Thursday, December 22, 2011


For my 13th birthday I was subjected to what could be considered a rite of passage for African Guyanese females. Most of us looked forward to and welcomed taking part in this tradition. I had been looking forward to this event with great anticipation since some girls younger than I had already been initiated. This initiation could be painful and even traumatic depending on the skill of the person wielding the “pressing” comb. We had heard some of the horror stories and seen the evidence of incompetent “pressing” comb wielders. That evidence included burnt ears, foreheads, necks and scalps. In my case the “pressing” comb wielder was competent and in any case my 13 year old partly colonized mind probably would not have minded a singe or two to achieve the effect of having my naturally curly African hair “fried.” At that time we thought it was the height of fashion and sophistication to have our hair “fried” and lying flat to our scalps. Those who were “lucky” enough would get what was termed a “press and curl” which meant that the “fried” hair was not left to lie flat on the scalp but was curled with another heated contraption similar to today’s curling iron. My “lucky” and ecstatic 13 year old self was in seventh heaven because I was treated to a “press and curl.” There I was, 13 years old with a fabulous hairstyle, allowed to wear high heeled shoes for the first time (never mind I could hardly walk in the two inch heels) and wearing my first “grown up style” dress. To complete this rite of passage, with my new grown up hairstyle, dress and shoes, I sauntered off to the cinema accompanied by my cousin Joy who is 11 months younger than I. These many decades later I cannot remember anything about the movie but I will never forget the “press and curl.”

Almost 15 years ago I stopped straightening my hair. During my “press and curl” days there was always the fear that some dreadful medical calamity could befall if I was caught in the rain after a session. As an adult my friend Claire DeAbreu introduced me to another method of straightening African hair. As a Georgetown born and bred African Guyanese female she had advanced beyond the “pressing” comb and used a chemical solution to straighten her curls. Claire and I met when we both taught at St John’s School in Sparendaam on the East Coast, Demerara and soon became fast friends. She introduced me to Jaffrey’s Hair Straightener and that is when I experienced the first painful episode of straightening hair. In a do-it-yourself moment, probably not following the instructions to the letter I found that at the end of the experience along with dead straight hair there was also pain, pain and more pain! There was one difference from using the “pressing” comb, no more fear of catching pneumonia if I was caught in a downpour of rain.

I thought about those hair-raising experiences of my youth as I realised that Madam C.J. Walker’s 144th birthday was fast approaching. This African American woman who was born on December 23, 1867 just two years after her parents were freed from slavery, grew up to become the first African American woman millionaire. She was born Sarah Breedlove to Owen and Minerva Breedlove who both transitioned before she was 7 years old leaving her and her siblings orphans. The uncertainty of being shuttled between relatives after losing her parents is speculated as the reason Sarah Breedlove married Moses McWilliams in 1881 when she was only 14 years old. Four years later she gave birth to her only child, a daughter A’Lelia McWilliams and two years later at 20 Sarah Breedlove McWilliams was a widow and her two year old daughter fatherless. Many sources claim that Moses McWilliams was lynched by a white mob in 1887; however in the 2009 published book Harlem Renaissance lives from the African American national biography the authors Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham write: “Although some sources say he was lynched, there is no credible documentation to justify such a claim.” In her 2001 published book On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker author A’Lelia Bundles writes: “With no death certificate and no dependable oral history from Sarah Breedlove herself, it is unlikely that anyone will ever know whether Moses McWilliams was one of the ninety-five people whose lynchings were documented in 1888.” The fact that Breedlove was never recorded speaking about her husband being lynched does not mean he was not lynched. If she had witnessed the lynching she may have been so traumatized that she could not speak of the horror of witnessing such an event. No death certificate for an African American lynched by a white mob is hardly likely to have concerned the white supremacist government. Whatever tragedy led to Breedlove McWilliams being widowed in 1887 she and her two year old child were left without a husband and father and she had to provide clothing, food and shelter for herself and her child. She moved to St Louis, Missouri where she worked as a washerwoman to support her family of two. Following a second marriage (John Davis) where she was subjected to domestic violence she married her third husband Charles Joseph Walker on January 4, 1906 and changed her name to Madam C. J. Walker. She traveled across the USA, the Caribbean and Latin America marketing and promoting Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower eventually establishing Lelia College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which trained women to sell her products door-to-door and provide hair-care for African American women. By 1910 she had more than 1,000 sales agents and had moved to Indianapolis where she established the headquarters of Madame C. J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and opened another training school to train her salespeople. As a pioneer of the modern cosmetics industry and an advocate of women's economic independence she provided above average wages for thousands of African American women who otherwise would have been relegated to working as farm labourers and maids. Although she is known as the woman who made a fortune encouraging African American women to straighten their hair, Walker was a philanthropist who gave back to her community including $1,000 in 1911 to build a new YMCA in Indianapolis for African Americans. Shortly after moving to Harlem in 1916 she contributed $5,000 to the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement. As a political activist, in July 1917 when a white mob massacred African Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois, Walker joined a group of Harlem leaders who visited the White House to present a petition advocating federal anti-lynching legislation. At her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention in Philadelphia in 1917 considered one of the first national meetings of businesswomen Walker reportedly said to the gathering: “This is the greatest country under the sun, but we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible.” The story of Madam C.J. Walker finding fame and fortune with a business plan encouraging African American women to straighten their hair began more than a hundred years ago when we felt compelled to confirm to a European standard of beauty. Not much about our hair has changed since then. In the 2001 published book Tenderheaded, bell hooks, one of the contributing writers reminds us: “Despite many changes in racial politics, black women continue to obsess about their hair, and straightening hair continues to be serious business. Individual preferences (whether rooted in self-hate or not) cannot negate the reality that our collective obsession with hair straightening reflects the psychology of oppression and the impact of racist colonization.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The folks from the suburbs and the private schools so concerned with putting warning labels on my records missed the point. They never stopped to worry about the realities in this country that spread poverty and racism and gun violence and hatred of women and drug use and unemployment. People can act like rappers spread these things, but that is not true. Our lives are not rotten or worthless just because that’s what people say about the real estate that we were raised on. In fact, our lives may be even more worthy of study because we succeeded despite the promises of failure seeping out from behind the peeling paint on the walls of every apartment in every project.

Excerpt from the introduction by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s 2007 published book KNOW WHAT I MEAN: REFLECTIONS ON HIP HOP.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson has done it again! As recently reported in Jet magazine and now splashed across the Internet, Dyson is teaching a class for undergraduate students at Georgetown University (Washington D.C) on the subject of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. This is not Dyson’s first attempt to lecture on the work of Jay-Z. He is quoted as saying: “I was originally supposed to give a series of lectures at Harvard back in 2008 about the influence of Jay-Z. But the night before I was supposed to speak, a certain young, black man became president of the United States, so the lectures ended up being about him instead.” Carter is the second rapper whose work Dyson has taught. He taught an undergraduate course on the life and work of the late Tupac Amaru Shakur and in 2001 published Holler if you hear me: searching for Tupac Shakur. In 2002 Dyson was a professor of African American studies at the University of Pennsylvania and taught about the life and lyrics of Shakur, examining the way Shakur's image and presence influenced the way listeners perceived his messages. Dyson saw Shakur as "perhaps the representative figure of his generation" and spoke about his upbringing and lifestyle which was similar to millions of disenfranchised African American youth. Dyson wrote of Shakur: "In his haunting voice can be heard the buoyant hopefulness and the desperate hopelessness that mark the outer perimeters of the hip-hop culture he eagerly embraced, as well as the lives of the millions of youth who admired and adored him." Dyson feels that for some young African Americans hip-hop has the same place in their affections as the church and civil rights leaders had for past generations. He has written: Where young black Americans once turned primarily to the church – and to the civil rights leaders that the church produced – to articulate their hopes, frustrations, and daily tribulations, it is fast becoming men like Jay-Z and Nas, and women like Missy Elliot and Lauryn Hill, who best vocalize the struggle of growing up black and poor in this country.

