by Ahjamu Umi
A seventeen year old youth has been gunned down. It’s a tragedy that’s all too familiar to African people around the world. Whether it’s in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Haiti, or Sanford, Florida, African life has no value, regardless of who’s pulling the trigger. This is the reason you won’t see me engaging in an emotional download from Trayvon’s murder. I’m way past that type of reaction.
You see, it was way back in the 70s that I first had my taste of the Trayvon treatment. I was an eleven year-old youth on a city bus in San Francisco. The bus came to a stop and four young Black men got on with face masks and guns and robbed everyone on the bus. I knew immediately who the four men were because they were well known in the inner city community in which I grew up. Their vicious criminal activities were also very well known. So much so that I knew taking any step to interfere with their activities could easily mean death for me and my family. So, I took the blow to the jaw from one of their shotgun butts and sat there while they brutally robbed all of the business- oriented White people on that bus. When they concluded their crime spree, one of them looked at me as they exited the bus and said “don’t say s – – t!” Since I hadn’t done anything wrong, I sat there on that bus and waited for the police, believing myself to be as traumatized as anyone else on that bus. Sure, I had no material possessions for them to take, but I had my fragile emotional security. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the neighborhood bus-jackers that shattered that security. There was a part of my young spirit that truly felt the police would arrive to bring justice that day; I remember a part of me being glad to see them when they arrived. My naive sense of security was quickly destroyed when the White bus victims immediately started telling the police I was a part of the group who had robbed the bus. Despite my pleas of innocence, the police threw me down on that bus, handcuffed me, and took me downtown for processing until my parents came down and raised holy hell and demanded my release. No apology, no acknowledgment of my pain, just carry on.
In spite of that experience, I still remained loyal to the system, viewing that incident as just that–an aberration of justice. Holding no grudges I moved forward, believing that my life had as much value as anyone else’s. Then an incident took place when I was 14 that shook me to my very foundation. I was bussed to an all-White school in the then all-White Sunset district in San Francisco. After leaving a store to catch the bus home after a baseball team practice, my 125 lb. self was jumped and beaten unconscious by three White men in their 30s who simply didn’t want anyone Black in their neighborhood. The beating hospitalized me for days, but there are two aspects of that experience that stand out for me, even to this day. First, that I was called the n-word so many times while they beat me, and with such viciousness, that it is impossible for me to see the word as any type of term of endearment as many confused people would argue today. In fact, I’m convinced that those three guys set some sort of record with the number of times they yelled that word in the short period of time in which the beating took place. Second, since the beating took place directly in front of the street car tracks, and it was around the 5pm rush hour, there were literally thousands of White people waiting. Men, women, and children, and not one person lifted a finger to help me. Someone did call the police and the ambulance, but I remember being on the gurney and having the police ask me if I had a record as they wheeled me into the ambulance.
So what’s the relevance of my personal stories in relation to the case of young Trayvon? If you missed it, my point is what happened to Trayvon isn’t just one unfortunate incident. It isn’t just a sad and misguided occurrence in Florida. It isn’t just a case of a racist interaction in the South. Trayvon’s murder is an example of the systemic devaluing of African life that is a part of the institutional racist status quo that has been in place for 500+ years.
My experiences are not just similar to Travyon’s case, they are part and parcel of how this system works. In fact, there are very few Black and Brown males who haven’t had experiences similar to Trayvon’s case. The question is simply whether they were fortunate enough to survive those incidents as I was, or whether they ended up like Trayvon, Sean Bell, Amado Diallo, Oscar Grant, James Byrd, or the large number of Black men killed in inner city violence, which is unquestionably a part of the same life-devaluing process. Since I understand that, I’m way past an emotional response, although to be honest, a part of me does wonder where Black people find the patience to wait for a so-called system of justice that has never come through for us. Why doesn’t someone just drive by Zimmerman’s house and take care of him the way he took care of young Trayvon? Although part of me wonders that, I know that alone won’t solve the problem.
The issue is systemic and therefore only a systemic solution can address the issue. We have to get organized. As the late Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) said at his famous Black Power speech at the conclusion of the march against fear in the Jackson, Mississippi state capitol in 1966, “we have to build a power base that is so strong – it will bring them to their knees every time they mess with us!” He didn’t know it when he made that speech, but two short years later, when he moved to Guinea and became the student of Kwame Nkrumah, Kwame Ture himself would learn what that power base is.
I realize this type of conversation about African self-determination is in many ways totally outside of the parameters for most people of all races in Portland where there is little context for the African liberation movement. Still, if you are serious about this problem then it’s time to broaden your perspective and hear African voices and what we believe to be the best solution for us. One of those solutions, and the one I wholeheartedly endorse, is Pan-Africanism. As wide a stretch as this is for you, if you see America as the center of the world, and/or if you have little understanding of African history or politics, the core issue involving racism is the continued exploitation of the African continent. Racism didn’t start in the U.S. and it doesn’t just exist in the U.S. That’s why the problem can’t be solved just within the U.S. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and the founder of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, was correct when he stated that “No Black person anywhere on the planet will be free until Africa is free. The total liberation of Africa under one scientific socialist government must be the primary objective of all Black revolutionaries, wherever they are on the planet!”
My experiences from the ghettos of this country to the bush in Africa have led me to this conclusion: Racism is about power and the lack of it for African people and other people of color. The key to empowerment for African people isn’t the U.S. electoral process and it also isn’t about relying on the White working class in the U.S. It’s in establishing African self-determination through the creation of a free, united, and socialist Africa. This was the call of Nkrumah, Sekou Ture, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey, Amy Garvey, Malcolm X, Shirley Graham and W.E.B. Dubois, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Muammar Gaddafi, and many others. It’s in creating an All African Committee for Political Coordination in Africa and throughout the African world. It’s in understanding and respecting that, just as the “Communist Manifesto” is the core values document for Marxist/Leninists, the “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare” by Nkrumah is the core values document for revolutionary Pan-Africanists.
If you aren’t familiar with those values or those people, don’t dismiss Pan-Africanism simply as a “back to Africa” movement. Pan-Africanism is about African people returning politically and spiritually to Africa, wherever they live on the planet. It’s about strengthening Africa and creating a power base for African people utilizing Africa’s vast resources to empower African people for self-determination. It’s about raising the stock of African people and shattering this racist system that makes African people reliant on European systems of power, thus perpetuating the concept that African people are less, which creates an environment where African life is less. Consider how you can help Portland become a part of this critical worldwide movement. Trayvon is dead because his real mother, Africa, is unable to protect him. For those who are serious about eliminating racism, we owe that much to Trayvon, and to the future victims of this vicious system. Please contact me at [email protected] or go directly to www.aaprp-intl.org if you want to find out more about Pan-Africanism and the current work of the A-APRP to address this problem on a worldwide basis.