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Historically Hurting

July 12, 2009

I’m feeling in a particularly solem mood today. I had grand designs for this Sunday afternoon and every single one of them has gone out of the window! I had thought I would go to work (try and save myself from a hell on earth Monday), put up some shelves, finish some geeky stuff but it was all pulled to a full halt after my history class.

So I’ve been on the Black History trail this year, starting with my brief course with Professor Robin Walker and moving on to a full on 18 week Black and World History Course with the author Onyeka. The latter is a serious journey, the course is also called Realisation and Restoration of Self and boy oh boy does it tear you to bits!

One of the things that attracted me to the latter was the breadth of study, you cover world history, everybody, every major event, as many civilisations as possible, major steppings stones everything from the 100 years war to the Berlin conference, the Greek Myths to Nubia and Kemet. It’s a hell of a lot to take in, and quite a few people are doing the course for the second and third time, because it’s never possible to know everything.

This course doesn’t do any glossing, facts are facts, rape, genocide, murder, slavery, war, you name it, mankind has done it and we will learn about it. Today’s class was about the slave revolts and the period leading up to and after the American Civil War.

1st point of clarity/shame/shock (I’m not quite sure why the shame, but the full emotion I can’t describe) was the content of a speech given by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in 1857 after a case brought by Dred Scott, a slave who was legally challenging his slave status. I quote

“..They [Africans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

Update: Full Speech text can be found here Scott v. Sandford (via Cornell Website). HT to David W, in my comments.

Obviously before this, this idea was always implied and acted upon, but not really expressed so clearly; even the Willie Lynch speech is believed to be false, so to have a supreme court judge be so candid as to spell it out, makes it imutable. It shouldn’t be a shock, because it was so obvious anyway, but it still struck me.

Taney was refering to the recent Declaration of Independence, citing that the rights of Americans did not include Africans, period. The idea that an African could bring a case all the way to the supreme court to claim his freedom was therefore preposterous. I’m missing out huge chunks here, but to be brief, this was one of the factors leading up to the civil war.

So the idea that Africans were 3/5 human was carried all the way into the 19th Century and was probably an opinion held by Lincoln himself (remember almost all wars are economic; the American civil war was about financial imbalance between the north and the south, not about any kind of philanthropy, but if you have a PR worthy cause, heck use it!).

The next step in my trauma build up were the details of the lynchings of men who started slave revolts and many others after who were unlucky enough to be caught by a mob or charged with some stupid trump charge in reaction to growing insolence from the slaves and Africans.

Nat Tuner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and many many others; these men (and sometimes women and children) were not just captured and killed by hanging, they were castrated, made to eat their own genitals, boiled alive, burned with hot iron pokes, beaten, sodomised and goodness knows what else. I cannot tell you how I felt when we read newspaper accounts of lynchings out of the book 100 Years of Lynchings.

Seeing some of the pictures (none of which I’m going to put here, I’m sorry) showing the burnt, beaten and hanging bodies of Africans, surrounded by smiling white families (note men women and children) is something I can’t get out of my head. Simple google search will show you a few of them.

So this is where I’m at. Traumatised. My reasons for doing this course are to become a better person, if you don’t know your history, you don’t know who you are, or can be. In the last 7 weeks, I’ve had amazing highs learning about African civilisations and kingdoms that flourished, knowing about the positivity, the technology the advances and then the tragedies that ended each one. The wars, the slavery, the colour pyramids, the economic de-stabilisations, the white-washing of facts, the burning of books, artefacts and desecration of identity.

Today’s class was like one piece of information too many and since I’m not the stand on the street corner and rant person, I actually came home and cried, then slept for 2 hours.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, everybody should know about their history, no matter what your race, your identity is based on something and not knowing means never realising your full potential. As a black African, my history is more traumatic and more hidden than other races, so the distance I have to travel feels further and the affect it has on me is gonna be more pronounced….guess I just wasn’t ready for it today.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. akaBagucci permalink
    July 12, 2009 8:19 pm

    Valuable lessons you are learning it would seem. 'Waiting for Angel' Helon Habila's book that expands on his Caine prize winning work actually has Lomba the protagonist visiting the Slave port of Badagry as a means to getting him angry enuf to take on the modern day dictators… Perhaps you might get disenchanted enuf to get into Naija politics! Good luck!

  2. David W permalink
    July 13, 2009 9:49 am

    Thank you, for a very moving post. Here's the full text of Taney's opinion:

  3. David W permalink
    July 13, 2009 9:51 am

    Blogger ate the URL… here's a shorter one:

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