Monday, August 3, 2009

Random Ish

Courtesy of these guys. Thats the second-best Thai-bboy-martial arts movie I have ever seen. And the joke is courtesy of Monkey Island.

This was an interesting discussion on Coates about art and colonialism. And I think Invisman52 is a twit, but that might just be me.

An interesting piece on the United States of Africa, though I have to do a full-write up on its implications. Long story short, I am not a fan. But I always enjoy reading Ngwane's stuff.

And I watched almost every episode of the Justice League and Batman Beyond thanks to Coate's thing on Bruce Timm. Christ, Justice League is AMAZING, Batman Beyond was not as good as I thought, though the latter handles race better than the former. A future post if there ever was one.

One day closer to death...

Jerry Seinfeld:
Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.

July 26th is my birthday. The CIA was created on that day. Evita Peron died. Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement was named after that day. In short, that day is tied to crazy-ass people. I am no different, as my wife can vouch for my crazy-assness. Which brings us to the subject of this post.

I actually find nothing particularly important about my birthday. I do not really look forward to it, I have no interest in having a party thrown for me, and really it is just another day. Indeed, the only reason I look forward to it at all is because I got married on that day (well, legally we were married on the 25th but the Wedding was the 26th), and it gives me an opportunity to bring people together and to get my wife kick-ass presents (that I secretly want for myself). I dunno, I just realized that I do not feel any different on my birthday, and that realization just makes the day seem... abritrary and shallow. Other people's birthdays are a big deal to me, but my own? Meh. It might have to do with my birthday being in the summer, which traditionally meant that a lot of my friends from school could not attend, or the fact that a lego set will no longer fill me with joy, but I have everything I could want, and what do you get for the man that has everything?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Link Wednesday!

Another week, another page of links!

And by page, I mean like two:

Yes Alex, bring back the state. Anything the dude writes is worth reading (though his takedown of the head of the ICC was straight character-assassination), but the linguistic and mental constructions of statehood are really interesting to me.

And this is an interesting development... not. Besides some of the nuttiness of Nigerian Hausas, this is not really that big a deal, and this is just a notch up the usual rioting in the country (which kills tens of thousands of people every year). I am curious to see if this is the result of the tons of money the Saudis and Iranians have thrown to West Africa as part of their international missionary rivalry. And props to the Nigerian government for stopping this stuff fast, though sending in the tanks to move people was a tad heavy handed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Link Wednesday!

Xinjiang

Skip Gates!

Oh, and this is a great piece as well.

Obama in Ghana! I had planned to write something on this, but I kept getting eaten by dogs... wait, that's homework. What I meant to say is, I was too lazy. But here are some good reads on it. And in honor of my former professor, here is something a little more radical on it.

I attended this. I am not sure how to describe it, but the most accurate description would be 'recockulous'.

Which may also be used to describe Bruno.

I am going to write a Zunguzungu movie review in the near future. God help us all.

Oh, and these were straight bullcrap. More on this later.

I just let my dad know I have a blog. I better make it good or else he will really show me pepper.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

:(

Michael Jackson died today. I was going to write a long-ass post on the deaths of some Africanists, but MJ trumps them all. Michael influenced so much of my life, and I hope he found happiness in his later years. You will always be my dude MJ.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

E3?!?!

Ahh E3. The big-ass videogame expo that used to consume my soul before it became a crappy conference trade show. Flashing lights! Techno! Booth babes (and yes, they are all women :( )! If I had a 'bucket list', attending an E3 and spending three sleepless nights having my senses bombarded would most definately be on it. Yet for some reason this year I completely did not care about what was going on. I did not download any trailers, or watch any of the conferences, or scour the internetatron for big gaming news. I do not own any of the big three consoles (I still have my gamecube and my N64, but they do not count), and my pc has not been upgraded for... four or five years. I just do not keep up with this stuff anymore. My lack of interest in the E3 either means that I am becoming less of a gamer or losing my humanity. Niether option makes me comfortable. Still, the Brainy Gamer has a great discussion on the meaning of this year's E3, which I heartily recommend you check out.

PS the other thing I HAVE to do on my bucket list is go to a World Cup. I was set for South Africa but I have to work! Curses! It will take another decade minimum before it returns to the Continent.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years...

And howdy, sorry for never posting anything. Been busy. Some highlights before I begin some regular posting (I am aiming for one thing a day, I know I can do it!).

First, my dad got cerebral malaria, and so the past two weeks have been... hectic. He did not die, he should be straight, he has some other complications but nothing major. Yay! Of course, considering that malaria still kills about half a billion people in the world, his health and well-being must be balanced with the knowledge that a whole lotta people are going to die of something that is preventable.

Second, I have been playing through Baldur's Gate II. I dunno why, I got the itch, and I absolutely pulverized BG and its expansion but never got into BGII (I think the second chapter was too large and intimidating, a problem I had with, like, all of Morrowind). It is a ridiculously awesome game, but christ I cannot stop getting all grad-skooly when I play it: I look for the racial implications of having most of your potential party members as human, or whether I can court big, burly Minsc as a human monk myself (I admit it, I only play as humans!), or how come basically EVERYONE in authority is a man (and all the in-game books, which I read cover to cover because I am a dork, only reference kings and male heirs), or how are poor and rich are represented, or the way history functions in the game. I CANNOT turn it off, and I am trying desperately to do so. If you have any suggestions how to deprogram yourself from this stuff, please let me know!

Third, I am going to purchase all the books by my favorite professors AND read them. This is not to score brownie-points, because I am already a graduate, so I do not owe them anything, but that these people were straight intellectual pimps and I want to see the stuff they wrote. And not enough people read their books, so I gotta show them some love in the ol' Amazon list.

Fourth, I have been reading a lot of stuff I have meant to read/never heard about but found out I should read. So I got through the Bluest Eye, The Brief and Wonderous life of Oscar Wao, Shadow and Act (Ellison's badass collection of essays), etc, and I realize something: I am a horrid writer. These people can string words and sentences together like... well, its their job. Nothing makes me feel more inadequate than when I read some really good prose... which is also why I love academic history, because a lot of people are not that good at writing, so I look GREAT in comparison!

Meh, more random thoughts to come. Thanks for tuning in!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Day the Earth Shook Like a Mutha$*&%@

Cross-Posted at Postbourgie

This is both a crass attempt to get you guys to check out my blog and also to make a larger point about life. Thanks to PB for letting me do this, and G.D. in particular.

And apologies for the quick shift in tone. Getting the title right is hard.

On May 12th, 2008, around 2:30 in the afternoon, a big-ass earthquake hit Sichuan province. In the resulting shock and aftershocks, tens of thousands of people died. My aunt-in-law was one of them. My then fiance, now wife, could have been a victim of the earthquake as well.

