A half-century after the upsurges and heady days of the Black Power Movement, Black Nationalists have yet to develop a coherent theory on Black culture.
Having inherited a Black Arts Movement that supported and self-determination, a musical and visual arts legacy that’s influenced billions globally, and Black Studies departments embedded in the academy the past forty years, how could Black Nationalists have failed to craft a consensus theory on Black culture?
The shortcomings of Black Nationalists outlined here that contributed to our cultural theory deficit are disturbing. And while this document is by no means exhaustive, its conclusions represent a serious attempt to close an “explanation gap” that can no longer be glossed over.
In the interests of encouraging Black Nationalists to develop a new consensus theory on Black culture, “Conundrum” introduces a new theoretical framework called “Cultural Enlargement Theory (CET).”
Black Nationalists are the vision-keepers of a new nation and bear responsibility for articulating a theory that explains how our common origins, history, customs, arts, symbols and institutions imbues us with a distinct identity and sense of purpose--one that establishes a collective basis to determine truth, values and the meaning of life. “Cultural Enlargement Theory” expands our cultural model beyond traditional strictures of ancestry, music, visual arts, literature and religion to additional frontiers that capture the universe of the evolving Black experience.
it’s the first of several articles that will be released over the next six months. We begin with a brief narrative of the mistakes made by Black Nationalists that impeded our ability to develop a Black cultural theory. immediately followed by the framework of “Cultural Enlargement Theory.”
Why Black Nationalists Have Failed to Develop a Theory on Black Culture
1.) Conflating Black Nationalism With Competing Black Ideologies
•Black Nationalists refusal to consistently distinguish its ideological pedigree from other political forces has resulted in Black Nationalism and Black culture becoming a nebulous concepts, subject to vast and ephemeral interpretations that render it meaningless.
Since the sixties Pan-Africanists, “Cultural Nationalists” and, “Afrocentrists” have been grouped under the general rubric of “Black Nationalists.” They are not Black Nationalists, but Pan-Africanists whose false assignment of African identities to Blacks in America's settler state is antithetical to Black Nationalism. Black Nationalists must insist on drawing sharp lines of demarcation between its ideology and program and other trends. Nowhere is that more critical than in the arena of culture.
2.) Complicity in Black Cultural Erasure
•Worse than peddling false “African” identities, Pan-Africanists, “Cultural Nationalists,” and Afrocentrists, are invested in the destructive practice of “Black cultural erasure.” In 1967, self-described “Cultural Nationalist” Maulana Karenga” claimed “Blacks had no culture other than the white slave masters,” blotting out 360 years of Black culture with a few strokes of a typewriter. So too, Harlem Renaissance writers, dramatists, poets, and social critics that fashioned the “New Negro,” sought to obliterate the images of Black slaves, sharecroppers, minstrel and vaudeville players.
Black Nationalists failed to defend and uphold the historical body of Black culture against the Black organizations and artists who engaged in cultural erasure, especially the folk culture of the slavery and Jim Crow eras. Black Nationalists don't subscribe to the adage that “Nations are based as much on what the people jointly forget as what they remember.” We cannot pick and choose what periods we want included or exorcised from our historical narrative. Quite the opposite, "Cultural Enlargement Theory" calls for the deep excavation of Black folk culture because it is organic to our cultural DNA, and you cannot have cultural development in the absence of tradition and customs passed from generation to generation.
3.) Failure to Grasp the Relationship Between Black Cultural Theory and Black Nationalist Theory
•Black Nationalists seemed not to have grasped the existential relationship between the struggle for nationhood and Black culture—achieving the former is not possible without possessing the latter. Articulating a nationalist cultural theory is not optional or a political addendum attached for expediencies’ sake. When sixties cultural rebels created the Black Arts Movement in support of Black Power and self-determination, Black Nationalists were unable to provide critical guidance to maximize BAM’s impact and create the foundation for a Black cultural and aesthetic theory.
4.) Failure to Incorporate Black Feminist Intellectual Contributions in the Cultural Theory
•In the 50-year interregnum since the Black Power Movement, Black Nationalists have been reluctant to come to terms with the rise Black Feminism as a potent intellectual, political and social force. At the prodding of Black Feminists, the Darker Nation has undergone a quiet sexual revolution, whose cultural implications are only beginning to be revealed. This phenomenon that we have referred to as “The Feminization of the Black Liberation Movement” is the most important cultural development within the Darker Nation the last half-century. Moreover, it is Black Feminists writers who have been broadened the cultural matrix of Black Culture, by resurrecting traditional Black folklore and organic spiritual sources.
5.) Black Culture in its Infantile Stage
•Developed out of the bowels of slavery, continued national oppression, and the absence of a nation-state, the Darker Nation and Black Nationalism should be regarded as being in its formative stages of development. It is therefore unrealistic to contemplate Black culture as a fully formed reality compared to other cultures that are thousands of years old.
Having said that, we reject all attempts to relegate the status of Black culture to a “low-culture,” or sub-culture of American culture. We also reject--root and branch--claims that an authentic Black culture does not exist as a profound misreading of our history that fords the stream of cultural imperialism.
