“I know what the world has done to my brother, and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to be tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” – James Baldwin.
I think of ‘Advancement’ and the more I think of it, the more I learn that it is a by-product of the combined actions of those persons who dare to think it and to think of it.
In any given community, ‘Advancement’ shall mean; a state of being devoid of discomfort, and in whatever form the discomfort may present itself, it should not wield the strength to subdue the will of those persons faced with it in their pursuit to remove themselves from that state of discomfort.
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For what is state of the art institutions when the states of our hearts sink in destitution?
Advancement is therefore a virtuous ideal, one to which every given person within the community must aspire. However, we often do not think it, neither do we think of it. We must have accommodated our discomforts instead of ridding ourselves of them, we must have settled for less; the cankerworm shredding the fibres of our reality.
I have wondered why, and asked how, but with time I have come to concur with pieces of evidence from concrete sources that; the foundations of our narratives as melanated persons have over the past century focused diligently on the ‘Plight of the Black race’; from picking cotton on the white-washed cotton fields in the New World, to getting shot for walking away from those fields in this older world. Even in my bid to lay this point bare, I find myself committing the same crime of which I seem to be accusing the custodians of the past century.
It is necessary that we are informed of what arsenal has been arrayed against us as a people, for it is the only way we can create channels and develop systems to rise above them. However, in the instance where the situations we have been faced with and are still facing become the body and soul of our narratives, we risk becoming susceptible to a ‘victim’ state of mind. In this state of mind, self-initiated reformative initiatives are difficult to engineer.
The anatomy of Human Behavior is such that ‘information’ rests at its core as a building block, and its foundational unit. What we do and think on a repeated basis is that which we have identified as our viable self-enhancing truth, and that which we identify as our viable self-enhancing truth is to a large extent influenced by the ‘information’ our immediate environment has presented to us, and this holds for the average majority.
The Jim Crow laws inspired a well-rounded highly successful Black community; ‘The Black Wall Street’ is what they called it, some saw it as miniature evidence of the glories characteristic of the homeland so they named it ‘Little Africa’. This community in Tulsa, Oklahoma thrived from the early 1900s when the average Black doctor ran a medical school, and the average legal practitioner operated a firm. This was the hub of ‘Advancement’, a true representation of unity and strength in action until opposing forces rendered it extinct in 1921.
The community was a movement inspired foremost by a belief in our strengths and potential as a people and subsequently, a move to rise above the muddied pits of racial injustice. The warriors who spearheaded the movement dared to think it and in thinking of it, they moved to make it a reality.
‘Learned Helplessness’ is a concept in Psychology. Think of a dog placed in a metal cage connected to a source of electricity. Whenever the dog attempts to escape the cage, an experimenter electrifies the cage so the dog is discouraged from leaving it. This happens on every single attempt by the dog to escape the cage. With time and per the turn of events, the dog gives up in its endeavour to attain freedom. For the price entailed in staying confined within the cage is less costly as compared to the price of leaving it, thus the dog is simultaneously conditioned to stay in the cage even in the absence of the electrical shocks and the experimenter. If that same dog is placed in the world outside, it will run back into the cage because its freedom in the great big world outside of the cage was paired with pain and discomfort, thus the world in the cage becomes more appealing. This is what Learned Helplessness teaches.
In seeking to understand why we aren’t in full force front lining the pages of ‘Advancement’, I am moved to assert that we may be wallowing in a state of Learned Helplessness not only because of the grim content of our narratives, but also given our past where the average Black person is by default incessantly shoved into a depleted corner of this massive socio-economic mansion of a world by dint of systems and institutions created without a thought of the Black person’s well-being other than how to harness the Black person’s ingenuity in keeping such systems and institutions thriving. And given these turn of events, we must now more than ever make highly conscious efforts to rethink our narratives and concert our efforts and resources like the creator of Little Africa did, for this is where the rise will begin.
Our schools must now more than ever burn all syllabi handed to us by the colonialists, and from an Afrocentric standpoint, create anew organic lessons and practical routines tailored towards that ‘Advancement’ state of mind. This challenge is ours, one that is born from the recesses of our very being and thus we are the only ones who can best it.