Archive | June 19, 2010

A Black Independence Day?

A Black Independence Day?

By Hwaa Irfan

Juneteeneth or June 19th has passed many years without recognition – referred to as Black Independence Day, it marks June 19th 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared the end of slavery. Or was it 1865 when General Gordon Granger finally decided to tell everyone in Texas about the “Emancipation Proclamation” delivered by President Abraham Lincoln? It’s funny how even after his death we still refer to him and a few others as president. Anyway, give or take a couple of years, African-Americans were freed from slavery – well at least freed from something!

The one blessing (or a curse) in America today that many influential African-American professionals can vouch for, is that money and power knows no color line. What most African-Americans would say is best said by the American major league baseball player, Jackie Robinson when he reflected on the beginning and the end of his career in his autobiography “I Never Had It Made”.

    “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. I never had it made.”

For some by now there will be murmurs of “How un-American,” blind to the fact that racism is still very much a major part of everyday life. In fact even a study in neuroscience proves how racism clouds the ability to judge fairly and to feel compassion for others.

Robinson was very “American”, in his baseball, helped raised funds, and made very generous contributions to the NAACP, and the SCLC. Then not happy with the Uncle Tom attitude of NAACP who seemed blind to the conditions of African-Americans in “freedom”, Robinson resigned from the board of directors. Then Robinson was called an Uncle Tom for voting Republican, i.e. Nixon, but when Robinson voted for Nixon, Nixon was championing the civil rights bill of 1957 and 1960. When Nixon betrayed the civil rights cause, Robinson denounced him. Robinson was the first black male to break the colour line in baseball,. He was showered with honors, courted by politicians, and did well financially, but the reality was and has been:

    “I can’t believe that I have it made while so many of my black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity, live in slums or barely exist on welfare.”

It’s like calling Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, when it has created the world’s largest open prison of a people whose only crime is to exist.

Slavery is Alive in the 21st Century

Years on from the Proclamation of Emancipation, slavery is still alive and kicking in the U.S. This slavery has no color line. Every year 100,000 and 300,000 children aged 11-14 years old—are sold for sex according to government statistics. This is in addition to the serious problem that the U.S. has with human trafficking. It is still too early to celebrate Black Independence Day (Katrina stands as an ugly testament), and the abolition of slavery.

Here I reprint a piece entitled “Women and Resistance: When Words Fail!” written in 2007.

Girl, woman, bride, mother, artist, doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur — there was a time when African-American women were not allowed to be any of these, to dream, to hope, or to care for anyone, including herself .
Driver man (the overseer, (work supervisor for the slave master) whipped the slave on all levels of human existence, until the human being forgot about being human and submitted completely as slaves. The slave masters even feared the language and the drumming of the slaves. Driven underground for those who dare, patterns of remembrance could not help but bear fruit in one form or another.

Cruel moments of existence were relived many times in the many lives of slaves. Unbeknown to the master, for those who dared, African-American slaves would be the comforters, the healers, the women who reminded those they could that they were human beings. They were not made by God to have no minds; they were not made by God to have no hearts, no dreams, in marrying whom they chose or to have children from their choices and not forced upon by the rape of their masters to be beaten into shells of existence, to be toys when they were notmade by God to have no hearts, no dreams, in marrying whom they chose or to have children from their choices and not forced upon by the rape of their masters to be beaten into shells of existence, to be toys when they were not being slaves for their masters.

Turn of fate would have it that one slave, namely Elizabeth Keckley, managed through her needlework and dressmaking skills to purchase the freedom of herself and her son, which led her to work for the wives of Jefferson Davis and President Lincoln.

How does one reclaim what one has never had? How does one claim the knowledge of ones’ self? Are these but whispers of the soul that many feel today? For the enslaved, the struggle becomes more pervasive when the physical chains are broken, but the psychological chains remain.

For some African women slaves, stolen moments presented opportunities to self-reclamation. Through seaming together the pieces of memory torn asunder, the hearts of the African women were rekindled. For as long as they dared to remember and dared to reach for the power of the feminine within, what was taken from them did have an existence.

