A space for Africana creative expressions and explorations.
A four-part series of short stories by Serie McDougal III
Unity, and the Come-Unity Line
On the Southside of Chicago, we sat relaxing at a poetry set. The room was dimly lit, and every inhale and exhale of air included the smell of sandalwood incense. The sounds of a coffee machine and baristas quietly taking orders and preparing drinks made up the collage of background noises that blended together to create the atmosphere. The sounds of a poetry set became so regular and expected that they weren’t the slightest bit disruptive to me. Instead, they were calming. The shouts of audience members at the poets were not rude, they were affirmations. These are the things that separate poetry performances from poetry sets. One is just an event highlighting the talents of individuals for a crowd of people. The other is more of a mutual creation, an exchange of energy orchestrated by one person or group, yes, but also co-constructed by everything from the baristas, the drummer, the attendees, the smells, and audience participation, from the sounds of happy and crying babies and their mothers and fathers trying hush them to the sobering, oppressive reminders of reality invoked by the occasional police sirens. Truth be told, I get the same spiritual feeling from certain Southside Chicago poetry sets as I got when I used to attend church regularly, an argument I wasn’t prepared to make to anyone, since I wanted to avoid being looked at sideways for suggesting that the two were comparable.
With the soft sounds of conga drums in the background, the smooth voice of the featured poet began…
Come you to me and
let’s build community
My friend leaned over to my ear and said softly, “Seriously, is that line still supposed to be deep, my dude?” He added, “That line is so old, I get bored after the third ‘community.’” I closed my mouth and tried not to laugh. It was difficult, and the noise I made sounded more like an obnoxiously loud snort than an actual laugh. He and I had both been regulars at poetry sets across the city, and we had seen several poets use the same line on many occasions, so often that is was almost impossible to tell who the originator was. However, the line always appealed to the audience. It was the essence of the message: the appeal to unity, which fed the soul. My thinking was that speaking the language of community quenched the collective thirst of the all-Black attendees, even if it was only an emotional or spiritual fulfillment that lasted the brief and fleeting length of a single poem at a poetry set.
But, as it turned out, the moment was not so fleeting at all.
After the set was over and we all went our separate ways, I went home and continued to think about the “come-unity” line and its popularity. I thought, is it possible for a thing to get old if it hasn’t yet become a reality? From the opposite perspective, racist White people often respond to Black people’s descriptions of racism as “old.” The suggestion is that a thing should not be mentioned too many times. But what if it’s still happening? What if it’s still a problem? What if it still needs to be solved? What if it’s still a need? A Dead Prez song came to mind, particularly one line: “It ain’t over till the problem solved, getcha back up off the wall.”
As I sat at home, I noticed that I had just been sitting there, alone, thinking about unity for nearly an hour. I continued, since it was better than going on a YouTube bender. I had my back against one of the four walls in my studio apartment, and the other three were covered by bookcases. As I sat against the empty wall, I could see the titles of the books on each shelf. With unity on my mind, certain books jumped out at me, until I could see the authors surrounding my bed.
I’d had strong waking dreams like this many times before, but there was always something in me that resisted falling too deep into the dream. I dismissed them as daydreaming, a waste of time. I would tighten my muscles to avoid losing control at these times out of fear of what unknown state my mind might enter. This time, however, I let go; I let whatever was happening happen.
What happened was that the Obaba surrounded me, the ancestral presences of Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Ture, Wade Nobles, Martin Luther King, Louis Farrakhan, and Malcolm X. I was frozen in shock! I felt inappropriate in every way: mentally unprepared, underdressed. I didn’t even have any shoes on…in the presence of Malcolm X, for crying out loud.
Of all things, I was wondering how Dr. Nobles and Minister Farrakhan could be there, since they were still alive. I looked around my bed in awe at their faces looking back at me. But then, I was taken aback by the fact that Fanon was staring at me with one eye half-closed and the other wide open. Good lord! Was this man trying to look into my soul? He seemed to have a stronger connection to me than the others at that moment. Fanon sat with his legs crossed and his hands folded over his knee. Still looking directly at me, he said, “He’s wondering about Brother Wade and Minister Farrakhan.” He was right.
Dr. Nobles spoke next, saying, “You teach Africana Studies correct? Don’t you know we are all spirit in a physical body, having a human experience? Have I not taught you that I can spiritually be in more than one place at the same time?”
He was right! Ancestral souls return all the time in newborns, yet they don’t lose their place in the ancestral realm. What was I thinking? It made sense.
Minister Farrakhan, wearing his tinted glasses and a yellow suit, leaned forward to speak. He said, “I know this is a confusing and perhaps even frightening experience in your life, so I greet you in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his messenger. Brother…you are here because of the importance of unity; your spirit led you to the question of unity. Dear brother, what the Black people need is not genius; we have plenty of that, as our people are as brilliant as ever. I am not sure it is even money; we have plenty of sources of capital. What we need is to connect the dots. Your spirit is right to focus on unity because our true capabilities cannot be realized without it. And, of course, we cannot depend on the benevolence of others. The responsibility is ours.”
Swaying back and forward in his chair with his eyes half closed, Kwame Ture responded, “Yes, I agree, because I believe that united, people of African descent are the most powerful people in the world. But for a revolutionary, Minister Farrakhan, it is my understanding that the most important part of a revolution is the people’s consciousness as I’ve said before. I say this to you, brothers, because in our talk about unity, I wonder if we are not putting the cart before the horse. This country tries to instill within our people a false consciousness, to make you accept its lies and go about living those lies.”
“That’s true: nationalism happens along with the raising of awareness of consciousness, as you put it, Brother Kwame,” Frantz Fanon interjected. “Unity of consciousness is essential; in fact, individualism must be the first thing to disappear in a revolution. Individualism is the mantra taught by the oppressor, and unity is the antidote to the cancer of individualism. It must be maintained through political education of the masses. This is what you have to do, professor. My only warning is that unity must not become dictatorial or forced, as this will only cause people to reject it and splinter themselves, letting it fade into oblivion.”
Malcolm X responded to Fanon. “Yes, and because our people can sometimes rush to form coalitions, we need to make sure we have internal solidarity before we start the process of expanding this notion of unity in the direction of uniting with others. It is pan-African unity that is most important for people of African descent because there is a conspiracy to keep diasporic Blacks from continental Africans. We need to reach out to them. All Blacks need to be a part of the world’s pan Africanists. This is because White Americans fear our union.”
I could see that Garvey was letting the others speak before he weighed in. He looked to be deep in thought, then said, “This is critical because the evil of internal division is what wrecks us as a people. This is true for Black people everywhere. We can do away with this by uniting toward the common purpose of achieving self-respect and self-determination as a people. Unity is the only thing that can alleviate the conditions we face globally.”
Dr. Nobles declared, “I think you all are missing something important that Brothers Kwame and Fanon brought up: something must happen before this unity we are calling for can arise.”
Malcolm interrupted, “We said pan-African consciousness.” Garvey followed suit by saying, “Global Pan-Africanism.”
“Those are political,” Nobles explained. “I believe, though, that the prerequisite for unity is worldview. Our sense of understanding the unity of everything is what should give us a sense of collective responsibility.”
“But those political distinctions and realities between different Black people are important. Does this cultural question override them Dr. Nobles?” Fanon questioned.
“To focus on politics alone is shortsighted,” Dr. Nobles replied. “The political confusion our people face is a consequence of the disruption of their natural consciousness. Once they are realigned with their cultural realities and they cease to accept White reality without question, they will realize that they should politically unite, affirm, and protect their own. Dr. Fanon, this doesn’t mean failure to recognize difference, it means recognizing the cultural unity underlying our complexities. Understanding our connection to our origins will give us an understanding of our authenticity as African people, which may be a better word than ‘unity.’ This sense of connection or authenticity will prevent us from experiencing alienation, politically or otherwise.”
Martin Luther King added, “What Nobles is saying is that we need to see our true humanness, and it is only a spiritual lens that will allow us to see ourselves beyond the provincialism of political analysis alone and also transform consciousness. McDougal needs to know what this means for him as an academic. Spiritual expression is a social experience that brings people together to affirm their oneness under God. How is that happening in Africana Studies?”
I could not help but ask, “I have always had a deep respect for religion and spirituality in my personal life and African spiritual systems. I have yet to truly integrate them into my role as a scholar, though.”
Malcolm X answered, “For me personally, Islam is a unifying religion that I believe America should get more acquainted with. I think America would rather allow itself to be eaten away by the cancer of racism, though. However, Islam has the capacity to teach people to practice sincere unity and be molded into a vast family.”
“It is a Black spirit I am speaking of,” Nobles clarified. “As an Africana Studies scholar, he must explain to his students the meaning of that consciousness Brother Kwame spoke of. I believe that the consciousness we are trying to get our people to tap into is not just political: it is a vital force we are dealing with. It is the African beingness in us because we are Africans; not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us. This consciousness is an energy, an awareness, that is merged with spirit. And if this young brother can tap into this awareness, he can access realms of knowing that extend beyond cognition and perception. He can then teach the kind of consciousness that will lead to a lasting unity.”
Fanon, who was sitting back and watching the others go back and forth like a tennis match, finally raised his eyebrows and said, “Religion can tend to have this characteristic of dividing our people within a single nation, dividing them into spiritual communities and often serving the interests of the colonizers though.”
“That’s right!” Kwame Ture added. “But religions produced by indigenous people all over the world are important. They guide a morally upright life, and no religion is more important than any other religion. It is only European imperialism which uses religion for unjust causes. The missionaries came for our goods, not for our good. They turned our eyes to heaven while they robbed us blind.”
