Category Archives: culture of violence

On Mysterious Niggers

“Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were gone too.” – Marlow, in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

To follow up on the conversation begun in the “Furtive Movements” post about the fear of black men in North American society, I wanted to bring in some literary critique and historical review to expand the thought across borders and into the Pan-African realm.

Joseph Conrad spoke of “mysterious niggers” in Heart of Darkness when describing the instrument of ultra-violence and extreme terror that was the Force Publique, the army of the Congo Free State under Leopold II, wretched king of the Belgians. In the name of maximizing rubber-tapping output by the enslaved population of Leopold’s now private property – a territory the size of the United States east of the Mississippi or almost as large as India – these minions worked hard at decimating villages, cutting off hands, raping women, children and men, and torturing, mutilating and murdering without rest. These ruthless rubber enforcers were instrumental in exterminating some 10 million Congolese between roughly 1890 and 1910, when the Belgian state took over the Congo following the exposure of Leopold’s genocidal crimes in Central Africa in the name of profit. But the Force Publique, still in existence today as the Congo National Army, was recruited from amongst the indigenes of the Congo, young African men convinced and/or coerced by the virtues of raping their own country, taking the most meager cut of the pillage and giving the lion’s share to the colonial masters. In the past fifteen years or so, the latest genocide in Congo, played out mostly in the country’s east, has ended the lives of some 7 million Congolese. The same old coercive and violent structures remain in place, with proxy armies of the states of Uganda and Rwanda, simply called rebels in the shallow Western media, helping to enforce slave labor in the mining of precious minerals that are whisked away to the West and to East Asia by small planes in unmarked airstrips in the jungle. The Congolese Army likewise imposes this same regime and rapes and enslaves the Congo and its people for riches, leaving the most well-endowed land on the planet in a state that is extremely inhospitable to human life. And it is young African men, just like me, taking marching orders from utterly morally bankrupt and corrupt governments, or from greed and lust themselves, who are the in situ instruments of this mayhem.

But no one gets left off the hook by getting put in the category of mysterious niggers. And Joseph Conrad will not get a pass for coining that denigrating phrase either. Because these men are not niggers, they are African human beings. And they are not mysterious. They’re purpose is very well understood, obvious, one-dimensional and brutally frank. The minions of the Force Publique, the Congolese Army, and most other private and state-controlled armies and police forces across Africa which typically enforce exploitation and oppression in pursuit of a neocolonial agenda – their work is blatantly political, studied, coherent. So we will neither call the Force Publiques of the black world mysterious (what’s so mysterious about a violent enforcer of hegemony, no matter his/her tactics?), nor will we call them niggers, since they are part of our family, and they are fully human (if dehumanized by their deeds).

Not all Africans are good guys. We have to confront the internal sources of oppression and failure within our family and correct them by any means necessary. That is indeed the biggest obstacle to Uhuru – not the external and foreign forces we often get carried away with placing blame on, but the internal forces that prevent forward motion, the ones who look like us but that work in cahoots with the neo-colonial tendency and outside exploiters, that are preoccupied with satisfying their own boundless greed and need for instant gratification, and that possess unquestioned inferiority complexes about our capacity and potential as a people and a civilization, as Africans. Black inferiority complexes within us are ten trillion times worse than white supremacy is. For when we have full belief in our own full humanity, our unimaginable human potential, our beauty, our importance and our place in history, whatever we think exists of global white supremacy will suddenly have magnitudes less power to actually keep us from achieving what we wish, except perhaps by brute force (i.e. Leopold II), which is unlikely in this era.

Having rejected and denounced the concept of mysterious niggers, I acknowledge that we’ve all internalized it to some extent, all over the world. As for me, I love the man in the mirror. I like seeing other brothers, particularly those doing positive things in the world. But I know that my own starting point when strangers see me walking around North America as I do, the blank canvas I should be before I am judged by a new encounter – that eye draws me first and immediately as a mysterious nigger. In other words, I always begin in society as a mysterious nigger, at a minimum. And sometimes this holds true even in the eyes of other black people. Until I prove otherwise by my character, in some cases how I dress and carry myself, and even by my “well-spokenness,” I’m a mysterious nigger, I’m a dark suspect of unknown intentions. If I were of European descent with milk-toned skin, I would perhaps present to others as familiar and unthreatening, especially given how I already tend to dress and move through the world, which is to say unassumingly and business-casual with a sporty twist. But I’m just about as black as we come, West African through and through from the Niger Delta.

Back home, it would be different only in the sense that I won’t be such a threat to anyone, and there’s no racial, cultural and historical ice of ignominy to bust through, at least in getting to know someone who looks like family already and comes from the same universe. But colonialism has left so many vestiges of its culture of violence between Africans, played out by young African men as cheap pawns, that in many cases we are still mysterious niggers to one another.

I remember back in 2003 when I was 19 and really started to take a deep interest in African affairs. Back in that summer the civil war in Liberia was really heating up before it’s end very shortly thereafter. On the cover of the New York Times, some time in June or so, don’t remember, there was a picture of a young combatant in Monrovia roaring with the look of venom in his face, standing in the rain with a rocket launcher over his shoulder. That was one of the first times I really saw myself in another African man like that. I could have been that unnamed guy somehow, if circumstances were different. I mean I looked like that fellow, very likely an age-mate. And the New York Times, in not naming him, in showing this random African with a machine gun destroying things and killing his brothers, was depicting a textbook example of a mysterious nigger.

I want to humanize the black man. And in doing so I will never absolve African men of any crimes they’ve done, including against African women and children, and other African men, and anybody else for that matter. I will never absolve us from complicity in our own oppression, or unwillingness to challenge it. But I’m done thinking in the context of mysterious niggers.

