Our petty bourgeois strivings

I know that many of us continue to celebrate African/Black people being installed as agents of the state apparatus, the same state that kept Africans in shackles during the era of chattel slavery, suppressed Black voting rights for nearly a century, sabotaged Black movements for sovereignty, assassinated Black leaders, and has consistently sought to inflict “on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

I am reminded in the midst of these celebratory moments of the wisdom of Malcolm X, who stated, “Racial unrest never occurs among the satisfied, bourgeois class of Negroes. They can easily be appeased and controlled and influenced just by continuing to drop crumbs on their table—the crumbs of tokenism. And this type of Negro that the so-called Negro leadership represents is a type that can be appeased and can be controlled with the crumbs of token integration.”

I think that Malcolm X’s criticism highlights the inadequacy of integrationism as a political strategy and ideology. In many ways one might say that he anticipated its devolution from appeals for structural integration to the present bifurcation of the African/Black community in the US, where the petty bourgeoise class continues to aspire to enjoy the bounty of capitalist exploitation, which the masses are increasingly dislocated by. 

Ultimately, the performance of representation by powerful institutions is a paean to the aspirations of the Black elite. Such strivings do not equate to the imperative of self-determination for the masses, a self-determination whose actualization dismisses the very legitimacy of the dominant system itself.

On Pan-African Languages

In this discussion, Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne advocates for multiple Pan-African languages. While he includes the colonial languages along with Swahili in his formulation, he also suggests Manding and Fula.

His recommendation of Manding, which I would broaden to include the Mandé languages generally, is a logical one. These languages possess a high degree of mutual intelligibility.

His recommendation of Fula surprised me, though perhaps it should not have. When I was in grad school, a colleague of mine, Rama who was from Senegal, told me that she considered Fula to be an ideal candidate as a Pan-African language. Consider that it is enjoys a wide geographic dispersion (see the map below).

Fula_language_map

I consider Dr. Diagne’s suggestion that the colonial languages are acceptable vehicles of Pan-Africanism problematic for reasons that may be obvious. If they are not, you can read my thoughts on this here: http://libjournals.unca.edu/moja/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/MOJA21-v2i1-Rashid.pdf. I do accept that such languages are a part of our social milieu, however I also recognize that the impacts of languages extend beyond their utility and includes the political, economic, and conceptual. I contend that we leave the fetters of colonialism on our social systems and our minds by remaining wedded to these languages.

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is a worthwhile dialog.

Pan-African Forums – The Question of Language (23 Feb 2021) https://youtu.be/_BdKKOxYkdQ

Culture and Freedom: The imperative of Re-Africanization

I often say that of all our strivings the most consequential are the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of sovereignty. Here I am not presenting these as de-linked or sequential processes, but rather as processes which are inextricably linked and concurrent. As Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers has written, “The process of Africanization and transformation cannot be separated neatly into two stages-they overlap. To transform the world according to an African-centered worldview means establishing a new African culture and a new African world civilization.” In fact, it is our culture that provides the basis for our efforts to actualize sovereignty. Here I will offer a brief summary of its significance.

Before preceding, it is necessary to define culture. Culture consists of the totality of human thought and action. It entails our concepts and behavior. It includes our creations, be they physical or non-physical. As such, culture includes abstract notions such as “freedom”. It also is the process that we execute in its pursuit. In fact, culture, in its totality, determines the very parameters of both concept and process. Below I offer three areas wherein African culture is both valuable and important in our live.

First, culture is the basis of identity. It tells us who we are and who we must be. Given that culture is the product of peoples, that is a culturally distinct collective, it is the sum of their traditions, and expresses their worldview. Our culture, African culture, grounds us in an understanding of who we are as African individuals and orients us towards our people, their past and future. Thus, it must be noted that identity within the traditional context was not solely an individual matter, but rather found its basis within the group’s consciousness and experience. Naming traditions, rites-of-passage, and other processes served as anchors of such a collectively-oriented identity. Often the individual would be given a name (or names) that would serve as anchors of this identity. Divinatory rituals might be used to reveal their unique destiny, which was never solely concerned with them as singular entities, but rather their purpose within the larger community.

Herein, only one’s own culture is capable of fulfilling such a role, as only one’s own culture can anchor one’s identity within the collective experience of their people, thus providing the framework wherein their own individual expression emerges. To base one’s identity on alien paradigms is to be culturally mis-oriented, which in the African worldview represents one’s estrangement from the ancestors, the community, and ultimately oneself.

Second, as Dr. Marimba Ani has noted “culture carries rules for thinking”, thus culture is the basis of consciousness. This means that all modes of thinking, all modes of conceiving reality are essentially based in culture. To be African and to be estranged from your culture is to navigate the world with an alien worldview. This means that not only do we perceive the world through a lens that is ultimately alien to us, this framework constrains what we see and what we do. Thus no people can truly free themselves on the basis of an alien worldview. They can create political and economic changes, but those changes merely serve to concretize systems based on the conceptual and social traditions of other peoples, rather than their own. The fruits of such labor is impoverished as it never allows them to draw fully and deeply from the “deep well” of African thought and to create a world based on the wisdom of our ancestors.

Third, culture is the foundation upon which all social organization exists. Thus when we look at the social systems that have been devised to maximize the misery of African people, whether it is the system of de-education and mis-education which serves to nullify our capacity to attain a critical consciousness, or the system of coercive control which surveils, represses, detains, and executes African people, or the system of capitalism which has enshrined avarice as  the highest expression of human striving and has based its accumulation on incessant violence for centuries we must recognize that all of these are reflections of a worldview, one which is both alien and antithetical to African life–and in truth to all life.

When we embrace our culture we are then able to draw upon our traditions for models of excellence. Such knowledge enables us to glean the insights of African people regarding such challenges as the socialization of African youth into healthy standards of adulthood, or to understand the dynamics of social life in the traditional society that strove to negate alienation and to implement these knowledges as the basis for a restored sense of community, or to draw upon African models of economic development–models that at their best prioritized human flourishing above profit.

Therefore, when we are advocating for re-Africanization or sankɔfa, that is the reclamation of our culture, we are insisting on the reconceptualization of identity from the atomistic individual and the coercive hyperrelativism associated with it, to a more expansive sense of the self, one that finds its basis within the best of one’s traditions, one that derives its purpose from such communal concerns. We are also seeking to free our minds from the “conceptual incarceration” of oppressive and alien paradigms. Just as the maroons provided an audacious example of struggle during the era of enslavement, it should be noted that their resistance was grounded upon a rejection of the European worldview and any notions of legitimacy wherein they could only exist as chattel.  In seeking to actualize their sovereignty, and in ensuring the survival of their culture they demonstrate of power of minds decoupled from the locus of European control. Finally, when we cease to gaze upon European (and other) institutions as universal or optimal models for African people, we are able to draw upon and apply the wisdom of our ancestors to our efforts to actualize a future based on the best of who we are, upon our image and interests as a people.

Ultimately we must recognize that freedom on the basis of an alien culture is unattainable. At best it represents a slight adjustment of the locus or methods of control. African freedom must be conceived upon, strove for, and actualized on the basis of an African worldview if we are to be sovereign in all domains.

Thinking about Du Bois and Ambedkar

One day, when the current writing projects are completed, I plan to devote some time to writing about B.R. Ambedkar and W.E.B. Du Bois. One area where I appreciate Ambedkar, was in his critique of Marxism vis-a-vis his interpretation of Buddhism. Du Bois’s relationship to Marxism was complex, reflecting the contradictions of the White left, as well as the limitations of Marx’s theory to addressing the malaise of African Americans. Moreover, Du Bois was influenced by Black nationalism and Pan-African nationalism in various ways, hence tempering his relationship to Marxist theory in some respects.

I compare this to Ambedkar’s discussion of Buddhist philosophy in relation to social inequality. This is from his essay Buddha or Karl Marx.
“A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to the Buddha the result of man’s inequity towards man. How was this inequity to be removed ? For the removal of man’s inequity towards man the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path.
The elements of the Noble Fight-Fold Path are:
(1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition:
(2) Right aims, high and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men;
(3) Right speech i.e. kindly, open, truthful;
(4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and pure;
(5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being;
(6) Right perseverance in all the other seven;
(7) Right mindfulness i.e. with a watchful and active mind; and
(8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest thought on the deep mysteries of life.
The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the kingdom”

While Amedkar drew upon Indian philosophy to critique or de-center Marx, Du Bois did not draw upon African philosophy for similar ends. Later generations of Black scholars however would. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Du Bois’s influence would not impact their works even indirectly, as we has, after all, a pioneer of African-centered thought.

Radical theologies

I was thinking about Iran’s rhetorical and military response to the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The Iranian political leadership and civilians called for vengeance. This is quite a contrast to the penchant of American Negroes to forgive, almost reflexively, those who do ill to us.

I have wondered about the conceptual underpinnings of these differences. Many say that Christianity is at fault here. That Black people have been sedated by a very powerful opiate–a religion that compels fixation on the hereafter rather than the present world. Often we know better than this, that is that African Americans’ relationship with Christianity has been more complex than this, but nonetheless, such rhetoric persists–especially in the context of asymmetrical and racialized violence in America.

Then I was in a bookstore tonight and saw a book titled, “Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans” by Gayraud S. Wilmore. I glanced over it, didn’t buy it, but it stimulated a necessary reevaluation of some of these premises.

