…And William Siren is going to commit suicide
when he finds out that Nat Turner
made love to his great great grandmother
And he has taken our most violent and militant leaders
and stuck lollipops up their ass to pacify
their black power farts
And he is beginning to assume that all of us
were born under the sign
Taurus the Bull
Because all we do is
“This is Madness”
Umar Bin Hassan of
The Last Poets
1. Historical Fictions
(“Turning Nat Turner Over in His Grave”)
In these penultimate lines of his disturbingly political and hauntingly surrealistic poem, “This is Madness” (1970),1 Umar Bin Hassan-of the legendary black nationalist spoken word/recording artists ensemble, The Last Poets-deftly manages to strike three well-placed blows in swift succession. First of all, he lambasts William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner (1966)2 for its historically revisionist emasculation of the infamous slave insurrectionist. Secondly, he decries the white man’s co-optation, pacification and defanging of sixties era black radicals. Thirdly, he laments and critiques the failure of these radicals to move beyond mere rhetoric and demonstrate true revolutionary resolve. This is a social commentary knock-out combination, since Bin Hassan’s lines are hardly disjointed or fragmentary. In the psyches of Americans, black and white, there are powerful links between slave insurrections and modern urban revolts. Published during the apex of Black Power’s civil disturbances, Styron’s distorted portrayal of Nat Turner served not only as a fallacious psychohistorical study of plantation uprisings, but also as a searing reactionary commentary on the riots and rebellions of the sixties. White reactionaries and black nationalists battled over the hotly contested image of Nat Turner, each regarding him as a distant mirror reflecting their divergent perceptions of contemporary black militancy. This battle prompted the publication of William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond (1968),3 edited by the late eminent Harlem-based historian John Henrik Clarke. In this volume, Clarke, historians Lerone Bennett and Vincent Harding, novelists John Oliver Killens and John A. Williams, political scientist Charles Hamilton, psychiatrist Alvin Poissaint and others take Styron to task for his “hoax,” his “imaginary,” “impotent,” “celibate,” “homosexual”4 image of a Nat Turner “pining for white women.” Furthermore-and herein lies the crucial point of departure for my essay-Styron’s Nat Turner, according to Clarke and Bennett, incorporates the image of Sambo which was projected as the dominant plantation type by “the classical apologist for slavery” historian Ulrich B. Phillips and the “sophisticated modern apologist” historian Stanley Elkins.5
2. Historical Paradigms of Slavery
(“Turning Ulrich Phillips on his Head”)
Historians generally agree that the historiography of slavery has been dominated, defined and developed by three landmark studies-each in turn supplanting its predecessor as the prevailing model.6 These landmark studies in chronological order are: Ulrich B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime (1918); Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956); and Stanley Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959). Histories of slavery written in the ante-bellum period by both Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery advocates were characterized less by objective research than by polemics-understandably so, since the issue was so politically explosive that it led to the Civil War. Written five decades after the Civil War, Phillips’s American Negro Slavery set new standards of scholarly comprehensiveness and exactitude in its field. Nevertheless, in its attitudes toward race, American Negro Slavery was a pro-slavery panegyric.7 Though he was a masterful historian, Phillips, a white southerner who grew up in the post-Reconstruction era of jim crow, was undoubtedly an ideological product of his times. He sought to dismantle the arguments of the ante-bellum abolitionist historians through a meticulous, monumental empirical investigation of plantation life, records, and statistics. In spite of Phillips’s exacting empirical research methods, his work, while not polemical, was laden with Southern white supremacist values. His biased selection and interpretation of data underscored the Southern notion that slavery was a rather mild and benign institution-nothing like the harsh and cruel system portrayed by the anti-slavery exponents. More insidiously, Phillips argued that slavery had a “civilizing” and Christianizing effect on blacks, whom he saw as an inferior race. In a passage unfavorably comparing the humanity-or the human urge to resist oppression-of the black slaves on the American plantation to that of the white slaves in ancient Rome, Phillips stated that “negroes… for the most part were by racial quality submissive rather than defiant, lighthearted instead of gloomy, ingratiating instead of sullen, and [their] very defects invited paternalism rather than repression.”8 This characterization of the plantation slave was nothing more nor less than a rephrasing of the classic descriptions of Sambo in American Southern folklore: docile, contented, happy-go-lucky and childlike.
Phillips’s American Negro Slavery cast a long shadow of influence over the historians of American slavery for more than three decades until the mid-50s when Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution was published. Stampp’s perspective challenged and eventually over-turned the Phillips paradigm of slavery. Stampp used the same methodology as Phillips-the fastidious amassing of plantation life data-but he drew upon more varied sources of information, sources that demonstrated slavery’s harsh, inhumane and oppressive conditions.9 Like Phillips, Stampp was also an ideological product of his times and social environment. Writing in the backdrop of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement-the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott-Stampp rejected Phillips’s antiquated Southern beliefs about racial inferiority of blacks, stating that “innately, Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less.”10 Specifically, Stampp was rejecting Phillips’s notion of racial or genetic determinism-the idea that one’s race or gene pool determined one’s behavior, as well Phillips’s corollary that the black temperament could be characterized as submissive, light-hearted, ingratiating and inviting of paternalism. In documenting the widespread resistance to slavery, Stampp deflated the myth of a docile, infantile, contented, happy-go-lucky slave.
The folkloric Sambo was not yet laid to rest, however. It was to receive its most vigorous and robust incarnation in Stanley Elkins’s 1959 work, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life. Whereas Phillips had merely alluded to Sambo with descriptive adjectives, Elkins gave Sambo definitive nomenclature. Elkins borrowed the name “Sambo” from folklore and introduced it into the realm of history and social science. For Elkins, Sambo was a very real historical personality type; for the historians and social scientists who read and responded to Elkins, Sambo was a theoretical construct with which they wrestled. Coming in on the heels of Stampp, the Elkins thesis heralded yet another revolution in the historiography of slavery.
To contextualize Elkins, we should understand that he accepted Stampp’s, rather than Phillips’s, portrayal of the slave system. For Elkins, as for Stampp, slavery was a harsh, brutal, oppressive system, so oppressive in fact that Elkins believed that its victims were transformed into docile, irresponsible, child-like dependents. In this latter sense Elkins is a Phillipian, for he accepts Phillips’s description of the behavioral temperament or personality of the slave. But as Clarke has noted, Elkins is modern and sophisticated. Elkins rejects theories of racial, genetic or biological determinism. Yet, proverbially, he refuses to “throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.” The dirty bath water is the hereditarian argument; the baby is the Sambo personality. Elkins asserts that a genetic explanation for the Sambo personality is outmoded and unnecessary, that we simply need to look to environmental factors for causation. Sambo was real-it was the environment of the oppressive American slave system which created him. To adapt a phrase describing the relationship of Marx to Hegel, Elkins is a modernist Phillipian, a neo-Phillipian who has turned Phillips on his head.
3. Elkins’s Sambo
(“Turning Us Black Folks Sick on Our Stomachs”)
The name “Sambo” has come to be synonymous with “race stereotype…”
…The characteristics that have been claimed for the type come principally from Southern lore. Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing; his behavior full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration. His relationship with his master was one of utter dependence and childlike attachment: indeed it was the very key to his being. Although the merest hint of Sambo’s “manhood” might fill the Southern breast with scorn, the child, “in his place,” could be both exasperating and lovable.
– Elkins, Slavery
Something is rotten in academia. It’s called institutional racism. It’s not merely the gatekeeping system which denies meaningful numbers of students of color entry into graduate school; it’s not merely the glass ceiling which prevents administrators or professors of color from advancing up the ranks or getting tenure. No, it’s not just the tokenism. It’s also the white supremacy which permeates scholarship and lurks under the guise of scientific objectivity and value-neutrality. In a “publish or perish” profession, a sure-fire way of getting into print is to label the downtrodden and oppressed as deviant, deficient or dysfunctional. Careers and reputations have been made by bad-mouthing black people. Black-bashing generates controversy, controversy in turn generates peer response (a spate of articles pro and con), and widespread peer response ensures fame, mobility, promotion and tenure. Hence, “blaming the victims”-or more specifically “blaming the negroes”-has become an academic cottage industry.11 Unfortunately millions of people in the real world are wounded by the resulting volleys. From the Moynihan Report to The Bell Curve, from the theory of the meritocracy to the “culture of poverty” thesis, African Americans have suffered the slings, the arrows and the semi-automatic bullets of outrageous social science.
The Sambo thesis must be examined in this light. Yet it cannot be readily dismissed, as in the case, for example, of The Bell Curve theory. Of course, “to readily dismiss” doesn’t mean “to simply ignore.” There were spirited rebuttals of The Bell Curve-in the forms of articles, books and conferences12-but never for an instant did the opposition have to weigh the plausibility of the thesis. For all of its hooplah, Herrnstein and Murray’s Bell Curve theory, when stripped bare, was revealed to be simply bad science (discredited hereditarianism/genetic determinism) coming to the behest of a bad social policy agenda (neo-Conservative/reactionary/anti-poor people). Bad, warmed-over, re-hashed science. It was Social Darwinism all over again, eugenics all over again. It was Arthur Jensen and William Shockley all over again.13 In fact, it was Richard Herrnstein all over again. We had been treated to Herrnstein’s IQ in the Meritocracy theory in the early 1970s.14 In a nutshell, Herrnstein’s earlier theory stated that one’s place in the class hierarchy was determined by one’s merit, skill or talent, especially one’s innate intelligence. Hence the gifted high-IQ creme rises to the top of the social ladder and the low IQ dregs sink to the bottom. And that’s how the rich become rich and the poor become poor in this competitive but “equal opportunity” society. >From the ruling class to the underclass, we all sift out to where we naturally belong by dint of brain-power; it’s all a matter of “survival of the smartest.”
Actually, if we are going indulge in such metaphysical prattle in order to explain class structure, I personally prefer ancient mysticism to this modern social science fiction. Reincarnation and karma-the universal law of cause and effect-gave rationale and legitimacy to the oppressive caste system in ancient India. “You reap what you sow” (“What goes around comes around”) was the karmic law governing the transmigration of souls. The dark-skinned Dalit (“Untouchables”) were suffering the punishment of their outcaste status for the evil deeds they had committed in their past incarnation; the light-skinned Brahmins were enjoying the reward of their upper caste status for the good deeds they had performed in their past life. An ancient mystical doctrine-yet a much more enchanting theory about social stratification than the 20th-century science fiction version: the dark-skinned negroes are suffering the punishment of their underclass status because of the bad genes they inherited from their ancestors; the light-skinned whites are enjoying the reward of their ruling class status because of the good genes they inherited. (How about a global apartheid theory; dark-skinned peoples worldwide suffer their oppressed status because of the military conquest, domination and exploitation imposed upon them in the name of materialistic greed and Aryan/white supremacy?).
Then, too, Herrnstein and Murray’s theory that high IQs were not distributed equally throughout the class structure was counter-intuitive for black folks. Those of us who grew up in ghetto neighborhoods, all knew someone like the brutha in the numbers rackets whom comedian Richard Pryor so aptly described: “The boy was a genius! He booked the numbers without pencil or paper!” Without access to equal opportunity, brilliance was often manifested in criminal behavior-illicit capitalistic ventures.
In 1977, the New York Times Sunday Magazine featured two cover stories about “geniuses”-one black, one white.15 The white genius was Saul Kripke, then a young philosophy professor at Princeton and a dazzling rising star in the field of logic. The gifted black man was Nicky Barnes, whom the Times described as “an organizational genius.” He was the kingpin of the largest dope ring in Harlem and had been described as “Mr. Untouchable” because law enforcement could not get any hard evidence on him. While temporarily jailed (before being released on $300,000 bail), he exhibited his genius once more-this time by subscribing to and reading 37 different law journals in order to search for loopholes in the law from which to fashion his intended legal defense. (Not your ordinary jailhouse lawyer!) Unfortunately for Barnes, this New York Times cover article hailing his brilliance and elusiveness drew the ire of President Jimmy Carter, who put federal heat on him. Barnes subsequently was convicted in 1978 and sentenced to life in prison.16 Some meritocracy Princeton for the white geniuses and prison for the black ones! In the early ’90s, at the height of the crack epidemic, a front-page story in the New York Times reported that a young generation of black street-wise entrepreneurs were operating drug cartels with sprawling inter-city networks that had the structure, the intricacy, sophistication and efficiency of major corporations. Black ingenuity, of course, is not merely expressed in pathological ways; there are the endless lists of black inventors and their inventions, black cultural innovators and their innovations, which are celebrated annually in inner city schools and community centers during Black History Month; but these expressions of black genius rarely grace the cover page of the New York Times.