From deep within came trace memories of Mande-speaking Africa (Guinea, Mali), Senegal, and Burkino Faso; from the Yoruba-speaking and Fon–speaking parts of ancient Benin, Nigeria, from the Ejagham people of Nigeria and Cameroon and the Congo people of Zaire and Angola. Then trace memories came from the Caribbean, Central America, and the Southern United States for those slaves that were bought and sold and resold. Out of Africa came the diamond pattern — a symbol of birth, life, death, and rebirth — represented by the four points.

Within the mother was the daughter and within the daughter her mother connecting to all mothers — all daughters. And so they patched together the meaning of their lives that at times they even had to hide from themselves.

“Seeding a myth” was a tradition of storytelling well-known among the native-American Indians, in order to give birth to the Divine within. Yet when the tongue is stricken with fear and the heart wills, the hands will do their bidding.

African-American slaves were used to doing the spinning, weaving, sewing, and quilting not only on the plantations, but also in the wealthy households of their masters. After the American Civil War, those women who could would go to small farms if they did not remain as domestics, or they went to the city. There was still the reality of how to survive when generations had been trained to do the slave-owners’ bidding. Quilting in this mode of “freedom” was not about esthetics, but about necessity and economics, unless it was for the master.

The intrinsically geometric shapes are considered to hold protective and sacred qualities imbued with knowledge, power, and intelligence from the quilt-maker to the wearer. When words failed, quilts were often used to pass on messages in the Underground Railroad — which facilitated the slave’s flight from slavery in the south to freedom in the north of the States and in Canada. Some quilts were special as they either mapped the stars or mapped land escape routes.

Within the mother was the daughter and within the daughter her mother connecting to all mothers — all daughters so long as memory allows. As such, women will always find ways of challenging all means of destruction where the fingers of injustice cannot reach.

For some, they do not need to be told what justice is. I tell of a strange land where the sense of justice was felt from within. The incident is known as the Aba Rebellion. In 1929, thousands of Ibo women dressed in ritual attire from the female rite of the Ibo, Nigeria, and sang and danced and marched onto the colonial offices of Chief Okugo against the taxation on women. The chief made ready to count their goats and sheep and they shouted:

    “Was mother counted?”

Immobilizing three provinces, they turned the localities upside down, wrecking anything slightly colonial. Fifty women were shot, but the trace memories prevail. This was a strange land, a land far from the memory of the Diaspora — No, this was a very different land.

In the task of providing all the needlework for their slave masters, they found a part of their souls. Sometimes, it would be a group of women who would sit together adding their patch to the quilt — each of their stories becoming a part of the greater story.

Quilting has become a tradition that has not died with the flow of time. Somehow, there is still an inner need. The scars of generations remain from generation to generation within the psyche, as “gifts” from the master who taught one to hate one’s self, to hate one’s own, and to suspect all others. This is the legacy for those who do not heal.


Over 20 million Americans quilt, and some of them are men. From a community of 700 people in Gee Bend, US, they have made it a part of their daily lives for generations to collect all those scraps of meaningful material. Arlonzia Pettway, a member of a group of five quilters, began quilting when she was 13 years old with her mother and two aunts. Now aged 80, her group meets twice weekly, sowing together the edges of each other’s lives. An exhibition of the work of 45 quilters took place in the summer of 1983. The curator at the International Quilt Study Center at the University, Carolyn Ducey of Nebraska, Lincoln, felt that quilts from Gee Bend take on an “almost mystical” quality. Some of the quilts were for sale, because the women aimed to raise money to build a community center.

For Karen from Tennessee, the dawn of the new millennium witnessed her taking up the needle. Dedicating each patch to her grandmother, mother, and her mother’s brothers and sisters; naturally, she grew up with the tradition. Her mother, Sue, learned when she was eight years old, quilting pieces that she took from her mother’s sewing basket. “I used to cover all my dolls with them!” Her teenage years were not preoccupied with such things, but it was having her own children that reawakened the tradition within her. Her granddaughter at 13, picked up the patches of cloth and carries on the tradition.

