Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Overcoming Ethnocentrism as a Prerequisite for Decolonization

To add to my last post about refocusing our attention to dis-embedding; removing ourselves from the system as much as we possibly can, there's also another very important pre-requisite to implementing pre-colonial/healthier ancestral cultural practices into our present lives as a form of decolonization.

firstly, we have to learn and understand the lifestyles, innovations, mentalities, and overall cultures of indigenous/ pre-colonial/ pre-industrial peoples of the world. secondly (or perhaps simultaneously), we have to learn to see these practices and lifestyles as, at the least, equal to if not superior than our current practices and overall system.

the ways in which we often learn about pre-industrial practices is within an atmosphere of pre-supposed superiority. we don't learn about migrations and movements that took place; we don't learn about the ingenuity of certain practices; we don't learn about the interconnectedness of spirituality with culture with governing (or lack thereof). we assume that all the best, most ingenious, better, healthier, safer, and humane practices have taken place after colonialism and industrialism. this is known as ethnocentrism, as has to be done away with. in anthropology, it was sired into my brain, almost ad nauseum. the reoccurring thread throughout all of my anthro courses was: there are no superior cultures in the world, only different ones. and personally (although ironically/contradictingly), what i took away from most of those classes was the understanding that almost everything in western cultures has a better pre-industrial/pre-colonial alternative that doesn't require capitalism, racism, colonialism, slavery, globalization, or mass exploitation. and the things they did not have were things that were better not to have.

take for example, medicine (the term used in anthropology for Western medicine is 'biomedicine', so that's the term i'll use for distinction). there is an assumption in the West, and probably worldwide, that biomedicine is the best, most superior form of medicinal worldviews; better than whatever you get when you go to a shaman or traditional healer or herbalist. the average American, and even many non-westerners who grew up going to traditional healers, see traditional healers as archaic in comparison to biomedical doctors. taking a pill is seen as better than drinking a bitter tea or tonic. an ob/gyn has become more acceptable, more prestigious than a midwife. and why? on what grounds are biomedical doctors superior to all others? what makes the present state of medicinal technology and practices superior to the medicinal technologies of our ancestors?? what skills do biomedical officials have without electricity and modern technologies??
biomedical doctors to me, are analogous to Rihanna or any modern pop singer - without a producer, choreographer, beat-mater, lyricist, stylist, a record company with billions of dollars to back her up, and personal trainers, she's just a pretty chick from Barbados who can't dance and can barely hold a note. but with all this stuff; all these people around her, everyone thinks she's the shit. but when you get down to the skills - there are none. a Peruvian bonesetter that gets paid in chickens and guinea pigs, who probably doesn't speak the major language, who has never stepped foot in a classroom and may not be literate, who can set a bone better and faster than anyone else is where the skill is. THIS is where the respect and reverence and praise is due.

if you look at anything - be that statistics, mathematical averages, patient treatment/care, or sustainability - non-western medicine wins on almost everything. statistically, traditional bone-setters know much more about the skeletal system than do biomedical ones. they reset broken or fractured bones much more efficiently and straighter than biomedical ones, and they do it with a much faster recovery period. on average, the patient satisfaction is much higher and the care encompasses not only the broken bone but also the mental/emotional/spiritual being of the person with the broken bone. factoring in sustainability, one simply needs a cold of hot compress, basic motor skills, and knowledge passed down from generations to generations on the human body and healing methods to fix these issues. contrast this with an x-ray machine which took thousands of dollars to make and purchase, made up of minerals and elements probably minded in Africa by someone risking their life, getting paid crumbs once every three months if they're lucky, which also is probably contributing on some level to deforestation, culture loss and erasure, and economic instability in these nations where these minerals are obtained. in other words, something as simple as a x-ray machine is NOT sustainable - not ethically or economically or environmentally. and all that for a bone that isn't going to be set as well as with a traditional bonesetter! not to mention having to pay a couple hundred to the doctor for even seeing you. not to mention those that don't even have medical insurance to help with the payment. and even then, what happens if there is no electricity? when there is something wrong with the machine? so i ask again, on what grounds are these methods and practices superior? because i'm not seeing them.
yet we have come to see everything in this system as better, but it is clearly not. anything from diet to lifestyles practices to animal husbandry to birthing practices are all better on multiple levels than the methods and practices we have in this system.

and if you look around to the rich, to the knowledgeable, to the people who spend years researching these types of subjects, you'll notice that many of them are returning to traditional methods. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making a killing in the US and has been for some time. Ayurvedic medicine is a close second. and presently, within anthropology, Native American practices and beliefs from Central and South America are beginning to gain much respect. almost all of these alternatives to biomedicine have been turned to by Westerners because they have cured issues that biomedicine has not. people with neurological diseases or ailments are going to get acupuncture and tonics from TCM specialists. organ and blood and skin issues that biomedical doctors know nothing about and cannot even name are being healed with Ayurvedic combinations of herbs and subscriptions for exercise. mental illnesses which biomedical doctors have been prescribing pills for that turn people into zombies are being cured by Peruvian and Mexican and Columbian shamans. to me, this says a lot.

after we know and understand these methods, especially those of our respective ancestors, then we can compare and contrast them to that of biomedicine. only then can we implement these practices into our present lives.
in communities focused on removing themselves from the western system, we have to bring back the traditional healers, the herbalists, the mid-wives, the star-gazers, and the general innovators. all of these aspects of our ancestral cultures have to be brought back. furthermore, they have to be truly revered. with as much pressure there is in this system to give into Western practices, one can and will only choose otherwise when they know enough to make that choice; when they know the pros and cons of both; when they genuinely respect their ancestral practices. only then can we return to these practices with vigor and respect; not with anguish feeling as though we have lost something or that something good is being taken away from us. this type of mentality is necessary for any decolonization methods and for removing ourselves from this system.

comment. think. criticize.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Don't Fight for Your Rights; Dis-embed from the System

i've been involved a lot recently in some Southern Texas organizations and unions, which my best friend is involved in. one of the events i attended recently was a rally in Florida, hosted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to encourage Publix to pay a living wage to the farm workers that pick their fresh produce. oftentimes, farm workers are in modern-day slavery situations and can barely feed themselves with the minuscule wage they're paid for strenuous labor.
Tonight, i attended a documentary screening that focused on the United Farm Workers (UFW) group that does similar work as the CIW. something that stuck out to me in the documentary was the never-ending struggle to get something; demand something from the system. either the fight is getting short hoes banned from the crops (because they contribute to back issues of farm workers), or getting restrooms in the fields, or allowing farm workers to claim something for their families or taxes or work benefits or minimum wage.

what i'm most interested in firstly, is firstly, the removal from and breaking down of the system. and secondly, the cultural implementation of our respective ancestral societies; gaining cultural knowledge and implementing it into our lives as a form of decolonization, as an alternative.

