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.
of the Disappearance,” in Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone
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.
poem is addressed to a young student. “You,” student,
have heard the “Monsieur Dupont” calling you
Monsieur Dupont has been critical of you.
what does he know? As
a teacher, he can’t phantom why you
don’t know who was the “favorite grandchild of Victor
to be said of the writer’s depiction of social injustice
inflicted upon the poor and the disabled in 19th
the Frenchman isn’t alone.
teachers too find you
unreadable. Unintelligent. Mysterious.
the “shouting” Herr Müller. (And
what country might he have fled from and why?).
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?
who calls himself a friend,
“Mr. Smith,” is nonetheless “incensed”
because you, the student, can’t write “shell.”
seems that you
hold back an ‘l” and that besides you
pronounce it chel.)”
the English! So “cultured” and so “civilized.”
It’s seems natural for Mr. Smith to be “incensed”
by by the audacity of difference.
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
the poet is here to say, to put in writing for the record, on behalf
the student, and 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
“Aconcagua” is located, or where on this planet did Marti
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
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.
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.”
wonder the writer relishes a picture of Columbus in chains and
surrounded by the natives of what is now the Caribbean.
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.
possible that students in the US haven’t read about how
prisoners on Robbin Island (another kind of island) sang, “just
poet Dennis Brutus reports that he and all prisoners, in “tacit
agreement,” sang Nkosi
“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
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.
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.
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?
self-evasion is all that the country has by way of history. Baldwin.
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.
most Americans, including liberals, including those who used
involved in the Civil Rights Movement or who used
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
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.
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!
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.
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,
where we are still. Running from the flames only to be framed in the
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.
didn’t sit well with Americans! There are humans and blacks are
not among them!
alone with the statues to the Confederate warmongers, statues to
honor, to honor
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.
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.
900 hate groups in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law
Center, certain did. And still do!
no, as many commentators have stated, in Europe, there are no statues
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!
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.
was necessary. Convincingly assuring to those not the target of
elimination. The assured could go about their lives being
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
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!
everyday American dog whistle, today, still in play.
don’t touch those Confederate statues and monuments!
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
once wrote, Europe’s management of colonialism? And our
resistance to oppression?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
we no longer settle, ultimately, for “just war”
profiteers or the racist supporters of white nationalism.
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!
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
in the world. We can’t live in a nightmare!
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 $$ signs to classrooms or prison cells. Or maybe the
little one’s enters one of those infamous packaging factories
owned by Jeff Bezos where workers come and go through the proverbial
revolving doors. Or maybe, worse still, your son or daughter meets
with a police bullet or a police taser or chokehold.
of no matter to the 1% or even the countless sub-managers and
mid-managers and high managers who, aspiring to the ranks of a Bezos
or a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg (one day!), reflects the
Master’s image. It’s in the American culture: this bowing
of the unfree
to the Master’s perspective. And you think it’s only
sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue. That
not alone because he has his
cabal of Wall Street cutthroats and white supremacist ideologues.
this narrative, not of our creation, we’re the willing doing
the bidding of the few. Yet, we are more than the $$ signs
surrounding our bodies. We are all that has ever declared the best of
humanity’s struggles for freedom from hatred as our cultural