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X-posted from H-NET List for African History and Culture <H-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU> From: Joyce Youmans <youmans@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU> __________ From: "Asar Imhotep" <email@example.com> Date: Tue, May 11, 2010 1:04 pm Greetings, I wanted to get some feedback on a controversial idea which I introduced in a recent publication titled The Bakala of North America - The Living Suns of Vitality: In Search of a Meaningful Name for African-Americans. The recent discussion of reparations and slavery conjured up some thoughts in regards to the many effects of slavery not often explored in discussions when analyzing pathologies as a result of identity loss. There are some aspects of reparations that cannot be given to African-Americans and one of those is a bona fide identity. I have taken the pains to suggest a name for the African-American community to evaluate and to begin a public dialogue on the criteria for which to define ourselves. I mined many African language families for a core term that represented the history, gifts, purpose and vision of African-American people and that is Ka/Kala. I added the Bantu plural noun-class prefix ba- which gives us BaKala. This is just one step in a process in which I call the African-American Cultural Development Project which is a project with a mission to create an African-American culture (the controversial part). I argue that African-Americans are Americans with Africanisms and that we do not have our own unique culture in the fullest sense due to slavery. Therefore I will be calling on the best of our minds to come together in a series of yearly conferences (like the council of Nicea) to iron out and organize the framework for an African-American culture. The synopsis of the work is below, but I wanted to end with this quote from Jordan Ngubane "Conflict of Minds" (1979:60) "To be human is to be able to say what and who you are and to be able to say why you are here and where you are going; It is to be able to define yourself. Ancient Zulu philosophers taught that the person was unique in that he defined himself, in that he knew the worth of the value that he was." Ancestrally, MuJilu MuKatapa (Asar Imhotep) http://www.asarimhotep.com The Bakala of North America: The Living Suns of Vitality To be or not to be may not be the most important question, but more so, "Who shall we be?" The holocaust of enslavement and its subsequent manifestations in the United States has rendered catastrophic disharmonies within the African-American personality. With the loss of ancestral family names, cultures and social systems, the formerly enslaved Africans have been like a ship adrift in a hostile sea; moving in whatever direction the tide of identity takes them. Black people in America have had to ask some very fundamental questions about their identity, such as: What is the historic nature of names? How did we acquire our names? What is the importance of a proper name? What do our current names mean? Do our current names accurately reflect our collective history, gifts, vision and purpose? The BAKALA of North America: The Living Suns of Vitality asserts that the historical names given to the formerly enslaved Africans in the United States (Black, Colored, Negro, African, African-American) do not adequately reflect the spirit of the people. Asar Imhotep offers for consideration a name that is rich in meaning and wide in its application which accurately reflects the history, gifts, vision and purpose of African-American people. The BAKALA of North America takes us on a philosophical and linguistic journey that begins on the banks of the river Nile, to the forests of the Kongo; from the slave ports in Ghana, to the river of the mighty Mississippi. Asar Imhotep's research, scholarship, synthesis and creative application of various disciplines convincingly supports the notion that the name BAKALA (the charcoal, enlightened, vitalistic, people of the sun) best reflects the personality of the African-American. The more fascinating aspect of this work is the notion that we've always been BAKALA, we just never realized it. ____________ REPLY 1 From: "Charles Geshekter" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Wed, May 12, 2010 12:54 pm In response to Asar Imhotep, I refer him to one of America's "great explainers," its venerable polymath, Albert Murray. Author of *The Omni-Americans* and ten other books, Murray tirelessly explained why American national culture is "irrevocably composite" and "incontestably mulatto," a novel complexity formed of "the ingenious Yankee, the frontiersman who's part Indian, and the Negro. All Americans, I don't care if it's a neo-Nazi, are part Yankee, part backwoodsman, part Negro," says Murray. "I was already an American before I was ever conscious that I was black," he recalls. "I was already breathing.... I looked around and saw all these different people that belonged around me. Some of them were white, some of them were Indian, some of them were Creole, and so