Black Pride

by Michael Ewetuga

“We have eyes, but we don’t see. We have ears, but we don’t hear.
We can read, but we don’t understand what we read.”   

I know all about low self esteem and I know all about hating your kind. Those who have never been rejected or made to feel inadequate cannot really understand the feeling. Being the son of two illiterate parents was not a piece of cake in a colonial mentality ridden Nigeria, where your importance is determined by your mastery of the queen’s language and neither is being an African in America, where your importance is determined by the color of your skin. These situations will teach you all you need to know about low self esteem.

When you call a language the queen’s language, who would not want to master it especially since yours is inferior and thus termed vernacular. You can get little or nothing done if you’re not, at least, a passable speaker as well as writer of the English language whether in or outside your country, if you’re an African country that has adopted English as its language.

Why would anyone who can only speak vernacular not feel inferior to the high and mighty who have so mastered the queen’s language to the extent that their fluency in that language overshadows the merit of their arguments, if any? Logic is not important it is enough that they speak the queen’s language so well. I remember my mom used to say someone’s English was so good, although she was in no position to determine how well spoken the speaker was, that you feel like licking the speaker’s lips. The ability to speak the language was very impressionable to her.

By the way, let’s look at the definitions of vernacular from two sources.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online Vernacular means:

  1. Using a language or dialect native to a region or country rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language
  1. of, relating to, or being a nonstandard language or dialect of a place, region, or country defines it as:

  1. (Of language) native or indigenous (opposed to literary or learned).
  2. Using plain, everyday, ordinary language.

Perhaps the definitions are harmless but if your language is just ordinary as opposed to learned or cultured then of course how would you view it? How would you feel if you speak a language that is nonstandard?

From the language, to our skin color to our lips and nose, to our culture, to our continent to our very existence Africans, or if you will Black people, are termed “inferior”, a race without history. If events are not documented is that tantamount to absence of history?

Apparently, as an “inferior race” we are incapable of any sort of intelligence in the judgment of the “masters”, after all we are black, whether African or African descendants of whatever nationality.

It was not just a shameful thing to speak vernacular in Nigerian schools it was a “flogable” offense. Imagine a 7 years old boy discussing last night’s football match with his school mate in their language, which is the only language they know because their parents are not “educated” and therefore couldn’t have taught them English even if they wanted to, imagine the horror on their faces when one of the teachers, his face contorted with anger, bellowed rhetorically “are you boys not aware that vernacular is not allowed on the school ground? Come here, I will teach you how not to break the school’s rules.”

The teacher referred to above is neither white nor English, no, as a matter of fact he could be “blacker” than you’ll ever get to be if you burnt in hell fire for a million years and to make matters worse the man’s cheeks are labeled with the tell tale tribal marks that we don’t get to see any longer, thanks to “civilization”. What makes it worse is not the fact that he had tribal marks it is the fact that like you he’s black, he speaks that language and he joined with others to label it vernacular. I wonder if the English man would adopt another language and term his own vernacular.

Your self esteem had no choice but to be low since it just got a very hard knock from the all knowing, Mr. English speaking teacher. You did not only have a low esteem of yourself, you now see your “uneducated” folks as stupid and irredeemable failures, you wished they had gotten some sort of “education”, since they did not you didn’t want to be associated with them because they were “uncultured” and will waste no time in denying them more vehemently than Peter denied Jesus on his was to be crucified. How many of you, with “illiterate” folks can swear that at one time or the other you did not deny your folks because they were “illiterates”.

Being “educated” means being superior to those who are not and an educated man should not be seen fellowshipping with uncultured people. You thumbed your noses to your culture, your language and you ridiculed your people in your self righteousness. Being educated is subjective, you might be educated in the western ways but how educated are you in the indigenous African ways, how much do you know about you?

How could the black race advance or claim any sort of authenticity when it’s losing its language, culture, religion, history or education. Whatever education we credit ourselves with did not stem from the black race since it doesn’t really teach our culture, religion or history and where it does it is hardly from our perspective. Our worldview is determined for us and we see ourselves from the eyes of others.

How many times have we felt so important because we can quote Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, St. Anthony, St. Augustine, Paul, Peter, Sigmund Freud, Mohammed and Jesus Christ? None of them black. And even when we quote blacks we quote them quoting some other people or quoting from someone else’s religion as in “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!” This, of course, was taken from the bible, which is a Jewish religious book to some extent. The bible as we know it today was compiled and authenticated under the authority of the Romans. This is not taking anything from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he was a great man; no doubt, as he spent his short life fighting for equal rights and justice, he probably did not get any original black education and thus could not have quoted his progenitors in Africa.

From birth every good thing was represented to us as white including all the historical personalities such as Jesus Christ, the angels, Adam, Eve and so on and so forth and everything black was bad like the devil and his angels. All the people we see as heroes were whites. Someone finally took pity on the black people and made the devil red with horns and tails. I remember one of Fela’s interviews where he claimed that when he was in Europe they use to feel his backside to see if he had a tail tucked securely in his pants.

The religion introduced to me by my parents was Christianity, my primary school was a public school and prayers were said according to both the Christian and Islamic religions. I went to a catholic secondary school and partook in the Holy Communion, praying to Holy Mary and all. There was a time in my country when our flag was the Union Jack; in case you don’t know what the Union Jack is it is the British National Flag and we swore allegiance to the queen, who by law can never be wrong. I sat in a class where a stupid teacher taught me some stupid history such as Mungo Park discovery of River Niger, which runs across Onitcha in Anambra State, in my country.

