This conversation between two of the most authentic Black artists is so powerful, so instructive, so wise.
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In his new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Louis Chude-Sokei samples freely from history, music, literature and science, conjuring new meanings from dead texts, to build an echo chamber where the discourses of race and technology collide. At a time when automation threatens jobs and pits humans against machine and Artificial Intelligence systems manage financial markets, Chude-Sokei’s arkeological excavations reverberate through the future-present. In this conversation, he joins Kodwo Eshun and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom on a journey into science fiction and Afrofuturism that engages the intimate relations between black peoples and technology within the wider imperial histories of industrialisation and slavery.
“What then comes up for me in this conversation about the limits of the human is what constitutes the human, right? Because whenever you ask whether or not this is human or that is human, you’re actually asking “what is the human?” in the first place. Which is a question that we still don’t really know. The same thing when we talk about artificial intelligence. What artificial intelligence has taught us is that we don’t know what intelligence is. Whenever we encounter a machine, can it think? Does it have a soul? And then the question becomes: well, what is thinking? What is a soul? Are they human? Do they merely mimic us? Will they take over from us? Will they revolt? These same exact questions that were asked about slaves during slavery. This is not an accident. Things that seem accidental are not accidental at all. It’s a shared logic around a restrictive understanding of what constitutes the human. And that’s where blacks and robots and machines really come together – not just in a clever, theoretical formulation. It’s there in history. It’s why Robert Johnson wants to have sex with his phonograph.”
Read more from an edited transcript in The Chronic: The Invention of Zimbabwe.
“DNA is a master of transformation, just like mythical serpents. The cell-based life DNA informs made the air we breathe, the landscape we see, and the mind-boggling diversity of living beings of which we are a part. In 4 billion years, it has multiplied itself into an incalculable number of species, while remaining exactly the same.” – Myths and Molecules, The Cosmic Serpent; DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby
What is the real origin of homosexuality? Is it rooted in the same biological and social constructs as heterosexual relations? Is it all in our DNA or is discrimination and revulsion against homosexuals ( Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender people) based merely on religious dogma and patriarchal worldviews? What is the authentically Afrikan worldview on this subject, one that is not tainted by newly inherited Male centric religions and patriarchal standards?
For the longest time I have meant to write about a subject that is usually taboo to many sections of the so called ‘woke’ society. You know, the Black conscious ( yet not all Black Consciousness adherents are anti-gay), nationalist and even the traditionalist/ pan-Afrikanists which may all be grouped as Afrocentrists. The subject is homosexuality.
Having been a Rastafarian since the early 2000’s, and coming from a Pentecostal church background, it has been difficult for me to speak openly about what I still view as an alternative kind of sexuality. Members of the Rastafari movement do not mince their words about their disdain and use any chance they get to voice their rebukes against the LGBTQ people. I have tended to remain silent because I too have had to think about where I stand on the subject. While I certainly do not condone violence against people who are different from myself, I have not supported gay people in their efforts to be recognised as ordinary human beings. I have never read anything from Haile Selassie I, the Black God of the Rasta’s that condemns people for their sexual orientation, so I too have never condemned them.
Although I have had friends, colleagues and other people I admire who are gay, I have not been so open in expressing support for their causes, only venturing as far as stating that each person has a right to define themselves and that another person’s sexuality is entirely their own business, discrimination is unnecessary. There have been many times when I have confronted Rasta’s and Traditionalists as well as blatant homophobes about their overzealous anti-gay stances and statements. Asking what revolutionary purpose does it serve to discriminate and even incite violence against people whose gender does not fit their expectations of what is deemed ‘natural’?
Needless to say, I have been called many names for this, from fence-sitter, apologist to closet or secret homosexual. The real naked truth is that, I have my own prejudices and they may or may not fit the term homophobia, but as I told another gay friend, who does not talk to me anymore, not even on social media – I am still working on myself – part of me sees same sex romance as uncanny or somehow unethical, especially in the context of raising families, yet another part of me, I guess the liberal sensibility in me, simply says let’s live and let live. As long as homosexuals pose no discernible threat to the liberation of Black people from the common enemies of racism and capitalist exploitation, let them be. Love is love after-all and it does not always need to be sexual and if it is, then so be it. I am far from dictating who does what and how sexually. But as a person engaged in Afrikology and rekindling Afrikan value systems – I must take a clear stand either for or against. The main question I ask myself is – is homosexuality in line with Ma’at and principles of Ubuntu?
According to the 42 Principles of Ma’at, it is not. So there, it should be easier to make a decision, right? Well, not really. There are several admonitions or negative confessions of Ma’at, which people of any gender can and do easily violate. So who judges us when we pollute the water or commit adultery or commit any other act that is deemed a violation of the Cosmic or Natural Law?
When I first thought of writing this essay, I was thinking about the many gay folks who have contributed to my intellectual and cultural development. I also wanted to mention the many artists and writers who lived openly gay or queer lives who have contributed immensely to our social, cultural lives. The example of the writer/activist, James Baldwin always comes to mind. I read two or three of his books as a teenager and did not know or care about his sexual orientation until my mid-twenties when I read Giovanni’s Room and his other works. By that time I had already started interacting with more gay people in the arts scenes, political movements as well as in literature. Besides that I found many of them eccentric and well, queer, I did not see much else that made them special or not so special compared to other folks. They too displayed the various hangups, strengths and weaknesses and beautiful qualities as anybody else. In short, the gay people I have encountered and shared intimate spaces with have been normal people who are as complex or as simple as anybody else. What they did in their beds or with their private life was and is still no business of mine. But I also have grappled with the question of what the Afrocentrists insist on; that the whole ‘practice’ of homosexuality is un-Afrikan, that it is merely a ‘behaviour’ which we as a homogenous Afrikan population have inherited unwillingly from the West, through slavery and through colonialism. My own research into such claims has yielded some mixed messages, most of which reveals that indeed, there have been Afrikans of old who either displayed openly gay traits or were openly gay and engaged in same sex intercourse. Still, there are also messages that contradict that narrative. While there are more instances of lesbian relations, there are rarer instances or examples of homosexual male courtship, not to mention marriage. Sodomy and ritual same-sex encounters, especially between rulers and younger men or boys are reported all over the continent, but I have not found any publication that confirms that this was the norm or a widely acceptable social practice.
A overtly nationalist newspaper from here in Zimbabwe recently published a scathing article lamenting the negative effect of Western ‘values’ being dictated upon Afrikan peoples in the name of democracy and human rights. The article focussed on the issue of Homosexuality. What drew me to the article was how the author used the ancient Egyptian cosmic principles of Ma’at to support his point that even in ancient Afrikan societies, as well as in Biblical narratives, homosexuality was frowned upon. I had saved this particular page of the newspaper as I had meant to quote it for this article, but I cannot seem to find it anymore. But the article is just another propagandist work insisting that ‘Zimbabwe is a conservative country,” This is just another way of saying the Zimbabwean population is generally vehemently Christian. But there are serious problems with this assertion and we can deal with it later. Suffice to state that there are behaviors that we as Black folk have internalised as Afrikan yet they are just a mixture of patriarchy and fundamentalist religiosity.
Lastly, I am father raising three boys. These toddlers will soon become young men, and I am keenly interested in them being the best that they can be as divine beings. They are in the normal way of perceiving existence, human. What sexual preferences they may choose when they grow up is based on biological as well as environmental determinants or is it entirely based on how we raise them?
“Biological mechanisms, however, offer a more compelling account. For instance, exposure to female-typical levels of sex steroid hormones in the prenatal environment are thought to “feminize” regions of the male brain that are related to sexual orientation, thereby influencing attachment and anxiety. On top of these observations, studies in molecular genetics have shown that Xq28, a region located at the tip of the X chromosome, is involved in both the expression of anxiety and male androphilia. This work suggests that common genetic factors may underlie the expression of both. Twin studies additionally point to genetic explanations as the underlying force for same-sex partner preference in men and neuroticism, a personality trait that is comparable to anxiety.”
This is very revealing, but it may also vindicate the positions of those who discriminate and urge us to commit mass genocide of people merely due to their sexual orientation.
To Be Continued.
NP. I hope to be a better informed and less discriminatory person after a short while, I promise I am working on it.
On the teeming, nervous streets of Harare, somewhere along the byways of the promising northern suburbs – stands a boy named Progress. His parents must have been really hopeful, if he has a sister, her name may very likely be Prosperity. The parents could possibly also be faithful with their Sunday tithes, giving of the little they can scrape from almost nothingness.
It is also possible that this eleven year old was named by his ailing grandparents somewhere in the deep in the rural areas. Whatever the case may be, here he stands between the amen corner and impending doom. His country, better to say homeland, has been scating on the thinned ice of total economic collapse for more than two decades now. With a reported 90% unemployment rate, half the citizens residing in various foreign lands …All they had really asked for was an equal share in the wealth of the land.
We can tell the story of a ravenously corruptible, heavily indebted and bloated neo-colonial leadership later, for now we have to simply stop, look and listen to the story of Progress. We need to find out who or what circumstances have led him and millions of other Black somebody’s down this perilous road – being trapped in a spiral of poverty.
My name is Progress Nhamo, I was born in Mbare, Harare in the year 2001. My parents had been farm worker in Kondozi for all their lives, but they had fled that part of the country during the invasions. I know I should not put it that way, many elders do not actually use the word invasion, but land occupations. But as my mother would say gleefully, “Once we had new bosses, there was no more occupation, so let’s call a spade a spade.” Anyways, we had moved around a lot when I was still a baby, and my father told me that we even had to live on the streets of Mutare for several weeks before we finally found a room in notorious Mbare. It is strange to claim that my parents lived together because my father was hardly ever home. Unless he came home drunk out of his wits on some weekends, he was mostly hustling in or out of some part of Harare selling everything he could find. My mother once said that he probably also sold himself. She could not explain to me why this man was hardly ever home.
The story of one of Del the Funky Homosapien best album
‘it means exploitation …jazz to me is not our music …jazz is a four letter word …its not either or …this and that …and this and that …”
“But there is no one left to turn on the stars …”