Strong, Black and beautiful
15th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
Blacks folks ain’t nothin’ nice. There’s nothing we can’t do when we put our minds together. Just look at how far we’ve already come.
We’ve survived countless assaults on the Motherland by Arabs, Greeks, Romans and other European invaders and “conquerors.” We’ve resisted numerous attempts to decimate our culture and history by insisting upon teaching and learning our story from our perspective, as opposed to “his-story” through Western eyes. We survived being packed like sardines in slave fortresses along the coast of West Africa as our captors stored us until they were ready to rip and drag us from our ancestral homeland into the Western Hemisphere. We survived the Middle Passage although we were shoved into the bellies of slave-trading vessels and placed in spoon-like fashion alongside one another and left to lie in our own blood, urine, bile, feces and tears for three months or more.
We survived the indignity of standing on the Auction Block and the Great Enslavement that ensued, knowing that somehow, someday, we would once again be free. (While we are still working toward that day, no one can argue that we have not made considerable progress for a people stripped of everything centuries ago and forced to toil for others.)
We sang and prayed in the hush harbors and cotton fields of the south, knowing that things would get better by and by, and preparing to make things better sooner rather than later.
We laughed and danced and did the cakewalk when we heard the good news that President Abraham Lincoln had finally decided to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and legally end slavery. Even though we were understandably scared to death, had no money, no education and no idea how we were going to survive in America, we managed to carve out a life for ourselves. No group of people has ever done so much with so little.
Little did we know that the struggle was far from over. Soon after slavery was abolished, the terrorism campaigns against us began. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council were formed to remind Black freedmen of “our place” in American society. But even in the face of the mob violence and virulent hatred that characterized the Post-Reconstruction Era, the indignities and suffering that Jim Crow brought to us and the bloodshed and sacrifices we were forced to make during the historic Civil Rights Movement, we managed to hold our heads up high and walk through the eye of the storm with made-up minds and rested souls. We promised ourselves that we weren’t going to let nobody turn us around. And for the most part we haven’t.
Several centuries after we were first enslaved in the United States, we are still fighting the good fight and trying to finish the race our ancestors have literally been running for thousands of years. And you know what? We may be tired, we may become discouraged from time to time, but we ain’t even thinking about quitting.
Our oppressors have seen fit to attack us in waves with one of the most recent waves characterized by Black houses of worship being set aflame, Black men, women and children being assaulted and murdered by the police, attacks on affirmative action and a number of other attempts to turn back the proverbial clock. When the late John Henrik Clarke visited New Orleans in the 1990s, he said that Africans in America must be realistic and honest with ourselves about who and where we are as a people. While times have changed and some things have gotten better for Africans in America, Clarke contended that the position of Africans in America in relation to the position of our oppressors has not really changed a great deal since 1619, the year 20 Black indentured servants arrived in the “New World.” He was essentially saying that the power relationship between Europeans and Africans in America has not shifted significantly over the course of nearly four centuries.
Those who feel the brother and what he was trying to convey would agree that such a sobering reality is incentive enough for Black folks to keep on keeping on and continue to fight for our dignity, humanity and freedom.
Perhaps one of the reasons we are so despised, feared and envied by our oppressors is our indomitable resilience, spirit and beauty. We simply refuse to die or go away. We ain’t havin’ it. We come from a long line of strong, proud people who understood that the purpose of all life is to pay homage to the Creator through our words and deeds. We know instinctively that the Creator is the source and aim of all life.
We must also understand that the Architect of the Universe stands with us in our struggle to walk on the righteous path as we strive for truth, justice and liberation.
Still, sometimes we underestimate our strength and power as a people. We be bad. Unfortunately, amid distractions like racism, classism, materialism and a “schism of otherisms,” we sometimes forget that.
All we need to do when we want to remember is look at all the things we’ve accomplished in spite of the obstacles we’ve faced. I thought about that after both the Million Man March and the Million Woman March. If, with our limited resources (compared with those in power) we can do so much, just imagine what we might accomplish if we truly came together with unity of purpose and determination to end once and for all our oppression. We’ve shown we have the organizational skills we need to be free. We’ve just got to be relentless and unswerving in our efforts to liberate ourselves. We also have a motherlode of brainpower and expertise. Africans in the Motherland and across the diaspora look to Africans in America for inspiration and guidance. We’ve got to do more to live up to our responsibilities as one of the most educated groups of Africans living on the planet.
Africans in America have proven that we know how to make money. And although our ideas and creativity often end up making more money for others than for us, we still are better off financially than Africans in many places. Still, we’ve got to learn how to use the power, influence and wealth we have amassed to further the goals of all Africans. Money means nothing if we do not use it break the shackles that continue to bind us and prevent us from becoming all we can be.
African people living in the United States remind me a great deal of the image of Africa and her people as a sleeping giant. So much beauty, power and potential that has largely gone untapped. As long as we continue to sleepwalk, people are going to have their way with us. But when we decide to wake up and handle our business, we’ll truly become a force to be reckoned with. No government or system will be able to hold us back once we decide that we’ve had enough of this second- and third-class status and are prepared to do whatever it takes —for however long it takes — to be free.
Frederick Douglass once said that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” We can’t expect anyone to show us how to be free; that’s something we have to do for ourselves. Never in the history of the world has any group willingly handed over its power to those it has subjugated to the lower rungs of society, so the ball’s in our court.
We would do well to remember that UNIA founder Marcus Garvey believed in us enough to devote his life to the liberation struggle of Africans in America and across the world. “Up, you mighty race,” he once said, “you can accomplish what you will!” Garvey also told Africans that “without confidence, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you began.”
Having struggled for centuries, Africans have learned many lessons about what it takes to be free. And we’ve gotten together on many occasions to talk about it. We’ve had the March on Washington. We’ve had the Million Man March and the Million Woman March (Two Million Woman March by some accounts). We’ve had the Million Family March and the Millions for Reparations Rally. Now it’s way past time for us to get down to the business of doing whatever it takes to free our minds, bodies and spirits. Nobody else can or should do that for us.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
In the spirit of the Ancestors, harambee.
This article originally published in the July 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.