In 1622 Queen Nzinga went to Luanda to negotiate peace treaties with the Portuguese. De Sousa, the governor, refused to give her a seat and instead offered her a mat. Refusing to be humiliated in front of him, Nzinga had a servant kneel down for her so that she could sit on his back. Many today applaud Nzinga for her action and the way she asserted her status, but in order to do so, she had to literally objectify and put down another human being. A Black African at that. She refused to be made inferior at the expense of her maidservant. And no one talks about him. He was objectified, dehumanized, and made invisible.
Ask continental Malians about him and almost no one will tell you that they like or admire him. We, in the diaspora, cling to Mansa Musa and other sovereigns (modern-day politicians and billionaires too) because of a need to have a representation of Black powerful people. In the West, it’s an everyday struggle for us so it feels good to refer to someone like Mansa Musa who couldn’t have been subjugated by anyone. Even if he was the one doing the subjugation. No one can earn billions. He was an emperor, so he “owned” the empire as well as all its resources. The people he enslaved and those who worked for him were the ones extracting his gold through unimaginable labor. They were oppressed so that he could have and maintain power. Mansa Musa is closer to Apple and their exploitation of Congolese people and Congolese resources for their devices than he is to you and me.
Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the oppressed states writes: “But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of thriving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.”
Freire urges us to not only fight the oppressor outside, in the real world but also and especially the oppressor within. This figure is the internalization of oppression and the oppressor within the consciousness of the oppressed. Having been confronted with oppression, the oppressed have only that model of life and is yet to imagine new ways of being. Easily, they will fall into the trappings of that which they fight and risk to replicate the same oppressive systems. This was unfortunately the case of the Black Panther Party. Huey P. Newton and others who occupied the top of the hierarchy demanded to be addressed in certain manners (supreme commander being one of Newton’s titles). There was a huge disconnect from the rest of the members, and critique was met with violence and physical punishment. This example shows how the liberator can become as tough and evil as the oppressor, if not more. They find their model for humanity and even manhood in how the oppressor acts and behaves. This is especially relevant in the case of the Black Panthers who were known for their machismo.
Let Nzinga be an example and a reminder that we can’t fight oppression by taking the place of the oppressor. Real liberation isn’t reproducing the same systems that oppress us to benefit only a few of us. Mansa Musa should remind us that Black or African capitalism is still capitalism. Black or African imperialism and neo-colonialism are still imperialism and neo-colonialism. A Black oppressor isn’t a sign of progress. And lastly, may we learn from the shortcomings of the Black Panther Party and not only accept but encourage critique, criticism, and active and conscious participation of all members. As Mumia Abu-Jamal said:
“Black faces in high places does not make freedom”Mumia Abu-Jamal
Liberation means destroying every and all system of oppression for either we are all free, or none of us is.