KNOWLEDGE OF SELF By Erika Burt

How well do we as African American people know ourselves? This seems to be a perennial question. The fact that the past five or six decades seem to keep repeating the same theme of knowledge of self among black people proves this. In fact, some may argue that it even goes back to ancient Egyptian civilizations; however, I am unsure whether or not it is used in the same context in our present culture. Over and through out the course of time there continues to arise a need for what some call a new black consciousness, popularly coined “knowledge of self ” by some in the black community. The problem is that this great need also brings on much confusion as to how to attain it. Some find themselves asking many hard questions such as: Where did the need for knowledge of self come from? What exactly is knowledge of self? Should attaining it be a priority? Will it lead to righteousness? How will we obtain it? Others may ask themselves if it is some deep esoteric (secret) knowledge one must seek out? It is my attempt, through this article, to simplify the search by directing us towards the correct path. Before we begin our search we must consider that the need and desire for knowledge of self seems to have come about as one result of the freedom from slavery.

Ever since the end of slavery in America there has been a striving within the black person to find out just who he or she truly is. Perhaps this is due to the “double consciousness” in the soul of black people as Dubois suggested. He suggested that the black person in the United States, in times past, struggled with the need to fit into mainstream society and at the same time struggled to shun it all together (Souls of Black Folk, 1-6). I submit that this type of “soul split” is the springboard to the pursuit of knowledge of self in the black community. For years we have felt this split. We have struggled to know ourselves, to know where we came from, and as a result of this struggling we still do not fully know where we are headed. In fact, Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, suggested that because of our ignorance about our journey as a people (as a result of our history being purposely hidden from us) we do not realize our unlimited capabilities (The Mis-Education of the Negro, 144-156). Some say that knowing our history and our journey as a people is the first step towards attaining knowledge of self and may possibly mend the double consciousness of our souls.

Based on my understanding of certain black consciousness groups, knowledge of self may be defined as knowing our illustrious heritage and our definitive place in society, individually and collectively, in the world (see Black Panther Party Program and Platform, Number Five). Many claim to have it, and many more are searching for it. It is one of the Nation of Islam’s main goals. The Black Panthers fought for it. Hip Hop artist write ballads about it. And most blacks long for it. From the 1960s to-date, amid the era of the much-needed Civil Rights movement, in every aspect of black culture, the pilgrimage to the land of knowledge of self can be traced. This quest is reflected in our clothing (dashikis to hip hop), our hairstyles (naturals to straight to dreadlocks/braids), our speech (English to Ebonics and vice versa), as well as our art (Black Arts Movements, etc….). The quest has become our top priority, but should it be is the question?

I do believe that we can benefit greatly from knowing where we came from, what our people have obtained and attained, our victories, our strengths, and our heritage. I also believe that we are an awesome group of people, terrifically blessed, as well as spiritually rich. I believe that remembering these things can help us to redirect our steps toward uplifting African American people to a degree; however, I find that the road we are traveling on now is yielding limited understanding and putting us amiss of the true righteous path. True righteousness comes from a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

From a pro-black young woman to a pro-Christ black woman I understand now that my goal is to obtain knowledge of the Self-existent/Self Sufficient One of instead of knowledge of (my) self. The self-knowledge I should be focused on is more so a self-evaluation to see if I have been lining up with the teachings of Christ. This can be done only through the Word of God.

Jeremiah 17: 9 says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it? If you cannot know your own heart, then you cannot know yourself. Truly, if one really took a look at his or her own heart one would see his or her corruptibleness. Knowledge of self leads us to face our own inadequacy, and makes us come face to face with our own need to find out truly where we came from (rather, Who we came from). Knowledge of self cannot make us righteous or even more intelligent, but it does illuminate our need for someone who is truly righteous, perfect, and absolute in this ever-changing world.

Consider the following scriptures:

Genesis 6:5
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Psalm 26:2
Test me, O LORD , and try me, examine my heart and my mind;

2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?

Psalm 139:23
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

1 Samuel 16:7
Man looks on the outside, but God sees the heart

Just from these few scripture verses we see that, by nature, man is wicked, deceitful, untrustworthy and completely in love with self. The wrong perspective on knowledge of self reinforces the love that we have for self over and above the love we should have for the One who made us. When we have a realistic knowledge of self we should be lead to a preoccupation with Christ as we see ourselves as unworthy of self-worship. It is God who rightfully examines us and gently puts us on the path to knowledge of truth, which is deep understanding with comprehension and discernment. This knowledge of truth helps us to see ourselves clearly and helps us to appreciate the goodness and mercy shown us by the God. He made the path of righteousness available to us through Jesus’ death on the cross (which He suffered for our sins) and His resurrection from the grave.

The Lord Jesus Christ gives us a proper perspective of who we are, where we came from, what our purpose is as a people and individuals, and how to fulfill it after we have accepted Him as Lord and Savior. He does all this by first securing our identity in Him. He is not far from us. For it is in Him that we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). For God created us for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11), and it’s He who made us and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3).

It is Christ who holds the key to our happiness, to our mobility as a race, and more importantly, to godly knowledge and godly lifestyles for all races, indeed.




©Black Apologetics Ministry 2001-2003
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