In my dream, I saw millions of black men and women’s dried dead bones Bone to bone, mourning and crying for justice; Bone to bone, seeking to breathe again under the Transatlantic sea, and shackled in the land of the free.
In my dream, I saw shadows of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Atiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd… haunting them in resurrection journey ; in unison, those dried dead bones cry out: If we can breathe again, it won’t be with our faces kissing the ground. If we must cry again, it won’t be in vain. If we must die again, it will be a glorious death.
If we shall live again, justice shall rise; our people shall stand. They will breathe. They will walk. They will exist. They will have peace; peace in their homeland, peace in the system.
Oh dried bones, awake and speak, so your people, our people can Run with peace; Walk in peace; Drive in peace; Sleep in peace.
Dried bones, if you must die again, We must breathe, we must breathe, we must breathe. Bone to bone, rise up!
I spent another sleepless night (It’s 4:38 AM. I can’t sleep) thinking about the unnecessary death of Ahmaud Arbery as if he were related to me or that I knew him personally. So, I wrote a poem for him.
“Freedom Shadows” for Ahmaud Arbery
If freedom could speak, how will it instruct you and me? What will it say to you in the morning? What will it teach the world? when the clock is broken; when the wound is not healed; when the pain is not new and stands still; a nightly song to us will it sing? Where will it meet us? at the center, in the prison cell, under the rainbow, or in the valley. The parrots sing to me: “Freedom shadows, freedom shadows, freedom shadows have no location and identity.”
If freedom were a lamp, where will it guide our path? to the stars; to a community of peace; or a country where it does not rain; to a place of despair; or a village where the people live in reconciliation blues. Please tell me if freedom were a shadow, whose image will it reflect? your resemblance; my likeness; or our common humanity. If freedom were a color, what will be its preference? Will it be brown, black, white, ultraviolet, or no color? The children in the streets whisper: “Monsieur, freedom is all the colors in one…at full brightness.”
Yet this country’s freedom betrays me and keeps us in shackles. Freedom here is cold and has no soul. this freedom does not make a loud noise, nor does it explode. It hides itself in the clouds of emptiness, in the sea of solitude, in the valley of ashes. It alienates us and does not restore brokenness. Freedom in this village is is a lie, not mine. It is just a dream, always a dream to me. It is the dream our people dreamed about.
In the land of my birth, freedom passes us like a shadow, in a home with one window, this freedom is shallow and suicidal. It tempts us like the devil. Freedom in this land is like a sacred space between us and them; a period that creates a distance, a sign that indicates a hindrance, a clause that breaks the bond. This freedom is here to stay.
This nation’s freedom does not visit us in the morning; It crosses over our path at dawn. Why is freedom so far away? The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully. The dolphin can dance beautifully. Even the little birds are set free. For you and me, our dance is not free. When our blues are new, our spirituals change the view. This freedom is not our preview; it is their honeydew.
Dreaming in a land where freedom will be for you and me; only if freedom can be a creed, I could use it as a need; Dreaming in a land where freedom could be a warranty deed; we could use it as a seal. only if freedom times can stop moving, I could start living. Dreaming in a land where freedom could be free for us and bond all of us; joy will be in all of us. the melody of freedom will find us; freedom dance will rebuild our people; peace will sustain this nation; love will remake us; These freedom shadows are only our shadows.
D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y blending with D-E-A-T-H, which is true? Black death, I say, Lynching, they shout, Terror, together we agree. He refused to die in pain; he was lynched in vain. Breath stops the track. Death wins the match.
Is democracy for all? Lynching is for some. We bleed. We mourn. We grieve. We refuse to dance. We don’t beat the drum. We stop the music. We play our own song, A song of sorrow, A melody of melancholy, In a land of bitter and sour, Where the sun does not rise. This place does not give light to the moon and a smile to the stars.
This land is not our fatherland. Our mothers do not claim it. Bastard born they say we are. This country is not our own. This soil drinks our blood, at every moment, day and night, We bleed. We hurt. We die. Healing escapes our presence. Far away is our cure. Our hearts do not belong. Redemption bids goodbye. Democracy is not kind to us.
1, 2, 3…They lynched one, two, and three black bodies. small, young, and old One death, Two deaths, Even three at once.
