The “Wabo” Dilemma

Last Updated Aug 4, 2017

african afrocentric olmec mexica nativeIt’s often my experience that when positively exchanging with Black relatives about social justice and cultural & community-empowering topics, eventually comes the “The Olmecs were from Africa” or other similar incorrect Afrocentric claims on Indigenous history and identity. 

For those unaware, the Olmecs are considered to be the “mother culture” of Mexico and Central America. Knowing my history and culture very well, I always attempt to correct their misinformation in a good way, but usually to no avail. The end result is a once-promising connection turning to shit.

That bothers my heart.

This Afrocentric misinformation must be dealt with in a good and skillful way. I wouldn’t be writing this if it were kept to only a few fanatics. Unfortunately, many of our Black relatives espouse this misinformation, and many Native activists and cultural workers are allied with them in our social justice and cultural circles. This false ideology is not healthy for our movements and is something we need to rectify as soon as possible.

It is often my experience, as well as other natives who find themselves in similar scenarios, that once you respectfully challenge this Wabo ( wannabe aboriginal)  misinformation, you are quickly labeled “anti-Black.”

Let’s be clear that the issue is not about the highly remote possibility of a connection between Africa and Mexico. Many don’t give the Ancients enough credit.  Nor is the issue with the many Black Africans that have integrated into Indigenous societies of this hemisphere over the past 500+ and contributed to the collective culture post-Columbus.

Rather, the issue lies more with bold and hierarchal claims about (Black) Africans being the true “Native Americans” of this hemisphere, referring to the true Indigenous Americans pejoratively and also claiming they are responsible for all the architectural, scientific, and spiritual legacies of the “Americas.”  I encourage skeptics to explore any of the numerous online forum sites that espouse such misinformation and witness the disturbing pejorative language and attitudes towards Amerindian people for themselves.

Before I present points to debunk the most popular Afrocentric claims on Indigenous history and identity, I will touch on the Indigenous/Brown relationship with our Black African relatives, which I feel is one of the priority concerns here. I will also present some key reflections that come to mind regarding the disturbing rise of Wabo-ism

Our Relationship with Black Relatives

There is much emotional fire for Black and Ndgns people when debating this topic. Our history, identity, and traditions are the doorway to healing  the spiritual, psychological, and emotional  damage wreaked on our nations by European/Christian colonization.  In the midst of this passion we must ensure our debates remain more of a heart-to-heart, relative to relative type conversation rather than the “I’m right/You’re wrong” fire breathing dis fest that normally takes place.

In our urban cities Black and Ndgns people (Mexican communities most specifically) already have a fragile relationship; it doesn’t need to be setback any further. It is critical for all to be mindful of our emotions and really think about the bigger picture. The bigger picture being to build stronger relationships and stronger communities to unify our efforts for collective social justice and nation building goals.  It is important to stay grounded in our Ndgns cultural and spiritual worldview of treating others as relatives even in moments of disagreement.

Divide & Conquer – Internet Provocateurs

It is my experience based both on internet and human interaction that, while there are many real people who espouse Afrocentric-Olmec misinformation, there are also many provocateurs set up to exploit the beef.  We would be naïve to think our adversaries weren’t keeping tabs on us, and finding ways to subvert our movements.  When I chime in to correct false information on videos or articles that I know are bullshit I often run into people with questionable profiles. You know, the ones with an exaggerated African or Native name with a bunch of culture related images yet no pic of themselves. If there is a profile picture the image looks very questionable. Sure there are Black & Natives that dislike each other but we can’t give fuel to that divisive energy nor let adversaries exploit the differences that do exist. Be very mindful of online personas inciting hateful comments and energy into these debates.

Defining Afrocentrism

‘Afro’ is reference to Africa and ‘centrism’ which is basically to say that one is centered in things African. Given the literal root meaning nothing is wrong with being centered in the African way. However, due to those groups robbing true indigenous peoples of their history, identity, and culture, the term ‘Afrocentric’ unfortunately takes on a negative connotation. Even though are too many afrocentric groups of this brand to name, one thing they all have in common are bold, self-exalting, and hierarchic claims over  Native-Indigenous history and identity.

They assert claims of (Black) Africans being the creators of all Mesoamerican civilizations, temples, and sciences, etc.. Many of them also claim they originated all Indigenous “American “civilizations of this hemisphere. The book most reference is Ivan Van Sertima’s “They Came Before Columbus.  Also referenced are bogus authors such as Clyde Winters and David Imhotep. There are too many claims to list on this piece but a quick Google search will provide you with a good scope. I don’t think many Indigenous history defenders are far off when they label it a form of Black Supremacy. We know their claims on Indigenous history and identity are ridiculous and I’m sure most would think they wouldn’t merit many subscribers but that is not the case, there is a large disturbing movement taking place and it needs to be addressed.

olmec mexica africa

Afrocentric Olmec Claims are Disrespectful

Thier theories are disrespectful and hold no merit within any Native-Indigenous community. These Afrocentric theories have no correlation with, and zero input from, true Native peoples.  This Afrocentric paternalism is identical to that of white “experts” who negate input from the very people who’s culture they are studying. All this condescending behavior results in defensive reactions from real Indigenous folks, and rightfully so.