How can you honestly prosecute a mysterious nigger? How can you judge a mysterious nigger who is in the wrong? By initiating a thought about that person wherein he is already in the “mysterious nigger” category from the start, one already has a negative and dehumanizing image and concept of this man.

I think it is almost revolutionary to start to think about young black men, even those who do wrong, as first fully human. Contemporary societies, whether in North America, the Caribbean, or Africa seem resistant to this. If I want to know the story of a young soldier who is now on trial for the crimes he committed in the early 2000s in Sierra Leone, I want to know him as the flawed, sick human being he is, and his history. I want no less knowledge about his victims. But when we pursue justice acknowledging one another’s humanity, including the potential psychoses, passions and prerogatives of all parties, I think we arrive inevitably at more fair results, and we do so in the light of better understanding.

Let us understand one another. No more mysterious niggers. Those gangbangers on the corner are not mysterious niggers – their sons, grandsons, cousins, fathers. Those rebels in the Congo, those Force Publique of old, those Tonton Macoute in Haiti, they are not black monsters. And black men individually are not monsters before we know who they are.

If we stop thinking numbly and dumbly about mysterious niggers with no known cause or cure, and start thinking about why violence happens, who funds it, who profits from it, and why men participate in it, we will go a lot further in preventing violence amongst young black men. We need the courage and the boldness to understand and humanize ourselves, and look one another in the eyes as humans, without prejudicial fear and loathing. We need to see one another, as young black men, with the eyes of understanding, at the very least. Our conditioning to hate one another is very difficult to act upon when we choose to understand each other, hear each other and listen carefully.

Let’s study ourselves, study the human mind, study these stereotypes that trap us, and break the chains of slavery and dehumanization, starting with the man (or woman) in the mirror. To defeat self-hate, revolutionary an act as it is, it starts with simply listening, understanding, and being patient enough to allow the sea of negativity within us to calm itself so we can see the beautiful, undeniable humanity that was within our black selves all along. Then we can share that insight and live that understanding. And ain’t understanding the kernel of love?

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Gender Equality, Ubuntu, and Critical Thinking

March is women’s history month. But women make history all year, year after year. Women’s history is no joke. Women are no joke. Women are the harder-working half of humanity, hands down. They do the reproductive labor of our species, as well as productive labor. And because of patriarchal accounting systems, economies and cultures the world over, a woman’s reproductive labor is not fully accounted for; sometimes it is called leisure. But the very reproduction of the species is a far more significant task than leisure. We cannot monetize it. We cannot, or refuse to, dignify it the way our acquisitive culture dignifies the whole predominantly white male lot of Wall Street bankers who helped dramatically deepen the long crisis that capitalism is. The World Bank and IMF will not categorize and catalogue the full worth of women’s labor. But our patriarchal, consumer society has been far more successful at monetizing women’s bodies, at the gross objectification of sisters, daughters, and mothers for their body parts. In this way women are reduced to mannequins and sex dolls, display pieces in downtown boutiques, or rated, graded, and sold as if on the meat market of human flesh, as when dowries are paid. So any thoughtful vegan should be quick to recognize that the liberation of women furthers the cause. More monumental is the task of having men recognize that when women are liberated from gendercide, subordination, and second-class status as humans and as male property, we men will be liberated to become more fully human ourselves. Women’s liberation is its own worthy and urgent cause, but it is also to our own immediate advantage to participate in and share solidarity with full gender equality in our planetary civilization. For us to become more prosperous, more intelligent, and wiser, uniting with feminism is in the selfish interest of men – keeping it real. Reject male privilege. For women are no joke.

This is because an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals suggests the basic logic of the African philosophy of Ubuntu – that “I am because we are,” that we are fundamentally and immutably interdependent beings. It is informed by a basic ecological principle that whatever our material embodiment consists of, it automatically invokes and forms from the contributions of our parents, their parents, the food they ate, the sunshine that shone on it, the minerals/stardust that fed it, and ultimately, the entire universe itself. By this understanding, the American notion of “rugged individualism” is illogical and misleading, perhaps deliberately so as it aims to divide us, isolate us and atomize us. All of us constitute the community, and the full participation of each of us, realizing our full potential, permits collective prosperity. If women are denied an education, the community suffers the loss of her more fully realized participation and contribution to the intellectual and material well-being of the group. The direct consequence of the unjust enforcement of ignorance upon females is collective poverty. This can be proven by looking at any society that has strong evidence of ongoing work toward equalizing the statuses, opportunities and life chances of men and women, and then looking at a society that treats women like livestock, like household appliances. The more just society is always more prosperous, healthy, educated, safe, clean, and so on, by many multiples across any human development measure.

Active critical thinking informs an honest assessment, for men, of the problem with oppressing women, or even passively acquiescing to their oppression. Think, for example, about how women in urban communities around the United States (really worldwide) must deal with street harassment, with the catcalling and worse, which exacerbate the oppression of black women. The street harassment paradigm posits the threat of violence over all of us. Street harassment is motivated by false and problematic beliefs in males of inherent domination, unearned privilege, the machismo quest for superficial and immediate validation, and the pursuit of easy sexual gratification. These are among the same exact prerequisites for deadly beefs on the street between us black men, the same ingredients for the horizontal violence perpetrated between us. While it is objectively true that the external factors of poverty and social debasement have often left us little option but to get over at the expense of one another, we destroy ourselves when we conform to the external anti-black expectation of our manifest, mass failure to thrive in any sustainable way. The motives of street harassment are one and the same as the motives for fatal internecine hostility. This in turn helps, in part, to enable mass incarceration of black men. Thus, the macho atmosphere of street harassment, which makes the lives of our sisters, mothers and daughters unbearable and dangerous, also makes our lives as men perilous. Street harassment is emblematic of a violent community towards all of its members. The streets with the most street harassment are also the streets where the most black brothers die at one another’s hands. Street harassment, rape and bloodshed all live on the same block.

