The Essence of Community and Symbolism: A Reflection on Art and Ethics (Thoughts on Yurugu)

Some elements of Yurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior that stood out.

The Communal Heartbeat in Art

At the core of human interaction lies the necessity for community, a concept deeper and richer than mere social gatherings; it signifies the profound joint essence of human existence.

This phenomenon, prevalent across various cultures, orchestrates their societal constructs distinctly different from the often superficial social bonds seen in the West.

The replacement of authentic communal connections with societal ones has notably hindered Western societal evolution. Art devoid of communal essence fails to embody moral values, rendering the individually concocted “ethic” both humanly and personally insufficient.

The Philosophical Underpinnings of Haiku

Daisetz Suzuki’s examination of European and Buddhist symbolism through Basho’s haiku illuminates the stark contrasts in aesthetic appreciation. The haiku,

Oh! Old Pond!
A frog leaps in,
The water's sound!

epitomizes an all-encompassing unity—Basho with the frog and the pond—illustrating the concept of ‘Sunyata’ (emptiness) and ‘Tathata’ (suchness) which is difficult for the European analytical mind, accustomed to mediation through complex concepts, to grasp.

The Consequences of Analytical Aesthetics

The Western penchant for dissecting and rationalizing art, as epitomized by the likes of Kant’s “Analytic” or Aristotle’s “Poetics”, contrasts sharply with the integrative simplicity of haiku.

This analytical approach has engendered a dual aesthetic in Europe: the elite, reflecting intellectual minority’s norms, and the popular, which resonates more broadly but is often less consciously cultivated.

The Pitfalls of Rationalized Art

European rationalization of music exemplifies the disconnection from its natural, spontaneous origins. The imposition of mathematical structures on music — a journey from cosmic manifestation to synthetic imitation — epitomizes this.

Even the evolution of musical instruments towards mechanization mirrors this overarching theme of control, removing the natural intuition seen in African and indigenous musical traditions.

The Cultural Chasm

The stark differences in artistic perceptions often lead to a phenomenon akin to culture shock when European and non-European art forms meet.

Europeans, with their analytical and controlled art forms, find it challenging to appreciate the profound spontaneity and communal integration of non-European art, which often leads to misinterpretations and underappreciation of the latter’s depth and cultural significance.

Art as a Reflection of Life

In many non-European cultures, art isn’t just a form of expression but a vital component of life itself, intertwined with the sacred and everyday practices, reflecting a holistic view starkly different from the Western compartmentalization of art, often deemed ‘art for art’s sake’.

The Anglo-Saxon Myth

The influence of racial myths in shaping national identities is profound and often overlooked. A closer look at England’s history reveals the intricate role these myths have played, particularly the Anglo-Saxon myth, which has shaped the country’s national consciousness and justified its socio-political structures and actions.

The Asili and English National Identity

The concept of asili, central to African-centered thought, proves invaluable in analyzing European ideologies, especially concerning race. It helps us understand how racialist ideas embedded in the English self-image have driven the development of its national identity.

This racial myth propagated the notion of English superiority, underpinning the national, racial, and cultural ethos that justified colonial and imperial endeavors.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Creation of a National Myth

In 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth was instrumental in fabricating the Arthurian legend, linking the Britons, Anglo-Saxons, and Normans under a unified royal banner.

This mythology not only justified the authority of a centralized royal monarchy but also laid the groundwork for a collective national identity that was essential for the socio-political cohesion of England.

The Shift from Trojan to Germanic Mythological Roots

As the political landscape evolved, the mythological roots celebrated by the nation shifted from Trojan to Germanic. This change was reflected in the adoption of Anglo-Saxon origins for the English people, a myth that became predominant due to its utility in reinforcing the narrative of racial purity and superiority.

This was not just a scholarly or cultural shift but a deliberate re-alignment to bolster nationalistic pride and justify colonial expansions under the guise of carrying the burden of their “civilizing mission.”

The Role of Media and Cultural Myth in Reinforcing National Identity

The manipulation of history and cultural myths through media has been a powerful tool in reinforcing national identities shaped by racial ideologies.

Media as a Propagator of the National Myth

The portrayal of historical and mythological narratives in media significantly influences public perception and consciousness.

