Archive Page 2

19
Oct
10

Spring Forth

     As I am reading the essay ‘Why Keep Asking Me About My Identity?’ by Nawal El Saadawi, several thoughts run through my mind. One, why is it that I have never heard of this phenomenal author and advocate for social justice up until this point? From that question, another is birthed. How many other brilliant authors, poets, and orators have been shrouded in the closets of history? Even more, how many ‘illiterate’ geniuses passed down libraries of wisdom through oral tradition, only for it to be lost through hundreds of years of cultural evolution, amalgamations, and outright genocide?

     As these questions propel my eyes through the pages of Saadawi’s text, she relates her experience as an African scholar traveling to international conferences on the African identity. She ponders, “Why does no one ask you what is your ‘identity’? Is it that the American ‘identity’, American culture, does not require any questioning, does not need to be examined, or studied or discussed?” (Saadawi, 1997)

     Suffice to say, the status quo is not normally questioned. This reigns true in any arena; Christianity being the dominant world religion, no one asks, “Why would you want to believe in Jesus?”, instead questioning you if you travel outside of this religious standard. One could name thousands of cases is which this is true; enterpreneurship, homeschooling, deviating from the standard American diet, and individual style in hair and clothing are just a small sample of decisions considered ‘questionable’ because they step outside of the norm.

    While variations from status quo may evoke interragation, they are necessary for societal change. When that one person or group chooses to live in color in a monochrome time, it saturates all with the brilliant hues of human evolution. This growth as humans serves as a uniting force through the invisible divisive grid we have self-imposed throughout history. As Saadawi puts it, “This struggle for change, for revolution, can unite us across differences in colour, in race, in language, in culture, in sex, in identity.” (Saadawi, 1997)

     We should hope that this proves true. Otherwise, we shall be as bone cells of human anatomy; the osteoblasts spring forth and create new bone while the osteocytes are left behind trapped in the ‘matrix’.

References:

Saadawi, N.E. (1997). The Nawal El Saadawi reader. New York, NY: Zed Books.

 

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11
Oct
10

Nietzsche: Nazi, Nihilist, or None of the Above?

“The most valuable insights are the last to be discovered.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ

Friedrich Nietzsche often gets a bad rap.  A pioneer German philosopher and poet, Nietzsche is often accused posthumously of being a Nazi or Nihilist by modern day students and professors alike.  Alternatively, I have found Nietzsche’s work to be enjoyable and enlightening.  However, I am not one to use my opinion alone to defend an ideology.  Many times, I do not find that others share these same restrictions.  Often, I find myself in conversations that go like this:

“Oh, I don’t like Nietzsche.”

“Really?” I respond.  “Is it because of something you’ve read by him in particular?”

“Oh, he was a Nazi.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.  You know, he died in 1900, when Adolf Hitler was only 1 year old.  What did you read by him that made you feel like he was a Nazi??”

“Oh, well, he was a nihilist.”

“Okay.  Did you read anything by him in particular that made you feel that way?”

“Oh, I heard he said God was dead.”

“Well, yes, he said God was dead, and he said we killed God, which was just his philosophical commentary on society.”

It becomes apparent to me at this time that not very many people have actually read Nietzsche and taken the time to attempt to understand him.  He is really hard not to like if one invests the time to read just a few of his books.  With this in mind, let us consider one of his most popular and most controversial books, Beyond Good and Evil.  Just the title may make some conservative souls cringe.  This literary gem is a collection of thoughts based around erasing the line of demarcation between good and evil to consider life and society from an objective standpoint.  Nietzsche sums up his own approach to truth-seeking within the text with the line, “Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.” (Neitzsche, 1966) Taking into consideration that Nietzsche equated cynicism with honesty, one can better understand his often perceived as ‘nihilist’ approach to philosophy.  However, there exists a definitional fallacy here.  A nihilist is generally defined as one who rejects all theories of morality or religious belief.  One who is committed to seeking truth cannot logically be defined as rejecting morality; therefore, cannot be defined as a nihilist.  Though the way some may look at it, claiming to traverse beyond the perceived ‘moral’ boundaries of good and evil is in itself ‘immoral’.

