New Afrikan Spirituality

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Soundtrack: Bob Marley – “Africa Unite”

For several reasons, this year has been a time of pretty intense self-reflection for me. One of the main things that I have been reflecting on is my own spirituality. It really dawned on me at the beginning of Black August that I had some cognitive dissonance surrounding my spiritual beliefs; meaning that I had some beliefs which contradicted each other. With me being the philosopher that I am, that was unacceptable for me. On this last day of Black August, I have been inspired to share what I have come up with on the subject of spirituality, as it relates to not just me but to all Afrikans in North America.

Let’s start with the term New Afrikan. The United States style of slavery was the greatest crime against humanity that the world has ever known. For three hundred years, people were brought to this country from all over West and Central Africa, and completely robbed of a knowledge of their history, their language, their families, their gods, and their culture. People from dozens of distinct ethnicities were brought to this place and forged in the furnace of oppression into one new people; a naturally Pan-Afrikan people. That is why we use the term New Afrikan to describe ourselves. It also explains why our spirituality and our culture is naturally, and of necessity, a mixture of practices from across the Afrikan continent. That is the nature of who we are as a people.

But let’s go back to before the Afrikan Holocaust. In the West Africa of the 1500s there was already a mixture of expressions of spirituality. We had not only the various kinds of Afrikan Traditional Religion, but we also had people practicing Christianity and Islam and Judaism or the Hebrew religion. West Afrika was the cultural capital of the whole world at that time in history. The world’s largest university was in Timbuktu. The world’s richest man (and the richest person of all time) was Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali Empire. People came from all over the world to study and do business with the people of West Afrika. Those visitors also influenced us in various ways, not the least of which was spreading their religions among us. (This is very oversimplified but I don’t have the space to fully explain the inter-cultural dynamics of 14th century West Afrika.)

Even earlier than that, starting about 70,000 years ago, people started leaving our ancestral homeland in Afrika and venturing out to populate the rest of the world. Those Afrikan people went into Asia and Australia and the Pacific Islands and the Americas and eventually formed very new cultures in response to the various kinds of environments that they moved into. But all of them maintained some of the influence of our earliest Afrikan human Ancestors.

So our Ancestors who were brought to North America to be made slaves came from various Afrikan cultures. And they were forced to abandon almost all of their various cultural traits. Give thanks though that some aspects of what makes us Afrikan could never be stamped out, they just live in our souls. Over the course of our sojourn in this land, we’ve also been exposed to people from all over the world.

All of our distant cousins, descended from those adventurous Afrikans who left home tens of thousands of years ago, decided to come to Amerika in the 19th and 20th century to take advantage of some of this land of opportunity that they were told about. And of course, there were those who had already been living in this land for tens of thousands of years before the Europeans came. So this people from all over the Afrikan continent came to America and got introduced to people representing all of the various ways of being human that have been developed on the planet. And we have taken all of those cultural inputs and filtered them through our unique Afrikan soul algorithm to output a new kind of swag that has taken over the cultures of the whole world.

New Afrikan culture, especially our cultural expression called Hip Hop, has become the dominant cultural expression for the youth of literally our whole planet. I believe that is because we are an amalgamation of the whole world, with some one-of-a-kind Afrikan spices put into this melting pot. So we have a vibration or frequency that the entire global population can resonate with.

But let’s remember that we started this American experience by having our cultural roots stolen from us. So we are still in the process of intentionally reconstructing who we are. That especially applies to how we choose to express our spirituality. I believe that we should embrace our various influences in how we reconstruct our spirituality. Let me reiterate my earlier point to make it more clear.

Humanity started in Afrika. For over a million years, the only place where human beings could be found was in Afrika. Afrika is the womb that shaped us as a species. At a certain point, we started venturing out into the rest of the planet and discovering new ways of being human; while we were simultaneously spreading all over Afrika and discovering various ways of being an Afrikan kind of human. After 70,000 years of wandering the Earth, all of the world’s various kinds of cultural expression were finally brought back into one place: in North America, but especially within the hearts and minds of the New Afrikans. The cultural boomerang that started in ancient Afrika went all around the planet and ended up back at the Afrikans living in America. We are the repository of the cultures of all peoples, from all eras, and all parts of the world. It is our privilege and our responsibility to take the best part from all cultural expressions and form them into one seamless, wonderful New Afrikan culture.

And we have already done so.

