The Way Forward
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Healing is work, not gambling. It is the work of inspiration,
not manipulation…. The work of healing is work for inspirers
working long and steadily in a group that grows over generations,
until there are inspirers, healers wherever our people are
scattered, able to bring us together again.
--Ayi Kwei Armah
If we are to become a psychologically, physically and spiritually whole people once again, both collective as well as individual healing must take place. Too many psychic wounds remain open and festering. These scars and this trauma are real. This generation to generation pain is not imagined. Although some things have changed, far too many are worse than the same. We are descended from people that have been held hostage for so long, we no longer have memories of a time when we were truly, “free.” Yet, somehow, we continue to survive. We continue to thrive in spite of the new, more sophisticated impediments devised to prevent black people from turning “promise land” dreams into new realities.
Colin Kaepernick is not the first person of African descent to call out the naked power of White American society. He is just another in a very long, long line. As soon as enslaved African people learned to command the languages of their enslavers, a complicated inter-racial life and death dance-dialogue began in earnest. In this country, black folk cried out in Field Hollers, cried out in Spirituals, “Mary don’t you weep, and don’t you moan …,” or, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” It began in the “gut bucket” Blues voices that still echo inside the singing that has always made “a way out of no way,” through and around the hurt.
The systematic rape of Africa, African people, and, by extension, other peoples of color,
began during the European Trans-Atlantic “slave” trading era. Walter Rodney writes, “In the centuries before colonial rule, Europe increased its economic capacity by leaps and bounds, while Africa appeared to have been almost static…. The relevant fact is that what was a slight difference when the Portuguese sailed to West Africa in 1444 was a huge gap by the time that European robber statesman sat down in Berlin 440 years later to decide who should steal which parts of Africa…. which provided … the opportunity for Europe to move into the imperialist epoch … and further underdevelop Africa.”
If there is going to be a genuine discussion of the true nature of “systemic racism” in the development of this society, a proper historical context must be established. From the very beginning, the United States has always been a nation hopelessly trapped between two violently opposing truths: the projected illusion, “The land of the free and the home of the brave" and the actual American, aristocratic slaveocracy and the inhumane fact, black lives have never really mattered. The lives of indigenous peoples have never really mattered. Indentured servant whites never really mattered. Women, no matter their color or class, only mattered as possessions.
Black voices have always spoken truth to power. Olaudah Equiano wrote, “When you make men slaves you deprive them of half their virtue, you set them, in your own conduct, an example of fraud, rapine, and cruelty, and compel them to live with you in a state of war.” He pointed out, the natural enemy of the slave is his master and the natural enemy of the master is his slave. Sojourner Truth. Nat Turner. David Walker. Harriet Jacobs. Martin R. Delaney. Bishop Henry McNeil Turner. Frederick Douglass said, “It is not light we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Since the death of George Floyd, the fire, the thunder, the storm, the whirlwind and the earthquake have all materialized. To simply put black and brown faces in highly visible political, corporate, educational and/or social positions is not necessarily the answer to curing the illness that is a plague in this or in any white society; especially when those darker faces merely become masks disguising the same forces of white supremacy. Just as some African “Royals” were complicit in the selling of Africans into slavery, there are self-serving black leaders, today, who cynically serve the interests of the powerful forces that continue to undermine and exploit us.
I began this commentary with an excerpt from The Healers, by Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah, because I identify so much with the story and its main characters. When Master Healer Damfo tells Densu, “the present is where we get lost—if we forget our past and have no vision of the future,” I hear him as if he is speaking directly to me. His message resonates even more in this momentous point in time we are experiencing now. The United States is a land in desperate need of spiritual healing. The “dis-ease” of white supremacy is a malignant cancer devouring its collective soul. As a community of black people living in this country, we have been indelibly infected by this sickness.
If this nation is to ever become the society it claims to be on paper, this long over-due inter-racial dialogue that is slowly taking shape must be open and honest. It must also evolve on three distinct levels. First, white people must speak to, and, deal with, each other. They must confront their own personal, as well as their group demons. The late clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing diagnosed racism as a potentially treatable mental illness in her groundbreaking, but still controversial, The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy): A Psychogenetic Theory and World Outlook. Whether the Welsing theory is plausible or not is not really the point. I refer to it because it is an attempt to make sense out of observable behavior patterns that have always been senseless. The victims of Europe’s self-proclaimed “Manifest Destiny” have always asked, “Who are these people?”
She writes, “… [the] white peoples of the world presumably also could benefit from such an awareness of the motivation behind behaviors that often baffle them. If they are sincere in their attempts to stop the practices of white supremacy (racism), whites may be able to find methods to do so once the cause is understood. Perhaps some psychiatrist will develop a method of mass psychotherapy (i. e. therapeutic counter-racist theater) to help whites become comfortable with their color and their numbers. However, one can foresee a major problem arising from the possible difficulty of motivating whites to release the secondary gains historically derived from the racist system.”
Second, this inter-racial dialogue must finally acknowledge, there is a legitimate black perspective. White people must accept the story of the African experience in the so-called “New World” as told by black people. There are definite reasons why white people and black people, looking at the same thing, clearly see different things. Moreover, when black people do speak to what we see, white people invariably go on the defensive and dismiss or deflect a point of view that requires a level of empathy and self-reflection that can be painful. Many white people tend to operate from the belief, their perception of reality is the reality. They consciously and sometimes unconsciously resist the possibility that their way is not the only way.
Third, black people in America must begin to understand, we are an essential part of a global community of Africans and peoples of African descent. We must finally embrace real black diversity. We have evolved into new tribes. We are one of several distinct groups of people of African descent--i. e. African Americans, Jamaicans, Brazilians, Haitians, etc.--that emerged in the New World. We are a people of many hues, skin tones and hair textures, due in large part, to the rapist behavior of so many white men. African Americans are urban, suburban and rural. We are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, while some of us have never believed in or participated in the “politricks” of a "shitstem" that has always been corrupt. We are not all Christians. We are Muslims. We are Rastas. We practice traditional African ways of life and more. We have family members who are gay, lesbian and transgender. We have to learn how to respect, how to protect, and, how to genuinely talk to each other.
This third level should be a primary focus. The daunting work of putting shattered black lives back together is a formidable challenge. I have even heard it said, “If we are to save ourselves from white people, we will have to help save the white people from themselves.” A very intriguing proposition, but I think we will have to debate its merits in conference amongst ourselves. Do we accept the mistaken notion the black experience begins with slavery in the United States, or do we recognize the historical narrative that our experience begins in Africa and the exile in America merely represents chapters in an epic tale that is still unfolding?
We must determine how our story is to be told. Which way forward? If we do not work to heal ourselves, who will heal us? We cannot turn away from this work because it will not be finished in our lifetime. Each generation has a distinct role to play in this long and agonizing climb out of and up from slavery. During the first two decades of the 20th century, black folk came together and declared the birth of a “New Negro Renaissance” in Harlem. Africa’s lost tribes were awakening from our Dark Ages. The movement ebbs and flows but it never stops. Previous generations struggled to break out of the shackles that restricted black bodies. Maybe this generation will finally break the chains that still shackle black minds.
Returning to The Healers, we should heed Master Healer Damfo’s final lesson to Densu as advice from the ancestors, “Often, our confusion comes merely from impatience. The disease has run unchecked through centuries. Yet sometimes we dream of ending it in our little lifetimes, and despair seizes us if we do not see the end in sight. A healer needs to see beyond the present and tomorrow. He needs to see years and decades ahead. Because healers work for results so firm, they may not be wholly visible till centuries have flowed into millennia. Those willing to do this necessary work, they are the healers of our people.”