King responded, “I am of the church, the body of Christ. But I do believe sectarianism, too many different spiritual communities divided against one another, is a problem. I also believe that God transcends these differences.” He added, “I want to introduce you to someone. He is a healer. His name is Kaqece.”
Kaqece was a four-foot-tall Black man. He wore a brown cloth around his waist, a white beaded necklace, and a headband with beads hanging from it. All of the other men disappeared while Kaqece was present. He said so me, speaking softly, “I want you to go back to the poetry set. Remember the feeling you had when the poet was talking about unity.”
“Yes,” I responded. “I was thinking...”
Before I could finish, he interrupted me, saying, “Not think, feel. Too much contemplation is distracting. You are a researcher, McDougal; that is your strength because it’s what you practice all the time. But now, it is your greatest weakness. It was no coincidence that it was a poetry set experience that led you here. Poetry gets closer to the meaning behind language compared to what you are used to. You are here with the ancestors because you have finally started to feel. If you continue to soften the heart, you will experience nIom.”
“What is nIom?” I asked.
“Nlom is spirit. It is life force, and you must experience it to understand it. But stop trying to consciously will it; you must feel it.”
“I understand, but how is this related to unity, Kaqece?” I asked.
He replied, looking up at me, “Let me show you the world, Dr. McDougal.” He then reached up and touched my arm. When he touched me, the world went dark. It was as if the circuit breaker had gone out, starting an immediate blackout. There was not even sunlight.
I could still feel Kaqece’s hand on my arm and heard him say, “Don’t be scared.” Then there was light, but the light was coming from a web of golden ropes all over the place. Everything was connected by golden ropes. Animals, humans, and plants were all linked by the golden ropes. Some were glowing, while others were dim or without illumination. Moreover, everything had a rope that extended to the sky.
“This is the world,” Kaqece explained. “I show it to you because we are already united in a limited way, meaning we are already interconnected. We strengthen our bonds by empowering the ropes that connect us. You empower the ropes that connect us by experiencing spirit directly, the way you do in the poetry spot, in church, in the mosque, or when you are teaching, reading, or meditating. But there are more powerful ways to experience nlom. You need to practice ritual. No matter what, White supremacy cannot do anything about the fact that your rope extends to God. Soften the heart and stop trying to be in control when you daydream; sometimes, you must give up power to get a new kind of power.”
Kaqece then disappeared. The light came back, and I was in bed surrounded by the Obaba again. I was confused by this experience and Kaqece’s message to me. I wondered if those ropes were still present and if I just couldn’t see them anymore. I couldn’t help but ask the Obaba surrounding my bed, “Do you all know what just happened to me?”
Dr. King responded, “I have always told you that we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
“I thought it was more like a metaphor…not actual ropes,” I replied.
“The question is, do you see it now?” King asked, adding, “This is the structure of reality you have studied. You have called it by many names: cosmology, ontology, worldview, deep structure, etc. It is set up so that we cannot be our best unless we help others be their best, and we can only do that through unity.”
Dr. Nobles said, “He knows it. It’s Ubuntu, Dr. McDougal. You have studied it, and now you have seen it, so you can go back and profess, professor.”
Kwame Ture announced, “Before we send you back, professor, remember that your spiritual awakening must be properly understood in the context of power. If you love your people, you must organize. The objective of our unification is singular: it is to seize power. Religion tells you to live a just life. To uphold justice in this world, remember, you need to seize power. To do this, we must raise the consciousness of the masses. Malcolm, you said history is best qualified to reward the researcher. This, I believe, is a part of how we go about the process of raising our consciousness. This is how we can make ourselves more conscious: because consciousness is about truth, and to be self-conscious we must seek to learn everything there is to know about our people’s history. Now, you may go back to your brothers, your sisters, and your comrades, ready for revolution.”
Garvey spoke quickly after Kwame Ture’s last word, saying, “Meeting adjourned. Professor, we will see you soon, but until then, climb ye to the heights of liberty and cease not in well-doing until you have planted the banner of the Red, the Black, and the Green on the hill-tops of Africa.”
A Four-Part Series of Short Stories by Serie McDougal III
Obaba: A Conversation with the Ancestors on Progress
“I didn’t know what to say. It was clear she wanted to believe that things are much better, and her eyes were so bright. Who am I to make a student feel uninspired about the current state of things?” I explained to my girlfriend, describing my reaction to a comment made by a student in my class earlier that day. The student had innocently asked me, “Professor, haven’t we made progress? Haven’t Black people made a lot of progress?” I responded that Black people had certainly made progress in a great many respects, but at the same time, we are confronted with many of the same challenges and the progress we have made relative to that of other racial groups in society has been much more modest. A deeply uncomfortable feeling came over me as I said these words. Was I contradicting myself? When I told my girlfriend what had happened, she responded, “You have to tell her the truth!”
“And exactly what is that?” I responded. Then she played her conversational big joker part by responding, “I don’t know; you are the Africana studies professor.”
That night, after taking a deep breath, I let myself fall onto the bed and went to sleep staring at the ceiling, wondering how I had managed to finish graduate school and get a job as a professor without being able to answer such a simple question. What the hell was progress anyway? The word was as slippery as a wet bar of soap. I don’t know how long it took, but after I went to sleep, I remember feeling very heavy. I felt like I was in danger of falling through the mattress and perhaps even damaging the wooden floors in my apartment. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in Botswana, visiting my old South African friend Kea’s aunt’s office. Her aunt was a Sangoma (a diviner and healer), as well as an Inyanga (an herbalist and healer). She was a great healer whom I had met more than twelve years before. Now she was in my dream and I was sitting in her home. She said to me, “You are here for a meeting that will start soon.” Shortly after, she disappeared and I found myself sitting at a long, shiny wooden table, which was populated with several formally dressed old Black men. My vision was foggy but clearing up slowly. I started to recognize their faces. Oh my God, it’s Marcus Garvey sitting across from me at the center of the table, I realized. He was wearing a chocolate brown suit, the same color tie, a fedora, and a white button-down shirt. I wanted to get up and bow before him out of respect, but I could not move. To Garvey’s right was a similarly dressed Black man with a short afro. I recognized the marks below his eyes—it was Frantz Fanon. Leaning forward, he stared at me, his elbows resting on the table with his fingertips pressed together as if he were praying. They both seemed to be waiting for me to clear my head. To Fanon’s right sat another man with a familiar sharp nose and large eyes. He wore a blue and white gown that appeared to be a West African-style print. As my vision began to clear up, I recognized that the man sitting to Mr. Garvey’s left was unmistakably Martin Luther King, Jr., wearing a black suit and tie, his skin glistening, his fingers folded, staring intently at me. To his left was Dr. Kobi Kambon, who had recently passed away, transitioning to the realm of the ancestors. I recognized his signature shag, with glasses and a white dashiki. To his left were Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Both were dressed in black suits and drinking coffee, their eyes were fixed on me, yet from the corners of their mouths, they appeared to be talking with one another. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I was not surprised at Minister Farrakhan’s presence since Mr. Garvey said to me, “Do you know why you are here? I think you already have a clue, but do you know specifically why you are here?” As he spoke, my eyes jumped back to him.
I was nervous and unsure of what to say. I had no clue why I was there. Was I in trouble? Trouble with the ancestors? Dr. Fanon seemed amused at my confusion. He looked at me with a half smirk, then turned to Mr. Garvey. In a low tone, he leaned across the table and said to me, “You are a teacher. You may have discovered your mission in life, but you are here so we can help you learn to fulfill it.” I thought to myself, “Well, they say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Maybe that’s what this is”
Mr. Garvey looked to his left and right, slapped his hands on the table three times, and spoke firmly as if he were leading a business meeting. “Let’s talk about progress, since that’s what’s on your mind. Progress is important; it is what wins a people respect. Brother Kwame,” he continued, “do you want to begin?”
Kwame Ture addressed me quickly and directly, saying, “Well, Mac, one thing is for certain—White people cannot measure our progress for us. We must be the ones to say when progress has occurred. In fact, a part of progress for us is getting them off our backs, so they cannot be the ones to measure our progress,” he added, laughing. The fast pace of his speech caught my attention. He spoke to me as if only he and I were sitting there. Moreover, he knew my childhood family name, Mac. I fully agreed with his point, it was one of the major reasons I became interested in Africana Studies as an academic discipline. Yet I appreciated his comment, coming from him, it took on new meaning. Besides, I so often find myself needing reminders of what I think I know.
Leaning back, his fingertips touching the handle of his coffee cup, Malcolm X added “It is not their place, Brother Kwame, but they are very involved in the meaning of progress among Black people,” He leaned forward and placed his closed fist under his chin and rested his elbow on the table. He continued, “But no progress made by Black people has come from the good will of this country.”
I could not help interjecting, “Yes, and when Barack Obama was in office as the first Black president, compared to Whites, Black people were two times more likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty, and six times more likely to be incarcerated.” They all turned their eyes toward me, but I wanted to hear them continue.
I wanted to ask a question, but I didn’t know how to address them all. Should I call them a council? Ancestors? Brothers? I remembered a Zulu word, obaba, which means “many fathers” or “multiple fathers.” I said to them, “Obaba, how do you all think society goes about selling us this illusion of progress?” Malcolm X replied almost before I finished my question, saying, “They use so-called successful Negroes to give the illusion of progress.”
As Malcolm commented on the role of Negroes, Min. Farrakhan said “yesss brother.” With a furrowed brow, clearly passionate about the dilemma, Min. Farrakhan said, “It is truly a wicked thing when you think about it, young brother. They use Black people who have obtained some success as manikins to sell a lie about Black progress, while the masses are suffering. But you cannot judge the conditions of an entire group of people based on the economic success of a few. The problem is that those who have done well have not pooled their resources to help lift the masses.” Malcolm nodded his head while looking down at the table in deep thought.