While some think Dyson has embarked on a mission that is long overdue others have criticized the professor’s zeal in introducing hip-hop as a worthy subject of higher learning. Those who laud Dyson’s efforts think it is high time that the culture of African Americans be given the same consideration as white Americans in academia. The offerings at most post-secondary institutions are Eurocentric with a few courses about racialized people, their culture and history thrown in as a sop. If a white professor decides to throw into their lectures some mention of African American culture it does not engender the kind of criticism heaped on an African American academic who brings in-depth analysis to the subject. This ties in with the kind of disregard white people have shown to African American culture where it is first mocked until white people claim and white-wash it. Youth from other cultures have embraced and some have even attempted to claim the hip-hop art form even though it is an African American creation. Some African American hip-hop purists have pushed back with what some consider essentialism when there is mention of authenticity (not surprising considering the history of jazz and the blues.) Dyson has addressed what is seen as essentialism in hip-hop. “When black people come up with forms of cultural expression that are narrow and rigid – essentialist – they’re often in response to the attempt to impose vicious, or racist, or stereotypical views of black life from outside our culture. Essentialism is often conjured by bigotry and attack. All of this stuff guarantees that hip-hop, more than any other form of AA cultural and musical expression, will obsess over who can produce it and record it.” In his 2011 published book Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Rhythm and the Rhyme Professor Ralph Basui Watkins wrote: There are camps in hip-hop. One camp is made up of the essentialists or purists like KRS-One, who contends that much of what masquerades as hip-hop doesn’t embrace the four basic principles of hip-hop. KRS-One traced the history of hip-hop from the blues, through Jamaica via DJ Kool Herc, and then to North America, where the next evolution of African American culture was born.

Dyson is not the sole African American academic who has written/taught about hip-hop. The September 29, 1997 issue of Jet magazine reported that the University of California at Berkeley was offering a course studying the poetry of Shakur who had transitioned the year before on September 13, 1996. The class, The Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur, reportedly drew more than 100 students. The course looked at the life and death of Shakur with an emphasis on his work; making connections between Shakur and politics, society, history and the soul of an artist. In his 2007 published book To the Break of Dawn: Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, African American professor William Jelani Cobb who has taught at Rutgers and Spelman wrote: Hip-hop has in the course of three decades become the dominant form of youth culture on earth. It has ridden a tidal wave of American hegemony to the far expanses of the globe, carrying with it the complex, incomplete, and contradictory visions of those who created it as simultaneously the richest class of exploited people of the world. Hip hop is culture. Hip hop is politics. Hip hop is economics. Hip-hop has piqued the interest of many whether they love or hate the art form. Many older people who lived through the civil rights movement are taken aback by some of the lyrics that describe a culture which they see as setting the race back. They see the culture of hip-hop as crime ridden and rife with misogyny. Cobb addresses this: Before middle-aged pundits started lamenting hip hop’s “values,” before rappers became unpaid boosters for the booze du jour, before ice was anything but frozen water, there was this: two turntables and a microphone. While the commercialization of hip-hop may have caused a degeneration in the lyrics and attitudes of the performers, some of the early lyrics were conscious. Georgia Roberts who taught the 1997 class The Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur at the University of California at Berkeley commented: Much of today's hip-hop has been colonized by corporate America but there are elements within hip-hop that are fundamental to a political agenda.

In his 2005 published book Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement professor S. Craig Watkins writes: From its humble beginnings in the Bronx to its transformation into a multibillion-dollar global industry hip hop has stirred constant and contentious debate. Dyson’s decision to teach a class about Jay-Z has added fuel to the fire of that debate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


On Friday, December 9, Tanzanians celebrated 50 years of independence from British colonization. On December 9, 1961 the country then known as Tanganyika lowered the British flag which had been flown by the occupiers for more than 40 years and raised a flag chosen by the people of the country. Independence from European domination did not come easily for the people of Tanzania. Tanganyika (now Tanzania) had first been colonized by the Germans during the infamous European Scramble for Africa where 14 white men met over a period of two months (November 15, 1884 to January 20th, 1885) and carved up the continent to exploit Africans. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized by Europeans. While the mainland of Tanzania became part of German East Africa (which included modern day Burundi and Rwanda) in 1884, the Sultanate of Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890. In 1963 Zanzibar achieved independence and a year later formed a union with Tanganyika under the new name Tanzania. Tanganyika was occupied by the British in 1918 following the first European tribal war known as the Great War or World War I. After Germany was defeated, the African territories it had occupied were parceled out to other equally covetous and greedy European tribes. Germany had occupied three other areas on the African continent, Cameroon, Togo and Namibia. The brutal, inhumane German exploitation of the Herero people of Namibia (1904-1908) has never been dealt with. After the German defeat from the 1914 – 1918 armed conflict; France got Togo, Britain and France divided up Cameroon and Namibia was snapped up by the British. So at the end of the 1914-1918 war, the British had three new colonies on the African continent (British Cameroon, Namibia and Tanganyika) courtesy of Germany’s defeat. German East Africa became Tanganyika under British rule.

The fact that Tanzania has a history which surpasses any European nation, was ignored as first the Germans then the British lorded it over the Africans. Archaeologists have uncovered proof of the oldest human settlement in Tanzania. Fossilized hominid remains prove that modern humans originated from the Olduvai Gorge area in northern Tanzania. It has been approximated that around the first Millennium CE the region was settled by Bantu speaking peoples who migrated from the west and north. This group formed city/states about 1500 years ago. The coastal port of Kilwa was established around 800 CE by Arab traders and at the same time Persians settled Pemba and Zanzibar. Many Africans participated in the second European tribal conflict of 1939-1945 and when they returned home began to agitate for independence from European domination. This surge of activism for independence from European colonization happened throughout the continent after the end of the war in 1945. In Tanganyika Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first person from Tanganyika to attend university in Britain founded the Tanganyika African National Union, TANU, in 1954 to secure the country’s independence from British rule. Although TANU was founded in 1954 it was not until 1960 that the British agreed to “internal self-government” for the country which eventually led to full independence on December 9, 1961. The British seemed to have forgotten that Africans had been governing themselves for thousands of years before the first European ever set foot on the African continent. If not for the confusion Europeans introduced to the continent when they carved it up with no thought to the various groups they threw into living together there would have been no need for “gradual” self-government. At the time the British government had its hands full fighting the Africans in neighbouring Kenya who were also demanding independence. Nyerere became the first prime minister of the independent nation. The following year when Tanganyika became a republic he was elected president. Affectionately known as Mwalimu (teacher) Nyerere, he introduced ujamaa, a form of African socialism based on cooperative agriculture. His vision was to build an egalitarian society. On April 26, 1964, Tanganyika united with Zanzibar and was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania on October 29. TANU and the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar merged to become Chama Cha Mapinduzi(CCM) Revolutionary Party, in 1977. On April 26, 1977 the union of the two parties was ratified in a new constitution. President Nyerere stepped down from the presidency in 1985 and handed over power to President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Tanzania is one of the few African countries where an African language (Kiswahili) is the official language. Most African countries have retained the language of their colonizer as the official language.

Although there was no armed struggle for Nyerere and his followers in their bid for independence from Britain, Africans in Tanganyika had mounted armed resistance against the Germans. Throughout the continent Africans had resisted European domination once they realised that was the plan. When the Europeans first arrived on the continent they pretended that they were there to trade and/or convert the Africans to Christianity. Their actions soon proved otherwise. Beginning with the Wahehe War which lasted from 1891 to 1898 there was resistance which was brutally suppressed by the Germans. The Wahehe people declared their independence from the Germans and led by their King Mkwawa they resisted German dominance for 7 years. Their resistance ended when the king took his own life rather than be captured by the Germans. The Germans took King Mkwawa’s head as a trophy. Professor David Pizzo writes in his 2007 published book "To devour the land of Mkwawa": Colonial violence and the German-Hehe War in East Africa c. 1884—1914:
“His head was taken and sent back to the Bremen Anthropological Museum as a final trophy of German victory. Specifically mentioned in the Article 246 of the Versailles Treaty on 1919 as a part of the reparations that Germany owed the victorious allies Mkwawa’s skull was supposed to be returned within six months of the ratification of the treaty but it was not brought back to Tanganyika until 1954.”
The Germans may have defeated one group of Africans in Tanganyika but that was not the end of African resistance to German domination. A two year armed resistance against the Germans was mounted from 1905 to 1907 (Maji Maji Rebellion) by Africans in Tanganyika after the Germans demanded that the Africans grow cotton for German export and pay taxes to enrich the Germans. The resistance was again brutally suppressed but the fight for independence through German and British occupation was ongoing, whether it was armed struggle or other means. The people of what is now Tanzania have been free from European colonization for 50 years. Tanzanians in Toronto celebrated on Saturday, December 10. Information about the celebration is available at!/events/142841832485955/

Thursday, December 1, 2011



Fifty six years ago on Thursday, December 1, 1955 the actions of a 42 year old African American woman catapulted her into the pages of history books as it was one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist when she was arrested on that fateful Thursday night. She and her husband, Raymond Parks were actively involved in seeking justice for the wrongfully accused “Scottsboro Boys.” The infamous “Scottsboro Boys” case began in 1931 when on March 25, 1931 a group of 9 African American young men were accused of raping two white women. Despite strong evidence of their innocence, an all-white jury convicted the young men and sentenced eight of them to death. The accusation of rape came after a fight broke out between a group of young men white and a group of African American young men who were riding on a Southern Railroad freight train. The train was stopped by an angry posse in Paint Rock, Alabama and the African Americans were arrested for assault. Rape charges were added when two white women who were also on the train accused the African American youth of rape. It was speculated that the white women accused the African American youth of rape because they feared they would be arrested for vagrancy or for being hobos in the company of the African American youths. One of the women had been arrested for adultery and fornication just two months before in January 1931. Whatever their reasons for the accusations they both stuck to their stories until April 7, 1933 when under cross examination a different story was told. All the Scottsboro boys eventually gained their freedom but the process took almost 20 years. Meanwhile Parks became a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and was one of the driving forces in seeking to repeal the laws of segregation. Although the African American population of Montgomery, Alabama was the lifeblood of the Montgomery public transportation system they were disrespected by the drivers, forced to sit at the back of the bus and to relinquish their seats when the white section of the bus was filled.

When Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 she had years of activism to call upon, plus the support of her community who knew her as someone who could go the extra mile when the going got tough. After all she had been instrumental in ensuring that incidents of white men raping African American women were not swept under the white supremacist carpet of the segregated government. In the 2011 published book At the dark end of the street: black women, rape, and resistance -- a new history of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the rise of black power her almost single-handed determination to seek justice when in 1944 Recy Taylor was brutally raped by 7 seven white men (armed with knives and shotguns) is well documented. Risking her physical safety Parks vigorously investigated and pursued the case to its conclusion and even though none of the 7 white rapists were ever convicted of the crime it received widespread attention. Parks recruited other activists and created the “Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor” which brought international attention to the crime committed against Taylor. Earlier this year, on March 30, the Alabama state legislature in apologizing for their refusal to prosecute the rapists of Recy Taylor passed a resolution which read in part: BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we acknowledge the lack of prosecution for crimes committed against Recy Taylor by the government of the State of Alabama, that we declare such failure to act was, and is, morally abhorrent and repugnant, and that we do hereby express profound regret for the role played by the government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute the crimes. Taylor now 91 years old received the news in her Florida home where she, her husband and baby daughter had been forced to flee after a fire bombing of their home and death threats from the good white citizens of Alabama following the widespread publicizing of the rape.

On Thursday, December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the back of the bus to a white man who could not find a seat in the white section of the bus she may have thought about the “Scottsboro Boys,” Recy Taylor or the many other people for whom she had advocated. One person she did think about as she sat on the bus waiting to be arrested was Emmett Till. Parks is quoted as saying: I thought about Emmett Till, and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others, and I felt violated. Emmett Till was the 14 year old African American youth who had been brutally tortured and murdered by two white men who accused him of whistling at a 21 year old white woman. Till who was born in Chicago, the only child of Mamie Till Mobley had been spending the summer with relatives in Money, Mississippi when in the early hours of August 28, 1955 two white men arrived at his elderly relative’s home, woke him up and took him away. He was never seen alive again. Three days after his abduction the body of the 14 year old was found. The two white men had brutally beaten the child, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him through the head, tied a 75 pound cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire before disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River. The authorities tried to quietly bury his body in Mississippi but his mother fought them to have his body returned to Chicago where the world could see the brutal face of the white supremacist culture that allowed the vicious murder of her child. The two men who murdered Till were found not guilty by a jury of their peers. Their confession was published in Look magazine in January 1956.

Remembering the kidnapping, torture and murder of 14 year old Till earlier that year Parks decided on December 1, 1955 that she would not move and the rest is history. Parks was a human rights activist and crusader for social justice whose life story is more than her actions on December 1, 1955. Her action on that Thursday night snowballed and eventually caused the desegregation of the Montgomery public transportation system. Sometimes all it takes to change the system is for one person to take action.


Tenants of a Scarborough, Ontario apartment building were traumatized at the sight of an 8 month old baby girl hurtling through the air, apparently thrown from a 4th floor balcony at around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 5. She landed on the concrete pavement and was soon followed by her two year old sister who landed on grass and then by their mother also allegedly flung off the 4th floor balcony by a 27 year male. Some reports indicate the family had recently moved from a 12th floor apartment. Photographs of the apartment with a shattered window pane and a curtain caught on the jagged edges of the shattered window pane appeared in several Toronto newspapers. The shattered window pane has caused some speculation that the 8 month old was thrown through the window and not off the balcony like her sister and mother. The seriously injured mother and two babies were hospitalized. The man who allegedly threw them off the balcony, although he reportedly leaped off the same balcony, was uninjured. Newspaper reports indicate that when he was confronted by police he attempted to grab one of their guns. He was arrested and appeared in court charged with three counts of attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault, one count of attempting to disarm a police officer and two charges of resisting arrest.

Growing up in Guyana many decades ago we were told: “A boy who hits a girl is a coward.” Many men understand that hitting people who cannot physically defend themselves against you (e.g. women and children) is wrong, some do not. What drives a man to physically abuse the woman who has borne his children and physically abuse those children? What goes through a man’s mind as he takes a helpless child and tosses her off a balcony or through a window? Did he see her little body hit the concrete pavement before he tossed the two year old and then their mother off the balcony? Do abusive men learn their behaviour from observing their fathers, other male relatives, men in the neighbourhood where they grew up? Do men who abuse their partners and their children deserve/need condemnation or help? Will these children recover from their physical injuries and if they do will they carry emotional scars? Domestic violence, abuse of women and children cuts across class, ethnicity, race, religion etc., However since artists’ sketches from the accused man’s court appearance has identified him as African Canadian the racists are online with comments including: ”This family lives in a rental apartment in Scarborough…isn’t that where most of our immigrants move to when they arrive?” and “Have you also taken a look at the drawn picture…looks like an immigrant to me.” What does an immigrant look like? Obviously these white supremacists do not know the history of this country (Canada.) There has been an African Presence in this Great White North since the 1600s. Many African Canadians can trace their family's history to the French occupation/settlement. Others can trace their family's history to the United Empire Loyalists entrance into what was called British North America after the British were forced to leave the USA in 1783 (following their defeat during the American War of Independence.)Some members of the United Empire Loyalists were formerly enslaved Africans who had been freed because they supported the British during that war. Many of the white United Empire Loyalists brought enslaved Africans with them and those Africans remained in bondage until August 1, 1834 when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire (four years later in the Caribbean Islands colonized by the British.) Still others (African Canadians) are the descendants of those enslaved Africans who fled slavery in the USA to Canada especially after the second Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850 by the American government; after Britain had abolished slavery in 1834 and Africans living in Canada were no longer enslaved. So it is possible that this African Canadian family caught up in a public instance of domestic violence could very well be from a community that traces its ancestry back many generations in this country.

While this family is suffering and need help to cope with the trauma of domestic abuse which led to life threatening injuries, the white supremacists are out with knives drawn ready to inflict more pain. The many instances of white men inflicting horrific abuses on their families are forgotten. The lives of poor people especially poor and racialised people are always open to the scrutiny of white people who make judgments based on their white supremacist mindset. The recent case of the family court judge in Texas who mercilessly beat his 16 year old daughter unaware that she was videotaping the beating is just one example that domestic violence cuts across race, class, age etc.,. The judge viciously beat his daughter causing the video to contain a warning about graphic content. He cannot be charged because his daughter only recently released the video online and the statute of limitations has run out. Explaining why she remained in the home after her husband brutally beat their child the mother who in the video seems to condone the beating said: “I lived in an environment of dysfunction and it steadily got worse. I did leave him... but he shamed me into going back. I was completely brainwashed and controlled. I did every single thing that he did. When I leave the room he is telling me what to say, what to do.”

Many women remain in abusive relationships out of fear that the abuser is all powerful and they would never be able to escape or fear that they may not be able to survive on their own. Some African Canadian women live with their abusers for years fearing the involvement of government agencies like police, the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and even Immigration depending on their status in the country. Women without status may face the choice of living with an abusive, dangerous man or involving authority figures with the power to separate them from their children either by seizing the children or deporting the mother.

Some of the abusers are so charming that the woman does not realise what is happening until she is deeply involved; living with the man, married, or has children with him. In many cases people outside the home are shocked when the abuse is made public because the charming face presented to the public is very different from the face seen by the woman and her children in the home. Women need to be aware of the warning clues that may identify an abuser before becoming irrevocably entangled and bringing children into a relationship. People who work with and support abused women agree that the controlling, jealous man is a potential batterer even as he professes love. The first slap or punch should never be ignored in spite of seemingly heartfelt apologies and promises that it will never happen again. Some of these predators are extremely cunning and can hide their “cloven hoof” (Guyanese expression for deceit) until it is too late. These two-faced creatures are adept at hiding their violent side until their victim is well secured; only then does their prey see the predator's true face. When the violence happens in the privacy of the home it is different from when it spills over into the streets, the workplace or the schools the children attend. In many cases it is not until the abuse spills over into the public realm that the victim is believed. The young woman in Texas who was brutally beaten by her father commented after the video was made public: “People are believing us now, instead of calling us liars like they have in the past."

