We all have our pet peeves. Some people hate when people pick their teeth or cut their fingernails in public. For others, it’s that annoying Felix Unger-type nasal sound people make when they are congested. Then there’s the people (that don’t realize their cell phone contains a microphone) who speak 100 decibels too loudly in public.
These things annoy me as well. My greatest pet peeves however involve certain things Black folk say, things that are either simply not true, or that oversimplify a more complicated reality. One of my goals as a radical intellectual/activist, is to expose our people to the truth and raise their consciousness in hopes of “unplugging” them from the “matrix” of brainwashing, false information and miseducation our enemies created for us.
- “We need to stop blaming the white man, racism, or colonialism for our problems. We are our own greatest enemies.” It is true that no one can move forward without self-improvement. It’s also true that we choose to be positive and productive or ignorant and useless. Furthermore, whether racism caused our problems or not, WE carry the burden of addressing them. So we should not go around blaming all of our shortcomings or conflicts on white people. What annoys me is that people like this want to act as if our dysfunction doesn’t occur in a context. They seem to think the society takes no blame in creating the collective condition of Black people today.There are many Black folk who would casually suggest we should “Get over slavery or colonialism” as if centuries of enslavement, brutality and miseducation did NOT negatively affect us, or like we are somehow naturally predisposed to criminal or dysfunctional behavior. Our people need to seriously study enslavement and colonialism before so casually underestimating their insidious influences on us today.
- “This is my opinion and I’m entitled to it!” Naturally I don’t believe in suppressing diverse opinions or those that differ with mine. However, all opinions are NOT created equal. Valid and credible opinions are INFORMED. Someone somewhere gave many of us the false impression that it was okay to speak with authority on things we know little or nothing about. In truth, this is irresponsible, arrogant and lazy. If we are privy to a conversation and are unfamiliar with the subject matter, we can wisely exercise our right to “remain silent.” Alternatively, we can ask questions to learn about the topic. But it is downright disgusting to offer opinions that we cannot support, just for the sake of saying something. Too many people completely abuse their right to free speech. America and the rest of the world are in a dire condition. We need an informed citizenry if we are going to rescue and reclaim the environment, freedom/justice for all and get our basic needs met. Three of the most empowering words we can share with our people is “Read a book,” or in other words, take the time to inform yourself on issues so that you can speak intelligently about them and add to the conversation. Don’t go by speculation or hearsay, but take the time do your own independent research
- (In response to addressing whites’ enslavement of African people) “But Africans sold slaves too!” This speaks to my previous pet peeve. You will find that the great majority of Black folk who say this simply know little to nothing about African enslavement or enslavement throughout the world. First of all, Every ancient people had slaves. Enslavement generally occurred when a nation or group was victorious in war. As a general rule, this nation enslaved those they defeated. What distinguishes the Arab and European-formed chattel slavery our ancestors experienced, is that not just the person was enslaved, but their entire progeny, their children children’s children and so on. It was an inter-generational enterprise. Secondly, was the dehumanization factor. These ancient slaves were understood to be human beings who were now captives. But they were not thought of nor depicted as sub-human beasts or animals as we were during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Chattel slavery branded our people as objects! Thirdly, traditional slaves could often marry, freely practice their religion and rise to political influence and own property. Chattel slavery stripped us of any and all claims to power, social mobility and civic rights in the society. In addition, most other forms of slavery were local in nature, contributing to the enhancement of a village, small territory or province. Traditional slaves built local infrastructure, irrigation systems, local agriculture. Also family structures often remained intact. Our enslavement at the hands of whites created a highly lucrative and international slave trade, forcibly dispersing our people all over the world, separating families, and helping to create the very foundation of French, British, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Belgium and Italian wealth and industrial strength. Between 1884-1885, these European powers held the Berlin Conference where they divided Africa into sections for them to rule. And I should add that although the African Independence Movement severed these colonial ties, you will still find these nations’ influence over African government and finances today. When you examine the facts, you simply cannot compare local African villages sale of their brethren to the international machine of the trans-Atlantic slave trade or European colonialism. But you can’t tell the whole story is you don’t know the whole story, can you?
- America is the greatest country on Earth. Well isn’t this just ignorant and arrogant? Such hyper-patriotism blinds us to past and current American realities like genocide, mass incarceration, homelessness and poverty, corporate greed, imperialism, financial corruption, and the mass-production of serial killers and mentally unstable people this county seems to produce. Referring to any nation as the greatest is of course subjective at best, and puts every other nation in the world on the sidelines behind or under the United States. People that are critical of America are not traitors or ingrates; We are exposing the traitorous and ungrateful actions and policies of those that run the country. We challenge America to live up to her egalitarian ideals, documents and proclamations. We challenge America to get her own house in order and leave other nations to do the same. We cannot confuse wealth or power with “greatness,” for wealth and power keep the discussion in the material and quantifiable realms.”Greatness” speaks to morality, ethics, and qualitative issues. How “great” is a nation with the largest rate of incarceration in the history of the world? How “great” is a nation that spies on its own citizens or passes legislation to arrest and detain them for no reason? (in direct contradiction to the Constitution, by the way). How “great” is a nation that will allow corporations to sell unhealthy products to its own citizens for profit? Or allow corporations to have products made overseas while citizens in this country suffer from unemployment and abject poverty? How “great” is a nation that will kill and falsely imprison people who challenge its injustice, then lie about its involvement? How “great” is a nation that uses all of its power to censor and limit the information we receive? America is a diverse, wealthy, powerful and technologically advanced nation for sure. It has tremendous potential to do great things and has done some great things. But a great nation, it is NOT! And considering all the pain, suffering, injustice and exploitation we continue to receive here, we of all people should have sense enough not to run around here like gutless puppets, talking about how “great” it is (and actually meaning it). Black people have always been the radical conscience of this country, challenging it to be better and do better and resisting it when it fails to. When I see Black people waving flags and displaying hyper-patriotism, I wonder how much they were paid for such fraudulent and undeserving endorsements. I’m sure that if our ancestors could, they’d resurrect and openly chastise us for such traitorous and cowardly behavior.
- This world might tear you down, but you just have to trust in God, Jesus, Muhammad, Jehovah, Buddha….I consider myself a spiritual person who believes in justice, freedom and harmony. I also believe that the Creator of this planet and all others endowed us with everything we need to attain these things. Faith systems are important as they establish a system of ethics and inspire us to focus on what is truly important in life. At the same time, any belief system we subscribe to should make us active agents of our own happiness and fulfillment. When religions become tools of control and negative propaganda that have us make peace with dysfunction, oppression, and exploitation, they are no longer useful or relevant. In the “Matrix” movie for example, the “oracle” character was relevant and useful to the extent that she encouraged Neo to think for himself and assume his rightful place as a liberator of his people by fighting the “agents” of oppression. Had the oracle simply advised Neo not to fight back, wait until his death to enjoy paradise, or accommodate to his/their oppression, she would simply have been another component of the oppressive apparatus, and therefore an enemy herself! I believe as did the late John Henrik Clark, that all ideologies and faith systems should be used to foster justice, fulfillment, and liberation. They should not encourage us to suffer patiently, abide with injustice or “wait it out.” Religions after all, are man-made institutions alleging to be representative of a supreme being. My experiences and observations tell me that these “interpretations” are often faulty and self-defeating. No religious or political ideology should arrest our ability to see things as they truly are and respond appropriately.
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.