By Hakim Abdul-Ali
Each day that I’m blessed to be present in this phase of living in the here and now is a spiritual delight in more ways than I can count or relate to you. This experience is a stimulating virtuous atmosphere for me, especially when I think of being a Black man living in the bald eagle’s domain.
It’s has been (and is) an exasperating challenge that has been a part of the conscious Afro-American experience since the slave ships brought the enslaved, traumatized and disillusioned Africans here from the Motherland under captivity during the savagery of the wicked Middle Passage. Those ebony ancestors and others have never left the mind streams of my consciousness, and probably never, ever, will.
As I study the historical records of various cultures in “hue-manity,” I admire the mindsets of the learned respective ethnic folk of civilization who seriously study and reflect upon their own ancestors, letting it serve as mirrors towards understanding the past, present and future of their kinfolk and others.
In my head, all cultures which reflect their kinfolk’s struggles and achievements are ones who know what being proud of who they are is all about.
It’s that way with me as I think about the legacies of my own culture, the African-American experience, in this most unique living arena called the United States of America. As I do that, I’m recalling that the great poet and writer Amiri Baraka, who died in 2014, said “A man is either free or not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.” Hmm!
The America that most aware Black folk know has a painful legacy of hatred and a lingering unfulfilled discourse in semantical escapism in their minds and souls because of this country’s “his-storically” racist political agendas and bigoted religious attitudes towards them and other people of color. Charles W. Chestnut, born in 1858 and died in 1932, uttered, “Race prejudice is the devil unchained.”
That statement by the novelist Mr. Chestnut may shock some unaware and uncaring “colored” folk of today, but it’s the undeniable truth.
That truth is that the cancer of racism is still a real life force in this nation, and in many places thriving with unabashed intensity and not-so-hidden authenticity.
My unabated thoughts of Afro-unity has always been triggered by my reflections of what my culture had to endure to survive in this cauldron of segregation and intolerance.
My respect for learning, knowing and understanding what it means to be of color in this land I call home has and always will be a complex personal adventure into the discovery of self and learning about others. That’s why knowing the truth about what those before me went through in the sordid, eventful and ever-evolving Afro-American living episodes, “ ‘our-storically’ speaking,” keeps me forever focused.
I do that knowing, fully well, that I must have an enduring inclination towards comprehending what standing on the shoulders of my ancestors really is all about. For instance, Maya Angelo once said, “Your ancestors took the lash, the branding iron, humiliations, and oppressions because one day they believed you would come along to flesh out the dream.”
Sometimes when I reflect on the late Sister Maya’s transcendent vibes about the ancestors, I pause because I wonder whether some of today’s Africans and Afro-Americans (and others) understand what really, really happen to “our” folk back then during those passages from the Motherland to hell incarnate. Even a non-African, President John Quincey Adams hit the nail on the head when he said, “The soul of one man cannot by human law be made the property of another. The owner of a slave is owner of a living corpse, but he is not the owner of a man.” That’s deep!
The initial enslaved Africans here in this country and in other locales had to endure hardships that few even today can, would or could fathom. Their collective unknown pains and unvisualized sufferings are forever a part of my mental psyche because I know that so much of my conscious awareness is tied to remembering their sufferings galore.
Jesse Owens, the prodigious 1936 Olympic hero, who died in 1980, said something once that has always stuck with me. He offered, “In theory, the Emancipation Proclamation had been a wonderful thing. But in 1915 in Alabama, it was only a theory. The Negro had been set free to work 18 hours a day, free to see all his labor add up to a debt at the year’s end, free to be chained to the land he tilled, but could never own any more than if he were still a slave.”
The truly, truly great Olympian Mr. Owens’ insight words and thoughts about segments of Black American lifestyles back then still have an impact on my mindset in so many undisclosed arenas of thinking. If you’re of color, does what he said somehow have an inkling of truth to it today as you look at the overall Afro-American and African realities of modernity?
This is a personal introspection, but I think in many unconscious situations, some of “our” folk (and others) today don’t think, nor reflect, upon what so many unrecognized African descendant folk have had to deal with in a dehumanizing living experience in a world where foreign ethnic values and religious holidays have no apparent meaning whatsoever to them, especially if one desires to be African (themed) culturally correct. Theologian James Cone said, “A man is free when he can demonstrate the style of his existence in an absurd world.”
Maybe, as I think now and continue reflecting on what’s going on in my present thoughts, I sense that the Black struggles of today, just as it was for the ancestors, will be ones of liberation, if you understand the wisdom of that action. I’m reminding myself and you that the artist Elizabeth Catlett related that “We have to create an art for liberation and for life.”
That has always been a constant of mine in both instances, points that were drilled into my consciousness as a young boy by my parents. I’ll never forget that my late mother, a revered schoolteacher, would talk to me about and read things to me about the many words, thoughts and opinions of noteworthy Africans, Afro-Americans and other souls of African descendant.
One such soul was the intellectual Black genius W. E. B. DuBois, who said that “The cost of liberty is less than the price of liberation.” He also related, “We shall never secure emancipation from the tyranny of the white oppressor until we have achieved it in our own souls.”
As I’m reflecting on some of these meaningful utterances, I wonder if you have the courage to give serious thoughts to reflecting on the fact we all, especially in the Afro-worlds of today, owe much to our ancestors for what they did for us to be where we are going forward. I have and do, and that’s where my thoughts are today with this current article as I survey the Black landscapes in this nation and beyond.
We have much work to do in our personal lives, families, communities and country. Our survival mechanisms and coping skills depends on us having a shared sense of mutual respect for each other (and others) in order to have a reasonable semblance of unity.
Ralph Ellison, the charismatic novelist, once said, “It is not culture which binds the people who are of partially African origin now scattered throughout the world, but an identity of passions. We share a hatred for alienation forced upon us by Europeans during the process of colonization and empire, and we are bound more by our common suffering than by our pigmentation.” Think about that.
“Afro-minds and Black Lives Matter.” Reflect on that. Enough said. I trust you get something from some of my reflections today. They are offered only to help you think, reflect and act. For today and always, that’s, “As I See It.”