Monthly Archives: October 2011
This series began establishing the context for the formation of the modern-world European military conquest 500 years ago which established worldwide apartheid caste systems of white over brown over black. The last article looked at Africa from antiquity—birthplace of mankind—which, by the 1400s, had over 10,000 nations ranging from complex kingdoms to hunter-gatherers, with an array of agricultural, scientific, governance and religious systems. Into this stepped European invaders, who began systematic and clandestine hostile acts to kidnap people for slavery and destabilise regions on the West Coast by exciting warfare and using prisoners of war as fodder for plantation slavery half a world away… Ten major kingdoms are the ancestors of African descendants in the New World.
Africans from the ten kingdoms that survived the treacherous crossing of the Atlantic Middle Passage had to face a new horror—the Plantation. I am not going to belabor the physical horror of European plantation slavery. There are many accounts of that grim picture (death rates outstripping birth rates because of overwork and punishments; regular mass beheadings and public guttings to break morale; regular rapes; regular beatings to death; and horrific practices like the use of African babies as bait for crocodiles in front of mothers in Florida in croc-hunting season).
What I want us to understand is what the institution of the plantation means as an invention. We need to understand the plantation because its ghosts and its children institutions are still with us.
The plantation, the concentration camp, the reservation, the ghetto, and the jail are the same Western institution! They are the preferred way of the white West in dealing with “the ethnic Other”. We need to understand this and the aims of this institution.
The aim of these “plantation” institutions is to confine a captive population in one area, and control everything going into it (the input) and thus control the output- the people and products coming out. In these institutions, the system controls the inputs of: food, housing, clothing, information, lifestyle, “culture”, financial resources, access to and quality of water, health, electricity… All these elements are precisely controlled so that the Western power can fashion the exact type of individual, community and products it wants on the other side. Other than being a factory for products—the plantation, aka the ghetto, is a factory of human beings! Or an attempt to create non-human beings! A new type of slave never before seen in human history was the aim of the European plantation.
This Western institution began with Jews in the 1400s. Jews were confined to sections of cities called ghettoes—but Jews had discrimination and privilege. Money was thought to be dirty—Jews were the tribe assigned to handle it. Jews were seen as dirty—but essential, and controlled… This template for the ghetto was radically redefined on Africans on plantations—and later Native American reservations. Those “innovations” would come back to haunt Jews with World War II concentration camps.
In the 20th century, America created hundreds of new ghettoes based on these principles to “herd” emancipated Africans. These ghettoes are used to transfer Africans to jails where their labour again becomes free and their rights stripped back to plantation levels (the loss of the right to vote or own property)… In a real sense, Africans in America are treated systematically as dangerous, recalcitrant prisoners of war who escaped legal confinement at Emancipation but need to be retransferred to their former status by other means. If you change your lenses of looking at the relationship of the white West with Africans in those terms, then the treatment begins to make sense…
That format of ‘”ghetto” and its culture has been transferred and sold worldwide- through Hollywood and white-controlled black popular music—and through structural adjustment policies. That “ghetto” has been the conduit for criminalising working-class African communities worldwide with waves of shipments of drugs and guns since the ’60s…
During slavery, every Western institution was reconfigured into the creed of white supremacy to absolve Europe from sin, and justify genocide. In science emerged theories of racial inferiority on sliding scales—all since disproved. Christianity transformed doctrine and practice to justify and bless the acts. The legal system created worldwide apartheid laws. The modern global and industrial system was formed by these psychotic processes.
Fifteen generations of Africans were born into plantation slavery. Despite all attempts to destroy their humanity, Africans resisted. Over 250 slave uprisings, the creation of maroon nations of escaped slaves, joining with Native American tribes… There were heroes like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Zumbi and Nanny Buku… This culminated with the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint: the only successful slave revolution in human history! African slaves defeated the four greatest warmongering nations on earth—including Napoleon, the world’s greatest general.
The plantation’s most important war was psychological. The attempt to break African will—and thus, control mind and body. The purpose was to remove will! It did this by destroying: kinship systems and community; the ancestral face of God; ancestral knowledge, language, cultural practice, institutions and allegiances. The overturning of the “plantation”, therefore, begins with reclaiming and reconstituting those very things that were taken away! The challenge to modern Africans is reversing and destroying the institution called the “ghetto”.
