I’m a black nationalist. Have been one since—I don’t know–the sixties and I’m close to seventy now (a year and a half away). Got that black bug from those turbulent times’ usual suspects– Nkrumah, Malcolm among the more prominent. Growing up in America—in southern Georgia, no less—made me an easy target for their persuasion skills. I had all this empirical evidence that black people were powerless. I could see. I’d learn—through eventual visitations but mostly through reading—that this powerlessness was confined not just to America, but that it existed wherever blacks could be found. I learned that it had been that way since Africa was decimated by, first, Arabs and Europeans and the continent’s indigenous people were forced into strange lands to work for others free. Those, that is, who were not left behind to be colonized chiefly by a European power to suffer pretty much the same fate, only at home, which in a way is worse.
I surmised, with the help of Nkrumah et al, that the best if not only way for blacks to become free—as a people–was to regain what they had lost, and on the scale of how they had lost it—as a people. We needed to, to borrow an oft-used phrase of that time—“control the space we occupy,” and not have others control our state of employment, or the quality of our housing and health care. When you think about it, even now, it’s OK for just about all other people to come together, create their own nations, and work toward the goal of controlling them on their terms. Or at least they’re not thought subversive for trying. This wouldn’t, unfortunately, apply to a lot of African nations. They, to this day, remain annoyingly subservient to their purportedly former colonial powers.
Back here at the ranch that is America, blacks are to hope that a tribe in charge since this country’s inception (not those indigenous tribes but the one who annihilated them), and who historically has been unkind to them, would eventually allow them in. Don’t get me wrong. Things have generally gotten better for African Americans, thanks in large part through their partnership with some kind folks in that generally unkind tribe. But as the recent presidential election showed us—gains can be eradicated or at least threatened with the advent of reactionary forces. Actually, black history in America is about gain, than blowback to the gain, etc. See slavery, Reconstruction; limited rights, Jim Crow.
No matter how noble this goal of inclusion, it’s still, in this country, politically, an experiment. With one side taking the majority of the—if not all the real–risks.
Blacks have done it before, had their own. Not after someone else had controlled or tainted them. But their own. Generically.
To borrow from the crazy mofo president-elect’s crazy mofo language—“Big League.”
Blacks had the first civilization in Ethiopia, then in Jenne Jeno—and later, those glorious kingdoms of Ghana and Songhai. I’d discovered—by reading historians such as Ivan Van Sertima and John Henrik Clarke–that Africans, thousands of years ago, scripted textbooks in math in what’s now called Egypt and in Zaire and Nigeria developed their own numeration systems. The early advances in astronomy are admiringly myriad. The lovely Dogon people of Mali remain my favorites. They knew of Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, and the construction of what we now call the Milky Way years before the European scientists happened upon these phenomena.
Ancient Africans built steam engines and iron tools, and bronze weapons and art competitive to or better than any other culture’s, according to D. Shore, author of “Steel-Making in Ancient Africa.”
African doctors handled medical procedures such as vaccination and brain surgery. Before the European invasion.
And there’s evidence to show that Africans built sturdy vessels that allowed them to trade with fellow merchants of South America and Asia—sometimes carrying elephants as cargo–long before the Europeans did. I knew not one whit of this in public school. What we learned about Africa—truth be told, I can’t recall a single day talking about Africa. They sort of let the Tarzan movies fill that void. And I went to all black schools—supported by my mother’s tax dollars. (My father had died by then.)
Learning all this history was a natural extension of becoming a black nationalist–or risk having my Black Power card taken at the next equivalent to the boojie’s cocktail party and made to leave– just as the Mad Dog and latest Roberta Flack jam were kicking in. (Just joking.) But truth be told, unlike a lot of my like-minded colleagues, I wasn’t that impressed blacks were the first to do this or that. I never thought it was that important. Every culture can make a claim of being the first to do…something, I suppose.
I was happy to discover what I’d suspected all along. There was a lot more to our early lives than what Edgar Rice Burroughs had given us.
Life is funny that way. You have to finish something, it seems, before taking the next step—if you’re to be successful at it. Life doesn’t like short cuts. We have to finish the next step—being free. As we once were. And some of that means retrieving what you’d lost or had taken away. (Yes, as Malcolm said, “By any means necessary.” “Wait a minute, homey—are you one of those ‘Back to…’” As the man said, “By any means…”) No one else can do this for you, by the way. If you’re not setting the terms, you’re not free. First things first. Then you can join the rest of world as political and economic equals.
No, my political ideology is not similar to that exclusive ideology embraced by a strong contingent of the Trump crowd. Not in maliciousness. I never thought I was better than anyone. I never wanted to rule anyone either. Just get from under them.
I wouldn’t worry about me though. My daughter has told me that I, in my heart of hearts, hate everybody. The same. Black. White. Brown. Red. Pick a color. According to my kid, you’ll get on my nerves, whatever your hue. I’m a black nationalist now so I don’t have to be one later. Won’t feel a need then for any kind of provincialism while stepping into all that egalitarianism. And equanimity.
Lee R. Haven lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia.