Polyculturalism

Polyculturalism-a conceptualization of culture that, rather than examine cultures as discrete social historical phenomena, instead focuses on the extent of their imbrication, that is the varying ways in which cultures and histories are inextricable, interweaved. It contrasts with multiculturalism, which often regards cultures as discrete entities.

This theory is elaborated upon at length in Vijay Prashad’s book Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.

African or American: A reflection on persistent absurdities

Recently on Twitter (that bastion of civil, intellectual discourse) a user posted that many of us had been duped into believing that we are African descendants due to the machinations of two European intellectuals, Franz Boas and Melville J. Herskovits. This statement was a part of a larger conversation about the idea that African Americans are really indigenous to the Americas. While I am loathe to engage in such non-sensical discussions, I decided to briefly weigh in with a few simple remarks.


Of course one is entitled to their cherished familial narratives, but do note that families make all sorts of dubious genealogical claims. Richard White writes about the the differences between history and memory in his book Remembering Ahanagran. I have found a number of grotesque errors in my own family “history”, errors that defy empirical verification.

Secondly, the idea that enslaved Blacks were African is not an idea that had to wait for Franz Boas (1858) or Melville J. Herskovits (1895) to be born. Many African Americans in the 18th and 19th Century knew of their African origins and took great pride in them. Martin Delany knew of his African origins. So too did Paul Cuffee and Harriet Tubman. For this generation of African Americans, the memory of Africa was fresh and undeniable. Further, they named their institutions after Africa: African Lodge, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Free Schools, and so forth. Our 18th and 19th Century ancestors were not confused about who they were. Nor was such knowledge derived from “theories” of Western-trained academics.

In fact, narratives like these persist into the present-day and is the subject of books like Wendy Wilson-Fall’s Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic which notes how the memory of Madagascar, or more specifically Malagasy ancestry has been retained by African American families. I actually know people for whom such a narrative exists. I also have Malagasy ancestry, but my confirmation came via DNA testing. Kwasi Konadu’s Akan Pioneers: African Histories, Diasporic Experiences explores the cultural legacy of the Akan in this hemisphere. The Igbo Diaspora in the Era of the Slave Trade by Douglas B. Chambers discusses the Igbo in the US and the Caribbean. This is just a short sample, there are other texts that discuss the Kongo and Yorùbá in the Americas.

Lastly, when one considers that the average African descendant in the US has been in here for nine or ten generations, and that this means having 510 or 1,022 genetic ancestors. I find that narratives of being native and not African generally rely on the story of a single ancestor, rather than the hundreds or more to which one owes one ancestry. Genealogical research is arduous and relies on empirical evidence. Not sole narratives, as even these are subject to critique and verification.

Bridges, not walls

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Given the salience of alienation in this society, it is unsurprising that the politics of atomization retain such popularity. In these times one could simply manufacture identity constructs or conspiracies or political agendas that no matter how mad would attract a following.
 
What is perhaps lost in the headlong rush towards division ad infinitum is an appreciation to the degree that such actions erodes the basis of community. Absent this, our capacity to exist as members of a society greatly diminishes. Further, our resolve to act in concert towards desired ends (such as addressing climate change, which threatens to nullify our species or to empower our communities) cease to be viable.
 
The politics of atomization has proven itself as an expedient means to garner attention and to rally the disaffected given that it peddles in fear and loathing. Alternatively, it has not proven itself sufficient to compel people to act towards a broader vision of the future based on hope, mutual respect, or a recognition of our interdependency. In its most grotesque forms, solidarity is decried and disunity is lauded. Such thinking dismisses Pan-Africanism as an anachronistic fiction, while identity constructs based on our subjugation by European settler colonists or our descent from those whom they enslaved is considered cutting-edge, if not radical.
 
I am reminded of a Swahili proverb that states “Bora kujenga madaraja kuliko kuta.” It translates into English as “It is better to build bridges than walls.” Indeed, we need to build the bridges that will carry us into the future.

Horizons

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A Fulani proverb states that, “One who gathers stones little by little will one day build a mountain.” This teaches the lesson that consistent and sustained effort is vital to actualizing that which we desire, whether this be continuous self-improvement, completing a project, or achieving some goal.

For me this has meant working continuously on my drumming, berimbau playing, Capoeira songs, Capoeira movements, study of its history and philosophy, and so forth. I apply this lesson to the other arts that I study as well. For example, with respect to 52 Blocks I try to work on strikes, blocks, and footwork daily. It’s valuable when you can see improvement, which is both validation of your efforts and encouragement to keep going.

I am always striving to overcome the finite horizon of my own limitations.

Suggested readings on African deep thought, African-centered social theory, and Pan-African liberation

 Below is a list of suggested readings on African thought, ancient and modern.

 

Deep thought (philosophy)

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 1973. Two Thousand Seasons. Popenguine, Senegal: PerAnkh.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1984. Essays in Ancient Egyptian studies. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1999. Intellectual Warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1995. MDW NTR: Divine Speech. London: Karnak House.

Fu-Kiau, K. K. Bunseki. 2001. African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life and Living. Broolyn, NY: Athelia Henrietta Press.

Gbadegesin, Segun. 1996. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Gyekye, Kwame. 1995. African Philosophical Thought. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Kamalu, Chukwunyere. 1998. Person, Divinity, & Nature. London, England: Karnak House.

