Shifting Human Objects: Denmark, Domination and Exploitation

The theme for the second Fellow-Me! encounter in Bremen – Shifted Objects, resonates with me; I am the topic in the same way that I am my ancestors, who were considered nothing but objects to be shifted for profit in the three centuries of European trafficking, domination and exploitation of African bodies during the Holocaust of enslavement.  The post-colonial trauma of this Holocaust has been reverberating over the past two centuries and inspires my revolutionary standpoint politics.

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While many historians erroneously start Caribbean history with the colonial encounter of Europeans with the local native populations, this point of departure only serves to compound the severe identity crisis from which the region is still suffering.  A more accurate introduction is an acknowledgement that Africans used the natural movement of the trade winds to travel and culturally interact with the Tainos, hundreds of years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus who mistakenly asserted that he discovered the “West Indies” (van Sertima, http://thehouseofsankofa.com/books/Ivan-Van-Sertima-They-Came-Before-Columbu.pdf) .

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Furthermore, the Africans enslaved in the Holocaust, emerged from several civilizations, whose advancement vis-à-vis Europeans’ makes it shocking that they were duped for centuries into complicity – along with Arab enslavers – with their own oppression. The  races were definitely not equal in one fundamental regard; African middlemen were greedy for guns and rum, which constituted their principal reward for capturing and trading their fellow continental citizens whereas Europeans were galvanised by racism, capitalism and the power afforded them to conquer Africans for intergenerational profits.

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This has been a costly enterprise for the African Continent, which has been chronically underdeveloped as a consequence (Rodney, 1973, http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf) in the process. Colonialism was extraordinarily profitable for the protagonists of this dehumanizing, objectifying endeavor, which fueled the Industrial Revolution in Europe.

Despite this inversion, many detailed accounts of the Euro-American Industrial  Revolution  elide the connection between colonialism and the extraordinary profits derived therefrom and the acceleration of these continents’ development  (http://images.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://cdn.historydiscussion.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/AB252179-2161-4E31-A8A9-CB67560AD369.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.historydiscussion.net/history/industrial-revolution/history-of-the-industrial-revolution/1784&h=768&w=1024&tbnid=6ykZGgeEAqT2EM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=120&docid=ytrUOUBwgBrfiM&usg=__8pWwsg5gbVQXJGjwiJ8UqXIs5KM=&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjw45ab17POAhUJYJoKHa9VDbcQ9QEIKTAD).

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Colonial connections of the Industrial (r)evolution

However, it does not take rocket science to figure out that it was by enriching themselves from the human and material resources garnered from Africa and colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and Asia that these nations were able to leverage their wealth and power from backward agrarian status to mechanisation and capitalism.

Locator Map of US Virgin Islands

2017 will mark the centennial of the sale of the Virgin Islands and its citizens to the United States of America or $25 million (over $509 million in today’s money). This anniversary inspired the Flensburg Maritime Museum’s formulation of the project Koloniales Erbe-Colonial Legacy, which seeks to document an African Caribbean perspective on Danish colonial legacy in Flensburg, Virgin Islands of the US and Ghana.COLONIAL LEGACY SØNDERJYLLAND-SCHLESWIG is a joint project of the Flensburg Maritime Museum, Museum Sønderjylland – Cultural History Aabenraa and the Collection Schleswig of the Danish Central Library Flensburg.The overall project “Colonial Legacy” is co-funded by KursKultur with the support of partners of the Region Sønderjylland-Schleswig, the Danish Cultural Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, Culture and European Affairs of Schleswig-Holstein. This project is also funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Danish colonialism is usually told – or repressed – from a Eurocentric point of view.  My job is therefore to interrogate Denmark’s s attempt to erase one hundred and seventy-five years of ruthless colonial participation in the institution of enslavement.  In the 1917 sale transaction, emancipated Africans were seen as expendable since they had served the purpose of enriching Denmark with their unremunerated labour. Maintaining the islands would have threatened the security of their enormous fortune in the aftermath of emancipation.  Supporting wagd labour of Africans would have obliged expenditure, which was obviously not a desirable development.  The consequent question of uncertain citizenship, a direct result of the US acquisition of these three strategically located islands, is of considerable concern to the Virgin Islanders.

