Musings of a (former?) radical
I’m preparing my syllabus for a Master’s level class that I am teaching on international development. For some reason I’m feeling in a very theoretical, and particularly Marxist, mood which showed in the readings that I picked for the class.
I remember reading his words as a young Diasporic African coming into my own sense of political self. I added excerpts from his book to the signature line of my email and soaked in his words with a purposeful intensity.
I stopped going by Carolyne (yep, thats my former name!) and went back to Wanjiru. I wore a necklace that spelled out my name to help out those around me. I was THAT kid in college.
Reading his words these many years later (9 precisely) still gave me goosebumps. They made me wonder about that young radical I was and where she went.
I fear that graduate school and the Ph.D. in Political Science disciplined the radical clarity out of her. For those seven years it stopped being about a belief in black and white, clear-cut social justice and had to become about surviving and living though the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For me, grad school was about trying to be a round peg in a square hole and the scars linger.
After that, the pragmatic needs of running a non-profit took over. To raise real money in the ‘real world’ has forced me to blunt my razor sharpness as it was perceived as brashness. Nobody gives money to abrasive so I had to tone it down if I had a whisper of a chance to nurture and grow an organization whose cause I deeply deeply believe in.
Listen, I’m not complaining. Mine is darned good life and I’m getting to do the things I love.
And it could well be that being pragmatic and doing what needs to be done is to be radical.
But is that just a rationalizing?
Part of the joy of working with college students is getting to still be part of that zeal, that passionate awareness of absolute right and wrong. Where the cost of being on the right side isn’t so high.
Either way, sometimes I miss that freedom: to read Ngugi, soak and marinade in the truth of his words, and try to live them out:
The oppressed and the exploited of the earth maintain their defiance: liberty from theft. But the biggest weapon wielded and actually daily unleashed by imperialism against that collective defiance is the cultural bomb.
The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland.
It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own. It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces which would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral rightness of struggle.
Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish. Amidst this wasteland which it has created, imperialism presents itself as the cure and demands that the dependant sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: ‘Theft is holy’. Indeed, this refrain sums up the new creed of the neo-colonial bourgeoisie in many ‘independent’ African states.
The classes fighting against imperialism even in its neo-colonial stage and form, have to confront this threat with the higher and more creative culture of resolute struggle. These classes have to wield even more firmly the weapons of the struggle contained in their cultures. They have to speak the united language of struggle contained in each of their languages. They must discover their various tongues to sing the song: ‘A people united can never be defeated’.
Future blog posts: On playing ‘native informant’ and wearing my ‘African costume’ for public presentations. What to wear is complicated when you are so keenly aware that your body is the site of so much identity construction. Wearing a suit vs. a bold African print seems such a political statement! 🙂