African Studies, Articles

Decolonizing the African Mind: Further Analysis and Strategy


This paper presents a framework for discussing the psychology of African liberation by using the political terms “colonialism,” “colonization” and “decolonization” as vantage points for contextualizing African American oppression.  Over the past 500 years, European ruling elites perfected a method of psychological manipulation and control first discussed from an African perspective by the Nigerian scholar Chinweizu (1987) in his classic Decolonising the African Mind.   I call this method “mental” colonization.

Introduced during the era of American slavery through a process 17th, 18th and 19th century English-speaking slaveholders called seasoning, today mental colonization is achieved through deculturalization. Deculturalization is the fuel that drives the engine of mental colonization; both processes turn on a companion process called “mis-education,” and all three are examined in this paper along with their instruments, agents and goals. 

Because the African population born and bred in the United States is the classic example of a mentally colonized people, this paper references the 40 million people of African descent in the United States.  However, much of what is discussed is applicable to African populations residing throughout the Atlantic diaspora and beyond.

This two-part essay begins with an overview of European colonialism, deculturalization and mis-education. And it concludes with a review of African centered liberatory practices and orientations such as reAfrikanization, sankofa, ma’at and intellectual disobedience. Internalizing these concepts is essential for decolonizing the African mind. 

Part I
Typology of European Colonialism: 1645 BCE to Present
Around 3,000 BCE, Aryans (later known as Caucasians) began to settle in the region of Asia known to the modern world as Europe. Over the past 2,000 years, their descendants (today’s Europeans) have practiced consistently and have now perfected three basic types of colonialism.  They are: territorial, intellectual, and mental.  This section will cursorily address them all.

Perhaps the dominant feature of world history these past five centuries has been the “rise” to world dominance of the Caucasian peoples of western Europe, North America and Australia. In spite of their current “lofty” station, today’s undisputed “lords and masters” of the earth are from very humble origins. They first entered the pages of history as barbaric, nomadic tribes whose sole talent was warfare. Their only early accomplishment of note was the destruction of the Dravidian civilization of ancient India. Later their descendants plundered, pillaged and finally sacked the Roman Empire.

Possessed by demonic forces (Brown, 1998; Ickes, 2001; Mutwa, 2001), the Anglo-Saxons, Gauls and Teutons of England, France and Germany over the past five centuries developed the weaponry and logistics, the justifications and rationales and the strategies and tactics to conquer and colonize the land, knowledge and minds of the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, America, Australia and the Pacific.  In the 20th century, to decide who would exploit this vast multitude, Europeans fought two devastating world wars – 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 – that squandered millions of their lives nearly destroying their civilization.  

When we focus our attention on Africa, historian Chancellor Williams (1974) tells us that the first Aryans to colonize African territory were the Hyksos (Hebrews) who invaded Kemet (Egypt) in 1645 BCE long after the pyramids were built.  Over the centuries, other Aryan/European invaders followed.  The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Portuguese, Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Germans and Italians all came to Africa as conquerors and colonizers with only one intent: to plunder African people of their wealth.  

The European “scramble” to colonize Africa did not reach its zenith, however, until 1884-85 when German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898) organized the Berlin Conference. Attended by the French, British, Dutch, Germans and Portuguese, who over the course of several meetings, debated and then formulated the ground rules for conquering and colonizing the whole of Africa. These five, small European states “planned their work and worked their plan” so effectively that by 1915, all of Africa, save Ethiopia was a European colony.

In addition to colonizing African land, Europeans also colonized African knowledge not just to claim it as their own, but also to disconnect Africans from their heritage and culture.  Why? Because people who are cut off from their heritage and culture are more easily manipulated and controlled than people who are not.  Adisa Ajamu (1997) calls this “intellectual colonialism.”  

Beginning with the Hyksos Invasion, the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans each during their period of African occupancy seized control of Kemet’s temple-schools and captured her priest-teachers.  Then they plundered her libraries and archives and “borrowed” African philosophical and religious ideas, practices, beliefs and customs, which they later claimed as their own.  

The Hebrews, for example, during their stay in Kemet adopted Kemetic names like Moses, customs like circumcision, and beliefs like monotheism.  Plato (427-347 BCE), the “father” of western philosophy and tutor of the military leader Europeans call Alexander the Great, was a regular visitor at the great library at Rhakotis, later called Alexandria, from where he “borrowed” numerous books.  And Herodotus (484-425 BCE), the father of European history, who actually traveled to Kemet, wrote that the Greek (and later the Roman) upper-classes sent their children to Kemet for higher education and “borrowed” many of their religious ideas from this African nation.   

As a consequence of Europe’s successful colonization of African lands and African knowledge, she was able to successfully colonize African minds, and thereby complete the conquest of African people.  The 20th century witnessed the globalization of European consciousness and the planetary-wide imposition of European worldviews and life styles as the human norm.  No where has this imposition been more thorough than in Africa among the Christianized, western-trained, African intellectuals and other members of the ruling class. The same holds true for Africans in the Americas, and especially the United States.  

Deculturalization and Black America: 1500 to Present

Deculturalization is a method of pacification and control perfected over the past 500 years by European ruling elites.  This practice involves first the systematic stripping away of the intended victim’s ancestral culture and then systematically replacing it with European culture.   According to educators Felix Boateng (1990) and Joel Spring (1997) Africans, Asians, Native Americans, (and I would add Native Australians and Pacific Islanders), have all been the victims of this form of psychological and spiritual abuse. Early American slaveholders called this practice seasoning.  Today, the academic community calls it deculturalization, but the popular term is brain-washing. 

