Can Europe Make It?

Black intellectual self-defence

When the pendulum swings so erratically, People of Colour need to arm and defend themselves; armed with a self-knowledge that defends against the omnipotent demand to perpetually justify their existence.  

Tanzil Chowdhury
2 December 2015

Soviet stamp issued 1983 commemorating 1200th birthday( approx.) of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Wikicommons. Public domain.

We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.

Black Panther ‘The Ten-Point Program’

The last few months have seen fluctuations in public opinion surrounding ‘migrants’ and concomitant classes of peoples (diaspora communities, refugees, asylum seekers); from scenes welcoming and cheering in thousands of ‘migrants’ to a descent into paranoia where the same peoples are reconfigured as dormant criminals or terror suspects. When the pendulum swings so erratically, People of Colour need to arm and defend themselves; armed with a self-knowledge that defends against the omnipotent demand to perpetually justify their existence. 

In a country like the UK, one of the reasons People of Colour find themselves constantly having to justify their existence comes from the paradigmatic attitude toward ‘migrants’ (and by extension, the concomitant classes of peoples). The value of their existence in the Global North is primarily (and sometimes exclusively) assigned to them in instrumental terms. In other words, the debate around the value of concomitant classes of people is predicated on their ability to produce, on their ‘ends’, on how they facilitate economic growth.

Now fortunately, their instrumental value to the countries of the Global North in the (post)colonial world order is (and always has been) substantial, with key infrastructures and industries having been built on the backs of colonial subjects and those that came to the ‘Motherlands’ following ‘decolonisation’. However, justifying the existence of the concomitant classes of peoples on purely ephemeral values will always be ‘existence at the mercy of the markets’. Thus shortage of jobs, economic and social instability will have a tendency to be blamed upon the concomitant classes of peoples. Within the context of having to perpetually justify their existence, a more secure approach for People of Colour is one rooted in a necessity that demands their existence.

Black Intellectual Self-Defence (‘black’ used in the political term to describe peoples or descendants of indigenous Global South heritage) provides a rigorous and robust defence of People of Colour’s existence. It is the anticipation and countering of racism, or at the risk of obfuscation, white epistemological hegemony in all spaces, the ‘armed attack.’ Whiteness, an ideologically constructed social phenomenon, is one that benefits those racialized as white. Thus white ‘epistemological hegemony’ is one in which ways of thinking, from the macro (Enlightenment) to the micro (ie immigration), is shaped in a manner that re-enforces white superiority. This is an especially important discussion in academia, with efforts being made to produce a meaningful parity of non-white, non-European contributions to intellectualism.

Black Intellectual Self-Defence is in effect a richer understanding of the self, what Paulo Freire calls in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, humanization. Dehumanization therefore is the process of oppression in which the opportunity to understanding the self is eliminated. Concretely, it is the criminal absence of People of Colour (not necessarily rooted in the same historical, social, economic frameworks) in reading lists in higher education. It is the lack of European Enlightenment’s gratitude to the Islamic Golden Age’s Translation Movement made possible through its porous, permeable and plural intellectual borders; or the civilizational genocide that history books have committed against the African continent, reducing places like the great Benin Empire with its formidable moats and embassies (masterclasses of city planning when Europe was still in its Dark ages) to scorched earth and pits of poverty and destitution. Such dehumanization was/is a powerful tool at the hands of the colonizer.

Indian mathematician C K Raju writes in his pamphlet Ending Academic Imperialism that unlike military imperialism which is both visible and visceral:

 ‘academic imperialism is self-perpetuating. Common people, too, seek Western education for the economic benefits it might entail at the individual level, through proximity to rulers. Thus they acquire the attitudes and values the West wants them to have. This soft power of the West is a stronger basis for imperialism than its hard power which is otherwise vulnerable.’  

In his reflection on V.Y. Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge, Jacob Carruthers stated that European intellectuals ‘exercise dominance over African knowledge’ and identified the education of ‘Europeanized African’ intellectuals as the final phase of the white supremacy project. The pen is indeed far mightier than the sword.

There has been a resurgence of late in self-knowledge however. Perhaps building on the Black Panther’s Breakfast Program, the Pan-African and Mexica Movement, among many others, have stressed the huge importance of knowledge of self. Various Islamic organisations have similarly sought to consolidate the contributions of its once great empire; and taking a much more co-creative approach to knowledge, in which they cease to become ‘empty vessels filled with knowledge’ (what Freire called Banking Education), students are beginning to ask ‘why is my curriculum white?’ with equally loud demands to ‘decolonise the university’.

So why does any of this matter? The difference between justifying the existence of concomitant classes of peoples (People of Colours, refugees, asylum seekers etc) within economic instrumentalism, and Black Intellectual Self-Defence, is that the latter necessitates their existence rather than being at the mercy of contingency, as with the latter. Quite simply, world civilisation would not have advanced were it not for the contributions of this global majority. Thus it is not about trying to be validated by whiteness but rather that People of Colour’s existence is required for the integrity and progress of humanity. 

In this paradigm shift, Black Intellectual Self-Defence equips People of Colour with the arms to defend against the relentless onslaught of white privilege. Articulating to someone who is hostile toward the concomitant classes of peoples that we may never have known the great works of Aristotle or indeed ‘secularism’ were it not for the Commentator Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd (‘Averreoes’); or that Google’s complex search engine algorithms were named after Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī who was renowned for spreading the Indian system of numbers throughout Europe; or simply that the great intellectual advancements of ‘Western modernity’, its systems of social and scientific thought, its political and economic infrastructures would not have been a reality without the reception, not just of Ancient Roman and Greek knowledge, but also the Ancient Egyptians, Arabs, Chinese, Indians and many other civilisations, would be in effect, to reject their own existence.       

Indeed, when People of Colour’s existence becomes bound up in the very emergence of modernity, the bigot engages in either a form of self-flagellation at best, or a form of suicide at worst. Black Intellectual Self-Defence is therefore an effective and practical tool for People of Colour which must be practiced alongside, or indeed above, articulating the ‘economic-instrumentalist’ value of the concomitant class of peoples. To quote the rapper and author Akala’s Fire in the Booth Part II, ‘given the knowledge of self, that is all we need to survive.’   

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