Over the years as I have attended Afrofest and immersed myself in the sights and sounds (the drumming, books, clothes and jewelry on sale and the camaraderie and goodwill of attendees) I usually think of how different the lives of Africans would be today if Europeans had not greedily descended on the African continent, enslaving and colonizing Africans (Ethiopia is the sole African country that was never colonized by a European tribe.) Without that period of slavery which affected generations of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora our lives would not be affected by internalized racism. This blight where many of us view ourselves through European eyes is a direct result of the four hundred years enslavement of our ancestors.The repercussions of European enslavement and colonization of Africans are felt in the 21st century. There are many of us who continue to suffer from what Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary describes as Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. In her 2005 published book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” Dr. DeGruy Leary describes Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) as “a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today. Added to this condition is a belief (real or imagined) that the benefits of the society in which they live are not accessible to them.” There are various manifestations of PTSS including self hatred and internalized racism where some of us apply harmful chemicals to bleach our skin. Based on the White supremacist culture in which we live the belief is that achieving a European “look” is the ideal. This can be attributed to our continued struggle to define ourselves without viewing ourselves through the eyes of White society. DeGruy Leary defines this as a legacy of slavery: “Today the legacy of slavery and oppression remains etched in our souls. The impacts of our history can be witnessed daily in our struggle to understand who and what we are, and in our jaundiced vision of who and what we can become. Taking on the negative stereotype as our identity; developing low expectations for ourselves, our families and our community; assuming that we will fail in most things that we set out to achieve; losing the critical respect for ourselves and thus diminishing others like us; perpetually trying to outrun the demon of shame by amassing material things in exchange for our dignity; forgetting how to love ourselves and each other: These are some of the ways the vacant esteem of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome is manifested today."
The many centuries of European enslavement and dispersal of Africans and the subsequent carving up of the continent has done untold harm to Africa and Africans. The young and productive members of various African communities were kidnapped and scattered to provide coerced, unpaid labour that enriched Europe, Europeans and their descendants in the Americas and elsewhere. Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney in his 1973 published “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” states: “The massive loss to the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of able-bodied young men and young women. Slave buyers preferred their victims between the ages of 15 and 35, and preferably in the early twenties; the sex ratio being about two men to one woman. Europeans often accepted younger children, but rarely any older person. They shipped the most healthy wherever possible, taking the trouble to get those who had already survived an attack of smallpox, and who were therefore immune from further attacks of that disease, which was then one of the world’s great killer diseases.”While African communities were devastated by the attacks, Europeans in contrast could concentrate on inventions that would make their conquest of Africa that much easier. Rodney addressed this in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” when he wrote: “the same technological changes which created the need to penetrate Africa also created the power to conquer Africa. The firearms of the imperialist epoch marked a qualitative leap forward. Breech loading rifles and machine guns were a far cry from the smooth-bored muzzle loaders and flintlocks of the previous era. European imperialists in Africa boasted that what counted was the fact that they had the Maxim machine gun and Africans did not.”
The inhumane slavery to which Africans were subjected is sometimes trivialized when people speak about working for “slave wages” or describe working conditions as “slave labour.” Granted that there are various sectors of workers who are exploited, their experiences cannot and should not be likened to the horror that Africans experienced during the enslavement period where they were bought and sold, their children were sold away from them, they were denied even the very basic human rights. Enslaved Africans were denied the right to speak their language, practice their religions and beliefs and name themselves and their children. Many were beaten to death and even worked to death and their “owners” were never held accountable.Even though European enslavement of Africans on the continent was not on the same scale as the enslavement of Africans in the Americas, Africans on the continent did not fare much better. Africans colonized by Europeans continue to suffer as the Europeans never completely surrendered their stranglehold on their former colonies even after “independence.” Today there is a new scramble for Africa with powerful corporations operating in mineral rich African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC.) The ghost of Leopold (the Belgian monarch who visited unspeakably vile abuse on the Congolese from 1884 to 1908) is alive and well in the form of international mining companies that have been accused of fomenting war to exploit the Congolese people and gain control of minerals like coltan or columbite-tantalite (an essential part of our cell phones, DVD players etc.,)
There is great irony in the similarities between what happened to our ancestors during slavery and what is happening to the Congolese today. During the enslavement of our ancestors Europeans did not think about the suffering of enslaved Africans as they spooned sugar into their tea every morning. Similarly, most of us while using our cell phones, DVD players, computers, flat screen televisions and other electronic equipment, do not think about the people who are displaced, killed, raped and maimed as the war for coltan rages.For two days this weekend many of us will hike down to Woodbine Park to socialize, dance, eat etc., in an atmosphere of African culture. As we enjoy the great summer weather this weekend at Afrofest imagine the lives Africans would live now if there had been no enslavement or colonization of Africa and Africans. What if those tens or hundreds of millions in their most productive years had not been removed from the African continent over a period of half a millennium? As Africans from an extremely rich continent (whose riches are continually looted by others) we would be on an equal footing with people from other continents with the accompanying respect. We would not have to deal with racial profiling by the descendants of those who enslaved our ancestors and colonized the African continent. This is a daily reality for many in our community. Gathering and celebrating our culture helps many of us cope with racial profiling. Dr. De Gruy Leary suggests: "Telling our stories can be redemptive. Telling our stories can free us. Telling our stories can help lift others up. I believe an integral part of racial socialization is learning the histories of those in our family and community. Story telling is an important part of our education; it strengthens us and helps us build resilience. It helps us put things in the proper perspective." Let us find time, place and space to gather, tell those stories and strategize!!