We are now a closing in on two decades into the 21st century – a scenario that calls for introspection and hindsight.
Progressive people must fix our gaze simultaneously in three directions. We must look backwards in an effort to discern historical meaning; We must fix our eyes on the present to understand current circumstances and meaningfully intervene in them; Lastly, we must gaze purposefully into the future to anticipate upcoming developments/trends and plan now to shape future outcomes.
In thinking about this, I identified 4 things some Black folk – not all – refuse to admit. Consequently, these four incidents of cognitive dissonance, inasmuch as they obscure reality and truth, are disturbing indeed. Whether you agree or not with my assessment, humor me by giving these observations some critical thought.
- Social media activism is a great supplemental tool, but inadequate without “boots on the ground” organizing. As an organizer and educator, I see immense value in platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They all facilitate the quick and efficient flow of Information, promotion of ideas, and engaged discussion around various issues. And yet this same valuable tool also is a source of great illusion and frustration. Posting clips of police brutality, inspiring comments, or calls-to-action can positively impact a world-wide audience. Yet in my own experience, it is so difficult to get many of these folk to commit to building organizations, programs, institutions or movements that embody and operationalize the inspiring and informative posts they produce. Perhaps this stems from their fear of white backlash, a sense of hopelessness, or a lack of organizing knowledge/experience. I personally believe all of these factors apply. And here’s a novel thought on the issue: Maybe, just maybe, some well-intentioned folks think that posting or tweeting are in themselves, sufficient and adequate contributions (go figure)….
2. White supremacy is a real and damaging social phenomenon, not simply an overblown fantasy of wild-eyed activists. I cringe every time i hear Black folk say, “We can’t keep blaming the white man,” “Stop worrying about the oppressor,” or any comment to that effect. Correctly identifying the systems, ideas and individuals oppressing us and understanding how they do so is mandatory and fundamental to any liberation effort. So to is organizing, problem-solving, and demonstrating agency. The two are not mutually exclusive. When we fail to identify and study our enemies, we develop inaccurate analysis which leads to inadequate and ineffective attempts at empowerment.
3. We cannot rest on past achievements or glory. There are no words to adequately describe Ancient Africa’s indispensable accomplishments or contributions to world civilization. Some people falsely confuse this with a form of Black essentialism. They argue that Black people are intelligent, integrity-filled and destined for success because we are Black. It’s as if we erased knowledge of Black dictators, community predators and sell-outs from our collective memory bank. The truth is more complicated. We are not predestined for glory or infamy, triumph or disaster. Our ancestors in Kemet prospered not because of biological determinism or because they were innately “better” than anyone else. They prospered because of sound ethics, attention to spiritual laws and a high priority for and expertise in mathematics, art and agriculture, science, etc. Potential fulfillment and accomplishment differs from achieved fulfillment and accomplishment in the same way that being ready, willing, or able differ. It is both inaccurate and irresponsible to teach our children that they can experience greatness vicariously via the greatness of their ancestors. Ancient Kemet is an example of how to actualize our potential through knowledge, wisdom understanding and discipline.
4. The world we inhabit is not simply a physical one. Thousands of years before the white man uttered the term “Metaphysics,” our ancient ancestors taught us to know/master ourselves along with several universal/spiritual laws (“As above, so below”). We live fully or in compromised fashion not simply from our diets, societal abuses or lack of exercise, but from unevolved spirits and self-defeating pysches. Western physicians/philosophers notwithstanding, our beliefs, conclusions and expectations are leading causes of heart attack, stroke, cancer and other serious ailments.
As a final note, if we believe or practice things that create continuing misery and failure or that we know are based on falsehood, we should change what we believe and practice to align them with truth, happiness and empowerment.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.