In some African traditions, the griot told the story of the local population: the village, the family, or the clan. The griot gathered the threads of the story that represented the various people who participated in it. He kept these threads and kept them safe. I savored them, they treasured them. Woven together to form a cloth, a whole that mixed the various colors and hues in a pattern that told the story of the people.
Then people heard his story. Their tongues bleed it. His feet danced to it. Her hips rocked him. His hands drummed it. His fingers carved it. The stories of your ancestors, treasured, remembered, shared and preserved for future generations.
I was very lucky that my African American mother taught me from an early age to be proud of my heritage. When he told me about the experience of slavery, he told it from the perspective of those who had resisted and survived that slavery. So they encouraged me to think of slavery and resistance as one and the same: a person who was enslaved resisted that slavery as natural. She told me stories from Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth that still inspire and inform me, almost 40 years later.
In Afrika, under colonization, people were also often cut off from their heritage and even forced to speak European languages. Under an educational system that left them unable to locate their villages of origin and unable to speak to members of their own families, they were unable to communicate their experience to their own communities. And they were taught to believe that they were superior to the “backward” people of the rural villages, and they were encouraged to adopt European religious practices, modes of behavior, and so on. However, they often have a stronger sense of their heritage than we in the diaspora can have.
During the time of slavery, Africans were not allowed to tell our own stories. We were not allowed to speak our own languages, not even to name our own children. Our stories were stolen from us and rewritten in distorted ways. These distortions were then used to define and control us.
But still, the Africans told their stories. They whispered to them. They lovingly sewed their baby’s names onto their blankets. They told the stories of their homes, although much has been forgotten. His fingers remembered. They baked them into breads and cakes, mixed them into soups, stews, and rice. She braided them in her children’s hair. And he planted them in his gardens.
They made up their own words and their own languages. Creole. Dialect. Gullah. They made new art forms, new musical forms: jazz, blues, reggae, rhythm and blues, gospel. Although much had been forgotten, stolen, lost, rewritten or distorted, much remains.
In the African diaspora, we have been brainwashed for hundreds of years to believe that we are inferior to other races. During and after slavery, our ancestors were told that they were only fit to work and to serve their white masters, who were stronger, smarter, and more capable than they were.
Today, we see these stereotypes perpetuated, in slightly modified but still clearly recognizable ways. In screen roles, including television and film, as well as in advertisements, we often see black men portrayed as criminals or gangsters – tough, tough, and violent. Rarely do we see black men and women portrayed as loving husbands, wives, and fathers, in stable homes and relationships, or doing jobs as bankers, teachers, or other authority figures.
We have swallowed the distortions, the changes in our stories. And too often we have believed them.
Jak Dodd created the board game Nubian Jak because of this syndrome. He told me:
“I worked as a social worker with a lot of young black men and women. I noticed that many of them had a very negative image of themselves. If you asked most of them how they would describe themselves or see themselves , or who would they be identifying with, they didn’t have many black role models in Britain … So they would identify with African American achievers and Jamaican gun culture. We all want to have strong role models that we can identify with. ” .
This brainwashing is usually subtle, but it is very powerful. Too often, we are not aware of its effect on us. Our negativity about ourselves and others limits the kinds of opportunities we attract. It creates a sense of helplessness that often leads to aggression on our part as we attack in frustration the limitations placed on our lives.
These negative images have a profound effect on our psyche – our conscious and unconscious minds. It becomes almost inevitable that, faced with this overwhelming disadvantage, we develop an inferiority complex. This negative attitude that blacks tend to have about ourselves and between us is transmitted from parents to children and from generation to generation.
