Black Superman

Black Superman cover art  by Jibola Fagbamiye

Black Superman cover art by Jibola Fagbamiye

BLACK SUPERMAN by Professor A.L.I. 

An Introduction

As a student of history trained by Eugene Irschick and Hamid Algar, I’ve been cognizant of the fact that human civilization may shift from various empires but that the behaviors inherent in our species remain the same throughout time. Therefore history is at its core, a study of these cycles and a historian is adept at pattern recognition. One such pattern has consumed my interest as of late and was the impetus for the creation of the song Black Superman, which pays homage to a multiplicity of social justice movements while also acknowledging the point at which we are in a historical cycle and based on recognition of patterns of behavior, ultimately predicts what has to come next.

As a disclaimer, I must state, that I am making no prophetic claims in the analysis to follow, but the argument that will be elucidated below is one that has been prophesized by others in the past, while even becoming a part of modern human mythos. I also don’t need to make a spoiler alert because that which I flesh out below should come as no surprise to anyone.

The Argument

Throughout human history when one group has oppressed another for a length of time, ultimately the oppressors eventually face resistance in the form of a leader from amongst the oppressed who unifies them in opposition to the hegemonic structures that bind them. If this leader cannot be turned then they are killed, as in being murdered by stealth or publicly assassinated and transformed into a martyr. If the oppressor group is even more exact, they will try to eliminate the leader in such a way that they do not become a symbol for future resistance movements like an Emiliano Zapata became for the Zapatista movement and struggle in modern times despite his martyrdom nearly a century prior.   However there are moments in history when the oppression becomes so obtuse and engorged by its own abuse that a leader emerges from amongst the downtrodden to successfully liberate the people. Figures such as these are seen as a necessary means to an end; they are the antibodies by which the aforementioned societal sickness is cured and the need for them is manifest in the consciousness of the oppressed and therefore they are logically foretold to come into being by elders, diviners and prophets amongst the people. These individuals are messianic in nature, promised deliverers of the people and their historic/legendary archetypes are manifest in figures like Moses and Krishna.

Truth be told, we live in such times that the people demand deliverance from oppression on systemic level in the form of a mis-education system, a prison industrial complex, a privileged system of justice and rampant police brutality—and in this day and age the people look to a special person to help deliver them from this state; perhaps they look for a Black Superman?

A Black Messiah To Deliver People From Bondage

The Black Messiah

Black Superman is a song, which acknowledges a cold fact. Throughout the modern era, in the West, intelligence agencies whose purpose was to monitor and gather information had also sought out potential Black Messiah figures and attempted to eliminate them. This is because in the Western context, and in the United States in particular, one of the foremost oppressed groups is the Black population; these were the descendants of the brutality of chattel slavery, the façade of emancipation, Black Codes and Jim Crow, lynching’s leading to the Civil Rights Act (which, on its surface may seem to have had the right intentions, but ultimately leads to policy and actions that further disenfranchise the black community, exampled by this de-segregation leading to ghettoization of the urban black centers and the creation of habitual norms that make the government the sole community provider ostensibly eliminating the community network and framework that had existed prior), and the New Jim Crow, which takes us up to the world we live in. Throughout this time many leaders have emerged to lead the black community such as Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey P. Newton and Assata Shakur and all of them proved targets for their potential to galvanize the masses. Ultimately, while all of the aforementioned figures were influential their potential was either marginalized by policy, prison or through assassination and murder.

These women and men are synonymous with the concept of a Black Messiah or “Black Superman”, in that their intentioned goal was to deliver black folk from the bondage imposed upon them ever since their captivity began, through the policies that have kept the majority of the black community disenfranchised and ensnared in a web of oppression.

Thus its no wonder that the FBI and to a lesser extent the CIA utilized their information gathering mechanisms to try and stop a Black Messiah figure from ever emerging—J. Edgar Hoover, in particular was obsessed at finding and preventing this very thing from happening and directed the agency to utilized the very means of murder and assassination outlined above in order to effectuate this goal.