Mr. Garvey again commanded everyone’s attention. “I am glad you have finally brought it up. I was beginning to think none of you were going to address the role that Negroes themselves have played in this illusion Min. Malcolm mentioned. I would say that Negroes have also played a direct role in sabotaging Black progress. My experience teaches me that the enemies are not so much from without, as from within the race. Mark my words, they will organize to destroy progress.”
Malcolm X seemed to tilt his head to the side and squint his eyes at the comment. “Yes, Mr. Garvey, but they are just puppets in the grand scheme,” Min. Malcolm responded, “and we can’t blame the puppets; we must blame the puppeteer.” Garvey nodded in response. I couldn’t tell whether he was nodding in agreement or acknowledgment.
Garvey replied, “Gentlemen, it has dawned on me that we have not answered this young man’s question, ‘What is progress?’” He paused. All seemed to nod their heads in agreement with him. “I will begin by saying that progress is moving toward liberty, unfettered freedom, democracy, a free Africa, and a national government for African people. Our people need a country of their own, and we do that by restoring Africa to her glory. That is progress.”
Kwame Ture pounded his fist on the table, nodding his head in agreement, then he pointed his finger at me, saying “I would add to that; progress for African people is every step we make toward collective power. Like Mr. Garvey, I know that we must free Africa; in fact, progress is our movement toward the unification of Africa under a socialist government. But in the U.S., the goal must also be to take control of local Black communities, assume our cultural sovereignty, and keep our sights set on shifting the power base in the world. Black people in the U.S. must run their own affairs and force representatives to speak to the needs of Black communities.”
Frantz Fanon interjected, “Power is the objective, but we must not be confused by the bourgeoisie. They want the concessions offered by the oppressor. In fact, they want to take their place, but the masses want power, so we must hold the line—power is the progress.” Dr. Fanon’s voice was very calm but seemed almost contradicted by the strength of the words he chose and the message he was sending. “The goal,” Malcolm X added, “is to be self-sufficient enough to meet the needs of our communities, and that’s Black nationalism: gaining control of the politics of our communities.”
“Obaba, how are these goals achieved?” I asked. Dr. Fanon said, “The pathway to freedom and liberation is violence. America owes its existence to bloodshed and celebrates it; that nation has actually taught Black people that the path to freedom and liberation is violence.”
Kwame Ture agreed. “Oh, there will be blood—bloodshed in the fight for African liberation will be the bloodiest in the world.” He and Dr. Fanon seemed to be in lockstep on the matter.
“The only way to get it is bloodshed, and we hurt each other far too much,” Malcolm said. “We need to hurt the enemy in defense of our communities, particularly when the government cannot or is unwilling to protect them. Remember, freedom is not given; it is taken.” Malcolm X’s words seemed to be carefully chosen compared to the others.
“Minister Malcolm, it does not seem that you are advocating for an aggressive violence—is this right?” I asked.
He replied, “I never advocate for that kind of violence; I advocate for self-defense.”
Dr. King responded, “Careful, men, you cannot achieve a good end through an evil means like violence, for what does it profit a man to gain the world if he must lose his soul in the process?” I knew it could only have been a matter of time before Dr. King made his voice heard regarding the matter of violence, bloodshed, and warfare.
Garvey responded, “Yes, there can be no doubt that war is justified when freedom is denied. We must prepare for blood to redeem Africa, but it is hardly the first step. If you want freedom, you must think in terms of blood. But let’s not lose focus; we achieve progress through unity of purpose and unity of effort. To do that, we must free ourselves—mentally, spiritually, and politically.” He continued, “I know many of our people are very religious, Dr. King, but prayer alone won’t do it either; progress comes from self-help and self-reliance.” Mr. Garvey smiled at Dr. King as he said these words.
Dr. King replied, smiling back at Mr. Garvey, “Oh, Mr. Garvey, don’t you start with me. We absolutely must pray, but you know I believe we must be active. We cannot wait submissively on the Lord because prayer is no substitute for work and intelligence.”
Kwame Ture proclaimed, “Revolution does not begin with implementation—it begins at the level of conception; it begins with consciousness.” Everyone nodded in agreement, yet Dr. Kambon seemed to lean forward looking for an opportunity to speak.
Dr. Kambon addressed Kwame Ture’s point, adding, “That cannot be just any consciousness, Brother Kwame; that consciousness must include a recognition of our collective African identity and cultural heritage; a prioritization of African survival, liberation, and proactive development; engagement in specific activity related to collective self-knowledge, self-affirmation, and institution building; and lastly, a posture of resistance against anti-African forces and threats to African survival. This is the African self-consciousness we must socialize our people to adopt.”
“Gentlemen,” Garvey interjected, “my warning to those of you who are speaking of building institutions here in America is that the progress you speak of will be built on a foundation of sand because we cannot protect it—it can be taken away. We are regarded as a hindrance here, a threat to White supremacy, and we are outnumbered. The odds would be against us here, and I do not want to set our people up for failure. It hurt my heart to see what happened to Black Wall Street. But if we raise a nation in Africa, we can support our populations abroad from a base of power.”
“Well, Mr. Garvey,” Malcolm X responded, “in my humble opinion, the long-term solution may be complete separation and a return to Africa, but right now, 40 million Black people in the U.S. need food, clothing, housing, education, and jobs immediately. I believe what we can and must do here and now is return to Africa culturally and philosophically as Black Nationalists and Pan Africanists, forming mutually supportive relationships with our brothers and sisters in Africa.”
Kwame Ture seemed to inhale deeply after considering both Mr. Garvey and Min. Malcolm’s comments. “You are both right,” Kwame Ture declared. “We need an international perspective, such as Pan Africanism, to fight on an international level. African people need to build power bases all over the world and unite culturally, politically, and economically.”
“Obaba,” I said, “I want to thank you for this conversation. The word progress can be disarming to the unsuspecting ear. Progress is assumed to inherently mean better and even inevitable. But African people’s history teaches us that we have been subjected to oppressive forces that attempted to get us to abandon our languages and cultural practices in the name of this sneaky word. It appears that it is growing more and more associated with acceptance of Euro American values, ideals, normative practices, and institutions.”
“Young Mac, I believe it is time you return and fulfill your mission,” said Dr. Fanon. My vision began to grow foggy again. I heard my friend’s aunt’s voice say to me, “Your dad is proud of you, and he says you must continue to commune with your ancestors.”
What was I supposed to do now? Was I supposed to summarize this discussion in class? That would create a whole new curriculum! I’d have to talk to that student during office hours, I thought. I wanted to schedule a new meeting right away, but then I remembered what my elder Dr. Wade Nobles once told me: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Darn, I’d have to wait. I then woke up in bed, before I could utter the words, “Wait, what?”
Carmichael, Stokely, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism. 2007. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove, 1965. Print.
Garvey, Marcus. Marcus Garvey Speaks. Durham, NC: BlaCast Entertainment, 2003. Sound recording.
Kambon, Kobi K. K. African/Black Psychology in the American Context: An African-Centered Approach. Tallahassee, FL: Nubian Nation Publications, 1998. Print.
National Urban League. The State of Black America: Message to the President. Silver Spring, MD: Transaction Publishers, 2009.
X, Malcolm, and George Breitman. Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (1st Ed). New York: Grove, 1965. Black Thought and Culture. Web.
A Four-Part Series of Short Stories by Serie McDougal III
“Serie, have you ever heard of the simulation hypothesis, bruh?”
I responded, “No, what’s that?”
My colleague Daniel was way into the existence of aliens and the multiple universes. He always made a compelling argument, so I always enjoyed our conversations. He continued, “Okay, how do you know that all this exists?”
“Oh shit, here we go,” I thought to myself. I pursed my lips and shook my head in doubt. We were on the phone, so nothing to worry about. Then I responded, “What do you mean?”
He replied, “Ok, you’ve been telling me about these dreams you’ve been having. How do you know it isn’t the dream that’s reality and that this, THIS, isn’t real at all? We could just be living in a simulation made by aliens. We could be simulated beings created with free will, and how would we know? They could have gotten us to accept it by just immersing us in this artificial reality, completely saturating us with it over a long period of time. Look, I’m going to send you a video. WATCH it and call me back!”
“No, no, just summarize it, please! I don’t want to watch the video,” I said.
He replied, “No, you be asking me to read drafts of all them papers, you can watch this video! Watch the video, and call me right back! Bye!” I received his text a moment later, with a link to a Youtube video about the simulation hypothesis—the strong likelihood that we could be living in a simulation. I turned it on reluctantly but found Neil Degrasse Tyson speaking about it, and I started to wonder if it were true.
As my eyelids grew heavier, I saw another familiar face on the screen: Steve Cokely! He looked just as I had when I knew him, before he died—a wool cap pulled over his six-inch locks, and chewing gum as always. I attended a small college in Iowa that had about fifty Black students. We used to look for African American student conferences to attend together. It really helped us bond. On one of those trips, I saw Steve Cokely give a speech on White supremacy, and ever since then I’ve been conscious of White supremacy as a system Black people must fight against in pursuit of Black liberation. I kept in communication with him until he passed on.
But Steve Cokley was now in the Youtube video, and he started speaking to me. He said, “Brother Serie! Are you serious? The simulation hypothesis? Can’t you see this is a distraction? They got you sittin’ up, worried about a fight with some overlord in outer space, while the honkey is kickin’ your ass right here in LA. You know why? ‘Cause it’s easier to worry about some aliens than to deal with this reality that is breathing down your neck. Are you trying to run away from facing White supremacy?”
