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Interview with Black Nobel Laureate speaking his mind on Diaspora issues

On return-to-Africa movements...

The move back to Africa by the Brothers from the Diaspora is in itself, without any question, a valid desire. By move, of course, I do not really mean the physical move, although this can be a very fruitful, necessary experience or solution for a number of Black Americans. I am more interested in what you might call the cultural move, the spiritual move, and even the intellectual move. The rediscovery of the social system, the beliefs, the philosophy of our own society, because this in itself means a long overdue rejection of European habits of thought and life-approach. It is quite true that quite a few who do come, Richard Wright for example, find that they are already too far conditioned to benefit, or even to successfully penetrate the, well, I wouldn't call them secrets -- the basic tenets and values of African society. I do not find this strange. I notice that some Brothers tend to criticize others for failing to find "themselves," so to speak, in Africa; I do not consider it strange at all. Those who do, then, it means that there is a gap within -- a hiatus within their soul -- which needs to be filled from this. I find that to those who are already complete beings in themselves, the rediscovery of Africa would only be an additional bonus if they do rediscover it. Well, they can still survive as revolutionary members of society without actually putting on a dashhiki. I am never overly concerned...when you listen to these Black American observers, you find that very often they are those who come to Africa and immediately align themselves with the power structure. They view the entire society through the spectacles of those who are in power. It's very amusing; but it shouldn't be amusing. It's really tragic and destructive in many ways, because they are the same people who shout about the totality of society. They're the ones who complain about writers and artists standing aside. And when they talk about the polity, when they talk about the entire society, they are really talking about a very small hierarchy.

On Christian philosophy...

This, again, I believe is part of the pattern of acceptance of European thought and ideas -- this idea of attributing the concept of self-sacrifice to the Christian, to the Euro-Christian or Judeo-Christian world, simply because a single figure emerged from that particular culture to espouse, in very beautiful mythological terms, the cause of the self-sacrificing individual as a kind of, as the surrogate for world suffering, social unhappiness, and general human unhappiness. It is often forgotten that the idea of individual sacrifice-the principle of the surrogate individual-is, in fact, a "pagan" one. Those who attribute this concept to Europe forget that Christianity itself is not a European religion. And that Christ, the central figure of Christianity, is really a glamorization of very "paganistic" ideas: the idea of personalizing the dying old year, the dying season; to insure the sprouting, the fertility, the idea of the emergence, in fact the very resurrection, of Nature. All this is "pagan" -- "pagan" as an expression used by the Christian world to describe the fundamentally natural, Nature religions. I see Christianity merely as another expression of nature religion. I cannot accept, I do not regard the principle of sacrifice as belonging to the European world. I completely reject the idea that the notion of the scapegoat is a Christian idea. This scapegoat idea is very much rooted in African religion...I think the obsession with individual salvation -- which, if you like, is on the opposite end of the axis to self-sacrifice -- is a very European thing. I am not aware that it occupied the minds of our people. I think it is a very European literary idea; in fact, the obsession itself is a very Christian principle. In our society, this kind of event, this process, is inbuilt into the very mechanism, which operates the entire totality of society. The individual acts as a carrier and who knows very well what is going to become of him is really no different, is doing nothing special, from the other members of society who build society and who guarantee survival of society in their own way. I think there is one principle, one essential morality of African society which we must always bear in mind, and that is the greatest morality is what makes the entire society survive. The actual detailed mechanism of this process merely differs from group to group and from section to section, but it is the totality that is important. I think there is far too much concern about this business of the Christian ethic of individual self-sacrifice.

On Eurocentrist thought...

I find myself very much preoccupied -- if you like, naturally prejudiced -- in favour of a wholesale re-examination, re-evaluation of European ideas. In fact, I question very much the intellectual value of a number of the preoccupations of European scholars. And taking as the foundation of my thinking the ideas, the world-view, the philosophical concepts of my society, I find that Europe has for too long brow-beaten the rest of the world, and especially the African world, into an acceptance of the very fundamental system (of evaluation) which is, I suppose, natural to Europe. It is time the paths which have been blazed by a number of very serious African scholars should be followed up very rigorously. And the damage which has already been done-the waste of toil, which has, been indulged in by universities-seems very ridiculous. Tiny, really minuscule, academic studies, with no relevance at all, to a true understanding of man's situation within the universe -- which I think is at the root the most fundamental aspect of all intellectual inquiry. I believe that one of the primary duties of African intellectual institutions is really not merely to question the system of thought of Europe, but to question the value of these systems, the value of these particular patterns of thought in European thinking...The deliberate suppression of facts, of historical facts, which are dug up by anthropologists; the biased, the very dishonest selectiveness of material, which then becomes the basis of supposedly rigid structuralism in analyzing social systems; the habit of ignoring or merely treating as curious the systems, the metaphysical systems, the philosophical ideas of African society. In other words, these are made sort of adjuncts to the European artificial systems...When I talk about the true liberation of the Black man, I speak of a complete rejection, a refusal even to begin from the untried axioms of the white academic -- you know, bored with his own society or seeking some kind of validation for his presumed superiority of his own people before he attempted to come to terms, in a very self-validating way, with African society. (My position) is to believe very implicitly that the African peoples live a very complete rounded self-sufficient existence, both emotionally and intellectually, and that all the postulations of the European scholar are either irrelevant, in fact they have no bearing whatever...or contradict the reality of the African peoples.

Interview by Louis S. Gates

Black World, v 24, #10

August, 1975

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