By Nayaba Arinde
This year’s Black History Month is focusing on the age-old tradition of “Resistance” in the Black community. In the same way Black history is the world’s origin story, it is also 365/6 days of the year.
From the first invasion onto the African shores through and beyond the rebellions on the ships of the enslavers, and their plantations and later buildings, resistance has been seeped into the soil, waters, concrete, and bricks of this nation; indeed, the planet.
“Resistance is not letting anyone define who and what we are,” activist Councilmember Charles Barron told the Amsterdam News. In a time when casual racism and micro- and macro-aggressions are delivered constantly by an entitled segment of the populace, intentionally countering this behavior is also being normalized.
“Resisting is when people of African descent fight for radical systematic change as we develop independent Black leaders fighting against white supremacy,” said Barron.
February is traditionally when corporate entities, like big stores and fast food giants, wheel out their annual Black people-themed merchandise and specials.
Ordinarily detached media platforms suddenly focus on movies, special documentaries, books, and events featuring sanitized, middle America-interpretation–approved historical figures such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Madam C.J. Walker.
The grassroots focus is on the likes of Nat Turner, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Rosa Parks, J.A. Rogers, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, and Denmark Vesey.
Pushing against Euro-centric revisionist history, African-centered Black people reflect on continuing to survive the African Holocaust: the Maafa. This is what author and anthropologist Marimba Ani introduced in her 1994 book “Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior.” There, she dissected the catastrophe and devastation of 400 years of (Yurugu) European-sponsored enslavement, colonialism, imperialism, Jim Crowism, and cultural, social, and economic oppression.
Trenton-based activist Divine Allah, a Black Panther youth minister and recent city council candidate, told the Amsterdam News, “Observing resistance in Black History Month 2023 means that we must continue to push forward with no holds barred. As Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad said, ‘Everything goes on the battlefield.’ No one should tell anyone how to fight against the oppressor. We can’t fight pretty. The ultimate goal is our sovereignty as a people—liberation from the constant daily oppression. We’ve been in the fight since we got here. We can’t let up now—the heat is still on. Many of us don’t understand the intensity of the war, and would rather act like everything is equal, post-racism and all that nonsense. But they show us every day, in every single aspect of life, that we are still under attack. No matter how many award shows, or big sports games, or any other distractions and pseudo-equal representations of comfortability, we must force through the unsophisticated illusion of inclusion.”
Bolstering self-determination worldwide since 1966 is the celebration of Dr. Maulana Karenga’s Kwanzaa—the December-to-January celebration of seven community-affirming principles: the Nguzo Saba, which includes Kujichagulia, Nia, Umoja, and Ujima—self-determination, faith, community and economic unity, and collective work and responsibility.
In 1969, Dr. Carlos E. Russell, a professor emeritus at Brooklyn College, established Black Solidarity Day. The annual observation, held the day before a general election, was inspired by Douglas Turner Ward’s play “Day of Absence.” The play imagines a world where Black people remove themselves from work, school, and all shopping to emphasize how completely vital and necessary Black people are to every single element of everyday life.
In the same vein, Black History Month is seen by many as a time for a united community to gather, reflect, re-evaluate, strategize, and harness economic and political power.
Issues of major concern still include housing, unemployment, crime, education and medical disparities, and police violence. This month, the nation is still rocked by the violent beating death of Tyre Nichols by five or more Memphis cops. The caught-on-camera assault brought up other police killings: Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Breona Taylor, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and Eric Garner.
“We have been resilient in not resisting enough, we have not been fortified enough,” said
Emarie Knight, a community activist and life coach. “We are not proactive, we are reactive. We don’t plan for collective progress—some of us do, but you need more of us to be actively involved. With issues like all this police brutality, we have to be at the table.
“I think about the grassroots movements. We have a few of them, but we need more people to be politically and socially conscious. We are not educating our youth anymore. I give my grandson lessons in my house every week. When I was growing up, whereas most people had Martin and Jesus on the walls, my family had Haile Selassie, and when my friends came around, I had to explain thoroughly who he was and break down the history. I took that responsibility then, and even now, I see that we must be the ones to educate our children. We as a people need a three-credit course in who we are.”
Knight, a healthcare worker and holistic mind and body advocate, said that historian, author, philosopher, and orator Dr. John Henrik Clarke “was one of our greatest visionaries. He said, ‘I only debate equals, others I teach.’ I can educate you so you can become empowered in this infrastructure. We need to get involved, but we are more asleep than we were in the ’60s. Why are we not owning Fulton Street, in Bed-Stuy? Every other community has a store there. We’ve done picked up enough cabbage and cotton as generations of people to own more businesses. We must know how to be become economically savvy again. In the ’60s, grants were given to open stores, but they didn’t give people economic power and financial education, so the businesses failed, and they said, ‘Oh, well we tried, not doing that again.’ But it was designed to fail and of course, the programs eventually closed. We need to get back to doing for self. You better resist this constant oppression, otherwise you’ll always have people hovering over you.”
In 2016, Barron presented a Black History PowerPoint presentation titled “We Fought Back!” all over Brooklyn. He announced that rebellion against invaders and kidnappers has always been in the blood and history.
“We Fought Back!” tells the history of resistance and revolutions from slavery to the then-current Black Lives Matter movement. Barron went deeper than the usual Amistead, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman narrative. His presentation included the Stono Rebellion, Pee Dee River Revolt, Gasper Yanger’s uprising, revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean, and resistance in America.
