Feature

We Have To Stop Being Ashamed Of Being Black

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STOKELY CARMICHAEL, back in the 60’s popularised the Black Power movement. He encouraged us to accept ourselves, our history and our looks.

In South Africa today, we still have schools – previously whites only schools –  demonising Black students with braids, afros and in most schools, dreadlocks are not even allowed. Most students with dreadlocks have to provide a religious reason (Rastafari) for their “unruly” hair because is looks unkept – and doesn’t conform to the straight, silky, caucasian look which is acceptable by Whites.

Our democratically elected government is at pains begging schools not to discriminate. How often have we seen our Gauteng Minister of Education, Panyaza Lesufi especially, begging schools to review their policies on hair. In 2017, 23 years after so-called liberation nogal.

Writing in the Sunday Independent in 2012 one of the world’s leading intellectuals and writers, Ngugi Wa Thiongo said

“…, a multibillion industry in the world is built around the erasure of blackness – and its biggest clients are the affluent black middle classes in Africa and the world”.

Here is an interview on the author of Stokely Carmichael’s life. The man that taught us it was OKAY to be Black, with your afro, with your hips, with your flat nose….


Let’s hear now about the man who back in the ’60s popularized the term black power. “Stokely: A Life” is the work of historian Peniel Joseph. His new biography examines, in detail, the late Stokely Carmichael’s life and legacy. NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates talked with Joseph about Carmichael’s transition from civil rights work to black power advocate.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Many African Americans proudly wear afros, corn rows and dreadlocks today, but back in the early ’60s, natural hair was considered wild and a little shameful by a lot of black folks. Stokely Carmichael’s biographer, Peniel Joseph, says one of Carmichael’s most significant gifts to black Americans was his encouragement that they accept themselves, their history and their looks.

STOKELY CARMICHAEL: We have to stop being ashamed of being black. We’ve got to stop being ashamed of being black.

PENIEL JOSEPH: And so he was really defiant in declaring that, you know, black is beautiful, before James Brown, before that became very popular in the late ’60s.

BATES: The very phrase black power, says Joseph, made some white people anxious.

JOSEPH: They assumed that black power meant being anti-white and really sort of violent foreboding.

BATES: While black audiences heard a different message.

JOSEPH: They received it and defined it as something that was positive, that it was about cultural, political, economic self-determination, so he becomes an icon both nationally but very positively within the African American community.

BATES: Carmichael’s words were powerfully resonant, politically and culturally, for a population that had long been measured against white standards and aesthetics and found wanting.

BATES: At 19 he began organizing as a university student. Carmichael and other members of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were spending dangerous summers in the Deep South. They were working to help register first-time black voters. Peniel Joseph says Carmichael had an uncanny ability to make genuine connections with black farmers still living in near feudal conditions on white-owned land.

JOSEPH: He’s the kind of activist who slept on dirt floors in Mississippi, in shotgun shacks in Alabama. Really was unadorned in the way in which he had a love for very, very poor people.

BATES: A natural teacher, Carmichael gave user-friendly civics lessons to black tenant farmers, many of whom had not gone beyond the third grade. He urged them to see a future in which their votes mattered.

CARMICHAEL: Now, in this country it says majority rules. We are 80 percent in this county and we have the right to rule this county and we’re gonna rule it. I don’t care how poor we are and how black we are, we’re going to govern this county.

BATES: After graduation from Howard, Carmichael turned down an offer from Harvard to do graduate work in his philosophy major. Instead, he returned south to continue organizing. The movement, he said, was his fate. Carmichael was so active that sometimes, his biographer, Peniel Joseph, observes, it felt as if he was everywhere at once.

JOSEPH: Before the black power theme, he is an organizer who has his hand in every major demonstration and event that occurs between 1960 and ’65, which is the second half of the civil rights movement’s heroic period.

BATES: But the period when blacks and whites work together for equality began to diverge around 1966. Many white liberals bristled when Carmichael pointed out that however well intentioned they were, they were privileged simply because they were white and the beneficiaries of institutional racism that existed in the country’s financial, political and cultural institutions.

CARMICHAEL: What do you want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Black power.

CARMICHAEL: What do you want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Black power.

CARMICHAEL: What do you want?

BATES: He was also changing his mind about Martin Luther King’s nonviolent philosophy, which depended on what King called the demonstrator’s redemptive suffering to effect social change. Carmichael thought King had a good idea, but…

CARMICHAEL: He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.

BATES: By 1967, Stokely Carmichael would become Kwame Ture and move permanently to Guinea, West Africa. His time as a household name was over. But, Peniel Joseph says, the effect Carmichael had on African Americans’ racial identity and race relations in the U.S. and beyond created a lasting legacy. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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4 Comments

  1. It’s gonna take us years to solve the hair one. Our sisters buy this expensive hairs, and they then look glamorous.

    1. There is nothing wrong with the hair issue all ethnic groups do it.

      It refers to what we call
      Cosmetic changes

      Which mean they improve the appearance of a situation or thing but do not change its basic nature,as its superficial.  

      It is a cosmetic measure which will do nothing to help the situation long term…

      Maybe it is us men that lead our sisters to this motivation of cosmetic!   

      1. Recently we have been given evidence that Cyril Ramaphosa our respected leader is one of those “Men” what a dispicable act of immorality! Now he says its family matter! I disagree to that assertion, its a cultural attack & reputational damage to all black male, and set a bad precedent to our boy child that its okay to use money to exploit a girl child..

  2. It is my strongest submission that we as black people in this country are not ashamed of who we are, or where we come from.

    However we all suffer from “Inferiority complex a curse instilled in us by Colonialism & the Apartheid System.

    For as long as there is no RET & return of land, we will remain in this space till the end of time.

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