The culture wars!
Obviously the American culture wars have been extremely passionate and interesting, spilling into geographical locales far removed from its major epicenter, the United States.
Most important, the political and moral reverberation of these cultural wars is felt not only at the level of national conversations but―if my observations are correct―at the heart of personal character formation and epistemological development as well.
In simple language, these culture wars appeal to an epistemological, emotional and behavioral structure of a narrative dichotomy where an imposed hegemonic presence exercises its artificial dominance and sensibilities in the cultural mosaic or salad bowl of multiculturalism, a platform of cultural, epistemological and existential parity which this hegemonic presence has strongly opposed in line with its arbitrary sense of divine mastership over the blanket of humanity.
Why is it a salad bowl or a cultural mosaic and not a melting pot?
The American literary canon probably has a lot to say about the answer to this question. Perhaps not. How so? Because the dominant narrative of literary canonization speaks to a complex situation that is more exclusionary than one that should have been inclusively ecumenical.
This may be why we have Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s and Nelly Y. McKay’s The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
Or “Africa’s 100 Best Books.”
We have Martin Seymour-smith’s The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written instead. This arbitrary bifurcation in letters denies the primordial root of humanity the imaginative effort of intellection and originality of a literary culture. The exclusion of the primordial root of humanity from the canon of literary inclusiveness means that Western thought, the ideological spinal cord of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, ultimately becomes the backbone of curriculum development―forming the intellectual and moral character of citizens with vastly different cultural, cosmological, and historical experiences.
Differences in experiences shape people’s perspectives about life and how they respond to their environments, their fears, their relationships, their frustrations, their worldviews. This no doubt explains in part why my White-American friend, a former co-employee, sees ex-US President Barack Obama as African-American and global musical icon Bob Marley as biracial―though both are technically biracial in every sense of the word. Both also brought the weight of their humanities to bear on a chaotic world where identity and other social categories contaminate humanism.
I hold the view, in spite of Bloom’s nuanced attachment to ostrich politics, that multiculturalism and cultural pluralism should define the cultural capital of citizens in a pluralistic society.
This includes how heroes and heroines are integrated into the literary language of a national culture.
If this is so, how do we canonize heroes and heroines in multicultural, multi-ethnoracial societies? More specifically, how does one apotheosize and then canonize a hero or heroine whose character one destroyed and even helped send to prison? Writing for New African, Ayi Kwei Armah (2014), a Ghanaian novelist and essayist, notes with remarkable openness:
"To which cultural universe does the personal memory of Nelson Mandela belong? To the collective memory of the oppressed Africans whose struggle for political emancipation he helped to lead? Or to the memory bank of European civilisation, in whose name the defenders of apartheid declared Mandela and his comrades terrorists, and on whose behalf they arrested, incarcerated, and isolated him for over a quarter century?"
European civilization was not the only Apartheid defender. As a matter of fact the United States and Ronald Reagan, the same man who created a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., also supported Apartheid―yet it was the same Martin Luther King, Jr. to whom, when he was alive, married white women secretly wrote letters professing their heartfelt romantic admiration for him. Still, as Armah notes eloquently elsewhere, “In the conflict between South African democrats and apartheid supremacists, European nations such as Britain, France and Germany, along with the USA, were not bystanders. They were active allies of the white supremacist regimes.”
That said, some of my American friends have argued that King did not deserve a federal holiday in his honor because of plagiarism accusations posthumously leveled against him in connection with his doctoral dissertation.
Of course, similar scandalous accusations have been leveled against Albert Einstein insofar as his Theory of Relativity is concerned.
Is King an American or African-American hero? Is Einstein a German, American, or Jewish hero? Why can the world not share King and Einstein together? For one thing, whatever these men achieved in their lifetimes remains in the wider domain of human consciousness, and for another, the fact that their achievements evolved out of unique ethno-cultural and national identities into a humanizing acceptation of global fullness underscores the ideological pettiness of exclusionary canonization as a dangerous instrument of social engineering, an idea somewhat strongly opposed to the full actualizing of cultural amalgamation.
