Bitches Brew, Miles Davis (album cover) courtesy © 1970 Columbia Records.

3- The Point of View as a Measure of Analysis

Towards a Black Consciousness

We cannot judge the 17th or 18th Centuries with 21st Century eyes, which is one of the main structural mistakes of the rigid socialist thinking. On the other hand, we cannot judge those centuries with a single, dominant angle, mistake often produced by conservative thoughts. Reality is far more complex than any philosopher or analyst could possibly propose: it is important, but often difficult, to put yourself in someone's shoes.

There is another important aspect that will be analysed later. To keep and to re-build personal or collective memories is not enough. Memories represent partial points of view. We need history, a wider perspective. A tremendous amount of resources of information is available today, from documents to full archives, and in many cities. Many documents related to the Négritude cause were lost, but there is plenty of material. Now, why were they lost?

There are many factors, accidents, lack of resources, too many decades, wars, and negligence: it is not difficult to imagine some state-run office ordering to ignore or even cleanse documents about Black people, photos, paintings from archives. Fortunately, in the last few decades many museums and organizations, particularly in the US, the UK and France, have rescued extraordinary historical materials, now available for the public.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies), by Camille Silvy, 1862, Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London.

Above, a beautiful portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta from 1862, UK. This picture was taken at the same time the US was fighting the Civil War to free Blacks from enslavement in the southern states: reality play tricks.

It is never enough to choose and accept one point of view when analysing a particular event in history, or to reach fast conclusions. We need as many points of views as possible; this involves researching professionally and deeply, taking distance from the analysed object. If while researching we try to prove a case, we are not researchers but hunters. Indeed, by collecting all data and information available we can extrapolate, compare, put things in context and avoid an early judgment. We get closer to not to what happened, but to face and analyse the elements provided by history. Our opinions -not the facts- are always filtered by personal emotions and intentions, the particular time where we live, and the time-frame of documents studied.

How did working class and nobles think in the 18th century, regarding slavery? Were they active? It is very difficult to have a simple answer to simple questions. When we realize that a few percentage of the population till early 20th century were literate, we can understand that the rest, this is the majority, had difficulties not only for being informed, but for interpreting and reasoning. Considering there were Blacks in the 18th century in different layers of society, was there a premedited plan for earasing Black history in Europe? It seems yes, but not from Europe or white people as a whole, but from specific groups -noblemen, writers, scientists- but again, not all. Not to mention Europe did not exist as such, and communication channels were slow.

When we take a particular point of view as a measure of analysis, we must be careful and consider different layers: social, cultural, religious, economical. To acknowledge what kind of information systems they operated is as important as trying to approach their way of thinking in that particular historical moment. To read original newspapers, letters and documents is of great help. And finally, it is almost impossible to put facts in context while ignoring geopolitics and geography, in a larger perspective.

We are getting used to journalism and their way of analyzing and exposing themes, which is risky: journalists deal with first hand information; knowledge is something different. Articles in the news have nothing or little to do with reasoning. Newspapers, and now digital news, are presented in black and white. Short, visible, unforgettable, ironical, funny or dramatic. Knowledge lays in a different layer.

Southafrica protest, 1976, photographer unknown.

None of our conclusions should shadow the pillars and goals of Greco-Roman principles, refined in the last two hundred years, represented in Liberalism. Because Free Thinking is what freed us. It was the continuous work and effort of free men and women, Black and White, that fought against slavery and racism, it was the persistence of individuals what produced a catalyst effect, not institutions, at least not initially; they acted later. Institutions follow men, not the other way round.

The consequences of Africa's exploitation and diaspora are still around: lack of education, poverty and consumerism. Indeed, we are today in a much better situation, but we have to understand we live in a new and dynamic transcultural world. To project and design our future (and we can, till certain extent) we must understand the present, which implies to approach and study the past with patience and respect.

Read the next chapter, Dual Racism, here.

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