If you listen carefully to the desires of proponents and defenders of Critical Race Theory, sometimes you will hear something other than paranoid rants about the all-powerful hegemony of White Supremacy. I have listened long enough to recognize a plaintive plea when I hear one. The plea is generally of the form that life ain’t so easy when you’re a ghetto child. If you don’t know the song by the Spinners, know that I tend to sympathize with their attitude in many ways. There is beauty in the art that both communicates and transcends suffering. Who can argue that life is easy? But here I harmonize with the melody that states the particular sufferings of Africans in America are generative of healing orchestrations.
Yet sometimes it’s just noise. The problem comes from the improper shaping of solutions, palliatives and evasions. When it comes to the American Negro problem, which I have recently concluded that we are still dealing with, context is everything. The clearest context I have is that of the very conception of humankind through the lens of liberty embedded in the philosophy calling for revolution against tyranny.
Before 2008, when I was a conservative, I used the term ‘modernity’ to represent the equality of the human soul as distinct from that pre-modern view of man only as a creature of his tribe. ‘Liberty’ in the rhetoric of the American Right is overloaded to the point of political meaninglessness, but it is liberty nonetheless. So the question for the resolution of the separate and unequal status of the Negro fell roughly between the choice of integration and nationalist segregation. The failed assumption of today’s Negroes, bemoaning their plight, is that they can’t quite get themselves to decisively choose integration or segregation.
The choice between these different social strategies is crucial, yet not quite stark. To extend the musical metaphor, the integrative strategy trains the individual musician to ultimately be playing with the full orchestra of humanity, or at least a pluralist American symphony. The segregation strategy trains the individual musician to ultimately work with something like a string quartet or a drum circle. In either case, the individual musician may be called upon to solo, and her contribution will be missed if she is absent. The individual always matters, but it is in the context of her performance that she is judged a success and the substance of her training is aimed at that ultimate destination. So symphony or rhythm section? Integration or segregation? It’s all music, right?
Well that puts us back to the question of liberty as the basis of our contractual citizenship in the United States of America. I say the Africans brought here against their will in slavery were consigned to a silent wasteland where they were to work and be seen, not heard. We all understand the deprivations of citizenship that put American slavery into such profound moral relief in the land of the free. Yet even as they suffered, they generated literal music and changes to Christian liturgy that have made profound impacts on American society. Some of these creative threads have been distinct enough such that they generated ideas that suggested the idea of a separate nation. It’s one thing to be a separate people, but to conceive of a new nation involves matters of sovereign power in a global context. Few things short of revolution and war are the stuff of nation building, and we Americans cannot deny our revolutionary history. The defense of liberty is required in the face of tyranny.
As I have inherited the library of Robert T. Bowen, Sr. I am the recipient of the books that shaped the thinking of one such ghetto child who chose, for a time, the solution of nationalist segregation. He was convinced, like many are today, that America is no country for black men. As far as I can tell, he changed his tune completely by 1972 and set the family on the dedicated track of integration. I think like many men of his generation there was an informal political affirmative action that resulted in the creation of new positions for outstanding individuals formerly associated with black student movements. As such, now in a position of responsibility for all citizens in public health, my father quickly came to understand how to communicate his dreams for a better world in one language suitable to all. Goodbye Kwanzaa. Hello Christmas.
The library remains. So have books like:
Cook, Mercer, and Stephen E. Henderson. The Militant Black Writer in Africa and the United States. Madison:University of Wisconsin Press, 1969
deCoy, Robert H, and Roselle Kahn. The Blue Book Manual of Nigritian History. Los Angeles : Nigritian Inc., Publishers, 1969
Hare, Nathan. The Black Anglo-Saxons. New York:Collier Books, 1965
Obadele, Imari Abubakari. Revolution and Nation Building. Detroit : The House of Songhay Publishers, 1970
Since the style of my father’s and family’s nationalism was scholarly and poetic rather than militant or activist, there was no love for the Panther-style radical chic. Consquently songs like ‘Whitey On the Moon’ were simply clever and humorous to us. They were not to be crafted into cultural bullets. My siblings and I grew up middle class in many ways, not one of which was that it was difficult for us to understand the particular accent of those like Moms Mabley. But the accent of Stokely Carmichael was loud and clear, and we turned away from it, as well as any notion that white people were the enemy. In short, for us integration was not an existential hurdle. It was simply a different paradigm. The implication was clear and by 1976 it was easy for us all to say, this is my country.
That measure of civility was not merely a feint. It was a calculated optimism generated by the promise and realization of integration and cultural crossover. It was genuine, not a white mask attempting to hide black skin. Our code switching was not a disguise designed for the purposes of infiltration and betrayal of our new white friends and associates. It was an implicit commitment to mutual understanding. We did not restrain ourselves from saying ‘gimme five’, even though it wasn’t followed up with ‘on the black hand side’. There was adequate strength in our hands to do the heavy lifting of social change with the mutual affirmations of shared dap without the misunderstanding that the black hand side was much more than aesthetic flavor. That aesthetic flavor was called ‘soul’, something we don’t talk about much at all in today’s multicultural mouthing.
Yesterday I was listening to the best of the Average White Band, and it occurred to me that it is true that there is nothing today like soul music. My daughter says that the artist Dua Lipa has great producers, which I can clearly hear in her recordings, and that she attempts to craft the best of that and other ‘retro’ themes in her music. Yes. I hear it. I hear all of the postmodern remixes of our society and the pseudo authenticity. We have lost that heaven and we will never be the same. I recall AWB and The Spinners knowing that history is forgotten and has been repainted into the themes of ignominy and suffering. It is the literature of protest, pain and suffering that has been reified into what black history ‘was’.
We moderns are trying to control for one variable, ‘racism’, in a complex system of society. These attempts will fail, systemically. In the deceptive and one-dimensional representations of American history, in the mawkish media and in the flat arts and crafts of youth raised by screens and algorithms, the prospects for ‘social justice’ are bleak. A stern lecture, a slap in the face, and a swift kick in the pants will be insufficient. There is war and there is everything else. Only war conquers hubris. Let us see how far these deceptions will persist until that is the only self-evident truth.