At the same time, Mandela and his achievements remain the collective legacy of humanity in spite of the unique ethno-cultural and national space from which he evolved, a point not lost on Armah. “To which cultural universe does Nelson Mandela’s memory belong?” he asks again. “Like the legacy of all outstanding beings, it belongs ultimately to humanity at large.”
This is my central argument.
In the literary microcosm of the American body politic, for instance, Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. have argued for the inclusion of African-American literature in the American literary canon, not just in the American literary canon but in the larger Western canon as well.
However, the question is not even asked whether African-American literature and African literature could belong to the same canon space given, for instance, the theoretical continuities and cultural parallels between both of Gate’s The Signifying Monkey and Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self on the one hand and Wole Soyinka’s Myth, Literature and the African World on the other, to name but three influential works, although Molefi Kete Asante has cogently argued in his many publications that the literary universe of the African world sufficiently represents its own canon and as a result, Africa does not require any forced integration into the Western canon. Rooted in the African-centered epistemology of Asante’s measured arguments, in the meantime, lies the profundity of the foundational infrastructure of Armah’s own formulated queries:
"But where is its cultural home? Is it part of the collective memory of South Africans in particular and Africans in general? Or is it part of Europe’s globalising civilisation?"
Armah was more concerned with the place of Mandela’s memory in the human experience as the West betrayed him. It is therefore simply not fair for the West to claim Mandela’s memory as its own. “In a conversation with Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC comrade, Mandela is prodded to remember the moment of his betrayal and arrest,” writes Armah, “Mandela, disguised and underground, was driving to an appointment with a US embassy contact. The contact tipped off the apartheid security service, and Mandela was taken off to spend 27 years in jail. Here, there is no mention of the embassy’s role.”
For far too long the West has appropriated every single major historical achievement of and advanced civilization on the African continent for everyone else―including the West itself, Arabs, Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)―except the autochthonous denizens of the continent, Africans. Armah has been sharply critical of this bias in historical scholarship and historiography. Then again Armah, like Michel-Rolph Trouillot in one of his important works, titled Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, recognizes that the political class clearly understands the political utility of history and therefore undertakes the production of history to either promote or translate its elitist, exclusionary view of race, economic, and international relations into a system of hegemonic dominance where it owns and controls the world.
This is why Armah takes issue with Western tendentious readiness to appropriate and assume African icons, heroes, and heroines as its own only when it suits its strategic interests―mainly the subtle and not-so-subtle exercise of its expansionist dominance over or imperialistic ambitions in the world. Equally true is the fact that the actor-president Reagan was part and parcel of this universe of imperialist design. Can and should Black South Africa and Africans claim Reagan as their hero and then go on to appropriate Margaret Thatcher, his close ideological coeval, as their heroine, that Iron Lady of Britain who famously argued that sanctions against Apartheid stood a far greater chance of harming Black South African employees than weakening the Apartheid system itself.
Thatcher was so divisive to the extent that many inhabitants of her hometown, Grantham, resisted all attempts to have her honored there with a statue (Volkery, 2013). “The town council member wants to see Grantham erect a larger-than-life statue on the market square…But Wootten's plan has met with resistance, even from Conservative Party members of the town council. The majority of locals are not well-disposed to the former prime minister…” Volkery writes.
I must admit at this juncture that I have always been interested in American politics since I came of age―as well as in the pantheonic legacies of American presidents, especially that of Reagan. Reagan has always piqued my intellectual interest thereby resulting in my habituation to the methodological instruments of political research―with this abiding academic interest pushing my horizon beyond the immediacy of my intellectual closeness to the interior dynamics of American politics―to include my infatuation with the Cold War.
I got to understand these topics better when I moved to the US.
Recent revelations, however, paint a different picture of the Reagan I have come to know. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan told then-President Richard Nixon, according to The Atlantic’s Tim Naftali, a history professor at the New York University. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Then we have Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, a close ally of America, reportedly saying this (Kwarteng, 2017):
"As Hitler did to bring Germany together, we should also do it here. Hitler was a smart guy, but he went a bit too far for wanting to conquer the world."
