Brian Hughes Kasoro
(2012). The Last Generation Of Black People. New York: The Liberator Magazine.
"We cannot see the wind, but we can both hear and see what it does. What some call intuition, others would call the eyes and ears of the heart. In real ways, only when we experience the Universe with our hearts as well as with our minds will our ears hear, our eyes see, realities we otherwise would never know."*
My dear love,
I do not support Feminism. Yet, I have noticed enough to call it a trend that many intellectual-types have pledged ideological allegiance today. I do not consider myself enlightened. I am not a romantic. At every turn ideology seems to me a reactionary solution. Imbalance--the absence of peaceful understanding--between man and woman, however, is one of the most important issues of our time.
In thinking about this imbalance, I think about struggle, war, and justice, as these remain major considerations. Forced to take war for granted today, I wonder about how people judge whether or not the winner of war deserves the result. How do people determine the winner's victory to be just? Outside of ideology, the best rational argument is simply "survival of the fittest," that cliche bromide used to describe Charles Darwin's biological theory of natural selection. If, by and large, men are physically stronger than women and have assumed this power over their counterparts in the physical world, then I suppose one could question whether the "fittest" are not simply surviving according to their natural abilities in this moment--those forms that are capable of outdoing others deserve to outdo others. Are we required to take war for granted for all time though? I'm aware that many Western philosophers shun what they call essentialist thought, or the imagining of a Utopian world where the problems of today do not affect our essential knowledge. Yet, for the oppressed--victims of the empirical knowledge that constructed scientific racism--discernment regarding what affects and transforms knowledge will always be an essential mechanism of existence. In this light, I conclude that justice cannot exist in war.
I'm not really tryna make an argument of it here, my dear.
I want for you to know of balance, first and foremost; as my father and my mother taught me. We come to know righteousness and unrighteousness in complement, as with light and darkness, and love and hate. One cannot even take love for granted in the natural world, so it should be cherished. Indeed, one can always take balance as granted, even when delayed, because it is absolutely necessary for life at its most basic, technical level. The "change" that Octavia Butler wrote about "shaping" is the continuous process of balancing--finding peaceful understanding.
"All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change..."
The epic story of our nature begins with the ingenuity that is original creation--as our original nurturer, nature is also our original teacher. It continues with the brilliance of re/connecting to original creation through successive original creations.
We see dominance in nature. So, are we surprised when we see it in human social structures? Certainly, we are not the only sociable beings on Earth. Yet, dominance in nature is a balancing act alongside subordinate instances. Hegemony--imperial dominance--seeks permanent justification in the face of balance and change. I ask, not how you justify becoming or being the fittest but rather, what do you wish to be fit to do, and why?; is it the right thing for the right reason?; can you do it and be doing to others as you would have them do to you? And is ideology necessary then, which causes some to believe that it is just and right to dogmatically reject dominance?
My dear, do you find an ongoing, interchangeable symbiosis between dominance and subordination in your life? If so, are they dynamic concepts that dance their way around questions of static victory in your mind, to lay your focus on the oneness in mechanisms of change and balance?
In a 2011 lecture titled "Reconceptualizing the Gender of Africana Women," Dr. Valethia Watkins-Beatty defined Feminism as "the study of gender as pathology, the study of pathological models of gender."
"... if the only thing that exists is pathology, then your interpretive framework does not allow you to account for, nor to see, positive health constructions of gender... it is a conception of gender that infuses permanent pathology in the study of gender, so there is no room for the construction of healthy gender relationships.
Can you analyze male-domination sexism without feminism? ... Those who cannot make that separation, then that tells you something about that analytical framework ... Our gender stories are not interchangeable Deborah Gray White in the film "Slavery and the Making of America" ... says that slavery demanded a different kind of womanhood from black women. It demanded that black women be self-reliant, that they have strength, that they show intelligence, that they be resourceful, that they be spiritually powerful, that they become warriors in order to survive, that black women would not have survived with the cultural norm of being weak, of being submissive, of being passive, of being less capable, or seeing themselves in that way. But that norm that we think is a norm is not a universal norm, it is a very specific norm.
My point would be that, although slavery demanded a different kind of womanhood, slavery did not create or produce that different kind of womanhood, that womanhood preceded slavery. So we have a different project. What Feminism is trying to do is bring into existence something they said never existed before, and that is the notion of powerful women, strong women, women in leadership, et cetera and so on. That is not our project. Our project is not bringing something new into existence, it is reestablishing, reconnecting, and returning to.
... When we have powerful women doing powerful things they are not defying gender norms, they are not transcending gender norms, they are living up to the gender expectations that African people have nurtured and groomed."
