My premise is that you can’t know the America’s without understanding the African contribution in the creation of the Americas. A lot of things that one can read suggest that Europeans came, they constructed the Americas and then they brought some Africans to work.
How [could] the Europeans construct the Americas without African labor? It’s just not true… we are led to believe that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was an involuntary migration of unskilled labor, well that’s not true either. If you are about to build a whole continent-I mean “rebuild” because somebody had already built it, you are not going to recruit people based on their lack of knowledge, you want people who have the kinds of skill and expertise you need to create this new society. So you kill off the Native Americans who mind the gold, but you want the gold, what do you do? You go to the place the British call the Gold Coast to get Africans who know how to mine gold. And they become the miners of Mexico, Peru, and Columbia, Brazil…
rastafaritoday.com: What is the importance of recognizing Africa in the Americas? Why should Africans in the Americans find it important to identify Africa in the Americas?
dr. sheila walker: The Americas wouldn’t be what they are without the African presence from the beginning. The wealth of the Americas and the western world-all the Peri-Atlantic world, was created by Africans. According to Joseph Ferrie an economic historian, more than 75% of the commodities that fueled the commercial and the industrial revolution in the Atlantic world-therefore setting up the current balance of power, was produced by Africans and their descendants in the Americas. Africans came to the Americas to work, and they worked! They were forced to work from kin to kin. So to even suggest that Africans didn’t build the wealth of the Americas makes no sense. Plus, almost everybody in the Americas was African for the majority of the modern history of the Americas until 1820. According to the most recent database, there were 27,422 slave trips and in about 1820, three out of every four people that crossed the Atlantic came from Africa not Europe. That’s a huge demographic weight, isn’t that significant?
rastafaritoday.com: Yes, it is significant. But, what should this knowledge do for these Africans in the Americas now, and what should this knowledge do for them in the future?
dr. sheila walker: Well, the European culture in the Americas is preserved in museums, everybody goes to these museums to learn about being proud about who they are. So, we have a right to be there too, we have a right to have all the benefits [as Americans]. But there is more, concretely, one of the issues right now is reparation. People who didn’t get anything in any kind of way produced seventy-five percent of the commodities produced that fueled the industrial revolution. These people were worked to death.
If you look at the scientific research done on those skeletal remains of those [African] people who lived in New York in the 1700s-although New York allegedly had no slavery, but did! Those people were worked to death. Their skeleton shows that they were worked to death to build the wealth of the Americas, so it seems only reasonable that there should be recognition of that role and therefore some compensation. Other people have been compensated for doing much less. Africans built the Americas. African descendants should be compensated for our ancestors’ role in the building of the Americas. And its all of the Americas, there is only one country in the Americas where is no organized group of African descendants and that is El Salvador.
rastafaritoday.com: So you are saying that your work should be a tool for them to claim their heritage?
dr. sheila walker: It is also important for us as African descendants in the Americas to have a sense of our belonging in the world. We are told that we are this oppressed minority, what kind of minority? There are 150-200 million people of obvious and claimed African origin in the Americas, that’s a lot of people! We need to know… English is not the first language of the African Diaspora, its Portuguese. Brazil is the second largest African nation on the planet and we need to know that and we need to go there as if that’s part of our family.
To have a sense of the African Diaspora is to have a sense of global belonging and global entitlement. My sense of identity is that I am an African Diasporan with a US passport. When I go to Brazil, I don’t expect to be treated as a tourist, I expect to be treated as a sister or a cousin. I expect to be taken home and it happens! If I said, “Oh, I am from the United States” and that is my whole identity, why would anyone want to share their culture with me? And with one of those disdainful attitudes saying, “Oh, they are poor people.” They might be materially poor, but we have so much to learn from them in terms of cultural richness, the everyday presence of their Africanity. I went to Brazil looking for them, but what I found was “us”. And I just find more and more us. I found us in Paraguay, Bolivia in every place!
So we need to understand that the world is ours, this “I am an oppressed minority” give me a break! I am not a minority first of all. Having a sense of Africans being the first on the planet, and thinking about what Africa has given to the world, the first contributions was people! That’s pretty great. We have these self esteem problems that are based on ignorance and on brain washing. Carter G. Woodson talked in the 1930s about the Mis-Education of the Negro. Well, it is now up to us to educate ourselves properly and to educate everybody else too, so that they know who we are and what they owe to us. Dubois talked about the gifts of black folks, well, we have given lots of gifts, we have been extremely generous, its time for us to get a little feedback at this point, a little reciprocity.
rastafaritoday.com: What about blacks becoming more active in their communities, wherever they are located, in Jamaica, Brazil and within the American political system to get these rights that are due to them?
dr. sheila walker: Yes, we need to be active everywhere. One of the points that’s made in this article, is that we need to be in every room where anything is going on… we need to be in all rooms doing everything, but we need to be there with a consciousness. And our consciousness needs to be about the fact we have to be our own best friends. You’ve gotta work for your own interests. Everybody is working for their own interest and everybody interests are not the same as ours. There was a whole bunch of people involved in the Trans-African slave trade for almost 400 years, everybody was involved but not everybody was on the same side. There were people who saw this as the biggest business in the world at the time-which it was, and they saw it as a way to get rich and a way to try to de-humanize people… where human beings were not counted as humans but items of labor… humans were calculated fractionally.
Now you cant think that someone who would calculate you as a fraction of a human being has similar interest to yours. That’s the basis of where we are now. Some people have privileges as a result of the role that their ancestors played in the slave trade and other people are at a disadvantage because the role of their ancestors. We need to look at the current inequalities as having been created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade not as a result of any deficiency. Why were Africans capture-able? Europeans had guns, Africans didn’t. It had nothing to do with intelligence obviously, since many of our best and brightest got to help Europe create this society in the Americas. And so we need to have that kind of perspective to understand, how we got to where we are, who did what to whom.
We need to stop talking about slaves. I don’t believe in slaves. I believe that Europeans tried to de-humanize Africans, but they were not successful. How can you say that the people who created the only classical musical form in the United States were dehumanized? It makes no sense. In the 1950s when the U.S. was doing its big diplomatic thrust, whom did they send? Jazz musicians! They didn’t send blue grass singers, they sent jazz musicians to show American culture, doesn’t that suggest that a lot of the characterization of what makes this culture unique is a result of our presence? Well, we need to know that.
We need to stop seeing other people of African origin in the Americas as foreigners, we need to see the similarities, similarities in everything, language, religion, spirituality, food, dances… all the stuff that characterizes people. We need to understand that we are all scattered faces in the African Diaspora. We share a culture, that came from the same place and that in spite of all the efforts to destroy it, is still alive and well, growing and one evidence of it, is its continued appropriation-by others. If there is something wrong with this culture, why is it being appropriated and commercialized, and re-appropriated by others? We need to know that and we need to claim it togel5.com.