John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998) was an African-American historian, professor, and pioneer in Pan-African and Africana studies. He wrote in the Introduction to this 1991 book, “Africa has been under siege for over 3000 years, being preyed upon by one foreigner or...
John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998) was an African-American historian, professor, and pioneer in Pan-African and Africana studies.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1991 book, “Africa has been under siege for over 3000 years, being preyed upon by one foreigner or the other. None of these foreigners came to Africa to do any good for Africans. Need and greed brought them to Africa… for over a thousand years the invaders of Africa came from Western Asia, now referred to as the Middle East. These invaders first declared war on African culture. They had no respect for African religious customs, and they looked with disdain on all African ways of life alien to their understanding. These invaders made every effort to destroy the confidence of African people and the image of God as Africans originally conceived God to be. In large areas of Africa, Africans stopped worshipping a god of their own choosing and stopped speaking of God in a language of their own making. This was the greatest achievement of the Europeans in Africa: the insidious conquest of the minds of the African peoples. The Arab slave trade and Arab oppression of the Africans came a thousand years before the European slave trade… In these pollical essays, the main focus of my attention is the politics and resistance movements in the African world from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the latter part of the twentieth century.” (Pg. xiii-xiv) Later, he adds, “Until Africans throughout the world begin to tell their own story, the story will not be properly told.” (Pg. xvii)
In the opening chapter, he observes, “The United States Census Bureau is experimenting with an idea that could be disastrous for African Americans. There will be a new classification on the census form. If you’re racially mixed, you can put down mixed. Now there are a whole lot of retreating blacks looking for their Dutch uncles and their Irish grandmothers… Before we deal with the mixes, let’s ask the question: Who mixed them? Inasmuch as they were all African people and all black when they left Africa, they arrived here all African… The slave ships didn’t bring any West Indians, East Indians, or black Americans… the American government that intends to create the census classification of ‘mixed’ is not prepared to accept the mixes into their social order … They have just begun to discover that once you put all the … people of African descent together… you’ve got a formidable force in the world. And what keeps them from greatness is their inability to unify their culture and make a connection with Africa…Now the white established order is against us, and we have to consider what are we going to do when they ask for these kinds of classifications for many of us will fall for it without knowing that it is a trap.” (Pg. 4-6)
He suggests, “We have to make the connection with African people outside of Africa, especially with the large number in India and the Pacific. We need a political apparatus that will stretch around the whole world, bringing African people together. The ultimate answer is Pan-Africanism. What needs to feed into Pan-Africanism is a new kind of spirituality. In total liberation, religion cannot be left out. How we think, how we walk, how we act, culture cannot be left out… We have to learn how to relate to African people everywhere.” (Pg. 24) Later, he adds, “I’m talking about the possibility of an African World Union… we are in Asia, in the West Indies, in North and South America… properly looked at, we are the third, if not the second, largest ethnic group on the face of the earth. And the most expensive piece of geography on the face of the earth is ours, and I mean all of it, including the north of Africa.” (Pg. 29-30)
He states, “[Malcolm X’s] interpretation of what he saw while in Mecca is terribly distorted and misused. The essence of what he said is that he saw Moslems of every color, from white to extreme black, worshipping in the same religion and showing respect for one another. Too many times this has been interpreted as meaning that Malcolm X had suddenly turned into an integrationist. Nothing is further from the truth.” (Pg. 97)
He acknowledges, “The many dimensions in the personality of Malcolm X made him a difficult person to understand and to interpret… He had outgrown the Black Muslim movement led by Elijah Muhammad long before he was forced out of it… the major weakness of this movement … is the escapist method it uses to offer identity to black Americans… the Black Muslim movement advocates complete withdrawal from American society---either by the concentration of all blacks … in a part of the territory of the United States or by a mass return to Africa. This approach is not feasible under prevailing circumstances. The main consideration is this: Withdrawal from American society is most decidedly not what most black Africans want… they want justice in a country that promises justice and dignity to all of its citizens.” (Pg. 141)