I was tormented and traumatized last night about the slaughter of George Floyd. I went to bed at 4:00 A.M. While I was reflecting on Mr. Floyd’s execution, I wrote the poem as a song of lament and mourning:
“1, 2, 3…They Lynched Another One.” I dedicated the poem to George Floyd.
“The Case for Black Academic Recognition and the Significance of Intellectual Recognition and Reparations”
I begin this post with a preface. The goal of this post is not to initiate an intellectual battle or to make public enemies. Anyone who knows me personally also knows that I am a peaceable person and that I treasure sustaining friendship and good relationships, correspondingly. Yet as a writer and thinker and a person who is concerned about justice and equity in the world, I am not afraid to address conflicting intellectual ideas, cultural ideologies, and controversial issues—such as the pressing issues of social justice, unjust public policies, Police brutality, racial harmony and unity, anti-blackness, race concept, white supremacy, white privilege, economic inequality, the plot of the poor, the predicament of the economically-disadvantaged, the mistreatment of and oppression against women and the marginalized populations, etc.—deferring the common good and human flourishing in society and in the global village, respectively.
My ultimate aim in any of my academic and literary production is to seek and promote justice, truth, intellectual reparations, as well as to contribute to the improvement of the human condition in our society and in the world. Thus, the objective of this post is written within this line of thought and intellectual commitment. In sum, as a writer, I try to write with passion, zeal, and conviction. In this brief post, I would like to raise the issue of black academic recognition and the significance of intellectual recognition and reparations in the academia; however, there is another specific issue that I address in the subsequent paragraphs.
To move this conversation forward, allow me to bring your attention to this threefold question:
Do honesty, integrity, and truth matter in intellectual production, scholarship, and the academia?
Do writers and thinkers have a right to defend their intellectual property and claim what is rightful theirs?
Do I have the right, legitimacy, and freedom to defend my work, ideas, and the value of my scholarship?
If I may ask other related questions:
A. Who determines those rights and freedoms?
B. Are those rights and freedom given or does one have to claim or fight for them?
C.Who has the power to shut down or silence certain individuals and academic productions, and recognize and promote other intellectual achievements?
Something I’ve realized early in my academic journey that the academia was not made for a guy like me: black, Haitian, and black male. I also understand that its structures and systems and its gatekeepers do not value the contributions of black scholars and thinkers to various academic disciplines and fields of knowledge. Certain people in the academia interrogate the value of black reason and epistemology. They also undermine the significance of faculty of color in making a difference in the lives of students and the various ways black and brown thinkers continue to challenge certain practices in the academia; these same individuals also overlook their commitment to human freedom and transforming the intellectual scene where they belong. These gatekeepers (Frankly, I do not know their full identity, but do know they’re here and not silent.) also underestimate the intellectual productions of black (especially black women scholarship) and brown scholars in their respective discipline and cognate areas. It is evident that some faculty of color make a habit to interrogate certain academic traditions and intellectual discourses, counter false narratives and metanarratives, and dismissing certain exclusive epistemologies and neo-colonial scholarships.
Moreover, a year ago, I wrote a Facebook post on “Haiti: Then and Now” about a new book on Jacques Roumain entitled “Jacques Roumain: A Life Of Resistance” by Patti M. Marxsen. In the description, the book/author/publisher claimed to be the first biography (in English) on the Haitian public intellectual and Marxist writer. The book was published on April 4, 2019 by Educa Vision Inc. (322 pages).
In my post, not only have I dismissed the exaggerated and false claim about this new book on Jacques Roumain; I informed the audience of “Haiti Then and Now” that two years ago, precisely on April 25, 2017, my book “Thinking in Public: Faith, Secular Humanism, and Development in Jacques Roumain” (496 pages) came out. My book is the most comprehensive study and intellectual biography on Jacques Roumain in the English language. It was published by Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. I also noted that in 1972 (republished in 1980), the eminent African American (woman) literary writer and biographer Carolyn Fowler (“Gerald”) published the “first biography” on Jacques Roumain in the English language. Dr. Fowler’s well-received and seminal work was published by Howard University Press; it was the product of her 1972 doctoral dissertation (“A Knot in the Thread: The Life and the Life and Work of Jacques Roumain”) at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, in the post, I also shared a list of the most important works and criticisms written on Jacques Roumain, both in French and English, that preceded both my work and Patti Marxsen.
