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.


  1. great post you should turn this into a paper

  2. Thank you for your article, i will share this article with my 'f'timeline , if we do not disscuss this issue with our selves and our children..we wonder why/were the disconnect ..and motivation for struggle is lacking the lack of self knowledge!!!