy than the European ever dared to practice. This is where some lawyers need to study the African customary court system. When the late Pauli Murray, who was a brilliant lawyer, went to Africa, I asked her, Why dont you study the customary court system in Africa? She never got around to it, but had she studied it, she would have learned that it is democratic to the point of being cumbersome. For example, the accused can examine everybody in the court, including the judge. The case is not closed until the accused calls his last witness, and generally the last character witness is his wife, who will bear witness to his good character and whether he takes care of his family. If that fails to convince, hes guilty as hell.
It is a system that takes the mans total humanity into consideration. Now will we throw away all of that for a European system? Where were you on the night of June 13th? Thats not the issue; besides I cant remember. In an African court the issue is whether you have violated the customary laws that govern the society and having done so, whether you have endangered the whole society. If you have endangered the whole society, then the entire society has a right to call for your punishment. The judge of the case (once you are proven guilty) asks you what sentence you think needs to be passed upon you now that you are proven guilty.
In most cases, the guilty party announces a sentence for himself more harsh than the court normally would put upon him. He participates both in his innocence and in his guilt. This is democracy to the point of being retarding. This kind of trial would last too long in America; but the spirit of what the Africans are doing is worth preserving. In Botswana, among the Bamanwaita people, where the court is called the Kahatla, you bring your stool, your lunch, fresh water and diapers for the children. You sit under a tree. You might come back in three days and find the trial is still going on.
We must rescue these old values, even if we update them, and prune away the excess time involved (because we have to move faster now). We must talk to each other, as we never did before.
When I was growing upbecause there was no such thing as illegitimacyyou didnt turn a girl out just because she had a child out of wedlock. The ladies in the community did gather around her and talk to her and let her know about the danger of this kind of thing, and that it wasnt exactly the right kind of thing to do. The men would gather around the man and want to know, Inasmuch as youre not going to marry this girl, what are you going to do towards her support?
Today, men are impregnating ladies and telling people, None of your business, after all she should have kept her dress down. Girls have to learn how to check people out before they favor them, and if theyre not dependable, not favor them. Youre not going to die. You can go a long ways through life without it; he aint going to die either. Some things can wait until you make a proper selection of someone who you can depend on or believe in.
We need to concentrate on the quality of people we bring into the world. Theres no point bringing someone into the world whos going to be a burden to the society. We want everybody to be a contributor. To be a contributor, a child needs more than mothering; it needs fathering, too. A child needs socialization. If a child is without a father, he shouldnt be without the male image in his life. If we are indeed going to save ourselves, we have to find out not only what we have done wrong, but the number of people among us that we have failed to make accountable to us. Everyone who calls himself or herself a leader must be accountable to us. If they are too sensitive to be accountable to us, then they dont go forth and call themselves a leader. Let us deny them.
Somewhere along the way all of us, in our fascination for foreign toys, political and otherwise, reach the fork in the road. We have seen many roads leading in many directions, and we read the signboards wrong. We went down roads that did not lead us home. We have to go back to the fork in the road and read those signboards again. We have to find a signboard that reads: Unity, African World Federation, Pan-Africanism, African Solidarity. When we see that on the board (the unification of all African people throughout the world, the self- interest of African people first, black and black unity, meaning more than black and white unity), after we go back to the fork in the road (meaning we might have to go back before we can go forward) we may have to recheck ourselves.
We might have to go back and make a principled decision. We might have to build great industries; we might have to start with our underwear. The reason I say start with underwear is because no one is looking at it. If we get our seams wrong, weve got time to get it straight. Then we go to our shoes and our suits. And we learn something that is basic to the re-emergence of modem Japan. There are two things the Japanese would not let their conqueror take from them: their self-confidence and their image of God as they conceived Him to be.
In slavery and in colonialism African people lost their self-confidence. You cannot worship a white spiritual image of authority on the weekend, beg the same image for a job the rest of the week and give full respect to the black father, as the authority image, in the home. You cannot turn viciously on yourself because you do not resemble that white image; you cannot look at that same image as the epitome of everything good and look at the image staring at you from the mirror as the image of everything bad. Psychologically, you cannot save yourself until you love yourself. And you begin with the mirror. You stand in front of the mirror until you like whats staring back at you. You speak to the person staring back at you and say, You and I will start a revolution that will change the world. We will start our revolution right now. I often say that this is tomorrows work, and the time to start tomorrows work is today.
The International Congress for African Studies was held in Kinshasha, Zaire from December 12 to 16, 1976. The main theme of this conference was African dependency and its remedy. The conferees talked about the subject for days without coming directly to the point or asking the right questions, such as, Who progranimed African people into foreign dependency, and how will they overcome this dependency in their immediate lifetime? As one of the conferees, I called attention to the groundbreaking and useful work on the subject done by Cheikh Anta Diop, especially in his book, Africa, The Politics of a Federated State. Part of my brief intervention was as follows:
The theme of the congress, The Dependence of Africa and the ways of Remedying Situation, has long historical roots and many dimensions and we have not touched on all of them. I think most of us know that our papers and our deliberations have not done full justice to the theme of this congress. At best we have located the surface of the theme and scratched it all too lightly. We have given many answers without asking the right questions. Who is to blame for the dependence of Africa, and who is responsible for finding a remedy? Most of us do not seem to be aware of the fact that African thinkers have already asked the question and thought out some answers that are worth serious consideration.