Interestingly, this morning (Tuesday, May 26, 2020) I received a strange and an unexpected message from Ms. Patti M. Marxsen, which I share below:
“Just a note to remind you, Celucien, that we are not friends. I’ll block or unfriend you today as I did not realize you were still receiving my FB posts. So just to be clear, any potential of a friendship of any kind was ruined when you and yr friends mobbed me on FB last year. During those days of insults–that you willingly participated in and encouraged–your supporters accused me of being a racist and a vampire, among other things, and you all worked hard to discredit my fine, meticulously researched, well-written biography of Jacques Roumain. So… please do not comment on any future FB posts of mine that you may come across. My FB friends are real friends and yr thoughts on anything I post are irrelevant.”
To respond to Marxsen’s note to me, first, I appreciate Marxsen’s biography on Jacques Roumain. It is a fine book that helps us to understand both the historical trajectories and the complex ideas of Roumain, as well as sheds tremendous light on Roumain’s Haiti. Second, it is a good addition to the existing scholarship on Roumain in the English language. Third, Marxsen’s work contributes to the importance of Haitian studies in English and in North America. Finally, I did not write my post on Facebook to jettison Marxsen’s book on Jacques Roumain. As a writer, I understand the hard work it takes to publish good, illuminating, and rigorous scholarship.
On the other hand, when I published my post on Marxsen’s new book, I was not attacking Marxsen’s personality or character nor did I support anyone who attempted to do so. (In fact, I have never met Patti Marxsen in person nor have I previously corresponded with her prior to writing the Facebook post.). Second, I do not remember anyone interacting with my post calling Patti a “racist” or accusing her of being a “vampire.” If those comments were there, they have accidentally escaped my attention. I sincerely apologize to Patti Marsxen. Third, the goal of my post was to seek intellectual justice and reparation, and to counter the false claim that Marxsen’s work was NOT the first biography on Roumain.
Prior to the publication of my biography and then Marxsen’s book on Roumain, many Haitian scholars and others have written very good and excellent biographies on Jacques Roumain. As scholars, it is important to recognize our intellectual antecedents, especially the value of good scholarship that preceded ours; this is just a common academic principle they teach us in graduate school. Unfortunately, it is an intellectual tradition in the Western academia to undermine and even silence the intellectual productions of black and brown scholars. As a black scholar, I believe it is both an intellectual and moral responsibility to recognize and promote the academic and intellectual works produced by faculty and people of color. It becomes a moral issue and a problem of intellectual integrity when our good works are not recognized, validated, and even silenced in the halls of the academia.
Finally, I would like to close this post with a thought I articulated in a previously-published article (“On Intellectual Reparations: Hegel, Franklin Tavarès, Susan Buck-Morss, Revolutionary Haiti, and Caribbean Philosophical Association,” Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.9, no.7, September 2016, pp. 167-175):
“Intellectual reparation is the right thing to do. Joseph Anténor Firmin once declared, “Il faut réparer au nom de la philosophie morale” (“We must repair in the name of moral philosophy.”) In the same line of thought like Firmin, Frantz Fanon, and Walter D. Mignolo, the Haitian scholar and sociologist Jean Eddy Saint Paul has exclaimed, “Il faut réparer au nom de la décolonialité, une manière de faire justice aux damnés de la terre. Il faut réparer au nom de la désobéissance épistémique conçue ici comme contre-poétique décoloniale” (“We must repair in the name of decoloniality, a manner of doing justice to the wretched of the earth. We must repair in the name of epistemic disobedience as conceived here as decolonial poetics.”) Intellectual reparation is morally, ethically, and academically justified.”
*** I make this post public because Ms. Patti M. Marxsen has blocked me on Facebook (I was not aware of that until today when she informed me.); I was going to send this note directly to her. In making my thought public, I hope someone will communicate this message to her.
“Let My People Think and Reclaim Their Heritage: On Dr. Umar Johnson’s False Christian Historiography”
For many contemporary African and black people, the Christian religion has betrayed them. I understand their discomfort, frustration, and refusal not to embrace a religion that was used to enslave their ancestors and colonize their people. Logically, the issue lies in African religious historiography and (Western) Christianity’s historiography, respectively. My goal in this brief post is not to proselytize anyone to Christianity; rather, I’m concerned primarily with the urgent matter of the historiography of the Christian religion and its intimate connection to Continental Africa. It is a matter of historiographical truth and Christianity’s historical African antecedents.