What utter ignorance, ignorance of the highest order! Hitler in Africa? Nazism in Africa? Does Museveni know what Hitler do to the world? Obviously this African leader may not have come across Clarence Lusane’s Hitler’s Black Victims because if he had, which I think he had not, he would not have ideologically run into the arms of Hitler. What does this scandalous statement do to Romas, Jews, and several others who suffered at the hands of the Nazis? How then should Roma and Jewish health care professionals attend to a patient called Yoweri Museveni? How then should Black health care professionals attend to patients called Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher? These questions and their speculative responses directly bring me to the political, social, and scientific theatre of healthcare. In the main, these questions and their speculative answers revolve around how a health care professional should approach patients from the points of view of objectivity and truth―the centerpieces of Florence Nightingale’s methodological approach to restoring health to patients whose systems have fallen from a previous state of homeostasis―as the foundational premises upon which the science of caring is built.
Jean Watson’s carative factors inject humanism, respectability, spirituality, cultural sensitivity and political correctness, altruism, and philanthropy into the science of caring. Humanism, respectability, philanthropy, and spirituality can potentially negate unhealthy infatuation with race, identity, and gender essentialism. I am apt to believe, even to concede, that the science of caring should be fundamentally humanistic at the heart of the professionalization of clinical practice where health care professionals objectively and truthfully subject their intrinsic biases to the mirror of self-criticism before allowing themselves to administer health care services to other human beings, as unresolved and unmitigated biases can and do infect health care delivery systems as well as endanger the health of patients and psycho-emotional health of health care professionals.
This imposes unnecessary, severe cost burdens on patients and their families. In consequence, the quality of care and patient outcomes suffer. This also implies, among other things, that not adhering to the notion of moral and cultural relativism has its own costs, costs measured in the currency of the psychological health and self-esteem of patients and health care professionals alike. Understanding the linguistic and cultural anthropology aspects of patient behavior leads to enlightened response to disease burden and treatment modalities. It is akin to saying medical anthropology provides a useful window into evaluating how the interplay among culture, biology, society, and epidemiology influences the scientific understanding of disease formation and the applied utility of psychosocial dynamics in the pharmacological management or prevention of diseases.
The American medical-industrial complex is such an intimidating behemoth of an institution which, graced with overlapping labyrinths of human-driven ideas, procedural activities, stifling regulations and rules and policies, expanding body of complex knowledge―interacts with equally complex environments of human behaviors, artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics in situations that are both abstract and concrete. The human element alone complicates these interactions. Here, what is important is that innovative works such as Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right and Martin Makary’s Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care are intended to help health care professionals and patients and their families negotiate the difficulties which the American medical-industrial complex poses. Occasionally though, the question of moral relativism complicates these labyrinthine interactions as well.
On the other hand, however, in Of Africa Soyinka dismisses moral relativism as a useful response to imported cultural norms and religious sensibilities contrary to the existential context of human comfort, at least in the African situation. He seems to think that political correctness and failure to question unhealthy cultural beliefs and practices without calling for their extirpation amounts to hypocrisy and retrogression in human conduct. And once―on the question of how we sometimes view the world through the lens of moral relativism―we are intimately familiar with the contents of Sarah Rodriguez’s Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States and Efua Dorkenoo’s Cutting the Rose we are obligated to frustrate any attempts by the West to pontificate about female circumcision with a sense of moral superiority.
Thus, compassionate care should embrace moral relativism in spite of its pointed dismissal by Soyinka. What’s more, because the biology of disease does not answer to the exclusive preserve of a specific place of origin and a misleading national language borne out of a racialized category of humanity, the theoretical, nursing, and medical interventions and foresights and insights of Watson and Nightingale are remarkable in their assertions of what nursing should be about.
On the other hand, the humanistic underpinnings of Watson’s revolutionary ideas take nursing to a whole new level of theoretical sophistication. These ideas speak to how Black, Jewish, and Roma health care professionals should treat hypothetical patients named Reagan, Thatcher, and Museveni. Such health care professionals can also learn from Mandela as well. That is, the Black, Jewish, and Roma health care professional must assume the all-embracing humanity, humility, and forgiving heart of Mandela in this difficult situation and not submit to the ideological, epistemic, and sociopolitical tribalism of American society as part of the standards of medical care.