Critical thinking, aggressively centered on a defense of the dignity and full value of human beings, should also inform how we draw conclusions about how we relate to one another and whether or not what we call “tradition” is worth any respect by any intelligent person in this day and age. If you value your own humanity, we can safely and logically assume that other humans value their own essence and identity as well, and consider themselves worth a fair chance in society. Grounded in this logic, a logic that is more immediate to us as humans than almost any other, we should be able to safely regard any tradition, religion, book, philosophy, politic, ethic, or other source of culture and thought that denies the humanity and dignity of people who are different from the majority, or from those with power, as highly suspect, at best. Thus, those who see difference in others and thus deny that others’ humanity, are behaving illogically, and hatefully besides.

The debate around homosexuality in Africa is centered, for the homophobes, in strange defenses of “tradition” or “religion” that claim the alienness of homosexuality to Africa, the “unnaturalness” of gay sex, and so on. These conclusions are fundamentally antihuman, and thus are to be fundamentally rejected; they are unscientific, dishonest and illogical besides. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is no joke. They are human beings. They are part of the community. They are worthy of respect and of every opportunity to fully contribute to and participate in the growth and empowerment in community; this is no less true in Africa or in black communities anywhere than it is in the West or any other part of the planet. The homophobes in power in Nigeria, in Uganda and elsewhere are using politics to disenfranchise, terrorize, scapegoat and dehumanize a part of the community that should be given every right to enjoy their human lives and be the sisters and brothers to our family that they truly are. By thinking critically and imagining ourselves the target of these laws and antihuman paradigms, we cannot but help draw conclusions that lead us to recognize the inhumanity and fundamental stupidity of homophobia and patriarchy. In this vein, heterosexual people should stand in full solidarity and advocate for the full inclusion and enfranchisement of our homosexual kin. This is the mature stance which will allow all of us to contribute our utmost to grow as a collective. Reject your heterosexual privilege and arrogance. Lives are at stake – and by the logic, critical thinking and Ubuntu understanding we have applied here thus far, it is unacceptable to deny the humanity of anyone in our community, no matter what gender or sexual identities they are born with or adopt. When we begin to take what private parts people have, or what they do with them in private, as justification for branding certain people unworthy of human dignity, we are being utterly childish, and any religion, tradition, or person that has that tendency is also ignorant, childish, dangerous and stuck in the stone-ages.

As a heterosexual male, I hope I have made a reasonable case that we, over-privileged straight men, will be far better off when we reject the convenient privileges of our status which permit us to dominate women and dehumanize gays. Equality of opportunity, for women to be born, to be educated, to enjoy equal participation in the maintenance of a family and household, and to be able to contribute their fullest potential to our collective excellence, will always lead to a superior quality of life for our community. The same equality of opportunity and recognition of humanity for non-heterosexual members of our community will also enable everyone to contribute fully and without fear of denigration.

Machismo is deadly to women and to men. Patriarchy and male supremacy are harming the planet and keeping millions of women from even being born, let alone contributing their full worth to the excellence of humanity. Only equality – an equality that enables us, especially as men, to see women as at our level in all productive, cognitive and creative capacities – can move us forward.

Gender inequality is a hallmark of underdevelopment, a cornerstone of neocolonialism and a function of ignorance. All sorts of indicators of social well-being in different societies show this. And when men, straight men at that, reject the insults of patriarchy, chauvinism, and homophobia, we truly begin to become revolutionary. For we begin to honor the basic nature of human beings that the Ubuntu principle reminds us of – that I am because we are, that all of us deserve to participate to the fullest might we can muster as free people towards our collective greatness.

Letter to a Brotha

What follows is the last letter traded in an exchange between a couple of 26 year-old black dudes regarding my last post on “Liberation Veganism.” My comrade is not vegan, and is concerned about “the problem with the displacement of bread and butter struggle with raw foodisms,” etc, due to my attempt to mix veganism with human liberation, or in our case black liberation. It is an important concern for all of us, whether or not thinking about or bringing up veganism in a context like African liberation discourse is appropriate. Or the problem with making something like going vegan or trumpeting ecological awareness THE issue or THE revolution, rather than just an aspect of it. And the problem of having advocacy of those causes which are “on the periphery for me, masking as if it is at the core,” as my friend challenged. He stated that to bring up veganism at a hypothetical “cop watch” meeting and try to make the meeting about veganism would be problematic, from which I gathered that something like “cop watch” to him was a “bread and butter” ‘hood issue (as opposed to, given the tenor of our exchanges, dietary, environmental, lifestyle, quality of life, sanitation, etc. issues, which to him are more associated with white liberal green/ vegan activists for whom those things are THE issue).

Lastly we had a disagreement on this point, and I quote my brotha: “one day you said to me the first responsibility of a revolutionary is to be healthy. That was the crucial difference for me, i thought you were wrong. Our health is not the priority, the people are, when the struggle becomes for our own person health (or morality) we are distant from the people.” In subsequent retorts from myself (because I believe the exact opposite of what he asserts) I struggled with this contradiction until he later stated, “a revolutionaries health is not an end to me, it is a means to the end which is revolution.” I play with this idea as well down below.

Without further ado, then, here’s my letter to my good brother comrade in struggle, on the “bread and butter” issues of liberation struggle as pertain to defining health, priorities of concern, “revolution” and so on.

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Bro,

In between running ’round town, meeting folks, preparing food, listening to the radio and other daily bizness, I wondered about how we might define “health” anyway. And that how we define health may determine our relationship with whatever that commodity is. And if there are elements in contemplating health that we may not exactly see eye to eye on, it may be because we haven’t gotten around to building a consensus – a definition to begin with – of what that concept means.