In 1960, Presence Africaine in Paris published a work by the Senegalese historian, Cheik Anta Diop, Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Bases of a Federated State. This book, first published nearly two decades ago, dealt with the theme of this Congress. With all due respects to our papers, and deliberations this week, Professor Diop, in my opinion, brought more to the subject than our combined efforts. In the English edition of the same book, recently published in the United States, he brought his information up to date by first dealing with the Energy crisis, now prevailing in Africa. He stated:
The days of the nineteenth century dwarf states are gone, our main security and development problems can be solved only on a continental scale and preferably within a federal framework before it is too late.
He calls attention to the drain of this nations energy by the major Western powers in the following statement in his book;
Belgian-American interests preparing for the political instability that would prevail in the colonies following World War II, working at maximum rate and beyond, mined all the uranium of the then Belgian Congo in less than ten years and stockpiled it at Oolen in Belgium. The Shinkolobwe mines in Zaire today are emptied having supplied the major part of the uranium that went into the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs. Until 1952, Zaire was the worlds leading uranium producer; now it ranks sixteenth in reserves and has ceased to be counted among the producers. This one example shows how fast our continent can have its nonrenewable treasures sucked away while we sleep.
Professor Diops book is about all the things that we have been talking about here this last week. The origins of African dependence and what can be done about it. His approach is Pan-Africanist and Socialist.
The African-American historian, William Leo Hansberry wrote a shorter work on this subject called Africa, Worlds Richest Continent Professor Hansberry calls attention to the fact that the agricultural and hydro-electric potential of Africa is the greatest in all the world. His findings provoke the question: If Africa is so rich, why are most African people so poor? Who is managing the riches of Africa? The Guyanian writer, Walter Rodney, wrote a history of the origin and growth of this dilemma in his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
The essence of the point that I have been trying to get across is: The problem of African dependency and the search for a remedy is not new. It is part of a crisis that started in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, with the second rise of Europe, the development of the slave trade and the colonial system that followed it.
The dilemma is both topical and historical. This dilemma will not be resolved until all Africa is completely liberated and freed from dependency.
This is not the problem only of the Africans who live in Africa. This is a problem, and a fight, that must be shared by African people everywhere. In this effort to complete the liberation of Africa and free Africa from dependency, we must extend the base of Pan-Africanism into a concept of an African World Union. This should be the mission of the present generation of Africans. It should also be the legacy that we leave for generations of Africans still to come.
In the search for our new place in the African sun and in the respectful commentary of world history, it is necessary that we look at the past in order to understand the present and probably prophesy the future. There are some critical questions we need to ask and answer, mainly, Are African people ready for the twenty-first century? Are we preparing to be free men and women, masters of our destiny or will we continue in the programmed dependency that has been our lot for the past 500 years? I maintain that it is the role of African thinkers, teachers and political leaders to ask the question, How will my people stay on this earth?
In order to survive, some of us have felt the need to live in a form of sick fantasy. Are we as a people ready for the consequences and the responsibilities of being free and self-governing in the next century?
Part of the answer to the question, Are we ready for the twenty- first century? is the statement: African people must first define themselves. They must decide who they are and understand their place in the world.
I have often said that history is the clock that people use to find their political time of day. It is also a compass that they use to locate themselves on the map of human geography.
We are a world people, a potentially powerful people without power and we need to know why. We have been a natural attraction for other people. That was the basis of the crisis in Africa 3000 years ago. This
the basis of the crisis in the African world right now. African people, all over the world, have answered to too many names that they did not choose for themselves. In finding yourself you have to find who you are, and what name you are to be called: (1) Negro; (2) Colored; (3) Black; (4) African; (5) Arab-African (No); (6) Black-African (No). The question is what people did the slave ships bring here ?
African People At The Crossroads
When you want to lose a people from history, you first destroy their self-confidence and historical memory. This is the basis of our dilemma: Our enemy wants us to forget who we were so we will not know what we still can be. This statement is really about conflict in culture and self-confidence. Culture, conflict and self-confidence are reoccurring themes in our lives and in the lives of all people.
With our people, these themes take on a special meaning. We created the worlds oldest culture, and we act as if we are not aware of this fact. We have a conflict within ourselves about how to use culture as an instrument of liberation. If we had confidence in our culture, the second rate cultures of other people would not fascinate us.
What we do not seem to know is that our oppressor, who created the crisis, in most cases is also having a crisis of self-confidence of different nature. The rulers of the world are in trouble because they cannot continue to rule over us. They have developed some skill in taking advantage of our crisis, but we have developed no skill in taking advantage of theirs. We are following a people who do not know where they are going.
