Many may know of Dr. Rashidi from their own personal, respective journeys in attempting to understand the context of our existence from a historical, cultural and social perspective. Due to the fact that many of us have been effected by colonisation and/or slavery – there tends to be a disconnect between what we know about ourselves and the past that we are, inevitably linked to. This disconnect is oftentimes a result of a purposeful erasure and the only way to heal these severed ties is through conscientious, active investigation. For many who embark on this journey – Dr. Runoko Rashidi emerges with the likes of Ivan Van Sertima, John Henrik Clarke, Asa G. Hilliard, Edward Scobie, John G. Jackson, Jan Carew and Yosef ben-Jochannan – all men who have created work in a field where there has all too often been a gaping hole; and whose work is founded on their authentic love for people of African descent and the various cultures and influences that can be attributed to us.
It is important for a people to have a history, a unifying story; and it is important that we shine light on the men and women who ensure that we have this legacy to pass on to our descendants. Dr. Rashidi is a well-known and respected anthropologist and historian whose focus is unearthing the many facets of our history and culture throughout the world, specifically although not exclusively, outside of the context of slavery and colonization. “We are so much more than that (slavery and colonisation),” Dr. Rashidi told the audience, which was comprised of all facets of the African diaspora– from the Caribbean, various countries in Africa and here in Europe. Dr. Rashidi has travelled to about 112 countries in the past 17 years, and has lectured in over 60 countries.
“I have said it a lot of times and I say again right now. Africa is not named after Scipio Africanus. Scipio Africanus was the Roman general who engineered the defeat of Carthage, which was in the country we now know as Tunisia. The name Scipio Africanus means “conqueror of Africa.” That alone implies that the term Africa was in use before his time. We should stop repeating such a foolish and inaccurate and insulting comment. Whatever the name Africa means and wherever the word comes from, it was not named after a Roman general.”
The audience gathered on Friday April 15th to hear Dr. Runoko Rashidi speak in Copenhagen, Denmark for a historic visual presentation about the global presence of people of African descent around the world. The event was hosted by the Afro Empowerment Centre for Unity (AEC). Victor Bennett, AEC’s vice president and co-founder, reminded the audience of the historic significance of the event. “Often we don’t have this (history of people of African descent) in our education system and this creates a conflict within us and among us because we forget who we are. Sometimes we forget to say, ‘this is my brother’ or ‘this is my sister’. We forget to reach out. We forget to build that network because our network has been attacked. So it is a great historic day. Each one of you who are here today, it really means a lot to AEC, but more importantly it will really mean a lot to you. We’re all going to make an oath today, we’re going to take care of each other, and we’re going to take this lecture away with us and contemplate it and start a new day in Copenhagen, Denmark for PADs (people of African descent) and we can do this if we believe.”
“What you do for yourself, in large measure, depends on what you think of yourself. So if you think that you have no worthy history, that you come from nothing, you will tend to act that out. But if you think that you come from greatness, you will aim for the stars.”
He presented “The Global African Presence” – a photographic journey of people of African descent he has witnessed and documented in his extensive travels. This visual presentation covered the four corners of the globe and included his travels to Egypt, Mexico, India and throughout Africa. Dr. Rashidi spoke about the dispersal of Africans in ancient and modern times and why we should be invested in history. “How can we know where we are going if we don’t know where we have been?”
Dr. Rashidi covered such areas as the importance of African history, the geography of Africa, the history of Africa, and the dispersal and movements of Africans throughout the world in modern and ancient times. He told the audience about his philosophy of history. “What you do for yourself depends on what you think of yourself. What you think of yourself depends on what you know of yourself. What you know of yourself depends on what you have been told. So if you are told that you don’t have a history or that you come from the jungle or that you come from a cotton plantation you will act that out. But if you believe you come from greatness, you would act that out.”
Citing the power of images, Dr. Runoko began his visual presentation with an image of Malcolm X and reminded the audience of his transformation from Malcolm Little, Detroit Red to Malcolm X and later to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. This transformation could never have happened if he did not read about the forgotten histories of African people. Dr. Runoko touched upon the Prison Industrial Complex, the high rate of murder within Black communities and general devaluation of Black life insisting that if we knew who we were, this would not be able to take place. “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” He continued to speak of Dr. John Henrik Clark and his matra of “Pan Africanism or perish,” and other scholars who paved the way to repairing our histories such as Ivan Van Sertima, John Henrik Clarke, Asa G. Hilliard, Edward Scobie, John G. Jackson, Jan Carew and Yosef ben-Jochannan, all scholars whose work is necessary in our collective understanding of who we are as a people.
“Egypt is in Africa. It has always been there. I have been to Egypt 22 times and it has been in Africa every time. And the people who were responsible for Pharaonic Egypt were African people = Black people. In fact, the African name for Ancient Egypt is Kmt = The Black City or the Black Community. The relationship between Africa and Africans with Ancient Egypt is similar to that of Europe and Europeans to ancient Greece and Rome. Our discussions of Egypt should not imply that we are ignoring the rest of Africa. We are simply focusing on what is arguably the most spectacular part of Africa and a part of Africa that has been artificially detached from our Motherland.”
“Loving yourself does not mean hating others,” he reminded his audience, who sat in revered silence to hear him speak. His images, from all over the world, flashed above a white background, their pictures telling stories of perseverance, creativity and endurance. “In Africa,” Dr. Rashidi said, “were the first people, the first place to domesticate fire, build boats, mathematics, art, were the first to bury their dead, compose and play music, clothes, philosophy, charting the stars.” “All of the modern religions,” he reminded us, “came from Africa.”
Dr. Rashidi spoke about the general perception of Africa as being, “poverty, disease and wild animals,” and that learning the truth about Africa begins a process of seeing yourself in a different light. “This type of knowledge ought to be taught in schools,” he continued, “Being an African is the greatest thing I can possibly be. I’m so proud of that.”
He spoke about the carving up of Africa, of colonial powers that have looted and raped the continent. “Africa is not poor, Africa is rich!”
Speaking afterwards about the event Victor Bennett said, “It is rare Afrodanes and People of African Descent living in Denmark get a chance to hear a lecture which reviews our global presence let alone by a renowned scholar with over 40 years field research such as Dr. Runoko Rashidi.
Afro Empowerment Center aims to do cultural events such as these which help us examine and reinforce a positive identity in the decade of People of African Descent.
In such political times where we are constantly being defined as foreign, associated with colonial borders and our right to self identification is being trampled on by freedom of speech advocates who really advocate for freedom of hate, it is vital People of African Descent and Afrodanes call on our elders scholars who have been documenting our presences and contributions globally to remind us of how much we have given to this world and ultimately how much we truly mean to the fabric of humanity.”
Skandik Afrik had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Rashidi afterwards to ask him a few questions.
1. You have dedicated a great portion of your life to travel – can you talk about the role this has played in your life and how this has impacted your worldview.
It has played a fundamental role. There is nothing like seeing things first-hand, whether in museums or actual communities of people. And once you have seen it no one can ever take that away from you.
2. You have seen and met Black people all over the world. What do you see our major obstacles being in terms of self-determination?
Lack of consciousness to a large extent, but also a profound lack of organization. No matter how angry you are about injustice it is difficult to challenge it without proper organization.
3. What are some of the thoughts traveling to Copenhagen inspired for you?
The tragedy of Africa. The fact that we live in all of these places that are for the most part not very welcoming for us.
4. What advice do you have for Blacks living in predominantly white spaces?
Try to get out asap!
Reflections on Dr. Runoko Rashidi’s historic visual presentation in Copenhagen, Denmark.