But I also came upon the thought that revolution, which is another notion we may have to define more concretely, nonetheless is fundamentally about health. No? I mean, it seems people like us would only come to acquire and espouse our deep discord, alienation and criticism of the world because there’s an element of it that is so odiously sick and unhealthy, to us and people who look like us. If economic systems are preventing our people from excelling, those economic systems are killing them, ruining their economic and by extension personal health, ruining their sense of self-worth and thus compromising their mental health. If occupational labor standards where they work are consistently dangerous but that danger goes unremedied by profit-hungry bosses, i.e. undocumented Mexican migrant farm laborers in California or Michigan constantly exposed directly to heavy overflight pesticide spraying with no protective gear, or conditions in meat-packing plants in Chicago where lots of poor black folks once worked and now many more Latinos, etc – then those capitalist labor conditions are ruining their health. If our schools indoctrinate ignorance and fear and division, and our mass media propagate the same, and our youth imbibe a bitter hopelessness and “act out” against one another, our whole social system is preventing us from being healthy. Same for exposure to high concentrations of lead and other toxic fine particulates, leading to higher asthma rates, in parts of the Bronx and Harlem where MTA’s bus depots are, and where the sanitation transfer stations are, such that the straight filth of our infrastructure kills us. If one’s housing conditions promote insecurity and pest infestation while being exorbitantly priced so as to suck up half a person’s income, that person has that much bigger a hurdle towards being healthy, including psychological anxieties and stress which increase stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine levels which compromise metabolism and immunity to disease. If Daewoo and other Korean and wealthy Persian Gulf corporations can sign 99-year leases for land in places like Madagascar or Ethiopia to grow food explicitly for their own populations and not the indigenous African populations who live where the food is grown, that type of neo-colonialism is going to decrease food security for people at home, thus ensuring more malnutrition, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and other stark miseries which prevent effective and productive living of a life, or just health said succinctly. Even indigenous regimes of patriarchy, machismo, etc. compromise women’s health, and by extension that of the children, elderly, and whole families.

I mean, that’s one way I tend to see it. I don’t like seeing the misery and desperation out there – it’s disgusting and unhealthy. My innate disgust with this crap is why I’m like this, even why I’m vegan. I don’t like cruelty. I think human beings are capable of far more than what we’ve got here. That’s why I keep striving.

So in terms of this other undefined concept – “bread and butter” issues, no one of us will see exactly eye to eye as to what’s number one or whatever. As for me, and this is a fluctuating, ever changing bunch of things that most frequently preoccupy a person like me, but education of the youth, health, quality of life, labor and cooperative economics/ black business (business doesn’t have to mean capitalist acquisitive stuff, just organizing our own economics internally), domestic violence and black on black crime, the environment, access to land/ housing/ ownership of where we live and even grow food, food security – these might be just some of my top five concerns, and I think I named more than five things here. What’s interesting (and not I hope a point of conflict but just worth contemplating for the both of us) is that something like “cop watch” is not on my top five, and just might barely make my top ten, of “bread and butter” issues. This is because, as I hinted at in the last message, there is a hell of a lot more domestic violence and black on black crime than there is police on black crime. Said another way, which effects how I prioritize either concern in my thoughts – someone living in an oppressed and crime-ridden community is far more likely to suffer physical strife from someone who looks like them and lives near them than by the police – in for instance Newark, NJ. So a lot more of my attention is grabbed by “stop the violence” and anti-rape, anti-domestic violence “take back the night”-type work than anti-police brutality work. Just because rape and horizontal violence are a much greater existential threat to everyday people than police violence.

And this point may be controversial, even between you and me, but it is something I take issue with at times and with some groups and individuals, who decry every instance of police brutality, but are a little more muted regarding when we do brutality to each other, senselessly, even as children. This is not a “blame the victim” statement. This is not a statement decrying some innate tendency for irrational violence towards one another in our community. It just acknowledges a statistic, whose generation is due to the lack of resources by which to survive which promotes dangerous and destructive attitudes, lifestyles and practices, which leaves us only with some warped sense of dignity over which we might kill because someone disses us. That’s horizontal violence 101, ala Frantz Fanon or Omali Yeshitela. And I tend to have a lot more affinity with that problem than with vertical violence/ state violence, at least as pertains to those of us in North America for the moment.

And I could be wrong, all wrong in my priorities.

So we should think about what “bread and butter” means very carefully and self-critically before we attempt to declare what ought and what ought not be put on the table. Also, regarding the table, and the fear of things like vegan issues crowding out the more “salient” points of discussion and work: to me that fear is unnecessary and almost irrational. I said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s a time and place for every discussion. And to the extent that to me health is an upfront “bread and butter” issue, when many black folk think about why there’s so much obesity and diabetes in the community, they look at the food system and the food culture we have to deal with. There are many among those who then look at what’s in the kitchen, and analyze the hormone and antibiotics-infused meats, the empty calorie fattening soda and junk food, and so on, and how they eat corporate-controlled food-like substances mostly, and not really nourishing whole foods. And among folks with that analysis, many, many of them might bring up the ‘v’ word, or the vegetarian/ vegan question. By that line of thought and action, veganism of all things could come straight to the table, the “bread and butter” table. And it would be very dismissive and paranoid to act like all those voices with those questions and thoughts on their minds are bringing up a parochial, peripheral issue. It is not peripheral to them. It becomes a hood issue to them, a “bread and butter” (or maybe “bananas and avocados”) issue. Their voice is just as valid and ought to be just as welcome to the table as your voice, which might never bring up such a question. If you were the master of the table, when they start to think about health, and then diet, and then nutrition, and then maybe veganism, would you just say “shut up?” I don’t think so. Please don’t leave this conversation still thinking that of all things “veganism,” and I really mean diet and lifestyle and consumer and quality of life questions and concerns which may inevitably and likely lead to things like veganism being brought up, should be hushed away from conversation, due to fear that to converse or contemplate that takes away from, well, “bananas and avocados” issues. Vegans are less than 1 percent of black folk, but that still makes for a vast multitude. Let them be heard.