Sometimes woman remain in abusive relationships because they think their “love” will rehabilitate the abuser. It is not the woman’s responsibility to rehabilitate her abuser who believes he is doing nothing wrong. In the case of the Texas judge; after the video was made public he shamelessly rationalized: "In my mind I have not done anything wrong other than discipline my child when she was caught stealing. I did lose my temper, I've apologized. It looks worse than it is." These abusers should be held responsible for their behaviour. An abuser could be a family court judge or someone who thinks that siring children with various women is proof of his “manhood” even though he is not financially capable of supporting them but contributes fear and stress when the children witness or are subjected to physical and verbal violence. Regardless of race, ethnicity, economics etc., abusers are bullying cowards and no one should be subjected to a violent partner. There are many signs that a relationship is abusive: the most obvious is if you live in fear that you may say or do the “wrong thing” which will trigger a violent episode where you and/or your children might need medical attention. If this is you, seek help!


On Friday, November 11 while a crowd gathered at Queens Park to celebrate/commemorate Remembrance Day, a handful of African Canadians gathered a few yards away to commemorate Nakumbuka (I Remember). Nakumbuka is the Kiswahili word used to remember our ancestors who perished during the Maafa (a Kiswahili word used to encompass the trans-Atlantic slave trade and enslavement of Africans.) The commemoration of Nakumbuka was the brainchild of Jomo Nkombe, a Tanzanian who lived in Toronto and pioneered the idea as a public ritual in 1990. Nkombe asked Charles ‘Mende’ Roach an activist lawyer/jurist to take the idea of Nakumbuka to the 1992 World Pan African Movement Conference which was held in Nigeria. At that conference it was resolved that the delegates would promote Nakumbuka to remember the millions of Africans who perished during the Maafa. In 1992 Nakumbuka was promoted in Nigeria by Naiwu Osahon of the World Pan African Movement. Baye Kes-Ba-Me-Ra and Adande Ima-Shema-Ra of the Pan African Associations of America established the Nakumbuka observance which was celebrated for the first time at San Diego State University, California on November 11, 1994. Roach has also led the Nakumbuka observance in Toronto since the 1990’s and in 2003 he went to Kingston, Jamaica and with Jamaican writer/educator Basil “Koosoonogo” Lopez, established the first Nakumbuka Ceremony at Mico College.

Nakumbuka is not about the glorification of war but we can definitely recognize those of our ancestors who perished fighting for their freedom and our freedom. Very different from the wars fought by Europeans as they battled each other in covetousness and greed to possess the lands of racialized people. Our ancestors in many cases had to wage what has now become known as guerilla warfare because they were invariably out numbered and outgunned by the white people who strove to keep them enslaved. The Maroons of Jamaica led by Nanny and others are an excellent example as are the Quilombolas of Brazil led by Zumbi and others, the various Africans who fought for their freedom against the Spanish throughout Central and South America, the Djukas of Suriname and Kofi, Akkara, Akkabre and Atta leaders of the 1763 Berbice Revolution in Guyana who fought the Dutch. Nakumbuka is a day to remember even those ancestors whose names we do not know who resisted in various ways as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz said “by any means necessary” and they did resist! Some ran away, others worked as slowly as they could, destroyed buildings, crops, livestock, tools etc., to cause the white slaveholders as much grief as they could.

On November 11 while there is much pomp and splendour in remembering and praising those who died during the great European tribal conflicts of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 it is very instructional to observe the faces displayed in the newspapers and other media. The contribution of racialised people to these wars is not recognized. African Canadians have fought in every war in which this country has been involved even before it was known as Canada. In 1783 when Britain was forced to recognize American independence, there were Africans among the United Empire Loyalists who had supported Britain during the revolution and fled to Canada. Although the contribution of the Coloured Corps to defending Canada during the war of 1812 is recognized with a plaque the entire story cannot be told in one small plaque and that history is usually ignored. There were more than 30 Africans defending this country during the War of 1812. When Canadians left these shores to do battle in other countries African Canadian men were always involved even when they had to fight the white power structure to be included. The myth that the war fought from 1939 to 1945 was a war for freedom is often touted on Remembrance Day. The fact that African Canadians who returned to Canada after fighting in that war were subjected to the same white supremacist oppression to which they had been subjected before certainly explodes that myth. Other well hidden secrets of that war are exposed in Trading With the Enemy: An Exposé of The Nazi-American Money-Plot 1933-1949 by Charles Higham. The cover blurb of the book states: “Here is the extraordinary true story of the American businessmen and government officials who dealt with the Nazis for profit or through conviction throughout the Second World War: Ford. Standard Oil, Chase Bank and members of the State Department were among those who shared in the spoils. Meticulously documented and dispassionately told, this is an alarming story. At its centre is 'The Fraternity', an influential international group associated with the Rockefeller or Morgan banks and linked by the ideology of Business as Usual. While Americans were dying in the war, McKittrick sat down with his German, Japanese, Italian, British and American executive staff to discuss the gold bars that had been sent to the Bank earlier that year by the Nazi government for use by its leaders after the war. Long and shocking is the list of diplomats and businessmen alike who had their own ways of profiting from the war.”

On November 11 during the Nakumbuka ceremony we commemorate the sacrifices our ancestors made. We must never forget, dismiss, minimize or simplify the five hundred years of horror and devastation of the Maafa. It is a day to remember the countless Africans who were kidnapped and taken away from their families and friends on the continent, never given the chance to say goodbye and never saw their loved ones again. Take time to read and talk with friends and family, children of all ages about the Maafa and how to ensure it never happens again. Those who do not know their history are at risk of having it repeated. We have not found a way to bring psychological, emotional and spiritual closure to the trauma we have experienced in the last five hundred years. The Maafa has been the least discussed human tragedy in the past five hundred years even among African people, yet this period of time has stunted the growth of a continent, its people and its children of the Diaspora. The inability of its victims to freely and openly express their grief and speak about the trauma has made this tragedy even more horrific. There has hardly been any discussion of the negative effects of the Maafa on the social, economic and cultural evolution of the African continent and the people that were lost due to the genocidal nature of an emerging European capitalism seeking free labour to build its empires. The European aggression against African people was extremely violent and brutal as centuries of the trade in human beings destroyed and erased the existence of villages, communities, empires, peoples, traditions, rituals, ceremonies, histories and languages. As a result of this barbarity it has been estimated that 60 to 100 million African lives were lost in the Middle Passage, on plantations in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, North America and households in European countries. African people were worked to death for the sole purpose of increasing the wealth and domination of white skin people at the expense of Africa and her people. Untold numbers of Africans also perished under various types of white domination, oppression and terrorism including colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, segregation and cultural assimilation. This has resulted in many Africans being lost and disconnected, denying their Africanness, hating themselves and those who look like them as they can only see themselves reflected through the eyes of people who despise them. Just as some people have said Lest We Forget and others have vowed Never Again we say Nakumbuka I Remember!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011



On November 16, 1972 after 40 years of torture for a group of African Americans in Alabama, the US government brought a halt to the infamous syphilis experiment. This inhumane experiment using African American men, women and children as guinea pigs began in 1932 in Macon County, Alabama. The men involved thought they were receiving free health care from the US government instead they were treated as if they were laboratory animals. Some 600 African American farm workers and tenant farmers from Macon County, Alabama and their families were used in the Public Health Service syphilis study. For participating in the study, the men were given free medical care (actually kept under medical surveillance,) free meals on the days they met with the medical staff members of the study and burial insurance of up to 50 dollars each. However the wives and partners of these men also contracted the disease and many of their children were born with congenital syphilis. Children born with congenital syphilis suffer brain damage, blindness, deafness and several deformities. The families were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. In the 1940s the medical personnel involved in this horrific violation of human rights were well aware that penicillin was an effective cure for syphilis. By 1947 penicillin had become standard treatment for syphilis and was available to the medical staff involved with the study but penicillin was never offered to any of the men being “studied.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for "bad blood," a local term used to describe several illnesses, including anemia and fatigue. Even when the victims died of the disease, the families were not made aware of the cause. If these families had been white they would not have been victimised by such an experiment because the law in Alabama at the time required that physicians provide proper care for patients with communicable diseases. In 1927 the Alabama Legislature enacted a venereal disease law which stated in part: “The county health officer shall require persons infected with venereal disease to report for treatment to a reputable physician and continue treatment until such disease, in the judgement of the attending physician is no longer communicable” Not only did the architects of this study (Surgeon General Hugh Cumming and assistant surgeons general Taliaferro Clark and Raymond Aloysius Vonderlehr) withhold treatment from the unfortunate victims of the study they also prevented them from getting treatment elsewhere. In 1942 Vonderlehr was informed that some of the men were being called for medical examination prior to drafting into the Armed Forces and would receive treatment to cure them of syphilis. He ensured that they were excluded from the draft and that they did not receive treatment. In explaining why Macon County was chosen as the site for the experiment Taliaferro Clark wrote that the “rather low intelligence of the Negro population and the depressed economic conditions” made Macon County “a natural laboratory; a ready-made situation.”