One could go further and make the argument that like the historic Pharaoh and Kans, who tried to slaughter children to prevent a prophecy of a messianic figure from emerging, modern day policies target young black men and women, effectively killing those who are resistant minded—and ultimately potential Black Messiahs. While this may seem like a stretch, its hard to deny the logic since history would dictate that it doesn’t matter if it’s a despotic or a pseudo-democratic system in place, since human behavior necessitates that those who inherit the privileges of power, which is born from oppression will not want to give it up and the most sinister amongst these will utilize any means to prevent that from happening.

Black Lives Matter to Black Superman

#BlackLivesMatter

So when the #BlackLivesMatter movement came into being as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and the incredulity of the black community to the events that transpired after the young man’s death, such as the lack of an arrest for well over a month of the murderer, to the a sham trial and a verdict that left Zimmerman free to live his life—there was a need for it to be said, that black lives mattered because it looked a lot like they didn’t.

Soon thereafter the hashtag started to link other murders and extrajudicial killings by police officers and pseudo-law-enforcement personal of young black men and women. Names like Aiyana Jones, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice linked with those that sparked larger outrage and movements like Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

However while the hashtag marked a special moment in history, in that social media was linking seemingly disparate events throughout the country and by doing so were elucidating a pattern everyone could recognize. And while additionally, #SayHerName reminded us that even within this pattern that patriarchy reigned supreme—these were not new things.

Any student of history would know that what was being reported was not new. It wasn’t new when Rodney King was caught on tape being beat and it even wasn’t new when the Black Panthers championed the case of Denzel Dodd. The sad truth is that these events had been happening ever since the first human being from Africa was monetized as chattel and brought to Western shores. The dehumanization was necessary in order to carry on economics of that nature and to maintain this structure, all potential rabble-rousers had to be eliminated.

While I would agree that it’s clearly not as simple as this—I mean, who knows what goes on in the mind of a police officer in a heated moment and not all police officers are the same, just as not all young black women and men are, yet, we all belong to a system of conditioning with those in positions of power in whose self interest it is to create a system that programs us to behave in a manner that forwards their aims. If the aim is to maintain the status quo of inequity then its clear that any figure that would attempt to lead a paradigm shift, let alone a full blown revolution would be a threat.

Earlier this year in Louisville, I met the first protestors in Ferguson and along with my brother, and fellow activist and artist Jasiri X and was inspired by them. What was clear was that Al Sharpton was not the leader of this movement, nor was it the Reverend Jesse Jackson—there was leadership but no clear leader. Even those who advance the movement like brother Deray Mckesson (Twitter: @deray), who has been tapped by the news media to speak on the protests and is prolific on social media and eloquent in his narrative, is not the leader of this movement. If a clear cut leader had emerged that leader like a Malcolm or a Martin would be a target and according to historical patterns eliminated because the powers that be have too much at stake and ultimately too much to lose.

What is clear in social media, to me, as a historian is that there are patterns and what people tweet and status update on this issue, is reminiscent of the prayers of the children of Israel. The demand for swift change is coupled with one for a messiah figure to emerge (both for the religious and irreligious) and deliver people from the bondage of the prison industrial complex, an injustice system and of these so called law enforcement agencies that break more laws than they enforce.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman

Superman was a modern myth created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster; some historians argue that Siegel and Shuster, both from a Jewish background, created the character in response to a Nazi perversion of a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche had his character Zarathustra posit the Übermensch as a goal for human beings to aspire to. The concept of the Übermensch or the Superman was one that the Nazi party would build upon and argue about Aryan superiority.

The Superman mythos created by Siegel and Shuster, which found early opponents of Superman to be the Nazis themselves, follows very closely the Hebrew narrative of Moses. Moses is taken as a child as calamity befalls the children of Israel and is sent in a small vessel via the Nile and is found by the family of the Pharaoh and later imbued with great powers, which he utilizes to liberate his people. Moses is a messiah, foretold by the Prophets and elders of the Hebrew nation living in bondage in Egypt—a messiah that is synonymous with the idea of Superman as envisioned and re-imagined by Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster made their character Superman an alien, born on the planet Krypton, and as calamity befalls the children of Krypton, his family sends him on a small vessel via space and is found by a family on Smallville, Kansas, on the distant planet earth. He later is imbued with great powers, due to the radiation of the yellow sun and his unique Kryptonian biology and uses this to enforce justice. Why must he enforce justice—not because his Uncle Ben is murdered and he feels great power must come from great responsibility, not because he watches his parents being murdered and promises to dispense justice so that no other children have to go through what he did, but as originally envisioned, Superman enforces justice because there is far too much injustice for law enforcement and the justice system on the planet to handle—in other words they are incapable of doing their jobs and there is a need for justice by the people who are victims of injustice and therefore a messiah is needed. Enter Superman.

