Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Appeal for Ancestor Veneration

so today is Thanksgiving Day, or as some in more conscious circles call it, Thanks-taking Day. i won't do the typical rant about how celebrating this day is the acceptance and support of a country's racist, genocidal, and destructive history, all while placing the white historical perspective at a higher level of importance and continuing to devalue and ignore histories of colored communities. well, i guess that was a rant...

anyway, i've been thinking a lot lately about this idea of ancestor veneration. here's a little background info on ancestor veneration if you wanted nice historical introduction. a number of indigenous societies practice AV, most notably for me are the Mexican, African and Chinese.

i volunteer with an organization that helps to sustain practices of the Mexican culture, and one of my favorite events is the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). a huge altar is the main focus of the 3 day event. fruits, breads, candles, flowers along with photos and mementos of family members that have passed don the altar. it isn't uncommon to see smaller altars in the homes of many individuals that celebrate this holiday. also, the decorations and face-painting of skeletons and typically "scary" imagery that accompany the celebration have a really interesting concept behind them. in our western society, we typically think of death as something negative, bad, frightening or even taboo. but Dia De Los Muertos is a celebration of the life of the dead; celebrating them, their energy, their thought and goals; celebrating the time we had with them. skeletons are not just bones that signify morbidity and gloom-they're the frame of someone important; the remnants of a loved one. it's a beautiful celebration all around. while i have read about ancestor veneration in African and Chinese societies, Dia De Los Muertos is the only one i have actually experienced.

and i've been thinking what an insightful and positive idea ancestor veneration is and could be for many communities damaged by colonialism and the like. if African Americans, for example, began to think (say in a weekly or monthly celebration or practice...maybe along with an altar?) of our ancestors more often than most of us do (which is usually limited to the month of February), what positive impacts would this have in our lives and in our community?
if we were constantly thinking about those that have died so we could have simple privileges (human rights, really) we overlook, how much more humbling and appreciative would we be? people think about college as something everyone does, but what if we were constantly reminded that our people have been denied until quite recently proper education? would the drop-out rate for black youths be as depressing as it is now?
a while back, i was reading Black Boy by Richard Wright and theres a chapter in which he details how he began to educate himself. he worked for a white man that allowed him to check out books from the library using his card. the librarian questioned him about his need for these books and the became suspect at the subjects, he had to keep them hidden most of the time, and even his friends and family looked at him funny. "why you reading them books?... you think you better than us? need to put them books down and learn you a trade." these are the types of remarks he heard from his own people. if it were found that he was actually getting these books for himself, he could have been physically harmed. like....damn! really? my library card began to have a certain glow after reading that anecdote. not to mention the fact that slaves were likely to be whipped or even killed for learning how to read. how special now, does a book, a diploma, a library card, or self-education as a whole become?
how treasured does one's own sanity, dignity, well-being, or autonomy become when we realize the types of obstacles your ancestors had to endure to get these things? those enslaved were even robbed of choosing their own diets. if your realize that the same shit you're eating at McDonalds is not that much different from the lard and animal innards our people were forced to eat, how would that change our diets and eventually our overall health (which is quite disheartening). how would our consumer choices, life choices, and political activities change? for those of us that have a colonized past, the act of just telling the stories and histories of some of our peoples is quite revolutionary in itself.

the only issue i see is the religious (Muslims and Christian, mostly) communities seeing this as "witchery" and maybe even devil worship. many western anthropologists that studied African societies termed this practice incorrectly for some time as "ancestor worship" (the wiki link shows the issue of this term). and i can see religious individuals assuming the same, as it does suggest reincarnation. but, i think with a little explaining, i think it can work alongside their beliefs, considering it's really just respect and remembrance for the dead, and not actual worship. it also might be very painful for some of us to look at the history of our respective ancestors, but ultimately i think it will be a catalyst for change as well as education in our communities.

comment. think. consider it a part of your day...week...month? be thankful-whatever your situation.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Racism in Religious Imagery

so i mentioned a while ago how i had just discovered all these old Phil Donahue episodes on youtube. one in particular that i want to discuss is the one entitled "Was Jesus Black?" in this episode, Phil has various black people on the show discussing the historical references and arguments to support the idea that Jesus was black.