Many of us have latched onto the primary defining characteristic of Afrikan spirituality which is veneration for the Ancestors. The Afrikan view is that death is only a part of the cycle of life. Those who have died and gone on to the Ancestral realm are several steps closer to the Divine than we are, but they are also connected to us because they live on within us. So our best way of communion with the Divine is to maintain positive relationships with our Ancestors who are very much willing and able to serve as the bridge for us to the power of the Unseen.

There is also a large swath of our culture that has latched onto the traditions of Asia. One of the hallmarks of Asian spirituality is the focus on the breath and the Qi, or the energetic life force that makes us alive.  The people of Eastern Asia have focused on refining this practice for thousands of years. What is called Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about managing one’s energy to optimize health and wellness. New Afrikan people have been undergoing very serious study of these disciplines for many decades and have become some of the world’s greatest practitioners of modalities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and Tantra.

Many people are aware of the very intimate connection between New Afrikans and what are called Native Americans or American Indians. I’m not a fan of either of those terms but I’ll use Native American. The Native Americans practiced a spirituality characterized by a focus on having very healthy relationships; with the Earth, with all living beings, and especially fellow human beings. They had the utmost respect for the plants and animals that they lived around. And the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy served as the foundation for the United States’ founding documents focusing on liberty and equality of all people. The colonizers didn’t have any direct knowledge of what that looks like from their experience in England but the Native Americans were able to demonstrate what it looks like — which included having a great deal of respect for the wisdom and the power of the women in their society.

And of course, New Afrikans have been influenced in many ways, both good and bad, by the descendants of Europe. Slavery and colonization and genocide aside, the Europeans have one particular aspect of their society that we have benefited from greatly, which is science and technology. The European tendency to never be satisfied with the current state of things and to constantly push for more and new and better, has resulted in the laptop that I am typing this on and the world wide web that I have done so much research with and so many of the other modern comforts of life that we enjoy. Science and technology provides the way out of many of the problems that Afrikans experience, both within the continent and throughout the Diaspora. We have much to learn, and we have learned much, from the Europeans and their dedication to the principles of science.

An authentic New Afrikan spirituality, that embraces all that we naturally are, includes all of the above aspects and more. We should feel no shame about adopting what is viewed as an Asian practice or a Native American practice or a European practice. It is our job to seamlessly blend all of these traditions together in a way that properly respects and honors our uniquely Afrikan heritage while simultaneously embracing the uniqueness of our real life experience here in North America.

As a final thought, the primary guiding principle in how we reconstruct our culture and spirituality must be the liberation of our people from the colonization and oppression that we are currently living under. Any belief or practice which doesn’t help us move toward Self-Determination and national liberation can be discarded because it doesn’t represent the best part of what we have to choose from. We must have the intellectual and spiritual courage to examine all of our beliefs and practices from the perspective of “does this help me and us to become more free or does it make us more dependent on others?,” “does this make me more unified with the rest of my New Afrikan family, or does it make us more divided?”

Building a New Afrikan spirituality which acknowledges all of who we naturally are, while also pushing us toward greater levels of Self-Determination and Liberation, is the privilege and responsibility of our generation.

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I Still Represent The Nation

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Soundtrack: A Tribe Called Quest “Lyrics To Go”

I want to take a break from the regularly scheduled program here at COMPLETE CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGE to talk about my influences. Today is February 24, 2013. On February 22nd, we observed the birthday of the man who was born in 1928 as Clarence Smith, later came to be known as Clarence 13X, and was referred to by his students as the Father, Allah. On February 26th is the birth date of the man known as Master Fard Muhammad, who taught the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and charged him with building the Nation of Islam. This weekend, culminating in today, the Nation of Islam celebrated its annual Saviours’ Day convention in honor of Master Fard Muhammad.

These men are the reason that I’m alive and free to walk the streets today. Their message saved me in the mid-90’s, in my mid-teens, from a lifestyle that was sure to end in prison or an early death. And the soundtrack to the whole story was rap music coming out of the culture that we call Hip Hop. In reflecting on what these men and their message have meant to me, I was inspired to give some explanation of why I think the way that I do. Allow me to speak on a bit of history.

In 1963, Clarence 13X departed from the ranks of the Nation of Islam in New York City where he was a member under Minister Malcolm X. He had a mission in his heart to take the lessons of the Nation of Islam, which had been kept secret among initiated members of the group, and to share them freely among the youth of Harlem. The message in those lessons, in a nutshell, was and is that the Black man is God. Clarence 13X came to be known as Allah after he began his mission, with his followers calling him Father Allah. Father Allah met with tremendous success in spreading his message to “the babies”. I won’t go into too much detail about that at this time.

