The America That Is Not For Me: Part 6
The title of this chapter takes its name from American sociologist and historian James W. Loewen’s book Lies My Teacher Told Me. The subtitle of this book Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong sets the tone for the discussions I’m going to make herein.
I took a course in the 2000s, called History of the Modern World.
This class was supposed to be a comprehensive study of historical events, ideas and movements that shaped the early modern and contemporary dispensations.
But it actually was not.
Rather History of the Modern World turned out to be an inviting ruse, a Eurocentric glorifying and romanticizing of the West in the company of unsuspecting, impressionable students.
Did the professor for the History of the Modern World class have to remind us that Fidel Castro was white? Of course she did―notwithstanding the fact that blacks fought in the Cuban Revolution. The color of Castro therefore, for me, doesn't matter how I view the epistemic humanity of modern history, of that part of the Caribbean specifically, so long as the contributions of Afro-Cubans to the revolution and Cuban national culture are acknowledged. Let’s not forget that Fidel Castro fought for Africa in many shapes and colors even as we also acknowledge that Afro-Cubans didn’t fare all that well under his government and Fulgencio Batista’s.
The nature in which the class itself was organized and taught was such that the faculty and the history department pushed Africa, Asia, and all the regions in the Western Hemisphere below the United States to the periphery of the exclusive genius of Europe. Footnote is therefore an appropriate term to describe the backwater that is Asia and Africa, and the Western Hemisphere―exclusive of the United States and Canada.
Europe and the rest of the West became synonymous with global, the world.
Whenever a sparkle of genius fortuitously showed up in any of the regions outside the West then it was because the master race with its incomparable genius had left it there. Europe and the larger geopolitical surround of the West become the embodiment of human creativity and existential genius.
And while Europe and the rest of the West remained at the center of human affairs, and their ideas and cultures assumed the controlling powers of a false hegemonic universalism, the rest of the sleeping non-Western world tied itself to the existential intelligence and genius of the West’s apron strings, thus spoke Eurocentrism.
Then again the West through its forced conquest of the non-West and active collaboration with fifth columnists within the geological space of the non-West, historical negationism, Chomskyan manufacturing consent, ideological conditioning and manipulation of the collective psychology of the non-West via the legacy of colonial institutions of learning, and the sheer exercise of its military might eventually turned the non-West into a groveling amanuensis amenable to its imperial and commercial designs.
Perhaps these were the major means through which the West molded its largely borrowed inventive genius―cultural appropriation―into one of supposed incomparable, inestimable worth.
Until I read Cheikh Anta Diop’s African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality and Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology and Precolonial Black Africa: A Comparative Study of the Political and Social Systems of Europe and Black Africa, George James’s Stolen Legacy: The Egyptian Origins of Western Philosophy, C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, and Ivan Van Sertima’s They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America and Early America Revisited, African Presence in Early Asia, Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern, The Golden Age of the Moor, Egypt: Child of Africa, and African Presence in Early Europe.
Diop’s erudition is dashing in its stupendous articulation of scientific factuality and epistemic solidness.
But how come we never studied his works in Ghanaian higher institutions of learning? In American higher institutions of learning?
I dare say it was not the opportunistic compass of happenstance that led me to the penetrating door and soul of Diopian scholarship. It was rather through a chance encounter with polymathic Molefi Kete Asante’s large body of impressive works. What isn’t lost on me is the sheer weight of Asante’s sweeping erudition which is itself marvelous in the character of its eclectic breadth.
Like Diop, Asante has been a thorn in the side of establishment purveyors of Eurocentric thought across the landscapes of institutions of learning, media, textbooks, research methods and institutions, and public discourse.
A prolific author and non-establishment intellectual activist, Asante’s Afrocentric theory remains very influential in the American Academy and around the world. This theory is highly critical of Eurocentric hegemony and ways of thinking in institutions of learning and charts new pathways through which the African world regains its agency of cultural and intellectual centeredness.
Asante’s theory of Afrocentricity usurps the hegemonic centralized universalism of Eurocentrism and in its stead is positioned the agency of cultural self-definition, an idea that in turn gains on the epistemic consciousness of the kind of Africa both Nkrumah and Diop envisaged. Africa then becomes the controlling center of its epistemic priorities and cultural destiny, assuming its agency of self-assertiveness outside the perverse habits of Eurocentrism.
What this also means is that the protected and privileged centrality of Eurocentric universalism in human affairs shrinks to its primordial ontology and existence of anorexic particularism.