“No, Brother Steve,” I replied. “I just don’t even understand why this is happening. I know we have to fight it, but . . . For God’s sake why? That’s what I’ve recently found myself asking, I understand, but why must Black people even be in a situation where they have to struggle against some impossible matrix-like system. I know we can’t be all carefree. That would be playing make believe. But it’s enough to make you just get up and start walking like Caine from the old TV show Kung Fu.
“Get in here,” Steve said, waving me on.
When I blinked I found myself in the video with him, but we were on a rooftop now, surrounded by a wooded fence and looking out over downtown Los Angeles. The view made the city seem strangely like a simulation. Then I heard the voice of Frantz Fanon, say, “No, it’s as real as it gets. It’s not a game. The real trick is to make you play it like a game. If you were looking for a carefully constructed environment designed for your exploitation, you’re in one. You’re in one.”
Seated in lawn chairs under the night sky were Kwame Ture, Kobi Kambon, and two people I hadn’t seen before. Brother Steve introduced them. “This is Elder Ogotemmêli. The brother is a Dogon elder and astronomer from Mali, in West Africa. Next to him is the roaming spirit of the Black psychologist Dr. Camara Jules Harrell. This brother isn’t an ancestor. He’s still living, but his spirit has joined us while he sleeps. Kaqece brought him here because of his knowledge of the Manichean world you live in. So tell me, Brother Serie, why are we here?”
“I think it’s because I’ve been questioning White supremacy. Why, just why? I get economic competition, competition for power. But why does . . . I don’t know . . . God, or the universe, even allow a 500-year holocaust for Black people? It’s like a cruel trick or something.”
The first to speak was the Dogon astronomer, Ogotemmêli. He was a bald African man of dark complexion with a grey beard, and he wore a traditional loose-fitting Dogon shirt. He sat up on his lawn chair, set his feet on the ground, and rested his elbows on his knees, and he said to me, “According to my people, the world is Amma’s creation, and all that is within it is sacred.”
In my mind, I screamed, “Even White supremacy?!” And to my surprise, he heard my thoughts as if I had spoken aloud.
He continued, “Yes, even White supremacy. Listen, all forces in this world are complementary, deliberately established, and necessary to the functioning of the whole. You see, in the beginning Amma transformed the divine egg into a double placenta and then placed two sets of twins in each. But one of the twins, Yurugu, emerged from his placenta early and tried to seize his sister because he felt lonely and incomplete. This was the beginning of disharmony and disorder in the universe. So when you speak of White supremacy, what I hear is that you are battling against the principle of disorder in the universe, which goes by many names. My people know it as Yurugu, whom God transformed into a pale fox. But Brother Steve calls him the Honkey, and Dr. Fanon calls him the Colonizer.”
Nope! I wasn’t buying it. I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear. It was time to raise my own voice. “But still, Ogotemmêli, why?” I felt like my niece when she was little and asked me “Why?” until I reached the limits of my knowledge and couldn’t answer any more.
Ogotemeli replied, “You may not understand this at first, Brother Serie, but the universe is ordered, and in that order even disorder has its place.”
They all laughed. But I was serious, and I let my face say that I still didn’t get it. And seeing my confusion, Ogotemmêli continued. “Look, the pale fox, Yurugu, is fundamentally incomplete, but he knows disorder. It is your job, and what you should focus on, to maintain order. I would rather be you than Yurugu. It is a blessing.”
Dr. Harrell added, “Dr. McDougal, Ogotemmêli isn’t telling you anything very different from what you learned from Cheik Anta Diop. He said that many thousands of years ago, when Europeans first had to deal with Godawful cold winters and thin soil, it is no wonder they came up with a culture of conquest and a drive to seize power over others. Is that so different from Yurugu?”
“This Yurugu we are talking about,” Dr. Kambon said, “is a small population that is trying to establish itself as the standard for everyone.”
“Yes,” Dr. Harrell added. “And it is this Yurugu’s drive to acquire wealth without regard for the cost to other humans.”
I was starting to understand. For a moment, we all stood looking at the bright city lights, the moving cars, and the buildings. At that distance, it was like a tiny model city. The cars looked like toys, and the whole was a distant machine at work. Finally, I told them of a challenge I faced as a teacher of Africana Studies.
“Obaba, as a teacher I often struggle over when to talk about Black people and what we must do, and when to talk about White supremacy and oppression. I don’t want to talk about Black people’s lives without discussing the forces of oppression we contend with, but I don’t want to give so much attention to White supremacy that I neglect to describe Black people themselves and their own role. When people ask, ‘Why talk about White supremacy,’ what should I say?”
The question appeared to cause Dr. Harrell some consternation. He stood quietly a moment at the edge of the rooftop, his two hands laid atop the wooden fence. Then he turned and looked at me through his rimless glasses. He said, “You were impressed with simulation theory and talk of multiple universes, but we have yet to truly appreciate the complexity of the situation Black people face in this world. Studying it is the only way we can discuss it more accurately and the only way to better understand the conditions that lead our folks to self-destruction. And it is, I assure you, more complex than any of your friend’s simulated world ideas.”
“But when I talk about White supremacy, some people say, ‘We already know that.’ And when they say that, I think to myself, yes, but there are levels of complexity to it, and most people know that it’s more than just someone calling you a racial epithet, or people’s dating preferences. It’s institutional. But still, I don’t think most people are aware of White supremacy at the levels that Steve discusses it.”
Dr. Harrell responded, “No. Many of our people have swallowed the White, racist frame of mind hook, line, and sinker. You witness White supremacy’s penetration of our minds when you see Black people blame themselves and fail to see the roots of their problems.”
Brother Cokely began to speak then, in his calm, raspy voice. I knew it well, and his tone told me that he was fired up with passion but holding his cool. I felt the intensity palpably beneath the level pitch of his words. He said, “You know, Brother Serie, when I lived in this world I was more infamous than famous, and that was because I gave an analysis of the enemy that put me at odds with a lot of our people, especially Black leaders. Why? Because some Black people are invested in not exposing White supremacy. They don’t really want to defeat it, they want to negotiate with it. So they consistently skew one key fact: who we are fighting against. And this creates confusion on the battlefield. I spent my life challenging the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and I got in trouble for my analysis of White supremacy. I named names. I pointed out the leaders of national and multinational organizations whose decisions hurt large numbers of Black people. I didn’t just talk about White supremacy, I named names. People always say ‘We already know that.’ When they say that to you, Brother Serie, you are witnessing the very thing we are against.”
Even Ogotemmêli, spoke. “Brother Steve is right. To defeat Yurugu, you must understand his nature.”
“Sho-ya right, Brother Ogotemmêli,” Steve said, unleashing his passion. “To defeat White supremacy, you have to study and understand it. If you don’t know the enemy’s narrative, you will lose. If you don’t know who the enemy is, you don’t know who to fight. So you have to name the names. Because we’re not fighting an abstraction, Brother Ogotemmêli. We’re fighting people, and we’re fighting organizations and the people who lead them.”
I remembered the life that Brother Steve led. He was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew. He examined global racism consistently and named names. But I wanted to know more about what Obaba was suggesting. “Wait, how is it like a simulation? How does White supremacy work, that you’d say that?”
Steve replied, “It’s a con. It’s protected by your confidence in it, the same as a simulation, only it’s not a game, it’s real. Like any bully, the system works on intimidation.”
Frantz Fanon finally weighed in. He said, “Yes, that’s the reason this country engages in such elaborate displays of military might. And people accept this idea of a simulation because they’re saturated in it and can’t tell what’s real from what’s fake. Well, Black people are up against a superstructure that saturates them. White supremacy doesn’t just use its institutional arms to invade the atmosphere of the oppressed. It tries to become that atmosphere. Think about it. We breathe in the appeal and greatness of White culture like pure air every day. This society then uses its institutional arms on us. They use education to distort our history and assimilate us.”
“Yes,” Dr. Harrell added, “and they use it to reproduce White memories and perspectives and worldviews in the minds of Black people even when they do teach about Black contributions to history.”
“They use religion to pacify us.”
“And Christian institutions are so often, as we know, filled with Caucasian images.”
Fanon continued, “They use economics to leave us without resources.”
“And you know what else?” Kwame Ture interrupted, “Blacks who do have access to resources learn quickly that they actually benefit from the subordination of the majority of Blacks.”
“Dr. Fanon,” Dr. Harrell, interrupted, “they use these institutions instead of physical terror now, to order Black people’s thinking in more subtle ways, but the impact is long-lasting.”
Fanon answered, “Yes, Dr. Harrell, and they do it to dehumanize us, to make us accept their values and stumble over one another in a race to achieve a White existence.”
Dr. Kambon interrupted. “Even if we don’t try to, we adopt Eurocentric values through habit and repetition.”
Dr. Fanon continued, “They want us to adopt that ‘Look out for yourself’ motto and turn us into opportunists. They want us to constantly measure ourselves against them and seek their validation.”
“Yes,” Kwame Ture added, “and when societies dehumanize, they usually do it to justify the exploitation of a group.”
Dr. Harrell said, “They absolutely want to make themselves the standard by which we judge ourselves and others. That way they don’t mind our holding elected office or acquiring wealth.”
Ogotemmêli nodded. “For Yurugu, difference is weakness. So they equate themselves with normal, or modern, and then everyone else isn’t just different; they’re inferior.”
Dr. Kambon said, “Dr. McDougal, this enemy is trying to present itself as the only legitimate model of human behavior. They want you not just to accept them as the norm, but to interpret Black people’s behavior in terms of how it differs from that norm. And our people treat Blacks who get White validation like gods. It’s about definitions, Dr. McDougal. They want you to accept their system of definitions: of what it means to be educated, of what it means to be intelligent, healthy, ethical, or religious. If you accept their definitions, you’re already at a disadvantage.”
Fanon continued, “And most of all, they want us to think that without them, we would fall into chaos.”
