photo by Alex Lear




         OH, WHAT A FEELING. 


            Riding in a car or bus on the recently asphalted road up the coast from Accra to the Cape Coast Castle is rough enough. It is super hard to imagine being driven to the castle on foot, chains around your neck and your ankles, trodding barefoot through the bush. This is not "jungle" area, but heavy bush, rocky ground in some places.

            As we drive for better than two hours my eyes get tired and I doze. My ancestors herded like cattle, were force marched for hours beneath sun with whiplash licking their bare backs. They too were tired, but they were never allowed to doze.

            Standing in the magazine where they kept the powder and looking through the portal down into the dungeon where people are now standing with torch light in the very spaces where their ancestors were crowded, peering into those ancient spaces, I do not feel anger, I do not feel spirits calling me, I do not feel anything. I simply understand that we did not stand a chance. And that is a cold and helpless feeling.




            After one of the symposium I was talking to Kofi Anyidoho, complimenting his presentation, "Slave Castle, African Historical Mindscape & Literary Imagination".

            He touched my hand.

            I held his unforced touch.

            There are no words for all of this.




            My oldest child, my daughter Asante preceded me to Ghana. Back in August 1994 she went for six weeks. An opportunity to travel presented itself and she jumped on it. She and Jelsy, a Haitian born artist friend. The trip was important for Asante.

            Many, many years ago, in 1969, Tayari, Asante's mother and my ex-wife, spent a summer in Ghana with Operations Crossroads. And now I am crossing the sea to this place. What is it? Ghana calling? What?

            Asante laughs one day as we are talking about something and comments on how fragile men are. "Men are so fragile. They have this tough ego shell, but inside they're so fragile. They're just like all the shell creatures of nature. Without their shell, they can't make it."

            I am standing here holding a grown man's hand.

            It takes some getting used to.

            Reentry into Africa is an emotional strip search for self.

            Crawling out of my red, white and blue shell. Crawling out of my negro shell. Crawling out of my dominant male ego shell. Crawling out of my shell and wondering will I ever learn to fly -- where are my wings?


            And that's all I can say right now. Maybe.








            Our African identity, like all of life, is contradictory in nature. We have both great negatives and great positives that we must face. At certain periods of negritutinal reaction to racism and colonialism, we romanticize our positives. At other periods after fighting and sacrificing for so long, we wallow in the self indulgence of shams. Sham development. Sham socialism. Sham democracy. Sham capitalism. Sham nationalism.

            What we must face and embrace is the whole of ourselves and not simply those parts which are acceptable to Tarzan or those parts which make us feel big like Tarzan.

            Emulating Tarzan is easy, but what does that lead to but one or two junior European cities per country, with mayors and presidents who, on an international level, exhibit the same impotence as did traditional tribal chiefs who, when confronted by European military might, were forced to "negotiate" with, and eventually capitulate to, the kings and presidents, generals and mercenaries, merchants and bankers of Europe.

            What we must do is extract the lessons of history from our historic encounters with Tarzan, and we must do so realistically rather than romantically.

            Tarzan is a difficult character for us to deal with because we both hate and admire Tarzan. We want to expel him from our lives on the one hand and yet, on the other hand, the cumulative effect of our desires and fantasies is to recreate ourselves into an idealized Tarzan. Our national bourgeoisie, they are Tarzan. Most of our elected officials and nearly all of our heads of state, especially the dictators, they are Tarzan. Tarzan in Black face.

            The rub is that Tarzan taught us that we were all Black but he also taught us that being Black was a bad thing. There are too many examples of our contradictions to even begin enumerating. Every African's mirror contains at least one major contradiction, if not more. But at least one.

            Unfortunately for us, we African Americans have internalized the psychology of the oppressed. After fifteen generations or more of subservience, Black inferiority is all we know. A major corollary of our inferiority complex, is a high tolerance for suffering. Indeed, our tolerance of downpression verges on an addiction to suffering.

            I am no longer a Christian. I do not believe in the redemptiveness of suffering. Oh how they oppressed us with that one.  Under Tarzan's religious tutelage, suffering became such a great part of our worldview that we were not happy unless we were unhappy.

            "Woe is me" became our daily bread.