on the first point, i believe there are a multitude of ways in which one can dis-embed themselves or their communities from the system, but i question to what degree we seek dismantle completely this system. there is no half-way with breaking down the Western, industrial/post-industrial, globalization, capitalistic system whose foundation is sustained by a permanently exploited underclass. one has to go all the way or not at all. there is no...working within the system to change it; there is no "reform". the things of this system cannot be had without exploitation. this country could not have been built and thrived for as long as it has without the enslavement of Africans, the dehumanization of Native Americans, and more currently, globalization. so this idea that we can fight and fight and protest for fair wages and humane treatment until this system is livable for the majority of its people is impossible. this will never happen because of the foundation and basis of this system. at its core, it is exploitation, slavery, dehumanization, and ruthlessly capitalistic. there is nothing to salvage. there is only a complete breakdown and rebuilding from the ground up.

to illustrate my point, let's look at the issue of farm workers being treated like animals and being paid damn near nothing. as opposed to fighting for one thing after the other...forever, i think the focus needs to shift to the concept of the grocery store - without which, there would be no need for such high rates of fresh produce, thereby eliminating even the possibility of exploitative farm worker practices. the super market is something many of us have grown up with and see as completely normal and even necessary. however, historically is all cultures, prior to the industrial/colonial ages, the market or one's family garden is where one got their food from. the modern grocery store in which one can purchase food from 20 different states and 3 different continents, all for fairly affordable prices cannot happen without some level of exploitation. furthermore, grocery stores are not necessary for human life. our ancestors lived without them for most of human history, so why do we sustain the idea that it is vital to human life?

the fight should be in encouraging people to stop shopping at grocery stores, teaching gardening, moving to areas in which land is fertile, abundant, and affordable where we can grow our own food - healthy, fresh, ethical, and off the system. this aids in the breaking down the system.
within anthropology, it is known that, contrary to popular belief, industrial/ post-industrial societies in which there are large portions of land devoted solely to the production of food in high quantities have the highest rates of starvation. western societies actually produce more food and have higher numbers of starvation than any other type of food subsistence societies (e.g., agricultural, pastoral, and hunter/gatherers). in other words, the grocery store and the strenuous labor that goes into picking fresh produce everyday is largely unnecessary. grocery stores and high food production are not needed to feed America - they are needed to make profits.

the refusal to use the grocery store is simply one of the examples that i'm using to show that the focus of our struggles should be shifted. fighting within the system further embeds us within it because now we feel as though we'd be taking it for granted since we fought for it. this is the same type of argument i heard from people when i said i was not voting. "but our people fought for the right to vote! you're disrespecting them!". yes, thy fought for it because that was their focus at the time and i appreciate that i have that right. many of them had the belief that the system simply is broken and needs fixing. i have the belief that the system is not broken, it was built that way and will stay that way no matter how many sit-ins, protests, parades, rallies, or fasts we do. i don't want to change the system. i want to dismantle it completely.

to my second point, the dis-embedding/de-colonization from the system has to take place simultaneously with education of what our ancestors were doing, in their respective areas. certain foods and lifestyles for arid areas such as in the south west corner of the country and parts of Mexico have been developed by the Native Americans that lived here - those in this area have to tap into that, especially those whose ancestors populated these areas. as an African, my departure point for dis-embedding myself from the system and finding alternative ways to those i was taught lies largely in West Africa. medicine, diet, child-birthing and pregnancy practices, spirituality, farming and food subsistence knowledge, astronomy, familial relations, educational practices, and other beliefs are all critical for dis-embedding oneself from the system. without that knowledge, we have no tried and tested alternatives for societies. we should return to the ways of our ancestors (for the most part) not only because they were tried, tested, and were viable for for much of human history (in other words, they worked and functioned largely without mass enslavement and exploitation), but because they are also best suited for us, given our respective ancestral origins. for example, the diet that is probably best for me is one from West African pre-colonial societies. were it not for food fortified (produced from post-industrial food productions, again) with vitamin C in northern US and European areas, Black folks could not even survive in cold climates such as those in those areas (see rickets). it is important for us to know and our ancestral lifestyles in order to know what is best for us as we transition and remove ourselves from this type of system. what type of environment were our bodies acclimatized to? what types of foods were our bodies used to? what types of spiritual practices and beliefs did our ancestors have? what were their healing methods? - all of these questions we have to ask ourselves and find out when dis-embedding ourselves from the system and building viable ones for our communities.

for Black Americans, there always seems to have been some type of push to know and become acquainted with Africa. but right now, and what i feel has been missing from the larger collective, is the knowledge to be able to live outside of this system. as opposed to fighting that we be treated like human beings and not guinea pigs within the medical industry, we need to be learning traditional bone-setting techniques, herbal knowledge, West African birthing practices and belief, spiritual links with mental illnesses, understanding issues from a holistic perspective - as almost all of our ancestors did. the often-heard narrative is: "we need our own enterprises and industries! we gotta own our own hospitals and banks!" right, so we can do the same thing white folks are doing with it? no, we need our own communities to implement much more healthier, self-sustaining, and communal practices and leave white folks shit to white folks (although, even they have a much healthier and ethical past they need to reconnect with). we (Black folks) didn't have banks in West Africa (and most societies in Africa) because one's family is who one goes to when they need a loan or a favor. there was never a need for a bank. and if we know and understand this, and start implementing stronger familial ties, or use of banks will also diminish. can we see how these two things are tied to one another?

while i applaud any POC who fights for what they want within whatever system or situation they may be in, in whatever way they see fit, i think that we have to understand the limitations of this system. we cannot all want grocery stores fully stocked with 50 different types of fresh produce for affordable prices and ethical treatment of everyone involved in that process. unfortunately, within this system, there is only either/or. the struggle, as i see it, is no longer in protests in the streets and city court houses and the white house or the voting booths - it is in the minds of our people, and getting those minds and spirits aligned with our healthier ancestors whose societies didn't thrive slave labor and poverty.

comment. think. criticize. learn. grow. sustain.

and as a side for Black Americans, note that i've been saying 'West Africa' as opposed to simply 'Africa'. many of us tend to look to all of Africa, especially East Africa, for lifestyle adjustments. which is fine, but when we talk about ancestors, that means specifically West Africa because we did not descend from ancient Egyptian or Ethiopian societies. we descend from peoples as far up as Senegal, and as far south as Angola with some estimates also showing heavy cultural influence from Bantu-speaking peoples and other central African cultures. these are the societies we have to focus on as cultural blueprints.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Moon Cycle pt.1 - Birth Control

recently, i've just finished up a physical anthropology class on a biocultural approach to human variation. one interesting thing i learned from the textbook from the course, was on a section discussing fecundity, fertility, and menstruation. here is the excerpt:

