The Psycho-linguistic Crisis of the North American African
from In the Crazy House Called America, essays, 2003, by Marvin X, Black Bird Press
I have long wanted to discuss language problems relating to the psychology of the oppressed. Let's begin with the notion that the oppressed is a disoriented person suffering symptoms of amnesia :he is not quite sure who he is, where he is, where he came from or where he is going.
We know to a great extent he was stripped of his cultural trappings and forced to don the apparel of the so-called negro, for American slavery would not allow him to retain knowledge of his African self--it was a danger to the slave master's plan of eternal servitude. So 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, 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 trailing 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, Khemites, 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.
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. I refuse to be sympathetic to anyone exploiting North American Africans--call me anti Pan African, anti Third World, whatever, but don't pimp my people and expect me to accept it because you're from Africa or Jamaica. I wouldn't go to Jamaica and exploit Jamaicans, then have the nerve to refer to them as "you people." I would be nice and diplomatic on their turf--then talk about them when I got home.
We are often derided by our African and Caribbean brothers, sometimes called "black Americans" but often simply "Americans," said in the most derogatory manner, as if we're dirt or feces, meanwhile they are in America enjoying the benefits of our struggle with the white man. If everything is so cool in Jamaica, why did they leave their Island in the sun?
With the last statement, we enter the Pan African psycholinguistic crisis, transcending the borders of North America, and perhaps the crisis of the North American African cannot be understood except in terms of the international Pan African struggle for liberation from neo-colonialism, the last stage of imperialism. The colonized man--wherever he is, wherever he's from--is a sick man, mentally ill. And as Franz Fanon pointed out, the only way the colonized man can regain his mental health is through the act and process of revolution. Dr. Nathan Hare tells us in his introduction to my autobiography SOMETHIN' PROPER, that neither messianic religiosity nor chemical dependency will free us. We must grab the bull by the horns or slay the dragon.
I referred to an African as black brother recently. He responded, "Why do you call me that?" "What do you want me to call you," I asked. He said, "Call me gentleman." And the beat goes on. Here was a man blacker than night, ashamed of himself, preferring to be called a gentle man rather than Black man, once proud, but now whipped into gentleness, or servility, expressing clearly the mark of oppression, the mark of the beast.
The recent discussion of Ebonics was most certainly an example of the psycholinguistic crisis of North American Africans. Of course we are bilingual, with one pattern of speech used in the "slave huts" and one for the "big house." Technically, if we were able to deconstruct the language of the "slave huts" we would be in a position to deconstruct the "big house" language as well. And why shouldn't deconstruction of the Mother Tongue be the point of departure for acquiring language skills? Let's start with the child's primary language and build; teach the child that even his so-called slang, dialect or African speech patterns can be examined and explained according to the rules of grammar, the universal rules of grammar, i.e., the science of linguistics. Is there any sound, any speech pattern in any language that cannot be explained and thus respected on a scientific level?
We know that no matter what language Africans speak, whether English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, we speak it from an African speech pattern, from an African grammatical structure. Is there a genetic basis for this phenomenon, I'm not sure, but its existence appears universal throughout Pan Africa.
Nigger or Nigguh has caused the most severe psycholinguistic crisis among North American Africans. Earlier we traced its etymology to the Greek Necro, something dead, which is more befitting and functional than the Spanish Negro (black), or Niger, from the river. We became dead beings in the transformation from Africa to America, so quiet as its kept, Negro is very appropriate to call us. Of course the Honorable Eliajah Muhammad said we were so-called Negroes and therefore not truly Negroes, but temporarily under the spell of white magic--white power--which caused us to be deaf, dumb and blind to the knowledge of self and others, therefore dead. We had become the living dead, dispised and rejected around the world, even today, although the vailent struggle of the 60s put us in a more favorable light in the eyes of the world. The dead socalled Negro awakened and shook off the chains on his brain and let the world know he was no longer dead, no longer a tool and fool of the white man. He rejected being called Negro and Nigger and became Black man, the Aboriginal Asiatic Black man, ruler of the planet earth, god of the universe. For a moment, it appeared he truly believed this mythology, which was as valid as any other mythology, at least it was original and Afrocentric. But with the destruction of the black liberation movement, we can say the Negro returned, as per plan of the U.S.A.'s counter intelligence program, Cointelpro: kill the black man and bring back the Negro or shall we say the Nigger that the Master used to know, and to make sure he remains dead, introduce CRACK to make him a first class zombie, the corpse of a man.
Imagine, for the first time in history, the black women lost her ass behind crack, meanwhile the white woman was at Gold's gym working on acquiring an ass, which I must admit, she has obtained. But this point takes us off course into psychosomatics. Let's stay with psycholinguistics.
