ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
For some Africans in the Diaspora, the belief is that Africa selectively sold them into slavery.
They have been emboldened in recent years by a procession of village chiefs and self-styled
kings who came to America to render apology and to admit guilt for the crime of slavery
The Joseph Principle Enacted
By E. Ablorh-Odjidja
The Joseph Project is gaining ground. The government of Ghana, through its tourism programs, is promoting it; with the view of issuing special visas to enable Africans in the Diaspora to visit Ghana at least once in a lifes time. There are promoters of The Joseph Project in the US too whose hopes are that this project will serve as a spring board for a return to the continent by a large population of Africans in the Diaspora. The idea of a return for Africans in the Diaspora has to be promoted and supported for its own sake, but it does not have to be burdened by guilt. The project theme is borrowed from the Bible. A brother was sold into slavery by his own siblings but later returned to his people to save them. With this project, it is hoped that Africa can complete a journey of loss, and rejection, and finally arrive at atonement and redemption. The story of Joseph, as a metaphor, has had a magnetic pull for displaced people throughout history. Among African Americans, no other Biblical narrative can strike such deep emotional core. But one must beware. Beneath this emotional response may dwell resentment for Africa in some people. For some Africans in the Diaspora, the belief is that Africa selectively sold them into slavery. They have been emboldened in recent years by a procession of village chiefs and self-styled kings who came to America to render apology and to admit guilt for the crime of slavery on Africas behalf. The apology continues, but the agenda of these apologists are not clear. However, the enthusiasm with which they claim guilt has left open speculations of scam within some circles. This notion of guilt, especially one that is admitted insincerely, is dangerous and must be corrected. And as close as we are to religion with this theme, the sooner the correction the better. Moreover, the appeal to guilt is a disservice to the true Diasporan African for he is already a pan-Africanist. And since the notion of a return is embodied in the concept of African Unity, no pan-Africanist will ask for a confession of guilt before he embarks on a pilgrimage to Africa. W.E.B Dubois, George Padmore, Dr. Lee and others, who settled in Ghana in the 60s in the Nkrumah era, were and are still perfect examples of the pan-African reach. The continent owes them and all pan-Africanist stalwarts gratitude for their willingness and dedication to the development of human capital on the continent. Africa must continue to welcome such persons with open arms. Certainly, the continent can put to good use the abundant skill and resources that the pan-African experience or the Joseph Project can pour into Africa. However, it also has to be acknowledged that there are some Africans in the Diaspora who have no love for the continent, nor the intention or inclination to return. For these people, the admission of guilt can also serve as justification to hate Africa some more and this would be wrong. The story about Africas motive and complicity in the slave trade is not clear. Any attempt to promote a blanket admission of guilt is not worth it because it bears the risk of creating further rift between the continents descendants; a rift that can create a greater a tension than what existed before the slave trade. Read Out of America* by Keith Richburg to understand this risk. And note his outburst against Africa, Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers and I will throw it back in your face, and then I’ll rub your nose in the images of the rotting flesh.” The positive relationship that The Joseph Project seeks to build must be allowed to stand on its own merit. The confession of guilt, on the part of Africa as a condition for Diasporans to love her is not needed in this project. All Africans, in or out of the Diaspora, to a greater or lesser extent, are victims of the slave trade. We must all regret it happened. The Joseph Project can silently serve as a cleansing measure. It can be cleansing because the Biblical narrative contains a powerful lesson for both Joseph and his brothers and Africans in the Diaspora and those on the continent. It is about man and his emotions on earth and how both can be equally powerful and unreasonable. The lesson here is not to create privilege versus a class of guilty fellows. Joseph the man of the coat of many colors, who was dearly loved by his father, was consequently hated by his brothers and sold into slavery. The Joseph Project must not create a coat of many colors or set up another Liberia. March 1807 was the beginning for the abolition of the slave trade. Coincidentally, March 2007 is Ghanas 50th independence anniversary, the first African country to become independent. It can be the occasion to put it all behind us.- the tribal conflicts, the chaos and the marauding that produced the slave trade with the knowledge that it was a matter of chance that caused some to remain and others to be taken away from the continent. What need not be forgotten is that slavery happened because of our sheer and shared stupidity in response to the onslaught of western civilization. Washington, DC, July 2, 2006
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Peace Rahim, Yes, I believe the project is well intended. But, as you know, I am not in to going back to Africa even for a visit. Been there, done that. And, I am not sure that it will do anything material for us here in the States. The high tide of African Consciousness has ebbed. What is left is a hodge-podge of reactionary ideas. I listened to the BBC one morning to hear about a young African girl who bled to death after trying to circumcise herself. It is this kind of ignorance that I want to stay away from.