In U.S. women, weight loss as a consequence of caloric restriction dieting and high energy expenditure as a consequence of voluntary aerobic exercise are associated with increases in menstrual irregularity and lower hormonal indices of ovarian function. both are also associated with diminished fecundity [which differs from fertility in that fertility is the number of children a female has produced, whereas fecundity is the reproductive ability to reproduce] in epidemiological studies. in a study in Washington State, for example, it was found that women who exercise more than 1 hour a day or who are less than 85% of conventional weight-for-height standards [BMI] are five to six times more likely to be unable to conceive within a year of trying than non-exercizing, normal-weight women. the degree of weight loss or exercise necessary to produce a measurable effect on ovarian function does not need to be severe either. although highly trained endurance athletes may show profound suppression of ovarian function, often to the point of amenorrhea [loss of menstruation], moderate energetic stress appears to produce moderate suppression of ovarian hormone levels in a dose-response manner, often without any change in menstrual regularity. The effects are also readily reversible on weight gain or cessation of exercise regimes. 
similar effects can be observed in other populations in which variations in energetic state are not matters of individual choice and where energy expenditure occurs in the context of traditional subsistence work, rather than recreational exercise. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, for example, weight loss has been associated with reduced ovarian hormone levels, whether occasioned by low energy intake or high energy expenditure. the Lese women of DRC are subsistence farmers. in many years, if conditions have not been good, they experience “hunger seasons” preceding the next year’s harvest, which begins in November  in populations studied in Nepal, workload is a primary factor; these women live in the Himalayas and travel with heavy workloads among fields situated at different altitudes. Polish farm women and rural Bolivian agropastoralists also show variation in ovarian function during seasons of heavy manual labor; the degree of ovarian suppression correlated with average workload. variation in female fecundity due to energetic stress can translate into variation in fertility, both for individuals and for populations. the age at first pregnancy among Maya women in rural Mexico declined from 21.2 to 19.5 years after the introduction of new, labor-saving technology into an agricultural community. the new machines markedly reduced the physical labor required to grind maize into corn flour and to collect water. in Ethiopia, drilling water wells in rural areas reduced the time women spent carrying water from 3 hours to 15 minutes per day. it also caused the median time interval between births to drop by about 6 months…
the sensitivity of female fecundity to female energetics is likely a product of natural selection. the energetic investment that a woman must make in reproduction is both substantial and relatively inelastic. studies of the energetics of pregnancy and lactation have shown that women must make physiological needs to meet the demands of reproduction. thus, the ability to meet these demands and the cost that must be paid in meeting them is at least partly a function of energetic state. a woman hard-pressed to meet her own metabolic needs is less likely to reproduce successfully without paying too high a price in terms of her own survival probabilities.”

what's interesting about this is that i've spoken with numerous women, and one just a few weeks prior to reading this, about her irregular cycle and maybe the fear that she didn't know what was going on coupled with an aversion to going to an ob/gyn. i personally (and politically) have issues with the medical system as a whole. the medical system in this society (biomedicine) has a host a issues existent on multiple levels. aside from the fact that biomedicine is based on a faulty, exploitative, and euro-centric foundation, it is a business. and in a capitalistic setting such as this country, anything ran under a business model (education, healthcare, etc.) is bound to have vultures who are more interested in profit than helping those seeking their services. the pharmaceutical industry alone, is a billion dollar industry that consistently sends out under-researched medicines, doctors and nurses who only think inside the mold (classic medical diagnoses and "cures"), in junction with detached patient-doctor relationships.

take the birth control pill, for example. although women have been complaining about everything from abdominal pain to excessive bleeding with IUD's, rings, and other methods, the pill also has its share of drawbacks. mood swings, hormonal imbalances, excessive bleeding, no menstruation, menstruation for extended amounts of time (i've heard or women being on their periods for 2 months straight), low libido, headaches, depression, and even issues with fertility when getting off the pill (see here, here, here (a study linking bc use to prostate cancer), here, here (what happens when you go off the bc pill after years of having been on it), and here). anything that rids your body of menstruation (unless you are inter-sex or have genetic issues that affect your reproductive system) is doing some damage to your body. there is no safe alternative.

i think there is a thread within western thinking that makes us believe not only that we can control nature; natural occurrences, but also that we should, in some sense. this conquering and dominating mentality is existent within everything from colonialism to the ways in which we see the human body. we believe that there are no consequences to this manipulation, when there most certainly, and generally, ALWAYS, is. there are drawbacks to wanting to control the earth, to wanting to control all the peoples on the earth, to wanting to control something as inevitable death. the same goes for the human body - when you try to manipulate, control, dominate, and change natural occurrences in your body, you put yourself at risk for a host of issues, ailments, and reproductive damage (sometimes irreversible). the idea that we can have sex without the fear for a child is a great one, but it shouldn't be achieved at the expense of our health.

with all that in mind, take a look back at the quoted portion. how many women know that exercise effects our menstruation and ovulation? how many women have gone to their gyno with irregular periods, caused by exercise or other strenuous activities, and been thrown on a pill as opposed to being informed about the effects certain activities have on one's cycle? why do doctors seek to put us on pills as opposed to informing us about natural occurrences of our bodies?

but on another note, can we not see this knowledge with the potential to be a form a birth control? with a few clinical trials researching what types of exercise effect the cycle and in what ways, it can potentially replace the pill, no? for example, if we found that working out 4 times a week for an hour using a medium level intensity could offset one's ovulation by 40-50% and combine this knowledge with herbs and foods that induce menstruation (such as Black Cohosh), we can have a strong birth control method. it probably won't be 98% effective (which is the supposed effectiveness of the pill), but again, that level of control comes with drawbacks. herbalists, mid-wives, and healers from indigenous societies have this knowledge. it simply has to be tapped into and given its due respect. understanding and working with the body is where we need to be headed in reference to health (amongst other things). and with that, i think there will be less occurrences of all the issues we see relating to menstruation and birth control.

beyond these proposed birth control methods, however (which goes into a post a did a while back), this society needs to be more welcoming and supportive of women and couples that have children they may not be ready for in one way or another (be that emotional, financial, etc.). after all, the reason that most women are on the birth control pill is not because they do not wish to have children, but because of external constraints they have to adhere to (finishing up a degree within a certain time, obtaining a certain job, or just generally having a trainwreck of a life).

comment. think. criticize. peep the pt. 2

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Limitations of Black Humanism

              Humanism is the ideology based on a commitment to human beings as the molders of their own destinies. In contrast to theistic religions and belief systems, humanism is largely composed of non-religious individuals, many of whom reject the idea of a god and see theistic religions as placing too much focus on god rather than human life and experience. While a minuscule portion of the Black global population consider themselves non-religious and/or Humanist, those that have rejected religion have argued that, given the treatment that Blacks have endured for centuries, one would expect more Blacks to have rejected god, or at least religion. Humanism seems to the Black humanists, then, to be a more logical stance than believing in a god that allowed the oppression that Blacks and others have endured throughout the centuries. With the absence of religion, some non-religious have felt a type of void in their lives without the church and the social settings that revolve around it. This has led some Black humanists to foster outreach campaigns to the Black population in attempts to get them to reject religion, as well as god. Ultimately, they hope that most Black people will find different means of social gatherings outside religious institutions. But is this the route the Black community should be taking in present-day? In this paper, I will be discussing the limitations of humanism as it applies to the lives of Black people and ways in which it can be resolved and broadened.

            In discussions between Black Christians and Black non-religious humanists, Black Christians will often cite the affair between Black people and religion dating back to African antiquity to show the foreignness of being non-religious. Prior to Christianity and Islam, Black people have been deeply grounded in what might be called “religion”. Some Black Christians and Muslims have even suggested that they have been worshiping the same god our ancestors were worshiping  They argue that labels such as atheism and agnosticism are not only incompatible with the lives of Black people but it also goes against our ancestral tradition (and thus, our ancestors) and practically an inherency of theism in Black people. Humanism, then, would also be as foreign as anything else originating in Europe. Similarly, this type of thinking is at the root of the feelings of claims that suggest atheism, agnosticism, and humanism are incompatible with “Blackness”.

