"The Negro, whether in Africa or America, must be directed toward a serious examination of the fundamentals of education, religion, literature, and ph...more"The Negro, whether in Africa or America, must be directed toward a serious examination of the fundamentals of education, religion, literature, and philosophy as they have been expounded to him. He must be sufficiently enlightened to determine for himself whether these forces have come into his life to bless him or bless his oppressor. After learning the facts in the case the Negro must develop the power of execution to deal with these matters as do people of vision." ~ Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson proposed this notion in the context of outlining a plan for advancing racial education through the development of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). In this sentiment, we can discern a challenge from Woodson to begin interpreting historical phenomena in a manner that establishes its measurable utility for influencing black people to claim full agency in altering their own condition. While making a comparative reading between this text and "The Souls of Black Folks", conversations I encountered with others led me to the conclusion that many have not afforded the most popular single thesis by Woodson the thorough examination required. While the language is often less florid than DuBois, the analysis offered here is no less comprehensive and lends itself to neither imitation nor repetition of the facts elucidated previously in "The Souls of Black Folks". Through his work as a historian, Woodson uses an incisive reading of the history of Negro education from the Reconstruction period forward to bolster the argument that it has been improperly administered by others to the detriment of black people. This injustice would only be resolved when we took ownership of creating the input and defining the outcome.
While the text opens by focusing its attention upon the process of miseducation, Woodson expands the diameter of the discussion markedly with each new chapter to display how this process takes root in each aspect of Negro life impacting the church, political ambitions, business sector, vision, and leadership. The argument he constructs finds him squarely balanced between Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. While he endorses the fierce work ethic Washington sought to make the hallmark of black people, he rejects a servile acceptance of the permanent social underclass. His devotion to an educational system which nourishes black identity and intellect at every level builds upon the work of DuBois, but he admonishes educated Negroes to pair their higher learning with the grassroots service still being performed by those lesser educated. In practice, this pairing of ideas and implementation would form the framework for an independent community enterprise. Throughout the text he exudes the fierce nationalism exemplified in the Garveyite philosophy, but differs upon the subject of repatriation.
Amongst the most astute observations offered here comes in a discourse on Marxism where he states "History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning." The insight Woodson offers on this matter would later prove prescient when we saw our leftist alliances of the Renaissance crumble upon the realization that they held no serious desire to address racism within their ranks. This other facet of miseducation arising in the black community then being the dynamic adoption of new philosophies with no strategic or tactical analysis of merit or usefulness. In summation, Woodson offers us one of the many early attempts at developing a black social theory which draws upon the most valuable assets our community while exhorting us to take serious measures in addressing its liabilities.
His legacy of Negro History Week which later evolves into Black History Month is not born of a desire to give either ourselves or America a concession that equality has been achieved nor are we to be cavalier in our observance of this milestone. Negro History Week was to be a first stage towards the objective of building black institutions that could both educate children in their history being overlooked and afford them opportunities and avenues to expand upon that legacy. Cases in Arizona and Tennessee have given us a clear lens into the peculiar quality of American forgetfulness which occurs when a synthesized and complete historical record is not the way an educated mind is measured. As this forgetfulness becomes more pervasive, we must return to the work of Carter G. Woodson, Lorenzo Johnston Greene and the pioneers of varying strains of Black Studies whom arose post-Civil Rights for a template that will guide us back to the goal of establishing independent systems of education where the curriculum is not dictated to us, but decided by our own best assessment of the needs of our communities.
Bobby Wright offered us possibly the most sage insight on our renewed ethnic education debate in stating "Education is a political dynamic and for a people who have no social theory, reading, writing and arithmetic should be much less important than what is written and read." "The Miseducation of the Negro" is an opening gambit in helping us to shift that political dynamic in another direction, but only if we read it again with a far more critical eye than we have applied in the past for miseducation has implications which extend far beyond the classroom.(less)
There are times when one enters into a text blindly knowing not what to expect. One sets no expectations that their present opinions will be confirmed...moreThere are times when one enters into a text blindly knowing not what to expect. One sets no expectations that their present opinions will be confirmed or refuted. They simply are on a journey and reaching out for other input about the direction of their walk. I came to locate this text at while browsing the Chicago Public Library and am delighted that I chose to add it to my present reading list. She calls it "radical black masculinity" though by the time you reach the end of the text you realize that she is seeking a certain return of a black masculinity that we once held which is now lost to many of us.
Upon reading such chapters as "Gangsta Culture" and "Schooling Black Males", I saw glimmers and glimpses of my formative years pass by. I recall one instance where I was in the car with my mother and I decided to play the tape in my Walkman which was by a group called the Luniz and an album titled "Operation Stackola". In the particular song I played, "Put The Lead On Ya", a rapper named Dru Down utters the words "and if you're a woman / don't think i still won't put the lead on ya / bitchhhh". My mother without pause snatched the tape out of the deck and tossed it from the car window. Why did I think this sort of material was acceptable to play either for my mother's ears or my own? Why was I obsessed with emulating the sexual lothario and street combativeness that I saw emanating from my brother's daily existence? How did I come from the place where I previously lived to the ground where I now stand? I credit the women.
Whether it was my mother snatching that tape from the car and clearly showing me that certain language and actions were entirely unacceptable or my daughter now who cautions me to both censor myself until the practice becomes a lifestyle and also to stop trying to shield her in ways that might make her consider patriarchy and paternalism the manner all men should exhibit in her future. There are many other women in between who have shown me how "quaint" some of my assumptions were and helped to groom and grow me forward. For their presence I am forever grateful.
