Science and oppression

I have noticed a number of African thinkers who present themselves as African-centered, as advocates of re-Africanization, who emphasize the imperative of us reclaiming our culture and restoring our sovereignty, while also positing Western science as the path to our redemption. I am puzzled as to how an appreciation of the former does not generate a more critical view of the latter position. Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers’s essay, Science and Oppression offers a very concise, yet incisive critique of this. Given that state of the world–the loss of species, global warming, ecological degradation, and the like–clearly the “master’s tools”, the products of Western culture, are they themselves reflective of a broader cultural ethos of alienation. Hence, the need to move beyond the tepid ground of “decolonization” to the imperative of Africanization and the revitalization of African “sciences” as tools of knowledge construction, cultural reorientation, and ecological restoration.

The African-centered critique of capitalism: Some basic considerations

It is true that capitalism must be critiqued. It is also true that it must be replaced. For African-centered scholars neither the critique of this system or the conceptualization of alternatives to it can logically draw from the culture which created capitalism in the first place.

For African-centered scholars, capitalism is merely an expression of the European worldview. The alienation, materialism, and misery that it produces are not de-linked from pre-existing traditions that produced the same–albeit with less precision.

For us, ultimately, African traditions must inform both our critique and proposals for alternatives. Whether we consider Mbongi, Ubuntu, Maat, et cetera. we have various cultural paradigms sufficient to inform our efforts to reclaim our culture and to create a more just world.

The synergy between these two goals cannot be understated. We must reclaim our culture as a matter of restoring and healing ourselves. Such knowledge enables us to transform reality up to and including that which should be our core preoccupation–the restoration of our sovereignty. Hence we are not advocating the cessation of capitalism in order to enter into a fantasy of a “more humane” Western hegemony. This is absurd. Nor are we advocating a perpetuation of our subjugation or alienation–consequences of slavery and colonialism–under either the existing or some proposed future system administered by forces opposed to African humanity. Our striving should be the solve the problem facing us fully–not only its economic or political dimensions, but the oppressive worldview that undergirds such a condition.

Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers captures this succinctly where he writes concerning the African worldview and its imperatives: “If then we accept this as a valid worldview, it is apparent that our goal for reorganizing the world must include the restoration of a harmony among the Creator, Nature and man. This is the only world that produces happiness and the fulfillment of man. This means that the negative forces opposing this way of life must be made to not exist (to phrase it in Kemite fashion). In other words, to have peace one must nullify the destroyers without corrupting ourselves.” The key to fulfilling this lies in our capacity to remember who we are and to operationalize such knowledge in both word and deed, for in order to overcome the forces of alienation it is critical that we draw fully and substantively from the deep well of African thought, and to let such wisdom as that of our ancestors to guide us into the future.

Universalist assumptions and social theory

When Marx declared that class struggle was the central element in all of human history, he made an ontological claim. This claim has been repeated in other discourses, some substituting gender for class. However, such claims are vulnerable due to their reliance on Eurocentric assumptions about the nature of reality.
 
When we examine, for instance, the social organization of many traditional societies, say the Igbo or the Ewe, we find that class and class antagonisms were absent. This is not to say that status differences did not exist. They did. But there was no such thing as a “proletariat” or “bourgeoisie” as self-interested classes.
 
Also, when we study the oral tradition of the Yorùbá or the Akan, we find conceptions of gender that reflect what some African-centered scholars have called complementarity. This is especially evident in the cosmology of the Yorùbá wherein women are a noted as a necessary and fundamental element to the creation of good in the world–not women apart from men, but the work and lives of men and women in concert.
 
Thus, it behooves African intellectuals to engage in a deep study of African traditions, rather than relying on Eurocentric paradigms which are ill-fitting to both describe African history or to provide frameworks for future possibility. All ideas are, inevitably, weighted by the ontological assumptions of the cultures that fostered them. As our ancestor Jacob H. Carruthers has taught us, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.”

Reflecting on the 2019 conference of ASCAC’s Midwest Region

Day One

Mama Ife Carruthers’s libation reminded us of our connection to our ancestors and reiterated the charge of our association.

Dr. Conrad Worrill presented an insightful presentation on Jacob H. Carruthers and Anderson Thompson as the “twin engines” of the African-centered idea. He captured the intellectual synergy between these two African thinkers.

Afterwards, he was joined by myself and the young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society as we engaged with one another on a panel titled “Beginning an Intergenerational Conversation”.