There must be some sense of achievement in creating from what one has considered — or simply from what one might consider — as being nothing. The art and the artist as one in a process of becoming attracts the attention of travelers and exhibitors. Today, one can find networks of quilters who either make them for the joy of making: to share ideas, stories, thoughts, and patterns even. Some quilters have gone on to setting up their own cottage industry and/or website, for quilting is a marketable commodity. For others, it is about holding a community together.

Retired psychiatric nurse Elnora Lucile, housewife Ida Rowe, writers and directors Bertha Kellum, Kathleen Lindsey, Anna Stevens, entrepreneur Ena Lynn, artist Desna Kellum-Yanzuk, and autism therapist Kimberly Sharon are all sisters who not only quilt but also are happily married women with children and grandchildren and tour the theater circuit, performing Seven Quilts for Seven Sisters: A Stitch in Time.

One cannot appreciate how much modernity as pit woman against woman until a woman spends time with other women in an act of sharing from within, “a stitch in time heals minds!” as the child within the woman unfolds to other women, the mother of all mothers who has waited to exhale begins to access the recesses of her universal soul. In that moment of tranquility, the competitive teachings of the world are laid to rest in the shared quilting of a new chapter.

Quilting for Katrina

The legacy of a past that shaped the hearts and minds of a people lingers because only patches of their past remains to help make some sense of the present realities that are a part of that legacy. Times change, but some things never change. Sometimes we are able to find our place in the world, but sometimes the world likes to be the reminder.

As stockbroker Gabrielle Dubin-Bullard (Gabby) in Florida watched the disaster that was striking the people on TV, her tears were not going to help anyone. She contacted a friend who owns a quilting shop, and together with others they founded Patches for People. You may have heard of “sit-ins,” but it was “sew-ins” for Patches for People. With their first “sew-in,” with 12 sewing machines, they made 15 quilts in one day — quilts to sell. Out of a total of 40 quilts, they raised US$11,000 donated to the American Red Cross, and more quilts were made to send to the victims of Katrina to help them survive the ensuing winter of 2005. Gabby was not African-American, but of German origin. For Gabby, “Doing it with these women makes it more significant somehow.”

The Ghost of Slavery Past

When Elizabeth Keckley returned to St. Louis after many years, she was told,

“When we heard you were with Mrs. Lincoln, the people used to tell me that I was foolish to think of ever seeing you again — that your head must be completely turned. But I knew your heart and could not believe that you would forget us. I always argued that you would come and see us some day.”

Kathleen replied:

“You judged me rightly, Miss Ann. How could I forget you whom I had grown up with from infancy? Northern people used to tell me that you would forget me, but I told them I knew better and hoped on.”

    “Ah! Love is too strong to be blown away like gossamer threads. The chain is strong enough to bind life even to the world beyond the grave. Do you always feel kindly towards me, Lizzie?”

It is not easy to forget, no matter how many generations one is removed. To forget leads only to rekindling a numbness of the soul that is felt by many, not only African-Americans. To forget, means an inability to understand why racism still exists. To forget is to not understand why so many African-Americans are still not comfortable in their own skin. To forget means leaving behind a piece of the soul, one’s compassion and ability to reclaim one’s life and to forgive those who do not know any better.

    “Every generation must, out of relative obscurity,
    discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Franz Fanon

Avenanti, A, Sirigu, S. Racial Bias Reduces Empathic Sensorimotor Resonance with Other-Race Pain. Current Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.071

Davis, Carol. ” Family Tradition Makes the Quilt.”

Mitchell, Gary. “Gee’s Bend Quilts Head Home to Alabama After N.Y. Run.”

Roberts, M.B. “Quilting for Katrina.” .

“Seven Quilts for Seven Sisters: A Stitch in Time.”

