Toward the Language of Love
In the 60s and 70s, we wanted to transcend the English language because we recognized it as the slave master's tongue, the tongue of the true "motherfucker" who had kidnapped, raped and robbed our ancestors, the men, women and children. In our frantic and desperate effort to rid ourselves of English, we tried Swahili and Arabic, and this functioned for a short time, even though these languages originated from another slave master, the Arab, yet much of our literature was in Arabic and Swahili. Those Muslims who learned to pray in Arabic found a sense of joy in transcending English in our sacred moments, and Swahili gave many cultural nationalists a feeling that we were regaining our African consciousness, at least linguistically, no matter that Swahili is basically an East African tongue and most of us descended from West Africa. A few did learn Yoruba, especially those North American Africans in Harlem who gravitated to the Yoruba religion as practiced by Baba Serjiman Olatunji.
As a result of this minuscule understanding of African languages, parents began naming their children non-English titles. This was a grass roots attempt to reclaim some semblance of our collective memory, additionally it was an attempt to distance ourselves from Christian names and Christianity itself, since the English language and the slave master's religion were part of the "breaking in" or brainwashing and behavior modification to transform us from Kunta Kinte to Toby.
Bill Cosby was a shameful black bourgeoisie slob when he attacked black mothers and fathers who gave their children African names or even Africanized English names, so prominent in the South. The Southern names are so unique and original, even in their spelling, that we should applaud the parents for their effort to reclaim their cultural memory. When the culture of North American Africans is studied, those Southern names shall constitute a genre apart from the traditional African or Arabic names.
In the 60s, we also referred to each other as king and queen, and often dressed accordingly, giving up the Western attire for dashikis and bubas, elegant headdresses or gayles. Men wore African crowns rather than fedoras. This was all part of the cultural revolution that was an essential part of the political liberation. There can be no revolution without a change in cultural consciousness. Language plays an essential part since language is a reflection and expression of mythology and ritual, components of culture.
In the Black Arts Movement, we wanted to break out of the English language as well. Use of so called profanity was one attempt to express ourselves in the basic language of our people. It was also a method of putting "curses" on the oppressor by rejecting his proper speech in favor of grass roots linguistics. And yet some of us were multi-lingual, often combining Arabic, Swahili and grass roots English. And then there the attempt to purify our works of so called profanity. During the height of my Muslim period, especially my time in Harlem, 1968, I purged my work of profanity until Sun Ra pulled my coat that I was trying to be so right I was wrong.
And so we are in a linguistic conundrum, because every writer is duty bound to speak the language of his people, especially if he and his people are going through the process of decolonization from the culture of the oppressor. The great Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiango has called for African writers to abandon the English language and return to writing in their native tongues. But the majority of North American Africans speak English, so what choice do we have but to use English until we can discover another language. Hip Hop has fashizzel, but don't know how far we can go with fashizzel.
Often, the most significant change we can do is redefine the language, reverse meanings that are negative into positive. Black was at one time a fighting word--if you called someone black you better be ready to fight. Now black is beautiful. Nigguh is another term that was negative but today is a global expression of love among the Hip Hop generation. It is a multi-ethnic term. Youth around the world are calling themselves nigguhs, even when they have little or no understanding of the historical significance of the term. The older generation of North American Africans go into a tizzy when they hear youth, especially non-Africans, using the term. But this is due to their fixation on the original meaning as something negative, while we must understand that language is dynamic and fluid, ever changing, so we must flow with the flow. The term Negro is archaic, although I love the term because it calls to mind a time when we had our own society even though we lived under segregation. But imagine, when we were Negroes we had Harlem, Fillmore, South side of Chicago, and other enclaves of black culture. We had Seventh Street in Oakland. Today we are Black but where is Harlem, Fillmore, Seventh Street, either destroyed or on the way to gentrification. As Negroes we had our own restaurants, hotels, clubs, newspapers, magazines. What do we have today? Nothing, hardly a pot to piss in except for a few high class blacks who act white for all practical purposes--like Bill Cosby rejecting the linguistic originality of his people, a Negro who grew up in funky Philly, yeah, a Philly dog Negro.
So what happened to our use of Arabic and Swahili, or referring to each other as king and queen?
With the destruction of the liberation movement came the destruction of culture, thus the necessity of the cultural revolution to get back on track, on the right path or ihdina sirata al mustaqim. And then we must practice eternal vigilance, stay ever alert and watchful that we do not relapse into our negrocities. It shall be a daunting task because our situation is not only a linguistic dilemma, but we must resolve contradictions in our social relations, male/female relations, brother to brother/sister to sister/ parent to child relations, even our relationship to the Creator.
But when we become disgusted with the youth of today, their language and nihilistic behavior, the violence and general self hatred and low self esteem, we must understand that they observed our language and behavior, saw the contradictions and sometimes emulated them. And then along came Crack that caused a great chasm between adults and children, children who were abandoned, abused and neglected, emotionally starved and traumatized.
To reverse the present condition will require unconditional love and understanding of the depths of the problem. Our children require Divine love and healing. It is not a stretch to say they have come under the power of the devil, hence their behavior is beyond our understanding, especially those of us who consider ourselves so conscious to the point of puritanical. We have worked on ourselves over the decades, so it is disgusting to observe youth behavior, and often we match Bill Cosby in our reactionary attitudes toward our children who shall not recover until we decide to reach out and touch them with the language of love, demonstrating our love by answering the many questions they have as persons in search of their sexual and adult identity.
Many have had no manhood or womanhood training. They received no parental love since many of the parents were Crack addicted and thus they suffer arrested development. We have fifty year old adults bouncing to rap music, pants sagging with skull and bones on their gear, so they cannot speak to the children--they are stuck in childhood themselves.
We must listen to the youth and answer their questions as truthfully as we can and don't reveal our contradictions except to let them know we are human and have our foibles. For sure, they are watching us, every word we say, every action we make. Not long ago I took a young man on my book tour of the East coast. We were in Brooklyn at my daughter's house, and my ex-wife was there as well. The young man observed me talking with my ex-wife. He asked my daughter how did it feel to see her mother and father talking together, since he had hardly ever seen his mother and father talking, especially in a friendly, loving manner.
Imagine how many youth are like this young man. Both his parents were on Crack, and he loves them both, but there is an estrangement, an emotional void, a psycholinguistic crisis, for how shall he talk with his girl? Can he tell her he loves her, how shall he say it? Where and when did he hear the language of love? And then love is not a word, but an action, a verb, not a noun. I was guilty of abandonment of my children as a Crack head. One of my daughters wrote me and said, "Daddy, you say you love me, but you don't take care of me. Mama says she loves me and shows me she does. What is your problem?"
So even parents who are estranged, separated or divorced can and must let the children see they can be civil, even if they are not friends, even if they hate each other. Don't make the child hate the father because you hate him, or hate the mother. Let's show our children love, maybe then they will emulate our positive behavior and raise up from their animal actions.
And don't let their language stress you, be more concerned about their behavior. Again, language is dynamic and fluid, so flow with the flow. Guns kill, not language, and yet we know the power of words, and this is why I say silence is golden, until we evolve a true language of love, and it may not involve words but simple acts of kindness, for if you show me you love me, there is no need for words.