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Est. April 5, 2002
 
           
September 27, 2018 - Issue 757




Step Off the Auction Block!


"It’s in the American culture: this bowing of
the unfree to the Master’s perspective. And
you think it’s only sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue.
That guy is not alone because he has his cabal of
Wall Street cutthroats and white supremacist ideologues."


And their children disappeared too: divvied up as war booty, called by other names, emptied of memory, they became little slaves for the murderers of their parents.

Eduardo Galeano,

Origins of the Disappearance,” in Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

It’s art that humanizes the citizenship of the country. Art becomes a flag barer of citizenship. In a democracy, art should be an integral part of the democratic system.

José Antonio Abreu, Founder, El Sistema

The poem is addressed to a young student. “You,” student, have heard the “Monsieur Dupont” calling you “uneducated.” Monsieur Dupont has been critical of you. The student. But what does he know? As a teacher, he can’t phantom why you don’t know who was the “favorite grandchild of Victor Hugo.” Mind you! Nothing to be said of the writer’s depiction of social injustice inflicted upon the poor and the disabled in 19th Century France?

But the Frenchman isn’t alone.

Other teachers too find you unreadable. Unintelligent. Mysterious.

There’s the “shouting” Herr Müller. (And what country might he have fled from and why?). Herr Müller demands you tell him the “exact” day “Bismarck died.” For him, it’s vital that you know the answer to this question rather than you interrogate the speaker about what you’re not being asked by throwing Herr Müller a history question: What lands in East Africa became Germany’s acquisitions in the Scramble for Africa under Bismarck?

Another, who calls himself a friend, a “Mr. Smith,” is nonetheless “incensed” because you, the student, can’t write “shell.” “(It seems that you hold back an ‘l” and that besides you pronounce it chel.)”

Oh, the English! So “cultured” and so “civilized.” It’s seems natural for Mr. Smith to be “incensed” by by the audacity of difference.

But the poet, not French, German or English, is, nonetheless, here to show, for the record, for you the student, how you the student, are repeatedly called the “underdeveloped” my Monsieur, Herr, and the friendly Mr. Smith too. It’s what the poet must do, bravely. The poet must show what these folks have in common? What’s at stake for them, moreover, what empowers them, if you do not concede to their will. What’s at stake for you—the brown and black Latin American, Caribbean student—when you do.

So the poet is here to say, to put in writing for the record, on behalf of you the student, and for you, for you, that you the student will one day ask if these noble sirs, representatives of the system—if anyone of them can say “cacarajicara” or will anyone of these foot soldiers be able to tell you where “Aconcagua” is located, or where on this planet did Marti die?

It’s the poet assuring the student who isn’t Anglo-Saxon or “white” that the marginalizing verbal assaults to his or her intellect is something of a necessity to maintain the idea of the superiority of whiteness. Closeness to whiteness precludes knowing next to nothing about the poet and thinker, Jose Martí—or for that matter, the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. You won’t in turn ask how it is that the education you do receive from the Monsieur, Herr, and the friendly Mr. Smith, seems to continue to benefit and elevator their race, so that what it is they know situates them on secluded islands where gated entrances aren’t necessary.

And the student should know of the friendship between the Cuban poet and the Harlem Renaissance’s Langston Hughes. Both went to fight in the Spanish Civil War against fascism. Some days in the West (and yes, most decidedly the US) it doesn’t seem as if anyone spoke out against fascism when it appeared in Italy, Spain, and Germany let along any soldiers and poets (Lorca) died trying to kill this anti-human virus—until the student understands what’s not wanted in West culture. Particularly in the US.

And only yesterday, in Antigua, Jamaica Kincaid writes to show us how educators there, doing the important work not of educating but instead of indoctrinating to destroy the spirit, use a cap with the word “DUNCE.” To educate, of course. The cap, “shiny gold,” the word DUNCE in “shiny red” lettering, is placed on the head of a little girl by Miss Edward. Every Friday. Because every Friday, Miss Edward, genius that she is, would quiz the girls, the writer among them, about what was learned during the week. The girl with the lowest score is “made to wear the dunce cap.” All day!

