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Mumia Abu-Jamal:

EVERY GENERATION NEWBORN


"We are almost a nation of dancers, musicians, and poets."
Equiano (1745-1797) (African captured by British; later free writer of his life in Kingdom of Benin)

A 21-year old man, newly arrived on Death Row, turns to an older man, and asks, "Hey, Oldhead, what's up with the U.S. and Saddam Hussein? Why they buggin'?"

His question, spawned by events reported on the morning news, became, in quick succession, ten questions, each built upon the other. Ayatullah? Khomeini? Iran-Iraq War? The U.S. armed Iraq? Whaaat? F'real?

When the Iran-Iraq War began, he was barely a year old, and seven when it came to a gritty, exhausted end. The Ayatullah Khomeini rose to power in a revolutionary Iran before he was born.

He grew up in an age when the state waged a low-intensity war against the poor, and especially African-American youth. He grew up in a time when his preferred form of communication and information was a rap tape, not a newspaper, a book, or some lame on a TV screen.

For someone so young, thirty years ago seems like ancient history.

Each generation that comes into being enters a world that is a puzzle of complexity. The history they are taught (if any) is the laundered history of the rich. This is particularly so for young people of African descent.

The remarkable Ethiopian filmmaker, Haile Gerima, telling of his early years in the U.S., wondered who were the dark people he saw on the streets of America. He had a traditional Ethiopian schooling and upbringing, but he had no idea that the black people who he saw in America were the descendants of 300 years of the African slave trade. It wasn't taught. He didn't know. Imagine! As a young college student in the U.S. during the Black Liberation Movement, he came to learn of the African origins of American "Negroes."

Steve Bantu Biko, the Black Consciousness leader who was assassinated by the apartheid police in 1977, once wrote that the racist government intentionally sought to destroy African history, thereby "emptying the Native's brain of all form and content." The result of this distorted, warped non-history left many Africans immersed in self-hatred:

”No wonder the African child learns to hate his heritage in his days at school. So negative is the image presented to him that he tends to find solace only in close identification with the white society.” [Biko, S. "I Write What I Like," 29]

History is far more than the glory of kings, and the numbing monotony of dates. It provides a light on the present. It explains why things are as they are. It begins to solve life's perplexing puzzles, or it does nothing.

History must answer the questions of a 21-year old man on Death Row.

Mumia Abu-Jama. (Jan 2001).


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