African History Matters
“The colonialists have a habit of telling us that when they arrived, they put us into history. You are well aware that it is the opposite. When they arrived, they took us out of our own history. Liberation for us is to take back our destiny and our history.”
Amilcar Cabral of Cape Verde
What is History? History is narrative. History is culture. History is the record which we use to understand where we came from, who we are and where we are going. African history is the most disputed and most misunderstood element of the human story in the world. African history, contrary to popular belief, does not begin with the transatlantic slave trade. Writing Africans out of history has robbed the world of incalculable value. Precise and crafty language was used to articulate a defense of Freedom and Slavery. One of the world’s oldest and most impactful advertising campaigns was initiated to sell the idea of African inferiority. Can you imagine that?! A shameless global conspiracy to the pit the entire world against African people. The objective here was to create an unhuman* sacrifice for the god of Capitalism. The African was made a cipher, a non-entity, defined as having no human value and therefore expendable in the march towards human progress. Throughout the African diaspora, we are still suffering from a collective amnesia and disillusionment. There is a dull nagging pain; a realization that something profound is broken. The greatest crime against humanity was not simply the enslavement of African people. The greatest crime against humanity was the 500-year narrative of African inferiority that consolidated and validated the worst form of human slavery ever. The impact of that is with us today in very fresh ways (insert black lives matter here). This ideology is an insidious beast.
Why does African history matter?
The greatest value of history is using aggregated memory to place yourself in time and effectively decide on your chapter in the great human story. We need African history to settle first-order, fundamental questions about our reality as black people in the modern world. This is about IDENTITY. You cannot love yourself or love anyone if you don’t know yourself. To define yourself in realterms anchored in something verifiable, founded upon something true, is the beginning of successful living. This truth is foundational to building a sustainable, thriving and healthy community. Once our collective memory is restored, we can develop clarity on the future we want to build.
“The greatest gift we can give our children is not money or possessions but a story — a real story, not a fantasy, one that connects them to us and to a rich heritage of high ideals.”
You or someone you know has recently lost their mind watching Black Panther. The anticipation for this film was unprecedented. The last time people were this excited about anything was maybe the inauguration of former President Barack Obama. Why did this strike such a nerve? Wakanda. Warrior King. Uranium. Wealth. Power. T’Challa vs Killmonger. An African society existing entirely on its own terms, unadulterated by Western Influences. Black Cast. Black Director. Billion dollar Box Office Performance. Black Panther was well…very Black.
We all want to see ourselves empowered. We are starved for images that confirm and affirm our human dignity and Ryan Coogler gave his audience just that in Black Panther. We were beautifully submerged into a fantasy world that is diametrically opposed with the real world. Dr. Martin Luther King once articulated his theory of human dignity known as “somebodyness.” In Black Panther, black people were greater than somebodies — they were central to the narrative (a rare happening) and they were made super-somebodies. Having some context for African history, we can make sense of why Afro-futurism is so exciting! It allows us to imagine worlds that exist on our terms. I loved Black Panther! It was beautiful to witness such a well-thought through celebration of African culture with all of its wonderful exaggeration. The older I get, the more I appreciate the power of imagination. I believe we need more than fantasy all while being very aware of reality. Art should provoke us to question the world as it is and imagine the world as it can be.
“There is nothing more powerful to influence attitudes and behavior than media messaging.”
We are constantly consuming words and images that shape our external view on the world (reality) and our internal view of ourselves (identity). Print. Radio. TV. Web. Media has shifted profoundly just over the past 5 years. The way in which we consume and process information has become dis-intermediated. We can all now be producers and consumers of content on a relatively even playing field. Social media gives us an opportunity to rewrite and distribute our stories at an unprecedented scale in ways that were impossible historically. Social media has placed us in a perpetual advertising loop in which we are constantly producing and consuming. Depending on the person, one may very well engage in one side of this more so than the other. We are all advertising. Advertising is story telling. We need to create new images. We need to create a new story. We need to offset what has been the longstanding, global advertising campaign portraying black inferiority. With this considered, the role of modern black media cannot be overstated. I believe we should create and support more content platforms like Blavity, CRWN, The Well and PANN. These platforms are part of the vanguard of telling a new story. We need to build beautiful brands that are high value for our community* to counterbalance and overtime, counteract the assault to the African Image.
How can we use African history to learn from the past and move forward?
African history can provide us with a fresh perspective of what we can do if and when we challenge longstanding myths about who we are and where we come from. African history shows us what is possible when we invest in our own value. African history comes alive in the present and becomes practical when we actively produce new images and complimentary narratives. Know your story. Tell your story. Live your story. This trifecta is about empowering yourself with foundational knowledge that will give meaning to whatever contribution you want to make for the world. It doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t know why your doing it. Greater context allows us to open our aperture and see ourselves differently. If we search thoughtfully enough, we will discover answers to the mysteries concerning the nature of African societies before the transatlantic slave trade as well as build towards a more optimized globally integrated society with greater opportunity for all.
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Notes and References:
Webster defines ‘unhuman’ in these ways here. The term was presumably coined for Africans — the only people systematically dehumanized for the ideological justification of free labor to power a free society.
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