At one point, Dr. Harold Pates asked about the importance of “African” as a basis of identity. I, Akoben, and Dr. Worrill offered responses. I began by asking the brothers of Akoben to perform their opening ritual, wherein they recite their pledge. This is a pledge that they wrote about six years ago when we began the program. They end their pledge by saying, “We will struggle to recover our traditions and create a new world in an African worldview.” They were around the ages of 11 and 12 when they wrote this. I then addressed Dr. Pates’ question with the following: “When we reject an African identity we impoverish our imaginations by failing to plant our ideas, our work in the fertile soil of African history and tradition.” Dr. Worrill concluded by offering the rich insights of our ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke about identity confusion among African people. He remarked on how our confusion about who we are confounds our efforts to find our way to liberation.

Day Two

We began with Baba Larry Crowe discussing the current focus on 1619. One insight that he shared was the remark by Henry Clay, that “The free negro is a menace.” It would seem that this notion still informs social conceptions of African people in US society.

Dr. Josef Ben Levi discussed the tradition of “Black scrappers”. I learned of a number of 19th Century Black intellectuals whom I knew little or nothing about. His presentation was a reminder that African American history is too a deep well.

Heru Aquil discussed the saga of Thornton and Lucy Blackburn, a couple that fled enslavement in Kentucky to Michigan and finally to Michigan. Later on they moved to Canada where Thornton became a very successful businessman. Later he returned to Kentucky for his mother.

Baba  Abdul-Musawwir Aquil provided some critical insights about the role of the study group process to the redemption of African consciousness, particularly to achieve that task that Dr. Conrad Worrill noted in his presentation–the training of intellectual warriors.

Professor Yvonne Jones discussed the sbAyt (sebayet) of Dr. Anderson Thompson. She noted that Dr. Thompson made any setting any occasion a classroom, that he was a consummate teacher whose good works lives on in his many, many students.

Baba Kwadwo Oppong-Wadie provided a powerful discussion of the role of symbols as repositories of cultural memory. His presentation examined Adinkra and their presence among African Americans. He highlighted their ubiquity in Chicago’s Black communities.

Professor Arthur Amaker presented on the maroon tradition in the US and Brazil. His presentation highlighted the centrality of the tradition of maroonage to the retention of African cultural patterns. This is a very compelling historical connection.

The young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society returned to discuss their efforts to create an timeline of African history using a wiki platform. They (along with Heru Aquil) demonstrated the ways in which our youth can not only learn our history, but become its purveyors.

Day Three

Mama Muriel Balla discussed the benefits membership in ASCAC. She noted that the greatest benefits have been the opportunity to work on behalf of African liberation while also being in a community of scholars, artists, and educators united in purpose.

My presentation sought to explore Nubia, given Dr. Thompson’s interest in this area. Among other things, I highlighted the efforts to revitalize the Nubian language and to recovery Nubia’s ancient history. This presentation is the basis for a number of my current and future efforts.

Our commissions had critical conversations and began hatching bountiful plans. African people are on the move in determined ways.

Finally, we concluded with a spiritual service from The Temple of the African Community of Chicago. hm nTr (Priest) iri pianxi xprw provided a discussion Piankhi’s victory stela relating it to the personal and social challenges of African people.

 

Culture and sovereignty: An evaluative criteria

The reclamation of our culture and the restoration of African sovereignty in the world are two of the highest struggles that we can engage in. The first enables a fuller realization of and engagement with our humanity. The second makes us the shapers of our collective destiny.

All of our politics should be evaluated through the lens of how and whether they support these two goals: Does this achieve the restoration of our culture? Does this achieve our actual sovereignty in all spheres of life? If not, then these politics are, at best, insufficient.

Far too many of us have made vacuous investments. We’ve gone down the rabbit hole of alien paradigms that can in no way inform or produce an African reality, but merely a caricature of a European one.

Being on the path: Meditations on Living and Re-Africanization

I am convinced that when we are on the path, when we are doing the things that we are supposed to be doing, we are consistently presented with reminders of the correctness of the direction in which we are moving. I received three such reminders in the last two days.

Reminder one: Today while working at my wife’s community training farm, a six year old boy asked me, “How do Africans fight?” I found his question intriguing, not only that he asked it of me, but that he posed this question at all. I am not entirely sure why he posed this question to me. Maybe he overheard me talking to his mother about teaching Capoeira at his school years ago, and understood what I was talking about. Maybe he presumed that as an African man I should know something about this. I did start to build on his existing knowledge base of Kiswahili, so maybe he figured that I might know something about fighting too. In any event, I deeply appreciated his question, a question that I did not think to pose until I was a young adult.