On July 23rd 1973, eight months after the study ended, a $1.8 billion class action suit was filed by civil rights lawyer Fred Gray who demanded $3 million in damages for each survivor and the heirs of those deceased. In December 1974 an out of court settlement was reached. The government agreed to pay $10 million, where each survivor received $37,500 in damages and the heirs of the deceased received $15,000. In 1974 two years after the government was forced to end the study Congress passed the National Research Act and created a commission to study and write regulations governing studies involving human participants.

It took another 23 years for the victims to receive acknowledgement from the government that a wrong had been done. On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized at the White House during a ceremony which 5 of the remaining 8 survivors attended. Clinton’s apology included acknowledgement that the study was racist: "What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry ... To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist." In his 1993 published book Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment James H. Jones wrote: “As a symbol of racism and medical malfeasance, the Tuskegee Study may never move the nation to action, but it can change the way Americans view illness. Hidden within the anger and anguish of those who decry the experiment is a plea for government authorities and medical officials to hear the fears of people whose faith has been damaged, to deal with their concerns directly, and to acknowledge the link between public health and community trust. Government Authorities and medical officials must strive to cleanse medicine of social infection by eliminating any type of racial or moral stereotypes of people or their illnesses. They must seek to build a health system that will make adequate health care available to all Americans. Anything less will leave some groups at risk, as it did the subjects of the Tuskegee Study”

Unfortunately, the Alabama experiment using African Americans as guinea pigs is just one of such cases. The story of Henrietta Lacks an African American woman whose cells have been used since 1951 is a case in point. Lacks was 31 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. Without her knowledge or permission medical staff took tissue from her body and used the tissue in various experiments. Although over the years the cells and tissue from this woman’s body have been used in countless experiments and medical research leading to groundbreaking medical advances (including polio vaccine and genetic mapping) and has led to fame/recognition for some and wealth for others, her descendants have lived in poverty and could barely afford medical coverage. In 2010 the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was published by Rebecca Skloot who is described by one reviewer as: “a young white, idealistic journalist with no connection to the Lackses apart from a fascination in the story instilled by a middle-school biology teacher, sought to right the wrongs of the past by telling the full story.”

In her 2006 published book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present African American professor Harriet A. Washington has documented many of the horrendous experiments done by white medical personnel (including government agencies) who have used African Americans as guinea pigs. The Tuskegee experiment which is the most publicized did not bring an end to the practice. Washington documents in her book that Columbia University between 1992 and 1997 conducted research using African American boys from 6 to 10 years old to establish a link between genetics and violence. The 126 boys from New York City were given the drug fenfluramine (reported to cause heart valve disease) An article published in the New York Times dated April 15, 1998 quotes Vera Sharav, the director of the New York patient advocacy group Citizens for Responsible Care in Psychiatry and Research: ''What value does the President's apology for Tuskegee have when there are no safeguards to prevent such abuses now? These racist and morally offensive studies put minority children at risk of harm in order to prove they are generally predisposed to be violent in the future.”

The experience of African Americans used as guinea pigs in medical experiments and the subsequent exposure has served to change laws but people who live in poverty, especially racialised people need to be vigilant.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


King Mzilikazi Khumalo, founder of the Matabele Kingdom (Ndebele) was laid to rest in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on November 4, 1868. Bulawayo was the capital of the Ndebele Kingdom. Mzilikazi established the Ndebele nation in the southwestern part of the Zimbabwean plateau in 1839-1840. Around 1821 Mzilikazi, who had been a leader of his people in Zululand, had a disagreement with the Zulu king, Shaka, when, according to Glen Lyndon Dodds in his 1998 book, The Zulus and Matabele: Warrior Nations, Mzilikazi declared to a group of King Shaka's messengers: "Messengers take these words to Shaka; say that Mzilikazi has no king. In peace he will meet Shaka as a brother, and in war he will find in him an enemy whom he cannot and will not despise. Depart! And tell your king it rests with him whether it be peace or war." Naturally, after sending those fighting words to the great Zulu king, Mzilikazi and his people left the area now known as South Africa and, crossing the uKhahlamba mountains (later named Drakensberg by Europeans), Mzilikazi and his people settled in the interior. Shaka and his warriors pursued and there were battles between the Matebele and the Zulu. However, Mzilikazi and his initial group had gathered strength and numbers as they travelled. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, author of the 2009 book, Ndebele nation: reflections on hegemony, memory and historiography, writes: "The Ndebele were a formidable nation in the nineteenth century, with unique institutions of governance, distinct political ideologies, and a worldview that was shaped by their specific historical experiences. The Ndebele nation was a multinational one comprised of Nguni, Sotho, Tswana, Kalanga, Shona, Venda and Tonga ethnic groups. The national language was IsiNdebele. Its founding father was Mzilikazi Khumalo, a charismatic leader and a competent nation-builder." This new Ndebele nation was able to withstand the Zulu attacks, however, they were pushed out of the area when they were attacked by the Dutch Boers on their "Great Trek" to occupy areas in southern Africa. The attacks by the Europeans on one hand and the Zulu on the other, helped to push Mzilikazi and his people across the Limpopo River to settle in Zimbabwe.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni continues: "The migration and eventual settlement of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe is also part of the historical drama that became intertwined with another dramatic event of the migration of the Boers from Cape Colony into the interior in what is generally referred to as the Great Trek, which began in 1835. It was military clashes with the Boers that forced Mzilikazi and his followers to migrate across the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe." Even in Zimbabwe, the Ndebele were not safe from the covetous Europeans bent on occupying African land. Where, in the first Ndebele settlement the European interlopers had been the Dutch, the Ndebele were confronted with British greed in Zimbabwe.

On November 4, 1893, exactly 25 years after November 4, 1868 when Mzilikazi was laid to rest, the British settlers gained possession of Bulawayo. This was set in motion when on November 14, 1889 the British monarch, Victoria, approved a "Royal Charter" creating the British South Africa Company (BSAC.) This "Royal Charter", in the eyes of the British, gave the BSAC and Cecil Rhodes (in whose name the charter was granted) carte blanche and legitimacy to exploit Africans and their land. Rhodes and his partners claimed a monopoly of all the metals and minerals in the Ndebele Kingdom and the right for their mining companies to exploit the land. The Ndebele either had to accept this state of affairs or fight to protect themselves from the European hordes that descended on them. This led to what has become known as the first Matabele War.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni sums this up in these words: "In the end, the British imperialists, together with their local agents like Cecil John Rhodes, Charles Rudd, John Smith Moffat, Charles Helm and many others, reached a consensus to use open violence on the Ndebele state so as to destroy it and replace it with a colonial state amenable to Western interests and the Christian religion. The invasion, conquest and colonization of the Ndebele became a tale of unprovoked violence and looting of Ndebele material wealth, particularly cattle, in the period 1893 to 1897. The Ndebele warriors did not go quietly, but they were no match for the brutal, ruthless British armed with weapons that outmatched theirs. The Maxim machine gun was used for the first time by the British in this unequal war with the Matabele people. The Maxim gun was the first self-powered machine gun invented by Hiram Maxim in 1884 and has the dubious distinction of being recognized as "the weapon most associated with (British) imperial conquest." With this weapon giving them a distinct advantage over the Ndebele warriors, it is not surprising that the British, on November 4, 1893, were able to capture Bulawayo. Although the British evicted the Ndebele from their land which was then occupied by White people, the Ndebele were not defeated.

