A Black Literary Canon for the Long Run, by B.B. Robinson

The famous economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked, “in the long run, we are all dead.” True, but it is also true that – barring the failure of the Earth’s systems – generations of our progeny continue on after we are gone.

This essay has nothing to do with economics, but everything to do with humanity over the long run – especially the long-term preservation of African-Americans.

How do nations and cultures survive in the long run?

African-Americans will be the first to tell you that their patriarchs and matriarchs point to their faith as the root of their survival over the long run. The old tell stories in this regard, and we should listen. But we should also do more. We should recognize that such stories – be they oral or written, from the slavery era or from the last decade of the last century – shape our beliefs. Should not these stories – these truths – be canonized so that future generations can use them as a source of strength?

Nations and cultures that have long histories have something in common: they are built around a strong culture or religion. Consider the Egyptians, Hebrews, Hindus and European Christian cultures. Their historical and cultural continuity is directly connected to their respective religious traditions. It stands to reason that if African-Americans propose to have a long-standing tradition in the world of tomorrow, one way to achieve this is through the formation of strong religious/cultural traditions that preserve our culture and ensure that it moves forward.

How did the cultures referred to earlier ensure their survival? They canonized their traditions and cultures. For example, it is relatively easy to uncover details about the various councils that met at critical junctures in Hebrew and Christian cultures to develop canons for, and to preserve the religious history of, the Christians and Jews.

Read about the Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90-100), which marked the complete compilation of what we know today to be the Old Testament. Also read about the Council of Trent (A.D. 1545-1563), where one of the earliest English versions of the Christian Bible was prepared. These councils and others like them produced religious works that have withstood the test of time and helped preserve the historical continuation of nations and cultures.

We know that African-American religious scholars meet regularly. But what do they discuss? They probably discuss esoteric philosophical issues that only they can comprehend fully. They may also bargain over how to carve up the power – both political and economic – that lies within the African-American community.

What should they be discussing? If they are interested in ensuring the long run continuation of our culture, they should be discussing how to form a literary canon of African-American religious and cultural works that can be preserved for posterity.

I will pass away over the long run, as will you and the scholars who would prepare the canon. But if it is prepared properly, the works that are compiled will ensure that our religious history, our culture and our ethnic identity will be preserved in the centuries and millennia ahead. It is time to call a council to form a canon for the long run.

(B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and an economist. He can be reached at [email protected].)

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