That’s to say, the particularistic characterology of Europe’s historical and contemporary experiences doesn’t represent the aggregate experience of the human condition and therefore the idea of Europe―of the West itself―merely becomes one of many epistemic and cultural strands in the all-encompassing totality of the human experience.
To be more exact, I’ll say the West doesn’t represent the full spectrum of a rainbow but rather a perception of one of the colors in the rainbow spectrum. Any conception short of this humanistic approach to the epistemology of race and international relations, of the history of ideas, and of human civilizations calls for a radical intellectual and scientific revolution against Eurocentric incursions into the African world. Asante (2011) writes:
"My contention is that the Western construct of communication deeply embeds the myths of recent Western culture that must necessarily undermine common humanity in its projection of a particularistic ethos… In the end the decentralizing and demobilizing of the Western international paradigm augurs well for true pluralism in communication without notions of hierarchy."
In fact, Eurocentrism doesn’t deserve a presence in any space of the African world as it belittles the humanity of Africa. It’s also divisive and ignores the intellectual, historical and intellectual experiences of the non-West. I have since carried Asante’s influences on my intellectual development and the epistemic halo of Afrocentric consciousness to the American classroom. I recall reading a passage in the textbook for my History of the Modern World class, about political events in Ghana where the authors got parts of these events completely mixed up. However, before bringing this erroneous information to the attention of the professor, I sought a second opinion from an older Ghanaian student in the same class who, like other members of his generation, had witnessed these events firsthand as to their factual details. Not that I didn’t know the factual details of the events myself. As a matter of fact I did. I did because we studied it in school.
As it turned out, my classmate had seen the same problem but didn’t know how to approach the professor about it. To put it bluntly, he was scared to death whenever the thought of going to see our white professor about the problem rang up in the silence of his head. A private conversation I’d with him as to how best we could approach the professor revealed his pathological fear of whiteness. In fact whiteness intimidated and haunted him. This good friend of mine was a classic definition of inferiority complex, a man who easily turned into a dead carcass when the encroaching flood of whiteness washed over him. His pathological fear of whiteness bordered on his willingness to forego ownership of his history. He rather preferred a lowly status of intellectual peonage to one of intellectual agency and centeredness. Here is a story he once shared with me:
“Once upon a time, God was luxuriating in his bedroom following six hectic days of work when the clank of metals in his ‘creation laboratory’ abutting his bedroom window unexpectedly punctured his comfortable cogitative bubble, derailing his articulated train of thought on whether he had left anything out of creation.
“God quickly sped past his library and entered the creation laboratory only to find hirsute Satan on his hind legs in profuse perspiration. The following conversation ensued between God and Satan:
God: “What’re doing here alone by yourself, Lucifer, at this hour?”
Satan: “You…you left a whole set of race of people out of creation. And I’m here to create this miscellaneous race of human beings. I will graft my evil personality onto this race of human beings since you imbued white people’s essence with cherubic vitality. I will turn my creatures into cannibals, savages, tribesmen and tribeswomen, warmongers, intellectually inferior to whites, nymphomaniacs. They will evolve from monkeys and chimpanzees. I will make them kleptomaniacs, stateless, lazy.”
God: “What race of people do you have in mind?”
Satan: “Black people?”
God: “I should have seen this event coming. Oh yes, I read this somewhere, about your wicked intentions to create this race of men and women. I wish I could remember exactly where I read this and stopped you before you advanced to this diabolic stage.”
Satan: “But you’re God aren’t you? And omniscient too, right? You say you are God and yet you can’t even recall where you read this information. What sort of a god are you?”
God: “Oh yes, I remember now.”
God: “It’s the American media!”
Satan: “Are you surprised by this?”
God: “Not really.”
Satan: “If you care to know the American media’s support for my plans to create this degenerate race of men and women has been unwavering. Lest I forget, I picked up this very idea to create this degenerate race of men and women from the American media.”
God: “The American media?”
Satan: “Yes… ha…ha…ha…ha”
God: “You think it is funny?”
Satan: “The American media…ha…ha…ha…ha.”
God: “You are still laughing?”
Satan: “You did just tell me that. Yes you just did, didn’t you Almighty God?”
God: “That you got this information from the American media?”