There is a 12 hour difference between China and the east coast of the United States. I was either working on my final papers at 2:30 or I was passed out from exhaustion. Sometime before 10 AM, my best friend Daniel sent me a text message informing me of the earthquake. It woke me up, and with eyes half-open, I picked up the phone, barely comprehending the message my eyes were so blurry. An earthquake? Probably a bitch-ass one, nothing more than a 4.0, nothing worth waking me up for. Still, I decided I might as well get up and call my fiance to see what was going on. So began my May 13th, 2008.

It was not a good day.

I stumbled to my computer in my boxers (the standard uniform for doing anything in my room) and turned it on. After it booted up, I opened Skype, put on my headset, and tried to call Shoe (a bastardized spelling of my mispronunciation of her family name, 舒 [shu]). I could not reach her, instead the machine on the other line told me that there were some technical difficulties, so I tried calling her again, with the same response. I kept trying, and still nothing. I was starting to grow worried, so I opened up CNN.com to see what had happened, and there was no mention of it. That did not make me feel any better, because no American news outlet was going to give me the coverage I wanted. Frustrated, I opened BBC.com and found the news that I had been dreading: the earthquake in Sichuan was by no means minor. It had caused major damage. Communications were down. People were missing.

I called Shoe again. The same response.

I started to refresh the BBC page every five minutes, and the death toll was rising. I looked at the map to see if the earthquake had actually struck Mianyang, where she lived, or if it had just perhaps damaged the phone lines in an obscure mountain town, far from any major cities. The website could not tell me the epicenter, just that the most damage had occurred in the cities, towns, and villages to the west of Chengdu. Cities like Mianyang.

At a loss for what to do, I tried calling my mother, but her phone line was busy. I called my father, and in as calm a tone as I could muster, I told him that there was an earthquake in Sichuan.

Silence.

“Oh God Winslow, is everything ok?”

Whatever semblance of a stiff-upper lip I had was washed away by my tears, as I began to sob and moan. All I could say with any coherence was

“I can't call Shoe... I can't call Shoe... I can't call Shoe...”

We discussed any and all possible courses of action, and he tried to comfort me. I managed to get in contact with mom, and she told me she would try to contact State Department people in Chengdu and ask them what they knew. She tried to comfort me. The phone lines to Sichuan were still down, but I tried sending her a text message (thanks to the miracle of modern telecommunications). I would spend the next three hours in a constant state of freak-out. I nearly had a nervous breakdown.

At precisely 2:11 PM, I received a text message that said the following

“Im ok but i cant call people and get any calling from people.”

Shoe was fine. I could breathe again. I saved the text message on my phone (inadvertently tying me to a lifetime of Verizon's mobile services, as I will forever keep the phone and the text message and I have to stay on contract to do so), and we began sorting out the situation through a flurry of texting. A few hours later the phone lines were up and I could call her directly from Skype. She had experienced the quake, her apartment rolled and rocked like the Ark during the flood, but she managed to evacuate quickly and nobody in her complex was hurt. She had yet to make contact with all members of her family, of our family, my family. We learned later that her aunt, our aunt, my aunt, had perished in Beichuan.

I felt utterly helpless, as there was nothing I could do to help her and our kin, but she told me everyone was sleeping in the streets and there was a shortage of tents. This was shortage was something I could help ameliorate. I told my family and they sent all the spare tents they could get their hands on (considering the amount of outdoorsmen/women in the clan, this was no small number). I bought a tent and mailed it. What was perhaps the most touching episode, though, was that after I posted my information on Extremeskins.com (A Washington Redskin fan site), a reader managed to drop everything and deliver a tent to my parents house for no compensation. It was swiftly shipped to Sichuan.

I wrote this to commemorate the anniversary of the Earthquake, which, while nice, is still somewhat selfish of me. Everyday around the world there are injustices and tragedies, and what makes the Sichuan Earthquake particularly noteworthy? What makes my pain on that day special? My answer is nothing, a cold and blunt assessment to be sure, but something I truly believe. What was worse on May 12th 2008? The Earthquake? Or the ongoing occupation of Iraq? Or massive global inequalities? Or the ongoing Congolese Civil War (actually I think this is the worst :) )? What made May 12th such a cathartic experience was the outpouring of support on behalf of the victims, from the stranger on Extremeskins to Lin Hao to the millions of Chinese people who rolled up their sleeves to help their countrymen (which is not a given considering just how tense some of the provincial identities can get) to the Chinese government doing its damnedest to assist in disaster relief (a government that, on occasion, helps its citizens? Sign me up!) to the international support and sympathy shown by the global community. In short, people like you and I made a difference in the lives of so many. People who should have been too busy, too unengaged, too poor, or too bureaucratic, put aside their interests in the name of common humanity. No matter how screwed up this world is, I have faith in the possibilities of the human spirit and the human community. And I know we all have stories of people who DIDN'T NEED TO but DID. I hope that one day I will hear yours.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who's da master? (hint: it ain't Sho'nuff)

Yes, I got my MA today, which makes me officially a MASTER... of something. This weekend was kind of hectic, expect a glorious three-part post tomorrowish.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Finished!!!

video

I finally finished up my MA, now it is time for some impromptu choreographed dancing on the street!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Ish

My wife is ridiculously awesome.

Last night, as my professor came to pick up the papers I had graded (Which involves another story about the anguish I felt as to whether to give a female student a check mark or not on her creative paper for having their female protagonist get beaten by their husband...), I insisted that he come into my humble abode and chill a little.

Which he did.

The Wife Woman, who had been watching her current favorite TV show (which is some sort of Chinese CSI, as near as I can tell), left her fairly comfortable lounging position and bounced to the kitchen so she could chat along with me (and not appear rude to the guest). After some idle exchanges, she launched into a speech, telling my professor that I am really lazy and I need a severe beating to get me to do anything (which is completely false, a mild beating will suffice), and then both of them starting talking about the best way to handle me. Eventually they agreed that he needed to be more strict with me, if not violent, and after some more banter, the professor left. This story is not about how the Wife Woman emasculated me in front of my boss, because A) I have no masculinity to lose and B) I could care less if my professor thinks less of me(which I doubt cause he is my dude), but rather to show how absolutely unpredictable she can be, how absolutely salty she can be, and why I love her for it. Yes, I like my women how I like my coffee; unpredictable and salty.

Then, just today she tasked me with watching her 'bread' (more like a crepe) fry in a pan while she hurried to the toilet. "Watching" involved me standing motionless with my plate full of half-eaten snacks until she finished her business. When she came out and saw that I had done nothing, she flipped over her 'bread' and told me that I should have done the same while she was gone. I told her that I just thought I was supposed to watch it literally. After I realized how stupid my words were, her eyes grew wide, a smile spread across her face, and she gave me the ol' "ni zenme zenme ke ai! [you're so cute]" and hugged me (instead of wacking me over the head with said frying pan). Less salty, more unpredictable.

