Thursday, April 17, 2008
Somerville Philosopher Ajume H. Wingo Examines What’s Behind The ‘Veil’?
For a year or so Ajume H. Wingo and I sat across from each other at the Sherman Café in Union Square. We would nod politely to each other and then resumed our respective reading. We never really talked. Of course I wondered about this tall, and distinguished African man who seemed to have a scholarly bent. But as fate had it, on a rainy April evening we found ourselves walking together just outside Harvard Yard and started to chew the fat. A few days later we met at Sherman’s to converse some more. Wingo is an associate professor of Philosophy at U/Mass Boston, a Senior Fellow at the McCormack Graduate School of Public Policy for Democracy and Development, and also a Fellow at Harvard’s Du Bois Institute. He is the author “Veil Politics in Liberal Democratic States” His book describes how politics in the Western World relies heavily upon the veils of icons and symbols, and how they are potent conduits for political ideology. Wingo is interested in the idea of freedom as it is thought to be by Africans. Africans have for many years been the subject of control from outside forces, such as: colonial masters, home grown tyrants, etc… This professor wants to examine what political power and freedom is and could be for Africans.
Ajume, who recently purchased a house in the Prospect Hill section of Somerville, is a native of Cameroon. He came to this country years ago to obtain an advanced education. He received his Doctorate in Philosophy for the University of Wisconsin/Madison in 1997.
Wingo loves teaching at U/Mass because of its body of diverse students, minorities, foreign students, and first generation students. Wingo smiled and said, “It teases my mind.” He feels it is a wonderful laboratory for his ideas about cultural connection and influence.
Wingo told me that when he was in Africa he was always fascinated by the United States and how its democracy worked so well. He thought the government was transparent and rational. But he came to realize that the government displayed non-rational elements like his native Africa, with icons such as: Lincoln, the White House, etc… that were used in an effective way to convey ideology.
Wingo is convinced the arts, particurally poetry is a very potent force to instill ideology in the populace. He said: “Just read the Koran, it is full of poetry. Even Sadam Hussein wrote poetry, even if it was pretty bad.” Wingo pointed out that Hitler was a brilliant manipulator and cultivated artistic images to promote his campaign of evil.
Wingo, a transplant from Cambridge finds Somerville a perfect place to hang his hat. He loves the American Flag that waves atop Prospect Hill…( well; of course, it is a symbol, an icon, no?) He loves the converted churches, the relatively subdued atmosphere of Somerville in contrast to a more raucous Cambridge or Boston.
Wingo, in spite of a busy schedule hangs out at Sherman, where his cousin works baking a delectable selection of scones and such.
He told me that he is often up in the wee hours writing, and is working on another book “The Citizen of Africa.” The book explains how to maintain a responsive government in African states.
Wingo, like most Renaissance men, has varied interests, and plans to delve deeper into the medium of poetry. One can only assume that this inquisitive man will report back with unique insights about the art.