We hear a lot about A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard
Rustin and Ella Baker and James Foreman and especially about
Martin Luther King every February. The names of Malcolm
X and Garvey and Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois are dusted off
and thrown around, along with those of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Frederick Douglass, Henry
Highland Garnett, David Walker and Nat Turner. A
few even mumble the name of Zumbi. All these tried to organize slaves
and the descendants of slaves to stand up and take some action.
Any real organizer will tell you, every minute's worth of action
is preceded by and accompanied with at least an hour's worth
of talk. It's a good thing then, that talk is cheap, because
organizing requires a lot of it.
Still there are those who say they don't have
the patience for talk, and want only the answers. In response
to BC's February 16, 2006 cover story, "A Movement Against Wal-Mart", reader Delilah
We as black people talk a good game but where
do we draw the line? Denounce Wal-Mart and shop
where? I'm on a fixed income trying to raise children
in a name brand world. What do we replace Wal-Mart with?
Talking is not going to clothe my children at reasonable prices.
Let's cut the talking and do something that helps - give us
other alternatives please.
Let's see. Seven sentences. Three questions,
one about where to shop. Two personal statements, and two demands,
one to stop talking, the other for alternative places to shop.
We respectfully suggest that Ms. Brown's priorities are just
a little off. If the objectives of our people are limited to
less talk, more or different shopping, and figuring out how
to raise children in a "brand name world" we should
give up any hope of constructing a movement to better ourselves
and our condition, now or ever.
Soulless and greedy corporations have constructed
the "brand name world" specifically to replace the
influence of conscious and aware parents with their marketing
imperatives. As bother Michael Dawson explains in his indispensable
work The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing
in American Life, it exists to educate our children to consume
their marketing messages and prepare them to engage in lifelong
unpaid behaviors which will enrich those corporations while
materially and spiritually impoverishing our individual lives,
our families and our communities.
is what consumers do. Talking to each other is what families
should do, and talking about building a movement that improves
life for all our families is what citizens must do. Despite
what we hear in the media, movements are not declared into existence
by charismatic leaders who stand up or sit down, or even by
influential publications like this one. Progressive movements
for social change are founded on the widespread realization
by a lot of nameless and ordinary people that the established
order is unjust, and on their determination that it will be
changed in their lifetimes. Pharoah won't let us go until well
after enough of us let him go. That will require prodigious
amounts of informed and informing talk.
Delilah didn't tell BC where she lived, and
even if she had she knows the local shopping choices better
than we. The challenges we face are in fact much deeper than
where we can get the lowest price for the kids' school clothes
this year, as important as that is. Rather than telling Delilah
where to shop BC suggests that she arm and
educate herself and her children with facts, starting with who
built and who benefits from the "brand name world."
A good start would be to ankle on down to the library and borrow
or get online and buy Michael Dawson's aforementioned book for
about twelve bucks.
If Delilah has internet access - and she did email
us - there are plenty of educational resources available. Nothing
conveys the essence of the "brand name world" more
effectively and seductively than the music videos which are
a viewing staple of black youngsters. Too many draw as much
of their idea of what it is to be adult and authentically black
from these sources as they do from the positive examples of
parents and others. For a look inside how the authentic inspirations
of our young people are cynically captured, colonized, vulgarized,
commodified and spit back at them as "music" Delilah
can go online and check out the PBS Frontline documentary, The
Merchants of Cool, which includes revealing interviews of
MTV and other execs who explain how and why they show what they
show. Ms. Brown might want to take her kids back from the "brand
name world," before it's too late.
On BC's past issues page she
can find nine or ten articles about Wal-Mart written over the
last two years. There's another very good PBS Frontline
documentary explaining Wal-Mart's negative effect on the standards
of living of families on both sides of the Pacific which can
be viewed online in its entirety. Its web site also includes
full transcripts of interviews that are only excerpted in the
documentary. Delilah can click on over to http://www.walmartmovie.com,
where she can order another excellent Wal-Mart movie on DVD
for only $12.95. For $50 she can get a 5-pack with shipping
free to share with family and friends. After watching
the movie with her children and relatives and neighbors, she
can lend it to other relatives, or take it to her church or
community group and have them show the one copy or give away
And to keep Delilah and her well-informed family
and friends from feeling isolated, there's Wal-Mart
Watch, a comprehensive array of resources for citizens and
activists that explains what others around the country and the
world are doing to confront Wal-Mart in their workplaces, schools
and communities. She might find some of her neighbors already
involved. Maybe it's time for less shopping. And more talking.
There's plenty to talk about. That's what families are supposed
to do anyway, isn't it?
Fifty and even forty years ago it was possible
to rely on mainstream print and broadcast media, including the
black press, for at least some news of the Freedom Movement.
But that's not the case any more. If you're waiting to hear
about the next movement or the next great black leader on the
tube, you will be disinformed. Ongoing battles are being
for democratization and community control of media, but part
of that responsibility is on us too.