            Humanism, impartial to “race”, is an ideology rooted in Europe and European thinking. Many leading humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and others have made it paramount in their lives to advance the acceptance of non-religious individuals, namely atheists. They all have written numerous books, hosted tours across various nations giving lectures at book stores and college campuses against “religion”, and have taken part in debates against Christians and Muslims on topics such as “Should Religion Be Taught in Public School?” They have come to represent a type of club that holds science, reason, and logic to a superior standard, while holding all else to that of an inferior status. These atheists have taken a type of aggressive and antagonistic approach to those that choose to believe in a god, specifically Christians. Correspondingly, Black humanists have taken an almost mirror example and applied it to the Black communities in hopes of provoking the same reaction that white humanists have received from the larger society.

            However, something I think many Black humanists fail to consider when attempting to transfer this ideology into Black communities is that many of the white Humanists have no understanding of race, racism, race relations, and usually no concept of their place in society in contrast to those of people of color, specifically in the west. The hypocrisy of many of these white popular atheists is not one the Black humanists should be trying to emulate. For example, when white humanists speak about placing humans at the forefront of our discourses, one has to question how much of a priority these humanists put the human experience when they have done little to nothing for those suffering around the world. Hosting debates on whether or not Jesus Christ actually existed and spending thousands of dollars and pounds to get Fredrich Nietzsche quotes on the sides of buses does not place the human at the center of discourse. To date, I am unaware of any philanthropic endeavors or campaigns from any prominent atheists that haven’t been solely for the purpose of expanding anti-religious ideas. Furthermore, these white atheists, while purporting to be above social indoctrinations, still seem to be quite embedded within it.

Recently, it was shown that Richard Dawkins’ family estate was built by enslaved Africans in Jamaica. Like many whites who discover one of their ancestors owned enslaved humans, Dawkins disregarded and dismissed the issue as irrelevant to his life. While this would be expected of most white people, Dawkins has built up this image as that of a humanist who places humans, human interaction, and human experiences at the forefront of all discourse. It is not only hypocritical, but almost racist to dismiss such a horrible history that most definitely contributed to the fact that he was raised in a comfortable and safe environment, whose parents had the money (that had been, in part, passed down to them from slave labor) to send him to a prestigious college, enabling him to be who he is today – an upper-class Brit with a nice amount of wealth to his name. How the descendants of those his grandfather owned have fared in Jamaica and their feelings about this discovery is of no importance to him, thus showing the hypocrisy in this doctrine of humanism. Furthermore and generally speaking, one should note that none of these atheists have spoken out against any racist, capitalistic, imperialistic, or colonial endeavors that aid in killing and oppressing people of color, outside of making points for atheism. They may spend chapters in their books on showing the barbarity of Christianity in that it supported slavery, or ways in which churches have aided in wars, but speaking on racism and modern-day slave conditions of people all over the globe is something one is hard-pressed to find from them. Ultimately, Humanism has been used by upper/middle-class, cis, white, western males to place their issues of religious alienation at the top of the priority list for human advancement and progress, while disregarding the experiences of people of color, women, and those struggling financially.  

When Black Humanists attempt to bring this ideology into Black communities, many are not considering that humanism cannot be applied in the same way to Black people as it has been to whites. Many do not realize or want to acknowledge that the criticisms of the aforementioned white atheists of indigenous forms of religious belief are racist. When ideas that many indigenous cultures partake in such as body modification, animal sacrifice, and fasting for spiritual reasons are looked at as backwards, maniacal, or simply “crazy”, those criticisms cross the line into being racist. Westerners have always regarded the religious beliefs of non-Europeans (and even pagan Europeans) as heathenish and barbaric in reference to their religious beliefs (amongst other things). The attitude of mainstream white (and many Black) atheists is no different from these colonial mindsets. Not only do few, if any, of white atheists understand or even care to know the complex multitude of reasonings behind these rituals and practices, but they also homogenize these practices and beliefs under the vague and ambiguous label of “religion”, thereby adding to the erasure and marginalization of these cultural practices as well as the overall cultures. So when Black Humanists try to spread Humanism or even atheism within the Black community, they have to understand the shortcomings of white Humanism.

I have argued previously that Christianity has been deleterious and detrimental to the Black communities worldwide. Not only is it foreign to Black people, but it has been used as an instrument of colonialism and has resulted in divisions between Black people and separated us from our tradition beliefs. Christianity has also kept the Black global communities in somewhat of a submissive mentality since its invasion into African cultures. However, it should be noted that my comments are not aimed at “religion” in broader definitions of the word (or spirituality), nor is it in reference to various indigenous theological concepts. I feel that monotheism and the religions that have aligned themselves under these religious labels (e.g. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) have been detrimental to the Black communities, but I do not think that theological concepts overall have been problematic. In fact, I would argue that traditional concepts of god/deities/god-like entities such as Orishas, Ifa Divination, and the like, have been strengtheners in the lives of Black people. Black Humanists fall short when they do not make a distinction between beliefs such as theology and spirituality or belief systems and religion. And when speaking to Black people, one always has to take into account that of our ancestors and the traditions we originate from.  

            Recently, African-American Humanists posted billboards in separate cities across the nation that said things such as “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many – African-American for Humanism ” These quotes are accompanied by pictures of prominent Black figures that questioned Christianity like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston alongside present-day self-professed Black humanists. The point of the billboards was to get the Black religious to open up dialogues questioning, and probably ultimately rejecting religion. Many white humanists have done similar, posting billboards on the sides of public transportation vehicles and subway hallways. But again, Black humanists have taken from white humanists what is problematic even within their ilk. One in four Black people are living in poverty, many more are nearing it, and the largest group in prison is Black males, yet this is what Black Humanists choose to spend thousands of dollars on? Again, how can it be said that humans are at the center of this ideology when it seems to be much more of individual agendas and non-religion than human beings and the human experience?

            Although I would agree that Black people should reject Abrahamic religions, and despite considering myself an atheist, I do not think Black people should give up religious beliefs altogether. The religious beliefs of Black people have added to our complex and multi-dimensional worldviews as well as our lives. Traditional belief systems can not only add to our perspectives today and aid in our daily lives, but they also tell us much needed knowledge about our past. And while I personally am not religious, I don’t think Black humanism gives room, like many religions (although I wouldn’t say that atheism is a “religion”, as some have argued), for Black people to be diverse and open about their spirituality. Interestingly enough, I think traditional beliefs give Black people the amplitude of choice and encourage creative and innovative thinking. Concepts like Vodoun, Santeria, and Obeah are newer beliefs that are slightly different from what our ancestors in West Africa were practicing thousands of years ago, but it is still accepted as being within the same spirit as those ancient beliefs. Questioning, self-expression and personal quests for knowledge are all accepted, if not fortified within these various traditional beliefs. I applaud Black humanists for at least bringing the inadequacies and inconsistencies within Christianity to the limelight, but we also have to recognize that Black people have a different history and current reality and have to be approached through alternative methods, with those approaches being sensitive and cognizant of our needs and future goals. We must take from new approaches, such as that of Wole Soyinka to present an ideology tailored to our needs.
            "I take most of my metaphors from the Yoruba worldview. What separates that religion from the so-called universal world religion is that the human characteristics of the deities that belong in the Yoruba pantheon actually make that religion one of the most humanist types of religion you'll encounter anywhere in the world. The Yoruba philosophy drastically reduces the absolute authority of deities over the lives of human beings and therefore reduces the dependency of human beings on the interpreters of the extraterrestrial authority. And so when you ask the question "What are the prospects of a humanist worldview in Nigeria?", I point to this as an example of some kind of qualified humanism that predates any kind of codification of humanistic principles in European terms." 

