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Black Liberals Entangled in Pan-African Controversy

Earlier this week, the third day of Kwanzaa, named for the principle of Ujima, a Kiswahili word meaning collective work and responsibility in the African community, turned into somewhat of a nightmare — and ultimately a re-awakening for this author — when Dr. Umar Johnson, an electrifying but polarizing figure in the Pan-African community, released a 45-minute video diatribe aimed at his rival General Sera Suten Seti, a Detroit-based speaker with whom he has long had problems.

Johnson’s curse word-laden tirade, filmed in a Florida hotel room, caused a stir on social media throughout especially among Black liberal academics and social commentators who spoke of a “Hotep Civil War.” While most in the “conscious community” chose not to give the squabble much credence, several self-proclaimed Pan-Africanists and leftist Blacks quickly condemned the actions of the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” saying he made a fool of himself.

It appeared that the ilk of Black people in whom the good doctor had found fans and liberal Blacks, many of whom have used “Hotep” and more recently “ankh-right” in their descriptions of folks with Pan-African leanings, could agree on at least one thing: the cult of leadership that inflated Dr. Umar Johnson and General Seti’s egos and which has often led to the impotency of several local and national Black movements in recent decades impedes our fight for liberation.

Unfortunately, this is the furthest the relationship between those with Pan-African leanings and liberal Blacks will ever go if the latter continues to tarnish “Hotep,” the Kemetic greeting for peace, and the ankh, the Kemetic hieroglyphic that signifies eternal life, in their dismissive statements about Blacks yearning to get in touch with their African roots.

Such a choice of words shows a disregard for an ancient history taken away from African people. Even continental Africans lost modern-day Egypt when the U.S. Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan and other Western leaders created the “Middle East” in the early 20th century. Thousands of years earlier, the Romans and Greeks ransacked Kemet and took many of her possessions. Today, Hollywood warps history, whitening the ancient Black people responsible for mathematics, science and medicine.

Of course, those of claim to be conscious know we don’t have a direct lineage to Egypt. Moreover, they also understand that American slavery is not non-melanated people’s first time murdering and stealing from melanated people. Linking the institution of slavery to colonialism on the African continent and Kemet’s fall, helps us find a common oppressor while aiding in the spiritual journey that’s Knowledge of Self.

Knowledge of Self is a personal process that opens the door to more spiritually fulfilling professional opportunities and connectivity to African people that every Black person should have, even if they don’t feel like attending every study or healing circle in the world. In many cases, it also makes one more independently minded.

To the credit of those who critique Pan-Africanism, globalization doesn’t quite afford Black people the privilege of separating from the rest of the world, especially because we don’t control any major resources. In the U.S., the racial and ethnic make-up of residents, particularly those of African descent, have drastically changed since the wave of African independence in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, African and Caribbean immigrants and their children count among a significant segment of the Black population in the U.S. Their ties to their home nation and its distinctive culture might not make Pan-Africanism, a call for the collective to unite under one banner, alluring.

For the so-called African American, the U.S. has somewhat of a misleading position as a stable and developed country. Albeit signs suggesting that all that might be coming to an end within a generation, many descendants of the enslaved Africans who toiled this land feel like they’ve earned a place here. While somewhat noble, this mindset has in part conflicted with the gains that African-centered institutions made in the post-Civil Rights era to create an African identity in the U.S. that combats the poisonous caricature of Black man and womanhood inflicted on our children.

Our reverence for our ancestors’ sacrifices on American soil shouldn’t negate our need to connect and organize with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Just as young people are fighting police forces in the U.S., young men and women across the Diaspora are going toe to toe with their elected officials, some of whom have U.S. backing.

In the interest of preventing the cult of leadership mentioned earlier, people who consider themselves conscious must hold the usual suspects — misogynists, the historically inaccurate, and the often hypocritical — responsible for their actions.

As far as African-centered organizing and nation building in the 21st century is concerned, it’s important to remain open-minded to what the present day offers. Further, nuances in scholarship should not lead to a narrow-minded definition of a truly African-centered lifestyle. Many organizations have crumbled by turning off well-meaning Blacks trying to find themselves in this twisted society.

This author posits that the dearth of intellectual gymnastics among members of the YouTube generation and the disregard for fresh discussions about various aspects of this liberation movement hinder our growth. If we’re to ever realize Nguzo Saba and become a global African nation, organization must be scientific and inclusive of all aspects: financial, agricultural, health and education.

It’s time to move beyond the smoke and mirror of social media conscious stardom. Doing so requires using the confidence that comes with that knowledge to launch long-term projects that move us closer to self-determination. It also requires us to be good representatives of the so-called conscious community in the way we spread our message.

The stakes are higher for African people in the U.S., especially now that even some Blacks with Pan-African leanings have, jokingly, used “hotep” and “ankh right” to deride Johnson and others. This proves dangerous at a time when Pan-Africanism is under attack, not only from outside forces but from those who consider themselves Black.

Shortly after Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House, several Black thought leaders spouted messages with xenophobic undertones like that in the president-elect’s campaign speeches. For example, Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown remixed a conservative talking point about immigrants taking low-paying jobs, telling African Americans that to succeed as a group, they need to ignore a bloc that includes continental Africans, Caribbean people, Afro-Latinos and other Black immigrants. In a later Facebook post, she mocked Pan-Africanism as a relic of the past that has no significance today.

But how can that be when Africans across the globe suffer just as badly, if not worse in some cases, as our ancestors have in interactions with the oppressor? We share both a common lineage and a common enemy in racism, capitalism, neocolonialism, war and any other tool used to keep our people under siege globally.

Kujichagulia, the Kiswahili word for self-determination and second principle of Kwanzaa, speaks to African people breaking free of those chains and controlling their own economies, governments and schools without any exploitative influence from outside actors.

As for brothers and sisters who continue to use “hotep” and “ankh-right” in their talks about African-centered Black people, understand that you’re still losing out on an opportunity to deepen your community work and advocacy on behalf of Blacks. Consider those men you call “hotep” as simply flawed people, not representatives of an entire movement. Gain an international context for what’s going on in the U.S. and perhaps and hopefully you’ll see Knowledge of Self much differently.

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