while i am fascianted with nearly every aspect of religion, i am only vaguely concerned with the racial make-up of Jesus. theres barely any evidence to show he existed at all, let alone any to give insight to his "race". black people should spend more time questioning the morals and subliminal messages of the bible than the racial make-up of any of its important figures. but thats another post. i wanted to expand on the comments made by the (self-identified) white people that phoned in to offer their opinions.

the main sentiment of the white individuals in the audience and on the phone was- "what does his skin color have to do with it?...i don't care if he's black, green, or hot pink!'s sacreligious to speak about the phenotype of god...etc." what i find interesting is that it didn't seem much of a concern for the white people calling in to question why it would be such an issue to worship a god (or god in human form) that looks nothing like you. then again, it doesn't take much of an imagination to wonder why some individuals have such difficulty stepping into the perspective of someone of a minority race when our perspective has been, for the most part, ignored, distorted or completely left out in most textbooks, history lessons, and general historical education. the inferiority complex evident even today in many (most) black and brown people has to be examined from all axes. religion may not be the arena most people explore, but with people of color being some of the most religious in the country, this field has to be studied.

growing up in a non-denominational church in southern Alabama, the only figure in my religious upbringing that resembled me in was satan and his demons. they were the only dark-skinned individuals in ANY religious imagery. in contrast, every depiction of God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Noah, Moses, or any angel was white. Asians, Pacific Islanders, Blacks and Native Americans did not exist. at the time, it didn't have much effect on me (or so i didn't think). living in a country in which most shows, movies, television commericials, etc....are white, white, and white, it wasn't something that stuck out to me. every now and then the pastor of the church i grew up it mentioned the verse in Revelations that talks about Jesus having "hair like wool...", which got a reaction. but that isn't enough to reverse the overwhelming racial preferences in Christianity.

i don't consdier myself a Christian presently, but the idea of a white god and a black devil never was a factor in that. and i'm wondering now, why is that? why is it easy for many black and brown people to accept this idea of a white god? what kind of effect does this have on the personal esteem when all the people that look like you in the Bible dwell in hell? does it have any effect on our thoughts?

i've recently read about the Black Madonna and about how the imagery of Christianity at one point and time was very black, but was changed once it reached the Americas. Europeans changed this imagery to fit themselves as a people, so why haven't we as blacks and browns changed the imagery to suit ourselves?

in some circles, it is happening. one of my aunts gave my mother a Bible with all the characters represented as black people a while back. it was the first bible i had seen like that; the first time i had seen a black Mary and Joseph holding a black baby with black wise men behind them. Afro-centric churches have changed the imagery of Jesus, but as far as the masses of black church-goers, i think the imagery is consistently white.

what have been your experiences with religious imagery? do you think it has effected your personal ideas on color, race, or nationality? do you think it effects the esteem of others? is it necessary to liken the imagery of your religious gods and goddesses to oneself? also, if one can change the imagery of religious figures so easily, and have it become near fact in many people's eyes....wouldn't it be equally easy (and possible) for one to do the same to the religious text itself; to the message of the Bible? can this be added to the argument that suggests Christianity was instrumental in the mental enslavement of Africans?

comment. think. criticize.

Friday, November 5, 2010


so i was in the language section of the library last week when i saw this book entitled Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner by Geneva Smitherman. sounded interesting. so i checked it out. it's basically a dictionary of terms used mainly by African Americans, or at times, people of color living in urban settings. in addition to words and some interesting etymologies, it also contains an introduction that speaks the issue of "talking black" in professional settings, the history of it, and the somewhat recent contriversy in the school system with teachers actually wanting to teach "Ebonics". heres some words in the book (some of which i find hilarious):

