Karibu/Akwaaba/Welcome to the web page of Kamau Rashid, a scholar, writer, activist, and
educator. Here you can find information about my teaching, research, and other information of interests. Scroll down to view fikira--thoughts, updates, and various reflections.
"A man who tosses worms into the river isn't necessarily a friend of the fish. All the fish who take him for a friend...usually end up in the frying pan."
-Malcolm X, the Playboy interview (May 1963).
In the absence of a systemic imperative for African community development, the material successes of Africans in America are, for the most part individual successes, that have little or no bearing on the quality of life for the masses of African people. Therefore Woodson maintains that as long as we continue to measure our successes in purely individualistic terms, the African community will continue to undermine its own capacity for collective struggle and development.
In order to demonstrate this point Woodson offers his observations of Africans in the District of Columbia. He notes that “although the ‘highly educated’ Negroes of the District of Columbia have multiplied and apparently are in better circumstances than ever, the masses show almost as much backwardness as they did in 1880” (p. 56). This particular phenomenon of a burgeoning African middle class coupled with the stagnant and degenerative African masses bears much relevance to our contemporary analysis of the structural dynamics of the African community in America. Moreover, it calls into question the degree to which the political-economy of the community and the finite avenues of success afforded to it by avaricious capitalism and structural racism engineer the continued marginality of the community, while simultaneously manufacturing a buffer of politically inert and contented middle-class African professionals.
-Kamau Rashid, “Slavery of the Mind: Carter G. Woodson and Jacob H. Carruthers-Intergenerational Discourse on African Education and Social Change”, Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.
In the Fall of 1994 I was in the Lincoln Hall computer lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A class had come in and I was supposed to leave since I was not enrolled in this course. Instead I did what I often did, I stayed put hoping that the instructor would not notice me and ask me to leave.
As the class began I continued doing my work—probably typing a paper or maybe even playing games (Bungie’s Marathon series was quite popular at the time and was becoming a personal obsession of mine). The class’s instructor began. He was giving a demonstration of NCSA’s new internet browser Mosaic. I sat up and started paying attention to the class. I had heard murmurings about this browser. I had seen its icon on the desktops of computers in the various labs that I frequented, but I had not bothered to investigate this application. Nonetheless I was intrigued. Up until now the internet was purely text-based, and while I was a regular user of some of those text-based applications and services (Gopher, Telnet, Fetch, Pine, IRC, etc.) the idea that the internet could be visual was intriguing. Soon thereafter I went out and got a faster modem (28.8 bps, the minimum for web browsing in 1994). Later on I learned enough HTML to create a primitive website since all of my friends were creating websites.
Over the course of the next five years I would watch as everything, absolutely everything changed. This was no fad. This was a cultural revolution borne on the wings of a telecommunications revolution. It was a moment pregnant with possibility.
There is a pervasive loathing that characterizes the salient alienation of our day. Whatever its outward expression, this loathing is based on difference and the construction of difference as unbridgeable, unintelligible, and intolerable. That is why “post-racial” is an invalid construct for this cultural moment. We live in an environment that is intensely racialized. We are also compelled to be hypersensitive to difference in ways focused on the reinforcement of loathing, fear, or indifference.
Leading to new days
Often when reflecting on past moments of my life I am struck
with an inescapable awareness––that my experience of those moments was bounded
within the limitations of my spatial and temporal consciousness. I experienced
those moments with limited knowledge of the future and spatial contexts beyond
my own locality. I could not know with any accuracy the precise date of when I
would complete graduate school; or the exact number, sex, and other
circumstances related to the birth of my children. The increase in food and
gasoline prices that occurred throughout the 2000s would have been as
unexpected as the increasingly peculiar weather patterns of the recent past and
present. In short, I was bounded within the strictures of time and space, much
like any captive creature which is trapped within its vessel of containment;
and if being trapped is an inappropriate metaphor for what is clearly an
inevitable consequence of the current conventions of corporeality, then I am
most certainly dwelling on a single square in a large and elaborately decorated
This aspect of the finitude of living clearly is a given. I
acknowledge this despite my ardent hope that arduous planning and rational
assessment might (if I might return to my quilt analogy) widen our domain from
a single square to perhaps four. The existential nature of this boundedness is
inescapable, but how it is experienced—that is perceived—is doubtlessly within
the purview of worldview. I would like to revisit this idea after some
reflection on classical African discourse on mortality and time.
I think that its much easier for humans to deal with their
ideational constructs of people, places, and ideas rather than deal with those
same things on their own terms. Our constructs invariably correspond with our
own pre-existing assumptions of reality, which are inextricably linked to the
social contexts that give rise to our perception.
Dealing with reality, not as we assume or wish it to be, but
as it is—I maintain often requires an epistemological breakthrough. It requires
one to simultaneously hold a number of potentially divergent schemata in one’s
mind: one’s own construct of reality, what one imagines to be others’
constructs of reality, and a dynamic yet uncertain concept of the existential
reality that exists beyond our constructs.
I think that such an approach is possible, but I think that
its viability is predicated upon us reconceptualizing the mode via which we
“reality check”. I think that the proclivity of testing our constructs of
reality in the “echo chamber”, where everything that we say sounds exactly like
what we hear and what we desire to hear, will likely deny us the capacity to
experience any sort of epistemological breakthrough.
A breakthrough of this sorts—one that allows for multiple
epistemologies to co-mingle, be validated, be invalidated, be constructed,
reconstructed, deconstructed, or discarded altogether can only occur in
dialogue across communities. This requires for us to step outside of the “echo
chamber” and accept that what we say may not correspond perfectly with what we
hear or what we desire to hear. This process will require for us to relinquish
absolute certainty in our belief that our constructs correspond perfectly and
seamlessly with reality. They may not. Instead we will have to accept that our
constructs are at best tentative and often untested beliefs or assumptions
The provisional nature of our epistemologies, our constructs
of reality, is not itself inexcusable. What is inexcusable is our unwillingness
to acknowledge the inherent finitude of our perception, and to act augment this.
Standing there luminous and proud, emboldened by the minds
I decry it a myth, a folly, an aberration of reason
It laughs dismissively, assured of the security of it’s
Non-corporeal, but no less real it stretches forth its hand
and ensnares legions
The world turns on its whims
The intransigent exalt it
The weak clamor to it’s stronghold
The melancholy long for it’s redemption
It is a god built of the imaginations of humanity
It is a force both irrational and irresistible
It is Hope
Kneel at its shrine, imbibe its intoxicants, and ruin shall
become your lot
Hope - imperator of despair
How I loathe your inescapable dominion
W.E.B. Du Bois would often speak of the veil. The veil symbolized the collective worldview constructs that obscured the lived realities of African Americans. Instead of seeing African Americans as they actually existed, Du Bois argued that white people perceived a construct, an illusion of the African American community, a distorted image that was the product of the system of racism and white supremacy.
The above image by Jean-Michel Basquiat reminds of Du Bois's contention.