He says of the relationship between Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois: “In my opinion, both DuBois and Garvey erred in the way … they handled each other. DuBois often addressed advice to Marcus Garvey as if … [he] were a misguided child, and Garvey spoke of DuBois as if he were a fraud and a traitor to his people…. This kind of conduct was a negation of the cause that had been the life work of both men. Garvey’s reaction to the Pan-African Congress of 1919 had not been positive… DuBois began the preparation for the second Pan-African Congress… [He] was careful in pointing out the difference between the Pan-African Congress and the Garvey movement… After this date peace between Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois seems to have been an impossibility.” (Pg. 219-220)
He asserts, “So when Europeans enslaved other Europeans they called it feudalism. But… many of the aspects of feudalism were worse that chattel slavery… If you understand that, there is something logical about the slave trade in Africa; logical that any man who would do that to his children would do even worse to yours. So, when Europeans were first seen along the coast of Africa, they did not know him… But… if you knew his history, you would know that this is a gangster, and you had better kill him before he kills you.” (Pg. 249)
He contends, “if a person like Jesse Jackson knew Christianity, he probably wouldn’t be a Christian. If he knew Judaism and the relationship of Jews to blacks, he wouldn’t have apologized at all… If Farrakhan really knew Islam, he would either be a better Muslim or none at all… Some parts of the Bible can be proven true. And some parts of the Bible can’t be sustained at all, because it is nothing but a Jewish fairy tale… I told my students that if you prove to me that the Exodus actually occurred, I’d give them one month of my salary. Nobody proved it.” (Pg. 254-255)
He explains, “all of these religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have been turned into … white nationalist religions. The Arabs turned Islam into Arab nationalism. And all of it has been turned on you. That’s why I don’t worship any of them. And hear me very clearly, I’m a very religious person. I refer to myself as a spiritual person. There are sources of being spiritual other than going to them.” (Pg. 260)
He notes, “The relationship of African people to people of the Hebrew faith is long and complicated. Africans have never been the declared enemies of the Jewish people. In fact, they have a sentimental attachment to the Jewish people that goes back to 1700 B.C. It requires no difficulty to admit that what happened to the Jews in Germany at the hands of the Nazis was one of the great crimes in human history… But there is one thing we must make explicitly clear. This was a crime of Europeans against Europeans.” (Pg. 275) Later, he adds, “There is no need at this point to argue whether Zionism is a form of racism. In the face of so much persuasive evidence, proving that it is, any argument against this evidence is redundant and a waste.” (Pg. 305)
He suggests, “For the last 500 years, the history of African people throughout the world had been told through the slavery experience… There is a need now to look behind the slavery curtain in order to see what African people achieved as an independent people, before slavery… Prior to the slave trade and European colonialism… most of the peoples of the world had a concept of God shaped by their own culture and their own understanding of spirituality. They generally saw God, or any deity, as a figure resembling themselves.” (Pg. 363)
He says, “I think the African intellectuals and the world’s intellectuals, in general, have relied too heavily on the Bible and have neglected major interpretations of the Bible and biblical literature… The American dream was not dreamed for us and the American promise was not made to us. The founding fathers declared us to be three-fifths of a man.” (Pg. 367-368)
He argues, “I do not think that I am less a supporter of socialism because I believe that the Marxist theory, dreamed up in Germany, is not applicable to African people; it may not be applicable to all European people either. Yes, I believe the theory is worth some serious consideration. There is no point in repeating that the Marxist theory is scientific, because nothing is scientific for one people unless it works for all people.” (Pg. 374)
He concludes, “our FIRST ALLEGIANCE is going to have to be OUR blackness or OUR AFRICANESS. We will have to ask questions and make alliances that are based on our self-interest. If it is into to our self-interest, to h_ll with it, no matter how good it sounds. There are too many of us who think that we have to become international now….We have to take inventory of ourselves as a people. We must stop talking about multi-racialism. People in power do not talk about multi-racialism. They talk about their laws, and either you obey them or you get out.” (Pg. 417)
This book will be “must reading” for anyone interested in Clarke’s political ideas.