God bless his soul, when African American "anti-sexist activist" and filmmaker Byron Hurt (Beyond Beats and Rhymes, 2006) declares, "I am a male feminist," I instantly have a sense of his familiar. It literally comes to me in a flash. I sense it, he's about to share the pain and imbalance he witnessed in adult relationships as a child. He explains his ideological allegiance with testimony of his father's aggressive behavior toward his mother. He says he bears witness to "feminism giving women a voice" and "clearing the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity."
"By the time my father died from cancer in 2007, he was proudly sporting the baseball cap around town that I had given him that read, 'End Violence Against Women'. Who says men can't be feminists?'"
Hurt never actually demonstrates that his father adopted ideological Feminism. He simply says that his father, "aged ... mellowed, and stopped being so argumentative and verbally abusive" toward his mother, and that his mother, "grew to assert herself more whenever they disagreed." Nevertheless, he co-opts his father's personal narrative of intimate maturation into the umbrella of ideological Feminism. It is tempting for children to idolize, idealize, and compact testimony--especially that of our parents--into ideology. It can often lead to disappointment and disillusionment, though, for those other than the most committed ideologues. Keep in mind that ideological Feminism/Feminists and feminist are two terms with some distinctions between them. As Dr. Oyeronke Oyewumi notes, "the adjective feminist has a broader reach in that it need not be confined by history; in fact it describes a range of behaviour indicating female agency and self-determination." The problem here is that Hurt conflates the two in an attempt to recruit African Americans to Feminism, which "usually refers to a historically recent European and American social movement founded to struggle for female equality" (Oyewumi). In fact, according to Hurt, his father never claimed to be anything other than a man who changed through a transformational process and "grew" toward balance, publicly supporting ending violence against women.
As a child, my black African mother was honest with me in explaining that my parents were together because everyday, on balance, they wanted to be. They reunited when I was about 9 years old after spending almost a decade apart becoming more in tune with their essential selves. Their understanding relating to agency and intention doesn't guarantee permanent harmony but by maintaining a functional, ongoing conversation around the processes of change and balancing, they actively cultivate honest peace. They have demonstrated for me that "love" is malleable. Although it maintains a general form, it is defined uniquely across specific relationships. I've learned that what is most important to a relationship is to define and agree on a love, and definition cannot be a one-sided affair. This is why simply "loving God" just won't do in many spiritual practices; one must know God to love God, one must know self to love anyone, one must love someone to develop personal relationships, and one must develop a personal relationship with God to know God. In other words, the art of relating is a non-ideological human function.
Of the myriad factors that prevent men and women from achieving balance, our social structure--hegemonic; white supremacist; American; European--is a dominant one that we are forced to cope with incessantly. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno said in 1944 that "culture today is infecting everything with sameness." Looney Tunes has long been fully integrated into what Horkheimer and Adorno named the "culture industry." Drama is the order of our day in ways more intimate and massive than ever. We experience a desperate need to survive; indifference, disregard and negligence toward each other; as well as ignorance and fear of each other, while the dominant cultural discourse suffers amnesia regarding us, virtually unable to offer any honest constructive instruction. We're given a weak choice between the typical preserved and the newly manufactured symbols of reactionary hope. In the 21st century, our contradictory twoness, which has resulted as a consequence of the social construction of race, remains in the minds of many. Yet, from within this mess, balance between men and women must come to be known or re-known.
Today the question of freedom from this order is primarily a psychological one and for us the normalization of resistance to psychological imbalance is most vital. The act of balancing begins first and foremost in minds and attitudes. While it ought not end there, it is under no uncertain terms the very first step. From within an amnesic social order the question becomes how have we--thus, how do we--escape the hypnagogic constructions of the administered society?
Ideology has often been used as a supplemental catalyst toward correcting imbalance--as Dr. Cedric Robinson has shown us with his study of the ideological communist experiments of W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, and C.L.R. James in his book Black Marxism (University of North Carolina Press, 2000)--but it often falls short. We now know that adopting alien, dogmatic ways of knowing--and the oft-hidden historical legacies that accompany them--for the sake of empowerment can confuse and damage our own sociocultural relations. As Dr. Oyewumi illustrates:
"Feminism is primarily concerned with the liberation of women. Given the aforementioned historical occurrences and the fact that in many African societies the category 'woman' cannot be isolated raises the question of the relevance and value of Western feminism.... In its various guises and disguises, feminism continues to be the most avid manufacturer of gender consciousness and gender categories, inevitably at the expense of local categories such as ethnicity, seniority, race, and generation that may be more locally salient
... sisterhood makes sense ... within the social organization of the white American nuclear family and the ideologies that flowed from it. Gender distinctions are fundamental to the institutions of Western culture on which the white American family is based, and the family as an institution is at the cutting edge of gender attribution and manufacture...
The gender-based division of power in the nuclear family permanently cast the mother in the powerless role of a victim...
... In the black community, 'sister' does not imply a desire for a female exclusive community (of interests), which is precisely what is at its base in white feminism.