Mandela was and still is that idolized and celebrated universal language and symbol of moral civilization and conviction―whose presential insistence upon human decency as the centerpiece of race and international relations―reinforces the epistemic and moral sophistication of his rootedness in the cosmology of Africa’s cultural humanity. The courageous Mandela volitionally forgave his tormenters. “…white people often ask why blacks seem to be forgiving,” Dean E. Murphy writes paraphrasing Roger W. Wilkins, a George Mason University professor of history and a civil rights activist. The West and White South Africa, on the contrary, never apologized for the inhuman wrongs they perpetrated against him, his people, and Africa. This is why Mandela remains the indubitable moral conscience of the world. And Armah, like the rest of Africa, wants the West to acknowledge this global icon as an original, direct, and original product of Africa’s cultural humanity.
Thus, unfortunately, left to elitist intellectual patriarchs like Bloom, the likes of Mandela along with Harriet Tubman, the Malcolm X of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Frantz Fanon, Mary Eliza Mahoney, Wilhelm Anton Amo, Ahmed Baba, WEB Du Bois, Susie King Taylor, and the outstanding philosophers and thinkers whose ideas Asante discusses in The Egyptian Philosophers: Ancient African Voices from Imhotep to Akhenaten will be pariahs in the American Academy.
This brings me to another important question: Gates’ literary work. Gates makes it seem as though African or Black literature suddenly assumes marked importance and a heightened sense of epistemic presence only when it buys membership in the Western canon. The contradictions in Gates’ literary works are obvious. One wonders why he prefers the label “African American Literature” to “American Literature” in pursuit of a distinctive phylogenetic branch of literary criticism. Afrocentric literary theorists such as Asante are certain that African literature or African American literature can stand on its own. Can Black Americans be both African-American and American? Why is the “African” in “African American” so loud?
The cemeterial silence of the European or Caucasian in the African American, on the other hand, is deeply troubling. The culprit here is the hypodescent assignation of the so-called “one-drop rule” to Black Americans in particular. This assignation de-Caucasianizes the African American. Gates’ episodic PBS “Finding Your Roots” teases out the hidden whiteness of Black America―although some of us know Gates is not going to do a parallel educational show to tease out the hidden blackness of White America.
Is race science coming back as Angela Saini argues the question in Superior: The Return of Race Science? The dogma of race science sometimes creeps into the science of caring.
I am not too sure if America is being gradually reduced to eliminativism. I have no clue what the true story is. All I know is that:
A white man assassinates Martin Luther King, Jr.
The assassin’s brother names a national holiday in King’s honor, holds King’s South African brothers and sisters to ransom, and buries King’s Mandela in a cage for eternity simply because he hates to see Mandela stand up to his virulent white supremacy and his caustic capitalist exploitation of the humanity of Black South Africa.
And, to top it off, a spectatorial galaxy of gracious white women throws itself at King in its flowery moment of orgasmic woolgathering. Could this explain why King forgives America even in death? Of course, these women see in King what FBI Director J.E. Hoover refuses or fails to see. And yet we know the FBI is obsessed with King. The FBI even surveils him constantly in hopes of catching him in flagrante delicto with any of his non-existent secret romantic admirers―which it hopes to use to discredit him, to tarnish his image, to disrupt his organizational capacity. The FBI, namely the CIA of Apartheid South Africa that would pack Mandela off to prison for eternity, fails to give him a certain diagnosis of radical adultery. The American patient is not that lucky as Makary’s The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care―And How to Fix It describes it.
Yet moral relativism remains at the heart of the language of the culture wars. Moral relativism even informs the moral language of forgiveness. Forgiveness is liberating. But for a long time the West largely has not brought itself to acknowledge this fact when it comes to its relationship with Africa, from the viewpoint of the hideous past of Europe’s incursions into Africa. Apology, a sincere one of course, is tied to forgiveness, to improved race and international relations. Britain and other Western nations have made up their minds not to apologize for slavery because of the potential legal―and not the moral―implications of such an apology.
The situation appears to be changing gradually, however. “The European parliament has overwhelmingly backed a watershed resolution calling for reparations for crimes committed in Africa during European colonialism. The bill urges European member states to introduce a series of sweeping reforms aimed at tackling 'structural racism' facing millions of Afro-Europeans. It calls on the countries to implement nation-wide strategies to deal with discrimination in education, health, housing, policing, the justice system and politics,” Connor Boyd writes. “The resolution…also calls on European member states to declassify their colonial archives, covering the most disturbing periods of Europe's colonial past, and issue public apologies.”