No wonder the writer relishes a picture of Columbus in chains and surrounded by the natives of what is now the Caribbean.

Students in the Caribbean and in the US now may not know that of the rivers Langston is thinking about when he writes, “I’ve know rivers,” ancient and deep rivers, would be the Nile not far from where Lucy and her family and fellow trekkers walked the Earth. And the Mississippi where, buried forever, are the bones of black humanity, tortured and executed by the righteous in the familiarized ritual of necessity. It must be done. It must be done. It’s in the DNA by now.

It’s possible that students in the US haven’t read about how prisoners on Robbin Island (another kind of island) sang, “just one song”--Nkosi Sikelela. The poet Dennis Brutus reports that he and all prisoners, in “tacit agreement,” sang Nkosi Sikelela “slowly and solemnly.” With our voices “strong and steady,” our eyes in “tears,” and our minds “ranging wildly as a strayed bird seeking some names to settle on,” we sang, thinking of “those who will do the much that still needs to be done.” And he reports this news in a poem you the student may not have been given to read from his or learned teachers. And we know he must be there, too, just as we are still “imprisoned” on whatever continent we have been brought to or we have traveled to seeking freedom. Mandela. He’s there. He’s singing. Still singing for you the students now and for those to come to know that more needs to be done.

That’s why books are banned and cultural studies has been devalued. No one wants to educate those who could rise up and overthrow them, Assata writes. “Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.” As free as the Maroons who refused, long before America becomes America.

The whole idea of this enterprise called education, that is, the education of the American Indigenous populations and the African American, is to make these students, to paraphrase James Baldwin, “strangers” to themselves. To be unrecognizable to yourself is to see in the above works of literary representation what appears different. Unreadable, unintelligent, mysterious. Threatening. At least that is society’s consensus coming between the words on the page and the reader’s lived experiences. Seeing as the “educator” has been trained to see, we (as people of color) become too fearful to be accountable for the horrors of slavery, colonialism, legalized segregation/apartheid. “Education” is a major aspect of the cover up, the whitewashing of history. The denouncement and denying of contradictions in the home of the brave and free.

And as representatives of a “successful” enterprise, it’s then assumed we’d buy anything. Not many years ago, a white female colleague that Josephine Baker was a “slut.” You should know, she slept with anything and everything! Another “educated” white woman, “knowledgeable” about the Buddha, assured me that the Dutch (her ancestors) had nothing whatsoever to do with Trans Atlantic Slavery. Nothing! When I turned to face her in the car, I see that familiar look of arrogance, and I hear the not so subtle and not so silent message: We’ve educated you, right? You haven’t read any of the black sixties and seventies stuff or studied anything from subversive—foreign—discourse, have you?

American self-evasion is all that the country has by way of history. Baldwin.

**

I remember, in the years following Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, the comments surrounding the campaign to honor King’s birthday, nationally. Beside the usual outburst from Senators Helm (North Carolina) and Thurmond (South Carolina), middle class and working class Americans had plenty to say about a holiday for a “race agitator,” a “communist,” an “anti-American” radical seeking to destroy the American way of life.

For most Americans, including liberals, including those who used to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement or who used to read the Black Panther newspaper or who used to march against the Vietnam War or for social justice, the American way of life is all about protecting a way of life that benefits white America—starting with the education of white children.

So many Americans, of whatever political stripe, couldn’t register how a King day would advance their children along the ladder to success. It took almost 20 years of a campaign that began with three million signatures gathered by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) 1971. It’s possible that as a 17 or 18-year old, I signed, but SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago becomes PUSH that same year. Nonetheless, the campaign for a King Holiday became very much a part of the public discourse in the 1970s to 1983, thanks to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”--addressed to King. Reagan, eventually, and I’m sure reluctantly, signs the holiday into law in 1983.

