Free Black People Brag Different
I’ve said before that slavery impacts us as much today as it did in the past.
“Trying to understand race relations (or the conditions ailing the Black community since anyone alive can remember) without understanding slavery is like trying to cure cancer without understanding anatomy.”
As descendants of the recently enslaved, part of successful resistance requires us to spend time imagining what freedom for us actually looks like. Sometimes we spend so much time deconstructing the “system” that we don’t spend time figuring out how to re-construct a system that works for us. Our current social order is based on the racial hierarchy slavery created. So it’s important to spend some time thinking and day dreaming about how free people act; what they do and how they operate.
Free people feed themselves by creating their own systems for hunting, gathering, growing or selling food. Free people educate their children on their own terms and in ways that are designed to meet their own community’s needs. Free people have a defense system to protect themselves against threats from both outside and inside the community. Free people are self-determining. They don’t need people outside of their community to consent to, support, advocate for or fund their freedom.
The Maroons: Truly “Free” Black People
Ever since White folks got the “lets colonize the world and steal everything we can” bug, there’s only been two groups of Black people who can claim to have experienced true freedom either during or after slavery: Haitians who successfully overthrew their oppressors and runaway slaves who lived in hidden settlements often called Maroons.
Of course there were also so called “Free Black” communities where Black people who weren’t “technically” slaves were “allowed” to live out in the open. Unfortunately, most of these “free Blacks” lived sufficiently close to White people that they were required to constantly navigate White feelings, rules and expectations in order to stay safe. Even in “free Black” areas, self-determination was often limited or constrained based on the racial emotional stability of the White people who ran their towns.
That’s not being free; that’s adjusting to injustice for survival.
The Maroons, on the other hand, were runaway slaves who recognized there was no way to co-exist with people who embraced enslaving Black people as a racial birth right. The Maroons knew they were essentially living with their “Hitler” and that White supremacists had a sickness, an addiction to White privilege, that no African-based spirituality could heal.
So they left White society altogether and ran to the hills where they set up their own settlements. There, they could be truly free Black people, on their own terms. This was by no means an easy thing to do.
They had to re-teach each other how to defend the community. They re-learned how to hunt and cultivate food. They re-created educational systems for their children. Some carried out raids on plantations and freed other enslaved Black people. Some Maroon settlements became so powerful that White colonial powers had to negotiate with them to minimize the threat they posed to slave-owning society.
Most importantly, the Maroons re-learned how to build independent Black communities in the midst of oppression.
Since slavery still shapes the social order, Maroon villages are a model for Black freedom we need to study today. Gaspar Yanga was just one of many leaders of free Maroon communities where formerly enslaved Africans embraced self-determination to create free safe spaces for themselves. This video by David Heredia of Heredia Designs LLC illustrates Gaspar Yanga’s accomplishments and challenges perfectly.
(While you’re at it, check out Heredia’s #HeroesOfColor campaign where he and his team are illustrating some AWESOME videos that reflect heroes & heroines who look like us! He also has a crowdfunding campaign to fund this work – so drop him some coins so your kids (and you!) can have access to videos like these!)
Everybody Else Has Them
Despite the rich legacy of Maroon settlements in Black history we don’t see many of these around in our community today. Some folks even claim this way of thinking is a dangerous form “nationalism” that we should avoid in lieu of focusing more fully on integrating.
These doubters forget that every other healthy minority community is doing the same thing our ancestors did: creating free spaces where they can be self-determining. As a result, these communities are far healthier than those of us who tie our success to integrating into a group of people who’ve spent the past 500 years perfecting how to hate us.
All across the country there are enclaves of ethnic and cultural minorities who create thriving maroon-like settlements for their people. This is what healthy minority communities do when they live in a nation where the majority may be hostile to their interests.
These communities don’t protest when White stores don’t sell their ethnic foods; they set up stores that sell the food they like in their own neighborhoods, hire their own people to run the stores and keep that money circulating in their community.
They don’t ask for intervention when White banks won’t give them loans; instead they create their own banks and lending institutions to meet their own financial goals. They hire their own young professionals to work in those banks, make loans to people in their community on preferential terms and keep that money circulating in their neighborhood.
When Western doctors don’t respect their medical beliefs and traditions, they don’t form picket lines asking for inclusion. They create their own medical institutions, funded by their own banks, staffed by doctors who were trained to value their own medical traditions.
New York City is a perfect example of this in action. Thriving Chinese, Korean, Jewish, Russian and other communities create Maroon-like enclaves where they are so self-sufficient that their community members can exist for lifetimes in this country with no need to learn the English language. When you walk through their communities, the store signs are written in their native language with no English translation. This is because they can thrive economically solely on the money of the few people who actually do read their language and don’t need the translation.
When someone commits a crime or is a danger to the community, these self-sufficient communities don’t have to call the main police department because many of them even have their own police forces. They set up ethnic policing systems to not only police the dangers from outside their community—but they also guard against the harmful or negative elements from within.
The shomrim, for example, are a group of volunteer neighborhood watch folks who often work as an independent police force in some Jewish communities. They combat burglary, vandalism, mugging, assault, domestic violence, nuisance crimes, anti-Semitic attacks, and [they] help…victims of crime. According to the New York Daily News, many Jewish locals often call them first in an emergency. Now, how some of these groups enforce their rules can be problematic, to say the least. But the point is they have community rules that they have the power to enforce.
That’s community power.
It is not a power that depends on the whims of institutionally racist systems to “value” them. It is a power that neither desires nor needs the sanction, blessing, or funding of White communities in order to be exercised. It is the type of power that one sees when a community is self-determining.
Now does this mean everyone in the group agrees with every decision the community makes? Nah. If you want to leave the group and integrate into broader society that’s your choice. But you have a home to return to. You have a stable place of refuge from the storms of oppression that you may face. And that matters.
Talking about slavery is uncomfortable. But until we fully study, understand and analyze slavery we will never have access to all the answers we need for healing from White supremacy today. Sadly, many of us know little to nothing about how many of our ancestors resisted slavery and created freedom on their own terms.
This is mainly true because we’ve turned our children’s education over to our historical oppressor. Which means that daily, Black kids (descendants of the enslaved) receive an education that was designed to meet the emotional and educational needs of White children (descendants of slave owners). If you don’t think that screws up our community’s ability to properly assess the impact of White supremacy on our condition, then you haven’t been watching us fail at healing from it very long.
When we study slave-resistance we realize that many of our so-called “solutions” to White supremacy are actually destined to fail from the start. Analyzing those who resisted slavery to the point where they created self-sustaining, truly free communities reminds us that integration is only one of multiple solutions we should explore.
And recent history teaches us that integrating into a racist society that despises us is likely not the healthiest solution for Us. Just ask #MikeBrown. Or #PaulOneal. Or #KorrynGaines. Or #SandraBland.
White supremacy is a disease that thrives in the American body politic. Our enslaved ancestors saw this disease up close and personal, in its most brutal and honest form. They knew that any solution to White oppression that required White people to give up their privilege, to give permission, support or funding were destined to fail.
The only free Black people were those who recognized that complete and total self-sufficiency was the only way to protect our people from the harm of White supremacy. To this day, the only minority communities whose needs get met are those who organize to meet them on their own.
If history is our teacher—and it is—we’d do well to start applying those lessons in our own spaces today.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available here for e-book download! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, or Instagram “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest Youtube videos! Opinions are those of AfroStateOfMind(tm) only and do not represent those of any other institution.