Why we need our heroes
I briefly covered this in my previous post 4 Black Heroes who changed the world but the question of why we need heroes was left unexplained. Heroes are everywhere. Our religions, folklore, sport, business and politics; from Moses, Jesus and Muhammad to Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan; from Frederick Douglas to Barrack Obhama. But what do they mean? What do our heroes represent? How do they affect our character and sense of self?
In our imaginations, heroes leave their mortal forms to become something far greater; a deity. They become symbols of something greater than their human states and are sometimes greater in death than they are in life. Religion is a great example of this. Mortal men become Gods. We can see this is Ancient Egyptian religions where those who may have represented foresight or vision then become hawk Gods, such as Horus. Read more about Ancient Egyptian Mythology here. And as we deify these impressive mortals, they can become what Carl Jung described as Archetypes, which are modes of being. These Archetypes can then influence how a community conducts itself; in other words these heroes are adopted into popular culture.
We can see this in Britain where the archetypal symbols of “Brittania” or the “British Bulldog” may encompass everything from determination to international bully. Whether right or wrong, George Orwell highlighted the anti-foreigner, rugged and determined attitude of the British working class in 1941 which is still just as prevalent today.
“In the working class patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The working man’s heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack. But the famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are more national than the rich, but the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits”
Orwell, George. The Lion and the Unicorn (Penguin Modern Classics)
However when we look at our heroes, something sinister has happened. Where it is acceptable for others to pay their respects to heroes with tarnished records, it is not acceptable for us to do the same. Whether it’s the British who revere Churchill for leading Britain to victory in WWII whilst starving 3 million Benghalis to death (see Benghali Famine); or for the Americans to revere George Washington and his declaration of independence whilst wearing the teeth of slaves as dentures (read here) it is still unacceptable for us to revere Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X because of their links to so called violence. Or more recently, the BLM protests for causing damage to private property despite them protesting against something far more significant than a broken window; countless African Americans losing their lives to police brutality.
The compounding issue is that many of us live in countries which have historically weaponised propaganda, the law, police force and military against us. This means that they choose our heroes, not us. They will promote the heroes who satisfy their own comfort. They won’t celebrate the heroes who created the most significant change. If they did they would have to look at the massacre of the French by Jean Jaques Dessalines; the organisation of the NOI; the terror which was spread by Nat Turner and Samuel Sharpe. Instead they will revere the image of the passive African. The Martin Luther Kings of the civil rights movements or the grandfatherly image of Nelson Mandela. They won’t bring up his freedom fighting.
And then something even more sinister happens…
The engine of change was fueled by black blood, sweat and tears. If you remove their efforts from history, it must be replaced. Afterall, emancipation from slavery couldn’t have come at random. So they remove our heroes from the pedestal of greatness and replace them with their own image.
This is where William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln take the stage. Despite both supporting the continued oppression of black people (William Wilberforce spoke out against the Haitian Revolution and Abraham Lincoln did not agree with racial equality), by popular demand, these figures become “our heroes”.
And what does this do for the English and Anglo-Americans? It creates a new archetype; the white saviour.
The White Saviour
The white saviour is a historical paradox. More blood has been shed in Western Europe than any other continent. Yet somehow, many feel that the archetypal Western European or American is a peace loving one.
Another myth is that of the prodigal son. That those who were lost but are now found should be celebrated more so than those who have been peaceful to begin with. Remember it was the Africans who showed the European to be peaceful and non-savage like; not the other way around.
Yet still the image of the passive African remains; the idea that Africans were waiting around for freedom and freedom came for the Africans only by the grace of white people. Uncle Tom’s cabin told the story of a passive african slave and it became an instant best seller; the only book that outsold it in 1852 was the bible. But the question is what does this do to us?
If we adopt the heroes who are given to us, rather than the true ones which we have every right to claim, we risk adopting their manners into our culture. We cannot afford to be passive, we must act. The world can’t bend us to its will; we must bend the world to our will.
The benefits of the hero myth
Our true heroes in their full representation create conflict. If they represent good, their opposition represents evil. That opposition could be generalised to America, England, France, Spain etc; more specifically the merchant classes of the time or more generally capitalism itself. This is one reason our true heroes are not popularised. No-one wants to be the baddy.
However by us knowing and celebrating our true heroes, they will become deities. And once they become deities they can become archetypes within our culture. The strong diplomatic yet persuasive rhetoric of Frederick Douglas and James Baldwin will become our expectation for expression. Black wall street and its thriving economic development will become our expectation for black commerce. Toussaint Louverture, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman and more great freedom fighters will become our archetypes when fighting against oppression. Mansa Musa, Pharaoh Narmer, the great Obas of Nigeria will join Barrack Obama in our ideals for leadership.
Celebrate greatness and we will become great-er
By celebrating those great individuals who have come before us, we can indoctrinate their strengths into our being. This can become household culture, which can grow into community culture across the diaspora.
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