Enìyàn

Good morning everyone. Rapacious capitalism’s endgame is still mass extinction. Racism has invigorated America’s latent authoritarian tendencies eroding the vaunted strength of democracy.

I am reminded of the Yorùbá wisdom that tells us to “struggle to increase good in the world and not to let any good be lost.” Such an audacity to struggle is a key part of what it means to be Enìyàn (human) in the Yorùbá worldview. It is by confronting such challenges that our humanity gains its full expression. As Segun Gbadegesin writes, “This is the normative dimension of the concept of Enìyàn. The crown of personal life is to be useful to one’s community. The meaning of one’s life is therefore measured by one’s commitment to social ideals and communal existence.”

Welcome to a new day and a new opportunity to be one’s best self.

Sovereignty is the goal

Many enjoy appropriating the symbolism of the UNIA flag without having any corresponding commitment to the goal to which Marcus Garvey aspired. The goal was not reform, but sovereignty; not an appeal to European morality, but to African agency.

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Our political identity

As long as we view our political identity only in terms of our forced relationship with the European settler colony called the “United States”, we will fail to recognize or pursue our right to self-determination as an African people.

The myopia of absolutist pragmatism

Commitment to an absolutist pragmatism can impoverish our imaginations and diminish our determination to strive for and create another world. Zumbi, Dandara, Dessalines, Sanité Bélair, Denmark Vesey, Marcus Garvey, and Amy Jacques Garvey rejected the myopia of absolute pragmatism in their striving to create a new reality for our people. Similarly, we too are capable of such audacious thought and action.

Why I am not a “person or color”

I used to think that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s name was anachronistic, but now since so many willingly refer to Black people as “colored people” or “people of color” clearly it is reflective of current sensibilities. I do find this quite interesting.

To be sure, I do not use these terms to refer to us (Africans/Black people). Identifiers are, as is all else, political. They can anchor one in a consciousness that is dynamic and compelling with respect to a grander vision of social possibility or they can moor one to visionlessness. I see no grand conception of our peoplehood in terms like “people of color” or “colored people”. They seem both generic and impotent to my thinking.

My rejection of this term is based on the following criticisms:

  1. Many so-called people of color are defined as such within the borders of the US, but may be a part of dominant racial, ethnic, or caste groupings in their home countries. Therein, given the global prevalence of anti-Blackness these groups may be actors in the on-going subjugation of Black people in their homelands. Does one, by simply crossing the US border become filled with an overwhelming sense of solidarity with Black people and their on-going struggle for freedom while regarding the Blacks of one’s homeland with loathing and derision?
  2. The term, by virtue of its generic nature, posits a shared reality among so-called POC, but we know that many groups position themselves in various ways in relation to the hegemony of Whites in US society. Some may identity themselves as White due to the material advantages afforded Whites. Others may attempt to assimilate themselves into Whiteness via the acts of marriage and procreation. Still others may participate in or sanction the subordination and exploitation of other racialized and oppressed groups, such as Africans/Blacks for their own advantage as in the case of many non-Black merchants who operate commercial businesses in Black communities.
  3. The term is used increasingly in contexts where clearly Black/African people are the subject of discussion. It is as if by generalizing the discourse to an amorphous body of racialized and oppressed people (i.e., “POC”), that one’s language may prove more satisfactory or less disconcerting. It does beg the question as to who such sterile language is intended to assuage in the first place. One must also ask whose experience is being erased in the process of such speech acts.
  4. I am reminded that during the Black Power era there was no revolutionary politics that argued vociferously on the basis of such an ambiguous identity. Formations and theories of liberatory struggle drew substantively upon notions of Blackness or Africanness. There was a reason for this, and this is at the heart of my thinking.

For me, much of the problem with terms such as POC is based on the fact that they do not arrive at what one actually is—an African whose ancestors were kidnapped, tortured, and assaulted in an attempt to both forge America and to neutralize one’s determination to resist domination. This question of resistance is ultimately, I believe, at the heart of why an African identity is so powerful in contrast to a more generic one. We find that much of the resistance to enslavement was driven by a very clear consciousness among the enslaved of who they were. This is especially so among the maroons whose very actions rejected the logic of White domination, the structural arrangements of that domination, and posed another paradigm reflective of core elements of an African worldview. This means that the maroons did not only resist enslavement, they sought to establish an African way of life on alien soil and to make their reclaimed sovereignty the basis of their resistance to those forces opposed to African freedom. Herein we find the conjoined components of sovereignty and culture as key bases of African life reasserted in a contested milieu. Hence the maroon struggle was indelibly an act of African resistance.

