is a reason, after all, that some people wish
to colonize the moon, and others dance before it as
before an ancient friend…
is terrible to watch people cling to their captivity
and insist on their own destruction.
James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
real spirituality comes from our rebellion and our seeking.
John Henrik Clarke
arrow strikes a man in his chest. He falls backward off his horse.
Then another arrow strikes another man. The men falling from their
horses one by one are “men” and good men because we’ve seen their
wives and little blond-haired children. These men had to save their
families and these little children, girls, too, who looked like
my little dolls, from these Indians.
fills the air, and this high pitched yell comes from the Indians,
galloping toward the men. The Indians. Barely clothe, the
Indians hold arrows. Their faces are painted various colors. Their
hair is strange, long or cut in strange ways.
I couldn’t watch, and I would have to put my head down between my
arms, still hearing that high-pitched yell. I was supposed to be
sleeping. But the television was on in the den just outside the
bedroom where I lived with my grandparents. I could see the television
if I lay at the foot of the bed. Sometimes, I would become so terrified
of the Indians that I imagined them outside the building, just down
Indiana Avenue. Only later did I understand that these images were
created, fiction, and later still understand that these created
images of violence were meant to teach fear. But then, I
was certain there were Indians in Chicago, hiding in wait. The
adults around me didn’t look like Indians. The neighbors didn’t
look like Indians. Nonetheless, Indians were out there! For now,
they were harassing the good people, the white people, who, like
the nuns and priests, were only trying to civilize them, as they
were civilizing us.
nuns and priest talked about civilizing barbarians.
they pointed out, were in a far away place called Africa. In Africa,
barbarians clung to trees and hid in the jungles. Barbarians were
darker than Indians—my color, the color of other children in my
school, the color of my family members and neighbors. But the nuns
assured us that these African barbarians with spears were not us.
Look around. We had a Church, classrooms, books, and teachers!
The barbarians were the unfortunate. Catholic missionaries were
in Africa, risking their lives, to try to teach the barbarians.
a week, our school stopped classes, the nuns stood at our classroom
doors, and we filed out in a single line downstairs to the cafeteria.
In the dark and silence at our lunch tables, the flickering images
of Catholic crusades flowed over us and filled our minds.
had a history of saving the world from barbarians in Africa and
heathens, dressed in rags and relegated to the desert. These heathens
couldn’t speak English. People in our neighborhood and children
attending Betsy Ross public school could speak English, but, nonetheless,
the nuns told us, these children were heathens as was Martin Luther
King Jr., a good man, but a Baptist! Catholics had God’s representative
on Earth. The Pope, children, is God’s representative.
understood that you would rather want to make a trip to France to
see the Eiffel Tower rather than spend one minute in Bolivia or
anywhere in Africa were the “people” were not so civilized. France
was civilized. England was civilized, of course, the United States
was civilized. Above all Rome, if Rome had not existed, we would
not now have the benefits of our civilization!
is opera and brothel music is the Blues. The
nuns explained that Langston’s “I, Too” referred to Negroes, living
in the South, even though Langston was writing in Harlem. “Living
in the South” was not too good. “Living in the South” was dangerous
for Blacks. We children should be fortunate we lived in the North
were there wasn’t slavery and Blacks were free to come and go.
The nuns didn’t have to say “except, of course, downtown” because
not one sign read, “except, of course, downtown.” But, once downtown,
we had to shop at Goldblatts and Sears and not venture too much
further north and we needed to do this shopping at these discount
stores before sundown. Beyond downtown was a place where whites
lived and had businesses for themselves. To the east of us, predominantly
white students attended the University of Chicago and lived in the
surrounding area of Hyde Park. To the south were whites and to the
west of us was Cicero. But the nuns spoke with confidence: Blacks
were safe and free in the North, in Chicago.
do we know?
silent. Behave and act like a young lady at all times. Listen to
the teachers and study what you have been told and received a good
education, unlike the heathens in our neighborhood.
white people had been kind and shared knowledge with a child among
us. This was so because this was the story everyone knew. Here,
at school, according to the story, is where I was to begin to transform
the—Negroes—from troublesome barbarians to useful—Negroes…
person does not lightly elect to oppose his [or her] society,” James
Baldwin writes in his essay, No Name in the Street. “One
would much rather be at home among one’s compatriots than be mocked
and detested by them.”
a fellow activist sent me a message from Martin Luther King, Jr.,
originally posted on the doors, June 11, 1967. In his pronouncement,
King assesses the Civil Rights Movement as it stood in 1967 with
particular emphasis on its weaknesses in light of the unabated resistance
of white supremacy.
