Marcus Garvey's Rehabilitation of Black Men. Part One





One of the subtexts of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey is the rehabilitation of Black men. While some have accused Garvey of male chauvinism—apart from the historical context and the evidence of many female leaders in the UNIA —I can understand Garvey's intent.

As many writers such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin have demonstrated in their fiction, Black men have been the target of the White patriarchy whose goal has been to emasculate Back men both physically and spiritually. Marcus Garvey sought to put an end to that by inspiring Black men, who had drifted into learned helplessness, to recognize their inherent dignity.

Garvey did this in many ways. He wrote songs, authored plays, gave speeches and lauded titles such as "Supreme Potentate" and "Leader of the American Negroes," on the male members of the UNIA. As Sister Samaad explains, this had an immediate effect on the male members:

You would almost see them -- metamorph into something else. You would see it. They'd suddenly get very tall because the smallest man in the uniform still looked like a giant. I can tell you that from experience. They were gorgeous. The black men were gorgeous.

Another method that Garvey employed was an "experimentation with dialogues," which were probably modeled on the work of Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson [1]. In A Dialogue: what's the Difference? the conversation between the father and son reveals the "Doctrine of Success" that Garvey sought to instill in Black men and, most importantly, in their sons.


A Dialogue:  What’s The Difference?
By Marcus Garvey


Chapter 1


Son:

Say, father, why is it I am born black and placed at such a disadvantage among other boys in the world?

Father:

My son, to be born black is no disgrace nor misfortune.  It is an honour.  Nature never intended humanity to be of one colour or complexion, and so there are different races or types of people in the world.  There are standard types and the Negro is one of them.  In the history of the world the Negro has had a glorious career.  In the centuries past he was greater than any other race, but, unfortunately, to-day he occupies a position not as favourable as that of his fathers.

Son:

But father, everywhere I go I hear and see people speaking and acting disrespectfully toward the Negro.

Father:

That is true, my son, but that doesn’t mean that to be black is to be really inferior.  It is only because the economic condition of the blackman is so low to-day why other peoples do not entirely respect him.  It is, therefore, due to his own neglect, and not to any cause of natural inferiority.

Son:

Does that mean, father, that if the Negro wants he can be as honourable, progressive and dignified as any other race?

Father:

Yes, my son, that’s it.  In this world we are what we make ourselves.  The Negro is just an individual like anyone else, and, individually, he can make himself what he wants to be.  In the same respect the individuals of a race becoming a congregation of a whole can make themselves what they want to be.
Son:

Do you mean by that, father, that if I want to be a great man I can be?

Father:

That’s just it, my son.  If in your mind you develop the thought and the ambition to be a useful and great man rather than a pervert, imbecile or hopeless dependent, you can be so, and in the same way you can do that as an individual; if the race become inspired it can climb to heights of greatness and nobility.

Son:

So, father, the only difference between me and the white boy is mind and ambition.

Father:

That is right, my son.  The white boy who has the ambition through dint of perserverence, energy and labour may climb from his lowly surroundings to become President of the United States or a Prime Minister in England.  The biographies and auto-biographies of individuals have shown that some of the humblest boys in the world became the world’s greatest men.

Son:

I am glad of this explanation, father, because at school and wherever I went I was made to feel that the Negro was never anybody and could never be anybody.

Father:

I can well understand that, my boy.  That is the kind of wicked influence that has been used against the race to deny it of its character for higher development.  But we must never fall entirely to our environment.  We must crate the environments we want, and I do hope you will endeavor all during your lifetime to create the environments you would like to live in.

Son:

But what about the millions of other Negroes, father, who do not know this?





Father:

The lack of this knowledge, my boy, is the great disadvantage of the race as a whole.  Most of our people born to modern environments in our civilization seem to think that they were destined to be an inferior people.  Their school and education was based upon this assumption.

Son:

But why so, father?

Father:

Because under our present civilization the Negro was forced to accept his educational code from other peoples who were not disposed to give him credit for anything.  They wrote books quite disparaging to the Negro.  Their literature was intended to bolster up their particular race and civilization and down that of the blackman.  Historians who have written have all twisted the history of the world so as to show the inferiority of the blacks.  The blackman has not written recently his own history, neither has he yet engaged himself in writing his own literature; and so, for the last hundred years, he has been learning out of the white man’s book, thereby developing the white man’s psychology.

Son:

I can see, father, that is why at school I wanted to be a white man, because the books I read all told me about the great deeds of white men.  I wanted to be like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and Napoleon, but I thought I could only be that by being white.

