The attainment of an emancipatory ideal in this system is, as Derrick Bell attested, unattainable.
Central to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson was an on-going investigation of the context of terror visited upon Black bodies (Du Bos 2007a; Woodson 1990). For these scholars the assault upon African humanity was not merely a localized dilemma isolated to a marginal epoch of American history, rather it was a central process in the creation of America’s racialized social order, and beyond this, a key component in the modern global system wherein the humanity of African people was a secondary consideration to their utility as vehicles of or impediments to the acquisition of capital (Du Bois 2007b; Woodson 1990, 2004). Both Du Bois’s and Woodson’s work compels for us to look at the context of enslavement as a foundational moment in the erection of the contemporary power of the west. This process propelled the expansion and entrenchment of a domestic colonial project, in addition to fueling subsequent processes of conquest abroad. Within the domestic milieu, the political-economy of Black subordination via the system of state-sponsored racial subordination necessitated the implementation of an epistemic regime of terror (Du Bois 1978a, 1978b). This process has maintained a dual focus consisting of the oppression of Black bodies via instruments of coercive control, and the subjugation of Black minds via processes of mis-education (Du Bois 2002, Woodson 1990).
What must be asked is not whether this campaign has abated (it has not), but rather how a liberatory form of Black education might more effectively resist this assault? Du Bois and Woodson recognized that Black people, as ever, stand at the precipice, facing on one side a familiar tyranny and on the other a new world that exists just beyond the bounds of our knowing and the fruits of our unfettered social agency. As Du Bois queried in 1960, we must ask again, whither now and why (Du Bois 1973b)? Ultimately we must ponder to what extent has realization of liberation been obscured via the highly efficacious management of Black bodies and minds in the schools of America (Du Bois 1973a; Woodson 1933)?
“The present day Negro or ‘colored’ intellectual is no less a liar and a cunning thief than his illustrious teacher. His occidental collegiate training only fits him to be a rogue and vagabond, and a seeker after the easiest and best by following the line of least resistance. ”
–Marcus Garvey, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey
I recently learned of a t-shirt that shows a derivation of the word Htp and precedes to link the term with a range of problematic behaviors which are counter-productive to the interests of the Black community. I wonder how many people will wear the shirt, but can’t read this text below:
. This is the word Htp. It is a noun, and is defined by Dr. Rkhty Amen in her book Mejat Wefa as “Offerings, satisfaction, peace, greetings.”
I’m all for critiquing shallow and superficial thinking, but the term Htp (some pronounce it hotep or hetep) emerged out of one of the most vibrant Black intellectual movements of the late 20th Century. It was but one of a host of concepts borrowed from Nile Valley Culture and Civilization that was used in an attempt to understand more deeply the grand historical and cultural arc of African people as captured in the works of Cheikh Anta Diop and others. It was utilized as one small means of reviving the language of kmt or ancient Egypt, a language which Diop and Theophile Obenga shows exhibits strong connections with extant African languages. Diop’s research noted the same thing with regards to the culture of kmt and corresponding practices in pre-colonial and modern African cultures. In this way, ancient Egypt can be viewed as a vital component in the historical chain of events linking people of African descent today to their ancient past.
That this term is also used by some people who may be limited in their understanding or commitment to broader visions of social transformation does not invalidate the original thrust that gave rise to the invocation of terms such as Htp in the 1970s and 1980s from scholars such as Jacob H. Carruthers, Rkhty Amen, and so many others. Nor does it make these specious derivations (hotepping, hoteps, etc.) the most logical, appropriate, or intelligent terms to critique contradictory behaviors born of our shared oppression. Decolonizing one’s consciousness requires a new language, and can be achieved without a visceral and ahistorical rejection of one’s past.
Like a body that rejects a transplanted organ, so too has America continuously repulsed any effort to reconcile the contradictions inherent in its inception—its allegiance to white supremacy in the face of its vaunted democratic ideals. The hard-fought independence won at the end of the 18th Century, the attempt to erect a legal framework ensuring a limited racial equity after the Civil War, and the Civil Rights victories of the mid-20th Century all reveal themselves to have been illusory in so far as the status of African Americans is concerned.
The backlash against these progressive gains and the general institutionalization of a truly multi-racial democracy are not just the features of a bygone era. They live in the dogged pursuit of alleged voter fraud that results in recurring challenges to African American voters, the provision of insufficient polling places that serves to discourage Black voters during major elections, partisan redistricting that reduces African American voting power, the invocation of racist hostility in the form of xenophobia and recalcitrant opposition to the generally moderate presidency of a man of African descent, the antipathy towards the mild suggestion that Black life has some value necessitating reform of policing practices, the transformation of the Black community into an open air prison via processes of mass-incarceration and policing practices that amount to racialized containment, the dismantling of the state apparatus which disproportionally affects African American lower and working class citizens, the denial of capital to African American communities, the targeting of Black borrowers for high-interest home loans, the pervasive underemployment and unemployment of African Americans, the generalized and institutionalized failure of schools serving Black communities, and on, and on, and on.
