Need for a
21st Century American Philosophy
the Black-Bible Belt
By Rudolph Lewis
does not depend on literacy or intellectual elites. Wisdom has little to do whether one
can read and write. Take for instance the Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH). Founder of a world religion, he could not spell or
write his name. But was he not one of the most extraordinary men who
ever lived. That is not to say he was infallible.
none can read the Quran without being impressed that this man
knew something about what it means to live harmoniously in and
with the world. Surprisingly, he possessed an
egalitarian streak. For Muhammad even a slave could be more
righteous than his former master.
of the West demand, however, that Jesus be literate, our way of
separating and elevating ourselves above the vast majority of
people who inhabit this planet.
wisdom (philosophy) does not depend on wealth, military power, and the World Bank
and the United Nations. The wisdom we seek, our neo-American philosophy,
must be open
and accessible to all regardless of IQ.
It does not ride upon status to get where it needs to go.
need of wise direction, why
should we not create an American philosophy that aligns itself
with a true and honest view of the facts and events of American
history? With all the historical studies, sociological,
psychological, and scientific discoveries in the last 50 years,
we should be set and ready now, sufficient enough, to write an American philosophy, an
indigenous one, representative of its vast diversity and
responsive to our betrayal of our better nature.
new American philosophy must
rise out of the muck and mire of our own
shared experience. We have almost 300 million brains in America,
a sample of every people on the globe—we can do it if we have
want to show in this philosophy how an American can live a life
that is full, whole, and human.
world of which I speak cannot be one in which market forces are
the primary determinant. The self is lost that way, and so is
the Good. Wisdom must teach -- no harmony occurs when chance
determines who succeeds and who does not. To have individual
goodness we must have a corporate Goodness that is not
hierarchical. There are no inherently “good guys and bad
guys.” The Hollywood cowboy rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and his
spawn cannot be ours.
American philosophy struggles against the ethic of “might
makes right.” There ain't no justice in that.
these extraneous philosophical pursuits, of we blacks, do our
people and our ancestors (the creators of spirituals, animal
tales, the blues, the twist) an injustice.
of us want African philosophy, others Afrocentric, still others
this or that ethnic philosophy of East (Kwanzaa) and West (Yoruba)
And then there are our industrial-minded brothers who want to
relive the lies and mistakes of Marx and Lenin.
we seldom have any talks about being American, about the
responsibility of we blacks to have a vital involvement in the
creation of an American philosophy. Who
better knows what America should be than a self-aware slave who
ain’t too anxious to wear his master’s hand-me downs?
not our ancestors, those unknown “black bards” who created
the spirituals and the blues, animal tales, and work songs and
voted with their feet, closer to our real sense of America than
our present global economists, multinational corporations, and militarists?
you think these American culture creators and native philosophers
were more critical than the leaders of the Southern slavocracy, of
which Robert E. Lee was its primary defender. His American Dream included
the establishment of a
not our American Christian slave ancestors dream dreams that
have risen to Carnegie Hall. Is it not the stored up and
frustrated energy of their descendants that gives America its
no America without these enslaved Africans. There’s no America
without the history and
tragedy of the Native American. There’s no America without
Mexico, the Caribbean, the Philippines. America is not English.
We are something unique and distinct and it could not have been
so without its historical peoples. And we got to get that
history right if we gonna get our philosophy right.
Our urgency is greater than that
of the 19th century, Webster and his dictionary.
got to be a philosophy that makes demands on the individual.
If an American wants to live the Good Life, there must be
always a striving towards utter sympathy with the Other
American. I suppose that's Christian, even universal. It must
be the heart of all true religions: Do unto others as you'd have
them to do to you. . . . Oh, if we could only live such a simple life!
But there's always a tyrant, the demagogue,
the bully who will challenge the Good Life—to have it for
himself, only. Better-me-than-him ethic is barbarism and has little to
do with what is called civilized. They will drag us along into
their hell whether we desire it or not. We are better than that, all
this Bush and Republican rhetoric. We got to stop playing
kind of magic has filled our globe with the hungry, the poor,
dispossessed, diseased, and dying humanity. We here in the
West—in America, we have tons of confessions that need to be
made, and the confessional's empty. We have done this and worst and we have no shame about it.