Civil Rights Movement, King writes, “found
a method in nonviolent protest that worked [but] we did not have
leisure to probe for a deeper understanding of its laws and lines
of development.” The “actions” of the nonviolent movement were “bold
and crowned with successes,” but they were “substantially improvised
and spontaneous” and revealed “the blemishes of our inexperience”
(“The Black Power Defined”).
Return to the drawing board, King suggests. Where are we experiencing
our greatest weakness? Look to the people. For the people, the
organizations have betrayed their interests by allowing the political
power to manipulate its approach and goals. It has done so by allowing
the political powers to take advantage of the “manner in which our
political leaders emerge; our failure so far to achieve effective
political alliances; and the Negro’s general reluctances to participate
fully in political life.”
the first weakness, King writes: “The majority of Negro political
leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support.”
Most are “selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied
with resources and inevitably subjected to white control.” In turn,
the masses of Black Americans nurture a healthy suspicion toward
this manufactured leader, who spends little time in persuading them
that he embodies personal integrity, commitment and ability and
offers few programs and less service.” Members of this leadership
are not fighters for a new life, King writes, but instead represent
“figurehead[s] of the old one.” Hence, very few Negro political
leaders are impressive or illustrious to their constituents. They
enjoy only limited loyalty and qualified support.
manufactured leadership cannot bargain in good faith from a position
of “genuine strength” and “independent firmness with white party
leaders.” And these white party leaders, in turn, “are all too
well aware” of the “impotence” and “remoteness” of these leaders
from their constituents. The white leaders, King notes, deal with
this leadership as it would a “powerless subordinate” class.
argues for Black mastery
of the “art of political alliances” that
would yield different results. Black Americans “should (my
emphasis) be natural allies of many white reform and independent
political groups,” but these groups “are more commonly organized
by the old-line machine politicians.” We are too big to subsist
on “crumbs from the big-city machines and steadfastly demand a fair
share of the loaf.” We must “employ the principle of selectivity
along these lines,” King writes. We must find “millions of allies
who in serving themselves also support us… [on] sound foundations
[of] unity and mutual trust.” While “most of us are too poor to
have adequate economic power…and many of us are too rejected by
the culture to be part of any tradition of power…necessity will
draw us toward the power inherent in the creative uses of politics.”
“We must involve everyone we can reach,
even those with inadequate education, and together acquire political
sophistication by discussion, practice, and reading.”The struggle—must “become
a crusade so vital that civil rights organizers do not repeatedly
have to make personal calls to summon support.” Power, King
concludes, “is not the white man’s birthright; it will not be legislated
for us and delivered in neat government packages. It is social force
any group can utilize by accumulation its elements in a planned
deliberate campaign to organized it under its own control.
plus years down the road, and we, as Black Americans, are knee deep
in the entangled web of party politics, which has meant that
Black Americans, more than ever, are in league with the ruling power
structure in the U.S. King and other leaders of our struggle are
honored in hallow ceremonies, but few have had the courage
to follow in their footsteps. Minds occupied with strategies to
escalate imperialist wars for multi-national corporations under
the guise of neoliberal policies are not likely to remember King’s
principle of selectivity. For the most part, Black leadership/professional
class has consciously decided to ally itself with the liberal
wing of the imperialist rulers, the centrists, in other words,
saturated with the aggressive (right-wing) strand of the virile
virus of capitalism. When the Black leadership and professional
elite speak, they do so then, and only then, as a collective in
praise of the masters of a corporate state. Crumbs are better than
nothing, you hear them say. Crumbs distinguish them, they believe,
from the bums.
the meantime, to repress any grassroots mass action against racial
profiling, President Barrack Obama (who claims the legacy of Martin
L. King) holds a beer drinking session with Professor Henry L. Gates
(who claims the legacy of the Black resistance tradition) and Cambridge
Police Officer, James Crowley (who claims he is not a racist).
What can a compromised Black leadership and professional class do?
Nothing—but watch the show!
Baldwin returned to the U.S. in 1952 to find “nearly everyone was
gracelessly scurrying for shelter… [and] friends were throwing their
friends to the wolves, and justifying their treachery by learned
discourses (and tremendous tomes) on the treasury of the Comintern.”