Some will insist that the conception of Africanness is not by default one of resistance, however given the significance of African culture and the imperative of sovereignty as a necessary condition for the full expression of one’s culture, Africanness becomes, in the milieu of European terror, a site of resistance out of necessity. In fact, Dr. Marimba Ani has declared that “To be Afrikan is the revolutionary act of our times.” The key element of this statement is the use of the verb be. As to be Afrikan—in Dr. Ani’s conception and in the conception of those many ancestors who struggled, fought, and died for African freedom and self-determination—is to be engaged in the work of the restoration of African sovereignty and the reclamation of African culture. To be African is to understand both of these processes as necessarily requiring the elimination of all forces opposed to that sovereignty and the cessation of cultural mis-orientation as an inescapable barrier to the full expression of the African ethos. Thus, to be African on this basis is to embrace the politics of revolutionary struggle and to recognize the distinctiveness and specificity of Black struggle. It is not to be some amorphous “person of color” or a “colored person”. It is not a politics based on an erasure of one’s distinctiveness as an African.

I am an African. I am not a “person of color”.

Reclaiming Culture, Restoring Sovereignty: From Theory to Action

I often say that the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty should be our two primary goals as a people wherever we are on this planet. As it pertains to cultural reclamation, Kawaida Theory poses the following as the seven domains of culture:

  1. Spirituality
  2. History
  3. Social organization
  4. Economic organization
  5. Political organization
  6. Creative production
  7. Ethos

Below I elaborate on the implications and significance of each.

Spirituality: Our dependence on foreign religions and spiritual practices is a basis of alienation that not only estranges us from our ancestors and the African way, but also makes us the subordinates of those people for whom such a religion or spiritual system is their cultural inheritance. Hence, we can never truly center ourselves within another people’s tradition. The stories, the ethics, the protocols, and rituals are the product of their worldview and history, not ours. We are either consigned to the periphery of these traditions or burdened with the imagined need to constantly demarcate a “Black” modality within it. One of the critical points here is that religion and spirituality, for all of its talk of the otherworldly, is inescapably political and as such is a critical ground of struggle.

History: We cannot know ourselves absent the reclamation of our history, our living memory of our journey through time and space. In fact, no people can be fully conscious of itself, its character, or its culture bereft of such knowledge. Nor we can draw upon history’s lessons in our efforts to solve the various problems that loom before us.

Social organization: The way that we create, organize, and manage our families, organizations, and institutions must be based on an African worldview, while also reinforcing our political aim of total sovereignty.

Economic organization: Far too many Africans have taken refuge in the polarities of capitalism or socialism without realizing that both of these frameworks consign us to alienation and subordination within someone else’s paradigm and social structure. The key challenge is for us to discover African models of economic organization and to employ those in our work to restore ourselves.

Political organization: Despite the vaunted claims of liberal democracy, African models of governance have, for millennia proved sufficient to effectively govern vast societies and ensure the welfare of the people. Europeans have erased our historical memory or our achievements prior to the Maafa and have thus convinced us than only within the context of liberal democracy can human flourishing occur. Yet we must ask where liberal democracy has delivered a higher standard of living for our people anywhere on this planet.

Creative production: The creative capacity of African people has been tethered to the system of European domination. As such, we create, but those capacities are harnessed in order to enrich Europeans and to further our cultural mis-orientation (consider the popular music of Africans in the US). Instead, we must use our genius to create for ourselves, not only art, but also in the arena of problem-solving.

Ethos: The collective conscious of our people, our asili (essence), is the foundation upon which we recognize ourselves as an African people. It is also the framework that informs the best of who we are in both our day-to-day practice amongst our people and our struggle against our enemies.

Within this framework, one seeks to revitalize our culture in each area, with the understanding that all of these, in total, represent a comprehensive way of living/being for a people.

Regarding the restoration of sovereignty, the Council of Independent Black Institutions has offered a framework that posits that independence rests upon our self-sufficiency in six basic areas. These areas are as follows:

  1. Education
  2. Food
  3. Clothing
  4. Shelter
  5. Health care
  6. Defense

Hence, if we are not educating, feeding, clothing, housing, healing, and defending African people either then we are not an independent people. Our failure to provide these things for ourselves is both a basis of dependency and an instrument of control.

The beauty of this model is that it is scalable, that is that it can implemented on the level of a grassroots organization consisting of a few individuals, or it can be implemented on the global level. For my part, we have worked consistently to build institutions focused on education, food, and defense. We have also supported independent institutions active in all six of these domains. Specifically, our work has consisted of supporting homeschool collectives (Indigo Nation Homeschool Association), rites-of-passage programs (Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society), political education (The Communiversity), cultural and historical education (The Kemetic Institute of Chicago), outdoors skills education (Aya Leadership Development Institute and the Black Survival Network), gardening, urban farming, and food preservation (Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm), and defense (Black Survival Network and Chicago Malandros de Mestre Touro). We have both practiced and provided instruction in these domains, as talk is insufficient, one must be a living example of the kind of practice that one advocates.