While we rationally, empirically and intuitively knew that The Bell Curve was wrong, Sambo was a construct that we had to wrestle with. Elkins’s fundamental premise was that the harsh brutality of slavery had impacted negatively upon the African American psyche. No one would argue with this point. For example, within certain circles of the culturally aware and politically informed black public-those highly literate, articulate and counter-hegemonic community-based circles which might be characterized as “the Afrocentric public”-contemporary discourse includes the concept “Post-Slavery Trauma Syndrome.” This phrase-an obvious parody of the term “Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome”-coined by one of the Afrocentric lecture circuit professors, refers to a condition of trauma resulting from the holocaust of enslavement which black people collectively suffer from even to this day.17 Another concept in the Afrocentric public discourse, the “Stockholm Syndrome,” has been borrowed directly from mainstream social science. The syndrome, first observed in four hostages who were held in a bank vault for six days in 1973 during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, refers to a strange bond or attachment which hostages form with their captors. Observed also in many subsequent hostage situations, the syndrome is now recognized as a psychological response to terrorism. The captives begin to identify with the captors, to seek favors from them “in an almost childlike way,” and even fear their would-be rescuers (realizing that action taken by these rescuers gunfire, etc. might result in their being harmed rather than rescued).18 The Afrocentric public drew the obvious parallels between Stockholm syndrome hostages and enslaved captives who learned to love their “massa.” Still suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, the masses of black people even feared militant, revolutionary or Afrocentric blacks (whose ideologies and activism held the key or blueprint for black liberation) just as hostages feared their potential rescuers. Already two and three decades ago, before the community-based discourse became so sophisticated, the politically-conscious circles of that era-the black nationalist and Marxist-influenced public-were sprinkling their conversations with terms like “mental slavery,” “slave mentality,” “colonized mind,” and “internalized oppression.” The popular literature read by the present-day Afrocentric public (books sold in black bookstores or hawked on street corners by ubiquitous inner city book vendors) has titles such as Slavery: The African American Psychic Trauma and Breaking The Chains of Psychological Slavery.19 All this terminology, heard in the conversations of intellectual and political activist circles in Harlem, Bed-Stuy and other ghetto communities, acknowledges and confirms the underlying premise of Elkins’s thesis: the brutality of slavery has damaged the African American psyche.
Proposing the image of Sambo, however, as a representation of this psychic wound was tantamount to pouring salt on it. Sambo had long been the prototype, the progenitor and/or the most notorious example of a host of caricatures and distorted images of black people. In the PBS documentaries, Ethnic Notions, produced by the late Marlon Riggs, and The Black Caricature, produced by Deirdre Leake Butcher, several distinct caricatures are listed: Zip Coon, the Mammy, the Uncle, the Pickanniny; yet Sambo was the “preeminent” caricature.20 A “first among unequals,” if you will. The title of Donald Bogle’s study of the black image in American films delineates another list of caricatures: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks.21 In addition to these generic stereotypes there were specific media personalities such as the characters of both the radio and tv renditions of Amos ‘n’ Andy22 and advertising icons such as Aunt Jemima of pancake fame, Uncle Ben, who no doubt worked the rice plantations, and Rastus the Cream of Wheat chef. And, of course, there was blackface minstrelsy typified by Al Jolson. All of these distorted images were descendants, relatives or permutations of Sambo, and they permeated American popular culture during the era of segregation. Quoting Dr. Marguerita Ross Barnett, a political scientist and a museum curator of black artifacts: “In advertising, entertainment, popular literature, and artifacts of everyday material culture, such as household, workplace and souvenir items, Blacks were depicted as slow, lazy, ignorant, stupid, amoral, criminal, unclean, bestial and subhuman.”23 Barnett states that these “negative stereotypes performed a political function.” The images of blacks projected, disseminated and reinforced by the popular culture “defined, rationalized and circumscribed their identity in ways consistent with the maintenance of both legal segregation in the South and informal separation and discriminatory patterns in the North.”
In Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester, Joseph Boskin surmises that the name Sambo may have been derived from naming practices in at least three different West African societies, but that it more likely came from Hispanic or Portuguese sources. In two of those three West African societies, the Mende and Vai cultures, “sambo” means “disgraced” and/or “shameful.”24 In Spanish and Portuguese-speaking cultures, the word “zambo” means a “bowlegged” or “knock-kneed” person or, in short, a person who resembles a monkey.25 The appellation of Sambo for a black man, was thus another example of the racist European perception that Africans resembled apes or simian creatures. Boskin states that in the North American colonies, Sambo appears as a proper name given to slaves in records dating back to the late 1600s. It became a fairly common name for African slaves throughout the colonies during the 1700s. By the1800s, the name begins to appear in plays and literature, children’s books and joke books-all with comic allusion. Sambo became synonymous with the fool or buffoon. He became the American Jester-but was devoid of the European court jester’s underlying sagacity. In comparing Sambo to caricatures of other ethnic groups or immigrants, Boskin states that “Sambo could not be outdone or matched. No comic figure played to wider audiences, received more thunderous applause, or lasted as long in the popular theatre.”26 In fact, as Boskin points out, the name Sambo did not disappear from American popular culture until the 1960s and early ’70s when Black Power advocates demanded that books bearing his name be removed from libraries and that blatant images of him be removed from restaurants.
No wonder then that the Elkins thesis should cause such a furor.
(Sambos, Calibans and Fridays)
In  Samuel Cartwright published a paper in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal in which he attempted to substantiate the association of blackness and madness by specifically identifying psychopathologies to which blacks alone were prey. Among the classes of illness he pinpointed were “Drapetomania” or causing slaves to “run away” and “dysaethesia aethiopus or herbetude of mind and obtuse sensibility of body-a disease peculiar to negroes called by overseers ‘rascality.'” In both instances, manifestations of the black’s rejection of the institution of slavery were fitted into the medical model of insanity.
— Sander Gillman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness
“You’ve been had, you’ve been tricked, you’ve been hoodwinked, you’ve been bamboozled.”
-Malcolm X [statement popularized by Spike Lee in his movie Bamboozled, a penetrating and disturbing examination of distorted black images and minstrelsy in American popular culture]
As with any rich language, there are words in Ebonics which convey powerful concepts that are lost in translation. “Tricknology” is one such word. “Tricknology” is a street corner word, an integral part of the inner city lexicon. It was coined by the Nation of Islam (NOI), and used in at least one public speech by Malcolm, but it was popularized by the Five Percenters, an NOI splinter group which appeals mainly to youth. The Five Percenters made the word an essential part of the black urban vocabulary. Switching gears momentarily from urban street corners to fairy tale wonderlands, “tricknology” is an example of a “portmanteau word” which signifies, as Humpty Dumpty explained to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, that there are several meanings packed into one word. As the Five Percenters say, if you “break down” (analyze the etymological components of) the word “tricknology,” you will discover: the word “trick,” the word “knowledge,” and the suffix “-logy” which means “the science, doctrine or theory of.” Tricknology, then, is the “science of trick knowledge. Tricknology is not simply “plain ol’ trickery”; nor is it exemplified by your average street hustler’s con game. Tricknology denotes a much more subtle and sophisticated level of deception. The “science of trick knowledge” means the science of using respected fields of knowledge (or one’s official or expert capacity) in a cunning, devious or deceitful manner. The term “tricknology,” therefore, denotes the usage of any of the following techniques for purposes of fraud, deception, or the creation of ideological hegemony: sophistry, academic jargon, legalese, double-speak, psycho-babble, disinformation campaigns, lying with statistics, political chicanery, spin-doctoring, double-dealing, playing both sides against the middle, creating smoke-screens, subliminal advertising, media manipulation, the manufacture of consensus, etc. Of course, tricknology also includes any artifice used to divide and conquer people and any legally-sanctioned scheme employed by the wealthy to defraud poor people of their money or property (such as predatory lending practices). Most importantly, tricknology is almost exclusively the tool of the white man. (The Native American expression “the white man speaks with forked tongue” denotes that he lies; tricknology denotes the complex and elaborate machinations involved in his lying.) Hence, the word typically appears in these contexts: “the white man is using his tricknology on you” or-as when casting aspersions on a suspected ruse or ploy by whites to pull the wool over black people’s eyes-“that’s just the white man’s tricknology.” In short, tricknology is what the oppressor uses to keep black people deceived, misdirected, misinformed, baffled, duped, confused, torn between two poles, lulled into false security or false consciousness, distracted, diverted, un-alert or preoccupied, and powerless and impoverished.27
A clear example of tricknology is the specious argument by Samuel Cartwright in the first quotation above. The 19th-century context of Cartwright’s statements makes them especially absurd or transparent to us, though evidently the publication of the analysis in a prestigious medical journal means that this racist lunacy was once accepted as scientifically valid. Hence our very serious question: Is the Elkins thesis any less specious, any less bogus than Cartwright’s? In short, is the Sambo thesis scientifically valid or is it just tricknology? More subtly, we may have to ask if there are parts or portions of Elkins’ argument which are valid. We can begin to answer these questions by outlining the main contours of the Sambo thesis.
There are several propositions and corollaries in Elkins’s Sambo thesis. The enumeration which follows is an attempt to provide a concise yet nearly-exhaustive list: (1) child-like behavior and dependency, docility, irresponsibility, loyalty, laziness, and petty lying and thievery are the characteristics attributed to Sambo; (2) Sambo was the dominant-that is, most prevalent-personality type existent among the Southern plantation slaves; (3) Sambo is a real personality type-the image of Sambo in folklore or popular culture is too pervasive for it to be merely a fictional product of a slaveholders’ “conspiracy”; (4) moral issues (racial equality) and the scientific discrediting of racial determinism have impeded scholars from exploring the Sambo personality; (5) the explanation for the Sambo personality need not rely on theories of either racial or cultural inferiority; (6) feudal West African societies and cultures were not inferior to those of feudal Europe and they did not produce a Sambo type but a proud warrior type; (7) the Sambo personality can be explained entirely by the trauma and the social structure of American plantation slavery; (8) though the shocks or traumas of enslavement endured from capture through the Middle Passage to sale on the auction block were powerful, the plantation environment was the most defining experience; (9) Sambo is uniquely a product of the closed system or total institution of North American slavery-the relatively open systems of Caribbean and Latin American slavery did not produce a Sambo personality; (10) one explanation for this is the total detachment of the slaves from African culture in the closed North American system as compared to the strong African cultural retentions, strong attachments to African religion and insurrectionary religious “cults,” in the Caribbean and Latin America; (11) more importantly, the North American system was closed because the slavemaster had absolute authority over the slave; in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Catholic Church and the Crown (kings of Spain and Portugal) protected the rights of the slave, allowing slaves to marry, earn money to purchase their own freedom, etc.; (12) the docility of the unique North American Sambo personality accounts for the paucity and failure of slave revolts and conspiracies in the U.S., as compared with the numerous and successful slave uprisings in Latin America and the Caribbean; (13) the closed system or total institution of North American slavery is analogous to the total institution of the Nazi concentration camp; (14) there is ample written evidence from concentration camp survivors, including the psychologist Bruno Bettleheim, about the childlike behavior and dependency exhibited by camp inmates; (15) one can infer that the same debilitating psychological processes which occurred in the concentration camps also occurred on the slave plantation; (16) there are three psychological theories that can be employed to explain the dramatic personality changes in masses of slaves and camp inmates: Freudian theory, Sullivan’s interpersonal theory, and role theory; (17) a Freudian model involves processes of “acute depersonalization,” “infantile regression,” a new “father image” personified in the SS guard or slavemaster, and identification with the aggressor; (18) Sullivan’s model emphasizes the utter child-like dependency on the “significant other”-the SS guard or slavemaster-who supplied food, warmth, security, etc.; (19) role theory states that role-playing mediates the interaction between an individual and his cultural and institutional environment and that personality is actually made up of the roles that an individual plays; (20) role-playing involves several related concepts such as role expectations or role script, role performance, pervasive roles vs. limited roles, role clarity, etc.; (21) the two social psychology theories-interpersonal theory but most especially role theory- provide a more salient analysis of the Sambo personality than does Freudian psychoanalytic theory; (22) Sambo was a role that was expected on the plantation; (23) the punishments for stepping outside of the Sambo role were severe and the rewards for performing it well were very comforting; (24) it was more difficult for the early generations of slaves to accommodate to the Sambo role but easier for those generations who had been born into slavery; (25) the Sambo role became internalized, it was not merely a mask or a superficial performance.28
Elkins’s work was unique because it was cross-disciplinary, a marriage of history and social psychology. Social psychologists hailed his work; they were eager to see their theories used by historians. Social psychology was itself a hybrid or interdisciplinary field, a marriage of sociology and psychology. A relatively new field, it was in a position in academia similar to the insecure new kid on the block. Hence it was a great advertisement and ego-booster for social psychology to be associated with a guy (the history discipline) who had a well-established reputation in the scholarly neighborhood. It didn’t matter whether the social psychology theories were being used in a wrong-headed or racist manner. The mere fact that a historian borrowed from, and acknowledged the utility of, social psychology was enough for social psychologists to express their eternal gratitude. Elkins’s Slavery became required reading for first-year graduate students in social psychology. It made a perfect companion piece to O. Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization, a hidden treasure of racist psychoanalytic theory that one can inadvertently discover upon reading Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks-wherein Fanon takes Mannoni to task.29 Originally published in French in 1950, Prospero and Caliban30 borrows from character sketches of the protagonists in Shakespeare’s tragicomedy The Tempest, and from sketches of Crusoe and Friday in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, to construct a model of colonizer- colonized relationships used to analyze European-African encounters on the island of Madagascar (then known as Malagasy). Both literary works are about whites shipwrecked on “primitive” islands. Although Mannoni attributes an inferiority complex to the whites who leave European society to become colonizers (they do so because they cannot compete successfully with other Europeans), he more tellingly attributes a child-like dependency complex to the Africans-anticipating Elkins’s 1959 Sambo thesis. Friday and Caliban are the two polar extremes of colonized African personality types-Defoe’s Friday is friendly, Shakespeare’s Caliban is hostile. About the Friday personality type we only get a meager passing reference, as Mannoni is preoccupied with the hostile reactions of “natives” to Europeans. (Unlike Elkins, who is intensely curious about the contented slave, Mannoni is only concerned when the natives are restless. The portraits drawn by Mannoni and Elkins are nevertheless strikingly similar.) Caliban we are told is an anagram for “cannibal.” In The Tempest, Prospero calls Caliban “a born devil on whose nature/Nurture can never stick.”31 That is, his primitive genetic endowment can never really be civilized. For Mannoni, “primitive” peoples, colonial “subjects” cannot be granted independence because they are fixed in a childlike state of dependency. When these “servants sever ties with their masters” they suffer a sense of “abandonment” and “betrayal” and undergo an “adolescent crisis.” The “docile” Malagasy civil servant is incapable of initiative, “loses his head and appears quite unintelligent” when he attempts to solve a question without reference to European-derived “rules or precedents.” “The presence of the European is very comforting. In him the Malagasy sees… the absolute master, the protector.” His fear of abandonment is revealed in Caliban’s lines from The Tempest: “When thou camest first,/Thou strok’dst me, and mad’st much of me…/…and then I lov’d thee.”32 Mannoni adds to Shakespeare the line : “And then you abandoned me before I had time to become your equal,” explaining “In other words, you taught me to be dependent and I was happy; then you betrayed me and plunged me into inferiority.”33 Mannoni goes on to describe how feelings of abandonment lead to guilt, and how guilt leads to violence. Through this long convoluted process of racist psychoanalytic theorizing, Mannoni the French psychiatrist seeks to explain the violent political uprising against the French which took place on Madagascar in 1947.
