“I wish I had been better prepared for this moment.”
“You are the descendant of a mighty people…of kings and queens. Their blood flows through your veins and they have prepared you for this moment.”
-Paraphrased conversation between Coretta Scott King and Amelia Boynton Robinson in the movie Selma
A few friends and I have been talking about world views for the past few weeks, an exercise we engaged in regularly in college but really haven’t had time for as we got older. The basic questions we ask ourselves are:
“What is your world view?”
“Have you even taken the time to develop one?”
“Why do you/we accept the things we see today as truth and reality?”
Since we are a group of Black women, we concern ourselves with Black life and how it is experienced globally. Our shared analyses were pretty sobering, to be honest. My friend Tosha* talked about many of the young people she works with – most of whom are in their late 20’s and early 30’s – who have no true concept of how the world works around them, or worse, how it relates to them. Many of them are men.
“They just don’t read,” she sighed. “A lot of these guys think that life is about getting a check, having occasional sex, and repeating that simple cycle. They don’t read!”
The conversation was all over the map, ranging from racial profiling, internalized racism/colorism, spending, forecasting and economic (dis)advantages for people of color. It was the lattermost topic that struck a chord with me: Economics. It drew me back to the scene in Selma I referenced earlier.
I am going to raise my hand and admit that when we talk about being descendants of a “great and mighty people”, I have never invested the time to explore what that means. On the surface I, and I think the majority of people, look at Blackness as the embodiment and epitome of physical strength. We have greater bone and muscle density than whites; we are capable of running long distances faster than any other race; we have proven a capacity to endure and overcome intense and unspeakable torture and terrorism. But what does all that mean? Where does that come from? What is the purpose of being able to endure beyond endurance sake? The idea that we are descended from a “great and mighty people” led me to query what made our ancestors so special that an entire continent of Europeans felt it imperative to erase their history and memory and appropriate their accomplishments as their own. In just 30 short minutes, I felt like I had entered another dimension.
Last night I read excerpt s from two books which are available online. The first is Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute and the other is Empires of Medieval West Africa by David C. Conrad. In them they describe observations made by European traders and explorers who were so astonished by the great wealth of these empires and even went as far as to attempt to draw parallels to their own. One explorer suggested that the aristocratic airs of Songhay rivaled those of the Tudors.
“This most interesting spot was the capital of Songhay, a country described as being very fertile and rich in gold. The origin of its kings was from the East. At a later period it entirely dominated Melle, and established at Timbuctoo a dynasty about contemporary with our own Tudors, of which I wish that time per mitted me to give you some account.”
Later, he goes on to describe the magnificence of the Empire’s Court “in which the ladies were served on pure gold, and men on occasions of state wore velvet tunics, were booted and spurred, and had all their weapons mounted in gold or silver.”
He went on to describe the clothing of those who dwelt in various parts of medieval West Africa, and noted the intricate brocade, vibrant cotton tunics and gold woven into hairdos of the most influential aristocrats. Because gold was in such abundance in West Africa, only the leadership of the day was allowed to trade in nuggets while the proletariat was permitted to trade in gold dust, lest it lose its value. (The roads and trade routes that allowed each ruler to trade in knowledge and goods were also well maintained.) Medieval West Africa was sounding more advanced than 21st Century West Africa with every sentence!
So what happened?
We all know about the scramble and partition of Africa, and something tells me that destruction of an entire continent had more to do with Europeans attempting to cover their own shame than trying to expose our own. They literally swapped histories with us. It is no coincidence that the Renaissance period that took place in Europe also coincided with European contact with Africa and Asia. While we were wearing silk and cotton, they were still making their clothing from jute (a smelly plant substance) and wool. The gold that guilds the Versailles came from Africa. Much of the “enlightened thought” that reached old Europe was being taught in our universities for centuries. And of course, women had greater rights and influence in society, an idea medieval Europeans found boorish.
This is what it means to be descended from a great and mighty people. And yet, how do we see ourselves today?
I am not advocating for Creflo Dollar to get his jet, but I think his predicament offers a useful example in this instance. Let’s say he gets his $60-65M jet. So what? Out of all the jets that crisscross the world that are owned by Saudi princes, American CEOs and pop stars, how is this one jet going to change anything about our condition as Black people? It won’t . A jet is a tool. It is a thing. It is a vehicle to fly a person from one point to another in the most efficient manner possible. A group of men (and two women) got together to decide how much to sell this thing for, but what gives that jet value is you and I. If Boeing wanted, they could give that jet away for the price of a hug. Didn’t McDonald’s just end a campaign giving away meals in return for acts of kindness? But today, that same burger is back to retailing at $2.99.
“Oh! But Creflo can’t afford it!” I’ve heard folks say. Ah. The federal government with its trillions in debt can’t afford any of the programs it is touting, but it hasn’t stopped them from mortgaging their goals on the backs of our unborn great-grandchildren!
It’s all arbitrary. YOU are the great value in the earth. When Miles Monroe and all those who perished on the Germanwings airline died, we did not mourn the loss of metal and plastic. We mourned life. And yet every day – we as Black people in particular – put possessions and wealth above human life as though we can’t grasp this.
I have changed my world view on economics, things and wealth…or at least I’m trying to.
Queen Ekuba is one of our contributors on Adventures, and in 2013 she shared a series called “Gran” on the site. In it, she uses her grandmother’s voice to talk about the sexual shenanigans of women in her village of Ajumako, about love, lust, loss and coming into womanhood. It’s a thrilling, informative read which you can find here.
Ekuba’s grandmother tells us about the day she started her menstrual cycle and how it was event celebrated by everyone in the community, from the Queen Mother down. On the day her transition into womanhood was celebrated in her family’s courtyard, she was dressed in the best kente, brand new sandals and adorned with gold bangles and earrings. One of her aunts rubbed gold dust on her face to make her skin glitter. Bear in mind that this was only about 70 years ago and 115+/- years after the slave trade ended. Judging from the stories Ekuba’s grandmother tells about having to go to the farm as a child, she sounds like she came from a solid middle class background…certainly not a princess in a royal palace. But a middle class Ghanaian girl from a Fante-speaking farming community was draped in kente and gold because she got her period…and we’re losing our minds over cars and jets? We are so brainwashed we can’t even create fantasy for our brown children to imagine themselves as anything besides dirty, barefoot things that play in the mud. Isn’t this the image we think of when we think of ancient and “typical” modern African childhood?
When I bought my luxury leather bag from F&W, I got quizzical looks and furrowed brows from at least two women when they asked me the cost.
“$290 plus tax,” I replied flatly.
“Eish…Malaka…”, one of them breathed.
I offered a half smile in return. Our ancestors, yours and mine, were walking around with gold braided into their cornrows…and it’s a stretch for us today to carry a quality leather purse? It’s just leather! Once we begin to see ourselves in new and through the lens of a different world view, this will be easier to grasp. I believe that our history of wealth, intelligence and enlightenment is what kept those mighty people now trapped in the bowels of those slave ships alive and thriving. When you KNOW your life has instrinsic value, you fight to protect it.
For those bent on missing the point: I’m not advocating that we all go out and buy a whole bunch of stuff we don’t need, but I am saying that I am no longer going to feel guilty for pursuing quality. Besides, don’t we have enough junk in our lives already? We deserve better. We deserve to treat and think of each other better. We are capable of much better.