Through my writings, I’ve been attempting to inform and educate my black and Haitian brothers & sisters that our African ancestors did not encounter Christianity when they first came to the Americas and Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti) as slaves. Christianity blossomed in Africa in its first 600 years, and that Africa has the most sustaining Christian tradition in the world–beyond its Jewish origin. African Christianity gave birth to Western Christianity, and it is the seedbed of Christian thought, as well as scholasticism and philosophy in the West. Christianity is not a foreign religion in Africa nor should it be considered a foreign faith to the people of African descent in the Diaspora.
The African continent is the most diverse continent in the world. Considering Africa is the birth place of humanity and first human civilization, it is reasonable to affirm that Africa is the root of all the languages spoken in the world, the genesis of our multicultural world, and the ground of our ethnic and racial diversity. Africa is also the home of many religious traditions such as African traditional religion (i.e. Yoruba, Vodou), Christianity, Islam, etc.–these three are some of the most ancient religious traditions in the Continent.
Let me say this again that White Europeans did not invent Christianity. Christianity is not a White Man’s religion. Yes, white slave masters, slave traffickers, and colonizers (some were even christians) have (mis)used Christianity and misappropriated Christian teachings to enslave, colonize, and oppress the Africans and their descendants outside of continental Africa. Nonetheless, there’s a big difference between African Christianity before slavery and colonization and Christianity after and during slavery and colonization. The Christianity of the European colonizers and slavers should not be understood as biblical Christianity. The Christianity of the Empire contradicts the ethical virtues and moral teachings of biblical Christianity. Christianity, as it was practiced both by the slave master and colonialist, falls short of ancient African Christianity. The difference between the two includes theological, moral, ideological, political, cultural, pedagogical, and philosophical aspects.
It is good to underscore that the earliest Christian theologians who have framed the fundamental Christian doctrines and the most lofty theological categories, such as the deity and pre-existence of Christ, were Africans. In fact, it was a theologian from Africa who articulated the most theoretical concept in Christian theology: the doctrine of the Trinity. The greatest theologian in Christian history was born in Africa. His name was St. Augustine of Hippo.
Further, Ethiopia has the oldest Christian church and monastery in the world. Coptic Christianity is one of the earliest expressions of ancient Christianity. Guess what? It is still practiced in Ethiopia. Christianity has endured a long tradition of ritualistic alistic practice, liturgical exercise, and theological reflection before it made its way in the West.
Finally, it is historically implausible and false that Christianity was europeanized/westernized at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The most influential Christian thinkers who debated on and legitimized the key doctrines (i.e. divinity and pre-existence of Christ, the trinity) of Christianity were African theologians; they were not Western and white theologians.
Christianity is an African heritage that Africans in the continent of Africa and the people of African descent must reclaim. Yet they must decolonize, deconstruct, and de-westernize its current form and expression. To make it their own again, they must indigenize and contextualize the Christian faith so it could make sense in their culture, traditions, identity, and their way of life. Christianity, in fact, is an African faith when considering its rich historical tradition (and trajectories) and cultural experience in the Continent, as well as the African DNA on both ancient and modern Christianity in the world.
***One of the central reasons thinkers like Dr. Umar Johnson is so misinformed about the African historical antecedents of Christianity lies in the exclusion of ancient African Christianity in the theological curriculum and the invisibility of Africa in Christian historical narratives in the West; correspondingly, there lies two other inseparable problems: the construction of an exclusively European/Western-centered Christian epistemology, and the lack of engagement with the intellectual works produced by black and brown scholars, biblical scholars, and theological thinkers in contemporary scholarship.
“A Reading List on Western Philosophy and Christian Philosophy and Apologetics”
In this post, I recommend some of the most influential works in the history of Western philosophy, American philosophy, as well as Christian philosophy and apologetics. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive. For example, it does not deal with classical philosophy (with the exception of three to four titles on the list ); rather, the emphasis is on modern thought or history of ideas. I do not, for example, include works by African and Caribbean philosophers. I hope you will find the selected works helpful and meaningful to your own personal philosophical and spiritual growth and intellectual progress.
*** I wrote this post as a response to various inquiries I received from individuals and students who are passionate about the life of the mind and also from those who would like to be well-versed in both Western Philosophy and Christian philosophy.
Click on the link below to access the list of recommended books on the subject matter!