"whose world is this?" / runoko rashidi & global african presence

exclusive feature
Stephanie Joy Tisdale
The Liberator Magazine 6.2 #18, 2007


Although science and scholarship has already proven that Africa is the birthplace of civilization, it is sometimes difficult to conceptualize what that actually means. Due to the destruction of much of Africa’s permanent structures combined with the highly oral nature of many African societies, it may appear as though nothing remains of what was Africa. And what is Africa tends to be portrayed as a death trap--full of mysterious diseases, unstable political structures and virtual mayhem.

Enter: Dr. Runoko Rashidi--historian, world-traveler, research specialist, public lecturer and anthropologist. Dr. Rashidi has traveled to 70 different countries throughout the world on countless trips. The premise and underlying focus of his travels are quite simple: to uncover what is, in fact, the Global African Presence by seeking to define the African contribution in each location. From Turkey to Australia to France, Dr. Rashidi has made it his life’s mission to see with his own eyes the truth that the world beholds regarding the Global African Presence.

Despite all of his grand experiences, and in some of the world’s most fascinating places, Dr. Rashidi is quite unassuming. Although Rashidi has presented at over 125 colleges and universities, he also takes the time to report back to the community to share his travel logs, studies and experiences with schools, community centers and churches throughout the U.S. He has also lectured in places like Belize, Cambodia, Honduras, Italy, Panama, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Regardless of his audience, his presentations are consistent. Adults, children, educators and scholars alike are presented with the same level of information. In essence, Rashidi’s lectures bring the academy to the community, making what would be privileged information, readily available to all. With his community-based lecture circuit, his international lecture tours (in places like the Fiji Islands, Southern India and Europe) and his Global African Presence website, Rashidi is constantly re-dedicating himself to his first love: African people.

“I was a very sensitive youth; I grew up very impacted by the Black Power Movement,” Rashidi says. Born and raised in California, he was afforded the opportunity to witness and become a part of the strong African-conscious atmosphere of the late 60s and 70s. “I came up under the influence of people like Kwame Ture and I joined the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party (AARP),” Rashidi explains. As a young man, he began embarking on what would be his life’s journey: the study and critical analysis of the Global African Presence. Rashidi’s involvement in the Black Power Movement later gave way to an interest in Pan-Africanism. “I started to organize Cultural Awareness programs at Compton Community College in 1981. I also met Ivan Van Sertima, Acklyn Lynch and Dr. Ben [Yosef Ben-Jochannan]. It was through Van Sertima that I began to write.” Rashidi would go on to work with Van Sertima to edit “African Presence in Early Asia” and also be featured in Van Sertima’s other Journal of African Civilizations anthologies. With essays like “African Goddesses: Mothers of Civilization,” “Ancient and Modern Britons,” “The African Presence in Prehistoric America,” “The Moors in Antiquity” and the “Nile Valley Presence in Asian Antiquity,” Rashidi has looked to explore the ancient and modern aspects of the African worldview. Nonetheless, Rashidi recognized early on that he wanted to access a deeper level of understanding. “I came to the conclusion that it was not enough to write, I needed to travel.”

And the rest is history. In 1986, Rashidi connected with the Dalit (Black Untouchable) community of Southern India, which is also one of the largest African cultural groups in the world. He was then invited to Hyderabad, India be a keynote speaker at the first All-India Dalits Writer’s Conference in 1987, where he presented “Global Unity of African People.” After leaving Los Angeles and relocating to San Antonio, Texas, Rashidi began to dedicate more of his time and energy to traveling. “The cost of living was cheap, I could do more traveling. Since 1988, I’ve been to 69 different countries,” explains Rashidi. “I have tried to blend scholarship and travel into one intricate force.” Rashidi’s travels have taken him to some of the most remote and seemingly “unAfrican” locations in the world. With this in mind, the concept of Pan-Africanism (which may on the surface appear to be an abstract ideology) actually becomes a reality. Recognizing that the worldwide African presence is quite expansive--and has been so since ancient times--it is no surprise then that Rashidi’s presentations reflect a truly global perspective.

Still, his most paramount commitment is to the motherland itself. “What we are striving for is black power, African Power. Meaning: the end of poverty in Africa, African people using the vast natural resources for the benefit of Africa.” And how does Rashidi envision a liberated African experience? “I’m talking about a Global African Union with Africa as the core but embracing Africans of the Caribbean, the U.S., Asia, etc. A United States of Africa where the natural and human resources of Africa are used for the benefit of African people.”

More than anything else, Rashidi’s travels around the world have supported his belief in Pan-Africanism. “We’re talking about black Power, African Power on a massive scale. We think that we should not stop struggling wherever we are, but the base and the core should be Africa.” He goes on to explain: “We have to take Africa from the periphery and make it the center. We have to be prepared to pass the battle on from generation to generation.” For Rashidi, the struggle continues. “As Dr. Clarke said, we have to be able to ‘Bury the man and continue the plan.’ [We have to be able to] build for eternity. Revolution is not an event, it’s a process.” As far as today’s generation is concerned, Rashidi identifies some core methods that will be helpful in achieving these goals. “You must study Africancentered literature, go to lectures and join an organization.”

How does a traveling man cope with so much movement? For Rashidi, it’s about realizing his life’s purpose and yielding to the direction that life has taken him. Although there may appear to be sacrifices, he is grateful for the opportunities that he has been given to travel the world. He notes that at first, his family members were a bit skeptical regarding his career, which involves several international tours and countless lectures throughout the United States. However, he says that they are now quite comfortable with his choice to dedicate his life to his studies and are very supportive. For Rashidi, the proof has been in the pudding. Essentially, he has ventured beyond the expectations of the so-called “American Dream” to realize the vision of his ancestors.

Whether or not Rashidi will relocate to another location remains to be seen. In fact, a few locations stand out. “The South Pacific, especially the Fiji Islands or perhaps Uganda in East Africa. These are the two places in my fantasy world,” muses Rashidi. “Or maybe even Europe. I feel that Europe is less racist than the United States.” Rashidi explains that he can see himself living in France. And why shouldn’t he? Based on the African world population, African people can locate themselves wherever they see fit. As long as, like Rashidi explicitly explains, their focal point is the development of Africa itself. After all, whose world is this anyway? It’s mine.

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