Boyd continues: “Histories of injustices against Africans and people of African Descent―including enslavement, forced labour, racial apartheid, massacre, and genocides in the context of European colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade―remain largely unrecognised and unaccounted for at an institutional level in EU member states.”
This sensational resolution passed unnoticed in the US―not even its mainstream media bothered to discuss it. The implications of publicly discussing this sensitive resolution in the US are explosively predictable. Such a public discourse will add more fuel to the demands of the US-based reparation movement, reopening old wounds that are still with us here today anyway. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s successful revolution establishing the first Black republic in the world, in the Western Hemisphere to be exact, Haiti, sent shock waves down the political spine of the West, particularly America, compelling the latter to suppress information about the Haitian Revolution just so it did not inspire Black Americans in any shape or form. Civil rights lawyer and activist Robinson (2008) reminds us of Thomas Jefferson’s jittery comments about the Haitian Revolution: “If this combustion can be introduced among us under any veil whatever, we have to fear it…”
France, Haiti’s colonial overload during the said revolution, subsequently imposed a hefty amercement on Haiti for daring to free itself from the yoke of French colonialism, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in today’s monetary terms. In 2004 the US, with assistance from the French, reportedly kidnapped Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family and shipped them off to Africa. Aristide had demanded that France pay back this money it had imposed on Haiti following the revolution (Robinson, 2008). Interestingly enough, though, Haiti had its own claims and grievances against the US which made the political and economic implications of the Aristide demand very unsettling. The US was not going to allow Haiti to dictate to any Western power. Perhaps not surprisingly then US President George W. Bush called French President Jacques Chirac and thanked him for France’s assistance in the Aristide kidnap, according to Robinson.
Reviewing Aristide’s book Haiti-Haitii: Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization, Asante (2011) writes: “When the author writes, ‘From 1804 until today, Who continues to suck dry the sap of the country?’ he is asking a question that embarrasses those who fail to realize that France owes Haiti more than 21 billion dollars. This is not a rhetorical question, but one that establishes the severity of the burden that the Haitian people have had to bear.” I got the opportunity to learn more from Aristide’s personal bodyguard with whom I worked in New York. He confirmed most of these information details that I would learn much later on my own. I also have since learnt a great deal more from my good friend Asante, Aristide's personal friend.
Then there is the interesting case of Marcus Garvey, the founding president of the largest Black liberation organization in history, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), whom the FBI reportedly framed up, imprisoned, and then deported from the US. Western countries banned Garvey’s writings, ideas, and speeches in the colonies they controlled, including Africa and the Western Hemisphere. Even today, the nationalist character of Garvey’s influence on the US remains strong. Garvey scholars Tony Martin, Rupert Lewis, and Bobby Hill have covered this part of the story of the Americas, more especially of the United States, quite extensively and impressively. These examples fit Trouillot’s “silencing the past” theory. My position is that we become a better people if we truthfully acknowledge the importance of history, good and bad, in the affairs of men, nations, and relationships. This also entails addressing the question of respectability, meaning that teamwork and collaboration in healthcare and scientific undertakings, for instance, requires that we reject what Trouillot calls “silencing the past.”
Silencing the past therefore denies nations, institutions, and human beings useful knowledge from transformative experiences they will otherwise need to nourish their moral, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Silencing the past would not have made signal contributions to the births of bioethics, informed consent, patient rights and responsibilities, medical malpractice, research ethics, organ donation/transplant, pain management, professional ethics, stem cell research, vaccine technology, and clinical trial protocol development possible. Other than that, the power of love and forgiveness and accountability and moral shame and the ethics of apology go out the window where an opprobrious wrong has been committed. Because every history also has a future, one cannot consciously ignore the lessons of history as they are bound to repeat themselves. Moreover, memory preservation is notably important for proper community functioning and the intellectual enrichment of national discourse on matters of serious historical scholarship. Armah was right to note:
"For a society’s memory bank is the prime reservoir from which humans have normally fetched insights and inspiration for individual and social growth. The deeper the memory pool available to any group, the more profoundly innovative its members can be when seeking intellectual tools for solving the many societal problems of life and death…The recognition that the personal memories of exceptional individuals like Mandela form a logical part of a larger African memory pool would stimulate interest and research in that great multi-millennial pool of our ancestral information, now hidden from most because of discriminatory education policies designed in the past to retard our intellectual emancipation."