... it is significant that for many of the enslaved Africans, gender was not coded linguistically in their original languages. Indeed the kinship categories 'brother' and 'sister' do not exist in Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Wolof, Songhoi, Benin, Manding and Fulani to name some of the West African languages and nationalities from which many black Americans originated.
... The comparable category in sentiment in many West African cultures to the concept of 'sister' in Western culture--that is, sister as sibling who has a common interest because of shared experience and social location and whose love and loyalty are supposed to be unconditional--is a category that literally translates as 'my mother's child/ren.' In Yoruba it is 'omoya.' The following is a sample of the term in some West African languages: 'Nwanne' (Igbo), 'Omwiyemwen' (Benin), 'Doo mi ndey' (Wolof), 'N ba den' (Bamana, 'Gna'izo' (Songhoi-Hombori), 'Eyen-eka' (Efik), 'Badenya' (Manding), 'Biddo yaya'm' (Fulani).
... To put it crudely, in the traditional Yoruba household, the first thing you need to know is not whether you are a boy or a girl but who are your 'omoya'-siblings with whom you share the same mother.
... The experience of the mother's womb is not gendered--it carries both male and female babies; therefore the social grouping of 'omoya' does not anticipate any gender commonality amongst its members, and the elaboration of their emotional closeness does not rest on it. Sisterhood, in contrast, is defined solely by gender commonality and the anticipated similarity in social experience as a result of having what Western culture designates as the inferior body-type--the female one.
What emerges from such African household and family organization is the importance of motherhood, the fact that mother-derived ties are the most culturally significant, and that mothers have agency and power. Fundamentally, motherhood is not usually constructed in relation to or in opposition to fatherhood; it is conceived in its own right. Mothers are perceived as especially powerful--literally and mystically, in regard to the well being of the child. They are therefore the pivot around which family life is structured and the child's life rotates.
... In African societies, the question of organizing to attain a political goal speaks to the issue of forming political alliances, and not sisterhood, since group identity is constituted socially and is not based on any qualities of shared anatomy popularly called gender. Consequently, it would be impractical and counterproductive to approach community building and the struggle for a just society as projects constituted on the bases of an exclusive sisterhood of the body. Coalition politics seems to be the practical, age-old system of furthering group interest only, of course, if a group has identified a common interest. Women do not constitute such a group unambiguously or continuously. In the oft-repeated, eloquent words of Bernice Reagon, a 'coalition is not a home.' So if a coalition is not home, why are we looking for sisters within it." (Oyewumi).
To these ways of knowing from African societies, mothers and children unambiguously or continuously constitute groups with common interests, but women alone do not. Here, what need is there for an alternative empire of balance to be created from a blank slate in order to save us from an empire of imbalance? Here, it is not about there being a fundamental problem with male or female dominance. Ideology falls short because although the status quo is a site of mutual resistance, the actual process of balancing our relations is largely circumstantial and intimate to those experiencing a given reality and informed by a given cultural genealogy. Here, a study of just one African widely shared language concept orients our values and aesthetics. Balance is cultivated from the bottom up like this; from the inside out. It requires honesty and openness with self and any counterpart. While it may be unfortunate that today it's exceptional to have the type of sustained, brave honesty and openness required for good speech, it is nevertheless still true that honesty with ourselves enables our capacities for love. I can see no sustainable ideological shortcuts or cohorts.
The impetus for an African future has historically been the vision of the reawakening of the African mind and the re/birth of African civilization. It is by force and the will to survive that African-descended people came to react to white privilege at all. Liberal Studies could not contain an African future and only the focus on remembering is ultimately a true coming forth of a new dawn. For many of us, honesty and openness means reconciling the reality that we feel as if we don't know who we are. Yet, straightforward insights into the African past, like those of Drs. Watkins-Beatty and Oyewumi, orient us and link us to an intergenerational conversation, which speaks back to us through our hearts and minds.
Many of black Feminism's critiques of patriarchy contain at least some modicum of diatribe against emotionally imbalanced "hypermasculinity," rightfully so. But today, the Liberal view essentially seeks a blank slate from which to create a new man. Instead, given a amnesic circumstance and cultural genealogy, the focus should be placed on recovering memory, lost both violently and through distraction, and the healing of the dark and empty spaces. Otherwise, we may enter a war that may never be won, finding ourselves stuck in a never-ending quagmire. African-descended/black women pledging allegiance to a Feminism that shares the genealogy of the status quo only serves most immediately to divide them from many of their men who see no need for ideology in order to honestly seek peaceful understanding in comradeship. Suffering and hate distract and consume us precisely with the symptoms of imbalance. And while perpetrated imbalances shouldn't be ignored, they should rarely dominate the journey to creating and recreating health and balance. The "hater" period is valuable but only insomuch as it informs our subsequent creative action.