Tough talk, insufficient action, impoverished vision

People often speak of the need to “tear down”, “disrupt”, or “reform” the existing system. I find such discourse fascinating, if not unimaginative. The 3rd position’s popularity is proportionate to its futility. Africans in this country have labored tirelessly to reform the US. We have been the river that flows into the desert that Armah wrote of so long ago. The 2nd option seems to be anomalous in meaning. Disrupt for how long? To what end? I have always seen this as a more “militant” sounding reformist declaration. Vociferous rhetoric is, ultimately, futile in a world where power is based on structural capacity. The 1st is ill-defined. Tear down to replace with what?

Such ambiguous language is not sufficient to inform a critical understanding of the world or to provide a conceptual model that would serve as a basis for its reorganization. This is why it is important to study the works of great thinkers, organizers, and leaders–who thought deeply about such things, built institutions, and left us a path to follow. People such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thomas Sankara, and others come to mind. As Amos Wilson would note in his book Afrikan-Centered Consciousness Versus the New World Order of Marcus Garvey, the true nationalist studies the needs of the people and works to bring into being an institutional framework based on such needs. Their work is driven by a “grand vision” of the future, one wherein African sovereignty is an existential reality and the African worldview is the basis of our consciousness.

We will discover that such clarity and determination does not need vacuous appeals for reform, vociferous rhetoric, or bold but visionless declarations. It only requires, as has been stated, constant and determined effort.

 

On ideology

Ideology is often a fetter of the mind. In fact, given its method of operation, it may be most appropriate to consider ideology within a similar vein to religion or any form of dogmatism, as both place parameters on thought and action.
 
It is important to note that ideas and ideology are not identical. An idea can be considered as the novel product of human cognition, that is thought, whereas ideology can be considered as a system of ideas. It is the organization of ideas for some specific end that demarcates ideas from ideology.
 
Here, what I am critiquing is the role of ideologies in constraining human thought, that is of binding ideation–the production of knowledge or ideas. It is not that ideology negates the possibility of ideation, rather that it enables or rather sanctions only narrow forms of ideation. For instance, I may conceive of a new method cooking a favorite dish, say black-eyed peas for instance. I may devise a new sequence of movements in a martial art. Again, such things are products of ideation. They are ideas manifest. However, ideology would instead insist that only black-eyed peas be eaten or that they only be prepared in a specific manner. It may mandate that only particular movements or sequences of movements are acceptable, that only certain martial arts are permissible. Such mandates may be offered without any grounding in any system of reason or critical analysis that is not bound within the circular logic of ideology–that is that the ideology is a basis of truth and that truth itself must be determined within the framework of the ideology. Thus, the only basis of legitimacy may be the consonance of a thing or practice with the ideology itself, not its utility for life itself.
 
It is the delinking of action from purpose and thought from reason that is the basis of ideology’s idiocy. One may discover that the constraints of ideology may create patterns of living that are in fact either impractical or untenable, but such limitations are never sufficient to warrant either the revision or rejection of the ideology, as it is (due to its religious inheritance) sacrosanct. Instead the very critique of or deviation from the tenets of ideological purity is taken as evidence of personal failings, rather than the structural flaws of the ideology itself.
 
Paradoxically, ideology, is often the idiom of discourses of freedom–both personal and collective, and it may indeed prove facilitative of this to a degree. However, freedom conceived solely on such a basis may prove fragmentary. Freeing one in some respects, while binding one in others.
 
What is the solution? What lies beyond the fetter of ideology? Perhaps little more than a commitment to human flourishing, a striving to practice a deep and abiding mindfulness, and a willingness to engage in critical investigation of thought and action. In one’s search for optimal ways to promote wellbeing, sustain deeper levels of self-awareness, and ways of interrogating the world one may find that the search necessarily leads to paths wider than those that the delimiting logics of ideology allows for.

 

Escape

Everyday the news (local and national) reminds me of how backwards, decadent, and dangerous this country is. From time to time I watch videos on a Youtube that highlights the stories of Black folks who have moved to Asia. One common theme in their narratives is feeling safe. While I am not necessarily advocating moving to Asia (I for one can’t see myself moving to any non-Black majority country), I can relate and often feel the attraction to another place.
 
One thing that I am aware of however, is that it is not enough for any person of African descent to leave the West. The destructive forces that make our lives unlivable in these places is hard at work at the universalization of misery. The solution is to empower ourselves by focusing on the restoration of African sovereignty and all that this entails. This is, necessarily, a collective solution to a shared problem. It is based on the assumption that escape will not address our problems, but that power and independence will. The alternative to our, at-present, individual approach to emigration, will be the formation of collectives of determined individuals, who depart and do the work to both pave the way for others to come behind them, while also seeking to create a new consciousness via the formation of institutions that seek to reflect–in both mission and action–a new African reality.