The Impact of European Influences and Colonization on the Ibo Women

“African American Quilts: A Long Rich Heritage.””African American Quilting Traditions.”

Related Topics:
Weaving to Reclaim the Soul: War-Rugs
The Doctrine of Discovery
The Hypocrisy of Anti-Immigration in Arizona
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Schooling Your Child in Violence

Schooling Your Child in Violence
By Hwaa Irfan

How are the summer months after the school year been treating you? Have these summer months met you with relief from the tensions of the school year. That might be the feeling for both student and parents alike, and teachers might be feeling more than shaken by it all, but In the summer break leading up to the new school year, is the time to consider what kind of education you would really like for your child, and by this I don’t mean more money.

School violence is becoming a common occurrence these days; the problem is that it also might be becoming all too acceptable. It is only now that the study into U.S. school violence has been released for 2003-5 by the National Center for Education Statistics. A frightening 2,911.000 acts of theft were carried out, and 1,852,000 were violent. Of the violent acts 54% occurred within the school building and 82% of all incidents were not reported to the police. Of the violent acts:

– Guns were used in 14,100 incidents
– Knives were used in 68, 400 incidents
– A blunt object was used in 42,100 incidents

Before jumping to stereotypes:

– 714,600 of the offenders were white
– 324, 4000 of the offenders were black
– 96,300 of the offender were male
– 25,000 of the offenders were female

We can look at American society, and say unequivocally that America is a society founded in violence, and has always been violent. This is of course said here under the assumption that it goes without saying that the U.S. has a problem with school violence. It might have even come to attention a few news reports about school violence in European countries. This may not be on the same scale as the violence in American schools, but on a European scale, it is still considered a phenomenon. In the cosmic law of things, to know the essence of something one has to first know its opposite, like knowing what it is to be thirsty in order to know what it means to be without thirst, so if public reaction is an indicator, we have clearly allowed the unacceptable to become acceptable forgetting what is unacceptable.

U.S. – in the case of Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 where 32 people died, there was the normal national outcry, increased security measures, a national debate about firearms which always takes place a result of which nothing is done, and a tribute to the dead and their families.

Poland – A 14 year old girl was sexually attacked by three male classmates in front of the whole class in 2006. It was filmed on a mobile. This only came to light because she committed suicide. Even though there was a zero tolerance policy in place on school violence, the minister responsible for looking into the incident, whereby a teacher was not present in the classroom for 20 minutes by proposing a ban on the spread of pornography, improved methods for hunting drug dealers, to make it easier to dismiss unreliable teachers, a decent school dress code, a new hierarchy of reward and punishment for students, a curfew for students aftetr 10.00pm.

The fact that the children involved had reached a level of underdevelopment seems to have surpassed the national debate in both countries to the extent that they came from families, whom we know nothing of, who had raised children who could carry out such acts, is not a reflection on the families alone, but is a reflection on the societies to which they belong. An act is carried out whatever it may be because the environment has given some kind of consensus that there is some level of permission. The school is a microcosm of that environment, and so too is the individual, and the family unit.

Blame the children, Blame, the teachers, Blame the parents, blame everything else but what about the nature of schooling itself given that it is a tool of the state.

Schooling – is used to refer to the system of mass education or factory education which provides one method to a large number of students.

Violence – is the act of harm against one’s self or another. The intent to cause harm is forbidden in Islam.

The Growing Concern About Schooling

Educationalist Clive Harber has developed much concern of what he observed as a growing problem with schooling and violence. Initially his concern was not one of schooling and violence, but one of schooling and politics. Harber became convinced that schooling is responsible for the initial violence, and for “reproducing and perpetuating forms of violence” in society at large. This arose out of his observation as a teacher in Nigeria, where the inherited system of schooling was British, and corporal punishment was a standard practice. This notion was affirmed when looking at the colonial system of education and the resistance to them in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, South Africa, and Namibia.As an educationalist in the U.K. his reason for concern continued there.