The American body has rejected a retrofitted “racial tolerance” and the call to move beyond pretense to actual democracy. The vitriolic rhetoric of politicians about Muslims, Mexicans, and African American activists are not novel occurrences in and of themselves. They are an echo of another time, a time that, far from resembling the horror that was the lived experience of many people of color in general and Black people in particular, is reconfigured as a halcyon mirage of idyllic tranquility, where naked racialized terror was but one instrument of White dominion. The appeals to that past are also an invitation for its return. After all, it was never truly rejected, simply asked to stand aside while the sham of a multi-racial democracy was momentarily instantiated, undermined, and then summarily dismissed as untenable due to the incompatibility of the American body with the incessant demands for an honest redress of its past and present misdeed
But like any body that rejects a transplant, the American body does so at its own peril. The fervor to embrace a virulent, racist past encoded as a restoration of greatness and order, is also an appeal to a profound simplicity, the notion that reactionary ideology is sufficient to solve the deep structural problems born of decades of deindustrialization, disinvestment in the public sector, privatization of state assets, the slow erosion of civil liberties, resource scarcity, militarism, and climate change is beyond foolhardy—it is madness. But America, in the abyss of madness masked as courageous defiance, may mistake lunacy for reason, after all the howling mob is invariably convinced of the rightness of its actions. To this, many a decimated Black soul can attest.
I agree that getting your doctorate can be a worthwhile endeavor, but for reasons that extend beyond those discussed by Jacques Berlinerblau in the article “You probably won’t get tenure. Get your Ph.D. anyway“. Get your doctorate if you find the process intellectually rewarding, are acquiring skills that you can leverage in the marketplace beyond the disappearing tenure-track (say in publishing, consulting, entrepreneurship, etc.), want to develop a body of specialized expertise in a field that you can then teach in various settings (secondary schools, community colleges, etc.), are open to teaching abroad (there are some great opportunities internationally and this problem isn’t necessarily universal), and can do so without going tens of thousands of dollars in debt. If none of these apply, it probably isn’t worth the time and stress to get the degree, as that will only compound the stress which accrues after being on the tepid job market for a few years.
We are living in the sunset of the academy that most of us wanted to work in. Yes, its sad, but the only thing to do is to accept the passing of this thing and adapt. I don’t want to overstate this, but there is a great opportunity here to reinvent the models of knowledge dissemination that have been variously supported and now aborted by the academy (think about what has been done to Africana studies or other fields focused on critical social discourse). Personally, I would love to work with others who are interested in forging ahead into this new frontier. There is much to be done.
I work in teacher education. Every year I meet new batches of students endowed with old notions of what needs to be done in order for Black children to learn. Typically it consists of things like being “culturally relevant” (though I have never been able to locate the coursework that provides extensive training in African American history or culture where I work), encouraging resilience or “grit” (as if we don’t already have that from surviving centuries in this nightmare called America), or being demanding yet compassionate educators (as if this is some kind of modern innovation), by militarizing the schooling experience (which effectively prepares Black children for prison, the military, or the low-wage service sector), or by incessantly measuring every single facet of the learning process so as to glean some kernel that might improve future processes of measurement (if that sounded circular, it was intended to).
While I strive to be understanding of where my students are in terms of their perspectives, it should be noted that most of these notions begin from the standpoint of locating deficiencies in Black children, rather than the society in which they exist. Black children are either culturally incongruent from the American schooling apparatus (a profound revelation that Carter G. Woodson would be surprised to hear), too lethargic to try to succeed (which raises interesting questions about why they should given the diminishing gains that accrue from being successful in this system), they are the on-going victims of jettisoning of Black teachers in the mid-20th Century under desegregation/integration (as demanding-warm educators were the cultural norm among many Black teachers in that era), only suited for martial discipline (because they are really viewed as a social malignancy), or are equally unsuited for any form of education that engages the imagination (because why should serfs dream).
All of these premises listed in paragraph one rest upon a superstructure of belief that presumes that (1) the American social order is basically legitimate, (2) schools are institutions that serve as conduits to opportunity and that (3) Black folk’s social (economic, political, and cultural) interests are essentially identical to everyone else’s–not requiring any distinct remedy.