Yes, we tell ourselves – these Others, these poor niggers
eating camel skin, are backward, tribal. They murder and starve
themselves because of their flawed history, unlike our own.
why we must have philosophers. I ain't talking about scribblers,
proselytizers. But rather men and women (all Americans) who are
ready and willing to speak the truth, truly informed for the
betterment of the Many.
ethics must know/remain always in the orbit of the Good:
the Needs of the Many outweigh the Needs of the Few, and of the
know this philosophy will be a radical turn for American history
and philosophy. Ethics always trumps expediency in this
neo-ethical American philosophy.
and greed cannot be a constitutional guarantee. Corporations are
not individuals, but rather mass concentration of power. With
their millions and the need to secure it, they are willing to
impose grievous measures on the individual, including the threat of
violent repression, and its execution, if an individual
objects on ethical grounds to its actions and immoral behavior.
hire “contractors” – you know, Paladin (Richard Boone),
Have Gun Will Travel. These men seek Profit unleashed
from the demands of our American philosophy. These hired killers are all over the
globe, every continent, every country, and town.
we have suffered the whirlwind, as we continue to demean
and belittle the rest
of the people of the globe, for our shallow pompous pride, for our HumVees.
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are some figures from Philip Kennedy, O.P.,
"Dominican Spirituality and Liberation Theology" (Listening:
Journal of Religion & Culture, Fall 2003, p.237-238).
This article reveals the startling and shocking disparities that exist on
Yes, you are right, a philosophy of religion is also much in
need. For ritual, and even doctrine, is only a tiny
aspect of a living religion.
what Kennedy says:
twenty-first century began with the following situation.
In 1950, our planet was populated by about 2.5 billion
people. That number had risen to more than six billion
other terms, the twentieth century was an era of
breathtakingly massive population growth. In 1998, the
World Bank concluded that by 1993, 1.3 billion people
were living on less than $1 a day. The same bank
currently concludes that 1.2 billion people now live on
less than $1 per day while a further 1 billion eke out a
living on less than $2 a day.
as the twentieth first century gestates, more than a
third of the world’s population suppurates in poverty.
the last decade of the twentieth century, the World bank
reported that 80% of the world’s poor live in twelve
countries, and sixty-two per cent live in China and
per cent of Nepal’s population live in dire poverty;
74% in Pakistan; 74% in Kenya; and 77% in Peru.
At the end of the twentieth
century, life expectancy at birth in the United
States of America was 76.7 years. In the United
Kingdom it was 77.2 years. In Japan the figure
was 80 years.
the same time, life expectancy in Canada was 79; in
Australia, 78.2; in Columbia, 70; in Balarus, 68; South
Africa, 54; Botswana 47.4; Zambia, 40; and Sierra Leone,
a well-oiled global money market is doing what it does
best—feathering the nests of a small cartel of
According to the United
Nations Human Development Report 1999, $1.5
trillion is now exchanged daily in the world’s
currency markets. The world’s two hundred
richest people more than doubled their net worth
in the four years in 1998, to $1 trillion.
assets of the top three billionaires on this planet are
more than the combined gross national product of all
least wealthy countries and their combined 600 million
is a global system that enables three people to
accumulate assets that exceed the combined wealth of six
hundred million people.
As the third millennium begins, a fifth of the world’s
population living in highest income countries, enjoys
86% of the world’s gross domestic product, while the
wealth fifth of humanity uses 80% of the planet’s
resources, leaving 20% of the resources for the
remaining 80% of humanity.
For the wealthy fifth of humanity it could be suspected
that the age old five Cs of religion—Creed, Cult,
Code, Conduct, and Community—have been replaced by the
mundane five Cs of a new pseudo-religion: Cash, Credit
Card, Car, Condominium, and Country Club.
The poor, of course, do not suffer exclusively from a
deficiency of finance, but also from restricted access
to heath care and education. They are further
disadvantaged by a ravaged ecosphere.
tellingly reminds us that not only people but the entire
‘Earth has been systematically plundered for
Our American philosophy must know shame, what is shameful, and how to
Our extravagance (of we few) is greater than any Roman emperor, Muslim
potentate. Let it be known
that Saudi Arabia is an American necessary stereotype
(our little private nigger joke). (Kuwaitis rape their servants
in America and return home scot-free. But they just raping
niggers, who come cheap, a dime a dozen.) On the vaudeville stage
our sheikhs in their ethnic costumes conceal and make innocent
billionaires like Bill Gates and Wal-Mart..
