Of course culture has been a core concern of a number of African intellectuals in this country. This has been more than something born of an an undue preoccupation with questions of identity, but has been centrally concerned with questions of epistemology and ideation.
Who are we? What sources inform this knowing? What special contribution might our cultural distinctiveness offer in our efforts to both envision and reshape the world in which we live? How does our degree of cultural grounding facilitate our ability to be discerning, that is critically engaged with the universalist creep of ideas ideas that are not only alien to our ancestors’ cultures, but also potentially corrosive to that which we seek to (re)establish. I fear that in our fervor to embrace increasingly shallow notions of progress, we are constantly stripping ourselves of the potential to know and move from a cultural center of our own, one requiring no sanction or approval from others.
I think of this, not only in relation to, but occasionally because of the spectacles of confusion that abound in our communities. The almost daily sight of young men walking about, pants sagging, shouting expletives in unison with the sounds streaming through their headphones, walking through the L-train selling marijuana, and seemingly bereft of an evaluative criteria of manhood outside of the empty and chronologically-determined manhood of this society is troubling. Of course this is nothing new, our confusion that is. This society has been devised to perpetuate it, to render it normal, desirable, and inescapable.
However I do not despair in the face of these things. This is not because I believe in some grand destiny where we will inevitably transform our condition, but because I see some of us, many of us doing this work using tools such as Capoeira, rites-of-passage, study groups, agriculture, language instruction, meditation, and so forth. It reminds me that processes of transformation do not necessarily begin on a scale that is grand equal to their aims. Their beginnings might be quite humble, their progress slow but inexorable. We too know this. We know that “Aendaye polepole hana budi afikile”, that is that “the person who walks with calm and care will arrive without fail”. We will arrive, at that place to which we desire to be, one wherein the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty are ends, and from there to even greater works which lay beyond. Works animated by the vision of sp tpy and whm mswt, that is the actualization of the cosmological and sociological ideal of a truly enlightened society.
In his writings, W.E.B. Du Bois refers to the “spirit of an age” at least once explicitly, and numerous times implicitly. The “spirit of an age” is the essence, energy, or character that characterizes a particular time period. It is the prevailing mood or personality of a given historical moment.
One might argue, for instance, that the spirit of the age of the mid-1950s to early 1970s was one of mass-struggle, as movements for self-determination or social justice were being waged in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. These movements ran parallel to the state manifesting varying degrees of reform and/or suppression, as these struggles challenged its basic legitimacy.
Similarly, the 1980s and 1990s, and to some extent the 2000s–in the U.S. in particular–were characterized by the ascendance of acquisitiveness, consumerism, and materialistic impulses. All of this was paralleled by a reconfiguration of the state, greater economic insecurity, globalization, and the rapid ascent of technological revolutions in the areas of telecommunications, finance, and commerce.
I would argue that our present moment, the 2010s, is characterized by abounding confusion and alienation, as the “progressive” politics of our day reinforce an untenable status quo in the forms of appeals to reform, despite the fact that we have reached a point in the development of the U.S.’s political-economy where reform is wholly insufficient to move progressively from the current state of things to a truly emancipatory order. In fact, and in many instances, the politics of identity, are advanced as if they were the apex of critical discourse. While appeals to identity may be viscerally appealing to some, liberatory movements must ultimately offer both a critique of and alternative to the existing order. Thus even the most aggressive, seductive, or irrepressible movements of our time are generally insufficient to either disrupt, dismantle, or problematize an increasingly dangerous neo-liberal capitalism, a recalcitrant white racism, or the fratricidal violence of communities that function as almost de-facto sites of “internal colonialism”. This is because, I ague, that these movements, and much of what comprises this cultural moment reflects “abounding confusion and alienation”, and that this myopia is, generally, inescapable and endemic.
As if America has ever had any regard for Black folks or Black mothers. The subtext of this is that the current Baltimore rebellion and protests are devoid of legitimacy, and that the participants are unruly thugs bereft of sound parenting. That “safe negroes” would patiently wait for the proper authorities to deliver justice for Freddie Gray (something that we all know will not likely occur). I’d love to see the mother of one of Gray’s violent killers berating him or her publicly. But of course we’ll never see that. Agents of the state, even when they are murderers, are always given the benefit of the doubt. Their violent actions are dismissed as “lapses of judgement”, or worse, they are portrayed as isolated actors, aberrations of an otherwise functioning system.
This cover suggests that order needs to be restored. Rather than positing that the true source of disorder is the state, which daily meets out physical and psychological violence against Black people, it invokes the image of Black youth. This is why I argue that Black youth are viewed as a social malignancy. We see this in the schools, the streets, the media, and prisons. This mother then becomes the imagined antidote for that condition. She is juxtaposed to the unseen, but still symbolically present “bad mother” who supposedly births violent criminals.
I won’t weigh in on the debates that either champion, critique, or explain this mother’s actions. I will say that this event, and those that have proceeded it teach us that youth are the makers of revolution. We need to seize the fervor of this occasion and direct it towards both confronting this social order and actualizing a new emancipatory one. Therein this young man’s energy would be well served, and perhaps this mother’s love/fear/anger might be purposefully directed toward building a better world, rather than simply attempting to shield our children from the existing one–the one that seeks to obliterate them simply for existing.