As it affects Africans in the United States, decultualization is a three-stage process. First, African Americans are quietly taught to feel ashamed of so they will reject their African and Native American heritage.  Next, they are taught in schools and churches to admire and respect so they will adopt and practice only their European heritage.  And finally, if they obediently submit to this indoctrination, they are rewarded with opportunities to receive even more indoctrination. And ultimately once they have been effectively indoctrinated, they are allowed an opportunity to compete for a “professional” job in the “main stream.” And a rare, handpicked few of the most thoroughly indoctrinated (brain-washed) are allowed access to the inner sanctums of White power, prestige and privilege. 

The American system of deculturalization has been an extremely effective process. It has successfully brain-washed the majority of African Americans to accept the dominance of Europeans and European institutions over their lives. History teaches us that African prisoners of war (POWs) were subjected to a vicious, European-orchestrated, three to four years of seasoning during which the most important expressions of their African heritage were brutally stripped away from them and brutally replaced with the European colonizer-slave master-oppressor’s cultural practices and beliefs.

Africans enslaved in the North American British colonies, for example, were forbidden to use their original African names, languages and religions. They were forced to use their European colonizer-slave master-oppressor’s names, language and religion.  This is why most Africans born in the United States have European surnames, speak English and practice some form of Christianity. Slavery imposed these European cultural practices on their African ancestors and their descendants blindly continue them unless they take steps to open their eyes to and free their minds of all remnants of European slavery. 

Both Boateng (1990) and Spring (1997) identified the public school as a major agent of African American deculturalization (brain-washing).   I agree; however, I would add that nearly all American educational institutions – Black, White, public, private, day care to college – must be placed along side the public schools as agents of deculturalization.  In fact, no aspect of American education is free of this curse except the African centered independent school whose sole mission if it is functioning properly is to decolonize or re-Africanize Black students and their families.

Mis-Education and Black America: 1933 to Present

The major 20th century instrument of deculturalization was and remains mis-education.  Mis-education is the term coined by historian Carter G. Woodson (1933) to describe the destructive effects on the Black mind by schools that use a pedagogy and curriculum that deliberately omits, distorts or trivializes the role of African people in and their seminal contributions to world history and culture.

The American public school, as we previously noted, is a major mis-educator (brain-washer) of African people, and has been since its inception in the 1890s. But it is only one of three agents of mass mis-education used by the White ruling elite to manipulate and control African Americans over the past century.  The other two carry equal weight.  They are the popular media (print and electronic) and the traditional, mainstream Christian church that proclaims non-Africans as “God’s chosen people” and a White Jesus as its “personal savior.”

The end goal of mis-education is three-fold: First, to produce African people who identify with and embrace as their own European history, traditions and culture, but who are ambivalent or indifferent toward African history, traditions and culture.  Second, to produce Black people who have been what political scientist Jacob Carruthers (1994) calls diseducated, meaning people who have had their intellectual development arrested by the public schools.  And, the third and ultimate goal of mis-education is mentacide, a term linked to genocide and diseducation coined in 1984 by Bobby Wright as a label for the European-orchestrated campaign to destroy the African mind as a prelude to destroying African people. 

Literally from birth to death, African Americans are awash in a sea of European-designed, mass media disseminated disinformation, misinformation, half-truths and whole lies about the people, history, culture and significance of Africa. This, of course, is no accident.  It is part of a finely crafted, century-long campaign to stop African Americans from connecting with their rich ancestral homeland and developing a Pan African worldview. While at the same time, it serves as a cloak under which Europeans can hide from African Americans their plunder of Africa’s mineral and biological wealth. Our White rulers and their Black supporters clearly understand that Black mis-education is the backbone of White domination. 

Careful analysis of Black institutions that uphold mis-education and Africans who have been crippled by it reveal a number of highly identifiable features. First, these institutions will favor and their patrons will embrace what psychologist Wade Nobles (1986) calls conceptual incarceration. Conceptual incarceration is the term for Black imprisonment in White belief systems and knowledge bases.

When it comes to defining themselves and the world, mis-educated Blacks restrict their range of thought (and action) by their habit of drawing exclusively from their European background. By limiting themselves to this one, small facet of their vast, tricultural heritage, they confine themselves to a tiny, narrow corner of the world where they sit locked in a mental prison (colony) with only one set of lenses (European) to see the world. 

By embracing European perspectives exclusively, Africans cut themselves off from self-knowledge. And when that occurs, deculturalization claims another victim. Fortunately, Black conceptual incarceration in large measure is self-imposed.  Africans in America can choose to expand their cultural frames of reference and consciously embrace their African and Native American heritages. And when this happens, their conceptual incarceration ends.

Another feature of Black institutions that mis-educate and mis-educated Blacks is what Mwata X (1996) calls learned indifference, which is a pervasive and self-destructive psychological disorder marked by disinterest in issues, causes and organizations that promote the political and economic liberation of African people.   By this measure, most of our established Black churches and prestigious Black schools mis-educate, and nearly all of our multi-millionaire Black athletes and super-star Black entertainers are mis-educated, (right along with nine out of ten Black Americans). As causalities in a war they don’t even know is being waged, the Black elite have been captured with wealth and fame by the forces of deculturalization.

A third feature of Black mis-education is what I call utengano. Utengano is a Swahili word meaning “disunity” and refers to the deeply entrenched, intergenerational predisposition among Africans to accept dysfunctional divisions in the African family and community as normal.  Utengano afflicts Black people who expect and tolerate teen pregnancy, absent fathers, inferior schools, run-down buildings, ineffective leaders and dirty, unsafe streets filled with illicit drugs, alcohol and x-rated music as normal and thus acceptable.  But if they were truly educated, they would be outraged by these perversions and committed to changing these wretched conditions or die trying. 

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