Erasing mental boundaries such as these is essential to journeying to the core of any field of study.  Imagine, historians straying away from reporting the facts of indigenous religions because the religions are ‘evil’, yet lauding pedophile or philanderer priests, pastors, or politicians as ‘good’.  Unfortunately, this type of practice has happened many times in history, anthropology, sociology, and any field subject to investigation by humankind.  We can all take a lesson from Nietzsche in our studies and negate the illusion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

References:

Neitzsche, F. (1966). Beyond good and evil. New York, NY: Random House.

 

11
Oct
10

Ego Tripping: All Praises to the Poet

“I turned myself into myself and was Jesus

Men intone my loving name

All praises

All praises

I am the one who would save.

-Nikki Giovanni, “Ego Tripping”

I often have difficulty praising myself.  I would like to say that this is a problem for many or most women, but I lack the statistics to state this as a fact rather than postulation.  After all, it is not only misery who loves company; all of our human shortcomings search for friends.  Nikki Giovanni, an honored and widely published African-American female poet, mastered the art of self-praise in her trademark poem, “Ego-Tripping”.  She makes use of such phraseology as, “The tears from my birth pains created the Nile, I am a beautiful woman.”(Giovanni, 2003)  A woman cannot read these words aloud without experiencing an energetic surge of self-confidence.

On the other hand, some people may read words such as, “I turned myself into myself and was Jesus”, within Giovanni’s poem and say, “What ego!  How could this woman position herself as Jesus!  What blasphemy!”  Here, the issue becomes very touchy depending on the stringency of one’s religious beliefs.  Is it blasphemy to compare a woman, the physical conduit of human life on earth, to the Christian ‘savior of mankind’?  Is woman not in essence the ‘savior of mankind’ as well for continuing to produce human life?  In many creation stories worldwide, woman has instead been painted as the provocation of man’s downfall from Paradise.

Nikki Giovanni very eloquently challenges this belief system while asserting belief in herself in “Ego Tripping”  We could all take a lesson from her bold statements in re-evaluating our personal confidence levels.  So many religions, therefore, so many societies place women as a source of evil, temptation, and seduction that can only be useful if having learned submission and maintaining a humble position of inferiority to men.  Because of this, it is all the more difficult as a woman to grant oneself a strong vote of confidence from an internal position of power.  In the spirit of reclaiming this power, let me be the second to say (Giovanni was the first), “men intone my loving name, all praises, all praises, I am the one who would save.”

References:

Giovanni, N. (2003). The collected poetry of Nikki Giovanni. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

11
Oct
10

Pay Now, Play Later: The Art of Delayed Gratification and Other Life Lessons

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare a way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.” – M. Scott Peck, M.D., “The Road Less Traveled”

Which part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?  Dr. M. Scott Peck posited this very question to one of his patients to identify the reason behind her tendencies towards procrastination (Peck, 1978).  “Oh, the frosting!” she responded, soon revealing the reason work piled up her desk for months on end.  She had not mastered the art of delaying gratification.  Delaying gratification can be defined simply as paying now, playing later.  This skill is not easily acquired because it requires not only taking a hard look at your priorities, but at yourself.  As a university student, I am quickly learning this hard lesson.

When I was very young, my grandmother often wore a tee shirt that bore the message “Overworked and underpaid”.  In the essence of carrying on the spirit of this phenomenal matriarch, I held this moniker in my head as a mantra.  Yes, overworked and underpaid – the road to sainthood.  Realistically, this road will more likely lead one to loss of sleep, followed by loss of sanity.  Yet, in this spirit, I would consistently plop more on my plate than I could realistically consume.  Then, I would pathologically feel overworked and under-accomplished because of lack of proper organization and time-management.  Vicious cycle, right?  Indeed.  Within my spirit of “sainthood” and misappropriation of priorities, I would put off homework for community fundraising or put off studying for an impromptu peer mentoring session.  While these activities may not be as seemingly frivolous as spending a few hours blowing off time in the campus game room, they are in actuality just as academically detrimental.  They are the activities that are gratifying to me; therefore, in order to be successful as a student, I must pay first, completing my work in a timely fashion, and play later, participating in the events that are gratifying to me.

