Karibuni! Welcome! We are in 2011, the second decade of the 21st Century and the United Nations-designated International Year for People of African Descent. This is a Pan-African commemoration, memorialization and an opportunity to do some serious education (learning and teaching) about African culture and history.
As Peter Tosh sang in his popular 1977 song, ‘African’ (from the album Equal Rights), “Don’t care where you come from as long as you’re a Black man, you’re an African.”
We also know that the beginning of human existence, scientifically proven, is from the African continent. The greatest civilizations, mathematics and science had their beginnings in Africa. However, there are many, including Africans, who do not know of our glorious history and the contributions that our people, regardless of where they were born, have made to ancient and modern civilization.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement, said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” We know that a tree without roots is a dead tree, sometimes tumbleweed, moving in whatever direction it is blown by the wind.
There are plans by various organizations to recognize the year and it is important that we coordinate as much as possible so that our energies are not depleted by duplicating the same initiatives.
The UN declaration states in part: “The General Assembly encourages Member States, the specialized agencies of the United Nations system – within their respective mandates and existing resources – and civil society to make preparations for and identify possible initiatives that can contribute to the success of the Year.
Since the Canadian government is a member of the UN it should at least be supporting with resources and “initiatives that can contribute to the success of the Year”.
However, when considering the inaction of the government in 2007 for the commemoration of the UN-recognized bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade and their refusal to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples there is faint hope that there will even be a recognition of the UN designated International Year for People of African Descent.
On September 13, 2007, the UN General Assembly voted on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. voted against adopting the Declaration. It was not until November 12, 2010 (probably attempting to project a new international image after failing to be elected to the UN Security Council) that the Canadian government formally endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A large part of the education during this year must be dedicated to the decolonization of the minds of our people. During the 400-year enslavement of Africans by White people – and even the colonization of Africans on the continent – there was a systematic colonization of the minds of Africans. Deliberate, strategic methods were used to alienate Africans from tradition and from each other and to teach African inferiority and European superiority. Today, there are Africans in the Diaspora and on the continent who embrace White supremacy.
Europeans first attacked African culture; then they denied that African culture ever existed. Stripped of their names and identities, our ancestors were no longer Africans; they were made “Negro” by White enslavers. The names many of us carry today reflect the nationality of the Europeans who enslaved our ancestors. Since it was carved up for the convenience and greed of Europeans, most Africans in the Diaspora cannot claim one particular country in Africa as the country of their ancestors. Our history of enslavement with the accompanying destruction of family units makes it impossible.
The European enslavers knew that divided we were vulnerable so they designed a system to make us lose the basis of our collective identity. We were separated, and then our names, our language, our stories, our songs, our family structures, even our understanding of God – the things that bound us together – were beaten out of us. Then they had to make us believe in, protect and even demand White supremacy. We had to be taught to love and revere Europe and European culture more than life itself. We were also taught that Africans had contributed nothing to the world.
In the 1923 book, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Or Africa for the Africans, Garvey is quoted on the subject of the deliberate attempt to create division of Africans: This propaganda of dis-associating Western Negroes from Africa is not a new one. For many years white propagandists have been printing tons of literature to impress scattered Ethiopia, especially that portion within their civilization, with the idea that Africa is a despised place, inhabited by savages and cannibals, where no civilized human being should go, especially black civilized human beings. This propaganda is promulgated for the cause that is being realized today. That cause is colonial expansion for the white nations of the world.
While it is recognized that 2011 has been designated the International Year for People of African Descent by the UN it is also important to understand that the idea came from the work of people who attended the 2001 (August 31 – September 7) World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.
It was at that conference that delegates ensured the UN recognized and declared the brutality and horror of the Maafa (the slave trade and 400-year enslavement of Africans) a crime against humanity. Reparations for the unpaid labour of enslaved Africans that enriched Europeans and Europe was also discussed at the conference and those discussions must form part of what we address during this year.
The approximately 360 days left of 2011 are not enough to do all the work that has to be done to address the concerns that come from centuries of oppression. There was trauma that has never been addressed and continues to plague our communities. This year of recognition is a beginning that needs to go forward further than 2011. We can all do our part. We all have a role to play. (To be continued.)