Always awesome.

老婆老婆我爱你

Why Nigeria Rocks #1

“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographic expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the sense that there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.”

Obafemi Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom, (London: Faber and Faber, 1947)

What I find fascinating about this quote is not that (Chief, not just a mere man) Awolowo was unaware of the long and arduous process by which English or French governments had to actually create an 'England' or 'France'. Indeed, I am completely guilty of this, and I remember the shock I experienced the first time I learned that the French government was terrified of sending bureaucrats to the countryside in the mid-nineteenth century (!!!) because nobody there spoke French nor wanted the government to interfere in their lives. There is nothing natural about a nation or a state. Before that, I thought there was always some sort of French common culture and language. Yet, to this day people bemoan the 'artificial borders' of colonial African states while ignoring the 'artificial borders' of European 'nation-states', and though one might make the case that the colonial powers should have inculcated a deeper sense of nationalism (a complaint I often come across in my research and in my everyday conversations), this is still problematic to me. What Awolowo said is applicable to most any government that believes in a national project, and I wish his writings (amongst others) got more respect in the political canon.

Of course, he completely served in both the precolonial and independent Nigerian government, "geographic expression" be damned! Not only have Nigerians produced some of the most astute political observations in the past century, but they succeed in having their cake and eating it too!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

This just had to be said

In the course of scrambling to finish up my MA, I have had the pleasure of reading some bomb-ass primary documents that, alas, have no direct bearing on my research but simply must be shared with you, the reader.

And I quote:

INFORMATION ABOUT HANGING THE PORTRAITS OF OUR LEADERS

Regarding the question of hanging the portraits of our leaders, the Central Authorities made a clear ruling as early as March 29, 1960 (Reference No. [60] 289): "In the organizations for the Party, the People's Liberation Army and the people's associations of various kinds, it is permitted to hang the portrait of Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] alone; it is also permitted to hang the portrait of Mao Tse-tung, Liu Shao-chi [Liu Shaoqi], Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai], Chu Te [Zhu De], Chen Yun, Lin Piao [Lin Biao], Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping], seven persons." The manner of hanging these portraits is: if it is desirable to hang the seven portraits of Mao, Liu, Chou, Chu, Chen, Lin, Teng together, the port art of Mao Tse-tung can be placed in the center and the others on the two sides. It is also suitable to put the portrait of Mao Tse-tung in the first place and the others in order as indicated, and from left to right. According to our understanding there are now not a few units, especially the primary level units, which have not hung the portraits as described above. We are asking these units to inspect carefully the way in which these instructions have been carried out so that we may have a unified system according to the regulations of the Central Authorities.
General Political Department
March 14, 1961

Courtesy of J. Chester Cheng's The Politics of the Red Army (Stanford: Hoover Institute Publications, 1966) 360.

PS Damn that Wade-Giles is hard to figure out sometimes. Chinese historians have to learn that, pinyin, traditional characters, simplified characters, and then some foreign languages. Thank god I do not have to do that.

PPS Do any of you have any similar funny ass things you have found while doing research? I cannot wait until the State Department documents declassify in twenty-five years and I have to read about just how many inches apart Bush and Cheney pictures must be hung.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What I wish my blog was like

This just puts me to shame...

I wish he threw more salt at Mazrui though. Ayittey, who I disagree with a bunch, is a far more interesting thinker. Of course, that might just be my bias towards Ghanaians...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Captain Falcon could SKOOL Ronnie

Oh Video Game Music Remixes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

I cannot tell you just how much of my playlist has been culled from this site...

Still, what I CAN tell you, is that this is probably the best Big Blue remix (from F-Zero) that I have ever heard, and it is not even on OCRemix! All hail DJ PLaYuHh! Now if I can just figure out a way to download it...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Read this message!

From my dude Keguro (that might be presumptuous, but whatever). Talks about Gay Marriage legislation in Kenya.

Yeah, 'Africa' has a myriad of problems, but so do a lot of other places. There is also a lot of hot stuff going on in a lot of countries that too many people do not know about, and even more importantly, are not invested in (for the love of GOD invest in various telecoms firms, like, right now because that stuff is gonna grow for a while). Basically I think the Afropessimism that a lot of people feel towards the continent is unwarranted and even destructive.

Having said that, one of the most painful issues to deal with is gay/homosexual/queer rights in many of the countries (not that the United States has got its crap together in this regard either, mind you). Keguro and his peeps have far better explanations than I can offer on this stuff, so I urge you to check it out and hopefully figure out a way to extend citizenship to a really marginalized group (out of many to be sure).

The Blackademy and its Discontents

First, I would like to thank the good people at Postbourgie for offering me this space to spout out my crazy ideas. Thank you all so much, especially G.D.



I recently was offered a chance to elaborate on my loathing of “the black academic left”, which, I am sure, is a strange position considering the overall tenor of this blog. I was both honored and delighted at the proposition, giving me a chance to crystallize my ideas and also present them to a knowledgeable audience.



I traffic in words, so let me shorten the black academic left to “blackademy”. my use of the phrase “blackademy” is basically a stand-in for well known black leftist intellectuals. I am making sweeping generalizations using a very limited sample-size, so make of that what you will. Perhaps even more damning is that I am coming from a very anti-essentialist/pseudo-post modern position (think Kwame Anthony Appiah, who is my dude). If that sort of stuff is not your bag then you may want to stop reading right here.



Let me begin by stating unequivocally that, while I personally cannot stand the blackademy, this is not because they are some sort of barrier to racial progress or reconciliation. I am not hearkening back to halcyon days when black people and white people had small misunderstandings that they were working through, until Black Studies departments started cropping up in the 1960s and made those Negroes so damn angry and screwed everything up. To quote myself (how arrogant!) in another discussion on the Chronicle of Higher Education: “…Breitbart’s belief that Black Studies Departments hold inordinate power over the mythical, singular Black Community is insane. What, there are crowds outside of bookstores in Detroit lining up to buy the latest work by Dyson and do his bidding? Everyone in Baltimore or DC has a well-thumbed copy of Race Matters by West?... Dyson is not sitting in Georgetown coiling his mustache, stroking his cat, and telling a whole lot of black people what to do.” Rather my own position comes from being force-fed to read and deal with many of the stars of the blackademy and not really being able to discuss my disagreements and frustrations with my peers. In the grand scheme of things, I find the prison-industrial complex enraging, nonwhite educational inequalities unacceptable, etc, while Michael Eric Dyson is simply very annoying. Hell I like a lot of the blackademy’s positions on gender and sexuality, so they are not all bad.



