What has been erased from the African identity?



CulturalWellness“Erasure of identity is the stripping from a people, conscious awareness of their sense of cultural continuity.  Life beyond this time has taken us through a most excruciatingly brutal and painful catharsis of suffering that occupies our mind constantly.  Over the past 400 years, we have journeyed through a cold and blistering winter of the soul’.” 

— A. Azzahir


African people have a spiritual intuition that guides our knowledge, but we have been educated away from using it. This spiritual intuition guides how we know what we know. This deep intuition operates underneath the surface and is grounded in spirituality.

The intense experience of having our language ripped apart from our thoughts and ways of communicating did great damage to the channels through which we deliver and produce knowledge and wisdom. The damage is extensive; however, it is very superficial. Beneath the surface is the intelligence of the heart (SIA) which still exists but in muted form. I hear comments like, “It came upon my heart to pray for you” or “it came upon my heart to call you.”

These intuitive expressions are happening exactly at a time when I am hurting or in need. We receive this wisdom from our soul, which is informed by our spirit. This intuition is happening without us realizing that it is attached to a deep principle of spirituality. This force still moves within us as a people and lies not far below the surface in all of our interactions in life.

After being stripped of our languages of origin, deliberately mis-educated and/or denied education, we turn to unreachable forms of expressing our intelligence. These include songs, poetry, stories and proverbs.

Today, when using the language of the past captors, let us scrutinize every word and establish a glossary of terms that affirm and support us in finding a unity of purpose, in place, in culture and in spirituality. As we study the American form of the English language, it is necessary to screen carefully the terms used because many send negative subliminal messages toward the Black African in America.


Let’s get started with our glossary!!! 

Culture — Culture consists of systems and processes that people seek to integrate and become integrated into meaningful existence. Culture consists of a set of highly patterned, unspoken, implicit rules and behavior and thought that controls everything that we do. One of the major characteristics that distinguish one culture from another is language. Language expresses thinking, feeling and being — language is therefore the vehicle which expresses a culture’s knowledge system.

Knowledge — is an expression, a product, of a culture’s epistemology or way of knowing. Knowledge determines a culture’s ontological disposition (of being and becoming).

Listening — The ability to listen with both our ears and our hearts; the ability to listen underneath the words. To listen with an open mind with the intention of understanding, as constantly trying to put his or her words into our own viewpoint.

Self-Study — studying one’s thoughts, attitudes and behavior through the purview of culture. Self-study is about learning from inside about self-knowledge, self-thoughts, self-concepts, self-worth, and self-value as relates to a higher cosmic self.

Transformation — the process of spiritual maturation from one phase of being to another; the process of becoming self-mastered, self-directed and self-governed, interdependent with a higher and collective self.

Community — is an expression of a culture’s knowledge system; it is a container for a culture’s knowledge system. It is a way of organizing based on belonging, which gives meaning to human life. It is in community that a person is socialized; he or she is given identity, a place of belonging, human dignity and personhood. Through ritual and ceremony, community links the spiritual, temporal and physical aspects of existence — giving its members a sense of closeness, integral wholeness and fulfillment.

Institutions — are societal structures that maintain social order and cooperation. They are mechanisms for governing the behavior of individuals. Institutions are identified with a social purpose detached from individual human lives, but that makes and enforces the set rules governing human behavior. The term is commonly applied to customs and behavior patterns, as well as to particular formal organizations of government and public service.

Partnership — in the case of community-institution partnerships, a partnership is a committed relationship to share and exchange knowledge, teach each other how to solve problems, share authority, work as a team, and together close the door on cultural disrespect, arrogance, paternalism and exclusively individualistic perspective on human behavior.

Facilitation — the process for negotiating the idea of development in the production of knowledge.

Negotiation — the process of sharing of intellectual authority in the production of knowledge.

Advocacy — valuing the details of personal, familial, communal or cultural experiences.

Leadership — a response to the recognized need from within a community to draw upon the particular strengths of its members for the purpose of group benefit and continuity.


What’s left beneath the erasure?

Beneath the attempted erasure, waiting for us to name and acknowledge it, is an old intelligence. The heart and soul of the Black African, in America, is not and cannot be erased. To move forward, let us reclaim cultural intelligence and develop a higher level of functional literacy in an English-speaking society, where whether we like it or not, we now have permanent citizenship.

Thank you for your thoughts and your prayers, I give you my own also. Hotep.

Kemet is the elder culture of all the present cultures of Africa. Kemet is the elder culture of all African people. We honor the elders of our community in the ancient language: Shemsu Hotep.

May the ancestors be pleased.


Elder Atum Azzahir is executive director and elder consultant in African ways of knowing of the Cultural Wellness Center. She welcomes reader responses to atum@ppcwc.org.