comment. think. criticize. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ashamed of Slavery?

i'm currently reading about different religious histories of Black people in the US, and there have been some glaring similarities and consistencies among many Afro-centric Black leaders and religious leaders in our past.

i can't speak for all those within the diaspora, although many probably share this sentiment, but i think collectively, we are still deeply ashamed of slavery; of being descendants of people who have been enslaved.  and i think a number of issues and problems within our community have stemmed from this feeling of inadequacy and, ultimately feelings of inferiority.

when Black Americans organized their repatriations to Africa, resulting in the devastating results of Liberia (and, in a similar but a bit different case, Sierra Leone), it was to Christianize Native Africans, to "civilize them" in a sense, and to restore Africa to it's rightful place among the other great civilizations (whatever that means). while i have a ridiculous amount of respect for these men, Marcus Garvey, Henry McNeal Turner, Paul Cuffe, and others, these men bought into the idea that Africa NEEDED to be civilized, assuming it already wasn't and felt that they, and that all Black Americans, were the ones that were supposed to bring it to Africa in accordance with a plan from god. this not only makes African-Americans special (more special that other Africans that weren't enslaved through the Tras Atlantic slave trade), but it makes our history more opulent than it was and makes up for us being enslaved.

this constant need of African Americans and other diasporans to pull knowledge and reverence from everywhere but West Africa speaks of more feelings of inadequacy. Rastas look to Ethiopia and consider Black diasporans descendants of them, Noble Drew Ali believed we were a tribe from Morocco, which is why he referred to his organization as the Moorish Science Temple, and referred to his followers as Moors...although, ironically he referred to them also as "Asiatics". Master Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, believed that we came from Mecca....that is, Saudi Arabia. not to mention the omnipresent references to ancient Egypt. it also brought to mind Q-tip, who when taking DNA samples to discover which "tribe" he originated from in Africa, said he believed we was Zulu...although anyone who has studied the basics about the Atlantic Slave Trade knows that almost no one came from anywhere south of Angola. so why Q-tip (and i'm sure some others) felt he was from the Zulus is beyond me. although i can surmise a probable reason.

so, compiled, we're from Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Morocco, and South Africa; we're Moors, we're "Asiatics", and we're the lost tribe of Judah. what next, we're a group of Blacks from the 3rd moon of Jupiter, sent by the Black god of the next galaxy over?? in addition, this constant need of African Americans to believe these idealized myths that "we're descendants of kings and queens", "we come from royalty", or "we come from a land of warriors", which i have heard too many times to recall, is simply sad. no, we don't come from King and Queens. even if African societies had what would be equivalents of "kings" and "queens", which in most cases, it did not...we still ALL wouldn't be descendants of them. not everyone living in Africa was a leader. nor were they all warriors. there has never been any society in which every single member were warriors.
the fact, that many of us are trying to avert, is that we are also and most recently, descended from people who were enslaved. we have to come to a place in our mental collectivity to being comfortable with this. and i don't think we're anywhere close to that. and note that i don't mean comfortable in the sense that we stop fighting for justice and recognition of what was done to us in the past, but internally, we have to be comfortable that this is also our history.

slavery, as much as it ruptured many connections and knowledge systems that we had in Africa, should also be seen as another dimension to our history. it isn't something we shouldn't speak about and should feel ashamed of. the only folks that should be ashamed of slavery are white people - i.e., enslavers. and i know many individuals who don't like to learn about slavery, mainly because it makes them feel victimized. and this, is nothing more than ignorance regarding this history.

i can recall a friend of mine in high school, who, in one of our history classes made it clear that she felt uncomfortable speaking about slavery in particular. i also had a friend who wanted to distance himself from Black people (although he was as Black as any other Black person) because he felt that we were "pathetic" - in reference to our history. but did either of them know that Africans have resisted from the jump? that within every single stage of enslavement that we have revolted?
Africans fought being put in chains in Africa, some fought back in droves, and others rallied some leaders to do the same (e.g., Madam Tinubu). Africans jumped over the sides of ships and committed suicide in protest of their conditions. nearly every nation in the diaspora have had organized revolts, from Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey to L'Overture in Haiti to the Maroons in Jamaica. unorganized, it has been documented that hundreds of individuals resisted in ways they could - enslaved cooks putting crushed glass in slave-owners food, killing owners' children, poisoning was notorious of those enslaved in Jamaica particularly, enslaved women also had abortions, some even killed their own children, while others set fire to crops and sabotaged other productions and business ventures. many have also resisted Christianity (if somewhat futile...), by incorporating aspects of West African beliefs into Christianity (that can still be seen today), while others, more notably in other diasporic nations, have resisted Christianity altogether and still worship the ways our ancestors did. point being, there is nothing to be ashamed of. personally, i find learning about our experiences during slavery empowering. and while that could just be me, i think if more Black folks were to know what they don't know....the sentiment would be mutual.

but many Black people don't know this, and furthermore have been bamboozled into believing that we come from nothing and went willingly and submissively into slavery. this is where the shame of slavery originates.

Black people have to be willing to let go of these idealized and mythologized histories that we have created to make up for our contrition in reference to slavery. being enslaved was a happenstance that occurred simply because Europeans had guns and we did not. we were not weak, docile, or dumb in any capacity. the more i learn about our past, the more evident this becomes. and hopefully, in time more Black folks will gain this knowledge and stop feeling this need to invent histories and myths regarding our origins.

also, this continual overlooking of West Africa is a manifestation of this shame as well. many of us know nothing of Nok society, reputed as one of the first societies ever to have iron-work, in present-day Nigeria, in addition to the Mali, Songhay, and Ghana empires. but beyond that...why are we still looking for "great civilizations"? why are we still looking for different versions of Egypt, which in itself is just a colored representation of Greece and Rome. must we constantly be looking for Black Greece in Africa? do we see the issue in this?
i was reading about the Nuer (Naath) recently of southern Sudan. they're a pastoral people (although "people", "tribe" and any other moniker referring to a collective body is problematic. for more info check out The Nuer by E.E. Evans-Pritchard) whose wealth is in their cattle. they aren't materially rich because they have beliefs that anything in excess should be given away to others. their dwellings are simple and efficient and easily movable. they don't have cities made of gold, they don't have kings, queens, chiefs, or anything of the sort. in every since of the word, they would not be considered part of these "great civilizations", however, these are people that have survived, and have surmised their own complex social ties, cosmologies, and epistemologies that deserve a lot more respect than they get. not to mention the fact that the book i recommended was from an anthropologist sent out to figure the Nuer out because their land was the only one the British had yet to conquer because the Nuer were fierce enough to keep them at bay well into the 1900's -  the Brits literally had to go around them.
we have to rethink the ways in which we evaluate "great civilizations/societies" that don't revolve around material wealth and structures resembling European societies (e.g., kings, queens, stratified systems that include specialists, religious officials, etc.). and it seems as though more and more recently, diasporans have been trying to construct the Yoruba into these molds, but we have to resist this need to look only to one or two societies and idealize them. we all come from an amalgamation of West Africans - not just one group. and all of them deserve recognition, respect, and reverence.