Gates and his ilk, we love to believe,
are an innocent compared
to sheikhs, princes, and kings of the Oriental Near
Here’s what we say: The source of American wealth was obtained by hard
work and right living and a bit of ingenuity. The sheiks just
got lucky—they got oil by just being in a geographical region
and at a time that oil is prized as necessary for a
post-industrial society. These sheikhs got black gold and
don’t know what to do with it. These Moslems desperately need
But what will we do with our historical baggage? We have yet to
integrate it into our hearts and souls. You know, it can’t be
The unreconstructed Southern Republicans still know their Negroes and
how to keep them in their place. Give them MLK & Black
History Month. A museum and a few minority business contracts
and our “coloreds” are satisfied and ready to vote for Bush.
We still turning the water wheel of racial philosophies, when we need to
put out our wings and fly, creating a philosophical system that
peculiarly represents the American historical urge which comes
up from its very soil. Is Robert E. Lee really as important and
as significant as Robert Johnson? Which one indeed represents
the best of America’s democratic spirit, our hope and joy? Be
honest, damn it.
Yes, we need indeed a philosophy of education. How are we now teaching
9/11? Are we leaving it to FOX News – to men and women who went
to school to be tv and radio announcers, entertainers (bathed in
conceit), the Hip Hop Empire, public (government) schools, npr
and pbs (they too in the pockets of corporations, ask Tavis
Smiley and Skip Gates—all mouth the government line for a
salary, a career, for comfort.
As the folks used to say, “they slick as a lean dick
Socrates rolls over in his grave. Are these the people we will allow to
teach our children? Pretty boys and pretty girls, with nothing
between the ears but desire. Don’t our children deserve more?
Have we not had enough of the Jesse Jacksons, the NAACP,
and such ilk with their ceos, the black Harvard and Yale
establishment, bought-off niggers, white-folks experts on the
black poor and Africa.
Living for the Now must be a living for the Future that is Now.
There’s something wrong with the picture
that Father Kennedy paints. Something ain’t right about it.
Even a former plowboy from Sussex County, VA – with my
segregated education – knows this ain’t right.
I can’t get with these racial myths that we
Americans create for convenience and exploitation of the weak.
How did all this suffering come about? Is it
because we Americans work hard, live right, and God blessed us?
Is that indeed the source of our power?
Can we ask such questions in any classroom in
America, without the threat of being lynched, sent to the
American gulag at Cuba, made a resident of Abu Ghraib?
(Let us leave Abu Ghraib as a monument, of monumental
Iraqi and American stupidity and brutality – Bush and Saddam.
Is that what awaits Americans who want more
than billionaires and unreconstructed Southern Republicans?
We are desperate for a 21st
century American Philosophy that is not determined by how well
one’s pockets are greased.
Who speaks for the poor these days, except in
patronizing tones and gestures? Even those who know how to ask
the socratic questions, who know the Good, get greased. Poor
niggers. Everywhere. We still rub their heads for Good Luck. God
Here's a sample of how our American
philosophy would reason: Let us allow that America should not
encourage leaders like Saddam Hussein. And let us say we have
done a good, however clumsily. Our pragmatic philosophy must
pose the crucial question: Was there a cheaper way of doing it?
Without a philosophical rudder the
Machiavellis of our time will overwhelm us and confuse us with
minutia. We won't be able to see the forest for the trees. Prey
to every demagogue that can rap or has cash in pocket. We cannot
be a Super Power with revenge as our primary modus operandi.
America, my brothers and sisters, we are in
crucial times. Millions of our global cousins are being
crushed in our name, by such agents as America's pharmaceutical and gun
industries. Some blood cannot be rinsed off even with bottled
water. Let us be wise.
The times are urgent. We must develop an
American Philosophy that liberates us from ourselves. Too often
we are our worst enemy. The terrorist is a tertiary matter. Let
us turn away from that which leads down; let's turn, and take the high
road to global justice.
posted 25 May 2004
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Life on Mars
By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
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The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio) / Gil Scott-Heron
& His Music Gil Scott
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
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Only a Pawn in Their Game
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18 April 2012