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Sunday, March 20

Pain Boulette!!! (Bread Dumpling!!!) Hanging onto our humanity, Part 5

In 2008 I was asked by an American professor who knew a great deal about William Ayers -- a retired professor, mentor to Barack Obama, and former Weatherman terrorist -- why I had once referred to Ayers on my blog as "Sahib."

The question reminded me of one I posed in the early 1970s to a computer scientist who was working to computerize the phone company in New York City: Can you explain to me in one sentence what you do for a living?

So I didn't reply. But one of Sahib Ayers' projects was to fan racial hatred in the United States -- to turn Americans against each other as much as he could by claiming that whites had what he called "skin privilege;" i.e., the state of having white skin accorded a person privileges in society that a darker-skinned person didn't share.

Which is exactly why an American of Tamil Indian ethnic heritage and skin color is CEO of Google and a man with black skin is President of the United States. But Ayers' circle of far-left academics loved the White Skin Privilege meme, as did black American students who were trying to get scholarships to top American universities. And so the meme spread from one university to another in the USA.

I thought of Ayers the other night when the guys at Red Eye Radio played a nearly unintelligible clip from YouTube of someone at a debate at Harvard saying that to better the human race white people should kill themselves. The student would probably be happy to know that many white Americans are killing themselves; suicide among white middle-aged Americans has skyrocketed.  

A few days earlier I came across a report about the launch of a 'Whiteness History Month' at the largest college in Oregon. The focus of the project seemed to be urging the white students to raise their consciousness about the unfair advantages their white skin privilege bestowed on them.

And I have just learned that a black American rap/hip-hop entertainer and entrepreneur named Kanye West tweeted last month that "white" publications should stop commenting on "black" music because whites couldn't possibly understand what the music means to black American descendents of slaves.

Oh I think West has done a pretty good job of conveying to people of any color just how he feels. By default I ended up at a video titled "BLKKK SKKKN HEAD" when I tried to watch a West video at YouTube that didn't make me sit through an advertisement before I could view it. The video shows West repeatedly transforming into an automaton.

I'd say he's trying to tell us he feels dehumanized. But from my cram course a few minutes ago on West and his wife Kim Kardashian I'd say these otherwise untalented people have made very profitable careers by appealing to Americans of all skin colors who feel dehumanized.

I've noticed there are many such people in today's USA. What's the cure? Clues are found in Souleymane Faye's music video "Pain Boulette!!!" from the 1970s. One doesn't have to be familiar with Senegal to see that Faye is poking fun at black African snobbery about whites (they can't dance, they have no rhythm) and Being African (at the rate he's getting his hair braided one of the characters will clearly be in his 90s by the time it's finished). But I suspect that the more one knows about Dakar society in those days the funnier the video. (Was "fabulous" the over-used word of the day?)

Towering over the social commentary is exuberant silliness: the music fan who's an even bigger fan of stuffing herself with pain boulette; Faye trying to get an expressionless singer to loosen up by butting her hip with his head.

And the music. One commenter at YouTube noted that Faye, who's also called Jules, was ahead of his time. Well, what you're hearing in "Pain Boulette!!!" is the beginnings of the (dare I say fabulous?) syncretic music called mbalax, which drew (and still draws) from so many sources it's easier to say it didn't draw from Mozart but give them more time.

Mbalax ("rhythm" in Senegal's Wolof language) is a kind of lab for dance rhythms. Musicians from musical genres all over the world, many rooted from centuries ago in African drumming, have contributed to it, but Jules was among the earliest mbalax pioneers. And if someone ever gets around to writing an encyclopedia article about him we might find that he's considered the pioneer. In any case mbalax had its birth in Dakar, in just the kind of music clubs featured in the 1970s-era video.

The irony about mbalax is that at just the time it was being born in Senegal, over in New York City American blacks and Puerto Ricans who lived in the same neighborhoods were engaged in boombox wars because they couldn't stand each others' music. The warring parties would turn their portable stereos louder and louder to drown out the other music. This routinely led to riots, then the NYPD had to be called in -- at taxpayer expense of course -- to break it up.

Yet mbalax eventually integrated both musical styles and without a drop of blood shed or an eardrum shattered. More to the point the musicians, singers, poets, and dancers who built mbalax did so without the intervention of police, courts of law, or political battles costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The law and politics and even war have their place, but when blindly invoked as routine approaches to settling differences the price is a feeling of being dehumanized. That's too high a price for anyone to pay.

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