Saturday, February 2, 2013


We refuse to be What you wanted us to be We are what we are That's the way it's going to be, if you don't know You can't educate I For no equal opportunity Talking about my freedom People freedom and liberty Yeah, we've been trodding on The winepress much too long Rebel, Rebel Babylon System is the Vampire Sucking the children day by day Me say the Babylon System is the Vampire Sucking the blood of the sufferers
Excerpt from “Babylon System” released in 1979 on the Bob Marley and the Wailers “Survival” album.
Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born in the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica on February 6, 1945 and transitioned in Miami on May 11, 1981. Marley was a Pan-Africanist whose life was influenced by Marcus Mosiah Garvey a Jamaican who was also born in St Ann’s parish and is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. The philosophies of Garvey who was born 58 years before Marley are frequently heard in the lyrics of Marley’s songs. Garvey advocated “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” and in his 1979 released “Africa Unite” Marley sang: “Africa unite ‘cause we moving right out of Babylon and we’re going to our father’s land. How good and how pleasant it would be before God and man to see the unification of all Africans.” Garvey in a July 1921 recorded speech said: “The great problem of the Negro for the last 500 years has been that of disunity. No one or no organization ever took the lead in uniting the Negro race, but within the last four years the Universal Negro Improvement Association has worked wonders in bringing together in one fold four million organized Negroes who are scattered in all parts of the world, being in the 48 states of the American union, all the West Indian Islands, and the countries of South and Central America and Africa.”
Marley makes reference to Babylon in “Africa Unite” and a few of his other songs even naming one of his albums “Babylon by bus.” The album released in 1978 is a compilation of live performances from the European leg of the June/July 1978 Kaya Tour recorded in Paris and London. Marley’s lyrics included references to Babylon because of the significance in Rastafari culture for the need to resist the evil of Babylon which is the system of oppression. Europe because of the involvement of Europeans in the enslavement of Africans and later the Scramble for Africa and colonization is considered Babylon. So it is not surprising that a tour of Europe would be seen by Rastafari as touring “Babylon by bus.” Rastafari since the inception has been a religion and culture of resistance to European domination of Africans including a rejection of the values held dear by the capitalist system which saw Europeans gain wealth by oppressing racialized people. In “Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader” published in 1998 Nathaniel Samuel Murrell writes: “Rastafari therefore represents an important dimension of popular resistance to British colonialism, the plantation system, as well as the authority of British-oriented mulatto and black middle-class values. It has challenged the values not only of the privileged but also of the underprivileged who accept colonial values. The Rastafarian's "chanting down Babylon" is, therefore, directed at all segments of the Jamaican society that cradle and foster the beliefs that sustain black subordination.”
Marley and fellow Rastafari followed the teaching of Garvey who urged his followers to reject the image of the Europeans as one to worship and consider the epitome of beauty as had been taught to generations of Africans during the enslavement and colonization of Africans. In a recorded speech (published 1923 in the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey) Garvey said: “The Biblical injunction of Acts 17:26 reminds us that He created of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth and is most interested in brotherhood than with one’s own race. Because if Negroes are created in God's image, and Negroes are Black then God must in some sense be Black. If the White man has the idea of a white God let him worship his God as he desires. We have found a new ideal. Because God has No color, and yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the white people have seen their god through their white spectacles, we have only now started to see our God through our own spectacles. But we believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy One, the one God of all the Ages; that is the God of whom we believe but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.” Garvey also urged his followers to see the beauty in themselves as African people and not the European standard of beauty. He advised them to begin early by giving their children Black dolls “that look like them to cuddle and play with.” He established a doll factory to make those dolls for African American parents and to have access to such dolls.