in time, maybe we can start understanding our histories without the need for a certain type of history; to be descended from or a certain type of society. i believe we can overcome this, (which should be understood as simply another manifestation of colonialism) and with it, i think other necessaries within our communities will arise on their own.

comment. think. criticize. learn.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Revolutionary Parenting

i've been thinking lately about more practical applications of feminism. there are many, but i'm speaking mainly in the arena of parenting, child-birth, pregnancy, and things of that nature. this could even be linked with reproductive health as well.

i read an article by Nanjala Nyabola about the blindspots of western feminism. there are many points that stood out to me in this article. namely, the feminist ideals (past and present) and how they relate to child birth.

since the beginning of feminism's inception, the idea of motherhood has been rendered nearly analogous of submissiveness; docility; the dominated lapdog of a husband and a family. motherhood has been seen by many of us as a steel cage that stifles all the creativity, individuality, and personal goals outside of parenting a woman could have if she didn't have children/before she was impregnated. and in many cases in our society, this is the case. many of us know at least one woman who has become a mother and/or a wife, and not much else. for some women, this is what they want in life and this is what they should pursue, by all means. this becomes a problem, however, when this is seen as the only viable or genuine form of motherhood.

many of us want children AND a career...or at least just a life outside of children. and i'm recently coming to the realization that this is nearly impossible. mothering, in a society such as those in the west (and those that have been indoctrinated by western ideals), is an either/or dichotomy almost no room to do both. and by "mother", i mean a hands-on, emotions-on, attached mother that isn't letting a nanny raise her children, who is involved in their day-to-day lives. and by career, i mean something that you've worked towards that sustains you (and your kids) financially. career can also mean social justice/revolutionary/socially progressive/community organizing work.

this push to have children and a career has almost always resulted in an on-and-off-again/stagnant/non-existent career, or emotionally messed up kids. take Alice Walker, for example. while she is one of the biggest inspirations to Black women, one of my favorite poets/writers, and an amazing woman in general, her daughter, Rebekah Walker, has criticized her mother to point at which they aren't nor have they been even on speaking terms for some years now. most revolutionaries (MLK, Malcolm X, etc.) produce some of the most normal (which isn't a good thing) children that usually lack any revolutionary spirit in them. i'm not insinuating that they didn't care about their children, i'm simply saying that their respective struggles received their main attention.

there are also many issues within mothering that go beyond the basic expectations that many women want to fulfill. Breeze Harper, from Sistah Vegan, has spoken about the challenged she faces in trying to breastfeed on demand. breastfeeding-on-demand is when a woman breastfeeds her child anytime the child asks. so, no bottles, breast-pumps and whatever else. just a breast and a baby. with a little research you can see why some women want to breastfeed on demand-the studies and facts surrounding it are substantially better/healthier for babies.
unfortunately, breast-feeding on demand is damn near impossible. this is with or even without a job. Breeze received money from a scholarship and possibly some help from her partner. most women, however, cannot do this. even if a woman has a career that she is established in, most jobs are not going to allow a woman to take a leave-of-absence for 2-3 years, and come back. not to mention the fact that many employers won't/rarely hire pregnant or a recently married woman. and understandably so-we live in a capitalist society in which nothing matter more than making money. there are also issues of birthing, in which the hospital/medical industry in general is/is potentially very damaging to a women. furthermore, issues of raising children with ideals that may challenge societal norms is problematic. public education, even day-care and pre-school is usually the beginning stage of indoctrination.

if one wants to be genuinely involved in their children's lives, healthily (which often means doing things that aren't common to US Americans), one must either depend on a man, depend on the government, or give up on having and raising healthy children in a safe environment.

depending on men is, frankly, unrealistic. almost everyone knows or is the child of a man who was/is, for the most part, absent. this, of course (and note, that i'm speaking of Black and Brown communities throughout this post) the result of many political, colonial, and oppressive tactics. being a sperm-donor and nothing more is not inherent within the male sex, it simply is common within this society. men from other societies, have traditionally, been a part of at least their son's lives. many a times, after a certain age (5, 8 or after the onset of puberty), the sole responsibility is on men (as well as the community in general). even if a father is willing to take care of a breastfeeding mother and child, that role (for the woman) comes with some expectations that many feminists do not want (for example, submissiveness). and as far as Black men, jobs are scare, health is not good, and the cops are just waiting to kill them.

depending on the government comes with many issues as well. insurance companies do not cover midwives (they're actually illegal in Alabama), insurance requires money and/or a job, and not all women qualify for all the benefits. even if one does qualify, it is not enough to usually sustain a child without assistance.

so, my solution is that, as Black (Latina, Native, Asian) feminists, we have to build networks, communities, organizations, and relationships amongst other women in our communities. this needs to be grassroots, something tailored to our specific communities (be that geographical, based on sexuality, religious, or other). older women, especially, are vital. not only do they have the time, but they also have the knowledge and the skills to help us in our endeavors, not to mention the already-established networks. preferably, this should be done with like-minded individuals (my target is feminists of color).

women that do not wish to have children can donate to sustain the buildings/housing. women that want to be less involved in their children's lives but still want children, can leave their children in the care of like-minded individuals that they know. women that want to have children/want to breastfeed on demand and do not have the money to do so can live with or be in the care of progressive women that know and care for them. the commitment will be to healthy, questioning, revolutionary children. the adage "it takes a village to raise a child" will be a foundational philosophy, in opposition to this two-parent "ideal" unit of individuals (otherwise known in the west as the nuclear family). it is rarely a viable and functional ideal, especially within communities of color. being raised with close ties to more than 2 adults, in caring communities has been shown (historically and statistically) to be a much more stable and healthy environment for children.

not only can this produce healthy children, whose parents (or, just the mother) aren't having to live in unsafe environments in order to survive, whose parents/mother isn't forced into a slave-waging job (only to breed emotional issues within the family unit), who aren't being educated by people who wish to uphold all the ills of this society....this can also produce a network for anything else (jobs, social, etc.). for unity. for unity for a revolution.

it has been shown to us time and time again that the only people we as Black women can depend on are other Black women. this is simply the practical application of that understanding.

the only flaw i see within my solution is the absence of men. so, i'm still trying to figure out if/when men should/should not be included in this network.

comment. think. criticize. cipher ways in which men can be included.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is and what is not an African?

so recently, on tumblr, there was a days-long discussion about what is and what is not African. i made some posts about it on my tumblr, got really angry and frustrated, deleted them because i was tired of the discussion and tired of trying to validate myself to other Africans, but i still have some thoughts lingering.

you can view some of the posts (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) just to get an understanding of feelings in the discussion. this conversation has happened before on tumblr, and i'm not completely sure how it was resurrected. i think it had something to do with the idea that African Americans (or possibly various diasporic ethnicities) culturally appropriate items from African cultures.