As the tv host Arsenio Hall used to say: “Things that make you go: ‘Hmmm!'”
The racist conspiracy in social science, the tricknology, was worldwide. The African Americans had Sambo personalities, the Africans had Caliban complexes (when they weren’t being well-behaved, sociable Fridays). In 1972, Stanislav Andreski, a social scientist who was alarmed and disgruntled by what was going on in the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, political science, economics, etc., published a work entitled Social Sciences as Sorcery,34 with chapter titles such as: “The Witch Doctor’s Dilemma,” “Manipulation Through Description,” “The Smokescreen of Jargon,” “The Uses of Absurdity,” “Evasion in the Guise of Objectivity,” “Hiding Behind Methodology,” “Quantification as Camouflage,” “Promiscuous Crypto-Conservatism,” and “Ideology Underneath Terminology.” Andreski’s analysis was right on the mark: social science is witchcraft. White witchcraft.
5. Flippin’ the Script
(Orishas, Guerrillas and Maroons)
The self-fulfilling prophecy constitutes only one manifestation of the much more general disposition of human beings to be influenced by what is said of them and their environment. On the individual plane everybody knows that one can make a person discontented by deploring the circumstances under which he lives, encourage his endeavor by praise or discourage it by sarcasm…
Even such purely academic theories as the interpretation of human nature have profound practical consequences if disseminated widely enough.
— Stanislav Andreski
Social Sciences as Sorcery
Social science, I teach my students, is a double-edged sword. It can be used as a weapon for you or against you. It’s all a matter of “flippin’ the script,” which as my colleague Keith Gilyard points out, is simply Ebonics for “shifting the discourse.”35 Shifting the discourse in our favor, turning the tide-and “turning the tables,” I might add. In my freshman year of college (which began in the tumultuous year of 1968),36 long before the term “culture wars” became part of the American academic lexicon, my classmate, Glen Costa, and I came to the conclusion that we had to consciously resist the institutional programming that would turn us into the Black Bourgeoisie and instead chart and embark upon our course of study and activism that would turn us into Scholars and Warriors. In other words we would have to create a black revolutionary pedagogy that would teach and liberate our people, and we would have to be actively engaged in struggle-at all levels and, in Malcolm’s words, “by whatever means necessary.” We even fantasized that we might some day form an ensemble and cut a revolutionary spoken word album à la our heroes, The Last Poets. It would be called Scholars and Warriors, and on the front cover (in those days we had big vinyl albums not little CDs, and the aesthetics of album covers counted a lot), we would be pictured on campus-perhaps seated on the steps of Low Library in front of the famous statue Alma Mater-studiously reading books. On the back cover would be the shocker: we would appear standing tall and proud in dashikis, rifles in hand, ready for the revolution. It was probably the spring of 1969; we were barely 19 years old and still prone to flights of adolescent fantasy.
Gil Scott-Heron, another spoken word artist and hero of my college years, recorded a famous poem entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” circa 1971.37 There were probably several layers of meaning that one could assign to the lyrics, but certainly one oft-repeated interpretation was that the revolution was above all an ideological, psychological, mental and spiritual event. I’m not being metaphysical here. What I mean is best illustrated in the words of a historian whose name I don’t recall, in a July 1976 special edition of the Daily News Sunday Magazine celebrating the bicentennial of the American Revolution. Paraphrasing the words that stuck in my mind: “The American Revolution did not take place in 1776. It took place some 30 to 40 years earlier, in the minds and hearts of the American people. The events of 1776 were only the aftermath of that mental and spiritual revolution.”
In that sense, some 34 years after my freshman fantasy, I still remain a committed Scholar and Warrior. It is as true for me today as it was in the spring of 1969, that scholars must be warriors; they must engage in a radical pedagogy that confronts and satirizes the enemy-and forces black people out of their comfort zones and makes them grapple or wrestle with ideological issues. The war that scholar-warriors must fight is a mental war, an ideological war, a war to win the hearts and the minds of the people. Black students-and also white students, for this is not just a war for national liberation but a class struggle as well-have to go through the internal revolutionary process. That demands a proactive, rather than reactive, ideological engagement. There are many levels of proactive engagement. One, is to go on the offensive to bring one’s own issues to the forefront-instead of merely responding defensively to the oppressor’s constant attacks. But another pro-active strategy is to keep issues burning, to keep the attacks alive. A reactive posture is one, for example, in which we confront ideological attacks such as The Bell Curve or the Sambo thesis issues head-on but in the same manner that we horrifyingly would confront a large hairy spider crawling towards us on our living room floor-we trounce the monster quickly and hurriedly sweep the remains under the rug, hoping never to see the likes of it again. A proactive engagement is to catch the spider, encase it in a jar, and put it on permanent display for everyone to see.
In 1972, as a first-year graduate student in social psychology, I was introduced to Stanley Elkins’s Sambo. Some thirty years later, as a professor of African American Studies and social science, I teach a popular but rigorous course entitled The Psychology of the Black Experience where I continue to keep the issue of Sambo alive. I never swept him under the rug like some bête noire (pardon the pun). He’s encased in the glass on display. Each semester, I introduce Elkins’s Sambo to a new group of students, black and white, and force them to grapple with him. Due in some small measure to my efforts-and hopefully the efforts of many other teachers like me-there are a lot of young folks who know about Elkins’s Sambo-and know about him in great depth., because we also dissect him with opposing views. We read and discuss Stanley Elkins’s critics. We flip the script. Most of the criticisms that we discuss are rebuttals in the form of scholarly articles. One rich rebuttal, however, is anecdotal-or part of my oral presentation. This anecdote, which follows, is my “guerrilla attack” on Elkins.38
More than by the Sambo of Southern folklore or the Caliban or Friday of classical literature, the image of black people in the white mind has been captured by King Kong, one of Hollywood’s classic films. It dredges up from the collective white American psyche, the collective white unconscious, all of white America’s most repressed and deeply-rooted fears and anxieties about black people. The great nightmare of white America, from its colonial beginnings up through the Civil War, has been a massive slave uprising; the Southern aristocracy created the image of Sambo to ease their own fears. They desperately needed to believe in Sambo so that they could sleep easy at night. But buried deep in the Southern white psyche was the fear that one night, while sleeping their throats would be cut-or worse that they would be awakened to witness that final moment of horror-by the people whom they had enslaved. In enslaving and oppressing black people, America slept each night with an uneasy conscience knowing that they were sitting on top of a volcano that could erupt at any moment. In modern times, the nightmare of an uprising took on the semblance of a black urban revolt an inner city insurrection.
The nightmare of a black uprising is told in detail in this Hollywood classic. But it is a masterful work of cinema because the true import of the story is being communicated just below the threshold of our consciousness, and we all pick up the meanings on a subliminal level. As with any great myth or fairy-tale, the great psychological insights are veiled from our conscious perception as we are spellbound by the entertainment. Still, our emotional instincts “understand” the true meaning of the story-we feel it on a gut level. And it all becomes startlingly clear, once we have the interpretive key that brings the symbols to our conscious awareness. Here is that key:
Africans have always been derogatorily depicted as apes,39 and a giant ape depicts millions of Africans, the masses of black people in America. The title of the movie itself suggests the great Mani Kongo or King of the Congo who has been captured from his homeland and shipped in chains to America. Once he reaches these shores, this great physical specimen is locked in chains, penned in a cage and placed on stage, thereby representing the four roles to which black men have been relegated in America-the slave (in chains), the prisoner (locked in a cage), the entertainer (a great spectacle on stage), and the athlete (great physical prowess). Kong breaks his chains and goes rampaging through the inner city (riots, insurrections, slave revolts). Having been guilty throughout slavery of the wholesale rape of black women (manifested by all of the mulattos and variations in skin tone in the black community), whites have always feared that black men would retaliate by raping white women. (Hence the violent history of lynchings in the South for even “looking the wrong way” at a white woman; and the present day “legal lynching” in the north of five innocent young men for the Central Park jogger rape.) Fay Wray represents the pure and pristine white womanhood that Kong supposedly lusts for.40 The climb to the top of the Empire State Building is interesting on many levels, for the building embodies at once a phallic symbol and the peak cultural and technological achievement of Western Civilization. Hence Kong is challenging the white man’s manhood and his technological and cultural “superiority.” Reaching the pinnacle of the building, Kong has reversed societal roles: in the ultimate “flippin’ of the script,” the black man is on the top and the white man is on the bottom looking up at him. (In a 1976 remake of the 1933 classic, Kong climbs to the top of the Twin Towers, which says a lot about the symbolism of white supremacy that was embodied in the World Trade Center.) The denouement, which ends the nightmare of the black uprising, is that Kong is shot down-just as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Panthers and Nat Turner were shot down. End of threat, end of nightmare, white fears are assuaged. And the subliminal lesson to African Americans is, “If you ever rise up in rebellion, this will be your fate.”
I like the story line: Gorilla Warfare in America. I just want to re-write the ending. Gotta keep flippin’ the script.
There are many ways, of course, of flippin’ the script. For example, there was a favorite poster of mine from the sixties (now sadly lost) which showed an Afro-coiffed, muscle-rippling Samson figure shedding-or rather ripping his way out of-the outer skin of a Sambo/Coon figure. The caption accompanying this illustration was a quote from Kwame Ture né Stokely Carmichael: “Inside of every Negro, there is a potential Black Man.” That whole poster was a shorthand for the Nigrescence models41-originally termed Negro-to-Black Conversion models42-which analyze the process of flippin’ the role-script or role-expectation that Elkins speaks of, from a personality type that could be caricatured and ridiculed to one that would be respected (and feared).43 This is not to suggest that these models refer to Elkins in any way (they don’t), nor is it to suggest that I have accepted Elkins’s Sambo designation; but it does suggest that black people can and do accept the idea of black personality types that run on some continuum from those which are negatively-evaluated to those which are positively-evaluated (and that black people be their own evaluators not whites). Afrocentrists are of course more interested in the Negro-to-Black-to-African Conversion experience, and works such as Wade W. Noble’s African Psychology: Toward Its Reclamation, Reascension and Revitalization, Na’im Akbar’s Light from Ancient Africa, Asa G. Hilliard’s SBA:The Reawakening of the AfricanMind, Linda James Myers’s Understanding an Afrocentric World View, and Kobi Kambon’s The African Personality in America provide a role script through ancestral wisdom from Africa of great antiquity. Other Afrocentrists have flipped the script by “signifying.”
