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.”
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.
Some brief reflections on the article Nigeria: The “repats” who have returned.
This is a promising development. It is also somewhat unsurprising. While the Black elite has fared marginally well in the West, the suffering of the masses reflects the tenuous nature of our collective welfare. In short, our mid-20th Century forbears were buoyed by dreams of hopes that have been largely unrealizable for their descendants. What opportunities we find have and will continue to contract.
Should we look abroad for opportunity? Certainly, but we should be cautious about the dangers of feeding the unsustainable and rapacious system of global capitalism on the continent. Yes we need economic development, but we need a paradigm of economic development that reconciles human need with the capacity of the planet.
Moreover, we should be mindful that there are over 100 million people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. If our concept of economic opportunity and development consists of the globally mobile, Black cosmopolite elite absconding to Nigeria, Ghana, or elsewhere while our people still suffer under the terror that has so defined our American (North and South) experience, then our vision is deficient. The question that I have asked myself, which I have not yet been able to answer is, how do the economic development initiatives of repatriates in Africa favorably impact our communities in the diaspora? Again, to leave is not enough. Turning away from a problem does not resolve it. We need comprehensive solutions, which will be, as they always are, necessarily multifaceted.