Black history is everybody’s history

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. – Marcus Garvey, influential Jamaican thinker

February marks Black History Month in the USA and Canada, which was created to “signify and remember important people and events in the history of the African diaspora” [Source: Wikipedia].   Although it is formally celebrated in October in the UK, this blogpost primarily focuses on the history of slavery in a UK context and is inspired by a recent visit to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.

Every time Black History Month comes around, it sparks a debate on the “usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race” [Source: Wikipedia]. I’ve learnt a lot from information circulated during Black history month that I’d been never taught in school or learned elsewhere, but I strongly believe that a) black history didn’t start with slavery, b) black history isn’t somehow separate from the rest of history and c) we’re all still experiencing the resonance from the trauma past in the present.

Black history didn’t start with slavery

“Slavery is not African history. Slavery interrupted African history”.  – Mutabaruka, Jamaican Rastafari dub poet 

The section of the International Slavery Museum on “Africa before European slavery” is vitally important.  As is the research by Afrocentric historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Chancellor Williams and John G. Jackson.  The recent exchange between Dr Sally-Ann Ashton, who founded Kemet Expert, a blog dedicated to African-centred Egyptology, and the British Museum illustrates the conventional approach to including Africans in their interpretation of history.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” ― George Orwell, 1984

Black history isn’t separate from the rest of history

Another powerful aspect of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool is the way that the exhibition explicitly links the profits that were derived from the slave trade to the economic growth of western Europe.  “Much of the social life of Western Europe in the 18th century depended on the products of slave labour. In homes and coffee houses, people met over coffee, chocolate or tea, sweetened with Caribbean sugar. They wore clothes made from American cotton and smoked pipes filled with Virginian tobacco. They used furniture made from mahogany and other tropical woods” [Source: International Slavery Museum].

The infrastructure of the modern banking, insurance and investment sectors were developed to fund the slave trade.  Major charities, schools, universitiescultural institutions, stately homes and large infrastructure projects such as railways, that exist to this day, were all built from the profits of slavery and from the huge payouts that were given to slave owners in the UK as compensation for abolition.  The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were at that time considered to be the legal property of Britain’s slave owners.  The act made a provision for a total of £20 million financial compensation to be paid to the 46,000 slave owners, funded by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”.  This represented 40% of the total government expenditure in 1834 and is equivalent to ~£17billion in modern times.  The same act compelled the people who had been enslaved to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour to their former masters each week, for a further four years after their “so-called” liberation.

So, what is conventionally referred to as black history, is intrinsically linked to the very fabric and structure of modern society and industry.

It’s also important to note that black people aren’t completely separate from others, some of my ancestors were enslaved people, but other ancestors were overseers, ship’s captains, slave owners and indentured workers who emigrated to Jamaica to fill the labour gap after slavery ended, so within one example of a family constellation, all facets of slavery exist.

We’re still experiencing the resonance of this history

Those who benefited from slavery and set out to defend it, codified and disseminated a propaganda campaign through books, pamphlets, cartoons and speeches.  This campaign sought to legitimize slavery by claiming that enslaved African were inferior, backwards and barbaric.

“For they cannot be justified, unless they shall be able to prove, that a Negro slave is neither man, woman nor child” – Granville Sharp, abolitionist, 1769

Firstly, these stereotypes still cast a shadow in overt  and more subtle forms of mental slavery today.

Secondly, the unremitting trauma endured those who lived through capture, the Middle Passage and then misery of life under slavery, together with resilience and survival skills, was passed down to their descendants.   Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a neuroscientist and the director of the traumatic stress studies division at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has published recent research demonstrating epigenetic inheritance.  The sociologist Dr. Joy DeGruy coined the term Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome to describe the residual impacts of generations of slavery after twelve years of quantitative and qualitative research.  This fascinating research by a team at Pennslyvania State University suggests that ancestral memory is more important than lived experience in adult physiological stress response.

Thirdly, the long-term impact of the African diaspora on countries in Africa, in terms of depopulation and under development and the perpetuation of unbalanced global trade relationships.

There are people who respond to Black History Month complaining that we should forget about the past, perhaps through shame or fears of further calls for reparations.  As I’ve shown in this post, I believe that the past is very much alive in the present and available for us to learn from.  As an endnote, recent advances in quantum theory substantiate the theory that time is an illusion where the the past, present and future exist together and are all equally “real”.

