Mental Slavery is a state of mind where discerning between liberation and enslavement is twisted. Where one becomes trapped by misinformation about self and the world in general. So someone can claim to be conscious, they can read all the books, they can recycle popular rhetoric but still be unable to balance real-world priorities and self-interest.
It is, in fact, more sinister than physical slavery because the chains are invisible and are transmitted across generations. If African slavery was only physical, anybody of African descent would have within one generation been able to skip the plethora of socio-economic issues which plague us globally, the second the chains came off.
I oft times struggle to grasp how anyone with a modicum of intelligence can see clear examples of gendered and racialized systemic violence and still adhere to the “values” and “ideals” of their former slave and colonial masters, let alone attempt to vindicate their historical injustices.
I was taught at primary school that the explorer David Livingstone was one of Victorian Britain’s greatest heroes. David Livingstone was one in a long line of European missionaries who dedicated their lives to bringing western Christianity to the so-called “dark continents of the world.” But this missionary enterprise was part of a huge colonial venture; one that often brutally exploited peoples around the world. That history is part of my family’s history. And as a result, I am duly reminded, they were introduced to Christianity.
What began as a small Jewish “cult” in the Middle East, spreading through modern-day Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt and over throughout northern Afrika, wherein the fourth century it was adopted by the Roman emperor and spread throughout the empire became dominated, over the next few centuries by the White Europeans.
But in 1492, the Spaniard Christopher Columbus reached the new world and so begun 500 years of colonialism. And the lives of millions of people including, but not limited to, my ancestors were changed forever. The first Spanish colonialist to arrive here believed this is a dark continent replete of heathens who had to be saved from witchcraft, ignorance, and evil. But wherever they went, the Spanish found even more advanced civilization like the Maya that was capable of building incredible monuments to their faith, embellished by the exquisite architecture, great artists, mathematicians and astronomers whose scientific understanding of meteorology and so on is unrivaled. What disgusted these Spanish invaders, was that these beautiful temples were dedicated to bloody human sacrifice. Truth be told, growing up I, too, believed that they were heathens, ungodly and uncivilized people. Our Christian god didn’t continually demand the blood of humans but these people had a religious system that existed for hundreds of thousands of years. For me, this was the pinnacle tragedy of European colonialism; that it could see no virtue in the civilizations it encountered. That all it sort to do was to destroy whatever it found, and replace it with its western Christian civilization, with terrible consequences of people all over the world. But to the good messengers of “Heavenly God”, all these meant nothing. Your identity and all your cultures, ideas and progress, meant zilch to them.
The Spanish and the Portuguese divided up the new world between them. By the end of 16th century, history has it that, their empires extended from the coast of Afrika to central and South America to even India and Philippines bringing millions of indigenous people under the Catholic rule for the first time, and all this with was backed by the authority of the Pope in Rome.
By the middle of the 17th century, through the military might of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, Christianity has spread throughout Central and South America, and even to India. Now it was the turn of another continent to face the full force of European colonialism; the land of my ancestors, Africa. When Europeans came face to face with the religion of my ancestors, again, they saw only witchcraft, superstition and the powers of darkness. When they tried to convert them, they did so in the context of Christian Europe’s most shameful episode; THE SLAVE TRADE.
When the Europeans came face to face with the home of my ancestors, they weren’t confronted by Mayan temples or bloody human sacrifices, but by the spirit world of the fetish. Many of the original religions of Africa were centered on a belief that the world was full of spirits which could affect every aspect of people’s lives. Almost every community had a fetish priest whose sole role was to enter into the spirit world. When there, they could take the over powers of prophecy, healing and spiritual warfare, among others. But when the Europeans first encountered them, they saw witchcraft and superstition. They thought local people were nothing but primitive savages.
Visiting Cape Coast, Ghana, last summer, I happened to get to the Cape Coast Slave Castle where they (slaves) were lodged before being shipped off to the Caribbean to be enslaved. Once there, they were given the religion of their slave masters and much like me, many years later, taught that it was part of a large benevolent missionary effort and that Christianity is a western religion. In fact, there could be nothing further from the truth.