if you're unfamiliar with the term "cultural appropriation" (this blog deals with the appropriation of Native cultures), it means taking from another culture (usually wardrobe, jewelry, make-up and things worn on the body, but can also extend to food, dances, and other items such as furniture, art pieces, etc.) without having the knowledge of the culture or the significance of the said item/style - and, thus adding to the overall culture's erasure and disregard.  an example is the cultural appropriation of of the Native headress. white girls who are feeling "in touch with nature" feel the need to appropriate the headress (of which there are multiple ones, some of which are reserved for special people who are members of the nation, and some only for certain ceremonies) without acknowledging any Native culture. the issue with this is that these cultures, Native cultures (along with many non-European cultures) are being or have been largely marginalized, ignored, disrespected, and face extinction. when hundreds of Natives are living on reservations in which the life expectancy is that of a third-world culture, where many cannot understand that there are hundreds of Native cultures, not just one, and certainly not the one from old Cowboys & Indians movies. it continues the mockery Europeans have made of indigenous societies and adds to the upholding of European societies as the only ones worthy of any distinguish or deeper understanding and respect.

many of the Africans in the discussion felt that when Black Americans don dashikis and whatever else from Africa, that we are culturally appropriating African styles, and thus, the cultures; and ultimately contributing to the erasure of various African cultures that continue to be oversimplified, disrespected, and face extinction by being forcibly amalgamated with other African cultures to make a monolithic, stereotyped, "African culture" (when ultimately, there is no African culture-there are thousands of African cultures). when Black Americans call themselves "Nubians", they are, culturally appropriating; considering that those of us descended from enslaved peoples come from West Africa, and Nubia (or what was) is a region in East Africa, we contribute to the erasure of Nubian culture. i think many Black Americans believe that "Nubia" is another word for "Africa", which shows you where the issue lies. if those that referred to themselves as "Nubians" truly respected the culture, they would do some research, and know that they have no real idea about Nubia, let alone Africa and its vast diversity.

with that said, i don't believe it should be looked at or even termed "cultural appropriation". while other people of color can culturally appropriate other cultures, the situation of AA's and African culture is very different than any other situation. not only have we been moved against our will into European (minded) lands, but we have been told outright lies, mis information or nothing at all about Africa. so, when someone does ANYTHING associated with Africa, it should be understood that there are a number of hurdles one has had to overcome in order to be comfortable with that.

we should be educated (granted it is a genuine interest) in such a way that does not mock us as if we're the dumb, uneducated stepchild that continues to be an embarrassment to the family. of course we're uneducated on African cultures; this is a pillar or colonialism. we have to remain separate, and those of us in the superpower nation that is the US have to be so far removed from our traditions and from those on the continent because there might actually be an international revolution is we unified.

when South Africa was dealing with apartheid, the Black Panthers (among some other Black American groups) were protesting for boycotts, intervention, divestment, and calling general attention to what was happening to Blacks in South Africa. and they were shut down by the government. the Black Panthers were ravaged  by COINTELPRO, half were either murdered, jailed, or exiled from the country. this should tell you how important the diaspora/African unity could be and why it is important for the powers-that-be to keep us at each other's throats and ignorant about each others plights. once we become truly unified, it is not a matter of IF colonialism, capitalism and general Black (or other) oppression can be defeated, but WHEN.

with that said, i completely agree with the issues some of the Africans brought up. we, as African Americans or within the diaspora and are several generations removed and/or descendants of slaves, need to stop treating Africa as a monolithic culture. we have to stop allowing the idea that Africans are running from cheetahs all day, all of them are walking around naked (which, apparently, is equivalent to barbarism), and speaking in clicks to permeate our thoughts. we have to research Africa as a whole, the diversity of the people, of the past and the present and of the distinctions between different ethnicities. understand that we descend from West Africa and none of our people were Nubians, were speaking Swahili or anywhere near Kemet/Egypt. we also have to understand that not all Africans feel the same way about us. many of them will not associate with us or consider us Africans-and that is their right to feel that way. we must learn the virtue of listening. listening to their experiences, their uniquewants/needs/feelings and their frustrations with those of us from the diaspora.

but when Black Americans identify, ignorantly, with Africa - i understand it, and Africans from the continent that seek to criticize us should understand it as well.
Egypt is probably the only place in Africa discussed more than once in public education. one Nigerian sister i responded to mocked the fact that so many AA's know/wish to know Swahili and wondered why none of us knew any Igbo words. the first time i ever heard the word "Igbo" was maybe 3 years ago (i'm 25) and that is because i'm close with some Nigerians and follow a ton of blogs/websites operated by Nigerians. Swahili is the only African language discussed in the media/education and is, along with Arabic, the most common language featured as college courses. and this is what Africa has become to us and most of the world - naked Black bodies, speaking Swahili (which apparently sounds like a bunch of clicks and grunts) and the Egyptians. Egypt, especially, is presented (by whites, of course) as the one and only "civilization" of Africa. most of the things i've learned about Africa has been outside of school, on my own time and within the last 4 or 5 years. and the sources have had to be things i searched for, mostly on the internet. if i didn't have internet access, or any internal push for knowledge of my ancestors or different cultures in general, i'd probably be calling myself a Nubian Princess too.
correct, criticize, and inform us, by all means. but i really resent the tone of informing us of our faults with no cultural or historical context. not to mention the assertion that we aren't/will never be "African". that, honestly, hurts on multiple levels.

we damn sure ain't American, so what are we? for some time, i've looked at the cultural remnants we've kept even through slavery and other oppressions as nothing more than crumbs left over from a meal. but now, i find myself hanging onto them for dear life. parts of West African religions, beliefs, communal and familial relations and even food have been maintained to an amazing degree, given the circumstances. not in all parts of the diaspora (Suriname, Southern US, Brazil, Haiti, and other West Indian communities have sustained multiple parts of West African traditions much more than say, Black communities in Canada and other parts of the Americas), but enough of them do. these things came from West Africa. this cannot be disputed. and at the root of our communities, we are African.

the question for me, is whether or not a Black person can ever completely/truly remove themselves of being "African"?

while some Africans feel that there has been too much time and generations (that have forgotten most of the ways) lapsed in order for AA's to ever be considered "African", some feel as though with time, genuine interest and a push for knowledge while respecting and honoring the customs that we can eventually be considered African (i'm very thankful for those of you that feel this way). but so what are we now (without the effort)? what of the Africans who move to the US, change their names, and start telling people their family is from "the islands", but they they're "proud Americans"? what of the first generation kids who turn their noses up at egusi soup and Nollywood and are, by any stretch of the word, Europhiles? are they not African?

i'm not suggesting that by categorizing them as African, they get some type of pass for kissing white ass; not at all. oppressors and those that aid in our destruction come in white just as well as Black. and they should be ostracized from those of us that seek unity and liberation. however, denying that they're African (or Black, as some AA's have said of other AA's) is something completely different. is Clarence Thomas not African? are the Egyptians and other lighter-skinned North Africans who identify more with Arab cultures and would consider it an insult to call them "African" or even "Black" not African?
i suppose that gets into the complexity of what is and what isn't African. and from what i've learned, there never has been a collective "African" identity. the "African" collective/identity is one born out of years or ravaged and raped societies resulting from colonialism, exploitation, slavery, and forced industrialization. unity is needed; unity is PARAMOUNT. and this category was more and likely the result of that need.

