University of Kentucky, USA
Not all of us are engaged in anything that vaguely resembles the needs of our homelands. How many well-trained bus conductors will return from Birmingham to India or Pakistan? Is there any real need for the hordes of us who learned to operate the mysteries of the London and Paris subways? And what of those of us who learnt to build sky-scrapers? Perhaps all we can eventually do with our knowledge is to retire to Normandy! There really is no crying need for the skills we have mastered in the metropolis.
Which brings me now to Professor Kom's "intellectuals" -- they satisfy the needs of the One because HE pays well, houses his employees comfortably, and promises nothing. Yes we all could return to the satisfaction of the government job at home, but governments change; there are education needs for our children, and soon, alas, the necessity for a well-equipped hospital if we are to avoid the sad demise of Comrade Leader Forbes Burnham who died in a hospital in Guyana that could not support his needs, and Cheddi Jagan, who expired under Uncle Sam's care in Washington D.C..
Professor Kom wonders whether there is a "desire" on the part of these African/diasporan peoples "to create an autonomous framework". Most people, no matter how wretched our recent condition, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, would easily assert that we possess freedom. Actually what the poet/workers are all talking about is their flag independence that was granted after the most fearful hullabaloo. We saw off the conquerorors by inviting their distant, royal cousins to come help us celebrate, which they willingly did - in the Caribbean lingo we call this a "freeness". And of course Cheikh Hamidou Kane was right, but the alternative he suggests is madness and death.
To avoid these two twin terrors then, we are left with only one possibility - not madness, not death, but an intentional sanity that encourages us to live. We have to reconcile ourselves to the years of slavery in Africa and its diaspora, to centuries of a colonial stranglehold. I am not talking Truth and Reconciliation; I am talking Truth and Remembering. I am saying that like the Haitian peasant who asked Baby Doc why she should learn Creole when, as the Americans say, we can't go there. Today is year 2000 and we have to offer something more than a mere empty gesture. We have to show that we are more than the Other. We are the Same; indeed, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak declared that the margin had indeed become the center.
As long as we feed in the master's vineyards we can expect little but contempt and disdain. The new news is that the colonizer does not need to move to have his bidding done - what the IMF and the World Bank cannot accomplish, the very same innocent "intellectuals" cited by Dr. Kom will accomplish in the name of the Father. Remember that in French at least "nom" and "non" are homophonic. And perhaps it is that final, assertive, "NON" that will drive away every Shelby Steele and Walter Williams who seek to misdirect the way we choose to go.
At this point let me articulate my own position on Eurocentrism versus Afrocentrism. I am an Afrocentered individual attempting to live in a Eurocentric West. I am writing in a Eurocentric language (as does Ngugi and Cheikh Anta Diop). Ngugi protests all the way to the bank as he deposits royalty checks from James Currey, a White South African clerk who took over from Heinemann. Ngugi can no longer write novels, he says, in a colonial language, but the critical works are all in English, intended for an English and an American audience. And the present advocates of Afrocentricity have fallen foul of the power that controls the knowledge, as Foucault well knew. Leonard Jeffries proclaimed long and loud that Whites were slightly down the human scale, even as City College took away his Chairmanship; Tony Martin rightly took up his cause at Wellesly, just before he was eased out; Molefi Asante was quietly demoted from the Chair at Temple. All were much too Afrocentric, even as they fed in the pastures of Eurocentrism. Haki R Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) told me a long time agao that he started Third World Press because he really did not expect the very people he was attacking to publish him. So in the diaspora, as Louis Armstrong opined, you need a Mafia protector, and the new rappers are discovering this sad fact of the "secret" of the West, even as they slaughter themselves in a senseless East Coast/West Coast fiasco that leads nowwhere.
Professor Kom surely knows that the words he writes, the ideas he express, the citations he makes, are all directed to a new class of people who are internet literate, and this does not include the vast numbers of people from Nigeria, Brazil and Black America. The sad conclusion then must be that this very discourse constitutes unknown signifiers, whispered in the darkness, one to another. Hopefully the trace of the anti-sign will reveal for us how that presencing of a former otherness can become the original Same.
O.R. Dathorne has published several novels and poetry, in addition to numerous critical books. His next book, due next year, will be Worlds Apart : Race in the Modern Period. Prof. Dathorne teaches at the University of Kentucky and edits the Journal of Caribbean Studies. In July 2000, the Association of Caribbean Studies will hold its 22nd Annual Conference in Guadeloupe. (Mail to : Prof. O.R. Dathorne, Department of English, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky 40506, U.S.A.)
See also: O. R. Dathorne "(Re)placing the wor(l)d: the search for the half sign" Mots Pluriels 11 (1999).