While I would like to say that I learned this hard lesson long ago, and have been extremely successful in my academic endeavors ever since, it is instead just now becoming clear to me as I read the final pages of “The Road Less Traveled”.  Minutes ago, I set the book aside and paused the playlist on my laptop as the hours crept towards midnight and realized, reading this book at that  very moment was not more important than completing my class assignments.  I must first complete all of my assignments and then I can do the things I love.  Or as Dr. M. Scott Peck so eloquently puts it, “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting an experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.  It is the only decent way to live.”(Peck, 1978)

References:

Peck, M.S. (1978). The road less traveled. New York, NY: Touchstone.

18
Sep
10

Grateful for Strength

It was Dr. John Henrik Clarke that said, “People’s names must relate to land, history, and culture.  We have overused the word Black, because Black tells you how you look, not who you are.  We are the only people who have lost that trait of geographical and historical reference.”  What he is saying here has a twofold meaning.  Firstly, American citizens of African descent should have a more fitting name than ‘Black’ or ‘Negro’, which is only Spanish for ‘Black’.  Secondly, that as individuals, these citizens should rename their selves based on their land, history, and culture, rather than the name that has been passed down from the last family that owned their ancestors as slaves. 

With this concept in mind, let’s take a walk down my personal journey of renaming self.  My birth name is Courtney Wyatt, Wyatt being a name of European descent, inherited from slavery.  When my ancestors were brought over to America, they were given the names of the family who purchased them from the auction block because their African names were too hard to pronounce and they were not considered human anyway by many, just as property.  Africans were considered to have no souls; therefore, we were labeled an infidel people that were outside of the grace of God.  In fact, when the original sanction was given to slavery before the first captured Africans were brought to America on the ‘Good Ship Jesus’, that is exactly what was said, “You are authorized to reduce to servitude all infidel people.” 

Now, I personally have no problem with that.  Reason being, there are insane and inane people all over this world and that does not affect my purpose or character.  I am not going to become what someone else is, and with that in mind, I do not want to bear their name either.  My name should signify my land, history, and culture, and remind me of my reason for being here on earth each day.  Because of that, at the end of 2008, I decided on the name Nikala Asante, which means grateful for strength.  The origin of the name has roots with my ancestry and the definition is a constant reminder of who I am.

18
Sep
10

A Great and Mighty Walk

Introduction to African American Studies has definitely proved to be one of my more interesting classes at University of Houston thus far. We participate in discussion, debate, and implement media to gain an understanding of our coursework.  

This past Monday, we watched “A Great and Mighty Walk”, an enlightening documentary by Dr. John Henrik Clarke, narrated by Wesley Snipes. Dr. Clarke was an activist, historian, and pioneer of Africana studies. He was born on a sharecropper farm in Union Springs, Alabama on New Year’s Day, 1915. He attended a one room schoolhouse during his childhood, his only access to literature in the local University Library or secondhand bookstores. Though his family did not have much money, he remembers his upbringing as “culturally rich”.

Though Dr. Clarke always possessed high intelligence, he dumbed himself down to fit in with the ‘cool kids’, like many children do today.  His teachers let him get away with this until his fifth grade teacher, Miss Evelina Taylor.  She pulled him to the side and said, “it is better to be right and march into hell than to follow fools into heaven.” This reprimand instilled a respect in Dr. Clarke, for himself, and for Miss Taylor.  Seeking to impress her, he asked a Caucasian man that he worked for if he knew where to find a book about Black people’s history.  The man responded, “I’m sorry, John, but you come from a people who have no history.” Dr. Clarke did not take this to be true, instead searching for his own truth, unfolding the legacy of traditional African societies, African history in America, and creating a new paradigm of focus for scholars to come.

