When we look at the Black Arts Movement, Black Power politics and Black Studies, three components of the national liberation movement, we see the first step was to gain cultural consciousness through the arts. This happened when young people, especially students, became workers in BAM then graduated to the political movements such as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. We must see the BPP and NOI has political, though on the surface the NOI was religious, but certainly the mission of the NOI in seeking a nation state was a political act, and surely Malcolm X pushed a political agenda, especially after his departure from the NOI.
Those who say BAM was short-lived (Dr. Henry Louis Gates) need to be reminded that Jesus only lived 33 years but look at his impact; MLK, JR. and Malcolm X only lived 39 years but look at their impact, so it is not how long a movement lasts but what was accomplished in the time it existed. What did BAM accomplish? BAM developed into a national movement of cultural workers, i.e., east coast, west coast, Midwest, south, creating a plethora of cultural workers in the arts, writers, poets, artists, musicians, dancers, actors; magazines, venues, theatres, all contributing to the cultural revolution that allowed the masses to gain radical consciousness and then seek to address the myriad issues facing an oppressed people.
BAM must be seen as a revolutionary movement that not only changed the Black Nation but awakened other ethnic and gender groups to establish cultural sovereignty and recognition in the American cultural landscape. For sure, we accepted the notions expressed by ancestor Langston Hughes in his essay on the Artist and the Racial Mountain, i.e., that we were going to do our thing no matter what, no matter if whites or blacks liked what we were doing, for we were on a mission possible. And no matter how briefly BAM lasted, the impact was made in the Black is Beautiful expressions and statements; the impact was revealed in how other ethnic groups began to express their cultural sovereignty, and finally how the white supremacy society came to realize some degree of multil-cultural inclusion was necessary if white supremacy was to survive.
So fifty years later American academia is still purging radical black thought and thinkers, although it is gratifying UC Merced made this conference possible. And we thank them for having the courage to do so, although we are aware the purge continues with the attempted dismantling of Black Studies programs nationwide, often by denying funds or tenure to professors of a black radical persuasion.
Again, please do not make a distinction between BAM and Black Studies for we see them as one and the same. Without BAM what would be the curriculum of Black Studies, although BAM expressions was, of necessity, largely not taught in order for a Miller Lite Black Studies to be acceptable. In truth, it is difficult for American white supremacy society and/or institutions to tolerate a moderate, e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., or a radical, e.g., Malcolm X. Richard Wright told us in his classic novel Native Son, "Our very presence is a crime against the state, every glance of the eye is a threat!...."
Before I conclude, allow me to speak on what I call the Psycholinguistic Crisis of the North American African. As a result of the Euro-Arab-American slave system, "...the proud African was beaten down from Kunta Kinte to Toby, perhaps the first level in his psycho-linguistic crisis: who am I, what is my name? Once in the Americas, especially after the breaking in, the psycho-physical deprogramming, he was no longer Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Congo, Ashante but Negro, and according to Grimm's law (the consonants C,K, and G being interchangeable) he was a dead, from the Greek Necro, something dead, lifeless, without motion and spirit. Of course, he retained some of his African consciousness in the deep structure of his mind, in the bowels of his soul and he expressed it in his dance, his love life, his work habits, his songs and shouts, but basically he was a trumatized victim of kidnapping, rape and mass murder--genocide, for after all, when it was all said and done, between 50 and 100 million of his brothers and sisters were lost in the Middle Passage, the voyage between Africa and the Americas, thrown to the sharks that trailed slave ships, one of which was named Jesus, perhaps the same one whose captain had the miraculous conversion and wrote the song Amazing Grace! But changing the African into Negro was a primary problem in terms of identity which persists until today, even as we speak a new generation is now in crisis trying to decide whether they shall be called by Christian, Muslim or traditional African names, trying to decide whether they are Americans, Afro-Americans, African-Americans, Bilalians, Kemites, Sudanese, or North American Africans.
With this term I've tried to emphasize our cultural roots by making Africa the noun rather than the adjective. Also, I wanted to identify us geo-politically: we are Africans on the continent of North America, as opposed to Africans in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia or the Motherland. As such, we are unique and have created an original African Culture in North America, imitated throughout the world, and yet, as Franz Fanon noted, the colonized man is disoriented, doesn't know where he's at, the Whispers said we were lost and turned out on the way to grandmother's house. But even in our wretchedness, the whole world wants to talk like us, dance like us, sing like us, dress like us: we have the highest standard of living of any Africans in the world and are thus in the position of leadership even though we lack any degree of National sovereignty, are yet a defacto Nation, albeit captive and colonized, exploited 24/7 by any pimp fearless enough to enter the ghetto, and there are many from around the world, including Asians, Arabs, Jews, Africans, West Indians, and Latins......"
From a writer's perspective, a poet, much of endgame in the psycholinguistic crisis is censorship, pure and simple, a violation of First Amendment rights and human rights. I have a right to say what I want to say the way I want to say it. This is an old tired discussion we encountered fifty years ago in the Black Arts/Black Culture revolution of the 60s: shall we define ourselves or the shall the masters and their pitiful bourgeoisie imps impose their definitions, their hypocritical, perverted moral standards. If a bitch is bitch call her a bitch. If yo mama is a bitch call her a bitch. If your wife is a bitch call it, your daughters call it. The worse bitch in the world is the bitch in denial. And as I've said, men are known to be bitches too!
There was a time when we were kings and queens, in Africa and during the 60s in America, but this was B.C., before crack. With the coming of crack, we reduced ourselves beyond slavery. We returned to the auction block of the crack house, and indeed, in fact, became bitches and hoes. With crack, the sexual etiquette of North American Africans has been forever altered and whether we will again reach the level of kings and queens depends more on the success of our total liberation than our correct grammatical structure, after all, we see Asians, Arabs, Latins, come to America and get rich speaking no English, yet we are being deluded by our leaders into believing we must speak the Kings English in order to be successful. If nothing else, the rappers have shown us they can make millions for themselves and billions for the white man utilizing three words: bitch, hoe and motherfucker. The tragic reality is that the black bourgeoisie failed to teach inner city youth proper English or anything proper for that matter, so the upper and middle classes must reap the reward of neglect, in the form of their children enraptured by rap and thus incomprehensible to the middle-class parents--as my daughter has said, You might not like rap, but if you want to understand me, you better try to understand rap. To paraphrase Eryka Badu, the psycholinguistic crisis goes on and on......on and on....."