Enlightened Prosperity

by Tsuhai Nzinga

Benjamin Banneker wrote an almanac. Phyllis Wheatley wrote poetry. Sojourner Truth asked “Ain’t I a woman?” Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee. Frederick Douglas asked “What to the Negro is your 4th of July?” Harriet Tubman freed slaves. W.E.B. DuBois coined our “double-consciousness.” Alan Locke ushered in the New Negro. Langston Hughes waxed poetic. Zora Neal Hurston told us “Their Eyes Was Watchin’ God.” Billy Holliday sang us the blues. Paul Robeson sung deep bass. Sam Cooke told us “A Change Gon’ Come.” Richard Wright gave us “Native Son.”

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us a dream. To be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin. That dream has never been realized here in this country. Character, in this country, is skin color.

Recall where the colonizers came from and when, from Europe during the period of Enlightenment. The Catholic Church had split into factions and the colonizers of this country came to find peace from the oppression of the Catholic Church which controlled the political powers of Europe. In this religious split, there was enlightenment—new knowledge of self. The influence became science: science of the workings of nature, science of humanity, science of the mind. These sciences had a heavy influence on religious beliefs. These sciences had a heavy influence on politics. The sciences had a heavy influence on colonial life.

Colonial life was ‘boot strap’ society. People were individuals and had to be responsible for and take care of themselves. Their religion reflected this individuality. It was your duty to have a personal relationship with God. You were responsible to God. Your profession was God’s calling. If you prospered in your profession, it was God’s grace and ‘proof’ of your calling, or the Prosperity Gospel.

So, in this age of colonialism, the people had what I call ‘Enlightened Prosperity.’ Within this enlightened prosperity, property became to the colonists their very own ‘Promised Land.’ Do ya’ll know that story? How God brought the Israelites out of slavery, travelled with them 40 years in a desert and then led them to a country not their own and helped them take it from the inhabitants because “their sin was full?” That’s what this land became to the colonists. By the very grace and command of the Almighty God, this was our land; the very Promised Land of God Himself!

“Enlightened Prosperity.” Now ya’ll already know what the colonizers did to the Natives. And ya’ll already know that Blacks became slaves. Consider these events in the context of “Enlightened Prosperity.” Does it look a little different now? No? O.K. It shouldn’t. These were horrific events in the history of this country! Even in the context of “Enlightened Prosperity” one cannot help but see the horror of the very contradiction of the slaughter and slavery next to “Enlightened Prosperity.” So how do they go together?

Through one word: Belief.

Enlightened Prosperity was a belief. Ya’ll know what believers look like, right? They cannot be swayed. They BELIEVE. Now for Black folk, that image that just came to mind of Mahalia Jackson singing Amazing Grace or the pastor belting out I come to the garden, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the colonists of Jamestown and Massachusetts and their‘Enlightened Prosperity’ belief.

A couple years ago I took an American Philosophers course at a Catholic university. One of my assignments was to read a sermon from 1742. One of the questions I had to answer was “What would your reaction had been as young adult hearing this sermon at that time?” The question made think. The title of the sermon is Sinners in the hand of an angry God given by Jonathan Edwards. It was all kinds of ‘fire and brimstone.’ I asked myself, “What would my young, Black self be doing at a church service in 1742? In New England?” Well, I’d be a slave. And that’s how I answered that question. I gave a good analysis of what New England life was like at that time. I gave a damn good analysis of the sermon. I gave my opinion. And I said I would have been a slave. Professor Sister Parsons ‘corrected’ one sentence, gave me an ‘A’ and asked if the 8 page paper was all my own words.

Maybe you missed the ‘Enlightened Prosperity’ there because I mentioned Catholic and New England. But it’s there. You’ll see soon enough.

This ‘revival’ sermon was meant to convert sinners who believed that hard work, moral uprightness and church attendance were the way to be saved. Edwards told them that this belief was not true and they would go to hell if they didn’t turn to Christ. What Edwards failed to mention  was that they also had to turn away from their ‘Enlightened Prosperity’ belief. And thus began the ‘coming to Christ, church attendance and hard work’ ethic. And now, not only are they saved by God, but they are also prosperous by that very same God’s calling.

Slaves. Indigenous. Promised Land. Enlightened Prosperity. Belief. Property.

Slaves. Indigenous. Property. Belief. Enlightened Prosperity. Promised Land.

Land is property. Slaves are property. Enlightened Prosperity.

Within this Enlightened Prosperity the sciences began a journey. Philosophy transformed. Math became the infinite absolute. There are no absolutes in philosophy. But math is infinite. Philosophy became a measured debatable. Math and philosophy joined. Somebody decided that Being can be measured and within that measure we can ‘tame’ us.

And it is within this measure where we find superiority. White superiority (ya’ll thought this was gonna be easy?).

It is here where white men began to seriously consider themselves as superior beings. They had complete control over the life of man, woman, child and beast. According to the Bible, God made Adam first after the earth and He gave Adam and his descendants dominion over that very land. God gave them the land. God created them. Enlightened Prosperity Superiority.

Ya’ll getting the picture yet?

Let me wrap this up for you.

Enlightened Prosperity Superiority can be seen in the Theory of Evolution. Enlightenment science played a significant role. The math/philosophy combination created species. That same math/philosophy combination created a hierarchy within each species. The theory of evolution created a hierarchy of species. Within evolution’s hierarchy of species is that math/philosophy combination of hierarchy within the species. The evolutionary hierarchy within the hierarchy has come to be known as breeds.

Enlightened Prosperity Superiority.

I will let you figure it out from there. If you don’t get it, you won’t.

But I will leave you with this. During this ‘enlightened prosperity superiority’ revolution, Black people still were this—

 

Benjamin Banneker wrote an almanac. Phyllis Wheatley wrote poetry. Sojourner Truth asked “Ain’t I a woman?” Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee. Frederick Douglas asked “What to the Negro is your 4th of July?” Harriet Tubman freed slaves. W.E.B. DuBois coined our “double-consciousness.” Alan Locke ushered in the New Negro. Langston Hughes waxed poetic. Zora Neal Hurston told us “Their Eyes Was Watchin’ God.” Billy Holliday sang us the blues. Paul Robeson sung deep bass. Sam Cooke told us “A Change Gon’ Come.” Richard Wright gave us “Native Son.”

--And then some.

Tsuhai Nzinga

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Copyright 2020 Cynthia Alease Smith, Ed.D.