Language is a domain of struggle. The dominance of the colonial languages establishes conceptual and political vectors that reinforces the dominance of Europeans. Liberating our consciousness also requires the decolonization of our worldview. Languages are tools in this endeavor.
The problem is that many of us know so little about who we are as a people, that we seek refuge in the desert. Those of us who understand the importance of an African worldview must show that the desert is a wasteland, not a safe haven, and lead our people to an oasis instead.
With respect to corporate Hip Hop, I would argue that what we are seeing is not “artistic expression”, but merely a corporate commodity. Further, that the commodification of art requires its necessary reduction. This reduction can be thought of as simplification, or as replication, or as distortion. Thus instead of being expressive of, and resonant with the myriad historical and cultural dynamics of Black cultures–which Hip Hop has historically been engaged with–what we now have is, I would suggest, is in the image and interest of corporate capitalism. From a certain point of view, whereas “art” is concerned and whereas issues of cultural tradition are concerned, this might be a soulless thing which looms before us. In this way, I think that Nas was correct–Hip Hop is dead. May she rest in peace.
Vapid concepts are often accompanied by nebulous articulations of necessary actions de-linked from the tradition of Black struggle that has sought to restore the African way (cultural reclamation) and reestablish our sovereignty (nationhood and independence).
In an anti-African context, one wherein the subject status of Africans vis-a-vis slavery and colonialism has established the operational conditions of our interactions with white institutions as one of perpetual dehumanization.
Many of us, in ignorance, assume that traditional African cultures provide nothing of value, especially when juxtaposed to the spectacle of the West. This would be a profoundly erroneous assumption.
Part of the reason why we must delve deeply into African knowledges is to rehabilitate our deficient conceptions of African culture. We must, as Dr. Karenga suggests, draw upon African culture as a resource, and not as a merely as a reference (though too few do even this).
Many of us exist as signifiers of what is often a forgotten or ignored past. As Cynthia Dillard asserts, in this era forgetfulness is encouraged. Loss of historical knowledge augments the malleability of human beings, enabling those with power to forge them into whatever material they desire. Some of us have suggested that such is not to be the fate of the descendants of the enslaved and the colonized. Herein, history becomes, as Anderson Thompson says, “a heavy weapon in the battle for freedom”.
To safeguard one’s own culture and its accompanying worldview is a necessary defense against processes of colonization. Cultural penetration, as a weapon of colonizers, remains one of the most effective means to undermine the ideational and structural capacities of any people.
“My position is not that language is merely facilitative of worldview, but that language is constitutive of worldview. Inherent within it are inevitable epistemological and ontological vectors. Those struggling to reclaim or safeguard their cultures should be mindful of this.”
From the forthcoming article, “Decolonizing the African Tongue: Language and the contested terrain of African consciousness”
Let us not engage the world hurriedly.
Let us not grasp at the rope of wealth impatiently.
That which should be treated with mature judgement,
Let us not deal with in a state of uncontrolled passion.
When we arrive at a cool place,
Let us rest fully.
Let us give continuous attention to the future.
Let us give deep consideration to the consequences of things.
And this because of our eventual passing.
While Buddhism is often central to the discourse on the cultivation of mindfulness, I argue that such insights are present in African thought. The above text is one such example. The Odù Ifá is the sacred text of the Yorùbá people. It is a text that distills their wisdom and ethics. Below I will offer a succinct analysis of this text, seeking to explicate its implications for practice.
The first line compels us to approach the world from a standpoint which seeks to value the present. To engage the world hurriedly is to rush headlong into the future. While the future is our inevitable destination, striving for it at the expense of the present robs us of the beauty or insights of the present moment, which must be fully conjoined by our minds/hearts in order to be fully realized.
The second line seeks to temper the urge for avarice. In the US, the pursuit of wealth has been all-consuming throughout all of its history. While material wealth provides material comfort, it does not necessarily ensure the cultivation of good character or the perpetuation of the good condition in the world. Thus, while wealth is not decried, one is not encouraged to neglect other necessary endeavors (such as the cultivation of “mature judgement”) in its pursuit.
Mature judgement and the regulation of passion, or more specifically anger is a critical issue. As the text instructs, we should give due attention to the critical matters of our lives. Anger compromises clarity of the mind, and if indulged corrupts one’s being. Having mature judgement then begins with a temperance of passion, and this requires the practice of both awareness and restraint, awareness of one’s mental/emotional states and the practice of self-control. Mature judgement and the regulation of passion cannot be present absent these two types of practice.
Coolness is a notable theme in the Yorùbá wisdom literature, as coolness represents a place of mature judgement and intelligent discernment. It means to be in a place (both spatially and mentally/emotionally) where one is unperturbed by things which might cause imbalance. Further, one is compelled to rest fully in such a place, to imbibe its essence, and to refresh oneself at such an occasion. This is a replenishment that prepares one to, yet again, face the challenges of life and living, but not from a standpoint of fatigue or fury, but one of coolness or centeredness.
Lastly, one is encouraged to look to the future, that is to see one’s actions in the present as being inextricably linked to the future. The future is not merely the moment that has yet to arrive. It is the inevitable consequence of the present. Thus, we are forever the architects of the future, the authors of its history. This power lies within our purview, and our degree of awareness of the temporal linkages between that which is now and that which is yet to come, provides a basis for sound and intelligent judgement. Therefore we are, again, reminded of the necessity of mature judgement, not as an abstraction, but as a matter of practice.
Karenga, Maulana. Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1999.