Then Dr. Harrell shifted the focus. “It’s not just education, either. You have to take into account media and popular culture. Not only does most White people’s knowledge about Black people come from popular culture; popular culture reinforces racist thinking and shapes people’s understanding of Black history. The news media present negative stories about Black people well outside the context of actively supporting anti-Blackness.”
Dr. Kambon interrupted him. “Then we become living contradictions, when we watch the news and expect truth about people of African descent, when we continue to expect fair treatment from employers and authorities.”
“The simulation we are living in is simply colonialism under other names, such as White supremacy or institutional racism,” Kwame Ture said.
“Yes, Brother Kwame,” Dr. Harrell added, “and power is the key ingredient.”
“And economics,” Dr. Fanon added.
Dr. Harrell replied, “Yes, because our folks are lured to conform by the prospect of higher profits. And they have the institutional power to punish or reinforce behavior that threatens or supports White supremacy.”
“And the system rewards Blacks who betray collective Black advancement,” Kwame Ture added.
“Exactly,” Dr. Kambon said. “They have the power to reward compliance and punish deviation from their standard.”
“But there are experiences with overt acts of racism too, right?” I asked. “I remember being handcuffed and searched on the street in Chicago. Literally slammed against the car for no reasons, then lying face-down on the concrete for a long time, and then being let go and told we were suspects. Not only have I never forgotten it, whenever I experience overt racism I recall it and it angers me again.”
Dr. Harrell said, “You have to understand what is happening in the brain. Your experiences with racism aren’t isolated events; new experiences trigger old ones, and it all slowly chips away at a healthy Black consciousness. Look down at this city and think of the carwash of White supremacy the mind of a Black person will experience walking from one end of it to the other. Even if you aren’t consciously aware of it, your brain will notice the disproportionate number of homeless people who are Black like you. It will notice those who look wealthy are also more likely to look White. It will pick up on the idea that class and wealth differs along racial lines.
“But don’t stop there, because the brain doesn’t just this observation alone. It also recalls seeing the same differences between Black and White communities on your way home from school as a child. Your brain is constantly relating new racist stimuli to old ones, building piece by piece a view that associates Blackness with poverty.
“And don’t stop there, either. Recall your teachers, your parents, and the time President Obama said you can succeed by working hard. Thanks to them, your brain is open to tying the difference between Black and White wealth to the idea that Black people just don’t work hard enough. Let’s say you look up at a billboard and see an ad for a movie about a skilled and talented White police officer with a light-hearted but dim-witted Black partner. Do you think that’s innocent? Your brain relates this film with that Marvel movie you saw where the Black superhero had inferior, less cerebral talents than his White counterpart. Then it relates that to the college class you took that had no Black students, and where the professor didn’t talk about Black contributions. All these memories and observations disassociate Blackness from intelligence and skill, and you remember a poor grade you got in math class, and you start asking yourself, is this because I don’t work as hard as the other students, like Obama said? Am I less intelligent than them? Do I really deserve to be here?
“In this world, your brain is constantly receiving mutually reinforcing waves of racist input, and it associates every new racist idea with old ones, stimulating old racist memories and experiences. What happens if you watch all the movies that show police violence against Black people, all the cell phone videos of Black people being shot by the police, and combine that with your own experiences with the police? You become conditioned to feel fear in the presence of the police. This society forces you to walk your brain through a carwash of White supremacy, rehearsing and processing racist messages every day, slowly pushing them from your short-term to your long-term memory until that memory is filled with racist input.”
Dr. Kambon interjected. “This is psychological violence. Just like rising waters encroach on land and powerful countries encroach on the territories of smaller ones, Black people are experiencing encroachment on our psychological space.”
Then Dr. Harrell continued. “At its worst, the result is an anti-Black worldview: Even when we encounter Black people we don’t know, we make negative guesses about who they are and their intentions before we get to know them.”
Dr. Kambon said, “I call the result cultural misorientation. It’s a silent killer. Some Black people assume that they’re not affected by it, but no one escapes the impact of prolonged exposure to White supremacy. It’s hard to be truly surprised to find that we’ve internalized anti-Black thinking. Black people live in a Eurocentric environment; it’s like a plant being taken out of its natural habitat and then not developing to it’s full potential. Forget about Centers for Disease Control; cultural misorientation is a virus spreading across the African world. And good luck convincing a misoriented Black person that there’s a problem. You see, they don’t experience stress from encounters with disempowering behavior because they think of themselves as normal, or even progressive, when they do things like avoiding Black-owned businesses and Black culture. The White world defines our sickest people as normal, so why would culturally misoriented people think there’s a problem?”
I replied, “The more I learn about White supremacy, the more I realize just how much there is to learn. It feels overwhelming at times. Wow. I guess my question is . . . If this has been happening to our people for more than 500 years, even though we’ve always had critical thinkers, why has White supremacy been so persistent? Racism isn’t a new thing for Black people. Why haven’t we made more progress?”
“Well,” said Ogotemmêli, “Yurugu succeeds by using culture to limits people’s ability to act in their own interest.”
“It’s like we’ve been explaining,” Dr. Kambon added, “It succeeds because of our collective psychosis. We are basically pulling against our own weight, not realizing that we’re standing on top of what we’re trying to lift because we’ve internalized the thing we’re fighting against. What do you think, Steve?”
Brother Steve said, “It persists because its power is to stand right in front of you while you don’t recognize it for what it is. It’s like the way basketball players, or catchers and pitchers, can call plays right in front of millions of people, but the plays still works because the people watching haven’t been trained to recognize them. Because we don’t know, we victim blame. We blame each other for our own problems. The White supremist strategy is to control even the response to White supremacy. Dr. McDougal, what organizations stand out in your mind as traditionally fighting for the interests of Black people?”
I offered, “The Congressional Black Caucus.”
He replied, “Some congresspeople do so, brother, but go to the CBO website and look at their financiers. You’ll see the biggest and most institutionally racist companies in the world. How could they truly fight White supremacy when White supremacy pays them? At the end of the day, it’s simple math. In this country, the problem receives more funding than the solution.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Brother Steve,” I said.
He continued, “The Honkey victimizes and then finances the response to his victimization. You’ve heard the political slogan ‘A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ Well, it’s true for Black people too. Africans all over the world have been victimized by global White supremacy, but Whites have always offered some of them the opportunity to take advantage of that victimization.”
Dr. Fanon sat up on his chair, his elbows on his knees and his suit jacket open, and chimed in. “Yes. They have the resources to put down rebellions and social movements by offering Black leaders a few concessions, and it works because they have already nurtured in Black people the desire to hold a stake in the racist society.”
“There can be no doubt of it,” Kwame Ture said. “Their objective is, in part, to get Black people to abandon the notion of solving Black social problems and to take an individual approach of ‘playing the game.’”
Dr. Harrell added, “Remember the Blacks who achieve White validation? Whites use them as exceptions to the rules of racism. It’s like that book you introduced us to, Brother Steve: The Hidden Hand. Dr. McDougal, the hand of institutions that produce racial disparities is cleverly hidden, and that is we don’t respond to racism with defensiveness or alarm as you think we should.”
I answered, “One thing I’ve discovered upon reflection is that in all my studies and my experiences as a student, I learned a great deal about White supremacy and about approaches to Black liberation and the history of Black revolutionary movements. but I have rarely heard an analysis of the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of White supremacy.”
Ogotemmêli spoke first. He said, “Keep in mind, Yurugu’s weakness is that he always feels incomplete; in his race to acquire, he drains his spirit.”
Brother Steve added, “They are vulnerable when exposed. There’s a saying that goes, ‘When you put fruit in the sun, it dries.’ When you reveal a problem, it loses some of its power; it becomes easier to solve. Brother Serie, I’m surprised at your question. Of course they’re vulnerable. They’re vulnerable when they can’t control you, and they can’t control you when you detach from them.”
Kwame Ture interjected. “Brother Steve, they can’t control us if we don’t accept their methods. They need us to accept their form of politics, of education, of everything else. They’re vulnerable to our refusing their terms of engagement.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” I replied.
Dr. Kambon said, “Their strength requires us to accept them as the norm, or as our point of reference, and they are vulnerable to anything that leads us to operate outside the conceptual boundaries they set for us.”
Brother Steve continued, “That’s right, Brother Kwame and Dr. Kambon, but look Brother Serie, watch the news. They’re vulnerable to the use of social media and machine learning to influence the electorate. They’re vulnerable to their enemies gaining possession of chemical weapons. They’re vulnerable to their enemies’ use of quantum computers to get past their encryption to steal state secrets. They’re vulnerable to cyber-attacks that can cripple emergency systems and critical infrastructure. They’re vulnerable to hypersonic missiles that can evade U.S. missile defense systems and strike the country. And they’re vulnerable to their enemies weaponizing space and using it to spy on the U.S. I’m not suggesting these methods, but is that enough vulnerability for you? They’re like the Wizard of Oz: When you pull back the curtain and expose the wizard, you can see that he’s weak, but until then he’s protected by con-fidence, brother! White supremacists have to constantly psych themselves out, so they’re blinded by their own hubris, and they can’t imagine anyone would try them.”
“And Brother Steve,” Dr. Harrell added, “the fact that they must lie to themselves about us makes them vulnerable to internal strife and division, because lies require constant maintenance.”
Brother Steve continued, “Another weakness is that their ideology of control and domination creates enemies faster than they can be defeated, so their military is vulnerable to being overstretched.”
“And their economy is vulnerable to being unbalanced by collective Black economic movements,” Fanon added.