In those days, he writes, communists and evil were
synonymous terms. Experiencing the discourse of McCarthyism, however,
taught Baldwin “something about the irresponsibility and cowardice
of the liberal community” that he vowed never to forget. “Their
performance,” he writes, which was more than “the combination of
ignorance and arrogance with which this community has always protracted
itself against the deepest implications of black suffering,” persuaded
me that “brilliance without passion is nothing more than sterility.”
was then 14 years old in 1952 when he observed the “performance”
of white liberals. He was scurrying around white liberals, “delivering
their packages and emptying [the] garbage.” A few years later, it
is Baldwin, the Black novelist, who is surrounded by the white liberals.
He is the center of attention, or so it seemed.
white liberals, Baldwin states, were “proud that I had been able
to crawl up to their level and been ‘accepted.’” He was an escapee
from the urban cages (ghettos). He was unique, exceptional
–an individual—far from the collective barbarians. He was now sitting
at the table, “profoundly uncomfortable” as he apprehended
he was “losing his bearings.” At the table, he writes, he
“couldn’t hear anything that reflected anything which I knew or
had endured, of life.” He continues, “my mother and my father, my
brothers and my sisters were not present at the tables at which
I sat down, and no one in the company had ever heard of them.” Baldwin
could not fathom anything disturbing the sleep of those sitting
at the table around him. He told himself that he would not
adjust to life in New York. He could not resign himself to being
“anybody’s nigger again.”
white liberals, Baldwin came to understand, fathomed themselves
intellectuals, engaged in intellectual activities. But,
in reality he writes, he discovers he is surrounded by “various
immigrants, struggling to hold on to what they had acquired.” Intellectuals,
they were not, Baldwin concluded. “Intellectual activity,” Baldwin
writes, “is, and must be, disinterested—the truth is a two-edged
sword—and if one is not willing to be pierced by that sword, even
to the extreme of dying on it, then all of one’s intellectual activity
is a masturbatory delusion and a wicked and dangerous fraud.”
found himself, as he writes, running more away from America
rather than to any particular European country.
remember this particular date in October 1995. On my way to the
grocery store, I stopped at the apartment just below me and knocked
at the door of an older couple. It was usual for me to check and
see if this couple needed something at the store. The man had been
an artist. His easel and sheets of aging charcoal sketchings occupied
a corner of the living room. The husband, bed ridden for years,
rarely left the apartment. Nurses came on a regular basis to check
on him. The woman, frail herself, was able to get around, but it
was just the two of them. If she left the apartment, her husband
would be alone.
woman with long flowing white hair always came to the door. I was
welcomed, on this day, as usual, to step into the living room.
Both had come to know a number of Black people when they were younger.
She told me what she wanted at the store and handed me the money.
As I turned to leave, she asked if I had seen the television coverage
of the Million Man March. Did I think a million Black men
were at the march?
a moment, I was occupied with the thought of a march of Black men
that did not include Black women. But then I looked
at the woman’s face and saw the immediate danger of a million
Black men suddenly bursting in the door behind me.
Black towns ablaze, distorted Black bodies hanging from a tree limb,
4 little girls’ charred bodies, Malcolm’s bullet riddled body, King
lying on that balcony floor, and the red faces of nuns when we did
not repeat with enthusiasm the names of the martyred saints—she
cannot see because a million Black men have invaded her mind.
could enter her home. As the exceptional, I was not the collective
woman was still standing in her space. She regained her composure
and smiled as if nothing at all had happened. What do I know,
little later I returned with the item she wanted from the store
and her change. More likely, this woman never understood why I,
against my upbringing to respect my elders and against my desire
to be neighborly, never knocked on their door again.
million and counting…and it is the “and counting” that makes it
difficult to compromise, particularly in this “post-racial” and
most McCarthy-like era.
is knowing we are linked to the Indigenous struggle in the U.S.
as we are linked to Mexican and Haitian immigrants and workers;
to the struggles of the people in the Honduras and to those in Gaza
as well as those struggles in the Niger Delta; to the struggle against
imperialism and capitalism. We are linked to those most crucial
struggles around human rights, land rights, and preservation of
Mother Earth, humanity, and wildlife, and those who would advocate
otherwise are as criminal as those who uphold their civilization
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD,
has been a writer, for over thirty years of commentary, resistance
criticism and cultural theory, and short stories with a Marxist
sensibility to the impact of cultural narrative violence and its
antithesis, resistance narratives. With entrenched dedication to
justice and equality, she has served as a coordinator of student
and community resistance projects that encourage the Black Feminist
idea of an equalitarian community and facilitator of student-teacher
communities behind the walls of academia for the last twenty years.
Dr. Daniels holds a PhD in Modern American Literatures, with a specialty
in Cultural Theory (race, gender, class narratives) from Loyola
University, Chicago. Click here
to contact Dr. Daniels.
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Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
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