If the table of discourse is managed well and with discipline, discussions of veganism won’t manage to drown out other and broader concerns and objectives. Don’t fear and hate any aspect of the discourse, however it may seem like minutia to you.

Anyway, back to thinking about health. If depression is now an epidemic in the US including our communities, if obesity, if heart attack, if premature death or disability are now so monumentally epidemic in the US including our communities, it would behoove us to very aggressively question all that.

Another reason that, if I reverse roll-play your critique of me onto you, I think something like “cop watch” isn’t necessarily as priority “bread and butter” as health, is that more than cops, even more than violent strangers or spouses, what we are eating and where we are living are negatively affecting our outcome as a people.

Let’s break it down to be really clear: years of eating unhealthy food, sedentary living, exposure to toxic materials in the home and workplace, and the stresses of making ends meet in an unstable community – these things very very much are killing us far faster and more unforgivingly than any police.

Yet I think some folks think so much about police-brutality because of how visible that is. All the dietary, environmental and other aspects of our lives which are committing literal genocide on our people – that stuff tends to be more invisible and, to use a little medical terminology, of insidious onset. It’s what’s part of the ambiance, what’s mundane, what’s habitual, that is filling more graves with black bodies in America than anything else. This includes young people like us.

So, study food. Study environment. Study capitalism. Study industries. Study geography. Study sociology. Study it all. It’s all on the table. It’s all bread and butter. Even when subsets of those studies lead to considerations, in any given space or time, of such a rarified topic as veganism.

Everything on the table. “Bread and butter” can be “bananas and avocados” to some, and it’s still valid, still worth respecting of the ideas they may share. Don’t fear ideas.

Lastly, regarding the quote “a revolutionaries health is not an end to me, it is a means to the end which is revolution.” I said that I basically agree with this before. But to make things a little more interesting, I will declare that I do think, as a human being (I know we are not revolutionaries either of us, but even if we were, we’d have to be human beings before being revolutionaries), it is perfectly acceptable to take health as an end. Full stop. Take health as a fundamental goal. We all have but limited time here, and none of us are getting out of this gig alive, and moreover, we may not see the broader changes we want to see in our community happen in our lifetimes.

Might as well at least try to be healthy. Taking one’s health as an end means simply striving to have healthy relationships, live and eat healthily, and have outlets for what interests us, including the act of pursuing revolution or a revolutionary ethos. In other words, one might be able to say “revolution is a means to a revolutionary’s health” because by practicing revolution we get psychological, emotional, mental, physical, social etc. fulfillment and well-being.

So, I’ve problematized that one for ya. Remember, bro, it all depends on how we define “health”! And how we define “revolution”! The two could be one and the same for some of us!

Revolutions,

Konju

Liberation Veganism

Why not? Why not a veganism, not unlike liberation theology, that creates, marches, speaks and shakes with messages sparking hope for and actualization of human liberation? Why not conceive of a vegan movement and practice that is intermingled with human rights and sustainable development in “developing” countries and communities? Would it be possible, beneficial even, to expand the liberation aspect of veganism past animals alone? I think so.

In full disclosure, as an activist, much of my work has concerned African liberation and unity, third world internationalism, human rights, sustainable agronomy, complementary and natural medical practices, and at an earlier time, anti-war movements. As most broadly generalized without accepting any concrete labels, my operating socio-political ideology tends toward some manner of radical humanist anarcho-socialism. And aside from being vegan for eleven years, none of my work to date has directly concerned the animal rights movement; I’ve gone to the United Nations a few times, but not yet an animal rights conference. This is not said to remove wind from or disparage the animal rights movement, but just to be completely honest. At the same time, though, given that human rights are so frequently violated everywhere I go or look, whether my own rights as a black man in Gotham or the rights of people who look like me all over the world, as well as the rights of women, cultural/ethnic/religious/sexual minorities, children, the elderly, the landless, people with disabilities, and so on, I lose too much of my breath and tears on the miserable human condition, and find it almost impossible to apply myself to the animal liberation movement as it exists as an isolated campaign with that sole concern.

But enough about where I come from. I say that the development of the Liberation Veganism concept can easily give veganism an element of appeal towards more folks, especially people of color and youth whose thoughts are currently tending towards revolution. These proto-revolutionaries, on hearing about Liberation Veganism, just may consider incorporating veganism into their revolutionary practice because it makes so much sense as pertains to overall human liberation and racial and social justice.

Liberation Veganism understands and blamelessly trumpets the truths of how unsustainable meat production and animal husbandry are, even at pastoral or “artisanal” scales. It acknowledges and clarifies to others that the class war I spoke of earlier includes the conflict between humans and animals through the commodification of animals, as well as between humans who find themselves at odds as laborers or capitalist masters of an industry of blood, cruelty and violence. Liberation Veganism is in accord with those revolutionary thoughts that understand that if we simply want to feed more human beings and actually realize more and sustainable equity in the world, the actual possibility of making of our world “a garden and not a graveyard” suggests that more of us, worldwide, need to start to leave the meat alone.

