Pan-Africanist, Historian, and Pioneer in Africana Studies, John Henrik Clarke once coined the phrase that, ‘All history is a current event.’ His ideology and that of many like-minded thinkers is that all history prevails in the future since the events of the past would have contributed to present and future occurrences.
It was in this vein that American Historian, Lecturer and Anthropologist, Dr Runoko Rashidi, who was recently in Guyana for the observance of African Holocaust Day, expressed emphatically the need for people of African descent to know their history. Dr. Rashidi gave several lecturers during his time in the country, spanning from Georgetown all the way to Berbice.
At the scholar’s first lecture which was held in Buxton last Saturday, Dr. Rashidi asked the question, “Why is history important?” But more than that, he wanted to know why it is important for African descendants to know their history. He told the gathering of mostly villagers and some who had travelled from the city, that dates and facts are very significant. “They are our life,” he posited.
“Our history, our culture, is our immune system. How do you plan for today or tomorrow, if you don’t know what happened yesterday?”
Dr. Rashidi explained that cultural values, language and ideologies, among other life attributes, are very important to the development of a people and a society.
He stated that through the past crimes of slavery and that which have led to current day events, the cultural values of African peoples are, for the most part, dictated by Europeans. This control mechanism, he opined, would not have been necessary and would not function if the significance of culture was not understood. Hence, he continued, the need to erase the cultural past of Africa, its inhabitants and descendants.
Dr. Rashidi posited that, “What you do for yourself, depends on what you think of yourself, and what you think of yourself depends on what you know of yourself, and what you know of yourself depends on what you have been told about yourself.”
“Now what are we told?” he asked. “That we don’t have a history that our history is unimportant, that our history started in the jungle, that our history started with slavery and I have to believe that we manifest that in our actions,” he stated.
He charged that many people, because of what they have been taught and because of what they have not been taught, become offended when described as Africans or of African descent. “Whether you like it or not, you are African. We were taken from Africa and we never stopped being African, no matter how much some of us have tried.”
Rashidi questioned further, whose job is it to teach “the stolen history’ of the Blacks and to tell the stories of the powerful Dynasties that existed in Africa and resistance against slavery and oppression. “A lot of times we say they didn’t teach us, they didn’t tell us. But whose responsibility is it to know our history, whose responsibility is it for us to teach our history?” he questioned. “It is our responsibility, and if we don’t, will we get mad at other people? They have an agenda, what is our agenda?”
Dr. Rashidi explained that with the knowledge of self, one can easily achieve extraordinary things, and pointed to Standley Tookie Williams, the former leader of the “violent” and still very popular Crips gang in America. Williams was sentenced to death after committing various crimes. However, during his incarceration, he became aware of ‘self’ and wrote several, books some of which Dr. Rashidi, his former school mate edited.
Dr. Rashidi pointed out that Williams was so angry and frustrated with himself because he did not know the truth about himself and did not know the contributions he could have made until it was too late.
Another question that was asked was, “After you know your history, what are you going to do? It is not enough to know your history,” he said. “What are you going to do with it? A lot of people don’t want to know their history, because with knowledge comes responsibility. A lot of people would prefer to be ignorant, will prefer not to know, to deny responsibility,” Dr. Rashidi argued.
After gaining knowledge, he said, it is not something that can be returned, “So what is done with that knowledge will determine the outcome of one’s actions.”
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