Among other things, whites are turning to African religions because Africa is the origin of Eastern religions. Europeans are losing confidence in the gods that they sold to us. European rule over the world has been, and still is, a con-game. We are its victims and we can now decide the game is over. Today, many Europeans are turning toward Eastern and African religions and cults, while more blacks are turning to millionaire gospel peddlers like: Jimmy Swaggert and Billy Graham, who are racists. We live in a world of fantasy, searching for someone to love us, when all we need to do is love ourselves. We need to love ourselves so well that we will begin to make the shoes we wear and the rest of the clothes we wear. We should love to run the stores in our community, and we should do so with pride.
According to the Chicago poet, Haki Madhabuti, We are the only people who turn our children, over to the enemy to be educated. We should start educating our children ourselves. Powerful people never educate powerless people in how to take their power away from them. Education, as I have said before, has but one honorable purpose; that is to train the student to be a proper handler of power. At first power over himself or herself. Our communities are small nations under siege. They are about to be taken away from us because we do not realize that we have no place to go and must now take a stand.
The Way Out
The answer to the question: Are we ready for the twenty-first century is both complex and simple.
We need to look back at the early part of the twentieth century in order to estimate what we might have to do in the early part of the twenty-first century. Between the United States, the Caribbean Islands, South America and Central America, there are over 200 million African people, not including those who are hiding the fact. Taking into consideration the newly discovered Africans on the islands of the Pacific and in other parts of Asia, there are at least 300 million people of African descent living outside of Africa. The Africans in Africa number at least 500 million. How did we get to be called a minority, anyhow? In the next century, there will be at least a billion African people in the world. We will be the second, if not the first, largest ethnic group in the world.
How do we deal with that?
We must look into education for nation-management. We cannot leave it to others to let us know about this. We need to listen to the black men that we have not listened to very well: Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey. Pan-Africanism and African world unity is the real answer. The need is not just to unite against some thingbut to unite for something. When we find ourselves, we will have to understand the role we as a people have played in history and still must play. Nation-management is our only hope.
As Professor Willard Johnson of Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said, We can change the worldif first we change ourselves.
In a nation of immigrants, the black American is really unique. We are the immigrants who came to the Americas
After the middle of the nineteenth century, black Americans in the United States were no longer considered to be African. What to call them has always been a dilemma. W.E.B. DUBOiS reminds us that we were brought to America as temporary immigrants, with the assumption that we would eventually be returned to Africa. He also reminds us that our first institutions bore the name African, such as The African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the African Lodge that became, in actuality, the first black Masonic order established in the United States. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, we began to refer to ourselves as colored or negro. However, neither word has any meaning in reference to the national home base of a people. We did not begin to use the word black until the middle of the twentieth century, during the period of the Supreme Courts decision against segregated schools in 1954 and the rise of the Civil Rights movement after the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955.
The word African again became part of our conscious speech after the African Independence Explosion, starting with the independence of Ghana in 1957. With the rise of the Black Studies concept following the beginning of the decline of the Civil Rights movement, the word black became more acceptable to a larger number of Americans of African descent. With the same consideration being given to the Pan- African concept, the word African once more became a part of our vocabulary. What the Africans living outside of Africa began to understand, especially those living in the United States, is that we are a nation within a nation still searching for a nationality. Italian- Americans, German-Americans, Asian-Americans, and other hyphenated Americans do not seem to have any problems referring to the country and the land of their geography as part of their heritage.
Some of us are just beginning to be comfortable with the word African. Numerically, in the United States, we are more than a nation, although we are sometimes lacking in nation-consciousness. Professor Ivan Van Sertima has said that we have been locked in a 500-year room tragically shielded by a curtain marked Slavery. Our desire to look behind and beyond that curtain is what the concept of Black Studies was all about. We African people of the world, along with the Chinese, are the only people who might number a billion people on the face of the earth. African people are the most dispersed of all of the worlds people. When you consider the fact that between the Caribbean Islands and the large number of African people in South America, especially Brazil, which has the largest number of African people living outside of Africa, there are at least 200 million African people in the Western hemisphere. When you consider the large number of African people in Asian countries and on the Pacific Islands, there are more than 100 million African people living in the Eastern hemisphere. This does not include the 100 million people living in India, referred to in a recent book as the Black Untouchables.
There is a need now to read or reread Sir Godfrey Higgins book, Anacalypsis, originally published in 1833, which deals with the dispersion of African people throughout the world. Our presence and the culture that we have created have influenced the whole world. Because of racism and the colonization of the information about history, we are considered strangers among the worlds people and called many different names in the many places where we live. The name that is applicable to all of us, wherever we live on this earth, is African.
Whats in a name? Shakespeare said, in effect, A rose by any other name is just as sweet. That is all right when you are dealing with roses, but when you deal with people you have to be more precise.
