Blackness and Asianness: Questions of Left Turns on the Road to Self Determination

A jewel was dropped on me this morning at the crack of dawn, via my Facebook timeline.

In “Connecting the Disconnected: When South Asians Accuse East Africans of Cultural Appropriation”, S. Varatharajah makes a bold move to discuss or rather continue discussing recent social media controversy between East Africans and South Asians. South Asian people were in uproar against Black Twitter, accusing African peoples of cultural appropriation. These accusations were consequently called out by Black Twitter and Somali-American writer, Yasmin Yonis, causing the melee, according to Varatharajah. Fancy that… arguments about cultural appropriation between non-white folks. In this piece, Varatharajah gets to the heart of anti-blackness among South Asian people, digging into specifics of colorism by region. He digs even deeper to get to the heart of another “sandpaper” issue, confronting the lack of and reluctance toward a certain deeper knowledge of self of South Asian peoples; ancient African roots.

Let me first state that I am a proud African woman. Indeed, I am a Jersey girl, as is my mother and my family comes from the Carolinas respectively, has claim to Lumbee heritage on my mother’s mother’s side, and has not been born on the continent of Africa in many generations. Indeed my DNA breakdown via ancestry.com shows some European blood and even 1% Central Asian, but maafa is as maafa does… and if a cat gives birth in an oven, the babies are still kittens, not biscuits. I am African nevertheless because I cannot be faulted for being a result of one of the worst human atrocities ever committed… and because I just am.

I am also a student of one of the greatest contemporary African scholars, in the argument of self determination and the proclamation of the African perspective, Aloysius Muzzanganda Lugira (Boston College). Great in my mind, because he has been professor and mentor to many of the greats in others’ minds. Most poignant among his writing, to me, is that which makes the case for Africism, as it stands alone in its own essence, and as it stands not in opposition but that because of the anti-Africanness and anti-blackness that is characteristic of the mentalities and cultures of other invading forces that serve or attempt to stamp out Africanness and most importantly, downplay, dismiss or demonize its legitimacy, intelligence, heritage, influence and power, by default is defiant and resistant… such that even when synchronized with non-autochthonal cultures and spiritual systems, Africanness remains. The very reason why such a case has had to be made to begin with. Studying under this titan for several years was very formative for my perspective as an African woman… a Black woman. My perspective seeks to hold Africanness first and foremost, nearest and dearest, but not in any romantic sense. Being African because one simply is, and being especially careful to notice when forces are hostile to Africanness. This perspective automatically weeds out and criticizes any language that even if it seems to be pro-Black, deligitimizes Africanness. This perspective has gotten me into many fierce debates even among my own people, putting me in direct opposition of hot topics such as the manuscripts of Timbuktu that everyone rejoiced over exclaiming, “see! Don’t ever let white folks tell you we didn’t write,” because as we are the descendants of West and Central African people by majority who were and are primarily oral cultures, I never saw the importance of proving to the world that our intelligence hinged upon being able to write something in the form of codified language on paper. Whatever our ancestors did prior to Islamic and European invasion was and still is just as intelligent… I even cringe saying, “just as.”  Africism flies in the face of negativism; words like animism, festishism, ancestral worship, kafirism and any other term that many in any way subdue or deligitimize any facet of Africanness. Even using words like “mythology” and heathenism or paganism when referring to Africanness, because it automatically implies that something else, i.e. Christianity in its European incarnation is itself truth and African schools of thought or any other schools of thought of the world’s dark skinned folks are otherwise lies or childsplay… Even saying that is more complicated than you may know. You can begin reading Prof. Lugira’s writing on Africism here.

Africism beats back white supremacy. But white supremacy by Europeans is not alone in anti-blackness in the world, and that must be dealt with. In my studies as a historian, in theology, as a student of African spirituality, as a student of world culture and world history, there are a few “sandpaper” topics, one of which is that of African antedecents or roots to South Asian culture – and the people themselves, in all honesty. “Sandpaper,” because they are hard to deal with, they unsettle folks, tough to swallow, are tip toed around and folks just simply do not want to deal with them, it seems. It is not enough to simply boil it down to cultural exchange by way of trade, or by our unfortunate encounters as a result of European colonialism and displacement, etc over several hundreds of years, as I have seen in a few instances. In the interest of breaking taboos and not only unpacking but dismantling oppressive cultural and societal narratives – my use of the word “oppressive,” being redundant here, because narratives tend to be oppressive by their very natures, as we have seen them most often in dominant American and global culture – the idea that there is no connection between South Asia and Africa or rather the refusal of the exploration of any such connection, MUST be tended to. It is beyond time.

