... In my music, my plays, my films, I want to carry always this central idea: to be African. Multitudes of men have died for less worthy ideals: it is even more eminently worth living for.
Paul Robeson, 1934
... There can be no greater tragedy than to forget one's origin and finish despised and hated by the people among whom one grew up. To have that happen would be the sort of thing to make me rise up from my grave.
Paul Robeson, 1938
(From I want to be African: Paul Robeson and the Ends of Nationalist Theory and Practice 19191945 by Sterling Stuckey)1
"What do I mean? I mean this: that while Booker T. Washington seeks to promote the material advancement of the black man in the United States, and W. E. Burghart Du Bois his social enfranchisement amid surroundings and in the atmosphere uncongenial to racial development, Edward Wilmont Blyden has sought for more that a quarter of a century to reveal everywhere the African unto himself; to fix his attention upon original ideas and conceptions as to his place in the economy of the world; to point out to him his work as a race among the races of men; lastly, and most important of all, to lead him back unto self-respect. ... Here, then is work for cultured West Africans to start a reform which will be world-wide in its effects among Ethiopians, remembering as a basis that we, as people, have our own statutes, the customs and institutions of our fore-fathers, which we cannot neglect and live. ...Now, if the soul that is in the Ethiopian, even in the United States, remains Ethiopian, which it does, to judge from me coon songs which have enriched the sentiment of making by their pathos, then, I say, the foregoing words, true as everyone must admit they are, point distinctly to the impossibility of departing from nature's way any hope of lasting good to African nationality."2
African people all over the world are in a life and death struggle for survival, but many are not conscious of it. The education and socialization processes to which we are exposed rarely help us to gain a holistic perspective of what is happening to us. We do not know who we are. We do not know from whence we have come. We do not know where we are going.
For thousands of years, African on the continent of Africa and in its diaspora have operated independently to create sophisticated educational socialization systems, some of which became the envy of the world.3 Most of us are ignorant of this valuable heritage. Much of it is as meaningful to us today as it was for centuries, and even millennia.4
It is no accident that we are alienated from and ignorant of our cultural heritage, its vitality, and its utility for us now. Our alienation and ignorance is the product of calculating oppressors who enslaved, colonized, segregated, and created ideologies of white supremacy.5, 6 These system's and practices have their remnants in the world today. The calculated strategy of suppressing and falsifying our history, suppressing and stigmatizing our identity (ethnic cleansing), and propagandizing us with teaching of white supremacy, is something that continues today in both overt and covert forms.7 The primary purpose of all of these forms of oppression was to divide, and therefore dominate us. Even today, there are powerful people who intend to see that we are disintegrated as a people. The labels "liberal" and "conservative" have no meaning here. The end goal of both ends of the political spectrum, and in the middle, in the "mainstream" Western world is the same. In both cases, Africans as a group are seen by Europeans as "the problem."
Before the problem of what to do about the education of African people can be approached, a fundamental decision must be made. It is a decision about ethnicity, rather than "race" or class, both of which tend to be obvious, though not central. Quite simple, if our ethnicity does not matter, then there is no need for this essay nor for us to try to do anything as a group. But if it does matter, then we must be clear about the fact that we belong to an ethnic family with all of the responsibilities that come with that decision. That culture is not "tribal," it is African.
"The final gift of African 'tribalism' in the nineteenth century was its life as a lingering memory in he minds of American slaves. That memory enabled them to go back to the sense of community in the traditional African setting and to include all Africans in their common experience of oppression in North America. It is greatly ironic, therefore, that African ethnicity, an obstacle to African nationalism in the twentieth century, was in this way the principal avenue to black unity in ante-bellum America. Whether free black or slave, whither in the North or in the South, the ultimate impact of that development was profound. During the process of their becoming a single people, Yoruba, Akans, Ibos, Angolans, and others were present on slave ships to America and experienced a common horrorunearthly moans and piercing shrieks, the smell of filth and the stench of death, all during the violent rhythms and quiet coursings of ships at sea. As such, slave ships were the first real incubators of slave unity across cultural lines, cruelly revealing irreducible links from one ethnic group to the other, fostering resistance thousands of miles before the shores of the new land appeared on the horizonbefore there was mention of rights in North America..."8
(Europeans) know the role that ethnicity plays in the geopolitical scheme of things, and that it is of extreme importance. That is why the historical culture war on Africans was waged, to prevent any re-emergence of ethnic consciousness among us, to prevent the unity that will lead to effective mobilization of our efforts as a group and to effective resistance to oppression.