Kwame Ture weighed in too. “Yes it is, Franz. Brother Steve, it’s true, they create their own enemies, but White racism also plants the dynamite of its own destruction. Their treatment of the oppressed will eventually ignite the tempers of the oppressed. They simply don’t account for the fact that the oppressed are more willing to risk their futures to rebel because they have less to lose and much more to gain. We also can’t forget what Dr. Harrell said: Whites are vulnerable to internal division because they experience class-based discrimination. But mark my words: Whites will unite in opposition to Blacks demands for justice. Ultimately, I think that Whites fear the spread of any ideology that can inspires a unity capable of shifting the global power base.”
Then I was awakened by a ringing phone. It was Daniel. I didn’t answer. I needed to process what had just happened. I sat up in bed, thinking. The experience with the Obaba had let me draw a connection I hadn’t seen before between two ideas. I knew well about the nature and functioning of White supremacy, and I was thoroughly versed in Black social and revolutionary movements and ideologies. But I now understood the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the system of oppression that our people were up against.
Ani, M. (1997). Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behaviour. Trenton: Africa World Press.
Fanon, F. (2008). Black skin, white masks. Grove Press.
Fanon, F. (1965). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
Griaule, M., & Dieterlen, G. (1986). The pale fox. Afrikan World Book.
Harrell, C. J. P. (1999). Manichean psychology: Racism and the minds of people of African descent. Howard University Press.
Kambon, K. K. (2003). Cultural misorientation: The greatest threat to the survival of the Black race in the 21st century. Nubian Nation Publications.
Ture, K., & Thelwell, E. M. (2007). Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism. Chicago: Chicago.
A Four-Part Series of Short Stories by Serie McDougal III
Everywhere Is War: Intelligence in the Fight
Late on a Saturday night, I lay in bed with my laptop, watching a boxing match. The last thing I could remember was hoping that one of my favorite fighters, Terence “Bud” Crawford, would fight Vasyl Lomachenko—a dream fight, in my eyes. Crawford is a favorite because he embodies what I consider to be an intelligent fighter in the tradition of Mayweather but also differs from him. I watched the fight with my eyes half-closed until I fell asleep.
I must have been dreaming, because I thought that once upon a time, all I hoped to be was intelligent. I could remember so many students asking me, “What did you want to be when you were in high school, Dr. McDougal?” I replied that I didn’t know what I wanted to be. But the truth is that I wanted to be smart. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I loved knowing, knowing more, and being able to figure things out. But that doesn’t pass for a career option for a high schooler. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what happened next.
While I was dreaming, a short old man descended into my living room on a golden rope. It was Kaqece, again. He said, “Congratulations, nlom is feeling free?”
Feeling far more free because it was not my first experience with him in my dreams, I asked the old man what he meant.
He told me, “When you dream, your soul is free to roam about. It means your spirit feels the freedom to roam. Your spirit is with your body, but your soul is feeling more free because Obaba has chosen to council with you and many others like you. You are here because you have thought about something and the Obaba has a message for you.”
This time, I was excited to see them. “Well, where is the council, Kaqece?” I asked. I was standing in front of a short old Black man in the middle of my floor, with a bright golden rope stretching up to God knows where. But I was sure that we were going to travel to the Obaba somehow.
Kaqece handed me the end of his rope, and when I blinked my eyes, he was gone and I was sitting before the Obaba, but it was not the same group of men I was used to. I was nervous again. I was in front of several men, most of them seated before a wooden table surrounded by darkness.
Directly in front of me was a large man, and I knew that something about him was familiar. His style of dress was clearly Zulu, with plenty of red, green, blue, and yellow. He was a tall man with dark skin. He wore a crown made of leopard skin with long feathers sticking up from it. He wore a gold chest plate with leopard skin.
He introduced himself, “I am Shaka Zulu, son of Senzangakhona.” He continued, “Your soul was brought here to commune in counsel with myself and several others. Sitting on the floor on your left is Orunmila.”
I looked to my left and saw him.
Orunmila had a brown complexion. He sat with his legs folded on a wooden mat. He wore a round, brimless green hat; a green-and-yellow shirt; and yellow pants. There were various items laid out in front of where he sat on the mat—most notably, a short but wide, round pot. He appeared similar to so many healers and diviners I was familiar with on the African continent. But to see Orunmila in person was overwhelming.
At that time, Orunmila spoke, saying, “I am Orunmila. I am an Oluko-iwarere, or what you may know as a sage from your studies of African traditions.”
A chilling feeling came over me, from the thought of being in the presence of such divine energies.
Then, Shaka Zulu welcomed two familiar faces to his right: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Kobi Kambon. Both of them nodded their heads and smiled.
To their right was Baba Mzee Jedi Shemsu Jehewty, also know as Dr. Jacob Carruthers. I actually knew him from a hieroglyphics class that he taught in Chicago when he was alive. For years, he had run the Center for Inner City Studies in Chicago. He had written major books; one of them was called Intellectual Warfare.
Baba Jedi said, “You have grown up, young man.” He wore his signature glasses and dashiki. He had the same gray beard that I remembered and a kufi covering the top of his head.
He sat next to the great anti-apartheid activist and leader of the 1960s and ’70s South African Black consciousness movement, Stephen Bantu Biko. I only knew him from my own reading and from Denzel Washington’s portray of him in Cry Freedom. Biko wore his signature suit and tie and a short afro covering the top of his head.
To the far right sat the last of them. Before Shaka Zulu could introduce him, I knew the face already. As a student, I had seen him speak in Harlem, New York. It was Amos Wilson, who had authored Blueprint for Black Power.
Then, King Shaka’s voice became more commanding. He said, “You came here to talk about intelligence, did you not?”
“Yes,” I responded, anxious to speak with the ancestors. “I was thinking that it is all I ever wanted from such a long time ago, but I don’t know how important it really is in the grand scheme of things anymore.”
King Shaka replied, in a thunderous voice that matched his size and stature, “You were summoned here during a fight for a reason. We are in the middle of a fight as a people. In fact, it is a war, young professor.”
Shaka Zulu’s awareness of the present state of affairs was remarkable and accurate, so I took the opportunity to ask, “King Shaka, what good is intelligence?”
He said to me, “Remember, I am a king and a warrior, and lack of intelligence will lead to ill-timed and ill-advised action in combat.”
Orunmila spoke from the floor while moving the small objects in front of him on his mat. In a soft but deep voice, he stated, “Quality character is important in a person engaged in battle because it is critical that they not engage in struggle in a state of uncontrolled passion. That person must have controlled thought. Like your boxer Crawford. You must guard against an uncontrolled temper and remember that patience is the father of character.”
I noticed that he had mentioned character rather than intelligence.
With his iconic southern drawl, Dr. King laughed softly, smiled, and said, “Yes, like the boxer Crawford. . . . I would add that a lot of people, especially in some of our spiritual communities, think that it is enough to have good intentions. But as King Shaka has mentioned, we are in a war of sorts. It is not enough to be good or to be kind. I believe that we actually have the moral responsibility to be intelligent or else suffer the consequences of well-intentioned misjudgments. Sincerity without knowledge is actually quite dangerous. What we must do is bring together both goodness and intelligence in the same body.”
I had not thought about intelligence as a moral responsibility. To the Obaba council, I stated, “I have to confess to thinking that intelligence was something that you get from school and from working hard, something that money could buy, but never as something that being a good person required.”
“I understand that, Dr. McDougal,” King replied. “When I say intelligence, I am referring to open-mindedness, sound judgment, and love for truth.”
Staring at me, looking over the top of the rims of his glasses, Dr. Kambon added, “Well, Dr. McDougal, fighting for freedom is moral and just, so intelligence is necessary because the problem with Black people’s resistance is that not enough of it has been carefully planned and strategic. We have not responded to our oppression in a sophisticated and intelligent manner. Our resistance has to be conscious and collective to be able to combat psychological oppression. What we need is to create and control our own institutions.”
“Exactly,” Orunmila replied, affirming Dr. Kambon’s input.
Dr. Carruthers added, “I also think it is important for you to understand that the role of the intellectual is critical today.”
“Baba Jake, I call it consciousness,” Amos Wilson interjected. “Black people need African consciousness and economic and political power.”
“Eytha!” Steve Biko shouted. He continued, “I also prefer to say consciousness instead of intelligence, Dr. Wilson. We need a Black consciousness, ukusho ukuthi we have collective Black pride and unity against oppression. And it is like you said, Baba Jake. Abantu need intellectuals to rewrite the history of Black people in order to form an authentic African reference for our humanity to create this consciousness. Otherwise, we are like a vehicle without an engine.”
I was slightly confused. They were mentioning various qualities from intelligence to character to consciousness. It seemed that each was necessary according to the ancestors.
“Are we at war or not?!” King Shaka demanded. The king appeared somewhat anxious about the abstract nature of the conversation, or so I assumed.
Dr. Wilson responded, “Yes, we are. But, Shaka, we are engaged in what Chancellor Williams called a silent war. We don’t know that it’s happening because the military isn’t involved and physical force is no longer the primary tool.”
King Shaka continued, “I know! Dr. McDougal, we worry that you who are living will not recognize it because the face of warfare is changing. I have taken a long look at your world from the ancestral world, and war is no longer defined by national identity. War is stateless. The concept of war itself has become blurred, as have its boundaries. There will be those among you who will argue that describing the current state of affairs as warfare is extremist and alarmist. Others may call such a declaration hyperaggressive, hypermasculine, perhaps even patriarchal.
“But people will always fail to identify war if they associate it with its means instead of its objective. The objective of your enemy is control. Warfare is everchanging. Never forget that, and you will always recognize an enemy in disguise. To make it simple, Dr. McDougal, something I realized in the nineteenth century is that every arena of human activity is a potential battlefield.
Dr. King smiled and directed his stare at King Shaka and said, “So the question was rhetorical?”