It is also important to trace the process of Danish colonial intervention in Ghana, which entailed the acquisition of considerable human and material capital. The wealth generated from the unremunerated production and reproduction of Africans on plantations in the Caribbean was derived from the oppression and exploitation of multiple millions of men, women, girls and boys. Protagonists of racialised Empire  considered Africans objects of domination; their so-called owners who bought and sold them for centuries, shifting their bodies around as if they were nothing more than inconsequential, dehumanised scraps.

Denuded of their identity garb, branded as property, forced to labour and reproduce to multiply their utility value, Africans were coerced into mental, physical and spiritual conceptions of themselves as inferior to their enslavers in a reversal of reality so profound that the detrimental effects remain to this day.  And unless we remember, with critical consciouness, we are doomed to repeat this Holocaust. As Marcus Garvey said in this regard, “A people without knowledge of its past is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus and Amy Jaques Garvey: a winning team. Amy edited and published Marcus’ Philosophy and Opinions

In producing this project, I am inspired by Nina Simon’s suggestion  that museums should be participatory in content and methodology to be relevant to their audiences. As she emphasises

audience-centric design processes start by mapping out audiences of interest and brainstorming the experiences, information, and strategies that will resonate most with them” (http://www.participatorymuseum.org).

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This approach resonates with me because I have been practising Participatory Action Research (PAR) for years.  This methodology is reflected in the interactions I recently had with research participants with whom I have been engaged in the Virgin Islands and in   Flensburg and will do shortly in Ghana.

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The consultative engagement revealed that Africans were not hapless victims despite their intimacy with European oppression and exploitation.  Bamboula represents this spirit of resistance, which informed persistent African revolt against the entrenched practices of European demoralisation.  I met with some seventy persons in the Virgin Islands in round tables and individual discussions in order to find out their views on Danish and, as it turned out, USA colonialism.  I endeavoured to figure out what they would want to see included in the proposed research outputs. The responses to this outreach were overwhelming.

Notably, in St. Thomas, Senator Myron D. Jackson, his assistant Ayesha Morris and Legislature staff facilitated two round-table consultations with significant community participants, which produced extraordinary content. This data will inform the exhibition and paper. Kudos to all who so generously shared their views, intelligence and were receptive to the proposal to actively participate in the traveling exhibition.

I recently started a similar process in Flensburg in the World Cafe presentation and will continue this consultation in Ghana at the end of the year.  This traveling exhibition will therefore reflect the views of the audience whose contribution to the formulation of the content of the exhibition demonstrates an interrogation of the traditionally hierarchical relationship between curator and audience.

 

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In Flensburg, formerly a part of Denmark (now Germany) there is little or no knowledge about the progeny of the people who their progenitors oppressed and exploited.  This ignorance is exemplified in the staging of the annual Rum Regatta, as a celebration of the “local” production of rum.  There is little awareness that this family day ritual is directly related to of the ravaging of the human and natural resources embodied on the Caribbean sugar plantation, the quintessential space of European debauchery.

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Denmark’s colonial involvement incorporated the three spaces of the infamous Transatlantic Triangle among Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.The shifting of objects – principally of violence – and human subjects who were objectified and dehumanised to justify this enterprise, demonstrated the de-moralising dimension of Euro-Arab-African complicity in a peculiar form of criminality.