Father:

This is a mistake, my boy.  Greatness has no colour.  You must never want to be a white man.   You must be satisfied to be what nature made you and to excel in that respect, so that the credit for your achievements will go to your race.

Son:

What a wonderful thing it would be, father, if all the Negroes thought this way.





Father:

That is it, my boy.  There is a new effort to inspire all the blacks to think this way, so that in another hundred years our children will not want to be white but will be proud to be black.  Instead of wanting to be George Washington and Abraham Lincoln or a Disraeli or Lord Chatham you should try to be a Toussant L’Overture {Toussaint L’Ouverture}, a Hannibal, a Booker T. Washington.

Son:

These were all black men father?

Father:

Yes, my son.  Hannibal, the Carthagenian, was a blackman, but the white history will tell you he was white.  Toussant L’Overture, the slave of Santa Domingo, was also a blackman, and if it were not for men like Rendell {Wendell} Phillips probably the records would show in another hundred years that he was white.  Even up to now some people are trying to make out that Booker T. Washington was more white than he was Negro.  That shows how certain white historians and others are disposed to rob the Negro of any glory that he may have.

Son:

So all the books we read, father, are not true?

Father:

That’s right, my boy.  Most of the books that are written are for propaganda purposes.  Each nation has its own propaganda method.  The Anglo-Saxon race will boot the Anglo-Saxon, the Teutonic race will boost the Teutons, the Latin races will boost the Latins.  None is impartial enough to give real credit to other peoples for what they have done are accomplishing, so that the books that the Negro has been reading written by the Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic and Latin races were not intended for him at all, except to give him the idea that in the history of the world he was never anybody.  The time will come when our historians and writers will reveal the truths of history.  At that time we will learn that our race was once the greatest race in the world.  That, when we had a glorious civilization on the banks of the Nile in Africa the white races were living in caves and among the trees and bushes of Europe.  They were savages and barbarians when our fathers held up the torch of civilization in Africa.

Son:

So there is no need, father, for me to hold down my head any longer?
Father:

No, my son, you should hold up your head and be as proud as any other boy in the world.  The English boy wants to be Prime Minister of England, the French boy wants to be President of France, the American white boy wants to be President of the United States.  You, my boy, and all other black boys should have a similar ambition for a country of your own.

Son:

Is that the reason why, father, the Japanese refuse to accept the leadership of Western civilization?

Father:

That is so.  The Japanese are a proud people.  They are of the yellow race and they feel that they should develop a civilization of their own, and so they have their own Empire, their own Prime Minister, their own Ambassadors, their own Army and Navy.  They have a Japanese Empire.

Son:

But can the Negro have an Empire, father?

Father:

Yes, my son.  It is difficult, to-day, for him to have a political Empire, because the world is almost taken up by the white and yellow races.  In fact, the white races have robed the homelands of the blacks, particularly in Africa.  The English, the French, the Italians, the Spaniards, the Belgians, and the Portuguese have, within one hundred years, gone from Europe into Africa, and have robbed every square inch of land from our fathers; so it is very difficult under existing conditions, where these countries use brute force to conduct their Government, for the Negro to politically become an imperial force.  But, culturally, the Negro can become imperial.  That is to say he can have an imperial ideal and culture and fellowship of love, which may ultimately end in political imperialism.

Son:

But how can this be possible, father?




Father:

You see, my boy, the world undergoes changes time over and again.  Just as the Negro ruled once and lost his power, so some of the races that are ruling now will in the cycle of things lose their power.  Nature intended this.  When this happens unfortunate and oppressed peoples rise into power, so that there is great hope for the Negro to be restored to his true political position, because sooner or later some of these dominant nations and races will fall.

Son:

So there is great hope for us politically, father?

Father:

Sure, my son.  But whatever hope we may have must be backed up by our own effort and energy.  We must never go to sleep.  We must always keep before us steadfastly the object we desire.  Like the Jews, we should never lose our purpose.  The Jews have been very much outraged by other nations and races of the world, but they ever clung to their religious ideals.  The Negro must have a religion that is binding.  He must have some ideal that is unchangeable and outstanding and when this ideal is universalized, being meritorious and worthy, he will in time accomplish the end.

Son:

I am glad father that there is a real  hope.  I shall tell all the other boys about this and shall make myself a missionary to preach the eternal hope of racial salvation.

Father:

That’s right, my boy, be ever vigilant in the maintenance of the honour, dignity and integrity of your race.









[1] Hill, Robert, and Bair, Barbara. eds. Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons. Berkley: U California P, 1987.
"A Dialogue:  What’s The Difference?" is also from Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons.




***

“We are petitioning President Barack Obama to issue to clear the name of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a national hero of Jamaica.”






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