Jesse Jacksons announcement that black people in the United States should be called Africans caused me to sigh with some boredom and ask, What else is new? I, personally like Jesse Jackson and have no fight with him in this regard. His remarks and the numerous radio and TV talk shows that recently discussed the name prove to me that the public pays more attention to politicians than they do to scholars. Since the mass forced emigration of Africans outside of Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, during the slave trade, which contributed to the economic recovery of Europe after the Middle Ages, African people in one way or the other have been searching for their African selves. What we need to learn here is that in the European conquest and colonization of most of the non-European world, they also colonized information about the world.
They knew then what most of us dont seem to know now: You cannot successfully oppress a conscious historical people.
Once a people knows who they are, they will also know what they have to do about their condition. To make a people almost assume that oppression is their natural lot, you have to remove from them the respectful commentary of their history and make them dependent on the history of their conquerors. To infer that a people have no history is also to infer that they have no humanity that you are willing to recognize. African people the world over need a definition of history that can be operational in different places at different times and operational everywhere African people live. Because we are the most dispersed people on the face of the earth, our operational definition of history must be universal in scope, applicable to people in general, and to African people specifically.
This is my definition: I repeat, “history is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. The role of history is to tell a people what they have been and where they have been, what they are and where they are.”
The most important role that history plays is telling a people where they still must go and what they still must be. No people can move into the mainstream of history and be respected when they answer to an ethnic name not of their choosing and worship a God-concept not of their choosing. All people develop within a culture container that includes their geographical background, their religion, and their method of surviving in their original habitat. When you take a people out of the cultural surroundings in which they originally developed, you take away part of their humanity. African people living outside of Africa are so obsessed with surviving under conditions that they did not create that they often lack a universal view of their condition and how it started.
The writer, Lerone Bennett, Jr., has said, We have been named, we should now become namers. In the process of reconsidering ourselves and our role in world history, our initial assignment is to find the proper name for ourselves. The name colored means nothing because all people are colored, one way or another. The name negro should mean nothing to us because there is no such race of people or person. Some Spaniard or Portuguese took a descriptive adjective and made a noun out of it. We as a people are neither a noun nor an adjective. Those who responded, pro or con, to Jesse Jacksons suggestion that we use the name African also clearly indicated that they had not read any of the reasonably large body of literature on the subject. Among some of our scholars this debate has been going on for almost 200 years with small audiences that obviously did not understand the nature of the debate. There are times that when a people answer to a name that they did not choose for themselves they fall into a condition that they also did not choose. If you answer to the name dog, in some ways you will become a dog.
Over 100 years before the abolition of slavery, our scholars were addressing themselves to this situation. They were close enough to the name African to have no compunction about using it. This is a late seventeenth and early twentieth century debate. The Brazilian abolitionists of African descent argued among themselves whether they were Brazilians or Brazilian-Africans. Paul Cuffe, the first black American sea captain was very clear about his African name and his African heritage. In the non-fictional historical writings of our first novelist, William Wells Brown, the word Ethiopian was often used synonymously with African and black as though they were interchangeable. I now refer to the book, Search for a Place, that contains Martin Delanys report on the NigerNew England blacks emerged, they mainly used the name African in their writings and references to African people.
When the Barbadian, Prince Hall, founded the first black Masonic order, he called it the African Lodge. When Richard Allen and other black religious dissidents founded the independent black church, they called this church The African Methodist Episcopal Church. Our first stage comedians were often referred to as the African clowns or the Ethiopian rascals.
Edward Wilmot Blyden, in his famous inaugural address at Liberia College, in 1881, spoke of the images about ourselves that were created by other peoples interpretation of what we are and what we should be. Dr. Blyden said in his address: We shall be obliged to work for many years to come without the sympathy or understanding we need to have. He also said that we as a people are in revolt against the descriptions of African people in travelogues, textbooks and in journals by missionaries and mercenaries. He further explained that we often strive to be those things most unlike ourselves, feeding grist into other peoples mills instead of our own. He concludes, Nothing comes out except what has been put in and that, then, is our great sorrow. Professor Blyden continued this emphasis in other works like, On African Customs, and his greatest and best-known work, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century, when George Washington Williams was writing the first formal history of the African people in the United States, The History of the Negro Race in the United States, he introduced the book with an argument he seemed to be having with himself about the word African as opposed to negro. He must have lost the debate with himself, because in spite of favoring the word African he used negro throughout the two-volume work.
The greatest intellect, in my opinion, that we have produced outside of Africa emerged in the closing years of the nineteenth century. His name is W.E.B. DUBOiS. His book, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States was published by Harvard University Press. Booker T. Washington and his educational theory of self-reliance emerged during the same period. These two minds, using different words and methods, guided the Africans in the United States into the twentieth century. We were now using the word negro or colored in order to distinguish ourselves from the Africans living in Africa and those living outside of Africa. However, the word negro was not extensively used in the Caribbean Islands nor in South America. In his famous appeal of 1829, David Walker had used the word colored. In our publications and documents the name negro became our new mark of identity, as reflected in publications like the Negro Year Book, edited at Tuskegee Institute by Monroe Work. In 1915, when Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and later the Negro History Bulletin, Africans in the United States were more or less settled on the word negro.
