Evolving and learning
I found out relatively recently that my ancestor King Jaja of Opobo (full name: Jubo Jubogha; 1821-1891, was actually Igbo, not Yoruba. I named this brand ọṣọ aṣa to honor what I thought was my Yoruba my heritage. Had we known sooner, we would have probably named the brand in Igbo. We're learning and evolving, and we love it. We use Ghanian symbols on your merchandise. We have and will be using African proverbs and will continue to evolve and learn. We represent the entire diaspora. Rather than edit the original post, I want to leave it as is. Just as a reminder that most of OURstory is obscured by white toxicity. I was extremely fortunate to have a relative survive and thrive over 100 years and impart his knowledge and memories to us. The fact that we exist and can create this brand amongst our other blessings, is homage to everyone that came before us. It need not be perfect. It just needs to be.
I think my lineage has been called into question. I got a snarky offhand comment from someone I reached out to for support. I think they visited my site and was doubtful about the authenticity of my claims and subsequently invalidated my ancestral claim. Let me explain; I mentioned in an earlier post that I am descended from “King Ja Ja” of Nigeria but I had no idea that it was “a thing” to claim a “royal” bloodline. Well, who wouldn’t want to be royalty? You’re a king and a queen without a kingdom. What’s the harm in making that claim? No harm in claiming other elements of our vast ancestry. We have a vast repository to choose from and thanks to white toxicity (supremacy) not many direct lineages can be traced back to Africa. It it's a fantastical to assume you came from nothing as much as it is to assume that you came from greatness. If we could trace our roots, it would matter if your forefathers were hunters, gatherers, artisans or rulers. That knowledge does something to our psyche and how we perceive ourselves. That knowledge ushers in a new sense of belonging, of kinship. Does our identity depend on it? I don’t believe so…
If this pandemic taught us anything,... well, it hasn’t taught us as much as it has reminded us a lot about the prevalence of systemic racism in healthcare, law enforcement, the justice system, the media and business leadership, to name a few. But it should have also taught us that everybody is important. The overlooked; the under appreciated individuals that work their fingers to the bone to ensure that they can put food on their table, the cashiers, the sanitation workers, the stock room workers, the office and wait staff, the hospital workers, the delivery drivers, the nurses, the doctors, on and on…you know the type; the essential workers.
Essential; absolutely necessary; extremely important, workers; persons who do specific work that the rest of us take for granted. We tend to overlook the undocumented workers that are not clearly represented, yet are an essential element to the farming industry as well. They all put their life at risk every day that they show up to do their part. Essential workers. Now take that concept and apply it to 500 years ago, African society. Do you think anyone was non-essential? Our people were farmers, traders, scientists, teachers, scholars, villagers, chieftains. Did everyone do it all? No, of course not but everyone had a role, everyone was “essential” to the fabric of their family, tribe, and culture. Some cultures were more elaborate than others, traditions varied. Society was more pragmatic. Some culture’s included rulers via chieftains, some had monarchies, some were warrior based, some were hunter or farmer based. Most functioning members of these societies did their part. They were all essential. This pandemic should have been a reminder that the most essential workers are typically on the front lines holding society up. When we were stolen from our land it didn’t matter what our role was in our origin country. Kings, Chieftains, warriors and servants were all captured and sold into slavery, if not killed. It’s nearly impossible to trace back our origins to an individual ancestor. Unless, our griots survived to tell our history. If you claim to be a descendant or kings or servants, there is no shame. I would encourage you to claim it all and not be discouraged by anyone with an aversion to embrace our history.
Before my great uncle Ethelbert, died at the age of 103, over 15 years ago.
We were able to be reunited with him due to the advent of the internet. My cousin Q, (Unc’s daughter) was raised by Unc, her mom, and her mom’s family. She knew nothing about Unc’s history except that he came from Trinidad and Tobago on a boat to the US in the early 1900’s. Since air travel wasn’t invented yet, one had to get on a boat to get to where one wanted to go. Also, if you wanted to communicate with your family over great distances, you had to write a letter and hope that it was received. The only confirmation that your letter was received, was a response from the recipient. If Unc Ethelbert ever wrote, no letters were received and he was assumed dead. Morbid, I know. It wasn’t until over 80 years later that we became aware of his survival and subsequent existence. Q, had researched his lineage via the internet. Thankfully my grandfather was still alive and in his late eighties and he and his big brother were reunited. It was during this reunion that we learned much of what we know now about our family history. If it wasn’t for my cousin’s curiosity we would’ve never known where our name originated or more importantly our African ancestry.
