By PAT WATSON
Hands up all who found themselves at any of the many events held to bring focus to the achievements and presence of African peoples in the larger tapestry of human history? Or did you read any books that expanded your awareness of the dimensions of the Black presence?
At this time of year just past, there is always the argument that ‘they’ gave us the shortest month of the year to recognize the African presence. That comment alone speaks to how much there needs to be an African History Month.
The historical fact is that African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, originated the celebration, beginning with Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson chose the second week in February to recognize African-American history as it was also the week marking the birthdates of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, seminal forces in African American liberation.
The power of this month is that it is a focused time for Black people to enlighten each other and everyone else who cares to participate and be educated about how – and how much – Black people have given to this world.
It would be enough to know that, at this time, educational institutions – elementary and high schools especially – that previously overlooked African history, are making space to give mention to the way we were and are in history. But it is also a duty among adults of the Black population to bring into their range of knowledge the long history of our presence on earth.
To be clear, approaching an awareness of African history is for everyone. For that reason alone, the month stands as a positive response to its marginalization.
The truth is African awareness among people in the Diaspora is still woefully lacking. The evidence for this need is everywhere. During a recent visit to Jamaica, for instance, I was astonished at how the vast majority of women there either sported wigs or straightened their hair. It could be passed off as current fashion, but I interpreted it as a distancing from the true self as African. One has to wonder where the Afro-consciousness of the 1960s has gone.
Diasporic African people have much of which to be proud, but far too many are still colonized in the mind. And this is really where our final battle lies. We need to keep re-orienting each other by the telling of this reality.
African History Month can go some way to reawakening African pride but certainly it will take more than one month each year to get a people to the place where we understand ourselves as fully equal, contributing members of society. So this project is not done, as history does not stop moving.
In due course, the advancement of the narratives of African history coming from Africans must be interwoven with the larger narrative of human history. We understand that the power of a people comes from controlling their narrative. This has been a significant part of the problem Diasporic Africans have faced.
That is not the job of any other but ourselves, yet the situation in which many of us find ourselves has much to do with what brought so many of us to this side of the Atlantic centuries ago and the way that episode of our history has been told; and by whom.
Africans were brought wholesale to the western part of the planet as tools of the free market system. So when we look at the original design for our participation here, we can see that there has long been a strong effort to ensure that as many of us as possible remain as controlled components of that hegemonic free market system. Being kept apart from our roots has been an effective way to ensure that ‘their’ narrative holds sway.
The pattern of exploitation that takes place in Africa up to today still speaks of that influence. Africa has been exploited not just for human wealth but also for its natural mineral wealth. Yet we are held to shoulder the blame ultimately for the way we are situated in the larger complex.
Knowing African history is not necessarily a determinant of our destiny, but it certainly gives context to where Africans currently are. Moreover, knowing that history, as Africans tell it, will influence how we know ourselves going forward.
A note on new media…
Have you taken a look at Share’s redesigned website at sharenews.com? The site is now even more interactive and the visuals are pretty engaging.