But now, games are being played. Many Europeans know full well what rules are in the world. They know the role that ethnicity plays in the geopolitical scheme of things, and that it is of extreme importance. That is why the historical culture war on Africans was waged, to prevent any re-emergence of ethnic consciousness among us, to prevent the unity that will lead to effective mobilization of our efforts as a group and to effective resistance to oppression. From the dust cover of Joel Kotkin's book, Tribes, we see the following.9
"In this original examination of business, history and ethnicity, Joel Kotkin shows how "global tribes" have been at the center of the world's economy for hundreds of yearsand how they will dominate commerce in the twenty-first century. Though the world's economy is becoming increasingly interdependent, Kotkin shows that as national borders dissolve, the impact of "tribalism" has never been stronger. And he offers some intriguing predictions on how certain "tribes" will adapt to coming economic changes."
Among the "tribes" featured in the book by Kotkin are:
"The Jews: The oldest of global tribes, the Jews figured prominently in the origins of modern transnational business. Although small in numbers, and in the face of their millennia-old dispersion, they have produced more Nobel Prize winnersand billionaires than most European and East Asian countries.
"The British: Although no longer as dominant as they once were, the British and their progeny in North America remain the most important ethnic grouping in the world economy, controlling by far the world's largest corporations.
"The Japanese: The first Asian group to form a truly global ethnic economic network, the Japanese are second in size and scope only to the Anglo-Americans. Their 'diaspora by design' now constitutes a one-world city stretching from Bangkok to London and linked by banks, trading companies and media as well as hundreds of special schools that educate thousands of youngsters in the essentials of 'the Japanese spirit.'
"The Chinese: The fifty-five million overseas Chinese are the fastest-growing economic force in the world, controlling an empire that included the booming regions of coastal China, the high tech centers of California's Silicon Valley and the most vibrant sections of Manhattan. The three major financial centers of the ChineseSingapore, Taiwan and Hong Kongpossess combined foreign reserves twice as large as those of Japan, Germany or the United States.
"The Indians: The more than twenty million overseas Indians today represent one of the best educated, affluent groupings in the world, with strong presences in Britain, North America and East Asia. The Indians may prove to be the next diaspora to emerge as a great economic force."
An original vision of the past and the future of world business, Tribes is guaranteed to provide discussion and controversy.
Kotkin names other ethnic "tribes" who are poised to cross the threshold to gain a niche in the global marketplace. He also acknowledges the struggles of African-Americans, but does not foresee that we are on the verge of becoming one of the successful "tribes," that is, a successful global people.
The naming of the "tribes" is far less interesting for our purpose than Kotkin's theory of why they are so successful. Compare what he says about the successful "tribes" with what he says about those who are successful, or those individuals who belong to no ethnic group.
"In defining global tribalism, I have set up to examine five principal groupsthe Jews, British, Japanese, Chinese and Indiansall of who powerfully illustrate this phenomenon. Although each of these five tribes possesses a vastly different history, they all share the following three critical characteristics:
1. A strong ethnic identity and sense of mutual dependence that helps the group adjust to changes in the global economic and political order without losing its essential unity.
2. A global network based on mutual trust that allows the tribe to function collectively beyond the confines of national or regional borders.
3. A passion for technical and other knowledge from all possible sources, combined with an essential open-mindedness that fosters rapid cultural and scientific development critical for success in the late-twentieth-century world economy." (pp. 4-5)
Finally, Kotkin summarizes the essence of his thesis in another way. He merges two powerful notions.