In 1896 the Matabele rose up against the British who coveted everything owned by the nation. The history of any African nation/people, when told from the point of view of White people, in many cases contains rumours and innuendo, so when reading it is important to be cognizant of the bias of the writer. Some writers label the second Matabele War "The Matabele Rebellion." According to author Dodds, Cecil Rhodes thought the Ndebele were happy with their lot (being evicted from their land which was given to White settlers). How delusional was Rhodes? Maybe he was just blinded by his perceived superiority! Dodds also writes: "In June 1895, all Matabele cattle and their offspring were officially declared to belong to the company. Then, in November, the Land Commission's chairman, Judge Joseph Vincent, declared that according to the Native Department, the number of cattle still in African possession was 74,500, far short of the number estimated as belonging to the Matabele prior to the war (according to one reckoning as much as 280,000.) Ndlovu-Gatsheni writes of the British during that period: "They arrogantly alienated Ndebele land, appropriated Ndebele property such as cattle, abused the Ndebele as tenants and labourers, were ruthless, brutal and unfeeling, rude and insensitive, and enthusiastically resorted to violence whenever the Ndebele raised their heads. It is not surprising that the Matabele rose up in 1896; their land and their cattle had been stolen, they were forced to work for and pay taxes to the thieves, how much more insult piled on top of injury could they take? However, as Ndlovu-Gatsheni added: "Even the occupation of Bulawayo by the Whites did not mean the total defeat of the Ndebele."

The history of the Ndebele and Matabeleland is part of the history of the African struggle against European domination. African writers have documented the brutality of European colonization of Africans from the African point of view. In expressing that point of view Ndlovu-Gatsheni argues: "The Ndebele state became a direct victim of imperial violence and destruction in the period 1893-1896 as the advocates of Victorian aggrandizement beat the colonial drums to a crescendo, arguing that the independent Ndebele state was a barrier to the advances of 'Civilization, Commerce and Christianity'. The violent conduct of the colonial conquest itself made it abundantly clear how hypocritical these ideas were, as the ruthless destruction of human life left a legacy of bloodshed rather than peaceful western civilization." We still see that mindset exhibited in the 21st century with the greed of the western powers for oil in lands held by racialized people.


Two wrongs never make a right. Nor can you right a wrong by committing another wrong. You may be able to justify your actions politically or socially, but spiritually you will be held accountable for what you do - why you do it doesn’t count. The pendulum of life swings both ways and brings rewards at both ends of the spectrum. If you use your mind, time and energy to cause harm to anyone, the pendulum will sooner or later move in your direction. If your slate is clean, when it swings toward you, you will not have to worry about being knocked down.

From Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations for People of Color by Iyanla Vanzant published 1993

“We came, we saw, he died” are the words that American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reportedly chuckled when she was informed that Muammar Qaddafi had been killed by his captors. The reports and images coming out of Libya of Qaddafi’s last minutes of life are no laughing matter. According to an article in the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was moved to comment on Clinton’s behavior; saying that she could not be proud of calling for Gaddafi's killing. "Nor is killing a human being something to be celebrated." The Archbishop condemned the killing in this reported statement: "The manner of the killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday totally detracts from the noble enterprise of instilling a culture of human rights and democracy in Libya,... the people of Libya should have demonstrated better values than those of their erstwhile oppressor." The Archbishop probably took part of his statement from Proverbs chapter 3, verse 31: Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.

Gaddafi who was killed on Thursday, October 20 after being captured by a group of his compatriots was killed after a brutal beating that was proudly recorded and distributed online. Then came the dreadful, sickening images of his bloodied, half-naked body on display under lurid headlines such as: Moammar Gadhafi's body is stored in commercial freezer at shopping center as it awaits burial.

There are several articles in newspapers and posted on the internet about the murder of Gaddafi and some of his children. The articles are almost gleeful in reporting that a group of men captured, brutalized and killed another human being. Admittedly, many considered him a dictator, a tyrant and various other unsavoury names but he should have at least been given an opportunity to defend himself in a court of law. Maybe he did not give the same opportunity to some of his enemies but two wrongs do not make a right. Killing the man makes his killers just like him. They have committed the same acts of which he was accused. Gaddafi had his detractors and his supporters. Some considered the man a Pan-Africanist while others thought his plan was to eventually ensure the Arabization of the African continent. This is not to be confused with the colonization that the Europeans visited upon the continent where they eventually left and returned to Europe, but more like the European colonization and occupation of America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand where they in essence now own those countries.

Do the western powers that covet Libya’s oil really think that they will be able to easily control the group that paraded a wounded Gaddafi through the streets as they gleefully brutalized him? Do these western powers that turned a blind eye to the brutalization and murder of indigenous Africans in Libya ( in spite of human rights groups like Amnesty International raising the alarm really care about more than getting their greedy hands on the oil in Libya? In spite of the fact that these so-called rebels labeled Africans “mercenaries” and "immigrants/migrants," the fact remains that Libya is on the African continent and Africans lived there for millennia before the first Arab set foot on the African continent. In the fight between the Arab Gaddafi forces and the Arab National Transitional Council (NTC) it seems that the world has lost sight of the fact that this is an African country and Africans not involved in the conflict have been brutalized and killed because of the colour of their skin. In an article published in The Guardian on Tuesday, August 30, 2011, Richard Seymour wrote: A rebel slogan painted in Misrata during the fighting salutes "the brigade for purging slaves, black skin". A consequence of this racism has been mass arrests of black men, and gruesome killings – just some of the various atrocities that human rights organisations blame rebels for.

This is what the world is celebrating as a victory, liberation, democracy? There are various anonymous quotes like this one from a Toronto Sun article published Friday, October 21: Another NTC official, speaking to Reuters anonymously, gave another account of Gadhafi’s violent death: “They (NTC fighters) beat him very harshly and then they killed him. This is a war.” If the western powers think that this bunch will welcome them with open arms and open the oil wells for their pleasure and plunder they had better think again. The European and North American media for the most part has written about the downfall of Gaddafi as the removal of a tyrant. There are others who see this as a removal of Gaddafi to ensure that the oil companies from countries such as the USA, Britain, France and Italy could control Libya’s oil.

Gaddafi has been accused of atrocities, so have several American and European leaders. Gaddafi was once "big friends" with some American and European leaders. Even former American President George W. Bush, the “anti-terrorist activist” and seeker of non-existent weapons of mass destruction embraced Gaddafi as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in an article with the headline: Bush embraces Libyan terrorist Gadhafi, and all is forgiven. (Did someone say, “Oil”?). Then Boris Johnson mayor of London wrote in an article entitled “Gaddafi: first we fete them, then we bomb them – but that’s politics” partly about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sycophantic relationship with Gaddafi, published in The Telegraph on September 5, 2011: “It was only a few years ago that Tony Blair himself came out to his tent, almost snogged the Mad Dog, and proclaimed a new era of cooperation between Britain and Libya.” At the time these men could not seem to get enough of Gaddafi so how did it go from being his Best Friends Forever (BFF) to being his mortal enemies? The hypocrisy of all the players in this farce (all with their own agendas) is astounding. Now they are hunting his children and grandchildren (any guesses why?)

Whatever wrong Gaddafi has been accused of, the brutality to which he was subjected when he was captured and the eventual brutal and undignified end to his life was wrong. Those involved in taking the life of Gaddafi should heed the words of Iyanla Vanzant: “Two wrongs never make a right. Nor can you right a wrong by committing another wrong. You may be able to justify your actions politically or socially, but spiritually you will be held accountable for what you do - why you do it doesn’t count.”

Friday, October 21, 2011


I wrote this piece a few hours after Amma was born on Bob Marley's 60th birthday. The twins Taiwo and Kehinde were born almost three years later. We were still fighting to get the Toronto District School Board TDSB to establish an Africentric school. And what a fight it was!! There was resistance from the provincial government, there was resistance from white people who did not care that 40% of African Canadian students in TDSB schools were being failed by the education system. Then the racists came out of the woodwork with their vitriolic attacks. There was a dreadful white supremacist cartoon in one of the white newspapers and a senior police officer (Inspector) from the city of Barrie police force sent out an equally white supremacist e-mail to his colleagues with a math problem he thought would be appropriate for an Africentric curriculum. The subject line was: “Afrocentric math for Toronto’s new black only school” and the body resembled a math test with 10 “problems” based on firearms use, drug deals, pimping, theft and other crimes. In 2005 the school was still a dream. We kept fighting to get that school established. Today in 2011, the school is a reality, established in 2009, still suffering some growing pains but Amma, Taiwo and Kehinde are students at the school.

AFRICENTRIC SCHOOL written on February 7, 2005

There has been a great deal of discussion about how our children function in the public schools they attend. The suggestion of Black-focused or African-centered schools has been put forward as a solution to counteract the high dropout rate our children experience.

Black-focused schools, Afrocentric curriculum, African-centered schools, whatever term is used, we need these schools. These schools should have been a reality for at least 20 years now. However, better late than never.
For years, parents, grandparents, caregivers have advocated for schools where our children will learn about themselves and what their ancestors have contributed to the world and the society in which they live. In many of the schools in which our children are educated and often mis-educated, they are subjected to emotional and sometimes physical abuse. Many parents do not know where to go for help when this happens. Some determined parents eventually find the Organization of Parents of Black Children, the Black Secretariat, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Black Action Defense Committee or the many other advocacy groups that are either not funded or under-funded.

