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Individualism: The Cultural Kryptonite of the Pan-Afrikan Community

MLK Memorial

1a (1): a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount; (2): the conception that all values, rights, and duties originate in individuals

1b: a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests

…merely two complete definitions that fail to mention the debilitating impact that the concept of individualism has on humanity, particularly on the Pan-Afrikan Community. This failure is where the words of Black scholars, those who have gone ahead of us as well as those who are still among us, become most imperative. The late historian and anthropologist, Cheik Anta Diop, even identified “individualism as the bane of European culture.” Perhaps let’s take a closer look at what individualism means to some of the other scholars:

In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” This quote makes it all the more ironic that Dr. King is celebrated as an “individual”. Dr. King was certainly a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, but the Movement would have been nothing if it were not for all of the brothers and sisters who labored so hard to make it all possible. His “I Have a Dream” speech is even falsely painted with inaccurate strokes of colors that are void of unity. We fail to see his “I Have a Dream” speech within the proper context of the much larger event of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom during which he was only one of many speakers, including A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Walter Reuther, and Josephine Baker.

Dr. Preston Chitere, Kenyan rural sociologist and professor, offered the following observations of the rural Kenyan family:
“Individualism in society is increasing. Even families in rural areas like to operate in isolation, and those who offer any help are keen to help their immediate families only. The (conjugal) family is becoming more independent. The loss of community networks and the development of individualism have resulted in (increased occurrences of) suicide, loneliness, drug abuse and mental illness. The communal system is breaking down. The extended family had certain functions to perform, for instance, to reconcile couples at loggerheads with each other, but this is no longer the case. It is no one (else’s) business to know what’s happening in one’s marriage today.” (1)

At a speech at Howard University in 2008, professor and political activist Angela Davis, like in many of her other lectures, heavily condemned individualism. She emphasized the need for the Black community to think collectively instead of as individuals saying “we have forgotten how to imagine ourselves as a part of the larger community” (2). She stressed the need to abandon the concept of individual achievement and to instead work together to uplift the Black community. Her disdain for individualism was also reflected in her reluctance to write an autobiography. In the preface she says “I felt that to write about my life, what I did, what I thought and what happened to me would require a posture of difference, an assumption that I was unlike other women – other Black women – and therefore needed to explain myself”. Essentially Angela Davis did not want to offer the notion that the forces that shaped her life experiences were different from those that have “shaped and misshaped the lives of millions of my people”. She recognized that she was a part of a community of people who were connected and faced the same issues and needed to stay connected to solve those issues.

Words. Powerful words. Truthful words. Not calling this the gospel, but perhaps these are words that we should consider. Words that we should take heed to.

These scholars are joined by many others who recognize that individualism will do nothing but continue to destroy the Black community and society as a whole. But not everyone recognizes this (especially members of the rising Black middle class who have found comfort in seeking approval outside of their own people, as well as those who have been brainwashed by the images of riches, fame, and fleeting joy). Instead, they worry about their own advancements and forget about their own people who they once said they would come back to help. This even extends to so-called “Black leaders” who have done everything else except help lead Blacks. What a waste!

The USA’s greatest lie that has been bought by the masses of Blacks is that everyone has the same opportunities and that each person can reach success if they just work hard. But the success that is referred to has to do with individual success (e.g., how much money you make, how many degrees you have, blah blah blah). Individual success is not success at all, so don’t buy this lie, and if you already have, return it as soon as possible! Regardless of whether or not it works for others, it does not work for us….never has, never will. As the Afrikan proverb goes: “Mikono mingi kazi haba” (Swahili) or “many hands make light work”. So lend a hand. My brother. My sister.

1) Kimani, Peter. 1998. When the family becomes a burden. Daily Nation, Weekender Magazine, January 23, 1998, Page 1.
2) Lake, Sarah. 2008. Angela Davis Decries ‘Hyper-Individualism in D.C. Speech. Howard University News Service.

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