Radical remembrance towards African freedom

The colonizers have stolen our stories—this is true throughout the diaspora, but especially in the United States. They want us to believe that our heritage begins and ends here in this foreign land. Here, where our ancestors were stolen away and forced into servitude for centuries. Here, where they were subjected to the humiliation and abuse of European colonialism, if not cast out in European efforts to ship Africans back to the Motherland, not for the sake of our autonomy, but to maintain their exploitation and looting of Our Africa.

We have been forcefully uprooted, and worse: We have been convinced that we never had any soil of our own.

To be from a place where you emerged from the soil. To be rooted in the land as a tree would be. This is the feeling that many Africans in the U.S. are searching for—what many feel they’ve never had.

“As a person of African descent, Africa is home. Africa is your anchor,” said Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, former African Union Ambassador to the United States, in an interview with Roland Martin. “The average African American, if not all African Americans, whether they realize it or not, there is a void from not knowing where you come from. And that void has got to be filled in.”

It is time for us to reclaim who we are. A time for revolutionary collective remembrance, a rejection of the European and Euro-American effort to sever our ties to the Motherland. This is a journey we must embark upon individually and collectively. My own journey has led me to radical remembrance. An awakening. An empowering recognition that my story, my family’s story, does not begin in slavery.

You are African

“Ethiopian.” I stared in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it was so clear and direct. It was the answer to the question of “race” on a World War I draft registration card belonging to my great-great grandfather. It wasn’t unheard of at the time, for Africans in the U.S. to have direct recollections of their ethnic heritage.

The WWI registration card belonging to Jazmin Murphy’s great-great grandfather. PHOTO: THE BURNING SPEAR

His cohort, born in the 1890s, was only separated by a few decades from those whose stories comprised the “slave narratives” of the ’30s. Some formerly enslaved people in Texas identified specifically as Madagascan or as vaguely as being a son whose “Pappy’s borned in Africy.”

One woman in Alabama held distant memories of her grandmother’s stories of a “long voyage across the ocean… arrival in a new land called “Mobile.” Numerous others retell traditions of plant knowledge and surviving cultural customs.

They were not so distanced from their heritage as many of us are now. For this reason, we must consult our ancestors’ and elders’ oral histories and genealogies in the effort to divest from the colonial framework.

As Chairman Omali Yeshitela said at the Black is Back Coalition 14th Annual March on the White House Conference, the colonizers aim to shackle us to North America, to convince us that we are “African-Americans.”

“They say you’re a citizen; they say you’re free. How the hell can you say I’m free, and then at the same time, say I’m an American? ‘You’re free, but you’re an American.’ … If I’m free, I’m who the hell I want to be, not who you say I am!”

The Chairman explained how the colonizers attempt to coerce us into losing our identity as Africans: “That’s what that hyphen is, when they say ‘African-American.’ That hyphen is a chain that keeps you locked to America, so that America can presume authority over you.”

My sister, brother, my kin, you have a special connection to the Motherland that is waiting to be rediscovered. You must engage in radical remembrance: Who are you? Where do you belong?

Resistance in identity

I dwell on this erasure and coercion by the colonizers as my mother and I discover more of our heritage, this time, in the form of Yoruba ancestry. My journey to radical remembrance now expands to the East and West coasts of the Motherland. Still, despite my efforts to decolonize myself and my family, to undo European ethnocide, I cannot help but recognize the extent of damage they’ve done.

The process of remembering who you are is a long one, especially when the Europeans have stolen your names, your histories, your language. They imposed names like “Penwright” and “Sims” onto my ancestors, and at the same time, refused to consider them human enough for proper documentation.

This lack of consideration for Africans as humans is directly responsible for the seemingly insurmountable “1870 Brick Wall.” Within and beyond the 1860 and 1870 censuses, they deemed Africans property, not worthy enough to have their names written on a slave schedule or census. So we, their descendants, find it nearly impossible to trace a family line beyond the South.

The sickness of the system is exceedingly obvious today. They co-opt our demand for reparations, initiated by African people ourselves with the African People’s Socialist Party’s 1982 World Tribunal for Reparations to African People.

The sheer violence of their mentality is glaring, as they demand we “prove” our relatives were enslaved. All the while, they know our family’s names were largely excluded from the historical record; they know that most enslaved people never knew their birthdays; they know that our stories struggled to be passed down due to high death rates; they know that most African families were purposely separated in the domestic and international slave trade. The sadism of their actions cannot be overstated. This is why Africans ourselves must be responsible for our own self-discovery and demands for reparations.

We do not belong to this country of colonizers. We have a home, an anchor in Africa. Here, they try to constrain the beginning of your story to slavery. They try to convince you that reparations must be earned. They try to make you pay for access to historical records which would expose their violent hypocrisy. But we resist. We will engage in radical remembrance and break through the Brick Wall to cultural freedom and identity for all Africans.

The time is now!
One Africa!
One Nation!


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