In Search Of Our Culture

In Search Of Our Culture


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The Moroccans I visited with were the common people. They are still struggling

 to survive. The ruling classes of black Africans maintain their superior attitude

towards us today, and yield only to those of us who are able to fill their coffers.



Books by Cliff Chandler


The Paragons  / Devastated  /  Vengeance Is Mine


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In Search Of Our Culture

An American Travels to Marrakech

By Cliff Chandler


After years of writing without a purpose I finally decided to become a serious writer. In doing so I realized that I would have to go to Africa in search of the missing elements of our culture. We have been bombarded by the fact that slave owners had erased our culture. 

My solution in my first trip over the pond was to go to Africa. I chose North Africa because I knew that I wouldn’t find anyone resembling me in deepest Africa. That was confirmed in the airport in Casablanca when I stood in line to exchange some currency.  A six-foot African in regal attire stepped in front of me and pushed ahead of me. I guess it was my blue blazer and business like attire. I ignored him and thanked him for convincing me that I had made the right choice in choosing Marrakech.

I arrived in Casablanca about 10 a.m, my plane to Marrakech would not leave until eleven that evening, so I put that unpleasant experience with the African chief in a special place and took a taxi into Casablanca. The ride into the city was fascinating. I observed farmers working in the fields using hand tools, shanties, and farm houses similar to the houses one observed traveling South on single lane highways in the fifties. The difference is the houses were constructed of terracotta. The most amazing site was a small house on the side of the road. The door was open and I saw a homemade kitchen table covered with cheesecloth. The only thing missing was the tin roofs one found on southern houses in the thirties.

The Moroccan people were warm. Everyone appeared to be interested in me. By the way, several persons attempted to speak to me in Arabic. It was as my teacher had implied in class one day while discussing his trip to Marrakech. Many of them thought that I was Moroccan. My taxi driver in a traditional manner announced Casablanca and stopped. I paid him, got out of the cab, and stood on the corner observing the city. A woman approached and asked for some money and I pretended not to have any, using my New York mannerisms. She said, “Come to Casablanca by plane and have no money.” Her gesture was not kind. Casablanca was too much like New York, so I entered one of the nicer hotels, had a great lunch, and hailed a taxi back to the airport.

At the airport I went out onto the observation deck and observed our culture. The worker’s conversations were energetic, humorous. Their approach to work was casual. A plane arrived and was directed to its dock and at the last possible moment the service vehicles arrived to perform their task. It was done in a relaxed manner. There was no tension. 

The other difference was the service vehicles pace was a little faster than we are accustomed to, the brothers and sisters motored up to the crafts and stopped on a dime. Conversations and laughter were everywhere and if two or three brothers were conversing it sounded like a party. My first lesson was that we have not lost our zest for life and that we as a people do what we are asked to do well.

True to my observations the plane took off at a seventeen-degree tilt, throttles wide open. The curtain between first class and coach surrendering to the force of gravity floated towards my seat. At the pinnacle of the assent the plane leveled off and began its decent into Marrakech. During our climb a hypnotic, sensuous voice in Arabic made an announcement.  I forgot about the flight and dreamed of Shaharazad and the Arabian Nights. My fleeting moment of romance was bumped back to reality when our plane landed. We were in Marrakech.

I convinced Customs that I was able to take care of my expenses in Morocco by doing a very corny thing. I showed him my credit card. After which he said in his best English, “Okay.” I picked up my luggage and made my way to the taxi stand. The driver asked for my destination in French, to which I replied, “Holiday Inn.” He helped me into the car and headed into town. We didn’t converse. He stopped at the hotel and it resembled the Holiday Inn, but Holiday Inn it was not. I didn’t have a reservation because it was my intention to rent an apartment in town. 

I prepared for my visit to Marrakech by visiting the Moroccan Embassy in New York City, the Board Of Health, where I was told, “If you aren’t taking anything over there, there isn’t any need for shots.” My next stop was to purchase a book on Marrakech. The book covered the history of the city and included a current map.