In my last column, I put the current state of the African nation in perspective by observing the creation of the modern world 500 years ago with European military conquest which spread across the planet, leaving hundreds of millions dead. Those imperial invasions entrenched a system of apartheid of white over brown over black, all over the world. Native Americans and Africans are meant to be permanently at the bottom of this caste pyramid because both their motherlands—the Americas and Africa—are indispensable to Western civilisation.
Unpaid African labour also constructed the New World for 300 years under the brutal system of plantation slavery, whose purpose was to take a civilised people and reduce them to animals and machines. This context enables us to zoom in on the progress of African people over time. This is not to say that all African populations are the same—ethnically or in terms of history—but in the same way we can analyse the path of Jews, Native Americans or Chinese peoples—despite complexities—so can we Africans. The solutions to many of our contemporary problems are in the pathways of the past.
How is it even possible to sum up the oldest people on earth in 800 words? Africa is the oldest inhabited territory on Earth, with the human species originating on the continent. Pre-colonial Africa possessed the most culturally diverse land mass in the world with perhaps as many as 10,000 different states—from hunter-gatherer societies to massive complex kingdoms and urban centres. There is literally an infinity of stories that can be told of the continent. The retelling and reclaiming of that history is an essential part of repairing the damage of the last 500 years.
Because the dominant racist narrative of the last 500 years has been to slander Africa and her people as “savages”, it is necessary to compile a few civilisational notes. From the black African origin of Egypt to the Egyptian origin of the system of the alphabet; to sub-Saharan pioneering of copper and Iron technology; an encyclopaedic herbal remedial tradition; to sophisticated cultural bronze casting; to the existence of sophisticated surgery and medical procedures; to innovative political and administrative systems—ancient Africa was a seat of technological and human innovation.
This sophistication extended into agricultural innovations—the World Bank has called traditional plantain and banana production in West Africa, which utilises no chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or herbicides, “one of the most productive food production systems known”. Many of the cultural, educational, political, and technological innovations that would enlighten other parts of the world—like Greece and the Middle East—began in Africa.
So kingdoms, technology, heroes, schools, brilliant communities—Africa and its 10,000 nations had it all.
This was the world that Europe entered in the 15th century at the beginning of its imperial expansion. Most of the Africans in the New World come from a cluster of nations on the Western coast. We are descended mostly from the kingdoms of Yorubaland, Ashanti, Congo, Igbo, Akan, and Fon. Other ancestral nations included the Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, the Temne, Mende, Ewe, Ga, Fante, BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay—and a host of others. At the time of the European slave trade these kingdoms were in the process of centralising city states politically and spiritually—but others were at war. These city states had irrigation systems, complex governments, priesthoods, religious texts, armies, etc.
Europe entered Africa with the idea of plunder—first in capturing resources and land—and then the people as labour. So there are two impacts to Africans we must follow. One is to a significant population of kidnapped people—the citizens who were taken across the Atlantic to be enslaved—who are effectively still prisoners of war… And the second is the invasion and destabilisation of an ancestral motherland.
The European destablisation of West, Central and North Africa began in the 15th century through slave raids on the West Coast—but also by dividing and exacerbating local conflicts. This tactic of playing local enemies against one another with the threat of attack hanging over negotiations was used by European invaders in Native America, Asia, and even against one another. In West Africa the tactic morally corrupted a handful of African kingdoms who became complicit in the slave trade by selling Europeans their prisoners of war. Parts of West Africa was plunged into civil war with European powers providing guns and resources in exchange for prisoners. The European infection of Africa had begun…
Unbeknownst to the individual kingdoms, the result of these conflicts would be a transatlantic slave trade that would deplete the continent of millions of lives. All over the world different ethnicities would be simultaneously going through their own meetings with the white West. To understand the world today (Laventille, the East-West Corridor, Brooklyn, and Darfur) and the place of different ethnicities in it, we need to follow both trajectories of African people’s engagement with the white West-in Africa and in the New World.