Karenga, Maulana. 1989. Selections from the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 1999. Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 2004. Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics. New York: Routledge.

Obenga, Theophile. 2004. African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

 

Education/Socialization

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1973. The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960. edited by Herbert Aptheker. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Fu-Kiau, K. Kia Bunseki, and A.M. Lukondo-Wamba. 1988. Kindezi: The Kongo Art of Babysitting. Baltimore: Imprint Editions.

Hilliard, Asa G. 2002. African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Culture Wars. Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishing Company.

Okrah, Kwadwo A. 2003. Nyansapo (The Wisdom Knot): Toward an African Philosophy of Education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shujaa, Mwalimu J. 2003. “The Widening Gap between Education and Schooling in the Post 9/11 Era.” Journal of Negro Education 72 (2):179-189.

Woodson, Carter G. 1990. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

 

Healing

Ani, Marimba. 2004. “To Be Afrikan: Toward the Healing, Rebirth and Reconstruction of Afrikan Civilization: Maat/Maafa/Sankofa.” In State of the Race, edited by Jemadari Kamara and Tony Menelik Van Der Meer, 137-165. Boston: Diaspora Press.

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 1978. The Healers. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

Fu-Kiau, K. Kia Bunseki. 1991. Self-Healing Power and Therapy. Baltimore: Imprint Editions.

Maasi, Shaha Mfundishi. 2008. Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear. Baltimore, MD: MD&H Publications, LLC.

Somé, Sobonfu E. 2003. Falling Out of Grace: Meditation on Loss, Healing and Wisdom. El Sobrante, CA: North Bay Books.

 

History

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1985. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 2007. “Kush and Kemet: The Pillars of African Centered Thought.” In Contemporary Africana Theory, Thought and Action, edited by Clenora Hudson-Weems, 43-57. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Price, Richard. 1996. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and revolutionary struggle

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 2010. Remembering the Dismembered Continent. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

Baruti, Mwalimu A. Bomani. 2006. Notes Toward Higher Ideals in Afrikan Intellectual Liberation. Atlanta: Akoben House.

Delany, Martin. 1993. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered. Baltimore: Black Classic Press.

Garvey, Amy Jacques. 1986. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Dover, MA: The Majority Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 1980. “Kawaida: An Introduction.” Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies, Los Angeles.

Martin, Tony. 1976. Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Imporvement Association, The New Marcus Garvey Library. Dover, MA: The Majority Press.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1963. Africa Must Unite. New York: Praeger Publisher.

 

Proverbs and stories

Bâ, A. Hampaté. 1988. Kaidara. Translated by Daniel Whitman. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press.

Opoku, Kofi Asare. 1997. Hearing and Keeping: Akan Proverbs. Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa Press.

Owomoyela, Oyekan. 2005. Yoruba Proverbs. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

 

Psychology

Kambon, Kobi Kazembe Kalongi. 1992. The African Personality in America: An African-Centered Framework. Tallahassee: Nubian Nation Publications.

Kambon, Kobi Kazembe Kalongi. 2003. Cultural Misorientation: The Greatest Threat to the Survival of the Black Race in the 21st Century. Tallahassee: Nubian Nation Publications.

 

Social, political, and economic organization

Fu-Kiau, K. K. Bunseki. 2007. Mbôngi: An African Traditional Political Institution. Atlanta, GA: Afrikan Djeli Publishers.

 

Spirituality

Adofo, Dalian and Verona Spence. 2017. Ancestral Voices: Spirit is Eternal. United Kingdom: Longbelly Entertainment.Amen, Rkhty. 2012. A Life Centered Life Living Maat.

Ani, Marimba. 1980. Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora. New York: Nkonimfo.

Mbiti, John S. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.

Weeks, James. 2019. Meditations Across the King’s River: African-Inspired Wisdom for Life’s Journey. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.

Mad (il)logics

I have found debating conspiracy theorists to be rather futile given their disregard for evidence-based arguments and preference for hyperrelativistic claims. What’s more, I have observed that any evidence deployed that debunks the conspiracy theory becomes evidence of the conspiracy itself.

Africans Kung Fu Fighting

Recently I stumbled upon this video. It shows a group Africans who journeyed to China to study the martial arts. I’ve seen other videos like this, including one where an African decided to create a Shaolin Temple in his community in Africa.
While I appreciate that these sisters and brothers are training, I do worry that the idea of “martial arts” as an Asian cultural practice necessarily devalues our engagement with our own martial heritage, which is often endangered. Clearly the practice of Capoeira in Brazil is well organized, but this is not universally true of African combat arts. Many are quite marginal and the preserve of an aging group of practitioners.
 
I say this as someone who practices both African and Asian arts. To my thinking, our engagement in the martial arts, as people of African-descent, should include some engagement with, even if on the level of historical and philosophical knowledge, the rich martial heritage of African people as a way of centering our ancestors’ development of combative systems to confront the reality before them.
 
In my presentation at ASCAC last week I discussed three ways of engaging with the African martial arts. These include:
1. Studying and internalizing the history and philosophy pertaining to the African arts.
2. Incorporating specific elements/techniques of the African arts into one’s existing practice.
3. Practicing the African arts.
 
To my thinking we can both study the martial arts of the world, while also being mindful of our own legacy and its value.