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.
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There are some deeply troubled people in our midst who have unfortunately sought healing in the toxic recesses of social media. Healing is a community vocation, Fu-Kiau reminds us of this. However our communities cannot fulfill this role if they are echo chambers that merely reinforces our isolation and deepens our alienation.
Functional communities are those that affirm the dignity of our humanity while acknowledging the reality of our suffering. These communities remind us that healing can be achieved and encourage us not to desperately cling to pain as some sort of anchor. It is true that pain can shape us, but when held too longingly, it can hurt us. It can warp our humanity. In his novel, The Healers, Ayi Kwei Armah writes, “Pain too long absorbed dulls intelligence. Pain endured, channeled for energy, used for conscious work aimed at ending the source of pain, sharpens intelligence.” When we affirm the possibility of healing and loosen our grasp on pain, we open the door to healing’s actualization.
Healing then becomes our embracing the possibility of transcendence, and communities can support this work in numerous and constructive ways. Functional communities can remind us of, again, the dignity of our humanity, and that of those around us. Functional communities can remind us that our historical experience as Africans in America has been one of surviving unrelenting oppression. Healing communities can remind us that such oppression, does, as it is intended to do, warps humanity and engenders dysfunction. Communities remind us that healing is not merely a matter of healing the individual African person, but that it is, again, a community vocation. Critically conscious healing communities remind us that we must heal ourselves by eradicating the basis of our suffering–oppression.
What is meant here by critical consciousness is a degree of discernment which enables one to understand the social and historical factors which have been consequential in shaping the present. Critical consciousness demands that we consider the role of power in shaping society. The power dynamics that have animated our lives and the lives of everyone that we have ever known were firmly established during various stages of conquest and enslavement over the last five centuries. These were historical circumstances that reduced African people to objects of capital, charged with laboring to produce capital. And when that era came to an end, Africans continued to be objects of coercive control subject to debt peonage, voter suppression, containment, rape, and execution in varied forms including lynchings. This era transitioned into one where Africans exist, still as objects of coercive control and racialized containment, and who are socially constructed as a social malignancy–a violent disease, a plague for society, or in the view of some a source of terror within our own communities.
Critical consciousness demands that our analysis always consider the broader constructions of power, and central to this, the production of ideas which seeks to mask its operation in our lives. Thus, a critically conscious person must ask and seek to answer the question of whose interest are served by obscuring the source and causes of dysfunction as it exists in our community? When these sources are masked, we attack one another, rather than the real enemy. A critically conscious must ask how we might effectively address these problems in a manner that eradicates dysfunction by eliminating its structural causes–the system of oppression in which we live, the evolutionary descendant of the system of chattel slavery and colonialism that so malformed our ancestor’s humanity. A critically conscious would recognize that, among other things, we must create the social systems that enables us to be self-determining. That creating the institutions that enable us to feed, clothe, heal, house, educate, and defend ourselves are the most direct and logical response to our continued dependency upon an oppressive system. In fact, the very work of building these systems is the work of restoring community. Ultimately, we must remind ourselves that for all of the dysfunction of our communities, we are ultimately dealing with communities that are the legacy of terror, a legacy that is ever-present. Thus we are not dealing with or residing within self-determining communities, but communities that are, in many respects, the residue of colonialism.
In closing, healing is possible. It begins with us, is augmented by community, and must lead inexorably to reality transformation. For those wishing to journey further down this path Fu-Kiau’s Self-Healing, Power, and Therapy, Armah’s The Healers, and Ani’s Let the Circle Be Unbroken are good resources to consult. Each argues vociferously for the role of African culture and social structures as tools of healing, and within this, for the role of paradigmatic knowledge in healing’s conceptualization and actualization. Angel Kyodo Williams’s Being Black is also beneficial. So too is Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. These two texts discuss the mind as a site of healing, arguing that our perceptions of reality often exacerbates our suffering. That our own personal quest for greater clarity and awareness, is one that, in fact, augments everything that we do. I would also strongly recommend the deeply insightful Essential Warrior by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi as a potent discourse on healing. He argues that warriorhood and healing are entangled states of being, and that “The purpose of warriorship is to develop an enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy, having attained the core of perfect harmony”. He adds that to become a “true warrior one must become ‘nkwa ki moyo’ a vitalist, one who heals the ills of the people.”