NOTES TOWARD THE DEFINITION OF AFRICAN-CENTERED MANHOOD
by Larry D. Crawford
Most scholarly discourse on manhood in Western society focuses on the actual or potential exercise of power by adult males in various sociocultural arenas. Although the politics of academia have increasingly sought to obscure this truth with questions of what is meant by maleness or masculinity, in the final analysis the measure of men in intergroup relations is their ability to successfully pursue universal and culture specific self-interests.
Informed by political history, the most knowledgeable discussants incorporate this definition and assume the group to be the primary unit of analysis in assessing individual mobility and survival. In other words, the power of the group one is a member of is much more important to the pursuit of individual interests in the wider society than the efforts commonly attributed to individual qualifications. These macro level scholars understand that the quality of dyadic relationships will not change simply by trying to make Black men get better in touch with their feelings so that they can get along with their significant others better. Black men should realize that antagonistic behaviors are endemic to Western society and that the extreme nature of the problems they survive in that context significantly impact on their disposition and reason when they relate to their mates as well as others. So these scholars search the heritage, condition and vision of those groups impacting on the self-determination of Black men for accurate indicators of the general ability of Black men to individually exercise free will in their self-actualizing roles as power brokers in the wider society.
Unfortunately for Black men many such discussions begin with and seemingly remain dedicated to increasingly more disturbing and complex inventories of them as problems. While there is no question as to the validity or necessity of discussing the explosive rates of homicide, criminalization, morbidity, suicide and various other illnesses plaguing Black males, what is most important here is the recognition that an awareness of the natural presence of these conditions in Western society must lead to developing and implementing contextually appropriate attitudinal and behavioral frameworks. Out of these, contemporary Black men can permanently empower themselves as a means of assisting their community out of its crisis.
To begin this process, a simple and natural chain of relationships between individuals and their community must be grasped. The strength of a community lies in its families which are empowered through the individuals creating them. If any of these individuals becomes ineffective in his or her role, the strength of the fabric of the family weakens and tears. When the number of families with such individuals in them increases significantly throughout a community, it too becomes endangered. When this occurs, discussions of nation-building become more critical yet distant. In the words of the Ashanti, "the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people."
In relation to this, bear in mind that group and family stability in this patriarchically privileged society significantly comes through the politio-economic organization of males. Moreover the degree of this solvency is a function of the current level at which independence is consciously pursued. This is no less so in the Black community. In fact, this is arguably more so there in that the systematic marginalization of the Black man combined with the double disadvantage of the Black woman have created a proportionately larger concentration of even more willingly exploitable neoslaves.
Universally, human society exhibits, at minimum, divisions of labor between two genders and various age groups. And groups within societies simply provide idiosyncratic microcosms along these dimensions. Specifically in relation to gender roles among African Americans, most women want men to assume primary responsibility for those areas in which they have been socialized to be more skilled. However, they want a united front without the gender-based, hierarchical, rank-ordered differentiation of power, responsibility and respect characteristic of Western society.
No less important than the dependence of a stable community on functional interaction among Black men as well as the interactive roles facilitating an indispensable coexistence of men and women in that community, and perhaps even more fundamental to truly objective investigation, is the need to understand the subjectiveness of interpreting the manifestations of certain male behaviors as dysfunctional and problematic in an openly hostile and predatory cultural context. For too long have people assumed that whatever does not fit into or reinforce the European model of civility and civilization is abnormal, not understanding the logic and normalcy of similar reactions to oppression throughout history. Once this "subjective objectivity" is conceded, both mainstream scientific and lay communities will be forced to revisit their "scientific" truths about Black males and their community.
Although solution oriented approaches that already consider these discrepancies have been clearly articulated their imperatives are largely ignored by the vast majority of public policy decisions which, being forced concessions, are essentially reactionary and piecemeal agendas more in conformity with the conservative, superiority-preserving interests of white males. Unquestionably, the primary reason for this consistently biased decision-making is the naturally occurring, deliberate intergroup power imbalances inherent in Westernized racism.
Obviously, this article aligns itself with the school of thought advocating an increasingly solvent, independent and permanent group power among Black men. It attempts to broadly establish the basis of an enduring, universally successful program of Black male empowerment that will by default serve to define and delineate individual manhood. An African-centered perspective is crucial to any such initiative in the African American community in that it is both conceptual and pragmatic, concrete and functional. It enables one to approach feelings, knowledge, and actions as a comprehensive whole rather than as disparate segments. It enables one to move from a position characterized by a neo-colonial mentality to one of relative autonomy. Relative autonomy refers to the functional need to acknowledge one's fundamental accountability to one's community, as well as to oneself, thereby avoiding the inapplicable perspective of Western individualism.
To this end African cultural imperatives must be identified in order to fill the definitional void left for Black men by European culture. For to know themselves they must study that cultural heritage which is naturally rooted in the soil of their ancestors because it has never been empowering for Africans to accept the European particular as the human universal. Self-determination through self-knowledge is impossible for Black men within Eurocentric paradigms because "the claim to an absolute ultimate truth is a psychological necessity for the European mentality." To find their unique center or "way," they must individually and together don a cognitive framework that will enable them to extract ancestral truths.
One of culture's most important purposes is to provide the institutionalized apparatus for society's dominant group to extend its advantage from one generation to the next. In this way, the rules and definitions purported to insure everyone equal benefits are systematically implemented at the expense of less powerful groups who are often seen as necessary evils.
Black men of all backgrounds who have come to master self-knowledge must deliver that awareness to the rest of their community. They must convey their interpretation of culture, in its broadest sense, as the manifestation of a group's ideologically organized ability to focus its political, religious, educational, familial, martial and economic activities to serve itself. Culture is intentional, yet it takes on intent only through ideological consciousness.
Therefore, when Black men change how they understand themselves and others through the study of dominant cultural imperatives, the awareness creating the energy of this newfound vision will be more in line with the reality they need to empower themselves, as well as their future generations. Deeply buried in the spirit of their ancestors' culture and civilization lies evidence of their untapped, dormant potential.
Arguments dispelling the disarming myth of differentiated intracultural development must also be studied because they advance the efforts of Black men who most need to pull from the traditional African experience. Since humans began migrating, there have been branchings from root cultures without negating the core commonality among cultural families. Black men need to seek out the core cultural constants of their ancestors and weigh them against those of others.
None of this is to say that in modern time the European cultural foundation has not developed into autonomously functioning societies. Nonetheless, superficially diverse replicas do not negate the thesis of a common, pervasive core. And more to the point of this discussion, no single or collective cultural formation representing the cultural interests of merely ten percent of the world's population should be uncritically accepted as correct for the vast majority of people by dent of force or habit.
The quality of a people's life chances is directly tied to their ability to learn from their ancestors. African wisdom need not remind us that "if you don't know who you are, any history will do." As a host of conscious scholars have shown, survivals of traditional African culture can be found throughout the art, language, music, intellect, spirituality and sense of family and community of African Americans. Nonetheless, in order to engage that which is African and revolutionary, Blacks must continue to uncover and reclaim the positive and negative lessons of Africa.
For example, Western assumptions surrounding the universal applicability of so-called social facts like "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and that prostitution is the world's oldest profession, as taken out of historical and cultural context, are excellent examples of the ignorance of arrogance Black men must avoid in their search for a balanced truth. In attempting to define themselves independent of Eurocentric extrapolations they need to ask questions concerning culturally differentiated moral and ethical bases of power and whose world is being discussed. They must remain above and oblivious to arguments attempting to undermine their efforts to understand and implement who they are and have been for over 6,000 years.
Without doubt, the most general and important source of empowerment is through gaining self-knowledge. It makes little sense for Black men to lead in the drive to acquire land, money, information or majority status if it again benefits others more. There is no reason to believe that this cycle of conspicuous consumption will cease unless they change the way they think. Obviously this requires an intensive study of the lessons held within the resilience of African civilizations as well as in the diaspora. Although many mainstream Black intellectuals feel that this type of culture reinforcing education is wasteful, misdirecting energy that would be better spent pursuing individualism in a colorless utopia, historically grounded scholars tell us otherwise.
You cannot disentangle manhood from power. Obviously a strong and positive correlation binds the power at one's disposal to one's ability to pursue self-interests. Moreover, as stated already, it is important to note the greater importance of group power over individual power in influencing social mobility.
Be that as it may, manifest as well as latent disparities in the exercise of power remain constant. And it is important to understand their confluence. Nonetheless, in this contextual discussion of Westernized African males, the classic sociological definition of power as the ability to check the interference of others in the successful pursuit and attainment of one’s own self-interests will suffice. By definition, empowering individuals through groups enables them to successfully mobilize whatever resources they need for whatever ends they choose. Empowerment necessarily entails the deliberate focusing of a growing awareness of self-interests which instinctively and systematically demand the creation and galvanization of power to pursue. The sense is that power is subject to and a function of continuous creation and cultivation and not inherently the domain of any group of individuals who feloniously lay absolute claim to its discovery and use in the pharisaical domination of "the other."
