THE VALUE OF CULTURE: THE SPOKEN WORD, LISTEN IT IS CALLING US
By Fahim A. Knight-El
This Blog is, perhaps a little less intense than the last twelve Blogs that I have posted in the last thirty-five days, but nevertheless, I wrote it as a reflection leading up to my love for the works of the black poet Langston Hughes and as I surveyed his poem titled, “A Dream Deferred” published in 1951, it caused me to reflect deeper on the meaning of culture and its expressions and the value it plays in the social and political lives of a people. The present day black cultural artists have a huge responsibility to construct art that will uplift our people’s consciousness levels and even challenge pop culture by creating positive musical lyrics and presenting positive images that speaks to the spirits of an oppressed people who have been under the assault of white supremacy for over four-hundred fifty and years (this contention and view has to be uncompromised and non-negotiable). So, I couldn’t help, but to share my personal experience with brother Kwame Ture and what he meant to me spiritually—that part of this Blog will be my customary approach of given information that is decisive and will cause us to think outside of the box. I can recall as a primary and secondary student, I have always been attracted to civics, social studies, language arts and when I got to college, I became more attracted to courses in philosophy and logic and subjects that fostered me to exercise critical thinking and yet, simultaneously, I enjoyed analyzing and dissecting poetry and attempting to get inside of the minds of the various poets and their work.
I have always been partial to works of black writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Sonya Sanchez and Amiri Baraka (aka Leroy Jones out of Newark, New Jersey), Haki R. Madhubuti (aka Don Lee) and other militant and revolutionary writers who were impacted and affected by the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s in which these black writers created their artistic value as poets and writers around the themes of Black Power and were also conscious about producing art in the form of literature that would speak politically, economically and socially to the black experience with the objective of transforming the minds of African American people. Their works were imbedded in an ideology geared towards uplifting the social consciousness level of black people; these artist and writers were clear about their positions on white supremacy, European imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism and wealth disparity, etc., their ideals represented a cultural revolution and many of them were transformed by the teachings of Minister Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik Shabazz)—it was his fiery teachings and critical analysis of the United States Government that inspired an entire generation of black activist and young black intellectuals to challenge injustice.
They saw themselves not just as black intellectuals who desired to joining what E. Franklin Frazier called the ‘Black Bourgeoisie’ class after graduating from Howard University, Morehouse College, Spellman College, Tuskegee Institute, Shaw University, Hampton Institute, Grambling State University, etc., they sought to work in the struggle in order to foster social justice for African American people, it was writers like these that helped to politicized me by challenging me to think outside the box and inspired me into action. Some years ago I was having a sit down with the late Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) of the All African People's Revolutionary Party; for the record one of my all time favorite theoreticians and intellectual mentors; I will always consider myself as an honorary member of the AAPRP. Ture was a graduate of Howard University and received a B.S. degree in philosophy and he was very well read on Marxist-Leninist theories (socialist and communist theory) and Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and was very critical of capitalism; on the day he was teaching me, recommended that I get Franz Fanon’s books titled, Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Mask and recommended that I get a book written by Chinweizu titled, The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers and the African Elite and also recommended that I read Eric Williams book titled, Capitalism and Slavery; admittedly I am messed up in the head at this point after conversing with brother Kwame Ture, it became mind altering for me and everytime I would see him, thereafter he would always be dressed in traditional African garments--he lived and walked in African culture. He then recommended two more books to me authored by Kwame Nkrumah titled, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-colonization and Class Struggle in Africa.