The literary movement of the 1920s, sometimes called The Negro Renaissance or the Harlem Renaissance, had its emphasis in two different places: one in the reclaiming of the African past and the other in surviving the conditions that African people had to live under in the United States, the Caribbean Islands, and in South America. Interests merged at this point and some intellectuals began to think of a Pan-African movement that would encompass all the African people of the world. In 1927 the Jamaican, Raphael Powell, seriously questioned the use of the work negro in his book, The Human Side of a People and the Right Name. Mr. Powell dedicated his book to the human race, especially to those who have been taught to believe that they are other than what they are and to those who will think with a mind of reason, logic and common sense ….
Mr. Powells opinion was that Ethiopian was co-ordinate with Mongolian, Malay, Indian and Caucasian as ethnic labels and that the word negro was not only a superfluous term but one that carried with it a connotation of contempt, opprobrium and inferiority. Mr. Powell further stated, Biblical literature has not a single reference to black men as negroes although black men figure repeatedly in Bible lore. He said, In Africa, as elsewhere, neither color nor language can serve as criteria of the homogeneity of race. From Willis Huggins Forward to this book, I extract the following quotes:
If not strange, it is at least unique, that American-born Africans became negroes in common parlance, while American-born Europeans, or Asiatics, remain Italians, Poles, Koreans, Japanese or Tibetans.
Although it is too late for peoples of African descent to trace their lineage to any particular African tribe, yet for all that, they remain Africans.
What is needed in this matter is new education; unbiased instruction which should lead to the recognition of particular African peoples for what they are, i.e., Basutos, Buandas, Nubiaris, Senegalese.
Dr. Huggins summation of Raphael Powells finding is that this will require the preparation of simple texts in ethnology and anthropology by experts and there placed in the common schools and used in lecture forums. Mr. Powell continued his inquiry in other books, No Black-White Church and The Common Sense Conception of the Race Problem. Dr. Huggins further stated that, Mr. Powell is on the right track in running down the word, negro for he sees that just as the word Aryan has come to plague Western Europe today; he predicts that the word negro will rise in the future as a plague to America and the Western world.
Mr. Powells book is the first extensive investigation into the semantics of race as it refers to African people. In the early 1960s
Harlem bookstore owner and political activist, Richard B. Moore, formed a committee to tell the truth about the word negro. Mr. Moore and his committee were of the opinion that the word needed to be dropped from our vocabulary as having no relevance to the identification of a people. In his book, The Name Negro, Its Origin and Evil Use, he said, Slaves and dogs are named by their masters. Free men name themselves. Mr. Moore further stated that the proper name of any people must relate to land, history and culture. He emphasized that black tells you how you look, but it does not tell you what you are. Africa is the home of a variety of people, of many shades and colors, but mainly they are black. Any person in Africa, he further stated, who cannot be referred to as an African, is either an invader or the descendant of an invader.
No disrespect for Jesse Jackson is intended, but I am of the opinion that he has not read one word of this literature of definition that black scholars have been creating for over 100 years.
In the 1968 challenge of black scholars to the African Studies Association, their main disagreement with the white-dominated organization was over the definition of African people in world history. Their explanation for the formation of a new organization, the African Heritage Studies Association, is detailed in their objectives as follows:
The African Heritage Studies Association (ASHA) is an association of scholars of African descent, dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and academic presentation of the historical and cultural heritage of African peoples both on the ancestral soil of Africa and in Diaspora in the Americas and throughout the world.
Aims and Objectives:
a. Reconstruction of African history and cultural studies along Afro-centric lines while effecting an intellectual union among black scholars the world over.
b. Acting as a clearing house of information in the establishment and evaluation of a more realistic African Program.
c. Presenting papers at seminars and symposia where any aspect of the life and culture of the African peoples are discussed.
d. Relating, interpreting and disseminating African materials for black education at all levels and the community at large.
a. To reach African countries in order to facilitate greater communication and interaction between Africans and Africans in the Americas.
b. To assume leadership in the orientation of African students in the United States and orientation of African- Americans in Africa (establish contacts).
To establish an Information Committee on African and American relations whose function it will be to research and disseminate to the membership information on all aspects of American relations with respect to African peoples.
a. To relate to those organizations that are predominantly involved in and influence the education of black people.
b. To solicit their influence and affluence in the promotion of Black Studies and in the execution of ASHA pro grams and projects.
c. To arouse social consciousness and awareness of these groups.
d. To encourage their financial contribution to Black schools with programs involving the study of African peoples.