This misinformation is mad viral and is well spread on the internet. Sadly, much of it is even propagated by our own Native people. I can only assume the reason they promote Afrocentric misinformation is because either they are not well versed in their own history or wish for shortcuts for bridging Black and Brown relations.. unfortunately at the expense of our history.

Hierarchical Linear Mentality

The Afrocentric claims on Indigenous legacy are symptomatic of a Linear/Hierarchal Mentality. A linear mentality creates an environment of unhealthy competition where one views themselves, or aims to be, superior to the next person. This can take blatant or subtle forms. They say that “Hurt people hurt people” and that seems to be the case here. Afrocentrics in their work to restore themselves and their nation have taken on the colonizers trait of Linear thinking by trying to place themselves superior to other people.

Black & Brown Unity, Yes- but not at the Expense of Respect

On the angle of linear mentality, it is also to our experience that many strong Black social justice organizations subscribe to this hierarchical mentality. In the mid-2000s I would frequent Nation of Islam (NOI) mosques with a Native organization I was with at the time. They are very strong, beautiful, and admirable people. The had a lot of beautiful words and sentiments of peace & unity toward the Brown/Red nation. However, my observation was that THEIR peace & unity was dependent on the notion of  Black-Africans being our superiors and the creators of our Native-Indigenous civilizations. They didn’t state this outright during the events I partook but the inferences are not hard to catch.

Unfortunately, it is our experience that our Black allies who espouse these false notions are very commonplace within these organizations trying to build Black & Brown/Native unity. They want to build and unite which is great but this Black hierarchy mindset, whether blatant or subtle, is often the basis for this proposed “unity.”  Surely there is a more righteous and truthful basis for us coming together.

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General Afrocentric and Olmec Destabilizing Points

There are numerous Afrocentric claims on our Indigenous heritage, way too many to list and academically address for this internet expression. There’s an inundation of online and print literature promoting Afrocentric misinformation as fact so this list is just to destabilize the most common Afrocentric misinformation I’ve come across.

  • Temple/Pyramids: If (Black) Africans built all the pyramid/temples and cities in the Americas why did they not build them in Africa? Egyptian pyramids and Ziggurats are distinctly different in style and function, not to mention that there are very few pyramids in Africa compared to Central and South America.
  • Olmec Heads: in popular Afrocentric propaganda they love to cite the same 3 or 4 Olmec heads as proof of (West) African presence. Mind you there are a total of 17 known heads and hundreds of other Olmec effigies and artwork yet they are never cited.
  • “Corn row” Braids on an Olmec head: First off the braids are not Corn rows. Frank Yurco, an Egyptologist, pointed out that the braids one the one Olmec head (of 17 heads) do not look like either Egyptian or Nubian. Also, braids are not exclusive to Black African culture. People from all over the world have been braiding their hair for thousands of years. There is also a working theory that the alleged braids are not even braids but plumes (feathers.)
  • No Correlation to Ndgns Traditions or Creation Stories: Surely you would think at least one out of the hundreds of extraordinary Afrocentric claims to Indigenous culture can be correlated by tribal elders or tribal historians in the western hemisphere? Nope.
  • The facial characteristics of the Olmec heads are still preserved in some contemporary Natives: to some degree we’ve all been influenced by Hollywood’s depiction of Native people. The image of a Plains Indian with a war bonnet feather headdress is commonplace. It’s been embedded into the psyche of the masses as a depiction of what a “real Indian looks like” even tho Indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been shown to have a great range of genetic diversity.
  • Mummies: the oldest pyramids and mummies are not in Africa, they are in the Americas. The pyramids of Caral, Peru are much older than Egypt’s. The often mentioned Mayan sarcophagus contained a skeleton not a mummy plus, the oldest mummy is from Chile.
  • “Black Gods”: Indigenous languages are poetic and symbolically rich. Afrocentrism tends to interpret our symbolic art colors and sacred body painting as being literal descriptions of deities or rulers. Makes one wonder what their interpretations are for the red and blue colored oriented symbols and deities. They even go as far as to manipulate images of people or ancient mural drawings to make their features appear more like stereotypical Black Africans.
  • More detailed academic arguments can be read here

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Some say they don’t take these Afrocentric claims and activities serious, that they are akin to “Ancient Alien” fanatics. However, unlike Ancient Alien type fanatics, the Afrocentrics who hold these supremacist beliefs work with us in our social justice movements and education circles. Even our own Brown / so-called “Latinx” and Native people propagate this misinformation or are reluctant to confront it at the risk being called racist or “anti-black.”  Many influential “conscious” music artists also espouse these false notions in their music.

If our Native youth were not struggling with violence, drug addiction, and suicide,  which is directly tied to their history and identity then perhaps this Afrocentrism misinformation wave would not merit much concern. However, that is not the position we find ourselves in.  The social struggles of Black & Brown/Native people overlap in almost all areas. To ignore this abuse of our ancestors’ legacy and not give it the proper attendance it deserves is to gamble with not only our Indigenous culture reclamation, community justice, and unity goals but that of of our Black African relatives as well. I don’t have all the answers but I do know it can and needs to be resolved in a firm but loving way.