I was on a tight budget, but one of the most premier Pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist leaders (author of the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America) of the late 20th century was given me these instructions relative to educating myself and preparing me in my intellectual development—I could not let money stand in my way. I can recall him standing up and yelling "Ready for the Revolution" and he followed that statement with 'we must organize’ and he encouraged me to join a black organization. Kwame Ture was well versed in all the great white political and social theoreticians and their philosophical views. There was no doubt that this man was learned and well studied and made it clear to me that he practiced scientific socialism. At that time I had no clue or understanding of what scientific socialism was, but I was in awe of this man's charisma and intelligence and was just trying to take all of it in. I learned from Kwame Ture the importance of debate (and this has always kept me intellectually engaged over the years) about historical events and, although my approach to analyzing ideals are rooted in me being a revisionist social scientist and historian who has the fortunate opportunity to survey past existing historiography and data with the expectation of rendering critical analyses in evaluating past political, economic and social eras from the vanish point of the early 21st century. This approach at times could be determined to be unfair, however of the rendering of views on events from different eras do not alleviate nor excuse you from being empirical and scientific in putting forth supporting evidence to validate an argument or render them flawed and/or to substantiate previous historical facts as being true.
The above mentioned books led me to reading Amilcar Cabral’s book titled, Resistance and Decolonization (Reinventing Critical Theory) and Walter Rodney’s book titled: How Europe Undeveloped Africa. History was a subject that allowed me to exercise critical thinking in viewing and surveying peoples, places, events and dates, it has always fascinated me to wanting to know more about past civilizations and cultures, in particular how they evolved and the contributions they made towards the development of humanity. This further led me to appreciate archeology, anthropology, paleontology, sociology, human genetics, ancient architecture, Egyptology, etc. Also, I have always been fascinated in learning about great past ancient civilizations such as
China, Persia, India,
Greece and Rome,
as well as learning and studying about great civilizations in the such
as the Mayas, Incas, Aztecs, etc. I believe that L.S.B. Leakey did some
monumental research in finding the origin of man, but I think, the more
scholars and social scientist dig and uncover the earth and oceans, thus, we
will continue to find historical evidence of past ancient civilizations that
have left ruins and artifacts that are still waiting to be dated (these studies
with all the expert knowledge available, it is constantly evolving). I have been inspired by my historians such as
John Hope Franklin, Arthur M. Schlessinger, Jr., Darlene Clark Hine, Carter G.
Woodson, W.E.B. Dubois, Paula Giddings, Mary Frances Berry, Annette
Gordon-Reed, Aviva Chomsky, H.G. Wells, etc. Americas
Many of our young black artists and entertainers are contributing to some of the problems that exist amongst young so-called Africans Americans because their musical lyrics are void of messages that are rooted in the social and political traditions of empowerment (we know that this is being doing systematically) in which some of the pop culture has poise itself of being art forms that are reactionary and dangerous and counter-productive to black progress and stands to be condemned. It often contributes to dismantling positive images that reinforces African tradition and culture and tends to glorify crime, violence, gangbanging and drugs—these negative images affects the psychological behavior of our people in a negative way. The enemies create this culture of destruction because it aids the systemic outcomes of white supremacy and foster misery and disillusionment throughout black
But in the glorious 1960s and 1970s the musicians, artists, writers, poets, etc., used art to assist in the liberation of our people. Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) once told me that Curtis Mayfield carried the ball almost by himself. I fell in love with the Last Poets and the inspirations of their lyrics, they were 25 years ahead of Hip-Hop and Rap. I recently picked up a book written by Marcus Barmam on Gil Scott Heron titled, Gil Scott Heron: Pieces of a Man, another artistic giant who had the Blues/Jazz/Rap aura to his musical repetoire and displayed musical talents as a poet wrapped into various genres, but always un-girded by lyrical messages of social and political consciousness. Gil Scott Heron was a messenger (just like Jesus and Muhammad of 1,400 years ago), dedicated to uplifting of African people. He did not shy away from those issues that mattered to black people. The above mentioned artist and political activist put me on a path and journey in which Elijah Muhammad said out of all our studies history is best qualified to reward our study and research.