Central to this analysis is our contention that authentic Black Nationalist forces have been virtually non-existent in a movement conducted in its name. Of all the forces associated with Black Nationalism: Garveyites, the Nation of Islam, 60’s “Cultural Nationalists,” Black Marxists, and Afrocentrists, none of them are traditional enrooted Black Nationalists. None of them are invested in the creation of an independent Black nation-state on the soil of America’s settler imperial empire.
Even those Black Marxists who’ve historically supported the concept of the right to Black self-determination, have promoted “working class” or “communist” ideology above Black national identity and minimized the role of Black culture. As a consequence, all these forces either denied the existence of a national Black culture or never saw a need to develop a Black Cultural theory.
With the exception of the eclectic “Revolutionary Action Movement” (RAM-1963-69), Malcolm X’s post-Nation Of Islam period (1964-65), and the Pan-Africanist “Republic of New Afrika” (RNA-1968-Present) who called for and worked for a Black nation-state, the existence of Black Nationalists forces has been the exception rather than the rule. We’ve underscored Black Nationalism’s precarious position within the Black Liberation Movement, not to excuse its delinquency on cultural theory, but to contextualize its shortcomings.
What is the "Cultural Enlargement Theory?"
“Cultural Enlargement Theory” builds on Harold Cruse’s defense of Black Nationalist culture articulated in “Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” It incorporates Addison Gayle’s foundational writings on Black aesthetics, and the feminist sensibilities of Alice Walker, Audre Lourde and other Black feminists and lesbian theorists in the post-Black Power era.
It embraces a Black nation returning to its state of nature-- a spiritual reality whose cultural essence is peculiar, assumes a life of its own, and can’t be comprehended in purely rationalist terms.
Dismissive of the gods of science and “Enlightenment” thought, “Enlargement” calls for the excavation of Black mythology, the mysteries, rituals, and rich folk culture. Alice Walker’s resurrection of Zora Neale Hurston was more than restoring an epic writer to her station; she rekindled Hurston’s foray into the recesses of the Black spiritual world, spiritual warfare and conjuring sources of energy outside the periphery of Christendom.
White Euro-culture holds that science, reason and individual freedom invariably lead to perpetual progress measured in knowledge, consumer goods, technology and wealth. “Enlargement” disagrees. “Progress” is not inevitable, constant or the measure of cultural advancement. Yesterday’s ancient empires are some of today’s poorest, low-tech wastelands.
Furthermore, “Conundrum” accepts the proposition that mankind and society is tragically flawed, has setbacks, and collapses. There is nothing “progressive” in today’s “advanced Western societies” that harbor the means for the planet’s destruction with nuclear weapons and global warming.
That “Conundrum” has a fundamental disagreement with Euro-culture underscores the point that Blacks are a profoundly different people in terms of its national constitution, race, ethnicity, history and customs. This is true despite the fact that the Black nation was birthed in the South, and the dominant white culture attempted to destroy our African ethnic cultures and spiritual spaces and replace them with Euro-culture and values. We believe that a Black nation and an authentic Black culture exists in America’s settler state. It was conceived by melding enslaved African ethnicities into a majoritarian nation on a common territory in the South, with a common language, institutions and economic life manifested in a common culture.
This is about rediscovering and reverting back to what is organic in our cultural constitution. Culture is built over time and by established traditions that become ingrained in the collective conscious. This is why Black Nationalists cannot cherry pick from our historical cultural pantheon. We can’t just blot out or wish away as the New Negro Movement during the Harlem Renaissance Over time. the advance of the Black culture, like others, extracts or roots out that which becomes retrograde and no longer useful.
The concept of organic culture has profound implications that go to the heart of the debate over whether an authentic Black culture exists.
From our perspective, Black Nationalists can move closer to a consensus Black cultural critique by giving these items, among others thoughtful consideration. Mindful of the sectarian divisions that sundered the Black Liberation Movement, we must tactfully, but vigorously settle accounts with past views that are anathema to Black Nationalism; not out of malice but to establish clarity and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Black culture, like
There is also cause for renewed optimism about the resurgence of Black Nationalism as a potent force to be reckoned with. After the long sojourn of the post-Black Power era “wilderness years,” Black Nationalists are regrouping. The dynamics of the Black Nationalist project is finally turning in our favor.
We are entering the twilight years of the Garveyites and Pan-Africanists’ ideological dominance of the Black Nationalist movement since the 1920’s. Over the past five decades, Black people have attained new levels of cultural and intellectual sophistication that will render the allure of Pan-Africanism and their Afrocentrists offspring far less attractive in the days ahead.
The revolutionary impulses that will trigger the 4th Black Nationalist awakening will not come from African liberation movements, as they did in the 60’s. Nor will Blacks have to invest their emotions in Africa to feel a sense of identity. Conjuring visions of ancient Black Egyptian dynasties to validate our civilizational pedigree will increasingly be dismissed as indulgences in vanity.
Quite the opposite, new shoots of cultural expression are surging behind the self-styled Black Alternative Culture movement like Afropunk and Afrofuturism. Each new generation places its stamp on our cultural footprint, and we look forward to the contributions of today’s Black Millennials.