Activists, who are most often ordinary people,
must take on the responsibility of spreading information among
their own families, neighbors and friends, and being the media.
The only thing that beats organized money is organized people.
And people never get organized without the sharing of information.
When black America looks to the corporate media
for news about ourselves, the narratives we get are often nearly
unrecognizable. The funeral of Coretta Scott King is a
case in point. The focus of the corporate press, besides
the staple, contentless "Dreamer" image of Dr. King,
was how certain disrespectful African Americans "politicized"
the affair by publicly stating opposition to the misguided "war
on terror" and other administration policies. BC
is thankful for the February 16, 2006 contribution of Guest
Commentator Donald Smith, "Coretta King Goes Home in which the glaring contradiction
between Ms. King's life and work and the shameful hijacking
of her funeral by Republican-funded prosperity gospel preachers including King's own
daughter were spelled out.
BC reader Phillip Bannamon responded
to our Guest Commentator thusly:
I enjoyed reading your article about the service
for Mrs. King. I must say that the Rev. Bernice King has
all but lost her way. As a matter of fact it seems to
me that none of the children of Dr. & Mrs. King are true
to their legacy. As for all these self made Bishops, you
hit the nail on the head.
And Lonzie Cox Jr. weighed in as well:
The truth that Bush heard at the King funeral
was probably the only truth he has heard in years. He
is a protected person. No one should have altered their
message to suit Bush. Not letting Rev. Jesse Jackson speak,
for instance, was criminal. I saw Bernice King at a college
in Pennsylvania about 1990. I expected the brilliance
of Martin and Coretta, but was disappointed. What I saw
was a young woman who was more interested in selling her book
than she was in giving us a message of hope. We came to
see Dr. King's daughter, not a black right wing preacher who
is learning to hate almost as deeply as Jerry Falwell or Pat
Robertson or Franklin Graham. We expected better then, and we
deserve better now. The black American nation is watching.
They are indeed watching. Accountability
is not just for black elected officials. It's for the
black clergy too. As Cornel West says in Democracy Matters, the right "...is
even making inroads into ... fervent black prophetic Christianity.
The sad truth is that the black church is losing its prophetic
fervor..." BC understands that there
are organized and progressive black clergy who are taking it
upon themselves to directly counter the spread of rightist influences
in the black church, and hopes to soon print a submission from
some of them.
Last week's BC cover article, "Katrina: Shock Therapy for
Black America," outlined how virtually the entire Congressional
Black Caucus was directed to stand down and stay away from congressional
hearings on the Katrina debacle, not by any decision of their
own, but by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Effectively, the Black Caucus left Georgia's Rep. Cynthia McKinney,
our only voice in those hearings, out to dry, not for the first
time, eliciting the following email from reader Tirandez:
"Posture & Primp." Thank you, gentlemen
for describing the CBC accurately in terms they fully deserve.
Rep. McKinney has more "you know what" than the whole
of the CBC.
We think Tirandez's arithmetic is about right.
As the attempted ethnic cleansing of New Orleans unfolds in front
of our eyes, though off the radar of much of the corporate news
media, we should be redoubling our scrutiny of the CBC, and
demanding more, not less commitment to the rights of Gulf Coast
residents to return, to remain and to rebuild.
Finally, Dr. Andre Insan Muhammed wrote us about
a September 29, 2005 BC ThinkPiece we reprinted from Playahata.com.
Having just re-read the article by Morpheus
Reloaded for the tenth time, several questions came to mind.
The obvious question was what was the author's purpose in
writing the article? Was there a realization that those groups
referred to might tune out and digress into being insulted?
Or was the idea to inform and educate those who aspire to
those categories listed or to vilify them? Or was the idea
to stir the pot of critical thinking, thereby forcing us to
look into the mirror if we find ourselves trapped into one
or more of said categories, and look for cogent ways to express
our outrage at living in an extremely racist society?
As one of the Fantastical Fact Fellowshippers,
I appreciate Morpheus' polemic and alert those who may claim
one or all of the categories to watch or read Malcolm X, among
others, and see how they channeled anger into pro-active action.
I have read the article about as many times as
Dr. Muhammed and have at times belonged to at least one of the
groups described by its author, and a couple of others he mercifully
omitted. For their sakes, I must decline to identify them
at this time. My best guess is that Morpheus intended
to compare, contrast and draw our attention to some of the varying
tendencies that make up "conscious" black America.
Just as you can often tell more truth in fewer words with good
fiction than you can with non-fiction, an artist truly on her
or his game can spin out multilayered truths that tell us more
than we like to admit about ourselves, that enrage us and make
us laugh at the same time. Morpheus pulled it off nicely,
and we are all in his debt. Our thanks again to Playahata,
who first published it.
Contact Bruce Dixon at [email protected].
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