In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the so-called Negro has been fighting to erase the N word from our vocabulary, particularly brothers in prison who have been the most negroid in their death dealing criminality. Perhaps in their guilt, they have been trying to purify their behavior and speech to gain self respect and dignity--if caught using the N word, they will require the user to do any number of pushups. This is very noble, but the reality is that the N word has now transcended the North American African community and is in wide use by Asian, Latin and white youth who call each other nigguh as a badge of honor. We no longer have a monopoly on our language, and this is another reason for the present crisis: our culture is forever eluding our control, consequently making us the most insecure people on earth. We have lost everything on the good ship America--for three centuries we lost complete and total control over the fruits of our labor, the primary source of security. How else does one secure the family, the women and children?
Not long ago, I heard rappers discussing their tour of Italy. Upon arriving at the airport, the first thing they heard Italian youth discussing was how many "Bitches" they had, obviously influenced by hip hop culture or shall we say specifically gansta rap--yeah, ganstas who when caught are ignorant of a preliminary hearing. But let us deconstruct the controversial term BITCH. Besides Nigger or Nigguh, no other term has caused more controversy of late, no other term has created a crisis situation among North American Africa, prompting the Million Man Marchers to vow never to use the term again. They claimed it demeaned the black woman, the mother of civilization. My personal view is that crack culture demeaned the black man and women to the extent that the term "bitch" has taken on new meaning and now refers to both male and female, and a discussion of the term cannot be limited to the feminine gender. Youth in the dope culture will quickly address a tweeking, fumbing OG as "punk bitch." For example, to a male they will say, "Punk-bitch, you better take this dope and get the fuck up outta here wit da quickness." This sentence is most indicative of the pyscholinguistic crisis because it reveals the utter destruction of filial piety (respect or duty of children to elders) in the North American African community. When adults began buying crack from children, children saw the utter weakness in the older generation and lost total respect which was expressed in verbal denunciations such as "punk bitch." In my recovery drama ONE DAY IN THE LIFE, a youth confronts the late Huey Newton and myself with the following words as we sat in a West Oakland crack house: "Yeah, you nigguhs is dope fiends, you ain't no revolutionaries, so don't say shit to me bout no program. How you gon buy dope from me and my podnas--I mean, I'm in recovery now but when I was a dealer, you couldn't come to me and tell me you some revolutionaries--you some punk-bitch nigguhs. When you get your shit together we'll have some respect fa ya, but until then, don't talk to us bout no revolution, O.G., cause if I saw ya comin on my turf, I'd make a movie out that ass, podna. Don't be no walkin contradiction ma nigguhs."
My associate, J.B. Saunders, asked me to include a word-picture of male "bitch behavior" as expressed in the crack ritual. An example of this comes from the obserevation of monkeys when the female is ready to present herself to the male. She will go to a corner of a cage or by a tree and exposed her rear end to the male, letting hm know he can come and get her or know her as the Bible says. In the crack house, the male bitch will expose his posterior in his ritual of crawling on all fours around the room, supposedly looking for crack, but mainly picking up lint and other particles, even chips of dry wall. The ultimately expression of male bitch behavior is the so-called straight guy who under desperation, i,e. , when the tweeking ritual is exhausted, will present his posterior to the dope dealer--accompanied with the words "I'll do anything for another hit," and perform homosexual acts to obtain more crack, but in his psycho-linguistic crisis he adamantly denies he is gay, all the while swallowing the dope dealer's penis and cum. The worse bitch in the world is the bitch in denial! And even that bitch will--in a moment of scandalous activity declare, "I know I'm a bitch." But why bitch? My views on the matter are prejudiced by the fact that I grew up in a house with six sisters who referred to themselves as bitches--and I must say, many times acted like bitches, if we mean behavior unbecoming a woman--such behavior being acceptable only during PMS or pregnancy! But is it demeaning to say, "That's a fine bitch!" We know words only have the power we give them, i.e., we define words. Bourgeoisie culture cannot define mass culture or the culture of the grass roots. A rich man cannot tell a poor man what to say. If a rich man comes to the poor man's community, he better talk like a poor man or he may be a dead man! Those who want to criminalize black language are in many cases people who are in the business of criminalizing black people for the benefit of the real criminals, the Masters of the Realm. Not only do you not like the way I talk, but you don't like my dress, my eating habits, my choice of drugs, they way I pray and the loud manner of my worship, how I earn a living--my hair or non-hair--actually, you don't like anything about me, in fact, you wish I were dead, if fact, you do everything you can to kill me, in fact, you have now made a new industry of confining me for life without the possibility of parole.
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 thirty 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 while 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 class must reap with rewards of neglect, in the form of their children as well, 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.....