If we consider that Elkins’s Sambo is an example of white people “playing the dozens” on us-as Robin D.G. Kelley states in the opening pages of Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional44 then black folks can flip the script by dissin’ and dissecting white folks, placing the white personality type and white behavioral scripts under the microscope. Among the Afrocentric texts which have taken on this mission are: Marimaba Ani, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior; Bobby E. Wright, The Psychopathic Racial Personality and Other Essays, Frances Cress Welsing, The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors, and Amos Wilson, The Falsification of African Consciousness: Eurocentric History, Psychiatry and the Politics of White Supremacy. White anti-racist scholarship has also put the white racist personality under the microscope, e.g., Joel Kovel, White Racism: A Psychohistory, and Michael Bradley, The Iceman Inheritance: Prehistoric Sources of Western Man’s Racism, Sexism and Aggression. While all of these script-flippin’ theses about white racists emerge from the academy, script-flippin’ myths and elaborations upon myths continue to emerge from the organic intellectuals of the inner city “cults” such as the Nation of Islam, the Five Percenters, and the Hebrew Israelites. Most of the above is grist for my courses The Psychology of the Black Experience and Critical Issues in Black Psychology; but here I wish to concentrate on the scholars who flip the Elkins script by subverting, deflating, or undermining the major contentions of his argument.
Of the two dozen or so propositions and corollaries in the Elkins thesis which I listed earlier, there are about six major areas of contention which most critics and respondents to Elkins have been concerned with. These may formulated as questions:
1) Was the Sambo personality real, or was it a fiction created by Southern folklore?
2) Was the Sambo personality the dominant or most prevalent personality type on the Southern plantation, or were there other very prevalent personality types?
3) Was the Sambo personality internalized or was it a masquerade?
4) Was the Sambo personality unique to North American slavery, or was it a universal slave personality which also appeared in the Caribbean and/or Latin America?
5) Were the North American slaves docile or were they revolutionary and rebellious?
6) Was the concentration camp experience truly analogous to slavery?
Due to space constraints, I will address here only the first five questions. One other key question, which most critics and respondents have not addressed, is the gender issue: How did slavery specifically affect African American women? Was there a dominant female slave personality? A final key issue concerns African cultural retentions: Were the North American slaves detached from African culture or did they retain significant African beliefs, values and practices? This question had already been the basis of a classic debate between the anthropologist Melvin Herskovits and the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier,45 and thus was not taken up with intensity by Elkins’s critics.
The majority of responses to and critiques of the Elkins thesis appeared in 1971 in The Debate over Slavery: Stanley Elkins and His Critics, edited by Ann J. Lane.46 My discussion will refer to three of the chapters in this volume: Eugene Genovese, “Rebelliousness and Docility in the Negro Slaves”; Christopher Lasch & George Fredrickson, “Resistance to Slavery”; and Orlando Patterson, “Quashee,” which explores a Caribbean cognate of Sambo. Other critiques I will draw upon include: Kenneth Stampp, “Rebels and Sambos; The Search for the Negro’s Personalty in Slavery,” which discusses Herbert Aptheker’s important 1943 work American Negro Slave Revolts (which Elkins disregarded); John Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Ante-Bellum South; Randall Miller & John David Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, which includes entries on “Sambo,” “Slave Personality,” “Slave Resistance” and related issues; and Howard McGary, “Resistance to Slavery,” in Tommy Lott, ed., African American Philosophy: Selected Readings. I also gained insights from conversations with sociologist/Women’s Studies scholar Barbara Omolade, on the gender issue. Finally, filmmaker Haile Gerima makes profound observations about the slave personality in his critically-acclaimed film, Sankofa.
1. Was the Sambo personality real or was it a fiction? In attempting to answer such a question, the issue of stereotyping immediately comes to the fore. Elkins was well aware of this, as he states early on:
The name “Sambo has come to be synonymous with “race stereotype.” Here is an automatic danger signal, warning that the analytic difficulties of asking such questions about slave personality may not be nearly so great as the moral difficulties. The one inhibits the other; the morality has had a clogging effect on its theoretical development that may not be to the best interest of either. And yet theory on group personality is still in a stage rudimentary enough that this particular body of material-potentially illuminating-ought not to remain morally impounded any longer.47
The line between a personality type and a stereotype, for Elkins, is a very thin one-one which I believe he traverses. As he mentions, the study of group personality-i.e., generalizations about the behavioral characteristics of different ethnic groups or nationalities- was an emerging topic in social psychology at that time. Social psychologists and psychological anthropologists used terms such as modal personality and national character to refer to, for example, distinctive German traits or British personality types or Chinese behavior patterns. Hence it was theoretically possible to talk about an African American (or, in 1959, an “American Negro”) personality profile as well. However, the study of culture and personality is empirical rather than speculative. It involves measuring how different nationalities scored on systematic inventories of values (e.g., power, achievement, self-direction, conformity) or specific dimensions (e.g., individualism vs. collectivism) instead of relying upon the speculative generalizations that Elkins proffered. Furthermore Elkins is skating on thin ice by adopting Southern racist folklore as his point of reference. Can members of a dominant or “majority” group in this society make generalizations about members of a subordinate or “minority” group without being influenced or prejudiced by the ideological racism which permeates the society? It is a short (but dangerous) jump from making empirical generalizations about national character or modal personality to making the kinds of exaggerated generalizations that constitute a stereotype. In that sense, Sambo was certainly a fiction.
John Blassingame makes a similar observation when he states that “any attempt to generalize about individual and group personality traits must assess the degree to which “outsiders” are able to perceive someone else’s behavior correctly.” Blassingame refers to psychologists Gustav Ichheiser’s concept “sham” characteristics- characteristics which are the result of either misinterpretation by the outsider or pretence by those who supposedly possess them.48 He further points out that the roots of this conception of the black slave are in the American attitude towards Negroes or Africans as a race, e.g., “ignoble savages, who were innately barbaric, imitative, passive, cheerful, childish, lazy, cowardly, superstitious, polygamous, submissive, immoral and stupid.”49 He notes that writers in slave and caste societies representing and identifying with the ruling class have historically drawn unflattering stereotypes of the subordinate caste. He cites historian David B. Davis,50 who states that “almost universally slaves have been described as loyal, faithful, lazy, irresponsible and untrustworthy.” White slaves and Russian serfs have been characterized this way. Even more revealing is Blassingame’s statement that Southern writers were so committed to drawing unflattering stereotypes of subordinate groups that they characterized “non-slave-holding white Southerners as ‘poor whites’ who were densely ignorant, irresponsible, lawless, lazy, shiftless, dirty, careless, stupid, listless, unambitious, dishonest and morally degraded.”51 Blassingame cites two other factors which contributed to the Sambo stereotype: 1) Southern writers felt compelled to disprove the allegations of abolitionist novelists, and 2) Southerners needed to relieve themselves of the anxiety of thinking of the slaves as men and as potential rebels: “the public [Sambo] stereotype only partially hid a multitude of private fears which reached the point of mass hysteria at the mere mention of the word ‘rebellion.'”
Norman R. Yetman’s entry “Slave Personality” in the Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery52 cites Richard B. Erno’s dissertation, “Dominant Images of the Negro in the Antebellum South,”53 a content analysis of the diaries of Southern slaveholders, which shows that there were several images of slaves in the slaveholder’s worldview that were used to justify slavery. The dominant image between 1800 and 1860 was “Caliban” (I assume that Erno borrows Mannoni’s phrase54), “a form of being that was neither animal nor wholly human . essentially a beast of burden, servile, slothful, indolent, incompetent and stupid…” A Satan image was the second most pervasive image of blacks at that time; it reflected the perception that slaves were a “troublesome presence.. At best they were dissemblers-inherently untrustworthy, deceptive, deceitful, evasive and prone to lying and stealing; at worst they were imprudent insolent, recalcitrant, rebellious, and lascivious, representing a threat to the established order.” Sambo, “the comic slave,” was a distant third image. Erno shows that each image was related to a specific geographic region of the South: Caliban was “a product of areas characterized by large plantation agriculture where a high proportion of the slaves were unskilled and there was a relatively high rate of blacks to whites in the general population.” The Satan image appeared in the upper South in the early 1800s; after the 1830s it spread to parts of the lower south with high percentages of blacks in the population. Sambo was “restricted to the more urbanized areas of the South and to the border states. ” Erno states that toward the end of the antebellum period, in response to abolitionist claims that slavery was dehumanizing, proslavery apologists, contending that slavery performed a “civilizing” function, offered three new images depicting blacks as personal servants rather than unskilled laborers: “the noble and loyal Friday, the wise, intelligent and nurturing mammy and the pious, long-suffering Uncle Tom.”55
2. Was the Sambo personality the dominant or most prevalent personality type on the Southern plantation, or were there other very prevalent personality types? It is inherently difficult, of course, to answer this question, given our critics’ response to the previous question, which casts Elkins’s personality types as mere stereotypes. Nevertheless, Blassingame finds not one but three slave characters in the literature of antebellum Southern novelists, dramatists and journalists: Sambo, Nat and Jack.
Nat was the rebel who rivaled Sambo in the universality and continuity of his literary image. Revengeful, bloodthirsty, cunning, treacherous and savage, Nat was the incorrigible runaway, the poisoner of white men, the ravager of white women, who defied all the rules of the plantation society. Subdued and punished only when overcome by superior numbers or firepower, Nat retaliated when attacked by whites, led guerrilla activities of maroons against isolated plantations, killed overseers and planters or burned plantation buildings when he was abused.56
The rarest portrait in the antebellum literature was Jack:
Jack worked faithfully as long as he was well-treated. Sometimes sullen and uncooperative, he generally refused to be driven beyond the pace that he had set for himself. Conscious of his identity with other slaves, he cooperated with them to resist the white man’s oppression. Rationally analyzing the white man’s overwhelming physical power, Jack either avoided contact with him or was deferential in his presence. Since he did not identify with his master and could not always keep up the façade of deference, he was occasionally flogged for insubordination. Although often proud, stubborn and conscious of the wrongs he suffered, Jack tried to repress his anger. His patience was, however, not unlimited. He raided his master’s larder when he was hungry, ran away when he was tired of working or had been punished, and was sometimes ungovernable. Shrewd and calculating, he used his wits to escape from work or to manipulate his overseer and master.57
Blassingame advances these two literary images in contrast to the image of Sambo, stating that if we must examine Sambo as a stereotype we may only do so in the context of these other stereotypical images. Sambo may have been the most fictive image, as “the more fear whites had of Nat, the more firmly they tried to believe in Sambo to escape paranoia.”58 Blassingame gives a much more subtle analysis of slave personality types not looking only at stereotypical literary characterizations in his chapter “Slave Personality Types.” He summarizes the complexity of the slave personalities by saying, “there was great variety in slave behavior.. The slave was no different in most ways from most men. The same range of personality types existed in the [slave] quarters as in the mansions.”59
The stereotypical slave personalities Sambo, Nat and Jack, are all male, yet there was a certainly a female slave stereotype, the mammy. In Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs’s PBS documentary film about distorted black images, the stereotypical mammy is depicted as desexualized, fat, shiny black, maternal and nurturing to the slavemaster’s children but mean and cold to her own children; a strong matriarch and head of the household (boss over her husband); very much the opposite of the dainty white female. Variations of the Mammy stereotype continued to define the African woman even after slavery: for example the desexualized, fat, shiny black Aunt Jemima and the sassy, hands-on-her-hips, nagging Sapphire. There was also another negative but contrasting female slave stereotype, the sexy Mulatto: “high yellow,” attractive, and an alluring temptress, a highly-desired “belly-warmer” or “bed-warmer” for the slavemaster. But without the “shiny black” female slave being sexually attractive to the rapist slave-master, there would have been no mulattos. Why was the dark African woman desexualized in the Mammy stereotype? Marlon Riggs suggests that the white woman on the plantation played a role in creating this stereotype, because she was in denial about how sexually threatening the African woman was to her white womanhood.
Barbara Omolade has suggested that at least four types of slave personalities could be attributed to the enslaved African female. Some of these personality types were characterized by positive heroic (or “sheroic”) traits, others by a blend of positive and negative traits. Three personality types are taken from historical personages; a fourth is culled from Toni Morrison, whose novel Beloved can be interpreted as a metaphor for the alienation/estrangement, identity- crisis and psychosis resulting from enslavement. These are Sally Hemings, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Sethe. Hemings, of course was the consort of Thomas Jefferson; she represents the slave as mistress. Harriet Tubman, as leader of the underground Railroad, represents a militant slave woman devoted to liberation; though she is not an insurrectionist, she is a rebel, in many respects a counterpart to Blassingame’s Nat. Sojourner Truth represents the slave woman who turns to religion, spirituality and mysticism as a source of strength. The fictional character Sethe represents woman for whom family-protection of offspring from the ravages of slavery-becomes an obsession.