We are descended from a man that was exiled from his native country of Nigeria, under the British rule, to the island of Grenada. This detail bothered me to some degree because I thought we were “Trinidadian” through and through, from generation to generation. It was the first time I was told that we were only 2nd generation Trinidadian. I’ll get back to that in a moment. My ancestor sired children while in exile, some of his descendants migrated to Trinidad. One of them was my great grandmother Unc Ethelbert’s and my grandfather’s, mother.
She shared our family history with Unc Ethelbert at an early age and gratefully he was old enough to retain it and in turn, he shared it with us; the rest of his family once reunited. Our ancestor was Ja Ja of Opobo. His history is documented. You can google him. Long story short he was a chieftain, dubbed “king.” He rose from poverty to wealth and influence by learning to trade. He ended up being an impediment to the trade of captured Africans hence his exile. My knowledge of my specific lineage and family history is a point of pride. Prior to that I was “Trinidadian” and it was enough. I can’t explain the shift in my being since this information was revealed, but it meant something. I’m proud of his accomplishments like they are my own. I honestly can’t remember my opinion on our African history prior to this knowledge, but there was definitely a shift. Although I previously only clung to my “trini” culture as my own, I realized that my ancestor’s journey included several islands in the Caribbean after their capture from the African continent. So 2nd generation or not, I claim it as my own. Why not, I was born there. My children will add Trinidad, America, Grenada and Nigeria as their ancestry.
Today I understand that my roots run deep, OUR roots run deep. Ja Ja’s accomplishments are all of our accomplishments, same for Mansa Musa, same for the Dahomey’s warriors, same for the unsung farmers and gatherers; the essential workers. We should claim it all. For those of us that don’t have an Unc Ethelbert to connect us to a specific lineage you need to know that OUR roots run deep even in absence of being able to connect it all. Within us is a rich and storied history full of unsung heroes that got us to where we are. We may never be able to be reconciled with distant relatives but the way OURstory is set up…we’re still connected. Remember your grandmother telling you that it was going to rain before the sky has a cloud? How your grandfather could build anything? How your artistry, business acumen, leadership skills, expertise just became present? Sometimes with tutelage, oftentimes as a weird second nature. That’s your ancestry; that’s your roots.
Some might read this and think, “malarkey!” I. Don’t. Care. I won’t let them tread on my spirit.
My history is your history. It’s OURstory. I’ll prove it. When you refer to enslaved Africans, civil rights workers, black panther party members or victims of police brutality, do you say “they” or “we?” “We’ve been in this same struggle since…” “we’ve been …” “ they used to have us out there in the sun picking…” You personally weren’t there. Why the “we and us?” Because it’s OURstory, our roots. Told you! Your roots are my roots. Let’s claim all BLACK history as OURstory. As a matter of fact, world history is OURstory. When your lineage is called into question, dismiss it and dismiss them. They are the perpetuators of an oppressive system that, without being challenged, erase our history. Challenge them. Claim OURstory. Remember that regardless of the branch we all have the same roots. The deeper the root the greater the fruit. You are the fruit. We’re rooting for everybody BLACK!
They call themselves "American" and we don't bat an eye. Sometimes we even cheer. There's no outward or subconscious rejection of the label. You're probably reading this and wondering where's this going? Think about it. American. Just American. Everyone else gets a hyphenated name but not them. African, Asian, on and on.. even the original known inhabitants are hyphenated; Native-American! Colonizers found them here, stole their land, decimated their people and claimed the American moniker for themselves while relegating the original inhabitants as "Native." Begs the question; Does "American" mean white?
We've been conditioned to think that the hyphen is a way to identify each other by race or heritage. Its not. It's another way to claim ownership over something that doesn't belong to them and to tell others you don't belong.
This conditioning has become clear to me during the recent p BLACK LIVES MATTER protests and the counter protests claiming all lives matter. I saw a video where dialog broke down and the "all lives" crowd, decorated with the American, flag began to chant U.S.A! U.S.A! It was weird. They couldn't agree that black lives were included in all lives, they wouldn't repeat the phrase BLACK LIVES MATTER. Instead, they countered "all lives matter" and that declaration eventually devolved into "U.S.A!"
It's anti-blackness. Plain and simple. For every valid point relevant to black issues, there is a counter point created to gaslight us and their followers into thinking our issues do not exist. The way they coopted "U.S.A!," patriotism, and "American," we should snatch their soapboxes. The civil right movement adopted this principle in the south, where the confederate flag flew high, civil rights leaders carried the American flag. It was a symbol of the movement! Today, we see people draped in it chanting U.S.A! To drown out reason and general good sense. Makes me laugh to think how they would react if we took over "all lives matter." What would their counter be?
That's a rhetorical question. I don't care. The whole point of decolonization is to get them out of our heads and focus on us.
