The search for Black collective consciousness

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As we focus on our individual success and the success of those within our own circles, we move away from the role “we” all must play in the success of the whole and away from the ideology of collective consciousness.

Kenyan biologist Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Prize for Peace in November 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development,democracy and peace. Oprah Winfrey, arguably the most famous andloved black woman in the world, presented her with the Prize.

Wangari and Oprah are but two notable people of African descentamong millions. I could easily fill this page and numerous others withnames of accomplished, respected, brilliant, rich, famous BlackCanadians, Black Americans, Caribbean and Africans. In fact, anentire book has been dedicated to documenting the accomplishments ofBlack Canadians. The first volume of Who's Who in Black Canada was published in 2002; I understand the author is writing the second volumeright now.

We could add to the list of notable people from African descent byincluding everyday heroes such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, politiciansâe¦and the list could go on and on. For a people under the oppression of slavery for more than 400 years, we have made great strides in a short period of time.

But tell me, when you look at the state of Black Canada, or for thatmatter, at the state of Black people around the globe, do you think we haveachieved equality? Are you satisfied with the state of our people? I am hoping you said no — equality does not exist for our people. I am alsohoping you said no — I am not satisfied with the state of our people. At a time in our history, when individually we have more education, options, rights, and money, collectively we are losing ground. Why?

Marcus Garvey, a respected leader of the black liberation movement,foresaw our current state of affairs, when he noted more than 80 yearsago: “A race that is solely dependant on another for its economic existencesooner or later diesâe¦we in the future, suffer, if an effort is not made now to adjust our own affairs.” Consider Garvey did not say “each person must” but rather “we must.” The “we” Garvey speaks of, is the collective “we” — all black people, everywhere.

The irony is piercing. As we focus on our individual success and the successof those within our own circles, we move away from the role “we” all must play in the success of the whole and away from the ideology of collective consciousness. We have failed Garvey pitifully in this respect, and we risk realizing his premonition that we all may “suffer” as a result.

Name a Caribbean or African country that is not either impoverished, disease-ridden, war-torn, in need of economic assistance, classified as a“developing” nation or a combination of the above.

How can there be so many smart, talented, successful, ambitious andrich black people around the world, but as a race of people we are stilllargely impoverished?

Individually, our accomplishments are many. Collectively, we havefailed.

As part of his legacy to the world, Garvey is noted as the leader whodelivered the concept of black collective consciousness to the masses. Liz Mackie, in The Great Marcus Garvey notes, “Without Garvey's popularization, the concepts of black pride, black solidarity, and blackness as an organizing principleâe¦would have remained no more than an abstractnotion.” Right now, we are in dire need of a re-education on the ideology of black collective consciousness.

Garvey's organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) did not speak only to or for Caribbeans, Americans, Europeansor Canadians, but to and for black people around the world. Hisambition was to “organize the 400,000,000 Negroes of the worldâe¦to plant the banner of freedom on the continent of Africa,” to establish Africa as a powerful, independent, economically successful continent all black people around the world would recognize and call home, no matter where in the world they chose to live.

In 1863 American slaves were emancipated. One hundred years later in 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech and Sidney Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor. We made unbelievable strides in a very short period of time; now it appears “our” progress has slowed to a screeching halt.

Last spring, an informal survey of student leaders in Canadian universities from coast to coast to coast revealed the state of mind of tomorrow's leaders on the relevance of black consciousness.

Faye Cummings, president of Ryerson Black Student Organization, said, “Black consciousness will always be relevant, as long as prejudice and discrimination exist. What is necessary is for more people to be aware and to incorporate an element of consciousness into their daily routine. I think the next generation requires it.”

Brian Whittaker, president, S I Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha FraternityInc. at the University of Toronto, added: “I believe there is a breakdownof cohesiveness on the topic of community consciousness, hindering our overall efficacy as a people. But is black consciousnessstill relevant? Absolutely. In fact, now more than ever.”

Pascaline Nsekera, co-founder, African Network, University of BritishColumbia, said, “We have problems crystallizing black consciousnessinto something strong and on-going. It is hard to get something tangibleout of it. We need to support each other and be there for each other interms of creating unison. Black collective consciousness is definitelyrelevant.”

Barb Hamilton, Advisor, Black Student Advising Centre, DalhousieUniversity, offered, “It is easy to find people who recognize the importanceand relevance of Black collective consciousness. But there is still a lot todo. Nova Scotia is still very segregated; black/white issues are still very much in your face. Blacks are looked at as a minority. We are not near where we need to be in making in-roads into the larger society.”

So, how do we get back on the road to collective success and back onthe road to progress as a people? One possible answer is offered byan initiative called Connecting to Africa. Established in February2001, Connecting to Africa offers the opportunity for Nova Scotians ofAfrican descent to travel to Africa on a structured learning project.

Josephine Tommy, coordinator of Connecting to Africa explains, “Fordecades, people of African descent have spoken of making connectionsto their ancestral heritage, wanting to venture to Mother Africa. Weneed to move beyond talking about connections and instead, put effortinto making the connections a reality. We need to activate andre-connect with our African heritage. There is a strong desire by many ofAfrican descent to connect and re-claim connections that have beensevered because of the enslavement period, colonialism and culturally insensitive development initiatives.”

In 2003, Connecting to Africa made their inaugural trip to Ghana. Their second journey was to Sierra Leone and Ghana. (To find out more aboutConnecting to Africa contact 902-494-6648 or [email protected].)

Individual success has placated us into a restful slumber. It is hard tobe part of a world whose motto is “me-ism” and keep focused on“we-ism.”

But if the mind-set of Canada's student leaders, the general dissatisfaction of American Blacks, and initiatives like Connecting to Africa are any indication, “we” are beginning to wake up to the challenges that still plague us.

Imagine if all the accomplishments of our people were attributed to onecountry or continent. Imagine if all the talent, ingenuity and brilliance ofour people worked toward the betterment of one place on this planet. It does not matter where, as long as there is a focal point. Imagine the greatness, power and economic self-sufficiency that would be ours. We are a people without a focal point, and that has been costly. Look around. It is clear whatthat cost has been.

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