BLACK STUDENTS AND SCHOLARS:
a. To encourage and support students who wish to major in the study of African peoples.
b. To encourage black students to relate to the study of the heritage of African people, and to acquire the ranges of skills for the production and development of African peoples.
c. To encourage attendance and participation including the reading of papers at meetings dealing with the study of African life and history so that the African perspective is represented.
d. To ask all black students and scholars to rally around ASHA to build it up as a study organization for the
reconstruction of our history and culture.
a. To seek to aid black scholars who need financial support for their community projects or academic research.
b. To edit a newsletter or journal through which ASHA activities will be known.
In the new interest in Pan-Africanism that is gaining momentum throughout the African world, the intent of the Africans is not only to change their definition in world history but to change their direction. Theirs is a hope that Pan-Africanism will spread beyond its narrow intellectual base to become the motivation for an African World Union. This will begin when we recognize that we are not colored, negro, or black. We are an African people wherever we are on the face of the earth.
African people will have to take a three-way look at themselves, using the past to evaluate the present and using the present to prophesy the future. In our long journey on this earth, we have had few friends, if any. All non-Africans who have come among us or been associated with us have clearly shown that they would betray us any time it was in their self-interest. We have never made good alliances with other people. Properly counted, Africans may number a billion people on the face of the earth. With that many Africans in the world, and with some political astuteness, we are in a position to make either alliances that are to our benefit or none at all. We know that the most important alliance we need to make is among ourselves.
To be sufficiently argumentative on the subject of black-white alliances, I would have to speak for a week, and I would still barely exhaust the subject: If there is one thing that can be said about black people that has caused a lot of pain, and yet is historically true, it is that politically we are one of the most naive of people. We have been taken in by practically everything and everybody that has come to us. I think this taking in, this betrayal, has something to do with both our weaknesses and our strengths. If you find the strengths of a people, you will find their weaknesses, because the two are closely related.
In the first place, we have been an extremely humane people. We have been hospitable to strangers, and nearly always to the wrong strangers. Almost all of our relationships with non-African people began with gestures of friendship. More than anyone else in the world, we have repeatedly invited our future conquerors to dinner. There is a need to look at black-white alliances going back 2,500 years.
I think .that the nature of our betrayal by people who come among us, who solicit our help and get it tells us something that is quite frightening, i.e., we are a totally un-obligated people. We dont owe Christianity anything because we created the religion. The Europeans bought it, reshaped it, sold it back to us and used it as a basis for the slave trade. We created Islam; then the Arabs, after years of fruitful partnership with us, turned on us and used Islam to justify their slave trade. We created the concept called socialism: An African king 1300 years before the birth of Christ was preaching the same thing that Karl Marx thought he invented. When the newly-found socialism used us, it turned on us. In looking at alliances, were taking a global view of the African and his humanity and the manifestations of his humanity in relationship to people in other parts of the world.
At one point, there was a disruption within Africa itself. The African Cushites invaded Egypt. The people of the Middle East (again, this tells you something about how we might miss certain points) were buying iron from a city called Meroe in Cush, from which they made iron-tipped weapons, while the magnificent army of Cush was using bronze-tipped weapons; bronze is softer than iron. With the iron bought from the Africans, they could drive Africans out of the Middle East and begin the decline of Egypt. Once again Africans had naively trusted an ally.
You will find this pattern consistent from the Shepherd King alliance to the alliance of American blacks with the American Communist Party. Africans are always a junior partner. If the alliance can be broken without your consent, then it is not an alliance. You are a servant of it instead of being a partner of it. If it is a genuine alliance and a genuine friendship, then collectively both of you decide how it should go and how it should not go. Why are so many of the alliances blacks make with other people dismantled to the detriment of Africans and Africans have nothing to say about them? These alliances arent real alliances and blacks arent partners in them in the first place.
Kohanna was the first African to attempt to drive the Arabs out of Africa. She called them interlopers and said they had no business there. Religiously she was Hebrew, but she advised her nephew and her son to join Islam because it was politic to do so. Her nephew, Tarikbinziad, was the leader of a group of Africans around SenegalMauretania who moved up to North Africa. Now this African, who came from inside Africa and who had joined Islam and made an alliance with it for political reasons, but who for other than political reasons was not even Moslem, knew that the Visogoths and the people controlling Spain were in serious trouble. He sent an army to test out and see what kind of resistance he would face in Spain, and following this, decided to take Spain. This conquest of Spain that is attributed to the Arabs was truly an African conquest.
The Africans again began to make new alliances, and these were effective for 700 years. Why were these particular alliances so effective? (Lets talk about some of the good ones we made.) They were effective because the Africans had the muscle and they called the tunes. The alliances did not break until Africans lost that muscle, and they lost that muscle in arguments with the Arabs.
The Arabs are another overrated people in history, another people who have been both good and bad to the extent that black people dont even know how to make an assessment of them. They have manipulated both blacks and whites depending on the political climate. If the white political climate is good, they are white; if the black political climate is good, they are black. But they are mixed people and always have been. When Islam advanced in East Africa, it did so with a single missionary. He would come into an African village; he would render some service that was needed; he would marry an African woman; he would convert her and then convert her family. Then he would use that family to convert other families. As the Arab moved more and more into Africa, whatever color he was originally, he was getting blacker and blacker. He was dissipating his original physical being into the bloodstream of Africa. This went on for well over a thousand years and is still going on. By no stretch of the imagination can you call the Arabs white people, although there are many who prefer to called white and treated as such. Quite a few act no different from white people in their relationship to us. My point is that this African-Arab alliance was basically good in Spain, because the military arm that held Spain was African.
The Africans entered Spain in 711; they sent another wave into Spain in 1076. The Almohads, in 1240, came from North Africa. The argument between the Almohads and the Almoravids weakened the African hold on Spain until about 1450, when Europe was rising again to its feet, thanks to an internal quarrel between the Africans and Arabs. When these Arabs were expelled in 1492, the year Columbus allegedly discovered America, instead of going back to Africa and building an African nation, these Arabs went down the East coast and began to trade arms with the Africans along the East coast of Africa and continued the Arab slave trade. Thus, the Arabs cannot be freed of any guilt of it. This Arab-African alliance was over now. It had gone bad, and the Arabs encroachment on African countries weakened Africa to the point where Africa could not mount a successful resistance against the Atlantic slave trade. That was disaster. But more disaster would come later on. From 1591 to 1594 the North Africans, themselves black, the emperor of Morocco in North Africa, Yakud Almansur, would send an army across the desert, using an African trader to show the way. They would break up the kingdoms of inner western Africa. Timbuctoo would soon be gone. The great university, Sankore, would soon be gone.
This was in 1594 when the slave trade was 100 years old. These people in inner Africa had great universities. There are still four universities in Timbuctoo alone. Jenne was another city university, and all of this is totally left out of history. These North Africans came down and wrecked this. Now it was Moslem against Moslem. These Africans would tell these Moslems, using white mercenaries with modern arms of that day, We are Moslems, were Moslems, were your kin, and Africans would just go ahead with their slaughter. The tragedy of the breaking up of the great independent states of Africa before the European slave trade could really move was the tragedy of this alliance. Islam and the Arabs will have to share the guilt in this, because at that same time they were breaking up the great African kingdoms in the Western Sudan and West Africa, the Arab slave trade had been intensified along the coast of East Africa. The partnership between Africans and Arabs of those great states had lasted for years. That partnership had now grown sour. Again the partner had turned on the African; the guest had turned on his host, as has happened so many times with us.
The Africans role and influence in Spain collapsed, and the African tried to make new alliances. But none of them would work for very long. The Portuguese entered the Congo and stayed for 100 years. This was an alliance that the Africans could control, they would not allow the Portuguese to build those fortresses that they had built in Ghana to take out the slaves. The Africans would not even permit them to begin the slave trade. When the Portuguese decided to start the slave trade in the Congo, the Africans ordered them out; and they got out.
Why is it that in one part of Africa the Africans ordered the Europeans out, and they had to go, and in the other part of Africa they ordered them out and they refused to go? Were dealing with two kinds of structure; and if we could understand this, we could understand the fragmentation of black movement right now. The slave trade failed in every part of Africa that had a monolithic government, a solid government where one king said yes or no for everybody. When the king and the government said no, and told the Portuguese to get out, they got out. They would move South, but there they would face another great African queen, Ndongo, today called Angola. She would fight them for fifty-two of her eighty-one years. The clearest picture of her as a political figure is in Chancellor Williams book, The Destruction of Black Civilization. Her life begs for better treatment. Politically, she was straight on the mark every time. Can you imagine a woman opposing the Europeans fifty-two years and never making one bad decision? This woman wanted to consolidate all of South East and South West Africa and stretch her kingdom across to the other shore. Nzinga made whatever alliances she had to make, but she always controlled them, and got the best out of them until she died.
In the nineteenth century, certain African kings (I am not using the word chief, because it was invented to keep from addressing Africans as kings) were naive enough to make alliances with Europe ans. Nothing came of these alliances, and when they were betrayed, they went to the battlefield and fought it out. The Africans won more than they lost and managed to frustrate the European presence in Africa for the whole of the century. These Africans who thought there was something to be gained in alliances with the Europeans were sadly mistaken. Along the east coast of Africa after the Portuguese came, certain Africans made alliances with the Portuguese and others with the Omani Arabs. The Africans would, tragically, go to the Omani Arabs and help them against the Portuguese and go to the Portuguese and help them against the Arabs. They did not know that the Portuguese and the Omani Arabs had gotten together against them. They were once again caught in the middle, and tragically naive.
