Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The genius of Ali, passion of Cosby and pain of Watson

Mwalimu Nyerere said something like there should be global principles but local standards. This is a blinding glimpse of the obvious because the modern world has bought into western standards and treated them as universal ones. We have quite lazily all bought into Romantic Love an exaggerated expression that is a child of French poets and nurtured by British Victorian prudes. The same is true about the concept of Childhood or the treatment of the suit and tie as formal business attire. It sometimes comedic and dangerous consequences in equal measure. Sometimes it gets more dangerous especially when you review the assumption that democracy is the only worthwhile form of Governance. We keep using it as a short hand for participation,accountability, representation and transparency. The latter are principles that are universally effective but the former is a western standard as well as process which might or sometimes does not deliver the principles.

It is with this in mind I link a few disparate issues and create my own Jambalaya of thoughts out of it. For many years the only hero I had was Mohammed Ali that is until I discovered Malcolm X , then Freud and after it all became quite tiresome to think in those terms. The genius of Ali I was later to realise was that this man who lived through his fist had a remarkable understanding of human psychology especially as to how to effectively compete. When he fought Sonny Liston as well as many subsequent opponents he always on one hand used his poetry or rap to frame his superiority and also predict what he would do and when. There are two dramatic things behind this seeming arrogance, the first was the power of attraction i.e. a manifest expression of his expectation to the universe and the second the is the power of suggestion i.e. his ability to frame his opponents expectation in a manner that if they are ambiguous in their own expectation his projection becomes their choice/ fear. This he did to devastating effect on Liston as well as many more opponents to follow. Of course this was not just a whimsical thing, he believed and executed accordingly.

Professor Watson who is a Nobel prize winner suggested that Africans in being different might be somehow inferior even though he later claims he was misrepresented. There was a beautiful piece on Naija blog which is quite an effective riposte to this view however those who responded might have missed a point. The power of suggestion has been the most effective way in which Africans have under-utilised their heritage, talent and capability . For most part the psychology of all our formal education and the epistemology it promotes is that Western standards are universal ones. So when professor Watson talks of intelligence his standard is IQ test (read western). It is always amusing that Africans seem to accept that these standards are value or culturally neutral. Even if they are not they are desirable to pursue hence he or she cannot spot the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a suit and tie in a tropical weather whilst compensating with expensive air condition equipment all the time. Those who will defend Watson and see a political correct censorship are either ignorant about or avoiding the history of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory where he was Chairman. It was founded by C.B Davenport who is described in the book The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi Luca and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza as the eugenicists scientific leader. It is a measure of the power of Western standards that we still use the concept of Race in the dialogue of differences when it is quite established that it has no scientific validity, no descriptive value nor social redemption. It is a simplification and reduction like most Western standards. Guess what? When someone like Watson suggests inferiority of Africans whether unconscious or consciously it is part of a pattern of rendering us non-competitive through the power of suggestion since we are already indoctrinated into being ambivalent and incompetent about asking the universe for our dreams.

It is with this lens I look at the Jena 6 case. There is no doubt there is a systemic targeting of males of African descent or heritage in the criminal justice system not just in the United States also across the Western world . There is ample proof in the recent report by the American Bar Association also in my own recent work reviewing the performance of different Police forces in the UK on Diversity. It is perhaps most eloquently put in the recent book by Bill Cosby which has a beautiful title (but I cannot remember). So the Jena 6 are in a long tradition of prosecutorial excess like the young lad who was sent to Jail and served two years before being released on appeal for receiving a blow job from his 15 year old girl friend, he was only 17. I leave you to work out the so called 'races' of the boy and girlfriend. However no matter what the context is these boys exercised poor judgement by cowardly ganging up to beat one guy. Nevertheless the adults were even more cowardly by charging them for attempted murder. More depressing it led to a civil rights march. There is no doubt something had to be done to rescue these young men from the extreme threat to their young lives but is a civil rights march the only tactic there is? Everyone can see that coming from miles away and you imagine the establishment rolling their eyes, here we go again. Somehow A great people, African Americans who have risen above the greatest adversity known to humans with style and class have allowed others to narrow their identity to a few stereotypes. These are descendants of Frederick Douglas who risked his life for education who are now reduced in their identity towards some urban sketches of pimps, thugs and hoes. Those inheritors of the extraordinary creativity of Malcolm and MLK for facilitating social justice have now turned their innovations into predictable routine. These descendants of the brave multitude who fought of the yoke of victimhood have now institutionalised the expectation of discrimination. This is the power of suggestion embedded and turned into a standard operating procedure.

This is what Mr Cosby seeks to fight but unfortunately he has only one standard to judge progress that is a western tradition. While his passion is inspirational he misunderstands that some of the seemingly nihilistic tendencies he observes especially amongst the young is a yearning for new or different standards that are not so culturally stacked or loaded against their identity. They intuitively understand that they will need to either subvert these standards hence the choice of street standards or invent new ones. The same is true of the African continent and there is no better chance than now to start to evolve alternatives. It only then that comments like Professor Watson's truly become stick and stones until then we are at least guilty of serious underachievement.


Sherri said...

the book is
Come on people,on the path from victims to victors
with Dr Alvin Poussaint

poignant and timely

Onibudo said...