As journalist Henry Bonsu told me,
“If you have no sense of your base, you are skeletal, you cannot do anything. This is what happened. And you have no sense of shame for anything. Nothing is below you. There should be codes of behavior. It should not be black to assault And rob someone. It shouldn’t be black to attack your teacher. Because you’ve always had discipline. You’ve always had balance. But unfortunately, it has become very black to do these things for a certain group of children. They think that’s being black , be rude and tough. ”
We can see the effects of this brainwashing on modern African British youth. Those whose parents or grandparents were born in the Caribbean and raised to think of Britain as the Motherland often find themselves searching for their identity. In the 1970s, many turned to Rastafarianism. These days some of them, having rejected the dominant culture, turn to gun violence and gang violence as a means of seeking a positive identity as strong black men and women. Others identify excessively with the dominant culture and seek to fit in and be accepted by white society, so they are unaware of their heritage.
Also, our ignorance affects the way we deal with the racism we experience. When we are unaware of our heritage, we are not as resourceful as we could be in our responses to racism.
We don’t live to be all that we can be. Instead, we settle for being second, third, or fourth best. We don’t make life- or world-changing decisions, we let someone else make things better, and we hope things don’t get too bad. How often have you complained to your friends and family about your noisy neighbors, or your city tax bill, or have you complained to someone at the bus stop about how late the bus is? Have you taken this complaint further?
And this is a problem that affects both whites and blacks. When one sector of society does not live up to its full potential, the whole of society suffers: we see increased crime rates, we have to pay the police and put criminals in jail, we live in fear of being robbed or they attack us. And the person who might have discovered the next cure for cancer may be sweeping the floor of the local supermarket or sitting in a prison cell right now.
Conscious black adults have to take responsibility for turning this destructive tide, this tide of toxic and negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes.
Celebrating black heroes and sheroes allows us to decide for ourselves which images will inhabit our minds. The more we celebrate our black heroes and sheroes, and share their stories with each other and with society at large, the more we can enjoy our true heritage as an African people.
Many Africans, like Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the life of a slave, having escaped slavery in North America, they published their stories, often as a way to support themselves financially. Some, like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, also offered speaking tours to relate their experience of oppression to a wider audience. These speakers were important participants and leaders in the abolitionist movement in the United States. Many of his speeches and narratives still exist, inspiring us on how our ancestors used their strength, ingenuity, and courage to survive.
Caribbean slave narratives are not that numerous, although it is highly likely that many more yet undiscovered narratives languish in people’s libraries, universities, and attics. In Britain, our stories often went unrecorded. Many British traders held onto the material to sell it to American collectors. The late Len Garrison, founder of the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, showed a total commitment to building a monument in celebration of the presence of blacks in Britain. He told me:
In the late sixties and seventies, when I was talking about this collection, I went to some of the museums to ask them if they had any material related to black history, and they said, “Yes, people come to us with materials.” I remember the Museum of Labor History said, “But we didn’t collect it,” we just told them that we don’t know anyone who is collecting it, “so nothing is collected. One could imagine that labor history relates to blacks like he did whites, but they hadn’t picked it up.
He took the initiative to search for black memories when and where he could find them. He told me,
“I used to cut out newspaper items. I just collected them. But eventually, I started amassing the collection by going to antique stores, Portobello Road, and thrift stores.”
When the people of Afrikan celebrate our heroes and characters, we take control, we take charge of how we see ourselves and others. The more we know about our ancestry and our heritage, the more this knowledge empowers us. This changes our entire attitude and behavior. We are no longer at the mercy of the negativity that we are constantly bombarded with. And we have the opportunity to pass on our positive images and attitudes to our children. And when whites celebrate black heroes and sheroes, they reap the rewards of living in a multiracial society.
Africans are good at everything: architecture, astronomy, astrophysics, and those are just the ‘A’s. We are scientists, teachers, explorers, educators, philanthropists, healers.
Blacks are heroes and vagabonds. We are hits. Each of us has our own black success stories to tell. The more we share them, the more we create an energy of love and positivity that surrounds us and affects our lives. It helps us attract and connect with the abundance of the universe. It affects the types of opportunities we attract and helps determine how we respond to these opportunities.
We need to take responsibility for our lives and the lives of our children and others in our community. We need to take control of our negative thought processes and do whatever it takes to change them. Then we can experience the brilliant and glorious abundance of the universe to which we are entitled and which is our birthright. And all of British society will benefit from our continued success.