Cape Coast castle was the headquarters of the British slave trade in Africa from the end of the 17th century. But 2/5 of those who left Africa died en route either through starvation, disease or brutal violence. Whereas the number of Africans shipped overseas during the slave trade is hotly debated, estimates range from 10 to 50 million. The survivors not only lost their freedom but also (and perhaps more importantly) their African identity.
Shockingly, this relic from the slave trade, Cape Coast castle, was also the setting for the beginning of British missionary effort in Africa. A copy of the letter by one of the first missionaries to work in Ghana reads:
“…..I have taken one of the earliest opportunity to acquaint with the history of my journey. I got back safe by God’s peculiar grace to Cape Coast in Africa, after having undergone, in the voyage, plenty of difficulties and dangers….”
What’s interesting is that this letter wasn’t written by a European but by an African. As a matter of fact, the first African to be ordained an Anglican priest, and a missionary. His name was PHILIP KWAKU, and is buried right there at the castle. He was a son of an African who sold slaves to the British. When he was just 13, he was sent to London to be trained as a missionary. He was later to be ordained Priest in 1766 and sent back to Africa to convert his fellow Africans in a cave located right up above the slave dungeons. What a shame.
Philip Kwaku, was a sellout. SIMPLE. Today, as was about 400 years ago, The legacy of slavery has promoted and nursed the direct association between being African and being inferior, being African and being unequal, incapable and less worthy. It also promotes ways of thinking which continue to impede growth and development. Such as cultivating dependence and reactive behaviors. More content to be at best an observer complaining about the world, as opposed to being a change agent in the world. Content to be history’s permanent victim. Every possible solution is dismissed with yet another trite excuse.
What being oppressed means in the broadest and most salient terms is the occupation of ethics, logic, culture, thought process, long term thinking, critical thinking, and paradigms by those of the oppressor’s.
Recent remarks by renowned egoistic BLACK American rapper have sparked controversy and emotions world over, especially among the black community. It is sad, surely, that someone in his position of influence, would attempt to take such a route. He seeks to justify all the bloodshed, lashing, and deaths suffered by our people during such a gory part of human history; stifle the discourse on the post-traumatic slavery experience in our imaginations, as it indeed, took place.
Mental slavery affects how people see their own reality. This manipulation has always been through mainstream media, religion, and education. So the opinions about reality are sourced—without any suspicion—from the very same people that said Africa was bursting with primitive cannibal savages; a place of no history, a place of no humanity—the dark and savage continent. And via these mass indoctrination devices the very same imperialistic colonial powers are still (without change in strategy) stating that; without Western “help” you have no hope, our ways are the best ways, our goods are the best goods, and our ‘human rights’ (aka quest for more oil) are good for you, you are better off with us, than with your own people. People remain gullible to the “gospel” of their former enslavers—despite all the sordid history in evidence. So the root of mental slavery is ignorance resulting in a poor grasp of information about self and the world, to function to one’s full human potential.
It is also, worth noting, too, that not all of us (blacks) are fighting the same type of liberation. Some are very happy if we got Denzel or Willy Smith cast in Spielbergs or Ridely Scott’s Ancient Egyptian film. Some are content if CNN gives us more coverage when we want to complain about how bad our White master’s treat us. As long as White universities publish the usually suspects and Neil Tyson is keep in the public eye as the token of “Black science” we are cool. Some of us are looking to totally collapse that dependency model. We are not look for better integration, or inclusion or acknowledgment within White structures, but the establishment of African centered structures where we are the ones who own the institutions, the businesses, the economics and decide without any “help” or dependency our destiny. We are therefore not looking to rent space in the White world, but own our own space.
Kanye’s sentiments are not unique. They are very familiar. We need to discuss this further, in even smaller caucuses to avoid misinformation, given that he is reading from a very flawed script. With a white man’s lense.