Who We Are

by Zamounde Allie

Pan-Africans collectively feel proud of their heritage, but know very little about it. We're fed bits and pieces of information in books published by various conscious and motivated people who take the time to research and publish what they've found. We're force fed unwanted knowledge in school and lose our drive to seek what we need to know. When we finally attempt to attack and question the legitimacy of the text that our instructors present as a necessity for knowledge, we're played the mind-scale; I call it the Malcolm-Martin Syndrome where as we fall on either side with no in between. The bridge of our existence is history, but we do not as a whole have a full understanding because of all the politics, book burnings and treachery committed to change the lie into a sellable truth. We are proud of our heritage, but what effort do we make to really understand it.

I see lots of colorful displays of African pride in most of my sisters and brothers, and some even have a basic knowledge of themselves. Their clothing, language, art, and overall creativity expresses the desire to be of an African original mind. It took me a long time to come around to wearing the attire though, for I felt within me a seed that was not growing. The wearing of the cloth to me was a signal to the world that I was at least up to a certain standard. If not I might as well just continue to support Nike. I kept telling myself that commercialism was the main reason that I didn't buy African attire and art; that my work being of these hands was African art. Yes this is true whatever we make is African art. We buy our prideful displays without background knowledge of who's really getting paid.

I would not for any reason buy "Black" art from a "White"-owned store, but it is still African art. It's the patronage and where the money goes that really matters. I began to see more and more Pan-African businesses sprouting up but with no real support from the Black population. I went to the local library and looked up the demographics for the area and was shocked to see so many African-Americans living here, but not shopping at these businesses. It dawned on me like the sun when exposed by the Earth's rotation, that we lack a real foundation in our heritage and that our mind-set was Euro-centric covered only by our differences in skin tone. The Black owned businesses did not put money into the community and the community did not put money back like-wise. So both sides cancelled each other out in a newly formed stalemate.

How can we feel proud about something we know little about? We could change the way we live from day to day to redress how we lived and would be living if not for the current history, but this is the struggle that we fail to see. Those who do attempt to change us are called radicals and all types of catch phrases, but they are the keepers of the game.

On the shelves of many stores you may find one book among the cluttered same that really looks at our history in a way that cannot be denied or hidden by modern disguises. I use to take note of the titles of each book that I came across and laid them out to try to make a message or sentence from them; it was a mind thing for me to do while I saved up some money to buy the one that I wanted to read. I found myself overwhelmingly attracted to the words mixed with fire because I had empathy for what was said, but as I grew I sought straight knowledge whether or not it was well said. We are trained to look for an entertaining message like a song, and to shy from the real talk. I made a comment to a brother once that there's a cut-off switch at the base of the spine that tells the brain to go to sleep, and when we sit down our backs should not rest too long against the chair. To avoid turning off the lights that was the window to our brains; he laughed, but I was serious. The little bits of knowledge available, or that which has been spared by history will never be read in its entirety by the average Pan-African; for he's too poor to understand the value it contains, and instead uses it for fun and mockery. How long will it take, and how many motivated people will be turned away from this fight to truly educate? The books have the answers in them it just takes time to sort out all the fairy tales.

I was a confused and unhappy child forced to smile. I remember my first day of school, but I was not taught how to read or write. I stacked blocks up like the monkeys did in a similar test to prove that their mental/physical motor skills were at their best. By the time first grade rolled around I was all ready to play, but was told to open my book to the first page. This is where it all began about a man who chopped down a apple tree, and became the first president. I counted my fingers and my toes inside my shoes trying to live up to a standard I felt distant from and yet forced to consume. I'd seen them in high and great places while my people were low and full of disgraces. I saw some come up to be knocked down, and the rest played like clowns. I heard some scream murder them all, while those up front took the fall. This I saw from young eyes, but without a clue as to what was really going down on the other side of town. The books were pacifying my mind, and telling me that these were better times; that the past was a mistake and that the 1960's were so far away, but when I checked my birth certificate it read 1965, and it was only the seventies. The truth of the matter is that we are force-fed a bunch of lies. In these modern times the past is nothing but a coat of paint, and a chip away. My smile is only superficial to make it through the day.

I became frustrated with the whole school system especially after returning to public school and being placed two grades behind simply because they did not except the Nation Of Islam's curriculum. When in reality I was a whole lot happier and my smile was real. I was beat back down to a good little Negro and told to stand for the pledge allegiance, by my fellow sisters and brothers without a clue as to what they were really saying. I was a loner in this game force to prove my white-intelligence level to gain back my rationed pride. I saw true pictures of my brothers hanging high and asked the tearful question why. Teachers in a tactful way simply denied, but I was tired of the buttered truth; tell me the lies, for they are really the truth. This truth you feed me, where does it come from? Who was the first King and Queen of Africa? Where's my mother's purse you stole? I spent most of my time in the hallways with fake passes trying to avoid kicking the mental tormentors' asses. I am a Pan-African encased in a Euro-centric package.

All our lives have been telemarketed in the theme of Malcolm or Martin, as if they were our only choices with the latter being an angel and the other a devil. When in reality both of their attributes together was the answer. This is why the bullets flew before the real seed was planted, and generations to follow would be left with only one shoe for either foot and no others to spare for chances. I wonder sometimes why the majority of us just don't care; too busy fighting on what little ground we must share. We react to our times as if they are seasons, peaking in the spring and summer and laying low in the fall and winter. Saying "Yes!" when the messenger says what's best, but never do we take the test that the words express. We return to our lives of daily stress, forgetting all too often what was really said; we loved Martin because the books said so, and Malcolm later because he was the underdog. They both were fighting for the same thing on different sides of the scale, but holding the same chain with all the others who dared say "No Mo'!" to a system that had to go.

We must become this chain in history to reconnect ourselves to the foundation and re-anchor our place in the future. A bridge spans what needs to be safely crossed, and without these spans to the real past we are swimming against the current and moving nowhere. Our history is not a part of their history even though it is; take the bandages off the wound that was covered up but never healed. It is our time to truly unveil how our future history will be told. One day at a time we can rebuild the bridge back to our roots scattered and separate as they are, but commonly the same. We must refurbish what centuries of hate, deceit, and greed has taken away.

We are bold even in our ignorance, caught up in a cat and mouse fight inside massa's house. "I'm Black Am I'm Proud" as James Brown so elegantly said, was the statement of the century. It spread to places in far corners of the world where our people never bothered with these words, but liked the way they were said. Yes we are Black and proud, but I'm from the north, he's from the south, and different sides of town; you Haitian, Jamaican, real African, and you are so light and assed-out! Who we are we will never know until we heal the scars. My proud people let's really find out for ourselves what its all about, and stand up and be true Pan-Africans.

Who We Are by Zamounde Allie

© Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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