Filmmaker Haile Gerima adds a new dimension to the issue of personality types. All the typologies that we have examined thus far suggest that personality is a firm, fixed and static entity. In the film Sankofa, we are reminded of one very simple truth: personality is dynamic; it changes over time as a result of experience and interactions with others. In this fictional account of a woman’s experiences on a Southern slave plantation, we are introduced to several stereotypical characters: Shula, a docile pacifist house-slave who is repeatedly raped by the slavemaster; her lover Shango, a rebellious slave of Caribbean origin, who wears the name of the Yoruba orisha (the deity of fire, lightning and thunder) and who embodies Blassingame’s classical Nat personality; and Nunu, an Akan priestess, who most reminds us of the importance of African cultural retentions. Born in Africa, Nunu is fearless and self-reliant because of the spiritual and occult forces at her command (one of the other slave-women animatedly recounts to a group how Nunu killed an oppressive slavemaster simply with the power of her gaze). She stands in bold contrast to the muted and somewhat defeated slaves who were born in the States. Ironically it is Nunu’s own son Joe, a tragic mulatto, a product of rape, who is the most Euro-assimilated and self-hating of the slaves. Joe is overly attached to and dependent upon a Catholic priest, Father Rafael, and reveres the European images of Christ and the Virgin. He thinks that he is different from and better than the rest of the slaves because of both his devotion to the Church and his high-yellow skin tone. He hates his own mother because of her devotion to “pagan gods.” Lucy, a beautiful dark-skinned slave, has an unrequited love for Joe who alternately sleeps with her and rejects her. Nobel Ali is a “headslave” (slave-driver), who administers whippings to the other slaves. He is very conflicted about this role. Musa is a head-slave by day but at night he is one of the leaders of a highly organized coalition of maroons and plantation rebels, who torch acres of fields.
The maroons or escaped slaves who have created a free republic in the hills, and who risk their freedom to ensure the gradual escape of their enslaved brethren, certainly constitute a type-a maroon personality which neither Elkins nor his critics have addressed. It is also noteworthy that there is no real Sambo character in the entire cast. Many of the slaves are variations of Blassingame’s Jack. The interaction among these slaves results in the increasing radicalization of the pacifist Shula, who finally hacks her tormenter to death; the radicalization of the conflicted Nobel Ali, who becomes one of the secret rebels; and the awakening of Joe, who after committing matricide suddenly realizes that he has been duped and brainwashed into hating his Africanity, and in a fiery suicide/homicide torches the church, all of its European saint-idols, and Father Rafael. At a ripe moment when the slaves catch the slavemaster off-guard and unarmed, they rise up in insurrection and kill him and the other overseers. Shango who has been preaching an uncompromisingly revolutionary message all along, to seemingly deaf ears, is the Nat Turner-like character whose views are vindicated. The title of the film, Sankofa, is Ghanaian/Akan for “return to the source, return to the ways of the ancestors.” Throughout the film, those who are most revolutionary are those who are free of Christian influence and, in fact, practitioners of traditional African religion. One potent idea that we are left with is that the revolutionary slaves, exemplified by Shango, are possessed or imbued with the powers of the orishas or African deities. For those involved in the Elkins debate, Gerima’s most important message is that slave personality is not etched in stone; it is dynamic, it evolves and transforms-usually in the direction from conflicted Jack to rebellious Nat. Not developed in the action of the plot, but implied by the very presence of a free and structured society of escaped slaves, is the transformation/evolution from Nat to Maroon-from stateless revolutionary to sovereign revolutionary.
3. Was the Sambo personality internalized or was it a masquerade? If such a prevalent personality existed (which seems to be in serious doubt), it was probably in the context best captured by Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask,” whose first stanza reads:
We wear the mask that grins and lies
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.60
Kenneth Stampp makes it clear in his article “Rebels and Sambos”61 that the slaves were dissemblers-i.e., concealers, disguisers, pretenders, who hide their true thoughts and feelings, their true personalities, from the slavemaster. Paraphrasing Stampp, the slave behavior which whites saw was conscious accommodation to the Sambo role. The Sambo routine was a form of ritual acting; the slaves went through the motions of playing this role, and some played it with great skill and consistency. But they were not authentic Sambos, as they did not invest themselves wholeheartedly in the role and the role did not become a part of their true personalities. Stampp says that most slaves avoided internalizing the Sambo role because 1) when they were in their own community they were able to play different roles, 2) the Sambo role did not pre-empt all of their time, 3) the master was not the only “significant other” in their lives as Elikns presumes, 4) they had abundant opportunities to behave in meaningful adult roles, and 5) in contrast to the concentration camp, life was not so brutal that the slaves were destroyed as human beings.62
Stampp quotes John Dollard, who wrote about the dissemblance that black people engaged in after slavery, during the era of jim crow:
[T]he Southern Negro played two roles, one that he is forced to play with white people and one “the real Negro” as he appears in dealings with his own people. What the white Southern people see… is the role they forced the Negro to accept, his caste role… .63
Evidence about the external as opposed to internalized nature of the Sambo role, which Stampp collected from folklore of black people themselves and also from whites who wrote about the management of slaves, is summarized by Stampp in the concept of pseudo-Sambo;
Whatever the masters may have said about the loyal, childlike “darky” in their public defense of slavery, the dissembling pseudo- Sambo was the most common reality that confronted them in their daily lives. As one planter wrote, “The most general defect in the character of the Negro is hypocrisy; and this hypocrisy frequently makes him pretend to more ignorance than he possesses; and if the master treats him like a fool, he will be sure to act the fool’s part. This is a very convenient trait, as it frequently serves as an apology for awkwardness and neglect of duty.”64
4. Was the Sambo personality unique and particular to North American slavery or was it universal slave personality? Orlando Patterson counters Elkins’s claim that the Sambo personality-or, in light of Kenneth Stampp’s insight, “the pseudo Sambo dissembling role”-was unique to North America. In the Caribbean, there was a folkloric Sambo counterpart “Quashee.”65 Patterson states that the descriptions of Sambo bear a strong resemblance to the Jamaican Quashee, whose name originally came from the west African Twi language denoting “one who is born on Sunday.” But the name had come to connote “fool,” and the name and attribute were sometimes even paired in the phrase “Quashee-fool.” Women did not escape this designation, as the name also had the feminine form, Quasheba. The other traits of Quashee/Quasheba were: a compulsion to lie, evasiveness, distrustfulness, capriciousness and laziness. He was also described as gay, happy-go-lucky, frivolous and cheerful. There was one major difference, however, between the North Asmerican Sambo and the Jamaican Quashee: Quashee had a “dark side” of his personality; he was vengeful, harbored grudges, possessed strong and ungovernable passions, had an irascible temper, and if placed in positions of authority, was likely to be cruel and tyrannical-blending, therefore, the Sambo image and the Satan image as described by Erno.
Similarly, Eugene Genovese cites several examples which demonstrate that Sambo-like behavior (or in the words of Stampp “pseudo-Sambo dissembling”) was witnessed in Latin America, in spite of Elkins’s claim that Latin American slavery was an open rather than a closed system.66 Genovese’s ultimate point is that Elkins has not described the personality of the Negro Slave in North America, nor has he, for that matter, described the personality of the Negro Slave in the Diaspora; what he has described is the personality of any slave regardless of race or ethnicity. In Genovese’s words, “On close inspection the Sambo personality turns out to be neither more nor less than the slavish personality; wherever slavery has existed, Sambo has also.”67 Genovese also cites David Brion Davis: “Throughout history it has been said that slaves, though occasionally as loyal and faithful as good dogs, were for the most part lazy, irresponsible, cunning, rebellious, untrustworthy, and sexually promiscuous.”68
5. Were the North American slaves docile or were they revolutionary and rebellious? Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts69 is the basic work on slave rebellions, and it was first published in 1943, long before Elkins Slavery. The picture of discontented rebellious slaves painted in Aptheker’s study-which documents 250 slave rebellions and/or plots and conspiracies involving at least ten slaves whose aim was freedom-stands in sharp contrast to the docile Sambo image projected by Elkins. Elkins, in fact, in his only mention of Aptheker, dismisses the significance of the rebellions in the United States, stating that the two largest and best-organized (those led by Gabriel Prosser and by Denmark Vesey) were “easily suppressed” while the most dramatic uprising-led by Nat Turner- was naught but “aimless butchery.” In contrast, Elkins lavishes praise on “the bloody slave revolts… in Latin America,” which “were marked by imagination and a sense of direction and, often involved large scale military operations,” stating that he is “impressed both by their scope and their variety.”70
Kenneth Stampp in “Rebels and Sambos,” his review of the contrasting images of slaves, is unduly critical of Aptheker, whose book, he says should be renamed “American Negro Slave Revolts, Conspiracies and Rumors of Conspiracies.”71 What Aptheker demonstrates is that although most uprisings were either brutally crushed or aborted through informers (who were handsomely paid for their snitching), attempts at rebellion still persisted. This is all the more amazing given the “examples” that were made of rebellious slaves- public hangings, burnings, and displays of decapitated heads-to deter any future attempts. Stampp acknowledges that Aptheker’s evidence “shows how persistent the fear of rebellion was among white Southerners and how frequently insurrection panic drove them to near hysteria”72 Aptheker quotes a typical expression of Southern fears: “We regard the negroes as the ‘Jacobins’ of our country, against whom we should always be on guard.” The speaker goes on to qualify his statement, saying that “we fear no permanent effects from any insurrectionary movements on their part [yet they] should be watched with an eye of steady and unremitting observation.” What this qualifying statement means is that the Southerners had confidence in the ability of their military forces to put down rebellions. Yet the important fact here is that slavemasters viewed the slaves as Jacobins not Sambos. This in itself refutes the Elkins thesis. As John Blassingame argues, the Southerners’ literary and folkloric portrait of Sambo was akin to “whistling in the dark”; it was an attempt to dismiss the intensely felt fear of rebellion.73
Eugene Genovese, having rejected Elkins’s assertion of a sharp contrast between North American and Caribbean/Latin American slave systems, explores the question of why the latter systems nonetheless saw a higher incidence of successful rebellions. One factor was that both the sheer numbers of slaves and the ratio of blacks to whites were much higher in Latin America than in North America. (Only 10% of the slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere wound up in North American; 90% were sent to Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil as the main destination.) Sugar cane plantations manned by 500 slaves were not unusual in Latin America, whereas the typical large North American plantation was worked by some 20 to 25 slaves. While Elkins points to the quilombos or maroon republics (republics set up by fugitive slaves), neither he nor his critic Genovese mention the Seminole Nation of Florida, a maroon society of escaped slaves and Native Americans which waged three costly wars with the U.S. government over a span of forty years.74 Because many researchers on slavery, are unaware that the Seminole Nation was composed of black as well as red Seminoles, they fail to take it into account when making their inventories of North American slave rebellions.
While Stampp accuses Aptheker of not distinguishing between “slave discontent, which was widespread,” and “slave rebelliousness which was only sporadic and always local,” the articles by Fredrickson & Lasch and by Howard McGary discuss whether or not other forms of resistance besides open rebellion were important. Fredrickson & Lasch75 are actually responding to Stampp’s book, The Peculiar Institution, which argues that the slaves offered resistance through non-compliance or non-cooperation: sabotage of crops through inefficient work; theft, “willful destruction of the master’s property by destroying tools, mistreating animals and setting fire to plantation buildings,”76 and running away. Fredrickson & Lasch question whether such non-cooperation constitutes political resistance, which they define broadly as individual or group activity “designed to create a consciousness of collective interest,” which is the “prerequisite for effective action in the realm of power.”77 To address this question, Frederickson & Lasch look at the behavior of prison inmates. Prison, they argue, is a better analogy for slavery than the concentration camp. Using Ervin Goffman’s fourfold typology of adaptation to total institutions, they theorize that slaves, like prisoners, “instead of banding together, typically pursue strategies of personal accommodation,” i.e., “situational withdrawal,” “colonization,” “conversion,” and “intransigence.” Situational withdrawal is a descent into “fatalistic apathy… with disastrous psychic consequences” for the individual; colonization, another neurotic response “is a conscious decision that life in the [total] institution is preferable life in the outside world”; and conversion is “the internalization of the view of the view of himself held by those in power” (the authors surmise that a Sambo conversion may have taken place among some of the slaves). The authors are most concerned about the strategy of intransigence, which they say may often be confused with resistance. Intransigence (or “bad attitude”), as seen in a small number of chronic “trouble-makers” and in larger numbers who engaged in “occasional insubordination,” was a way of sustaining “high morale”; but it could just as often lead to futile and self-destructive acts of defiance. Fredrickson & Lasch surmise that this intransigence made slaves, like convicts, difficult to manage, but that it did not constitute a form of political resistance, given that “the most defiant of inmates are paradoxically those who are most completely caught up in the daily round of institutional life” and therefore partially accept its values.78
Howard McGary79 takes issue with Fredrickson & Lasch as well as with Elkins. However, he uses an essay by Roger Gottlieb entitled “The Concept of Resistance: Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust”80 as his primary foil, to advance a philosophical argument about what constitutes genuine resistance. McGary takes examples from the concentration camp, plantation slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and urban insurrections to illustrate his philosophical arguments. His main line of argument is that the intentions or beliefs of the actor should not be the criteria by which we judge whether an act constitutes genuine resistance. First of all, firmly held beliefs and intentions may be false, as in the case of people who would reduce oppression by “wishing it away or calling on spirits.” Secondly, mental states are not directly observable to a third party. After dismissing intentions as the criteria for judging genuine resistance, McGary emphasizes that neither should the effects of the act be the criteria. McGary suggests instead that “historians, sociologists and other analysts . should focus on the conditions that the agent faced when he or she acted or failed to act and the avenues available for reducing oppression.” (Conditions of oppression in a concentration camp and on a slave plantation were not the same, e.g.: inmates faced extermination but slaves did not, as they were valuable property; most inmates had known freedom whereas many of the slaves were born into slavery; and likewise available avenues of resistance might have differed.) Finally, the analyst should ask how a reasonable person would resist under those specific conditions of oppression and with those available avenues- realizing, of course, that what is “reasonable” is a culture-bound concept. From this perspective, “stealing by slaves from their masters, under certain circumstances, counts as ‘day-to-day’ resistance to slavery.”81 In Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class, historian Robin D.G. Kelley, uses the term “infra- politics” to describe such daily acts of resistance. Theft, acts of sabotage, footdragging, etc., are all interpreted by Kelley as part of a dissident political culture through which oppressed groups challenge those in power.82 Whereas analysts such as Fredrickson & Lasch question whether non-cooperation constitutes political resistance, Kelley states:
One measure of the power and historical importance of the informal infrapolitics of the oppressed is the response of those who dominate traditional politics. Daily acts of resitance and survival have had consequences for existing power relations, and the powerful have deployed immense resources in order to avoid those consequences or to punish transgressors.83
Howard Mc Gary states:
Scholars have offered a variety of reasons for why slavery lasted so long. Some incorrectly include that its longevity was due in part to a failure on the part of blacks to resist their oppression. Not only do these scholars indulge in blaming the victim they also fail to appreciate… the destruction of farm tools, suicides, and the Sambo personality as genuine acts of resistance.84
The lying, stealing, “lazy” Sambo was a race rebel!