That's why I combined an interpretation of the American flag and APOLOGETICALLY BLACK on the African-American. My way of saying neither this country nor this flag is yours to withhold from others. We may not appreciate its origin but we aren't going to let anyone wrongfully claim entitlement. We've had enough of that. We've experienced and witnessed too much to allow them to resocialize "whites only."
I want to see the look on their faces when they see the image of the flag/country exhibited on this shirt. I hope they swell up with pride before their minds connect the words. I want to short circuit some synapses. UNAPOLOGETICLLY BLACK combined with America?! They've weaponized every semblance of rule against us. We're expected to hate the way they do. After all this time and all the wickedness directed at the black community we persist. We're that stubborn flame you can't extinguish. Truthfully, we want to left alone. This shirt is really a reminder to us; our people that we belong. Let that light in you burn black people. People don't change because they see the light, they change when they feel the heat. It's our jobs as Griots, as torch bearers, as truth tellers, to ensure OURstory is perpetuated everywhere we stand.
Being black doesn't mean anti-American. However, for those of us on this decolonization journey, being black has become to mean anti-institutionalized racism, pro-equity, pro-justice just to name a few. African; unapologetic in our blackness, unapologetic in our love of self, 0URstory, our potential, our God. American; despite the attempts to deny us rights, dehumanize us and revise our history; American in spite of the hate towards us.
The racists can chant U.S.A all they want, this image won't run; its here to stay just like we are...and by the way we still carry Africa with us wherever we go. ọṣọ aṣa.
People are writing well thought out, well researched pieces about how far we’ve come as a people, as a society, as a country since July 4th 1776. This isn’t that. I’m disappointed, despondent, angry and fatigued to say the least. It’s all due to everything that I see today, the more I learn of this country’s history. The duplicitousness, the hypocrisy the arrogance on full display is sickening.
America, what if the country you celebrated doesn’t exist? What if the very things you praise about the country means the exact opposite to roughly 20% of the population. The freedom you claim means the incarceration to others, the wealth you squander means lack and insufficiency for others, your celebration means their torment. Would you be interested in changing those things that causes the difference in experience? What if it meant your ways; including the celebration of everything that’s wrong with America? Starting with its heroes. Let’s take Jefferson as an example. He owned Africans, commissioned studies to perpetuate the lie that they were less than human yet had no qualms about fathering children with Sallie Hemmings. By today’s standards, a grown man that grooms a teenager to cater to their sexual depravity, would be labeled a pedophile. Oh wait, we should ask Cyntonia Brown if that rings true for her. After being forced into sexual slavery she mustered the courage to successfully and fatally defend herself against her oppressor and served 15 years in jail because of it. Or ask Chrystul Kizer that was faced with the same dilemma, rescued herself at the detriment of her oppressor and now faces criminal prosecution. Ms. Hemmings had no choice but Jefferson did, because he was free. See how he exercised his freedom? American hero.
They tell us we’re free today and all you have to do is open a newspaper, watch the news, browse social media to challenge that narrative. We fought for freedom; we were granted a modicum of it. We fought to be treated civilly, we were granted some courtesies. None of it is enough. None of it created equity. We’ve built and rebuilt something out of nothing over and over and over. Every time we do, our white neighbors and friends either stand by and watch or participate in the destruction of our accomplishments. Black Wall Street, Rosewood, Wilmington NC (google Daily Record fire) the list goes on and on. We’re that proverbial crooked rose that Tupac spoke about. We keep blooming under the most adverse conditions. We do just fine, given the opportunity. Therein lies the problem; “given the opportunity.” Which brings me back to “independence;” so no, by appropriate standards, we ain’t free. They had to and still do write laws to make sure we were treated with a measure of dignity. Just last year, 2019, Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright co-authored a bill to ban racial discrimination based on hair; you know, the thing that grows out of our head naturally. A bill had to be passed to prevent it from happening because it’s still a thing. But we’re free though.
I have and will celebrate Juneteenth. The 4th is and will be just the 4th. When America doles out reparations for descendants of slaves the way they did land grants for white people; when the American government starts investing in communities of color the way they executed redlining and mortgage discrimination; when black bodies aren’t dropping in the streets at the hand of people that are hired and sworn to protect and serve; when all legal standards align with equity and fairness, I will celebrate the 4th.
Please keep in mind; the American flag was actually a symbol of the civil rights movement! It was the anthesis of the confederate flag! Paragons of the black civil rights movement waved it proudly because of what it was supposed to stand for. Racists were big mad. The more they saw the flag, the more they promoted the confederate flag; a symbol of a traitorous and murderous contingent of Americans with too much power. When you see a semblance of the flag on our merchandise, that is what it stands for; a real rebellion; integrity; truth; people. Our very existence is a rebellion. We’ve acted with integrity to build ourselves despite attacks from our white neighbors, with or without their help. Our people will survive. We will thrive. We will be free. America needs to decide if they want to grant us what we’re entitled to, before we decide to take it by any means necessary. ọṣọ aṣa
Google defines unapologetic as not acknowledging or expressing regret. The Merriam-Webster definition is “not apologetic” (duh): “offered, put forward, or being such without apology or qualification.”
Black /blak/ of the very darkest color owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white. I’m going to go with this definition for now.
I wanted to take some time to lend my own definitions which may expound on those above in some ways and contradict in others. There’s a reason that I chose the designs that I did as part of our inaugural launch. I’ve heard the saying “unapologetically black” before and I feel like I live it. I also feel that you’re here because you do too. We’re being challenged regularly to be apologetic; to relent to the pressure of a society that doesn’t embrace us; to be quiet and distant even when present. Blackness isn’t easy, nor is it something that any of us asked for, but it’s definitely something that we embrace! Its who we are. Blackness by my definition is providence, magic, inclusivity and ubiquity to name a few. We can be dark like midnight, yet shine like the sun; our complexions are a proverbial rainbow. Our hair has been described as defying gravity itself; different coils, different kinks, as unique as our very diaspora, growing up and out, yet it seems we need legal permission to wear it naturally. The opposite of white.
We shouldn’t apologize for who we are. I can’t say that I disagree with the definition of Black as much as I want to point out that this particular definition is incomplete. Let’s forget that the origin of mankind happened in Africa for a nano second. Let’s disregard for a minute every single hue and creed was derived from blackness. Don’t forget too long, we’ll get back to that. Black is inclusive yet for what we absorb, we amplify and emanate it. We can’t list here the number of inventions of advancement that we have contributed to society, that is utilized daily for the betterment of life as a whole. We usually default to our cultural, artistic and athletic contributions when we think about blackness but we’ve done so much more. We continue to redefine greatness. Our very DNA has been exploited for the betterment of global society at large. Our scientific and mathematical contributions are infinite. You can’t walk a step in any direction in a developed country and not encounter the result of blackness. We can’t forget our origin, nor our purposed place.
The microaggressions that we face on a regular basis is a display of societal insecurities; their effort to diminish the sovereignty of “black;” the opposite of white. Let’s look at the other definitions, synonyms, or descriptions of “black;” characterized by tragic or disastrous events; causing despair or pessimism; full of gloom or misery; very depressed. Micro-aggressions, micro-invalidation and micro-dismissiveness are even baked into the very definitions of black. We need to assert ourselves. We will continue to use all avenues to demonstrate what we know to be the true definition of black unashamedly, we can be humble and bold, strong and vulnerable, compassionate and resolute. I won’t lie, its an uphill battle. We’ve lost some footing due to colonization. Restoration is possible. Your presence means that you have been chosen to perpetuate the brilliance of God via contributions. You are here for a reason so be who you are.
Be Unapologetic in your BLACKNESS. Show up in those “opposite of black” spaces that expect silence, complacency and distance, and be your brilliant selves; be UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK. ọṣọ aṣa.
I read a book by the name of "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing" by Dr. Joy DeGruy, a few years ago. It describes a set of attributes associated with multi-generational trauma experienced by African Americans and Black peoples across the diaspora; including undiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder afflicting descendants of enslaved Africans as well as other outcomes. My mind was blown. I've since bought several copies of the book for friends, neighbors and associates. I've also recommended it to teachers, business and community leaders.
Reading about PTSS was the beginning of an awakening for me. Early on in the book, Dr. DeGruy tells a story of a child that received a correction via a universal diaspora sign; "the look." While the parent was distracted the child in the story started to stray in a way that our culture would discourage. Another unrelated black adult made eye-contact with the child and conveyed via an unspoken language "get back where you know you belong." The book goes on to explain that we've been conditioned to keep our children close; why this practice has been passed down from generation to generation as well as the ramifications of the conditioning. The child in question immediately corrected their behavior because the lessons of past generations were already ingrained in them via their parent. They knew "the look" despite the vessel communicating it.
The same goes for other behaviors that we've become accustomed to, that are called out in the book. The colonization of our bodies and minds affects everything we are. How we process information, including everything from our entrepreneurial interests to our day-to-day engagement with each other has been influenced; oftentimes to our detriment. We have been shackled in profound ways. Decolonization is one of the tools we'll use to break the lingering chains of oppression.
All of our messages will attest to the beauty, wisdom, strength and diversity within the collective cultures of the diaspora. ọṣọ aṣa.