Liberation Veganism is obviously not THE answer, but I strongly believe it is part of the arsenal of “better practices” in pursuit of revolution and human liberation, as well as animal liberation. I hope not to come off as blatantly speciesist (though I’m sure I already have and won’t try to make excuses for it after the fact), but I’m in the game largely in pursuit of my own better humanity and for human beings. When I went vegan at age 15, it was about both health and ecological issues, for the Earth at large. And now I am trying to think very deliberately about how veganism can relate to human rights. That is why I think Liberation Veganism may be a concept for proto-revolutionary proto-vegans to consider.

If a plant-based diet will both keep millions of tons of greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and feed many magnitudes more human beings, sustainably and consistently, than our current prevailing food regimes, especially since the world is getting hotter and harder on plants, than veganism has to by nature only be beneficial to the entire realm of human rights. This is simply because more abundance, and the dismantling of industries of inherent violence, will result in at least some reduction in the deadly competition over resources that imperil humanity, such as the feared immenent and current wars over water, food, and so on. If transition away from automobile culture, towards renewable energies, and towards composting and water recycling are part of the green movement that might buy us all more time on the world as we know it, than veganism – a veganism cognizant of the human and Earth liberation elements of its actualization – also must be part of that same movement. And it has to be about as many of us humans as possible.

Since we pursue those things which materially and otherwise most benefit us, as do all other creatures, then a veganism that appeals to our longevity and the leveling of the balance of power in human societies should theoretically find mass appeal. Veganism in explicit combination with human rights, or veganism plus human liberation, can be understood as Liberation Veganism. Liberation Veganism as I’ve struggled to define it here has its obvious ethical elements, ecological arguments, and social justice underpinnings, but as a liberation movement, it can and must include all the social capital of successful trends: propaganda, recipes indigenous to our cultures which veganize palates and minds from the grassroots, and the revolutionary gatherings, rallies and potlucks that find ways to intermix all manner of human rights and liberation issues with the way we eat.

So, Liberation Veganism. Maybe it’s a silly, corny idea, but I hope someone out there might be thinking similar thoughts and just might take this meme and run with it.

Mystic Vegan Tap-Dance Boogie

As part of festivities for the slight re-branding of this blog, here’s the latest posting in the form of some rhymes and images. Lyrics by me. Music by Djelimady Tounkara. Pro-vegan, pro-Earth, pro-common-sense, pro-peace, pro-people, Afro-positive bars.

Lyrics:

Chamber music provokes the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie

Unfold your arms, children, boss-up like righteous hooky

I am neither John Cassavates nor a Wookie

That means the only thing I do is resurrect the Chinese Bookie

.

Boogie-woogie, that’s the way of life that I promote

So the rookie wins, with bowling pins to stay afloat

Cargo cults that curry favor for the flavor of the wild oat,

And open up the gates that pen the billy goat

.

Though, it’s a long road, the other shore’s way over yonder

So in the meantime, the mystic tap-dance make’s you ponder:

Is this the best we can do, the human Cadillacs

Hacking each other down, Kalashnikov’s the battle ax?

.

Blacks killing blacks, capillaries full of plaques

Paranoia over mosques, migrants, money and Macs,

Stupefied by Sarah Palin, Mama Grizzlies going whaling

While the planet burns and floods like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

.

It’s a fact: the way we live is making ice shelves crack,

From meat and car culture to the war in Iraq

Which isn’t over, shift change to mercenary soldiers,

Different bullet casings, feral caffeine binges on Folgers

.

But the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie is real

Earthshine on the moon, still a light you can’t conceal

Hot: the soul-searcher bringing out her own potential

Not: the fake pundit telling lies through his credentials

.

A tap-dance thunderclap roars through the plains.

Knocking over all the rafters, bulldozers and cranes

That wanna spread suburban sprawl all the way past Saturn

Real estate Tourrette’s tics, the same worn pattern

.

Using drapes, curtains and shades, dealing aces and spades

But the tap-dance bottle-caps the ignorance raids

On your conscience, the subway ads for beer and pomade

The Times Square sonic light-show free-trade brigade

.

But the boogie boogies forth, as the tropics wander north

No fear, the tap-dancing clan has a plan to take a stand

On rock-solid ledges of a pluralistic thought,

The rise of the ubuntu, bumuntu, bananas bought

.

For the bounty, shared from the Bronx to Kisangani,

No need to kill for water or food like Handsome Johnny,

Cultures of violence and their vultures of silence

Might fade away, and that includes the restive oil fields of Bonny

.

The mystic tap-dance boogie shows that world peace isn’t hard

Beacons of light written in flight by buoyant bards

The inhospitable wardens across the planet

Must have obsidian souls while the boogie’s soul is pomegranate

.

Plummeting the hegemonic phonic of the fold,

To an abyss, all the white noise, the ambience, the hiss

As our own dance taps drown out the sound of cold

With the sound of bold, the human beings that blow a kiss

.

From Kinshasa to Fortaleza to Ogbomosho

Strong-willed strivers winning over all the no shows

To learn the mystic vegan tap-dance boogie in the Sun

Sustainable quilombos keep the corporate forces on the run

.

Clean and easy living, walk the land like Bodhidharma

Leave the car at home, empty the zoo and clear the karma

Bring the brothers home, close the jails and fund the college

The liberationists for revolutions must have knowledge

.

Pro-human pedagogies, no more spikes on planters

Science and traditional knowledge mix, we’re plant enchanters

Vandana Shiva is the general, and people like her,

Waangari Maathi, and plant more trees and be a biker

.

The mystic vegan tap-dance boogie looks like land and freedom

Mau Mau sounds preferring death until the stacks are even

Boogie men and women marchin’ to the sun

Teeth, tongue and tap-shoes – more stopping power than a gun

Veganism and the Class War

What follows is a thought exercise.