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Mahdi

Messiah stories are not new—there are as many prophecies of messiah as there are prophetic traditions.   The return of Jesus Christ (Christianity) and the Kalki Avatar (Hinduism) are two well-known examples—in the Islamic world and amongst Muslims there is also the tradition of Al-Mahdi or Imam Mahdi, the awaited savior.

The narrative of the Mahdi has two branches. The Sunni Muslim (those who follow the life of the Prophet through narratives of people who lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and subsequent generations) perspective postulates that the Mahdi will be born and there isn’t an agreed upon emphasis or specification of what the family lineage of the Mahdi will be. Sunni Muslims may, like other groups look forward to the birth and rise of the Mahdi—but the mysterious nature of the Sunni narrations about who the Mahdi will be has also given rise to many false messianic figures like Usman Dan Fodio & Mirza Ghulam Ahmed to name a few (their positive impacts, if any, notwithstanding, my usage of the word false as an adjective lies in the fact that their titles were imposed by followers because they were waiting for such a figure to emerge—and later abandoned by the same followers after their demise or a shift in the movement they had sparked.) A title that can make a person an instant leader of the Sunni Muslim community, of hundreds of millions of people and perhaps even a billion, is certainly a great motivation for any human being and its not hard to imagine with so many problems in the Middle East and Islamic lands that many have gravitated towards usurping that title for themselves. I myself, as a young student of Islam, while a student at U.C. Berkeley encountered two men who claimed to be Al Mahdi and ironically both suffered from mental illness. The most egregious visual example of what I refer to can be as ‘the fervor to be Al-Mahdi’ can be seen on this live television clip of a man claiming to be the Mahdi on camera:

The 12th Prince

In the other Islamic tradition, Shia Muslims, or those who follow the family of the Prophet and some Sufi orders believe the Mahdi has been born and they rely on narrations from the family of the Prophet and the Qur’anic chapter “Al-Kawthar” or “The Abundance”, which is all about the Fatima bint Muhammad and prophesizes the abundance in her bloodline and legacy. Shia Muslims believe that the 12th Imam or 12th Prince, and foretold messiah figure would be born from the bloodline of Fatima, be named Muhammad, and look like the Prophet.

Imam Mahdi, as he is respectfully referred to was born and Shia Muslims believe him to be in occultation and that he will return with Jesus Christ (a belief they share with Christians); it positions Shia Muslims and Sufis differently that Sunni Muslims in that the former group believes they have to ready themselves for the return of Al-Mahdi while the latter are awaiting the birth and rise of the figure entirely. This may seem a subtle distinction but it gives rise to global movements like the ascendancy of scholars from cities like Najaf and Qom to worldwide leaders.

And there is one thing that makes this even more poignant and brings all the threads together in my mind, from #BlackLivesMatter to the Superman figure; Imam Mahdi based on historic records and narrations is a black man.

Black Messiah = Black Superman

Black Superman

The bloodline of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is from the second branch of the Abraham, through Ishmael, and therefore through his second wife Hajar (Hagar), who was from Abyssinia (Africa). Hajar is African, which makes the bloodline of her descendants, in part African as well—while we are ultimately all from Africa and this was long before Muhammad himself was born, I wanted to start here to effectually diminish post-colonial angst by any Muslim readers, who I know may be conditioned to believe that “black” is an offensive term and may find my last statement that Imam Mahdi is a black man to be offensive. My hope is to remind readers that the woman who is buried next to the Kaaba, and through whom many of the acts of the Hajj/pilgrimage were based and whose grave must not be crossed during circumambulation of the structure during Hajj, lest one must repeat the circle, is Hajar, a black woman.