As we resist having conversations in our heads and insist on engaging each other in faith, discarding ideology becomes increasingly practical; it can be an instigator that encourages counterparts to interpret critique as judgement. Our society of spectacle maintains a blurred fine line between the two, sensationally equating one with the other. But, as in therapeutic spaces where speech is constructed sensitively and open-ended, we ought to work on constructing our conversations in frames that are conducive to reaching each other. Both giver and receiver should be mindful of giving and receiving criticism in the spirit of peaceful understanding. Our options for relating are education and war. Even if at times we must war for a more just, more balanced survival, should we not generally prioritize? Even the pursuit of justice requires a future and if the war around this persistent imbalance destroys the fabric of our relations in the name of justice, for us justice itself will have nowhere to exist.
My dear, I only see true hope in education.
The recovery of memory is escape from an amnesic social order. The self who engages in the cultivation of balance becomes a site of balancing regardless of where or when she begins. From sites of intimate balancing, through authentic exchange, men, women, and families can share similarities, differences, and synergies. Authentic exchange involves the free sharing of strategy, ideas, tactics, and critique--not with the competitive goal of establishing or imposing a universal, rather for the purpose of constantly growing and improving our own intimate concepts of balance. Our senses develop and sharpen. Imbalance lurking, we consistently pursue and practice balance through action and speech rooted in intimate present demands. Despite the loud cries of our modern liberalisms, our instinctual, intuitive goal seems most correct: know ourselves, find ourselves around others who are also in the act, communicate honestly about our passionate imperfect pursuits of balance**, and either do or do not*** find the comforts, compassions, and passions in companionship that allow us to learn and journey with our counterparts. No matter how hard you try, you can only know when you know. Mom always said, "there will be incompatibilities that are worth your energy and ones that aren't." This too is a part of peaceful understanding and authentic exchange. Our most formidable creative challenge is in practicing the art of relating in order to maintain a real, constant conversation with each other. Some seek ebb and flow through fairness in the representation of competing ideologies, but this is a different project. Wherever and whenever our hearts and minds remember that which is hidden we are where we ought to be. Imagine the rise of generations armed with peaceful understanding of themselves across the three dimensions of time and of the social order that made them two--decidedly operating not from a twoness, neither confused nor amnesic, but from a oneness aware that it was made two. These generations know that ours is the perpetual movement, always in relation to each other and seeking solvency; that each act of relation is an original creation.
*From a note my father sent to me.
**In a friendly, laid back survey of five men on this topic of relating, I learned that their most common worry was the ability of their counterparts to balance confident self-improvement with honest and considerate communication. They took it for granted that they deserve nothing that they do not work toward themselves; "If I want the Jedi I need to get busy in the dojo." These young men--from major cities in the east, midwest, and west--worried: about the lack of cultural forums for self-improvement; about women's "Chi flow;" about how women reconcile "emotional trauma related to physical attraction;" about women who "worry" often; about women who are "controlling;" about women who "would rather have collective misery than individual happiness;" about "emotional manipulation" and being "tricked" or "forced;" about women who do not acknowledge emotional shifts and lack consistency in communicating thoughts and feelings. They joked with a serious air: about "voluptuousness," "oral sex," "physical fitness," "foreplay," "cockblocking," "breakfast with no strings attached," and their discourses of desire. They wished: for mutual consideration and skill, but also for intellectual exchange; for a partner with the ability to enjoy the present moment, and for family; for negotiation over manipulation, and the mutual freedom to dissolve unfollowed contracts; to not be viewed as saviors. And, they imagined: the advice they'd give their daughters one day about accepting and acknowledging weaknesses and ineffectiveness alongside agency and power.
***Even in putting ourselves in the open--naturally, non-ideologically, with faith--we may still find our connections strained or severed. Such organic, non-ideological disconnects are dynamic though, and it is at least clearly possible to regrow them in new context at any point.
Hilliard, Asa G. "The State of African Education" (Plenary Presentation). American Education Research Association Commission on Research in Black Education, New Orleans, LA. 2000.
Horkheimer, Max & Adorno, Theodor W. "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception." 1944.
Hurt, Byron. "Why I Am a Male Feminist." TheRoot.com, Mar. 2011.
Oyewumi, Oyeronke. "Ties that (Un)Bind: Feminism, Sisterhood and Other Foreign Relations." JENDA: Journal of Culture and African Women Studies, Vol. 1 No. 1, 2001.
Robinson, Cedric. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Univ of North Carolina Press, 1983.
Slaughter, Anne-Marie. "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All." The Atlantic, Jul./Aug. 2012.
Watkins-Beatty, Valethia. "Reconceptualizing the Gender of Africana Women" (Lecture). Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization, Washington, D.C. 2011. (link)
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