North American African: Oriental or Occidental? by Marvin X "Wood may remain in the water ten years, but it will never become a crocodile." --African Proverb Who is the black man in the wilderness of North America? Elijah called him the aboriginal Asiatic black man, indicating origins from Asia or the orient, including Africa, although we know his history is just as extensive in the so-called Middle east and Far east. No one can be knowledgeable about African history without a study of the black man in ancient Arabia, the Persian gulf, India and China. But after four centuries or more (let it be known there are descendants of Africans in the Americas who do not trace themselves to African slavery, they were here prior to the slave trade) is the aboriginal black man in any way, shape or form oriental or is he now hopelessly occidental. Is he totally assimilated, integrated, pasteurized and homogenized? We know he is not, this is easily revealed by observing the dance movement of North American African children, especially when they hear African music, one would suspect they just arrived. The cultural differences between white and black Christians is so antagonistic they remain separate to this day, even though segregation ended decades ago. This separation is much deeper than the fact that they "just feel more comfortable" in their own churches, but it has everything to do with the manner of worship, the strong emphasis on riding the holy ghost, powerful preaching based on the oral tradition, dynamic music and dance, nothing like the quiet, intellectualism of the white church. Of course, the black church is basically syncretic: throughout the Americas one finds so-called black Christians moving easily from the white Western Christian worship to vodun, condomble, santeria and other African derived religious rituals. Perhaps it is in religious practice that reveals the schizoid or dual personality of the North American African, for as I have noted, it is in such practice that we see the black man adapting Western mythology to African or oriental ritual. Beyond religion, linguistics reveals how Africans in the Americas and elsewhere throughout the Diaspora utilize African grammatical forms no matter what European language they speak. One of the most positive things about the genre of poetry called rap is that the brothers and sisters have revolutionized and energized English, but also other Occidental languages, and for that matter, even Oriental languages have had to adapt to this revolutionary artistic expression. Rap has become an international form of spoken word expression based on the spoken word revolution of the North American African, who smashed and crushed the English language just as black classical music did to Occidental music with the coming of bebop, via Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, climaxing with the total theatrics and myth/ritualism of Sun Ra. Sun Ra probably made the most conscious effort to express our Orientalism. But in the final analysis, we are yet faced with the persistent conundrum: Am I black, am I white? We know most of us are not going back to Africa, and for that matter, most Africans, given a choice, would book a ticket to America. And while we are rushing to dred lock, Africans are wearing wigs and weaving, not to mention pressing their hair. So the more we want to become African, Africans want to become Americans, and by no means do I mean become "black Americans." We find ourselves in a dilemma so perplexing it is destabilizing us mentally and socially. If one in five Americans suffer mental illness, the stats for blacks is surely greater. My daughter from New York visited the Bay Area recently and observed the prevalence of mentally ill blacks on the streets of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. She said, "Daddy, all these black people look like derelicts." Is the mental health of blacks on the East coast anything to write home about? What about the dirty South? My observation is that Southern racism is so persistant it will take a thousand years to eradicate. And how long will it take Northern racism, 999? From coast to coast, if the newspapers and other media are a barometer, we are headline news with our pathological behavior. How much of it is the direct result of being captives of Western culture and the seemingly futile attempts at escape? And what is the destination of our escape route, where, oh God, shall the underground railroad take us this time? Surely, our present condition in Western civilization is unacceptable. Although we've come a long way from the cotton fields, wage slavery and the global market place is leading us nowhere. As capitalism finds cheap high tech labor abroad, whites and blacks, slip into economic darkness, with the resulting urge of many lower class blacks to involve themselves in the criminal life, out of economic necessity, thereby becoming prime candidates for the criminal justice system, returning them to Constitutionally allowed involuntary servitude, i.e., slavery, where their labor is cheaper than wage slavery abroad, additionally, they generate between twenty and fifty thousand dollars per man per year behind bars for the departments of correction. Imagine, the Correctional officers union is the most powerful union in California. For every black man going to college, three go to prison. Consider the social devastation in such a reality. In light of all this, our original question seems academic, rhetorical, even irrelevant. But man cannot live by bread alone. North American Africans are the sixteenth richest nation in the world, so our poverty is of a mental nature, more so than physical. There is a spiritual disease all our religiosity cannot heal. It is a longing for wholeness and serenity that seems forever beyond our grasp. We try religion, politics, rap, sex, drugs, yet we remain the invisible man, especially to ourselves. Shall we cry racism, capitalism, occidentalism? Perhaps, Orientalism, since everything was certainly not right back home before we boarded the good ship Jesus! Is our condition beyond isms? Is it simply the dilemma of modern man, captive of a technological hell of his own making? Dr. Cornel West applauded those of us maladjusted to injustice, those of us who will never accept the contradictions of Western society and have vowed to revolutionize it! Homeland security go to hell! There shall never be peace in the West until the captives are totally liberated, economically, politically, socially, culturally and psychologically. The old folks say it may take a few more centuries, so be it! Meanwhile, things may get worse before they get better, so be it. No matter what, the North American African must strive to become more than an oriental with an occidental mind. Somehow, he must synthesize the best of the East and the West. Sun Ra taught us, "The Creator got things fixed, until you do the right thing, you can't go forward and you can't go backward." Is the solution in the name: North American African, suggesting African roots, American fruit? For more writings by Marvin X, go to www.nathanielturner.com, www.blackthinktank.com, www.marvinx.com. In The Crazy House Called America, essays by Marvin X, Black Bird Press, 2002, $20.00, plus $5.00 for postage and handling. Black Bird Press: 3116 38th Ave., Suite 304, Oakland, Ca 94619. Many years ago, Marvin X taught English, African American literature, journalism, creative writing, drama, technical writing at various colleges and universities, including: University of California, Berkeley and San Diego, San Francisco State University, University of Nevada, Reno and elsewhere. Posted w/Permission: "Feel free to spread the truth coming through me from the Creator. mx"