After my daughter was born, I was known to say that it was probably a good thing that I didn't have a son because I would not know how to teach him how to be a man as I perceived the world to see them. I don't play the usual sports or watch them. I enjoy the kitchen and cooking and poetry. Had I a son, he might suffer a terrible time during his schooling years subscribing to some the ways I live at present, but I am wholly aware of what a fool's errand that statement was now. There are many ways to be cool as hooks' offers to us now and they don't have to be rooted in the dying patriarchy of the past, but a brilliant, bold, and creative manhood of the future. One that subscribes to the notion that men mustn't always be stoic, they can be open and vulnerable and self aware. They can say the things amongst friends that others have chosen not to say because of masculine groupthink and they can find more innovative ways to be cool that don't involve sexual exploits, physical combat and domination, or monetary gain. We too cool to be caged by white supremacy. In other words, we off that.(less)
To be curious and black is not to be anomalous any longer. No. This was an intriguing assemblage of tales of the journey from a spectrum of belief thr...moreTo be curious and black is not to be anomalous any longer. No. This was an intriguing assemblage of tales of the journey from a spectrum of belief through various stages of agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. I am fortunate enough to have a group of individuals in Chicago with whom I gather where we may discuss all of the various aspects of freethought that occur amongst us and how we might use these aspects to improve upon the world and the city around us. The most exciting part of our coming together I found was in the telling of the story of the journey that each of us undertook to reach our present circumstance.
Read this book if you have questions. See the process of personal analysis and critical thinking at work. Allow yourself to give into the curious if for but a moment and you will find yourself expanded beyond measure. But don't stop at religion. Question social hierarchies, class structure, individual relationships, workplace conditions, and allow your questions to lead you through to a new understanding of humanity. If we are to be skeptics, we must not only be skeptical of religion or government, we must allow our skepticism to pervade in the truest sense, every aspect of our human lives.(less)
"One of the most serious problems, germane only to Black people and our independent institutions, is our inability to support and reinforce the ideals...more"One of the most serious problems, germane only to Black people and our independent institutions, is our inability to support and reinforce the ideals, goals and objectives of the institutions. The White race is not faced with this problem since it has long recognized that institutions protect and sustain the appropriate direction for the destiny of its people."
According to Dr. Bobby Wright, a destructive Black pathology is being cultivated with the deliberate intent to push Black people towards the brink of extinction. His plan is to arm you with the critical analysis necessary in order to engage this psychological narrative and work strategically to counteract it. There is a wretched and brutal truth to his argument which makes it impressively convincing even when one would wish to consider the situation cannot be so dire as outlined here. In this stark and unflinching framework, Wright injects the psychopathic racial personality and bolsters the acute necessity for a Black social theory, multimodal education for Black children and the building of Black institutions where the high ideals nurtured in the classroom can be placed into practical service.
The confluence of forces found throughout this relatively short text made it difficult to parse uninterruptedly without pausing within each chapter for deeper reflection. Wright broaches many an uncomfortable conversation about the American racial identity and interaction between groups while resolving his central thesis of the essential nature of developing the Black social theory which would guide the work of collective Black institutions. Even behind the veil of my own Black social liberal experience, it is near impossible to discern how the lines are drawn which distinguish where the perceivable context of American racism ends and the global infrastructure of white supremacy begins for Black people find their personhood under assault mentally, physically and socially at every corner of the diaspora. In the analysis offered by Wright, this distinction does not matter for survival and liberation are the only relevant metrics of success.
This is no mere exercise in political shock doctrine however. Wright infuses his understanding of culturally assisted suicide and self destructive behavior with an outlook towards solutions which would root these traits out of members of the next generation even moving to offer his own research and assistance without charge to any Black institution that should request them. In this sense, the essays of Dr. Wright are a detailed example of his purposed devotion to the cause of Black liberation which should be measurable beyond our individual ability to maintain a livelihood. Progress is determined by our collective ability to do both at the same time without failing to maximize our effort in either objective.
Ideals without pathways to implementation are comparable to a seed in the wind. It may take root or it may get eaten. In either case, the wind will decide and you will have no choice in the matter. Dr. Wright has offered an ideological treatise in the tradition of Woodson's "The Miseducation of the Negro" and DuBois' "The Souls of Black of Black Folks" which should remind us that there is little to be gained from depending upon the slight alteration of the social and political mechanics of a system which derives its power from maintaining complacency in the powerless. If we truly seek change, it is to be discovered by peering beyond the political tools which have been afforded us to act and developing independent auspices where we can see our changes actualize in a more immediate and measurable manner. If we choose assimilation before independence, our current political climate has shown us clearly that any changes we succeed in obtaining hang perilously on the precipice of being reversed by future sentiments.(less)
In the pantheon of literature shaping my nascent creative flicker, Shel Silverstein remains a master of lunacy and language. Long after losing my appe...moreIn the pantheon of literature shaping my nascent creative flicker, Shel Silverstein remains a master of lunacy and language. Long after losing my appetite for R.L. Stine's "Fear Street" or the frightful suspense of Alvin Schwartz' "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", Silverstein's whimsical passages continue to invoke nostalgic and thoughtful reflection. Of "The Giving Tree", my mother echoes the undeviating refrain that it is a woeful fable of an ungrateful child and a loving, long suffering parent. I respond with a nod of agreement and apology having learned better than to quarrel with her interpretation of that particular work.
"I've discovered a way to stay friends forever-- There's really nothing to it. I simply tell you what to do And you do it!" ~ Friendship
His deeply imaginative ideas combined with a rich awareness of words to craft a collection of clever cerebral exchanges. Silverstein chose not to endeavour making sense of the utter nonsense which exists in the dreams of children. In his poems and illustrations, there resides an inquisitive surreality of characters and circumstances which are at times morbid, silly, unusual, somber, capricious, self indulgent or inappropriate. That array of attributes represented a wider spectrum than most children's literature of his era had considered yet all were qualities of which any child might be possessed.
"I shot an arrow toward the sky, It hit a white cloud floating by. The cloud fell dying to the shore, I don't shoot arrows anymore." ~ Arrows
In spite of resolute parental naivete on our part, children are not yet whole beings. They are evolving and developing with each new insight which should arise. Why should they not be given the full palette of human emotion in which to dabble their paintbrush while there remains a steady hand to guide their intentions? Silverstein recognized children were smarter than adults acknowledged and wrote images filled with riddles, trap doors and passageways into the unknown.