6. The Psychology of Oppression
(The “Patriot Act,” Thug-Life, Bling-Bling and other Colonized Roles)
Though we can refute Elkins’s thesis that slavery produced a Sambo personality, there is a more general thesis that we cannot refute: the thesis that slavery has had an adverse impact upon the African American personality. A more pernicious corollary to this thesis is that this adverse impact was not merely a historical reality but continues to have lasting effects on contemporary African Americans. As stated earlier, contemporary Afrocentrists have coined the phrase “Post-Slavery Trauma Syndrome” and borrowed the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” which are indicative of this lasting impact-as are terms like “mental slavery,” “slave mentality,” “colonized mind,” “internalized colonialism,” which have long been part of African American radical political discourse. The terms “colonized mind” and “internalized colonialism” imply that the injuries which have had such a lasting impact were not merely inflicted during the era of enslavement, but continued to be inflicted through the experiences of domestic colonialism or American apartheid, i.e., jim crow (de jure segregation) and ghettoization (de facto segregation). It is an academic matter whether we attribute the negative impact to slavery alone or to slavery and continued oppression.
In a classic study, The Mark of Oppression: Explorations in the Personality of the American Negro, the psychiatrists Abram Kardiner and Lioney Ovesey, state that certain psychological effects of the slave status can be inferred with certainty:
(1) degradation of self-esteem, (2) destruction of cultural forms and forced adoption of foreign cultural traits, (3) destruction of the family unit with particular disparagement of the male, (4) relative enhancement of the female status, thus making her the central figure in the culture, by virtue of her value to the white male for sexual ends and as mammy to the white children, (5) destruction of social cohesion among Negroes by the inability to have their own culture, (6) idealization of the white master; but with this ideal was incorporated an object which was at once revered and hated.85
In Black Rage, another classic work, black psychiatrists William M. Grier and Price M. Cobbs state that…
The black man of today is at one end of a continuum that reaches back in time to his enslaved ancestors. [.] The culture of slavery was never undone for either master or slave.. The practice of slavery stopped over a hundred years ago, but the minds of our citizens have never been freed. [.] We must conclude that much of the pathology seen in black people had its genesis in slavery. The culture that was born in that experience of bondage has been passed from generation to generation.86
In Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, the black psychologist, Na’im Akbar, echoes the statements of Grier and Cobb:
300 years of brutal and unnatural slavery have constituted a severe psychological and social shock to the minds of African Americans,… so destructive . that the current generation of African Americans though we are five to six generations removed from slavery, still carry the scars of this experience in both our social and mental lives…. In order to fully grasp the magnitude of our current problems, we must reopen the books on the events of slavery… Slavery should be viewed as a starting point for understanding the African American psyche.87
Akbar’s work is a deceptively simply-written book which offers many insights about Black attitudes and behaviors. Acknowledging that the list of attitudes and reactions “inherited” from slavery is extensive, he identifies some of those which are most blantant and destructive: 1) work is viewed as forced labor or punishment; 2) “slavemaster’s” property is either resented, resulting in destruction or vandalism, or conversely envied, resulting in conspicuous consumption; 3) disrespect of African American leadership; 4) playing the clown role; 5) low self esteem/feelings of inferiority; 6) community divisiveness; 7) destruction of the family; 8) color discrimination/ internal politics of skin complexion; 9) worship of white images of God.
Maulana Karenga, in Kawaida Theory: An Introductory Outline advances his own theory about the impact of slavery on the African American personality. Karenga begins with the notion of ethos, which is very similar to concepts of national character or modal personality:
Ethos is the sum of characteristics and achievements of a people that define and distinguish it from others and give it its collective self-consciousness and collective personality. The ethos of a people is often called its national or ethnic character which is not only defined by itself, but also assumed by others.88
Karenga states that “ethos is developed by a people’s thought and practice.” Paraphrasing him, Ethos arises from a people’s social and historical actions, a people’s struggle to overcome all oppositions and to realize itself, which means to both create itself and recognize itself, through its labor, struggle, and achievements. A positive ethos is centered around achievements which confirm a people’s capacity for greatness and distinct historical contribution; conversely people with few or minor achievements will develop a self-consciousness of a similar stature. African Americans have a serious problem establishing a positive ethos because they have an identity crisis which is manifested in the passionate debate over the proper ethnic nomenclature: colored, negro, black, Afro-American, African American, Afrikan, Moor, Creole, etc., a debate which few other people engage in. “This identity crisis is essentially a psycho-historical problem, a problem of self-consciousness rooted in three historical processes Africans encountered and endured” in enslavement: 1) land and labor dispossession, 2) deculturalization, and 3) dehumanization. Removal from the ancestral homeland amounted to removal from a geo-cultural point of reference. The appropriation of African American manual and mental labor was an appropriation of African Americans’ productive capacity, their capacity to produce and know themselves in their production. As African American labor did not shape the world in its own image and interests, African Americans could not recognize their true selves in what they had done. Without the ability for self-definition, self-development and self-confirmation, African Americans became strangers to themselves. The deculturalization process turned Africans into negroes. Without a specific historical identity, i.e., suffering from historical amnesia, we were dehumanized.
The damaged ethos and identity-crisis of African Americans- and its negative impact not only on the mental health and personal efficacy of the individual but on the collective struggle for liberation-has been noted by commentators from Du Bois, who spoke of the problem of double consciousness/”two warring ideals in one dark body”; to Malcolm X, with his characterization of the house negro and the field negro; to Toni Morrison, whose novel Beloved is a metaphor for the alienation/estrangement, identity-crisis and psychosis that resulting from enslavement;89 to Louis Farrakhan, who, at the Million Man March popularized to the level of mythology the “Willie Lynch Letter,” a document allegedly written by a slavemaster about the science and the conspiracy of making and breaking slaves;90 to the Council on Black Internal Affairs, which released its own indictment on suspect individuals, The American Directory of Certified Uncle Toms: Being a Review of the History, Antics and Attitudes of Handkerchief heads, Aunt Jemimas, Head Negroes in Charge, and House Negroes Against the Freedom Aims of the Black Race.” And of course Umar Bin Hassan, of The Last Poets, summed up the impact of oppression in the title of his poem, “This is Madness.”
Madness calls for therapeutic intervention. Theory must never be divorced from practice; knowledge never divorced from application. Illuminated by theory and moving from self-denial to the admission of a collective mental illness is the first step towards recovery. And that self-recovery is urgent. One does not have to accept a vanguard theory to realize that African Americans because of their position in heart of the international capitalist system, in “the belly of the beast” as the most exploited and most oppressed, are the most potentially revolutionary force in the world.91 COINTELPRO and cooptation derailed a movement which sought both national liberation and the end to capitalist exploitation. How do we get that movement back on track? We have to examine the roles that we are playing on the contemporary political stage.
In the academies, the universities, important think-tanks from which revolutionary theory should emanate (“educate, agitate, organize”), we have exchanged the role of Scholars-as-Warriors for the role of Scholars-for-Dollars; on the streets, where the masses, the grassroots folk, should be working in unity and solidarity to make change from the bottom up, we have exchanged the role of Brothers and Sisters for the roles of “dawgs” and “ho’s”-instead of seeking to build a nation we seek thug-life. Segments of the working class have exchanged the role of moral vanguard and social catalyst for the role of conspicuous consumer. Instead of seeking freedom, justice and equality, instead of seeking Black Power, instead of seeking national liberation, we now seek “Bling Bling.” Those of us who purport to be conscious have abdicated the role of activists for the role of spiritualists, believing that we can meditate and levitate our way to freedom. While spiritual regeneration is essential, it is so that we have internal fortitude to struggle, to build for the future, not to escape into the past. The transformation, the evolution is into Afrikans, not Fundamentalist Afrikans, not “Born-Again” Dogmatic Afrikans-holier than thou/more authentic than thou-but New Afrikans! Twenty-First Century Afrikans! We must stand on the shoulders of Our Ancestors, not in their shadows! Then there’s that Du Boisian double-consciousness splitting us down the middle. Since 9/11, the other half of our population have put on a “patriot act”92 rather than acting in our best interests. Our struggle for reparations93 suffocates under ubiquitous banners of red, white and blue-forgetting all the while that red, black and green are our freedom colors. Thinking that we’re now secure because someone else is the new scapegoat in Amerikkka is not too cool! When martial law is declared, first they’ll come for the Arabs; then they’ll come for me and you! Patriots, Gangstas, Witches and Ho’s: all of these colonized roles, attitudes and behaviors impede not only our freedom but the freedom of humanity. Ghetto Fabulous, Scholars-for-Dollars, Buppies and Boojies, Dawgs, ChickenHeads, HoodRats, and that ubiquitous *N-word* we love to call ourselves! We are all willing participants and collaborators in our own oppression. In the end it does not matter if we are Sambo, or if we have exchanged that role for one that is equally demeaning, counter-revolutionary, and counter-productive. In the final analysis, the only real question is whether we will continue to inhabit the role of 21st-century slaves, or whether we will be our own liberators.
In the words of the late Shaykh Suliaman El-Hadi of The Last Poets:94
Blessed are those who struggle
Oppression is worse than the grave
Better to die for a noble cause
Than to live and die a slave
1. The Last Poets, “This is Madness,” Douglas 7 Records (1970). The poem written and orated by Umar Bin Hassan (who then spelled his name Omar Ben Hassen) is the title track. Earlier lines in the poem paint an ugly and vivid portrait of the white oppressor (i.e., the white liberal establishment, Uncle Sam, the U.S. government, the white corporate state) as a modern sinister Machiavellian Prince, basking in white supremacist arrogance and overconfidence, while disdainfully misusing and emasculating civil rights leaders and sabotaging, co-opting and misdirecting the movement and its non-violent philosophy. The satiric reference in the poem to a tv commercial of 30 years ago (an ad for a cleanser or cleaning fluid which “cleans like a white tornado”) may not resonate well today, but the other images are still potent: “And all the while he sits on a throne of eagle shit/ with DDT in one hand and a white tornado in the other/ wearing the crown of castrated black dicks/ and reading the non-violent thoughts of Ghandi/ And I watch him relax by playing golf with Boy Wilkins balls/ with Baynard Rusty glued to his thing/ while Xerox copies of Martin Luther King are popping from his skull/ (To dream the impossible dream).”
2. William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (New York: Random House, 1966). Styron’s novel begins with a quote from the original “Confession of Nat Turner,” a 20-page pamphlet drafted by Turner’s judges and executioners. The following excerpt from the introduction of this pamphlet testifies to the fear that the slave uprising had wrought: “The late Insurrection in Southampton has greatly excited the public mind and led to a thousand idle, exaggerated and mischievous reports. It is the first instance in our history of an open rebellion of the slaves, and attended with such atrocious circumstances of cruelty and destruction, as could not fail to leave a deep impression, not only on the minds of the community where this fearful tragedy was wrought, but throughout every portion of our country in which this population is to be found. Public curiosity has been on the stretch to understand the origin and progress of this dreadful conspiracy and the motives which influence its diabolical actors. The insurgent slaves had all been destroyed, or apprehended, tried and executed (with the exception of the leader) without revealing any thing at all satisfactory , as to the motives which governed them, or the means by which they expected to accomplish their object. Every thing connected with this sad affair was wrapt in mystery, Until Nat Turner, the leader of this ferocious band, whose name has resounded throughout our widely extended empire was captured… .”
