Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. We will add your capability and technology to our collective consciousness. Your people will adapt to serve us. Your freedom is irrelevant. Your history is irrelevant. Your culture will cease to exist and you will become one with us. We will strip away your identity. You will no longer think independently. Your thought patterns will become one with the collective. Your only goal in life will be to serve us. Your defenses cannot withstand our attack. Your only hope of survival is to cooperate. Resistance is futile.
These words may sound like the monotonic speech of the scariest villains from the Star Trek universe. But these words could have just as easily been the words from the Europeans as they descended upon Africa and started to dice and slice the continent up into their colonies.
Like the Borg in the 24th century, the Europeans in the 15th and 16th century knew that to assimilate the people of Africa they had to strip away everything the African knew about his or her world. While the Borg would use technology to assault an individual’s will, the European managed to subdue the will of the African with intense pain, agony, and torment. Like the wild mustang that resisted a saddle or a bridle with every ounce of its strength, the strong willed African became a challenge to the descendant of Europe. The white man had to suffer the possibility of exhaustion and working up a sweat from having to swing a whip to rip away the African’s defiance and gain his or her surrender. The image from the television mini series Roots of a bloodied and beaten Kunta Kinte, played by Levar Burton, hanging from his manacles as he is asked what’s his name. The name Kunta Kinte was irrelevant. The key to salvation from the pain was to submit and admit that his name was Toby.
With the African’s acquiescence of having his or her name replaced by a new designation, the first step in the assimilation process has started. The African surrendered his language as well. It could really hardly matter to the African. All family and friends were gone and the chances of running across someone else from his community were pretty slim so the consequences of forgetting the familiar language were already in progress when he or she was abducted from the home land. In order to keep some kind of social interaction in the new strange place with all the other subjugated peers the familiar language was replaced.
But what was truly a stroke of African assimilation genius was the separation of the African from his or her spirituality. What the white community chose to misinterpret and under appreciate as mere superstition was the African’s native spirituality. The pagan belief system of the sub-Saharan African, who was the primary source of African slave labor, was forbidden and the belief system of the conqueror was provided in its place. The theory here is that the African could not be completely controlled by white people as long as he or she continued to gather their strength of character from their belief systems that operated independently of any Caucasoid influences. The Africans had to be trained to avoid their traditional beliefs like the plague.
The many Africans who continued to value their spiritual beliefs here in the land of severe enslavement did not give them up easily. Some were probably given beatings that would make even Jesus in the Passion of the Christ wince and say, “Damn!” So the old ways had to be abandoned. Some of our ancestors couldn’t quite make the transition to the new European based or European influenced belief systems completely and had developed a hybrid that consisted of elements of the African pagan spirituality with the traditional European belief system. An example of such a hybrid would be the Santeria beliefs that are a heavy dose of Catholicism and an equally heavy dose of the Orisa based Yoruba traditions.
But many of our ancestors had to learn to reject their African beliefs at the end of a whip. For those that learned and adapted quickly they became the overseer of the others and would take responsibility for the spiritual teachings of the slaves. These people were the slave preachers who studied the master’s bible and earned the master’s trust. The preacher spoke on behalf of the master’s god and therefore the master. In the world of the enslaved the preacher was an enforcer. African’s who couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to their new mandated spirituality would actually invite the entire community to suffer the consequences. The master was liable to cutoff privileges for everyone if they did not do their best to control the rebel rouser. Therefore, the slave community would work to make sure peer pressure is applied for the salvation of any one who defiantly tried to resist spiritual assimilation. The enslaved black community adapted the same assimilation techniques as the plantation. And resistance was futile.
This is not to say that the beliefs of the Christian, Catholic, Jewish, or whatever you may have of the white conqueror were necessarily inappropriate for the kidnapped Africans or for their future generations. Many people of African descent have adapted well and have developed their sense of religion based on the European traditions. There are many paths to god and one is just as good as the other.
But the real problem is that now that so many people of African descent have adapted the European’s belief system, we no longer value the spiritual traditions of our ancestors who lived in Africa free from the European or our ancestors who suffered through the middle passage. Indeed, the black community has learned en masse to turn our collective nose up at our brothers and sisters who still practice any form of African spirituality. We view these misguided souls as evil and anti-Christian. And if we see them as anti-Christian, then we must have no choice but to see ourselves as anti-African.
It’s not just a simple fact that it is different. Black Christians will tolerate the typical Jewish belief even though the Jews do not accept Jesus. The black community will accept the various forms of the Native American’s pagan beliefs. But as soon as we are faced with the beliefs that are our birthright, the African beliefs that go back thousands of years before Jesus and Moses walked the earth in the Middle East and Northern Africa, we are repulsed as if the devil himself has danced across our path.
People in the black community no longer have to fear getting hit with master’s whip for not conforming to his belief. Black people have pretty much adapted to the beliefs of the Europeans. But those of us who choose to honor our African ancestors and return to our African beliefs have to continue to contend with rejection and ridicule from our African peers as if master was still standing over us looking for one of us to slip up. As long as we continue to vehemently reject the spirituality that used to be ours as descendants of African people the more difficult a time we will have trying to establish our identity as descendants of African people. This is not a call for black people to cast their current European based spirituality aside. However, it is a request that you don’t immediately reject those of us who wish to embrace an African based belief system. Acceptance of the African based spiritualities will no longer bring master’s wrath on your head. Acceptance is not futile.