"The power of global tribes derives from their successful coalescing of two principles, that, in classic liberal thought, have been separated: an intrinsic "tribal" sense of a unique historical and ethnic identity and the ability to adapt to a cosmopolitan global economy." (p. 16)
When we were brought to these shores enslaved, we knew who we were. We were Africans. We often put the name African in the names of our independent organizations as late as the latter part of the 1800's and early 1900's. For example, we formed the Free African Society in 1787, following by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794 and shortly by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion and The Abyssinian Church (another name associated with Ethiopia, or Africa). The first Baptist church founded by Africans, were called the African Baptist or "Bluestone" Church in 1758.10 It was followed by other African Baptist churches in1800 and 1805 and an Abyssinian Baptist church in 1808. There were African Free Schools in New York. The Africans who formed a Masonic lodge, the Prince Hall Lodge, first called it the African Lodge.
Clearly, there was a solid ethnic family identity based upon shared continental cultural heritage. It will be of great importance to research the question of how Africans began to refer to themselves as "negroes," "colored," "blacks," "minorities," "disadvantaged," and "at-risk."
Clearly, there was a solid ethnic family identity based upon a shared continental cultural heritage. It will be of great importance to research the question of how Africans began to refer to themselves as "negroes.""colored," "blacks," "minorities," "disadvantaged," and "at-risk."11 Were these names derived from Africans? Were the changes the result of the efforts of outsiders to deny and to suppress the cultural heritage and the unity of Africans? What is crystal clear is that using such names to refer to a group of people effectively removes them from time and space. It takes them out of the human historical process. They become a people without a tradition, without a homeland, without an interest. They became spectators and "cultural welfare" recipients. Moreover, what we received as "cultural welfare," "mainstream culture," has been described by one social scientist as the "culture of narciscism."12
Actually, we have a great deal of documentation on this question. We see from history that these changes were due to ruling class while supremacists who knew exactly what they were doing. They were following a policy that they invented and called "whitening." To understand this policy, its depth and pervasiveness, and its strategic and calculated intent, we must look at the record.
The white elite in the United States and in Brazil faced the same problem at the end of the 19th century. Both had a large African population as slavery ended. They worried about what to do with these Africans. The two elites created two different approaches to their "problem." The United States chose to get rid of the "negro problems" by segregation, overt segregation. Brazil (and other "Latin" American countries) chose absorption or assimilation of the African into the European population, with certain limits. Neither could conceive of the notion of cultural or ethnic democracy. Neither recognized or respected African people of African culture as legitimate.
In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt wrote an article in a popular magazine describing what he had seen and heard in Brazil. He was told the following by one observer, "Of course the presence of the Negro is the real problem, and a very serious problem, both in your country, the United States, and in mine, Brazil. Slavery was an intolerable method of solving the problem, and had to be abolished. But the problem itself remained, in the presence of the Negro...
"Now come the necessity to devise some method of dealing with it. You of the United States are keeping the blacks as an entirely separate element, and you are not treating them in a way that fosters their self-respect. They will remain a menacing element in your civilization, permanent, and perhaps even after a while a growing element. With us the question tends to disappear and become absorbed."13
By absorption, Roosevelt referred to the white Brazilian elite's whitening policy of both cultural and genetic absorption, or put another way, cultural and physical genocide. His observation on the physical absorption is interesting.
"In Brazil ... the idea looked forward to is the disappearance of the Negro question through the disappearance of the Negro himselfthat is through his gradual absorption into the white race.
"This does not mean the Brazilians are or will become the "mongrel" people that they have been asserted to be by certain writers, not only French and English, but American. The Brazilians are a white people, belonging to the Mediterranean race, and differing from the northern stocks only as such great and civilized old races as the Spaniards and Italians, with their splendid historic past, differ from those northern stocks. The evident Indian admixture has added a good, and not a bad, element. The very large European immigration of itself ends, decade by decade, to make the Negro build a smaller element of the blood of the whole community. The Brazilian of the future will be in blood more European than in the past, and he will differ in culture only as the Americans of the North differ."14
These were unilaterally decreed solutions. No African was consulted. As Skidmore shows in Black Into White, the strategy is rooted in an ideology of white supremacy. In the case of Brazil and many other Latin American countries, the white supremacy is masked by a propaganda of a "raceless" society.15 The "color blind" societies produced "invisible white supremacy." In some, the final solution was complete.
