Whose Ice is Colder? Who Got That Good-Good Ase?

Kola nut. Used in West Africa for divination and offerings to orisas and the ancestors.

“The white man’s ice is colder.”  If you are have never heard that phrase uttered and you are a Black American, then it is definitely time for your Black Card to be revoked.  Not really but this phrase is common enough among Black folks who discuss the psychological effects of being Black in a society where Whiteness is the idealized norm.  In the Handbook of Race, Racism, and the Developing Child edited by Stephen M. Quintena et. al the “White Man’s Ice is Colder” syndrome is described as “a marker of internalized racism [that] manifests in children’s judgments as well as those of adults” (291). A series of examples is then provided, like Black people assuming that jobs only held only by White people have a higher status as compared to jobs held by only Blacks or by both Blacks and Whites or Blacks assuming that an all-white school is higher performing than a more racially integrated school, despite test scores that prove otherwise. In other words, the “White Man’s Ice is Colder” Syndrome is when Black people believe the lies of Black inferiority and White superiority. As a priestess in the Yoruba and Lukumi traditions, I am proud to report that, in my experience, this syndrome is not as common among practitioners of African spirituality (though it isn’t completely absent).  For the most part, we have the African-pride thing down (though we definitely struggle with nationalism and how to work together towards liberation, or even if we should do so).  There is a contingent of practitioners that are invested in whiteness and disassociating with the traditions’ African roots but this is a very small minority (again, in my experience) and most African-Americans in African traditions don’t really take those people seriously, especially because most of the people in this contingent are white Latinos.  Even many Latinos give these people the side-eye; they are largely viewed as irrelevant at best and just plain ol’ racist. However, there is another syndrome that I see cropping up among African-American practitioners of African traditions that is just as insidious as the “White Man’s Ice is Colder” Syndrome, especially because it much more covert.  It’s the “Nigerians Ice is Colder” Syndrome or maybe because Africa is so hot that ice is a rarity, maybe we should call it the “Nigerian Ase is Stronger” syndrome. Either way, it’s a whole hot mess and is another example of internalizing inferiority. I am initiated to Oshun in the Lukumi tradition (the Ifa and Orisa traditions as they flourished in Cuba) and I am initiated to Egungun and Ifa in the Yoruba tradition (the Ifa and Orisa traditions developed and practiced among the Yoruba people in West Africa). There is a whole lot of politics involved in what I just wrote and some people, depending on what side they land on, are now spewing green stuff out of their mouths while their heads are turning around on their necks because of what they just read.  To put it out there for anyone who is confused, the way I see it is Ifa is Ifa, Orisa is Orisa, and Egungun is Egungun.  I have no stronger allegiance to either of my lineages, though I am clear about the boundaries of each and that they cannot dictate to the other (for example, a Nigerian priest cannot tell me what to do with orisas received in Lukumi and vice-versa).  I needed Egungun and the Lukumi lineage I was initiated in doesn’t have it.  So I went to where I can get it, with Oshun and the ancestors’ okay.  I married a Yoruba babalawo and it was suggested, based on some of my odu, that I initiate to Ifa. In any case, Oshun said yes to that too and I trust Her more than anyone so she always gets the final say.  I wasn’t trading in Lukumi for Nigerian tradition; I am an African-American who practices Yoruba tradition, whether in the Diaspora or on the Continent. But getting back to this syndrome…the increased exposure to African-Americans initiated in Nigerian lineages is what brought this syndrome to light for me.  There are many African-Americans initiated in Nigerian lineages who criticize Lukumi traditions and practices who clearly don’t know what they are talking about.  I am not saying that Lukumi doesn’t have problems (Olodumare, no) but what spiritual traditions doesn’t?  What I am seeing is that Lukumi is often judged because it is different, not because it is inherently wrong.

Coconut. Used an alternative in the Diaspora to kolanut. And it works just as well!

As an example, I have heard priests of Nigerian lineages criticize the Lukumi Warrior Ceremony.  “Why does everyone need warriors?  Why don’t you do divination to determine if that is what is needed?  See, in Nigeria they always ask what a person needs.”  Not true.  Most families in Nigeria follow whatever traditions their families practice.  For instance, children born into Ifa families will typically receive their Hand of Ifa.  No one asks Ifa if the child needs to receive Ifa; it’s a given. As another example, if divination indicates that a child needs to initiate, that child will usually initiate to the Orisa of their family even if divination indicates they need to initiate to another Orisa.  So a child born into an Oya family that is told through divination that he needs to initiate to Ifa will initiate to Ifa and Oya.  Ifa didn’t have to say “initiate to Oya;” it’s a given that if a person initiates they will initiate to their family’s Orisa along with any other Orisa needed. Just like in Nigeria families and lineages have their spiritual protocols, in Lukumi we have our protocols.  Our protocols may be different and, considering that Lukumi has far more adult converts than Nigerian tradition does (though they obviously have a lot more nowadays) they should be different.  You can’t expect a tradition that had to adapt and change during slavery just to survive to look exactly the way it looks in a place where the average person can recite their family lineage back at least 10 generations. Another example I heard recently:  Lukumi is wrong because we call the warriors “warriors.”  The Yoruba word is “ebora” which means “hunters” not “warriors.”  So Lukumi is wrong. *eye roll* My knee jerk response:  This is dumb, and you are dumb for saying such a dumb thing. My more diplomatic, Oshun-inspired response: We have to remember that due to the conditions our African ancestors faced in the New World, the orisas and the ancestors manifested differently.  This is one of the reasons why, I believe, that Elegba became a deity in His own right.  It can be argued that Elegba is road of Esu, and is a warrior road of Esu.  Considering the conditions our ancestors found themselves in, it’s no wonder that they began to emphasize the warrior aspect of Esu.  I mean, if you were enslaved would you rather call on the calm and peaceful aspects of the orisas or the warrior aspects of the orisas?  Likewise, Ogun’s machete, a tool of progress as it cut through the wilderness to make room for civilization, is now a tool of war to fight the enslavers (see the Haitian Revolution–how is Ogun NOT a warrior?!).  Ochosi/Osossi’s bow and arrow that never misses its mark is now a tool of justice…Ochosi, shoot your arrow at our oppressors and don’t miss the mark!  And Osun, the protector of the head, defends the head from the  mental instability that is inherent when you are treated lower than an animal and when you and your family can be separated at anytime.  So, Lukumi is not wrong.  The conditions of the Diaspora have caused us to emphasize certain aspects of the Orisas.  But when you understand Lukumi as a bastardized version of “the real thing” then you don’t ask questions to understand different perspectives; you judge and usually look like an ass in the process. I have many more examples (some pretty hilarious!) but suffice it to say that I find this syndrome indicative of a deep-seated insecurity that we have about our Africanness.  Some will argue that Lukumi is Cuban, not African-American, so why am I defending it?  Lukumi is African; it is West African Orisa tradition that was adapted in Cuba by Africans.  Geography doesn’t erase its roots.  And what Lukumi has showed me, as an African-American, is that we can and should adapt African tradition to meet the needs of the people.  We can’t, and shouldn’t, just do what Nigerians do, o!  We have to believe in Orisa and egun to the point that we know they walk with us and we know how to work with their energy on this soil to meet our needs, just like Africans throughout the Diaspora have done. I’m off my soapbox now. Please comment and feel free to disagree.  I am interested in hearing multiple perspectives.

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