We must free ourselves and our children from the resulting violence
I visited the W.E.B. Dubois center in Ghana West Africa in 2003. Mr. Dubois, who died at age 95 in 1963, was spiritually alive and present in the space. I felt his energy. I saw him sitting before me.
He was teaching his course on reconnecting our identity to an African-ness before and beyond the American experiment and before the creation of “Negro.” He spoke from his understanding of The Souls of Black Folk: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s Soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two warring ideals in one dark body whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
I heard him call out to us across generations. As a way to begin to emancipate the souls of Black folks, let us not send our children to school to be taught the values of Humanity. Let’s take them to school as an extension of the education we begin as the first teachers in the home. Let’s become a witness and protector of our children’s God-given genius, in school and outside of school.
The African in America is suffering a cultural amnesia, resulting in a paralysis in identification. This condition developed by having been forced into looking at him and herself through the eyes of others.
Ancestor DuBois describes “two waring ideals in one dark body whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” His description speaks to the anxiety, the fear, the conflicted state of mind that is widespread in us as a community.
Our individual as well as collective personality has been labelled schizophrenia. The diagnosis of bi-polarism has also been widely attached to the warring personalities inside each dark body of the African in our homes and our communities.
The levels of violence among and between us may be traced to the competing realities which constantly lead us to create cataclysmic encounters within our own sacred spaces and intimate relationships. In the American experiment we are trapped inside of the artificial identity of the Negro, and we must free ourselves.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989:305), the term “Negro” was first used as a description of the Ethiopian in 1555. Under the name Ethiopian, the Greeks included all Black people. The word “Negro” is an invention of the Greek mind.
The Oxford Dictionary states: “The Negro is an individual (especially a male) belonging to the African race of mankind, which is distinguished by a black skin, tightly-curled hair and a nose flatter and lips thicker and more protruding than is common amongst the white Europeans.” (Vol. X, 1989:304)
It is not excessive to suggest the use of this definition of the term “Negro,” combined with the stereotyped characteristics of the dark body, was a way to solidify a core chapter in racial thought intended to inflict intellectual, symbolic and physical violence against the African. We have mimicked what was done to us by using demeaning terms to describe each other, cursing our children, slapping each other including our children, whipping as a means of punishment. The harmful labelling and naming of ourselves with names designed to keep us subjugated and below the human scales of balance is woven into popular American linguistics.
Black parents, grandparents, cultural activists and thought leaders, to emancipate the image of us as Black people from enslavement, cannot escape the shared obligation we have to the children. Parents of African children are not single parents. We each are obligated to take up parenting as a call to action by our creator and the ancestors of the first time.
To begin the emancipation, stop the violence inside the bedrooms and living rooms of our homes. Violence of any kind hurts children, even when they are not direct victims.
National research shows that in about half of reported domestic violence incidents, children are present. In about 80 percent of these cases, children directly see or hear the violence.
Witnessing high levels of violence can have lifelong effects on a child’s cognitive, emotional, and social development. For example, adults who witnessed domestic violence as children are more likely than others to have relationship difficulties and emotional problems.
Children younger than six are at higher risk than older children for directly witnessing domestic violence. There is a general belief that infants and young children are less affected than older children by seeing or hearing violent conflict. However, research shows that exposure to domestic violence affects even very young children.
- Some effects can be seen as early as infancy: One-year-olds who have been exposed to domestic violence are more disturbed than other babies when they hear adults arguing.
- Children under three who witness violence toward a family member are at increased risk for psychological problems.
- Cognitive development can also be affected: Children exposed to high levels of domestic violence in early childhood have IQs at age five that are up to eight points lower than those of other children.
Stop and listen to our Ancestors — “How are the children?” They are well only if we are well. Hotep
Atum Azzahir is the elder and founder of the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis.