Two big issues have been on the global stage and in the news in recent times (depending on where you live or where you get your news from) which may or may not be related. These are the coronavirus pandemic (and its effect on the black community) and the civil unrest that has rocked the United States after a video showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man and subsequently killing him. These two issues have brought to the forefront the difficulties black people have faced and are still facing in any country where people of African descent are found and specifically in the United States.
In the United States, there is a national soul searching about treatment of people of African descent regarding social justice, equality, education and healthcare amongst other things and the clamor for equality is more stringent more than ever with the “Black Lives Matter” campaign. This has also brought to the forefront again the idea of Africanism as a way forward for people of African descent.
Pan-Africanism dates back to at least the 18th century and it was an idea birthed in the New World. It was a yearning for the African homeland because of the crushing effects of slavery and this idea has moved from just trying to keep alive traditions, oral history, dressing and food from the Motherland but has become a rallying cry for redefining black people whose forebears were brought to a new land as slaves and the Africa in diaspora.
It is a fact that Africans were originally brought to the United States as slaves and after the abolition of slave trade (including the attendant civil war) a lot of black people in many parts of the United States were not aware they have become free and even when they became aware, they had to contend with many hurdles to their freedom, prosperity and pursuit of happiness. These hurdles included amongst others things, terrorism (by lynching), Jim Crow segregation law, Black codes, disenfranchisement, racial profiling, discriminatory hiring practices, confiscation of land (still going on till date) and exclusion from the American prosperity and restrictions placed on black people to prevent them from thriving. These did not just physically retard their progress short term it has a long-term effect on generations of black people till date because it was a state sanctioned repression using the instrument of the law and sheer brutality to repress the black Americans, a case in point is the Tulsa, OK riot. The instrument of the law used included local police, the FBI, the court system, the banking system and religion.
The past century saw the emergence of leaders who championed the cause of the black people like Prince Hall, Fredrick Douglas, WEB Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Rosa Park, James Baldwin, etc., who fought for not just emancipation from physical slavery, they inspired blacks all over the world to be educated in order to emancipate themselves intellectually. These leaders were hounded out of the country, assassinated, thrown in jail and harassed just to silence them.
Though racial injustice in America is no longer sanctioned by the state or law but it must be noted that the American system has perfected the art of racial injustice to the point that only a discerning person can see and that person must live within its system. They use very innocuous sounding phrases and dog whistles that only the trained minds understand.
Who are the new victims of racial injustice? What is the new coloration of racial injustice in America? The black Americans who are descended from slaves and other black new arrivals, that is, immigrants from the African continent and the Caribbean. Racism in American has now morphed into a systemic and cruel instrument used to achieve the same old purpose. The policing system and court systems are still potent instruments of racial injustice under the “law and order” mantra throwing more people of color into jail disproportionally for even the slight small offences and effectively ensuring many of them will never work in corporate America or cast a vote in an election. Add to that housing discrimination, lack of access to financing for business or education, predatory lendings, racial profiling, etc. They are all used to achieve the same old goal – keep the black population on the outside of prosperity.
What does the future hold for black people in America and what will that do for black people all over the world? First, black people must revisit the concept of Africanism but with a sophistication and new partnership and alliance. This goes beyond the promotion of African cultural (material or nonmaterial) or linguistic property of African origin and preserving same to survive in the Americas or in the African diaspora but also big dreams that are relevant in the next century. This should include eyes on kinship structures, courts, guilds, economic empowerment (individually and as groups), markets, business, inventions, military and much more.
If the black race and by extension the Africans are to be relevant in the next century, there has to be positive and concrete steps taken toward relevant Africanism otherwise the story will not change.
Black people and people of African descent need to look to the future so that the next century will not be about slave trade, donation of aids from wealthy countries, IMF loans, brain drain, diseases, poverty, wars, pandemic etc. How should they position itself for the future? Is there a place for an afrocenric or Pan-African outlook in the future of the continent and how will this benefit the people of African descent anywhere in the world?
Adopting PanAfricanism or simply Africanism as a policy is not new but it is time it is strongly pursued in politics, commerce, law, etc. in order to protect people of African origin (be it in Europe, Brazil, U.S., or in Africa). In order to achieve any meaningful policy goal, it is important to first create an awareness within the target population and then follow up systematically. As a follow up, black people should first ask themselves, how do we preserve our legacy? Are we just consumers of items of calculated obsolescence made by western industries who are increasing their bottom line at our expense or are we important players in the general scheme of things?
The question should be on the minds of every black person outside and in Africa. How do we keep more of what we earn as people or more of the gains of our natural resources as nations or as individuals to rise above global insecurity and inequalities? Are we land owners? Is our religious practice going to be around in the next 50-100 years from now? How do we harness the advantages of our culture to profit us? How do we build businesses owned by blacks or people of African descent so that we can arrest financial hemorrhaging of our community? Can we focus on patronizing businesses owned by black people in order to empower the community? How do we encourage blacks to invent, own their own media, clothesline, entertainment, airlines, banks, etc. and seek alternatives to many of the services used in order to achieve any meaningful reduction in poverty? This is not a question for blacks or African in diaspora but for every black man on earth.
In the words of the World Bank that, “armed with poverty reduction strategies, countries become masters of their own development, with a clearly articulated vision for their future and a systematic plan for achieving their goals.” – World Bank/IMF, A New Approach to Country-Owned Poverty Reduction Strategies, (Jan. 2000.) in the same way, if black people are able to develop around the concept of Africanism (Joseph E. Holloway, Africanisms in American Culture, 2nd Ed., 2005) surely the next century will be called the African renaissance period.
Henry A. Adeleye, Esq. is a lawyer and business consultant in Washington, DC, U.S.A.