Featured image published under Creative Commons license

 

 

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The most sacred time of the month or a medicalised inconvenience?

We can find cycles everywhere – the journey through each day and night, the passage of the moon every month, the orbit of the earth around the sun each year and the stages of our lives on earth.

moonphases4

[Image of the passage of the moon via http://likesuccess.com/img4397856%5D

Women are blessed with their own personal cycles, the menstrual which culminates with a period of menstruation or moontime.

In her ground-breaking work “Her Blood Is Gold“, Laura Owen suggests that in ancient cultures, for example in some of the Native American Indian tribes, there was reverence for the mystery and magic of menstruation.  Women honoured this time as a period of natural purification, rest and renewal.

 

However, sadly, much of the knowledge of these ancient traditions have been lost or may even have been twisted into ‘invented traditions‘, as a result of the devastating impact of colonialism in the USA and Australia and the African Diaspora.

Fast forward to the present day and the current prevalent attitude to menstruation in society is overwhelmingly negative and shameful.  These are just a handful of English slang terms for menstruation.

redmoonMenstruation is seen as a curse, as dirty, inconvenient and shameful. There is an overwhelming focus on the misery of Pre Menstrual Syndrome, during which time women are ridiculed and belittled as being “bitchy” and “crazy”.  It’s even now being used as a tool to question a woman’s competence in the workplace.

trumponmegynkelly1

[IMAGE: from Julius Willis via https://juliuswillis.com/2016/07/30/why-thin-skinned-donald-trump-felt-hurt-when-nothing-nice-was-said-about-him-at-the-dnc-convention-or-why-he-deserves-what-was-said-of-him/]

Unsurprisingly, in this context, many women seek to delay, suppress or even eliminate their cycles with drugs, handing control of their bodies, happiness and brains to pharmaceutical companies.

But.

What if women who are experiencing painful menstrual symptoms are actually receiving a message to slow down, honour their cycle and start paying more attention to what’s going on in the bodies?

What if, as Laura Owen wrote, moontime is an opportunity for women to connect with their power and intuition?

 

Shifting from crashing through life without care for the messages my body was trying to deliver, to living in harmony with the changes in rhythm of my body over the month has been a hugely positive shift for me.  Making these changes didn’t actually require much effort and actually felt much easier than fighting my cycle.

I recognise my worth and honour my cycle. I don’t give anyone permission to make me feel ashamed of my body and my bodily functions.

I rest, take care of myself and schedule longer time to sleep more.  It was actually a revelation to give myself permission to skip the gym in order to conserve energy.  Meditations and dreams are definitely more powerful at this time.

I’m aware that my body is purifying and renewing so this is a good time to “let go” of anything else that no longer serves me, for example old patterns, habits and thoughts.

Moon and tropical sea

[Image & Quote by Roxana Jones via https://healthruwords.com/inspirational-pictures/hunters-moon/%5D

 

Sources:

Owen, Laura. Her Blood Is Gold: Celebrating the Power of Menstruation. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
http://www.taraka.pl/moon_time_is_blessing

 

 

From goddesses to being grabbed by the pussy

A core value of ancient Kemetic civilisation (‘Kemet’ was one of the ancient names given to country that later became known as ‘Egypt’) was the concept of ma’at – harmony and balance in all aspects of life. The entire universe was made up of masculine and feminine elements, maintained in a state of perfect balance by the goddess Ma’at. As a result, Kemetic religion honoured male gods and female goddesses, each with their own areas of expertise.

rameses_iii_offering_maat_to_osiris_28kv1129

Rameses III offering Ma’at to Osiris. Scene from tomb of Ramses III. (KV11)

[Image source (http://www.thebanmappingproject.com) via Wikipedia].

There were at least seven female pharaohs, including Merneith (whose reign is dated to around 2970 BC), Khentkawes I, known as the mother of Egypt (who died c 2510–2490 BC), Sobeknefru: the crocodile queen (died c1785 BC). Hatshepsut who (ruled c1479–1458 BC) who is considered to be one of the most powerful women of the ancient world and among the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, Nefertiti, who ruled alongside her husband and may have succeeded him as sole ruler, Tawosret the last known ruler and the final pharaoah of the 19th Dynasty (12th century BC), Arsinoe II who died in 268 BC) and Cleopatra VII (c. 69-30 BCE), the last queen of Egypt before it was annexed by Rome.

