4.8 Update: if you are in the DC metro area, Ghion Journal will be hosting an event we named #LeaveRace, a discussion about race and identity in America. Near the end of this article about the brutal legacy of slavery, you will find the event graphic, click on it and you will be redirected to the event page where you can RSVP and find out more about the event.
There is nothing as potent as words. In the tongue resides the power over life and death; with words, you can either heal people or kill them spiritually. Accordingly, what we call ourselves and, by extension, how we view our identities through the labels we ascribe to can either liberate our minds or imprison our souls. If you doubt me, look up the definition of your first or last name and you will be shocked just how much influence the name your parents called you has over your life.
Whereas mothers and fathers give their children names aspiring great things for their offspring, the institutions of power imposed identities as a vicious form of reductionalism. Most people think I’m either a “self-hating black man” or that I’m being a contrarian when I go around saying “we are not black” and refuse to call myself by the name given by racists, slave traders and oppressors. But trust me when I tell you, disavowing brands that were inflicted on us by colonizers does not mean I am disavowing my connection to the community I grew up in both in Ethiopia and here in America.
However, as Meek Mills says, there are levels to this. When it comes to the ways the establishment—from politicians, mainstream media pundits, Hollywood personalities and opinion leaders on all sides—have chained or minds with the caste system of race, it would take volumes of books to unravel that spiders’ web of deception. I will turn this topic of race and identity in America into a running conversation so that I can pick apart layer after layers of lies that have ripped away our stories and replaced them with false constructs that were meant to ghettoize all of us.
When it comes to the caste system of race, the elevated groups are victimized by institutional prejudices as are the out-groups who are marginalized by society. Demagogues are always pushed on us by the establishment in order to prevent a coalition of the maltreated from rebelling against the status quo.
I’ll start off with the one group that has been targeted the most by educators (conditioners) and propagandists in an effort to strip away their culture and impose upon them racialized labels as a way of diminishing their significance. I say “they” for a reason; as a first generation immigrant from Ethiopia, I will never truly grasp or appreciate the full scope of injustice and the suffering many “African-Americans” bear in their hearts as a consequence of racism in America and throughout most societies.
As much as I preach unity and tell people to stop monopolizing pain, my admonitions should not be taken as an effort to temper the brutal legacies of slavery, state sponsored terror campaigns, systematic oppression, segregation, Jim Crow, redlining and the endless ways “black” folks in America have been singled out for exclusion and repression. Yet, as horrific as these coordinated campaigns of subjugation were and are—racism is not a relic of the past after all—there is a more nefarious and hidden facet of bigotry that is unnoticed by many but nonetheless begets incalculable harm upon people who trace their ancestors to the survivors of America’s most appalling holocaust.
What I’m referring to is the way once free people in a continent we now call “Africa” were hunted like prey, shipped off like livestock and then turned into chattel in foreign lands. The history books refer to these endless millions of people—many of whom lost their lives in the world’s largest unmarked grave that is the Atlantic Ocean—as slaves. I refused to call them slaves; they were human beings who fought slavery for generations hoping for a day when their children could walk as freedmen and freed women.
Up until today, I used to refer to people who were indentured into forced labor as political prisoners. But upon doing so again this morning on Twitter, Maxsmith Green, one of my fellow sojourners (I hate calling people followers), asked me what I meant by that. As I was responding back to him, I realized that a more appropriate name is capital prisoners. This is precisely what “slaves” were, they were hostages of capitalism which turned human beings into assets and liabilities on the balance sheets of wicked traders.
"Slaves" were prisoners of a political system that was based on turning human beings into capital assets. Actually, thank you for asking this, instead of political prisoners, they were "capital prisoners". But they were more importantly SURVIVORS #ADOS #BlackHistoryMonth https://t.co/sw6C4l3wMa
— Teodrose Fikre ✒ (@TeodroseFikre) February 28, 2019
Am I being ostentatious when I refer to the ancestors of “African-Americans” as capital prisoners instead of slaves? No, because I know the power of words. One of the most insidious aspects of our education system is the way “black” history has been weaponized in order to otherize America’s decedents of survivors. Instead of empowering impressionable minds, “teachers”—either out of willful ignorance or willing malice—reduce the imagination of “black” people by portraying their ancestors as helpless victims. If you believe that you come from slaves, you look back with resentment; if you know that you come from resisters who fought enslavement, there is pride to be had in that.
Pride is the exact feeling that decedents of survivors should feel in their hearts. To endure more than four centuries of explicit bondage and centuries more of systemic persecution is something that few people in this world could withstand. Moreover, the story of capital prisoners did not start when they were torn away from their once homes, you can pull the leaves out but the roots are eternal. The history of Axum, Carthage, Nubia, Kemet, Zulu, Bantu and the countless civilizations that populated the continent that was once called Ethiopia is that of every decedents of survivors.
We don’t need a Hollywood produced fiction to tell us we were great, Ethiopia was Wakanda before Black Panther.
