Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Space-Time, Reverend Wright and the American Media
Space-Time, Reverend Wright and the American Media
There is an uneasiness permeating throughout America currently. This is primarily due to the Democratic presidential primary race which, as of now, consists of an African-American (Barack Obama) and a woman (Hillary Clinton) vying for the presidential seat for 2009. This stands to be a monumental event — although extremely late in our history—as for the first time in America’s 232 year existence, that an African-American or a woman has a fighting chance to become president of the United States.
Because of the high stakes of this contest, Americans has yet again found ways to sabotage this race by unleashing its favorite weapon of choice: a bio-psychosocial retro-virus called racism. The subject of race wasn’t an issue until Barack Obama gained momentum (shocking all) as he became the front runner of this competition. The Barack campaign tried its best to transcend the folk taxanomic designation of race and its inconsistencies, but soldiers of the old guard, the media (headed by Faux News), couldn’t allow that to happen.
It started with Bill Clinton’s remarks comparing Obama’s run with that of Jesse Jackson. Clinton’s comments basically positioned Obama as “the other Black candidate” which stirred up lots of controversy for the Clinton campaign. If that wasn’t enough, Geraldine Ferraro, in an interview with the Daily Breeze, made the comment, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position…And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
So Barack Obama is not in the position he is now because he is an educated, intelligent, solutions oriented, qualified candidate. He is the front runner because he’s Black and America feels sorry for Black people—we’re just caught up in the concept of a Black president. Not only that, because Barack has an Arabic name, somehow he was linked to Louis Farrakhan and both were linked to Al Qaeda. And to top it all off, Fox, CNN and MSNBC News played over and over and over and over again a 30 second snippet of a 35 minute sermon of Dr. Jeremiah Wright to scare white Americans because he said, “God Damn America,” making Barack Obama guilty by association.
These events and more has catapulted race to the forefront of the national conversation. While a healthy discussion on the concepts of race and racism is considered good by the author, this writer doesn’t see the discussion as fruitful because we are not delving into the root of the problem: the incompatibility of African and Euro-American culture. Dr. Wright in a recent speech in front of the Detroit NAACP made the comment, “Dr. Jones, in his book, God in the ghetto, argues quite accurately that one's theology, how I see God, determines one's anthropology, how I see humans, and one's anthropology then determines one's sociology, how I order my society.”
The author agrees with this statement but would like to word it a little differently to make a stronger point. Instead of saying “God,” the term “cosmology” will replace it. Cosmology deals with the study of how the universe came into being, but more importantly humanity’s role in that creation. This can include the concept of God but purposely injects man’s possible purpose into the discussion. Therefore, “One’s cosmology determines one’s anthropology and one’s anthropology determines one’s social policy.” Said differently, how you see your relationship to your fellow man and the environment (what you think your purpose is), determines how you engage your fellow human beings and the environment.
The general African cosmological world-view, if it is possible to summarize such a thing, basically states that God in its perfection, at one moment, realized it was imperfect because it had no way to experience itself. Realizing this it created this Matrix (the universe) so it could have experiences. God is all and nothing exists outside of it. Therefore, all that “is” simply is an expression of the “All” having experiences as the objects we see in the universe. So God is all and everything is God. We are all connected because we all come from the “All” as the “All” is us. So animals, trees, rivers, mountains, planets, stars and human beings are all related and share the same spiritual concentration that works in concert with the rest of creation. This fosters a sense of respect for the fellow man and natural objects because, in their mind, there is no separation. This general cosmological world-view is shared amongst the early East Asian cultures and the Native “American” cultures as well. Although this world-view can’t be articulated by most African-Americans, this is the essential paradigm in which traditional African villages operate. The remnant of this philosophy is still present in modern African/American culture.
This is not the case when it comes to the predominant cosmology that developed in Europe. Their cosmology sees creation as an act to show the mere might of the creator. Humans are created to serve the Supreme Being. Human beings have dominion over the earth. The concept of a “chosen people” was established to be an example to the rest of humanity, and it developed out of this construct as well.