In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam in a plot hatched and orchestrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The man chosen to be his replacement over the Nation of Islam in New York City was Louis X, now known as Louis Farrakhan. These two men, Father Allah and Louis Farrakhan had very, very significant influence on the thinking of the young men and women of New York at that time. In 1968, Father Allah was shot and killed. His followers did not allow his death to be in vain. They spread his message to their contemporaries with renewed fervor. That year 1968 marked a turning point in black history within these United States of America.

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (CoIntelPro) stepped up its efforts to destroy any black leader and any black organization that had the potential to unite our people around the determined idea of achieving freedom. There were many assassinations all across the country and it really marked the beginning of the end for the strong black leadership of that day. Fast forward to the mid 1970’s. Black communities across the country are experiencing a vacuum of leadership, depleted budgets for our schools, parks, arts programs, and community centers and newly developed housing projects that stacked us on top of each other like sardines. The young people of the Bronx developed a new way to party, a new way to dress, a new way to speak, a new culture, and they called it Hip Hop.

Hip Hop was born out of the spirit of desolation and desperation that these communities were feeling. The youth didn’t have training to play musical instruments so they learned how to turn the turntable and their own mouths into instruments and breathed new life into the R&B and disco jams that their parents loved. There was one man who had more of an impact than anyone else on the ideological basis of this new culture. His name is Afrika Bambaataa. He was a former gang leader who was able to steer not just the members of his own gang but rival gangs also into creating a new organization dedicated to peace and fun. That organization is called the Universal Zulu Nation. There are two things about Afrika Bambaataa’s personality that were forever stamped into the fabric of what makes Hip Hop what it is.

First is that Bambaataa was heavily influenced by the ideas of Louis Farrakhan, Father Allah, and another Islamic teacher known at the time as Imaam Isa Abdullah, now more commonly known as Malachi York. The lessons studied by members of the Zulu Nation are formatted much like the lessons studied by the Nation of Islam and Nation of Gods and Earths (the current name of the group founded by Father Allah). Bambaataa really filtered those lessons to a much wider audience in a style more palatable to them than the way the Muslims and Gods presented it. Another legacy from Bambaataa on Hip Hop culture is Bambaataa’s vast musical tastes. He was a DJ, and one of the best of his era. And he was willing to play songs from any genre in the world and find a way to make his young listeners like it. His broad taste influences Hip Hoppers to this day to be willing to experiment with influences from all over the world in the areas of fashion, music, politics, and all other walks of life.

Hip Hop’s “golden era” is generally considered to span from 1988 until 1994. That era in the music’s history was marked by a transition from songs primarily about partying and lighthearted boasting into a more serious time heavily influenced by the ideas of the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths. It was as if the seeds planted by Islam in the New York of the late 60s sprouted and bore fruit among the New York raised rappers twenty years later in the late 80s. Acts like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Ice Cube, Big Daddy Kane, and many many others brought the revolutionary spirit of the 60s into a new era with driving bass lines and catchy melodies and exported that spirit to the whole world. This is the era that produced me.

When economics, politics, and good ole fashioned government conspiracy came together to change the direction of Hip Hop music in the mid-90s, I began to come into my own as a revolutionary Islamic thinker and rap artist. And today I still feel it’s my duty to carry on that golden era legacy. I carry the spirit of Hip Hop culture into everything that I do. In the immortal words of the BlastMaster KRS-ONE, “I am Hip Hop”. Everything that I do is Hip Hop. I write Hip Hop ballads. I write Hip Hop blogs. I eat a Hip Hop diet. I have Hip Hop sex. I raise Hip Hop children. There is no aspect of my life that isn’t affected by the culture I grew up in and the music I grew up listening to. That culture is permeated through and through by Islamic influences but it is also able to pull from any place on the planet and any walk of life and seamlessly tie it into the fabric of what we do. In that spirit, my personal spiritual practice and my ideological foundation is heavily Islamic but it also includes elements of Taoism, Hinduism, Jewish Kabbalah, Kemetic philosophy, the traditions of Native America, Ethiopia, and the Khmer Empire. I think I’ve said enough about this for now. I could write a book on this subject. In fact, I was writing a book on this subject at one time. But I scrapped it because KRS-ONE wrote and released a book saying basically the exact same message that I wanted to convey. No sense in reinventing the wheel. And because I’m Hip Hop, I didn’t want to be accused of biting KRS-ONE’s style by releasing a book almost identical to his after he already had his out. So Happy Saviours’ Day and Peace to man, woman, and child. I’m out. Until next time