There are arguments against African-centered schools. Some schools claim that their staff recognize and respond to the multicultural makeup of their school. In many cases, however, the African presence is only recognized during the month of February. For this one month during the year it is acknowledged that we have done "something". In many cases, February is the time people choose to invite Africans to dance, share food and their stories. Sometimes the invited are instructed not to do anything "heavy". It is okay to watch us entertain, but just don't talk about slavery in Canada. Do not mention racism or White supremacy.
It is quite alright for our children to learn all about the exploits of White people. It is very wrong when we want our children to learn about what our ancestors have contributed. Our civilizations are well kept secrets. How many of our children know about Matthew DaCosta? How many know about the Sankore University in Timbuktu? How many know that Lucie and Thornton Blackburn started the first taxicab business in the city of Toronto in 1836? Children thrive in an environment where they are valued, respected, loved. They become withdrawn or belligerent where they are disrespected and abused, whether physically or emotionally.

In an African-centered school the students' culture will be taken into account in every subject and at every grade level. The curriculum will reflect the authentic voice and the lived realities of the students. The concepts in the history, science, mathematics and social studies lessons will reflect African consciousness and contributions. A positive environment reflecting the African-centeredness of the students will encourage them to strive for and achieve excellence. Pride in themselves will encourage the students to take pride in their environment. This will be reflected in the cleanliness of the school, and the images, artwork, posters etc. will be African-centered to reflect the student population. The entire school environment -- including each classroom -- will be an invitation to learn for each student and teacher.

In an African-centered school, discipline will be based on respect for knowledge that reflects and respects the students. The students will respect themselves, the teacher and the other students based on knowledge that they are respected as valued human beings capable of learning and excelling. An African-centered school will be a school where the African culture is respected and celebrated. Students in African-focused schools will understand the historical role Africans have played in world events.
While we label the schools that would be ideal for our students, we do not label the schools they now attend as Eurocentric, and in many cases, White supremacist. The curriculum that is taught in the public school system glorifies European culture, but it is done in a manner that says 'this is mainstream.' It has become so "normal" that we do not question why any culture that is not White is spoken about as the "other". Most illustrations in textbooks are of White-skinned people. The contributions of Africans in the fields of mathematics, science, etc. are not acknowledged.

In an African-focused school our children will learn who they are. They will learn what their ancestors contributed to the world. They will learn about the world travels of ancient African navigators. They will learn that excelling in mathematics and science is very African. They will know that their history is important and central to who they are and not a footnote to European history. These are just some of the reasons why we need African-centered schools, Black-focused schools and Afrocentric curriculum in schools that value our Africanness.
© Written February 7, 2005


George Junius Stinney Jr. was born on October 21, 1929. He would have celebrated his 82nd birthday on Friday, October 21, 2011 but he did not live to see his 15th birthday. He was executed in South Carolina ’s electric chair on June 16, 1944. The 5 foot 1 inch 95 pound 14 year old African American male child was arrested on March 23, 1944 accused of killing two white girls (11 and 8 years old) with a rail-road spike.
His trial, including jury selection lasted one day. The authorities said that he confessed to killing the two girls although there are no written records of a confession. Stinney’s court appointed attorney was a tax commissioner preparing to run for office. There was no court challenge to the testimony of the three white police officers who claimed that the 14 year old had confessed although that was the only evidence presented. Three witnesses were called for the prosecution; a white man who “found” the bodies of the two girls and the two white doctors who performed the post mortem of the two girls. No witnesses were called for the defence. The trial lasted from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. One report about the trial stated: “The jury retired at five minutes before five to deliberate. Ten minutes later it returned with its verdict: guilty, with no recommendation for mercy”

No legal appeals were filed on Stinney’s behalf although the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP,) some church groups and labour unions appealed to the governor of South Carolina to stop the execution. No African Americans were allowed in the courtroom for the trial. Stinney’s father was fired from his job and his parents were given the choice of leaving town or being lynched. The family was forced to flee leaving the 14 year old child helpless with no support and in the clutches of a white supremacist system bent on his demise. According to the records it was standing room only in the courtroom (on April 24, 1944) with well over 1,500 white spectators. This was reminiscent of scenes where African American men, women and children were lynched for the entertainment of white men, women and children who gathered to watch the black bodies twitch as they swung from trees until the life left them. It may just as well have been a lynching with his body hanging from a tree. Instead this African American male child, small for his age, was made to sit on a stack of large books in the electric chair so that electrodes could be attached to his head. Stinney at 14 is the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. It has been reported that during the electrocution, the electric shock that shook his small frame knocked the adult size mask off Stinney’s face while his executioners watched as tears streamed down the child’s face contorted in the death throes.

As in the case of Lena Baker who was executed by the state of Georgia in a dreadful miscarriage of justice and received a posthumous pardon in 2005; now 67 years after his execution there is a campaign to clear Stinney’s name. In an article published January 18, 2010 by the Associated Press the story of the attempt to exonerate Stinney included this information: “A community activist is now fighting to clear Stinney's name, saying the young black boy couldn't have killed two white girls. George Frierson, a 56-year-old school board member and textile inspector, believes Stinney's confession was coerced, and that his execution was just another injustice blacks suffered in Southern courtrooms in the first half of the 1900s.” South Carolina lawyers Steve McKenzie, Shaun Kent, and Ray Chandler, are supporting Frierson in the fight to obtain a posthumous pardon for Stinney.

In 2011 Canada , young African Canadian males may not be at risk of execution in the electric chair but they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Many African Canadian youth who should not have been captured by the system are trapped there because of their race. The recent case (August 12, 2011) of a 6ft tall 60 year old African Canadian man who was aggressively interrogated by a white female police who thought he fit the profile of a suspect described as “black, 20s and 5ft 6” illustrates this. Although the 60 year old showed the police officer the long scar from his recent (May 2011) heart transplant surgery she refused to believe he was not the suspect. If this is happening to a 60 year old imagine what the youth experience. Those in our community who work with youth trapped in the criminal justice system have told some horror stories of what they have witnessed. With this happening in 2011 imagine what happened to African Canadians at the time Stinney was executed in South Carolina and even before. While White Canadians believe the myth of a post-racial Canada and point accusing fingers at their relatives in the USA, the reality is very different for racialized people in Canada especially African Canadians. Even if Stinney had been born in Canada the chances are that he would have met the same fate on this side of the border.

In George and Rue, (published in 2005) Dr. George Elliot Clarke has written a novel about the execution of brothers George Hamilton (23) and Rufus Hamilton (22) in Fredericton , New Brunswick on July 27, 1949. The Hamilton brothers were found guilty of killing a white taxi driver as they robbed him. George and Rue is a fictionalized work about the lives of two young men who travel from their birth place in Nova Scotia and end up in Fredericton, New Brunswick a town that even though there were African Canadians living there was found to be “too suspiciously white to be trusted.” The character Rue was so disturbed by the whiteness of the town that he “schemed to apply black paint to the statue of Bobby Burns on the Green — either that or smash it to bits.” In telling the story of George and Rufus Hamilton in the novel Clarke humanizes the two young men whose lives were reduced to a criminal act and the revenge of the white society that surrounded them. At the end of the book Clarke writes of a similar crime committed by two white men in Quebec just 6 months (December 1949) after the Hamilton brothers were executed in New Brunswick. However these two white men went a step further, they bought guns and ammunition with the stolen money and went on to rob a bank. The two white men were not executed because as Clarke writes in George and Rue, “Ninety minutes before their hangings, word came their sentences’d been commuted to life in prison. George and Rue – black – had no such white luck.”


During this month (October) Africans in Britain, whether they were born on the African continent, in the Caribbean, in Britain or elsewhere are celebrating African/Black History Month. There is much to celebrate, commemorate and remember because the history of Africans in Britain is lengthy. As quiet as it is kept, there has been an African presence in the British Isles at least since the Roman occupation of Britain in 43 AD. In the publication Antiquity which is a quarterly review of World Archeology an article written by five archeologists from Britain’s University of Reading published an article: A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain about an African woman who lived in York during the Roman occupation of Britain. These British archeologists through their research and after studying her gravesite have determined that this African woman was a member of a wealthy family. The young woman who they think was between 18 and 23 years old when she transitioned was not a servant as has been assumed whenever Africans are mentioned from those ancient times. The Ivory Bangle Lady as she was christened by the archeologists was buried in a sarcophagus made of stone which was a sign of immense wealth in Roman occupied Britain . The discovery of a perfume bottle, a mirror and jewellery buried with the young woman suggests that her family was “absolutely from the top end of York society” according to a quote attributed to archeologist Dr. Hella Eckardt, reported in an article published in the British newspaper The Sunday Times. Dr. Eckardt also reportedly said: “Multicultural Britain is not just a phenomenon of more modern times. Analysis of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ and others like her, contradicts assumptions about the make-up of Roman-British populations as well as the view that African immigrants were of low status, male and likely to have been slaves.”