Ships leaving Europe first stopped in Africa where they traded weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, and cloth for captives taken in wars or raids. The ships then traveled to America, where slaves were exchanged for sugar, rum, salt, and other island products. The ships returned home loaded with products popular with the European people, and ready to begin their journey again (http://images.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://www.mrdowling.com/images/710slaves2.png&imgrefurl=http://www.mrdowling.com/710-slavery.html&h=338&w=300&tbnid=5a_8aw84qsC9PM:&tbnh=122&tbnw=108&docid=bp1zT2NOWbMmLM&usg=__zvsUjwGCH4S3l7OwZUZvAyDihrw=&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjCk6bA5rHOAhUiLcAKHWCxDq0Q9QEILzAD).

This reference does not mention that Europeans also profited from human trafficking, and unequal exchange of goods like gold, ivory, spices and wooden objects, which were undervalued in Africa. Yet the concentration of colonial activities in Ghana and the Virgin Islands resulted in the extraordinary enrichment of countries like the Northern European Empire of Denmark.

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama

tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

 

 

Colonialism: Racist Terrorism

Although much discourse currently abounds about what constitutes threats to citizen security, there is a shortage of analysis about Euro-American colonialism as racist terrorism – for profit.  It is remarkable too, that there are disclaimers in historical accounts that represent Danish colonialism as “mild” when there was nothing hesitant about the application of over two centuries of racist Danish colonial terrorism in the Virgin Islands. Moreover, while the USA currently wages wars, ostensibly against terrorism [a nameless, faceless enemy] and claims to be deploying democracy as a foreign policy, this narrative is a cover-up.  In reality, USA occupation and aggression entails extraordinary human rights violations, which are normalised as governance of places like the Virgin Islands.

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Rothschild Francis, Civil Rights Activist, St. Thomas

There is no doubt that the cruel conspiracy of enslavement, enacted among Europeans, Arabs and Africans, unleashed raw, racist terrorism on over 40 million Africans, at home and in the Diaspora. Denmark, the 7th largest European coloniser, maintained colonies for almost two centuries. The extent of injustice meted out to the majority class before and after the USA purchase of the Virgin Islands and its people – an illegal and immoral transaction with Denmark, propelled Rothschild Francis, icon from St. Thomas, to become  a passionate social justice activist.

Rothschild Francis was a civil rights leader in the Virgin Islands after the 1917 transfer from Danish to United States sovereignty. His foray into politics was born from a need to address the causes of the economic, social and political disparities that created undue hardships for Virgin Islanders (http://stthomassource.com/content/news/local-news/2013/10/11/analysis-rothschild-francis-and-fight-democracy-part-1).

 

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Street Mural, Frederickstead, St. Croix

Despite the fact that Africans won their emancipation from Danish enslavement in 1848, the Danish and United States of American government authorities illegally entered into a transaction of sale of the Virgin Islands for the lucrative sum of $25 million in gold.  Today Virgin Islanders cynically say that this was the most expensive real estate transaction ever; the islands’ budget is still supported by the Federal government, nearly a century after Transfer. This  ongoing investment demonstrates that the strategic value of the so-called Territory [a term that rattles peoples’ nerves] is even more important than the current settler colonials might care to admit.  The terrorist dimension of this Transfer was that “Custody claims by both the United States and Denmark not only caused fragmentation of the records but denied Virgin Islanders access to their collective memory” (http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.64.1.h6k872252u2gr377).

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Former Danish King, Christian IX

 

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Having garnered immeasurable wealth and prestige from criminal colonial pursuits, it is  scandalous that there has been a rigging of European history, a consensus of forgetting that facilitates the psychotic condition called colonial amnesia. This systematic suppression of colonial memory has disfigured the moral compass of the European Continent.

I have often pondered the contradiction that Europeans pride themselves on being the champions of Christianity yet justified their terrorist practices. Despite all the morality that they set out to bestow on colonised people of colour, it is amazing that no-one was tapping anyone on their enslaving shoulders to remind and restrain each other in the name of said moral responsibility.

