Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Generations/ born and let loose into a world...
Youth culture is the new disease
We come from generations, born and let loose into a world of people we don't have control over. Subjectively we need to belong. We need protection. Family is the given, providing us with any and all of this. But on the exterior are people we find in the outside world, from schools to neighborhoods to church. We are bound by all of this which forms us as people in our psyche, strong and vulnerable.
The first generation of Ghanaians who migrated to America, my father included had the advantage of being highly educated. They were gloating on the success of Ghana as the first African country to gain its independence from colonialism. In a sense they were Kwame Nkrumah's children. They brought with them the scholarships and ingenuity to the United States. My father was studying as a young man somewhere in the Midwest. He stayed with a family, a daughter from this had never seen a black man before. Decades later they met again sharing in their friendship after all these years. But such is the rhythm with which generations find comfort with each other. Off and on, my parents and their friends politic about the times growing up in Ghana. The friends they had in common. As the years have passed, some of these friends have died. There's a bond between them as people of a nation, an element which borders religion and gender.
As septuagenarians, they all seem young. There's a vivacity in their voices which stem from the strength in their hearts. As they are in good health with the occasional complaints and scares, their conversations circle around friendships and world politics. Being close to the partnership between my parents I am aware of certain people who play important roles in their lives. These are people they make peace, have long standing friendships which trail back to their childhood in Ghana.
This circle is the most important. It's a bond which keeps them initiated with the going-ons in Ghana. Initially making them Ghanaian and not African American. The first generation of Ghanaians are Ghanaian by all means. Their minds are not swayed by standard American values. Their mind and hearts are in tune with the land and place of Ghana. Whereas they may or not value moving back to live, their friendships with other Ghanaians, which they have cultivated over the years gives them a place of longing and home.
I belong to the second generation of Ghanaians who came to America in the late seventies. Ours was merely to afford a better education and healthier livelihood. Upon my father's suggestion my mother and I along with my younger brothers joined him in New York where he worked as journalist. At this point and time I was about the age of ten. I had formed a notion, however small of who I was as a boy living in Ghana. I had gained memories of Ghana, from schooling at the Royal Preparatory, our living situation at the Airports Residential Flats, an apartment building in the neighborhood of ambassadors near the national airport and even previously as a child living in the Nyaniba Estates and the life that centered around my grandmother's compound. I had friends. I had a sense of sexuality, an idea of which I felt was disease which stem from other diseases within the family as depression and incest.
Living on my grandmother's compound I shared duties and living arrangements with my cousins. We were chastised by my uncles for misbehaving. Most of this behavior centered around my female cousins exposing themselves to me. There was always the act of girls in the neighborhood exposing themselves to me while we played house as children. At that stage I was not mature enough to engage in the act of fornicating. Although these girls were welcoming and willing.
Sexuality and philosophy had always been notable diseases in my upbringing which were the underlying themes of my life as artist. Much of this was on my mother's side, the heightened sense of art and creativity and bouts with depression. So I am not surprised in retrospect looking back on my relationship with my mother and how we engaged in emotional incest, the act of seeking illicit emotional comfort and trust in each other. This has served as the themes in my art over the past two decades, most of which dealt with painting muses and working with actresses in the theater.
As for my generation, this group of Ghanaians, pre-teens, who had a sense of themselves as Ghanaians, there was a sense of culture shock. They weren't old enough to consider themselves mature but they had pride. This instability caused friction. There was a constant strife between accepting the influence from Black Americans and white Americans. We lived independent of each other as we dealt with themes in pop culture, music, everything from rock and roll to rap music. I suppose I was more sensitive as an artist. I was rejected by some black Americans for being peculiar. I was more so accepted by whites. This influenced my everyday life from the shows I watched on television to my thoughts on beauty. Could be said I was suffering from a "white disease." It was something that endured hospitalizations, medication and therapy.
It's more than the cultural disassociation. This is a disorder of diagnosis. It can be said this was a result of my father forcing me to use my right hand instead of my left as a child (see the book by Alice Miller, Drama of the Gifted Child), the conclusion of genetics on both my mother's and father's side and finally the circumstances of being the only black boy among a culture of whites.
I wonder about this generation. Who were we? What has become of us? As an artist I survived the Neo Expressionism of the East Village, New York, the art and music culture, the post punk movement in New York, the revived new literary movement in New York, Kathy Acker, Tama Janowitz, Jay McInerny, Brett Easton Ellis. I got a sense of art openings, clubs. Four years at an all boys parochial school, Xavier High school prepared me for the world. But in-between my turn at college I suffered a mental breakdown. After several attempts at a variety of colleges I entered Hunter College where I got a degree in English, Creative Writing after seven years of trying, stopping and pursuing it further.
The 80's was a knowing period. The 90's was about experience. The 2000's was about commitment and professionalism.
After reading Ekow Eshun's Black Gold of the Sun, a gift from my father's friend to him, I changed dramatically. It took me back to my very own experience with Ghana. In Ekow Eshun, I saw somebody I can relate to. His experience in England was mine in New York, a life of multiculturalism and confusion between what is black and what is white and what comes in the middle. I started writing black poems. And after years of a tense relationship with my youngest brother, a twin brother of his who committed suicide, we rekindled our friendship. He serves as a black soul mate among the continuous white influence virtually and within a community of poets, most of them I'm committed to as associates.
I also am having a life changing ongoing virtual experience with Toronto artist Jessica Karuhanga on the themes of African identity, roles of gender and a self awareness living in a big city. It's a commitment which words cannot do justice. It says a lot how the future and technology has paved way for better communication.
And last night I saw Linton Kweisi Johnson read at NYU. It fueled this blog on generations as he spoke about the very subject matter. I have gone far back in time to relocate my identity, who I was as a boy and claimed a right as artist. The pain and suffering along the way.
I move forward with an awareness of being a black man with a Euro/American influence. The complication that comes from being an African living among African Americans. Accepting the difference and embracing the similarities. The world of white Americans has seen a turn from the hipsters in the East Village to poets I partake in readings.
The youth culture is the new disease, the fourth generation. The second and third generations have sought success in business, marriage and the arts. Here they hopefully find mutual acceptance as Africans who moved to America for a better life.
I for one am fortunate I came around full circle. I am aware as a black man living in Harlem, a place where I am committed within a community of treachery and business. This is where I live now. It makes me the man I am.