I have no interest in the kings and high chiefs of Ghana. I believe I saw the golden stool of the Ashanti in the British museum. Relics from feudalism have little meaning to me in a post-modern world. If Africa is to survive it must remake itself. There are too many Dafurs for my liking. And, African-Americans are too timid in their criticism of the genocide that goes on in Africa. You have spoken better than I on the romanticism that pervades most Blacks thinking when it comes to Africa. I do not define my existence in terms of Africa anymore. There is too much work to be done right here for me to consider Africa as a priority.
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That is good wisdom. I think we have to start from the bottom and build up, one person at a time, one family at a time. It is a slow process. That is the soundest approach, especially if we desire the other to make sacrifices on our behalf.
Though I made a promise at the edge of Lake Kivu, in what was then eastern Zaire, I doubt if I ever will return. In some sense I suppose I have just done so in recalling the event. Have you ever talked to a god of a lake? Well, that is a silly question.
In any event, it was a beautiful lake set among red hills of banana trees and cassava plants. And Id daily see natives in small boats, fishing, on the lake. No, I have not made a good lasting friendship with one African, though I have brought two to the house here in Virginiaone a Liberian woman who feared Mama; the other a young fellow from war-torn Sudan. However Pan African our feelings we would still be foreigners in Ghana. There is no way to escape that.
However we might want to shine the light of reason on it, sentiments of racial nationalism are difficult to escape, either abstractly or concretely.
E. Ablorh-Odjidja: Graduate, Howard University, BA Communications 1973, and Columbia University, School of Fine Arts, MFA Film Arts 1976 Professional experience: Writer, producer/director GBC-TV and Freidrich Ebert Foundation in Ghana. Has five documentaries films to his credit. Has to date published numerous political commentaries on Africa and Africans in the Diaspora in periodicals in Europe and Africa. He is the current publisher of www.thisweekghana.com
posted 14 July 2006
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#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
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#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
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#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
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The Movement in Politics
By Julian Bond
An exhortation to political involvement within the decrepit electoral system by the Georgia state legislator and former SNCC activist who stole the show in the 1968 Democratic Convention by becoming the first black man to receive Vice Presidential mention. Bond writes the balanced, sagacious prose of the would-be junior statesman casting about for a national constituency. A reformist who senses the limits of reformism, Bond sees the Nixon Administration (the bland leading the bland) endeavoring to strangle the second Reconstruction of the 1960s. What he is looking for is an escape from the circle of politics that always escalates to protest, culminates in rebellion, and results in repression.. The diagnosis is astute enough but the solutions suggested are partial, problematic and equivocal.
He plumps strongly for community controlincluding black-run rackets, prostitution and numbers if they must exist in the ghettosand heralds the need for a nationwide organization Negroes and Practical Politics, Inc. (NAPPI) to channel information, political expertise and funds to prospective black candidates.
At present there are some 1800 black officials in the U.S. and Bond wants to double and triple their numbers but he shies away from any discussion of how unity is to be achieved among the highly fragmented leadership and black power ideologues from LeRoi Jones to Carl Stokes. Once or twice he raises the specter of violence and black guerrilla warfare in the cities but without any real convictionit may be morally justified, but it wont work. Despite the firm recognition that representative democracy has yet to work for us, Bond can endorse no other way: I find it increasingly satisfying. It is a pleasure to be a politician. In the end this is no more than a temperate and somewhat forlorn plea to the young people to return to the electoral mire at the grassroots level and combat the mounting apathy that threatens . . . 1972; 163 pages
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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By Roger W. Wilkins
In Jefferson’s Pillow, Wilkins returns to America’s beginnings and the founding fathers who preached and fought for freedom, even though they owned other human beings and legally denied them their humanity. He asserts that the mythic accounts of the American Revolution have ignored slavery and oversimplified history until the heroes, be they the founders or the slaves in their service, are denied any human complexity. Wilkins offers a thoughtful analysis of this fundamental paradox through his exploration of the lives of George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, and of course Thomas Jefferson. He discusses how class, education, and personality allowed for the institution of slavery, unravels how we as Americans tell different sides of that story, and explores the confounding ability of that narrative to limit who we are and who we can become. An important intellectual history of America’s founding, Jefferson’s Pillow will change the way we view our nation and ourselves.
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By Elaine Brown
Brown here relates the dramatic story of her youth, her political awakening and her role in the Black Panther Party when she succeeded her lover Huey Newton to become the group’s first female leader. Though smoothly written, the book contains much reconstructed dialogue that may daunt readers. Brown’s memoir takes her from a Philadelphia ghetto to California, from college to cocktail waitressing, from wanting to be white to joining the black power movement. She meets Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and Bobby Seale, goes to jail, visits North Korea and North Vietnam, debates Marxism and gets involved in Oakland, Calif., politics. When other Black Panthers seemed to lose sight of the revolution and seek power for its own sake, Brown, with a growing feminist consciousness, left the group.
She now lives in France and expresses ambivalent feelings about the party she once loved. Having made her acquaintance, the reader wonders about her present life.Publishers Weekly
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By Irshad Manji
In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and lovethe universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.
What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 21 July 2012