on." In his introduction to *The Omni-Americans,* Murray calls the United States, "in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people. They are white Americans so to speak and black Americans. But any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and the black people are not really black. They are all interrelated one way or another." Novelist Ismael Reed agrees there is no white America and no black America because, he observed, "we are a nation of distant cousins." Most of us can recall Alex Haley's 1970s book *Roots,* a combination of fact and fiction about a resilient African and his family forced to live in America as slaves. Haley traced his family's history on his mother's side to a West African village on the Gambia River. But Reed points out that had Haley traced his father's bloodline, he would have travelled back to Ireland. Black culture is American culture and the truest Americans are black Americans. Their perseverance to preserve their sanity and to maintain their equilibrium under oppressive circumstances helped to provide the roots for a truly distinctive American culture. For instance, our music draws from the improvisation of jazz and the blues which, when mixed with spirituals and country and western, gave us rock 'n roll. American music can be divided into ethnic folk music, secular and sacred functional music, popular song, rock, jazz and art music. "The central irony," notes David Schiff, is "that the most distinctively American music was created by a sub-population who were neither pioneers nor citizens, but slaves or their descendants, who were deprived of most of the benefits and rights of citizenship." Schiff claims that American music "rests, uneasily, on three principles: art, money and the blues." Robert Faris Thompson insists that "to be white in America is to be very black. If you don't know how black you are, you don't know how American you are." These reminders are probably not what Asar Imhotep had in mind, but they are a way of saying that the United States is deeply rooted in black culture, its colloquialisms, humor and music. Stanley Crouch has shown that black jazz musicians by their very sophistication were in acts of rebellion. "Those musicians," said Crouch, "made a liar of every bigot who sought to restrict or limit what black people could and could not do, could and could not feel." Charles Geshekter California State University, Chico ____________ REPLY 2 From: email@example.com Date: Wed, May 12, 2010 4:20 pm Hello creative thinker, You asked for feedback, so here goes! As a citizen of the world living like other people in what is increasingly becoming a global village, I am quite content for now to consider myself by a number of limiting labels that already exist (e.g., black, brown, American, citizen of the world, male, African American, sexual being, free-thinker, etc.) although I consider them all except "human being" to be simplistic and only terms of convenience to be used at various times and in various places according to context. Like all other human beings, if we trace back far enough, all of our relatives presumably come from a place that we have in recent centuries (most especially since Ancient Roman times) gradually come to refer to as "Africa." But as I have pointed out in all the books and articles that I have authored on Africa, the Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and following on the heels of many other scholars with more than a passing interest in science and its application to people and their environments, all continents as we conceive them within their so-called boundaries are largely overlapping myths of a age that has largely passed. Moreover, considering that there exists no such thing as a pure tribe, pure race or pure ethnic group among human beings (and perhaps probably never has), all so-called racial labels are also essentially mythical and antiquated. Even so-called males and females overlap. Hence, I am not looking for a tribal identification as I march forward in the world of today and tomorrow. It is also a myth that slavery has uniquely victimized people of African descent. But to those who feel that that they have no culture unless that culture has a specific name, I say, go forward and best wishes, and may you one day find the racial and/or ethnic ID that makes you happy, albeit in a global village where biology, color, and culture are continuous among all people in some greater or lesser degree! With best regards, Stefan Goodwin, Ph.D. Anthropologist ____________ REPLY 3 From: "Charles Geshekter" <firstname.lastname@example.org> ASAR: I haven't read Mr. Murray's book, so my critique is simply based on the passages quoted by Mr. Geshekter. In response, it appears that the author is of the opinion that the mere presence of ethnic groups living in the same space constitutes culture. One error I see in his analysis, and those of others on this topic, is that they try to make identity a "race" issue when race, as a biological construct, is a fabricated ideological paradigm designed to be a tool for the perpetual domination between