"Negroes in Buenos Aires no Hay'there are no blacks in Buenos Aries so the natives of the city, the Portenos, tell their visitors, and so it appears. ... The process of vanishing was rather abrupt one, not really starting to take effect until the 1950's."16
Andrews in The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, goes on to show that in the one hundred year period, the African population of Buenos Aires declined from nearly 30% to virtually zero. The story of this decline is instructive, given the current elite thinking about what to do with the Africa.
So we can see, that the liberals (Latin American assimilationist/integrationists) and the conservatives (segregation/apartheid thinkers) were both in agreement. The African had to go. Both liberal and conservative elitists were white supremacists and were cultural totalitarians. African culture, and African people as an ethnic group were not recognized or respected then. The same is true today.
The new census categories of "mixed" and "other" have already started some Africans to reframe their identities, identities based solely on their pigment, or "races."
These matters are important to any discussion about the education of the African, especially since there has been a relatively recent shift in the U. S. positions, a "melting pot" shift. Still, certain powerful segments of the white elite are still determined that the African has to go. The new census categories of "mixed" and "other" have already started some Africans to reframe their identities, identities based solely on their pigment, or "race." Aside from the fact that this is buying into the fabricated European category of "race," there is another issue. It is absurd to conceive of "mixed" "races" when there are no pure ones to start. For example, Africans and others have been mixing with Europeans in Europe for hundreds of years, starting before the Greeks and continuing through the Moorish conquest of parts of Europe. Therefore it does not make sense to build a new identity on the European racial construction, or on a reaction to it.17 Where is the pure unmixed "white" person, even in Europe?
These issues are contemporary matters, and not merely matter of a distant past. For example, we may consider the goals of some elite white private schools. "In this study we examine an extraordinary program: young blacks from economically impoverished backgrounds entered the elite world of the upper-class prep schools, a world permeated by overt and covert, blatant and subtle forms of discrimination. Yet in spite of their families' poverty, in spite of the discrimination they face, they competed successfully with the scions of the most privileged families in America. These black youngsters not only endured a very difficult experience, they flourished. In this book, then, we are dealing not with the assimilation of a few wealthy black families but with the creation of new elite individuals through a special education program. And as a result of their education, these individuals may move from the lower class black ghetto to the upper-class elite in just a few years, possibly leaving behind friends and families, perhaps even the black sub-culture as a whole. Thus this unusual program provides a rare opportunity to investigate how quickly and thoroughly an upper-class style and identity can be acquired."18
The analysis here is limited to race and class. No cultural or ethnic recognition or respect of African people is shown. No recognition or respect of African leadership and its opinions on these matters is shown.
In Latin America and the Cape Verdean Islands, the battle against assimilation has been a constant struggle for people of African ancestry. Although on the surface these nations appear to have no racial conflicts, and although most propagandized to the effect that racial oppression is absent, such is not the case when one examines closely the languages, with dozens of terms used to describe African physical characteristics, and the treatment of people who move closer to the black end of the color spectrum, the findings reveal conflicting problems that work against those who would attempt to hold on to their African heritage and who are obviously of African descent phenotypically. In the following discussion, examples of anti-African sentiments and attempts to eliminate all vestiges that identify these nations with Africa will be given.
To some Africans, the fusion of "European blood" with Africans was viewed as a form of cultural rape. Others welcomed the push to amalgamate, and especially "whiten," the race. The dictum, "advanzar la raza" (advancing the race), was coined to mean to decrease what is viewed as the "inferior black blood" by mixing it with the more desired "European or white blood" through intermarriage. Since black blood was and is looked upon as a mark of degradation, it is the responsibility of its bearers to improve the race by mating with someone of a fairer complexion.19
In her commentary on the experiences of Puerto Rican women of African ancestry, Angela Jorge posits, "When she begins to seek companionship with others who look like her (that is, black Americans), with those who will not reject her, she will hear !Conesa no juengues? (Literally, "Don't play with that one!") but it conveys a meaning of not getting involved... She quickly understands that any intimacy with a black American male is absolutely taboo, and that to engage in such a relationship is to be forced to assimilate socially into that group, essentially giving up her identity as a Puerto Rican."20
The pressure to assimilate through intermarriage is not unique to Latin America. In the Cape Verdean Islands, when one gives birth to a white man's child, it is often said that she is "fixing up the race."21 However, the opposite is often said of a light skinned woman who has a child with a darker man. The term used in Cape Verde to describe this union is "mixing up the race."
