“Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” – Steve Biko
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” – Bob Marley
“Let us all agree to die a little, or even completely so that African unity may not be a vain word” – Ahmed Ben
“Colonialists stole not only the lands of African people and renamed them. They stole also their knowledge, so that they would know nothing about themselves” – Motsoko Pheko
“Africa can and will only advance through African integration, which can be realized through the Federal United States of Africa” – Cheikh Anta Diop
Darkness makes you appreciate the light even more. As a people, we sometimes forget how much we’ve grown, until we look back at how far we’ve come. Many will disagree and question the need to celebrate our royal Blackness. They will ask why we must highlight and celebrate the heroism of African people.
I would’ve shared similar sentiments a few years back. But my perception changed when I reflected on the history of Africa and its people. The need to unify in celebration of our collective experiences becomes obvious when you come to terms with the fact that, not long ago, people of African descent couldn’t dine together with White people. We couldn’t vote. We were auctioned like perishable goods at a bazaar. Our women were forced to breast feed the infants of our White “masters” while their own children were left malnourished. We were once treated like livestock and our shoulders served as a source of transportation for the White man.
It has been a tumultuous journey full of wounds that has left us with conspicuous mental, physical, and emotional scars. Yet, it is important to recognize that slavery was not introduced by White people. Slavery has long existed among different ethnic groups prior to the European invasion that led to colonization. Apartheid was prevalent globally as an accepted norm and way of life.
Slavery was a very lucrative business before going through, what I call, a “Western/European Innovation.” Through this “innovation,” slavery transformed from a system based on ethnic groups to a system based solely on skin color.
The acquisition of slaves became central to the acquisition of wealth and social status. The bigger and stronger the male slave, the more economic value he carried (and it is not lost on me that, with my lanky frame, I would’ve cost less than 50 cents at an auction). The smoother the skin and the more voluptuous the physique of the female slave, the more valuable she was to her slave master.
African people were turned into beasts of burden and were brainwashed to do manual labor. We were strong enough to do anything and everything for the White man, but never strong enough to do anything for ourselves.
The Pan African Movement was birthed to change this.
It was a movement dedicated to establishing independence for African nations and cultivating unity among Black people throughout the world. It originated in conferences held in the early 1900s in London and other cities throughout the world. The first true intergovernmental conference was held in Accra, Ghana, in 1958, where Prime Minister and Congolese Independence leader Patrice Lumumba (pictured) was a key speaker.
Many, like myself, who now embrace Pan Africanism do so out of recognition of the collective history of Black people worldwide and in honor of the countless brave individuals who weren’t deterred by the adversity they faced. The first Pan Africanists were captives who improvised and orchestrated their own freedom by putting their own lives on the line, understanding that they were paving the way for future generations. Many of these individuals enjoyed their freedom for only hours before their demise.
Slaves weren’t just forced laborers; they were the property of their slave masters. Some, including pregnant women, killed their own children rather than subject them to the brutality of slavery. One example is Margaret Garner, a fugitive slave from Kentucky who killed one of her children in a shipwreck as she was being brought back to slavery after attempting to escape.
Garner recognized that violence was the only way to end slavery, even if it meant self-imposed violence. They say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and indeed, there may be no measure more desperate than sacrificing your own child to shield him or her from a life of brutal oppression and violence.
Thus the saying, “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, go home to my God and be free.”
It will be out of place to discuss Pan Africanism without recognizing the pioneers of the movement, such as W.E.B. DuBois, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Joseph Stalin, George Padmore, and the aforementioned Lumumba. Nkrumah was the first of the Pan-African leaders to help Ghana in attaining independence in West Africa, and his journey from prison cell to government became a pattern: a price had to be paid. The likes of Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela also served their time of incarceration in their quest to abolish apartheid.
There is no single voice of Pan Africanism. The movement is comprised of diverse perspectives and experiences — all unified by a collective history and shared past. There is strength in diversity, be it diversity of gender, race, age, or diversity of religion.
Through a united force, the Pan African movement can be a champion not just of equal rights and administrative justice, but of social and political equality and the development of a system of inclusive meritocracy for the entire human race.
We can be the voice of the voiceless. We can be the movement for the paralyzed. Former President of Ghana Jerry John Rawlings said it best, “If our people lose the courage to confront what is wrong, then we become collaborators.”
If we fail to act, we are guilty of being the pedestrians of injustice.
My modern day Pan Africanism is defined by more than race or a “Blackground” of African heritage. Pan Africanism is more than believing that Black is beautiful or rejecting the perception of inferiority associated with being Black. A modern day Pan African believes in inclusive meritocracy and shares a common vision of global Black empowerment while simultaneously recognizing that slavery and racism operate on a global level and attack the humanity of a vast array of people worldwide — and not just people of African descent.
Marcus Garvey: UP! UP! You Mighty Race! You can accomplish what you will! I repeat that God created you masters of your own destiny, masters of your own fate, and you can pay no higher tribute to your Divine Master than function as man, as He created you. “A people without knowledge of their past and history are like a tree without roots!”
As a modern day Pan African I’ll end with this: When the playing field has been leveled and when we’ve fought for and achieved true equality, then we’ve shown our worth. We’ve come out on top. Don’t allow the color of your skin to limit you in any way. There is no White or Black race. There is only the HUMAN race.