Films and literature have often depicted the English (and by extension, Europeans) as bringers of order, civilization, and morality, contrasting sharply with the portrayed chaos and immorality of colonized peoples.

This not only justified colonial and oppressive policies but also cemented a self-image of benevolence and superiority in the national psyche.

Advertising and the Exotic Other

In advertising, the use of exotic settings and indigenous peoples serves to reinforce the self-image of Europeans as cultured and adventurous, while reducing the portrayed cultures to mere backdrops and props for Western narratives.

This relationship highlights the pervasive, often subconscious, imperialistic and paternalistic attitudes that continue to influence Western interactions with other cultures.

The interplay between the European self-image and their conceptualization of “the other” reveals a deeply ingrained mechanism within European culture, which is manifest in their global interactions and historical narratives. This mechanism, which underscores a persistent necessity to assert superiority over others, is deeply rooted in the ideologies that have long propelled Western civilization.

Cultural Superiority and Its Justifications

The European utamaroho — essentially the spirit or vital force driving their culture — relies heavily on maintaining a positive self-image, which is directly validated through the negative depiction of others. This image is critical for justifying their actions and existence.

Such self-images are cultivated through various means, including religion, science, and cultural narratives, often depicting others as lacking in morality, rationality, and civility.

Christianity and Its Double Standards

Historically, Christian thought has played a significant role in promoting European ideals of universal brotherhood while simultaneously justifying the subjugation of non-European peoples.

This contradiction is evident in how non-Europeans are often portrayed as savages needing salvation — a convenient narrative that facilitated the colonial and missionary exploits that often accompanied plunder and conquest.

For example, missionaries in the 19th century, like those in Hawaii, portrayed the locals as idle savages who could only be redeemed through hard labor and Christian moral teachings. This portrayal not only justified the imposition of foreign beliefs on indigenous cultures but also reinforced the European self-view as civilizers — a noble burden that masked economic exploitations and cultural destruction.

Anthropology and the Construction of Racial Myths

Anthropology, once a tool of the colonial enterprise, contributed extensively to the European self-image. By defining what was “primitive” and “savage,” anthropologists were crafting an image of Europe as the pinnacle of civilization and rationality. The dichotomy of the civilized European versus the savage “other” validated all manner of sins committed under the guise of the “white man’s burden.”

The impact of such dichotomies extends beyond mere cultural descriptions and feeds into how laws, economies, and global policies have been structured to favor Europeans at the expense of others, under the belief that non-Europeans lacked the complexity and sophistication to manage or develop their societies.

Media’s Role in Perpetuating Stereotypes

The media has been a potent tool in reinforcing the European self-image while denigrating others. From colonial times to modern Hollywood, entertainment and news media have depicted non-Europeans in ways that support the narrative of European cultural and moral superiority.

This portrayal has profound implications, influencing public opinion and justifying policies that range from segregation to colonial governance.

Films, advertisements, and popular culture have historically used caricatures and stereotypes that exaggerate negative traits of non-European peoples.

Such depictions not only alienate and dehumanize but also cement the supposed inferiority of these groups in the eyes of the world — and in their own eyes, impacting their self-esteem and cultural pride.

Implications and Continuities

The persistence of these images and their continual reinforcement through culture, policy, and academic discourse create a feedback loop that justifies European dominance and rationalizes the economic and social inequalities that arise from it.

This self-affirming cycle is crucial for the maintenance of European self-image and the marginalization of “the other.”

As Europeans projected their fears and desires onto non-Europeans, they not only justified their own exploitative behaviors but also set the stage for centuries of racial and cultural hierarchies that persist in modern times.

This mechanism of creating ‘the other’ as a foil for self-validation is not just a historical footnote but a living legacy that continues to affect global politics, economics, and social structures.

Conclusion

The European self-image, intricately linked with their perception of non-Europeans, has facilitated a worldview that rationalizes domination and exploitation. This worldview, embedded within the fabric of Western thought and institutional practices, continues to influence how non-Europeans are viewed and treated globally.

Understanding this dynamic is essential for addressing the inequalities and injustices that stem from it, and requires a critical examination of the narratives we have come to accept about civilization, progress, and the role of the West in the world’s historical and contemporary affairs.

The road to a more equitable world passes through the dismantling of these myths and the construction of a global society that respects and celebrates diversity truly and equitably.

AssataShakur

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