According to African wisdom all human beings are here for a purpose and it is up to each and everyone one of us to fulfill our individual purpose and through community, help each other fulfill a larger purpose for humanity. If one culture comes across another culture that does not share the same basic cosmology, conflict is inevitable. You cannot understand any culture without first understanding its cosmology. It is because of this lack of understanding each other’s world view that we are having problems communicating in this presidential race (African-Americans and European-Americans). What further complicates matters, in the case of Reverend Wright’s speeches, is that you have non academicians (or studied persons) attempting to engage in an academic debate. Furthermore, our two different time orientations (and cosmologies) are causing us to have different perspectives on race, this presidential campaign, and what are the core issues plaguing America as a country. This essay will attempt to address, in the author’s opinion, why most European Americans just don’t seem to “get it.”
Non Academics in an Academic Argument
In the famous Black Athena Debates, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, during the introduction concerning Dr. Mary Lefkowitz’ book Not Out of Africa, made the comment, “I am not here to debate anyone…I only debate with my equals….all others I teach.” The implication of the comment is that one cannot engage in a meaningful discourse unless both parties have studied the same material and/or experienced the same things. A freshman English major cannot hold a serious debate with a Ph.D. in Physics about the merits and accuracy of the God Almighty Grand Unified Field Theorem (GAGUT) calculations developed by Dr. Gabriel Oyibo. The freshman English major has not studied enough, even given an introductory course, to formulate a well informed opinion.
In many ways this is what’s happening in the main stream media today (CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and various print media) concerning the points addressed by Dr. Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Dr. Wright is not being challenged on the accuracy of his comments (as you would in an academic setting), but is being scrutinized because his words were “fiery” when he made them (meaning he had emotion accompanying his words). Dr. Wright is a historian and theologian. The arguments he has made in the pulpit and in the recent media are scholastic arguments.
What you have are non-historians, people who have not read anything outside of what’s in the New York Times, trying to critique issues they have not studied. Because they know little to nothing about the issues raised, all they can do is engage in ad-hominem attacks on Wright’s character (another thing they know nothing about). The American main stream media suffers from a well known disease called intellectual laziness. Instead of laboring to do the work, sifting through primary resources and doing a critical systems analysis on the data, most Americans base their opinions on thought experiments and media sound bytes.
The issues raised by Dr. Wright, to name a few, are: The effects of America’s foreign policy and its past relationships which directly affect us today; The United State’s sponsorship and training of Al Qaeda and weapons supplied to Saddam Hussein; America’s own apartheid practices against its African-American citizens; America’s genocidal campaign against the aboriginal Indians native to this continent; America’s role in the Trans Atlantic Slave Holocaust; The origin of AIDS; and the recent attack on Black culture and the Black church tradition.
We have yet to witness any discussion on the merits or details of the above raised issues. This is to be expected as these commentators do not have a reference to begin such discussions: they have not studied. For the majority of learned Americans, Dr. Wright’s comments were right and exact. They had no problem with his views what-so-ever because they know the history. The only people who have a problem with his comments are the ones who have not studied. The author challenges the reader to challenge the news media to address, academically, the subjects raised by Dr. Wright so we can stop wasting time on meaningless topics. The one shaky subject in which Dr. Wright might have difficulty making a sound argument concerns his statement on the origins of the AIDS virus as the result of the American government. He might have a better argument addressing it from THIS standpoint (Origin of AIDS.com).
Time-Orientation: A Cultural Dichotomy
Critical to this discourse are the approaches to how time is conceptualized by African and European people (in general). One’s orientation determines one’s reference for assessing normality. Time conceptions are critical in that they determine which events are most significant (Akbar,2004). This ties into one’s cosmology and as Akbar notes that:
Most importantly time becomes that which maintains the cadence of people’s lives. It determines their rate and intensity of activity as well as their priorities about life. Their motivations and orientations are determined through the cadence established by their time orientation. Time is such a powerfully subjective factor that people seldom consider that their time orientation is actually idiosyncratic. (Akbar 2004: 69).
