“Still, one cannot make a world with simple atoms. There has to be a clinamen. There has to be an inclination or an inclining from one toward the other, or one by the other, or from one to the other. Community is at least the clinamen of the “individual.” -- Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community
This one may run a little long. Please stick with me as I attempt to work my way through a question that I have not been able to answer with any degree of certainty. And it keeps nagging me, pulling at me, gnawing at my conscious.
Let me put the question to you as it was put to me. A few weeks ago I joined a good friend and a fellow community activist on his blog radio show, and he led off the show by asking me a question: “Does the African American community still exist?”
And then recently someone asked me to pen a few notes on community for a program, and as I set out to get my thoughts together, I ran a few ideas by my wife.
My wife is one of the smartest persons I know. And this fact constitutes a blessing and a curse. On this evening she decided to engage in a bit of Socratic questioning, and as usual, I found myself backed into a corner out of which I had to free myself. Allow me, please, to give you a glimpse at my dilemma.
I know that theoretically any community organizes itself around a common cause, a common goal that binds its members to each other. French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy defines this as element as the clinamen. But as such, the community is always working toward its undoing; once that cause, that goal has been achieved, then the need for community dissipates.
Now, I can locate the cause that bound the early African American community together. Made up of persons from disparate regions and tribes of African and speaking many different languages and dialects, these early members of the African American community organized themselves around the cause of gaining freedom. And this is important; the meaning of freedom in this instance is plain. Freedom meant freedom from chattel slavery.
However, in the years following emancipation, community members had to pull together once more, again in the cause of freedom. But in this instance, the meaning of freedom is not so clear.
Freedom, of course, meant freedom from discrimination, from oppressive conditions and entrance into mainstream society not as second class citizens but as equals; however, nothing existed to provide an adequate measuring device of this achievement. No finish line was established.
Thus, following the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, many members of the community took advantage of the new opportunities available, and many found their way outside the boundaries set for them.
Now the African American community cannot be defined by space; African Americans are spread out throughout the nation and throughout the world. In addition, race is too insignificant to continue to bind us together. And also, and most importantly, the degree of freedom achieved, the actual progress made depends for the most part on the political stance of the person who is asked.
So , let me ask you again: “Does the African American community still exist?” And if so, what is the cause—the clinamen—binding us one to the other?
The implications are clear. If we are yet a community, I am having hard time identifying those issues, beside those dealing specifically with race, that are unique to African Americans. However, in the same instance, if we have achieved the desired end, and we can finally declare the death of the African American community, then why do the negative indicators continue to dis-proportionately affect African Americans?
In other words, where are we now? Where are we going? And are we going together or as scattered individual atoms?