May 24, 2007 - Issue 231
Keeping It Real
The Importance Of Collectively Defining Ourselves
By Larry Pinkney
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 ourselves.
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.
BC 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. Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney.