The Daring of My Black History Month Presentations and Outcomes
The present article explores the cultural dimensions of history in a Black History Month of February 2011 and beyond. With the short paper drawn from the excerpts of my lecture notes of the Black History Month 2011, I have tried to put together my culturally focused historical passion of events. I have done so to explore the power of cultures as histories in the context of unity and integration of black histories, equality of cultures, identities and experiences in modern civilization.
Introduction and main issues argued
I have therefore made haste to present this note as my audiences requested it as a part of my involvement in the February 2011 Black History Month that just came to an end on February 26, 2011. Hopefully, readers will find something useful in the way I have put my brief cultural notes and historical reflections out. Whether some controversy is raised or softened in the adopted approach is left for the reader to see, appreciate, argue and advance the discourse. One sturdy point my notes did focus on is that culture is the basis of all we do and act upon. Every human related knowledge – religion, ritual, invention, technology, science, art, political life or revolution – is derived from cultural knowledge and telling the story forms a historical account; and in the circumstances of the Black History Month for 2011, culture as history to me matters. Putting superciliousness aside, I humbly write the note to share the experience of the enthusiasm I saw boldly on the faces of the audiences.
Twice, I was nominated for two Keynote Speech presentations during the February Black History Month Celebrations in Edmonton of Canada – namely Feb. 13 and Feb. 26 respectively. For this column, I capture what my lectures focused on and what the outcomes or conclusions were. The first lecture was entitled “Museum Culture and Engaging Social Responsibility in the Context of the Black History Month" (Feb. 13) and the second presentation was entitled "Culture as a Mechanism of Diversity, Unity and Integration in the Light of the Black History Month" (Feb. 26). Both lectures not only helped to re-enact the concept of culture in a historical dimension but also they vigorously shed light on documentation, cultural objects and writing history as a cultural obligation. With the goal of the “The Nile Valley Foundation Learning Centre Commission Award, 2011” extended to me, a Black History Project Museum is surely on the making in Edmonton. Wading through the work of historians and previous Black History Month Guest Speakers’ observations, the notion of history and its representations for the black and black achievements became clear. History, otherwise ‘His Story’ – according to Napoleon of France is a “lie” or “truth” agreed upon to justify a situation, an idea, an event, an episode, a tale, a claim, a viewpoint, a perspective and an approach towards the "other" or "issue and people". Scrutinizing history from Carter Woodson (the founder of Negro History Month in 1926), I came across both dead and living black legends like Euclid, King, Park, Mandela, Emeagwali and Obama and to all powerful black achievers in their fields of life and culture.
In general, these lectures provided insight around diversity of cultures and knowledge systems. With the question posed, what does culture teach us? What is cultural history in its own right? I showed how the management of human diversity had eluded the political leaders and social policy makers at different epochs. For example, the third American President, James Jefferson introduced a point of departure when he said that “all men are created equal” but he self-importantly forgot to think about women and other men as part of his imagined world of his time to share equality and integration. George Orwell’s Animal Farm which said that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others” seemed to have been constructed along the same logic-line James Jefferson drew the boundary of equality and inequality in history. The story of the Animal Farm could not have told the human story better. It all captured a historical moment of a political state of things, the structure of power and decision making in a corrupt and heavily classified polity.
At the time President James Jefferson reigned, segregation against blacks and women marked the social order of the day. Segregation policy was the mainstay of management of ethnic diversity which caused an array of conflict and injustices in the racial integration of the world populations. Achievements of blacks were no news to make the headlines, in other words, history. When some compelling achievements were noted for blacks a white would be credited with the results. Emeagwali’s search in history pointed out how Euclid was painted white, even though he was a full blooded Negro to cajole the blacks as a race whose place in mathematical intelligence and growth is doomed. The blacks of the time were not fit for mathematical evidence and significance. There is more to the issue of history of knowledge and how knowledge is conceived of and who has to poignantly deliver it in human civilization.
Through history, culturally based approaches such as assimilation, melting of cultures, pluralism and dissociation of cultural unity prevailed. Discovery and encounters with the “other” through colonialism was reported lopsidedly in favour of who wrote the story, and whose bias mattered as a tool to dominate the other. The threats of a single story, a single culture and a single dominant society have not been a fair way to do history. The Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adighije’s well celebrated speech on the dangers of a single story makes sense in understanding the implications of who justifiably writes the history of the black person, the black community, the black identity and the future of the black in world development. The black heritage has sought to reify the importance of history and how to use the power of story, in other words, history to reconstruct the image of the black achievements through their own voices and cultural imaginations. Africans are encouraged to deconstruct false claims, give and empower their cultural identities in the history of their own cultures. With deeper learning and understanding of our own cultures, change can occur. After all, culture it is argued is a curiosity to learn and share a value. Re-learning is a part of the historical argument to re-shape and communicate the world to be a better cultural theatre of human performance.
Culture provides a system or pattern of believing, thinking, acting, relating and positioning our class and status. In line with Feder’s view of culture in 2004, I further argued that culture is the extra somatic means of adaptation to live out our imagined, concordant and discordant old and new realities. Transformational reality pervades cultures. Cultures shift; and cultures are not a fixed thing since they are a function of need. We apply culture to respond to our challenging needs, a way to get things and issues discussed, worked out and moved forward to serve functions and deliver services. The lectures systematically showed that cultures are stories we tell and how we critically think, act and live within those stories – about us, about you, and about others. This includes how we work and deliver services. A single cultural history is like seeing a story from superimposing African Map on Canadian Map and then suffering the fear of the truth of civilization, the so-called cultural cognitive difference or conflict.
On the issue of equality as part of the theme of the Black History Month, I moved the lectures to deconstruct the notion of inferiority and superiority of cultures, races and identities. Colonial history of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora is filled with contested prejudices and biases of representations of who a real African is and ought to be. Martin Luther King Jr. captured the intrigues of African representations in his famous speech “I have a dream” and went on to contest the African logic of image making by the ‘other’ and further also argued that Africans can best be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Glossed over with this historic experience is the issue of inferiority and superiority of persons and cultures. With examples drawn from history and research results, I teased out and re-titled the claim of the third USA President James Jefferson who gave to the world the untidy and lopsided racial notion of “all men are created equal” at the exclusion of coloured men by culturally, logically and authoritatively affirming that “all cultures are created equal.” In other words, I showed that all cultures create equal identities, values, functions and needs that solve problems for the practitioners of their cultures. The lectures came to a reasonable standpoint by critically stating that "no one's culture is enough today to integrate in a global community or town. We need to learn other people's cultures too in order to become culturally competent and culturally empowered." I re-theorized the concept of inferiority and superiority of races hence cultures. I declared the theory of inferiority and superiority DEAD. In its place, I argued and positioned cultures and affirmed again that "all cultures, though different, are equal." The point is, if all humans are created equal, the logic of their cultures is equal too. It is because, cultures are the learning and, in fact, produce learning curiosities we grow up with to live and contribute to development – as they help each society to respond to their needs in a specific way shared by that society. Differences in cultures offer technological and scientific relieves to solve problems from one time and place to another.
With the stance adopted that “all cultures are equal but operate differently according to how it is designed to respond to the needs of the owners of that culture, it quickly showcases that each culture cooks the cultural meal of a referred society. I emphasized that everyone, every participant in the Black History Month need to, and is urged to know that the City, Provincial and Federal Governments of Canada or elsewhere, and indeed, with African communities, for example, have the social responsibility to engage in integration and empowerment programs. By implication, that suggests that cultures are powerful mechanisms to negotiate community, power and resources and then be able to bring dynamism into a communal life. By serving the “other” with our cultures as a process and as an issue larger than ourselves, one’s own single culture is subject to blend and change.
Drawing from Canada’s multiculturalism policy, the first country in the world to advance and adopt multiculturalism as a way to go to manage and integrate diverse nationalities in Canadian state building, the lectures provided insight on the three focused elements of cultural performance. The main activities in belief and action are namely cultural identity, inter-culturalism and social issues of full multiculturalism. All of these join together for the integration of immigrants, particularly Africans – old and new in Canadian society and other related cultural universes.
Concluding the lectures, I reasoned that with deeper knowledge of our own cultures, we all can form common grounds for unity and integration in Canadian society and somewhere else. Cultures as histories depict, produce symbols, technologies, rituals, and sciences of our times. Not being able to learn about our cultures which we live with, change and adapt, we are sure to limit our capacity for opportunity, security and inclusion. It is entirely cultural to make change a mechanism for identity and survival – therefore a growing sense of integration. The power of culture exemplifies the fact that those who have deep cultural knowledge exercise political, economic and social power. The critical curiosity for black awareness has shaped human history – from slavery, migration, emancipation and global empowerment. The history of the black brought about in all of us to become critically conscious for development and accommodation of our beingness. By and large, the black history and experiences of blacks and innovations in the world led to the declaration of the UNO’s doctrine of the Universal Human Rights. The blacks need to be told in a black history month that black achievements and their inclusion in the world culture and development resulted to aggressive civilization and the pursuit of civil and human rights. In as much as culture is learning to grow up, taking up challenges, and creating change, culture results as a learning and creative process for human rights, opportunity, security and voice.
Black history month recalls the science of evolution and the place of the black as the origin of human society and the development of social culture. Charles Darwin calls culture an adaptive design to live or die, mutate or get eaten up; Israel Zangwil says melt. Former Prime Pierre Trudeau of Canada demanded that we need to embrace multiculturalism to manage diversity and integration of immigrants. I redefined all of these and boldly stated that we have to learn cultures. “Learn and grow up”. Learn and remove ignorance and bias. Weather we are culturally melting, assimilating, multiculturalizing, or leaping forward, culture embodies “learning to live with the other”. It also means engaging with one another and growing up since diversity in itself is an ever present fact of life. Emancipating and taking responsibility to promote life and society to share considered values is what culture entails. That is to me what integration should be all about – leaving no one, no community, no race, no contribution, and no emotional and ritual intelligence behind. Above all, I declared as I said before that the notion or theory of inferiority and superiority of cultures is DEAD. It is dead because all cultures are equal, but different. If all humans are created equal so are their cultures that define us as human beings. All cultures possess the power and mechanism to make individuals and societies function. Culture promotes the power of diversity, unity and integration and will continue to do so at all times and in all places in human history and in the narratives of the Black History Month.
What history teaches can be viewed through even the upcoming work of Pope Benedict XVI where it is quoted by the Canadian Press (March 2, 2011) that the Jews as a whole were not responsible for Jesus Christ's death. In so doing, and by reworking the history of the notion of how Jesus Christ was crucified, the papacy has helped to illuminate the fact that culture is not a fixed paradigm of knowledge on the one hand, and on another, it has contributed to tackling one of the most controversial issues in the history of Christianity and races of the world. Nonetheless, given the excerpts released from the "Jesus of Nazareth" Pope Benedict uses a biblical and theological analysis to explain why it is not true that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus Christ's death. It is to be noted that interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution and misrepresentation of the Jews as demonic and therefore lack human soul, as Fredickson has also argued in 2002. How else can we make good use of history in a Black History Month? Historical claims can do a lot of havoc if they are not re-examined, reworded and re-cultured. For example, one can argue that ancient history is much like Adolf Hitler invoked racist theories to justify his genocidal treatment of European Jewry, as did the White Supremacists in the American South and Canadian sphere to explain why Jim Crow laws were needed to keep Whites and Blacks separated and unequal. The 1948 till 1994 South African Apartheid regime exemplifies a classical model of black history propaganda of denial and inclusion such that historical accounts may wrongly or deliberately portray a sense of justified injustices of history of being and becoming. The attempts in history for race purity – from the point of view of biological science of evolution to the modern historical trajectory of knowledge have remained the project of the Western figment of the ‘black identity’ imagination. Dr. Carter Woodson invented the Black History Month for us to carry it along so that the task of ensuring that blacks would escape "the awful fate of becoming a negligible factor in world thought" will not become elusive of the life and culture of the African and all black peoples wherever they may live and work.
My delight in all of these is that the audiences did not hide their feeling when many people came forward and said: points well made and messages well delivered and we are inspired, and will be dancing with empowered cultural mood as we engage in diversity and integration. We now know what history means when, in particular, blacks are referred to in history and what we can do to reclaim our black factor in history consciousness through the learning and power of our own cultures. In case we the black people that are involved in the events and moments that invent history have forgotten, blacks in the Diaspora need not again quickly forget the power of educated African and black peoples’ achievements as achieved cultures for the new world.
Sources of Inspiration Consulted
George Fredickson. 2002. Racism: A Short History. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Nicole Winfield. 2011. Pope in new book says Jews as a whole not responsible for Christ's death. In The Associated Press/The Canadian PressWed, 2 Mar, 2011.
Martin Cannon & Lina Sunseri (eds.). 2011. Racism, Colonialism, and Indigeneity in Canada. Canada: Oxford University Press.
Flint, K. 2001. “Competition, Race and Professionalism: African Healers and White Medical Practitioners in Natal, South Africa in Early 20th Century”, in The Society for Social History of Medicine, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 199-221.
Iroegbu Patrick. 2005. Migration and Diaspora: Craze, Significance and Challenges. In African Renaissance Nov/Dec. 2005, pp. 105-116.
Emeagwali Philip. (2004, 2003). Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed. Lecture presented at Arizona State University West, Phoenix. In
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com. Retrieved January 15, 2011.
Brian Mckinstry. 1998. Full Multiculturalism for Canada. Saskatchewan Multicultural/intercultural Committee. In: International Multiculturalism. Preparing Together for the 21st Century (editor) Annette Richardson. Edmonton AB: The Kanata Learning Company Ltd.
Nigel Rapport and Joana Overing. 2000. Social and Cultural Anthropology; The Key Concepts. Routledge: London & New York.
Lerone Bennett, Jr. 2003. Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History: A profile of the founder of Black History Month. In American.gov: Johnson Publishing Co. Retrieved January 5, 2011.