To say that this man was a conscious victim of mental collapse is an understatement, for his mental gravity violated Newtonian physics. Did he actually believe he was a product of satanic genius and creativity? Yet he also doubted the existence of Satan. This was a man whose private world the prickly reminder of victorious consciousness was palpably missing in action. How strange how his life read exactly like Salmon Rushdie's The Satanic Verses! And yet his self-hatred isn’t unique to his peculiar psychological station in the center of the culture wars. To wit, his is a debilitating problem that is eating away the soul and heart of the larger African world.
With time my friend began to hide his blackness, the one he’d borrowed from Ralph Ellison’s invisibility, behind the white mask of Frantz Fanon. He began to add too much milk to his pitch black coffee until the pitch blackness vanished from the troubled, scarred soul of his coffee. He even began to lighten his face, the same face he showed to the world when he walked out of his toilet, and to make the silly argument that slavery was inherently good for black people because it brought them closer to enlightenment and whiteness and civilization. He prayed to and convinced his battered conscience never to return him to earth again as a black crow but rather as a white dove. He admired, worshipped and identified with the pitch blackness of Michael Jackson, wore the Southern songs of Elvis Presley, and refused to bury himself in the sartorial apartheid of South Africa.
Sadly, or rather ironically, the lives of the police men who murdered Amadou Diallo mattered more to him than the struggles of Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
This lost soul, a bombshell of contradictions, declined to read Asante’s classic memoir As I Run Toward Africa as well as An Afrocentric Manifesto and Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change when I recommended them to him, my idea of saving him from his sinking self and of restoring him to the gracious African humanity that he truly was. He refused to listen to Ziggy Marley’s “Black My Story” either. My friend’s mind suffered a dreadful mental constipation from consuming too much media carbohydrates and pollution. He’d uncritically been consuming too much polluted chunks of media negativity about Africa and Black America from the American media to the extent that the sclerotic body of his mind now choked on a staple diet of inferiority complex and pathological self-hatred. For a long time he’d buried himself deep in a crocodile-infested river of Manichaean contrasts while also engaged in cultural appropriation of misconceptions and negative stereotypes and lies about the black world from Western books and films and classrooms, effortlessly internalizing these strangulating poisons and pollution and in the process losing ownership of his cultural and intellectual and historical selves in the blinding labyrinth of Eurocentric deceptions and fabrications.
I am not saying everything the Western media and textbooks say about the African world is an absolute falsehood. My position is that most stories about Africa told in the West are told on Western terms without the edifying benefit of an African-centered oversight, namely a negation of the Afrocentric approach―and without respect for the inclusive views of Africans themselves. Africans are therefore made unwilling spectators in their own conscious realities, a situation that undermines their agency and de-centers them from their cultural and epistemic rootedness, evidently disruptive impositions and tendencies and machinations orchestrated from without and many a time with collaborations from within. In this case Western media assumes absolute control of these conscious realities in the interest of the West for purely propagandistic purposes, in which these realities are forced into a rigid Eurocentric mold of interpreting the human condition where they’re completely stripped of any semblance of humanity and made exclusively favorable to the paternalistic taste of the master race. The African experience in this context becomes an anathematic isolate quite apart from the aggregate experiences of the human condition.
Western contributions to the strategic fomenting of many of these conscious realities, which primarily border on internal political strife and cultural crises, are largely hidden from public view in the West itself in the form of classified intelligence reports and from Africans themselves, however. Africa then becomes a suppressed samizdat mouthpiece when the voice of the African-centered approach loses its presential shine of agency and self-assertiveness. Complicating this is the fact that Africa’s authoritative perspectives and informed voice of reason are prevented from participating in the moral language of global solidarity, all the more because Africa is not part of the monopoly controlling the international media. An excellent example is Andrew Rice’s The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda. Rice discusses how the British and Israelis orchestrated Idi Amin’s assumption of political power in Uganda, a fact we hardly hear about or read in popular literature.
It for this reason that Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” should be read alongside H. T. Johnson’s “The Black Man’s Burden,” Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness alongside Chinua Achebe’s “An Image of Africa: Racism In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Mary Lefkowitz alongside Cheikh Anta Diop and Molefi Kete Asante and Theophile Obenga and Martin Bernal, for, as I’ve argued elsewhere, critical balance always exists in the corrective complementarity of shared knowledge.
It is the apparent lack of critical balance in our History of the Modern World class that compelled my friend to ask me whether the black man had a place in the epistemic corridors of the human experience. It is an important question nevertheless, a question captured in the underlying assumptions of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Tony Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. The question is also at the center of his internal conflicts, inferiority complex, rejection of his humanity, identity and intellectual crisis. In the end the complexity of the question forced him to give up ownership of his history which had been twisted and taught to or passed on to batches of students generation in, generation out.
