Victimization and History

“And when we fell victims to this feeling of inadequacy or inferiority or helplessness, we turned to somebody else to show us the way. We didn't have confidence in another Black man to show us the way, or Black people to show us the way. In those days we didn't. We didn't think a Black man could do anything but play some horn -- you know, some sounds and make you happy with some songs and in that way. But in serious things, where our food, clothing, and shelter was concerned and our education was concerned, we turned to the man. We never thought in terms of bringing these things into existence for ourselves, we never thought in terms of doing things for our selves. Because we felt helpless.”
One of the negative side effects of the mis-education that African people have undergone is that we have internalized a type of victim mentality. That is to say that when we look at ourselves throughout history we always see ourselves as being victims that are waiting for other people to liberate us or to save us. That is certainly the historical narrative I got in schools. I was taught about how Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves or how William Wilberforce ended the slave trade. Nat Turner’s name came up once in class and there was Frederick Douglass, but the role of Africans in resisting slavery was for the most part erased. In schools African children really do not hear about Toussaint, Cuffy, Sam Sharpe, Buddhoe, Nanny, Bussa, Dessalines, Zumbi, and the many others that resisted slavery. This leaves students with the impression that Africans were reduced to merely being slaves that begged for other people to save us, as the image above depicts.
To change this type of mentality we need to know our history. We need to read about how the Haitians defeated three of the most powerful empires in Europe or how the Ethiopians defeated the Italians. We need to read about the defeats that the Asante and the Zulu inflicted on the British Empire or how the Hehe fought bravely for seven years against the Germans.  We need to read about how the Maroons in Jamaica or the Black Caribs in St. Vincent managed to force the British to sign a treaty with them on their own terms because the British could not outright defeat them in combat.

Although every African nation but Ethiopia failed to fend off European imperialism (and even Ethiopia would, for a time, fall under Italian rule), Africans fought valiantly and in some cases won the respect of their foes. As John Henrik Clarke said, “For a period of more than a hundred years, African warrior nationalists, mostly kings, who had never worn a store-bought shoe or heard of a military school, outmaneuvered and outgeneraled some of the finest military minds of Europe.” The point Clarke makes here is profound because although Africans did not have the same technology that the Europeans had, they were able to score some major victories simply through their military tactics alone. The defeat of the Italians at the hands of Ethiopia was perhaps the only time Europeans fought an African army that was armed with up to date weaponry.

Because many of us have never really studied our history to see that at various points Africans defeated or came close to defeating Europeans, we have a skewed view of history which makes it appear as though we have merely been victims throughout history and we are incapable of standing up for ourselves.

Original author: D Omowale
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