He also announced his proposed legislation for Columbus Day to be renamed Indigenous People’s Day as in South Dakota, California, Hawaii, and Alaska; in typical Barron fashion, the East New York-based self-proclaimed “elected revolutionary” slammed then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Black and Latino politicians who denounced the growing call to remove the Columbus statue from midtown Manhattan.
Barron, the author of “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: Articles and Essays on Revolution, Black Radical Politics and Leadership” charged, “What a sad embarrassing case of political opportunism. They should read their history, and they will discover that Columbus murdered, tortured, and enslaved their African ancestors.”
This week, Barron told the Amsterdam News,“Resistance is replacing Black puppets with genuine leaders not motivated by rugged individualism.”
Resistance and resistors have always been a part of the narrative when it has come to the Black community and the historical struggle against the European oppressor in the Americas, from the likes of Denmark Vesey, Madison Washington, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, to Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Assata Shakur, M.OV.E, Pam Africa, Geronimo ji Jaga, Mumia abu Jamal, Mutulu Shakur, Eddie Conway, Mutulu Shakur, Sonny Abubadika Carson, to Soffiyah Bandele and Viola Plummer.
Barron said the media-accepted Black Lives Matter movement definitely represented the commercialized, acceptable version of genteel opposition, and “not our traditional way of protest and demanding our rights. It lacked vision, ideology and continuity and permanency. They organized around police brutality. It reverberated around world because it was seen to be a safer, acceptable alternative to the real work that has been done for years—and is still being done for the people where no cameras or bright lights shine. This is not scripted. It is real. That was mobilization for a moment, just like Occupy Wall Street. We need to organize not for singular issues, but for real systematic change and radical development. We are talking about revolution, not reform. We know that reform is a tactic, not a result.
“They enslaved us, the Jim Crowed us, they owe us.”
From barber shops to community gatherings, Barron said, the people have to be engaged. “We stay in the streets, there are many organizations who meet the people every day and listen to what they are asking for—groups such as the Nation of Islam, Operation Power, Man Up, Inc., and the December 12th Movement.”
Barron concluded, “We have always faced our adversity and sought actionable solutions. It was the Black Panther Party, which I was a member of, that began the free breakfast programs that influenced 22 states in the U.S. to give free breakfasts to children. And the Black Panther health clinics led to 40 states beginning free health clinics nationwide. People shouldn’t get caught up in the fictionalized Wakanda Black Panther. They should raise one Black fist, like Tommy Smith and John Carlos.”
“Resistance in 2023 means we should do like the 20 Republicans in Congress, meaning we should fund enough Democrats so that they owe an allegiance to Black people rather than their big-time donors, some of whom are outside of the country,” said Brian Figeroux, activist attorney and founder of News Black Voices. “We should make Hakeem Jeffries belong to us, as an example. And the people who should fund this Black revolution are the Black NBA and NFL players. The revolution of the so-called minorities is to have an effective voice in Congress. It is better than telling people just to vote. We need to have a controlling influence over our representatives.”
Every February, out comes the list of great inventors and influencers like scientists, doctors, architects, teachers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, educators, historians, and authors. Recommended reading includes Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project,” Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid,” Gloria Browne-Marshall’s “She Took Justice,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” author, Charshee C.L.McIntyre’s “Criminalizing a Race, Free Blacks During Slavery,” and of course, any works of great teachers like Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
Black Excellence, Black Girl Magic, Black Boy Joy are wonderfully inspirationally buzzwords, and self-determination is the foundation of all of them.
Omowale Clay, a leading member of the human rights organization December 12th Movement, told the Amsterdam News, “Malcolm X once told us, ‘If you can name it, you can claim it.’ Malcolm was instructing Black people to learn that the power to name something also gives you the power to define it—if they name us Negro and we accept that definition, then we will become that Negro.
“Today, violence in society is defined by white people as something native to Black people.
However, we who have fought to define ourselves see racism and poverty as the root cause of violence in our community. It is poverty that has been perpetrated on our people through the theft of our bodies, labor, and genius. A poverty that continues to be violently inflicted, and manifested through poor healthcare, inadequate education, high unemployment, low-paying jobs, lack of housing, and police repression.
“This is why we must define our response as resistance and reparations now.”
In that regard, Clay and the December 12th Movement are calling for the community to push for “passage of the New York State Reparations Bill during Black History Month,” he said. “We need you to come out, get the information, spread the word, and push your elected officials to act by voting on this crucial bill. We must do it.” (February 16, 7 p.m., Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton Street, 718-398-1766)
With the message that “We have a nation to build,” the December 12th Movement is also organizing the 58th commemoration of the death of Malcolm X (February 21, 7 p.m., New Canaan Baptist Church, 288 Putnam Avenue, Bed-Stuy).
Dr. James McIntosh of the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People (CEMOTAP) told the Amsterdam News, “The motivation for the work I do as a doctor and as an organizer for the people is embedded in work we are tasked to do to help our community. There is nothing more important than empowering our people, and providing information and resources to enable us to be as independent and self-determining as we are meant to be.”
The WBAI “Mindfield” radio host is hosting a Zoom meeting (February 25, 347-907-0629), “How To Make Our Children Malcolm X-perts, Mind Field Eugenics Part 2,
In addition, a Book Party event, “The Dead are Arising, The Life of Malcolm X,” features a panel including Tamara Payne, Prof. Gloria Browne-Marshall, Prof. Milton Allimadi, and Nana Betty Dobson.
This post was originally published on New York Amsterdam News.