A Pan-Africanist Analysis of Black Seminole Perceptions of Racism, Discrimination, and Exclusion
Von Robertson, Ray, Journal of Pan African Studies
Black Americans have been denied legitimate access to their history. Despite being permitted to attend educational institutions, albeit not always equal to and of the same quality of those of whites, the pedagogical style, along with the informational content, has in no way been African-centered. Schools, both secondary and post-secondary, have done relatively little to alleviate the indelible mark that the aforementioned has placed upon the black psyche. Additionally, schools have done little to inculcate Black students with any sort of knowledge of the Black Holocaust (Lusane, 2002). The information routinely dispensed to students regarding Black Americans and our struggles has focused primarily on the following: 1) crime; 2) poverty; 3) civil rights; 4) enslavement; and 5) how the aforementioned are no longer relevant due to the alleged entrance into a post-racial period fostered by the election of President Barack Obama (Wise, 2010). Consequently, peoples of African descent, and the variables that make up their sociological milieu, are frequently excluded from educational discourse (Karenga, 2002). An example of a group that has made significant contributions to the history of Black people yet are excluded from historical and sociological discourse pertaining to peoples of African descent, are the Black Seminoles. (i)
The Black Seminoles go by several monikers. They are often referred to as Seminole Freedmen or the Estelusti (Muskogee Indian word for Black), (Robertson, 2002). The different monikers will be used throughout this work. The Estelusti consists of individuals of both mixed Seminole and African American ancestry (and non-mixed people of African ancestry who came to live among them in 1866 that are dispersed throughout Oklahoma, Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean (Jackson, 1999, Robertson, 2009; & Twyman, 1999).
The purpose of this work will be to examine the sojourn of the Black Seminoles culminating with their current tenuous status position within the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma from an African-centered sociological perspective. Previous works (e.g., Katz, 1997; Mulroy, 1993) focus on symbiotic relations between the two groups but do not tap into the unique sensibilities and nuances of the African/Black experience in the same manner that an approach which puts the concerns of Africans at the center as opposed to the periphery would. (ii) More poignantly, my work seeks to answer the central question: "Why are the Black Seminoles marginalized within the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma"? The preceding question will be explored by an investigation of the historical antecedents which have resulted in exclusion and marginalization of blacks within the Seminole Nation through the line of sight offered by a Pan-Africanist sociological approach.
An African-centered Approach to Sociology
This paper represents an attempt to develop a sociological epistemology that is grounded in the concerns and thought processes of Africans across the Diaspora. So when Staples (1976) says "the purpose of Afro-American sociology is to study life and culture which when seen from a Black perspective can serve to correct myths about Afro-Americans found in the sociological literature and to further study Black life as it is affected by political and economic factors" (pg. 21), he has articulated the foundation of a Pan-Africanist sociological approach. Moreover, Pan-Africanist/African-centered sociology will examine Black life and circumstances as non-pathological. Consequently, the aim of Afro-American, i.e., Black sociology, can be viewed as inclusive of several themes:
(1) The study of Black life and people from a Black perspective;
(2) The correction of myths about Blacks in popular sociological discourse;
(3) The Study of Black life as affected by political and economic factors;
(4) Black, i.e., African-centered sociology, must be an emancipatory and liberating endeavor.
The aforementioned tenets, with a particular emphasis on principles three and four, were utilized in this study to examine the selected responses of Black Seminoles as they negotiated the circumstances surrounding their experiences with the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
It can be argued that W.E.B. Du Bois makes a strong case for consideration as the father of African American sociology, and by extension, the intellectual progenitor of any attempts to formulate an Africancentric or African-centered approach to sociology (Staples, 1976; Wright, 2002). In particular, Du Bois' Philadelphia Negro (1899), in analyzing the stratification system of Philadelphia's Black community, posited that problems of Blacks of lower socioeconomic status were residual effects of adaptive responses to the horrific conditions of Black enslavement. The aforementioned analysis represents a departure from the paternalistic, pathological, and Eurocentric racist summations of Black behavior and Black people as a whole that was common in mainstream, i.e., white, sociological discourse (Bauner and Wellman, 1936; Park and Burgess, 1924; Staples, 1976).
In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois illustrates the utility of sociology in the examination of racism and the need for Black independence from European hegemony. Further Du Bois advocated for civil rights and Pan-Africanism, and organized five different Pan-Africanist congresses from 1900-1945 (Collins and Makowsky, 1998). Ultimately, as an intellectual progenitor of African-centered sociological thought, Du Bois can accurately be perceived as using sociology to re-define what it meant to be Black/African and also to provide a non-pathological explanation of the dilemmas encountered by Africans.
In laying the foundation for an African-centered sociological approach, Ani (1994) provides some valuable insight in her definition of 'Yurugu.' Specifically, Ani (1994) defines 'Yurgu' as "a being in Dogon mythology that is responsible for disorder in the universe" (p. xxviii). Ani (1994) uses the aforementioned term as a metaphor for European intellectual hegemony.
Ani's (1994) intellectual contribution is her elucidation of the problems that Eurocentric foundations of knowledge present for explaining the experiences of African people. Put more succinctly, when European epistemologies are used to explain the circumstances of an oppressed people (Africans across the Diaspora), universal disorder occurs. The aforementioned disorder manifests itself in the form of intellectual marginalization of scholars and scholarly works that attempt to transcend the boundaries of the Eurocentric intellectual paradigm (Hotep, 2008). Thus, the contributions, accomplishments, and the historical precedents to the contemporary status of the Blacks Seminoles are not acknowledged. Why? Because as victims of physical and psychological enslavement, oppressed Blacks are left without a cogent analysis of their plight and without the agency to define it. The inability of peoples of African descent to facilitate a large-scale, global movement toward complete liberation is one of the many reasons for the disconnectedness of Africans globally (Ben-Jochannan, 1971; Williams, 1987).
Black Enslavement by Native Americans: An Untold Component of Maafa
Maafa is the Swahili work for great disaster (Ani, 1994). It is a term used to describe the sojourn of descendants of Africa during the transatlantic system of enslavement (Ani, 1994). The unequal treatment of Blacks during …
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Publication information: Article title: A Pan-Africanist Analysis of Black Seminole Perceptions of Racism, Discrimination, and Exclusion. Contributors: Von Robertson, Ray - Author. Journal title: Journal of Pan African Studies. Volume: 4. Issue: 5 Publication date: September 2011. Page number: 102+. © 2008 Journal of Pan African Studies. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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