photo by Alex Lear







            The castles were the seat of colonial government.


            The Ghanaians never had nor needed a word for jail or prison.


            The castles were where the prisons were.


            The Akan word for fortification is Aban.


            Along the coast where the castles were, the Akan coined a word for both the colonial government and for prison: Abanum.


            Literally, "inside the fortifications".


            Prison: the government has you.


            We have a hell of a lot of castles in America.








            There is something about this man thing.


            Tarzan was a man. Tarzan left his woman behind. Eventually they sent Jane, but Tarzan still dug Cheeta, the monkey. Tarzan and Jane didn't have any children. Then they sent boy. One child. Tarzan. Jane. Cheeta. And boy. Never a girl. The classic European nuclear family.


            Most Ghanaian men don't look or act anything like Tarzan. I'm closer to...


            Me, Tarzan. You, Jane. I'm in charge.




            I worked in my office literally until the last minute and there was almost no time left to return to the apartment, grab my unpacked bags, throw some clothes in (I'm sure I left something), stop to pick up my son who is caring for my car, and drive like crazy to get to the airport on time. Nia had already called me to let me know that I was late. This is her first trip to Africa. This is my first trip to Ghana. We make the Delta flight. With maybe two minutes to spare. No, I'm exaggerating. It was something like five minutes to spare.

            The plane stops in Atlanta. Stephanie Hughley is going. Steve Browser meets her there. He has recently returned from Ghana and gives her some pictures to take back to share with folk. Gives us both some good advice. I start feeling really, really good about this trip.

            Ghana Airlines is in the same terminal we arrive in on Delta. Everything goes smoothly. I've been up all night, so I slept from New Orleans to Atlanta. Slept from Atlanta to New York. And plan to sleep on the way over from New York to Accra.

            And then this Ghanaian brother gets on. He has on a big black coat. A big black hat. He's got all kinds of bags hanging off him. A little girl in tow. As he settles in, I see that one of the "bags" is actually a baby cradled against his stomach. The baby is two months old. Her older sister is 18 months old.

            Brother man carefully unstraps. Unpacks with precision. And for the next nine hours takes such loving care of those kids that everybody complements him. He wasn't the only one with kids on the plane. He wasn't even the only man accompanying kids. But he was so beautiful to watch.

            He says he loves his kids. He must. And they must love him. He fed them. Changed them. Rocked them to sleep. They were quiet.

             I mean when I first saw him coming down the aisle I almost passed him off as a hip cat dressed all in black with a felt hat cocked to a bad lean. After we got off in Accra, there was no doubt in my mind. This was a hip cat. A Ghanaian man. And his lean was straight and tall.




            To know the pear we must taste the pear. Knowledge is not the result of simply and solely thinking but rather the result of sensing and reflecting on our experiences. Regardless of whether the tasting is a result of our own direct experience or a vicarious tasting as a result of the experiences of others, some mouth has to taste the pear in order to fully know pearness, in order to fully conceive of the pear as a pear.

            There is a world of difference between thinking of (or imagining) how a pear tastes and knowing how a pear tastes. Obviously, it is both necessary and important to think, but thinking alone is insufficient. Moreover, if we start off any social investigation simply with thoughts then we have misled ourselves.

            We should start with "what is" (i.e. our social realities) and think of ways to either maintain or change reality. Maintain reality when it befits us and change reality when it is necessary. So while we argue that the battle is for the hearts and minds of our people, we also understand that ultimately that battle is a battle to influence the behavior of our people and to understand and celebrate the historic and hereditary aspects of our culture and ourselves, historic and hereditary aspects which are beyond our control to fundamentally change.

            The fact that many of us (including some of our most notable celebrities) have spent big bucks, long hours and suffered painful operations in order to physically change our appearance (e.g. the shapes of our nose and lips, the color of our skin, the texture of our hair) does nothing to alter the basic fact we are of a specific ethnic heritage. Genetically, we are still what we are, and, if we have children, they will not inherit our surgically changed features, but rather will inherit the features dictated by our ethnic DNA. The basic fact is that individual thoughts and actions, no matter how bizarre or deviant from the norm, do nothing to change our essential make-up. Our ethnic identity remains intact, regardless of how we alter our physical image. The same applies to our history.

            In order to influence how people think, we must first "recognize" and analyze our realities. Ignorance of our social, historical and ethnic realities is the biggest obstacle to our individual and collective development. After surveying the field, then and only then are we able to move forward with some degree of certainty in terms of influencing both "how" and "what" people think.

            The surest way to change one's mind is to engage in behaviors which indicate and reinforce the contemplated change. In fact, we have not actually changed our minds until we change our behavior, otherwise we have merely only "thought about" changing our minds. This is why the slave master is more concerned with controlling behavior than with controlling thinking.

            Among many of us it is popular to quote and misapply Carter G. Woodson's observation about educating a man to go to the back door and that once so educated, the man will always seek the back door, and if he does not find a back door, he will work to create a back door. This backdoor observation is used to illustrate the power of brainwashing the mind, but the truth is not to be found in the power of the mind, but rather the power of miseducation.

            We must realize that miseducation is not simply a thought in the master's mind put into the oppressed person's mind by osmosis, but rather is transferred through the process of dominant culture education which is itself a real practice designed to institutionalize specific behavior. The critical aspect of the backdoor theory is not what the backdoor man "thinks" but rather the "process of teaching" him to think the way he does, "and the social reinforcements" which make sure that he continues to think in backdoor ways.

            None of the above is to deny the power of the mind, the power of positive thinking (to use a well-worn catch phrase). However, the real question is what does it take to reach the hearts and minds of our people? How do we change people's mind? How do we change our own minds? Obviously, we must educate ourselves and reinforce the education. Education is process, a learned behavior.

            Moreover, from a philosophical standpoint, all thought should start with an assesment or appreciation of reality, then move to a critique of reality, then an application of the critique, and then an assessment of the success, or failure, of the application. This is not a linear process in the sense that everything happens sequentially, one, two and then three. Rather it is a dialectical process in the sense that starting with what is, we think about reality, move to change reality and/or change our behavior in response to reality, and then reevaluate reality in light of our "new thoughts" which thoughts are actually our new behavior and our new reality. So forth and so on.

            The Ghanian brother caring for his children is engaged in true revolutionary education. His thoughts about what it means to be a man, about the relationship of fathers to children, about the division of labor along gender lines, about nurturing as a male activity, all of that is profoundly affected by his behavior of actually caring for his kids on the plane from New York to Accra.

            Those of us who saw him were also affected. It may have caused some of us to reexamine our ideas, or seeing him may have reinforced some ideas we had. In any case, for him, for his children, for all of us who witnessed him, and for the future of the Pan Africa world, his social behavior was the critical intervention altering reality.

            On one level I don't know what brotherman thought about what he was doing. On another level, I know that his thoughts were profoundly human, profoundly caring, and ultimately inspiring. In fact, his thoughts were revolutionary, not because of what he thinks, but rather because of what he does and how his doing informs and reorders the social world. We need revolution in terms of social change, not simply philosophical conjecture about what was, is and could be. We need more brothers like brotherman, a baby strapped to his stomach, showering his daughters with nurturing attention that inculcates into them in particular, and all others who observe him, a new and revolutionary concept of African manhood.

            Did you ever see Tarzan feed boy, change boy's diaper, rock boy to sleep? Well?


—kalamu ya salaam