In her study of race relations in Cape Verde, Meintel demonstrates how light skinned Cape Verde girls avoid intimacy with darker skinned boys. According to Meintel, "when the boys from the clubs deemed 'just anybody' arrived, they are met with pleas of fatigue and headaches (as to excuses not to dance), and they are made to make an early exit. Once the 'better' clubs arrived, they were persuaded to stay well past the usual time limit, blocking the entrance of less desirable groups."22
Similar demands were placed upon Antillean girls to marry white were revealed by Franz Fanon in Black Skin White Mask. While away at college, Antillean women were encouraged to seek to marry white or someone very light in order to gain family approval. When asked as to whether they would consider marrying a person of African ancestry, these women strongly state their refusal to consider a black man as a possible suitor by stating, "get out of that and then deliberately go back to it? Thank you, no besides," they added, "it is not that we deny that blacks have any good qualities, but you know it is so much better to be white."23 Extreme examples of the pathological effects on the minds of a racially insecure people, are demonstrated is a play entitled, Mascara Puertoriqueno, by Francisco Arrivi.
The experiences are familiar to many African-Americans from both the past and the present. Film maker Spike Lee opens up the topic for a wider audience in his film, School Daze.
The discussion of the whitening process is a natural lead into the discussion of the nature of African education. Ultimately, the issue that must be faced is the right of an ethnic group to exist. Any environment within which one may find one's self; this must be based on one's true heritage and not on that of others. Any design of education must start at this point.
Any group, in the struggles for this existence, must draw upon its past and upon its way of life as a cultural stream in its history on the earth. Beginning thousands of years ago, Africans created culture. The evolution of Africa's cultural creativity can be documented and studied. It not only exists, it reflects a way of life that is positive, beyond the mere material. African metaphysics is spiritually centered, all over the continent.
In order for African education and civilization to proceed, systematic study of the history and culture of African people worldwide is a fundamental requirement. Within the history and culture, we will find purposes of education.24 Philosophy and theory are both explicit and implicit in the history and culture of African people. Many of these ideas have been well recorded from ancient times to the present.
In addition, strategies and structures (methods and curricula) for achieving a group's purpose though the education process are well attested in the African experience. Records of teaching and learning, the literature of African curriculum, physical structures of schools, biographies of heroic teachers are available for education in the present. Of course, contemporary and changing conditions require modifications of any models, but it is unnecessary and undesirable to begin the process of the design of African education as if there were no past. The oldest textbook in human history is the Teachings of Ptahhotep, a sage of the fifth Kemetic dynasty in Ancient Kemet (Egypt) circa 2,350 B. C. This book contains wisdom teaching of a great sage. The sage himself claimed these teachings to be ideas inherited from the ancestors who received them from the gods. The oldest physical structure for a university on earth to day still stands at Waset (Luxor) in Kemet (Egypt). Its ancient name was Ipet Isut; its contemporary name is the Karnak and Luxor temple complex.
Abundant literature survives to raise the curtain on this ancient higher educational tradition, the understanding of which implies what existed in primary and secondary levels of schooling. There are also surviving today many other African "secret" societies, or simply, African formal, traditional schools. The less modern and more traditional these schools are, the greater the independent genius of Africans in the designs of educational systems becomes apparent. Aim, method, and content of traditional African educational systems, can be studied and in some cases can even be observed at the present time.25 Do not people of African descent deserve an education and socialization process that bears some meaningful relationship to our cultural antecedents?