I have a lot of salt to throw at these people, including points that would draw much of the Postbourgie readership in a massive argument (my belief in salvaging the idea of colorblind-ness being but one example… and yes, I have read a lot on it, including Bonilla-Silva’s stuff which was good, I just do not agree with it). Instead of throwing a truckload of salt, I am going to split this piece into an attack on these people’s identities and then an attack on their conceptual methods. I think that we all want to live in a meritocratic society that allows everyone both dignity and fulfillment, so it is the means by which the disagreement comes into play.



What a long-ass preamble. In any case, here is the meat: My first complaint of the blackademy is their fixation on scholar/activism. Not content to be ‘mere’ professors stuck in the ivory tower, they straddle both the tower and the… untower (is that a word) in an attempt to stay grounded in ‘the community’ (i.e. the black community). Or so they claim. This is a position that I really do not buy. The last scholar activist was freaking Walter Rodney (who quit his teaching position in Dar es Salaam because of his frustrations with the Nyere government and his desire to give back to the West Indies, who was banned by the Jamaican government for being too radical, AND was assassinated in Guyana). I think his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is dead wrong, but it’s a great text that really had a lot of impact on the field of African History and a lot of people still read. On top of that, he designed the book specifically for lay people, put it on cheap paper from a cheap press for a cheap price back in 72, and you CAN GET IT FREE ON MARXISTS.ORG. I wonder if Brother Neal will let us cop New Black Man on his website for free? Or at least sell it new for less than 20 bucks so as many people as possible can read it? If you are working for an American university, especially an elite university, (Princeton, Georgetown, Duke), which is steeped in government money and owes their rapid expansion to the Cold War, you are a shill. What, they are dismantling White Supremacy 20 middle-class undergrads at a time? There are two avenues by which to change anything; mass-mobilization or state power. While the blackademy may tag along for much larger mass-mobilizations, they will never create, lead, or inspire organizations like the NAACP, SNCC, the Nation of Islam, UNIA, etc (and those are just the famous black ones, outside of Jewish groups, womens groups, etc). Nor will they ever get elected for anything (and before saying that politics or the state are too dirty or mired in racial politics, try stepping foot in the academy). When they discuss Malcom and Martin as some of the only avenues for change, they seem to forget Marshall, and because I deal extensively with states and state history, I find this willful amnesia simply mind-boggling. You either get enough people to change the state, or you join the state and change it yourself. None of the books they have produced will ever have the resonance with Up From Slavery, Souls, the Autobiography, etc. Rather they are trafficking in feelings: making black folk feel good and white folk feel bad, while happily taking their money and living quite comfortably. Sure they give speaking tours, volunteer, etc. but they are not willing to give up their class privilege nor do they aim for actual change, only change on their terms. Let’s just call this ‘Negroes on the Porch’ Syndrome (which I use to address the specific racial dynamics in play, I much prefer Crotchety Old Man on the Porch J ): they talk a lot but every afternoon they are on the same damn porch. In order to either assuage their guilt, inflate their egos, or both they always identify as activists. Give me a Fanny Lou or Carl B. over a 1000 Cornel’s.



My second complaint, and final one for the purposes of this essay, comes from the blackademy’s mania for fixed group identity. Race is a social construct (no big surprise) but its effects are all too real (which is again no big surprise). Intellectually I am firmly against ideas that reify race, though when it comes to practical realities I can overlook them (affirmative action, for example). Still, nothing makes me cringe more than when I hear appeals to the royal “We” as black folk, asian folk, whatever folk. I have a small background in 18th and 19th century European intellectual history and the use of language in terms of appealing to racial solidarity, of a singular cultural block, is exactly the same. We invented this, we did that, they stole it, etc. I feel like I am reading Stirner or something. I do not want to imply that the lived experiences of racism will magically go away if we do not see race, but I find the lack of nuance in terms of identity frightening, as well as the total inability to see the end-game of raising racial consciousness. You cannot just turn off racial solidarity, just ask white people. While the blackademy understands issues of class and sex, I actually think they trip up when they discuss race. While they might pay lip-service to its complexities, in practice they both reify and celebrate it.

Of course, ending racism would stop such a need for perpetuating notions of race, which I see as a symptom of the disease of residual (or even current) White Supremecy. Yet once again I do not think the blackademy is committed to ending racism so much as getting rich while others do it for them. If racism is bigotry + (state) power, a variant of the standard definitions I come across, and the blackademy is neither changing bigot’s hearts and minds nor employing the tools of the state, then they are effectively useless. And I loathe them for it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crazy-Ass Comment of the Day

Paid in Full is the greatest hip-hop album of all time.

Runs and hides.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What was worse?

I just returned from Pan-African Night as part of the African Students Union. Despite starting 15 minutes late and cutting out a performance, everything went swimmingly. Basically it was a big thing connecting the Continent to the Diaspora... something that I am philosophically and intellectually against, but they asked me to be in it, so whatever, principles be damned. When the director said she had a role that she just needed me to do, I was pensive. I knew what she wanted of me: to play a slave-master. With a little rape and whipping to boot. Huzzah. At least the script did not require me to drop any N-bombs. However, while rehearsing, in order to appear more aggressive and in character I completely grabbed the head of my fellow actress without asking her. In short, I broke sacred law #6 of Black Womanhood: Don't touch the hair, cracker! After I realized what I had done, I apologized profusely. How the hell did I forget to ask? My dear reader, what was worse? My (Tony-worthy) portrayal of a slave-master, or screwing with the hair?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Circles 10!!!

Ok, considering the amount of traffic on this blog is negligible, posting an advertisement for a breakdance/hip-hop competition in southwest VA is probably not going to do anything. Having said that, you simply HAVE to know about this:

April 4, 2009
Located in Godwin Gym at JMU

For the 10th year in a row, James Madison University's Breakdance Club will be hosting Circles. Circles has become one of the largest hip-hop charity events on the East Coast. With live DJs, a graffiti expo, MC battles, Bonnie and Clyde battles, and the most anticipated 4 vs. 4 crew battles, Circles strives to represent four of hip-hop cultures major elements.

Brought to you by Scion.

$3,500
4 vs. 4 Crew Battles
$300
Bonnie & Clyde Battles
$250
Emcee Battles
Graff Expo

Every year ALL proceeds from Circles are donated to charities such as:
Multiple Sclerosis Society
Mercy House
Kids for World Health
and more

Doors will be open to spectators at 3:00 PM
Battles beginning around 4:00 PM
Featuring:
Circles 10 Emcee: A-Class
On the Decks: DP One -- Turntable Anihilists
Special Guest Judges: Puzzles-- Supernaturalz Crew
Abstrak -- Skillmethodz Crew

Prices:
General Admission: $10.00
Student Admission: $7.00 (Bring any current College, Highschool, ... Student I.D.)
Circles 10 T-Shirt: $13.00
An additional fee of $5 will be charged for entry with a Video Camera.