I differ with each of these assumptions. I offer the following arguments: (1) the American social order has always been and will remain illegitimate. It was born of colonialism and slavery, sustained by neo-colonial practices, and the hyper-exploitation of its own working classes. (2) Schools are institutions whose primary role is the maintenance of the status quo. They are not revolutionary or proto-revolutionary institutions. Radical social change or even any modicum of social change that requires a significant reconfiguration of the social order is considered both unfeasible and unpalatable to the political and economic interests that schools protect and project. (3) Africans in America have a unique set of problems, requiring a very specific set of solutions. These problems generally emerge from the legacy of the Maafa–the interrelated processes of slavery, colonialism, and their aftermath. Thus, one of the primary remedies required by us is the reconstitution of our humanity and social systems, which have been shattered. This is a mandate that only we can carry forward for ourselves. This is why revolutionary educators came together in the 1970s to found the Council of Independent Black Institutions. They were driven by a clear understanding that the future of Africans in this country would be born on the collective backs of Africans in America. Absent our own efforts, we would be subject to the capricious whims and abuses of more powerful groups.
It is 2016 and I think that their reasoning has stood the test of time. I think that Malcolm X was correct when he critiqued the folly inherent in how we allow most of our children to be (mis)educated. I think that Dead Prez was also correct when they called these institutions “they schools”. Moreover, I think, or rather know that the problems of Black education will never be solved in this country. There’s too much profit to be made off of disaster. There are whole industries built to capitalize on the outcomes of the American nightmare made real in our lives. But ultimately, these problems won’t be solved by anyone but ourselves driven by a vision of what our future as African people can and should be. Until we accept this and act accordingly we’ll continue to be a “problem” for other people to solve. And when this happens, do we have the right to complain about their “solutions”?
I watched the PBS documentary Language Matters last night and was particularly struck by the efforts of native Hawaiians to preserve their language. They believed that without their languages, they would cease to exist as a distinct people.
While we have been stripped of our ancestral tongues, we, like any other people require a language that affirms our culture and our humanity. A language reinforces a sense of identity, a sense of tradition, even a sense of political destiny–this is why languages are such a prominent part of many nationalist movements around the world. Language revitalization has been a prominent feature of the efforts of many groups engaged in campaigns of self-determination such as the Basque (France and Spain), Maori (New Zealand), Welsh (UK), and so on. Language becomes a way of not only marking group identity, but of reinforcing the notion that a people has a shared history and destiny distinct from other cultural groups.
While Africa is home to more language diversity than any other place on Earth, and our ancestors doubtlessly spoke a myriad of languages, most African languages are more or less ethnic languages–that is the language of a single group. The exception to this are languages that have become diffused as the second language of a wider population. Some languages have become “lingua francas” within a single territory. Asante Twi and Wolof are examples of ethnic languages that have become diffused in their respective territories, Ghana and Senegal respectively.
Kiswahili and Hausa on the other hand have become diffused internationally, as each is spoken across territories and ethnic groups. Hausa speakers can be found in Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Chad, and Burkina Faso. According to Ethnologue, approximately fifteen million of Hausa’s over forty million speakers speak it as a second language
As the official language of Tanzania and Kenya, and as a second language in parts of Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, and elsewhere Kiswahili is perhaps the most effective example of an African language that has become more or less ethnically neutral as the vast majority of its speakers use it as a second language (approximately eighty million of its estimated ninety eight million speakers according to Ethnologue). Moreover, its adoption by many speakers (or aspiring speakers) in the African diaspora, and its common association with Pan-Africanism adds a degree of conceptual or ideological import to Kiswahili that is absent in the broader perceptions of other African tongues. For instance, its association with various African liberation movements as reflected in common slogans such as “Uhuru sasa” (Freedom now), “Tutashinda bila shaka” (We will conquer without a doubt), “Elimu kwa kujitegemea” (Education for self-reliance), and terms such as kujichagulia (self-determination), imani (faith), ujamaa (familyhood), umoja (one-ness or unity) and so forth all capture the degree to which Kiswahili has been embraced as a language of liberation.
For these reasons and perhaps others, Kiswahili is perhaps best positioned to serve as a primary African language in the diaspora. It is not to say that other languages should not be studied. They should. The growing proliferation of Yoruba and Akan among diasporan Africans is both encouraging and interesting, so too the study of mdw nTr (Medew Netcher), the language of ancient kmt (Kemet) or Egypt. Yet despite this, Kiswahili’s broad diffusion, diversity of learning resources, development as a suitable tool for technical communication, ability to express ideas that are philosophically and conceptually germane to African cultures and communities, and relative neutrality make it a very attractive and viable candidate as the primary African language of the diaspora, in addition to being an auxiliary language for the African continent itself.