so-called 'whites' and other 'non-white' people. It is a tool of 'othering' which makes them the subject and others footnotes in world history (travelers circling around the imperishable stars in the northern sky). MURRAY: "[The United States] in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people." ASAR: Who said it wasn't? This is a non argument and detracts to what is actually of concern for African-Americans. MURRAY: "But any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and the black people are not really black. They are all interrelated one way or another." ASAR: Again, a non argument among African-American people and a juvenile observation and a straw-man. White people are 'white' because they called themselves white. Black people are 'black' because THEY called them black. The color issue is a surface issue. The real issue is social sovereignty and the human right and ability for a population of people to define themselves in a manner that is consistent with their history, purpose, gifts and vision. It is about telling the world who you are, why you are, and not what 'they' "perceive" you to be. ASAR: Ishmeal Reed's comments, again, makes the issue one about the false folk taxonomic concept of race. This is one of the core problematics. ASAR RESPONSE TO CHARLES GESHEKTER & DAVID SCHIFF: A major error in many cultural discourses around the country is that they always reduce culture to dressing, singing and dancing. Sure these are expressions of culture, but this is not culture. Not once do we discuss African-American philosophy or cosmology/cosmogony or values. All discussions center around music or "race" which limits one's understanding of a people. As Dr. K Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau in his seminal work African Cosmology of the Bantu Kongo notes - in agreement with many African authors - that, "Understanding the world-view of a people is the cornerstone for understanding their culture." Culture is a social product designed to solve problems. It is a social paradigm designed to develop (cultivate) a type of human being that serves the community's interests. We can't have these types of discourses because black people aren't supposed to be able to think critically. Culture is a thinking process: a way to catergorize and organize life. All Black people can do is sing and dance and run and be studs (according to some). Therefore our public discussions are reduced simply to race, music, dance and maybe food. ROBERT F. THOMPSON: "to be white in America is to be very black. If you don't know how black you are, you don't know how American you are" ASAR: What is an American? What does the word American mean? What is the aspiration embedded in the name that acts as an mnemonic device to remind the people in which the name is attached about their purpose in life? What are the expectations of identifying with being "American"? Do African-Americans have any biological or cultural ties to Ameriggo Vaspucci? None of these questions come up in our discussions in regards to the term American. Mr. Thompson's analysis is prone to the error of again reducing identity and ethnicity to race, which doesn't exist in the first place. Isn't this the same methodology that bankrupt Enron? That caused the housing bubble to burst? That caused the banking industry to collapse? Not having any assets in which to make investments? The same issues plague "race." ASAR: The whole purpose of this is to expand our notions of identity, its benefits and disadvantages, its purposes and to critically scrutinize what we think we know about culture. The Bakala of North America is not about race and strongly rejects this concept on scientific grounds. This subject is about culture and a people's right to develop, adjust, expand and maintain their culture. Unfortunately most people don't know what culture is. Asar Imhotep http://www.asarimhotep.com ____________ REPLY 4 From: "Victor Kazembe Kawanga" <email@example.com> Goodwin, Has attempted to provide some insights into what I classify as "..the identity crisis..". Am also aware that there is a thread that provides details on "tribes, Africa etc.". In my book, I have emphatically argued that in most cases history has yet to be written. Much of what is currently available in literal circles does appear to be stage managed. Once I had a discussion with a colleague on divisive terms such as "tribe". An African American friend once advised me to identify him as African-American but "American". Having reflected on it later, I did agree with him. Why? basically because I used what is currently obtaining when it comes to being identified between peoples of the world. Am yet to see immigrants (historically) from Europe being branded British-Americans, French-Americans or perhaps in more general terms European-Americans etc. They all carry the title "Americans". Why does not this apply to those whose fore-fathers came from Africa? Should not we just refer to them as "Americans" rather than "African-Americans" etc..?. Best regards, Victor Kazembe Kawanga Zambia ____________ REPLY 5 From: firstname.lastname@example.org In response to: From: email@example.com Date: Wed, May 12, 2010 4:20 pm STEFAN: I am quite content for now to consider myself by a number of limiting labels that already exist (e.g., black, brown, American, citizen of the world, male, African American, sexual being, free-thinker, etc.) ASAR: I appreciate your feedback. Two things must be stated before we begin. Firstly, we must distinguish what we call ourselves as an individual [free-thinker, sexual being] vs. an identity which crystallizes the aspirations of a people [amaZulu, for instance, dealing with the ability to forge new frontiers, to travel to new heights]. This 'project' is really not concerned with convincing the present and past generations of African-Americans. They are pretty much satisfied with who they are as we can see with the large amount of elders satisfied with the word Negro for the US Consensus. But there are a few of us, who have the benefit of hindsight, who are not conservative, and who are not tied down to old paradigms and limitations of identity, who recognize an opportunity to address a problem our elders did not have the leisure time to deal with in their time due to more immediate and pressing needs (voting rights, freedom, overt lynchings, etc.). This is for future generations to inherit and refine. On June 11, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech titled "The Black Power Defined", made this observation: "We must frankly acknowledge that in past years our creativity and imagination were not employed in learning how to develop POWER. We found a method in nonviolent protest that worked, and we employed it enthusiastically. We did not have leisure to probe for a deeper understanding of its laws and lines of development. Although our actions were bold and crowned with successes, they were substantially improvised and spontaneous. They attained the goals set for them but carried the blemishes of our inexperience." ASAR: In the final analysis it is about power and culture is an instrument of power. It is the source of a group's power because ultimately culture is the organization of the patterns of relatedness between people: their shared perspectives, values, and response to challenges. Power is having the means to meet your needs. When we look at the relative powerlessness of African-Americans, it is directly related to their cultural paradigm. For who do they utilize their gifts and talents for? Are these talents used in the benefit of the collective, or to maintain their subordinate relationship to "whites?" STEFAN: all continents as we conceive them within their so-called boundaries are largely overlapping myths of a age that has largely passed. ASAR: There are millions of people who beg to differ. It is one thing to participate in a global market economy, but it is a total different story to abandon one's accumulated wisdom and heritage to participate in "over-lapping" borders primarily set-up by European people. What people are calling for across the globe is respect for who they are: to be able to participate in human progress without having to do it under a Eurocentric mindset which has caused cataclysmic disharmonies across the globe. So it is not "outdated." It is precisely this framework which has sustained human populations for the past 4.6 million years. In African indigenous communities this paradigm can be classified as what the amaZulu call "simultaneous validity." This paradigm asserts that every person (or population) defined itself in terms valid in or dictated by its environment and each such self-definition was simultaneously legitimate, valid and important as that of its neighbors. The nature of slavery changed the African's environment (physical and social) and as a result lost his way of classifying the world, his languages, customs and most importantly the meaning behind his nuances. It is these circumstances and more that compels the African-American to redefine his/her collective self so they have a framework for which to meet the challenges of its time like humans have done since time immemorial. STEFAN: Moreover, considering that there exists no such thing as a pure tribe, pure race or pure ethnic group among human beings (and perhaps probably never has), all so-called racial labels are also essentially mythical and antiquated. ASAR: The problematic here is in equating the false folk taxonomic construct called "race" with culture. A beginner's working definition of culture deals with a group's set of rules and procedures for meeting their needs. The set of rules and procedures, together with a supporting set of ideas and values, is called a culture. Race is based on some fantasy that human beings originated in different parts of the world and developed at the same time physical characteristics that directly or indirectly influenced a group's mental capacity. Race is a value judgment grounded in phenotypic distinctions that are not uniform or does not exist. These are two totally different paradigms and do not equate. STEFAN: I am not looking for a tribal identification as I march forward