B- 1)a form of address for a male or female, though more common for males; probably a shortened for of "Blood". "yo B, wassup?" sometimes the initial of the person's first name is substituted for "B." 2)euphemism for bitch.
Bidness- any personal affair, event, experience, or activity one is involved in. "i got some bidness to take care of" might refer to anything from paying a utility bill to confronting somebody about a deal that's gone awry. bidness is the AAE [African American English] pronunciation of "business".
Bumping Titties-fighting.
Call Myself/Yourself/Herself/etc. -to consider yourself to be doing something; to intend to do a thing without actually acheiving your objective. "girls, what you call yourself doing?" that is, what do you think you're doing?; and "i call myself having this dinner ready on time," that is, i had every intention of accomplishing that goal, but i didn't.
check yosef- monitor your words, actions, or behavior. "Yourself" pronounced yosef in AAE.
cock sucker- a man who is weak, passive, emasculated. derived from the notion that a man who performs oral sex is a weakling; the myth is that African American men don't go down on women.
cracker- a white person; a derogatory term. possibly derived from the sound of the master's whip during enslavement; by extension, any white person.
down south- any place south of the Mason-Dixon Line, once consdiered the most racist part of the United States. However, Malcolm X coined the expression "up south", to signify on the mythical notion, held by blacks for over a hundred years after emancipation, that the US north was free of segregation and racism.
European Negro- an African American who thinks like and identifies with European Americans, and who rejects black casues and the black community. also Afro-Saxon (older term).
God don't like ugly- a popular saying from the Oral Tradition, meaning that some negative action, behavior, or attitude is displeasing to the Creator, and you will be punished.
HNIC- Head Nigger in Charge; a black person put in charge by whites, usually not in charge of anything meaningful; generally functions to keep other blacks in line. also BNIC (Boss Nigger in Charge).
honky- a negative term for a white person. probably derived and borrowed from the name-calling and expression of resentment by settled European Americans against central and Eastern European immigrants, who were negatively referred to as "hunkies" (from 'Hungarians'). blacks, in competition with these immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century, generalized the term to all whites.
hoochie- a sexually promiscuous female.
kitchen- the hair at the nape of the neck, inclined to be the most curly (kinky) and thus the hardest part of straightened hair to keep from "going back".

some of the words in the book i have never heard until i moved to New York, and some i have never heard ever (bumping titties??), and some i have attempted to remove from my vocabulary. it's also very telling how many words in this book reference drugs and sex (almost every other word is code for crack, heroine, or oral sex). i like how she included possible origins of some words like "Cracker", supposedly coming from the sound of a whip.....interesting.

in any colonized society, the colonized subjects all have to deal with assimilation, even in ways we may not even dream. it seems that language, even today as yet another barometer for genuine assimilation-those who speak properly (that is, as European as possible) are seen as more intelligent, more professional, and possibly even wealthier. and in some circles, language can be an indicator of where one stands-someone speaking too "white" can be seen as a sell-out or someone out of touch with their roots. Chican@s who speak English and Spanish can give much insight to how language can/has effected the colonized subject. although English and Spanish are both the languages of the colonizers, Spanish has come be viewed as the language of the uneducated/poor.

oftentimes, i think we assume that these slang languaages are the dialects of the poor and uneducated, but really, it is the normal meandering of language. all countries and all societies have and/or have had proper and slang dialects. the American English is actually a slang version of the English from England. as is the English of South Africa, Australia, India, and Jamaica. one dialect is not any more intelligent than the other. i think it's important to remember that language is simply a tool for communication. and if one cannot comunicate with their own people, what is the purpose?

comment. think. speak unapologetically.

John Henrik Clarke

"My main point here is that if you are the child of God and God is a part of you, the in your imagination God suppose to look like you. And when you accept a picture of the deity assigned to you by another people, you become the spiritual prisoners of that other people. " -John Henrik Clarke
i like learning about scholars whose works have been characteristic of many other scholars, but have yet to reach me for whatever reason. i've read a few times about John Henrik Clarke....a quote here or there, but i just recently saw a youtube video of him speaking about how Islam and Christianity have been instruments in the enslavement of African peoples (which is probably the most fascinating topic to me, period). theres actually a good number of videos on youtube of him speaking on various topics. coming from Union Springs, Alabama (very close to my hometown, Enterprise), a son of sharcroppers (which i've come to understand as slavery under a different name), a writer, historian, professor, a Pan-Africanist, and basically the pioneer of African Studies in the United States. his books are up on my reading list. here's one of his videos: