Torontonians were fortunate this past weekend (April 16-17) to be blessed by the presence of some of the most brilliant Africentric thinkers and scholars who willingly shared their time and talent with us.
On Friday, Ishmael Reed introduced his latest book at the Steel Workers Hall in downtown Toronto. Reed, who taught at the University of California (Berkley) for 35 years, has written a book which examines U.S. President Barack Obama's election and first year in power and what he sees as the White media's attempt to "break" Obama's spirit. Reed compares the hatchet job that media outlets like the Fox Network are doing on Obama and his presidency to the work of White men whose jobs during slavery was to break the spirits of enslaved Africans.
During his address I was struck by a remark he made: "Anybody who tells the truth better have one foot in the stirrup." This is similar to an African proverb that cautions: "Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages."
Reed has written several books and articles that have been labeled controversial but he is a brilliant thinker who continues to speak and write the truth.
On Friday and Saturday, the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies (CIARS) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) hosted its 3rd annual "Decolonizing the Spirit: Rebuilding the Community & Reclaiming our Histories" conference.
Dr. George Sefa Dei spoke on the subject, "Decolonizing our Education; Challenging Spiritual Disembodiment and Dismemberment" and Dr. Molefi Kete Asante on "Opening the Door to Multiple Spirits: Releasing Ourselves from Mental Bondage".
Both Dr. Asante and Dr. Dei, who are experts on Africentric education, also spoke at an event held at the Africentric Alternative School.
Dr. Dei, who is an international authority on anti-racist education, has written several books on the subject including Reconstructing 'Drop-out': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School published in 1997 and Playing the Race Card: Exposing White Power and Privilege published in 2004. He was one of the many advocates for Africentric schools as a way to stem the tide of "drop-outs" from the education system.
His work makes him an essential partner in ensuring that the Africentric Alternative School is successful in educating our children in an Africentric environment with teachers trained in the concept and understanding of Africentricity. Our community is very fortunate to have professionals like Dr. Dei working at OISE (where educators are educated) and willing to share their expertise with the community.
Dr. Asante who is the foremost authority on Africentricity and has written more than 70 books and 400 articles including "Afrocentricity; the Theory of Social Change" published in 1980 and An Afrocentric Manifesto published in 2008, spoke about the role fear, ignorance and dislocation play in our lives as African people. The importance of character was stressed because, as Dr. Asante pointed out, whatever we achieve, if we are dishonest and lack character we have achieved nothing.
As some people move up the ladder of success in a Eurocentric environment, the importance of character can become lost. There might be the temptation to compromise integrity when called on to face being held accountable for some of their actions that are harmful to the community.
During Dr. Asante's address at OISE on Saturday he also spoke about the importance of our names.
In Alex Haley's Roots: the Saga of an American Family published in 1974, he writes of the process used by the White slave owner to transform Kunta Kinte the African into Toby the Negro slave (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_A2o8ICcIQ). This happened after Kunta Kinte tried to escape his enslavement. Haley documented the events that led to his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, being kidnapped from his village of Juffure in the West African country, the Gambia, and taken to the U.S. where he was sold and enslaved for the rest of his life.
Kunta Kinte tried to escape several times and the White slave holders felt that part of his continued bid for freedom was the fact that he had refused to use or even acknowledge the name that had been given to him.
In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, also written by Haley and published in 1965, the man who would eventually become El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was born Malcolm Little but changed his name to Malcolm X and eventually to the name he claimed for the rest of his life after realizing that the name, Little, was given to his family by a White man who had enslaved his ancestors.
Many African-Americans who became members of the Nation of Islam also changed their last names to X and eventually claimed Muslim names. However, the names they claimed are not African names since Islam is no more an African religion than Christianity. Africans were enslaved by Europeans and taken to Europe, the Caribbean, North and South America while Arabs who enslaved Africans took them to the Far and Middle Eastern countries. Since most of us in Canada are the descendants of Africans who were enslaved by Europeans we tend to concentrate on the history of Africans who were enslaved by Europeans and not much attention is paid to those Africans who were enslaved by Arabs.
Since the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and African-Americans embracing their African ancestry, some people have reclaimed African names. Most of the names we choose are from the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Akan of Ghana although names are chosen from other groups of Africans.
Many Africans in the Diaspora bear the names of the White people who enslaved their ancestors. Our names are a testimony to the many European tribes that enslaved and colonized our ancestors. There are also Africans on the continent with European names because of European colonization of all the African countries except Ethiopia.
Even now, in the 21st Century, many of us in the Diaspora do not even know or acknowledge that we are African because our names were taken away from us along with much of our culture and even our belief systems. Many of our enslaved ancestors who were lost, stripped of their self-esteem, denied the dignity of practicing their culture, retaining their own African names or naming their children eventually clung to the belief systems of those who enslaved and colonized them.
Unfortunately, there are some of us who still do not know who we are because we cannot accept the truth from people who look like us. There is that dislocation that continues to haunt us into the 21st century. We prefer to legitimize the words of Europeans; so for those who need that here is a quote.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 - September 21, 1860) said: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."