The bloodline of Muhammad, which survives solely through his one biological daughter (not his step-daughters, or adopted children), namely Fatima bint Muhammad is one that becomes increasingly African in subsequent generations—and less Arab. A habit of the household of Fatima bint Muhammad was to marry and ostensibly free women who were slaves, and many of these women came from Africa. In fact the latter Imams, from the 8th onward to the 11th all had African mothers from Nubia. The 9th Imam was so black, that the Arabs at the time claimed that he had “defective skin”.   The parentage of the 12th Imam rests on two different narrative chains, one claiming his mother was from Rome (Byzantium, which was Rome at the time, was a diverse space—and she could still very well be African) and the second narration is that his mother was also African. Imam Mahdi therefore is a black man, and that truly problematizes notions of how people believe the Prophet Muhammad looked like (since they are supposed to, according to Prophetic traditions, look like each other).

A black messiah figure, that Shia Muslims are waiting for, at a time where black men and women are being slaughtered systematically—a slaughter that began with enslavement, followed by emancipation and modern policies that incarcerate or murder fathers and watch mothers and grandmothers raise orphans is oddly similar to the life of Imam Mahdi. Imam Mahdi’s grandmothers and mother were all slaves who were emancipated, his father spent his entire life incarcerated under the Abbasid regime and he was raised an orphan after his father was assassinated shortly after he was born. A black messiah with a narrative echoing the black experience at a time we are touting the fact that black lives matter in the New Jim Crow America we live in is serendipitous—and furthermore, the irony is that the only global Islamic leadership that even commented on #blacklivesmatter has been Shia.

The Song: Black Superman

So the artist in me saw the various patterns come together and I wondered, what if a black messiah figure emerged, what if it was Imam Mahdi, who helped lead those disenfranchised in the United States to find justice and usher in a new age built on empathy and peace… a real Black Superman—and this is how the piece was born—a tribute to lost lives, of various social movements and the idea that we are all connected in the struggle. My global blackness, was an obvious bias and as a West Coast based Hip-Hop artist, I used the beat from Above The Law’s, Black Superman to tell this story—this wasn’t intended to be commercial and this isn’t promotion for a new album, etc.; it is a reflection on the world as I see it and its imbued with hope for a better future, which I hope my children inherit –one that won’t find them waking to nightmares, or having to bury their friends to acts of murder and police brutality.

Black Superman by Professor A.L.I.

VERSE 1

Moses from krypton, the twelfth son Babylon

The Panther’s song champion, so he battles on

Sabotage hegemons, as they brandish arms,

Fifteen Shabaan born to a banished mom,

Her anguish birthed son who vanquish cops,

Camaflouged messiah of the black Holocaust

Pigs fear he inspires so they cap us all

In our backs like Oscar Grant or Walter Scott

Kill at will, Its Emmitt Still, and Denzel Dodd

Aiyana and Tamir, even kids are shot!

Pop, pop like the spine of Freddie Gray,

And A.L.I. can’t wait till the DOJ

He don’t play and we pray, pigs burns slow

You can’t breathe hellfire fills torso

Pain eternal, this inferno, universal

Black Superman global, full circle

VERSE 2

His grandmothers were enslaved then emancipated

His father spent his whole life incarcerated

His mother birthed an orphan, haters hated

‘Cuz he communicated, that their days were dated

Forsaken, His face impersonated by racists

They perpetrate desecration of the sacred like Satan

The fated prince who faded, we’re separated

Ever since then, false leaders speculated

While the meek have waited, to be liberated

From injustice like child with throat lacerated

Eric Garner chokes, and Louima’s broken

50 shots smoke, (Sean) Bell’s life stolen

Walmart coffin offered for John Crawford,

A plea bargain, for offing Trayvon Martin

Black Lives Matter, to the 12 Imam

A Crip suit, Blood cape, Black Superman

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7 thoughts on “Black Superman