Women were free to work, travel and own property. Women did not require the supervision, consultation, or approval of a man in order to pursue any course of action. Marriages were not arranged, so women could marry and divorce as they pleased. Reliefs, paintings, and inscriptions depict husbands and wives eating together, dancing, drinking, and working the fields with one another.

Most significantly, women were important members of the clergy. “Birth control and abortions were available to married and unmarried women”

Now no culture is ever perfect and significant divisions existed in Kemetic society at the time based on class and wealth BUT ….fast-forward to 2016…

article-hillary-1013

[Image Source: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS]

So what happened?

Women’s status began to decline in Egypt with the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE due to the belief that original sin had entered the world through Eve’s disobedience, thus women were of less value and less trustworthy than men. The Arab Invasion of the 7th century CE brought Islam to the country now known as Egypt. It’s now believed that sometime during this period, the original inhabitants of Kemet migrated south and dispersed across other regions of the African continent.

It seems unbelievable that a woman living 3000 years ago in Kemet could have had more rights than so many women living in the present day.

Yet in 2016:

  • the ordination of women is considered a controversial issue.
  • women risk being imprisoned for 14 years for buying abortion pills online.
  • a woman who spent her life working as a children and families lawyer, as an educator, as a senator and then secretary of state runs for President of the United States and is beaten by a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women and who views pro-choice as a criminal act.

We live in a world dominated by male culture – pussy grabbing, porn, rape culture, gamergate.  Women are taught that adopting even more of this culture (eg Lean In) is the only way to succeed.

As I will explore in later posts on this blog, I believe that a spiritual interpretation of these problems is that they stem from a lack of ma’at – balance – in society and often at a personal level.

There’s a similar concept to ma’at in traditional Chinese culture – Yin-Yang  – where all phenomena is comprised of two opposite yet interdependent energies.

ying_yang_sign

[Image source: Wikipedia].

Yin is associated with the qualities of the sacred feminine (the moon, darkness, cold, damp)  and Yang is associated with the qualities of the sacred masculine (the sun, light heat, dryness). Both qualities are equally necessary and important and it’s normal and harmonious for the relative levels of Yin-Yang to fluctuate over time, but when one or the other gets significantly and chronically out of balance sickness and other problems ensue.

What we’re seeing in the world is a reflection of excessive yang energy and David Revoy depicted this brilliantly in the illustration below entitled “The Yin and Yang of world hunger“.

yin-yang-of-world-hunger_final-net

[Image by David Revoy via http://www.davidrevoy.com/article43/yin-and-yang-of-world-hunger]

Encouraging women (and men) to foster more yin energy to get back into balance isn’t about weakness, it’s about recognising and reclaiming a power – subtle power – which is equal to that of the dominant culture.

Women seem to have forgotten the true power of the ‘cunt’, a word that was originally a term of respect and reverence for a powerful, spiritually enlightened woman. Amongst other meanings, ‘cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess. She was the Great Yoni (Sanskrit = Source of all life) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

And the final word goes to Betty White:

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[Image by T4C via https://www.theburningplatform.com/2014/03/30/things-that-take-balls/]
References:
[Featured image source: @alfarman via Flickr under Creative Commons license]
The role of women in Kemet: representing power and divinity by Dr Sally-Ann Ashton http://kemetexpert.com/the-role-of-women-in-kemet-representing-power-and-divinity/
“Women in Ancient Egypt,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Joshua J. Mark, http://www.ancient.eu /article/623/
From Warrior Women to Female Pharaohs: Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt by Dr Joann Fletcher http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/women_01.shtml
The female ‘kings’ of ancient Egypt http://www.historyextra.com/article/premium/female-kings-ancient-egypt
Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt (2002) by Janet H. Johnson http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777190170/
Vonny Moyes: How can I explain the women of 2016 to my daughter http://www.thenational.scot/comment/14974083.Vonny_Moyes__How_can_I_explain_the_women_of_2016_to_my_daughter_/
Yin & Yang in Chinese Medicine https://www.sacredlotus.com/go/foundations-chinese-medicine/get/yin-yang
Origins of the word ‘Cunt’ https://cherishthecunt.com/2013/02/10/origins-of-the-word-cunt/