Everyone laughed briefly, including King Shaka, before returning to the conversation.
Dr. King continued, “War is not a lasting strategy. If we are to survive, we need a strategy other than war and destruction. Besides, we don’t want to do to Whites what they have done to us or the Native Americans, nor do we want to establish Black supremacy in place of White supremacy. However, if Black people continue to be exploited, I do believe that the price this country will have to pay is its own destruction. I say this because those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
“With that said, I believe in Black people banding together to wage a nonviolent war against racial discrimination. In the war I fought in Montgomery against segregated busing, for example, our weapon was the weapon of protest. We fought further to secure a new weapon, the vote, so that we could elect representatives and pass laws that protected us.”
At that moment, Dr. Kambon directed a comment to King Shaka: “The fact of the matter is that Black people are not militarily strong, while Whites are. So, they have the military strength to enforce their institutions and norms.”
Steve Biko responded in support of Dr. King, adding, “I, too, am not interested in our people’s engaging in armed struggle. I do believe in speaking truth to power and negotiation. The Whites will eventually have to listen to the demands of Black people. That will happen when we close ranks and come together as a collective.”
I could not identify with Steve Biko’s optimism in negotiating. I thought about my experiences with organizing in White-led environments.
Almost as though he had been reading my thoughts, Baba Jake leaned forward to address Biko, “History gives us no indication that we can sit down and negotiate our freedom.”
Smiling at Dr. King, Dr. Kambon said, “What has happened is that our history has shown us that Europeans have typically tried to militarily control African people wherever they have come in contact. Then, Europeans have attempted to gain psychological control over them by forcing White cultural meaning and norms on Black people through society’s institutions. The reasoning is that because they see Black people as having some value, they don’t want to eliminate us. They have shifted their focus from physical control to psychological control.”
“Mhmm, that’s exactly right, Kobi,” Amos Wilson declared. “Europeans have discovered that force is no longer the most effective tool for oppressing Black people because it is costly and inspires resistance. The most powerful threat to Black people today is psychic violence, or our enemies’ ability to negatively affect how Black people think about themselves. The most powerful force in the world is the human mind.”
Steve Biko interrupted, “That’s the truth. I have always said that the most powerful weapon in the hands of the enemy is the minds of the oppressed.”
Amos Wilson and Steve Biko exchanged a nod, and Wilson continued Biko’s point, “This psychic violence occurs through the projection of stereotypes in the media, falsification of Black history and culture, miseducation, etc. Through these means, Black people are led to underestimate their ability to challenge their oppression. This psychic violence produces within Black people a self-defeating mindset that ensures the oppressor never has to deal with any resistance.”
“Brother Amos, this is why I say we are engaging in intellectual warfare,” Dr. Carruthers added. I didn’t understand why Baba Jake would focus so much on intellectualism alone, but clarification came when he continued, “As a historian, one pattern in deep thought about African history is that the abandonment of African people’s cultural order has always made them more vulnerable to conquest.
“We have to teach our people about this. The long-term effect has remained, and the biggest threat we face now is not military. It is intellectual. The intellectual warfare that we are faced with is a cultural tyranny being imposed on our lives and histories. It is a form of warfare that followed the physical domination of people of African descent. It is a protracted intellectual war. This warfare is perpetrated by European thinkers.”
Dr. Wilson responded, “But that is not to say that we don’t see the state-sanctioned violence against Black people today. Make no mistake, the use of force as oppression has not disappeared. It is simply used as a backup for other forms of power against modern Black people. Force was the initial tool of White domination, but now, White power is expressed in the form of influence, and Black people accept Whites in power as more competent and legitimate because they have a disproportionate share of resources and positions of status.”
It started to become clear to me that none of them truly rejected Shaka Zulu’s position about militarism.
Kambon replied, “Well, I will take it further. Here in the ancestral realm, I recently communed with my mentor Dr. Bobby E. Wright, a brilliant man, and he reminded me, ‘Kobi, you have to remember that there is no known cure for White racism and that Black people are at war with them. Therefore, violence is the only way, so we can’t fall into these traps of becoming paralyzed with inaction, waiting for divine intervention, or fantasizing that we have reached our destiny and don’t need to struggle. We have to look them in the eye and move against them.’ That is what he said to me.”
“Well,” Dr. Wilson sighed, “We need military tools if necessary. I think military is something Black people will need for defensive purposes.”
Then, Orunmila began to speak. I thought of him as a spiritualist who could not possibly endorse warfare like the others did. My heart nearly stopped at his words. Everyone turned to him out of respect for his divine wisdom, and he proclaimed, “Something important to keep in mind is that the Black people are your nation, and in the words of the ancient Kemetic philosopher Kagemni, ‘Sharp knives must stand ready for the unrighteous intruder.’ Do not provoke battle, but it is indeed your responsibility to be prepared for it when it comes to you. Prepare and stand ready to act for the good, and Ogun will support you on the day of battle.”
After about thirty seconds, as people digested Orunmila’s words, Shaka Zulu attempted to tie together everyone’s thoughts. He announced, “Clearly, we are engaged in warfare, but not necessarily on a traditional battlefield. I believe we all recognize that, as our brother Paul Robeson stated, ‘the battlefront is everywhere.’ Some believe it is a cultural war, an intellectual war, and a physically violent war. But I have to think in military terms because I am a king and a soldier and because I know that there are some things that intelligence and consciousness do not solve.
“You see, war can bring about intense anxiety, even as you engage in the nonmilitary aspects of nation-building. An intelligent person is not good enough. You need people with the strength of mind to remain calm under such circumstances. An intelligent person without courage is vulnerable to misjudgment in combat due to intense fear, whereas the courageous soldier remains sound of mind. These are lessons learned on the battlefield. The intelligent soldier without courage is vulnerable to becoming lost or frozen in speculation and avoidance. Intelligence must be combined with practice.
“Additionally, history is filled with intelligent people who lacked courage and were thus blindly obedient to authority, no matter how unethical. How many people do you think knew that the holocaust of slavery was wrong but continued to use their intelligence to build the ships, make the whips, and kill our people?”
Steve Biko replied, “Nkosi, there is no doubt about that. Sometimes this fear can lead Black people to engage in forms of resistance that simply fit within the system in both means and goals, to avoid punishment. This is retrogressive thinking among intelligent people.”
I recalled students on our campus being told to march at certain places, at certain times, at very specific levels of volume, making sure to avoid sending certain messages. Could it even be called protest anymore?
“In your age,” King Shaka continued, “You will have a hard time identifying this cowardice. At least in my time, it was easy to identify cowardice. In my army, cowardice was not tolerated. Do you know why? Let me tell you all a brief story. As a boy, I was walking some cattle back home after they had strayed too far. It started me thinking about the battles my father fought in. I had heard about how enemies were sometimes rarely killed in battle and then returned home to regroup and attack us again. At that moment, as I was standing behind the cattle, driving them forward, there was a group of people standing together ahead in the middle of the path. Maybe twenty people. But from my view behind the cattle, all of the people far ahead seemed to fit between one steer’s head and horns. From my distance, the people appeared encircled by the horns.
“When I became chief, I used this technique as a military strategy. To prevent escape, I instructed my soldiers to form a line to drive forward and attack the enemy. To me, they were like the steer’s head. Then, I had two other groups fan out on the left and the right sides of the enemy, like the steer’s horns. The enemy would be encircled and couldn’t escape. Many would be trapped in the middle, unable to attack. This meant that my soldiers needed to be mentally prepared for close-quarters combat. My soldiers had long shields and short stabbing spears to stab and kill the enemy. We didn’t just throw long-range weapons and hope to scare the enemy away. This meant that victory for my armies required a great deal of bravery, and cowardice was easily identified among my ranks.
“There was no ambiguity in my time. Yet ambiguity of war now defines your time. War is about danger, Dr. McDougal. Therefore courage is essential. It is essential now. Are your students prepared to assume their duty, their responsibility, in the face of danger? Let me ask you another question, Dr. McDougal. Let me make this real. Do you know what we called that short stabbing instrument that the Zulu army used?”
“No,” I replied.
“It was called an iklwa. It was given that name because the word itself mimics the sound a man makes and the sound the blade makes when you drive it into his abdomen and pull it back out. Iklwa.”
I was shocked.
“Ah, that is what I was looking for,” Shaka Zulu continued. “You cannot see that ghostly look that has just come across your face. I have seen it many times. It is not natural to kill or bludgeon, Dr. McDougal. Your reaction is quite normal. It is fear. I know how to move beyond that, but it takes practice like everything else does. There were many men in my armies who encircled the enemy as instructed but were unable to kill the enemy in that moment of truth, just like you face the enemy of Black studies as a professor. This is normal. Soldiers must be conditioned to fight.
“In fact, you must realize that when it comes to the moment of battle, the most important quality is less about intelligence, as may have been vital in the planning phase, and more about courage. Then, after the war, intelligence reemerges as primary. You can’t just read about it in books and expect Black people to fight successfully against White supremacy without fear. The fear will come no matter what form of combat you engage in. Education, politics, economics, whatever. If you fight to liberate Black people, the enemy will retaliate. Can you say that in Africana studies, you have students practice the behavior of nation-building?”
I did not know how to reply. His remarks were simply chilling.
Shaka Zulu continued, “When people in my time wanted to eat meat, they had to at least participate in the slaughtering of cattle. You are now insulated from the necessity of killing for food. Even your mousetraps have special little covers or houses that protect you from having to witness the killed rodents in your homes. Yet at the same time, Black people experience state-sanctioned violence, aggression, and death on a daily basis. And you look at it. You replay it. It is on your phones and on your laptops.
