If nothing else emerges today in America the deep, proud and popular symbolism that the candidacy of Illinois Senator Barack Obama for US president has spawned now forces Black Americans, as an internally displaced, ostracized, maligned and marginalized people, to confront the lessons of the past in the context of the future. And as we celebrate yet another month focusing on the achievements of Black Americans the past has indeed come together in the present.
As Black people all over the world from the ghettos of Detroit to the Black enclaves of the Deep South to the domino rum-shops of Barbados, Grenada or Trinidad and Tobago or the beer halls of Soweto and tenement yards of Jamaica celebrate this photogenic, educated and charismatic Black man who would be president of the United States one can’t help but remember the worlds of one of Africa’s greatest statesmen Nelson Mandela who reflecting on Black progress poignantly asked rhetorically “how far we slaves have come?”
Moreover, the methodologies that brought Blacks as a people thus far have been varied, bloody, difficult and sometimes tragic but all has contributed to that body of work and experience called Black History. Perhaps the greatest weakness inherent in all of this is the difficulty of utilizing Black, especially African History, as one of the tools – weapons if you will – in the ongoing struggle for Black liberation. So that the Obama Example is not seen or viewed as an isolated, flash-in-the-pan sort of abnormality but the culmination of a long and difficult march forward of an oppressed people using the lessons and experiences of African History in the service of Black History in America.
But there is, admittedly, a serious dilemma. This stems from the historical demeaning of African people as inferior, lazy, debauched and having only the basic intelligence capacity that elevated the race just above that of beasts of the field to justify white dominance and brutality even as Blacks are placed in the invidious and disadvantageous position of having to justify the race’s very existence by Africa’s antecedents. In a nutshell, Black people have still today to prove their very humanity while that of their oppressive, brutal and ignorant oppressors are taken for granted.
This of course distorts the dialogue in that the starting point for Black people is to prove that as a people they had a civilization and contrary to what has been written Africa gave the world many great gifts. On an individual level this predicament forces Blacks to say to other Blacks who have been bombarded with the pervasive and systematic distortions of Black history and the devaluation and unimportance of the African antecedent the following: “We do have an historical past. You have been led to believe the worst about Africa. That is what white people told you and wrote about Africa. They are wrong.”
Having affirmed the importance of the African antecedent the next matrix is to demonstrate that Black contemporary history and struggles for equality, justice and political power is not today an isolated distraction but a continuation of a process that started, in the case of America, many centuries ago when the first African was brought here as a slave. Therefore African history and the African antecedent is as relevant today as it was when Blacks were being auctioned off on the block on Wall Street. To deny or reject this is to flirt with irrelevancy.
"All men were originally Black. But when Cain killed his brother Abel, and God shouted at him, Cain was so frightened that he turned white and his features shrunk up, making him the first white man."
- Old African Griot saying.
Long ago in the days of old, African storytellers (griots) told of the greatness of African civilization and accomplishments that dated back many years before the coming of Jesus Christ. These "word of mouth historians," handed down from generation to generation glowing reports of how great African kingdoms and civilizations made impressive strides in mathematics, astronomy, commerce, music and the construction of magnificent cities and towns. These are things that are not taught in many schools today and are only revealed after careful study and research – something that the poor working mother with two children and an apartment on Flatbush Avenue or 125th Street in Harlem does not have the time to do.
So, as we celebrate Black History in 2008 lets listen to the Griots and the Talking Drums, let them tell our story, not his-story.
In today’s modern fast-paced world most Black people, especially in America, are too preoccupied with just surviving to allocate any time to reflecting on the glorious African Past. To many, African education is based on the evening news on CNN or some other network that’s only interested in spinning the latest gory tales of sundry dictators and strutting local generals-cum-political leaders. Either that of the glee derived from stating with authority that Africa is being devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Nary a mention of what Africa gave the world and continues to give to the world. And that is why Black History, with all its inadequacies born of a limited time frame, is still a step, a ray of hope that the true story of Africa will at least be told correctly.
Indeed, the griots say, when white Europeans were eating raw meat and jumping about in caves, Africa's flourishing kingdoms were domesticating animals, smelting iron, and utilizing fire to cook food. But without a doubt no history or culture of a people has been so deliberately distorted, twisted and misrepresented by the same people who copied, stole and "borrowed" the greatness of Africa, and shamelessly called them their own. In many ways the tendency to put a Eurocentric spin on the African Antecedent has caused it to be painted with the brush of racism, bigotry, and deliberate attempts to inculcate in the minds of Blacks the idea that their African heritage is something to be ashamed of, to be spoken of only in hushed, muted tones, and to be rejected and denied.
"How is it possible to talk about the "glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome" without understanding the mysteries of Egypt?" – asked the Griots.
But how can one realistically speak of the glory of Greek civilization without mentioning African civilization and development as the Griots asked? The Greeks, to the distant north of Africa, erroneously saw themselves as the center of the universe and had a stereotypical myth to explain how Africans came to be Black. They said that Phaeton drove his sun chariot too close to the earth and scorched only the people of Ethiopia. That is how hitherto white skin turned Black and so originated the Black African. How could a people touted as so educated and cultured reach such an ignorant, absurd, illogical and unscientific conclusion?
This erroneous, foolish and groundless claim was the basis for the Biblical explanation about how Black people came into being. The so-called curse of Ham who looked upon his father's nakedness is used as sufficient "proof" about how Africans became Black. What white Europeans did was to embellish the old Greek hogwash and offer up the finished product as fact in a deliberate technique to make Africa and Africans – and therefore anything Black – inferior, evil, lazy and untrustworthy. But even in their haste to distort history these folks “borrowed” from African religious myths and teachings.
THE AFRICAN ACCOUNT OF CREATION