What is even more profound was that after the cantankerous enslavement system was routed by rebellious African resistors and their European and mixed race free allies, von Bismark, then German Chancellor, hosted 14 European nations for six months (1884-85) to scramble for Africa.  They all agreed to participate in the dastardly African underdevelopment (Rodney, 1973) with no one recorded as voicing any objection.

Since being employed as an International Fellow at the Flensburg Maritime Museum in Germany to curate an exhibition and write a paper on Danish Colonial Legacy in Flensburg, the Virgin Islands and Ghana from an African Caribbean perspective, I have had to do some serious critical reflection on this psychosis of forgetting, a sort of self-hypnosis, which enables Danes and Germans alike, who have to be considered together because of their entangled histories, to convince themselves to this day, that their Empire days was a project of noble civilisation of backward Africans. The political economy of the carving up of the African Continent is conveniently forgotten.

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Even my consciousness that the European refusal to acknowledge the criminality of racist colonial terrorism is a ruse to refuse to recognise reparations responsibility had not prepared me for the bald double unconsciousness regarding colonial memory. This contrived amnesia is a pathology that demands a forensic audit. Such pervasive schizophrenia must mean of course, that there is collusion among all institutions of socialization – home, school, media, popular culture, church, musea, politics -in a word, society, to bury any evidence or remorse. As one participant from a research encounter observed,  “They all put a blanket on the past.”

Describing this rationalisation as repression, Andersen (2013) elaborates that

The initial experiences of colonialism have been screened at different points in time rendering the past in versions very far from the actual historical events themselves. Recently, new claims for reparations for slavery and colonialism in the former Danish West Indies have challenged the existing notions of the colonial past in Denmark. These claims have not resulted in an official Danish politics of regret…as witnessed in other former colonial states. Whereas, a radical break away from the earlier conceptions of the colonial past is demanded, instead new figurations and renarrations have been used to try to incorporate the new challenges to the historical imaginary into the older layers of memory without radically breaking away from it, creating somewhat surprising results that questions (sic) the notions of a uniform global memory and understanding of historical injustices (Andersen, 2013: 1, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10767-013-9133-z#/page-1).

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Problematic characterisation of the Virgin Islands, decontextualising the production of rum from enslavement

When I presented on these issues at the Flensburg World Cafe, held Thursday (July 28, 2016) at the Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum, it was fascinating to marshal the panoramic range of response to the revelations of multilayered colonial realities that I encountered when I visited the Virgin Islands of the United States from June 26-July 7, 2016. I went to find out what people thought about the Flensburg Maritime Museum creating this project as a contribution to the 2017 centennial commemoration of the sale of the Virgin Islands and its people to the United States of America.  It was pointed out sharply that the Danes had no authority to have entered into that transaction, from which it earned $25million (in gold, mind you), and neither did the US – because the enslaved had won their freedom 69 years before that and the free were consigned to colonised status in one fell swoop.  However, they were heartened that the project provided a poignant opportunity for critical reflection on Danish colonial terrorism, which has been practically overwhelmed by the paradoxes of USA occupation.

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The twilight of Danish colonialism is still visible in the enduring ruins of  the Whim Estate in St. Croix

This condition of USA settler colonialism is treated with utmost delicacy as critical analysts of this criminality have been psychosocially and socio-economically victimised for speaking out. I imagine this Big Brother response is seen as mandatory since revelations about this dilemma are not congruent with popular propaganda about the USA as the dispenser of development.

People in the VI were also unaware of the branding of Flensburg as Rum City and its enrichment from the resources of sugar and rum, produced from the unremunerated labour of enslaved Africans. Incredibly, those engaged in the rum trade rationalise that they were not as bad as  their peers  doing the human trafficking side of the transatlantic triangle. Like hello? What part of the Marxian theory of the surplus value of labour is not being addressed here? If you traded in rum and sugar, you were complicit in the terrorist system of dehumanisation and torturous production and reproduction that the system entailed. But it seems that for Euro-Americans, the jury is still out on the logic of this argument.