The following morning I walked from my hotel to the Medina, commonly referred to as “The Kasbah.”  One the way I was solicited by the local hustlers, who addressed me as “brother” until I was a block away from the hotel. I turned a corner and walked through the neighborhood. A young man walking in a hip Harlem style glided out of a small self-styled store that resembled the shack in black neighborhoods in the South. It was constructed of a huge Coca Cola sign on one side and found objects completed the other side. There was a primitive shed used as an entrance covered with roofing material.

At that moment I thought, I’ve spent all of this money and traveled nine hours to end up in Harlem. The young man spoke and things fell into their proper place. His gestures were ours, but he spoke in his native tongue Arabic. I relaxed and continued my adventure. It was fascinating, motor scooters, donkeys, people on foot, all of them carrying their food in one manner or another. I turned a final corner and there it was the walls of the old city and “The Kasbah.”

I entered the city and walked through the tiny streets without being noticed. Some of the people there looked at me strangely, but that happened because I didn’t acknowledge them. I decided to stop in a shop and buy a few gifts. The sensation was the same until I started to bargain. The owner asked me where was I from? When I said New York, he shook his head and said that he thought I was from Morocco. 

This was not a ploy to help him sell his merchandise. He had his assistant bring in some tea, mint tea, the best fresh tea I have ever tasted.  We sat there and talked for an hour, after which I told him I had just arrived and I wanted to go back to my hotel to rest. He gave me another shocker. He said that I resembled the King, and I said, oh sure.

I returned to the hotel and went to my room. It was in the middle of the day so I decided to take a nap. The phone rang and the concierge invited me down to the bar for typical Moroccan food. I thanked her, went down to the bar. While I was away a busload of tourists had arrived and they were sunning their new swimsuits by the pool. The bartender greeted me in English, I ordered a drink and headed for the buffet where I found fried chicken, potato salad, red beets, and macaroni and cheese. I asked the bartender if this was a joke. He studied me for a moment and said, “This is typical Moroccan food.”

We were kidnapped, stolen and our families destroyed in the slave markets of Africa, and America, but we did not lose our culture. Our labor built America, our ability to adapt to hardships created thousands of industries. Our humor and our music are great gifts the world has ever received. But the thing we lost was our love and appreciation for each other. Black Africans who sold us took our dignity away. White men with fire sticks and wooden ships could not have developed the theft of our people without the help of black Africans.

The Moroccans I visited with were the common people. They are still struggling to survive. The ruling classes of black Africans maintain their superior attitude towards us today, and yield only to those of us who are able to fill their coffers. I wonder how long the Pan-Africanist would last in the Sudan. And I wonder where would they start in their search for their beginning. It is easy to find a relative in Africa if you have the means for the search. I am not anti African. As a matter of fact I want to thank the kidnappers and thieves who stole us and sold us.

We must learn to love ourselves and in the process learn to love each other. We must return the respect we had for each other here in America before we had laws to protect us. We must give back to our communities to those who will accept us and we must return with real values. My visit to Marrakech taught me that I am an American and in the process I saw America for the first time.

We must reject second-class citizenship by refusing to be second-class. That means that we are as good as anyone unless we give others the power of making us surrender. I don’t like the term African-American. I am Black and I am damn sure an American; and as such I demand everything an American is entitled to. I found my culture and I hope other will take their journey and find their magic.

I have visited Morocco several times since my first visit. My wife and I have friends there. It is unfortunate that the current political atmosphere discourages foreign travel. By the way, my concerns about travel here in our country is the same as it is about traveling abroad. Let us hope that the pressures that create terrorism will succumb to logic and that the madness will cease. Let us hope that people of the world will select competent leaders, and that they will find the road to peace.

The most beautiful memory I have of North Africa is the community sitting out in the parks in the evenings. The nights are crime free and it reminds me of the night in the thirties and forties when we did the same thing. The whole community visited Central Park, we slept with our windows open, and we were proud of who we are. It was a time of morality. We have not lost our culture; we are ignoring it.

Cliff Chandler © Copyright

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 January 2012




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Related files: Sir Charles Mingus   The Queen Dinah Washington  Well Done, Miss Simone    The Paragons   In Search Of Our Culture   Devastated  

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