To Register for Emcee, Crew or Bonnie & Clyde Battles please send an e-mail
to JMU.Circles@gmail.com with the following information:
Crew Name, Area Repping and BBoy/BGirl Names.
OR
MC Name, Real Name, Crew Name and Area Repping.

To sign in for the graff expo, please email Bryan at bryan.ausink@gmail.com. Spaces are limited.

Final Registration Forms must be completed at Circles front desk.
Registered crews will have prefilled form available for them to sign before entering.
Crews who have not completed their Registration Form before 5:00 PM will not be allowed to battle.

Keep checking for updates on our website: orgs.jmu.edu/breakdance


Be sure to youtube Circles 4-9 to look at some of the best 4 on 4 action on the East Coast (why does that not sound kosher?). On top of that, check out some of the footage from our judges:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD-GBtdS9OY
(Cat in the white on the right, not his best battle but his flow is sick and his crew beats out Hong10, The End, and Physicx)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC_8AELqih0
(Ab on the left)

Show up dammit!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The DEFINITIVE Resident Evil 5 Post

Hide the children! I am finally going to give my many, many cents worth opinions on whether Resident Evil 5 is racist or not... and you should believe me because? Actually, you should not believe me. Not only have I not played the game (because God has, once again, conspired against me to put RE 5 out for the Wii as well as making sure I never have enough money lying around to buy one), but I am not quite an Africanist yet, and until I have that glorious paper degree in my hand all my knowledge counts for nothing. Having said that, allow me to lay out my credentials:

Not just played, but BEAT RE 1,2,4, Code Veronica, as well as kind of watched my friend play RE 0. As for Resident Evil 3 and that rails-shooter... meh. I at least have an associate’s degree in Resident Evilology.

I am, if not yet a West African historian, then someone who knows a whole heckuva lot about West African history, and because as far as perception goes one part of Africa is exactly like every other part, that makes me an expert on continental Africa! Oh, and I know a ton about Pan-Africanism and the Black Atlantic (from Argentina to the United States suckas). And I have read (though not agreed with) a lot of the stuff surrounding "Racism 101" as the Anti-racists like to bandy about. And the intersections between race, class, and gender. And Gramsci, and Foucault.

I am technically a Person of Color (a term I loathe, I prefer to just use 'Nonwhite' but no one will listen to me unless I use that damned PoC). Unfortunately I am straight, male, and able-bodied, but I am sure I have at least one lesbian amputee friend somewhere, so I got that covered!

I have been killing zombies for, like, four decades. I can headshot any shambling undead like picking my nose, and for those fast, feral ones I can find enough makeshift weapons in any mall, abandoned hosue with a basement, et al to slay them to my hearts content. Or at least until my black companion inevitably dies.

Alright, I admit, one of those things is patently false.

So onto the show!

"But wait, anonymous Monkey Steals the Peaches author," you might cry "why are you devoting an entire post to Resident Evil 5?"

Ahh, my dear friends, gather around so that I might tell you a story. First, before you even get into the meat of the matter, you should know a little history of the Resident Evil franchise. Now that you are all presumably squared away, time for the dirt: the first critique came from Black Looks (and please, dear reader, do not comment on Kym's post, this is a dead horse for them and Kym has gotten absolutely flamed by some moronic-ass people for her opinions, which I do not want to inadvertently contribute to), which is a website devoted to a combination of Diasporic Pan-Africanism and Feminism (Womanysm?). While I am not particularly down with their Pan-Africanism, their feminism ain't too bad, and... ok I am digressing. Anyways, a lot of sites picked up on this criticism and this started a... pretty weird and fractious discussion (Yelling match?) on race and gaming. Kym, who had not played the game back in 2007 as it was not even out, was commenting on the trailer. Actually discussions about Resident Evil 5 can be divided between the "game not out" period and "game out" period, with all the really hot stuff in the former. A lot of the comments devolved into accusations and counter accusations, with many gamers incensed at the very notion that games could be considered racist and... anti-racists (or something) telling the gamers that their games are murder simulators and they should check their privelage. There were some good and thoughtful comments to be sure, but man stuff got ugly. Anyhoo there were some later articles that often get quoted in the discussion, and hell there was a Feature in The Escapist that talked about gaming and race, gender, and other stuff. For further proof of the power of Resident Evil 5 to potentially make people write interesting stuff, IGN had two good pieces on it (and IGN is, shall we say, trash so the quality of these articles absolutely shocked me). Why am I not giving you some telling excerpts instead of making you read the whole damn thing? I have no idea how to quote stuff on this blog, my last attempt at it, as evidenced by my previous post, was a dismal failure, and I should probably commit seppuku. Oh, and you should always read the whole damn thing because excerpts tend to be quoted out of context.

Actually, I just gave a pretty good background on not only the franchise but the well-known points surrounding RE 5. Time to call it a day...