Mandela is an indelible memory of an inclusive moral literature unlike Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Literature builds nations; literature destroys nations. Like human beings, literature is fallible. This is why critical theory and literary criticism, much like the gene editing technology in molecular biology, exist. These theories do exercise a remarkable degree of characterological oversight over the content structure of literariness. The gene has indeed kept an excellent record of the checkered history―or evolutionary memory―of biological life in remarkable detail and yet literature, it also turns out, has played a crucial role in the character-forming accommodation of memory preservation. What do these say about the memories of Mandela and Hitler? Must we therefore, in other words, ignore Hitler and celebrate only Mandela?
Hitler reminds us of the raw foulness of a human while Mandela reminds us of the possibilities of man as angel. Mandela was human with all the trappings of fallibility but, at the same time, he rose above the constitutional peccability of man to become the all-embracing angel he was. Of course he was not a saint; but he was certainly an angel. I want to be just like this great man. It is ironic that some will rather have us study Hitler in American institutions of learning, which is not objectionable in and of itself as we must also understand the thinking of human aberrations, to the exclusion of exceptional human beings such as Mandela, for we need to know as much about Mandela as about Hitler, although the two did obviously not originate in the same womb of cultural superfecundation.
US President Bill Clinton’s public expression of contrition in Africa on behalf of America for what Bennett (1998) describes as “American participation in slavery; American support of nasty African dictators during the cold war; American 'neglect and ignorance' of Africa; American failure to intervene sooner in the Rwandan genocide of 1994; American 'complicity' in apartheid…” was a watershed moment in the contemporary history of Africa-United States relations. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the noted American civil rights activist, saw this historic gesture as a defining moment of “mutual growth and affirming of the humanity of African people, whether in Africa or America,” according to Bennett.
Yet Clinton was not exactly right or entirely truthful. America not only supported “nasty African dictators.” America brought them to power. And despite official rhetoric to the contrary, America still supports nasty African supporters to this day. As a matter of fact his own government did. His government even did more. Trade polices his administration forced on Haiti, for instance, destroyed indigenous rice production there. In fact his administration dumped heavily subsidized American rice from Arkansas, his home state, on Haiti thus destroying rice production capacity there. Locally produced rice in Haiti was better nutrition-wise than the ones America dumped there during his presidency. Interesting though, Clinton eventually owned up to these disastrous policies (Democracy Now, 2016).
Mandela was an indelible kernel of this story―because Aristide and his family later ended up in Mandela’s South Africa where he earned a doctorate in Literature and Philosophy in African Languages (Asante, 2011). This is partly why Mandela means so much to Africa in particular and the world in general. In discussing the relevance of Mandela for the world today, for instance, legal scholar Sternlight et al. writing in “Making Peace with Your Enemy: Nelson Mandela and His Contributions to Conflict Resolution” make the case that Mandela “is a model of how we can resolve an intractable conflict” and “a model of leadership.” This was a man who, in spite of all he went through at the hands of his white tormenters, invited three of his white jailers to his inauguration ceremony as the first post-Apartheid president of South Africa, assigning them a prominent part to play at his inauguration (Sternlight et al., 2014).
My professional relationship with Dr. Tammy Spencer of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus subtly clues me in, like Mandela, on how to embrace and accommodate a world that is unforgiving, unkind, unfriendly, and cold, a world that gave birth ironically to both Mandela and Hitler. I am gradually beginning to see the world in a different light and to appreciate the diversity of its lethal contradictions, thanks to Dr. Spencer. Her unflagging advocacy on behalf of students, her cultured and accommodating disposition, her empathetic listening skills, her professional friendliness with students, her respectful acceptance of diversity and multiculturalism as powerful forces for change in the traditional habits of professional, organizational, and scientific behaviors of collaboration and teamwork are highly commendable.