Like I said, when it comes to history and the way institutions of power try to bury us with lies, there are levels upon levels to it. The country we now refer to as Ethiopia was once called the Axum Empire, Ethiopia was the name of the entire continent. Why is that important? Because the continent was renamed to Africa once a most brutal monster by the name of Scipio Africanus invaded Carthage after the second Punic War, defeated Hannibal and loosened a mass-genocide against the people of the Ethiopian continent. Imagine Jews calling themselves Hitlerian—breathe that in and let it shake you out of cognitive dissonance.
What is truly sad is that it is those who should know better, the people who DuBois called “the Talented Tenth”, who are kneecapping their own instead of lifting them out of despair. Yesterday afternoon, I saw Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib joust with Representative Mark Meadows as she made a show out of being offended. Instead of using the megaphone that she has to elevate discourse and speak truth to power, she chooses to speak-half truths in order to appease her DNC masters. We are being conditioned to rage against the symptoms of racism while they give cover to its sources, most of which could be sourced to economic inequalities.
I don’t mean to single Tlaib out, on all sides we are being led by bourgeois hustlers and race shysters who use the pains of the people as launching pads for their ambition. It makes perfect sense that Democrats and the neoliberal chattering class are livid at Mark Meadows for using “black” people as props. They were upset that he was encroaching on their turf; only they can use us as political props and stepping stones. The racism of the Republican party is outweighed by the bigoted paternalism of Democrat Incorporated.
The same way Africans once sold their own into bondage and overseers lashed capital prisoners, these modern day “House Negros” are doing the bidding of the system by keeping their people oppressed while they live lavishly. I’m of course talking about Obama, Kamala, Booker and the army of black corporate courtiers who are unleashed upon the “African-American” community. Of course, this is not to insinuate that only “black” leaders are doing this, the sad truth is that society as a whole has been conditioned over time to seek self-pursuit at the cost of the collective whole. This sickness of greed has turned America into a wasteland of economic anxiety or outright financial insolvency for the vast majority while a privileged few lead lives of uber-opulence.
Worse than a foe who hates you is the opportunistic friend who pretends to be for you. I give Republicans credit for being transparent with their malice—they let us know every day exactly where they stand. It’s the Democrats and the “liberal” elites who put their arms around our necks feigning concern when all along they are suffocating us. There is an entire cottage industry of equality advocants and social actorvists who have turned the quest for justice into a business model. They don’t wish well for the people they are supposedly speaking for, they want us to remain mired in hopelessness and dependency.
There is an Ethiopian saying (by this I mean the continent of Ethiopia not the country): “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. These counterfeit revolutionaries, who are really agents of the status quo, and public serpents don’t want us to help ourselves, they want to enable us while they count their checks. Their hustle is transparent once you realize it, they are doing to “minorities”, “people of color” and marginalized groups the same thing that Trump and his Republican cohorts are doing to their base.
“Power has learned to tip its bayonet with women and people of color.” ~ Marc Salomon
Bob Marley once sang, “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. A prophet with a guitar, what Marley was singing into our souls was the North Star towards redemption. Freedom will never get paid by those who get paid by power, freedom will only come from us, the marginalized majority. The chains at the feet—though they were onerous—were actually the easiest to be free from. The most pernicious chains are the ones in our minds that were placed by malevolent colonizers and have been passed down from generation to generation. The first step to truth is to question what you are being told; make it a point going forward to question every label and identity that have been imposed upon us, from there go on a journey to find truth. Watch this video below, how many history classes are teaching these subjects identified in it?
The journey to truth is never ending; the lies of this world are too copious for us to think that we will ever seize truth in our lifetimes. However, as we go on this quest to understand who we are and whose we are, let us start discarding these malicious labels and understand ourselves not as colors, adjectives or brands but as human beings who come from survivors and warriors that never stopped fighting against injustice. As we fight for justice going forward, let us not turn to collective judgement, our greatest power is in our ability to lead through compassion instead of being led by anger.
We are living in a time of manufactured dissension and outrage for the sake of outrage. The firebrands who are foisted upon us are not here to lead us, they are here to divert our attention from the sparrow. People who are easily stirred into emotions and incited into vindictiveness are always led by the nose by those who can think with cold-calculated logic. Do you think the people who are being accorded platforms, given blue check marks and are paid handsomely by the status quo truly want change? They are acting militant in the streets only to embrace their masters’ feet between the sheets. The struggle is within first before we can effect change from without.
It is poetic justice that I write this article on the last day of “Black History Month”, an event that was created to yet again otherize “black” people. They give us the shortest and coldest month of the year to “celebrate” our achievements as if the accomplishments of our ancestors are segregated from the rest of society. Life started in the Ethiopian continent; our history is the story of humanity. There is a reason I used the word “unbranding” in the title of this article; the same way capital prisoners were branded with iron rods, we have been branded over time with the burning legacies of words. We are not their products; we are not their brand. Let us find redemption through a collective awakening. #CapitalPrisoners Click To Tweet
“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” ~ Sojourner Truth
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
- Who is there for Us? When Suffering and Hopelessness Give Way to Tribalism and Hatred - May 26, 2019
- Judge Not… - May 16, 2019
- Why I No Longer Fight for Justice - May 9, 2019