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
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
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
Mumia Abu-Jama. (Jan 2001).