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As was also discussed during the World Cafe presentation in Flensburg, the political economy of the annual family-day Rum Regatta celebration has not traditionally been questioned – people just never even wondered where the rum came from!

I called upon the wisdom of Paulo Freire to try to empathise with the wounding that both coloniser and colonised experienced in the Holocaust of Enslavement. Incidentally, I am deliberately reiterating this concept of Holocaust because the word is a catalyst for re-thinking and re-membering that resonates in Denmark-Germany. Besides, Jews did not have a monopoly on the experience of the concept.

Speaking to the liberation of the oppressed, Freire says,

At all stages of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the content of humanity from its historical forms (Freire, 1970: 66).  

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The embodiment of African Emancipation: Freedom!

Freire elaborated that

the dialogical character of education as the practice of freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students teachers in a pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really preoccupation with the program content of education (1970: 93). 

Freire provides further illumination about the status of colonial amnesia embraced by Europeans who dominated Africans, a condition with which we have to become intimate in order to subvert its morbid persistence.  His answer to his rhetorical question was for me the flashpoint for understanding what the process of repression consists of and the imperative of revolutionary thinking in order to transform the status quo:

Why do the dominant elites not become debilitated when they do not think with the people? Because the latter constitute their antithesis, their very reason for existence. If the elites were to think with the people, the contradiction would be superseded and they could no longer dominate. From the point of view of the dominators in any epoch, correct thinking presupposes the non-thinking of the people (ibid.: 131).

Damn! This is not a walk in the park is it? But as my dad used to say back in the  day, “A habit is a cable: you weave a thread of it every day and it soon becomes so strong that you cannot break it.” So this habit of colonial amnesia is deep. It must therefore be traumatic for the dominant class to experience someone like me prodding the skeletons in the closets of history to enflesh themselves and reveal that as Shakespeare declared in Hamlet, via a speech by Marcellus, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” The playwright was, clearly, very intimate with the truth about the lies.

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Liberation demands taking a third-eye view of terrorism, an ancient form of emotional intelligence.

Instead of the protracted denials of culpability however, wouldn’t it make more sense, in the interest of healing the breach and providing the elusive  moral responsibility with some space to flourish, to just admit wrongs and seek mechanisms of social transformation?

References

Andersen, A.N. “We Have Reconquered the Islands”: Figurations in Public Memories of Slavery and Colonialism in Denmark 1948–2012, Published online: 7 February 2013 # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013, (http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.64.1.h6k872252u2gr377).

Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum, New York and London, 1970, (http://www.msu.ac.zw/elearning/material/1335344125freire_pedagogy_of_the_oppresed.pdf).

Hamlet Quotes – Something is rotten in the state of Denmark with explanation,

Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare Quick Quotes: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com//quickquotes/quickquotehamletdenmark.html

World Cafe: http://www.flensburg.de/Kultur-Bildung/Kultureinrichtungen/Schifffahrtsmuseum/Programm

Rodney, W. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, London and Tanzanian Publishing House, Dar-Es-Salaam, 1973.

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama, Curator, Flensburger Schiffahrtsmuseum.

Email: tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

World Cafe: Colonial Legacy and Amnesia

Danish colonial Fort in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

The World Cafe provides an educational forum for critical reflection on the trialogue that needs to take place among Flensburg, the Virgin Islands and Ghana, in order for an epistemology on the colonial legacy to be crafted in the context of truth telling. I am anticipating the Ghana dimension of this trialogue since it is also problematic that the Danes – and several other European nations – colonised the so-called Gold Coast, which was opened up as the gateway to access the populous interior of this beleaguered Continent. In this regard, Freire proposed the dialogue [trialogue] as a critical space for conscientisation.