My own definition of a vegan is a human who eats fruits and vegetables [as well as whatever nuts, seeds or legumes he or she may desire], and never eats or uses animal products. For starts. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, this vegan is not so heavily involved in extremely elaborate recipes, in highly-processed ingredients and additives, in soy and grains, etc. That can come later. I’m simplifying and scaling down for the purpose of understanding what this post wants to address, which is the skeletal basics (though in full disclosure I’m pretty much a fruitarian). A vegan, firstly, is someone anywhere in the world where fruits and vegetables are affordable and accessible who eats those items, eats produce. That sort of vegan, who isn’t strictly dependent on special products, mock meats, packaged goods, and so on, who could be just at home eating the fruits and veggies available in Kinshasa or Kisangani as are available in Karachi or Kansas City, might be said, for the purposes of this thought experiment, to be a universal vegan, or even a vehicular vegan, and I will use either term interchangebly going forward.

As for the class war, I define it as the conflict between workers and bosses, between capitalists and proletariats, between landlords and tenants, between elites and all us riff-raff, even between humans and animals, over access and claims of ownership over land, infrastructure, the means of production, the structure of our economy, the production of culture, and so on. It is the imperative of oppressors to oppress, to exploit, to profit, maintain ignorance, maintain illiteracy and food scarcity, maintain the divisions amongst working people, maintain ideological, religious, and political zeitgeists of constant histeria, and yet eat well and live comfortably all the while. It is the imperative of workers, of women, of ethnic or sexual minorities, of those rendered landless, to maintain unity in struggle, to vie for and claim power, land and freedom, to achieve self-determination and societies of fairness and justice, to collectivize resources, to build and practice pro-human cultures, and to, at a spiritual maximum as it were, prefer death to slavery. The class war is very real and it is everywhere and, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all class warriors of some stripe, all over the world. If we find ourselves hating our banks and landlords and tiring of our bosses, that much makes us class warriors, just as a Naxalite Adivasi struggling against planned and perpetrated genocides and land thefts and who actually engages in armed struggle is a class warrior. The bosses that like exploiting and polluting and dominating – whether at Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Tyson Chicken or General Motors or Lockheed Martin or Uncle Sam himself – they’re all class warriors for their side.

So how can we mix veganism – as practiced by the universal vegan – with the class war? We start with the manner in which prestige is applied to certain objects to make them desirable, even when they aren’t healthy or necessary. Possession or consumption of these articles of prestige are then used to define who is of what class, or at least who aspires to more elevated social rankings. Yes, commodity fetishism includes propagating the meat prestige – look at the most extreme sorts of hamburgers the fast-food industry invents, or at the Heart Attack Grill.

So, all over the third world, even where meat is scarce or pastoralism is irrevocably destroying land, meat is a prestige. Automobile usage is another. The wealthiest eat the most meat and drive the most, and are often the most gorged and overweight, hence the typical gut of rich and powerful elites in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. (And thanks to the zombifying power of marketing and mass media, a million other useless, wasteful and dangerous products are rendered prestigious, and we must use our own voices and propaganda to fight this, but that is another topic.)

But if a society hedges closer to veganism, that means more calories will generally be available to its individual constituents, since growing plants is far more sustainable and efficient than growing animals which eat plants. So that society would naturally enable an environment of greater equity and less classism. On the other hand, if a society hankers hard after meat, that means fewer people will eat of the greater resultant scarcity in overall available calories. The meat-centric society will inevitably breed the conditions for less equality and for harsher stratification, just because of how much meat production usurps of limited environmental resources.

That’s macro-level. What about individual vehicular vegan class warriors?

Conscious vegan workers remove themselves partly from an equation of exploitation by striking animals from a hierarchy of exploitation and brutality from their own lives. They help keep the class war between humans and from involving non-humans, who have enough of their own struggles and class wars in the wild without having to worry about human consumption.

Conscientious vegan workers keep from supporting aspects of the elite apparatus and cash machine by non-participation in the meat-industrial complex and, should veganism keep them healthy, the medical-industrial complex. The industries of violence and slavery are among the largest which support class and caste structures worldwide. Not endorsing the meat prestige and engaging in veganism means one is using one’s own labor and consumer powers to directly disempower the most odious aspects of the system.

It could be observed that much of veganism, as it is known particularly in North America, is associated with upper classes and privileged populations, but veganism at the grassroots is actually potentially most revolutionary. In the US, poor communities of color are often bereft of access to fresh healthy foods, and disproportionately find themselves afflicted with the diseases of Western diets and lifestyles. This is part of class war, as I see it, keeping the most chronically impoverished from being able to be healthy, long-lived and highly functioning, and from excelling as human beings. The elites don’t really care to ameliorate this problem.

Thus it is up to grassroots universal vegan workers of color, aware that existence in a human society configured such as ours means lifelong class war, to promote healthy lifestyles, to strive and struggle to increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in our communities, and to speak loudly and widely on the benefits of non-meat consumption and the fallacies of the meat prestige and meat addiction.

Thoughtful vegans should make natural class warriors. Their veganism empowers them to escape relationships of oppression and violence with both humans and non-humans, while granting them the vitality and awareness to struggle for just power and representation for as long as necessary. The vehicular vegan revolutionary can be a revolutionary of stamina and substance, of vision and actualization, actually practicing diplomacy (with non-humans) and militancy (against industries and economies of subjugation).

And that is how, and why, veganism can relate to the class war, and why vegans, especially working-class vegans of color, should consider themselves class warriors. But it’s just one small open-source theory that still needs help (or refutation) from y’all.

Veganism can indeed be revolutionary, and we must make it so if we are serious about social change, food sovereignty, Earth and non-human justice, and human freedom and equity.