In a nation in which the reality of its history rather than it’s fantasy of innocence is taken into consideration, it’s a pleasant because rational idea to garner positive consensus. But no! For the many Americans (again, of whatever political stripe) who find nothing out of the ordinary when looking up at any towering statue of the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, snapping a photo, and directing their children’s attention by pointing toward the man who wanted America to remain a slave nation, a holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was tantamount to erecting statues to a mass murderer! A warmonger!

The Civil War ended in 1865. By 1870 the Confederate statues and monuments are rising to the sky in honor of every and any general who served in a military effort to maintain the institution of slavery in the US. Reconstruction ends in 1895, the disenfranchisement of blacks begins in earnest. Americans, in the South and North, for the most part, are not too troubled by the official (enactment of Jim Crow laws) and unofficial (mob related) “disappearance” of their fellow Americans, some who had been home owners, business men and women, teachers, lawyers, politicians.

In cities and towns with a significantly large black or all-black population, the skies lit up: homes and businesses and schools were set on fire. Black residents running to escape flames, faced the maniacal gathering of armed white men and women, fellow Americans, shooting—point blank.

That’s where we are still. Running from the flames only to be framed in the cross-hairs.

Black Americans under attack from the anger of white America were not sought out because they manged to become politically and/or financially “successful” no more than Dr. King, years later, was assassinated because he was a peaceful man. It’s no accident that one of the most prominent blacks after Reconstruction is Ida B. Wells, a journalist and educator. It’s no accident that the Black press plays a vital role in many black communities in the US before and after Reconstruction. No accident that the black newspapers and schools are targets for a flaming destruction, reminiscent of footage from US planes blanketing bombs over, as is reported even now, “strategic” locations. So for black Americans education was everything. Black Americans acknowledged, to themselves and among each other, how their day-to-day struggles connected them to an oppressed community’s response to institutionalized white supremacy. Many learned and expressed in personal narratives, essays, poems, plays, and fiction that to be in the struggle against dehumanization and exploitation is to be human.

That didn’t sit well with Americans! There are humans and blacks are not among them!

So alone with the statues to the Confederate warmongers, statues to honor, to honor human beings who wanted to keep other human beings under their heels so as to continue to control thought and action and to profit from such an arraignment, came lynching, the shooting, hanging, maiming, torturing of blacks. Lynching becomes a necessity politically and an entertaining spectacle culturally. According to a report published in the New York Times, February 10, 2015, during 73 years, from 1877-1950, 3,959 blacks were lynched in the US.

In the meantime, appearing as normal, American, patriotic is a Mississippi State flag featuring the Confederate Battle Flag (1884). Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general and Grand Dragon of the KKK, has that famous bridge in Alabama named after him (1940). Robert E. Lee is represented in quite a few states, including Virginia, the Carolinas, Texas, Florida, and Maryland. And the number of parks, streets, lanes, roads, schools, and universities (Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, for example) featuring just Lee’s name alone should have made Americans, liberals, progressives, radicals take note. Take action. Long ago.

Over 900 hate groups in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, certain did. And still do!

And, no, as many commentators have stated, in Europe, there are no statues commemorating Hitler.

The production of Confederate statues and monuments and the rise in the number of blacks lynched served to not only justify the brutality against blacks but also to initiate another campaign that continued even after lynched “ended” in the early 1950s. And that campaign consisted of officiating the oppression of blacks with pogroms of mis-educating black children. Maintaining the accumulation of wealth for white America, granted, fewer and fewer of them now, that’s capitalism breeding the horrors of greed and cruelty, is predicated on maintaining the ignorance of those history has shown will resist—when they engage in knowing who they are!