it is up to us to decide what it is and isn't. and while i'm not included in many Africans' idea of "us", my "us" includes those on the continent and those not; those several generations removed, and those practicing the cultures how our ancestors did. and while this conversation upsets me at times, i think we should have more conversations like this - otherwise unity can never be achieved.

comment. think. criticize. share your experiences/beliefs/issues.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


for some reason, the government decided to stop federal student aid in the summers at my school. so i'm out for the summer with not much to do, as of yet. so besides reading some books (maybe a later post), i've found a ton of African and West Indian films on the internet. some from a few other interesting places, but all are starring people of color, which i think is very important and not scene nearly enough.

not only do these films help you get a sense of life in whatever particular country or community the film or documentary is in, but it enables a foreigner to learn much more than they would simply by reading about these things. there are subtleties in films that the directors may not even be aware are different from other cultures, but that are noticeable in their films. 

i've decided to put all the films in one place. most of them can be found on the internet free, but some i've watched on netflix, and i'll just provide a link to maybe a trailer. 

a film about a young boy on the run from his vengeful father, who is out to kill him with the belief that he stole sacred ancestral objects from the family. directed by Souleymane Cisse. Mali. 

a comedy. Jamaica

a film about a young boy struggling with his grandmother, who works as what seems like a sharecropper, to make it through school. Martinique. 

a film about living during/post-apartheid. i like how this film reiterated the importance music had in the anti-apartheid movement.  South Africa

a musical (yes, sound-of-music type musical) about traveling in Dakar. i wasn't really feeling this film because i hate musicals. i think this could have been something if most of the songs didn't sound like something Fred Astaire danced to. Senegal. 

Viva Riva (trailer)
a film about a hustler in Kinshasa who just wants a woman, Nora, who's with another man. i liked the film, overall, and from what i hear it's one of the biggest and most expensive films to come out of the DRC. a lot of the film, however, i felt was exaggerated and simply foolish, on the part of Riva, the main character. there's a difference in being a gangsta and being reckless. he was absurdly reckless during the majority of the film. in addition, i wasn't too keen about the fact that the only woman not portrayed as a whore (although there isn't anything wrong with being a whore, we know that this society and most of the world have a different perspective) was Nora, the love interest, who also happens to be the only light-skinned person in he film. coincidence? Democratic Republic of Congo.

a film about a group of Berbers who go fight Germans (Nazis) on behalf of the French during WWII. Algeria. 

La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow)

although this is from Mexico, i wanted to include it because i found it interesting. the film is about a girl, Fausta, who inherits susto through her mother's breastmilk. susto is a culture-bound syndrome most common in Latin American countries that results from a near-death or extremely frightening experience. Mexico. 

an Alex Haley original about his paternal history. US. 

a light-hearted film about a young man from a small village trying to attend college in the city. South Africa. 

Faat Kine (trailer)

a film about an independent woman trying to raise her kids and stave off encouragement to get married. directed by the father of African film, Ousmane Sembene. Senegal. 

Karmen Gei (trailer)

a reinterpretation of George Biznet's 'Carmen'. Senegal. 

Black Girl is a film by the late, great Father of African Film, Ousmane Sembene, about a Senegalese woman who moves to Europe as a nanny to make money. this isn't my favorite film of his (the ending was a little...meh), but still a must-see. the visuals of this are on a level most films (African or otherwise) aren't on. i think the artistry of film, especially in the US, is lack with the exception of the underground. this film brings it on multiple levels. Senegal.

recommended to me by my homegirl, Yvette, this is about a wealthy man with two wives whose just gotten married to a third. he realizes he's impotent and seeks the traditional healer so he can please his newest (and youngest) wife. he finds out it isn't impotence, but a curse, and has to do much more to remove the curse than he'd anticipated. Senegal. 

Ousmane Sembene delivers once more in a film of a troop of soldier who've come back from helping France defend France's long standing thieving and barbarous empire...and await their return to Senegal in addition to their severance pay. they find out the hard way that even respect would be hard to come by, considering they're Black- whether or not they've put their lives on the line for the country. Senegal.

a film about a young boy trying to make it in the city of Luanda. Angola. 

a film about a young man trying to make it in the music scene. starring Jamaican musician, Jimmy Cliff. Jamaica. 


a documentary about Akan ancestral beliefs. it goes into the importance of keeping the beliefs of your ancestors as well as keeping your ancestors venerated. Ivory Coast. 

a documentary about living in the aftermath of independence. Cameroon. 

a documentary that has yet to be released about Nigerians who follow Judaism. most of those in the film are under the impression that Igbos are a lost tribe of Israel, and thus have, at some point in history, been Jews or were the true Jews. Nigeria. 

cameras follow 3 students attempting to get into one of the best colleges in Brazil. the school is one of the first in Brazil to implement affirmative action in their school system. although Brazil is about 50% Black, Blacks make up less than 5% of universities, government, or academia and most live in poverty. it details how Brazil is handling the transition. in a country whose racial lines weren't drawn as sharply as in the US, who classifies as "Black"? Brazil.

Al Jazeera takes a look into human safaris on the Andaman Islands. the Jawara people, a group believed to be direct descendants of the first travelers out of Africa hundreds of a years ago, and natives to the Andaman Islands, they have become a tourist attraction of many locals from India and Sri Lanka. the local authorities came under fire sometimes last year when a video went viral of Andaman police making Jawara women dance in exchange for food. they've also been known to lead tours to the areas the Jawara live-which are off main roads and away from larger towns. it gives a better look into the age-old practice of looking at people of color, specifically Black people, as animals fit best for zoo attractions and entertainment. it also, for me, reiterates the fact that Africans have been travelling by land and sea for eons prior to colonialism to parts of the Earth that may seen unfathomable even today. Andaman Islands.

a look into the Nigeria-Biafra war that lasted from 1967-1970. Nigeria. 

a reblog from this blog-a documentary about a Black music festival in LA that also goes into the Black experience of the time. US. 

a documentary about Bougainville Natives epitomizing independence and sovereignty. after being cut off from trade by the Papua New Guinea and Solomon Island governments for wanting to govern themselves and keep their island from being the next western wasteland, they were forced to go it alone and have made out beautifully. they have gathered all their resources and should be looked at as the blueprint for what all nations have to/should do in order to leave be truly free of western powers. Bougainville.

a film that delves into the lives of gay Black men. it shows the intersection of two very oppressed existences of Black and gay. directed and produced by Marlon Riggs, this film not only tell us about what it means to be same-sex loving in the US, but also about typical ideals, stereotypes, and issues our society has with thoughts on masculinity and gender. US.

a detailed look at the Anglo-Zulu war of the late 1800's. South Africa. 

a look into various methods of enslavement post-(supposed) emancipation. convict-leasing and sharecropping are two widely known forms. one guy mention in the film, BB Comer, has a building on my college campus named after him (yea, still). US. 

a documentary about the genocide of Namibians in the early 1900's by Germany. the genocide is estimated to have taken 3/4 the Herero population and 1/2 the Nama population. Namibia. 

Bruce Parry, a BBC tv show host, experiences some rituals of the Babongo people. Gabon. 

this documentary goes into the Nigerian music scene like no other that details acts like King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti. Nigeria. 

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