Monday, December 13, 2010
14. Unity in Thought
Toward Unity of North American Africans
14. Unity in Thought
Our philosophical and ideological thought has been diverse and divergent, expressing a panorama of thinking since our sojourn in the wilderness of North America. As an expression of the Sisyphusian mythology, our thinking depended on how low or how high we ascended the mountain.
In our lowest moments, we wanted out of here, return to African or anywhere but here. In our more ascendant times, we strove to plant our feet on the solid ground of Americana, claiming every right due citizens in these United Snakes of America. But generally we have worn the persona of the schizoid personality, a painful balancing act between the blues songs of love and hate for our presence in Tobacco Road.
Integration, separation, migration, revolution, we have enjoyed a plethora of feelings, emotions and often the raw psychological depression derived from oppression. In our more positive times, we expressed a maniacal moment of elation before the depression set in as happened in the short lived post bellum, post emancipation period called Reconstruction.
The 19th century thinkers ranged from the militant writings of David Walker's Appeal, 1829, through the intellectuals involved in the black conferences throughout the century that included slave insurrections, back to Africa thinking, and the radical thinking of men like Henry Highland Garnett.
Some of these thinkers gave up on the American dream and tried to tell us we would never be free in Babylon. After 1827 with the publication of Freedom's Journal, the black press expressed our mood from then on. With the Civil War we envisioned a future of freedom, but virtual slavery returned after the short lived Reconstruction.
Booker T. Washington told us to cast down our buckets where we were, forget about integration and strive for economic progress, while others pleaded for full citizenship rights, among them W.E.B. DuBois, who saw race as the essential problem of America. DuBois saw a "talented tenth" leading the race to freedom.
Marcus Garvey had read the writings of Booker T. Washington in the African Times and Orient
Review, the paper edited by Duse Muhammad Ali, the man who mentored Garvey in London before he came to America to hook up with Booker T., who died before Garvey arrived.
Of course Garvey came to America indoctrinated with the Pan Africanism taught him by Duse Muhammad Ali, One God, One Aim, One Destiny, Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad.
Although DuBois became a champion of Pan Africanism and died in Ghana, Garvey implemented his black nationalist, Pan Africanist program, supposedly organizing six million people into the greatest organization of radical black thought preceding Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam.
Ironically, Negro intellectuals were Garvey's worse enemies and conspired to railroad him into prison, partly from jealousy and envy. After release from prison, he died a broken man in London, never landing on African soil.
World War I had given North American Africans a chance to see the world and again prove themselves in battle, although they returned to face race riots after fighting fascism abroad. Their thinking had expanded after the war and after they began the great migration from the Jim Crow South, aka the Cotton Curtain! In the North they encountered the thoughts of urban intellectuals, including DuBois and the NAACP civil rights thinkers. But there was also the philosophy of Noble Drew Ali, a precursor of Elijah Muhammad's brand of unorthodox Islam.
Noble Drew Ali must be listed among those mystic Negroes who originated a synthesis of thought from Islamic Sufism, Ahmedism and the new spirituality that had origins in the 19th century.
We must never forget the literature of the slave narratives, Muslim and Christian, especially the narrative of Frederick Douglas who gave us a vivid story of his path from slavery to freedom. His July 4th speech is a classic of black thought on the meaning of Independence Day to a North American African.
July 4, 1910, when Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion and behaved as a free man in every sense of the word, America responded with race riots of the kind never seen before or since, simply because Johnson claimed his manhood in the promised land and refused to play the role of the docile Negro. Because of Johnson's thinking and behavior, America invented a law to indict him called the Mann Act, though we call it the Black Man Act. Supposedly Johnson had crossed state lines with white prostitutes that he loved to race through the streets with in his expensive cars. What should our response be to the white man who has taken liberties with our women from day one til now.
But we should also be aware of female thought, such as the thinking and actions of Harriet Tubman, who said she could have freed more slaves if they had known they were slaves. And Ida B. Wells, who did all she could to stop lynchings throughout the land. And Queen Mother Moore, the Mother of Reparations. Angela Davis has long given her thoughts on the liberation of captives in the prisons and jails of America. We thank her because few men have addressed the topic, although Elijah Muhammad long called for the amnesty of men and women unjustly imprisoned in America. The Black Panthers followed up on this point as well.
Of course some of our greatest thinking has come from those men either in prison or released from prison, such as George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X and our greatest living prison philosopher , Mumia Abu Jamal.
For many black men, prison is the first time they get a chance to think. We shall be astounded to discover their thinking and writings, especially with so many of them locked down as we write.
Elijah said separation. Martin Luther King, Jr. said integration and civil rights. Malcolm said human rights, the ballot or the bullet. With Obama as President, we have obviously gone for the ballot, yet by the time he leaves office, we may be forced to consider the bullet.
For sure, our thinking has been unified around the theme of freedom and liberation. Our literature is essentially a slave narrative or how I got ova, how I survived. Amiri Baraka was asked at UC Berkeley what was his greatest accomplishment? He answered, "I survived!"
We cannot conclude this brief outline of our thought without reference to the underlying philosophy contained in the music, the spirituals, the blues, jazz, poetry and rap. For here we find the thought of common people, thus the common sense philosophic thought that made it possible for us to keep the faith, to endure the daily round. The music is thus a metaphoric comment on our general condition, sometimes personalized, sometimes politicized, but always a statement on our reality as a people in the Crazy House Called America.