Families (Unknown Enemies)
There is an old saying: “knowledge is power.”
The axiom sprang to mind unbidden, when I read an article recently on a distraught, single, Liberian mother, in fear of the violent drug trade engulfing her Staten Island, N. Y. neighborhood, who promptly shipped her oldest son back to their West African homeland.
She reasoned that even war-torn Liberia, which has been plunged into civil war for at least the last generation, would prove a safer place than a project in a New York borough.
What was thought to be a summer vacation with relatives turned into several years amidst a real war, a war which taught the teenaged youth important life lessons about the iniquity of death, hunger, and abundance.
When 17 year-old Augustus Massalee initially arrived in Liberia, he was as mindlessly materialistic as any other over-fed American kid. But life in West Africa gave him a broader, deeper insight.
Like many of his peers, stealing was probably regarded as, at best, a prank; at worst, a hustle. In a recent article in theNew York Times, Massalee spoke laconically about the prospects of theft in a poor, mostly rural country: “On that side, if you steal, they beat you or kill you or burn you to ashes.”1
But what was most remarkable, according to the article, was the tale of conflict between native-born Blacks and African from the continent, who, in grade school, launched slurs at each other, like “cotton picker” and “why don’t you go back to the jungle!”
“Cotton pickers?” “Go back to Africa?”
Not surprisingly, the paper doesn’t note how ironic such slurs appear given the specific histories of these two communities of Black people.
For Liberia was established in 1822 by Blacks freed from American bondage. In other words, the African-born children shared nationality with former “cotton pickers.” And the ancestors of American born Blacks had indeed “gone back to Africa,” to establish the nation of Liberia 185 years ago.
Indeed, beyond their Blackness, it is possible that these two conflicting communities shared the commonality of familial bloodbut who will teach these children that?
How will they learn such powerful lessons within the false, narrow confines of No Child Left Behind?
And if the children were able to read theNew York Times account, what would they really learn, other than the Black on Black conflict?
In a nation where whiteness is prized and Blackness is demonized, why are we surprised that conflict is the enduring story, while commonality is virtually ignored?
Knowledge is power: but the converse is also true... “ignorance is powerlessness.”
Prisonradio.org, December 20. 2007
1 Source: Barry, Ellen, “Exiled to a War Zone, for His Safety: Staten Island Mother Chooses Africa as a Haven,” New York Times, December 14, 2007