The main point here is that we people really need to take a good look at ourselves and begin to exercise the essential selfishness of survival. Im saying that our first allegiance is going to have to be our blackness or our Africanness. We will have to ask questions and make alliances that are based on our self-interest. If it is not to our self- interest, to hell with it, no matter how good it sounds. There are too many of us who think that we have to become international now. I think when there is an international motif in the politics of the world, our agenda must be looking inward to ourselves first. We have to take inventory of ourselves as a people. We must stop talking about multi- racialism. People in power do not talk about multi-racialism. They talk about their laws, and either you obey them or you get out.
I heard this saying recently in Jamaica: We have no trouble here. Were multi-racial. But the same people who were on top when the colonists were overtly in charge are still on top. The status quo does not change. They spend so much time defending the right of a minority that lives among them without restrictions that nobody talks about that man in the hills. Do you mean in a country that is 98 percent black you want to discuss the white minority Yes. When you live in a European country, you have to obey European law or take the first train out. No argumenteither youre in charge, or youre not in charge. You accommodate your people first and foremost, and if the laws you make to accommodate your people are not good enough for the outsider, then let the outsider go back outside! But we are so hung up with sentiment that we dont know how to handle power. The only way to handle power is to be powerful not to talk about it, but to exercise it. Because were so non-racial, we do not produce that kind of safeguard to protect ourselves. We need some protection from our sentiment, because sentiment and power dont go together. And we can lose some of our naïveté and sentiment without losing our humanity, which is something I cant say for most of the powerful people in the world. In order to lose their sentiment and to deal with power, they lost their humanity and human feelings toward human beings. I dont think we have to do it.
I have to conclude this, though there really isnt a conclusion. What you have to understand is that you stand on the wings of power, and you stand in the wings, ready to come on to the stage of history. And whether you do badly or not, or whether youre ready or not, you cant even stop coming if you want to. It will be left with you to make this a world where no man will have to apologize for his color and no man will have to celebrate it. But, out of your essential Africanness, looking out for yourself and your children first and foremost, you might create an atmosphere where other people need not necessarily walk in fear. Understand me well, I said nothing about forgiving anybody. Im talking about how your energy will be deployed in building first, a social order for yourself and your children and then using your new position to build a social order for the world. Im saying that only out of your nationalism and our Africanness cans this happen.
If African people the world over are to save themselves, they must find a way to reclaim some of the life sustaining things they lost in slavery, colonialism and through the massive anti-African propaganda dispensed by Europeans all over the world. It is basic that African people, and all people, regain their self-confidence and their image of God as they originally conceived Him or Her to be. In the conquest of most of the non-European world, Europes greatest achievement was the conquest of the mind. The Europeans and the Arabs deprived the Africans of the right to call on God in a language of their own creation and to look upon Him in the image of their own imagination.
The total liberation of African people involves more than flag independence. A country that is not economically free is not fully politically free. A people who cannot control or heavily influence the education of their children cannot control the future action of their children, because they are not in charge of their cultural and psycho logical direction.
The education of the African by this former colonial master is a contradiction in terms. Powerful people never educate powerless people in the strategy of taking their power away from them. Education, I have often said, has but one honorable purpose, one alone. Everything else is a waste of time. The role of education is to train the student to be a responsible handler of power.
In Africa, there is a need for a generation of Africans to be educated in Africa by other Africans for the express purpose of serving Africa. All Africans living outside of Africa should be committed to devoting at least part of their time and their talent to the preservation and the enhancement of Africa. The industrialization and the total reconstruction of Africa should not be left to the Africans who live in Africa alone. This should be a world mission of African people wherever they are on the face of this earth.
There is a need for a Pan-African mission that will transcend national borders, cultural and religious differences and political preference. The Africans living in the Western hemisphere should be sensitive to the fact that the slave ships coming from Africa to the so- called New World brought no West Indians, no black Americans, no South Americans. They brought African people who had to adjust to the conditions where the slave ships put them down. It is by sheer accident that some Africans away from home are called Jamaicans, some are called Trinidadians, Barbadians and some are called African- Americans. They are all African people reacting to different forms of oppression.
If Africans everywhere stopped being consumers of the products of other people, and began to produce everything we needed from toilet paper to locomotives, over half of the Africans of the world would be employed furnishing goods and services for each other. In doing this we would not only radically change our economic status, we would radically change the economic direction of the world. We need to remember that for most of the time of our existence on this earth, we did not know about Europeans. We fed ourselves then, and we clothed and housed ourselves. Now we need to adjust to the new condition in the world, regain our confidence in ourselves and announce with this new confidence that if we have changed the world before, we can do it again.
There is a need for an operational definition of Pan-Africanism and African nationalism that will be broad enough to include all Africans in the world. We have lived through the longest and most tragic Holocaust in human history. Every attempt has been made to dehumanize us and deny our humanity. I am of the belief that faith has preserved African people for a special purpose on this earth. We are the only people who can make universal promises and keep them, because we have no designs on the lands or the resources of other people. Part of our mission should be first and foremost to deliver Africa to African people. And from the vantage point of our Africanness, we can give the world a new definition of freedom and responsibility. If this is our mission, it is also the legacy that we can leave for our children and other children still unborn.