Home

The longing for home is most acute among a people dispossessed of one. Some of us, in desperation, lay claim to the desert, seeking to make a home for ourselves within it. Predictably however, the desert does not give life. It takes life and returns death.

 

The bombast of fear, the vacuity of doubt

One mustn’t choose to live in the shadow of fear and doubt. Fear can populate the mind with thoughts of legions of potential perils. Fear may provoke anxiousness and anxiety, but these feelings possess an energetic quality that if properly harnessed can also motivate one to act.

Doubt is the corrosive acid of self-assurity that if not faced and divested of its power can compel inaction when action is needed, capitulation when perseverance might carry the day.

When I was 9 years old I resolved to eradicate my fear of the dark. I went into the darkest room of my apartment and sat. I wanted the darkness to envelope me. I wanted for fear to show itself, to unleash the doom that it so often promised lay just outside my covers.

In the beginning I was terribly afraid. I feared the invisible hordes, who draped in darkness, might prey upon me. But this fear was counter-balanced by something else, my knowledge that the darkness was merely the absence of light, and my fear merely the triumph of irrationality and the absence of reason.

I conquered my fear of the dark, and also learned something more, fear and doubt are synergistically linked, one compelling us to retreat, the other assures us that no matter what we do, the possibility of triumph is illusory. In spite of this, fear can be bested. In fact when confronted we often find that fear’s ominous vestments merely hide a withered and frail form. Similarly, doubt can also be overcome. Much of its power over us is that it faces us in the mirror, it lurks in our memories of failure, it resides in the certainty that what we are striving after is–like so many things–simply beyond our capacity. Doubt has to be seen for what it is, mediocrity’s companion, the one sure path that will always divert us from evolving into the people that we might potentially become. It is a fetter, yes, but an impermanent one that if discarded enables us to rediscover who we are and what we can accomplish.

While my forays into the dark eventually bested that fear, others remained. Thus throughout my life I have found it continually necessary to seek out fear, challenge it to show itself and to deliver the oblivion that had promised, or to leave me be. I have also had to remind myself that it is not doubt that faces me in the mirror or lurks in my memories, but that doubt is a shadow that grows proportionally to the light within which one walks. Doubt is the inescapable echo of your voice projected into the world, faint and diminishing, but never fully absent.

Despite the bombast of fear and the vacuity of doubt, the future remains undetermined, providing us the chance to fashion our lives and the world into an image and form worthy of our highest potential.

Moorings

A people who have experienced cultural dislocation are in need of moorings lest they become adrift in a sea of relativism and alienation.

The tragedy of our situation

The tragedy of our situation is not simply what has happened, but what, as a result, can never be. It is this gap between what would be optimal and ideal, and what is that we must reconcile ourselves with. This reconciliation need not be capitulation, but a resolute commitment to forge the future out of an imperfect past.

On the academic life

I think that the academy is overly concerned with its own importance; that what passes for criticality within it can generally be characterized as, at best, safe and non-threatening to the global systems that it purports to critique; and at worse, discourses that obfuscate what terms like “critical”, “radical”, or “revolutionary” potentially mean.

I may be wrong, but I think that Amy Jacques Garvey, Malcolm X, Hannibal Afrik, and so many others who were advocates of African liberation situated their work beyond the confines of academia because academia is not–despite the copious use of the terms “critical” or “social justice”–a sustainable front in revolutionary struggle. It is a potential contested zone, but many of the people best positioned to contest these spaces are more interested in attaining the rewards of the institution, rewards that do not change or challenge the material conditions that we face. Many others are, sadly, forced to prioritize their own survival over the lofty ends of reality transformation, as these spaces can eviscerate the emotional well-being of those unprepared for the incalculably numerous microscale attacks on their humanity that occur therein.

Yes, some of us survive to have respectable careers. However, we are consequentially and perpetually weighted down by the armor of self-protection, distracted by the maddening churn of assessment and evaluation, made less productive by the efforts to prevent our brain spaces from being new sites of colonization by the armies of vacuous rhetoric and needless toil, and made less productive in the worlds that we actually inhabit as our vision of an emancipatory social possibility is filtered through language and paradigms that binds and blinds us.

The academy is a self-disguising and dynamically modular möbius loop. It masks its own redundancy with the illusion of relevance and the busying of professors who it perpetually seeks to reduce to the status of drones.

It has become the new shrine whereupon whose alter we sacrifice fertile minds and preciously finite time in the hopes that the mystery gods of the heavens will transmute our offering into transformative action in the world. If so, it will be the first time in the history of the world that work has been accomplished absent a preceding and corresponding effort. Such is the unforgiving nature of the world, that words, no matter how abundant are no proxy for action. As the elders remind us, “Kazi (work) is the Blackest of all.”

Towards the reclamation and redemption of African philosophy

The New York Times featured an interesting article on philosophy in the academy entitled “When Philosophy Lost Its Way“. After reading it, it provoked some of my thinking about the nature of academic knowledge production and the significance of African philosophy.

This is a good discussion of the ruinous nature of so many forms of academic knowledge production. The academy has succeeded (along with the academic publishing industry) in commodifying knowledge in rather unnatural ways that divorces its productive cycles and areas of emphases from the existential quandaries that exist in the world.

I think that a number of questions are in order here. How does philosophy answer the crises that so typify so-called modern life? How does philosophy inform a mode of social criticism capable of forming a new conception of society? How does philosophy reinforce the more generalized and diffuse Eurocentric hegemony of Western education? Is philosophy (as we know it) more trouble than it’s worth? What might we pose as an alternative?

While I am disinclined to suggest a forward path for Western philosophy, I will argue that for people of African descent, the resuscitation of philosophical discourses and modalities of knowledge production are a vital part of social transformation. Whether we are examining the deep thought of the ancient Nile Valley pertaining to “good speech”, or the cosmological insights of the Dogon, or the Yoruba conception of struggle and its necessity, the love of wisdom as captured in the works of Ahmed Baba and his contemporaries at the Univ. of Sankore in the 16th Century, the social theories of Prince Hall or Martin R. Delany or Anna Julia Cooper, the cultural analysis of Du Bois from the 30s and 60s, Master Fard Muhammad’s and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s discourse on moral intractability, Malcolm X’s critique of America’s vaunted and dubious morality, Sista Souljah’s thesis about enslavement as the default condition of Africans in the American social order, and on and on. Philosophy has a great deal to offer us, but first we must do as Jacob H. Carruthers instructed and resolve ourselves to cultivate bodies of knowledge both divorced from the imperatives of the West and inextricably linked to our efforts to transform both the world and ourselves.