Somewhere in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America is a commanding and robust statement on human rights and human dignity. President Barack Obama quoted it during his second inauguration address in 2013. It goes like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Having quoted the foregoing, President Obama proceeded to say something that was quite profound and which ought to have itself been "self-evident" but tends not to be. He urged Americans:

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.

I suppose the more common way of stating this ("… while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth") is that God helps those who help themselves.

On Thursday, February 28, 2013, the last day of Black History Month, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of teachers in training from the Dominica State College about Teaching Black History in Schools. I attempted to outline for them the reasons we should ensure that our children learnt about themselves. Indeed, this can be expressed simply: If we had even a basic knowledge about our struggles, power and brilliance (especially if we were au fait with what we had achieved), we would not allow anyone to enslave us again and we would certainly eschew, in toto, any attempt at modern colonialism which comes in many shapes and fashions as well as from those who may or may not have comparable melanin in their skins, hairs or eyes. There should be no compromise where this is concerned for a people with high self-esteem. This was well captured by George Orwell, in his novel entitled "1984":

Whoever controls the Past Controls the Future Whoever controls the Present Controls the Past

Hence it is important that we know ourselves and that we are confident in what we know about ourselves so that others do not even think of misleading or fettering us physically or, more tragically, mentally. Bob Marley was able to express this in the song Buffalo Soldier and so it ought to remain with us as our progressive anthem and chant:

If you know your history Then you would know where you coming from Then you wouldn't have to ask me Who the heck do I think I am

Learning about "us" will most likely achieve the following:

  • minimize the chances of us becoming whitewashed, dominated, crushed and conquered;
  • give us a true sense of ourselves (our ethos/philosophy);
  • make us reject any form of local colonialism and contemporary slavery;
  • free us from the extreme house negro mentality (T'Shaka, 1995); and
  • allow us to think Black and not be dirty versions of any other colour (to adapt Walter Rodney's persuasive metaphoric phrase).

As part of this "education" we must reject the commonly held stereotypes about ourselves, which have taken a stranglehold on us to the extent that we think these are natural and instinctive behaviours. These include, that:

  • male dominance represents the natural order of things;
  • female inferiority and female servitude are natural and logical;
  • females exist mainly for the sexual desires and whims of men;
  • males must lead and females must follow;
  • females have no place in political leadership positions and where they are given positions, it should be in areas that are close to caring, loving and maternal functions;
  • males must exercise full power, in whatever form or fashion, over females;
  • manhood and infidelity go hand in hand (and our boys must be taught that lesson as soon as possible);
  • education runs contrary to the solid macho impression we wish to have of our boys;
  • verbal abuse of our children, and our boys in particular, is not detrimental to their socialization and future self-esteem;
  • the Women's Liberation Movement is an attempt by women to attack male supremacy and overpower men; and
  • men should logically and reasonably be the breadwinners and women should remain at home as domestic helpers.

The foregoing are debilitating and inevitably hamper open-mindedness and may even explain to a large extent the "backwardness" and apparent failure of our boys and men, as well as breakdown in our families. We must instead embrace our solid and enduring African Family Cultural Traditions that counter the above lies and deceptions. These Cultural Traditions tell us clearly that:

  • The vision of a just society is achieved "where all just males and females are equally empowered to govern every phase of society" (T'Shaka, 1995, p. 161);
  • An injury or injustice to one is an injury or injustice to all – this speaks to our oneness;
  • Submission, servitude, menialism, dependence and mendicancy run counter to our nature of survival under harsh conditions;
  • The "harmonious interconnectedness of man with woman, of nature with humanity, and God with the cosmos and humanity, gave Africans … a sense of optimism and power" (T'Shaka, 1995, p. 169);

Hence, I reckon, that if our teachers fully grasp the power concentrated in their hands, they should be excited about using that power in a positive way to transform our society by teaching especially our children about us.

© Dr. Francis O. Severin is the Acting Director of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Country Sites.