If confusion arose as to the meaning of any given story, there was no discernible moral interpretation at the end. He trusted that children could ask questions and sort out those quandaries on their own. What if they could send away in the mail for a new set of parents as does the young man in "Clarence"? Is it such a terrifying thought that every child might at some moment dislike their parents? Or desire to join the UCR (Union for Children's Rights) and dispense with performing chores until their demands are met?
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my toys to break, So none of the other kids can use them... Amen." ~ Prayer of the Selfish Child
Silverstein wrote in the tradition of the grand triumvirate alongside Seuss and Sendak. Authors of juvenile literature who were unafraid to stretch and layer their passages into the space of fascination and fantasy. Could those arcane worlds engaged in Harry Potter or "The Hunger Games" exist without the precedent laid by the dragon of Grindly Grun, the Gooloo bird or the quick digesting Gink?
Silverstein can be an especially difficult read when one has spent a lifetime having their language skills battered into shape by each gruesome guardian of the English oral tradition. His random meter and loose leaning prose lead one to imagine they are reading another language entirely. I surely realize now that he inspires the same wonder and bewilderment as deciphering Pablo Neruda in Spanish. Perhaps this is the greatest gift Silverstein leaves behind in these writings. A self contained language filled with a meaning and clarity all its own which will be accessed only when you rediscover the precocious, curiosity you brought to the book as a child exploring literature for the first time.(less)
Crystal Wilkinson has managed to capture in this text a series of expressive, heartfelt, funny, sorrowful, sentient, and somber vignettes of life amon...moreCrystal Wilkinson has managed to capture in this text a series of expressive, heartfelt, funny, sorrowful, sentient, and somber vignettes of life amongst folk in the wide open range and spread out places. The problems are the same, but there is a need for a community to draw together even with the distance of two counties between them.
Each story reads like a snapshot. It reminds me of visiting my Grammy Kathy or Great Aunt Ethel and looking through one of their photo albums where each picture had a weaving, winding, and interconnected story behind it that tied richly into every other picture.
Kathy and Ethel made ceramic figurines. So many ceramic figurines. Ethel had an entire addition onto her house filled with these magnificent creations. Each one carried a story or a sentiment filled within it. You could imagine that her library of ceramics were a million little pieces of her life that she was sought to give away before she passed. And give she did. Her and Kathy. Every time we or someone else would visit, they would leave with one of those ceramic figurines.
This series is a book of ceramics that makes you hearken back to your own stories that you carry from before your elder country folk became city folk and life got a little different than it was before.(less)
For as long as I might live, I will continue to tout my jealousy of women writers. Or perhaps it is a thing that lives only so strong in this particul...moreFor as long as I might live, I will continue to tout my jealousy of women writers. Or perhaps it is a thing that lives only so strong in this particular generation for women writers. I use "women writers" in this sense to mean specifically black women writers. There is such a strong, tender, and vital culture of sisterhood that lives amongst them as evidenced by how well versed each of them is in the others' body of work. As I mentioned in an earlier update, if this text is any indication, Toni Morrison is arguably the greatest writer the latter half of the 20th century and the English language ever produced as she received a ringing and resounding endorsement from most every writer in the tome, well known and lesser known names alike.
I was never a fan of fiction as a child or young adult, but in reading not only the selections for this text, but the back story of the authors covered has led me towards the clawing notion that black women hold stories better than any other single grouping of writers that one can consider. That is a bold statement and I am likely to retract soon after this review is written especially as I consider the "immigrant" grouping and the wonderful tales woven of that experience, but for a moment I'll let it stand.
Of the qualities that was oft cited of Toni Morrison was included of course the penchant for magical realism, the astonishing magnificent manner in which she is aware of and wields the English language, and the truth she is able to extract in how she studies every aspect of her stories in the process of drawing them forth, but I think I am digressing from the point.
The brilliance of this text is how well the editor, Rebecca Carroll, was able to capture and convey the truth of these authors. The reason that either they came to writing or writing came to them. The manner in which they communicate with their characters for these are not simply paper bound one dimensional figures, but whole and complete and soul imbued beings with a way about this world and a reason to be acknowledged. The creative means is strong here. The tug and the tussle for attention as if these characters are children reaching forth to know their mother. Yes. I know what the red clay looks like and I doubt I shall ever be able to forget it again. Word to Gammy Kathy. Love you Mama and Mama.(less)
This small text is densely packed with Davis' insight into the history of social justice organization and mobilization, the injustice of the prison sy...moreThis small text is densely packed with Davis' insight into the history of social justice organization and mobilization, the injustice of the prison system, and the interweaving of that system with capitalism to create an exportable prison economy with both a profit and social repression incentive. It reads quickly as a conversation develops between Mendieta and Davis that displays his intense engagement with the subject of his interview.
There is a gem of an answer at the end of the interview which speaks to Davis' concern that there is an overreliance on seeking role models for social justice mobilization when what she and others of her era did was essentially experimentation. In this way, modern organizers should be more fearless with experimenting with new ways to think their way through more highly evolved forms of racism and those threats to social justice which we encounter in the present era.(less)
"This book should be taken as a strictly theoretical endeavor. Theoretical, in that none of the questions it poses can be said to have been answered d...more"This book should be taken as a strictly theoretical endeavor. Theoretical, in that none of the questions it poses can be said to have been answered definitively or for all time, etc. In fact, the book proposes more questions than it will answer." ~ Amiri Baraka from the Introduction to "Blues People"
There are some moments when I find myself reading a subject of historical analysis that I am filled with a desire to ask the author if they would provide a multimedia study guide to follow along with the text itself. One has the work citations and the bibliography, but what I am considering is a chapter matched outline of books, films, and albums that one should study in order to garner an even deeper understanding of the material that is being discussed within that chapter.
