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!