    “When we respond to violence in schools, if we respond at all, it is to the children who are violent. When a child forces another to do his or her bidding, we call it extortion; when an adult does the same thing to a child, it is called correction. When a student hits another student it is assault; when a teacher hits a student it is for the child s own good . When a student embarrasses, ridicules or scorns another student it is harassment, bullying or teasing. When a teacher does it, it is sound pedagogical practice.”

Harber reminds us of the historical context of mass education, which is evident today was to maintain social and political control over the then growing working population which sprung up as a result of industrialization. Some Americans might be experiencing this reality as certain states endeavor to curtail the practice of homeschooling.

“Hard Times” written by Charles Dickens serves as a brutal reminder of education then, which was to enslave the imagination, and to appropriate the human being from his soul. A 2000 report to UNESCO by J. Esteve, The Transformation of the Teachers Role at the End of the Twentieth Century: New Challenges for the Future highlighted the intrinsic nature of mass education is one that increased teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil violence. He adds, the authoritative mechanisms employed to control pupils no longer work as effectively as they did as students are challenging the fact that they have no power in any form within a system which causes them harm.

This was demonstrated in the Harry Potter film “The Order of the Phoenix, whereby children who once had some level of control over their environmental, had this removed by the ministry which enforced the same method of learning from one book on the entire school, without reference to experience. Of course the students revolted. The happily married couple we were sitting next to were horrified.

– A systematic approach by asserting that all students of the same age can learn one thing in one particular way causes harm (a feeling of failure in one form or another).

– All children are unnaturally forced to sit behind desks to absorb not learn as the learning environment has been eliminated in the process.

– A child is forced to keep up in a class of up to 30 -50 other students is harmful (low self esteem, and likelihood of illiteracy).

– The teacher is forced to control the classroom in a military like fashion.

– The teacher is expected to get the entire class through on a single method.

– That single method is overly competitive setting up situations for intimidation, bullying, prejudice, humiliation, depravation.

– A child is being forced to see the world through one particular view, which excludes their own view/experience

– Everything a child does is monitored and directed.

Just like cities, the individual in a large school loses their identity to something bigger and more demanding. It is impersonal and does not care about your potential or your likes and dislikes. The lack of familiarity breeds a community of strangers, which lead to the feeling of alienation, and being invalidated. Without that sense of belonging, in real terms there is nothing to really be accountable to except a series of laws and by-laws which do not even care if you as the pupil exists.

“Pupils will do things when they are not known, to people whom they do not know far more readily than they would to those whom they do know” is the conclusion of the 2002 Department for International Development report “Towards Responsive Schools

Most of those who have questioned the virtue of mass education have been former teachers. One would think they these teachers should have remained in teaching to change the system, but if the system is intrinsically wrong, change is not possible, especially if the Administrators think that there is nothing wrong. One of those former teachers is John Taylor Gatto, who authored the Book “Against School”. How many times have you come across a child who is against school, without realizing that there is a justifiable reason to be against school. Gatto reflected:

    “I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were”.

Jealously, my daughter referred to the students who graduated to become lecturers at the same university they were students of. Why jealously, when she is not in her graduation year is something else. She commented on going to their study room for some advise, and noticed all the reminders they had pinned up on the wall about being a good teacher. My response questioned the purpose of those reminders when they themselves have only gone straight from university into teaching when in fact they were not taught. What do you mean was her shocked response. I replied:

    “They have not experienced life, let alone their subject in life, so how can they teach it”.

Gatto pointed out that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln were not products of a mass education schooling system, and they never graduated from high school. Inventors like Edison, industrial leaders like Rockefeller; writers, Mark Twain and scholars like Margaret Mead were never schooled. And to add to that list are the long list of Muslim scientists that have left a large legacy to the modern world.