            "Deliver us from evil" we asked of Tarzan's god while we looked forward to an almost certain lifetime of hell and fervently believed in a hoped for eternity in heaven.

            "Deliver us from Tarzan" is what we should have said. But we were so good at suffering. And Christianity taught us that we were born to suffer. That "man is born of sin" and that Jesus will redeem us in heaven.

            Meanwhile, down here on the ground, Tarzan rules. And when Tarzan is absent, Tarzan's flunkies and trainees stand in for the master and rule. And when neither Tarzan nor his flunkies are present, Tarzan's ideas rule and we create our own Tarzans as we await deliverance to arrive from outside ourselves.

            Our deliverance as a people, however, cannot be given to us by others, nor passively accepted. Deliverance must be fought for and seized. Deliverance is a birthing process requiring hard labor, rupturing of the womb, and the flowing of blood if new life is to be created. Some of us have worked for deliverance for a long time, most of us have been awaiting deliverance for an equally long time. But, to date, howsoever long it has been, deliverance has not come.

            How long has it been, 500 years? In all this time, for all his omnipotence, Tarzan has been unable to deliver us. Tarzan's failure has taught us well. If we want to be delivered, we will have to deliver each other. Give birth to ourselves. The kingdom that we create in the here and now is the only kingdom we will ever enjoy in this life on earth.

            And to kill Tarzan we must desire to be ourselves. A truly revolutionary behavior.




            On the second morning in Accra, we were bussed to Drago's Restaurant for a breakfast. We assumed that it would be a program of some sort. That assumption was a mistake. Not only was there no program, everyone didn't even get to eat. But it did afford us the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the people attending PANAFEST whom we did not already know nor know of.

            One of the people at our table recognized me and helped me remember him: Balozi Harvey. One of the early members of Maulana Karenga's US Organization. Present at the founding of Kwanzaa. Present at the Black Power Conferences of the sixties. The Congress of Afrikan People. We began exchanging stories and reminiscences about people, places and events. Behind all we talked about was an assessment of our failure to make revolution in the United States and our hopes for Africa in the future.


            Today, in the nineties, revolution is such a lonely word. Discredited. Rejected. Some even declare that following the collaspe of the Soviet Union, that we have reached a period which wishful thinking calls "the end of history." Third World failures are sighted as evidence of the failure of revolution.

            They talk. The spread of democracy. The coming of the superhighway. The world becoming a free market.

            They whistle past their own graveyards. It's well past midnight.


            Make fun of Castro. Bring out monster portraits of Mao.


            At the breakfast table someone asked for papaya. The waiter nodded. Returned a little later and said, "papaya finished."

            That's what the Republicans want us to believe. Revolution finished.

            That's why "we're" in Haiti. In Somalia. Thinking about Rawanda. If-ing at Bosnia. Finished?

            A man is confronted by his wife. This man, it seems, was a philanderer. He would runaround. Cheat on his wife. And lie to her. Constantly. Her friends told her. People she didn't know, told her. At some point it became unbearable. She confronted him. He confessed his errors. Begged for another chance. She started to put him out but relented. Then one day she visited his office and caught him in a compromising position with his secretary. Before she could say a word he told her: "It's not what you think." She replied, "what do you mean, not what I think? I'm looking at you." He loudly protested that she was wrong and concluded with this challenge, "who are you going to believe? Me! Or your lieing eyes!"

            Who are we going to believe? Our downpressors or our lieing eyes?

            Revolution, finished?

            One of the colloquium participants, in a bold self critique, noted that apparently Nkrumah was wrong when he said "seek ye first the political kingdom and all things will be added thereto." Political kingdoms absent economic revolution has proven to be bankrupt. Those of us forty and over, still alive, halfway sane, and with even a modicum of strength and stomach left for struggle, we know. The real deal is to figure out how to economically sustain and develop ourselves.

            The real revolution is self development. What we used to call "Kujitegemea" -- economic self reliance. Balozi runs the Harlem, New York based Third World Trade Institute. We talk about effecting trade and economic development in Africa.

            Finished? We've hardly just begun. There are questions of the environment. Questions of affordable and appropriate technology. Questions of mass transit and urban development.

