An African student stands over another and says "like it or not, you're from Africa."

Individualism & the Attack on African Identity

In 2021 it’s not difficult to find African (Black) people throughout the U.S. who will tell you with a straight face that they do not believe that they are descendants from Africa. Instead, these folks claim that their ancestry extends for thousands of years within the Western Hemisphere. The correct response to this perspective is “bless the good souls of these people because the cause behind their position is a complete lack of knowledge about Africa beyond what the capitalist system has force fed us for 500+ years”. 

The diamond industry that produces the rings that people buy when getting engaged to be married, the gold people buy for their selected jewelry, etc., are propped up based on the exploitative industry of theft of those minerals from Africa. The aluminum that makes sporting rims for vehicles, not to mention foil to wrap our food in, derive from the exploitative bauxite industry in Africa. The production of the most desired and admired vehicles like Tesla, Mercedes Benz, BMW, etc., is based on exploiting Africa’s steel, zinc, lithium, and rubber resources. Also, the oil that provides the fuel for those vehicles is largely stolen from Africa. Even the simple enjoyment of a chocolate bar cannot happen without the exploitative cocoa industry which is based in Africa. This entire systemic apparatus of exploitation of all African resources was built from the colonization of Africa which began approximately 530 years ago. Before these brutal industries were established, the blueprint for this process was created through one of the worst holocausts in human history, the transatlantic slave trade. Literally millions of Africans were violently uprooted from Africa and displaced to the entire Western Hemisphere. The forced labor of these Africans provided the initial seed money that fueled the industrialization period. This period contributed to the development of the capitalist system that is represented by the multinational corporations like Nestle, Tesla, Chevrolet, Toyota, Shell, etc., that dominate all the exploitative industries previously mentioned.

These multi-national corporations have built their fortunes on mass murder and domination of the entire continent of Africa, but they will never publicly admit any of this. Instead, they have spent the last 500 years concocting a mass narrative that they are on top because of their hard work, focus, and undeniable belief in their God. This tactic has obviously been overwhelmingly successful for multiple reasons. The first reason is that this approach elevates the individualistic perspective of history; a perspective that capitalism depends upon to retain its dominant position. Once individualism is dominant, fantasy and the illusion of forward progress will always continue to be an effective tool because objective reality has been replaced with subjective desire and the hope of progress. What people wish the world was replaces what the world actually is, becoming the dominating reality. On top of all of this dysfunction, this individualistic model paints a lying portrait of Africa as a “dark continent” with primitive people, no technology, no civilization, and no hope. This backward vision of Africa contrasted with the vision of the capitalist Western world as the citadel of human progress and civilization has driven the masses of Africans in Africa, Europe, and the Western world to believe that they have to make a choice between the civilizations of the forces who have subjugated them and the poor suffering continent that, in their eyes, offers them nothing to be proud of. In this tainted scale, the capitalist world wins because it represents forward progress and all that is desired in the world. There is even a saying that “to this point, only capitalism has proven an ability to produce the products that advance the planet.” 

All of the above is exactly why we are fond of asking Africans who claim not to be African to inform us about studies they have engaged in about our African history. Here there is always an oblivion. Not just a lack of knowledge, but the complete absence of any information about Africa whatsoever. Think about it. Even the most basic elements of history are denied to practically everyone who exists in the Western world. The average person, even those of African descent within the U.S. for example, could not provide you a reasonable answer to any one of the following questions: what is capitalism? Where did capitalism come from? What role did Africa play in the development of the Western world? What was the process for carrying out the slave trade? What did an average day for a captured African look like in the 1500s? 1600s? 1700s? 1800s? What did a typical day on the slave plantation look like? Where does your biological family exist in the world today? In what ways did we fight back? What examples of resistance do you know about? All of these questions will be met by 95% of the population with utter confusion and these are the basic questions required to have even a fundamental understanding of who we are. Without that foundation, any and everyone, no matter how intelligent, is forced to accept the narrative of our enemies and embrace a Western identity (even if they do so in any form of resistance i.e. “I’m Black only”) because this process has completely cut us off from who we actually are.

And, with no healthy foundation of who we are, we are not in the position to understand even the basic history of what great contributions Africa has contributed to human history. None of these non-African Africans can ever tell you a single thing about Africa’s unquestionable contributions to the development of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. None of them can tell you about our contributions to science, debate, and even our creation of the world’s first documented university (Timbuktu in Mali, West Africa). They don’t know that the Greek philosophers they have been taught to believe laid the table for world philosophy got their training at Timbuktu (and they even wrote about it). They know nothing of our matriarchal histories throughout Africa where women people were elevated without men being subjugated.

This complete cut off from Africa places us at the mercy of our colonial identities. As a result, we have come to view the world completely through the vision provided to us by these colonizers. We believe we are Black British, Afro-Cubans, Black Brazilians, Black-Canadians, African-Americans, Nigerians, Kenyans, etc. We see our interests as tied to the micro-states where we were born and where we live. Meanwhile, these micro-states have zero commitment to representing our interests, especially since they know that their continued prosperity is tied to the collective exploitation of Africa. So to them, we will forever be a threat to them, even if we don’t understand why (which we don’t) because they know that one day we will wake up and realize that the riches that they command come from the same place that we do.

African identity is much more than glamorizing our past. For proponents of Pan-Africanism it’s really a recognition that there are 2 billion Africans worldwide, living in 120 countries and in each of those countries we occupy the bottom of society. And, at the core of this is the continued subjugation of Africa. 

The great thing about Pan-Africanism is that it acknowledges that an African can be Puerto Rican, Dominican, Brazilian, Canadian, etc., and still recognize that our core interest and progress as a people is intrinsically linked to the liberation of Africa. We would never wish to deny our experiences over the last 500+ years because our ability to survive despite the trauma we experienced is a badge of honor and a testament to the strength of our African culture which is without question the resource that has guided us through this hell we have experienced. What does that culture look like? When people say things like “what Black people do” really what they are saying is our refusal, conscious or unconscious, to change or compromise who we are is actually our African culture manifesting itself in ways that protect us. This has permitted us to survive as we have. Torn, beaten down sometimes. Confused, but still here and as a result, potentially ready to fight back.

That African culture has never left us, whether we know that or not is irrelevant. It’s always been here and we use it all day, every-day. Our culture is a collective one and that’s why the individualist approach has never worked for us and it never will. All that approach will do is confuse us into accepting the logic of our enemies that our problems are our fault as individuals— some individual failing that God is punishing us for because we are inferior. This is the basis of white supremacy which is the foundation of the capitalist system and we already told you where capitalism came from so clearly, none of this is healthy and productive for us to pursue. 

It’s time for us to raise the bar. No talk about identity that isn’t accompanied by study and analysis of our history. It’s tragically unfortunate that people are paying these corporations like 23andme hundreds of dollars to tell them what we already know, that we are Africans. It’s tragically unfortunate that so many people, completely ignorant about who we are, feel the need to lie and make a history they cannot document instead of learning the true and glorious history of who we are. It’s tragically unfortunate that capitalism has reduced truth down to nothing more than a subjective interpretation that varies from individual to individual “based upon your truth being your truth.” This is absolute nonsense designed strictly to justify the injustices that are normalized as the natural order of things. We are Africans, period. Even Mother Nature knows this and any African who straightens their hair is reminded of this as soon as the elements of Earth hit that hair.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.