In Search of the Real Brother Man: An African Centered Approach to Black Cultural Identity

By Okantah, Mwatabu S. | Journal of Pan African Studies, December 2016 | Go to article overview

In Search of the Real Brother Man: An African Centered Approach to Black Cultural Identity


Okantah, Mwatabu S., Journal of Pan African Studies


As early as 1903, in his classic, The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois wrote:

"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round

it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, how does it feel to be a problem? They say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word." (1)

And in his seminal collection of essays, DuBois spoke eloquently of a tortured double consciousness. He described that feeling of a two-ness of being "an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." (2)

The 20th century has passed, and Americans of African ancestry remain more of a problem than a people in the eyes of too many citizens in America today. America still wonders, "What shall be done with Negroes?" During the 1980s and the 1990s, this same question was posed against the backdrop of the almost universal idea of Black men in America as an endangered species. In 2016, that same question is now being raised again in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. I have always resented that not too subtle notion. In the final two decades of the last century, it became fashionable, and even now, it continues to be acceptable for people to speak openly about the poor state of Black men. However, very few of these commentators have taken the time to dialogue with Black men. Fewer still are those who genuinely listen when real Black men speak.

Public "talking heads" are rarely concerned with the names and the faces of the Black suns that did, and do, rise and shine. Indeed, if Black men are an endangered species, who then, is the predator, so bent on creating the conditions that would lead to inevitable extinction? What happens to a people when a systematic attempt has been made to blunt their collective will and murder their group spirit? How many more fathers will have to dream their American dreams in a bottle? How many more sons, before they become fathers, will have to smoke up their deferred dreams in a crack pipe? If there is a problem affecting Black men in this society, it is a homegrown American problem. It is time to acknowledge the diversity of Black men as an emphatic means of saying no to being permanently rendered a chronic problem for Americans to dismiss, or discuss, or resolve according to their whims or discretion. No single person or leader can speak for Black men. Rather, there is a virtual anthology of stories that must be shared.

It will be the purpose of this essay to engage in a discussion of the African man in the United States of America within a clearly defined Pan-African context. I will employ an approach that places African origins at the theoretical/philosophical center. I contend so-called African-Americans are one of several groups of New World African people that were literally forged into existence as Brazilians, Haitians, Jamaicans, etc., in the crucible of the so-called New World. Given the current state of material and spiritual chaos, any discussion of group healing and recovery must be cast in culturally specific terms. The discussion of Black men cannot be abstracted outside the overall state of the larger American-African community.

The inference has always been that Black men in America are endangered because of some innate flaw in Black people's collective and racial character. The toxic consequences of race relations in this nation, however, suggest otherwise. …

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