The word “segregation” generates a lot of emotions, with good reasons. For people of African descent, it packs a long history of the dehumanization of our people – the “legally” enforced dictation of where we live and how we live, down to the very fact of where we are buried. But it also brings to memory the victory in the eventual overthrow of the laws which dictated that behaviour. It has not been an achievement without the ultimate sacrifice of many. For many of us, the brutality of apartheid in South Africa has been the most recent demonstration of that fact.
It is safe to say that now, for the most part, Western governments acknowledge that enforced segregation is wrong and that it is not a path that should be followed under any circumstances.
However, here is the problem – we recognize, live with and create situations which can, in the raw, be referred to as “segregation”. We acknowledge that there are circumstances which require that we, as African descendants, must elevate ourselves to levels which equal those of the dominant peoples, particularly but not exclusively, in the developed world. We need to shed the centuries of negative reinforcements that have plagued our lives since our ancestors were enslaved and traded as such. Thus, we have created pockets of programs for our re-education and self-growth the success of which largely depend on a focus that virtually excludes other distractions. In an ideal world, this would not be necessary. But we do not live in an ideal world.
Take, for example, Black History Month – a period that I prefer to acknowledge as African Heritage Month for the simple reason that it more aptly identifies my ancestry while acknowledging my Diasporic location. We know what Carter Woodson had in mind. Woodson, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the successor organization he co-founded, believed “that the black community…should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.”
One of the reasons for the longevity of Share is the need for us to know what is happening in our community through our eyes. We have found that, for the most part, the so-called mainstream media usually focuses on the African Canadian community when something unusual happens. On the face of it, that would be fine. However, more often than not, the event has negative connotations which contribute to long-held stereotypes of our community – stereotypes which we, ourselves, have bought into without realizing that we do. In other words, we continue to see ourselves through the eyes of those who report on us without the appropriate context.
I have been around the news business long enough to realize that objectivity, while it is a sought after goal in reporting, is rarely – if ever – achieved. Everyone has his or her own bias. Attach that to the demand for advertising space which, by default, restricts the ability to inform with depth and you get a half-told story.
Whether you are a firm believer of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, the Nguzo Saba, or not, they do present a very sound set of principles to live by. Appropriately, Kujichagulia – self determination – applies. We need to reclaim the right to decide what is best for us.
The demand for an Africentric school should be seen in that context. We need to tell the whole story to our young people, not just some of it. We need to tell our young people the good parts of our history and of our people, not just some of it. We need to instruct our young people that we need to see ourselves through our eyes and, to do that, we need to be very much aware of the contexts of whom we are and whence we came.
So, one could interpret this as “positive segregation”. The trouble is that the very charged word “segregation” remains. Keeping that kind of qualifier also opens up the potential of a gross exploitation along the lines of what happened with “employment equity” and what we are seeing now with “diversity”. Both terms, and the principles behind them, seem to have abandoned people of African descent, forcing us into the great big melting pot of invisibility.
So what is the solution? Quite firmly, standing up for our own identity, dignity and self-respect. And naming it.
Curiously, “Africentric” seems to work. It identifies the focus and does not exclude anyone. If you want to be a part of it, you know what it is and what it is about – upfront.
By PATRICK HUNTER