“. . . African-Americans can make no such claim to land. They were brought over to the United States through slavery and have no material basis to lay claim to Africa. . .” – Huey Newton, Black Nationalism or Communism
This quote has always resonated very deeply within my spirit. I have always felt that in the African-American community there exist generational trauma based on the fact that we were torn from the continent of our origin to be exploited labor for the European capitalist class. I believe that the concept of home and space provides people with a deep sense of balance and that returning to these places creates healing. Inside myself I have always felt two warring factions neither having full definition or form. What does it mean to be African? How do I embrace something I only know second-hand? What is American? Have I ever been truly American? I sure as hell have never felt that way. I grew up knowing one thing for certain: my people do not belong here.
Black people are not native to the West and we are reminded of that with the Bible, the bullet, and the gavel at every turn. This land has been nothing but pain. These are the lessons I learned in the ghetto, looking up at opulent white faces, these are the lessons I learned watching my mother, back near broken, sit on a couch counting her last tear-stained dollars attempting to calculate the rent. I wanted out and was ready to cut my way through every white body I perceived in my way, but I had nowhere to go. I, like most Black Americans, had no where beyond the borders of this country to flee to.
After all, I was not African. What is does Africa mean to someone who’s has never seen the continent, never touched her shores? It was really only a fantasy. I knew that some time ago slaves had been brought here, that they were Black like me. I knew that there was a culture that existed before, that in some places on this wretched soil it still bloomed in the hearts of stolen Africans but that the West was making every attempt to erase it from memory. And like many Black children I felt lost and unable to articulate my rage. I felt unable to speak to the fact that there was a pain in my heart when I heard children say their families were from here and there, all the while my mind’s eye went black. A part of me was missing. A part of me is missing. It’s absence fuels me to push forward. To learn more and to use that as a core to power my need to struggle for people’s liberation. This is why when people ask me to define myself politically, I now say “marxist in method and african in spirit”. This current definition, like all labels we attach to ourselves, will change as I do, but in this moment it is how I feel.
I had a profound moment in class today as I listened to African artist Masankho Banda speak. He stated to the class the following:
“It is not about knowing definitely where you come from.It’s about acknowledging where you come from, that you have ancestors and that where you come from helps you to stand where you are now. And that it is all a cycle. You are now a child and an ancestor.”
I felt my eyes sting as tears formed. It was as though he was speaking directly to me. The trauma of years rose to the very surface of my being. In that moment I saw many things. I saw the radiant sun, I saw my grandfather, I saw chains, I saw my great aunts house in the south, I saw my uncle’s harmonica and I saw myself standing in a doorway and I began to cry.
For years I have dealt with this dual nature: being of Africa but not feeling African. I don’t say this with the intention of romanticizing Africa and it’s people to the point of perfection but with the intention of expressing a profound loneliness I have felt in the under the foot of white capitalist America. Oh recent I have felt a rebirth of spirit, through my art and through my personal mission to understand themes and philosophies of African cultures; things that have been stolen from me.
One of the things that I have taken and made a serious effort to apply to my life is the Yoruba concept of “ubuntu”, which means I am because we are”. The concept of community is something that has been over used and vulgarized by non-profits and leftists alike. However, I am personally committed to making this idea of community truly manifest. If we as revolutionary minded people are as serious about our historical task as we claim then it is our duty to battle the bourgeois ideal of individualism that has rendered us strangers from one another. We must see one another with our hearts again, this is something that can be studied and found through African philosophy. As life in the imperialist West brings us further and further away from our emotions, it is our job to resist. This is class struggle. The changing of thought is just as important if not more than that of material conditions.
As a Black male I was socialized through fists, and television screens to treat my emotions as alien. It is something that carries on to this day. Displays of emotion for a while were uncomfortable for me. I felt my chest tighten with each hug or utterance of the words “I love you.” no matter how honest the gestures were. In the back of my head the rhetoric played loud and clear: “Man up!” “Put some base in your voice” “Real niggas ain’t faggots”. Often times when we talk about the effects of patriarchy, under capitalism, on society we leave out the ways in which men are damaged. How generations of men are socialized not only to dehumanize womyn but to also remove themselves from key aspects of their own humanity. It is this removal of intimate emotional connection, through socialization, that fuels violence against womyn. This is one of the many things I have began to understand about the nature of patriarchy in my life and how it all fits together under the alienation from ourselves we face as humans under capitalism.
I feel that my primary tool for fighting this oppression lies in the wisdom of my ancestors and the traditions of African people. African people, like many people of the world classified as non West, posses a communal spirit that has the power to over come the rugged individualism that fuels capitalism and this spirit combined with our practice of the marxist method holds the key to liberation for me. Of course I am still in the beginnings of understanding all of what I am writing but it feels promising and powerful. It feels good, I feel good.
So what am I going on about here? Is this just romanticized ethnic chauvinism? immaterial babble? No. It is experience and exploration. It is a radical reclaiming in the service of revolution. Taking back what has been stolen and using it to build as we break with capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the other poisonous “isms”. It is affirmation.