There is also evidence of African soldiers in the Roman army during the occupation of Britain. In Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain published in 1984, Peter Fryer a white British author wrote: “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.” Africans did not disappear with the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. Fryer also mentions John Blanke an African trumpeter who was a regular performer at the courts of British monarchs Henry VII and Henry VIII. Blanke is even listed as performing at the special tournament Henry VIII hosted at Westminster to celebrate the birth of his son in 1511. By the time Elizabeth I inherited the throne from her father (Henry VIII) the presence of Africans in Britain had increased to a level that made the monarch uncomfortable. Although she was happy to have Africans entertain and clean for white Britons, the thought that not all of them were in those subservient roles seemed to give the British monarch some heartburn.

In an "open letter" dated July 11, 1596, Britain’s Elizabeth I wrote to the Lord Mayor of London, aldermen, other Mayors, sheriffs and other public officers expressing that "there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here to manie," and ordering that they be deported from the country. Apparently enough of the people she referred to as blackmoores were not deported out of her realm because in 1601, she complained again about the "great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which are crept into this realm." The fact that by 1601 the British elite including her majesty had made a fortune buying, selling and working enslaved Africans to death in the colonies did not seem to bother her. In Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain Fryer makes the case that only a few Africans were deported and a number of Africans remained in Britain and by the middle of the 18th century were between 1 and 3% of the population of London . Africans were enslaved throughout the British Empire until August 1st 1834 (1838 in the Caribbean.) The famous decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in 1772 in the case of enslaved African James Somerset Somerset v. Stewart against the slave holder Charles Stewart did not free enslaved Africans in Britain, that decision made it illegal for owners to forcibly remove enslaved Africans from England. It is estimated that at that time between 14,000 and 15,000 enslaved Africans lived in England most of them taken there as personal servants by white men and women who owned plantations in the British colonies.

In 2009 the number of Africans in Britain was 1,521,400 at 2.9 % of the population. This number includes those born in Britain and immigrants from the African continent, the Caribbean and elsewhere. The largest wave of African immigrants from the former British colonies in the Caribbean landed in Britain between 1948 and 1962 in what Jamaican poet Louise Bennett Coverly (Miss Lou) termed Colonization in Reverse immortalized in a poem of the same name

Britain also colonized several countries on the African continent before and after the infamous “Scramble for Africa” and Africans from those countries immigrated to Britain, many considering Britain the “mother country” and were shocked when they encountered a white supremacist culture and rabid racism. Sadly, although Africans have been living in Britain for centuries they continue to face racism. They are stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned at an alarming rate. In an article published in the British newspaper The Guardian on Monday, October 11, 2010 Randeep Ramesh wrote: “On the streets, black people were subjected to what the report describes as an "excess" of 145,000 stop and searches in 2008. It notes that black people constitute less than 3% of the population, yet made up 15% of people stopped by police.” Ramesh was writing about an Equality and Human Rights Commission report How Fair is Britain? Ramesh also wrote: “The commission found that five times more black people than white people per head of population in England and Wales are imprisoned. The ethnic minority prison population has doubled in a decade – from 11,332 in 1998 to 22,421 in 2008. The problems may start at school. The commission points out that black children are three times as likely to be permanently excluded from education.”

Africans in Britain have every right to celebrate the fact that they have a long history in Britain and have contributed to the society (which is mostly ignored.) There are also plans to address other issues that concern Africans living in Britain . On Friday, October 14, the group National Afrikan People’s Parliament plan a community action including a demonstration at Downing Street (British Prime Minister’s residence) to address the unlawful killing of Mark Duggan and the resultant uprisings, ongoing ‘Black Deaths in Custody’ and the reactionary state assault on our Community, especially our youths (and the wider social, political and historical context).

It would seem that regardless of where we live Africans are subjected to the same oppression. That is why we need to know our history so that we can learn from those who went before us and struggled to get us to where we are today. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, father of the modern Pan African movement taught us to remember that we are a mighty people with this quote: "Up you mighty people! You can accomplish what you will!!!"

Written October 9, 2011


The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

Excerpt from Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

On October 19, 2006 James Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary presented the 2006 Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, the title was "Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree." Although James Cone gave this lecture in October 2006 he could very well have been talking about the case of Troy Anthony Davis when he spoke about the similarity of the cross and the lynching tree

Troy Anthony Davis was born on October 9, 1968, grew up in Savannah, Georgia and executed by the state of Georgia sanctioned by the US government on September 22, 2011. He was a 20 year old youth on August 19, 1989 when the criminal act for which he was accused was committed. In 1991 Davis was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of a white police officer although he has maintained his innocence of this
crime since he was arrested. There was enough doubt about his presumed guilt to garner the support of celebrities, very important people, ordinary folks and human rights groups. Among those calling for a re-trial and/or clemency were Amnesty International, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) former President of the USA Jimmy Carter, Reverend Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bob Barr a former federal prosecutor and a former member of the United States House of Representatives (Republican representing Georgia.) Davis’ case garnered international attention especially because of the obviously racially charged overtones. Here was an African American male who was accused of shooting a white police officer and found guilty even though there was no physical evidence to link him to the shooting. Of the nine witnesses from 1991, seven have recanted their statements citing police coercion at the time and at least one witness has confessed that he was illiterate and was forced to sign a document he could not read. A group of white men in power turned deaf ears to the pleas of the world to reconsider their determination to kill this African American male in what seems like a modern day lynching.

In an opinion piece published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 15, entitled Should Davis be executed No ( William S. Sessions former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations FBI, former federal judge and federal prosecutor wrote: What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case -- consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements -- is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis' guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved. However, when it comes to the sentence of death, there should be no room for doubt.

Following the killing of Davis by the state of Georgia on Wednesday September 21, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that killing Davis may have violated international law, citing serious concerns that the rights of Davis to due process and a fair trial were not respected. Three independent United Nations human rights experts had called on the United States Government to stop the execution amid concerns that Davis did not receive a fair trial. UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez – deplored that the case mainly relied on the testimonies of witnesses which contained “serious” inconsistencies. The US Government was reminded of its obligation to ensure that anyone under its jurisdiction receives a fair trial, as required under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR.) The experts stated in their appeal to the US government: “Not only do we urgently appeal to the Government of the United States and the state of Georgia to find a way to stop the scheduled execution, but we believe that serious consideration should be given to commuting the sentence. We recall that the death penalty may only be imposed when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence, leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts. Given the irreversible nature of the death penalty, it is crucial that fair trial standards are fully respected in all judicial proceedings related to offences punishable with the death penalty.”
Davis is not the first African American killed by the state of Georgia whose
presumed guilt is in question. His story reminded me of a woman I wrote about in 2005 when she received a posthumous pardon from Georgia 60 years after she was killed in the electric chair. On March 5, 1945 Lena Baker became the only woman to be killed by Georgia in the electric chair. Like Davis whose reported last words were “those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls,” Baker who maintained her innocence to the end said: “What I done, I did in self-defence or I would have been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it. I am ready to meet my God.”
Baker had been repeatedly raped by the white man (23 years older than she was) who was killed with his own gun during a struggle as he tried to rape her again. She had been hiding from this man who had kept watch at her house overnight and grabbed her when she went home the following morning to take care of her three children who had been left in their grandmother’s care overnight. It is a dreadful story illustrating the manner in which the lives of African Americans were constrained by white people. After dragging Baker over to a barn on his property where he raped her again, the white man went to a prayer meeting with his adult son, locking her in the barn. When he returned from his prayer meeting and attempted to rape her at gunpoint there was a struggle during which he was killed. Baker was sentenced to death by a white all male jury after a four hour trial. Although Baker was the victim in more ways than one her family was forced to uproot their lives and flee their hometown. Her community was refused the right to bury her properly and mourn her passing. They were terrorized by the white community. In 2001 Baker’s great nephew Roosevelt Curry began the campaign to clear her name and a pardon was granted by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on August 30, 2005.
Although Canada no longer has the death penalty, the rate at which African Canadian males are incarcerated is indeed alarming. The racial profiling of African Canadians is a reality in spite of the many studies that have been done, the many reports that have been written and recommendations that have been made to address this scourge. During this International Year for People of African Descent we need to recognize that the oppression continues and must be addressed.
Written October 2, 2011