3. John Henrik Clarke, ed., William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond (Boston: Beacon Press , 1968)
4. An alleged homosexual encounter was Turner’s one and only sexual liaison according to Styron’s fictional portrayal. Clarke and other contributors to Clarke’s volume emphatically deny that Turner was either gay or celibate. They cite historical records which show that Nat Turner was married. Styron asserts in a prefatory Author’s Note that “During the narrative that follows I have rarely departed from the known facts about Nat Turner and the revolt of which he was the leader. However in those areas where there is little knowledge in regard to Nat, his early life and his motivations for the revolt (and such knowledge is lacking most of the time), I have allowed myself the utmost freedom of imagination in reconstructing events… ” (The latter emphasis is mine).
5. Lerone Bennett, Jr., a contributor to Clarke’s edited book, states in his essay entitled “Nat’s Last White Man”: “Styron is so determined to prove that his dream [elsewhere described as “the Elkins-Phillips-Styron dream” of the Sambo myth] exists that he gives his main character the mind and the vocabulary of U.B. Phillips. And he performs the amazing feat of actually putting the Sambo thesis in Nat Turner’s mouth. On pp. 55 – 56 [of Styron’s Confessions], Nat is filled with rage by the ‘harmless, dull, malleable docility’ of Hark and he discourses in the best ‘new history’ mode on the ‘unspeakable bootlicking Sambo,’ all giggles and smirks and oily, sniveling servility.”
6. See Carl N. Degler, “Why Historians Change their Minds,” Pacific Historical Review 45 (1976),167-84. While Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross (1974) created a temporary stir with its cliometric approach, it did not have a lasting impact on historiography.
7. One must split hairs on this point. Phillips argued against the continued viability of slavery as an institution from purely economic standpoints. According to his research, the system was becoming increasingly inefficient and less financially profitable. He argued that southern plantation owners could have invested their capital in more lucrative endeavors. In this economic sense Phillips was not a pro-slavery advocate.
8. Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, American Negro Slavery (New York, 1928), p. 391f.
9. According to Norman R. Yetman, An Introduction to the WPA Slave Narratives, Phillips “quoted extensively from contemporary newspapers and travel accounts as well as various pre-Civil War tracts, diaries, correspondence, and government records. Kenneth Stampp … used many of the same sources, although he relied more heavily on diaries, journals, and a few slave narratives. Stampp also utilized an important source not available to Phillips: Helen Catterall’s five-volume summary of appellate court cases on slavery”
10. Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South (New York, 1956), p.11. In the aftermath of the black consciousness movement or black cultural awakening of the sixties, students and scholars of African American history challenged Stampp’s assertion as it minimized the importance of the distinctive African cultural retentions-worldviews, values, beliefs, norms and practices retained from the African past-which sustained African Americans through the ordeal of slavery.
11. “Culture wars” is the current name for this cottage industry-the endless cycle of academic attack, defense, rebuttal, concurrence, extension and spin-off that produces papers, books, dissertations, symposiums and conferences. Are there “good guys” and “bad guys” in this war? Certainly there are altruistic and heroic defenders of truth-located primarily on the left end of the political spectrum. But let us not forget that intellectuals are often seduced by the comforts of academia; there are many cases of intellectuals who have started out on the left and drifted to the right, attacking people and policies they once defended, in their bid for career-advancement. For those without moorings grounded firmly in praxis, these culture wars-which are the critical ideological struggles of our era-can devolve into nothing more than an academic game, i.e., a strategy for tenure. In the career-driven climate of the ivory tower, self-indulgent academicians can become primarily concerned about their livelihoods and reputations-and aloof and callous about the repercussions of this paper fight.
12. One collection of rebuttals was a volume entitled The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence and the Future of America edited by Stephen Fraser. Another volume entitled The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions edited by Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman, attempted to capture “the fervor, anger and scope” of the argument by presenting responses pro and con. The Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School sponsored a widely attended forum “Out from Under the Bell Curve: A Teach-in on Confronting Right-wing Ideology and Social Policy” on April 1, 1995; WBAI Pacifica radio also sponsored a widely attended forum in Brooklyn.
13. Arthur R. Jensen, then a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, created a furor with a 1969 article “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement,” published in the Harvard Educational Review. In this article Jensen “hypothesized that the racial and class-scoring differentials on IQ tests are mainly due to genetic differentials between races and classes…. Jensen’s revival of heriditarianism was sensationalized by the mass media and seized upon by powerful decision makers who… made use of it as a rationale for cutbacks in recently launched education programs for children of lower socio-economic status.” Elaine Mensh & Harry Mensh, The IQ Mythology: Class, Race, Gender and Inequality (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991). William Shockley, a Stanford University professor of engineering, Nobel Laureate in physics, and the inventor of the transistor semiconductor, is best known for his forays into eugenics. Though he had no formal training in genetics or psychology, in the mid-’60s he became obsessed with the relationship between heredity, race and intelligence. He began to conduct statistical analysis on race and IQ testing, publishing his hereditarian conclusions. By the 1970s he was a highly controversial lecturer who publicly advocated the sterilization of blacks with low IQs, promising to pay individual blacks who would undergo voluntary sterilization a “Bonus Plan” of $1,000 for every point below 100 on their IQ scores. At many universities student protesters, black and white, booed and heckled him, not allowing him to speak. As a counterpoint to the sterilization of blacks, Shockley was also an advocate of , and donor to, “Nobel sperm banks,” designed to pass on the genes of white “geniuses” and Nobel prize winners such as himself.
14. Richard J.Herrnstein’s original article, “I.Q.” Atlantic Monthly (September, 1971), 43-64, was expanded into a book entitled I.Q. in the Meritocracy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973).
15. New York Times Magazine, June 5, 1977 (on Leroy “Nicky” Barnes); August 14, 1977 (on Saul Kripke).
16. According to various website sources, Barnes turned evidence on his former partners, helping to convict 50 people. He was released after serving 21 years and relocated in a federal witness program. While in prison he won a national poetry contest for federal inmates and completed a college degree with honors.
17. Another variation of the phrase is Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. This indeed may have been the original expression. Our Times Press cites that it ran a three part series under this title in 1998, “taking the title from the lecture of Professor Joy Leary, at St. Paul Community Baptist Church MAAFA lectures” (Our Times Press, February 2003: “Black History, Black Consciousness,” p.8). The phrase may have undergone transformation as it was circulated by the public; and the public, perhaps erroneously, has attributed the coining of the phrase to other professors. Ma’afa, [as in MAAFA lectures above] is a Swahili word which means “an event of great disaster, misfortune or calamity”; it has great currency amongst the Afrocentric public. It is used in specific reference to the African Holocaust of Enslavement (or Enslavement and continued Oppression). In the Afrocentric circles, great care is made to use the phrase “Enslaved Africans” instead of the word “slaves” and “Enslavement” instead of “slavery.” This is to indicate that the Africans offered resistance to enslavement and never capitulated to the role of slaves.
18. “The Stockholm Syndrome,” The Peace Encyclopedia
19. Sultan A. Latif & Naima Latif, Slavery: The African American Psychic Trauma (Chicago: Latif Communications Group, Inc., 1994); Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery (Tallahassee: Mind Productions and Associates, 1996).
20. Zip Coon, a distorted image of the free Negro in the north was an extremely interesting contrast to Sambo. Zip Coon, or simply the Coon, was a dandy and a buffoon, whose speech was full of hilarious malapropisms, mispronunciations, grammatical mistakes, etc. In attempting to imitate whites he made a complete mockery of himself. His image demonstrated the utter failure of blacks to adapt to freedom and Western civilized standards. Sambo and Zip Coon provided dual images since the Coon was an example of the disastrous consequences of Negro freedom and Sambo an example of “happy darkies in their place.” In the Reconstruction era, another image of freed blacks-this time freed southern blacks-appeared: the Brute or the Savage. This was best exemplified in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation-where reconstruction era blacks were portrayed as out-of-control, animalistic, aggressive and violent. This distorted image was a rationale and justification for the end of Reconstruction and the rise of the white supremacy, the Klan, and an era of lynchings. The Mammy is discussed in detail elsewhere in this paper. The Uncle was the elderly black slave, who in his senior years was no longer portrayed as Sambo, but as a faithful retainer. Pickaninnies were black children-always pictured as dirty, unkempt furry little animals and unsympathetic victims or targets of comic violence (being pursued by snapping alligators and the like). Paraphrased from Ethnic Notions.
21. Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (New York: Continuum, 1992). Bogle argues that Blacks in films were shown as five stereotyped characters “toms (they served their masters well); coons (the funny men who assured whitey all blacks were harmless and stupid); mulattoes (their “tragedy” was they weren’t born all white); mammies (sexless earth mothers who devoted their lives to their white charges); and bucks (bestial superstuds after the pure white flesh of virgins).”
22. See Melvin Patrick Ely, The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy; A Social History of an American Phenomenon (New York: The Free Press, 1991).
23. Marguerite Ross Barnett, “Distorted Images: Stereotypes of African-Americans in U.S. Popular Art” (Brochure of museum exhibit, the Muse Community Museum of Brooklyn, July-August, 1984).
24. Joseph Boskin, Sambo:The Rise and Demise of An American Jester, (New York: Oxford,University Press, 1986).
25. Ibid., p. 35.
26. Ibid., p. 38.
27. My colleague, Geneva Smitherman, a leading authority on black language, defines “tricknology” in her Ebonics dictionary, Black Talk, as simply “European American technological innovations, viewed as things to be distrusted, as often being not technology, but tricknology. Popularized by The Nation [of Islam].” (I checked the entry in her dictionary after completing my own definition.) I concede that her definition should be incorporated into my overall definition, since in the mythology of the Nation of Islam and their offshoot, the Five Percenters, the founder of tricknology was Yakub, an evil “big-headed” [brainiac] scientist, who created the white race through genetic engineering experiments. He then taught tricknology to his creations. In this sense I would expand my definition to say that tricknology also includes “using science and technology in a devious, treacherous, manipulative or malevolent manner.” But I respectfully differ with my friend and colleague on her point that the term tricknology is delimited to the white man’s distrusted technological innovations. See Geneva Smitherman, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1994). Going to the original text as a final source of arbitration, I quote part of the answer to Lost-Found Muslim Lesson No. 1 Question # 4, which relates the mythology of how the white trouble-makers created by the evil scientist Yakub were banished from the Holy City of Mecca and exiled to the caves of Europe where they became savages until they were rescued by the Prophet Musa who “came two thousand years later and taught him [the white man] how to live a respectful life, how to build a home for himself and some of the forgotten Tricknology that Yakub had taught him, which was devilishment–telling lies, stealing and how to master the Original Man” [how to become masters over black people]. [Emphasis is mine.] As with any sacred or authoritative text, the verses only give us the barebones skeleton of parameters. It is the interpreters of the text who flesh out the skeleton by voluminous commentary. The Five Percenters in particular, are known for “sciencing” out the Lessons, i.e., giving extensive commentary on the Lessons, most of it in oral rather than written form. It is from their oral commentary that I derive my definition. [This quotation comes from my personal collection of photocopied Lessons given to me by Five Percenters and NOI members when I was researching my article “The Five Percenters: A Teenage Nation of Gods and Earths,” in Yvonne Haddad & Jane Idleman Smith, eds., Muslim Communities in North America (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994). The complete Q&A from which the above quote is taken appears in my article “African American Muslims and the Question of Identity: Between Traditional Islam, African Heritage and the American Way,” in Yvonne Haddad & John L. Esposito, eds., Muslims on the Americanization Path? (Athens, GA: Scholars Press, 1998), p. 305, n. 17. A booklet entitled The Supreme Wisdom containing the for-members-only Lessons of the NOI has recently been published and made available in New York City metro area black bookstores-without the authorization or the sanction of either the NOI or the Five Percenters-by the eclectic elder Melchisedek Supreme Shabazz Allah, who has held membership in both groups, and has now proclaimed himself “Universal High Priest” of his own new splinter group.]
28. This list summarizes the argument put forth by Stanley Elkins in Chapter III of Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life. This chapter is entitled “Slavery and Personality” (pp. 81-139), and it constitutes the heart of the book., i.e., it is this chapter which raised all of the furor and controversy, and made the book a new paradigm for the historiography of slavery.
29. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967),.Ch. 4, “The So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonial Peoples,” pp. 83-108.
30. O. Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964). An infinitely better-and more readable-work on the social psychology of colonialism is Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967).