The sad part of the story is that we never even got around to discussing Ghana and Africa in that class though Africa was part of the assigned readings. Instead, the class spent the entire time discussing Europe and the rest of the West. Our non-Western experiences therefore became honorary non-entities and invisible domestic servants and privileged night soil careers at the Eurocentric table.
It never occurred to my friend that we needed to rescue the professor herself from the harm of misinformation.
On the other hand, I didn’t waste time pointing out the error to the professor who initially objected but reluctantly warmed up to it when I recommended that she contact Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Ghanaian-British philosopher who was teaching at Princeton University at the time. Some of Dr. Appiah’s notable writings were very popular in the CUNY system.
Fortunately, she agreed with me but said she was going to pass on my concerns to the authors who were also professors in the history department.
But did we have to go to this extent when the correct information was all over the place, including on reputable Ghanaian and government websites, for my professor to access?
In spite of my classmate’s objections to my contrary position, I chose to bring about a respectful revolution of critical balance in order to correct part of the rich language of my history that had been butchered on the altar of ignorance regarding an important aspect of Ghana's political history, of historical revisionism. In doing so I saved the professor, the history department, and students from imbibing erroneous information. I also saved myself and the history of my country from further contamination. And for this reason, I couldn’t thank the professor enough for giving me the opportunity to say my mind and to prove my intellectual worth. Interestingly, the same professor’d later inform me that she was teaching a geography class and wanted me to be part of the class because I brought balance and depth to any discussion. She also said I kept the class on its toes.
Still, I wish the professor had read King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.
And I hope she is reading The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism now.
What is my point here? To give birth to Hitler’s Nazism, namely Nazism’s Hitler, King Kaiser of Germany created an incubation laboratory of an enduring and primordial Holocaust of Africa, what is present-day Namibia, that became a template for the Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Some ethnic groups of Namibia, then South West Africa, brutalized and starved to anorexic extinction in Germany’s first ever concentration and death camps in the world disappeared from the surface of the earth forever.
And you’ve King Leopold of Belgium, a scheming brother of Germany’s King Kaiser, slaughtering 10 million Congolese and stealing the rubber wealth of the Congo to feed his starving personal lifestyle of social and national cannibalism and of the industrial gluttony of Belgium, only to have Joseph Conrad introspectively spit on the graves of the forefathers of those 10 million cannibalized souls.
Neither did we study the moral politics and activist strategies of African-American legal scholar, historian, author, novelist and professor of law Randall Robinson, one man who did so much for the African world including fighting to bring down apartheid and resisting American imperialism in Haiti, nor his rich collection of writings from The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks to An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. Instead we were treated to insipid collections of writings that didn’t ruffle the status quo or challenge us to think radically differently about the world we live in than what the powers that be want us to know, and as a result, professors and students found themselves at the mercy of the powers that be.
Our professor never told us in our History of the Modern World class that the US government had Nelson Mandela (and the African National Congress) on its terrorism watch list as president of South Africa and many years after his presidency.
These facts were missing in the innocent white pages of our History of the Modern World text, part of the general scheming strategy of colonial education that makes ignorant and endarkened robots out of impressionable minds. It’s this warped focus of colonial education that corrupts the minds of both teachers and students, black and white alike, and undermines universal brotherhood, and race and international relations. As Stanley (2016) persuasively puts it:
"All recent research has shown that education is really about learning to live together in a community, developing tolerance and understanding, and this is the true basis for a civilized society. Book learning is all well, but it’s tainted with elitism, and I’m afraid it’s too often been a specious excuse for prolonging colonial rule."
How many people in the world today are aware that Germany built its first deadly concentration and death camps in the flowery womb of Africa, to devour the Herero and the Bethani Nama and the Witbooi Nama in the consuming conflagration of immortal extinction, and how many people in the world today are aware that the British built pre-Nazi concentration and death camps in South Africa to incinerate the soul and flesh of black South Africans as Norman Finkelstein describes it in The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering?
Not even Africans! Our cultural nationalists and historians and theoreticians keep reminding us of this fact.
Why is the Rwandan Genocide a Western infatuation? A Western preoccupation?
Paul Kagame of Rwanda has blamed the French for its complicity in the Rwandan Genocide.
Let’s not forget this!
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