I told him that there are different ways that Africans have approached fighting and that I could show him some. I asked him if he wanted to know something related to kicking, punching, or stick-fighting. He said punching, so I showed him something. If he’s serious, I may teach him some basic elements of the arts whenever we see one another in-between farm work.

Reminder two: Similarly, a brother who attends my Capoeira class with his daughter told me that he intends for her to be a fighting arts practitioner, and wants for her focus to be specifically on Capoeira, given that it is an African art. I was intrigued by this. He has studied multiple arts, and sees Capoeira as not merely a matter of technical application, that is the process of fending off violent attackers, but also as a matter of affirming one’s cultural identity. In this way, Capoeira can be understood as a combat art that also embodies the kinesthetic dynamics of several African cultures, thus it is the embodiment of a distinctly African philosophy of movement. It also represents the sprit and tactics of African resistance in the Americas.

Reminder three: A brother who attended the mdw nTr conference in October told me that he had been so inspired, that he intended to teach his then unborn daughter mdw nTr. Today I saw him and his young daughter. He told me, consistent with his earlier statement, that he speaks to her in mdw nTr and proceeded to speak do so. I also spoke to her in mdw nTr. My wife claims that she perked up when she heard the mdw nTr, but I can’t confirm this.

That this would happen the day after African Languages Day was most inspiring for me. While I do study African languages regularly, I have struggled to find time to study of late. However, yesterday my studies were inspired. While riding the train I read about and practiced (silently) two African languages. African Languages Day gave me the opportunity to affirm something that I know I am capable of, using our languages on a regular basis to communicate complex ideas. To my understanding, the greatest challenge that we face is one of transmission, that is of creating new speakers of these languages in our communities in the African Diaspora. Solving this problem is one to which I will continue to devote my time and energy, as we cannot truly communicate about an African worldview if such a discourse is mediated in an alien language and from a culture characterized by fundamental alienation.

Our people once they know that they are an African people, they subsequently want and desire to ground themselves in African things, to understand their reality from the paradigms of their ancestors, to reclaim our languages, to practice our fighting arts, and to—in all areas of life—be African. This is more than just a matter of identity, but is one of solving the paradigmatic problem implicit in liberatory struggles—that is one of decolonzing the minds of the people as a means of enabling them to win the physical struggle which is for land, their lives, and the future.

I work in teacher education

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”?

On capitalism and post-capitalism: Five perspectives

“Every decisive gain achieved by the anti-capitalist forces will be countered by the state against the working class. This repression will be significantly greater against Blacks and other national minorities than experienced by other sectors of the working class. Socialists must come to the conclusion at the outset that there will be no peaceful culmination in the achievement of state power. ”
-Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America

“Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”
-Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!

“The importance of socialism to the Kawaida project begins with the fact that the basic tenets of socialism are rooted in African communitarian thought and practice and are thus a part of our cultural heritage. As Nkrumah noted, communalism is the socio-political ancestor of socialism and socialism is communalism in modern form and circumstances. In this regard, we reaffirm the central African communitarian principles of shared work, shared wealth and shared decision-making in an unalienated communal environment–in a word, ujamaa. Secondly, socialism offers the most severe critique of capitalism and thus makes a necessary, even critical contribution to our understanding of the society we live in and struggle to change in the interest of social justice and human development.”
-Maulana Karenga, Kawaida: A Communitarian African Philosophy

“Not all economists have fallen for the notion that growth will go on forever. There are schools of economic thought that recognize nature’s limits and, while these schools have been largely marginalized in policy circles, they have developed potentially useful plans that could help society adapt.

The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know in detail what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.

We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.”
-Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth

“It is the purpose of education, which ultimately makes it Maatian. The most fundamental difference between Western and African education is its purpose. The purpose of Western education is to train people to function within a Capitalist system, to fill the ranks of the workforce as capitalists, to consume the material things produced by the society, to acquire position, money, power, to gain control over others and the planet. Quite differently, the purpose of Maatian education is the protection and development of all life, society, self, and to respect and care for others and the Earth, to show compassion and create harmonious balance and health.”
-Rkhty Amen, A Life Centered Life: Living Maat