Oh wait, now I have to give MY opinion, which is presumably why you, my dear reader, have not stopped reading by now. First off, I cannot tell you if the game is racist or not (and, which is sure to annoy some readers, neither can you tell me) because, if the images in the trailer were offensive to you, then some snarky blogger is probably not going to change your mind. Were the images themselves racist? Possibly. The denial of dark people’s humanity through likening them to primitive and animal-like beings is pretty well established. As Croal says "these images have history". Though, unlike him, I draw the distinction between images possessing history (and, to be honest, a history we choose to remember or forget as it suits us) and images continuing historical evocations. Basically, if Capcom was sitting around watching Birth of a Nation and then thought "man, THIS SHOULD BE A GAME" then I would call it racist immediately. However, near as I can tell, that did not happen. "But" a Critical reader might say "you are obviously ignoring the structural issues surrounding race and racial imagery. Racism is not about personal feelings but about power and privilege." To which I would reply "that is an overdeterministic reading that results in fishing for outrages while at the same time alienating anybody that might listen to you and ultimately not changing anything while you wait around demanding ideological purity." Ok, actually both my mythical Critical reader and I can debate that forever, so lets not go there (Sure to make any Anti-racist reader's head explode: my upcoming post on Colorblind Anti-Racism. I am not kidding, I believe in it, but that is another discussion entirely). However, just because I do not believe RE 5 is racist does not mean it is not, and there should be space for people to critique it (without calling gamers a bunch of teenage white geeks who are closet school-shooters). My main issue with RE 5's depiction of the people of Kijuju (ahh, the fictional African country, although between 'Raccoon City' and the as-of-yet-to-be-determined Hispanophone country that RE 4 took place in, I admire Capcom's consistency) is my problem with RE 4: that they made the zombies keep a lot of their humanity. Ok, RE 4 did not technically have Zombies, but rather whatever-the-hell Capcom demanded us call them, but for all intents and purposes they were zombies. In having the zombies keep their language skills, communication skills, and decent motor skills, you are basically killing 'stupid bad guys' rather than zombies. While RE 4 was trying to have you recognize the echoes of humanity of those you were killing, and hopefully add to the gravitas to the situation (which was summed up in a fairly decent end of game prologue), this is Capcom here so they totally butchered it by having 99% of the game basically revolve around darker-skinned zombies who speak a foreign language rather than dwell on the fact that the village had been taken over by a fairly insidious plot. Delightful. Did I view RE 4 as racist? Well, considering my feelings towards RE 5, you should be happy to guess that no, I did not find it racist. Just ass insensitive. Basically, if you are going to go for smart, fast, talking and look human, you HAVE to make sure your story and writing are airtight (which will never happen with an RE game, which birthed the immortal phrase “you, the master of unlocking”). Otherwise, I would have preferred making the zombies look as alien as possible, so that the protagonist is killing the undeniably undead versus the possibly human. The RE franchise, since 4, has been trying to move away from zombies and the various viruses (T, G, whatev) which were engineered by Umbrella to create them (when will evil corporations ever learn?), by focusing on the origins of the viruses themselves (which evolved from, where else, Africa) and retooling the enemies to suit a more action-packed title, Capcom effed up. I would have preferred the X virus or whatever, which completely deformed their hosts so that, while perhaps you could surmise the skin color of the human who carried it, the virus itself was what was being killed, not the human who it corrupted. Rather Capcom, in opting to make the... organism, for lack of a better word, live deep inside its host while the host keeps their outward human shell (even if they look weird as hell, they are clearly human) Capcom totally walked right into this. Of course, my solution could be subject to an overly close reading, or even a standard reading, of the total denial of black humanity by making Africans into monsters. As Bart Simpson once said you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. I can live with that. As for having a white male character (and an apparently tragic mullata partner) kill a lot of black Africans rather than have a local black African cop (possibly with a partner who is three months away from retirement before coming to an untimely end) kill a lot of black Africans, I would actually much rather see Chris because I want to know what happened to him. A new protaganist would be great for the next game (who will inevitably be a black man who talks like 50 Cent).

While Cornell West (or basically anyone on the cutting edge of academic race writing) might dissect my desire for zombies that happen to be black versus black zombies, that is how I roll. I will say though that I was thrilled at the prospect of having a game set anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Now, if you want to perhaps make a Bioware D&D game (and yes, I know that will never happen) set in West Africa and need to write a script, please call me (An Ile-Ife Icewind Dale, if you will).

Of course, some of the post-release articles on RE 5 have been, shall we say, less than stellar (throwing salt on a radical social anthropologist who deals with ethnicity and nationalism because there is "No mention of Africa, race, or racism" in his resume is kind of dumb. Oh and he is a white man, so what can he know about race *cough cough Time Wise*? Battle the argument, not the person. I mean, under that logic, I guess Fanon was only qualified to talk about colonial Algeria and Martinique, but christ I do not want to have a fight with Acid for Blood or Racalicious, so I will stop there) , but that is to be expected. Maybe when I get a PhD people will listen to me? Doubtful.

Oh, and to be fair, you might ask where was I during these discussions? Where was I when Kym was being attacked by the horde? How come I am not trying to have this discussion in gaming forums rather than in the relative safety of my blog? I was sitting back reading with detached bemusement, which was most certainly neither commendable nor noble, but at least honest.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Yeswecan-ruiken!

Courtesy of The Escapist:

Barack Obama Comes To Street Fighter
Keane Ng posted on 6 Feb 2009 3:54 pm

No, he's not unlockable in Street Fighter 4, sadly. But he's going to be playable in the oddball Japan-only Street Fighter Online: Mouse Generation, and it looks like he can sling fireballs with the best of them.

Sporting a debonair tuxedo and cartoonishly big teeth (yeah, I don't know), Obama seems like a force to be reckoned with in Street Fighter Online. You can make him say "YES WE CAN" in a gigantic word bubble, and he's got a standard fireball attack too. He also looks like he's been training with Balrog - Virtua Fighter 2 looking graphics aside, this version of the Commander In Chief is decidedly beefy. He'll be arriving in the game on Valentine's Day as part of a promotion that also includes playable chocolate figurine chracters and a Zangief who has what look like clam shells for shoulder guards?

If you really want to play as Obama in a fighting game, I'd say dig around for the inevitable MUGEN version with Obama as a character, possibly as overpowered as Omega Tom Hanks. You probably do not want to play Mouse Generation. It's online yes, which is cool, but it's also a Street Fighter that is solely controllable using your mouse. You left-click to punch, right-click to kick and swoop around your mouse like a fool to do special moves. The character models are based on action figures, and body parts can be swapped between them (like action figures) to make customized characters. So, Barack Obama torso and head, Zangief arms and Chun-Li legs? Yes, please.

Now, as for the real question here: Is this racist?

This is too awesome to even comment on...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Burfday Hunny!

老妻,

我祝愿您生日快乐! 我知道我倾斜话中文,但是我爱你在每种语. 我们的生活不是童话,但是我每天是愉快的!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Beast Mode!

Back in the day when I used to crush Bioware/Interplay D&D inspired RPGs (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, etc), I created a little song that I would sing/hum to my self: Beast Mode.  I will not go over the lyrics now (which were epic), but simply explain that, after buffing up my entire party and summoning a whole bunch of minions to do my bidding, my people would go on a rampage and just tear through whatever race of creatures we had stumbled across/whose lands we had invaded.  Kobolds, Orcs, Goblins, etc... good times all around, and my dulcet tones where the perfect accompaniment to my medieval pimpin.

Now I must summon Beast Mode again, this time to blaze through pages upon pages of the first chapter of my MA.  Beast Mode, my friends, BEAST MODE!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This Was the Week that Was: Thoughts on Hip-Hop scholarship

Hip-Hop scholarship sucks. Thought over.

Ok, there is more to it than that, last week I went to a 'presentation' on Hip-Hop during MLK week... Also known as Obama week (yay 20th of January). The linkage between the Civil Rights icon (who is constantly appropriated by non-historians), Obama (ditto, except he is appropriated by everyone), and Hip-Hop (ditto, except this is appropriated by non-practitioners) was trite and stupid. It was pushing for the whole 'lets throw in as many things that we consider black as possible!' and the various black organizations on campus were only too happy to oblige. I heard about this presentation from AAS, after all. I really did not want to go, but my friends invited me, so I thought it would be bearable with them around. They could not make it in, but I did, and boy was it terrible. Which brings me to the original point: Hip-Hop scholarship (or should I say studies? For the purposes of this post I mean anyone that writes about Hip-Hop seriously) sucks, except now I feel like explaining why, using the presentation given as the benchmark for the field (Some should say I should not, but I can debate the point further by pointing you to most of the books that make up the field, or how it is taught).

