Sunday, September 21, 2008
Last night, I went to see a musical called Fela! off-broadway at the 37 arts theater. Whittled down to its simplest essence, the play is about Fela Kuti, a beloved African musician who used his music to rally his people against governmental oppression. While it actually goes much further than that, I'll leave it to you to research and discover, as it is actually an amazing story and a truly electric piece of theater. The piece moved me more than anything I've ever seen onstage, but not for reasons of dramatic power or great acting, although it had both in spades. Fela! was important to me because I finally got it. I am more than someone who has just descended from slaves, I am descended from strong, smart, resilient Africans whose continent was raped and pillaged by greedy newcomers.
As I was talking with my boyfriend on the way back, I finally realized how media messages and corporate America have conspired to make Blacks feel inferior when in reality most of what we see as "American" culture comes from African-Americans and Africa itself, from dance to art to music and everything in-between. As I walked back from this amazing show and had my mind blown from a connection to Africa I'd never really felt before, I felt extremely lucky to live the life I lead, to have the luxury to see a piece of incendiary theater like Fela!, and to have the education and intellectual curiosity to learn more about my roots. It saddens me that most Black people in America aren't able to have this experience, that if the "talented tenth" theory is true and I am indeed a member of that tenth, I have no real way to get the message out to those who need it the most.
On Nas' Untitled CD, one of my favorite songs is N*****: The Slave and the Master, because he breaks down a lot of the crap that is slung at us by society, capping it all with the line: We were scholars long before colleges. Even though I've been an advocate and strong believer in multiculturalism for a while now, one of the hardest lessons to learn during my college years is that not everyone shares that need to learn and grow from that kind of interaction. The Asian, Latino, White, and Black kids that I hung out with all seemed more interested in their own cultures than discovering others. Perhaps they had already had the lesson that I'm in the process of learning: you've got to get to know yourself before you can know anyone else.