Medicine or poison. Pop culture infused classical civilization? Classical civilization informed pop culture? Or pop culture confused with classical civilization? Is this the path of our 21st century struggle? Everything that gets into our bodies and mind either makes us better or breaks us down. What’s in your wallet?
Writing the narrative of human history is an inherently Africa centered endeavor. It is a necessary step in the healing of planet earth. ASCAC, the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, is a place where cultural physicians come to share insights, procedure, protocols and remedies. All of which was on display and on point in Philadelphia over the weekend. The women warriors of Wakanda were used to emphasize the warrior-woman ways of Anna Julia Cooper’s relentless alarm about inclusion of women’s voices in academia, Ida B. Wells’ fearless organizing for African American women, assertions against lynchings, and the moral hypocrisy of the American mainstream, Ella Baker’s agitation over growing the movement from the grassroots and her mentorship of giants like John Henrik Clarke, and, of course, the Dahomey warriors from whom the Wakandan characters are modeled.
Black Panther became the backdrop for a state of the war / state of the struggle analysis. Narrative as assault, history and fiction as a weapon. The skillful analysis connected dots ranging from Kemet to Octavius Catto, a local Philadelphia hero from 150 years ago, to an art collection at Lincoln University, to Wesley Snipes connection to Dr. Clark’s Great and Mighty Walk, to Chadwick Boseman’s (the Black Panther) conscious roots, to a two-year-old using the bottom of his baby bottle as a drum. Pop culture as a portal. Equally powerful was the presentation that included the Last Poets, “Die Nigger Die,” as a statement about present day hip hop and intellectual warfare. Pop culture as the curriculum to connect our children, our students to our struggle.
The sub-text of the ASCAC conference seemed to grapple with the academic work of seasoned scholars presenting to a largely gray-haired audience, and the iGen students passing through the student center looking to create a future of economic security and personal fulfillment. Some stayed and listened, some didn’t find relevance in their Baby Boomer elders. Perhaps they don’t realize value in African history as a component in the identity of those in the African Diaspora. Its value cannot be overstated. ASCAC understands the need to reconstruct a fact-based, truthful narrative to restore a planet lost in the blinding vertigo of northern European fog, blocking the light, and sapping the power of melanin. The gray-haired scholars of ASCAC are trying to use pop culture as a lighthouse beacon calling Africa’s wayward children back into the light.
The conference featured advances in deciphering ancient and dormant language. There were science-based calls to advance our struggle by rejecting Hot Cheetos and fast-food cheese burgers, thus improving abilities to physically and mentally engage in struggle. There was a call to boycott King Tut, and discussion to use the exhibition as a pop cultural portal into the consciousness of our children. There were calls to transform public schools and to build our own schools. Those are old ideas in need of youthful energy. The Ancestors were honored. The elders were praised. Spirit was summoned, showed up, and showed out. All in all, it was an uplifting and edifying event. But …
36 years ago, when ASCAC started, there was a great need for the elders to pour into their scholar-warrior students the discipline and dedication to build a field of study that would restore the evidence-based truth of humanity and human history. A building tool in one hand, a book in the other. Those elders, now ancestors, witness the fruit of their work through the solid foundation and strong structures in the work of ASCAC’s present-day scholar-warrior elders. Now, the elders need to build a new generation of warrior-scholars able to defend the structures while furnishing them with humanity-restoring ethics creating the balance upon which victory must rely. A weapon of liberation in one hand and a digital device in the other.
‘Wakanda forever’ should not be our mantra. Wakanda does not exist. Dahomey exists. Kemet exists. Asantewaa exists. L’ouverture exists. Garvey exists. Marielle Franco exists. Our struggle exists. Pop culture is a portal into the consciousness of our children, our students, our struggle, our victory. We must seize it with Maatian power and purpose. Forward ever,
backward never! Wakanda forever … until the next captivating idea emerges.
Dr. Arnett Carl Duncan / Dr. Arnett Mpigani Kweli
Executive Director, Kweli Educational Enterprises
“Kweli means truth”