Baraka's writing in this text has the flow of a great uncle who finds it particularly irresistible to not dispense forth a stream of history when he has access to even a single listening ear. At certain times, it has the language of a diatribe as Baraka decries the varying periods of blues and jazz innovation which inevitably lead to mainstream acceptance and the eventual commercialization which eliminates the emotional nuance of a formerly "negro music". At other times, it reads as a doctoral thesis with Baraka casting forth a jargon heavy exultation of the changes brought by the geniuses of strings, woodwinds, and keys that gave birth to blues and jazz movements in ragtime, dixieland, brass, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, avant garde and other musical forms of that ilk.
When you are finished, you won't be an expert on the subject of blues or jazz music, but he does manage to fill you deeply with a sense of ownership and responsibility for holding and transmitting the history. I had an initial criticism of his coverage of "The Modern Scene" at the time of reading because the chapter was so voluminous compared to how neatly Baraka had broken down the other chapters, but I had merely to remind myself that when the book was composed, he was awash in the fresh memory of that modern musical movement whereas I am looking at the work of Coleman, Coltrane, and Rollins with an eye towards the past as one of the new antiquities of music.
For lack of a film directly from Baraka himself, I would offer up for analysis the documentary series "Ken Burns' Jazz" though for a different reason than you might think. Ken Burns' perspective on jazz music and the criticism that his documentary received actually serves to highlight one of the issues that Baraka covers in the text. It stands to portray that where initially the newer innovations made in jazz music are derided and given little appreciation, they are in time shelved and then rediscovered to be given their glory in the future.
In a sense, the present era keepers of jazz classify certain forms as "anti-jazz" and toss them aside only to have the future keepers of jazz say "Hey. That was genius." It is an exercise described throughout the book that I might classify in accordance with the title as "negro music navel gazing". Only the cool that was cool yesterday is acceptable to the mainstream when initial innovators have already moved on to something new.
In that respect, the attention give by Burns to the swing era and more classical Dixieland styles, his lack of attention to more modern and progressive forms is symbolic of this sort of navel gazing in practice. That does not mean that the documentary is without historical merit, but one should always be aware the everyone has an angle and even when they are trying to be objective, they inevitably shine the prism brightest on the corner of the room which they like the best.(less)
Black Wall Street is a work of historical fiction which builds its story line along the events leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. Unfortunatel...moreBlack Wall Street is a work of historical fiction which builds its story line along the events leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. Unfortunately for what it merits as a matter of history, it is also a most terrible piece of writing. I am generous in offering it two stars on the basis of a documentary value as its only real redeeming quality is how much it makes you hunger to search out a biographical narrative of the events for yourself.
One of the major literary vices that are contained within the text is the repeated utterance of the term "BLACK WALLSTREET" by the characters written just as it is here in all capital letters. It comes across as purposely trite and cheesy resembling Keenan Ivory Wayans oft imitated "Message!" line from "Don't Be A Menace..." There is also the matter of language in the text which seems a pale affectation of period speech by someone very obviously writing after said period has passed.
Were the book marketed as a literature for children, I might perhaps be more forgiving, but even as a tool for teaching, there is very little fodder for discussion here. All the tropes and stereotypes are thrown into the stew. All white men are racists with bad teeth, big guns and white sheets. Blacks and Jews try to gather and do business in harmony since they are both oppressed. All black people operate for the success and continuity of "BLACK WALLSTREET".
I stumbled upon this work in some library giveaway box I am sure. It was not a very enjoyable read and I am quite glad that it is over. There are much better books on the subject available.(less)
Soul On Ice is the seminal collection of social criticism by Eldridge Cleaver framing his observance of the drastic transformation occurring during th...moreSoul On Ice is the seminal collection of social criticism by Eldridge Cleaver framing his observance of the drastic transformation occurring during the late 60's as nonviolent civil disobedience gave rise to a vitriolic demand for Black Power. He was possessed of a rich, raw eloquence and the ability to manipulate profanity as a form of punctuation. Cleaver epitomized a form of thought leadership manifesting itself in this whirlwind period of Black radicalism which had wrestled ideological dominance back from the sanitized presentation of the centrist Black clergy and political class. Its orientation was towards a grassroots fusion of street knowledge with a rediscovered deep leftist political ideology. An ideology which had flourished in the Black community throughout the Harlem Renaissance only to be subverted by the Great Depression, Red Scare nativism and individual economic gain. This fusion, while possessed of the noble aim to draw urban youth in from exile to be politically engaged, was also lacking the long view which renews political ties with a progressive past in order to build upon prior knowledge instead of duplicating present effort.
This latest reading finds my views matured in their acknowledgement of the profound sociopathy inherent in Cleaver's description of exploring rape as an insurrectionist act ("On Becoming"). Where once existed an intellectual curiosity to understand the psychology, I can now experience only the utmost antipathy as he outlines refining his technique by practicing on Black girls before crossing over to white. The brisk logic of his confession no longer strikes the necessary emotional tone which would convince me of his empathy for the victims. He seems certain of his rationale, but unable to discern any true fault in his decision which factors into the literary construct he builds throughout the text. In prison studies, he was able to master a militant discourse made routine by the cultural fluctuations of the time. This proficiency was juxtaposed against a narcissistic indulgence in his own opinion which was nearer to didacticism than dialogue often leading to conflict between his rhetoric and action. As one of the beneficiaries of a cult of personality in which the white counterculture emphasized a revolutionary narrative above the continuous resistance required to overturn an oppressive system, his writings would be widely circulated in the political magazine Ramparts garnering support for his release. This support was forthcoming even as his sole contribution to social transformation consisted of a series of strident political dispatches and dexterity in prison debate.
