Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pluralism in the Black Consciousness

W.E.B. Du Bois was one uppity Negro.

- An old professor
What does it mean to be of African descent or a descendent of the African diaspora living in the Americas? Is the term African American negating pluralism? Are we as a people going to maintain our traditions while assimilating into this American culture? Or have we so interwoven into the history of the culture that it is as much our culture as anyone else’s? Furthermore given that there have been dual (And quite possibly more than dual) ideologies about what it means to be of African descent in America, which one is right? Which one is relevant?


The debate of Malcolm vs. Martin Luther King Jr. was one that was always heated within the academic walls of HBCUs. What the debate always boiled down to was the coexistence argument/ fight to be seen as equal vs. the separatist/ fight to be seen as equal and or superior argument. What few failed to realize is that prior to Malcolm vs. Martin Luther King Jr. this spanned back to Dubois vs. Booker T. Washington. The real question, however, is did anything actually sink in within the souls of Black folk when it comes to consciousness from any of these brothers? Furthermore, where are the mentions of ideas from sisters like Ella Baker and Angela Davis? Were there contributions not equally important? Were these streams of Black consciousness sexist in nature? (Well hell yeah they were) With all these questions it’s a bit hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin in this debate or acknowledgement of ideologies. I’ll focus on those of Ella Baker and those of Angela Davis to throw everybody off. Both of them are my (S)heroes.

Most people don’t even know who Ella Baker is. She was one of the major heroes of the Civil Rights Movement although she's not mentioned often. She was the granddaughter of enslaved persons and knew of and about the black struggle from a first-hand experience as opposed to word-of-mouth or observational perspective. She was involved in social activism throughout her entire life and joined the NAACP in 1940. She organized the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) in its infancy. She was the driving force behind the initiation of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) And unfortunately Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, it was Baker’s very ideas that lead and created the movement. She is quoted as saying, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you can change that system. That is easier said than done.” The manner in which the movement was led echoed the teachings of Gandhi.

Angela Davis, the author, the educator and the radical fist in America’s face, was born in 1944 in the deep south of Birmingham, Alabama. She was radical from her teenager years in that she used to organize interracial study groups which she knew would be broken up by cops. (Can you say HELLRAISER?) She was a part of the Black Panther Party for self-defense and, additionally, a member of an all-Black branch of the Communist Party. She spent time in jail and wrote several books. She continues to be an educator within the community in California. Her ideals were those of the Black Panther Party which were more an “eye for an eye” Hammurabi’s code type ideals.

These two women were both influential and played a significant role in the state of Black consciousness. Although they came from two different ideologies, change occurred because of their actions and passions. The question then becomes which action is right? Are we to be nonviolent and want to fit in? Are we to be violent or to bring issues to the forefront in an in-your-face type manner as a people. As for me, it seems as though we are a little past Gandhi’s teachings in that we are not living in a hyper political climate that doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about those of who are descendants of the African Diaspora. We are merely stereotypes in the American dream and since that dream has not included us, why be a part of it?


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