We Should Listen to the Ancestors

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Listening is difficult, but doing it intently and patiently distinguishes a leader from a follower. Today, I’m sharing quotes from past black leaders on some relevant issues that I’ve learned about by listening to those who came before me concerning the African American experience and the American cultural environment, in general. Their profound astuteness and vivid comprehensions are what have shaped me to take heed of what these wise ancestors, male and female, gave us in the forms of guidance, perseverance and discernment.

First, I’d like to start off with a potent reminder of what the novelist Ralph Ellison (born in 1914 and died in 1994) had to say about black culture. He said, “I don’t recognize any white culture. I recognize no American culture which is not the partial creation of black people. I recognize no American style in literature, in dance, in music, even in assembly-line processes, which does not bear the mark of the American Negro.” On the topic of prejudice, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) told us that, “As long as Negroes are hemmed into racial blocs of prejudice and pressure, it will be necessary for them to bank together for economic betterment.” This great “sheroe” of ours, who was a celebrated educator, had her pulse on what ailed the community during her lifetime.

Marvin R. Delany (1812-1885) said “Every people should be the organizers of their own designs, the projectors of their own schemes, and creators of the events that lead to their destiny—the consummation of their own desires.” That thought resonates in the minds, hearts and souls of today’s black world for some, but unfortunately not all. James Farmer (1920-1999), related “The black man must find himself (first) as a black man before he can find himself as an American.” Coming to terms with this reality terrifies some black people today. It’s a shame to have to say that in the 21st century, but it’s the reality for many of today’s lost and bemused black folk. Bert Williams (1876-1922) said “I have never been able to discover anything that was disgraceful in being a colored man, but I have often found it inconvenient—in America.”      

The elders of yesteryear interpreted what they were experiencing during their lifetimes because the hypocrisies of freedom, justice and equality for all people in the bald eagle’s territory never included them, their ancestors or their offsprings. Writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) put it best when she said, “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company.”

As I continue my thinking process for this column I’m forever challenged by what I personally experienced during the turbulent 1960’s. Liberation, self-determination and revolution seemed to on everyone’s mind. I remember the cries of the youthful Black Panther Party leader, Fred Hampton (1948-1969) when told us, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution.” On the idea of revolution renowned labor leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979) said “We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.” Between mass incarceration and unemployment/underemployment today the words of Elder Randolph ring loudly within the corridors of the nation’s still suffering, purposefully forgotten and politically neglected communities.

Some say resolving many of our local and national hurts can only be achieved via the political realm. To that legendary activist Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) said “The act of registering to vote…marks the beginning of political modernization by broadening the base of participation. It also does something the existentialists talk about: it gives one a sense of being. The black man who goes to register is saying to the white man, no.”      

As I close this week’s column I trust and hope that you’ve been listening to the all the ancestors and elders and got something from their insights. For today and always, that’s, “As I See It.”

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