I just made my third visit to an Afro-Asian fusion class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison via Zoom. Today I participated on a panel of absolutely wonderful folks who were discussing a range of things including healing, movement, transformation, and so on. It was a very rich and empowering discussion.
For my part I discussed our family’s farm work, Vijay Prashad’s thesis of “polyculturalism”, the synergies of African and Asian philosophies and movement practices in my own life, and the implications of Afro-Asian knowledges in how we understand social transformation. To the latter point, I offered examples from the Tao Te Ching and the Odù Ifá which explicates the power of our personal striving for good character as a means to transform both society and the world.
One of the questions that was posed queried our relationship to the kind of Afro-Asian synergies which are a central topic in the course. I shared that in my youth there were two books that I read that had a transformative impact on my consciousness–The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The former gave me a framework to engage the world. The latter helped me to understand the state of our people and compelled me to think about my role in changing it. Such synergies continue to the present day, in ways that are conscious and unconscious.
Three final points. A day or so ago I wrote that “People will get lost in Asia on their way to Africa.” To be sure, I am troubled by the efforts of some to present many Asian knowledges as African. Resonance and affinity are not necessarily reliant upon heredity. This means that simply because we feel a connection to a particular cultural tradition does not mean that it necessarily derives from our own ancestral tradition. Furthermore, one can participate in the cultures of others without needing to lay claim to them and to justify such claims through fabricated tales of origins.
Secondly, while I am critical of the fact that many of us have a profound paucity of knowledge with regards to our history and culture as Africans, I also know that this is not due to our own actions. We live in a world where Africanness has been devalued and Africans dehumanized. I see such a finitude of knowledge and the racialization of African people as contributing to the aforementioned quandary. Clearly we enrich and empower ourselves when we more fully understand ourselves as Africans.
Thirdly, as Prashad has argued, we live in a polycultural milieu. Given this, we are increasingly impacted by seemingly disparate cultural traditions that reflect rich commonalities across “cultural worlds”, practices which may also appear to be our own due to our proximity to them. Such forms of entangled cultural practice are also at play in terms of what I have been observing and critiquing.