Wearing diamond rings or sporting a Mercedes temporarily keeps the noose at bay. But in the long run it does not matter. In Europe, it was over six million Jews, if you limit the number to Nazi initiatives. Over 14 million if you include the Soviet and Eastern European death pogroms under totalitarian regimes. Human beings with status and wealth in most cities. Capitalists. Fellow Europeans. In the rise of the dead outside Germany, in Ukraine and Poland, for example, the battle cry was “progress,” as historian Timothy Snyder notes in Bloodlands. A “higher civilization.”

Sacrifice was necessary. Convincingly assuring to those not the target of elimination. The assured could go about their lives being “civilized.”

After 1945, after the purge of fascism, so many believed, American troops and citizens at large, were urged to become consumers. Surround yourself with products and trinkets. The last black hasn’t been lynched yet!

I remember it was easier to talk with fellow students and then journalists about Apartheid in South Africa, about freeing Mandela, about the death of Steve Biko, the music of Miriam Makeba than it was to mention a Federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. That made you sound radical since the only violence, that is, crime, black on black crime, was happening in “urban” settings. And there was no excuse for poverty in the world’s greatest superpower, the US of A! Below and above the Mason-Dixon line, Americans remembered the words of J. Edgar Hoover. King, he declared, was “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation,” a good many of them, too, declared the struggle over. Battle won. They forgot or denounced previous positions on law enforcement and heard in the word “future” a threat to offspring, a threat to the American Dream! The culprits need not be named!

Our everyday American dog whistle, today, still in play.

But don’t touch those Confederate statues and monuments!

**

The young in America are being irreverent to white identity. The young see white identity sold as “Western” or “American.” That is not to say that people of color living in the Western hemisphere haven’t contributed to Western culture. We are its reality; its foundation. What is truly Western, if not, as Aimé Césaire once wrote, Europe’s management of colonialism? And our resistance to oppression?

The foundation of what is American culture is its masterful practice of self-evasion—what Baldwin called out decades ago. Nothing has changed. Was America great “then” or is it “still” great now? That’s the national debate now, beginning in a fairy tale!

Commentators are fond of saying Europeans confront the legacy of their past involvement with Hitler and fascism. Parents and teachers draw the young’s attention to concentration camps where atrocities were committed. I can only imagine traveling to these sites—passing through the entrance to Auschwitz. This is a solemn experience. Europeans remember. The formerly colonized Africans remember too. As the Congolese artists and activists, towering over the Royal Museum of Central Africa, pointed with stern faces at the statue of Leopold II, a mass murderer and oppressor of Congolese, welcoming visitors to re-enter an enclosure where the displays of Belgian history reflects the conquerors’ narrative.

And if a European government forgets its history, if it forgets the dead, the suffering of the survivors, the memorials of hatred and injustice, then factory workers shut down the machines, marchers block boulevards. But the unfinished response to the West’s history of colonialism and slavery is evident in the culture, in those haunting images of Syrians or Libyans on flimsy, overcrowded boats, seeking entrance or being held in camps, deplorable camps, or being turned back to what might be certain death. And there is death at sea, too.

But here in the US, the culture of “innocence” deceives. It’s a chokehold. It’s not a Right or Left or Centrist phenomena in the US. Never has been.

White supremacist has long been aware of how Indigenous and black and brown have historically refused to remain dead. The dead are no longer content to be “happy” dead. The poet Roque Dalton saw this so many years ago. And the response? Americans, particularly people of color and prisoners are asked not only to return to slavery but to also like it. Consider your conditions of working for corporate profits as the best possibility for a human being in all the world.

But the quilts created by Harriet Powers, depicting the history of black Americans, doesn’t show us as consumers. Frederick Douglass wrote about the horrors inflicted upon black bodies recognized as commodities, and he didn’t suggest we sell ourselves to the ruling class in exchange for an electronic pin and a pricey collection of bar codes. The enslaved Harriet Jacobs hides in a small crawl space for seven years to protect the future, beginning with her young children.