Of course, any wise person takes into account the contemporary environment. That wise person will view contemporary related and competing system with a critical eye and will modify as appropriate.
We have much to learn from what West Africans call the "bush schools" (African traditional schools), but in looking at these experiences we must always remember that the schools do not stand alone. All education and socialization processes are situated within the broader societal context of economic, political, spiritual and artistic environments. African people cannot detach the education process from their own definition of their mission, which is to be fed by the study of cultural tradition and the geo-political realities of the world today. When this is done, specific articulation of curricula in the areas of the humanities, the sciences, health and physical education, politics, economics and above all spirituality, will be formulated.
The pragmatics of African education are easy to design, once the major issues are perceived and settled. Clearly, the education of the children is contingent upon the education of the adults in the African family. Given the centuries of miseducation, a massive mobilization for the reeducation of the African is an urgent necessity. However, this process can begin and its goals can be achieved, especially if we consider the many informal avenues for sharing information, especially the use of data processing and mass media technology.
The adults in any African community are part of the environment for children, providing support for community aim and for child development. Children cannot be educated in the African way in isolation from parents and community activities in education. Specific curriculum and organizational practices in education will be perennial problems, some of which have already been approached. These, as important as they are, are far less important than conceptual, theoretical, and philosophical clarity on what the problems for Africans are and what the resulting goals are.
The Portland, Oregon African-American Baseline Essays (Portland, Oregon Public Schools) provide a content schema for a limited number of academic areas that can be filled in. These essays constitute one attempt to demonstrate an approach to satisfying the need for a multi-disciplinary, longitudinal, world-geopolitical view of the African people: in short the story of African people in all facets of its culture from ancient times to the present everywhere.
The rapid growth and proliferation of "rites of passage" practices and theorizing is well underway and has already provided many models for thoughtful consideration.
Study groups of adults by the dozen are already demonstrating how a broad community of Africans can become informed, even though they may or may not be enrolled in formal educational institutions at this time. In fact, because the study groups are self-supporting , our agenda can be self determined.
The artist, musicians, and entertainers contain among their ranks some few conscious individual who understand the power of their medium and the need to serve their people. Some have begun to move beyond the selfish needs for material acquisition to a global understanding of our condition as a people, and to their major role as agents to help transform our people from dependence to independence.
There is no need to debate whether there should or should not be African centered education. For any African, the question can only be about the character of the education process. If any African would argue against an independent concept and vehicle for African education, that person will have made a defacto decision that African people ought not to exist, and this is where the line must be drawn.
We must recognize, respect and honor the principle for cultural pluralism, granting to all groups the right to exist and to be respected. We must also be educated beyond our parochial interest in order to understand others in the world. A "multiculturalism" that leads to cultural democracy is quite different from the multiculturalism that leads to ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, or coerced assimilation to some as yet undefined or alien universal norm.
Confused Africans who see themselves as allied with no ethnic group are in an interesting but unenviable position. However, with cultural democracy, the choice is theirs.
The education of African people is an urgent necessity. It is a matter of life or death. We cannot abide another generation of children whose socialization has been neglected by us, who have been miseducated by others, who have been abandoned to invent their own systems, without the wise direction of ancient tradition and community elders.
Some European pretend not to understand the values of ethnic cultures, especially the African move to educate themselves. Geopolitical struggles lead to such "amnesia." However, Africans cannot afford the luxury of listening to the siren songs of those who do not recognize or respect us, while strengthening their own position, such as in Alan Bloom's book Closing of the American Mind and E. D. Hirsch's book, Cultural Literacy. We have had such prescriptions for nearly four centuries at least. Trusting in our own cultural heritage, ancient and modern, we are in the best position to solve our own problem. We would have it no other way. The economic, political, ethnic, and spiritual development cannot be created in a vacuum. African self-determination is the only possibility for our development and enhancement.
(This paper appeared in Black Child Journal)
Asa G. Hilliard Ed. D is Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Education, Georgia State University and a noted psychologist and historian. Luisa Martin is from Limon, Costa Rica and in her final candidacy for Ph. D in Political Science at Clark Atlanta University.
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