We, therefore, are obviously searching for a more meaningful and effective use of potential and extant power among the African American male collective. Nothing less than a deepening sociopolitical and economic marginalization can be expected without this. But in order to do so the issue of consciousness must first be addressed because an awareness of self-interests formed through an historical understanding of the impact of conflicting cultural imperatives on contemporary intergroup relations can revolutionize the use of power at one's disposal.
CONSCIOUSNESS: THE APPLICATION OF KNOWLEDGE
It is impossible to separate the xenophobic, racialistic socialization of Europeans that predates Western slavery or the unique indoctrination of Africans into global enslavement, colonization and ongoing exploitation in the capitalist world economy from the suppression of consciousness that maintains the Black community in a profound state of mental, spiritual and social deprivation.
Outside of a blinding propaganda of patriotism infused through commercial media, one fundamental reason for the confusion over group loyalty is the intentional misrepresentation of the origin of racism in Western thought. Many African Americans and most Europeans believe that racism began during slavery and accept it as the impartial rationalization for the inhumane treatment of enslaved Africans. This is, of course, a purely economic argument. And economic arguments tend to lay the blame on institutions that have taken on lives of their own instead of investigating those who build and at some level knowingly use them as tools for their benefit.
Others argue that the origin of racism against people of color can be found early in the evolution of mutated Occidental philosophies. Whether you want to talk about two cradle, cold climate matched with harsh environment, displaced aggression, or fear of racial genocide through miscegenation theories, the assumption is that the systematic propagation of alleged racial differentiation championed by Europeans began long before they were invaded by Moors.
Why are these very different arguments important? Primarily because they determine the action advocated and taken by Blacks to attain "equality" and control over their destiny when under the benevolent tutelage of racists. The locus of cause is of utmost importance. If you believe the former theory thinking racism is a byproduct of slavery, you will assume that economic parity, given concerted forthright efforts by the disadvantaged, will produce racial equality. You will believe that the simple act of elevating individual incomes and wealth among the oppressed to the level of the oppressors will guarantee them the much needed love and respect of their reference group, the oppressors. Books like Volunteer Slavery and The Rage of a Privileged Class help reveal the fallacious and victim blaming nature of this assumption.
If, on the other hand, you endorse the belief that European racist thought greatly preceded the enslavement of Africans in the Americas, then you come to a different understanding of the use of economic currency. And, consistent with this line of thinking, the only solution given the contemporary cultural context is to change the basic framework of rank-ordered, value-laden color hierarchies through which people have learned to screen every aspect of their worlds.
Obviously, without a working appreciation of their heritage relative to the historically demonstrated intent of others, no distinct group of individuals within a pluralism can remain competitive and solvent. And the integrity of a group is the most meaningful indicator and determinant of this viability. Specifically, in reference to race, "integration is the enemy of unity because it requires the integrating group to be subsumed, weakened and scattered as a minority in a society in which the majority rules" Moreover,
"INTEGRATION" and "AMALGAMATION OF THE RACES" are in fact exercises in fatalism and wishful thinking. Why? Because there was never a time in the history of man where the slavemasters of one group ever voluntarily let the other group become its equal under the same government while the slavemasters still remained in control.
Consciousness is a state of mind. It is an evolution in thinking which is spontaneously induced through developing an appreciation of history as an interactive teaching process which helps people "anchor" themselves and their community in relative sociocultural context. Further, as against the Western conception of consciousness which embraces and advocates intellectualization for the sake of rationalizing a fabricated and despiritualized universal objectivity or simply as mental exercises, one of the fundamental tenets of consciousness taken out of the African tradition is that it gains authentication and meaning only though practical and beneficial communal-oriented application.
Scribes, scholars and griots in traditional Africa (including Cushite and Egyptian civilization) pursued knowledge to enhance the life of the community and not for self-aggrandizement. For millennia the principles of Maat governed this. Therefore, from an African-centered perspective, information itself must by default be actualized. There must be an acting out of awareness gained through study or there is no consciousness. Facts and ideas must be experienced in order to become knowledge and only through the course of time does it become an even more profound wisdom.
Evidence for the presence of consciousness is reflected in a naturally occurring action resulting from awareness. It can neither be confined to academia nor should its written sources be simply considered literature. It is the process of learning from recurrent events and priorities in the life of a people, before and relative to interaction with others, in order to implement empowerment strategies that dynamically fit their contemporary sociocultural milieu. Moreover, once consciousness becomes generalized, it serves an epigenetic function by modeling progressive pedagogical agendas upon which each successive generation builds.
Vision is the ability to see the future through the past. Therefore, an African-centered manhood requires Black men to begin envisaging themselves as scholar-activists. It requires a newfound, but ancient, male role model that integrates educator with warrior. The extreme dichotomization brought about by the Western drive toward excessive specialization negates this possibility for society in general. But Black men must embrace and actualize a holistic personality which accepts both mentalities. The Black community needs a model of men that accepts neither the ivory nor ebony towers as safe havens during times of ignorance and war.
Intelligent action requires a renaissance man. His focus must remain on continuously forging dramatic and permanent readjustments in the mentality and worldview of his community through active empowerment -- a long, arduous process. And no matter how depressing as a contemplative reality, he will need to recognize that since it has taken Africans more than 500 years to fully embrace their cultural seasoning then in all probability it will take the same length of time, if not more, for them to revert that process.
INTERGENERATIONAL CULTURE CORRECTING EDUCATION
Historical studies demonstrate the extraordinary respect for educational attainment in the Black community. Contemporary studies of Black manhood also emphasize education because of its indisputable link to greater and lesser communal enlightenment and, in relative turn, empowerment or powerlessness. However, this correlation has become increasingly questioned due to the "inequality reproducing" nature and purpose of the education received.
Due to the pervasive severity of mentacide among African American males, it must be accepted that empowerment through enlightenment will not be accomplished during this or the next few generations. Even for those Black men who recognize the degree of their mentacide, it is a powerful statement about their limited consciousness to willingly rationalize as a responsibility of "minority" parenting the imposition of the same miseducation on their own children as a rite of passage into Western adulthood. Realizing struggle is the motivational force behind the African genius, Black men attempting to fulfill the role of scholar-activist will be forced to realize that not only must this process of cognitive regression be slowed down but it must also be stopped and reversed.
As was just argued, it will require multiple generations to correct the aggregate mentality among Black men which in turn will claim and produce meaningful changes in their interpretation of reality and environment. Understanding this, no permanent empowerment can occur without implementing an educational program that will successively increase the level of consciousness from one generation to the next.
African Americans can never correct this cycle of mentacide without properly educating their children, and them their children. Such a program at its core must embrace a philosophy of intergenerational culture-correcting education which successively infuses a growing historically grounded knowledge base from one generation into the next accompanied by the necessarily concomitant decline of a European imposed false consciousness. Any attempt, especially one calling for independent nation-building within Western dominated society, is bound to fail without the participation of Black men who consciously are about the business of insuring a moral, intellectual and physical environment conducive to progressive, reality determining thought.
A cursory analysis of the formal educational system quickly tells us that Black men cannot do this without educating themselves, by themselves, for themselves. As such, their efforts should not be confused with divisive and reactionary conceptions of separatism. Providing a model by correcting the black community will naturally provide an example for other communities to follow in correcting the world.
Contrary to what seems to be a popular assumption among modern capitalists, each generation is charged with improving on its parents' contributions. Among groups where a thorough understanding and appreciation of their history relative to that of others often determines their ability to protect their interests, an education that works toward positively enriching their existence is crucial. Therefore, it is imperative that African American men stop and reconsider their motivations and goals, because if some or all of their reference group's culture is weak or destructive it should not be emulated. However, determining the relative quality of such characteristics first and foremost requires much difficult study.
With that knowledge base, Black men can explore politically diverse mind-altering approaches to manhood which put future generations at the center of their purpose in this life. Understanding, as their ancestors, that the planet is simply leased to its current residents solely for the purpose of improving its condition in order to provide opportunities for greater possibilities for future generations will in and of itself be the utmost reward for men who seek the guidance and respect of their forefathers.
The descendants of those who built the Western empire must never forget their responsibility to learn at whatever cost. In African cultural consciousness, struggle has always been viewed as a good and necessary part of life, not something to be abhorred or feared. The ancestors were quite aware that limited struggle produced limited men. Struggle tempers the man for even more difficult challenges. Avoiding adversity weakens him.
Larry D. Crawford has been an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Morehouse College since 1991, and has been recognized for his dedication to students and community alike. He serves as the advisor to numerous student organizations at Morehouse College as well as other institutions in the Atlanta University Center.