Capitalism’s support of white supremacy is contingent on the latter’s long campaign to make America reflect the values of the corporate class. The value of profiting off anything and everything, from birth to death, is life, but it’s the kind of life that we, as humans, and the planet, our home, can no longer sustain. Only the exchange of death for life is feasible with capitalism in the mix. Consider the number of farmers committing suicide. How many Americans succumb to opioid addiction?

It’s no wonder the capitalist, white supremacist, currently in the White House (there have been others), has proposed the merger of the departments of Education and Labor. Why are black children suspended from kindergarten at rates that reach the attention of local and alternative news sites throughout the US. And when our children are not suspended or expelled or shipped off to the nearest juvenile detention center, they are kept from knowing who they are. It would be so much easier to then house human beings educated in the ways to be humble-minded worker/slaves in little cells at the back of the factory where they toil during the day. But then we are already there, asks migrant workers. Or prisoners in the US.

It would be so much easier for this breed of fascists to eliminate any reference to to say, a Paul Robeson, than remove any of a number of statues or monuments dedicated to Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis. It’s deliberate—the business of capitalism. I’ll repeat—the business of capitalism is maintaining the world’s racial minority, which, intentionally or unintentionally, sustains the proliferation of the corporate one percent.

Besides, didn’t Baldwin already writing about receiving an “education… in a country in which education is a synonym for indoctrination, if you are white, and subjugation, if you are black.”

**

It’s all black people are ever told to do. Remember the Struggle and vote! Just vote. Cultivating a mindset that rises above the insanity, a mindset that defies ignorance will guarantee we have the knowledge necessary to recognize that the deportation of children, of families seeking asylum and an escape from imminent violence is inhumane no matter the race of the politician. No matter the party writing immigrant policy. Vote, if you must—for free thinkers! Run for a political office, if you must, as a free thinker! But we all have to be able to recognize free thinkers so we no longer settle, ultimately, for “just war” profiteers or the racist supporters of white nationalism.

Cultivating a mindset that is intolerant of poverty, of sex trafficking, of unlivable and pricey housing, of paid college/university tuition, of inadequate health care and medicare that isn’t for all, of climate-change-denying-policies—and a whole list of injustices—is what you require of yourself—everyday. Cultivating a mindset that keeps the mind and heart focused on the progress of humanity rather than one’s own bank account or status above others is now or never!

It’s not about being “an intellectual.” Although redefining that category in the 21st Century would be a good idea. It’s all about being human, however. What does it take to be human? For one, we must step off the auction block, once and for all! Thinking and learning and not being afraid to think and learn rather than clinging to uninformed opinions is one way to look toward a transformation of what it means to live in the world. We can’t live in a nightmare!

When we read to learn about our culture, who we are and what our role is in a society not yet civilized, we engage with others, to use the late Maestro José Antonio Abreu’s words, in the “creation of values of the spirit.” We can’t sustain our collective contentment to being commodities, who, in turn, produce commodities to wearing and eating commodities, breeding commodities, too. And we’ll send off those young $$ signs to classrooms or prison cells. Or maybe the little one’s enters one of those infamous packaging factories owned by Jeff Bezos where workers come and go through the proverbial revolving doors. Or maybe, worse still, your son or daughter meets with a police bullet or a police taser or chokehold.

It’s of no matter to the 1% or even the countless sub-managers and mid-managers and high managers who, aspiring to the ranks of a Bezos or a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg (one day!), reflects the Master’s image. It’s in the American culture: this bowing of the unfree to the Master’s perspective. And you think it’s only sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue. That guy is not alone because he has his cabal of Wall Street cutthroats and white supremacist ideologues.

In this narrative, not of our creation, we’re the willing doing the bidding of the few. Yet, we are more than the $$ signs surrounding our bodies. We are all that has ever declared the best of humanity’s struggles for freedom from hatred as our cultural heritage.


BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.
 



 
 

 

 

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