One of the most widely quoted phrases by Marcus Garvey is the title of this post. Even United States President Barack Obama uses a paraphrased quote in his book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Though Obama may not necessarily be a fan of the concepts presented here he could possibly benefit from a reading of what follows. This article was published in Blackman Magazine 2 (September-October 1936). It contains guidance Black people worldwide would do well to follow closely.
It is an established fact that the Negro had a glorious past. We need not worry about it now, because outside of inspiring us with confidence and hope it will be of no material value to harp on it, for the present is what confronts us along with the future. In this living present we must truly realize our position. It is that of extricating ourselves out of an environment that is not only dangerous to us but apparently suicidal to all who completely embrace it.
The present of which we speak is that which has come out of the past, with all the experiments and improvements upon that which remains history (creditable to the one race or the other), including our own; but this present is complicated. Its systems are in conflict, and no one seems able to forecast the evolution of any future more pleasant than this present. In fact, everything seems gloomy, but the Negro must not be satisfied with this gloom. He must work himself out of the environment into one studiously created by himself. The environment must be his new civilization. With wisdom he ought to pick out all that is good, not only of the present, but of the past and add to it through the same wisdom those virtues and benefits that he thinks
necessary as an addition to all that is good. This is the Negro’s job – that of remodeling our present civilization. Can he do it? That is the hope. If he fails he will die crumbling like the rest who are being surfeited under the present systems. The Negro has much in his favour in looking toward the building of a new civilization. He has been inactive for centuries if not millenniums in the political, social, economic structures. He was caught in the worldwind of alien systems and was carried so fast as to have made it impossible for him to recover himself earlier than the present time. His recovery must come through serious thoughtfulness. He has to dissociate himself from every environment of handicap. For quite a while he has been purely an imitator and “ yes man “ to everything around him. He has been reflecting the white man’s idea of things socially, economically, industrially, religiously and philosophically.
If the white man says God is white, he accepts the theory. If he says he is out of employment the black man accepts the same position, and so in everything he has been an imitator and a copyist, but fundamentally the Negro must separate himself and think independently. He cannot believe everything proffered or suggested by someone else. It is foolish for him to think that God is physically white even as He is not physically black. It is fundamental belief to say that He is Spirit, but for the purpose of propaganda so many people have made Him conveniently to suit their own petty purposes and the saying that he is unemployed because the white man says so. But what is unemployment for the white man is not necessarily unemployment for the Negro. Thoughtfully we can consider the white man being unemployed, because for millenniums he has been building, constructing and working. As proof of it his many civilizations testify, his Empires, Kingdoms, Nations and Republics and Principalities, Cities and Townships are all testimonies tending to show that the white man has been working for a long while doing everything that he thought necessary to his peculiar civilizations. If he finds himself unoccupied now in doing the same thing, it is because he has done so much already that there is no more opportunity or room for him to continue. The Negro, who hasn’t on his own account done anything of the kind, must be silly to accept the suggestion that he also is unemployed. For as a fact he hasn’t started to work. He hasn’t built his Empires, his Kingdoms, his Republics, his Principalities, Cities or Towns. All this is before him and constitute his future opportunity.
NEGRO SHOULD LOOK UP.
The Negro should therefore look up. He has a mighty task before him and he should be now fully occupied giving attention to it. If the Negro thinks properly he will realize that on him falls a serious responsibility and duty to salvage the bankrupt civilization of white Europe. This may sound very ambitious, but after all, the Negro isn’t here for fun. He hasn’t survived the centuries of hardships and difficulties just to die again. He, naturally, must have been learning by experience, and that experience ought to guide him over the shoals of twentieth century political bankruptcy.
IS THERE MUCH IN THE NEGRO?
There are some people who think there isn’t much in the Negro anyhow, but these people will be surprised one of these days to find that out of all the conflicting systems that they themselves have instituted, the Negro has risen superior, to establish something more like the basis on which humanity should live than on which it should fight to die. The heart of the Negro is deep and holy. Mis-directed, it has been emotional and sentimental up to the present, but the recovery of the race in its sublimest thought will give it an urge, direct it toward an end that will bestow great blessings upon mankind.
HAVE NOT LIVED IN VAIN.
The mighty race of black men and women scattered all over the world have not lived in vain. Providence has truly preserved the tribe for its day. The day is before us. In shaping the present to suit the future the Negro must look to himself and to God. He must be his own master in thought. He must be his own creator of his new environments. Some people claim that environments master the man. We claim that man master the environment. Whilst Nature supplies the natural environment, man from his own creative genius, supplies the conditions of his environment. He can make the environment bow to his will or be defeated by it. Man is master of himself, in the knowledge of himself, and the Negro is no less a master than those who have mastered the world before him in recent centuries.
We as a people must therefore assume our responsibility of doing as we think; yes, doing as we think. The whole world in its civilized system is a product of thought. The evils of our civilization are the results of evil thought – jealousy, malice, hatred, prejudice – all tending to destroy the white man, because he has misapplied and mis-used the powerful will that shapes things. In the new civilization of the Negro, his will must be in keeping with all that is righteous and good, because it is only righteousness in Nature that prevails and continues. All unrighteousness sooner or later falls as twentieth century civilization is to fall through the corrupt machinations of the European mind.
Let the Negro take heart. A glorious and a grander day is before him. He has nothing to be ashamed of, coming down the ages. He was once great. He lost his greatness because of the same mis-carriage of things material and spiritual as the white man is now practising in Europe. With that double experience we ought to be wise in building anew. Let others continue to laugh and think that we are a silly people – purposeless and objectless. We know ourselves. Surely, we are not satisfied with things as they are. We look forward to things much better, much higher much nobler than what we see to-day. We will create them.