Archive for September, 2010


Grateful for Strength

It was Dr. John Henrik Clarke that said, “People’s names must relate to land, history, and culture.  We have overused the word Black, because Black tells you how you look, not who you are.  We are the only people who have lost that trait of geographical and historical reference.”  What he is saying here has a twofold meaning.  Firstly, American citizens of African descent should have a more fitting name than ‘Black’ or ‘Negro’, which is only Spanish for ‘Black’.  Secondly, that as individuals, these citizens should rename their selves based on their land, history, and culture, rather than the name that has been passed down from the last family that owned their ancestors as slaves. 

With this concept in mind, let’s take a walk down my personal journey of renaming self.  My birth name is Courtney Wyatt, Wyatt being a name of European descent, inherited from slavery.  When my ancestors were brought over to America, they were given the names of the family who purchased them from the auction block because their African names were too hard to pronounce and they were not considered human anyway by many, just as property.  Africans were considered to have no souls; therefore, we were labeled an infidel people that were outside of the grace of God.  In fact, when the original sanction was given to slavery before the first captured Africans were brought to America on the ‘Good Ship Jesus’, that is exactly what was said, “You are authorized to reduce to servitude all infidel people.” 

Now, I personally have no problem with that.  Reason being, there are insane and inane people all over this world and that does not affect my purpose or character.  I am not going to become what someone else is, and with that in mind, I do not want to bear their name either.  My name should signify my land, history, and culture, and remind me of my reason for being here on earth each day.  Because of that, at the end of 2008, I decided on the name Nikala Asante, which means grateful for strength.  The origin of the name has roots with my ancestry and the definition is a constant reminder of who I am.


A Great and Mighty Walk

Introduction to African American Studies has definitely proved to be one of my more interesting classes at University of Houston thus far. We participate in discussion, debate, and implement media to gain an understanding of our coursework.  

This past Monday, we watched “A Great and Mighty Walk”, an enlightening documentary by Dr. John Henrik Clarke, narrated by Wesley Snipes. Dr. Clarke was an activist, historian, and pioneer of Africana studies. He was born on a sharecropper farm in Union Springs, Alabama on New Year’s Day, 1915. He attended a one room schoolhouse during his childhood, his only access to literature in the local University Library or secondhand bookstores. Though his family did not have much money, he remembers his upbringing as “culturally rich”.

Though Dr. Clarke always possessed high intelligence, he dumbed himself down to fit in with the ‘cool kids’, like many children do today.  His teachers let him get away with this until his fifth grade teacher, Miss Evelina Taylor.  She pulled him to the side and said, “it is better to be right and march into hell than to follow fools into heaven.” This reprimand instilled a respect in Dr. Clarke, for himself, and for Miss Taylor.  Seeking to impress her, he asked a Caucasian man that he worked for if he knew where to find a book about Black people’s history.  The man responded, “I’m sorry, John, but you come from a people who have no history.” Dr. Clarke did not take this to be true, instead searching for his own truth, unfolding the legacy of traditional African societies, African history in America, and creating a new paradigm of focus for scholars to come.

It would take much more time and space to enact a detailed analysis of Dr. Clarke’s life and works.  Just to touch quickly on one of the more important points, he spoke in the film about Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the religion of the entirety of the Roman Empire around 325 A.D.  The meeting where this decision was implemented was called the Council of Nicea.  This is very important to Africana Studies because at the Council of Nicea, all of the African saints were taken out of Christianity and soon after, Michaelangelo was commissioned to create a European image of Jesus Christ, which he based on one of his relatives.  Depictions of Jesus before this time are shown to be dark-skinned with coarse textured hair.  Dr. Clarke comments on this that, “If you are a child of God, and God is a part of you, in your imagination, God is supposed to look like you.  And if you accept the image of another people, you are the spiritual prisoner of that other people.”  In saying this, he is not picking a bone with there being a European depiction of Jesus, but in the lack of the dark-skinned original image.  After all, Christians do proclaim to believe in the Bible, and it clearly presents Jesus as having skin like bronze and hair like wool.  I have heard many people argue to this that the color of Jesus’ skin does not matter, only his works do. That argument does not hold water because it would mean that we should disregard history and the words of the Bible itself because it ‘does not matter’?  So, if one part of it does not matter, then none of it should matter, right?  Because, who chooses what matters and what does not?  I think instead, we should really value the truth, even if it does not go along with what we have been taught.


Refloating Racism

We read a disturbing article this week in my college English class at University of Houston.  The article, titled, “Don’t Refloat”, by Jack Shafer, was about the reasons that New Orleans, Louisiana should not be rebuilt.  As everyone may know, New Orleans was pretty much demolished five years ago by Hurricane Katrina.  While most have been sympathetic, Shafer felt that New Orleans is, “A poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it’s a Black place, where 67 percent are African-American.”

Shafer actually presented these statistics as reasons to not rebuild New Orleans.  This line of thinking could only be senseless, racist, or both.  One could reasonably justify refraining from rebuilding an economically depressed city in order to boost the GNP.  However, in presenting the skin color of a people as reason to abandon reassembly, Mr. Shafer presents himself as a narrow-minded bigot.

Shafer went on to list the percentages of single mothers in poverty, adults with no high school diploma, and Black students in New Orleans public schools as further reasons to forget about reconstruction.  He did not for a moment in his text examine the social background behind these statistics, much of which trace to American slavery, the Jim Crow Era, and the recent standards by which New Orleans has been handled, considering that it’s so, “poor and Black.”

To further demonstrate the atrocities practiced on New Orleans residents, one may read an account directly from Shafer’s article which states, “Researchers enlisted the police in an experiment last year, having them fire 700 blank gun rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood one afternoon.”  Police fired seven hundred blank gun rounds in a neighborhood where children lived in the afternoon.  Could you imagine walking up to the curb to get your children off the school bus and hearing 700 gun rounds fire out of nowhere?  As you look around, you notice men in black uniforms on the rooftop with glints of silver flashing from their chest pockets.  They are holding the guns.  The police are seemingly shooting down at your children.

Shafer attempts to establish residents not calling the police to report the police shooting blank rounds into the neighborhood as reason not to rebuild New Orleans.  He implies that residents do not trust the police.  No sane person who watched the police shoot 700 rounds of gunfire, blanks or not, into their community in the daytime is going to trust the police.  Mr. Shafer does not make a valid case.

It is sad to know that racism like Mr. Shafer’s still exists in 2010, but I am not surprised.  Many policy making officials must also feel this way, since much of New Orleans has still not been touched five years post-Katrina.  In a news segment a few days ago, I saw that the lab charts from 2005 were still hanging on the wall in New Orleans Charity Hospital.  As humans, we are all interdependent.  It would befit Mr. Shafer and others to move past these prejudices and see the reason why these statistics are the way that they are, so that we as a society can mend these ills and move forward in union.  We can only hope this ambition will be realized sometime soon.

September 2010
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