Ubuntu: Afrikan Humanism (and my Further Thoughts) *bump*

I posted the following essay on my original blog waaay back on November 28, 2007. I was thinking a lot about the Congo this morning before work and came back to this piece, which compels me to conclude that thoughts we’ve had at earlier phases in life are sometimes more clear and articulate than our current thoughts. And I doubt anyone really looked at this back at the time, so here it is bumped up (with some fresh edits) for your current review. Would seriously like your feedback on ideas in this little philosophical tract. Talk about it!

Towards BUMUNTU! Towards KIMUNTU! Towards UBUNTU! Towards the end of hate and the culture of violence! Towards sisterhood and brotherhood between black folks, and no more horizontal violence in the streets or in Afrika! Rasta nuh chat Rasta! I’m talking about human beings, trying to be humane, just, fully realized, cooperative and free!!!

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

What is Ubuntu? It is the notion, expressed in Zulu and present in other Bantu languages, that “a person is a person through other people.” It is the notion that an individual is born into the community and will always be a part of the community. It is a statement of interdependence and communalism, that the welfare of the individual is dependent upon the welfare of the community, and vice-versa. I claim Ubuntu as a guiding philosophy of mine, inasmuch as it is obvious that I am because we, as Afrikans, are. Having once been a serious student of Buddhism, one reads in the notion of [inter-]dependent co-arising and the “interbeing nature of things” that, in acheiving awareness of anatman or not-self – the absence of any independently existing entity of a “self” – one fully understands that he or she does not belong to his/her supposed “self.” Our physical bodies are little more than compilations of stardust animated by the life-force, genes and cells given us by our parents and all of their ancestors. Everything in the world and in us can only exist because of everything else, and if the forest which provides the wood for the table, or the food that the table-maker’s parents ate before they even thought of conceiving the table-maker, are removed from the table, the table cannot exist. Likewise, humans cannot exist without all the elements that precede us, all of our ancestors, all the elements of nature and the world that permit being, and so on. To live symbiotically with the world and with the community we are born into only makes perfect logical sense. Ubuntu, interdependence and Afrikan humanism, must therefore be more than mere positions on how to animate and organize a society, for they emerge from deep scientific truths. Interdependence with the elements of the natural world to perpetuate a sustainable and balanced life-cycle is called deep ecology in some circles, a radical and proper conclusion based on an understanding of the symbiotic form that living in the world should assume. Ubuntu is practiced in the very same vein, based on a fundamental understanding of how reality works and what beings like us bring into this universe as we come and go.

In his book African Cosmology of the Bântu-Kôngo, Dr. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau discusses African communalism in Bantu societies and how that concept, which he derives from his native BaKongo context but which is clearly analogous to the Ubuntu practice, is applied in the organizing and governing of a community. In doing this he shares an aphorism which is often recited by some traditional BaKongo peoples (in KiKongo) before community meetings of social, political, economic or judicial significance:

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mputu

There is no room for poverty

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mvwâma

There is no room for ill obtained wealth

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mpofo

There is no room for blindness

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mfumu

There is no room for “order-giver”

Bobo mfumu na mfumu

All are masters, and only masters

Bobo ngânda na ngânda

All specialists, and only specialists

Mu kânda

Within the community

Bilesi

Young generations

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mwâna mfumu

Ancestors’ sons

Mu kânda

Within the community

Busi/ nsâng’a kânda

A sister, the community shoot

Mu kânda

Within the community

Nkasi a kânda

A brother, a future leader

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kinenga ye dedede

Equilibrium and equality

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kingenga/ kimpambudi nwânana

There is no room for separatism/ privacy

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sèkila kumosi

All sleep at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sikamana kumosi

All wake up at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mbèni ku mbazi

Enemies stand out

(Fu-Kiau, 80-82)

These aphorisms reflect the extremely advanced, deliberate, sophisticated, and humane philosophy that we Afrikans developed to survive and thrive in pre-colonial times and which are the birthright and inheritance of all Afrikans today. It is our responsibility, indeed our necessity if we are to survive on this planet, the only world we’ve got, to live this. All we need do is continue our organically humanistic lifestyle and reconstitute a truly humane, progressive, democratic, tolerant, gender-equal and open society for the Afrikan, in which our economic life never fails to meet human needs and where land and the means to produce are commonly owned with no private property in the hands of the few to disfranchise and exploit the rest. Fu-Kiau, in this very important and recommendable text, informs us that in the world-view of the Bakongo, “individual wealth is an abominable crime” (Fu-Kiau, 76):

“Individual wealth of all kinds above the accepted standard of necessary goods, is considered a crime. One says that this kind of wealth could not be accumulated without  exploiting [wuka/ yiba] other members of the community. In that case, the wealth itself  is called kimvwâma kia muyeke, wealth that betrays, yekula, the community and its members. The owner of such excessive properties was often killed or hoodooed [lokwa]. African communities believe strongly that the individual accumulation of property has  always had negative effects on the traditional social structure and on policy- making institutions.”

Afrikans need to think critically about the way of life into which we have been socialized under the contemporary regime of capitalism, neo-colonialism, and the myth of individualism. This regime has removed us from what living reality otherwise would make clear – that we cannot exist apart from or at the expense of our world or our communities, and thus ought naturally to seek to live in harmony with nature and our communities. For Afrikans, the practice of Ubuntu must begin at home, amongst Afrikans. May Afrikans practice Ubuntu with other Afrikans and across the third world, and exclude from Ubuntuist Afrikan communities all those capitalistic, bourgeois aspirant, individualistic, reactionary, intolerant, narrow-minded, knuckle-headed, selfish, greedy and malevolent negroes.

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Bonus video: Rasta Nuh Chat Rasta by Queen Ifrica. Enjoy and Learn!