Don Lajoie, Windsor Star, May 14, 2008
Black youth must gain a greater knowledge of the history of African civilization and the effects of colonialism and the slave trade before they can learn to reject some of the negative influences that enslave them today, says an award-winning history teacher.
David Watkins told the African Canadian Diaspora 2008 youth conference at the University of Windsor that when a community is only vaguely aware of its past, it becomes easy for negative assumptions to be foisted upon them.
He said many blacks are unaware of the history of Africa, running back hundreds to thousands of years to when Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were great empires and Africa was “the envied cradle of civilization,” boasting the first universities, great religions and a proud people.
“What happened? Slavery. You had to have an absolute methodology to change their minds and decimate a continent. You had to take Africa out of the African, dismantle their history and culture, all who he is. And when you take all that out what are you left with? A slave.”
Watkins, the descendant of American slaves who made their way to Canada via the Underground Railroad, is credited with helping his students learn about African history in relation to Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean, while helping them define “what being black in Canada means.”
The Governor General’s award winner, who is an advocate of an all-black school, said many remain enslaved today, caught up in negative and counterproductive images of themselves. Some of that, he said, is perpetrated by the gangsta rap and hip hop cultures, which have sold a generation a bill of goods on what it means to be black.
Watkins, a father of two, cautioned that not all hip hop is negative. In fact, he said, in the early days of the form it was a purveyor of truth and those influences continue today among many cultural-affirming acts like Public Enemy. But it also has became distorted into an exploitive, violent and misogynist expression meant to perpetuate negative stereotypical images of black culture.
“The record companies say throw in some ‘nigger, bitch and ho’ and we’ll take you on,” he said. “Gangsta rap is bought 80 per cent by white male college students . . . It’s a construct from outside our community.&nsbp;. .&n sbp;. As educators, we need to deconstruct this mentality and show how we’re being manipulated. We’ve got to replace it with the truth.”
Too often, he said, blacks allow these false cultural constructs to determine who they are. One message, he said, is that “black people don’t snitch. A criminal is allowed to run around the area and no one will come forward.” The problem, he said, “is cool has turned to cold.”
The conference brought together black students from Windsor, Toronto and Detroit.
Watkins teaches mostly students of Caribbean and African heritage.
The purpose of the conference was to help students network and meet black professionals.
The students, Watkins said, “can see the occupations, but in a lot of ways, the resources and roadmap to those professions aren’t always there.”