But while engaging in this text, it hits me….

My, my, my how this complicates the surge of American Africans clamoring after South Asian spiritual systems and/or the wisdom and energies thereof. This piece was mind blowing for me! Not because I didn’t know much of it, but because I never before thought to wedge within it all this fascination lately over yonis, lingams, tantra – which I have studied/practiced – and energy in a light vs. dark context. In the search for un-dictated-to identity and reclamation of self, droves of Black folk have defaulted to spiritual systems of South Asia (among others across the continent)… without understanding of how the histories, heritages and cultures of those peoples play a role in any of that in which they have involved themselves. Histories and heritages that are themsellves frought with racism, caste systems, ethnocentrism and a type of colorism and anti-blackness stemming from historic invasions and the like that are both different yet all too similar at the same damn time. How responsible are we, while on these “Eat, Pray Love,” style journeys toward nirvana? How much of that tendency in seeking truth or anything for that matter is steeped in an imperialistic white supremacist impulse? Which truth be told, seems to be an issue even in seeking the wisdom of our ancestral spiritual systems and identities; many of us do not actually put in the work to understand or engage with the multifaceted elements of traditional cultures that of course include the actual spiritual rituals and histories. Is it fear? Is it for ease of access? How much of that ease of access is however, tempered in the subconscious idea that all things African are primitive (another negativism term), hidden, difficult, unruly… not easily obtained, without instant gratification… demonic, even. On the flip side, how much true enlightenment can be gained from only choosing to partake in easily digestable soundbites of spirituality and culture, choosing to be ignorant of everything else that influences them? How much truth are we robbing ourselves of, in doing this?

What I am getting at is, there is something muddy about the fascination and elevation of the traditions of folk in another part of the world to the point where one would seek out and focus on qi gong, gong fu, etc while negating long traditions of African martial arts in cultures all over the continent, including wrestling traditions of Senegal. That styles of body art like bendi and henna are fonded over while women throughout east Africa, through Uganda, have done so for thousands of years. Painting the face, hands and body have long been seen throughout the continent with the Fulani and Himba cultures just being a few in name. That hookah is now a hip beloved passtime, with no knowledge of African traditions regarding smoke. The use of styles of chanting and meditation and even mudra, without knowledge of African complex systems of prayer and divination, including mathematics. Chants and songs to Ogun that are tens of thousands of years old. Edification of the consciousness and cool head as ruled by Obatala, calling his children to meditate in the cool breeze on a mountain top. Study and practice of sacred sex and intimacy, constant repetition of the words “yoni” and “lingam”, with no interest in ritual, sacred ash circles, and spiritual science that supports traditional intimacy of African peoples; do yourself a favor and look up Sobonfu Some. Stretching the body in sacred movement like yoga and belly dance, without stretching the mind toward movements depicted on Kemetic temple walls, and dances done in rites of passage into womanhood by African women across the continent. Traditions of monks, Vedics, Sadhus, ascetics, monasticism and secret spiritual societies with no interest in African ancient secret societies, by tutilege and by bloodline that have existed for tens of thousands of years and still function today… Some of which survived the Middle Passage and have since been amalgamated into the Masonic order, especially Prince Hall, in some parts of the Americas.

Essentially, as many of us are ignorant of our own ancestral ways and do not really have much interest in learning them, and their perspectives, we yet and still gravitate toward those, even as children of our ancestors’ wisdom in many respects, although we are largely ignorant to that fact, as well…… Even though, in our cherry-picking of these cultural elements, we end up with a gross misunderstanding of those perspectives, I would argue. No credence is even given to why it might make sense that those practices of Asian cultures or elements thereof may resonate with us so well to begin with…..

The mind wonders………………………………

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