“Ironically, far from defense, you are now trained to assume a posture of submission in the face of a threat. You are trained by your enemy to make yourself even more vulnerable to attack, a posture you strangely hope will prevent further attack. ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ you say. I don’t understand it at all. I think we have become too much divorced from aggression. What am I missing?”
“I think they are engaging in peaceful protest, but as I have always said,” Biko added, “For success in the Black liberation struggle, our people must engage in the irrational act of overcoming their fear of death.”
“True, but this is a fear that we have been conditioned to respond with,” commented Amos Wilson. “Media alone in the U.S. have convinced many Black people that White power is supreme and even divinely ordained. Therefore, they experience anxiety at the mere idea of attempting to wrest power from their oppressors.
“I would not say that all of them are truly afraid of engaging in Black nation-building. Some of them simply aren’t trying to do that, and they have accepted inequality as a permanent reality. Some Black people voluntarily embrace White reality and racist society because they have been indoctrinated to accept it as normal.”
“Well, obviously,” Dr. King interrupted, “We cannot be enticed by normalcy. Normalcy is what has led to the murder of countless Black motorists. It is normalcy that has led to the killing of Trayvon Martin and many waves of abuse of Black people in police custody. Normalcy has led to the continued economic discrimination against Black people. The only normalcy we want is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity of all of God’s children.”
Steve Biko replied, “I don’t know that so many Black people have necessarily accepted an inferior position in this world. I believe it is possible to adapt to something without accepting it. Just because we adapt to living in Eurocentric culture and society doesn’t mean that we forget who we are.
“I am also not comfortable with the notion that it is Black people who are the only ones in this circumstance who are overcome with fear. Actually, Whites are ruled by fear as well and not by their immense power. It is their fear that makes them so force oriented and violent against us. Because they cannot make our people respect them, the only hope they think they have left is to make us fear them.”
Dr. King added, “Fear is one of the major causes of war. It is the reason behind the U.S. killing of innocents abroad, and it is also at the root of violence toward Black people in the U.S. It is fear that leads to hate, which then leads to war. In that order.”
They seemed to be saying that some people are afraid to challenge the established order and that some of our people have simply been conditioned to accept inequality as unchangeable and normal.
I felt the need to ask, “Then how do we go about eliminating this fear?”
Dr. King responded, “You don’t. Son, that’s not how you handle fear. Dr. McDougal, there are two different types of fear: abnormal and normal. Abnormal fear can destroy you psychologically. Abnormal fear paralyzes a man, while normal fear protects us and motivates us.
“I remember being in the midst of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to end the racism in Montgomery busing. Due to humiliation and intimidation, the paralysis of crippling fear had afflicted many Negroes. Fear isn’t to be avoided. It is to be harnessed. We harness our fear by acquiring courage. Courage is what carries us from our intellect to our goals.”
His words meant a lot to me. I personally recalled many moments dealing with racism and other forms of discrmination on university campuses when other Black people knew the truth and knew what was right and wrong but didn’t speak up out of fear of reprisal or fear that they wouldn’t get a promotion.
Dr. King continued, “Remind yourself that there is seldom a man who does not, at some point, experience the depression of crippling fear and its energy-draining effects. I urge you: do not spin your wheels attempting to do the impossible by trying to eliminate fear. It is necessary. It is your alarm system. And most importantly, it is a powerfully creative force. Eliminate abnormal fear, and harness normal fear.”
Again, Orunmila spoke. He declared, “To truly eliminate cowardice, you must know its origin. Cowardice, King Shaka, is the result of bad character traits. One who is a coward must cultivate their character or else it will chase them around forever. In fact, they will always be defeated before the battle has begun. They must build character by studying and speaking the truth and doing justice so that they can go forth in dignity and not run in fear on the day of battle. Because in the end, it is the courageous who lay claim to the world.”
“Yes, Orunmila,” King Shaka responded. “You build this character through practice. Don’t think it impossible, Dr. McDougal. You do it in other ways. You have threat-response simulations. You have fire drills and earthquake drills so that in the event of an emergency, people do the right thing. The same is true in combat. You have to practice courage on behalf of the people.”
“For courage, I suggest faith,” Dr. King added. “It is faith that is capable of giving you the courage needed to face the difficulties and uncertainties of the future. I remember once praying for courage one night in a state of exhaustion from organizing and disappointment. I said to God, ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership. And if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ Remember, God always gives us the internal equipment and hardware necessary to face the storms of this life. Pray, young professor.”
“But listen,” Orunmila interrupted. “You have come full circle because courage alone is not sufficient either! There are requirements for the courageous. For example, they must develop the wisdom to determine when to act and when to withdraw from battle. . . . That is judgment.”
Dr. King replied, “I would add, Orunmila, that we have among us militants who are self-assertive but not humble and humble among us who are not self-assertive enough, but as the scriptures say in Mathew 10:16, ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ I take this to mean that we who struggle for the liberation of our people must be tough-minded and tender-hearted. These are the qualities we need to be successful. This is necessary so that our soft-minded are not frozen with fear and our tough-minded are not without compassion.”
Baba Jedi added, “The way we must win this war is to direct that courage and wisdom into research, creative production, spiritual development, and education. We need Black scholars who are freed, what I call ‘intellectual maroons,’ to produce knowledge about ourselves and correct misinterpretations. We need art that enriches, enlightens, and inspires our people. We need to celebrate our own understandings of God and control our own education through African-centered curriculum. The intellectual is central because the intellectual can lead the development of the curriculum, which we must use to restore within Black people the African worldview. We Africanize their curriculum, and when that happens, the problem of African liberation will become quite clear.”
King Shaka commanded the room once again as he spoke, replying, “Yes. You know, Dr. Carruthers, I can appreciate what you are saying. But I must keep in mind the very worst of potential scenarios because I know the enemy. Remember to keep in the background preparation for combat. You have to understand my perspective. I came to leadership in a time of drought and competition for land and scare resources. I know what men are capable of when times become desperate.
“I do believe in total warfare when necessary. An enemy must be destroyed so that it may never recover. Combat must be integrated into the culture of the people. You must brace yourself for a long and protracted war. That is what you have been experiencing for hundreds of years without knowing it.
“So embrace the permeance of warfare in your psychology if you intend to be victorious in America, Dr. McDougal. Either that or lay down your sword now and acquiesce. Now that I have made that point clear, I do appreciate the changing circumstances of African people globally and that military combat is hardly the most important strategy. But I want you to also remember that iconic phrase: ‘The battlefront is everywhere,’ not most-where. Be prepared for physical combat, too.”
The fact that I was getting so much information made me want to make the most of it. I felt the need to be completely open and lay on the table something that I had been dealing with as of late. I posed my thinking to them, “I must confess, through so many disappointments and struggles to create and build for our people, I am met with numerous stumbling blocks, much opposition, betrayal, and great disappointment. Shamefully, I must admit that my hope has been diminished at times.”
The first to respond was Orunmila. He said, “Do not be discouraged because of the false trust you have given or the misjudgments you have made. Remember, it is by missing the way that we come to know the way. You are dismayed because you have experienced the hardships of struggle. You must understand that life needs bitterness so that its sweetness is appreciated. You need adversity to appreciate prosperity.
“Remember this: Otewori was a man who went to the forest where he wanted to hang himself because of the adversity he had faced. He was told, ‘Do not hang yourself yet. They are bringing you the symbolic leaves of rulership now.’ You must listen to Reverend King. Do not lose faith. Understand that rewards follow adversity for the righteous of good character. Learn to suffer without surrender, and you will be victorious, and the battles you fought will have added to your honor.”
Dr. King contributed, “My religion insists that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear, so we must courageously battle for truth. This is what allowed our enslaved ancestors to maintain faith. They read the scripture and reminded themselves that no midnight long remains, that morning always comes. We must teach our people to meet hardship with an inner poise so that they can absorb pain and maintain hope. This is why we are speaking to you.”
“Indeed,” Orunmila agreed. “All else aside, professor, the one who arrives at victory in war is often the one who has the strength to endure.”
It was then that Kaqece returned, lowering himself from the sky on his golden rope. He said to me, “This was an important conversation between you and your ancestors. For you, as someone who aspires to fight for your people, you know the problem is that you must listen to the right voices in your life.
“Recall the conversation you had with your friend Oron about a boxing match several months ago. You were watching an exciting young fighter battling an inferior opponent with a lot of punching power. The younger fighter was the more skilled fighter. His corner wanted him to keep his distance, use his jab, use his footwork, and avoid the clinch. He was clearly winning the fight, you remember? The inferior opponent was chasing him hoping to get close and use his looping powerful punch, his only chance to win.
“The crowd began to boo the young fighter. The young fighter became distracted because he didn’t like being booed. The young fighter heard his opponent’s corner, who shouted, ‘He doesn’t want to fight! He’s running! He’s not a fighter!’ The young fighter stopped listening to his corner. He stopped using his footwork and got into a close-quarter slugging match with his opponent and got knocked out.
“You see, Dr. McDougal, he lost because he stopped listening to his corner. Have you ever heard of the Heritage of Ears? It is what the Hova people of Madagascar call the wisdom of the ancestors. Your duty is to listen to the Heritage of Ears. That is why you are here, so that you can identify your corner, the people who love you and your ancestors. This is your corner. Do not get distracted by listening to the crowd who will sneer at you and harass you. Do not listen to your enemy or your enemy’s corner. Listen to your corner’s wisdom, and you will be the winner.”
I woke up sweating! What an intense dream. I was most impressed with the fact that they all had such similar and different perspectives but were not hostile to one another. Perhaps, they thought that such conflict was petty given how great our responsibilities as a people are. I felt so filled with intellectually and spiritually nutritious meaning that I almost couldn’t wait to dream again. I looked to the sky.
Ase’ see you again in my dreams, Obaba.
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