Recently performing in Cairo, Benjamin Zephaniah peformed at the Alzhar Park. A rasta, who writes and performs poetry for the betterment of humanity, and makes a good living traveling the world, was a rebellious pupil in and out of trouble when he was at school. Deemed uneducated, he was told as a child that he was a oorn failure. He told Al Ahram Weekly reporter Ingy Al-Kashef:

    “My uncle sat me down once, after I’d been in trouble with the ploice and thrown out of school. I was 13 or 14. He said: ” Look, you’ve got to behave yourself; you’ve got to conform more” So I said: ” What do I do?” He said, “You get an apprenticeship after school, get a job, find a nice dark-skinned Jamaican girl, and then you get married, get a mortgage and a house, and you make some babies”. Then Zephaniah paused and asked “And then what?” and then he said: ” Then you die.” Then I remember coming back from the meeting saying if that is why I am here, if that is the meaning of life, if I can’t find anything etter, I’m going to kill myself.”

Benjamin Zephaniah received and rejected an OBE from Queen Elizabeth for his work.

Gatto became curious about the purpose of secondary education when he read the book The Child, the Parent and the State.” This book was written by James Bryant Conant who was president of Harvard University for 20 years, executive of the atomic bomb project, and WWI poison gas expert. Written in 1959, Conant referred to a book which was the basis of the American education system. Written by Alexander Inglis in 1918 (after whom an education lecture is named after at Harvard), which is to:

1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority.

2) The “integrating function”. Like the “integration” debate on Muslims in European countries, it is not about pluralism but conformity. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

3) The “diagnostic and directive “ function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role.

4) The “differentiating function”. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further.

5) The selective function. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes.

6) The “propaedeutic” function. An elite group of caretakers is required.

Hands up to anyone who can recognize any of the above! If you felt, but did not know that this is what was being done to you, how would you react? What if you knew that the understanding behind black psyops/psychological warfare, is the knowledge that people are more reactive, and more confused when they do not know what is happening to them? In the Israeli war on Lebanon, Hizbollah countered Israel’s black psyops, y making sure the people did know what was going on, and the Lebanese ended up more sane, and more unified (across faiths), than any other operation.

Now we have witnessed how violence is perpetuated from the emotional and psychological harm that transfers to physical harm. It is natural to a child, to learn, to evolve, to develop and explore. Education from the Latin means to draw out the latent powers of an individual. When a person is being prevented from doing so, the result is only natural. One might assume that well that’s rubbish, I did well; and maybe academically you have done well, but the harm is also emotional and psychological, so I ask you, are you leading the life you want to lead or is it being led for you?

• Massification vs. personalization

• Uniformity vs. variety

• Conformity vs. creativity

• Fragmented vs. holistic

• Theory vs. practice

• Time rigidity vs. time flexibility

Where are you and your child midst these opposites?

We live in opposites, it is from opposites we are to learn, to grow as humans, and become more harmonious, but if we are deprived of the opposite, if we are told in so many ways that the opposite does not exist, then harm is being done, because we are being prevented from establishing the natural patterns of our lives which exists between opposites.

Given the above then how can modern schooling/mass education/factory education provide the following for your child:

• Social cohesion

• Tolerance

• Mentors

Instead isn’t schooling:

• Removing your child from the family sphere of influence including values, ethics, and faith

• Making your child too competitive, thus argumentative, feelings of inferiority, internalized racism/sexism

• Turning your child into a stranger

Then look at the children that do, do well – what do they have in common! And in 5 years time, what do they have in common!

Ruddy, S. et al. A Profile of Criminal Incidents at School. U.S. Dept, of Education

Anabel, R. B. School Violence in Spain

Ammermuller, A. Violence in European Schools

Click to access dp07004.pdf

Gatto. J.T. “Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why.”

Kowzan, P. “Teachers and School Violence: A Comparative Study of Danish, American and Polish Phenomena”. Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences ( 2009) Vol 1, No 3, 736-747

Harber, C. Schooling as Violence: How Schools Harm Pupils and Societies 2004. Routledge and Kegan Paul, U.K.

Related Topics:
The Missing Link in the Education of Our Boys
When the Waters Were Changed
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The Patterns of Our Lives Pt. II