I owe my critical thinking mindset to my master teachers, sages, gurus and enlighteners from various schools of philosophical thought, that first presented me with knowledge that revolved around teaching me the knowledge of self, but have always taught me lessons from a diverse intellectual perspective by using innovative teaching techniques and methodologies that allowed me as a neophyte to be more engaged in my learning process (they were not ashamed about teaching me through their life experiences). This type of teaching practices have always kept my attention span—this is, perhaps an unscientific analysis, but I think there is a direct correlation between the ability to demonstrate a suitable proficiency to learning, which must be rooted in teaching methodologies that are relevant and practical in which retention of information are interconnected to schematic learning.
Europeans learn better from linear modules and Africans learn better from learning approaches that are diverse in scope and less structured; my knowledge base consisted of a varied of schools of thought relative to the introduction of philosophy, history political theory, religion, ethics, current events (other than the basic rudiment skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing) and it was this interdisciplinary approach that has always appealed to how I was wired relative to learning and receiving information. This only enhanced my love for learning because I have never allowed myself to be conformed and did not impose limitations upon my thinking and the value of these principles only enhanced my critical thinking skills. Moreover, the study of literature, also allowed me to be creative and innovative whether or not if I were assessing and evaluating someone else’s work and/or writing my own work, it permitted me to examine timeframes of how a genera may have been impacted by a political, economic and social environment. I have come to understand that no work is created in a vacuum, but a gamut of social variables comes into play, which dictates how themes and prose may be interpreted.
I was also inspired by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Maya Angelou, Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Frost, Henry Wadsworth Long fellow, Langston Hughes, Frances Mayers, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, James Weldon Johnson, etc. The above literary scientist and their works stimulated my artistic imagination, as well as intellectually motivated and sparked my intuition to wanting to know more about their intellectual worldview.
Langston Hughes wrote the poem entitled, “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” in 1951 and perhaps Harlem during this time was being seen as a prototype and a metaphor for black success and progress (New York, New York a city so nice they had to name it twice), and in theory a booming cosmopolitan hub unlike most American cities during the Jim Crow era, but in general, also stood as a positive contradiction relative to the political, economic and social conditions that were affecting African Americans politically, economically, and socially across the United States during this time. Blacks to a certain extent were allowed to shine in
The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s was a cultural explosion where Jazz, Blues, poetry, drama, song, dance, etc., were making its artistic mark not only in the United States (perhaps one of the most creative time periods in American history), but far beyond the borders of the United States. Russian musicians such as Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg who studied black Jazz under the Harlem Renaissance musicians and tried to imitate the musical art in which to introduce to
Europe. Thus, and as
much as the world was embracing Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Countee
Cullen, Claude McKay, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, Cab
Calloway, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and there were even others such as Jean Toomer,
Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain
Locke, Omar Al Amiri, and Eric D. Walrond, etc.
However, these black artists could not escape American style racism and segregation at home, in which their humanity was forever being judged because of their black skin.
The Harlem Renaissance sprung up just twenty-four years or so, after perhaps one of the most infamous legal decision in American history—the Plessy versus Ferguson Supreme Court decision 1896, in which this United States Supreme Court declared separate but equal as being constitutional and as a legal institution in the United States. This Supreme Court decision ushered in the racist Jim Crow era (1896-1954) and reactionary racial laws. Blacks could entertain whites in some of the biggest night clubs and venues in Harlem and across
but oftentimes had to be served their food at the back door and could not lodge
in white owned hotels and was constantly discriminated because of their race. America
They were victims of lynching, violence, race hating and even Billie Holiday use to sing about strange fruit hanging from the tree (she was singing about black men who were hung—lynched from trees all across the south). Ida B. Wells-Barnett and others protested and drew attention to the social and political contradictions of the
States relative to lynching, which led to some of the
bloodiest race riots in the called the Red Summer in 1919 and
these events polarized our nation. Also, in 1909 the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which evolved out of the Niagara
Movement was founded by Dr. W.E. B Dubois and others who took up the cause of
Civil Rights for African Americans. Dr. Dubois stated the problem of the 20th
Century would be the color line and history has proven that his analysis was
This writer believes Hughes wrote this poem out of frustration, because of the reprehensible social politics of the
and the slow social progress it was making, as far as granting African
Americans justice and equality. But I also believe that this poem was atypical
of the psychology of many Blacks who found themselves in a conflict social
dichotomy. United States
Dubois in his book titled, Souls of Black Folk written in 1903 perhaps analyze and assessed in my opinion what the “A Dream Deferred” meant to blacks, he stated: “After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." (Reference: W.E.B Dubois; "The Souls of Black Folk").