It would take much more time and space to enact a detailed analysis of Dr. Clarke’s life and works.  Just to touch quickly on one of the more important points, he spoke in the film about Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the religion of the entirety of the Roman Empire around 325 A.D.  The meeting where this decision was implemented was called the Council of Nicea.  This is very important to Africana Studies because at the Council of Nicea, all of the African saints were taken out of Christianity and soon after, Michaelangelo was commissioned to create a European image of Jesus Christ, which he based on one of his relatives.  Depictions of Jesus before this time are shown to be dark-skinned with coarse textured hair.  Dr. Clarke comments on this that, “If you are a child of God, and God is a part of you, in your imagination, God is supposed to look like you.  And if you accept the image of another people, you are the spiritual prisoner of that other people.”  In saying this, he is not picking a bone with there being a European depiction of Jesus, but in the lack of the dark-skinned original image.  After all, Christians do proclaim to believe in the Bible, and it clearly presents Jesus as having skin like bronze and hair like wool.  I have heard many people argue to this that the color of Jesus’ skin does not matter, only his works do. That argument does not hold water because it would mean that we should disregard history and the words of the Bible itself because it ‘does not matter’?  So, if one part of it does not matter, then none of it should matter, right?  Because, who chooses what matters and what does not?  I think instead, we should really value the truth, even if it does not go along with what we have been taught.

04
Sep
10

Refloating Racism

We read a disturbing article this week in my college English class at University of Houston.  The article, titled, “Don’t Refloat”, by Jack Shafer, was about the reasons that New Orleans, Louisiana should not be rebuilt.  As everyone may know, New Orleans was pretty much demolished five years ago by Hurricane Katrina.  While most have been sympathetic, Shafer felt that New Orleans is, “A poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it’s a Black place, where 67 percent are African-American.”

Shafer actually presented these statistics as reasons to not rebuild New Orleans.  This line of thinking could only be senseless, racist, or both.  One could reasonably justify refraining from rebuilding an economically depressed city in order to boost the GNP.  However, in presenting the skin color of a people as reason to abandon reassembly, Mr. Shafer presents himself as a narrow-minded bigot.

Shafer went on to list the percentages of single mothers in poverty, adults with no high school diploma, and Black students in New Orleans public schools as further reasons to forget about reconstruction.  He did not for a moment in his text examine the social background behind these statistics, much of which trace to American slavery, the Jim Crow Era, and the recent standards by which New Orleans has been handled, considering that it’s so, “poor and Black.”

To further demonstrate the atrocities practiced on New Orleans residents, one may read an account directly from Shafer’s article which states, “Researchers enlisted the police in an experiment last year, having them fire 700 blank gun rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood one afternoon.”  Police fired seven hundred blank gun rounds in a neighborhood where children lived in the afternoon.  Could you imagine walking up to the curb to get your children off the school bus and hearing 700 gun rounds fire out of nowhere?  As you look around, you notice men in black uniforms on the rooftop with glints of silver flashing from their chest pockets.  They are holding the guns.  The police are seemingly shooting down at your children.

Shafer attempts to establish residents not calling the police to report the police shooting blank rounds into the neighborhood as reason not to rebuild New Orleans.  He implies that residents do not trust the police.  No sane person who watched the police shoot 700 rounds of gunfire, blanks or not, into their community in the daytime is going to trust the police.  Mr. Shafer does not make a valid case.

It is sad to know that racism like Mr. Shafer’s still exists in 2010, but I am not surprised.  Many policy making officials must also feel this way, since much of New Orleans has still not been touched five years post-Katrina.  In a news segment a few days ago, I saw that the lab charts from 2005 were still hanging on the wall in New Orleans Charity Hospital.  As humans, we are all interdependent.  It would befit Mr. Shafer and others to move past these prejudices and see the reason why these statistics are the way that they are, so that we as a society can mend these ills and move forward in union.  We can only hope this ambition will be realized sometime soon.