The presentation was given by an AAS/sociologist professor, John Rogers III, which is the first strike against it: because the presentation is going to make Hip-Hop the sole purview of the black experience framed as resistance to a racist American superstructure while at the same time using AAS literary theory to look at black representation in the media. One might protest "But Mr. Anonymous Blogger!" they would begin "Isn't Hip-Hop explicitly what you just stated!" This reply is sufficient if you have already been brainwashed. The other response could be "well, isn't Hip-Hop a black thing anyway?" The answer to the latter point is: sort-of. This ultimately refers to what one's conceptions of Hip-Hop is : if Hip-Hop is basically another word for 'rap', then sure, the presentation got it right, and both rejoinders are in the right. However, if Hip-Hop is a broader cultural experience of self-expression, which is what people that actually live it know it to be, then the presentation was a massive circle-jerk and waste of university resources. I will now demonstrate why the latter point is true:

First off, Hip-Hop developed out of the South Bronx in the early 1970s (1972-1973 are cited as the usual dates) as a confluence West Indian toasting traditions and the development and acquisition of complex sound systems that could loop records over and over. Every first-generation emcee had West Indian roots (DK Kool Herc was Jamaican, Grandmaster Flash was Bajan etc), and that is ignoring the later generation emcees, which are innumerable. The looping records, focusing on the instrumental breaks so people could rap over them and also dance (bboying, although to many bboying is not dancing on the break but actually HITTING THE FLOOR on the break, which is a significant difference) were ways to make money on the weekend. When DJ Kool Herc was pulling in 300 a night from spinning and toasting, he was thinking about money. Not 'the cause'. Not resistance. Money. DJing, emceeing, and bboying all developed from this period, and most of this was brought in from West Indian culture (the development of bboying is another story altogether, and I might tackle that in a later post). Now, this is 'black' culture insofar as the practitioners had black skin and lived in the United States. DJ Kool Herc worked hard to lose his Jamaican accent and fit in with the black kids after all. Yet this belief of a monolithic 'black experience', while perhaps useful in theory, is a shallow and facile understanding of the complexity of experiences facing different 'black' populations in the United States. Also, Hip-Hop almost immediately absorbed graffiti (which is hotly debated as to where it came from, and had elements of the predominantly white punk movement), and much of the dynamic bboy moves came from Puerto-Rican bboys, all of which get written off in the discussion of Hip-Hop. Rather people talk about how all black culture is the same, and Hip-Hop is only an expression black culture. When the speaker talked about how 1978's Rapper's Delight was the starting point of Hip-Hop (which was the definition of a pop/sellout album and the lyrics were totally bitten off from Grandmaster Caz), I knew he was an idiot who was going to commit the cardinal sin of analyzing Hip-Hop: confusing the whole damn thing with rap.

That brings us to the second major weakness of Hip-Hop scholarship; it is emcee-centric. Whether Hip-Hop is elemental (bboying, graff, djing, emceeing, etc) or not, it is not just an emcee spitting to a beat. The general rule of thumb in discussing Hip-Hop with a moron or a down dude is ask him or her the difference between Hip-Hop and rap. If Hip-Hop is described as a purer form of conscious, political, or non-material rap, opposed to vulgar commercial rap, you are talking to a moron. Hip-Hop is the culture, rap is the physical act of rapping over a beat. Do not confuse the two. The fact that you can get a PhD basically reading lyrics (which what most people in Hip-Hop studies know how to do) and occasionally looking at graff but have no knowledge of how to interpret DJing or bboying means that those people are dumbasses. When they talk about Hip-Hop, they are really talking about Black American Mainstream Rap (BAMR? Help me make a juicer acronym please) and leave out everything else. This also has to do with the way Hip-Hop is raced: as anyone that has been to a bboy jam, graff expo, emcee battle, or DJ battle know; the brothas do not quite dominate the field. Actually in a lot of stuff their presence is not all that felt, and if one believes that Hip-Hop IS solely black culture, the asian Bboy, latino DJ, or white tagger (to use the most common stereotypes of supposed 'cultural theft') are not actually representing Hip-Hop, because real Hip-Hop can only BE about black culture. A broader look at the class component of Hip-Hop would show its attraction to marginalized populations, but that would mean that Ukranians, Koreans, and Venezuelans have legitimate non-racial Hip-Hop, which is unacceptable. That is not to say that BAMR is NOT Hip-Hop, (it completely is, although this might get us into the hilarious 'what is Hip-Hop' question) but rather this hagiography must stop. Considering that a ton of Hip-Hop scholars talk about a rigid culture as if they were living in 19th century Germany, whereby pure forms can be stolen or miscegenated by inferior populations is something that NEVER gets talked about (White people ALWAYS steal OUR culture, etc). Ce la vie. And yes, the speaker was constantly making reference to 'Our Culture' and that 'we have to take it back'.

The final point I wanted to emphasize is that a lot of people do not quite realize that much of the BAMR they worship (specifically conscious Hip-Hop such as Public Enemy) only were heard because massive record companies were throwing money at various acts in the 1980s and early 1990s in the hopes of making money from this 'rap stuff'. There is a reason that Public Enemy put out their stuff with Def Jam AND Columbia Records, after all. Prior to the slow mainstreaming of rap in the 1980s, getting music (and I am only talking about the music) was usually limited to your cousin in NYC giving you a mixtape when he came by on Thanksgiving. There were radio stations to be sure, but it was highly dependent on the city (and I am DYING to read a history of Hip-Hop that looks outside of New York, specifically Philly, DC, Detroit, and Miami, two of which had their own local black music that competed with rap for popularity... a cookie if you can tell me which cities and which styles) and even the neighborhood. All the BAMR golden-age stuff was commercial. Even when it was militant, it was commercial. That is not a stunning revelation, but to Hip-Hop studies it is blasphemy. Although then again they conveniently forget that all early generation heads were constantly talking about (not necessarily rapping) how to get more swag. Buying fresh pumas was always in the back of your mind, no matter which element you repped. Getting paid money and having your stuff put out there on the radio and on albums was not a sin, no matter who was paying for it.