In further inspecting his trajectory from fiery American iconoclast to conservative ideologue, his longstanding admiration of Malcolm throughout the text peaking in the essay "Initial Reactions on the Assassination of Malcolm X" returns to haunt him. Malcolm had rooted himself in the organizational hierarchy of the Nation of Islam only to be rebuked for expressing an opinion not conforming with the established guideline. His analysis that the program espoused by Elijah Muhammad was ineffective did not lead him to conclude that the American experience held any greater virtue by contrast. Cleaver adopted precisely the opposite position upon his return from exile surmising that because communism as it was practiced in Cuba, Algeria and North Vietnam was injurious to members of its population, capitalism must be the only socioeconomic construct capable of producing a just and democratic society. In a telling line from the text about coming to atheism in his early years in prison, Cleaver writes "Unsophisticated and not based on any philosophical rationale, our atheism was pragmatic." The conclusions drawn by Cleaver from his expatriation fostered an inability to launch any deeper inquiry into the nature of American society beyond the dichotomy of America and its antithesis hindering any evolution from his nascent pragmatism. His later life reflected an unprincipled commitment to a multitude of complementary and contradictory causes. Thus he returns once to the arms of the Republican party, another time to evangelical Christianity, again to the Unification Church and later to his own personal synthesis philosophy, Chrislam, searching for a place to belong, but never elucidating a single point of focus as succinctly as Malcolm.
Cleaver's most egregious criticism in "Soul On Ice" is reserved for James Baldwin ("Notes on a Native Son") whose work he alleges exhibits "...the most grueling, agonizing, total hatred of the blacks, particularly of himself, and the most shameful, fanatical, fawning, sycophantic love of the whites that one can find in the writings of any black American writer of note in our time." Cleaver goes far beyond mere literary critique in order to advance a vicious personal vendetta founded not on any principled disagreement with those critical insights raised in the writings of Baldwin, but on his distaste for the homosexual lifestyle. Cleaver presents the following three points as evidence of Baldwin's racial disdain: the dismissal of Norman Mailer's premise in "The White Negro", an alleged snub of Aime Cesaire in the report from the Conference of Black Writers and Artists in Paris of 1956 and the censure of Baldwin's mentor Richard Wright in the opening essay of "Notes of a Native Son" which disassembled Bigger Thomas as a Negro stereotype. Cleaver fails to build his case against Baldwin on any intellectual basis using those three points and peppers the remainder of the essay with a variety of ad hominem attacks against Baldwin's Blackness, sexuality, masculinity and sincerity. Here we discover the young Cleaver in critical collapse for his arguments become incoherent. As with his sexual victimization of women, he seems unable to confront his deep seated issues of misogyny and masculinity choosing instead to assert his literary domination over the political direction of the Black community while framing the world to conform with his vacillating conviction.
At the outset of this review, I had every intent to eviscerate any further need to study this text in earnest. When I first entered organizational activism, my admiration of Cleaver was once so great that I took his title of Minister of Information as my own and sought to exhibit as firm a grasp as Cleaver of the political micro and macrocosm occurring about me. My initial desire was to exorcise the part of me that once accepted the gorgeous rhetoric displayed here so uncritically. Upon further contemplation, I have come to understand that it is necessary to retain Cleaver as a picture of fanatical naivete which circumscribes both his participation and our own. The fluctuations which he exhibits should remind us to never locate the success of our radical endeavors so far outside of ourselves. Cleaver's vision of a successful socialist revolution was located in Algeria, Cuba, Korea and each of the other places he was able to experience in exile. When combined with a mostly self absorbed radicalization and the crushing defeat suffered by the Panthers at home, his appetite for resistance was left fatally injured upon his return. He now resembled a character from Soul On Ice described as an "Old Lazarus" ("The Allegory Of The Black Eunuchs") whom Cleaver and some fellow inmates confronted for not being dead and accused of lacking the dedication to offer his life to the struggle for Black liberation. Cleaver exhibits here another momentary lapse in the certainty of his masculinity as he reaches down to examine himself "afraid that my rod would be missing". The pseudo-mythology from the conversation with the "Old Lazarus" is then used to formulate the bizarre thesis of "The Primeval Mitosis". This essay is presented in so a compelling fashion that such terms as "omnipotent administrator" would work their way into a broad array of Black Panther literature including the writings of Huey P. Newton. One of Cleaver's own narratives again returns to haunt him as a new generation found itself prepared to pummel him with the same question "Old Lazarus, why come you're not dead?" His answer appeared as a jumble of changes and permutations with no discernible objective to be found even in his writings and speeches taken together.
After a fresh reading of "Soul On Ice", I am cautious to consider if I have judged Cleaver too harshly solely on the basis of this extreme transformation following exile. If the author of memoir and essay is to be judged by the philosophy he espouses in textual form, he must be bound for worse or better effect that those words form ideas remaining attached to his personal actions and are affected by each new transition. While Malcolm's activism gave him a wider lens through which to dissect and offer criticism to the internal socio-poltical mechanisms of America, Cleaver opened his eyes and seemed content to return to squinting through the eyelids once more. "Soul On Ice" appears now as a series of malformed ideas and incomplete analyses of a proto-revolutionary which is sufficient to get the wheels stirring in the minds of those who would study history to extract the lessons left behind, but not fruitful enough to sustain a growing consciousness or fortify one's personal philosophy. There are thinkers with a wider and more consistent body of work who can occupy that role with greater adequacy whose attractive language is not merely a vehicle for speculating upon perverse ideas.(less)
"Everybody wants to tell us what a Negro is, yet few wish, even in a joke, to be one. But if you would tell me who I am, at least take the trouble to...more"Everybody wants to tell us what a Negro is, yet few wish, even in a joke, to be one. But if you would tell me who I am, at least take the trouble to discover where I have been." ~ Ralph Ellison from "The World and the Jug"
While conceiving this masterpiece of American fiction, Ralph Ellison was faced with a confluence of several political and artistic forces whose elements formed the landscape navigated by its protagonist. The wind of the Harlem Renaissance had swept through Black communities in New York providing them with a flourishing of art both as a political weapon and cultural instrument of intrinsic value. The social decompression of the war economy expanded available spaces for self actualization inspiring pursuit of a Black cultural theory in the post-Reconstruction period. The New Negro Movement sought to extend the DuBoisian notion of the Talented Tenth and brought intellectual convergence around the establishment of a shared Negro identity. World War I created a vacuum in able bodied men to run the Northern industrial sector. The Great Migration drew a flood of urban workers into these cities to take the place of those deployed on the front line. Communism having marinated as an ideological conversation during the previous century came into its own as a governing philosophy becoming the object of suspicion for a rising geopolitical authority in the United States. The Black community in America with its teeming masses of disdainful victims of capitalism became the center of contention between these two doctrines until the decline of Black radicalism in the Reagan era. The Great Depression arose to flatten society with a cataclysmic impact sufficient to erase any prior political and economic gain.