I recalled Nat Turner and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who though Christian, were advocates of armed insurrection or armed self-defense. Turner, for his part, reportedly said that his rebellion began with a sign for God. Bishop McNeal Turner famously declared that “God is a Negro”. He would go on to argue in favor of armed self-defense. He stated: “We have had it in our mind to say this for over seven years, but on account of our Episcopal status we hesitated to express ourselves thus, fearing it would meet the disapproval of the House of Bishops. But their approval or disapproval has done nothing to stop the fiendish murderers who stalk abroad and are exterminating my race, so we have now said it, and hereafter we shall speak it, preach it, tell it, and write it. Again we say, Get guns, negroes! get guns, and may God give you good aim when you shoot.” Turner’s instruction is a historical echo of the 20th Century group, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, whose commitment to armed self-defense, reminds us that Christianity has also been an idiom of armed struggle or armed self-defense.

At a certain level I think that this suggests that African people have been sufficiently ingenious so as marshal a range of conceptual vehicles as mediums of radical thought. Hence we find that the idiom of revolutionary or insurrectionary struggle has variously been that of “New World” African spiritualities (as in the case of Haiti), Christianity (as in the case of Nat Turner), Islam (as in the case of Malcolm X), to say nothing of non-religious voices. The imperative for resistance has, at times, been of greater import than the medium of its articulation, which has variously become malleable in the hands and minds of those who see its utility for radical ends.

A folly of amusements: A short reflection on the politics of anti-African rhetoric

If things African are deemed worthy of contempt and ridicule, where does such a political orientation point those ill-equipped to see through such a campaign? That is, if our culture is an object for amusement, then whose do we regard with seriousness, as being worthy of respect?

Recall that African culture and people have been objects of derision since the inception of enslavement. This campaign was not without purpose. The savage exploitation that our ancestors were subjected to was seen as being fit only for non-human things. Thus, our ancestors were depicted as inhuman and were politically constructed as instruments of capital, as chattel.

In a context where some of us have identified our history and culture as sources of renewal and transformation, it is not surprising that such efforts have also been under consistent assault as characterized by coups, assassinations, and on-going anti-African propaganda. Thus, despite the triviality ascribed to African expressions agency in the impoverished discourses of social media, these actions have been regarded as anything but inconsequential in the broader sphere.

Dr. Anderson Thompson referred to “funny wars”, wars where Africans become proxies of European interests. Some of us have failed to learn the lessons of history and it shows. Today the assault on Africa has been “democratized” as the denizens of social media happily play their part. Dr. Carter G. Woodson noted this sad pattern in his day when he wrote, “The very service which this racial toady renders hardens him to the extent that he loses his soul. He becomes equal to any task the oppressor may impose upon him and at the same time he becomes artful enough to press his case convincingly before the thoughtless multitude. What is right is sacrificed because everything that is right is not expedient; and what is expedient soon becomes unnecessary.”Dr. Thompson reminds us that our actions should be focused on a “grand vision of the future”. In this formulation we can ill afford to be short-term in our planning or superficial in our thinking. Sadly, the impoverished discourse of our day predisposes many of us to just this.

I’ll close with Dr. Marimba Ani’s wisdom. She writes, “Sankofa is the healing ritual which transforms the disharmony, fragmentation, dishonesty, discontinuity, disconnectedness, and chaos of the Maafa, into harmony, wholeness, truth, continuity, connectedness, and order of Maat.” She reminds us that Sankɔfa is a means for us to restore ourselves. Moreover, it is a paradigm that animates our resistance. When we truly understand the power of our culture, we will know that it is not an object of amusement, but a matter of our very survival as a people.

 

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.”

Transcendence through Awakening: A Review of The Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi

The Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi is a timely treatise on the African condition. He captures the centrality of the warrior path to the regeneration of the African spirit in the world. He illuminates how the combat arts are not only bodies of technical knowledge, but also a path towards personal transformation.

One dimension that he focuses on are the challenges posed by fear. Herein, he argues that the combat arts are a potent tool for personal transformation. He writes, “The discipline of the warrior path speaks directly to the life that one lives within oneself. The muntu must face his or her fears, need and desires in order to become productive members of the society in which they live and hold responsibility.” Thus, the warrior path provides the pathway to the transcendence of fear, and such transformation is critical with regards to the warrior’s embrace of a higher struggle—the transformation of their community, and beyond this to the healing of the African world. Such a striving is affirmed by Shaha Mfundishi where he writes, “The purpose of warriorship is to develop an enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” Thus the warrior, via their applied discipline, becomes the exemplar or the embodiment of personal transformation—illustrating the sebayet (teaching) of the ancient Kemetic philosopher Ptah Hotep who wrote, “Everyman teaches as he acts.”

Centering his analysis in the tradition of the Kongo people, Shaha Mfundishi illuminates the Kongo conception of time and space, and with this, the various transformative possibilities that it communicates. His approach simultaneously demonstrates the multiple dimensions implicit in the Kongo paradigm, while also explicating the applicability of such knowledge to the regeneration of African people. As such, he illuminates the malleability and relevance of the African tradition, that is its adaptability and suitability for the contemporary malaise of the African world.