The speaker talked about how Golden Age Hip-Hop was subversive and that money had corrupted it. Yes, some of it was, but only to a point, and money was always important to Hip-Hop. When he talked about Biggie as being an amazing emcee, I wanted to strangle him: Biggie is madd overrated, with just two albums and a far better career as a battle rapper. The speaker never mentioned a DJ, bboy, or anyone involved with graf (unless, of course, they were doing that to begin with, and a bunch of heads were multi-talented who could rep two to four of the elements, but I digress). The worse thing was that the audience was EATING IT UP, with the standard 'mmhmms' of affirmation. When the speaker tried to portray the difficulties facing inner-city black youth as tied to Gangsta rap (the nihilistic enemy of everything apparently), I was floored. This line of thinking sounds well and good for a reactionary, or Helen Lovejoy (Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children), but a supposedly liberal AAS sociologist who is familiar with social-formation theory? Oh wait, I forgot, theory screws everything up, AAS and sociology are just as guilty of retarded use of theory as anyone else. Still, if he thinks that conscious rap getting more radio play is the 'answer' to the problems facing inner-city black youth, that rap should get back to its mythic roots, and the way he cloaked his heteronormative, sexist, ethnocentric, and nationalist narrative in liberation ideology was applauded by the audience, well everyone is at fault. Hip-Hop studies and the people that eat it up are stupid, what can I say.

Except Jeff Chang, he is cool, though he likes to couch some his stuff in resistance against the US government which makes some of his writings hard to digest. Real heads should tell Hip-Hop scholars to go to hell and quite worshiping the emcees. Peace.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a glorious day!

... and the inauguration ain't half bad either. I live in the DC area (technically Northern Virginia, but I refused to consider myself a Virginian until it became a blue state... now its acceptable) so one might wonder why I did not join the throngs, the masses, the legion, etc of Obama's adoring public. It is the same reason I opted not to go the Beijing Olympics: people are insufferable in large numbers who believe the same thing. I would not mind dancing from four in the morning until noon in frigid late-January Washington, but to share my time and space with fanatics (and to be fair, I too am an Obama fanatic) did not strike me as a profitable use of time. But it was absolutely awe-inspiring to see DC so filled up. Good for Obama.

Of course, what really inspired this post was the knowledge that I am going to write a dynamite thesis. I had pangs of self-doubt, but after meeting with my professor on Monday that I can DO this, that I can create something scholarly that will enhance the current historiagraphy (however small) on China and Africa, and flip that around to have Nigeria initiate much of the contact between the two countries in the past fifty years. I am, in short, a pimp.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The State of the 'Field'

Bum bum bummm! Right now the wifewoman is somewhat angry at me so I am writing this post in the hopes that by the time I finish she will cool down somewhat and realize that I am only a moron 80% of the time rather than 100%, which is the percentage she is currently convinced of. I am not even sure the grammar of the last sentence is correct, but meh, I will let it slide.

Although you, dear reader, might not be aware of my area of study, it is not actually what I listed in the 'About Me' portion of the blog. I am a West African Historian... well, budding Historian (I still have my training wheels on, so to speak). One might raise eyebrows at the nomenclature of my field of study: why not "African historian", or why not a more general "I do African studies"? For me, the gravest danger in most any area of history is the quest for an essentialist/substantialist narrative. Whatever ethnic, national, or continental characteristics you THINK a group of people have (History being, almost exclusively, the study of human beings in complex and city-based societies), I find such conceptualizations quite troubling and I can disprove them, if given enough time and a library. Thus I categorically reject any such formulations out of hand, even if they are "strategic" (with apologies to Spivak as well as Critical Theorists). I do not think there is such a thing as "authenticity" and because Africa is so large and diverse, I do not think it is a good idea to think of it as a discrete unit of analysis. This, of course, gets me into trouble with Pan-Africanists of a particular stripe, but whatever. East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Russia all have their own respective branches of scholarly inquiry, so why not Africa? I acknowledge the historical process of 'constructing' Africa (Indeed I often know more about it than the person giving me crap for 'once again, diving Africans amongst themselves'), but then why the hell should I not be allowed to dismantle such a construction? Sorry for the rambling introduction, I just wanted to give some background on where I am coming from.

Back to the topic at hand: West African history is in passable shape. Having attended the African Studies Association conference in Chicago last November (though not very well, I spent a lot of time touring around Chicago and I did not present a paper), there is a lot of very interesting research being carried out that will eventually fall under the aegis of West African history, a lot of it being done by Anthropologists (as usual, those dudes and chicks are badass) and Gender Studies… practitioners (what do I call someone that ‘does’ Gender Studies?). When one invokes African history people automatically assume that you are interested in the pre-colonial past (usually seen as purer and unsullied by outsiders), and a lot of people do not realize just how little we (21st century humans) know about what happened in West Africa from 1800-1000. This is not a question of slavery (one of the most popular loci of causation when dealing with Africa, though often not quite true the true cause) or Islam, but rather the nature of evidence that historians and other Africanists have on their hands: oral history. Oral history is great, but one of the things many people do not realize is that it usually lasts only six generations (180 years give or take, and if you do not believe me read up on it, especially Jan Vansina), and anything before that is massive conjecture. Thus Archaeologists (which are housed in Anthropology Departments) are the ones that must lead scholars to the light of wisdom (or other such poetics), but West Africa is tremendously under-researched in that capacity for a variety of reasons. There is a lot more to it than that, but at this point ANY serious research in West Africa is valuable, even if it is not particularly novel (Slavery and Colonialism being the usual retreads). There are two ways we might be able to redress the pre-1800 lack of knowledge: a massive investment into Archeology (extremely unlikely short of another great Indiana Jones movie seeing the light of day, and I wish I were kidding) or a redirection of Arabic linguists. The latter point is something that is quite interesting in terms of how the academy operates; certain topics pressure students into certain fields, having much to do with the race, class, and gender of the student. A white, male, middle-class student is free to pursue any field of inquiry, but a black student is expected to have some sort of relationship with African-American studies, or an American Born Chinese (ABC for short) must have some background in Asian-American studies. If a black woman is interested in history, but she is not involved in a topic that does not cover race and gender, such as Swedish economic history, that woman is suspect. Likewise, any student with a background in Arabic (which is an insanely difficult language to learn because every country has a nearly indecipherable dialect, so the classical Arabic you learn in the classroom is not what people in Egypt speak, or Morocco, or Lebanon, or the Lebanese Arabic you learn is not used by anyone outside of Lebanon) is pressured to have some sort of relationship with Middle-Eastern studies. This is all well and good, except that so many departments poach students who could make contributions elsewhere, and students with a decent knowledge of Arabic and English would do wonders for Africanists if they headed towards the Sahel instead of north of the Sahara, because there are lots of texts that need translation, transcription, and analysis, and these texts are crucial. I am, of course, something of a hypocrite because I do not know or intend to learn Arabic, nor am I concerned with pre-colonial African history, but I guarantee that any breakthrough in West African history will come from scholars who learn Arabic and effectively give the Middle East the Middle Finger (or perhaps their academic advisers).


That’s about it, I have to go as I think my wifewoman may have forgiven me in the meantime.