In Marley’s “Babylon System” he exhorts: “Tell the children the truth come on and tell the children the truth. 'Cause we've been trodding on ya winepress much too long and we've been taken for granted much too long. From the very day we left the shores of our Father's land we've been trampled on." This truth would be about the history of the brutality and horror to which Africans were subjected during their enslavement which many of our youth know nothing about. One of the reasons why a young entertainer thought it was appropriate to say that the enslavement of his ancestors was a good thing for him and wanted to give a "shout out" to the slave masters. If wishes did come through he would be transported into the past as portrayed by the movie Django Unchained right into the scene of the “Mandingo fight” as one of the enslaved men forced to fight to the death as entertainment for White folks. Marley urges rebellion against the Babylon system. The enslaved Africans choose various ways to rebel from poisoning their owners to malingering when they had to perform the back breaking work that enriched the White slave holders. We can choose various ways to "rebel" including reading about our history and working to ensure that we leave this place better for the next generation. Since the 1980s Marley’s birthday has been recognized with a proclamation from City Hall by the Mayor of Toronto. Marley is one of the Africans who educated and edutained the world about African culture and history. February is African History/Heritage Month educate yourself about our history!


“When we consider the facts, certain chapters of American history will have to be reopened. Just as Black men were influential factors in the campaign against the slave trade, so they were among the earliest instigators of the abolition movement. Indeed there was a dangerous calm between the agitation for the suppression of the slave trade and the beginning of the campaign for emancipation. During that interval colored men were very influential in arousing the attention of public men who in turn aroused the conscience of the country. Continuously between 1808 and 1845, men like Prince Saunders, Peter Williams, Absalom Jones, Nathaniel Paul, and Bishops Varick and Richard Allen, the founders of the two wings of African Methodism, spoke out with force and initiative, and men like Denmark Vesey (1822), David Walker (1828) and Nat Turner (1831) advocated and organized schemes for direct action.”
Excerpt from essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past” written by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (January 24, 1874- June 10, 1938) published in the March 1925 edition of Survey Graphic Magazine
African American historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was born on January 24, 1874 in Puerto Rico. His mother was an African Caribbean woman from St Croix in the Virgin Islands. Schomburg was reared by his mother in Puerto Rico during his early life and spent part of his childhood with his mother’s extended family in St Croix. In her published 1989 book “Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector : a Biography” Elinor Des Verney Sinnette writes: “At some point in Arturo’s childhood Mary Joseph perhaps unable to care for herself and Arturo adequately in Puerto Rico or perhaps just longing to be close to her parents left San Juan to settle in the Virgin Islands where Arturo became a member of the Nicholas Joseph family of St Croix.” According to available information Schomburg’s interest in African history was awakened by a White supremacist teacher who taught him in the 5th grade. The teacher taught that Africans had no history, no heroes and no great moments. The young Schomburg was inspired to spend his life “digging up” the history of Africans to prove his 5th grade teacher wrong.
In March 1925 Schomburg published his essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past" in an issue of the Survey Graphic Magazine devoted to the intellectual life of Harlem. The essay inspired African American historian John Henrik Clarke (January 1, 1915-July 16, 1998) who wrote that at 17 years old (1932) he left his home in Columbus, Georgia and travelled to Harlem, New York in search of Schomburg to further his studies in African history. In an interview with Civil Rights Journal Clarke spoke of his meeting with Schomburg who said to him: “Sit down, son. What you are calling African history and Negro history is nothing but the missing pages of world history. You will have to know general history to understand these specific aspects of history. You have to study your oppressor. That's where your history got lost." Clarke said that Schomburg “opened up my eyes to the fact that I came from an old people, older than slavery, older than the people who oppressed us.” Barely 17 years old Schomburg immigrated to the USA arriving in New York on April 17, 1891. He worked at various jobs for survival (including elevator operator, bellhop, printer and porter) while pursuing an education at night school. Schomburg experienced the White supremacist culture of America especially since the three women to whom he was married (at different periods of his life) were all African American women born in southern states. He travelled to those southern states to visit family during the dreadful period of African American voters suffering disenfranchisement through literacy tests and poll taxes plus the frequent lynching of African Americans (including Tulsa, Oklahoma May 1921 and Rosewood, Florida January 1923.) Schomburg was a man before his time in his calls for the inclusion of African history in the curriculum. In his published work of 1913 entitled “Racial integrity: A plea for the establishment of a chair of Negro history in our schools and colleges, etc. \” he advocates for educators to: "include the practical history of the Negro race from the dawn of civilization to the present time." He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP,) a cofounder of the Negro Society for Historical Research and served as president of the American Negro Academy. In 1926, with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, the New York Public Library purchased Schomburg's collection of books and artifacts on African history for $10,000. Schomburg was appointed a member of the Advisory Committee responsible for overseeing the collection which was officially named "The Arthur A. Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art."