The mind occupies a prominent place in Shaha Mfundishi’s analysis. The mind is the medium of our engagement with reality. Absent a disciplined mind, chaos reigns. Shaha Mfundish articulates the ways in which the mind and its cultivation via meditation are an effective means towards true transformation or awakening. He writes, “The mind is likened to water; and therein lies the key to liberation. In the body of murky water, the image cannot be seen, yet in clear water the image is readily discernible. Meditation stirs the murkiness of the unawakened mind, clearing it so that one is able to see clearly, free of the impediments which prevent clear vision.” Further, the disciplining of the mind enables both wakefulness and the maintenance of kinenga—balance—the means by which “the warrior maintains focus when moving among the unawakened who languish in the dream state.”

Shaha Mfundishi Maasi’s Essential Warrior is a powerful and unique contribution that spans multiple disciplinary domains including martial arts, spirituality, mindfulness, and Africana Studies. He articulates a sebayet (an instruction) that if fully apprehended can lead to awakening, and if fully actualized in our communities—can lead to a higher ideal of life.

The gap

It’s strange being a faculty member in a college of education where, as you might imagine, talk of something called “the achievement gap” is not an infrequently addressed concern. In truth, I am concerned about the paucity of power that we possess as a people. I am concerned about the deep and profound levels of cultural mis-orientation that exists in our community as a consequence of the assault that has been waged against us.

Thus, rather than being concerned about some imagined gap that posits European settler-colonists as the standard to which we, as a people, should aspire, I am concerned about us acting decisively to definitively end the maafa and to restore a condition of Maat amongst our people. The distance between our present condition and such a goal is the only gap which concerns me.

Imani and the Haitian Revolution

On this day, January 1, 1804, Africans in Haiti declared their independence from French rule. This day served as one of the most significant historical developments of the 19th Century, not only because it served as a beacon of hope for Africans elsewhere to continue their struggle against European tyranny, not only because it demonstrated the African principle of complementarity–in that African women and men took up arms and marched side-by-side into battle, but also because the Haitian struggle was just as significant philosophically as it was militarily.

In his work The Irritated Genie, Jacob H. Carruthers discusses the philosophical implications of the liberation struggle. He recalls Bookman’s prayer, where Bookman Dutty concludes with the remark, “Throw away the likeness of the white man’s god who has so often brought us to tears and listen to liberty which speaks in all our hearts” (Carruthers 1985, 22). Regarding Bookman’s invocation Carruthers writes, “This evocation on the night of the celebration of the Voodun Spirit, Ogun, the ‘God’ of war, was more than a call to arms; it was even more a summation of the historical experience of the Blacks on the Island of Santo Domingo and indeed the diaspora in general. At the same time, this prayer was not a mere ‘Ideological’ statement, it was all of these, but more importantly it was the expression of an Afrocentric Worldview” (Carruthers 1985, 22-23).

Carruthers thus reminds us that the Haitian struggle was not merely to throw off the yoke of European dominance, but also to create conditions wherein the African way could flourish unperturbed by the military, economic, or epistemological tyranny of Europeans. This is significant because the European campaign to reorder the world has been totalizing in its effects.

The Europeans, since 1440, have been reorganizing the world. The world we now live in was organized by them. They conquered the lands of all continents and unilaterally redesigned the social and biological modes of existence. They changed the course of rivers, removed mountains, and built deserts. They created scarcity in the land of abundance. They moved populations from one continent to another. They created new races. They established themselves as the master race and all others as their servants. They made what they like good and everything else bad. In order to liberate ourselves we must take the world and then reorganize it according to our worldview. Only then will mankind be allowed to live in harmony with the universe. Only then will we be truly free. (Carruthers 1999, 261)

Those daring Africans who took part in the Haitian Revolution were driven by a belief in the possibility that if they acted to seize their freedom, then such actions might bear fruit in the world. Even as they continued to toil under the lash of the French on sugar plantations, they saw their yet unrealized goal of freedom as possible, if only they dared struggle to be free. Their actions were driven by a truth, one which was apparent to them, but not to Europeans. “The truth is that the African people will never permanently be enslaved or oppressed” (Carruther 1985, 111).

This is Imani in its clearest form. What we are struggling for is not for a place within the established order. We are seeking to bring into being a world in our image and interest. It is a struggle to make Maat, the Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) principle of order, harmony, and balance the fundamental truth of our reality. We are therefore working to concretize a vision of the world articulated in Haiti’s monumental accomplishment, a world wherein we as African people are able to determine our own destiny. This is our struggle, and we believe with all our hearts in its ultimate success.

References

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1985. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1999. Intellectual Warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.