‘Black History Month’ focuses solely on our recent history

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Written by Maudo Jallow

After reading the title, one might raise an eyebrow, or even doubt my motive for writing this piece. However, I am simply trying to point out a simple, yet fascinating oversight (intentional or unintentional) of what I recognise as real black history. I would be remiss if I did not preface this article by saying that our recent history is undoubtedly important and should be told. However, what about pre-colonial Africa? What about ancient civilisations? What about our institutions? Most of us can name our people that were slaves, but cannot name a single African king/queen or even an ancient African kingdom. This is part of the problem!

This is at the root of some of the most persistent misconceptions about African people. Not all Black History Month stories need to be about struggle. It also happens to illuminate, in my humble opinion, the most important issue facing people of African descent around the world today. Economics. Black lives will not matter, until we have economic power. Our culture, features and music will be appropriated until we have the economic power to exploit these blessings ourselves. Our history will continue to be written for us until we have the economic power to own the media outlets that write and publish textbooks, newspapers, journals, etc.

David Olusoga wrote a great article for The Guardian in October 2015 and he highlighted that “…among the many justifications for slavery, and later for the colonisation of Africa, was the assertion that Africans were a people without a history.” He even quotes a German philosopher in the 1830s that said exactly that. To counter this German, so-called philosopher’s point, I would like to take you to 1324. This was the year that the great king, Mansa Musa I of Mali went on a pilgrimage for the ages. Historians say that his generosity in giving out gold in Egypt, on his way to Mecca, caused a prolonged period of price inflation. Referring to the same king and kingdom, Keith Hart writes in his 1982 book that “…Arab historians reveal to us, in their glimpses of the Sudanic empires of Ghana and Mali during the Middles Ages, a fully fledged civilisation based on what appeared to be great wealth…and advanced political achievements”. In addition to that, the world’s first university was built in Timbuktu, within the ancient Mali Empire.

In case your jaw has not dropped yet, I have another historical account that will surely blow your mind. “Contrary to opinions held in certain quarters, life in pre-colonial Igbo…was not that of unmitigated chaos and lawlessness. Law and order prevailed with human rights protection being a significant concern of the society.” This was before we had decades of human rights abuse handed to us by our so-called ‘civilisers’. Yet we need international human rights groups to advise African countries about human rights? On social issues, African kingdoms were known to have female leaders in both the military and the political sphere. In addition to all that, history also tells us that actually, Moors in Spain ‘civilised’ Europeans by teaching them the benefits of bathing, education and medicine. The references above debunk the propaganda used to not just make us seem like barbarous savages. It also serves as a reminder that we build our own political, economic and social institutions and they worked for us!

Therefore, we need to focus on rebuilding what we lost, primarily through ownership. Let’s celebrate Black Wall Street, the Black Panther Party, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah. They are an equal part of ‘black history’ than people like Nelson Mandela, MLK and Malcolm X. One could argue that the personas a group of people revere and celebrate,  reflect their aspirations and ambitions. Unfortunately, MLK and especially Malcolm X’s real messages of black unity, pan-Africanism and economic empowerment have been subdued. Their quotes, similar to Mandela’s ideology, on working together with our former colonisers has been pushed by people who write our history, because it helps maintains the status quo.

I am tired of seeing my people with chains on their wrists, instead of crowns on their heads. We built a university in the 14th Century; we had complex trade routes between African people and we recognised the rights of all people. Let’s celebrate that as much as we celebrate our struggles!

“Slavery is not African history, it interrupted African history” – Mataburuka.   

Ramone Bedi

Deputy Editor for the City