A full treaty of a culture’s Time-Orientation is beyond the scope of this article and the author encourages you to read Dr. Naim Akbar’s Akbar: Papers in African Psychology and Dr. John S. Mbiti’s African Religion and Philosophy, for a deeper discussion on the matter.
The Euro-American conceptualization of time is essentially futuristic. It is a linear series of events and very little value is placed on the past as it relates to the present. Their rhythm as a consequence is exceedingly urgent and pressured. As Akbar notes, the objectives of their studies are focused on the goal of prediction and control. The concepts, instruments and methods are ones that are geared towards future outcomes as opposed to the enhancement of the present or elaboration of the past.
From the African perspective, time orientation is primarily past and present. For African people across the globe, to understand current behaviors one needs only to understand the history of phenomena. Time is a cyclical series of events in the African world view. The past was focused upon as the source of instruction because “the direction of one’s life system was from the present dimension backward to the past dimension” (Nobles, 1980).
For the people, time itself was simply a composition of past events. Very little concern was given to time in and of itself. It existed, but the African time concept was (is) very elastic…Time was reckoned by phenomena. (Nobles, 1980)
As concerns the miscommunication of needs and this presidential race between African and Euro-Americans, the failure to communicate is directly linked to how we conceptualize time. Most African people who engage in a discussion with European people about the relevance of correcting the wrongs of times past are often met with resistance because American culture cannot contemplate the fact that what is happening now is directly attributed to what happened before.
You will often hear, “why should we be worried about that? That happened so long ago.” You will hear that often when we discuss reparations for the slave holocaust and Jim Crow. European Americans honestly feel that they are in power because they “worked hard” and it has nothing to do with the 200 years of free labor that gave the United States its wealth. White Americans honestly feel that Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade center because they don’t like Democracy: that this had nothing at all to do with the US turning its backs on Al Qaeda after Operation Cyclone. It has nothing to do with our financial support for the Israeli take over of Palestinian land (view The Kingdom movie intro).
We have a serious time disorientation problem here in the United States. You can’t move forward unless you address and correct the ills of the past. Otherwise you will find yourself in a self perpetuating loop in which growth and development becomes stagnate. This is brilliantly articulated by London economist Margot Light in her paper The Response to 11.9 and the Lessons of History. This cultural paradigm is directly responsible for why some European Americans do not “get” what Jeremiah Wright has being saying in his speeches. They have not studied and/or their concept of time is deficient. For a more recent example of cognitive dissonance, please visit: http://buchanan.org/blog/?p=969
Currently we are failing to communicate our perspective and scholarship because we are attempting to have debates with individuals who are not our equals on the subject matter. If you walk up to an intelligent man and an ignorant man in a debate, there’s no way to tell the who’s who. The underlying issue is culture: how we see the world and how we express our world-view. Remember, “Your cosmology determines your anthropology. Your anthropology determines your social policy.” Unless we get on the same mental plane and agree on a central cosmology, our energy will be spent on futile efforts to make real change in this country. You can’t develop solutions with a people who view themselves as separate from nature and the rest of humanity. How can we work together if you do not see each other as one and the same? If you see each other as one and the same, then their struggle becomes your struggle. If you truly understand the oneness of humanity, then you truly understand the concept of the Butterfly Effect and how the “sensitivity dependency on initial conditions” plays out in the social “atmosphere.”
We as Black/African people understand the fundamental law of nature that states energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. So what we seek is balance and to put things in balance, we must correct the problems of the past in order to have a more prosperous future. Otherwise that same energy will manifest itself in a different form with greater intensity. We cannot correct the problems of the past unless we have an accurate account of history to know where the changes need to be made. This is the discussion we need to be having and those in the news media need to take more time to study instead of analyzing sound bytes, taking issues out of context. That is unethical and a poor method of journalism. They should probably do a weekly show instead of an hourly show so they have time to study that which they are reporting. And the few Americans of European descent who do “get it” need to find their way into positions of power so their voice can be heard.