Politics and its long lost friend, culture.



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Recently, with the release of Lil’ Wayne’s the Carter III, there has been in the news the feud between him and civil rights leader Al Sharpton. On the final track of the album, “Misunderstood”, Wayne states his discontent with the latter because of his failure to understand the true nature of hip-hop and its lyrics. Sharpton has notably been in the news in the past year with his campaign against hip-hop and degrading lyrics.The arts movement of the 1920s, known more affectionately as the Harlem Renaissance, was important because it brought to the fore the abilities of African-Americans to perform cultural expressions, writings, and other intellectual abilities for the first time in the public eye. Although, Africana culture existed and thrived thousands of years before, it was during this time that the West collectively realized its viability.

This period is important to analyze because it engendered the cultural-political dichotomy that exists today between Sharpton and Wayne. Between artists and leaders.

While African-Americans were performing, they simultaneously fell victim to paternalism. European-Americans usurped the control of the basic institutions that produced Negro art, creating an environment that sought to control the expressions. African-Americans were forced into a corner, it was either “do what they said” or become a struggling artist. This is important because it laid the foundation for what we now can call a cultural-political vacuum in Black leadership. The Harlem political leaders did not understand the development of a cultural philosophy was important first in understanding how to move politically. They sought political equality and ignored the cultural problems that existed in Negro art. Because they did not control the basic institutions that created cultural productions, African-Americans could not develop an effective cultural philosophy that could dictate and inform their political and economic ambitions.

Harold Cruse in his groundbreaking work, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, stated that “In advanced societies it is not the race politicians or the “rights” leaders who create the new ideas and the new images of life and man. That role belongs to the artists and the intellectuals of each generation.” Since antiquity, Africans have always followed this model of societal continuity. The great philosophers and intellectuals of Ancient Kemet were always the movers of the society. Politically, it is important to understand that our cultural imperatives must always be in play. The Harlem Renaissance and the failure of African-Americans to recreate this in American society has played an important role contemporarily.

Artists and other intellectuals, those create and think critically, like Wayne must be at the forefront of the development of our cultural philosophy today. It will be the main impetus to political and economic change.

While I shudder to call Lil' Wayne an intellectual, he is an artist, and as long as the “race politicians”, like Sharpton, continue the Harlem leftwing legacy of not including art and African cultural identity in the social revolution, it will be difficult to move politically and economically. So when you look for Obama to implement change, also seek to empower the artists and intellectuals towards the building of their own institutions to develop the African-centered cultural philosophy that will lead to the collective change we need.

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