One feature of the film Language Matters was the strategy adopted by native Hawaiians to diffuse their language in the 1960s and 70s. They focused on educating small children to speak native Hawaiian. Linda Tuhiwai Smith has discussed a similar initiative among the Maori that centered on children as language learners given their facility for language acquisition. I believe that such a strategy is highly instructive for Africans in America that are desirous of seeing an African language such as Kiswahili becoming more widespread. While the Black Power era saw the diffusion of Kiswahili among Africans in America, the depth of this diffusion has been mostly limited to single terms and phrases. Thus it is not uncommon for someone to have knowledge of greetings such as “Habari gani?” (What’s the news?) or “Hujambo?” (How are you?), or to use statements of affirmation or negation such “ndiyo” (yes), “hapana” or “la” (no), or even “sijui” (I don’t know), to refer to familial roles such as baba (father), mama (mother), kaka (brother), or dada (sister), or to refer to concepts using the language such as the “Nguzo Saba” (the “Seven Principles”, as created by Dr. Maulana Karenga), “asili” (“essence” or “seed” as popularized by Dr. Marimba Ani’s book Yurugu), and so forth. What has been lacking has been an effective diffusion of knowledge sufficient to promote greater fluency in the language.
The movement from rudimentary linguistic knowledge to greater fluency begins with the requisite will and desire, and continues with the formation of a suitable institute devised to carry forth this charge on as broad a scale as possible. Such an institute can then coordinate the development of a body of highly-trained individuals who have attained a high degree of fluency in the language, the development of curricula for different age groups in the community, and the creation of an educational infrastructure in the form of classes and institutes. From this nucleus can also spring forth literature and other media designed to aid language learning. While the first item requires a substantial investment of time and effort, the second requires an understanding of effective language learning strategies for children and adults. The third necessitates a range of resources, both technical and spatial enabling knowledge to be diffused. For instance, the use of the internet as a vehicle of language learning cannot be understated. Dr. Obadele Kambon’s Abibitumikasa has become the premier African language learning institute with courses in Asante Twi, mdw nTr, Wolof, Yoruba, Kiswahili, and other languages. This resource and others should be effectively utilized. In the Chicago-area groups such as The Swahili Institute of Chicago , the Kemetic Institute of Chicago, and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations Midwest Region are fine examples of what grassroots language institutes can aspire to accomplish (the latter two promote the learning of mdw nTr). Each of these organizations has also developed teaching and learning materials.
In closing, the diffusion of African languages in the Americas in fact is an act of cultural reclamation, a decolonization of the language of those whose estrangement from their ancestral homeland has made the quest for linguistic empowerment all the more fervent. The last fifty years illustrate the degree to which African languages have served the ends of spiritual enlightenment, scholarly inquiry, political education, and casual discourse. This process, despite its uneven outcomes to date, has been one that remains pregnant with possibility as it offers a path towards a potential decolonization of the African mind, a simpler means towards international communication within the global African community, and a mechanism to engage more fully with the deep thought of African culture as these are conveyed by language. As such language is a vital component in the process of Re-Africanization, but its effective utilization towards such an end can only be maximized via a greater degree of organization than what has yet transpired.
To this end, the creation of a Taasisi ya Kiswahili kwa Waafrika Merikani or a Swahili Institute for Africans in America will be a necessary step in this process. This must be followed by the creation of a scholarship fund and institutional connections to facilitate the training of a first generation of instructors. The third stage will be the creation of a body of instructional resources followed by the establishment of a network of instructional vehicles in the form of Saturday schools, after-school programs, rites-of-passage programs, and other mechanisms to teach primarily children, in addition to adults. This fourth stage should occur parallel to the fifth, which is the diffusion of literature (i.e., comics, fashion magazines, political education materials, scientific articles, art publications, news organs, and so on in the language so as to utilize it as a conduit of information. These steps are, I maintain, a process that can lead to both the institutionalization of Kiswahili (or any other African language) in the African diasporan community and its diffusion over the span of time.
I believe that there is a great desolation in our souls that results from our failure to create a sovereign expression of our peoplehood. Absent territorial sovereignty, we are and will remain subject to the caprice of more powerful groups. Nationhood is no guarantee of happiness or security, but it reflects a more determined pursuit of these things.
“Black Nationalism is a self-help philosophy. What’s so good about it? You can stay right in the church where you are and still take Black Nationalism as your philosophy. You can stay in any kind of civic organization that you belong to and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can be an atheist and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. This is a philosophy that eliminates the necessity for division and argument. ‘Cause if you’re black you should be thinking black, and if you are black and you not thinking black at this late date, well I’m sorry for you.”
-Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet