By Doshon Farad
“. . .that this race of Black men, today our slave and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use of speech! Just imagine, finally, that it is in the midst of people who call themselves the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that one has approved the most barbarous slavery, and questioned whether Black men have the same kind of intelligence as whites!”-French historian Count Constantine de Volney Travels Through Syria and Egypt in the Years 1783, 1784, and 1785 (London: 1787), p. 80-83
In his 1997 essay “Why Africana History?” Dr. John Henrik Clarke asserts that “Africa and its people are the most written about and the least understood of all of the world’s people.”
It is quite tragic that two decades later Dr. Clarke has yet to be proven wrong.
Despite the indisputable evidence of civilization having its root in Africa, and its contribution to every field of human endeavor, it is still apparent that the history of this continent as well as its descendants (blacks) are still viewed-by and large-very unfavorably (historically for the most part) by a considerable segment of the world.
It is for this reason that I believe that Africana or black studies-as it is commonly referred to-is needed within the black community more so now than ever before.
Dr. Clarke stated that his search for African (black) history began,while still a boy attending school, when his teacher told him that blacks had no history worthy of being mentioned.
This myth is still alive and well in the minds of many people (including blacks) across the planet.
There has been an attempt for well over five centuries to obscure the role that Africa has played in world affairs since the advent of human civilization.
This is why Dr. W.E.B. Dubois flatly stated in his book The Negro, “There are those, nevertheless, who would write universal history and leave out Africa. But how, ask Ratzel, can one leave out the land of Egypt and Carthage? And Frobenius declares that in future Africa must more and more be regarded as an integral part of the great movement of world history.”
Of course some may surmise that Africa’s role in human development is rather common knowledge amongst most. I would argue, however, that this is not the case.
For whenever Africa is brought up images of naked “savages”, desolate land, and poverty still dominate the psyche of most individuals.
This includes many blacks who would be classified as “educated” with college degrees who are oblivious of the historical role their ancestors have played in America and across the globe.
What’s even more frightening is that many of these same individuals unknowingly take part in the perpetuation of negative images regarding their own history and culture.
This has been the unfortunate tragedy of Eurocentric indoctrination for well over five hundred years. This type of indoctrination causes its victims to view themselves through the eyes of their conquerors and to relegate themselves to cultural inferiority-in effect making them feel historically irrelevant.
The above factors are just some of the reasons that led Dr. Carter G. Woodson to writing his monumental book “The Mis-education of the Negro” as well as establishing what would later be called “Black History Month”.
It is important to note that Dr. Woodson began extensively studying African (black) history once he, after receiving a doctorate from Harvard (being the second black to do so following Dubois), realized that he like most blacks had been “mis-educated” regarding history as it specifically pertains to us.
I see this reality on a daily basis especially in my travels.
Keep in mind that as a journalist and writer I travel across the country covering and attending different events focused on black progress.
As I listen to the various discussions as well as engage in powerful dialogues at these black ran forums (comprising mostly of “educated” and successful blacks), the ignorance regarding our status in the world is made very apparent.
Most “educated” African-Americans or African-Caribbeans cannot name five thriving ancient African civilizations or rulers that had an impact on world history in the past five thousand years.
But many of them will take pride in knowing the great civilizations and rulers of Europe and other continents.
Now you may ask why it is important for us (blacks) to know about our ancestral past. Well quite clearly as Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop pointed out, if we see greatness in ourselves we will accomplish great things.
This is why I emphasize the need for self-education as well as formal education.
The downside to formal education is that it restricts you to the thinking of the particular institution that you are attended. You are often fed information (or “programmed”) without being taught critical thinking skills.
The benefit of self-education is that you are free to “program” yourself or formulate your own ideas. In this case without Eurocentric indoctrination. This is one of the reasons why J.A. Rogers (who only had a third grade education) was able to accurately narrate African (black) history so well in his many phenomenal books.
The struggle of those who have found enlightenment, after being formally educated, is that they are then burdened with the task of re-programming their mind. This can be a painful process as you further come to the realization that you have been systematically lied to for several years.
Dr. William Leo Hansberry made this very clear when he stated: “While carrying out these self-imposed reading assignments, I had made a diligent effort to learn something about what had been the course of human affairs in Black Africa during what was then widely believed to have been the “Golden Age” of the Ancient World; but my quests in these respects proved of but little avail. Apart from an occasional, and usually tantalizingly enigmatic or obscure reference while perusing the excitement-packed historical chapters of the Old Testament, and ‘blood and thunder’ narratives in many of the 19th century ‘Outline Histories of the Ancient World,’ I acquired little else that added to my exceedingly limited knowledge of Black Africa’s story in olden days.”
This is why the pioneers of African centered scholarship in America such as George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson, Hansberry, Dubois, J.A. Rogers, Schomburg, Gerald Massey; and those after them like Clarke, Ben-Jochannan, Chancellor Williams, and Jacob Curruthers, were so valuable.
And we cannot forget their students as well such as Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Marimba Ani, Professor James Smalls, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Molefi K. Asante, and Dr. Tony Browder.
And we are now witnessing the rise of a new generation of African centered scholars who are carrying the torch. Individuals like Dr. Greg Carr, Dr. Mario Beatty, Dr. Tyrene Wright, Dr. Akil Khalfani, Michael Imhotep, and so many others in this era are preserving Africa’s illustrious past.
African (black) history must be told (properly) or we run the risk of being historically extinct.