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York holds the largest collection of African American literature/information (documents and artifacts) which includes Schomburg’s collection. The Center houses a theatre, two galleries, a lecture hall, more than 125,000 books and a large collection of archived material documenting the history of Africans from the African continent and the Diaspora. From May 20, 1995 through April 28, 1996 to celebrate its 70th anniversary the Center featured an exhibition of the life and times of Schomburg entitled “Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: The Man and His Times.” On their website the Centre states: “The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world's leading research facilities devoted to the preservation of materials on the global African and African diasporan experiences. A focal point of Harlem's cultural life, the Center also functions as the national research library in the field, providing free access to its wide-ranging noncirculating collections. It also sponsors programs and events that illuminate and illustrate the richness of black history and culture. The Center is generally recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. For over 80 years the Center has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life, and promoted the study and interpretation of the history and culture of peoples of African descent.”
We are almost at the end of January and it seems as if the year is moving very quickly with African Heritage Month just one week away. Although we are African (or whatever else we choose to name ourselves) it is during February that most people think about our history. February has been recognized as Black History Month, African Heritage Month, African Liberation Month for more than 40 years. Since 1976 it was expanded from a one week recognition of African history to a one month recognition. In February schools, business places and community organizations usually plan at least one activity to acknowledge the history and culture of Africans. Most of these events are nothing more than an excuse to trot out some Africans in African attire, sample some African food, drum and dance. We need to ensure that any event in our schools or the places where we are employed do more than provide entertainment in recognition of the month. At the very least include the history of Africans in Canada with a display of books and posters. There are bookstores in the city owned by African Canadians where the owners are extremely knowledgeable about appropriate books for a display. Like Schomburg and the man recognized as the founder of Negro History Week in 1926 (Crater Godwin Woodson) which eventually became Black History Month in 1976 and now African Heritage Month/African Liberation Month do more to spread the knowledge. Read a book about African history, read to your children, buy a book for your children or other people’s children. Starting now!


As African people at some point in our lives we must think like the popular African American spiritual: “My heart/soul looks back and wonder how I got over.” How did we as a people survive four hundred years of chattel slavery and the rabid racism to which we have been subjected since slavery was abolished? One of the many examples of how we are still marginalised is the portrayal of Africans in movies and even documentaries. The recent movie “Lincoln” which portrays Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator also denigrates the role that enslaved Africans played in their emancipation. By omitting the work that Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and even the characters played by S. Epatha Merkerson (Lydia Hamilton Smith,) Gloria Rueben (Elizabeth Keckley) and Stephen Henderson (William Slade) did before and during the Civil War, Spielberg does a disservice to African Americans. Similar to the distortion of African American life in movies like “Gone with the Wind,” “Birth of a nation” and several Blaxploitation movies of the 70s Lincoln depicts the mistaken idea that many White Americans have about their African American compatriots. The movie misrepresents the lives of the three main African American characters who appear in it. Hamilton Smith, Keckley and Slade were not mere props to the lives of White people as they are portrayed in the movie they were movers and shakers in their community. African Americans both enslaved and free contributed mightily to the eventual freedom of all Africans in American from chattel slavery. So it is alarming that in this 21st century a movie like Lincoln is receiving the kind of rave reviews it is from some quarters.
In spite of the White supremacist culture of North American society Americans elected the first African American President to a second term. The first term was a turbulent four years during which it became very clear that America was not a post racial nation as some posited. Instead the White supremacist culture was very evident. They came out of the woodwork, the Donald Trumps and the Clint Eastwoods who really (as the elders of my youth would say) showed their cloven hooves. Regardless of the many criticisms of President Obama his re-election was not surprising when we consider who the Republican candidate was. White men and women of all types and stripes were vicious in their disrespect for the President of their country. Even Bush Jr as dim as he was never received the kind of vitriolic criticism incited by Obama’s Presidency. Obama has been criticized by some African Americans and Africans in the Diaspora for not being pro-active in dealing with African American unemployment and not addressing other problems that plague African Americans. For example the Black Agenda Report radio program and blog were vociferous in their criticism especially during the election campaign. Some of Obama’s severest critics were African Americans. They voiced their concerns in terms of what they saw as lacking in someone who garnered extraordinary support from the African American voting population. The White people on the other hand seemed bent on ensuring that Obama’s reputation would be destroyed. The level of contempt, disrespect and hatred towards him and his family was almost overwhelming. On January 25, 2012 the image of Jan Brewer Governor of Arizona pointing her finger in the President’s face as she appeared to be chastising him was an example of the contempt and disrespect. The Tea Party movement and other White Supremacist groups who sprouted seemingly overnight after the 2008 election is an example of the hate groups and individuals who hectored the President and his family for the entire four years. Beginning with the infamous “terrorist fist bump” remark by a Fox Television news reader which was exacerbated by the racist cartoon in the New Yorker magazine in their July 14, 2008 edition. Things went downhill from there including Marilyn Davenport’s (California Republican) racist e-mail depicting the President as the child of chimpanzees. White Americans have really showed their unwillingness to accept African Americans as their equal. On the other hand the African American groups and individuals who took Obama to task never sunk to those levels. On his blog the Black Agenda Report, Bruce A. Dixon posted this slogan: “Halting gentrification, reining in Big Oil or Wall Street? Rolling back the prison state or shrinking the drug war? Making underwater homeowners or student debtors whole? Bringing the troops home? Ending the drone wars? Will voting for this guy or Romney make any of these things more likely? Is it time to look outside the two establishment parties yet? Or is a black face in a high place all you really need?” After the election a group of 60 African American leaders met and formulated a very different Black Agenda to present to the President. The Reverend Al Sharpton who was a member of the group reportedly said: “It was a historic gathering of over sixty leaders from civil rights, faith-based, academic, social, and youth organizations, to put together the framework of an agenda for African Americans to present before the President and the Congress for the next four years. We must move beyond rhetoric to create results and from attacks to action.” In presenting their agenda the leaders wrote: “The plight of the African-American community underscores the urgency of our demand. The African-American community was disproportionately battered by the Great Recession, and has benefited the least from the fragile economy recovery. Unemployment remains unacceptably high; income inequality and the ever-widening wealth gap threaten to relegate the black community to perpetual underclass status. Those who wish to curtail investment education and career preparation further dim the prospects for upward mobility for our young people.” The problem now is to get the seemingly mean spirited Republican dominated House of Representatives to pay any attention to what African American leaders have set out as the Black Agenda even with an African American president.
The history books tell us that Lincoln was a Republican and his party supported emancipation. The Democrats who at the time were slave holders were naturally the enemies of African Americans. How things have changed! The two parties changed their politics beginning in the 1930s in reaction to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies. Today a majority of African Americans are Democrats as evidenced in last year’s election where the Democrats gained 93% of the African American votes and the first African American President elected to a second term is a Democrat. The second Obama inauguration ceremony will take place on the Martin Luther King Jr holiday January 21. There have been reports that the President will use Dr. King’s Bible during the oath. He is also supposed to be using Abraham Lincoln’s Bible (not sure how that will work) maybe he did not read Lerone Bennett’s “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.”
During the last inauguration ceremony many African Americans watched with emotional tears as they witnessed a sight none of us thought we would ever see in our lifetime; an African American family living in the White House. None of us could have imagined an African American President and President Obama in spite of criticism about what he has not done for African Americans has been a figure of inspiration for many. Regardless of whether or not Obama is just a “Black face in a high place” do people really think that anyone except rich White men and women would be better off with the other guy as President?