We went to church even though my dad, like some in his generation, could not readily forsake his fathers’ ways of life, so he worshipped “Ogun” too. Ogun in the Yoruba traditional religion is the god of Iron; you worshipped him if you were going on a journey since your car is considered to be made of Iron. I saw him pour libation on Ogun dropping pieces of yam covered with palm oil as well as the blood of a cock on it. He had some pieces of iron representing this god and the reason for the blood was so that Ogun would not drink one’s blood during the journey since blood is his food.

What my dad did was in conformity with the religion of his birth before he embraced Christianity, yet he found himself combining the two despite the fact that the bible is vehemently against such practices since the Christian God, and I imagined all other gods of all other religions, is a jealous God.

Worshipping God through some craven image is not indigenous to Africa, the Greeks were reported to have done exactly the same thing, so did the Jews as well as many other races in the world. The Christians today may not be worshipping God via that medium but the reference some of them give the cross, the bible or even the picture of Christ, which couldn’t have been in his likeliness since the science of photography was not in existence when he lived, would make you wonder, what is different? Some people prayed to Irons pouring libation on it others pray to some other images pouring holy water.

Every man, one time or the other, wonders about God and I am no exception. Where I fell out with Christianity and the bible was when I read the story of Moses, perhaps for the 50th time. The one that really struck me was the episode of the one sided power tussle between God and Pharaoh, the let my people go episode.

First I asked myself, if the Israelites are God’s people, whose people are the Egyptians? Let’s not forget that the Egyptians are Africans. If one wants to rationalize it one may argue that God sided with the weak against the strong as in the story of David and Goliath, which might hold water except for the subsequent events.

Secondly, it was reported that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so he will continue to refuse to let “his people” go. If a man’s heart is hardened so that he is no longer accountable for his actions, will it be fair and equitable to blame the man for his actions? To punish such a man is ridiculous since he was not in control of his actions; to punish others along with the man is criminal.

Some people of “faith” I know will of course say I am criticizing God, I am not, I am questioning a historical fact, if it is one and not the figment of someone’s imagination. Let’s not forget that the writers were humans like us and being humans were susceptible to exaggerate even if your belief would make you deny that outrightly. You may also argue that they wrote by inspiration, remember that inspiration has been credited to both good and evil forces. Check your bible.

I wonder sometimes about that story, if God could harden Pharaohs heart not to let his people go, which would not be logical since that was contrary to his objective, why not soften it so he would chase them out and then all those plaques including the killing (murder?) of the children would not be necessary.

Africans embraced this religion and jettisoned theirs, perhaps severing their relationship with God. Not just Christianity, most religions in Africa are foreign. How do foreign religions edify us as a race? We should have been left alone with our barbaric religions which I am sure would have undergone some metamorphosis with time just like the Jewish religion and other religions in the world did.

My mom always contended that education is not the same as common sense and this shows quite clearly when one observes educated Africans, what did they get out of whatever education they got in the various colleges?

Self worth is definitely absent, to be educated is to be more white than black, everything African is barbaric just as they were taught and it is the same education that we pass down to our children who are only our joy and pride depending on how fluently they speak the English language. It has gotten to a stage where our children cannot speak our languages. It breaks my heart anytime I speak to my kids on the phone in my language only for them to retort, righteously, that they don’t understand what I am saying. This of course is due to the kind of education we exposed them to which is an aftermath of what we were in turn taught, nothing but western propaganda.

Thank God for people like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who instead of writing his works in English chose to write in his native Gikuyu language. We must learn to be proud of our heritage; we must investigate our culture and be proud of who we are. We need a reawakening and a reassessment, we need real education in order to find pride.

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Habu February 7, 2008 - 12:47 pm

The new African generations ages from 20-55 have in herited a dangerous world from our respective fathers and mothers. The felt in love with the so called queens language, the religions of Islam and christianity. We are now left to sort out the destructions for our future [forever?]. Since all of us are constantly crying for justice through writings, and non of the offenders-westerners /Middle Easterners are making morality effort to correct the past for us. Now the reality question’s how can you, I and others stop or reduce the evil now? I think # one thing we must do is: we must all [tribes in our traditional setting reimbrace self; mind you, we must do away with the so called islam and xtianity our past problems must be at the top of the chart. While we uprooting it on our children to face as we guide them? #2: we must redefine the so called western education into our lives as it’s the devil helping eat up African value systems-change all textbooks to our languages, disallow our kids from watching the western films and anything western made into our lives? It might be hard reverse work but it’s very important to implement if we’re serious. Enough!

bonjeh February 5, 2008 - 3:00 pm

This is absolutely excellent article. The problem we faced is choosing our battle, if we speak our language, we may not be able to function in the world smoothly, if we choose the european language, we are result into forgoting ours. Europeanisation is everywhere, even the chinese and other asians are learning english. My sistes kids does not speak our native language very well, until I insisted that they must speak native when I am around, because I came from US, they quickly listen to me for the time i am around. I cannot see reverse trend, since it is global world, it would be a good idea to be multi lingua. Great Job.

Reply February 5, 2008 - 1:47 pm

I loved this piece. I went home late last year and was disappointed to find so many of the values I once thought were sacred have been thrown by the wayside. I have spent so much of my time feeling so guilty here in the US that I was not following the ways of my father and his father before him only to realize those ways are dying. Even worse, there seems to be nothing we can do about it.


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