  1. Samuel Ewing
    I like your narrative as it starts from a broad historical paradigm and becomes focused on actual historical events and people. Yes. Excellent. There have been countless Black Supermen on this planet in the past, I suspect many whose names have been lost in time. From the 19th to the 20th century there has appeared to be a prolific number of Black Supermen. Some of them are coming to the end of their mission in this 21st century; being that they are between the ages of 80-100 years old. Yes. The Black Messiah=the Black Superman, that is why Moses and Jesus have been the proto-Black Supermen in Black American history and religion, which this topic is based upon. The idea includes the singular Black Superman, the the Black Superman as identified by the media, and the Collective Black Superman as identified as a dynamic within specific groups.
    Then, there are entire legions of Black Supermen in the African Diaspora who fit many categories of what a Superman is supposed to be especially the ancient traditions of the benevolent Supermen. Once the qualifying criteria of such a person is understood, it will become very clear that many Black Supermen have existed in many field of endeavor, serving the purpose of relieving suffering, opposing evil, and/or pointing the way to the limits of human potential and beyond. ***It’s so long overdue for people of the African Diaspora to know about these facts, to think and act accordingly.
    In regard to naysayers, most who are not of African descent: Believing that there have never been Black Supermen, fervently refusing to contemplate the possibility of Black Supermen, being ignorant and so confused that they confuse the Black Superman/Black Messiah of history with the red herrings of the dubious comic book black superman. They feel a false sense of superiority.
    The tangible evidence of the Black Supermen will not and can not be vanquished no matter how the naysayers want this knowledge to go away.

  2. Samuel, I appreciate your words and feel heartened by our likemindedness on this issue… The fear of the Black Superman remains, so the fear monger a cultivate ignorance in order to fan the flames of fear… But this isn’t the Black Superman’s kryptonite, it’s the weakness of his opponents.

    > > >

  3. Samuel D. Ewing

    Hello,
    I think it is reasonable to conceptualize a type of the Black Superman in America, who having acquired a practical amount of wealth would have the presence of mind to look at the African American Community from the standpoint of what problems therein could be resolved by his/her involvement. And that also means being very frank about to the black populace about their conduct in bringing about there own demise whether they want to hear it or not. They need to hear it. Crisis involvement means that you come to the fire to put it out when it is too late. Preventive measures would have been less fatal and costly to the community. Quite frankly, if the community was repairing/building up the quality of their culture instead of being deluded by those things that are destructive to it; the destructive monetary influences of external forces would have far less a grip on the people. The culture would act as its own “immune system” protecting the whole. When the culture acts as the internal Superman, then there is an opportunity to use that culture to create flesh and blood Supermen from the next generation.
    The Black populace needs to really understand the connection between wealth and politics, personal wealth, building up the culture and acts of benefactions via personal wealth. The New Supermen will certainly need to be Intelligent Great Benefactors to the African American Community. ***Supermen who are strategic and tactical.

  4. […] Shakur in Arabic means to be thankful, which seems a word at odds with the adopted surname of a mother who was imprisoned for a crime for which she was eventually acquitted while she was pregnant—and the name seems especially ironic in that the Shakur tribe bore this oppression because America feared what was in their wombs, far more than any other force.  Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but the sad truth regarding the maneuverings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which fought actively to prevent any Black Messiah figure from emerging and that included being born; COINTELPRO was directly utilized under Hoover’s guidance to snuff out any leadership of this type.  The irrational fear of a black messiah directly led to circumstances that found the government involved with or having knowledge of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  So it is unsurprising that this gripping phobia also led to the scrutiny of the wombs of black activists since the goal of phobic was to prevent a Black Superman from uplifting “the people” a.k.a black folk and pulling a modern day M…. […]

  5. Samuel David Ewing

    Another term that is synonymous with the Black Superman? “Black Superman= Black Benefactor.” Want to make a difference. 1. Create a group whose focus is to solve one particular problem in the community or for an individual. 2. Bring together actual knowledge that can resolve the problem. Follow this up with a strategy and the tactics to achieve the goal; solving that problem. 3. Don’t just talk about! Do it! Implement it! Make it happen! 4. Disperse the group; mission accomplished. Form a new groups to address another community/or individual’s issues.
    What is required is to have the will to think, act, and be a benefactor.
    *Another way is to acquire wealth, a relative term, and use a portion of it to do the above through being a patron/mentor that empowers one life at a time.
    African Americans have spent far too long looking for their Black Superman in a religious messiah. The history of religious messiahs has not been edifying for humanity. Believe and wait. Blind belief and enslavement to an egomaniac who will ultimately bring disaster.
    Summary: What is needed is multiple Black Supermen=Black Benefactors. Here and Now.

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