There is an African parable about a young child
who perceptively asks his or her parents, "If the lions are
the king of jungle, why are they so often captured and killed
by humans?" The parents smile and wisely respond, "When
the lions learn to speak for themselves, think for themselves,
and define themselves, then shall they truly be king." Indeed,
those who define, ultimately control.
To paraphrase the philosopher Albert Camus, "What
better way to control a people than to give them [the right of]
the vote and then to tell them they're free." In other words,
as long as those other than ourselves, define to us Black people
what is meant by freedom, justice, fairness and the like, we are,
in fact, not truly free, for we continue to be controlled by the
definitions of those other than we ourselves.
The institutions of racist white America were and
definitely continue to be threatened by Black people who actively
and consciously understand what it really means "To Be Black"
[BC:To Be Black In America: An Unflinching Necessity
- April 19, 2007 - Issue
226 ]. This is why so much of the histories of persons such
as Denmark Vessy, Harriet Tubman, W E B DuBois, Malcolm X, Rosa
Parks, Fannie Lou Haimer, Paul Robeson, Huey P. Newton, and so
many other actively conscious Black people continues to be hidden
or distorted even to the present day. This is why the intense
struggle to define ourselves and our histories as people of color
continues today in the persons of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier,
Assata Shakur, H Rap Brown (Jamil Al-Amin), the Rev. Edward Pinkney*,
Cynthia McKinney, and a host of others including, no doubt, many
of you who are reading this piece.
This is also precisely why trojan horse US Presidential
candidate, Barack Obama, went so far as to smugly and most inaccurately
state that "there is no Black America." [Reference NPR:
Can Barack Obama Win the Black Vote?] Obama's "there is no
Black America" assertion is an abomination, and is exactly
the kind of dangerously ridiculous and demeaning rhetoric that
Black America has endured from white racist political candidates.
Perhaps, he wishes that there were "no Black America"
and no Black American collective consciousness of Malcolm X, Fannie
Lou Haimer, Medgar Evers, or even Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps,
he wishes simply to define Black America out of existence. Black
America will never allow itself or its ongoing collective struggle
to be defined out of existence by Mr."There
is no Black America"- Barack Obama or anyone else, regardless
of their biological color. This is an example of how utterly horrendous
the act of allowing others, who in actuality do not represent
our social, economic, or cultural experience, to define who Black
Americans are and can be. To Barack Obama, we Black Americans
will surely say, as did our African ancestors, "Beware of
the naked man who offers you clothes." Black America does
exist and we shall continue this struggle to collectively define
In our daily lives we must reject the subtle and
overt racist assertions of white America. Simply replacing some
white faces with a few biologically Black faces in television
commercials for some white owned product or company is not progress
or freedom. It is opportunistic exploitation, combined with cynical
tokenism on the part of white racist, corporate, capitalist America.
We must not let ourselves or our young people be defined by this
most insidious form of cultural and financial exploitation. As
Gil Scott-Heron and others so aptly said back in the day, truly
"the revolution will not be televised." An important
part of this ongoing political and cultural revolution or struggle
in America (and it is ongoing) is all about definitions and defining.
We must continue to collectively define ourselves as Black people
in the 21st century.
Another potent weapon regularly used by others
to negatively and inaccurately define us Black people and other
people of color in America is the so-called "news" and
information media. Just as when the so-called news and information
media actively sought to demonize and discredit Marcus Garvey,
his organization, and those who were a part of it, including the
parents of Malcolm X, so it is today that it does precisely the
same thing, albeit now sometimes utilizing a few well-placed token
biological "people of color" to be white America's defining
spokespersons of disinformation.
So it is today that far too few of our young Black,
Brown, and Red youth know the repression against, and the actual
detailed histories of, struggle by organizations in the 60s and
70s such as the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, and
even the Black Panther Party etc. Indeed, today, the American
"news" media continues to play a pivotal role in defining
and misinforming people nationally and globally about the deplorable
and worsening social and economic conditions endured by the vast
majority of people of color in America. Moreover, even presently,
a favorite bogey man / disinformation target of the US news media
continues to be the Black Panther Party, which the US Government
viciously wiped out, just as it had done to Marcus Garvey's organization
in years prior. [Reference Biased Reporting on the BPP - Assata
Speaks - Hands Off Assata - Let's Get Free].
We must not, for example, buy into the well perpetuated
myth that all rap, hip-hop, or spoken word is disrespectful and
monstrous for it is not, as the hip-hop / spoken word artist Black
Man Preach demonstrates on the cd / album Bumpy Tymes.
It shook me to my core and reminded me of the awesome responsibility
we have to pass on active consciousness to our younger sisters
and brothers. If we seriously do this, they will, more often than
not, respond by defining positively themselves and their Black
people. As back in the day, the incomparable Pharaoh Sanders wailed,
"The creator has a master plan...." Ah, yes.
All of us have the sacred responsibility to take
an active part in this ongoing process of defining and articulating
what and who we people in Black America are. ALL of us must be
the lions and lionesses that collectively define and articulate
for ourselves, our youth, and the rest of the world, our past,
our present, and most importantly, our future - as we keep on
keeping it real.
*Note: Reverend Edward Pinkney and BC
Columnist Larry Pinkney are related in the struggle and
their ancestors might have also been the "property"
of the same white slaveholder.
Columnist Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party,
the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa,
a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully
self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations
under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
here to contact Mr. Pinkney.