His childhood and formative years spent in a diverse middle class community of Oklahoma City would buttress him from the stark urban naturalism which became the literary pulp of Richard Wright. A rich artistic life filled with musical study and immersion in classical literature formed the crux of a writer who considered art a personal truth requiring no express political intent to merit its validation. His desire to write from this apolitical perspective is deeply ironic considering that Invisible Man went on to become one of the most politicized works of modern fiction. For each succeeding generation, it has served as a foil for negotiating affairs of race, class, identity and social construction while justifying its position as a premier text in the African American literary canon. Invisibility and cultural intersection as rendered bare by Ellison remain subjects to be scrutinized even as Blackness becomes a more highly visible mainstream phenomenon. This restructuring of spatial terms should inspire us to interrogate the invisible space which once proscribed the occupancy of Black people within this nation. How do we confront gender, sexual, class and immigrant invisibility in such a manner that we do not become a dogmatic Brotherhood overriding the political perspective of others with no regard for the qualities of their particular oppression?
In his brutal opening visage, Ellison fleshes out a rough sketch of the characteristics of invisibility explored in the course of the narrative. The protagonist arrives at a gathering of the most respected local businessmen for the purpose of impressing them with his graduation oratory on the ironic theme of the virtue of humility in achieving progress. His expectations are upset when he is forced to engage in a physical brawl and brutal coin grab with nine other young men from the community. Only after this humiliation is he given audience to speak even as they continue to converse over his words. His intellectual invisibility is further reinforced when he mumbles "social equality" only to rescind the sentiment moments later at the unspoken threat of losing the meager opportunity for which he had literally fought. The exploitation of impoverishment, disorienting inconsistency in the rules of engagement and restriction of voice as a method of curtailing free agency or undesirable ideas display themselves as means of social regulation throughout the novel.
Ellison provides a brief glimpse into the adolescent journey of the protagonist before transitioning to his encounter with college life. This academic experience is punctuated by a confrontation with an administrator who essentially tells him that if he would gain any power for himself in this world, he must learn to render invisible anything in the Black condition which causes discomfort to white financiers. One is tempted to interpret Bledsoe as a figure in the image of Booker T. Washington. Through further dialogue we come to understand him as what remains in the shadow of arguably all great men (the obscure legend known only as "Founder"), a largely sycophantic personality concerned with maintaining centralized power and prestige only to the degree that it serves them personally. These individuals are neo-colonial power brokers of invisibility curating which areas of Black life will receive notoriety and silencing the voices of those who won't assume the required posture.
In addition to this biting critique of Black leadership, the white philanthropist is also subjected to a probing (and telling) inquiry through Ellison's dialogue. Salvation for Norton defined as charitable giving towards Black edification is exposed to lack any true compassion or yearning for justice otherwise he would not be so shaken to incredulity when confronted by the consequences of southern injustice which exist beyond the campus grounds. In his conversation with the veteran at the Golden Day, he expresses a notion that the school is tied to his destiny, but is then unable the reconcile the debilitating effect of widespread social oppression. While the campus can expose Black youth to the limitless possibilities of education and fill their minds with worldly knowledge, it could do nothing to salve their disillusionment from bearing the weight of a social contract which states they may only progress so far before being reminded of their place within society.
The longest and most enduring critique in the novel is saved for the white Leftist progressive whom at the time of its writing were largely invested within various branches of Marxism, Communism, Socialism or Trotskyism. Upon expulsion from school, our protagonist journeys to the urban North in order to seek work. After realizing that Bledsoe has designated him persona non grata on the campus and that no assistance would be forthcoming from Norton in spite of their alleged linked destinies, he makes an effort to carve out a new life for himself thereby shaping his own identity free of the social pressure towards higher education which haunted him in the South. Through the subterfuge of a phony recommendation from Emerson, he secures a non-union position at Liberty Paints where he is jostled between identities as an imbecile to Kimbro, a scab to the Union and a provocateur to Brockaway before having his identity stripped in its entirety through post-traumatic amnesia. Ellison during this period draws invisibility down to a deeply human level exploring the importance of memory and experience in shaping our identity. Without the conceptual texture of these twin elements, we lack the context in which to understand ourselves as chronological influencers and "plunge outside of history" to the narrator's own words proving prophetic in hindsight. Memory and experience give us the power to reflect upon past occurrences and future test our present actions based upon a newly evolved understanding of cause and effect. When we discard memory and experience from our navigational toolkit according to the dictates of the Brotherhood, we relinquish some of our capacity to be truly influential and regress to mere interchangeable fragments in the fulfillment of someone else's vision.