in the world of today and tomorrow. ASAR: This is an attempt to down-play the situation as if 40 million people are a "tribe." Secondly, this isn't about "I" as it is about "we" marching forward into the future. Only in the "West" is there such a thing as individualism that we can reduce a discussion of "we" to "I". I do not believe this was your intent, but mentioned to demonstrate why semantics is important. STEFAN: It is also a myth that slavery has uniquely victimized people of African descent. ASAR: Are you serious? Please inform me how American slavery was not unique in the history of human enslavement. And if you agree that it was unique, how could you logically argue that it didn't have "unique" results? STEFAN: But to those who feel that that they have no culture unless that culture has a specific name, I say, go forward and best wishes, and may you one day find the racial and/or ethnic ID that makes you happy. ASAR: The argument isn't that African-Americans have no culture. The argument is the culture (the values, the way of categorizing the world, the way of evaluating the world, etc.) that AA's currently utilize and defend is essentially European. Also, it is not an issue of "finding" a cultural identity. No population "finds" a cultural identity. Culture is developed. As Dr. Amos Wilson often stated, "Ultimately culture is a conspiracy." In The Bakala of North America: The Living Suns of Vitality, I isolate 9 laws of culture. One of the 9 laws is "Culture is done on purpose." There is no such thing as "accidental" culture; or culture one finds in a book or super market. People have meetings, organize and develop the rules for how the community patterns its relationship with its members and environment. The people set goals for the community and crystallizes a collective mission and vision. Dr. Kykosa Kajangu in his unpublished PhD dissertation titled "Beyond the Colonial Gaze: Reconstructing African Wisdom Traditions," makes the following observations: "The ancestral vision is a vivid expression that describes why a particular community of memory exists and what types of human beings it intends to deliver. It expresses the feelings that members of that community of memory hold for their community and its place in the world. OFTEN THIS VISION IS THE NAME THAT THE COMMUNITY GIVES TO ITSELF." (emphasis mine). I can cite dozens of researched material that essentially say the same thing. What is clear from this passage is that culture is intentional: it has a mission for the people and a system in place to teach its values. This vision is embedded in the name of the people. In other words, there is meaning to the names adopted by people around the world. I spend a great amount of time in the book discussing how important names are to African people. It is not something arbitrary as any student of linguistics comes to discover in their studies on African people. The question you have to ask yourself is, "What do the names mean for which I identify myself with?" If ethnic names are aspirations for people, what aspirations do my names hold? If people other than "Black" people gave us our names, how great were their aspirations for us and how did they crystallize it in the names they "gave" us? You mentioned that you are satisfied with calling yourself 'black'. The word KALA means "Black." The BA is a Niger-Congo noun class marker that marks plural for the human noun class, but also has the meaning of "they, them, people." So BAKALA would simply be (on one level) Black People. However there is a deeper cosmology associated with Blackness on the continent not expressed in the US. KALA is a dialectical variant of the word KAMA, IKAMI, KEME, KAUMA, etc. across Africa that means "Black." It is the same root for the word KMT, a name for ancient Egypt. You also mentioned that you are a "citizen of the world," well the root of KALA is KA/KAA which also means Human being/Person. You said that you identify with the word "man." In Kikongo/CiLuba BAKALA also means "man." The same name for god is the same name for man in Africa. A matter of fact, the word Man derives from an African word: IMANA, MWENA, MANI. These are all names for God in African languages, also the name for leadership and the human being. This travelled in the Indo-European languages: mand (danish), man (Swedish), mann (Dutch). You also mentioned "sexual-being." Sex is a ritual of creation, of bringing new life into being. KALA also means "to be, come into being, to come forth, to exist, etc." It is a creative synthesis which all derives from the creative force that permeates the universe (God): KALA (Kikongo), KAKA (Ancient Egyptian), KAKA YETU (Luvale-Bantu, meaning Our God as a primary ancestor), HaKAdosh (Hebrew, the divine one). Its conceptual elasticity is explained in detail in the book. One will just have to read how the many definitions of the root KA/KALA pertain to the characteristics of African-American people. From their one should compare the suggested term to any term suggested by Europeans in regards to African-Americans. Asar Imhotep http://www.asarimhotep.com