This type social contradiction, perhaps psychologically hunted Hughes and the various plots in this short poem reflects many political and psychological transitions that he perhaps was confronted with, in particular and blacks in general, was confronted with since their sojourn in
dream for equality was present when the first slave ship docked in Jamestown,
Virginia in 1619, but became deferred and many blacks lost their lives making
every attempt to force America to realize that the American dream was bigger
enough for us all. America
Hughes understood that the American socialization process left many blacks bitter and the potential for a social and political backlash was perhaps evident. He recognized that it was not healthy to go about life as though the problem did not exist and by allowing it to lie dormant and going unaddressed, it only would contributed to more social malcontent and this was the problem that the United States was faced with in the early 1950s relative to race relations.
A. Phillip Randolph who had founded the first black labor Union in the 1920s called the Sleeping Car Porters; he also, became a well respected and recognized leader in the AFL-CIO labor union.
had actually called the first March on Washington
in 1950s some ten years prior to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March on in 1963 and
for some reason it never materialized. But Dr. King’s words also spoke to the
social, political, and economic conditions that was plaguing blacks in the
1960s and King’s words lends further credibility to the feelings, thoughts and
emotions of Hughes relative to the poem. Washington
Dr. King stated: “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.” (Reference: Martin Luther King; “I Have a Dream” Speech 1963).
Moreover, Hughes was fully aware that black protest movements and leaders such as Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1920s was fostered into existence, because of the frustration blacks were experiencing from the status quo. Garvey’s back to
Langston Hughes understood that African Americans considered themselves as Americans and desired to be just as patriotic as the next American, but historically was always up against the hurdle of racism and bigotry and this sadden his heart. He was an artist and artists ordinarily have the ability to see things from the third eye perspective, in which race and class are variables that could factor in, but art is universal in scope and intent; it speaks to higher rhythm and vibration.
The Dream deferred eventually led to America exploding in the 1960s (the Black Power Movement), which blacks further saw race as an antagonistic contradiction and violently confronted this evil with rebellions in Newark, Philadelphia, Watts, Detroit, Los Angles, Washington, D.C., Gary, Chicago, Baltimore, etc., in order to confront injustice and social oppression; may be we could view Hughes said poem as being prophetic because what he wrote in 1951 played itself out with one of the most violent explosions in recent American history.
But I also believe that Hughes was more of an optimist than a pessimist and he perhaps knew and understood that dreams only die when people lose hope and although the realization of the dream might not take place in our lifetime and it might appear to have to become deferred by other past generation. But it only lies dormant until the next generations of dreamers arrive with the vision and foresight to take the dream to the next level. The Bible says where there is no vision the people perish.
The dream deferred became a realization with President Barack Obama becoming the first African American president of the
(in 2008 and 2012). I believe, it was dreamers and visionaries shoulders like
Langston Hughes that Obama stood upon in which his accomplishments was an
affirmation and declaration that their work and struggle was not in vain. Thus,
Hughes probably would say a dream deferred is better than no dream at all. Hughes
lived long enough to see United States
pass the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Bill—ensuring African
Americans freedom, justice and equality. I say to all, dream on, dream on and
do not allow a dream deferred to stop you from the realizing your full
potential as human beings. America
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in
our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the
pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted
the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly
rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better
prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants
for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-El can
be reached at email@example.com. ,