When Ellison draws the protagonist into relationship with the Brotherhood, we find him at once both lauded for his articulate concern in the interest of his people and chided for couching that concern in the context of race. This persuasive gambit sets the stage for a split in consciousness where he is urged to exercise his oratorical gift in the service of this community while divorcing himself from the racial alienation which provides the impetus for him rising to action. The Brotherhood show themselves further engaged in a duplicitous strategy by raising a speaker amongst the Harlem community that can strike the necessary emotional tone with its residents while dismissing the concerns of that community in any future planning. Such political duplicity is not something confined to the progressive Left of the past when the politics of the Black community were once betrayed by Communist organizations wishing to hold our support amongst the discontented, but taking no interest in addressing the racism embedded in white labor unions leading such brilliant organizers as A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen and George Schuyler to abandon their work with the Party. The political invisibility continues in the present day through the post-racial demand of the Democratic Party establishment and even members of the Black community claiming that it would be unfair for President Obama to show particular favor to this community since he is the President of all America. At the same time, we are brought to our own split in consciousness for we share a racial identification with President Obama which makes us feel especially smited by attempts to render him and his experiences invisible as occurred during the debate over the birth certificate. All of the discomforting memories of race which are stirred up between both of those poles is valid and worth accessing in planning our political direction forward.
The Brotherhood couches their diminishing of race in a scientific view of history which does not appear to recognize that even the action of having to diminish race is a reaction to its reality and further reinforcement of its power. Race is a reality that has permeated the relationships and thinking of all members of society such that they are thinking about it even when not doing so explicitly. Therefore the better hand of history would acknowledge race and racism in order to work through these issues with deep analysis and accountability. The Invisible Man shines in causing us to reflect on all of these lived experiences and appreciate them as elements which may initially drive us underground in order to escape our discomfort, but can make us better for the journey when we emerge. As long as the politics of marginalization and resource inequity continue to be a scourge upon society, the politics of invisibility as outlined in this text will continue to be a source of understanding and fictive enlightenment. In spite of the gains made by the Black community since Ellison's time, there is still a marginalization and invisibility occurring urban communities lacking access to fresh produce, medical care and educational opportunity. The symbols in Ellison's text remain as rich and necessary as ever to sharpen our analysis of the conditions which impede bringing invisible and marginalized populations to vanguard. If we would render ourselves any greater success building bridges over these cultural intersections in the present than was achieved in the past, we would do best to put away the paternalism and seek to build equal partnerships with full transparency.(less)
David Walker's Appeal opens with an impassioned examination of the Black condition in America driving slow and painstakingly towards a radical crescen...moreDavid Walker's Appeal opens with an impassioned examination of the Black condition in America driving slow and painstakingly towards a radical crescendo at the close of the fourth article. Upon first glance, the Appeal seems to exhibit one the earliest written examples of the classical Negro sermon invoking the tools of emotional petition, scriptural analogy and historical scrutiny in outlining the core narrative. Through further revisions to the text, Walker was able to expand upon the original thesis to form the ideological framework of Black liberation theology, social theory and nationalist discourse with consideration towards both freedmen and enslaved Blacks.
The Preamble of Walker's Appeal provides an intriguing context for the rise and influence of Black liberation theology where the theological construct exists as the last bastion of "free" intellectual inquiry available to those held in slavery. Walker mines the potentiality of biblical scripture in order to establish his case for the abolition of slavery through moral suasion, Pan-African struggle and armed resistance when necessary. For sewing these seeds of discord, Walker would find himself revered amongst enslaved Blacks and radical abolitionists, reviled amongst whites and slaveowners, held afar by moderate whites and Blacks alike who considered his approach too extreme and later murdered near his shop only a year from the publication of the manuscript.
Walker divided his appeal into four distinct areas of discourse following the Preamble which considered the effects of Slavery, Ignorance, Religion and Colonization upon the minds of Black people. He used each of these areas to display how the historical treatment of Blacks in America was mired in moral, social and political hypocrisy which should prevent us from thinking naively that we could hope for a fairer treatment in the future than we had been afforded in the past. While he fiercely refuted the efforts to colonize members of the free Black community in the African nation of Liberia, he displayed a particularly warm kinship for the recently liberated island nation of Haiti whose inspiration he drew upon in outlining his impression of what steps could be taken in America to secure freedom for all Black people.
While some concepts in the Appeal leave themselves open to misinterpretation in a modern context such as Walker's own fondness for the English whom he considered friends of the Negro, there are areas here which remain ripe for exploration in understanding the course of events which culminated in ending slavery. The Appeal was quite masterful at fomenting radical discourse when it was published in 1829 and taken together with the rebellion of Nat Turner in 1831 most certainly struck an alarming chord in states which had continued the practice of slavery. The Appeal was outlawed and at least one legislature, Georgia, placed a bounty upon Walker's head. It still managed to circulate widely through underground networks of abolitionists, freedmen societies, churches and maroon communities.
As we stand in the aftermath of cases in Arizona, Texas and Tennessee on the cusp of seeing the necessity for the return of outlaw education, let us take a lesson from David Walker in thinking dangerously and writing fearlessly about the oppressive systems which continue to impact our quality of life in this day and the overlapping alliances we must forge in order to break them apart permanently.(less)
"A radical progressive humanism recognizes that hand-wringing about diversity—be it in education, corporate America or cultural movements—without chal...more"A radical progressive humanism recognizes that hand-wringing about diversity—be it in education, corporate America or cultural movements—without challenging the power dynamics of access and visibility, makes white supremacy a self-fulfilling prophecy." ~ Sikivu Hutchinson
After 10 years as the most prominent tool in my moral and intellectual arsenal, Ancient Future has been supplanted by the fierce effluence of ideas Sikivu Hutchinson has assembled in this manuscript. Moral Combat is easily the most extensive modern black humanist examination I have encountered as I discovered myself on this sojourn to disconnect from the spiritual yoke which held me bound in years past. A yoke that I thought essential to exist as an ethical being whose grip I pursued through Pentecostal, Rastafari, Islamic and the Black Liberation Theological construct finding no satisfaction.
The sojourn eventually found me accepting solitude as the most perfect personal practice when group formations were given to paternalism and authoritarian instruction. In that solitude, I discovered that I was gradually more open to question all manner of ritual and tradition which gave rise to a rich skepticism. The skepticism began to pervade all areas of life until I had renewed my understanding of feminist tradition, black humanist social critique, and the history of power, race and privilege. All of these topics are investigated exceptionally by Hutchinson throughout Moral Combat.