            In the West there's a mess. Every major urban center of the United States has problems. The really big ones have really big problems. In Brasil there are horrendous problems: in the Amazon, the lungs of the world are being burnt up and children are systematically slaughtered in Rio. Jamaica is Hollywood: the "wild, wild west" but with real bullets, real death and real destruction. Eastern Europe is a cauldron that no detente can hold together. The end of history? Who are we going to believe: the West or our lieing eyes?

            The end of history? No. The end of his story? Yes. At last. Yeahhhh booooyyyyyeeeeee! It is really now our time to decide how to live our lives.


            To try to figure out how to get it together and move forward. And part of moving forward must be leaving a bunch of our badness behind. Jettison the European model. Fanon told us oh so long ago. But we did not really understand. Now with Paris looking the way it does. With London, with New York, with Moscow, Berlin. With all of that being what it is, which is not us. No map for our space. What we are faced with finally is a fight within ourselves to determine which way forward. And that's revolution.

            Why should anyone want to recreate the United States, England or France? How could we. Whom could we enslave by the millions? Which continents would we kill the indigenous inhabitants, remove most of the accessible mineral wealth, colonize, industrialize, pollute and declare to have reached the end of history? We have only ourselves and the spaces we occupy. The Caribbean isles are too small to sustain us. The West to covetous of what they have built up to share. We have only that which is yet to be developed.

            We have the dirt roads of Ghana. We have the hinterlands of Africa's West Coast. We have war weary central Africa. And the industrial jewel of South Africa. We have ourselves. We have a future. But it will take a revolution to actualize our dreams.

            A future for us requires a revolution in our lifetime. The real battle will be to overturn ourselves and become Black again, moving at our own pace, in our own space, in directions of our own choosing.

            And this is what we wrestle with at a breakfast without a purpose. We had the breakfast because that is what one does at conferences. Maybe we needed something else. Maybe what we need is to stop.

            Stop doing what has already been done. Create what does not now exist.

            Stop emulating the end of history. Honor the lives of our ancestors. Make and build a space where their spirits can be blessed by the smiles of future generations, walking in rhythm, living in harmony, enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of a revolution that we accepted responsibility to wage.

            A revolution is more than simply a change of mind. Revolution is conscious engagement with the forces of history, the discarding or overthrowing of a dominating social order and the institution of a new social order. Every revolution fights two phases. First, the struggle (generally violent) to gain control of the productive forces and defend oneself from outside control and/or domination. Second, the struggle for social reconstruction and instituting the new social system.

            So far we have had no successful revolution of the second phase. From Haiti onward to independent Africa and the Caribbean, all of the revolutions which have succeeded in phase one have failed in phase two. In cases such as Mozambique or Grenada, phase two was aborted because they were not able to defend phase one against external aggression (Mozambique) or internal conflicts (Grenada). But the deal is to learn from, rather than be discouraged by, the mistakes and failures of our predecessors. Moreover, regardless of the outcome in the past, revolution is still what we need to built a secure future.

            One reason we need revolution is Euro-supremacist imperialism has no intention of leaving us alone. We can not simply withdraw into ourselves because they won't let us.

            Our oppressors and exploiters, our ex-masters and economic creditors, Western social engineers and scientists, dominate us even without their physical presence by actively seeking to incorporate us into the web of their influence either directly or through proxities and stand-ins. Without a revolution of our own making, we fight phase one and then simply end up with new masters trading places with old masters. The dominant and dominating systems staying in place, modified only in so much as necessary to accommodate the newly ascendant, and generally less competent, "native/petit bourgeois" ruling class.

            Western dominance is not simply a matter of ideology but also of institutions and individual behavior. Dominance is structural and behavioral. This is why Black faces in high places do not necessarily raise the level of life for the majority. Whether as heads of state and government functionaries for newly independent countries or as mayors and legislators in Western countries, more often than not, this new ruling elite ends up being caretakers of crumbling and disintegrating societies which are dependent on aid from the West. A flag and military don't make a country. Indeed, the maintenance of government bureaucracies and militaries often impoverish developing countries.

            To be real, a revolution must be able to improve the quality of life for its people by bringing about positive change at all three levels: ideology, institutions and individual behavior. This then is why and what a revolution is. A revolution of two phases leading to real power to define, defend, develop and respect our lives.

            Then, and only then, will we truly be able to know, taste, love, hold and procreate the whole of ourselves.

—kalamu ya salaam