The Holocaust of African Enslavement is the greatest crime that European and Arab nations committed against all humanity. However, although this period of racist underdevelopment of Africa lasted from the 15th to 19th centuries, Europeans today claim they have forgotten it and persistently encourage Africans, particularly those in the Diaspora clamouring for transitional justice, to forget it too. The bottom line is, surely, the bottom line.

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Religious institutions were intrinsic to the systematic mental and physical violence unleashed on Africans and still function as the principal obstacle to Emancipation and self-determination

Countries like Denmark and Germany are not usually referred to in general accounting of colonial crimes since they were more careful than others to guard the noising of their involvement like a state secret. Germans claim they have been too preoccupied with the Jewish Holocaust and its guilt and payout obligations to recall their involvement in African enslavement and profit making therefrom. I find this disclaimer disingenuous; there is no shortage of historians and other capable thinkers in Europe. Therefore, this capacity to forget must be directly aligned to the fact that they could have enacted the abominable institution in the first place, maintained it for so long and have no intention to act responsibly regarding transitional justice for Africans.

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Governor’s quarter’s, St. John. Typically, the prison torture chambers were located below. This binary built environment arrangement demonstrated how Europeans dehumanised Africans during enslavement.

Referring to the United Nations’ declaration of 2015-24 as the Decade for people of African Descent, on the three-pronged platform of Justice, Recognition and Development, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of this controversial institution, [which has been accused of being a puppet of the United States of America and capital generally], stated thatWe must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism…[and] denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education.”  http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/photos.shtml

Of most critical psychosocial and socio-economic concern, is the pervasive identity erasure that Africans in the Diaspora have experienced as a consequence of the Holocaust of Enslavement and the associated trauma with which the majority grapple on an everyday basis.  Africans still suffer from denial and undervaluing of who they are due to institutionalised applications of white supremacy.

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Popular definitions of beauty for African women  show internalisation of racist notions of self-representation, which provide profit for capitalist concerns.

This erasure was constructed as a colonial power mechanism to make Africans into slaves, as noted by the British torturer in that memorable scenario from Roots when Kunta Kinte was desperately trying to cling to his name, identity and collective memory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhZ0UOTCEpI. It continues to be the primary obstacle to self-realisation in the present, which has inimical implications for sustainable development.

As Joy Leary DeGruy carefully analysed in her  memorable book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, many of the ways of thinking and the behaviours enacted by Africans in contemporary societies are rooted in the trauma they suffered for centuries. Self-denouncements by Africans in the Diaspora are didactic of the entrenched syndrome of internalised racism, which demonstrates the cruel success of the mental enslavement that was a major weapon of the colonial apparatus.  Self-hate prevents many Africans from accepting their skin, hair, nose, lips and body in general as beautiful.  Disastrously, capitalists are cashing in on this pathology; people of African descent spend disproportionately on so-called beauty products, which, in a twisted double whammy, actually destroy the capacity of the victims of this reverse psychology.

In desperate and vain attempts to achieve this illusion, they are duped into applying chemicals to their bodies, permanently altering their appearance. Michael Jackson epitomised this disastrous experiment; the caricature that he projected in his final years was closer to performance of a contrived white woman than an African man. Understanding the political economy of this constant engagement with embodied re-construction is important for an analysis of the present African impoverishment. Enslavement continues to haunt us in the systems that make Africans complicit with racist capitalists intent on mopping up available liquidity in African communities.

Compounding this complex problematic, many of the Europeans seem inordinately anxious to consign this criminality to the past.  This denial refuses to recognise the crisis of African self-identity ignorance. Yet this dysfunction has caused even the UN to cry out for transitional justice initiatives to be enacted to rescue the endangered African race from the dire situations in which they find themselves. The imperative for Emancipation was succintly enunciated by Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist par excellence and eloquently sung by Bob Marley – “Emancipate yourselves from Mental Slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”

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Freedom figure of the Virgin Islands, one of which is located here in Frederickstead, the St. Croix capital.

 

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama

Email: tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de