Sikivu Hutchinson, true to occupation, writes with a densely packed professorial tenor striving to make every word explode upon impact. Upon first read this can be off putting because in conjunction with the multitude of ideas covered, one occasionally struggles to keep up. But once you reach a reader's stride which occurred for me after the second chapter, you move into the space where you desire to mark a notation upon every page where language strikes a chord or spurs you toward action. As I found myself rounding the corner of chapter three, my head was dizzy from all of the various cross references that made themselves apparent in my recent reading schedule.
As Hutchinson was remarking upon the government sponsored "white flight" and reinforcement of class divisions, I was meditating on Beryl Satter's "Family Properties" and pondering how those policies took root on the local level in Chicago creating the racially stratified city that now exists in the present day. When she invokes the notions of artificially earned white social mobility, I am reminded of Ira Katznelson's "When Affirmative Action Was White". Even her critique of the white atheist obsession with lambasting "religious identity" in the privileged pursuit of scientific aims caused me to recall that a generation of Black freethinkers were lost to a certain betrayal at the hands of Communism during the period of the New Negro Renaissance.
In Moral Combat, Hutchinson provides not only a present day lesson on the most pertinent aspects of the American culture and values wars, but she also reaches deep into the historical context in order to extract an understanding of how the tree was grown from unmistakably deep roots. No person of interest is held sacred from her examination from the white atheist or feminist unaware of their own sense of privilege to the black woman complicit in her own religious subjugation to the black man whose interpretation of masculinity reinforces all of the worst patriarchal forms of an enslaved past.
Hutchinson reminds in this text that a rich and enlightening skepticism requires not simply that we question religion or government, but that we question gender roles and privilege and power dynamics and leadership. She reminds us that a deep and moving humanism must overwhelm all of our previous notions about the world which were each and every one formed in a poisoned vacuum and now need to be rebuilt from the ground floor. So grab a hammer and smash that sacred cow to your left.(less)
"Only such real, meaningful actions as those which are sincerely motivated from a deep sense of humanism and moral responsibility can get at the basic...more"Only such real, meaningful actions as those which are sincerely motivated from a deep sense of humanism and moral responsibility can get at the basic causes that produce the racial explosions in America today. Otherwise, the racial explosions are only going to grow worse." ~ Malcolm X
Before I offer an opinion of this text, there is something which I feel I must confess. I am not Will Smith. I did not read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" like 3 times (see episode where Aunt Viv lectures to Will's Black History class). I did read it once before around the age of 18 and even then not very thoroughly, but because I was a pre-teen experiencing my formative years during the opening of Spike Lee's film, I certainly felt I had the scoop and the insight on who Malcolm was and what he represented (as ill formed and incomplete as that opinion might have been).
I have identified with him mentally (and perhaps physically) since my attendance at the opening of the film in New Orleans when I was 12 years old. I had perhaps heard chatter prior to then that I bore him some resemblance, but it was never more true to life and form than when I saw Denzel Washington's portrayal of Malcolm's firebrand eloquence in the theater. From then on I would search for ways that I might carve out my personality more in tune with his likeness intellectually. I was a reader before then of Fear Street fiction and other such youthful exploits, but I immediately parted ways with those childish pursuits in favor of Ralph Wiley, Chancellor Williams, Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, and self identification with Islam.
While I never went full bore into the final stage of conversion to Islam of any form, pursuit of the personal philosophy of Malcolm X would inform my future relationships and organizational engagement for the next 18 years. What is the relevance of my personal story to this text? It is one of evolution and identification; of change and the challenges of growing. The mere fact that I can take this very same text and read it with two, ten, or twelve years between readings and draw starkly different conclusions each time speaks to Malcolm X as an entirely evolutionary (and by extension revolutionary) figure.
I think that my brother Kamau Rashid stated it best when he noted that upon his first reading of the text, he was a sympathizer, but now he can be fully objective and critical of the text because he has developed greater nuance in his thinking and positions. Not unlike Malcolm as we began to reach the close of this text and his life. He wanted the world to understand that his philosophy was evolving and growing in a number of ways, but perhaps because we as humans are not as evolutionary in scale as we would like to think, we could not get away from the first Malcolm that we knew rapidly enough to embrace his second coming.
I want no one to be confused about the fact. Malcolm was still the most strident contender that a seething racist American undertone would ever encounter in his generation. His view on the situation in America for Black people was still unhindered by his insight from traveling the world, but America's nativist tendency was unable to confront the tarnish of world opinion on a just and stable field.
Malcolm was splashed with the lead paint of his past speakings. He was tarred and feathered so well by the same system which would later literally manufacture evidence to convict Geronimo Pratt and all of the other victims of COINTELPRO that even in the face of the FOIA documentation we can have someone like Kevin Williamson state on NPR Tell Me More that "Well, I think that we had an opportunity at that time to take things socially in a slightly different direction, and Malcolm X and the movement that he stood for, I think, probably did more damage to the cause of fully integrating blacks in American public life and American private life than it did good."
I think the unfortunate nature of literature in America is that more people don't subject texts such as "The Autobiography..." to multiple critical readings. Don't read the book to say that you have read it or so that you may have an argumentative jump off point to slander Malcolm's intellectual progeny in debate. Read it and understand what manner of system can create the man and the mind. Read it and understand how personal evolution can make that which once was destructive become instructive. Read it and recognize how much you need to change so that the world can change.
No matter what is written of this text now or in the future, there will be no other biography of Malcolm that matters as much. The first person narrative here and acute detail for the length of Malcolm's life is far too gripping and overwhelming to be undertaken by any study, no matter how deep or insightful, of Malcolm's life and legacy. This is Malcolm. Our Malcolm.(less)