31. William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act IV, Scene 1, lines 188-189.
32. Ibid, Act I, Scene 2, lines 332-336.
33. Mannoni, p. 76f.
34. Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972).
35. Keith Gilyard, Let’s Flip the Script: An African American Discourse on Language, Literature and Learning (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), p. 1.
36. My undergraduate years were spent at Columbia University; I entered in September 1968 on the heels of the great Morningside Heights student uprising of the previous May. More importantly, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in April of that year, setting off urban insurrections in 125 cities across the country.
37. Gil Scott-Heron, from the album Pieces of Man (Flying Dutchman label, 1971).
38. My anecdote about King Kong, is again based on my rich undergraduate college experience. In 1969 or 1970, an article analyzing the racial symbolism of King Kong appeared in our student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. The article caused quite a stir among my circle of classmates when we read it, and it would prove to grip my imagination forever. Unfortunately, I can’t give credit to the ingenious student who wrote the article, as I no longer have a copy of it at hand. (None of the black students recognized the byline, so the penetratingly insightful author was probably white.) Circa 1990 I visited the Columbia Spectator archives and diligently searched for, found and copied the article, but alas have long since misfiled it. At this juncture I won’t rummage through my files or make a long trip across town to the university for the sake of a more documented endnote. I have long since amplified upon, added detail to, and extended the original Spectator analysis for classroom exposition, and I have written about King Kong in several different venues since the mid-80s. See, for example, Brain Tablet (New York; Bedford-Stuyvesant Underground Press, 1992), a black, adult underground “comix” book, written by “Professor Homeboy,” and drawn by artists Winston Blakely, et. al.; “The Melanin Mind Game,” pp. 24-26 Question no. 82. (Copy in the Schomburg Center for Black Culture). See also Yusuf Nuruddin, “Contemporary Black Patriotism and Historical Amnesia,” in Nadia Ahmed, et al., eds., Unveiling the Real Terrorist Mind (X-Libris, 2002). The racial symbolism of King Kong has been independently discovered and written about by others. About five years ago in a return visit to one of my graduate school stomping grounds, Cambridge, MA, while browsing through the bookstores I discovered (but only skimmed through) a lengthy analysis of King Kong in a posthumous collection of essays by James Snead, White Screens, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side, ed. Colin MacCabe & Cornel West (New York: Routledge, 1994).
39. Sambo, as noted earlier, is a name connoting a bow-legged monkey. The slavemaster, in choosing Sambo as his stereotype for black people, reduces the image of a threatening ape to a cute, manageable, mischievous monkey. For a discussion of the white perception of blacks as apes see Winthrop Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro 1550-1812 (Baltimore: Penguin, 1969), pp. 28-32; reprinted in Ronald Takaki, ed. From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp.46-48. A racist illustration comparing “The Negro” to the ape, with caption “Scientists Say Negro Still in Ape Stage: Races Positively Not Equa,l” was circulated by Aryan Nation/Ku Klux Klan types; see Indus Khamit Kush, What They Never Told You in History Class (Luxorr Publications, 1983), p. 12.
40. See Joel Kovel, White Racism: A Psychohistory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984 ), Ch. 4, ” The Fantasies of Race,” esp. pp. 67-75; also Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (New York: Ramparts Press, 1970), “The Primeval Mitosis,” pp. 163-75.
41. William E. Cross, Jr., et al., “The Stages of Black Identity Development: Nigrescence Models,” in Reginald L. Jones, Black Psychology, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: Cobbs & Henry, 1991), pp.319-38. See also Thomas A. Parham, et al., The Psychology of Blacks: An African-Centered Perspective (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999), Ch. 3, “The Struggle for Identity Congruence in African Americans.”
42. William E. Cross, Jr.,”The Negro to Black Conversion Experience,” Black World (July , 1971), 13-27.
43. Alliteratively, I am tempted to name the process indicated by this poster the “Sambo to Simba” Transformation “simba” being the Swahili word for lion, which, like the gorilla, evokes African power, but would be a symbol chosen by us rather than by Hollywood. Umar Bin Hassan’s poem This is Madness, quoted at the beginning of this essay, contains a line “the anger of a hundred simbas was burning inside of me”; in the black American community there are many African-centered rite-of-passage programs or scouting troops where the young men are called Simbas, and, of course, it’s only a short leap from the symbol of the Simba to that of the Black Panther.
44. Robin D. G. Kelley, Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), pp. 1-4. Interestingly, Kelley states that his book “is not the sort of defense that turns the discourse on its head, ‘flipping the script,’ in order to paint a noble unblemished portrait of the black urban poor.” I have a different understanding of “flippin’ the script” than Robin; I am arguing that there is more than one way to “flip a script”; it is a multiple option process.
45. See Melville Herskovits, The Myth of the African Past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958) and E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church (New York: Shocken Books, 1964), pp. 1-19. There is an excellent summary of the Frazier-Herskovits debate in Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford), pp.48-55.
46. Ann J. Lane, ed., The Debate over Slavery: Stanley Elkins and His Critics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971).
47. Elkins, Slavery, p. 82.
48. Gustav Ichhauser, Appearances and Realities (San Francisco, 1970), quoted in Blassingame, The Slave Community, p. 135.
49. Milton Cantor, “The image of the Negro in Colonial Literature,” quoted in Blassingame, The Slave Community, p. 136.
50. Blassingame, p.137
51. Ibid., p.138
52. Norman B. Yetman “Personality, Slave,” in Randall M. Miller and John David Smith, eds., Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), pp. 564-568.
53. Richard B. Erno, “Dominant Images of the Negro in the Antebellum South” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1961).
54. The first English-language edition Mannoni’s book appeared in 1956.
55. Yetman, p. 564f.
56. John Blassingame, The Slave Community, p. 134.
57. Ibid., p 133f. My colleague Bill Sales remarked to me that most “bloods” today are like Jack: they are not militants or revolutionaries; they go along with the white man’s program. But given the opportunity, they’ll strike a blow. He cited the spontaneous looting that went on during New York City’s Black-Out (power failure) in 1977. I can bear witness. I remember when the lights flickered that hot July evening; they went off for 30 seconds, came back on for a moment, and then went out again for good. I was near a city park, where folks had been engaged in the usual recreational activities-basketball, handball lounging on the benches, etc. When the lights went out for good, there was an instantaneous roar from the crowd. They knew what time it was. Everybody started heading for the shopping district.
58. Blassingame, p.141
59. Ibid., p. 213.
60. Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “We Wear The Mask” (1895), reprinted in Henry Louis Gates and Nelly Y. McKay, eds., The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (New York: Norton, 1997), p. 896.
61. Kenneth Stampp, “Rebels and Sambos: The Search for the Negro’s Personality in Slavery,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 37, No. 3 (1971), pp. 367-392.
62. Ibid., p. 389.
63. Ibid., p. 390, quoting Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town.
64. Ibid., p. 391, quoting from Farmer’s Register (May 1837).
65. Orlando Patterson, “Quashee,” in Lane, The Debate over Slavery; also in Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery:An Analysis of the Origins, Development and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica (Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson Press, 1969), pp. 174-181.
66. Eugene Genovese, “Rebelliousness and Docility in the Negro Slave: A Critique of the Elkins Thesis,”
in Lane, The Debate over Slavery, pp. 43-74.
67. Ibid., p. 49.
68. Ibid., quoting Davis, Problem of Slavery.
69. Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers, 1969).
70. Elkins, Slavery, p. 136f, n. 112.
71. Stampp, “Rebels and Sambos,” p. 4
73. Blassingame, p. 139.
74. See William Lore Katz, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, (New York Atheneum, 1986), pp. 49-88; also Jeff Guinn, Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro (New York: Tarcher-Putnam, 2002).
75. George Fredrickson and Christopher Lasch, “Resistance to Slavery” in Lane, The Debate over Slavery, pp. 223-244
76. Fredrickson & Lasch, p. 225f.
77. Ibid., p. 226
78. Ibid., pp. 238-241.
79. Howard McGary, “Resistance and Slavery,” in Tommy L. Lott, ed., African American Philosophy: Selected Readings (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002); reprinted from Howard McGary & Bill Lawson, Between Slavery and Freedom, (Bloomington: Indiana Univeristy, 1991).
80. Gottlieb’s essay appeared in Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1983).
81. McGary, p. 8f. Stealing from the slavemaster as a means of resistance to slavery may even have been a behavior that was passed down from generation to generation, strategically teaching the practice to children as routine behavior. (p.10)
82. Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class (New York: The Free Press, 1994), p. 8. According to Kelley, the term “infrapolitics” was coined by political anthropologist James C. Scott, e.g., in his work, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.
83. Ibid., p. 8f.
84. McGary, p. 4.
85. Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey, The Mark of Oppression: Explorations in the Personality of the American Negro (Cleveland: Meridian, 1962), p. 47.
86. William H. Grier & Price M. Cobbs, Black Rage (New York: Basic Books, 1968), pp. 24, 26, 31.
87. Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery (Tallahassee: Mind Productions & Associates, 1996), p. 3f.
88. Maulana Karenga, Kawaida Theory: An Introductory Outline (Inglewood, CA: Kawaida Publications, 1980), p. 90.
89. I am indebted to my colleague, Regina Naasirah Blackburn for many sharings, one of which is her enthusiasm for the work of Toni Morrison, especially the novel Beloved and its film adaptation. Another is Elizabeth B. House’s brilliant paper, “Toni Morrison’s Ghost: The Beloved Who Is Not Beloved,” Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring, 1990). House demystifies Beloved and explains that it is not a ghost story but a story of mistaken identities: two key figures, Sethe and Beloved, in deep pain and in search for love; a developmentally-challenged child searching for a mother-figure, a mother longing for a daughter slain in infancy. A grand illusion and confusions of identities which lead to more pain and mental illness: a perfect metaphor for the African American condition: people lost, confused, in identity crisis, and searching in vain for love and understanding.
90. On October 16, 1995, one million men of Afrikan descent gathered on the mall in Washington DC. We all took home many fruits and many jewels that day. One jewel was our new knowledge about the Willie Lynch letter-a very powerful letter exposing the ruthlessness, malevolence, cunning and conspiratorial nature of the white supremacist slavemaster. The letter is attributed to a slave owner named Willie Lynch who delivered his letter or speech “on the banks of the James River” in Virginia 1712, telling other slave owners how to manipulate their slaves by creating debilitating distrust, divisions and antagonisms based on generation gaps, skin complexion, hairtexture, gender, status and size of plantations, level of intelligence, etc. The Willie Lynch letter is available on the web or in pamphlets at black bookstores printed together with a companion piece called “Let’s Make a Slave”-which is even more noxious in its detailed descriptions of how to wreak havoc upon the black man, the black woman, and the black family. A brother named Ernest Duncley with a rich bass/baritone singing voice even recorded a very moving Willie Lynch song on his new CD; if people were exposed to the song, it would probably become a classic like Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Strange Fruit.” Were the letter and its companion piece authentically written by an 18th century slavemaster? Did Frederick Douglass actually write a commentary on the letter (as one website suggests)? Or were all of these documents manufactured by some black nationalist brothers who were nobly motivated to shake up their complacent brothers and sisters and make them think about the virulent racism that surrounds us all? Somehow the documents just don’t have an 18th-century ring to them: the words are written in modern language with a modern tone, e.g., there are phrases like “multiplicity of phenomena,” “substantial original historical base” that simply weren’t typical of the 1700s. But is the Willie Lynch letter real. Yes, it’s real-in the way that Yakub is real, in the way that Aesop’s fables are real, in the way that parables are real. It points to a real truth. It gets a point home quickly, powerfully and directly. It makes the horror and the conspiratorial tactics of enslavement and oppression vivid. It serves a consciousness-raising function. Willie Lynch-a caricature of the white man-the lyncher, the supremacist, the conniver, the destroyer of black manhood, womanhood and familyhood-is certainly more real to us than Sambo! It gives us something to talk about and think about in barbershops and on street corners. As a threatening enemy it helps bind us together and make us strong. So, yes, Willie Lynch and the Willie Lynch letter are real! Now who actually drafted it up and what century they drafted it in is a whole ‘nother story.
91. In his now classic work, Racism and the Class Struggle: Further Pages from a Black Worker’s Notebook (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), James Boggs points out that the white working class, because it enjoys white skin privilege, hasn’t been very revolutionary or even progressive on many labor issues. In fact they have been reactionary, and Boggs calls them a backward class segment. It is black workers who have taken the forefront in radical organizing and confronting the powers-that-be.
92. Yusuf Nuruddin, “Contemporary Black Patriotism and Historical Amnesia,” in Nadia Batool Ahmad, et al., Unveiling the Real Terrorist Mind (Xlibris Corp., 2002), pp. 167-177.
93. See Yusuf Nuruddin, “Promises and Pitfalls of Reparations,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 31 (Winter/Spring 2002), pp. 88-114.
94. The Last Poets, “Blessed Are Those Who Struggle,” from the album Delights of the Garden (Douglas/Casablanca Records, 1977).