Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Lens of Blackness: An Anthro-Political Perspective

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Lens of Blackness: An Anthro-Political Perspective

Article excerpt


This paper is from research in progress based on an ethnography that analyzes the effects of imprisonment on three Afrikan/Black men, over 50 years old, who identify themselves as "political prisoners". Their narrative of incarceration is structured during the 1960s-1980s. I explored the men's perceptions of the cultural and social effects of their incarceration. Taking this approach I identified a broader psycho-socio-political context of incarceration inclusive of the black collective.

Keywords: cultural anthropology, cultural identity narratives, Amos Wilson, mass incarceration

Until we Reclaim Our Afrikan Time,

We, All of Us Afrikans, are Prisoners

And Not Accurately Discerning

The Causes of Our Incarceration,

We Are Assumed by Onlookers and Ourselves, to be Criminals

You know the World thinks that if you are in prison you must have committed some Crime

Our Imprisonment Indicts Us

We must break out

The Executioner Approaches

Time is of the Essence (Wilson, 1990, p. 84)

Lens of Blackness

I came in contact with Amos Wilson when I first began this ethnography over two years ago, through the three Black male participants that I was interviewing. Amos Wilson mentions that one of the principal problems of the black-on-black criminal is his/her identity. In order for me to understand the men and their language, I needed an interpreter. Wilson's Black on Black Violence, along with his other works, became that interpreter. These books helped me to understand my own reality and context. In addition, I was now able to understand the participants and the language in which they conveyed their story. Unlike the men who were able to contextualize themselves, I found out later it was I who was in need of contextualization.

The dialogical process of the oppressed is done within the context of white supremacy and therefore even language can work as a tool of re-oppression against the oppressed. As I spoke to these men, I gained a different type of understanding and new education. They helped me develop a new language by helping me return to my blackness. I was looking through the wrong lens and was in need of a new lens. This new lens was the lens of blackness. Blackness is where everything begins and where it ends, blackness goes before the system of white supremacy. It goes before the product of racism; it returns one to an ancient time of knowledge, truth, and balance of the human realm (King, 2001; Moore, 2002).

Political Prisoners

Five years ago I was first introduced to the term 'political prisoner' by a formerly incarcerated Black man while at an academic event. As we spoke, he mentioned that he had been incarcerated over fifteen years. I asked what was his crime? He replied, "I didn't (don't) know but to be black. I am a political prisoner." I said, "No, what did you go to prison for?" He repeated again, "I am a political prisoner." Through his lived experience, he echoed what Chrisman (1971) had discovered through his academic study:

The Black offender is not tried and judged by the Black community itself but by the machinery of the white community, which is least affected by his actions and whose interests are served by the systematic subjugation of all black people. Thus, the trial or conviction of a Black prisoner regardless of his offense, his guilt or his innocence, cannot be a democratic judgment of him by his peers, but a political action against him by his oppressors. (Chrisman, 1971, p.45)

By ultimately identifying themselves as 'political prisoners' the implication is that they recognize that America is a prison and their oppressor holds the key to their continued oppression, while the prisoner holds the key to his/her liberation.

It wasn't until several years later while collecting stories with the same narrative and context that I began to distinguish between a criminal and a political prisoner. …

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