I therefore personally see Dr. Spencer as the Nadine Gordimer of Anschutz Medical Campus―Gordimer, a profound liberal writer and Apartheid-era political activist about whom Mandela wrote with elucidative crispness: “I tried to read books about South Africa or by South African writers. I read all the unbanned novels of Nadine Gordimer and learned a great deal about the white liberal sensibility'...'We think of Nadine Gordimer, who won international acclaim as our first winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, and whose writing was enriched by the cultural kaleidoscope of our country'” (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2014).). But it is also true that, among others things, Gordimer’s writings have played an impactful role in keeping and honoring Mandela’s memory as well as in his healing during his incarceration and following his de-incarceration. Likewise, my professional relationship with Dr. Spencer has significantly contributed to my own healing, for she clearly understands the links between traumatology and psychological wellbeing.
Those of us who have read Gordimer with absolute seriousness know Mandela is on point. Everyone including the sick patient, the health care professional, and the health care industry―but even more indispensable to me and my worldview, in particular American institutions of learning―needs Mandela and knowledge of the South African experience to make this world a better place. Of course Mandela chose to forgive his oppressors, a difficult decision that eventually helped in severing any vestige of psychological ties he had with his oppressors―as the alternative of holding on to his prison experience like grim death kept him in a perpetual state of virtual imprisonment.
Forgiving, therefore, freed him from any haunting psychological pangs and raging qualmish feelings of emotional indebtedness to his incarcerators. The very act of pursuing this bold line of thinking cemented his instrumental presence in his own healing, thus turning him into a courageous figure who rejected the affront of dehumanization. He taught his enemies about the power of love and how to love. Is love stronger than death? “There is no prettifying death,” Atul Gawande writes in Being Mortal. Given the inevitability of death, the limitations biology imposes on human beings, the notion that life is short, and that “one’s place in the world is small” as Gawande aptly puts it, it is not medically wise for one to go about life carrying the toxic burden of pain, hurt, anger, and frustration for what seems like forever. I learned this the hard way. It is clear also that Gawande, an Indian-American surgeon and author, can also make important contributions to the national discourse on public health among a wide range of other topics.
Those who want to deny powerful voices such as Gawande’s do not have the progress of humans at heart. And yet, not only does Bloom’s The Closing fosters intellectual poverty in students, but that it also silences non-Western thought in America’s higher institutions of learning. Multiculturalism therefore represents a forceful response to Bloom’s elitist, privileged conservatism. It is also the case that multiculturalism is the lynchpin of the American healthcare industry and delivery of patient-centered care, implying that cosmopolitan education can potentially mold health care professionals into better clinicians and administrators of health care. Bloom cannot and should not be allowed to take over the multicultural space at the expense of competing voices in the marketplace of ideas.
Juxtaposing The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, an insightful piece of work by Desmond Tutu, the ex-Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu, with Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, an erudite historical work by Yale University genocide scholar and historian Ben Kiernan, further expands upon the notional indispensability of inclusive complementarity in the complex language of moral epistemology, forgiveness to be exact, and of the outright rejection of Bloom’s exclusionary paradigm. I am learning more about the ethics of apology, healing, and forgiveness from Tutu’s work. Bloom is off the mark.
When all is said and done, what does this level of conscious disquieting silence in the American media about the European Union (EU) coming to terms with the facts of history―and literary criticism, moral relativism, literary theory, and the culture wars―have to do with the American medical-industrial complex? With this sick, wicked world of Mandela, Reagan, Thatcher, Museveni? With Watson, Nightingale, the science of caring, health, compassionate care, scientific objectivity and truth? With my own humanity and self-healing as a traumatized victim of racism and discrimination―though I am not even remotely trying to equate my long litany of suffering with Mandela’s and King’s? With silencing the past of the litany of my suffering? Perhaps this world is dying on its sick bed? But is this sick, sinful, unwelcoming world really redeemable and reparative? Is there a future for humanity in this world?
Let’s begin to look seriously at these questions from the angle of King’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
Armah, A.K. (2013, December 18). South Africa: Liberating Mandela's Memory. Retrieved from https://newafricanmagazine.com/4106/
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