Soundtrack: Bob Marley – “Africa Unite”
For several reasons, this year has been a time of pretty intense self-reflection for me. One of the main things that I have been reflecting on is my own spirituality. It really dawned on me at the beginning of Black August that I had some cognitive dissonance surrounding my spiritual beliefs; meaning that I had some beliefs which contradicted each other. With me being the philosopher that I am, that was unacceptable for me. On this last day of Black August, I have been inspired to share what I have come up with on the subject of spirituality, as it relates to not just me but to all Afrikans in North America.
Let’s start with the term New Afrikan. The United States style of slavery was the greatest crime against humanity that the world has ever known. For three hundred years, people were brought to this country from all over West and Central Africa, and completely robbed of a knowledge of their history, their language, their families, their gods, and their culture. People from dozens of distinct ethnicities were brought to this place and forged in the furnace of oppression into one new people; a naturally Pan-Afrikan people. That is why we use the term New Afrikan to describe ourselves. It also explains why our spirituality and our culture is naturally, and of necessity, a mixture of practices from across the Afrikan continent. That is the nature of who we are as a people.
But let’s go back to before the Afrikan Holocaust. In the West Africa of the 1500s there was already a mixture of expressions of spirituality. We had not only the various kinds of Afrikan Traditional Religion, but we also had people practicing Christianity and Islam and Judaism or the Hebrew religion. West Afrika was the cultural capital of the whole world at that time in history. The world’s largest university was in Timbuktu. The world’s richest man (and the richest person of all time) was Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali Empire. People came from all over the world to study and do business with the people of West Afrika. Those visitors also influenced us in various ways, not the least of which was spreading their religions among us. (This is very oversimplified but I don’t have the space to fully explain the inter-cultural dynamics of 14th century West Afrika.)
Even earlier than that, starting about 70,000 years ago, people started leaving our ancestral homeland in Afrika and venturing out to populate the rest of the world. Those Afrikan people went into Asia and Australia and the Pacific Islands and the Americas and eventually formed very new cultures in response to the various kinds of environments that they moved into. But all of them maintained some of the influence of our earliest Afrikan human Ancestors.
So our Ancestors who were brought to North America to be made slaves came from various Afrikan cultures. And they were forced to abandon almost all of their various cultural traits. Give thanks though that some aspects of what makes us Afrikan could never be stamped out, they just live in our souls. Over the course of our sojourn in this land, we’ve also been exposed to people from all over the world.
All of our distant cousins, descended from those adventurous Afrikans who left home tens of thousands of years ago, decided to come to Amerika in the 19th and 20th century to take advantage of some of this land of opportunity that they were told about. And of course, there were those who had already been living in this land for tens of thousands of years before the Europeans came. So this people from all over the Afrikan continent came to America and got introduced to people representing all of the various ways of being human that have been developed on the planet. And we have taken all of those cultural inputs and filtered them through our unique Afrikan soul algorithm to output a new kind of swag that has taken over the cultures of the whole world.
New Afrikan culture, especially our cultural expression called Hip Hop, has become the dominant cultural expression for the youth of literally our whole planet. I believe that is because we are an amalgamation of the whole world, with some one-of-a-kind Afrikan spices put into this melting pot. So we have a vibration or frequency that the entire global population can resonate with.
But let’s remember that we started this American experience by having our cultural roots stolen from us. So we are still in the process of intentionally reconstructing who we are. That especially applies to how we choose to express our spirituality. I believe that we should embrace our various influences in how we reconstruct our spirituality. Let me reiterate my earlier point to make it more clear.
Humanity started in Afrika. For over a million years, the only place where human beings could be found was in Afrika. Afrika is the womb that shaped us as a species. At a certain point, we started venturing out into the rest of the planet and discovering new ways of being human; while we were simultaneously spreading all over Afrika and discovering various ways of being an Afrikan kind of human. After 70,000 years of wandering the Earth, all of the world’s various kinds of cultural expression were finally brought back into one place: in North America, but especially within the hearts and minds of the New Afrikans. The cultural boomerang that started in ancient Afrika went all around the planet and ended up back at the Afrikans living in America. We are the repository of the cultures of all peoples, from all eras, and all parts of the world. It is our privilege and our responsibility to take the best part from all cultural expressions and form them into one seamless, wonderful New Afrikan culture.
And we have already done so.
Many of us have latched onto the primary defining characteristic of Afrikan spirituality which is veneration for the Ancestors. The Afrikan view is that death is only a part of the cycle of life. Those who have died and gone on to the Ancestral realm are several steps closer to the Divine than we are, but they are also connected to us because they live on within us. So our best way of communion with the Divine is to maintain positive relationships with our Ancestors who are very much willing and able to serve as the bridge for us to the power of the Unseen.
There is also a large swath of our culture that has latched onto the traditions of Asia. One of the hallmarks of Asian spirituality is the focus on the breath and the Qi, or the energetic life force that makes us alive. The people of Eastern Asia have focused on refining this practice for thousands of years. What is called Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about managing one’s energy to optimize health and wellness. New Afrikan people have been undergoing very serious study of these disciplines for many decades and have become some of the world’s greatest practitioners of modalities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and Tantra.
Many people are aware of the very intimate connection between New Afrikans and what are called Native Americans or American Indians. I’m not a fan of either of those terms but I’ll use Native American. The Native Americans practiced a spirituality characterized by a focus on having very healthy relationships; with the Earth, with all living beings, and especially fellow human beings. They had the utmost respect for the plants and animals that they lived around. And the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy served as the foundation for the United States’ founding documents focusing on liberty and equality of all people. The colonizers didn’t have any direct knowledge of what that looks like from their experience in England but the Native Americans were able to demonstrate what it looks like — which included having a great deal of respect for the wisdom and the power of the women in their society.
And of course, New Afrikans have been influenced in many ways, both good and bad, by the descendants of Europe. Slavery and colonization and genocide aside, the Europeans have one particular aspect of their society that we have benefited from greatly, which is science and technology. The European tendency to never be satisfied with the current state of things and to constantly push for more and new and better, has resulted in the laptop that I am typing this on and the world wide web that I have done so much research with and so many of the other modern comforts of life that we enjoy. Science and technology provides the way out of many of the problems that Afrikans experience, both within the continent and throughout the Diaspora. We have much to learn, and we have learned much, from the Europeans and their dedication to the principles of science.
An authentic New Afrikan spirituality, that embraces all that we naturally are, includes all of the above aspects and more. We should feel no shame about adopting what is viewed as an Asian practice or a Native American practice or a European practice. It is our job to seamlessly blend all of these traditions together in a way that properly respects and honors our uniquely Afrikan heritage while simultaneously embracing the uniqueness of our real life experience here in North America.
As a final thought, the primary guiding principle in how we reconstruct our culture and spirituality must be the liberation of our people from the colonization and oppression that we are currently living under. Any belief or practice which doesn’t help us move toward Self-Determination and national liberation can be discarded because it doesn’t represent the best part of what we have to choose from. We must have the intellectual and spiritual courage to examine all of our beliefs and practices from the perspective of “does this help me and us to become more free or does it make us more dependent on others?,” “does this make me more unified with the rest of my New Afrikan family, or does it make us more divided?”
Building a New Afrikan spirituality which acknowledges all of who we naturally are, while also pushing us toward greater levels of Self-Determination and Liberation, is the privilege and responsibility of our generation.